January 2019


Haththikuchchi: Silently Standing the Test of Time
January 2019




The circular Theva Mandapaya in the foreground and the vatadage in the background

One of the four ancient monasteries of the country, Haththikuchchi in Rajanganaya is situated in the Kurunegala district and reflects the rich spiritual culture and heritage of the nation.


Words: Udeshi Amarasinghe
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Geeth Viduranga


Amidst lush greenery and resplendent trees, the historical aranya senasanaya lies within a tranquil environment evoking its serene past to those who venture forth. Believed to have been built by King Devanampiyatissa more than 2300 years ago, it is said that over 500 Arahants resided at Haththikuchchi Viharaya engaging in meditation and other religious activities.


The term Haththikuchchi, which is a Pali term, means ath or tusker (hasthi) stomach (kusa). The reason being that the large rock outcrop within the monastery complex resembles a tusker. The buildings on the premises date back to the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandyan periods, which indicate Royal patronage. Over the years the monastery was abandoned and the entire complex was engulfed in jungle. It was around 1947 that the Archeology Department started excavation and at that time the name of the place could not be determined. Since the location was very close to the Anuradhapura kingdom, with the meaning of Royal garden (raja midula), the name Rajanganaya was bestowed. Much later a rock inscription was found that indicated that the monastery complex was called Haththikuchchi Viharaya. There are ruins and remnants spanning over an area of 195 acres. However, archeological excavations have been completed only in an area of 28 acres. There is a belief that the story of the benevolent King Sirisangabo is associated with Haththikuchchi as the site is in close proximity to Anuradhapura. However, archeological evidence has not been found as yet.


Walking along the well-worn paths of Haththikuchchi tranquility remains, with the numerous trees such as kaluwara, weera, palu, damba, kohomba and much more providing shade and cooling environment. Ponds too had been made throughout the complex as a source of water for the various requirements of the residents at that time.


The chapter house believed to have been built during mid-Anuradhapura era had a carved moonstone and guard stones at the entrance. The pilimagey was simple and unadorned, which was the feature of early-Anuradhapura period, thus reflecting the fact that structures had been added as years passed on. The large rock outcrop in the shape of a tusker stood tall and the surface was etched with stone inscriptions. The outline of an elephant just visible above the greenery. The sanatorium or janthagaraya had a central stone tub in which water was filled with various healing concoctions for Buddhist monks who were recovering from illnesses.


A few steps further and a view of a rock atop another rock can be seen. This was said to be a galugula or trap where the large stone was pushed onto the road (which was the shortest route to Anuradhapura) to prevent enemy forces from proceeding further. The remnants of a circular building interested us; this is said to have been the theva mandapaya where the Hewisi bands and drums performed for various rituals. Another thinking is that the buildings was the asanagaraya. The bodhigaraya and vatada gey are located thereafter, with pedestals for flowers as well as water points to wash flowers and provide water to the Bodhiya that was once located in the temple. From this point, a rock shelter is visible atop the hill. It is believed that King Sirisangabo, after leaving his kingdom, lived a hermit's life in Haththikuchchi and it was in this rock shelter that he meditated with the tranquil view before him. The peaceful environment is indeed conducive for meditation and relaxation.


We climbed a short staircase to reach the remnants of the sanghawasa and thereafter another flight of steps to reach a stone cave kutiya where the resplendent statue of a reclining Buddha statue can be seen. The arms and feet of the statue are believed to have been made of wood covered in clay, and the body of the statue is entirely of clay. A statue of God Vishnu has also been placed within, though the features are barely visible. The stone cave roof has ledges that prevent rain water from falling in.


Further on, there are remnants of a small complex used for the various types of meditation. There is a place to sit and meditate, a sakman maluwa for meditating while walking, a stone bridge and steps carved on to the rock-face all indicating the disciplined nature of the Buddhist monks.


We finally reached the top of the rock, a meditational kutiya within a cave was further cooled by a rain water pond etched into the stone. And, it is said that the pond is full throughout the year. The view was magnificent and the pristine white Ruwanveliseya stupa in Anuradhapura is visible from this vantage point.


The peaceful environs of Haththikuchchi Viharaya would have been a spiritual haven where great minds realised the meaning of life.

  • image01
    image01

    Remnants of a sangawasaya. King Sirisangabo is believed to have meditated in the rock cave above

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The galugula, placed in a manner to prevent enemy forces from proceeding further

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The Chapter House built during the Anuradhapura period has elaborate carvings

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The various water-bodies throughout the complex provides a cooling environment

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The cave temple within which a reclining Buddha statue is placed

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    An area allocated for the various types of meditation

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The meditational kutiya with a rain water pond etched into the stone

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The view from the summit of the rock where the pristine white stupa of Ruwanveliseya could be seen

    Prev Next