Arankele Forest Monastery
- Awesome abode of holy men -
If you are looking for a haven of peace and quietude - why not spend the day at Arankele. Its green sylvan surroundings will relax and refresh you completely.
But this was never meant to be a pleasure park. On the contrary it was the site of an ancient forest monastery - the austere abode of a sect of recluse monks who had been attracted to this site because of its very isolation and seclusion. Today it is a celebrated archaeological site containing the ruins of the ancient forest monastery.
The monks who dwelt here were called Pansukulika. Pansukulika means 'rag-robes' and refers to a vow taken by these monks to wear only robes made from rags. They observed extreme austerity and they lived in caves and in monasteries in mountains and forests and their piety and austere way of life were greatly admired by the people.
The monastaries in which they dwelt are now known as padhanaghara pirivenas.
A principal feature found at the padhanaghara pirivenas of the pansukulika are the double platform buildings. These are raised platforms formed by retaining walls of massive stone, found in pairs and linked together by a stone bridge. Access to the building is from either side of the stone bridge by two short flights of steps in the centre and between the two platforms. The balustrades and guard stones are devoid of ornamentation and simple in style.
Another special characteristic of these buildings is that they were surrounded by water troughs believed to keep the interior of the building cool. There are several such buildings at Arankele. Evidence of such buildings are also found at Ritigala, and Mihintale.
It is not known with any certainty what the function of these double platforms was. Scholars believe that they were used for meditation, ceremonies and teaching.
The building at the entrance of the Arankele site has been identified as a Jantagara or hot water bath. Amongst the other ruins that have been identified are meditating promenades ponds and winding pathways.
Sunil, an Archaeology Department worker at the site showed us around . According to him there are three bathing ponds, of which only one is completely restored.
The site also had a number of paved ambulatories some of which are believed to have been roofed. These paths rise in an easy gradient -- sometimes a few steps at a time. These were paths that once were walked upon by the ancient arahats in deep meditation.
Following in their footsteps centuries after Sunil led our way and we came across a perfectly circular round-about paved with stonee. These round- abouts were built so that the arahats walking deep in meditation might not collide with each other, we were told.
Sunil also stopped to show us three ancient wells believed to have been dug by the Arahats themselves and which are still in use by meditating Buddhist monks of the Arankale Maliyadeva Senasana which adjoins the archaeological site.
Now Sunil was leading us along the brick laid pathway through a canopy of forest greens; trees - mighty giants, dramatic creepers climbing high or hanging low, insects and butterflies of strange colours, and, of course, birds , birds and birds - the holy environs resonating with their songs.
At the end of the path beside a small clearing nestled a small rock cave which had been fashioned into a three roomed little abode. The entrance was through a wooden door which was a replica of the original.
Parts of the original stone door frame were to be seen fallen on the side. By the entrance door were two low steps flanked by a quaint miniature balustrade and stone guard stones but devoid of sculpture or other decorations. From the entrance hall two doors opened into two rooms on either side Each room contained a window opening to the front and a stone slab bed.
This is where Arahat Maliyadeva had dwelt and meditated several centuries ago. This was his holy abode surrounded by the forest, wild animals, birds reptiles and insects. Sunil also pointed to a slab of granite that was lying on a side which had had been used as a portico over the doorway he said.
The buildings of this forest hermitage it was observed were without any form of decoration Also significant was the absence of stupas, shrines identified with the Bo - tree, or images. All this was in keeping with the severe simplicity and austere religious practices which ruled the lives of these monks, and with their aim to revive the way of life led by the Buddha and his disciples after his Enlightenment.
The only concession to decoration is usually found in the urinal stone.
The purpose of decorated urinal stones is a matter of speculation. It is suggested by scholars that they represent the architectural and ritualistic excesses of the orthodox monastic chapters to which the pansukulika were opposed, and the act of urination was for them a symbolic act of dissociation.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
How To Get There
Arankale is 25 kilometres from Kurunagala via the village of Ibbagamuva.
February 7, 2012