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Arankele Forest Monastery

Arankele Forest Monastery in Sri Lanka is a haven of peace and quietude. Attracting locals and tourists alike, the monastery offers a refreshing and relaxing experience. Arankele Monastery was a 6th century cave hermitage situated up a forested hillside. Listed as one of the premier forest hermitages in Sri Lanka, the name ‘Arankele’ exaggerates about a hermitage where Arahants resided. It used to be the austere abode of a sect of recluse monks, who were attracted to the site for its isolation. Today, the place is a popular archaeological site containing the ruins of the ancient forest monastery.

History and Name

According to the department of Archeology Sri Lanka the name Arankele was derived from the two words. There are two explanations over the origin of its name. One states that it is formed by the combination of the words “aran” derived from Arahat, and “kele” being forest hermitage where the Arahants took shelter. The other theory states that two words “Arama” meaning monastery and “kele” meaning forest were combined to form the word Arankele.

Insight to Arankele Forest Monastery

Rock Caves On the slopes of the hill where the monastery is situated, one can observe a cluster of natural rock caves. These caves were once used by the monastic monks for shelter and meditation. The interior walls of the caves are well plastered with lime.

There is a building right at the entrance of the site that has been identified as a Jantagara or hot water bath. You can find ruins of grinding stones that were once used to prepare herbal medicines. Among the other ruins that have been identified are meditating promenades, ponds and long winding pathways. The alms-giving halls and bathing ponds here testify to the amazing work of craftsmen of those days.

Architecture

According to the ancient stone slabs of inscriptions in the Brahmi script, the Arankele Forest Monastery once had meditation halls, stone-faced double platform structures and ambulatories. All this was for the revered Buddhist monks who lived in the Monastery.

The platforms aligned in the East-West axis existed with the entrance porch to the east bridged by a large monolith. The smaller of the double platform structure herein, the roof being supported on columns, has the impression of being divided into cells for the monks. The reason behind the double platform construction is not known. Though, according to some scholars, those were used for meditation, ceremonies and teaching.

The entire construction was simple and was built keeping in mind the religious perspective. There are no pretensions or decorations that can be seen in the entire monastery. Also, unlike other urban monasteries, there are no stupas, shrines or statues here. The exception to the minimalist architecture is the existence of urinal stones decorated with carvings. The purpose of the practice of decorating urinal stones hasn’t been established.

Hot water Baths and Grinding stones

This monastery is home to the largest hot water pond in Sri Lanka. The Bath is around 100ft in length and 60ft in breadth. The relics of grinding stones are also found here that had been used to prepare Ayurvedic medicines. All these ruins now being unearthed testifies to the existence of a large Ayurvedic hospital which was present in the monastery.
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