VEN. ELLAWALA MEDHANANDA Part 10
Posted on June 28th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda has spent decades exploring the forgotten temples and monasteries in the Eastern province. His explorations have shown that there was an extensive spread of Buddhist monasteries and forest hermitages in the east in the ancient and medieval periods.

 Medhananda discovered hitherto unknown monasteries, forest hermitages, temples, caves, and inscriptions. The Buddhist ruins at Nilaveli are Mahayana, he said.  TheSembumalai ruins included a standing Buddha statue in limestone and a lotus pedestal, he recorded. Many ancient buildings went under machinery when the Mahaweli scheme started, he observed.

Medhananda‘s explorations have enlarged our knowledge of the Buddhist civilization of the east.  Medhananda found that Nelumpath Pokuna in Kumana was known in ancient times as Gosagala Maha vihara. At Nelumpath he found ruins of a stupa, a Padam gala, plenty of bricks and remains of walls and an inscription by  Kanittha Tissa, (167-86 AD).

Medhananda also found an inscription behind the Kondavattavana army camp, which said the area was Arama gama and  the monastery as Ahali Araba. Digamadulla has been administered by its Dandanayake, a person named  Sangwe Rakus,.  

Medhananda ‘s major contribution to the political history of Sri Lanka ,was his findings  on the Magama  kingdom of Ruhuna, (3rd century BC). Medhananda  had found much information on the Magama kings and the Kavantissa  dynasty in the inscriptions he  discovered. He put it all together and came up with a full history of the Magama kingdom.

Medhananda  first  essay on the Magama kings, published in 1950 was praised in ‘Lankadipa’. Encouraged, he published Magama Rajadhaniya”  in 1970, revised in 2012. In 2017, Ven. Medhananda  was invited to  speak at the Archaeological Society of Sri Lanka, in Colombo. He gave  an excellent, well received   talk on the  Magama kingdom.. I attended this talk.  It is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxeictgo8cg .

 Medhananda views on ‘Magama Rajadhaniya’ have not been challenged , but they have not been recognized either. Sirimal Ranwella’s History of Ruhuna”   ( Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey vol XI, 2011) ignores the views of Medhananda . Medhananda   is not mentioned in the bibliography either.  However, Rajitha Weerakoon  in one of her essays on the history of Sri Lanka ,  stated that Gotabhaya and Yatalalatissa were brothers. This was one of the discoveries of Medhananda . http://archives.dailynews.lk/2006/02/02/fea02.htm).

Medhananda  said that term ‘Devanam Piyatissa”  was used only   for a king ruling at Anuradhapura , not  for those ruling  in Ruhuna. ‘Devanam Piyatissa ‘had been used by more than 18 Sinhalese kings, he added.  ‘Gamini’ and ‘ Aya’   were   used only for the reigning king. 

Medhananda  also  spoke of the early settlements  in Ruhuna.  He said that initially  there were three settlements, Anurajagama, Rohana gama and Digayu gama .Medhananda  had found inscriptions ‘everywhere’  about the leaders of these settlements and their parampara. He even  found an inscription at Hambantota where Anurajagama is mentioned.

Then arose two parallel kingdoms, the Kataragama kingdom ruled by the Kataragama clan,   and  the Anurajagama kingdom, ruled by the Chandana grama. The Kataragama group  was later absorbed into the Magama kingdom, but the Chandana grama group,  it appears was not.

Medhananda found references to Chandana grama in his explorations. Chandana grama had ruled  in the  Kirimakul area. Kirimakul inscription  gave the first generations of rulers of Chandana grama. Medhananda speculated that  Chandana were  also ruling in the Walawe Ganga region.  Walawe Ganga had ancient settlements said Medhananda , there are plenty of ruins to prove it, nobody has explored there. Medhananda  had   explored  Videi yaya and Veediya pitiya  in the Walawe forest. He saw ruins and a huge ancient  road which ended at  the Walawe Ganga. At this point there is  a bridge, said Medhananda .

The Chandana grama  base was Handagiriya said Medhananda . Medhananda’s booklet, Handagiriya hevat Sandangana Nuwara” had attracted much attention. It had gone into many reprints, and  another revision is planned..

Ven Ellawala Medhananda  has gone deep into  dense forests and looked at Buddhist archaeological  remains  which  have not been explored by the  Archaeological Department. In his writings Medhananda  lists the many areas containing Buddhist archaeological remains, which  are not under  the Department of archaeology.

I have carried out these explorations for 40 years, under great difficulty, he said.  He  has gone into inaccessible areas. To reach Madanakanda, he went to Bokkabadda, then across Kosgaha dola, through a chena to Madanakanda. for some explorations he received the support of the army. Medhananda  had  heard of an inscription in Sampath Nuwara ,Weli oya. It was on top of a rock. Army made a ladder  and Medhananda  climbed up with difficulty. 

He   did not go blindly into unexplored jungle territory, he first made inquiries about Buddhist ruins from the people living in the area. Ven.  Kithalagama Seelalankara of Dimbulagala had directed Medhananda to several historical sites, such as Keteragala, Sorivila, Duvegala, Omunugala, Kandegama kanda, Siripalana and   Mutugalle.  Samel, living in Uhana had directed Medhananda to Samangala forest hermitage and to Madanakanda len arama,  to an inscription  he had seen there. The inscription turned out to be a valuable one.

Members of the public also informed him of  places they knew of. Jayanti Liyanage, living in Mangala oya, Ampara had written to Medhananda giving the location of ruins in the area she lived in. Medhananda went there and Jayanti’s mother and brother had helped him.  He found an ancient wewa, old vihara and an old irrigation system.

Medhananda had received a letter from a girl living in Arantalawa, telling him that  there were  Buddhist ruins there. She had read of his explorations in the papers. She had studied history for her A levels. She was presently unemployed and engaged in paddy farming.

Ruins in Maha oya in Ampara are  disappearing , she wrote. Archaeological  Department  is not interested. There was a rock with 4 large stone elephants around it.  but that is  only one place.  I have picked up a piece of clay from the stupa and am keeping it safely. Send me a letter to reach me on Wednesday as that is the day we go to the pola, she concluded. Medhananda went there and looked at the ruins. Area  has been thickly populated earlier.  He found ruins of irrigation channels. 

I did not simply explore, I helped the impoverished villages  there.”, said Medhananda . He provided  money, food clothes, medicines ,books and bank deposits  for children in these villages. He   helped  impoverished temples with sivuru ,pirikara,  and money. I was given a given a gift of   20 lakhs. its interest  was used to give Rs 2500 monthly to   10 temples, he said.

When exploring Henannegala len vihara,  Medhananda had gone in the  evening, past Omuna Nai pen Ella to the cell of Seelalankara himi. This was a cave with a coconut thatch roof.  This was a dangerous journey.  Couldn’t take provisions either, it was too difficult. Instead of sugar, they  crushed chilies and drank coffee or tea with it.  In the  morning Medhananda  ate      iringu which was  roasted over the  fire and  was given hot water to drink. ‘This is to show you the sad  life these monks in these areas were leading,’  said Medhananda . 

Medhananda  befriended monks in the remote places he found them in. Medhananda heard that LTTE had attacked Piyangala hermitage, Piyangala chief priest was shot dead  and the other priests were chased away.   Medhananda knew that beyond Piyangala there were no settlements till Mangala oya. So the monks would be starving.  Medhananda decided to take dry rations to them.

Medhananda prepared three large sackfuls of provisions. Told his assistant to bring the sacks by bus from Avissawella to Balangoda. He would meet him there after a sermon at Pathakada. He was planning to  go to  from   Akkaraipattu to Siyambalanduwa, then take  bus to Ampara but the Ampara bus did not come. They set off in another bus which broke down. They paid a passing lorry and got to Ampara.

The CTB depot there  tried to help. They stopped a passing bus and asked whether he would take the mail and Medhananda to their destinations. The bus driver, a Muslim, said forget the mail bags, I will somehow take the monk to Piyangala and drop him there. He  took Medhananda , stopped by Piyangala dana sala,  helped  unload the bags , worshipped the monk and went away.

The  hermitage was deserted, the  monks starving.  They had survived on the leafy vegetables available in the forest. Not even a monk of our  sect came to see us. You are the first to come to see us, they told Medhananda . I gave them some money and left, said Medhananda .

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda has spent decades exploring the forgotten temples and monasteries in the Eastern province and to a   lesser extent in the north and north western provinces. All three are coastal provinces where the Sinhala Buddhist heritage was getting  systematically displaced by  Tamil and Muslim separatists.

The Sinhala names are going out of use, it is no longer  Kusalana kanda”, and it is now Kunchanamalai”, observed Medhananda . Wilpattu is now coming under Muslim control. Muslims have said that there are no Buddhist ruins in Wilpattu and therefore Muslim settlements can be permitted. Medhananda has shown that Wilpattu was originally  Buddhist . President Sirisena had used one of Medhananda  letter to prove that Wilpattu had Buddhist settlements.

Medhananda was openly anti-LTTE .LTTE had destroyed many ruins said Medhananda . LTTE had bulldozed the standing Buddha statue Paravankandam and destroyed its head completely. The  rest was rescued and  sent to Ampara museum.

Kopavela vihara area is going under the LTTE. It  has caves inscription, columns, moonstones,   siripatula, jatra gala, gal oru,. There is an inscription on Welgaha kandiya wewa bund too. There was a monk,  he was a  teacher at Serankada Vidyalaya. he has left.   

At Kumbakarna malai, LTTE have built bunkers using the bricks taken from the stupa on the rock. LTTE had built a communication tower  at Lankapatuna. We had visited Girikumbara vihara Ampara earlier but  when we went again in 1986 to see what had happened, no one wanted to drive us there, said Medhananda . 

Medhananda  himself had several encounterswith the LTTE.  There was a rock inscription   at Mundikulam malai site, Ampara. Medhananda had missed this on his 1964 visit.He saw it in 1999  but could not take it down as LTTE was lurking there. It was a LTTE base. Medhananda  said he had  first visited Mundikulammalai ruins in 1964  it was fear of wild animals. In 1999 the fear was of the LTTE.   We needed the support of the army and police to go there.

LTTE had caused much destruction to the stupa at Veheragalkanda,  Pulunkunawa. Bricks have been taken to build huts and there was manioc cultivation among the ruins. When I  went in 1982 they had established an Eelam kingdom there. On all hilltops there was the Eelam  symbol drawn in colour.  There was a house built on top of stupa and the owner glared at me.

At Kahabiliyawa Eramadu Medhananda and his group faced a mortar attack from LTTE . At Walatapitiya   (near Sammanthurai) they were surrounded by LTTE cadres   and kept prisoner for several hours.

Medhananda had videoed a partially destroyed inscription at Walatapitiya   and got into their vehicle,   when an LTTE cadres, a girl about 14 or 15 years, came and put her knee to the front bumper. 25  boys and girls on bicycles came and surrounded the vehicle and did not let it leave. they said this was Eelam area and Medhananda  had come without permission of the LTTE .They started  scolding in Tamil , and became aggressive. ‘They were getting ready to  physically attack us. Our lives were in danger   but  about   6 pm the girl by the car moved away’ and the  driver on a signal from Medhananda  drove away fast.  ‘ Some were hit by the   van. Also some bicycles were run over,’ said Medhananda .

The group had threatened Medhananda with death if he ever came back to inspect the site. Medhananda however, wanted  to return to Walatapitiya to finish his exploration. He went again with Sihala Urumaya, led by Tilak Karunaratne. The SU  had decided to accept the LTTE challenge and take the monk back to the site. The special Task Force and the Police were on duty to provide security. But the inscription had been destroyed . LTTE leader of that area, Vishu ,came on bicycle and watched them, but  we did a thorough exploration. Medhananda  also took the delegation to a place close by where a kovil was being constructed with the backing of the LTTE.

Ven Ellawala Medhananda  has his own ideas about the ownership of Buddhist sites. Over 90 % of the archaeological  sites are Buddhist   sites, he observed. Buddhist places of worship, including Buddhist  monastic ruins are the  property of the Sangha. They are sites that have been  offered to the Sangha.  They are therefore the property of the Sangha, not  the property of the Department of Archaeology. It is sanghika property. These sites must be removed from the Archaeology  Department and brought under the supervision of a special band of monks. At present  if a bhikhhu takes up residence in  a temple which is under Archaeology  Department, he is  obstructed. Buddhist monks have a right to be there.

Medhananda practiced what he preached. In the 1970s,  bhikkhu Kehelpannala Sugata vansa wanted Medhananda’s  help to set up an aranya in Ritigala. Medhananda  agreed.   Ven. Sugata went  ahead to Ritigala and cleared out caves at Andiyakanda. Medhananda   recalled that he went there alone, through dense forest with wild elephant and wild buffalo.

 The route was  Kekirawa- Ganewalpola- footpath through  Galapitagala junction to Gala pitagala wewa- along its bund to Andiyakanda. This was a dangerous journey. I now realize this looking back. But I have gone on that road alone, with my  bag, ten or twelve times. But never was  attacked, Medhananda recalled. Medhananda  thought it was due to his Buddhist beliefs. ‘Mama yanne budu guna sihikaragena’. Medhananda wore a suitable robe and helped  Ven, Sugata construct the kuti at Ritigala. We faced a dharanipata rain. This helped to obtain clay ,he said optimistically.

To conclude, Ven Ellawala Medhananda is a courageous, oustspoken bhikkhu. His range of activities is very wide,  possibly more that any other bhikkhu, and he has been effective in all the sectors he has worked in . He deserves more recognition than he has received so far.

In addition to the sources given in the essays, I have also used the biography , Ellawela Medhananda hamuduruwo” by Lakshman Kahatapitiya, pub. Dayawansa Jayakody, 2008. ( CONCLUDED)

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