Ritigala is home to 70 rock caves that were believed to had been inhabited since the first century BC. Mahavamsa, the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka narrates that Ritigala was known by the name of “arittha-pabbata” during the reign of Pandukabhaya (377-307 BC), the third king of Sri Lanka. Since then Ritigala had been, at intervals, a sanctuary for the kings at war against the Dravidian invaders to the island till the 7th century: King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) and King Jetthatissa in the seventh century.From the early days of Buddhism, monks had been living in natural caves or rock shelters.
Rock inscriptions discovered at Ritigala indicate that gradually, the sanctuary became a monastic retreat for hermit (Pamsukulika) monks. An inscription found at the site records that the Ritigala monastery was founded by King Lanji Tissa (119 – 109 BC) who also dedicated a reservoir to the monastery The monastery complex built with the tradition of Padhanaghara Parivena was endowed by King Sena the first (846-866 AD) for the benefit of Pansukulika monks who practiced extreme austerity. By the 10th-12th century AD however Ritigala seems to have been abandoned by the hermit monks, taken over by the jungle and forgotten by the populace.It is the ruins of this monastery that King Sena I (846-866 AD) built for the Pansakulika monks that the modern pilgrims see today. The Archaeological Department has sensitively restored many of the ruins