Sleepy lagoons,sand dunes
Muhudu Maha Viharaya at Pottuvil
There were four of us; my husband and two of our friends. So far it had been a eventful day. We had watched the antics of a herd of elephants at the Lahugala sanctuary and had stopped to wonder at the historic ruins of the Magul Maha Vihara complex.
As we were approaching Pottuvil, the narrow road cut through acres of luxuriously green paddy fields. A milk white dagoba stood out over the fields framed by coconut and palmyrah trees. At the point at which we turned south towards Arugam bay was a small Catholic church dedicated to St. Anthony.
Our destination was Arugam Bay, a further 2.5kms south of Pottuvil.
We crossed the bridge over the wide lagoon of Arugam Kalapu. The roadside was dotted with hotels, guest houses, restaurants and may have resembled the southern beach line in its early days before tourism became an industry at the cost of the environment and the village culture.
Arugam bay is known as one of the best surf points in the world, popular for its challenging breaker laden waves. It may be one of the only unspoilt beaches in Sri Lanka.
Arugam bay consists of three small villages where fishing and farming are the main occupations. Ullae is a fishing village situated at the corner of the bay with a natural harbour. It consists mostly of a Tamil population. There are a few Sinhalese families as well and the village boasts of both a Sinhalese and a Tamil school. Perie Ullae consists mostly of a Muslim population and has a sub post office, a mosque and a Muslim school. Sinna Ullae also consists mostly of Muslims and has a mosque and a Muslim school.
We booked into our hotel by the beach which offered us spotlessly clean private cabanas with thatched illuk grass roofs. Our Danish hosts welcomed us warmly. (Their homemade ice cream was out of this world) The thundering of the waves could be heard just outside our doors, which drove us to the sea and to a somewhat awkward sea bath, since the breakers show no mercy to amateurs, and we ended up with more sand on us than water.
We decided to spend the rest of the evening sipping cool beer and relaxing in one of the thatched beach huts by the sea. It was a picture perfect evening.
At the far end of the Pottuvil side of the bay, a brilliant rainbow dipped into the sea and then slowly dissolved into nothingness We sat late into the night making small talk and just listening to the roar of the mighty ocean, feeling the wind playing on our hair and watching a million stars begin to twinkle right over our heads and even a few shooting stars for a wish.
At night many fishermen appear from the villages with their lamps and wade into the lagoon to catch prawns. We walked closer to watch them and it was interesting to see them artfully throwing nets, which dazzled like silver dust in the darkness catching the light of their lamps before disappearing into the water. Once the nets were gathered, the prawns were emptied into holes dug in the sand on the shore. Each fisherman had a separate hole and kept his catch in it. Nobody spoke, the only noise was the lapping of the water at their feet, and the swirling of their nets. It was a brisk, serious business of throwing, gathering, emptying their catch and again throwing, gathering and emptying.
The next morning we went in search of the little known Mudu Maha Vihara excavated on the sea coast of Pottuvil. With no sign boards, we had difficulty in finding our way and a friendly young man, whom we learned was a school teacher, volunteered to take us to the site. Amongst massive sand dunes lies the evidence of a lost civilization.
It is said that this is the place where Queen Vihara Maha Devi and her entourage were washed ashore and not at Kirinda. A brick boundary wall of an image house with many stone pillars included a well preserved statue of a Buddha and two Bodhisattva figures can be seen here.
Our new friend explained to us that the remains of many more ruins could be found under the sand dunes. He also showed us around the dunes and explained to us the various plant life. We were surprised at the healthy growth of the many stunted "Kohomba" trees. They were so green in contrast to the buff dunes. Climbing up and down the sand dunes was fun and it was possible due to the rain that had wet the sand and made a hard surface under our feet. The afternoon came to an end with our new friend inviting us to his home for lunch which unfortunately we could not accept due to other plans.
Another place of pristine beauty was the Panama beach which we decided to visit during the evening. The road leading about 17kms to Panama was itself full of contrasts. Flat green paddy lands, small rocky outcrops and shrub lands - a bird watchers' paradise, marsh and beru grass fields and chena lands blended into each other. At one point we stopped to watch an unusual game of several crows giving chase to two eagles soaring high in the sky and from time to time dipping down as if to bully the poor crows. At another point we stopped to watch an elephant feasting on a meal of beru grass.
The motor road ends at the busy little village of Panama. A gravel road leads on to the beach passing a graveyard where most of the young soldiers who died in the war were buried. We stopped awhile to read the names, dates of birth and death of these young heroes, children of this humble village who had sustained the war efforts and the safety of millions who would never know to thank them.
The Panama beach itself was a paradise on earth. The sand dunes stretching along the beach made us stop our jeep and walk a short distance to the turquoise sea beach which stretched endlessly without a single sign of habitation. A typical Robinson Crusoe atmosphere. The pink rocks of Panama stood out at the far end of the beach. The evening sunlight made them glow pinker. Here too were monkeys running up and down.
The beach was covered with exquisite marine plant life. It suddenly dawned on us that this may be one of the only beaches left untouched by civilization and pollution. We were mindful not to tread on the plants or drive over them in our jeep. This beach with its abundant plant life must be saved for people to see and admire. It should not meet the fate of the Nilaveli or Passikudah.
We remembered the native American saying, "We did not inherit the earth from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children!"
Suddenly, much to our surprise, the sky darkened quickly. We could not see our jeep. Yes, we were lost amongst the sand dunes in pitch darkness, but yet it was so hauntingly beautiful.
Magul Maha Viharaya - Lahugala
by Florence Wickramage -Source : www.lankalibrary.com
The day was bright and the sea a glittering turquoise blue with a strong wind sweeping over it. Some people standing on a beach saw an object shining with the rays of the sun being tossed to and fro by the ocean waves. They waited till the object advanced towards the shore and was surprised to see that it was a gold-gilded canoe carrying a beautiful damsel in it.
They ran towards the palace and informed the King that a golden-canoe was coming ashore with a beautiful princess in it. The King hastened towards the beach but found the boat gone. "Ko Kumari" inquired the King? The boat had been swept away by strong winds towards the village Komarigama (coined with the words Ko kumari) in Arugam Bay. (The canoe had not been able to anchor at Kirinde due to its rocky environment). On inquiries made King Kavantissa was informed that the damsel in the canoe was Princess Devi, daughter of King Kelanitissa of Maya Rata, who was offered as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of the sea-gods as the sea waters threatened to drown villages.
King Kavantissa then hastened to meet the Princess and married her in keeping with traditional customs, and she became Queen Vihara Maha Devi. " The Magul Poruwa" said to be of the Royal couple could be seen amongst ancient ruins in a temple called "Magul Maha Viharaya" in Lahugala. Princess Devi's canoe had been washed ashore at Arugam Bay ( coined from the words "ara -gama") and not Kirinde. This is folklore -- as related to us by the Chief Priest of the ancient Lahugala Temple Ven. Hulanduwe Ratanasara Thera.
Driving along the Wellawaya-Moneragala road after passing Siyambalanduwa for another seven miles one could reach Lahugala where Magul Maha Vihara or Ruhunu Maha Vihara lies.
We visited Magul Maha Viharaya which is in ruins today. Ven. Hulanduwe Ratanasara Thera the 5th generation descendent of the Uva-Wellassa lineage which administered the Magul Maha Vihare is the present Chief Priest. Lahugala belonged to the Ruhunu Kingdom of ancient Lanka. The entire Vihara complex had covered an extent of around 10,000 acres where ruins of a palace, moonstone, monastery, bo-maluwa, stupas, ponds etc. were found scattered all over. A headless white marble Buddha statue was seen lying horizontally in one part of the ruins, which sometimes people step on, Ven. Ratanasara said, taking us round the complex.
The history of this temple goes back to the time of King Dathusena who ruled Anuradhapura from 516 AD to 526 AD. The pillar inscription testifies the founder of the Vihara as King Dathusena. The language and the script can be dated to the 14th century.
There is also a stone wall three to four feet in height. This reminds of a fortress which was erected to protect from outside attack. There is also an entrance to the fortress. The moonstone found on the left side has unique features with a row of elephants and creepers followed by a row of lotus petals. The Chief Priest explained that among other unusual features, the row of elephants in the moonstone with their mahouts was exceptional. In this moonstone with three to four in height and five to six feet wide, the row of elephants has a man following an elephant with his goad clinging on to the animals. This moonstone is said to be the only one of its kind in the country.
There are rock pillars similar to Lovamaha Prasada in Anura-dhapura. There is also ruins of a Dagaba about 30 feet in height. There are three rows of steps leading to the Dagoba on three sides and on the lift side is Bodhighara and also rock inscription protected by an iron railing.
The Ven. Thera showing us round the ruins of the vihara complex observed that there were several villages round the temple and people had fled due to unrest. With the ongoing peace process many were returning to their original places. A perahera has been planned along with other religious ceremonies to be observed during Poson the Ven. Thera said.
We then visited Muhudu Maha Viharaya at Arugam Bay. The wide white beach was endless, stretching for miles and miles. There were excavated ruins and stone pillars which provided evidence of an ancient kingdom which had flourished. The Chief Priest of Muhudu Maha Viharaya, Ven. Kataragama Siriratana Thera supporting Queen Vihara Maha Devi's story as related to us by the Lahugala Viharaya Chief Priest, showed us partly ruined stone statues two of which were believed to be of King Kavantissa and Viharamahadevi. The moonstone which had been in existence near a ruined "Buduge" had been removed by treasure hunters and the "Mura-gal"had been replaced awkwardly.
Ven. Siriratana Thera showed us ruins and stone pillars of an ancient structure excavated on the vast stretch of the beach, where, he said, a stupa had been erected to mark the spot where Princess Devi had landed. The monk living by himself protecting the ruined temple,is supported by about 12 families living in the vicinity who provide him with the "dana".
There were sand dunes forming part of the endless beach bordering a tranquil turquoise sea and at one end was the Arugam Bay and the "Ula" with a natural harbour. Several fishing huts were seen dotting the area. Both Chief Priests at Lahugala and Arugam Bay said that the ruins found in these places supported the existence of a royal kingdom of ancient Ruhunu Rata, and believed if chronicled had not sufficiently surfaced. The Ven. Theras said that these places were historically and culturally important and their conservation was of utmost importance to preserve the country's rich heritage. (@CDN)