By Prabath Attanayake
It was a trek of 19 kilometers into the jungle. We commenced our journey from the village Bogamuyaya. Ven. Suddhassilankara Thera was leading the procession. We fell in formation behind the monk. We had to cross the Panajjal Oya first. It was flowing by in a lazy manner towards the Maduru Oya Forest Reserve. Although every stream had its origins in the Forest Reserve it was not so with the Panajjal Oya.
Although the Bogamuyaya we mentioned previously you assume you know (through reading), we were now at the place where the village named Bogamuyaya was located in the decade of the 1980s. We were actually searching for the Bogamuyaya village which was swallowed up by the Maduru Oya when it was seeking its limitations, which existed in the 1940s. Today the borders of the Bogamuyaya village end in a massive farm belonging to a Civil Defence Force. As far as the eyes can see are paddy fields that have withered due to not receiving any rain. Beyond the paddy fields in the region above is our destination. The monk says that we cannot approach our destination grumbling and complaining. Actually the Maduru Oya Forest Reserve is embracing past heritage that has not been controlled or conserved. It becomes clear that within this huge jungle are a number of wonderful proofs that runs back into history although they are already ruins of history due to the facts talked about by the two Civil Defence Force officers who acted as our guards.
After the withered out paddy fields we had to pass the Nawadeli Chenas. The tall grass 'mana' swallows up these Chenas in an instant. Therefore, we had no other alternative but to crush the tall grass and move forward. The field of 'mana' was as high as the shoulders of a man of average height. It told me about the stamina of the people who had lived in this area previously before the Forest Reserve set its limits. According to what we got to know, it had been the British who had brought this tall grass here. It was apparently because this 'mana' was able to swallow up the entire place in a very short time. During the past ages, the Sinhalese are said to have hidden in fear of the British within these tall grasses. British Governor Brownrigg had thought that a trench dug around the entire field and the tall grass set on fire was very appropriate. When the fluff from the 'mana' rubbed against your skin and you broke into a cold sweat that you realized it is better to cross a stream on foot submerged up to the neck.
We have now entered the Forest Reserve. Across the forest are paths of elephants. These pathways are so clear that it is apparent that elephants are adept engineers at hacking out pathways. Our dear Ranaweera said that the pathways are not swallowed up by the forests because the elephants were in the habit of tearing down branches and foliage to eat, on either side of the paths. It is a real conjecture that some day in the future when modern civilization crosses this virgin forest, engineers and surveyors will recall as friends of the past the elephants who had lived in this forest. As we travelled through the flora of the jungle, groups of monkeys seemed to be making their way further into the jungle announcing the fact that our group was on the way. It was difficult travelling through the jungle as the ground was uneven. A huge rock is visible in the distance and there is a herd of deer drinking from the water that has collected in a natural pool in the rock. Although it is wild elephants that are common in this forest, today there are these deer.
When bent in two with our knees knocking against our chins when we were making our way through the jungle I thought of how elephants travel many kilometers on these difficult paths. Samuel Baker, an Explorer and big game hunter who carried out a study of the behaviour of elephants in Sri Lanka who was known as the Destroyer of Elephants due to his love of hunting them had said that elephants living in Asian countries have orientated themselves to living on lands with huge mountains, rocks and hills.
Elephants consume leguminous plants and it is surprising how they acquired such a habit. More surprising are the frequent tours of the jungle, elephants engage in. As humans rarely used these elephant pathways there were covered with thorn bushes. We would surely have gone astray if we did not follow our guards with our heads bent through the thorn bushes. If we got entangled in a bush of thorns we would have to disentangle ourselves with the utmost care, very gradually. The strands being moved aside by those travelling in front snapped back in an instant as if being slapped by a cane. Meanwhile we had to follow our guards from the Civil Defence Force, who were our guides as well, very closely. Although we could easily miss an elephant resting in the shade and darkness of the forest, it did not easily bypass our guards who were used to seeing them. We were told by our guards when we stopped for a rest that they had seen herds of elephants but did not mention it and changed the path unknown to us. Ven. Suddhassilankara Thera engaged in giving a background commentary thus:
That mountain which can be seen over there is called Bamunugala. Our jungle, Hennanegala is connected to the jungle hermitages of Omunugala, Pimburukkuwa, Hennanegala, Kandegama, Dewagala, Maliyadeva, Daluthena and Ovegiriya which existed then and are to be seen even today. Most of these hermitages were in a dilapidated state and weeds had encroached.
Maldeniye Nayaka Thera who was Dimbulagala Nayaka Thera, who came after Kithalagama Nayaka Thera had taken action to renovate all of these hermitages. This thera gave priority to these hermitages as he himself had lived in a jungle hermitage for a very long time. The Bamunugala hermitage to where we are headed was the place that the monk liked the most. To the Omunugala hermitage it is about 20 kilometres distance from the new Bogamuyaya village. However, it was the old Bogamuyaya village that was at the foot of Omunugala. It was due to attacks of the terrorists that Omunugala had to be abandoned like this. The monk Maldeniye Jinalankara Thera who was my Chief Monk had meditated in the Omunugala hermitage at the end of the forties. During that time even alms was lacking. As that thera said Omunugala was a Fort similar to Sigirya in the ancient times. A big waterfall runs over the rock and cascades down.
Surrounding Omunugala is a temple built in the days of the Kings together with a complete village. Our Chief Monk had lived on boiled 'kara' leaves and lotus stalks and protected this ancient property. When meditating in the top most cabin it is possible to see the entire range of mountains. When treasure hunters were attempting to damage antiquities, a 'kapuwa' dressed in white approaches the Chief Monk and gives him instructions on what to do and vanishes, it was said. When Omunugala 'ape hamuduruwo' lived there as the first monk who lived at the Dimbulagala jungle hermitage, Kithalagama Nayaka Thera had visited and told him to abandon Omunugala because of terrorist problems and go back to Dimbulagala. At that juncture, Maldeniye Nayaka Thera had told Kithalagama Thera to send a hammer and spike and that he would come back to Dimbulagala in a few days time. Kithalagama Thera had sent a hammer and a spike as promised.
Much later I asked the Nayaka thera why a hammer and a spike were requested. That was the day the Nayaka Thera told me the story. Apparently there are many treasures in the vicinity of Omunugala. The father of Maldeniye Nayaka Thera had been a good stone mason. The Nayake Thera also had been trained as a stone mason. What the monk had done was completely change the marks and signs which led to where the treasures were hidden. That is why even today, there are at least one or two antique archaeological treasures remaining in areas surrounding Omunugala. The most valuable thing to go and view is the snake-hoods which have been chiseled on rocks. The ancient temple and the Bodhiya have already been dug up. Anyhow there are many items that need to be protected even by deploying the Security Forces in Omunugala.
We recommenced our journey with the definitive thought that we will reach our destination. It was encouraging to be able to pass this area, which was out in the open, quite easily. Everyone was happy that they had been able to come up to this place without any adverse event taking place. We felt lighter in body too after having to crouch and bend down to pass through certain areas. Everywhere and up to the limits of what the eyes could see were trees of Aralu, Bulu and Nelli in a forest area. Omunugala is visible above all the other hills and mountain ranges. The trees all around us were of medicinal origin. Although we heard the trumpeting of an elephant off and on from a distance, nothing happened to scare us as such.
The Civil Defence Guards were alert knowing that any time we could come face to face with a wild elephant. We had travelled about 10 kilometres into the forest by now. We passed several inclines, scrabbling with our hands and getting the rancid earth between our fingers. One person in the group said that we had to hurry as this was a favourite spot of the wild elephants. There was a type of blue coloured flower blooming in the area. Although they did not contain any aroma they were very attractive flowers. While walking ahead we got a biscuit each as a snack. Subsequent to travelling a distance of two kilometres through this area, we arrived at a flat area that was tilted to one side and contained a number of stone pillars. There was enough evidence to enable us to assume that there would have been an ancient temple complex on this site way back in time. There was also much evidence that treasure hunters had been hard at work. It is regret that we felt when we saw these signs. I personally believe that treasures are an ancient system of banking. They should be obtained. However it is not worth thinking that treasures with statues and Dagobas can be acquired. That is, that treasures are not something that can be obtained under harmful situations.
As someone voiced the fact that another hour of travelling would bring us to our destination which was the rock cave of Omunugala we quickened our steps. Around us were small rock caves. By now the somewhat bigger caves and those around them had become the lairs of bears. Therefore, we cannot go inside those. It is possible that Veddas would have lived in these caves sometime ago. Some sort of an epidemic may have resulted in their being wiped out to a considerable extent. It is said that primitive dwellers who lived in the bigger caves in large groups assigned the smaller caves to newly married Vedda couples! Today these beautiful love caves have become dens for game hunters and treasure hunters. If we had to expend so much effort to travel this distance and arrive here, imagine what ancient Seligman, Spittel, Frederick Louis and Gamini Punchihewa would have had to commit themselves to negotiate these areas!
The forest now tells us the simple fact that we have reached the foot of Omunugala. One part on the summit of the hill can be recognised easily as the place where Maldeniye Jinalankara Thera had lived. We have to approach that place, passing huge snake-hoods. With the appearance of excited stags the rhythm of the jungle was shattered. Even though our arrival had been conveyed to other animals by the monkeys it was as if the stags had not taken any notice of the fact. However, the stags dispersed here and there, probably having sniffed out the scent of human beings in the area, knowing what these humans could do to them. Then we approached a captivating environment where there was no undergrowth as such due to foliage and tree branches above sheltering the ground area. The warm elephant droppings were evidence that indicated that wild elephants had been roaming around here about an hour before we arrived.
The mud stains on the trunks of trees indicated the same thing. Our guide made us focus our attention on a huge mountain ahead of us. He pointed out that, it was not possible to see where exactly the huge image of the cobra, extremely rarely seen in Sri Lanka, which had been carved into the rock was looking and treasure hunters had assumed of a direction and destroyed the archaeological antiquities as the crack of an explosion depicted.
There was a waterfall here. It had flowed down some steps into a pond. Our grandfather, who had come to this jungle a long time ago, had told me that there were signs carved into each of the steps. Now, of course these steps hewn in the rock have been swallowed up by the ground. The reason is that there must be no other place similar to this where treasure hunters had dug up the area so much.
It is above this that the small cabin that Maldeniya Nayaka thera had lived in is located. We will quickly climb up there and come back and on the way view these other places, our guide said.
On one side is the rock with the image of the cobra carved into it and drip ledges had been constructed circling the rock itself. It was an amazingly simple method. Apart from facilities to meditate there was nothing else to be seen. The water which is required most, for consumption of the person using the cabin for meditation was obviously obtained from the water fall. Water is flowing toward the south through the entire mouth of the drip ledge. Even this water that was flowing towards the south was not allowed to go waste.
Until Maldeniye Nayake Thera became the leader of Dimbulagala, he had been engaged in meditation at this place. There had been more animals then. However, the Nayaka Thera has never ever told us that the animals ever bothered him.