On three well-preserved heritage sites in Sri Lanka

Sheila Kumar makes a trip to three well-preserved heritage sites in Sri Lanka and learns some lessons for life along the way


Ritigala, situated deep inside dense forests (‘Strict Nature Reserve’, announces a signboard), ringed by the high Ritigala mountain range, is not the most accessible of places. In fact, the modern name ‘Ritigala’ is derived from the ancient name Ariṭṭha Pabbata or Dreadful Mountain. The forest contains powerful medicinal herbs that are believed to be guarded by supernatural beings called yakkas. The other legend is that when Hanuman was flying over this place he dropped a chunk of the Himalayan mountain he was carrying from India to Lanka.

On three well-preserved heritage sites in Sri Lanka

This was the palace of King Pandukabhaya, and later, a 3rd Century forest hermitage for the bhikkus. There are tiers of stone-cut steps that go up level by level, a small tank, stone bridges, sunken courtyards, and the ruins of the king’s palace. Basically, we are talking ruins here. No Buddha statue, no stupa, no vihara. But once you reach the place, all you want to do is sit quietly, detach from the noise inside your head and just be.

Life lesson: The only journey is the one within.


The Sigiriya rock standing 200 metres tall (660 feet), dates back to the 5th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sigiriya may be Alakamandava, the City of the Gods that was built 50 centuries ago by King Kuwera, Ravana’s father.

On three well-preserved heritage sites in Sri Lanka

At Sigiriya, you find a moat, one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, fading frescoes of sirens remarkably similar to the art found in Ajanta and once you climb up 1,200 dizzying steps to the top, you see the ruins of what must have been a sumptuous palace across the small plain. There is a dog calmly lying on a brick wall, looking out at the view in front of him. There is a still pond which holds in it the reflection of its brick walls and the overhanging branches of a tree that arches gently over it.

There is also this yearning to park yourself on a grassy knoll and take in the view.

Life lesson: The calm one finds up on the mountain is the calm one takes up there.


Polonnaruwa was once the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms after Anuradhapura. Today, the fabulous architectural park in King Vijayabahu I’s capital city is another World Heritage Site. Think a better preserved Hampi studded with tombs, temples, statues and stupas, and the simply magnificent Parakrama Samudra, an irrigation tank covering more than 15 kilometres of water. The large, beautifully laid-out area is dotted with the remnants of many a Buddha statue, the rock art of the Gal Vihara, the Lotus Pond, intricately worked moonstones, and the revered vatadage (built around stupas to protect them) with its elaborately carved stone platforms which hold four seated Buddha statues, each facing one entrance.


While you do not really want to sit in the sun and study a statue for too long, the now familiar sense of je ne sais quoi is there in the air. It calms you down, it stills the chatter inside your head and on your tongue.

Life lesson: Finding the Buddha within is not the easiest of tasks. But the journey promises a wealth of gratification.


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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 9:11:02 AM |

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