We take you to the village of Devipahala in the outskirts of Kuruwita in Ratnapura whose hills, waterfalls, plantations and sacred sites are waiting to be explored
The terrain popularly known by villagers as Devipahala remains a less-explored destination.The hidden hills offer much more than one can experience in tourist-infested Bopath Ella fall just two kilometres away. The winding uphill path that goes up several hairpin bends took us far away from the heat and dust towards the swirling mist, lush vegetation, and tranquillity. Right through, my son and I were the lone travellers on this road at the elevation of 188 metres. Surrounded by the green peak wilderness of Sri Pada(Adam’s Peak) hills enveloped in small shola forests, Devipahala is like a mini hill station. But the place is not just about Nature. It is an equally important hotspot for history, religion and trekkers.
The main tarred road which is about six and a half kilometres in distance from the nearby main town Kuruwita, the passenger bus service runs up to Devipahala where a small town comprises a few boutiques, post office, school and the Co-operative Rural Bank. The road runs beyond Devipahala, and leads to several mountainous destinations in the area such as Demada, Deraniyagala and Eratna, from where one of the picturesque routes to Sri Pada lies amidst the natures wonders.
Adjoining the village of Devipahala is a massive estate plantation called Kiragala estate where tea and rubber are the main crops and almost all the estate houses (line rooms) occupy predominately hard-working Tamil community. They live peacefully with a majority of the Sinhala community in the village, displaying a fine example of unity and brotherhood in this tense society.
“Landless Tamil families were given lands in Pindelewatta and Welehindhawatta in Devipahala to build houses and work in the estate. Now they live in the village with Sinhala villagers in close friendship and help each other, which is the need of the hour”, says D. N. G. Hewavitarana, a boutique owner in the small town of Devipahala who met us at his tea kiosk and narrated a history of the village.
Hewavitarana, told us the story of how Devipahala was associated with Sumana Saman Deviyo. However, if we are to disregard historical facts and listen to more vivid tales of how the name came about, then we should pay attention to a tale related in the legends.
Sitting in the verandah of his small tea kiosk, we listen to the fascinating ancient legends retold to us by a boutique owner and villager, Hewavitarana.
The name comes from the belief of the locals that a long time ago the jewellery belonging to Sumana Saman Deviyo, in the Saman Devalaya at Deraniyagala, was tainted due to a priest’s error.
The God’s jewellery consisted of two golden arrows wrapped in a white cloth. After the jewellery was tainted, the God did not want to reside at the Devalaya, and the jewels, through divine power, alighted at the Gavari Mountain (The name earlier known as Devipahala) in Kuruwita.
There was a village there, and in a house lived a grandmother and her granddaughter, One evening, the granddaughter was sweeping the garden when the grandmother asked her to fetch some water from the stream. However, since she was not done with her task, she refused.
The grandmother went to the stream by herself. Immersing the water pot in the stream, her eye soon picked up a shadow shimmering in the waters. After staring at it for a while she looked up towards a na tree by the stream and saw the figure of Sumana Saman Deviyo.
She called out to her granddaughter, who came running with the whisk that she was using to sweep the garden. Pointing towards the tree, the grandmother inquired whether she saw the deity. Assuring the grandmother that she saw, she pointed the whisk at the deity who quickly disappeared. Thus affronted, the deity then alighted at the Saman Devale in Ratnapura where the jewellery is preserved and worshiped to this day.
It is believed, the village where the God manifested (Deviyo Pahalavuna) was thus named Devi-Pahala. However, before it changed into Devipahala, this mountainous area was known as Gawari Kanda by the inhabitants in the past.
According to the information given by Hewavitarana, we ventured further up on the road and came across two massive age-old na trees along with a devalaya dedicated to Sumana Saman Deviyo. Although the Devale was built recently, the two massive na trees are said to be 2,000 years old and renovated and maintained by the villagers. By the side of the Devale, there is a perennial stream called Devipahala Ela which flows, reflecting the memory of the ancient legend associated with Saman Deviyo. Although the waterhole is not visible today, the stream still runs adjoining the na trees and joins the Kuru Ganga making another small waterfall called Dodam Ella, which falls a few metres away from the Devalaya.
Since the caretaker was out when we visited the Devalaya, we took a short tour of the Devalaya. But, before that several other things fascinated us –the smooth tarred road dotted with tea and pepper plantations, the rolling green hills filled with various crops such as banana and the dense forests.
Under pressure of human development, encroachment is slowly eroding the fragile ecosystem that Devipahala is, while the forest authorities are doing their bit in conserving the delicate balance of elements. Today, the most discerning feature of the village is the small hydro-power house built across the small stream beneath the valley close to the Bopath Ella falls.
Most of the villagers in Devipahala have at least an acre or two of land where they engage in tea cultivation to make a livelihood. They are hard working, and they themselves work in their fields from morning to dusk.
The rugged, rain-soaked southwestern Rakwana mountain range of the Sri Pada peak wilderness where the small stream called Kuru Ganga, a tributary of the moody Kalu Ganga, flows down, passing the meandering valley of Devipahala, creates a mesmerizing waterfall, winding its way through rocks and lush vegetation. Known as Bopath Ella, (Bo-Leaf Fall), it makes a leap of 100 feet on the Kuru Ganga.
Located in a pretty wooded copse near the village of Devipahala, Bopath Ella derives its name from its perfectly heart-shaped head, much like the leaf of the bo tree and is sacred sanctum for the Nature-lover. To reach the Ella one would have to turn right from the Devipahala road and proceed down roughly one kilometer to reach the falls.
Once you reach the car park at the gate you pay Rs 20/- and walk to the pavilion to view the falls through make-shift stalls erected by villagers in Devipahala who sell various souvenirs to the visitors to the falls. Or, if you want a closer view of the falls, a bamboo boat ride can be arranged through the stream. It is operated by the village youth.
The thrashing Bopath Ella fall and the mist-clad Erathna peak wilderness is an ideal one-day detour for some great monsoon fun. Or, you can get refreshed and rejuvenated by soaking in the silence in the Devipahala village, away from all chaos. Alternatively, a trip to the nearby rustic Deraniyagala and Saman Devale makes an interesting trekking adventure and offers some spiritual solace.
At Devipahala, the choice is entirely yours – whether you want to turn to history or adventure. There is plenty of everything. And if you wish to ignore all this and dare to scale the hill purely for adventure, be sure to adhere strictly to the safety precautions, especially, if you visit Bopath Ella waterfall, because walking on the rock boulder closer to the waterfall is slippery. Many fatalities were recorded in the recent past, so be careful before you venture into it!
Devipahala, a rustic hamlet, is one such untouched spot soaked in history and Nature.