Wattarama: The wilderness monastery
Ven. Galgediyave Piyasumana Thera, the current Chief Priest
of the Wattarama monastery
Looking for something different, something more adventurous,
something off the beaten track, we decided to explore a lesser known and
less travelled archaeological site, buried in the jungle boundaries of
Ampara and Monaragala Districts close to the Yala East National Park in
Ruhuna. The journey is tough, uncomfortable and even dangerous. Our mode
of transport is a four-wheeler, and we traverse muddy tracks, cross many
streams and drive through jungles home to wild elephants, bears and even
a leopard or two.
A vast geographical area, Ruhuna in the times of kings, occupied a
major part of the East, the whole of the South-East and the Southern and
South-Western parts of the island, including what is now Batticaloa,
Ampara, Monaragala, Hambantota, Matara and Galle. Although historical
notes depict Anuradhapura as the most important kingdom in the country,
possibly, in pre-colonial era, Ruhuna was much a larger, powerful
Even today, Ruhuna has many monuments visible only in fragments...
stupas on hilltops, ancient walls crumbling in jungles...
The Wattarama monastery, located in the village of Kodayana that lies
between Monaragala and Siyabalanduwa on the A4 highway, is one such
fascinating archeological site.
Some of the beautifully carved terracotta images found at
the site The main stupa in the lower platform is a mound of
earth overgrown with creepers
The history of the Wattarama monastery goes back to the reign of King
Kawantissa, who ruled the Magama Kingdom. Today, the hillock is
scattered with ruins of the monastery, which flourished in 1st and 2nd
Century. There are around six caves with drip ledges indicating these
caves had been used by the monastic monks in the past.
It is said that Wattarama monastery is one of the dwelling places of
Arahat Maliyadeva, who had lived and preached in 60 places around the
From the top of the hill one gets a magnificent view of the
surrounding landscape dotted with many stupas. It is this collection of
stupas that gives Wattarama its name.
The Wattarama monastery consists of two sections, the upper and the
lower. On entering the lower platform, which lies on the slop of the
hill, one can see the ruins of several of stupa, a shrine room and a
Bodhigara. Here, you can also see the ruins of the main stupa, which is
today just a mound of earth overgrown with creepers. A number of stone
pillars indicate there had been several structures with ancient brick
The silent Wattarama hill is believed to be the upper platform of the
monastery, dotted with the caves where meditative monks were said to
have lived in meditative silence.
The caves are still visible as one walks up the path leading to the
upper platform of the monastery. It is said the meditative monks never
descended to lower platform, as they had everything they needed
including a shrine room and placid pond, in the upper platform.
Today, treasure hunters have caused extensive damage to the Stupa and
the ancient Buddha statue. What left are stone pillars and broken bits
of the statue.
The ruined structure of a Pilimage (Shrine room)
Chief Priest Ven. Galgediyave PiyasumanaThera, who arrived at the
monastery 22 years ago, revived the place from an abandoned shrine to
the monastery it is today. Over the years he has added a new Dana
Shalava (alms hall), new Bodhigara (Bo tree enclosure) and shrine room.
The monastery currently accommodates several meditative monks.
The lower platform of Wattarama is littered with the surviving
examples of terracotta images that originate from Ruhuna. These are
sophisticate and elaborate, made from long flat clay bricks, and depict
swans and elephant heads. Each terracotta image is a visual treat.
Many of the archaeological remains lie half buried in the shrub
jungle. The smaller pieces of terracotta found at various places were
once kept in the monastery ground, but are now displaced due lack of
Nevertheless, PiyasumanaThera points out that the Wattarama monastery
has become popular pilgrimage site these days, courtesy the 30-kilometre
Kotiyagala route to Kebilitta Devale, which cuts across Wattarama,
making the monastery a very welcome transit point for weary devotees to
rest and take in a little bit of ancient architecture before continuing
with their journey.