Rassagala or Rajagalathenna is a place which reveals the splendour of Sri Lanka's prehistoric era to the world. The place consists of more than 500 ruins and artifacts of a Buddhist temple.
Why is this place referred to as Rassagala? According to Exploration Officer, Department of Archaeology, T.M.T. Bandara, the people of the Raksha tribe must have lived in this area. They were human beings like us, but worshipped the Rakshas. The word Raksha might have become Rassa over the years. Sounds interesting, isn't it?
Now, let's find out some geographical details about the place. It is situated in the Ampara district, in the Eastern Province. Rajagala is a rugged and thickly forested mountain on this sparsely populated and rarely visited part of Sri Lanka. Rassagala is situated 1,038 feet above sea level. This archaeological site spreads over 300 acres.
The history of the place is not definite, but monks are believed to have inhabited it between the 10th and 3rdcenturies BC. 'Shila Lipi' (stone inscriptions) belonging to that period have been found at the site. All over the northern summit of the mountain, extensive ruins have been recovered from the thick jungle, and some are only half excavated.
Why the site is special
The Rajagala Viharaya has also been blessed by Arahat Mihindu Thera, who brought the precious gift of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. It is believed that Mihindu Thera's body has been buried in this site.
A stone inscription found nearby bears testimony to this fact, although no excavation or restoration work has been carried out at this site to confirm what's inscribed in the stone inscription.
According to Bandara, the temple belongs to the most developed era in Sri Lankan history. Dagobas, aramas, ponds, houses to keep Buddha statues, and sandakadapahanas (moonstones) have been discovered at the site.
There are some drawings on the stone, done with ash or chalk, which are believed to have been done by the adivasies (indigenous) people. Bandara said they believe that these drawings belong to the prehistoric era, that is 35,000 years ago, although it's not a definite fact.
There are caves that were used as houses for the monks. They were separated by walls into rooms such as the living room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet. Some of them still exist. Near most of the caves is a stone inscription, stating the donor or the resident of the cave.
Bandara added that the stone inscriptions found here belong to the Anuradhapura era. All of them describe incidents from that era. They are written in Brahmi letters, which are believed to be the first stage in the evolution of the Sinhala letters.
The sandakadapahana here is also different to others. The lotus is the only figure, spreading all over the moonstone, whereas in other moonstones, the carvings include tuskers, horses, swans and flames.
Despite the cultural and archaeological value of this site, visitors to the place have ruined many artifacts by writing and drawing on them. According to the Department of Archaeology, some stone inscriptions cannot even be read due to the destruction caused by vandals.
Visitors to these places should protect them for the benefit of future generations. That's the request made by the Department of Archaeology as well.
In the very thick jungle, there is a huge block of stone, nearly 16 feet long, with a half-carved Buddha image. All the lines on the statue are straight and at right angle to each other and there are no details.
Some believe that apprentice sculptors did the work up to this stage, and then the master was supposed to round it off, fill in the finer details and add the finishing touches. In this case however, for some reason, he had never finished the job.
This half-completed statue shows that the great Buddha statues we find in the historic temples were made by the sculptors we had those days, and were not the result of some miracle.
The muragala in this site is different from those found other sites. Here, the figure of the man holds a pot in one hand and keeps another on his hip. Some other guardstones depict another small figure next to the main figure.
This, Bandara, states is believed to be the wife of the guard. There is another muragala where the guard holds the pot in both hands. This is another feature which is different from other guardstones in the country.
by Janani Amarasekara
Rajagala - An Ancient Monastery in the jungles of Ruhuna - www.lankalibrary.com
February 4, 2007