Manakanda is a remote hill off Maradankadawala which has been used as an forest monastery since 2nd ~ 3rd centuries BC having similar features of more popular Ritigala which lies just just 10 kilometers to the west. Considering the the similarities of these two ancient monasteries, its a shame that Manakanda is hidden away unknown and forgotten by pilgrims.
After introduction of Buddhism with the arrival of the Mihindu Maha Thero, various forms of temples and monasteries were established all over the country. Architecturally, 4 types of residencies for Buddhist priests has been identified by historians which has been established from the early Anuradhapura era.These are:
- Rock Caves (Giri Len – ගිරි ලෙන්)
- Pabbatha Vihara (පබ්බත විහාර)
- Padhanaghara (පධානඝර)
- Maha Vihara (මහා විහාර)
Padhanaghara had been built for meditating bikkus living in forest monasteries on the edges of human settlements. This specific types of buildings appears to be built starting in 6th ~ 7th centuries and not after the 10th century. Since most of the Padhanaghara’s had been built on the jungles west to Anuradhapura City, these are also called Batahirarama (බටහිරාරාම) or Western Monasteries.
Padhanaghara two simple buildings on raised platforms connected by a bridge made of granite slabs. Generally a moat runs around these two buildings which could have been used for cooling the buildings and/or for protection from wild animals since these were built in forests. Another interesting feature of such buildings are the lack of any elaborate granite carvings on the buildings, balustrades or moonstones which are a prominent feature of temples built inside the cities. Elaborated designs on such Aramic Complexes are found on urinal slabs as to indicate the total rejection of what is unnecessary for a simple life.
There are about 30 Padhanaghara buildings discovered so far. Some of the better preserved Padhanagha are found in;
- Anuradhapura Pashchimarama (අනුරාධපුරයේ පශ්චිමාරාම)
- Sudharshana Padhanaghara in Abhayagiriya Maha Viharaya (අභයගිරිය විහාර පරිශ්රයට අයත් සුදස්සනා පධානඝරය)
- Anuradhapura Veherabendigala (අනුරාධපුරයේ වෙහෙරබැඳිගල)
- Arankele (අරන්කැලේ)
- Ritigala (රිටිගල)
- Mihinthale Kaludiya Pokuna (මිහින්තලේ කළුදිය පොකුණ)
- Thanthirimale (තන්තිරිමලේ)
- Sithulpawwa (සිතුල්පව්ව)
- Nuwaragala Kanda (නුවරගල කන්ද)
- Ramakele in Sigiriya (සීගිරිය රාමකැලේ)
- Maradankadawala Manakanda (මරදන්කඩවල මානාකන්ද)
In addition to the Padhanagha, these monasteries had consisted of image houses, kitchen buildings, warm water baths (Ginihal Geya) and other facilities. Two other features generally found are large ponds to collect water and meditating paths in such complexes.
Manakanda belongs to the Kekirawa Provincial Council in Anuradhapura District. The Padhanagha monastic complex at Mananakanda lies on the Manakanda Mountain range, starting from the bottom goes all up to the top through winding pathways but of stones through the thick canopy of trees.
From the archaeological evidence, it is believed this complex has been in existence since 3rd-2nd century BC. Initially stared as cave complex used by meditating monks has transformed it self to a Padhanagha Aramic Complex around 6-7th centuries.
Once you pass the archaeology department office at the bottom of the mountain, the first building you come across is the well conserved Janthaghara (ඡන්තාඝරය) structure. Also known as Ginihal Geya (ගිනිහල්ගෙය) this is a buildings where medicinal steam baths or hot water baths were given to to the sick. These buildings are a common feature of ancient hospital complexes in the country. Next is a large pond made from granite blocks which is also a common feature of Padanaghara. Continuing on the path underneath the forest canopy will bring you number of Padanaghara buildings, monk residences, ponds, drip ledge caves and a ruined stupa. The stupa, unfortunately has been subjected destruction by treasure hunters.
All together, about 70 stone buildings has been discovered at the monastery stretching up to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, you can get a clear view of Ritigala mountain which is the more popular Padhanagha based monastery.