1005 hectares of Na (ironwood) forest and 72 other healing plants; massive pink quartz mountain, well known for its healing properties; largest plant fossil deposits in Sri Lanka; archaeological reserve with ruins of ancient monastery and palace; diverse wild life.
The national Namal Uyana in Galkiriyagama which has the largest Rose Quartz mountain in South Asia consists of 972 hectares or more. On May 8, 2005 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will declare open the forest as a National Forest Reserve.
Twelve years ago, Venerable Wanawasi Rahula thera, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk settled in Namal Uyana, an ironwood forest in Sri Lanka's Dry Zone. He built for himself a little tree-house 40 ft above ground in the branches of a Mora tree, to live and to meditate. This was his home for almost a year, after which he moved into a humble hermitage of cheap wood.
Now firmly established as head monk of the forest hermitage, he acts as guardian of the forest and its environs, a role played by Sri Lanka's Buddhist monks for over two millennia in the long history of Namal Uyana. Rahula thera believes it was a role he had played in a previous lifetime 800 years ago.
When Rahula thera first came to the forest, he did not realize the extent of its natural and historical treasures. Here you find ruins of an ancient monastery that received the royal patronage of King Devanampiya Tissa (307-267 B.C) and granite foundations of very old buildings strewn on a section of the forest bed.
This Sinhala monarch holds an exalted place in Sri Lankan history. It was his cordial relations with the great Buddhist emperor Asoka of India that led to the arrival on the island of Arahat Mahinda thera and a retinue of missionaries.
Arahat Mahinda's delivery of a simple but profound discourse to King Tissa (as he was then known) while he was out hunting deer in Dambulla forest, led to the king's and later, the entire population's adoption of the precepts of Gautama Buddha.
Arahat Mahinda also delivered the following message on the king's obligation to the environment, "O" great King', the birds of the air and the beasts on the earth have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this kingdom as thou. The land belongs to the people and all other living things, and thou art but the guardian of it."
At the beginning of the 8th Century, a section of the forest became what probably was the world's oldest recorded human sanctuary. Anyone fleeing their enemies or on the run from even the king was entitled to sanctuary in this forest, which was under the sole jurisdiction of Buddhist monks.
The king had no automatic right of arrest. Legend has it that outlaws and the persecuted seeking sanctuary in Namal Uyana were transformed into Na trees. Closer to fact was that they were obliged by the monks to plant and care for the trees. Indeed, the semi-orderly formation of the forest strongly indicates human plantation.
When Rahula thera arrived, the forest was being denuded by chena cultivators from nearby villages who used to slash and burn sections of the forest to clear land for seasonal crop cultivation. It had also fallen prey to illegal loggers and treasure hunters.
At that time, there was little public awareness of the unique place about which Rahula has worked hard to educate the public. Thanks to these efforts, the government, in 2001, declared Namal Uyana an archaeological reserve.
Now, chena cultivation and logging have almost ceased. In August 2003, the Namal Uyana Trust, funded by donations from organizations, philanthropists, and the proceeds of the very nominal park entrance fees was established.
The trust funds have helped uplift the lives of the people of the surrounding villages, and to build a Community Environmental and Research Centre. Moves are afoot to have the forest declared a World Heritage Site.
Rahula thera's efforts to conserve, develop and protect 'his' forest future generations have been recognized by the Sri Lankan government, which has bestowed on him the honorific Parisara Vibbushana, Sri Lankan Haritha, and Parisara Vedi Sasana Jyothy. He also holds the Indian, Seda Salu title. All these honour his conservation efforts.
To protect 'his' forest, Rahula has focused much of his efforts on providing alternative means of livelihood to surrounding villagers.
Galkiriyagama, 158 miles north of Colombo.
(source : Daily News)
April 14, 2007