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:: Aranakele Forest Monastery, Kurunegala ::

City : Kurunegala

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Dolukanda, in Hiriyala 20 miles north of Kurunegala Town, is famous for its rare medicinal plants that grow wild. Nearby is the famous forest hermitage of Arankele, dating back to the Anuradhapura period. The name Arankele is derived from Aram (hermitages), Kele (forest). Arankele means hermitages in the forest. Among the ruins are a Bodhigam, Simamalake and well-laid paths used by the Monks to pace to and fro in meditation. Another unique feature about the Arankele forest monastery is that it has the largest hot water bath in Sri Lanka which is around 100ft in length and 60ft in breadth. There also are vestiges of grinding stones which have been used to make herbal medicines in the past. The vegetation of this forest monastery is in consonance with that of the Kurunegala District. An environmentally friendly person would find typical tropical vegetation which includes hardwood trees.

Following in their footsteps centuries after one comes across a perfectly circular roundabout paved with stone. It is said that these roundabouts were built so that the arahats walking deep in meditation might not collide with one other.

There are also 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.

Leading 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, nestles a small rock cave which has been fashioned into a three roomed little abode. The entrance is through a wooden door which is a replica of the original.

Parts of the original stone door frame can be seen fallen on the side. By the entrance door are 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 open into two rooms on either side. Each room contains 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. There is a slab of granite lying on a side which has had been used as a portico over the doorway. The buildings of this forest hermitage are without any form of decoration. Also of significance is the absence of stupas, shrines identified with the Bo-tree, and images. All this is in keeping with the simplicity and austere religious practices which guided 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.


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