An archaeological Wonder – The Arankele Monastery in Sri Lanka

by | Feb 10, 2020

Imagine walking through a forest during your tour in Sri Lanka marvel and bumping into a Buddhist monastery! Arankele Monastery is exactly that. Acclaimed to be th premier Forest Hermitage of Sri Lanka, the ancient monastery of Arankele was initially constructed in the 6th century for meditation purposes of the Bhikkhus tribe. Due to strict religious practices taking place at the Arankele Forest Monastery, the buildings are designed with much simplicity and barely any attention to beautification. It is to revive the way of life led by Lord Buddha and his disciples after his Enlightenment.

How to get there?

About 117 km from Colombo, Arankele Monastery is situated in Ganewatta Division of the Kurunegala District. This archaeological site can be reached via the Colombo – Kurunegala – Ibbagamuwa – Moragolla Road.

What it looks like?

Arankele Monastery is about 100 feet in length and 60 feet in breadth. It is amidst a natural habitat, hence mountainous slopes and plateaus are common sightings around here. The terrain is densely wooded, surrounded by massive hardwood trees spaced around the openings. In addition to that, there are many buildings such as hot water bathing houses, parapet encircling Bo trees, promenades, ponds and caves. The monastery is home to the largest hot water pond in Sri Lanka. All this testifies to the excellent work of craftsmen in that day and age.

Long pathways are cut across the slopes of dense forestations along which lies the Arankele Monastery in Sri Lanka, leading to a cluster of natural rock caves and drip ledges that were once used by monks for meditation and shelter. Apart from the drip ledges, the outside of these caves remain rough and the insides are plastered well with lime.

Also visible here are remnants of grinding stones used to prepare Ayurvedic medicines. The recent discovery of these ruins proves the presence of a large Ayurvedic hospital in the monastery.

Further clearing of scattered debris and more ruins unearthed show stone slabs with inscriptions of Brahmi scripts, revealing the existence of meditation halls as well as stone-faced double platform structures and ambulatories for Buddhist monks who lived in the Arankele Monastery. The raised double platforms are a highlighted feature and are formed by retaining walls of massive stone, found in pairs, and then joined with a stone bridge. The building can be accessed from either side of the stone bridge with the help of two short flights of steps placed in between the two platforms. The railings and guard stones are very simple and not garnished. 

Another interesting characteristic of the Anarkele Monastery is that water troughs surrounded the buildings in order to keep the interior cool.

Unlike other monasteries that you visit on your cultural tour in Sri Lanka, such as Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, this monastery does not have stupas and shrines. There is however the existence of decorated urinal stones, the purpose of which has not yet been established.