Ritigala is the partially excavated ruins of an extensive ancient Buddhist monastery, sited on a hill standing out against the flat jungle. Found just off the Anuradhapura – Habarana road, the ruins of this monastery are reached by a jungle track. Unlike the better known world heritage sites of Sigiriya and Dambulla, Ritigala is invariably empty with just the gate keeper and a guide present. Its isolated location and emptiness in comparison with the other Cultural Triangle sites can be exceptionally rewarding for those seeking the less trodden but equally fascinating ancient sites of "Undiscovered Sri Lanka".
There are at least 70 caves at Ritigala. These were prepared for monks around the 1st century BC. An inscription in one of these caves mentions that King Lanjatissa, the brother of Duttagamini gifted it which bares testimony to this historical fact. Therefore he probably founded the first monastery at Ritigala.
It is the ruins of this monastery that King Sena I built for the Pansakulika monks that the modern pilgrim sees today. Sometime during the 8th century a group of monks broke away from the Abhayagiri and called themselves the Pansakulikas, that is 'The Rag-robe Warers'. Wearing robes made out of rags, usually shrouds picked up from cemeteries, is one of the thirteen ascetic practices (dhutanga) allowed by the Buddha.
The fact that the Pansakulikas chose to name themselves after this particular practice suggests that they were reformers, probably protesting against what they saw as the comfort and indolence of the city monks. However, the remains of their monasteries suggest that they were something more than just a 'back to the forest movement'. All of their monasteries have certain mysterious features which are unique in Sri Lankan monastic architecture; long paved paths often with roundabouts in them, large stone-lined and stepped reservoirs and strangest of all so-called double platforms. These platforms are made out of huge slabs of beautifully cut stone and always occur in twos, joined by a bridge. They are usually built on natural rock foundations and are always aligned in the same direction. Near the platforms is often found a so-called urinal stone some of which are elaborately decorated. In fact, these 'urinal stones' are the only things in Pansakulika monasteries with any decorations on them at all. Further, no stupas, image houses, temples or images have ever been found at Pansakulika sites.
The ancient site of Ritigala is one of the oldest and most well preserved Buddhist Monasteries in the World. We recommend it as a "must visit" site for the avid traveller interested in Cultural heritage and adventure.