Ritigala Monastery Ruins & Strict Natural Reserve

Ritigala ruins
Ritigala or Aritthagiri (Sinhala: රිටිගල) is a mountain [753 m (2,470.47 ft. amsl)] with the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery, situated in Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka.

The name “Ritigala” comprises two words; ‘Riti’ and ‘gala’. In the Sinhala language, ‘gala’ means ‘the rock’. The word ‘Riti’ has five possible meanings (CCF, 1983).

(i)Riti’ may have derived from the Pali word ‘Arittha’ (Sanskrit: Aristi) which means ‘safety’. The chronicle Mahavamsa mentions this place as ‘Arittha Pabbatha’ (in the Pali language, ‘Pabbatha’ is used to denote a ‘rock or mountain’), and this identification is confirmed by H.C.P. Bell’s discovery of the name ‘arita-gama’ in two of the inscriptions that found in Ritigala premises; one at Kuda-arambadda-hinna and the other at Vevel-tenna (Wickremasinghe, 1912).

(ii) The word ‘arittha’ can also be translated as ‘dreadful’, so, it may give the meaning as ‘the dreadful rock’ (CCF, 1983). The villagers in the neighbourhood of Ritigala believe that this place is infested by Yakkhas [(demons) Wickremasinghe, 1912].

(iii) According to some, this mountain has got its name due to the Riti-trees (Antiaris toxicaria) growing upon it (CCF, 1983; Green, 1990).

(iv) ‘Arittha’ may also give the meaning of ‘the long pole’. Thus it can be identified as a rock as steep & erect as a long pole (CCF, 1983).

(v) The name Arittha-pabbata may simply be the ‘mountain of Arittha’, named after the prince Maha-Arittha, a nephew of King Devanampiyatissa [(247-207 B.C.) CCF, 1983; Wickremasinghe, 1912]. Arittha was the one appointed by the king to obtain a cutting of the Bodhi tree from the Indian Emperor Asoka (CCF, 1983).

The legendary aspect of Ritigala is first encountered in Ramayanaya, one of the Sanskrit epics of ancient India. The Aristha mountain that is mentioned in Ramayanaya is supposed by some to be the Ritigala mountain in Sri Lanka (CCF, 1983). However, the authenticity of Ramayanaya is controversial, and therefore it is today dismissed as a myth (JRASSL, 2014).

All vegetation on Ritigala is believed to be protected by Yakkhas, the guardian spirits of the mountain (CCF, 1983). Yakkhas are thought to have inhabited Sri Lanka before the arrival of Vijaya in the 5th century B.C. and Ritigala is thought to have been one of the main living places of them. The Samantakuta Vannana, a 13th-century Pali poem on Sri Pada (Adam’s peak) mountain mentions Ritigala as one of the haunts of aborigines of the country, named Yakkhas at the time of the supposed first visit of Buddha to Sri Lanka (Wickremasinghe, 1912). Some regard the Yakkhas as the forebears of the present Vedda community (CCF, 1983).

King Pandukabhaya
As mentioned in the 'Etymology' section, the Mahavamsa identifies this place as ‘Arittha Pabbatha’. The earliest reference to this name in the chronicle is found during the time of Prince Pandukabhaya [(reigned: 377-307 B.C.) Nicholas, 1963]. It is said that Pandukabhaya got the support of the inhabitants of Ritigala, the Yakkhas, in the decisive battle against his uncles (CCF, 1983; Wickremasinghe, 1912).

Several Sri Lankan chronicles and texts such as Mahavamsa, Kada-im-pota (‘Boundary Book), Samantakuta Vannana, etc. reveal some detail about Ritigala (Wickremasinghe, 1912). The Mahavamsa states that Prince Dutugemunu (reigned: 161-137 B.C.) during his military campaign against King Elara (c.205-161 B.C.), a South Indian invader, had stayed at a village named Mahelanagara for four months before subduing the commander named Mahela by a cunningly planned battle (CCF, 1983). Scholars such as C.W. Nicholas believe that Mahelanagara village must have been near the Makulaka Vihara which was built at the foot of Ritigala (CCF, 1983; Nicholas, 1963).

In the 7th century A.D., Prince Jetthatissa, the younger son of King Samghatissa II (c. 611-? A.D.) who was beheaded with his elder son by a usurper to the throne, spent his time at Arittha (Ritigala) mountain to organize an army to attack the usurper and regain the throne (CCF, 1983).

Buddhist monasteries
As the presence of the Early Brahmi Cave Inscriptions, Ritigala can be identified as a site that provided dwellings to Buddhist monks since the pre-Christian era (Paranavitana, 1970). The Mahavamsa records that King Suratissa (187-177 B.C.) constructed a monastery called Makulaka Vihara (Mangula Viharaya) at the foot of the Ritigala mountain (CCF, 1983; Wikramagamage, 2004; Wickremasinghe, 1912) Also, it is said that by the 1st century B.C., there was a monastery named Arittha Viharaya built by King Lanjatissa [(59-50 B.C.) CCF, 1983; Nicholas, 1963; Wickremasinghe, 1912]. However, the locations of both monasteries are now no longer known (CCF, 1983).

The Culavamsa (the latter part of Mahavamsa) reveals that in the 9th century A.D., King Sena I (833-853 A.D.) constructed a monastery on Ritigala for the Buddhist monks of Pamsukulika fraternity (CCF, 1983; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). He had also given to it royal privileges and a great number of keepers for the garden, servants, and artificers (Wickremasinghe, 1912). An inscription erected by this king in Kivulekada mentions him as King Salamevan, the founder of the Ritigal Monastery (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1933).

The site is believed to be alive until its monastery was destroyed by the South Indian Cholas who started to invade the country at the end of the 10th century A.D. (CCF, 1983). From that time onward, the monastic site remained in the jungle silently until it was reported by explorers in the latter half of the 19th century (CCF, 1983).

The ruins of the site were first reported by James Mantell in 1872, and again by D.G. Mantell in 1878 (CCF, 1983). More reports on them came later with a few publications by A.P. Green (1888), and J.B.M. Ridout [(1892) CCF, 1983]. An extensive report on the rock caves, and ruins as well as the inscriptions of Ritigala was published in 1893 by the then Archaeological Commissioner H.C.P. Bell (CCF, 1983). 
The first report on the rich flora composition of the Ritigala mountain was published in 1889 by a botanist named Henry Trimen (CCF, 1983; Gunawardene & Wijeyaratne, 2020). He was followed by Wills in 1906 and Jayasuriya in 1984 (Gunawardene & Wijeyaratne, 2020).

Ancient ruins and monuments
Caves & inscriptions
More than 70 rock caves with or without inscriptions have been identified in Ritigala (CCF, 1983). The caves are distributed as clusters and the largest clusters are found on the Na-Maluwa and Na-Ulpota ridges to the west, the Kuda-arambedda ridge to the south-west, the Marakkala Ulpota on the south termination of the range, and the Andiyakanda ridge to the east (CCF, 1983). Also, a few clusters of caves have been identified in the vicinity of Banda-Pokuna, Veveltenna Ridge, and the Karammbe-hinne range. A large number of early-Brahmi inscriptions that are inscribed on the brows of these caves have been read and published from time to time by scholars such as H.C.P. Bell, D.M.D.Z. Wickremasinghe, and S. Paranavitana (Paranavitana, 1970; Wickremasinghe, 1912). Of them, a cave inscription from the Andiyakanda complex is considered historically important as it is the only one in which a king is referred to as the son of another (CCF, 1983).

Period: 1st century B.C.
Transcript: Devanapiya-maharajha Gamini-Tisaha puta Devanapiya-Tisa-ma[harajhaha] lene agata-anagata-cadu-disa-shagasha.
Translation: The cave of the great King Tissa, the Friend of the Gods, son of the great King Gamani Tissa, the Friend of the Gods, [is given] to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and absent.
Notes: The donor of this inscription has been identified as King Lanjatissa (59-50 B.C.) the builder of the Arittha Viharaya at Ritigala. The father mentioned here is King Saddhatissa (77-59 B.C.).
References: CCF, 1983; Paranavitana, 1970.

The ruined Padhanaghara Monastery complex
The ruined monastery complex covers an area of about 24 hectares (60 acres) and is located on the eastern side of the Ritigala mountain (CCF, 1983). It has been identified as a Padhanaghara type monastery endowed to the monks of the Pamsukulika fraternity by King Sena I in the 9th century A.D. (CCF, 1983; Devendra, 1956). This type of monasteries has also been identified at a number of sites including Veherabandigala, Arankele, Mihintale, and Western Monasteries at Anuradhapura. 

‘Pamsukulika’ means ‘rag robes’ and the monks of this order wore only robes made from rags collected from the corpses in the cemeteries or rags thrown away by the laity (CCF, 1983). They followed extreme austerity practices and lived in monasteries now known as Padhanaghara Pirivenas (CCF, 1983). Pamsukulika monks came into prominence at the end of the 7th century A.D. or the beginning of the 8th century A.D. and disappeared from the chronicles after the beginning of the 12th century A.D. (CCF, 1983). 
A Padhanaghara is often built at a site with bedrock almost at the surface or at a shallow depth. The monastery design usually follows a typical plan with a twin structure (two/double-platform) made out of dressed stones, surrounded by a shallow artificial moat. The two platforms are linked to each other by a  large monolithic stone slab/bridge spanning across the shallow moat in between. Bathing ponds, long terraces for the meditational walks of the resident monks, and outer boundary walls are also found in these monasteries.

A distinguishing feature of these monuments is that the buildings of this type of monasteries are not decorated with ornamental carvings and sculptures but urinal and lavatory stones have been decorated with ornate stone carvings. One such urinal stone with decorations has been found on the Ritigala premises (CCF, 1983). 

The wooden Buddha statue
A broken Buddha statue made of wood was discovered in 1893 by H.C.P. Bell at the site known as Na-Maluwa in Ritigala (Devendra, 1956). This artefact is special because of the unusual posture depicts by the hands of the statue. The hands are crossed over the chest and fingers are lightly resting on the mid-upper arms. The body including the left shoulder is covered with the robe but leaves the right shoulder bare. It is considered to be one of the oldest specimens of Buddha images in this category (Wikramagamage, 2004).
A few statues with similar postures have also been found at other sites in Sri Lanka, such as Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa, Yatala Vehera in Tissamaharamaya, and Dambulla Viharaya in Dambulla (Devendra, 1956).
On the way climbing up to the summit of the Ritigala mountain, a large breached pond known as Banda-Pokuna can be seen. The pond encloses an area of about 0.8 hectares (2 acres) and its broken bund has a polygonal plan (CCF, 1983). The inner face of the bund is lined with continuous stone steps which, in ancient times, led down into the water (CCF, 1983). The total circumference of the pond is 366 m [(1200 ft) CCF, 1983].

Ritigala Mountain and forest
Located between the two ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the Ritigala mountain rises to 766 m.a.s.l. (Wickramasinghe et al., 1996). It is the highest mountain range rising from the great central plain of Sri Lanka and its height easily surpasses the elevations of other neighbouring mountains including Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Mihintale (CCF, 1983). The mountain is divided into northern and southern blocks by the shallow Maha-Degala gorge (Green, 1990; Gunawardene & Wijeyaratne, 2020).

The Ritigala mountain experience different environmental conditions probably due to varying heights, rainfall, temperature, and wind patterns (Wikramagamage, 2004). Although the altitude of Ritigala is comparatively low, the climate at the summit of the mountain is unexpectedly cooler. It receives high rainfall, especially during the north-east monsoon season than any part of the dry zone which surrounds it (CCF, 1983). The mist and clouds that cover the summit, mainly during the southwest monsoon season result in high vapour condensation and therefore keep the earth always wet even at a time when the surrounding plain below is gripped in drought (CCF, 1983).

Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve
Due to its rich bio-diversity, the upper part of the Ritigala mountain (altitude: 125-766 m) was declared as a strict nature reserve by a government gazette notification (no. 8809) published on 7 November 1941 (Green, 1990; Wikramagamage, 2004). The forest extends from north to south about 6.5 km distance with a maximum width of about 3 km (Wickramasinghe et al., 1996). The total area of the reserve is 1,528.1 hectares (Wikramagamage, 2004). Presently, the forest is administered under the authority of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (Wickramasinghe et al., 1996). 

The dominant vegetation in Ritigala is dry-mixed evergreen forest (Gunawardene & Wijeyaratne, 2020). However, the vegetation of the area can be divided into several clear altitudinal zones, viz; Disturbed dry-mixed evergreen (below 300 m), Dry-mixed evergreen (300-500 m), Short stature forest [(above 500 m) Gunawardene & Wijeyaratne, 2020]. Studies carried out by Jayasuriya in this reserve in 1980, and 1984 revealed more than 400 taxa and among them, about 80 are non-flowering plants (Green, 1990). Out of the 329 flowering plants he recorded, 54 (representing 16.4%) species are endemic to Sri Lanka (Green, 1990).
Ritigala is also home to a large number of wild animals including elephants, leopards, monkeys, birds, amphibians, and reptiles (Green, 1990). A good number of them are endemic to the country (Wikramagamage, 2004).
Ritigala ruins Ritigala ruins
Do you know?

1) CIMG0026 by Jaliyaj is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve by VLS Travels is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
2) Ritigala by Teseum is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
3) Ritigala by Marc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

1) CCF, 1983. Ritigala. Central Cultural Fund. Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Colombo. pp.1-33.
2) Devendra, D.T., 1956. An unusual hand position in Ceylon statuary. Artibus Asiae, 19(2), pp.126-136.
3) Green, M.J.B. ed., 1990. IUCN directory of South Asian protected areas. IUCN. pp.239-242. 
4) Gunawardene, K.W., and Wijeyaratne, S.C., 2020. Species diversity and altitudinal preferences of lichens on selected substrata in Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve. Journal of the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka, 48(1).
5) JRASSL, 2014. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2, Special Issue on the Ramayana (2014). https://www.jstor.org/stable/i40203619. pp.1-112.
6) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). pp.171-172.
7) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Volume I: Early-Brahmi inscriptions. Department of Archaeology Ceylon. pp.19-21.
8) Paranavitana, S., 1933. (Edited and translated by Wickremasinghe, D.M.D.Z.; Codrington, H.W.) Two inscriptions of Sena I. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. III. Printed at the Department of Government Printing, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) for the Archeological Department. pp.289-191.
9) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.35-39.
10) Wickramasinghe, A., Pérez, M.R. and Blockhus, J.M., 1996. Nontimber forest product gathering in Ritigala Forest (Sri Lanka): household strategies and community differentiation. Human Ecology, 24(4), pp.493-519. 
11) Wickremasinghe, D.M.D.Z., 1912. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). London. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. pp.135-153. 
Location Map
This page was last updated on 30 July 2023

Post a Comment

Cookie Consent
We serve cookies on this site to analyze traffic, remember your preferences, and optimize your experience.
It seems there is something wrong with your internet connection. Please connect to the internet and start browsing again.
AdBlock Detected!
We have detected that you are using adblocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website, we request you to whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.
Site is Blocked
Sorry! This site is not available in your country.