RITIGALA, SRI LANKA,
THE LAND OF DELIGHTS
Romances From The Resplendent Island 1 by B. Upul N. Peiris
Unmada Chithra (The beauty who overwhelm one & all with maddening desire)
The first king of Lanka, King Vijaya, who arrived in the Resplendent Island, the Land of Delights in the year of final extinction of Gauthama Buddha (543 BC), by karma, wasn’t blessed to have a son. Since the next best one, if there is such a one, no doubt is the nephew. Prince Panduvasdev (Pandu Vasudeva), son of the brother of King Vijaya, King Sumithra of Vanga Kingdom (modern Bengal) of northern India was brought into the island & was crowned the king of Lanka an year following the demise of King Vijaya.
Meanwhile in India, King Pandu of Vanga kingdom was threatened with war by no less than seven princes of seven neighboring kingdoms. The cause of the impending war, as in the Iliad & Ramayana & many other epics was non other than a woman: the king’s lissome daughter of matchless beauty. Her hand in marriage was valued, by the princes, over & above the war & death of hundreds of thousands of men. Well! Hell or nuclear bomb, you have to get your women, a man has to do what he has to do. Her marriage to one would cause numerous bloody battles since no prince worth his salt, with an army & kingdom in his possession, could leave a goddess-like princess to any other man. Her father King Pandu was no other than son of King Amithodana, the brother of King Suddhodana, whose son Prince Siddhartha transcended the human condition to become supremely enlightened Buddha. It was beneath the virtues of kings of Shakya clan to get involved in wars. The court astrologers came to the fore by making a timely prediction. Set the princess adrift in the ocean, she would safely reach an island, whose king would make her his queen. The princess together with 32 noble maids was set adrift in the great River Ganges. The river carried them to the ocean & by good fortune, the vessel caught favorable land-bound wind & ended up in the coast of Thammana of the kingdom of Lanka.
King Panduvasdev of the Resplendent Island, the Land of Delights, already being alerted by his own astrologers on a miraculous event to unfold had made his post at the coast. The princess & her entourage of 32 noble maids were taken to the kingdom in ceremony. As if the kingdom of the Land of Delights wouldn’t do, now the king had the untold fortune of taking a seaborne delight of a lissome princess of matchless beauty to his embrace: a Venus. The state of affairs couldn’t get any better. His ministers wouldn’t take a backseat either: they made swift moves to the 32 maids. All comes to the one who wait & make the right move in ripe time.
Unlike his uncle, King Panduvasdev was blessed with children; his Queen Bhadrakathyana gave birth to no less than ten sons. The only girl she gave birth grew up to be a maid of such beauty that would overwhelm one & all with maddening desire with the mere sight of her. Hence she was called Unmada (maddening desire in Sinhala) Chithra (picture). Like mother, like daughter, the beauty of the Unmada Chitra was the subject of royal astrologers: the Brahmins skilled in the sacred texts foretold she would give a birth to a son who would eventually slay nine of his 10 maternal uncles for the sake of sovereignty. Eldest son of the king, Prince Abhaya restrained his brothers from causing harm to his one & only sister.
Princess Unmada Chitra was imprisoned in the chamber built at the top of a light house like tower called Ek Tam Ge (meaning one chamber house in Sinhalese). The one & only chamber of the tower was at the topmost of the tower & access to which could be made only through the most exclusive chamber of the kingdom; royal bedchamber.
Having heard of the maddening beauty of the princess, a Prince by the name Deegha Gamini (Deega meaning tall in Sinhalese) was overwhelmed with the longing for her. The prince was a son of one of the 6 brothers-in-law of King Panduvasdev. They had arrived from Vanga kingdom of India on a visit, immediately following the arrival of Bhadrakathyana & then resolved not to return to Vanga but to take abode in the island of delights. Prince Deega Damini would spare no stone unturned & stealth scaled the lighthouse like pillar from the outside wall & then take a dive out of the window to the sea if he couldn’t take Ummada Chithra to his embrace. Lust & love would drive the lion-hearted to become larger than the life. Hiding his true intentions to the hilt, the prince sought the consent of his father to call upon the king.
The king Paduvasddev, impressed to no ends, by the stature & warlike skills of his nephew who paid him a courtesy call, appointed him a guardian of the royal place. Prince Deegha Gamini, by means of a collapsible mechanical ladder called “Karakataka Yanthra” succeeded in scaling the tower. It was the beginning of his nocturnal tryst with Princess Unmada Chithra. The princess didn’t fail either. She conceived. Swift moves brought in swift results.
Having heard of the affair & the result of it, & having resolved that no harm be inflicted upon the prince & the princess, King Panduvasdev summoned Prince Deegha Gamini & ordered, in view of the prediction, should a son be born, new born be put to death at once. The prince having taken his lion-hearted course of the destiny, having confronted the king & the royal court, from thereon the princess set to work. It was to be the time for womanly virtue of weaving a net of schemes & lies to save the life of her son. Princess Unmada Chithra had an attendant find peasant woman with the same maturity of pregnancy as herself. When the time was ripe, when the women gave birth to a daughter, the newborn girl was brought into the chamber by the attendant of Chitra. It was declared a girl was born to the princess. The mother & grandmother, who were in the scheme, joining the names of the grandfather & the eldest uncle, named the newborn boy Pandukabhya.
The newborn son of Chithra, smuggled out of the Ek Tam Ge by the attendant to a villager, who was sworn into the secrecy & whose wife gave birth to a son on that very day. The villager declared that his wife gave birth to twin sons. The prince was brought up in secrecy by the villager. Prince Pandukabhya, son of Prince Deega Gamini & Princess Unmada Cithra, in the prime of his life waged war against his maternal uncles. During the battle at RIITIGALA nine of his 10 uncles were killed. Prince Pandukabhaya, ascended the throne at the age of 37 to reign over the island of Lanka for 70 years during 437 BC to 367 BC.
RITIGALA, Sri Lanka
Ritigala is situated in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, 27 mile from the ancient monastic city of Anuradhapura, one of the 7 World Heritage Sites of the island. The Ritigala mountain range comprises of 6 mountain peaks- Mount Ritigala, Mount Andiyakanda-Hinna, Mount Deviyange Kanda, Mount Maha Kanda, Mount Seethala Kanda & Mount Kuda Arabedda Hina.
RITIGALA, Sri Lanka
Where trekkers dare, epic, mythology, history, strict nature reserve, Sanjeewa Plant (Sansevi), an archaeological site, serene atmosphere & cool air, bubbling streams, huge boulders & noble trees, stone bridges, raised platforms & courtyards, forest monastery, ruins of an Ancient hospital
RITIGALA, Sri Lanka
According to popular belief, Lord Hanuman of supernatural powers, who could rise up to the occasion & become bigger than the task assigned, become bigger than the problem (with apologies to Suda Murthy of Infosys, India) flew, jump, travelled over Ritigala, by accident, dropping one of the chunks of the Himalaya, which he was carrying from India to Lanka for its medicinal herbs. Lord Rama’s brother, Prince Lakshmana was mortally wounded in battle & only a rare herb in the Himalaya could save his life. Well, come to think of it, the pocket of vegetation of healing herbs & plants at the strange mini-plateau at the summit of Ritigala that is distinct from the dry-zone flora of the lower slopes & surrounding plains at Ritigala could be accounted for. Perhaps.
Written by B. Upul N. Peiris
NOW MORE ON RITIGALA FOR YOU
Ritigala mountain is 2,513 feet above sea level, three miles long and lies in a north-south direction. It is the highest mountain in northern Sri Lanka and in the rainy season its summit is often shrouded in mist and cloud. The modern name Ritigala is derived from the ancient name mentioned in the Mahavamsa, Arittha Pabbata, pabbata meaning a mountain and arittha meaning dreadful, or alternatively safety. It was from here, says the great Hindu epic, that Hanuman leapt back to India to tell Rama that his kidnapped wife Sita, had been found.
These are at least 70 caves at Ritigala which were prepared for monks between the 1st century BCE and the early centuries CE. An inscription in one of these caves mentions that King Lanjatissa the brother of Duttagamini gifted it and he probably founded the first monastery at Ritigala. The Culavamsa tells us that King Sena I built a monastery here for the Pansakulika monks and provided it with numerous slaves and servants. It is the ruins of this monastery that the modern pilgrim sees today. Sometime during the 8th century a group of monks broke away from the Abhayagiri and called themselves the Pansakulikas, that is ‘The Rag-robe Warers’. Wearing robes made out of rags, usually shrouds picked up from cemeteries, is one of the thirteen ascetic practices (dhutanga) allowed by the Buddha.
The fact that the Pansakulikas chose to name themselves after this particular practice suggests that they were reformers, probably protesting against what they a saw as the comfort and indolence of the city monks. However, the remains of their monasteries suggest that they were something more than just a ‘back to the forest movement’. All of their monasteries have certain mysterious features unique in Sri Lankan monastic architecture; long paved paths often with roundabouts in them, large stone-lined and stepped reservoirs and strangest of all so-called double platforms. These platforms are made out of huge slabs of beautifully cut stone and always occur in twos, joined by a bridge. They are usually built on natural rock foundations and are always aligned in the same direction. Near the platforms is often found a so-called urinal stone some of which are elaborately decorated. In fact, these ‘urinal stones’ are the only things in Pansakulika monasteries with any decorations on them at all. Further, no stupas, image houses, temples or images have ever been found at Pansakulika sites.
These mysterious features have so far defied all attempts to explain them. They were obviously related to some practices or rituals that the Pansakulikas did but what these were no one knows. For at least two centuries the Pansakulikas commanded enormous respect from both kings and commoners. But over the centuries they accumulated vast estates and their asceticism became more symbolic rather than real. In the 12th century they split into two rival sects and during the reign Vijayabahu I they left Polonnaruva in a huff when their wealth was confiscated as a part of the kings attempts to reform and unite the Sangha. After that they disappeared from history.
The ruins at Ritigala comprise nearly 50 double platforms and other buildings and cover an area of about 120 acres. It can be worthwhile just following any path one happens to find and see where it leads. But be careful, the jungle is very thick and it is easy to get lost. Also be careful of snakes particularly the adder which becomes very still when approached and thus is easy to tread on. To the left of the parking area at Ritigala a rough path leads through the jungle to several caves where some eight monks are living. This is a properly functioning meditation monastery so if you do decide to visit maintain an attitude of quiet respect.
Entering the ruins the pilgrim comes to a huge man-made reservoir created by building a bund across a valley down which two streams flow from the mountain. The circumference of the receiver is 1,200 feet and its inside is lined with stones meant to protect it and also to serve as steps for bathers. The top of the bund is also paved with large stones. Before being breached this reservoir would have held about 2 million gallons of water. Ritigala’s monks would have used this water for drinking and bathing but they probably also earned an income from it by channeling it to farmers. The path to the ruins runs along the southern bank of the reservoir, crosses a bridge, passes a circus and then leads to the first buildings. Turning right the pilgrim will come to the main refectory. This large rectangular building with a sunken and paved courtyard in its center with pillars around it. Note the several types of grindstones and the stone trough. As there were no villages nearby the monks could not go begging every day to get their food. Devotees probably donated raw rice which was cooked by the monastery staff and then offered to the monks.
Monkeys at Ritigala
Just near the refectory is a large area enclosed by a wall which like most of the structures at Ritigala is made of huge finely cut and dressed slabs of stone. Within this area are two pairs of double platforms. Note how perfectly the stones fit together. These seem to have been the monastery’s main reception buildings. On the northern end of the enclosure wall is a path that leads down a ravine to a river where there is a stone bridge and a bathing place. Return to near the north west corner of the enclosed area and the pilgrim will see a path leading westward through very thick forest. This paved path runs for about a 1000 feet and has several flights of stairs to allow for the incline and more difficult to understand, two roundabouts. The first of these roundabouts, roughly halfway along the path, is the largest, while the second smaller one is towards the end of the path. A little before the first roundabouts a path leads off to the left to an impressive stone bridge, several double platforms and caves.
How to Get There
The turn off to Ritigala is on the main Anuradhapura-Polonnaruva road some 7 km from Ganawalpola and about 16 miles from Habarana between the 6 and 7 mile post. The ruins are about 3 miles from the turn off and the road is unpaved but in good condition. The ruins are situated roughly half way along the mountain on its eastern side.
| © 2007 Copyright Ven. S. Dhammika & BuddhaNet/Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.