December 2010


Sithulpawwa: The Hill Of The Quiet Mind
December 2010




The climb towards Kuda Sithulpawwa

Climbing to the top of a rock in the scorching heat, admittedly, was not the best of decisions. Yet, my curiosity to trace the steps of thousands of monks who had treaded this path over 2,000 years ago, yearning for serenity and seclusion, got the better of me, as we scaled the rock towards the Sithulpawwa Raja Maha Viharaya, pausing every now and then to capture its astounding beauty and accompanying stillness.

Words: Madhushala Senaratne | Photography: Prabhath Chathuranga

A turn off passing Sella Kataragama in southern Sri Lanka took us along a gravel road towards the rock temple, an ancient Buddhist monastery, believed to have been occupied by 12,000 Arahant monks at one time. Believed to have been built in the 2nd Century BC by King Kawantissa, who ruled the area then, Sithulpawwa derives its name from 'Chiththalapabbatha', which meant, 'the hill of the quiet mind'. The monastery, as it stands today, consists of dagabas located atop a rock, as well as ruins signalling a rich past.

Surrounded by thick, overgrown trees, the first to come into view was Kuda Sithulapawwa, the smaller of the two dagabas. This is situated much higher than the Maha Sithulapawwa or the larger dagaba, which we saw as we drove closer to the rock complex.

Beginning our ascent, we first made our way towards Maha Sithulpawwa, which is 400ft in height. Reaching the sacred area, where the magnificent dagaba stands, we walked on the rock surface carrying our slippers in our hands, the soles of our feet feeling the day's heat that had truly taken its toll on the rock.

Making our way down a flight of steps, we passed an inscription, which states that King Gamini Abaya (Gajabahu) gave two Kahawanu, or gold coins, that was used for currency in the past, to provide medicine to the community of monks of the Sithulpawwa monastery. Further away was a cave complex housing two large Buddha statues. It is believed that the caves contained inscriptions of Brahmin scripts in ancient times. In the vicinity are ancient structures, remains of intricate building complexes including the Bodigara and preaching house and ruins of monuments. In the valley between the two rocks there is a large pond, the Kuttam Pokuna.

We are gripped by a sense of calmness as we walk towards Kuda Sithulpawwa, passing the Kuttam Pokuna and it is obvious why monks around the country came here for peaceful meditation, even though life at the rock complex was hard. A board directs devotees and visitors to walk in silence to ensure that they do not disturb the Bhikkus meditating in the area reminding that even today the rock complex offers the same silence and solitude as in the past.

The ascent towards Kuda Sithulpawwa is much harder, and the dagaba is reached by a steep climb. The climb at times was exhausting. Yet, aided by the steel railings and the steps carved into the rock, we reached the summit where the smaller dagaba standing on the rock. Below us was a cover of green - the dense forest area surrounding the rock complex, while the distant mountain ranges rising up against it, made a picturesque backdrop to the scene. I could not help but feel a sense of triumph at having treaded this path.

 

 

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    A group of Buddhist monks on their way to the top

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    Some of the other ruins found on site, which signify a rich past

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    The way to the top

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    Maha Sithulpawwa

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    Some of the other ruins found on site, which signify a rich past

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    The large pond or Kuttam Pokuna

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    The cave complex

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    Ruins of monuments found in the vicinity

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