Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/16/18 6:47 AM

Travel: Zen Sites in Sri Lanka

Walking the path to Zen

Where I take a trip to three well-preserved heritage sites in Sri Lanka and learns some lessons for life along the way





Ritigala, deep inside very dense forests (`Strict Nature Reserve,` announces a signboard), ringedby the high and dense Ritigala mountain range, is not the most accessible of places.

In fact, the modern name `Ritigala` is derived from the ancient name Ariṭṭha Pabbata or Dreadful Mountain. The forest contains powerful medicinal herbs that are believed to be guarded by supernatural beings called Yakkas. The other legend is that Hanuman, flying over Ritigala, dropped a chunk off a mountain of the Himalaya range he was carrying from India to Lanka.

This was the palace of King Pandukabhaya and later, a 3rd century forest hermitage for the Bhikkus. There are tiers of stone-cut steps that go up level by level, there is a small tank, there are stone bridges, sunken courtyards, the ruins of the king`s palace.

Basically, we are talking ruins here. No Buddha statue, no stupa, no vihara. But once you reach the place, all you want is to just sit quietly, detach from the noise inside your head and just be.

Life lesson: The only journey is the journey one within.


The Sigiriya rock standing 200 metres/660 ft tall, dates back to the 5th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is an India connect here, too: Sigiriya once the capital Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kashyapa, may be Alakamandava, the City of the Gods that was built 50 centuries ago by King Kuwera, Ravana`s father.

At Sigiriya, you find a moat, one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world,  fading frescoes of sirens remarkably similar to the art found in Ajanta and once you climb up 1,200 dizzying steps to the top, the ruins of what must have been a sumptuous palace across the small plain.

There is a dog calmly lying on a brick wall, looking out at the view in front of him. There is a still pond which holds in it the reflection of its brick walls and the overhanging branches of a tree that arches gently over it.

There is also this yearning to park yourself on a grassy knoll, take in the view and just be.

Life lesson: The calm one finds up on the mountain is the calm one takes up there.





Polonnaruwa was   once the second-most ancient of Sri Lanka`s  kingdoms after Anuradhapura. Today, the fabulous architectural park in King Vijayabahu I`s capital city is another World Heritage Site.

Think a better preserved Hampi studded with tombs, temples, statues and stupas, and the simply magnificent Parakrama Samudra, the sea of Parakramabahu, an irrigation tank covering more than 15 km of water.

The large, beautifully laid-out area is dotted with the remnants of many a Buddha statue, the rock art of the Gal Vihara, the Lotus Pond, intricately  worked moonstones, and the revered vatadage with its elaborately  carved stone platforms which holds four seated Buddha statues, each facing one entrance.

While you do not really want to sit in the sun and study a statue for too long,  the now familiar sense of je ne sais quoi is there in the air. It calms you down, it stills the chatter inside your head and on your tongue. You just want to be.

Life lesson: Finding the Buddha within is not the easiest of tasks. But the journey promises a wealth of gratification.

All photos by Sheila Kumar. Images are subject to copyright.

Links to related pieces:

Travel: Dambulla Caves, Sri Lanka

Photo Feature: Sylvan Sri Lanka

Book review: Upon a Sleepless Isle by Andrew Fidel Fernando



Buddhist sitesFeatureheritage siteslife lessonsplaces of calmPollonnoruwaRitigalaSheila KumarSigiriyaSri Lankatravel

Sheila Kumar • August 16, 2018

Previous Post

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *