Maligathenna Raja Maha Viharaya: Reaching rocky mountainous frontiers | Sunday Observer

Maligathenna Raja Maha Viharaya: Reaching rocky mountainous frontiers

6 May, 2018
YesterDAY’S SPELL: Maligathenna’s past holds many interesting tales. A lone Uda Maluwa Dagoba atop the rocky summit
YesterDAY’S SPELL: Maligathenna’s past holds many interesting tales. A lone Uda Maluwa Dagoba atop the rocky summit

Maligathenna Raja MahaViharaya was our destination as we ventured up the rain-swept, slippery hill that nestles the bustling Gampaha city. It is a reservoir of ancient tales and demands great physical effort. But the rewards are worth it 

On Vesak Full moon poya day we decided to explore a few historical and important ancient places in the outskirts of Colombo and Gampaha districts. Although traffic congestion was a matter of concern on many roads, we gradually reached our destination creeping through traffic on the roads after a few stops at Dansals.

Not far from Colombo and Gampaha, along the Colombo-Kandy highway, off Yakkala, into its interior, lies a magnificent cluster of rocky mountainous frontiers called Maligathenna, Varana, Koskandawela and Pilikuththuwa which were our destinations since our travels focus on lesser known and less trekked places in remote corners of the country.

Our first stop was at Maligathenna Raja MahaViharaya, which is also called ‘hermitage’ according to the name board, which was built atop a ridge near the scenic village of Malwathuhiripitiya. This can be reached turning right from Ambagaspitiya junction from Yakkala-Kiridiwela road. When you enter this road, you come to a rural setting though you are in an urban area close to Gampaha.On its lofty heights are a mass of ancient rock cave shelters turned into lenviharas (rock temples) which date back to the Pre-Christian era of 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Having parked our vehicle at the car park at the foothill, we stepped onto the stone stairway that lead to the lower terrace ‘PahalaMaluwa’ of the temple, mainly composed of Bhikkus’ quarter, ‘BuduGe’ main shrine room in a drip-ledged cave, Bo tree enclosure and Dagaba named Sri Devaraja Akasha Chaitya Rajaya.

We climbed a neatly cut flight of steps with handrail to view the glistening Chaitya which was constructed in early 1924 by benevolent devotees whose names were etched on the chaitya. Climbing down a little further, we next made our way to the Bo-Tree shrine where a small scenic walkway lined with two massive natural rock slabs on either side. Thereafter coming back to the BuduGe, we explored paintings of vibrant colours depicting various stories of the Buddha at the shrine room. Although all of these structures and paintings are done in the recent past, the drip-ledged caves are proof to its antiquity.

Having explored Pahaka Maluwa, our next exploration was to discover the Uda Maluwa, which is believed to be the highest point of the Gampaha District. Our climb, in this section was somewhat arduous and took us nearly one hour as the path was bordered by a few caves and fitted out with stone steps and rocks at certain points. At times clutching onto rocks and pushing our way up and in between resting we continued onwards. In the middle of the way, we came across a gap called Old Degaldoru Kurubil stone steps which is a wonderful creation of nature.

After passing this point, we then greeted the panoramic vistas of nature’s wonder. While the flight of steps etched in stone led to the Uda Maluwa Dagaba, on the other side lush greenery and rock boulders stretched as far as the eye could see. Going towards the edge of the rock, we looked over to the horizon lying below which contrasted with the greenery such as patches of paddy fields, mountains, plantations and towns which heightened the charm surrounding the temple.

At the summit, near the Dagaba, we encountered a rock pond with water lilies and an old Bo Tree shrine with an enclosure. According to the historical notes, the tale around the Bo tree and terrace narrates how King Mayadunne commissioned Diyawadana Nilame Hiripitiya Rala to build a temporary palace to safeguard the sacred Tooth Relic from invaders. It is said that a bhikkhu who lived in the temple in the past had planted a Bo tree and used the bricks from the broken foundation of the Dalada Maligawa to build the terrace. When we visited the place, we saw pieces of broken bricks, tiles and pots strewn across areas of the summit.

It is believed that the history of the Maligathenna hermitage goes back to the time of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. This hallowed place once an abode of Arahat and meditative monks, had been a refuge for kings of ancient Lanka that sought sanctuary from enemies.

However, King Valagamba gets prominence according to the chronicles. After enemies invaded the Kingdom of Anuradhapura, the King journeyed far and wide to different places seeking refuge. It is said that Maligathenna rocky boulder with caves was one such hideout and he had remained there under the protection of the Varana temple situated nearby. The temple has in many legends related to the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It is said that during the Kotte Kingdom when the country was inhabited by the Portuguese, the country had several kingdoms and King Don Juan Dharmapala embraced Christianity, while other kings such as Mayadunne of Seethawaka conspired to conceal the sacred Tooth Relic in the Maligathenna Temple.

As the noon sun was getting harsh and a soft breeze blew across the rocky ridge, we climbed down and bade goodbye to the magnificent rocky hermitage which was once the abode of Kings, but not before a round of refreshing cool drinks made by a vendor at the foothill of the Maligathenna Raja MahaViharaya. From the foot of the mountain either sides of the path were dotted with various makeshift stalls built by villagers to sell foods and souvenirs to the visitors who come to visit the temple on Poya Day.

The temple which imprints fascinating history for current and future generations, today is one of the preserved archaeological sites protected by the Department of Archaeology. We could take the arduous trek, nevertheless, as it narrates an interesting period in history. History apart, Maligathenna will surely interest a rock climber. You can enjoy the arduous trek up to the summit drinking the beauty of the nature, but don’t please spoil the pristine environment.Leave only your footprints.


An excellent article and eye catching photographs. I have some historical records of the re-discovery of the refuge of the Kings and the establishment of a place of worship by Rev Manikdiwela Devananda which I will put together soon