The mountain "where Buddha laid his foot on"

By Sudath Gunasekara (S.L.A.S), Asian Tribune, Oct 21, 2006

The wonder that is Lakegala from where Ravana ruled Lanka and Lord Buddha preached Lankavatara Sutra and laid his Foot Print

Lakegala, Sri Lanka -- Wrapped in mystery and legend, on the northern end of this village, rising above the surroundings like a colossal giant is the world famous Lakegala, the highest bare rock outcrop in the world. "The Resplendent Rock", "The Rock of Lanka’ or "The Target Rock", Lanka Pabbata, Lankagiri, Laggala, Samudramalaya or Samudragiri are the different names given to it as it was differently called by different people at different times in different contexts.

However, it ever remained Lakegala (The resplendent Rock) for the people of this village. At first, looking at it no one will believe that this is a natural phenomenon. It is so breathtaking and so unbelievable that it portrays more a painting by a maestro artist than a mere creation of nature – an epic poem, Mother Nature has created for men to adore as long as the sun and the moon shall last.

A triangular panorama unseen and unheard anywhere in the world, it towers majestically over the secluded ancient village of Meemure situated in the eastern boarder of the Kandy district. It is also the only rock in the whole world, which has been named after the country where it stands. Also probably the most elegant rock (Lakegala) in the world as the people of Meemure have very aptly named it.

The following folk poem aptly describes the fame of this rock.

Epita konata Kalupana keleya
Mepita konata Laggala Meemureya
Desiya dekak usa eti gomareya
Sondai parakasa Laka Meemureya.

(Yonder lay Kalupana the great forest
Laggala and Meemre lying at the near end
The rock that is two hundred and two high
Famous is the name, Lakegala in Meemure)

Geographically Lakegala is located almost right at the center of Sri Lanka (80.46 E and 7.30 N). It forms the tail end of the eastern extremity of the Dumbara hills (popularly known as the Knuckles). It is a giant steep vertical erosional monolith with a perpendicular bare rock face of an abrupt drop of nearly three thousand feet (914 m) overlooking the great eastern plains.

Its triangular face that stands on a base of about 2.5 miles in length from west to east with a sharp apex rising over 3000 feet from its base towards the heavens is perhaps the most fascinating and breathtaking creation of mother nature on this earth.

The surface area of the southern face of this rock must be at least in the region of 15 million square feet if not more. It also could be the world’s biggest visible rock mass. Its perimeter is about 5 miles and the area of the base is around 2 square miles.

It has three peaks and the southern most facing Meemure is the highest and the most enchanting. The whole mass exhibits a SW-NE trend with a dip slope to the SW. The three peaks are arranged in a NW-SE direction with a horseback like summits. These summits are covered with a thin layer of earth not more than few inches deep with few-stunted pigmy bushes struggling to survive.

The patinas (grasslands) on the southwestern dip slopes are extensive and the villagers of Meemure and Laggala use them to drive their buffaloes during the off-season. One can also see the eastern sea from the top of this peak on a clear day. This may be the reason why the ancient people called it Samudramalaya, meaning the mountain from where you can se the sea.

Its summit is 4329 feet above sea level and this never aging and ever-youthful monolith has remained unchanged ever since it sprang up millions of years ago from the earth’s surface, in spite of the fact that the entire world around it has undergone tremendous changes. From the day the tip of this rock first emerged from it’s surrounding plains, it must have witnessed with deep sorrow how the surrounding plains are being carved out by day and night in to beautiful valleys leaving behind the hanging and precipitous mountains with rugged and fragile peaks, abutting them.

At times Lakegala must have felt sad to witness how the rich layers of good earth around it is being churned and robbed by the streams- the ruthless transport agents of the sea. But at the same time it must also have felt proud that it could boldly stand all alone undefeated all the beatings of nature down the ages when all others have succumbed to sorrowful defeat. It not only has resisted and withstood successfully the beatings of the elements of weather through out the ages but it also has absorbed all the sorrows and pains of the people who lived under its daunting shadow from the dawn of civilization.

Since I first saw it as a little child some sixty odd years ago the village has undergone tremendous changes. People have died and many new comers are being born. But this giant sentinel still stands unshaken above the village in the same majestic manner I saw it first, casting its majestic but romantic and seductive looks, perhaps with much disappointment and pain at what has been continuously going on over the ages under its own shadow. I do not think that there could be a better witness than this lonely sentinel to what happen under its shadow over the ages. I wish therefore that Lakegala would correct me where I go wrong in this pursuit.

It is in recognition of this unique historical and aesthetic role Lakegala has played in its environs and the indelible image it has left in my mind as the most prominent landmark both in this village and in the Island that I decided to name my book on Meemure “Under the shadow of Lakegala”

In the Pali chronicle Rasavahini Lakegala is called Lankapabbata.

Professor S. Paranavitana in his God of Adamspeak has identified it as Lankagiri, which means the Rock of Lanka. Legend has it that this Island owes its name Lanka to this rock. The names Lakgala and Laggala are also used to describe this rock. All three words Lakegala, Lakgala and Laggala mean beautiful or resplendent rock.

Lake behe (O what a beauty) in Sinhala denotes excessive beauty. Lake behe and Kisi lakak nehe (no beauty at all) are common terms used in the day-to-day conversation in this village.

All these terms therefore speak of the captivating beauty of this rock. All these words starting with Lak, Lanka or Lag also means that it is the Rock of the Island of Lanka. If this argument holds true then this Island will be the only country in the world, which has been named after a rock found in that country and similarly this will be the only rock in the whole world, which has been named after the name of the country where it is stands.

Legend has it that the Lankapura of Mighty Ravana the capital of his kingdom was located around this Rock. It is also said that Ravana the epic King of Lanka used Lakegala as a device to calculate time for this Kingdom depending on the relationship between this rock and the sunrise and sun set. Ravanas Kingdom is supposed to have extended even beyond the shores of Lanka covering a large part of Dhakshina Bharata including Dandakaranya Forest, over which his sister Suparnakha ruled. It is said that Ravana met Sita, the alluring Queen of Rama in this forest.

When the day begins as the morning sun makes its first appearance over the eastern horizon it casts its soothing crimson rays on Lakegala illuminating it like a red ruby. The aura displayed by the morning sunrise on Lakegala in the month of Duruthu and Nawam is perhaps the most mesmerizing and breathtaking spectacle I have seen in my life.

The golden rays of the sun that fall on the bare and shining face of Lakegala reflects back and illuminates the entire valley below, long before the direct sun rays reach the valley as if they beckon the villagers to rise from their deep slumber in the previous night. As this rock sheds these early morning reflections the humming of bees and singing of birds awaken the whole world around it.

The cooing of Alukobeiya (Ash dove), ear piercing clarion call of the Walikukula (Jungle fowl), the rhythmic cry of jungle birds provides the nature’s morning symphony orchestra that set the alap and the rhythm for the days beginning in this village.

From its partly covered and slightly dipped western leg Lakegala rises east gradually but rhythmically up to its summit and then falls abruptly by about 2000 feet forming in to a slightly concave horizon at the lower level intercepted by few projections of trees shooting in to the sky. There after it merges with the Matalagala –Komalepatana ridge which glides and finally disappears in the Heenganga valley.

Looking at its southern profile from a distant at times, I imagine Lakegala resembles a high ocean tide that sprang up during the geological past, rolled over land, rising in the west and breaking up in the east that got petrified and remained there mourning for millions of years over the parting ocean around it. But would not it be more appropriate to compare her to a dancing heavenly nymph whose alluring and seductive looks have kept everyone around spellbound through out the ages.

Her right leg and right arm stretched to the west and the left leg and the left arm rhythmically gliding in the east. She is dancing the cosmic dance to the accompaniment of the heavenly drums with no beginning and no end. She must have been dancing in this manner with no break from the time she came of age, enticing the whole world around her. I can see no beginning or end to this eternal and perhaps a part of nature’s cosmic dance, which probably will come to an end only on the day this planet earth, stops its endless journey around the sun.

The most fascinating view of this natures wonder is seen from the south. Its beckoning, enchanting and endearing disposition really makes you go mad. The crest of the rock as seen from Udawanatha or Watagode muduna clearly resembles the natural features of a human face, the eyes, nose and the mouth quite visible, as if casting her amorous looks at the playful village youths of Meemure who may be not aware of such comely castings shot at them by this heavenly dame.

The thicket at the summit and the grass cover on the western slopes resembles a flock of loosened hair adorning her back. The silvery waterfalls that roar down the western flanks in the months of November and December after every rain add further colour to her dancing costume. Another noteworthy thing associated with this rock is the isolated patch of vegetation seen at the lower central part of the rock. It is really surprising that this patch with no visible supply of water remains green through out the year.

It is also interesting to see how this thicket divides Lakegala in to two halves, one eastern and the other western. To use a poetic simile, one could compare this thicket to a Vasaroda that disappears under the Manimekhaladama of this goddess of dancing. This spot is said to be full of caves, excavation of which might unearth some unbelievable evidence on the history of this Island.

An early morning view of this rock, before the sun casts its rays on the ground around, particularly in the months of Nawam (January-February) when the morning sun casts its first rays over the eastern horizon or a spectacle on a full moon day in the month of Vesak (May) as the full moon is shining on the high heavens are perhaps some of the most enchanting spectacles one could see on this earth.

Some eminent scholars believe that Lord Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka has left his footprint on this rock. They also believe that Ravana, the legendary Lord of Lanka mentioned in Valmikis Ramayanaya had his abode on the summit of this mountain and his Capital Lankapuraya was located around it. According to Lankavatara Sutta, Buddha on his third visit to Lanka has visited Lankamalaya (Lakegala) and preached Lankavatara Sutta to Ravana the Lord of Yakkshas of Lanka on the peak of Samudramalaya, which was situated in Lankapura.

Again Huen Tsien, the Chinese traveler in the seventh century AD has stated that “ in this Island to the south east is the Lankapabbata and on this mountain Buddha preached Lankavatara Sutta.” Furthermore according to Fa-Hsien (411AD) Buddha has laid his foot print on two places, one to the north of Anuradhapura the then capital and the other on a summit of a mountain, fifteen leagues south of Anuradhapura. Some authorities have identified Lakegala as the mountain, where this second footprint was laid.

The first European to write about this mountain was Major Forbes in 1832. He has made an unsuccessful attempt to climb this peak and camped out the night at the foot of the hill on the western side (Miriyagolla) and left the next morning to Matale. He has left an interesting account of this rock and Meemure in his famous book, 11 Years in Ceylon (P 101).

“From various names of neighboring places, and for other reasons, I believe the Yakka town of Lankapoora was situated around this mountain; and this circumstance, conjoined with still more ancient traditions, has obtained from native superstition a belief that its formation was miraculous, and that the sounds of its falling rocks are mysterious prognostics of public misfortune. Quoting from one of his guides he makes the following reference to an age-old legend prevailing among these villagers,

Through the vale of Meemoora while sweeps the wild storm,
The red thunderbolt’s gleam shows Lak’galla’s rude form.
Hallowed region of spirits when tempest run by,
Frowning o’er their dark course, thy scathed peaks shoot on high.

Here stern Rawan was vanquished and in that dread hour
Lakagalla was rent by the conqueror’s power;
It was Rama’s keen shaft cleft the mountain in twain,
And Lak’galla’s bright lake made a desolate plain. (P 103)

The first white man to climb Lakegala was Dyson the Colonial Government Agent of Kandy. He climbed this peak in 1943 in the company of my father and few villagers. The only approach to the summit of Lakegala is on the western side. The first leg is a steep stretch of patna land with low bushes of mixed vegetation and grasses.

Occasionally one could see few Gammalu (Pterocarpus marsupium roxb), Aralu (Terminalia chebula Retz), Bulu (Terminalia belerica), Nelli (Phyllunthus embilica) and short bushes appearing here and there. The climb in this section is about 2000 ft. The second leg is a steep climb of bare rock slab of about 500ft, which is the most difficult part to negotiate.

The climb here is extremely arduous and it has to be done with the help of a rope along a difficult narrow gully that brings down the waters of the top portion during rains. Half way on this gully is the most difficult point obstructed by a bolder that has come down and got struck in the cavity? The last leg to the summit again is a stretch of stunted shrubs and grass of about 500 to 600ft with a steep gradient.

The summit, resembling a horse back, is about 20 ft wide and it stretches from S E to N W for about 650 ft in length like a horseback. It has dry shrub type low montane vegetation. The height of the tallest tree here does not exceed 8 ft and the girth of the biggest tree is not more than few inches (6-8). The dominant trees are Ankenda (Acronychia pedunculata), Miiriya (Palaquium grande), Naha, Varav (Calotropis gigantea), Karapincha (Murraya spreng), Pihimbiya (Felicium decipiens), Nelu (Stenosiphonium cordifolium), Getapichcha (Jasminum Anqustifolium), Maldunkala (Sonchus wightianus), Butiya (Melastoma malabathirikum), Kina (Callophylum cuneifolium), Walwaraka (Anicoxanthum acuminata), Kirindi (Coix lacryma), Maratu (Echinochloa crusgalli), Galidda (Walidda antidysenterica) and Labutarana (Tarenna asiatica) etc and creepers such as Kalawel (Derris parviflora), Iramusu ( Hemidesmus indicus), and grasses like Pohon and Mana (Cymbopogon rendle).

The southern and eastern sides are abrupt precipices. The drop is definitely more than 3000 ft. When you reach the summit after about 3 hours of arduous and strenuous climbing starting from the base one feels as if you have reached the heavens alive. Paradise itself exists here in the Paradise Island of Lanka. From the top you can see one of the most panoramic views one-can see any where in the world.

The aerial view of the Meemure basin some 3500 ft below and the Knuckles ranges with the Dumbanagala-Kehelpothdoruwegala-Telambugala crescent range encircling the Meemure basin are really unforgettable memories. But the most rewarding is the panorama of the eastern plain extending up to the sea dotted with irrigation canals and tanks occasionally disturbed by the hills rising above the ground. Sections of the Mahaweli Ganga flowing north girdling the eastern boarder of the Dumbara hills also could be witnessed. The Parakrama Samudraya, Giritale Tank, Minneriya and Ulhitiya Tanks (all man made massive reservoirs) decorating the landscape of this great ancient eastern agrarian civilization could be clearly seen even with the naked eye.

There are two accesses to the point (Meeriyagolla) from where we start the accent. One is on the south, through Meemure, and the other on the North through Laggala. The southern access is easier. One has to trek about three miles uphill through difficult terrain from the village whose elevation is about 1200 ft. to reach the base. It takes about two hours to reach the base. Today more than thousand people annually climb this peak. It is interesting to note that even young village lassies of Meemure do climb this now.

The best time in the year to climb this mountain is August and early September. Before August the summit is swept by strong southwesterly Monsoon winds and after mid-September the sky is not clear due to convectional activities that are active prior to the onset of the North East Monsoons. In this village there is also a tradition that every young man should climb this peak before he is formally qualified to take the hand of a village lass.

The villagers consider the climb as a mark of bravery and courage. Of cause before one attempts this feat it is customary and compulsory too that hey should first visit the village Devale (The temple of the gods) and obtain the permission and blessings from the presiding gods of the region. It guarantees a safe and easy climb and return without any misfortune. It is also customary that the climbers on their descent too visit the Devale for thanks giving.

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