I first heard of the Saliya-Asokamala hideaway from my husband, who had spent several days in the jungle while serving in the Army. Once he described it to me, I decided I just had to see it for myself!
With a carefully engineered plan, a smile and some clever sweet-talk, I managed to persuade him to take me there. Soon, we were watching Colombo’s concrete jungle disappear in the distance: the journey had begun.
Nearly 27 kilometres from Puttalam, on the Anuradhapura-Puttalam road, we took a left turn at the 17th mile post to Pahala Puliyankulama, which is the last village in this area. Despite the fact that it is a dry zone, we passed several lakes and ponds. We feasted our eyes on several species of birds endemic to the dry zone. As I looked out of the window, I saw a myriad Tamarind trees casting their immense shadow on us. It then dawned on me why the place was called Puliyankulama – the Tamil word for Tamarind Lake.
The sun shone mercilessly on the parched earth, looking to rid it of any droplets of water that were hiding in its crevices. The weather was hot and dry, and the few families that resided in the area lived an undeniably arduous life. To add to their hardship, the nearest town was almost 12 kilometres away, and one scanty boutique served as their supermarket, bookshop and hairdresser. As we drove along, we managed to spot a few young lads, riding their bicycles aimlessly, while a group of elders looked on with disapproval.
We passed three bridges (Sapaththu Palam), and took a left turn towards the end of the Pahala Puliyankulama village. Soon, we came face to face with a board that proudly announced the Wilangoada Aranaya and Archeological site.
This Aranaya is about 4km from the Southern border of Wilpattu. The jungle is separated from the village by an electric fence that serves to prevent the entry of our hefty wild “frenemies”, the elephants, who seemed to make it a hobby to trespass.
I realized that from that point on, it was going to be a grueling journey into the wild. I got off the vehicle and carefully opened the wired fence for the vehicle to enter. It was either do or die; we were in the raw jungles of Sri Lanka, away from five-star hotels and coffee lounges. That was reality. I was unquestionably excited, as we braced ourselves for the possibility of the occasional temperamental wild animal crossing our path.
After driving for about 600 – 700 meters we came to a police post. With a smile, they directed us to the Aranya where the Monk lived. A few minutes later, we were face-to-face with him.
He was well into his sixties, maybe even seventies. The unforgiving weather had taken its toll on him, darkening his complexion. He wore a robe, which was arguably red. He sat on a wooden chair in front of his cave and his spectacles rested effortlessly on his nose. Behind him stood a glass box and in it, was a human skeleton.
We were distracted from the initial shock of the skeleton when he gave us a smile overflowing with sincerity; a typical Sri Lankan welcome. He ordered the little novice monk to lay a mat for us to sit on. There was another little boy who was introduced to us as the novice monk’s brother.
My husband took charge of the conversation, while my eyes wondered around with curiosity. He inquired into the whereabouts of the former monk, who my husband knew; the reply came that he had perhaps fled the area.
My husband recounted that the previous monk had told him many fascinating stories of the jungle and its mysteries. He had said that he had seen some unlawful timber fellers go deep into the jungle in three vehicles. The monk had wished to himself that the criminals would not find their way out. Like magic, they never emerged out of the jungle.
The monk who sat in front of us replied with confidence: “This is a sacred place. People who harm this land do not go unpunished.”
After talking to him for a while, we got to know that he was well-known for performing supernatural acts. His name was Rev. Anuradhpura Nanda Wimala Thero but was known locally as Dolukande Hamuduruwo. He told us about the hardship he endured living in such a place. He had to walk 12 kilometres to receive alms. He stated with an overpowering sense of determination that he will always protect the land. He then delighted us with some interesting stories about the forest, that left us gaping like five-year olds hearing Cinderella for the first time.
We saw the Saliya Guhawa where Prince Saliya – King Dutugemunu’s only son – hid after eloping with Asokamala, his low-caste yet breathtakingly beautiful woman. This cave is now converted to a shrine. He told us how one of King Dutugamunu’s giants, the Neela Maha Yodaya, was constructing a bund across Kala Oya, when he saw Prince Saliya. He hastened to tell this to the King. However, he asked the King for one favour; if he was to divulge Saliya’s whereabouts, Saliya should not be brought to any harm. The King granted him this wish. He went on to meet his son who offered him roasted paddy (Wilanda) and bees honey. That was how this area got its name; Wilandagoda.
The King then told his son to count the paddy grains and build an equal number of Vihara’s Shrines, Dagaba’s, Caves, Temples and religious monuments. The prince acceded to his father’s wish. Subsequently, the King provided all that was necessary from the Royal Treasury to build these religious sites; sites which included those 64 caves for the Arahath monks.
We took a leisurely stroll in the jungle. We saw rock caves of various shapes and sizes, making their presence felt. At present, two caves are used by monks while some are occupied by wild animals like leopards, bears, wild cats and birds.
The monk told us that we will be able to see only about 30 to 40 caves, but that too, not in one day. He noted regretfully that some caves are difficult to reach, adding that absolutely no one has seen all 64 caves. Another place that interested me was the Balumgala or the observation rock. This is a colossal round rock that stands on rocky ground. What is surprising is this rock’s ability to stand, since just a small portion of it touches the ground. Seeing it, one would expect it to roll over at any moment!
The monk mentioned the city of Nandana Nuwara where the police post is. It is said that it was built by King Dathusena. There is a cave with carvings on built walls which are now damaged and distorted. In front of this cave there is an octagonal column which has now fallen. And there are many rock inscriptions around this area. He pledged that he will protect it.
We even saw many ruins. Among them, was a huge rock statue of Lord Buddha, which was half buried. It was distressing to see how treasure hunters had vandalized the area; we saw deep pits left by them, pits that took with them pieces of our nation’s valuable history.
I would recommend this place to anyone with a longing to see Sri Lanka in its true magnificence; the splendor of ancient history. What lies at the end of the road is worth the never-ending journey and unforgiving weather. Just remember to do your bit for the Kings of the past, monks of the present and children of the future; preserve the natural beauty of our country and its past.
The Sunday Leader
Map of the Wilandagoda Aranya
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Video on Wilandagoda Aranya
Driving Directions to Wilandagoda Aranya
|Route from Colombo to Wilandagoda Aranya|
|Though : Negombo – Puttlam|
Distance : 191 km
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map