VEN. ELLAWALA MEDHANANDA Part 5
Posted on June 3rd, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 22.6.20

Medhananda told his biographer that he had thought, when listening to lectures at Vidyodaya, as a student, that it would-be good to investigate some of the things   mentioned in the Mahavamsa. He had joined a Vidyodaya archaeological trip to look at Neelagiri seya. Ven.  Handupelpola Punnaratana, who was teaching at Vidyodaya, had drawn attention to this seya. It was this exploration under the leadership of Gunapala Senadheera that inspired me to do my own archaeological work, said Medhananda.

When Vidyodaya launched its own journal, in 1960, Medhananda had contributed an essay   on ‘Some of the kings not mentioned in the Mahavamsa’. He was asked to contribute to the next issue. He then wrote Mahavamsa katuvarun nodutu Sinhala rajadhani’.

This essay had come to the attention of many. Ven.  Handupelpola Punnaratana had praised it to Vice Chancellor Weliwitiye Soratha  and arranged for Medhananda to meet the VC. Medhananda had said then that he wished to explore undiscovered areas in our history.

A group of Vidyodaya students had gone on an archaeological visit to Rajagala and brought back an inscription they had copied there.  Medhananda   was interested, because he had read an essay in the University of Ceylon Review, which said that the remains of Arhat Mahinda were at Rajagala. 

Medhananda tried hard to get a copy of the inscription from the leader of the expedition but that person dodged giving him a copy. So Medhananda went on his own to Rajagala, with two others from Napawela. The date is not given. At Bakkiela he made contact with persons who had previously lived in Napawala. Some youths form Bakkiela also joined Medhananda. They took provisions and left from Bakkiella vihara. Medhananda managed to find the inscription. They were in letters six inches high. He copied it by hand. The inscription said ‘this is the stupa of Mahinda and Iththiya.’ 

This was the start of Ven. Medhananda’ exploration of Buddhist archaeological sites. As at 2007, Medhananda has visited a total of 369 archaeological sites    , situated mainly in Northern, Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces. Medhananda has visited  77 sites in Ampara and Batticaloa, 64 sites in Ratnapura district,   53 sites in Moneragala  , 40 sites in  Kurunegala  , 26  in  Anuradhapura, 18  in  Polonnaruwa,    17  in Kegalle ,  16 in  Trincomalee ,  12 in  Vavuniya and Mullaitivu ,  12 in Badulla  , 12 in Hambantota, 10 in  Matale, 9 in  Puttalam and  3 in Jaffna .

I spend 8 days exploring in  the Toppigala jungles. Toppigala  area has  150 archaeological  sites. All hillsides around Toppigala, such as Motagala, Vesibandagala,  Atubandagala, Varakamulla,  Kunchinamalai,  Devinigala,  and Kavinigala  had vihara on them. Some had inscriptions too.

Kudimbigala, Veheragoda, Panama all have Buddhist ruins. These areas  are watered by Kudimbigal Ara,          Halava oya,  Vil oya,  Heda oya. at Kudimbigala, there are Buddhist ruins for at least     600 acres. Numerous stupas can be seen today, on the rocks  . The  cave architecture of Kudimbigala is  astounding. They were placed on top of each other for 100 acres or so. Medhananda had found ten more inscriptions at Kudimbigala, to add to those found by Paranavitana. Medhananda found that the ruins at Buddanehela  Raja Maha Vihara, Vavuniya are fast   deteriorating.

Medhananda’s explorations were solo efforts. They consisted of personal examination of archaeological ruins, with particular reference to Buddhist ruins and rock inscriptions. He never attempted to do an archaeological dig. He said he had neither the permission, the equipment nor personnel to do so.  ‘I did not upset any archaeological item I looked at,’ he said.

Medhananda said that he did his archaeological explorations at his own expense.  I went on my own money with a couple of others to assist. I am the only person who had done this, said Medhananda. He has not used any equipment, not even binoculars, or a good camera to take photos, only a small camera which could take just 12   photos per film roll.

He has copied all the inscriptions by hand. He seems to have done this by himself, without any assistance. There is no record of anybody else copying them for him. Most inscriptions are below the drip ledge but Medhananda found quite a few above the drip ledge,  such as the inscription at Budupetun kanda. Letters that were not cut deep enough got erased over time, those cut deep have lasted, he observed.

Medhananda tried to cover as many sites as possible on one trip.  It took him eight days to go on an exploration from Batticaloa via Bibile, to Maha oya- Omunugala- Kusalana kanda- Kasimottai- Kadurupetana malai- Atubandagala- Vasi bandagala- Narakamulla- Motagala – Toppigala- Vadumune- Manampitiya to Valachchenai. The jungles encountered on this trip were extremely dense, difficult and hazardous, said Medhananda.

From Omunugala, on another occasion, he went to  Kunchinamalai, Kusalanakanda,  Kadulupotanamalai, Lavini aru ending at  Dambaliyaddegala. On another trip , he went from Pottuvil- Panama- Kudimbigala- Bambaragastalawa- Lenama- Budubava  to  Nalitta. He was at Kudumbigala for a week then Bambaragastalawa where he spent the  night in a cave.  On yet another occasion he went from Kudimbigala, to Budubava,  Neelagiriya and  Naliththa.

The lack of access  roads did not deter him. He was told that Kirimakulugolle, at   Diyainne , Balangoda had an inscription, but there was no road to the place. Medhananda went. He was told that there was no way of getting to Namalu  archaeological site. (Ampara-Moneragala boundary- Heda oya- Namalu.) He visited the place.

Medhananda has gone into dense forest, endured hardship, faced danger, to locate ancient monasteries and find new inscriptions. The explorations  seem to have been done with no advance preparation. They decided as they went.

The Saman gala trip was very scary, recalled Medhananda. Saman gala  was surrounded for  miles by deep forest  with wild  elephants, leopard, and bears. He was advised not to go late evening as there were wild animals in the area. However, the team got to the take off point around 6.45 pm. They were lumbered with provisions, such as rice and coconuts. They had missed the bus they were planning to take.

They decided to go in on their own though they did not know the route and did not know the correct turning. There were turn offs everywhere, could hear wild animals cries all round. They  went deep into the jungle, following  a footpath made by those  searching for firewood. They followed that for about 1 ½ miles  and then after travelling about 5 miles altogether  arrived at Saman gala forest monastery at 11 pm. There was just one monk there, living alone. He was connected to the Buddhangala monastery. They were informed that a few minutes ago a leopard had gone by.

The Neelagiri trip was equally  challenging. Medhananda and team started out at 6 pm to explore Neelagiri.  They did not know the route but they had a guide. We had to go through dense forest  which was home to wild animals. We  could see that elephants had gone ahead,  from their droppings.   We pressed on as we wished to see the ruins. The hill was very steep and sheer.  A very difficult climb but we made it to the top, holding on to small bushes and trees.

Omunugala  in Maha oya area  was an usually difficult trip, recalled Medhananda . It was very difficult to get there, had to cross two oyas, then miles of muddy forest,   where  animal footprints could be seen. Getting to Bowattegala was also  very dangerous, it was all dense forest. Medhananda went twice.  Both times were dangerous experiences, he said.

Medhananda said he faced a lot of frightening experiences on the Kudimbigala trip. He wrote about them in his book on Kudimbigala. For the   Horowopotana exploration, we climbed three hills and copied inscriptions. One hill was very dangerous to climb.   If our foot slipped we would fall hundreds of feet below to our death.

It is advisable to go into the forest with someone who knows the place said Medhananda.He and his team got lost at Karanda Hela kande. ‘Fortunately we met our  guide, while wandering around,’ said Medhananda .  They got stranded at Yoda Wewa forest too.  They managed to get to the main road, and got a lift from a lorry to Medawachchiya.

The team had planned to sleep by the Kumbukkan oya on one exploration, but Medhananda  said no, the  river might rise in the night. It did. On the Neelagiri trip too, the team knew that they could not return via Heda oya as it would be too strong to cross on the return. They had to sleep in the jungle.

Medhananda was not a  mountaineer, he had no training at all in hill  climbing. He scrambled up hills and rocks as best as he could. At Danagirigala  his team made a ladder, he climbed this and copied  inscriptions .

Medhananda  had at least three dangerous falls. At Neelagiri, Medhananda had to climb about 100 feet to get to an inscription. The old steps had gone and there was no access. While climbing  he slipped and fell deeply down but ended up  in a bush, between  a tree and a  rock and was saved.

At Velellugoda kanda Medhananda  found a inscription   and  wanted to copy it somehow. There were some vines ( vel)  there and Medhananda tried to climb using these. The   vel broke and Medhananda  fell between two rocks. The others came running and pulled him out.

Medhananda  was badly injured at Viharagoda  when he fell, trying to slide down a huge rock. He injured his foot. The wound took one and half months to heal  and the scar can still be seen on his right foot.

There were other  mildly  uncomfortable expeirneces too, for Medhananda . At Handagiriya, Medhananda was given a mattress of kurakkan karal to sleep on, as a special gesture. Insects from this were running across his body all night. On another occasion,  he was given a ‘pillow’ of dried leaves to sleep on.   Insects from the pillow crawled all over his face. While sleeping at Halmabagala temple Medhananda found a wild cat settling on his chest.

Medhananda ‘s  explorations were done with a small team of volunteers,  sometimes just two or three people. One group had five.The exploration teams were ad hoc ones,  each containing different sets of persons. I don’t think they knew anything about archaeological exploration, or jungle maneuvers, they were simply  supportive.

Medhananda and his team   travelled by bus and on foot,   with the occasional lift from a lorry. When exploring Samangala, Medhananda started early from Napawala, went to Kandy, took the Ampara bus to Veranketagoda junction, then travelled on Bandaraduwa road on foot to Samangala. To see Galpiyuma aranya in Anuradhapura district, Medhananda went by bus to Kebetigollawa then Pulmoddai and through forest to Galpiyuma, known earlier at Galpokuna.

 Medhananda  and team once went by bullock cart. There was an unusable jeep track between Siyambalanduwa and Mahakalugolla, but there was another route between chena and forest, used by hunters and wild animals. Medhananda decided to  go on this route. ‘We used a   bullock cart which transported  firewood.   It was a very bumpy, rough ride. We thought our bones would break.

Medhananda and his team, were not experienced  in jungle explorations. They made up for this in enthusiasm and staying power. They  used small trees to climb onto bigger ones, carrying their luggage. They slept on mats  on top of boulders and inside caves.  At Henangala, for instance, they went through thick forest and got into a cave. They were attacked by mosquitoes every where they went.  

Medhananda  and team carried provisions with them, including rice and coconuts.  On one occasion they took scraped coconut in polythene bags  and made roti on the  heated rock in the jungle.  They picked  ‘nai miris’ from where ever they went  in the jungle. They once  drank coffee with nai miris as a substitute for sugar. On another occasion  they had a tasty meal of a wattakka picked up from a chena on the way, stuffed with nai miris, salt and a tomato also picked up on the way, and  roasted on the embers of  a fire on a rock on which they were sitting, trapped by elephants below. 

They were sometimes without water or food, having finished what they had brought. Once when they found they had no water,  it  suddenly rained for a few minutes and the team were able to collect the water they needed.  

The journeys were  dangerous. Medhananda  and his group went for miles on foot,  into dense jungle containing wild elephants. We often followed animal tracks, ready to hide if they came. Despite encounters with animals, we were never harmed by a wild animal, said Medhananda .

Medhananda and team had  plenty of  near encounters with wild elephants, bears and leopards. In one instance , they were sleeping in a cave, when wild elephants marched by. One broke down the makeshift  door to the cave and   put his trunk inside and    explored. Fortunately he withdrew his trunk and went away.

At Korawakkegama they were so intent on examining the ruins they did not see an elephant coming at them with its trunk lifted. They ran as they had never run before and got onto a rock. The elephant stopped below the rock.

On one exploration the team got ready to cross Maduru oya  using branches and vines of the trees by the bank. They heard a yell ‘bahinna epo,’. There was a large elephant below and if they had swung down they would have landed on top of the elephant.  A man also waiting to cross had  warned them. They waited till the elephant left and proceeded. It was dangerous to enter the water using those vines but we managed, recalled Medhananda.

At Handagiriya  they were confronted by a herd of wild elephants. They took refuge in the chena of Chandana hamy, who had come from Yatipasgamuwa. Later they found that the herd at attacked the hut they had slept in earlier.

The team  often took refuge from wild elephants on the top of rocks. Some rocks were flat on top like platforms. They once watched a fight between two elephants, in that way. At Toppigala they spent the night on boulders as the jungle was full of elephants. 

Medhananda had many brushes with bears. At Bambaragastalawa, he was intent on copying an inscription, oblivious of the fact that there were two bear cubs close by in a cave. The mother bear would attack if she saw him.  The mother bear did return but only after Medhananda had moved away.

When Medhananda went to take a photo of the ruined Buddha image at Bambaragastalawa, a bear jumped out, from behind the image, leapt over Medhananda‘s head and ran. Medhananda  fell down on to a bush, but took  his photo after that.

At Bovattegala they met a cluster of bears face to face but were not harmed. At Sastravela Medhananda went to explore and found a huge bear seated on the spot he wished to examine.’ We hid under a ledge and moved away before he could see us, said Medhananda.

Medhananda  encountered a leopard at  Bowattegala vihara. The team had   lit a bonfire  on  another trip and  found a leopard sleeping contentedly on a tree  just above the bonfire, later on. At Kotaveheragala the team went into a  tunnel and found that there was a leopard inside it, far away. Medhananda opened his umbrella, placed it on the ground, to block the view and the team crept backwards and out of the tunnel.

 On another occasion, a bird  arrived and started calling. He is speaking to us, said the monk accompanying Medhananda . They tested this by moving away. The bird stopped calling. When they returned, the bird started again. The two monks looked up  and found a large leopard coming toward them.

At Malayadikanda Medhananda  had leaned against a tree and later felt something feeling around his head, he moved away and found a cobra descending down the tree. At Budu patum kande he leaned against another  tree, heard a hissing sound, and  looked. It was a mapilla. Medhananda once woke from his sleep in a cave and found a mapilla about to fall on two of the sleepers. He  Shouted to scare the mapilla off and dragged the two to safety.

Medhananda and another monk were at a villu when a water buffalo saw them and came up, ready to attack. The monk  who was with  Medhananda thrust his umbrella at   the buffalo, and yelled at it. Buffalo ran away.

When climbing up a hill, Medhananda had put his hand into a convenient hole in the rock and hauled himself up. On examining the hole they found that it contained a family of divi makuluvo ( tarantula).

Medhananda and his team occasionally  met settlers who had come into the jungles to do chena farming. Where possible these settlers gave lunch ( dane) to Medhananda and his team.  At Diyahinna, Medhananda was given a dane of rice and mukunuvenna sambol by a    chena farmer. Chena farmers at Namalu chetiya served food to Medhananda and his team on lotus leaves. Instead of  umbalakada they  had used gona karavala.

Chena farmers also assisted in other ways. Medhananda and his team were helped to find  the ruins by a family from Kegalle living  at Maragala kanda. The man had brought along a bottle of water as well. On the Velellugoda kanda  exploration ,  they met a farmer  who provided a kalagedi of water  and a boy with a ketta to show the way to a lena to stay the night. Later the  boy came with some boiled maize for dinner.

These settlers knew  the  rock inscriptions in the area and respected them. At  Diyahinna  a  villager had told them, when asked, that there were more inscriptions  elsewhere. Medhananda and team wanted to see an inscription which was already on record, at Mahagirilla Savaran keligala,. (Nikaweratiya- Dalada gama- Halambagala vihara-  Mahagirilla savarankeligala) He asked a group of children whether they knew the place. They led him straight  to it.

 Medhananda wanted to see the Tonigala inscription again, but could not recall the route. They went into a house to ask for directions. There was  a girl alone in the  house. She knew where the inscription was and said,  I will take you. Also  when you go along the wewa a little further, there is another inscription. I will take you there  as well as you cannot find it otherwise. When they were at Tonigala, the girl’s mother arrived , having heard the news, with orange juice in a bottle as gilanpasa.

At Danagirigala  exploration the team could not find the inscription they were looking for, in the forest. They met an 18 year old girl with three small boys, going to their chena. She knew where the inscription  was and led them to it. The group stayed till the job was completed. We were all young at the time, but  this girl was safe with us, commented Medhananda .

Medhananda got some degree of help and support, on these explorations, from a variety of persons. Gotabaya Rajapaksa  when Defence Secretary  gave me much encouragement and helped in my investigations in north and east, said Medhananda .    I was assisted by the armed forces and police for two years. They protected me on my difficult explorations.  Army helped him to climb up  Pachchanur hill by sending down a rope for him.

Medhananda  could not  explore Kudimbigala in  1965 or 1970, but in 1979  the Government Agent of Ampara, Y.W. Gunawardene helped him to explore the place. At Bambaragastalawa Medhananda  was assisted by the police chief there.

He got considerable support from the temples in the exploration areas. The team were often able to stay the night at these temples. The monks at Malagiyakanda received us very kindly  and looked after us for several days, said Medhananda . The monks at  Mahakalugolla vihara gave provision and provided assistants for an exploration. Ven. Atawekwela Bodhiseeha  was very helpful in another exploration.

The chief priest of Piyangala and another adult joined Medhananda on the Pulukunava exploration.  it was Piyangala priest who had told him there were archaeological  remains at Pulukunava. Uhana police provided 3 police men  as escort. Medhananda  went alone to Galpiyuma      aranaya but met there  a bhikkhu, who had worked in the Health Department and took robes on retirement. He was from   Anguruwella area.

However, there was animosity from some monks. At a temple in Hingurana area, the monk  did not allow us to even eat our food in the bana maduwa. Instead he had scolded us, recalled Medhananda . You have come to grab the temple haven’t you, he said. Go away there are enough monks here and there are no archaeological  remains.   ( CONTINUED)

ADDITIONS

  • Neelagiri pilima lena at Lahugala was a very important site. Medhananda had gone there in 1965 and again in 1981. There is no clear road to Neelagiri.  This is in the forest, and from Moneragala to Pottuvil this forest is wild animal infested.  I will never forget my 1981 journey there, said Medhananda. it was a difficult exploration . We had to use the  paths used by wild animals. It was muddy and rainy and crossing Heda oya was extremely difficult.  Neelagiri was very difficult and dangerous climb, very steep, nothing to hold on to. We  climbed holding on to bushes  and such like, getting scraped. We built a sort of bridge from tree to the rock, I  removed my outer robes and we crept along   on our stomachs. If we slipped we  fell to our death. 
  • There were about 30  Buddhist sites near Udagala Dagoba, also ancient irrigation channels. I explored this  area, taking 6 7 days at a time, under great difficulty ( duk geheta)  I went by foot for hundreds of miles.  I had Some frightening experiences and some hilarious ones too on this exploration.
  • Medhananda  had gone to  look at the ruins in Nanthikadal lagoon, Mullaitivu . He nearly fell into the sea from this hill while inspecting its ruins. Those above caught him by his robes and pulled him up. Medhananda observed that there were no records of this place  in the Department of Archaeology. The LTTE was ruling there at the time.
  • The journey to Niyaguna kanda vihara, Ampara,  was very difficult  and we needed a guide. We were scraped by thorn bushes and had  slight wounds.  We took with us buns, tea and plantains  bought from a nearby boutique.
  • Exploring Valmandiyagala was a frightening, terrifying experience.      At one point they had no water to drink. Slept on a rock, it rained, they got wet.
  • Vedikkinarmalai rock temple was explored in 1964 and 1973 amidst great  difficulty.( duskarata).
  • Mutugalle in Ampara was    very difficult, inaccessible.
  • On one of our trips, we were able to watch two elephants fighting , but we had to take a roundabout route adding about 2 miles to our journey. we  found a cave but were  too scared to sleep  because we could hear the animals.   
  • Vehera wewa  ruins had in inscription dated to 9-11 AD. While I was getting ready to copy this army asked us to come down, an  elephant herd  had arrived.
  • At Padikemgala  we found that our way out was  blocked by a sleeping wild elephant

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