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Kudumbigala

This is the very first sanctuary built for Buddhists monks in Sri Lanka. The monastery dates back as far as 246 BC to the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, and it is believed to have been donated by Nandika-Mitta, one of the generals from King Dutugemunu’s army. This ancient monastic complex is in Panama, an hour drive from Arugam Bay, and it is sprawled across 6000 acres of a rocky outcrop. Kudumbigala has over 200 caves within the complex, each one with massive stone slabs to ensure the monks were not disturbed during meditation. The monastery was also often referred to as ‘Chethiya Pabbatha’, paying homage to its many stupas, and it is also the home of Sri Lanka’s only cylindrical stupa, which was meant to house visiting monks from Anuradhapura. Interestingly, Kudumbugala was only (re) discovered in the early 1950s when a man moved to the area to lead a life of seclusion, till then it was not a part of public knowledge. Since the monastery is on a hill, it is a bit of a trek up to the top, but it is very manageable; try and visit in the late afternoon/early evening as that is when the monastery will be at its most beautiful—bathed under the warm glow of sunset.