(Reproduced from the Daily Mirror of December 18, 2001)
trees, creepers and stone pillars scattered around Arankale speak of an
intriguing civilisation, a bygone era, while rare species of insects,
found in abundance, tell of a rich, biological heritage. However, Arankale
is not an old kingdom or a palace which once sheltered a mighty king. The
whole forest was designed for another purpose.
vast forest land was scattered with patanagara or apartments designed for
meditation, bathing ponds providing hot and cold water, a hall designed
for walking and a two kilometre walking path designed for the monks to
meditate while walking.
The walking path and the walking hall was designed to provide much needed exercise to the monks who spent most of their time in meditation. The thissamahapaya was designed as a hostel for the monks and they also used it as a dharmasala, where they preached to the public who provided them with food, medicine and clothing.
The Arankale monastery was improved upon by King Jethatissa. The Arankale forest land was chosen as the suitable place, considering the security it provided. The land is surrounded by the ancient dolukanda, dunkanda and madukanda mountains and are full of trees with medicinal and timber value.
After King Jethatissa, King Mahasen and King Buddadasa too added their touch to the monastery. It is believed that King Buddadasa, who was also a specialist in ayurveda, instructed the planting of medicinal plants around the monastery. Today none of this remain except for the ancient trees and creepers which protect the monastery from the greedy eyes of treasure hunters and tree cutters. However, the Buddhist monks still use these grounds for meditation. Eighteen bikkhus attached to the Arankale Maliyadeva Senasana continue with their meditation using the new and old meditation apartments available to them.
Most of them are situated deep in the forest far away from the attachments of today's commercialised world. The deep silence which pervades the walking path, the ruins and the meditation apartments is capable of healing the most untamed soul. Ruined staircases lead to an open space conveying the secret message of nibbana. A creeper or a pusvela may cross the trail of the walking path telling a centuries old story of rejection and solitude.
This rejection and solitude has attracted other kinds of inhabitants. Numerous species of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and other types of insects are a common sight to anyone who visits Arankale. One cannot miss the sight of butterflies dancing among the sunbeams at daybreak. This is also a ground for bird watching in the mornings. One can easily observe a Bird Wing Butterfly or an Ankatussa resting, among the trees of the Arankale.
Arankale has become an archaeological site, a biological hotspot and a garden of medicinal plants subject to the changing character of nature. Walking through the path at the end of the day one can catch a glimpse of the yellow robe of a bhikkhu on his way to the pond or retreating to his meditation grounds after a walk. The sight takes you 800 years back, when Arahath Maliyadeva, the last Arahath of Sri Lanka, spent his time meditating at Arankale.
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