Manikdena historical site and nature reserve
The historical site of Manikdena was known in several names in the past. It was known as Manikdena Pabbata during the second half of the Anuradhapura period (555-573 AD), and the temple complex was known as Buddharatagma and Butgama during the reign of King Kitsiri Mevan. Manikdena has a rare type of combination of nature, history and religion. Manikdena is not only an important historical site in the country but also a very popular religious site. It is being visited by a large number of people every year due to the historical importance and natural value.
King Kitsiri Mewan is believed to be the founder of the historical monastery complex here. According to the historical evidence, it had been used by the monks of Mahayana Buddhism. Manikdena temple had been one of the several places, where the tooth relic of Buddha was safeguarded in the past.
The historical temple was temporarily used as a camping site for the army of King Vijayabahu (1055-1110 AD). It had been the residence of a large number of monks and it was provided with state patronage by many successful rulers. The last monk of Sri Lanka, who attained the Arahathood lived here. When the monk passed away, the body was put into a specially decorated container with gemstones and buried. The present name “Manikdena” is directly attributed to this incident.
During the reign of King Vijayabahu the 1st about 500 monks had been living in the monastery. A large number of constructions was discovered during the excavation at the site. Bodhigara, Dagobas, chapter houses, image houses, are some of the building among the discoveries. Dagoba of Manikdena archaeological site was known as Bojjan vehera in the past and it was encircled by a Bodhigara. There had been 2 entrances made of granite to the dagoba. Dagoba is 30 feet in height and diameter measured to be 6 feet. Dagoba is built in the form of bubble shape. There is 2 guard stone that is made of limestones at the entrance of the dagoba. 2 Buddha statues in meditation posture and footprint of Buddha is also can be seen here.
The chapter house believed to be a large scale construction with four stories. Today about 40 granite stone pillars can be seen at the site. According to the historical information there had been about ten sautés in image house. None of the ten statutes can be seen today and they have been destroyed during the last few centuries. The chapter house is also completely destroyed and only several stone pillars are left from the original construction.
The Menikdena sanctuary is about 44 acres in extent and it adds the natural value to the site. The reserve is functioning as an important catchment area. The reserve is consisting of a large number of trees and scrubs. The bio-diversity of the reserve is considered to be very high compared to the small size of the reserve. The reserve is inhabited by a large number of animals such as deer, wild boar and civets, several species of butterfly, birds and vertebrates are also occurring here often.
The forest is an important nature reserve with many species of medicinal plants and the dominating tree can be identified as the Na-Tree (Mesua nagasurium). The forest reserve is consisting of endemic, introduced and native flora species and they have been identified and properly named with the help of the University of Peradeniya.
Manikdena archaeological site is surrounded by several other important archaeological sites such as Dambulla cave temple, Ibbankatuwa, Potana, Nalanda Gedige and Aluvihara. Nearby natural attractions such as Riverton and Pitawala patana can also be easily reached from Manikdena archaeological site. Poaching, collecting firewood ad relic hinting has been identified as the immediate threats to the Manikdena archaeological site and nature reserve.
Manikdena archaeological site is situated in the central province of Sri Lanka. There are several routes to reach the site and the most convenient route is on the Dambulla-Matale main road. One needs to turn to Badiwewa road at the Manampitiya junction on the Dambulla-Matale main road, and then drive up to Manikdena junction. From Manikdena junction it is only two kilometres to the archaeological site. It takes around four hours to reach the Manikdena archaeological site from Colombo.