Vandalism of the worst kind | Sunday Observer

Vandalism of the worst kind

22 October, 2017
Vandalism: the hole dug to remove  a stone pillar by treasure hunters
Vandalism: the hole dug to remove a stone pillar by treasure hunters

A land of several kingdoms, there are temples in ruins in almost every corner of our country. Built by kings and princes, they speak of a glorious past, when they were once the capital of the dynasty. Mostly ignored, dilapidated, they lie in crumbles, waiting to tell their story, if somebody is willing to hear them. We happened to stop by at one of them in the Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary.

Our routine jungle excursions to wildlife sanctuaries in the country to enjoy not only the fauna and flora but also to check out ancient ruins and artifacts have led to such tragic discoveries. The second-day of our two-day safari at the Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary was dedicated to explore the ruins of Sudu Kanda, home to extensive ruins of a Buddhist temple complex nestling in the foothills of the eastern sector of Sudu Kanda range, 45 kilometres from our camp-site of Mahaweli-I, and 57 kilometres from the entrance of the Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary.

I was drawn here by my life-long desire to study Buddhist heritage. The sacred sites, so important to Sri Lanka, has been central to much of my work as a photographer and writer. During my trip to Wasgamuwa, my attention was drawn to this isolated heritage siteof Sudu Kanda ruins and Yudaganapitiya.

The Sudu Kanda range which is about 1,500 feet in elevation, runs parallel to the Amban Ganga. There is a road beyond Meda Pitiya to Sudu Kanda range terminating at Kiri Oya. This is a thick forest area. Due to the somewhat hilly terrain and the presence of water streams, the forest gives the appearance of being in an intermediate zone than the dry zone. We were slowly driving along the shaded jeep track for around three hours in the morning and didn’t encounter any animals except for varieties of beautiful butterflies.

The jeep track to Sudu Kanda range is frequently blocked by fallen trees, branches and overgrown shrub jungle and although it may take all day to hack your way through, it is worth a trip. We stopped the jeep at several places to clear the track which was blocked by fallen trees. It is an area where humans have hardly set foot and the sheer remoteness gave us a never to be forgotten thrill. Casual visitors to the sanctuary seldom visit the isolated forest area of Sudu Kanda owing to the long and arduous journey.

Three and a half hours later, we reached the thick forested foothill of the range where the jeep track ends and we stopped the jeep. “Now we are entering the most dangerous part of our journey. We have to walk about half a kilometre to reach the ruins,” said Jayaratna. We followed Jayaratna slowly and cautiously in the animal-infested jungle, crossing small streams under the forest canopy until we came across the ruins.

First we encountered stone steps leading up to the remains of a crumbling vast temple complex. We walked around the numerous stone ruins climbing up to the summit through shrub forest. Spread out in surrounding jungles are the immense ruins of a crumbling temple complex such as stone pillars, balustrades, moon stones, carved stone slabs, guard stones and huge bricks. To the west of the site lies a huge earth mound under the forest canopy with stone foundation and buried stone pillars, now fallen and exposed to the elements, believed to be the remains of a crumbling Dagoba. It was vandalism of the worst kind that we stumbled upon in Sudu Kanda. The stone pillars at the site have been uprooted, smashed to bits and the earth dug out at this ancient site most probably dating back to the early period of Polonnaruwa. Though the area is under the protection of the Wildlife Department, vandalism and destruction of stone monuments continue unabated. Even though the law exists to prosecute and bring offenders to book, nothing appears to have been done.

It was evident that the vandals had struck a couple of days before our visit. We saw soil dug out from several places and there were fresh plants growing in the area where the forest had been set on fire by vandals to clear the area to unearth ruins.

Archaeological evidence is not yet available to prove exactly when and who built this complex since archaeologists have not done any extensive excavations at the site. However,the Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary has a generous sprinkling of ancient Buddhist sites in the areasuch asBuduruwayaya and ancient tanks.

I visited the archaeological site of Buduruwayaya situated in the vicinity of Bakamuna, south west of the Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary at the edge of Amban Ganga while I was travelling to Polonnaruwa two years ago. There is a recumbent Buddha statue carved in the living rock of Chandrakanthi Pashana (limestone variety). This statue is also called Attaragollewa Buddha by villagers. The statue could be compared to the Polonnaruwa Gal Vihara’s recumbent Buddha statue.

The chief incumbent of the Buduruwayaya temple told me of some ruins of the Aramas(monasteries) at Sudu Kanda that were inside the Wasgamuwa forest, believed to be that of an ancient palace which were connected to Buduruwayaya in the past.The chief Bhikkhu was of the opinion that it wasthe work of King Parakramabahu. The endless greenery of Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary and the Sudu Kanda can be viewed breathtakingly from Buduruwayaya.

In addition, Wasgamuwa wildlife sanctuary has anotherhistorical value because it covers the ruins of the ground identified as Yudaganapitiya (literally battleground). Local lore has it that warrior king Dutugemunu reinforced his army at Yudaganapitiya to wage war against Dravidian King Elara in the Northern Province. Some say this is where the armies of Dutugemunu and Elara clashed.

In fact, Today Yudaganapitiya nestles covering several acres of peculiar barren plain landscape without any tree or shrubs, completely cut off from other areas of the sanctuary. In fact, the whole area contains gravel formations amidst grass. Even in drought, as we experienced during our visit, the plains become green with fresh grass. We passed this plain several times during our safari because our route to the camp-site was across Yudaganapitiya.

But all is not well even in this magnificent sanctuary. The usual culprit is creeping human habitation. It was reported that illegal gem mining goes on unabated inside the national park in the western boundary close to Bakamuna causing extensive damage.

All the archaeologically important places within the sanctuary have been vandalised. The ravages of time have consumed most of the magnificent ruins. But it is a pity that some people are also destroying the legacies of our ancient past. The destruction of the ruins at Sudu Kanda has apparently taken place in the recent past.

However, I lost myself in the beauty of the ruins and wondered how these temples were destroyed. Jayaratna explained that they met their end when the Cholasfrom India invaded these parts and pulled the monuments down and thereafter, in the recent past, human vultures looking for treasures have done the rest. The mid-day sun was rising over the forest canopy as we left and I wondered how much of history lies in the rubble.Sri Lankans should be made aware of their national heritage and the importance of preserving it for posterity.