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Truth behind the Prison cell of the last King in Colombo Fort

By Chryshane Mendis


The Prison cell of the last King of Kandy, King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha in Colombo fort is a somewhat well-known monument. Although most individuals working in the Fort area do not notice it, it is a famous destination for tourists. It is situated within the premises of the Ceylinco House building down Janadipathi Mawatha (Queen’s Street) at the turn off to Bank of Ceylon Mawatha. The aim of this article is to see if this is really the prison cell of the last King or something else; as there appear currently two traditions to this story, a common tradition and an academic tradition.



The present monument is in the shape of a half capsule with the curved half facing north containing the chamber. The structure is roughly 12 feet in length, 11 feet in width and about 8 feet in height. The entrance to the chamber is 3 feet wide facing north with two small vertical openings on either side with two iron bars; the width of the walls is approximately 2 feet. The outer surface is decorated with 6 simple pilasters. The structure contains a vaulted roof with the exterior decorated in scales with a circular ventilation duct figuring prominently on top. At the rear end of the structure is a sculptured bust of King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha with an inscription underneath. Close to the entrance fixed onto the wall is another inscription in Sinhala and English which states the capture of the King and his imprisonment in this chamber. Further within the chamber are portraits of the King and Queen, that of Governor Robert Brownrigg and Adigar Pilimatalawe. Also is a painting of the tomb of the King in Vellore and the ship on which he was deported to India.

The Investigation

The King in Colombo

The popular story goes that the King was kept in a cell within the fort of Colombo before his departure, but is it the actual story? Was he imprisoned or placed under house arrest as said by some?

King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was captured on the 18th February 1815 in Madamahanuwara and was transferred to Colombo without entering Kandy. On the 6th of March the King and his escort entered the Colombo fort where they were received by Colonel Kerr, the commandant of the garrison. Here the King remained for nearly a year till the 24th of January 1816 when he and his family was deported to Vellore aboard the HMS Cornwallis.

According to the Official Government Gazette and the writings of Dr. Henry Marshall, he was kept in a house and placed under house arrest, and not in a cell.

To quote the Gazette No. 704, Wednesday, 15th March 1815:

“On the Monday following Major Hook with the Detachment under his command escorting the late King of Kandy and his family entered the Fort…He is logged in a House in the Fort which has been suitably prepared for his reception and is stockaded round to prevent any intrusion on his privacy”

This being an official Government document cements the fact that he was placed in a house specially prepared for him as mentioned above. Further the account of Dr. Henry Marshall too is to be noted here.

Dr. Henry Marshall was a British Army surgeon who served in the island from 1806 to 1821. He is a celebrated Army Doctor and is considered the ‘Father of Army Medicine’, retiring as the Deputy Inspector General of Army Hospitals of the British Empire. In his celebrated work Ceylon: a general description of the island and its inhabitants, with a historical sketch of the conquest of the colony by the English published in 1846 and reprinted by Tisara Prakasakayo in 1969, he gives an accurate and neutral description of the island and the events in its conquest, even being critical of his own, the British, in their conduct of the 1818 rebellion. In the above work he gives a detailed account of the last King, his appearance, his character and a very neutral look at his rise and fall. In it he states that

“ the prison or house provided for him was spacious, and handsomely fitted up. He was obviously well pleased with his new adobe, and upon entering it, observed, “As I am no longer permitted to be a King, I am thankful for the kindness and attention which have been shown to me”

Adding further in his book he also gives a dialog between him and the King in Colombo, whom he was requested to visit professionally; he states that he found the king frank and affable and willing to converse on any subject. It is given that apart from Kandyan matters, the former king also asked Dr. Marshall aspects of his personal life such as the duration of his stay in the island, and his home in England.

The writings of Dr. Marshall, a contemporary of the present events at discussion, further confirm beyond doubt, of the King being placed within a house in the fort and not in a prison cell.

Having given facts that dispel the myth of the late king being placed in a cell, it is important to see the whereabouts of the said house. Through a brief study done by the writer, only the reference from R. L. Brohier’s Changing Face of Colombo was found indicating the location of the said house. He states it to be a Dutch dwelling house, which was later occupied by the Darley Butler firm; this is the present site of the Ceylinco House, the location of the present monument.

Figure 1 – Dutch plan of Colombo, 1756 (from Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company)

An investigation into the location of this site through the maps in National Archives and the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon, found indeed this location to be a residential block. From the maps of 1733 and 1756-59 from Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon, it is clear that the block along the Janadipathi Mawatha from Ceylinco House to the National Mutual Building (Center Point Building) was a residential area for officers of the Dutch East India Company.


Thus it is clear that the present site of the Ceylinco House was the site of a Dutch house during the 1700s and would have most likely been there in 1815, which is just 19 years after the takeover of the Colombo fort by the British.

The identity of this building

Having proved the stay of the king in a house and not a cell, the next question raised is as to the true identity of the present monument which is said to be the cell of the king. When was it built? What was its purpose?  R. L. Brohier states the following in his Changing Face of Colombo:

“a quaint concrete cubicle in which a man can barely sit, is displayed in the court-yard off the foyer of Ceylinco House. It is popularly accredited to have been the cell in which King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was restrained- mind you, for nearly one year. On the face of the written word and evidence of once own eyes, the assumption is a travesty. The monument has no greater significance possibly than that of having been a sentry box set up at the gate-way to the adjoining garrison building erected by the British in 1875 (Echelon square buildings- now demolished)”

Thus R. L. Brohier claims that this was a guard house of the adjoining Echelon barracks. To further test this, the writer conducted a deeper inquiry using two approaches, one, to examine on the location of the site and two, to the nature of the building.

The first approach is an examination on the location of the site and its built history.

Figure 2 – Plan of 1904/5 from the National Archives. BLUE shows block with Darley Butler building; GREEN shows Dutch Hospital.

Between the timeline of the Dutch house and the present Ceylinco building on this block, is another building, that of the Darley Butler building owned by the company of the same name (plus some unidentified smaller buildings adjoining the east of Darley Butler building on the same block). Tracing the monument here could help fit it in a particular context.

By the 1860s, prior to the removal of the ramparts, the Darley Butler building had been established on the site as per an old photograph, and continued till 1960/61 when it was demolished during the building of the present Ceylinco House. The foundation for the present Ceylinco House was cut on 21st October 1955 and completed on 20th October 1962. As per figure 3, a 1960 aerial image, and comparing the ground plan with the 1904/5 map, the superstructure of the Ceylinco building was constructed on the south-east section of this block, while the Darley Butler building (on the northwest section of the block) remained standing. However it may have been demolished between 1961 and 1962 and would now comprise the area of the car park situated just behind the Ceylinco House.

Figure 3 – taken from the Baur’s building in 1960. RED circle shows the present monument (from book The Faithful Foreigner)

It is interesting to note here as mentioned in the book ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going: a history of Ceylinco Insurance’ that during the construction of the present Ceylinco House, within the eight foot deep foundation, there had been a viaduct about 6 ½ feet in height and also was found the remains of human bones without the skull; and also that architects confirmed that the Darley Butler building was built on the site of an old Dutch house.

Accordingly prior to the removal of the ramparts, to the northeast of this block was the Dutch Hospital, to the south the Middleburg bastion and to the southwest the Galle gate. After the removal of the ramparts, bordering this site to the south was the Echelon barracks.

Understanding the context of the Darley Butler building and the Ceylinco House, now the monument in its built context will be looked at. The map of 1904/5 of Colombo shows a small box shaped structure just bordering the Darley Butler building to the south, a closer examination of it from a much clearer map of 1938 showed this particular structure within the boundary of the Echelon barracks, it appears to have been a guardroom as there is an entrance to the barracks just by it facing Queen’s road.

Figure 4 – Plan of 1904/5 from the National Archives. RED-Darley Butler building; GREEN-Dutch Hospital; BLUE-Echelon barracks; RED CIRCLE- shows a square structure which is part of the entrance to the barracks from Queen’s Street.


Figure 5 – BLUE arrow shows entrance to barracks. Image taken from Chathams Street Clock tower c.late 19th century (from 20th Century Impressions)

The Echelon barracks built on Echelon square was the new military barracks built by the British in 1875. It was constructed on the area which comprised of the Middleburg and Rotterdam bastions and the adjoining rampart and moat. The barracks comprised of four large barrack blocks positioned in the echelon formation and other buildings with a large ground in the center. Its present area comprises of the properties of the World Trade Center, BOC Tower, the Galadari and Hilton.

As stated above, the small box on map of 1904/5 appears to be a guardroom to the entrance of Echelon barracks situated just behind the Darley Butler building. This could be clearly seen from the below photograph of a date around the 1920s/30s(figure 6). It appears square in form and is clearly seen next to the small entrance to Echelon barracks. When analyzing the position of this guardroom and the present monument, they fall perfectly in the same location.

Figure 6 – RED circle clearly shows the Guard house with entrance (from Extract from Sea Ports of India and Ceylon)                    

Further taking the 1904/5 map, when drawing a horizontal line from it towards the west, it falls exactly to the turn off to Flagstaff Street. This is the same when a horizontal line is drawn from the present monument towards the west. And further analyzing the position of the guardroom and the present monument from the 1904/5 map, an aerial image of 1960 and a present satellite image in relation to the Darley Butler building and the Ceylinco House, it clearly shows that both the guardroom and the present monument are the same.


But then this brings us to another problem, the outlook of the present monument looks totally different to the guardroom. From the map of 1904/5 and figure 6, it clearly shows it to be a square shaped building with a tiled roof. But figure 3 taken from the Baur’s building in 1960 shows the present monument with its prominent vaulted roof and ventilation duct.


This brings to conclusion that as both the guardroom and the present monument fit to the same location, there appears to have been a modification or complete remodeling effected to the guardroom by 1960. The purpose of this we do not know. An argument can be thrown at this here is that, if that was the guardroom of the Queen’s Street entrance of Echelon barracks, what was it doing within the Ceylinco House premises when the Echelon barracks existed well beyond the construction of the Ceylinco House (Echelon barracks were demolished in the 1980s). For this, a clearer examination from the plans, maps and images by the writer showed that the Ceylinco House premises had in fact slightly extended southwards to the premises of the barracks; this may have been the case during the acquisition of the property, but the exact nature of which we do not know. Therefore the once guardroom of the Echelon barracks was now within the premises of the Ceylinco House.

For the second approach, the nature of the building can be looked at; is it a prison, a sentry box/guardroom, or even a storage chamber? The writer wrote to the Fortress Study Group UK, which is a professional body on the study of artillery and fortifications, on the possible identification of this building. They responded saying that “it does not look like a prison” and that it may well be a guard house.


In conclusion, and regarding the identity of this monument, both approaches used, identified it to a guard house/guardroom; with the first approach being the more conclusive. Therefore the present monument was indeed a guardroom of the Echelon barracks as stated by Dr. R. L. Brohier. So as to why its appearance was changed and then being associated with being the prison cell of the last King, we may never know. Somewhere down the line for political reasons or either, this claim was brought up and acted upon officially by the authorities. This is a protected archaeological monument at present and contains the official Department of Archaeology description as well as a granite inscription stating the same.

Further as mentioned in the introduction, the story of this site as the prison cell of the last King has two traditions, the common and the academic. According to the common tradition and as per the inscriptions on the monument, it is the cell of the last King; but this is proved wrong as mentioned above. In the academic tradition, it is well known that the King was placed in a house and not a cell.

It is clear from this article that the King was not kept in a cell and that the present monument belongs to a later period. This article aims at changing this public opinion and bringing it in line with the accepted academic tradition, by providing evidence to support the claim.

This is a humble request to all enthusiasts and tour operators – do not mislead the tourist on this site as the cell of King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha; but it still could be taken as a ‘Monument’ to the Last King of Sri Lanka of the location where he last stayed in the island before his departure to India.



  • Brohier, R. L., Changing Face of Colombo, 1984.
  • Macmillan, A., Extract from Sea Ports of India and Ceylon, 2005
  • Marshall, H., Ceylon, 1846, (reprint 1969).
  • Pieris, P. E., Tri Simhala: The Last phase, 1939.
  • Perere, J. G., When the going gets tough, the tough gets going: a history of Ceylinco Insurance, 2011.
  • Ranasinghe, D., The Faithful Foreigner, Thilo Hoffmann, The Man Who Saved Sinharaja, 2015
  • Van Diessen, R., & Nelemans, B., Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company Vol. IV Ceylon,
  • Wright, A., 20th Century Impressions, 1907.
  • British documents and maps from the National Archives
  • Gazette No. 704, Wednesday, 15th March 1815




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ICOMOS – Sri Lanka felicitation ceremony for Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. L. Prematilleke

By Chryshane Mendis

The felicitation ceremony for Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. P.L. Prematilleke organized by ICOMOS – Sri Lanka was held recently on the 24th of March 2018 at 10.00 am in the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects, Colombo 07. This was held to honour the services of Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. P.L. Prematilleke, two past presidents of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka, for their unique and valuable contribution to the protection and conservation of Sri Lanka’s heritage. During the ceremony, the first ever Gold Medal offered by ICOMOS – Sri Lanka was conferred onto Dr. Roland Silva with Prof. Prematileke being conferred with the Honorary Membership of ICOMOS – International, the first Sri Lankan to receive it. The ceremony was followed by a lecture on “Challenges of Redevelopment in the City of Anuradhapura” by the Guest of Honor Prof. Madduma Bandara.


The ceremony, participated by distinguished dignitaries, began with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp; which was followed by the welcome speech delivered by the Mr. Jayatissa Herath, President of ICOMOS Sri Lanka. Following the welcome speech, the dignitaries in the persons of Prof. Gamini Adikari, Prof. D.B. Nandadeva, Dr. Nilan Cooray, Arch. Jayatissa Herath, Dr. Roland Silva, Prof. Prematilleke and Prof. Madduma Bandara were invited to take their seats at the head table. The day’s proceedings began by inviting Prof. D.B. Nandadeva to read the citation of Prof. P.L. Prematileke. The following is a summary of the read citation.

Greeting the audience, and assisted by a slide show of photographs, Prof. Nandadeva began by saying it is a great privilege given to him by the President and Council of ICOMOS, to formally introduce ‘an inspiring teacher, an enthusiastic archaeologist, a pioneering heritage preservation specialist, an innovative Museologist and a great role model of our times’ in the person of Professor Leelananda Prematilleke.

Prof. Nandadeva delivering the citation for Prof. Prematilleke.

Having obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Oriental languages from the University of Ceylon, Colombo, a Master’s Degree in Ancient History and Culture from the University of Calcutta and Doctoral training at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London; he began his academic career as an Assistant Lecturer in the Sub-department of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya in 1960, with Professor Senerat Paranavitana as his mentor. He was instrumental in establishing the first ever undergraduate degree programme in Archaeology in the country in the early 60s and he is also credited for the upgrading of the sub-department of Archaeology to a full-fledged academic department in 1976. He was then subsequently promoted to the Chair of the same department and held that title until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement and in recognition for his outstanding services to the field, he was awarded the honorary title of Professor Emeritus and few years later the Honorary Degree of D.Litt by the University of Peradeniya. He served as an Advisor and Consultant to the Department of Archaeology and was instrumental in forming the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology and the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists. Contributing to the academic sphere with over 200 works of literature, he was active both locally and internationally as well, being a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and Waseda University in Japan. His most noteworthy contribution to heritage conservation was in the rescue archaeology project of relocating the Nalanda Gedige, a 8th-10th century monument which was about to be submerged by the Bowatenna Reservoir in Matale; this was somewhat reminiscent of the rescues archaeology project of the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt. His contribution to the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle was immeasurable, in association with Dr. Roland Silva and other scholars he played a major role in its implementation from 1980-1997. Through the programme he directed archaeological excavations at Polonnaruwa, which uncovered an ancient hospital site in the Alahana Pirivena and at Kandy. UNESCO also obtained his services as a Scientific Leader for the Third Leg of the Silk Roat-sea Route project and as an Assessor of authentication of the Lumbini site. Prof. Prematilleke was also involved in the field of Museology having being lead Consultant in the display arrangements at the International Buddhist Museum at Kandy and others such as the Colombo National Museum. He was also a founding member of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka and its President from 1997-2000. Prof. Prematilleke, even at the age of 96, is still involved in the activities of ICOMOS.

On an ending note, Prof. Nandadeva also mentioned that he was much privileged to have been a student of Prof. Prematilleke as part of the Fine Arts study programme at Peradeniya University in the early 1970s; and was also an inspiration for him in specializing in the Heritage Management and Conservation field. Prof. Nandadeva said that it was decided at the 19th General Assembly of ICOMOS held in Delhi, India in December 2017 to confer honorary membership of ICOMOS upon Prof. Prematilleke for “his contribution to the life of the organization of the ICOMOS and his distinguished service in the field of conservation, restoration and enhancement of historical monuments, sites and group of buildings”. (see link to full speech)

Dr. Roland Silva (left) and Prof. Prematilleke (right), speaking a few words after receiving the Honorary Membership.

The Honorary Life Membership of ICOMOS – International was subsequently bestowed upon Professor Prematilleke and after which, Professor Prematilleke was invited to speak a few words.

For the second leg of the ceremony, Dr. Nilan Cooray was invited to read the citation for Dr. Roland Silva. The following is a summary of the read citation. Greeting the audience, Dr. Cooray said it was a privilege given by the President and Council of ICOMOS, to formally introduce a unique personality of our times, Dr. Roland Silva.

Born in Giriulla in 1933 and educated at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, Young Roland Silva, going against his parent’s choice of studying Accounting, began his architecture studies at AA School of Architecture in London from 1954 to 1959. There he became interested in the meaning of heritage buildings and thus while studying architecture, he found time to complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Indian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1958; and even at this young age he demonstrated his skills in multi-tasking, which later became the hallmark of his career. Returning to Ceylon he became an Associate Member of Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1960, Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962 but finally chose the heritage sector by joining the Department of Archaeology as Assistant Commissioner (Architecture) in 1960. He later went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Monuments from University of Rome in 1968 and his PhD from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1988. During his illustrious career of 30 years at the Department of Archaeology, he had the privilege of being the last Commissioner of Archaeology and its first Director General; and during tenure he gave professional and scientific leadership for complex conservation works such as the restoration of the Maligawila Buddha Image and many historical Stupas. Through his great vision and holistic approach to heritage, he was the pioneer and pathfinder for the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle in 1980 and also for the inscribing of Sri Lanka’s first six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In par with these international projects he also set up the Central Cultural Fund for the financing and implementation of the project. A founding member of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka, he was its Founding President from 1981 to 1990, and also championed for regional representation in ICOMOS International and was subsequently elected the first Non-European President of ICOMOS in 1990, which he held for an unprecedented three consecutive terms till 1999; during which he worked tirelessly to set up national committees of ICOMOS in African, Asian and Latin American countries to realize his vision of making ICOMOS truly a world body. His international work included chairing scientific sessions of UNESCO that listed 222 sites throughout the world and also advocated looking into Asian traditions in conservation and management with an approach to living heritage. He also chaired the international proceedings in Nara, Japan in 1993 that led to the Nara Document of Authenticity, a landmark document in heritage conservation. One of his major contributions at international level was leading a team of experts in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  Roland Silva the architect, too was active, having assisted in developing the architecture education by setting up a course in architecture at the Colombo Campus and was thus an influential teacher to several generations of architects. The former Head Office building of the CCF, Polonnaruwa Site Museum, and the old site Museum at Sigiriya were all designed by him, evolving a specific architectural vocabulary with tradition. (see link to full speech)

The first ever ICOMOS – Sri Lanka Gold Medal was subsequently presented to Dr. Roland Silva and after which, he was invited to speak a few words. Dr. Roland Silva appreciated the presence of all friends who attended the event and commented on a small experience of his involvement in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He said how committees were established over the history of the tower for its conservation and that he chaired the last committee in 1999. He said that they had to take the final decision as it had leaned 5 meters. The committee consisted of 134 members he said, and described how they chose a simple solution; to extract earth from underneath the raised end and managed to save it. He concluded by saying how he was asked to deliver the toast while having dinner under the shadow of the Tower and how he delivered it with a joke – “Leaning Tower of Pisa said to the Big Ben of London, Mr. Big Ben, if you have the time, I certainly have the inclination!”

Next, the key note speaker Prof. Madduma Bandara was introduced and began his lecture afterwards (see link to lecture). Coming to the event’s conclusion, Arch. Jayatissa Herath presented a memento to Prof. Bandara for his interesting lecture, and the vote of thanks was delivered by Arch. Viranjani Kulakulasuriya, which was followed by a fellowship afterwards.


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Important Inscriptions of Sri Lanka: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

Inscriptions are an important source of information of the past in any civilization, and in that, Sri Lanka is fortunate to have a very large number of inscriptions from the earliest years of the Sinhalese civilization down to the Kandyan times. These various inscriptions, inscribed on stone and metal have aided the historian well, in complimenting and supplementing the already voluminous literature works. Sri Lanka’s inscriptions vary from scribbling of few words, to donations to clergy and to royal edicts and charters.

For some inscriptions to be considered important, the circumstances of the present make them important whereas their content as per say may not be so. For example, the Vallipuram gold plate inscription, its contents are just another record of a construction of the temple, but the fact that the locality of Nagadipa was in doubt (circumstances of the present) made this seemingly unimportant inscription very important. Had Nagadipa been fully accepted as the present Jaffna before its discovery, then it would not have had much significance. On the other hand, some inscriptions are important based on their content, on details such as a political event or an edict, also which in turn, help authenticate and confirm histories of the chronicles with epigraphic evidence. Inscriptions such as the Veleikkara inscription and the Polonnaru Katikavata are such examples for this. This series will examine in brief ten of the most important inscriptions found thus far.


Vallipuram Gold Plate inscription

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV

Location and discovery: – it was discovered in the village of Vallipuram of the Vadamaracci Division of Jaffna District in 1936, along with other minor antiquities from beneath the foundations of an ancient building.

Description: – Gold plate inscription with text in 4 lines.

Period: – 2nd century A.D, Early Anuradhapura period

Reign: – King Vasabha (126-170 A.D.)

Script: – 2nd century Brahmi

Language: – Old Sinhalese

Content: – “Hail! In the reign of the great King Vasa(ba) and when the Minister Isigiraya was governing Nakadiva, Piyaguka Tisa caused a vihara to be built at Badakara-atana.”

It speaks of a Vihara being built in the village of Badakara-atana which is thought to be the ancient name of Vallipuram, during the reign of King Vasabha of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and while a Minister named Isigiraya governed Nakadiva (Nagadipa). The name Piyaguka Tisa is that of a person named Tissa from Piyaguka (Piyangudipa); it is not clear if this vihara was named after such a person or if it was built by such a person.

Significance: – the importance of this inscription comes not from the fact that it was inscribed on a gold plate, but of the fact that it confirms the present location of Nagadipa as Jaffna. Nagadipa is mentioned several times in the ancient chronicles; as being the place of the Buddha’s second visit to the island, and home to the important ancient port of Jambukolapatuna from where the Venerable Sanghamitta Theri arrived with the Bo sapling. But until the early 20th century the exact location of Nagadipa was not known, until Dr. Paul E. Pieris was able to identify it as with the present Jaffna peninsula in his 1917 paper ‘Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna’ to the Royal Asiatic Society. He concluded this fact with references mainly to a work called the Nampota. Although this was accepted by many scholars at that time that Jaffna was the ancient Nagadipa, there remained a doubt; that is until the discovery of the Vallipuram gold plate inscription. Prof. Paranavitana says “the circumstances of the discovery of the plate leave us in no doubt that it was found where it was originally deposited in the second century…it not only gives us the supreme ruler of the island at the time but also that of the local governor of Nagadipa. This last detail regarding the time of the foundation of the vihara has no significance if the shrine was not within the territorial division then known by the name of Nagadipa. And as the site of the religious foundation is within the Jaffna peninsula, it follows that Nagadipa and the Jaffna peninsula are identical[1]. Thus the Vallipuram gold plate inscription helped verify the ancient locality of Nagadipa with that of Jaffna.

Note: – the area around Vallipuram village was known to contain the remains of ancient human habitation with indications of a Buddhist religious site in the area. Old records state that a stone Buddha image was found from this area and later presented to the King of Siam by Governor Sir Henry Blake in 1906. This inscription was brought to the attention of a young W. Rahula Thero and was examined by Prof. Senerat Paranavitana.


Gadaladeniya Dharmakeerthi Inscription

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV

Location and discovery: – this inscription is found on the rock surface at the entrance to the Gadaladeniya temple in Gadaladeniya of the Kandy District. On the north-east entrance to the temple and right of the stone-cut steps can be found four inscriptions carved onto the rock in an area measuring 24 x 13 feet. Out of these, the ‘Dharmakeerthi inscription’ is the third from top and largest inscription of the four.

Description: – Rock inscription covering an area of approximately 14 x 13 feet in 45 lines.

Period: – 14th century A.D, Gampola period – the record mentions as the full moon day of month Vesaga in Saka year 1266 or Wednesday, April 28th 1344 A.D.

Reign: – King Bhuvenekabahu IV (during his third regnal year)

Script: – Fourteenth century Sinhalese

Language: – Sinhalese

Content: – the inscription tells the building of the Gadaladeniya temple by the Great Dharmamakirtti Thero along with a description of the temple and a list of lands granted by various dignitaries.

It opens with a Sanskrit stanza with lines 2-3 informing the date of this record in the reign of King Bhuvenekabahu IV. Lines 3-5 mentions the lineage of Dharmmakirtti-sthavira as born in the family of Ganavasi who came to the island with the Sri Maha-bodhiya, and how he restored a two-storied image house at Sri Dhanyakataka (presend day Amaravati) in South India. Lines 5-12 describes how he obtained the co-operation of various dignitaries of state as well as ordinary men to build the present temple on a flat rock called Dikgala which was constructed by chief architect Ganesvaracari.  Lines 12-18 gives the architectural features of the shrine as being three-stories and the images and paintings found within it. Lines 18-45 describe the various lands of different villages which were donated for the maintenance of the temple by various officials. The majority of these persons are not known from any other source but some are mentioned in other inscriptions and literature such as Virasimha Patiraja, Virasundara and Nissamka Patiraja; but the most important of these mentioned here is Sena Lamkadhikara who also built the Lankatilaka Viharaya and wielded much power during the Gampola Kingdom. Regarding the geographical names mentioned in the inscription, the majority can be traced to the present, such as Gadaladeniya, Pamunuva, Rangama, Dalivela, Pilimatalawa and Gannoruwa.

Significance: – this inscription is important with respect to its content. Sthavira Dharmmakirtti was a prominent figure in the Buddhist religious sphere in mid-14th century Sri Lanka. The Nikaya Sangraha and Saddharmmalankara give many details on and his works for the development of Buddhism during this period. Thus this inscription confirms facts about him which are mentioned in the literature as well as confirming his overseas missions to South India (to Amaravati). Further it gives valuable details of the Gadaladeniya temple as it was when built; the mentioned paintings cannot be seen at present due to the renovations effected to this shrine since the time of King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte. Also it gives important details to the geography of the region along with names of previously known and unknown dignitaries. Thus this inscription in terms of content with regard to activities related the life and activities of Dharmmakirtti Thero, architecture and history of the Gadaladeniya temple, the Noblemen of that period and geography is an important source of knowledge.


Badulla Pillar Inscription(Horabora Inscription)

Image taken from

Location and discovery: – this inscription is at present found in the Senerat Paranavitana Public Library in Badulla town. This was initially discovered in 1857 about 3 miles northeast of the Mahiyangana stupa in the Horabora Wewa area by Deputy Government Agent of Bandulla Mr. Jone Belli and placed in the Badulla Kachcheri but later moved to the present location.

Description: – This is a Pillar inscription measuring 9 ft. 7 in. in height and about 10 in. in width and is inscribed on all four sides.  This is considered to be one of the tallest pillar inscriptions found in the country.

Period: – 10th century A.D, Late Anuradhapura period – the record is dated to the second year of the reign of a King Sirisagabo Uda.

Reign: – King Udaya IV (946-954 A.D.)

Script: – Tenth century Sinhalese

Language: – Tenth century Sinhalese

Content: – the inscription is an edict of the administration and laws of a market place named Hopitigamu. It states that during the visit of the King to the Mahiyangana stupa, the trading community of Hopitigamu presented a petition to the King against the bailiffs of the lord of the village for breaking the rules enacted by a previous King and extracting illegal dues.

According to Paranavitana, it goes on that “the King ordered a Statute of the Council to be promulgated, prohibiting such illegalities. In pursuance of this royal command, the lords of the Chancellery (lekamge) sat in session and drafted the required legislation which, presumably, was assented to by the Council, and was promulgated as a katikavata (Act), after duly notifying the various administrative establishments that were concerned.” From here on, the regulations put forward, Paranavitana divides them into four parts.

Part one deals with the exaction of dues by the bailiffs of the village lord in consultation with the village elders and mercantile community. Example: “(Line A39-B1) when the bailiffs of any person who has obtained the market of Hopitigamu, have come to the village, they, together with the counselors (mandradi), the members of the mercantile corporation (vanigramayan) and the elders of the village (mahagrama), shall sit in session and receive fines in accordance with the Statute of the days of the Lord who expired in the seventeenth year, and in accordance with former usage; but they shall not do anything illegal.”

Part two deals with the rules that should be observed by royal officers in their dealings with the village. Example: “(Line B19-22) Royal officers who come to the village shall not accept liquor, meat, curd and oil; (L B25-26) [they] shall not carry on illicit trade.”

Part three deals with the conduct of business by the traders and duties of the royal officers in this respect. Example: “(Line B49-C3) Goods being brought to the market shall not be taken having gone to the road ahead; (L C10-13) Only if goods brought to the village are sold in the village [shall tolls dues be levied], if they are being transported through the village, no toll dues shall be levied; (L C17-18) Weighing shall not be done with madadi weights that have not being authorized.”

Part four mentions the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the householders and village institutions with regard to maintenance of law and order; and that in the event the royal officers contravening the provisions of this Statute, the lords of the Chancellery are to be informed. Example: “(Line C36-38) Loggings shall not be taken in the houses [of the members of the Committees] of Eight in this village; (L D20-23) In the case of disturbances in the houses of the householders, the disturbances shall be settled, the royal officers having been obtained [for that purpose].”

Significance: – as is evident from the few extracts of the inscriptions given above, this inscription is of immense importance, in the understanding of the internal trade of the country during the late Anuradhapura period, in the study of the tenurial rights of feudal lords, economic administration and the social situation of the period and also on the procedure of endorsement of legislative enactments in the Anuradhapura kingdom.


Panakaduwa Copper-Plate Charter of Vijayabahu I

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. V

Location and discovery: – this copper plate inscription was found in 1948 in a field named Bogahadeniya in the village of Panakaduwa of the Morawak Korale of the Matara District. It was discovered by a farmer named Suravirage Carolis Appuhamy. It is currently found in the National Museum Colombo.

Description: – the charter is inscribed in three copper plates, each measuring 1 ft. 2 ½ inch. in length and 3 inch. in breadth. The first and third plates are inscribed only on the inside and the second on both sides and the presence of two holes in the center suggest it would have been tied together like an Ola leaf manuscript.

Period: – 11th century A.D, Polonnaruwa period – the record mentions as the 27th year of the reign of the King, this is calculated to 1082 A.D.

Reign: – King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.)

Script: – 11th century Sinhalese – it represents a stage of evolution of script from the Vessagiriya inscription of Mahinda IV to the Polonnaru Katikavata of Parakramabahu I

Language: – Sinhalese prose

Content: – the charter in brief, describes the privileges given to Lord Budal and his descendants for protecting the King during his childhood in Ruhuna from the Cholars. It states that the King during the assembly delivered the order granting privileges to Lord Budal which was brought forward by two of its members and thence, goes on to describe in the King’s own words how during his childhood amidst hardships, Lord Budal had protected the royal family.

Example: “at the time we were remaining concealed in the mountainous wilderness, having being deprived of our own kingdom in consequence to the calamity caused by the Soli Tamils, Lord Budal of Sitnaru-bim, Constable of Ruhuna, with the aid of his routine, protected the entire royal family, including our father His Majesty King Mugalan, the Great Lord; (he) brought us up in our tender age…”

And orders that Lord Budal and his descendants be exempted from all forms of punishment;

Example: “with regard to the sons and grandsons of this (Lord) in the manner as it has come down from his lineage even if (they) were to commit an offence for which fines of imposts should be levied, beyond a reprimand administered by word (of mouth) after having settled the offence, no fines or imposts should be levied…should there even be an offence (committed by them) which cannot be expiated otherwise than by giving up life, (they) should be pardoned upon three times; (their) shares (of land holdings) and estates should not be confiscated…”

The document is finally attested by Atvaraliyana Dev, the Keeper of the register of Tamil clerks. According to Senerat Paranavitana “After the royal order was delivered, its contents were embodied in formal phraseology which repeats the substance of the King’s words…a full month seems to have elapsed between the delivery of the order and the grant of the documents embodying it.”

Significance: – this is considered one of the most important inscriptions for many reasons, but primarily due to it being the only record of a ruler in Sri Lanka where is inscribed, speaking of himself  in the first person. Paranavitana describes “the very words of the King, spoken in the royal assembly, are embodied in the grant; they are eloquent of the hardships and dangers through which Vijayabahu…has to pass…this is the only ancient Sinhalese document in which a king of Ceylon gives us biographical details concerning himself and, referring as it does to the tribulations of great man in his days of adversity, the record is of unique human interest.”

Further, the nature of the charter too is of importance, as Senerat Paranavitana says, it differs from the majority of inscriptions found in the country, which are of grants and regulations; this here is a rare instance of a royal favour received by a person for his services to the King.

This is also the oldest copper plate sannasa discovered thus far in the country, it dispels King Nissankamalla’s (1187-1196 AD) claim to have introduced the practice of issuing of grants in copper plates. Through the Panakaduwa Copper plate inscription, as per the date mentioned in the inscription as the 27th regnal year of the King, it was also possible for Prof. Paranavitana to use the interpretation of this date as an independent piece of evidence to calculate the first year of the King as 1055/6.

Note: – the three copper plates were discovered by Suravirage Carolis Appuhamy in February 1948 and after lying about his house for some time, had handed it over to the Bengamu Viharaya. During its stay here, the Ven. Vanarathana Thero of the Urapola Siri Rathanajothi Pirivena, had come to know of it and obtained it from the Bengamu Viharaya. He, knowing its significance, had informed the Archaeological Officer of Polonnaruwa Mr. Sarath Wattala who in turn had informed Prof. Senerat Paranavitana of the unique discovery and procured it for him. This finding was later legally settled and acquired by the Archaeological department after more than a year of its discovery and placed in the Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum. Suravirage Carolis Appuhamy was rewarded by Prime Minister D. S. Senanayaka on the 27th March 1950 at Kumburupitiya with a sum of Rs. 500.

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Archaeological Sites around Dimbulagala: Part 02

By Chryshane Mendis


Pulligoda is a small cave containing paintings of the Anuradhapura period situated on a small rock outcrop several hundred meters from the base of the south face of the Dimbulagala Mountain. To arrive here, one must travel pass the Dimbulagala Rajamaha Viharaya and after passing the tank, take the first large gravel road to the left leading to the area of Millana. About 300 meters down this road one would find a sign board to the left indicating the site. The path from here is motorable for about 100 meters and from then is a small hike up a recently erected paved path. At the end of the path one comes a cross the cave with the stunning paintings, now protected by an iron fence by the Department of Archaeology.



The paintings are the surviving portion of a once larger painting which would have adorned the cave wall. The surviving paintings, found on the back wall of the cave comprises of a fragmentary figure to the left and five seated figures to the right. The colours are of red ochre, yellow ochre and green earth. The five figures are males seated on lotus cushions; the first four with joint hands and the last holding a flower. They wear crowns on their heads surrounded by a halo and their upper bodies are adorned with jewelry with dresses below the waist. The fragmentary figure to the left is believed to be a female. These are thought to be sages or gods venerating the Buddha. Based on the stylistic elements, various dates have been proposed by scholars, from the 4th century AD, to the 7th century AD and even to the 12th century AD. But it is generally accepted that these belong to the Anuradhapura period. The remarkable preservation of these paintings put them on par with the other few surviving paintings of those times such as Sigiriya.  Just above this cave is found another cave with traces of a Brahmi inscription barely readable.




About 100 meters passing the turn off to the Pulligoda caves one needs to take another wide gravel road to the left and once again only a section of this is motorable and from there on is about another 100 meter hike through a clear path to this site. The site of Molahetiwelagala is situated on an open rock outcrop and consists of traces of a building with a perfectly preserved square granite pedestal. According to folklore, this is the site of the building used by the Arahat Maliyadeva to deliver the Ariyawansha sermon. Many other stone works with mortises could be seen scattered about the place. The most important artefacts found here are the four rock inscriptions situated several feel away from these ruins, which fall between the 1st century BC and 2nd century AD (early Anuradhapura period).



The most notable inscription found here are in effect two inscriptions which are to be read as one, and are incised in four lines of bold deeply carved letters enclosed with an outline frame; on the left at the beginning of the first and fourth lines can be found two Swastikas. The first inscription states the donation of a canal to the monks of the Pilipavatha monastery in the Ataraganga country by a King Abaya along with his genealogy.

“Hail King Abaya, eldest son of King Kutakana and grandson of the great King Devanapiya Tissa, dedicated with the golden vase (i.e. having poured water into the hands of the done with a golden vase), the canal of Gana..taka in the Ataraganga (country) to the monks in the Pilipavata Monastery”

The second reads the “The Great King Naka gave to the community”.

Inscription with the Swastikas.

According to Prof. Senerat Paranavitana, the donation made in the first inscription would have been engraved during the reign of the King in the second inscription. He identifies the monarch Abaya as Bhatika Abaya and his father as Kutakanna Tissa and grandfather as Mahaculika Mahatissa, and the King Naka as Maha Naga, the brother of Bhatika Abaya; all of whom fall into the first century AD. According to him, the ruins at this site are the remains of the Monastery named Pilipavatha as mentioned in the inscription.

Another two inscriptions situated in close proximity to the above are one of the reigns of King Kutakanna Tissa which mentions an offering made by his wife, Queen Anula to Pilipawatha monastery; and the other, a donation by Sena, son of Vasaba (not identified), of the tanks of Katelavasaka and Ahuraviki  and other donations to the Pilipawatha monastery.

This site is in a neglected state and traces of treasure hunting are evident. Further the layers of the rock surface appear to be peeling off, which poses a threat to the valuable inscriptions.


Kosgaha Ulpata

Chamber with reclining figure.

The site of Kosgaha Ulpata contains a large cave with the remains of a reclining Buddha as well as another location known as the ‘Vee-atuwa’; this is found at the base of the southern face of the Dimbulagala Mountain. Passing the turn off to Molahetiwelagala on the same road, one must travel about 2km along the narrow gravel road which runs parallel to a stream till one reaches a large Banyan (Nuga) tree. From here one must cross the stream and enter the forest from which is a traceable footpath. The path leads up to an open rock surface and crossing a tiny stream, one needs to turn left from where the footpath takes the form of a stone stairway. Arriving from this stairway one arrives at the large cave. The cave is divided into four chambers with its walls still intact. In the third chamber from the left is the large reclining Buddha made of bricks. The upper portion of the figure has been destroyed with only the left hand and the waist and below in its original form.  An interesting feature found here are the traces of three deity figures on both walls of the chamber. The wall to the right contains shapes of two figures made from the bricks of the wall and with a single figure on the left wall. Several granite artifacts which would have once made up of this ancient image house could be found lined in front of the chamber of the cave.

The right side chamber wall with figures of deities.
The chambers to the left of the chamber with the Buddha figure.

The site known as the ‘Vee-atuwa’ can be reached by taking the path to the right from the cave. Here one needs to climb boulder to boulder along the edge of the large rock which makes up the cave to arrive at this site. One of the most astounding remains found in the Dimbulagala region, this is a chambered drip ledged cave situated high above the ground level and requires a tall ladder to climb. Its walls are well preserved and containing a door and two windows on either side with their wooden frames still intact. Further by the side of the place where the ladder would be placed can be found a Brahmi inscription. Despite its inaccessibility, it has not survived the hands of vandals who have managed to inscribe their names on the plaster.  Its inaccessibility due to its height and the thick jungle in which it is found offers this site a perfect place of refuge in times of distress, thus its function could be thought of something more than just a meditation chamber.



Blue: Namal Pokuna ruins, Green: Mara Vidiya, Yellow: Pulligoda, Red: Molahetiwelagala and Purple: Kosgaha Ulpatha.



Information of these sites are based on a field visit by Chandima Ambanwala, Sameera Prasanga, Buddhika Konara, Chamal Senadheera, Kasun Darshitha, Asanga and myself in August 2017 as part of a survey of sites in Polonnaruwa from

Other references:

Adithiya. L. A., 1986. Dimbulagala Man. JRASSL, New Series Vol. XXXI

de Silva. Raja, 2005. Digging Into the Past.

Geiger. W, 1912. Mahawamsa, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon.

Paranavitana. S, 1933. Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. III

Paranavitana. S, Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol. II, Part II

Interview of Chief Incumbent of the Namal Pokuna Viharaya.

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Sailing Ships and Temple walls

By Lieutenant Commander Somasiri Devendra, SLN (Rtd.)

Published in Honouring Martin Quere o.m.i, ed. Gerard Robuchon, Viator Publications, 2002.




The present paper is an account of work in progress on a subject the writer has been desultorily researching over some years. Work has not been systematically carried out and much remains yet to be done. However, it is felt useful to place the preliminary work in print so that others more knowledgeable and/or with better access to primary sources, would be able to add to it. The paper is, therefore tentative, and none of the conclusions arrived at should be taken as conclusive.

Prof. P.L.Prematilaka, of the Central Cultural Fund, drew my attention to the graffiti, representing sailing ships, in the course of the paper he read at the annual “D.T.Devendra Memorial Lecture” in 1996. Describing the UNESCO-Sri Lanka excavation programme on the Natha Devale site he says that important vestiges were found, among which was

“The exposure of a layer of painting with scribblings of sailing ships on the painting. The designs of the ships indicate that they imitate the Portuguese sailing ships of the time. Thus, the paintings should pre-date the Portuguese invasion of Kandy in the 16th.century.”

This graffiti, which was incidental to the paper he presented, forms the subject of the present paper, which is an account of attempts made to identify the ships, either through details of rigging and construction or through an identification of the flags depicted.

The site: history and significance

It is necessary to describe location and history of this site in such detail as is sufficient to place it in historical context. Prof. Prematilaka’s dating of the graffiti and the underlying wall paintings, it must be noted, also depended much on events that are recorded in history.


Although the present building can be traced to the 16th. Century and to a period before the arrival of the Portuguese, a specific date cannot be attributed to it. In the historical chronicle, the Culavamsa, there occurs a description of certain improvements effected to it: “In the midst of the town, he (King Narendrasingha) had erected round the great Bodhi tree, the chetiyas and the temple of Nathasura and encircling them on all four sides a fine wall of stone, massive, lofty, brilliant in its coating of stucco.”


The graffiti are found on the walls of a desecrated shrine located at the Natha Devale complex in Kandy. This complex, has a special significance in relation to the Kingdom of Kandy, the last independent kingdom of Sri Lanka, which came under British rule in 1815. It is situated within a stone-walled square with the Vishnu Devale on the north, the Dalada Maligawa on the east, the Maha-maluwa on the south and the (then) Eth Vidiya on the west. Immediately across the road, to the east, is the Dalada Maligawa, or “Temple of the Tooth”, the shrine which houses the Buddha’s Tooth Relic. In the oldest known map of Kandy – a Portuguese one of 1601 – shows a “small tower-like structure” close to the north-east corner, immediately facing the King’s Palace, which is possibly the Yuktiya Istakirime Gantava or ‘the bell to call upon the king to perform his duty’. In historical times, such bells could be rung by any citizen who felt that justice had been not been done to him, as a direct appeal to the King who was “the Court of Last Resort” and “the Font of Justice”. The “Mahavamsa” and popular history link this practice to the time of King Elara in the second century before Christ.


The Tooth Relic has specific significance in that, any claimant to the Kandyan throne had to have it in his custody. The Palace of the incumbent king also formed part of the same premises as the Dalada Maligawa. The Natha Dewale complex was the closest, and only, neighbouring set of buildings. Apart from mere proximity, it had other links with both the Dalada Maligawa and royalty. The Esala Perahera, Kandy’s major religious event did not, prior to the reign of King Kirthisri Rajasingha, include the Dalada Perahera. It was a procession held in honour of the divinity enshrined in the Natha Devale in which the other three devales of Kandy (Vishnu, Skanda and Pattini devales) also participated. Traditinally, this devale served as the venue for the coronation of the Kings of that kingdom and it was before the statue of this devale – and not at the more highly venerated Dalada Maligawa – that the king placed his head, worshipped and made the promise to rule virtuously.  The Natha Dewale is dedicated to “Natha’, or “Lokeswara Natha’ who, in Mahayana Buddhism, is the Bodhisatwa “Avalokeswara Natha” – perhaps the only Bodhisatwa of the Mahayana pantheon who is venerated by Sri Lankan Buddhists. The actual bronze statue enshrined within the devale is, unmistakably, that of Avalokateswara on iconographic grounds.

The deity venerated.

At this devale, Natha is venerated as Senkadagala Devindu (the god of Senkadagala, or Kandy), due to a legendary link between with the establishment of the kingdom of Senkadagala Nuwara, or Kandy. The main shrine itself, built in the architectural form of a gedige, carries a decorative frieze around the base of the vaulted roof above the inner sanctum. This feature, not found anywhere else in Sri Lanka, repeats a traditional legend about the selection of Kandy as capital city. It was selected for this purpose, according to the legend, during the declining years of the Gampola kingdom as it was the site of a miracle: a spot where a hermit had witnessed a hare being hunted by a jackal, turning on his pursuer making the hunter become the hunted. The Sagama inscription of Buvenekabahu V, dated to 1381 AD refers to Senkadagala Devindu as Nathasami, confirming the identification. The slab inscription on the walls of the devale itself supports the fact that it existed in its present form in the 16th century and refers to a ruler named Jayaweera maha Veda-hun tana to persons for their help in defeating the Portuguese forces invading Kandy.

The above remarks would make the point that, whatever function the ruined shrine may originally have served, it was one of a complex of buildings with more than religious importance: that they were, in fact, closely linked to the institution of kingship in Kandy

Kandy: Political History.

The kindom of Kandy had emerged as, at least a semi-autonomous sate by the time the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 16th century. By that time, Kandy – and Jaffna – had been developing into autonomous kingdoms but, in the previous (15th.) century, the growing power of Kotte led to Parakramabahu VI imposing his power over them and subjugating them to subordinate status acknowledging his suzerainty. In the 16th. century, however, Kotte lost its pre-eminent status due to its rulers’ acceptance of Portuguese sovereignty. This resulted in its disintegration into the autonomous regions of Sitawaka, and Raigama. Resistance to foreign domination was led by Sitawaka, which, shortly annexed Raigama. Its kings, Mayadunne and Rajasingha I, lay siege to the Portuguese at Colombo, with the assistance of the Rajah of Calicut and the backing of Kandy. Although the siege was raised, both Sitawaka and the Portuguese realized the strategic value of the Kandyan kingdom. Both tried to gain control of it, carrying the war into Kandyan territory seeking to subdue it. Both failed. Eventually it was Sitawaka that fell first, and  Kandy emerged as the last centre of indigenous resistance to the growing power of the Portuguese over the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka, and later, of the Dutch and British.

In the formal Sinhala classification of fortified sites, Kandy was both a “Giri Durga” (protected by mountains) and a “Wana Durga” (protected by forest). During the south-west monsoon season it could also be considered a “Jala Durga” (protected by water). Kandyan defence strategy, dictated by its inability to regularly raise and maintain large, well-equipped armies to take on the foreign troops and their native levies in pitched battle, capitalised on the strengths that Nature had provided. Look-outs positioned on hilltops overlooking the roads and passes relayed information of the type and strength of the invading columns. These were harried by guerilla attacks and ambushes.  This tactic did not always succeed and, on occasion, the invaders entered and gained temporary control of parts of the kingdom and even the city of Kandy itself. The Kings of Kandy, on such occasions, carried out the pre-planned maneuver that was their second line of defence: namely, that of evacuating the city and taking refuge in the less accessible countryside. The temporary occupying forces in Kandy, unable to reach the king, resorted to destruction and desecration of buildings of importance, among which was Natha Devale. Many temples within the complex were destroyed in this manner and, although the more important of them were rebuilt, not all were restored. The drawings which form the subject of this paper were part of the desecration resulting from the general destruction carried out during one of these raids. In the third part of the strategy, supplies were prevented from reaching the occupying forces who, wracked by disease and unable to sustain themselves, were forced to retire. They were then subject to the same sort of guerilla attacks that was often more effective on an army in retreat than on one in the flush of success.

The Excavations

Some time later, during the first decade of the 19th. century, the last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, constructed the Kandy Lake, known as the Kiri Muhuda, on what had been the site of a stretch of paddy fields. Much of the soil excavated was dumped within the premises, and behind the terraces of Natha Devale, resulting in the burying of vestiges of the complex and in the ground level within the area becoming significantly higher than it had earlier been.  Prof. Prematilaka, conducting the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle excavation to establish the original level, made several significant finds, including the plastered berms of two stupas, the ancient square terrace of the historic Bodhi tree, the base of a mandapa with stone bases of timber columns, the base of another ancient Bodhi tree with 14th century features, fragments of a large bronze seated Buddha image, heaps of cannon balls and the building with the graffiti depicting sailing ships referred to earlier.

The one that concerns this paper is the last of the above.

The Graffiti

The external walls of this small shrine had originally been covered with wall paintings of a type typical of the period. These had been deliberately defaced by graffiti. Among the graffiti, however, was a group of sailing ships scratched with a pointed instrument To judge from the lack of corrections they appear to have been drawn with a practiced hand and, perhaps, with no intention of correcting them. The three ships are each different from the other, and no evidence is available to judge whether they are the work of the same person, or not. Figures 1,2, and 3, arbitrarily labeled “Ship 1”, “Ship 2” and “Ship 3” are the graffiti under discussion. It must be noted that the background, predominantly red-brown in colour, is the original wall paintings. Even in these few pictures, it is possible to see some features of the original subject. Underlying the thin layer of paint the wall itself appears as of contrasting lightness a feature that makes the graffiti quite visible.

This paper deals with an attempt to identify the ships, by nationality, since would help date the destruction of this building (whether it was by Portuguese, Dutch or British invaders) and thus add to the known history of the Natha Devale complex, particularly by helping to identify the date of the desecration and destruction of the shrine.

The Search: Features chosen

Prof.Prematilaka’s initial hypothesis was that the ships were Portuguese vessels which is reasonable when taking into account the slab inscription on the wall of the devale where reference is made to an invasion by the Portuguese. In the present study, a less definitive working assumption was initially made: that the ships portrayed were of European ships of unknown nationality.  However, in the course of the search some doubt was raised even as regards this, and the reasons are given below. Notwithstanding this, the working assumption was persisted with and further refined: that they were not only European but they were either 16-17th century Portuguese, 17-18th. century Dutch or 18th. Century  British.

European ships of the period 16th to 18th centuries cannot be treated as of one class. They developed in many ways and variously in different countries, covering a range of classes, sizes and types. Some types described in specialized treatises would not even have sailed in Sri Lankan waters. Further, ships were built locally by the European powers, using indigenous shipwrights and craftsmen, incorporating non-European elements chosen for their suitability to the local environment. To make the waters even murkier, purely indigenous ships were built by locally, that bore a spurious surface similarity to European vessels. (The thoni of Jaffna, that survived into the 1930s was one such that Hornell (1943) describes as “….of purely European design. It diverges in no detail from the small wooden schooners employed in English coasting in the nineteenth century….”) Given this large and imprecise area, and the fact that there was no specifically identifying feature on any (a specifically British flag, for example), certain areas were singled out for study. These were:

  • Overall view ( realistic or not? Proportions, disposition of parts, etc.)
  • Constructional details (masts, bowsprit, poop deck etc.)
  • Sails and rigging (square, lateen, spritsails, etc.)
  • Flags shown (designs, where flown, etc.)


The Search:  Method followed

Sri Lanka lacks experts in the field of medieval European ship-building. Libraries, too, can provide hardly any material. In the circumstances, the solution was to seek foreign expertise. To build upon a wider base than the few persons personally known to the writer, it was decided to spread the pictures around as many people as possible who would not otherwise not be available to comment. The means adopted for this was the email discussion group, Marhist, (an international electronic discussion group sponsored and administered by the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston with the assistance of Queen’s University at Kingston, Canada) to which the writer was a subscriber. Many persons – historians, maritime archaeologists, and seamen – who have specialized knowledge of different aspects of maritime history participate in the discussions. The question was posed by the writer, as a preliminary call for help, in a posting that read, in part, as follows:

“Recently, an important temple complex site was being excavated by archaeologists and several older temples that had been sacked were found completely below the ground. In one of them, someone had drawn with a pointed instrument on top of the wall paintings. The subject is several “European” style sailing ships. They are most definitely not the work of a local person, as we have no tradition of drawing nautical subjects. The drawings show a good knowledge of European ships’ structure, rigging etc. and even shows the flags. My question is whether these ships are (a) Portuguese (b) Dutch or (c) British. I believe the flags are a clue, but the ships’ structure will also reveal clues: it is known that all three European nations built ships in India and that they might have been slightly different from those built in Europe.”

When responses from those interested in the subject were received, further person-to-person email discussions were continued. Apart from them, particular persons known to the writer were consulted, in particular Dr. Eric Reith of the Musee de la Maine, Paris and Robert Parthesius of the Amsterdam Historical Museum, who is associated with me in the “Avondster” maritime archaeological project in Galle.. The comments of those who participated in the discussion is dealt with first; the contribution of Eric Reith is dealt with later.

The Discussion: content and opinions

It became apparent, early on, that there was no consensus on identification by type, period or nationality. Yet, as of now, a consensus has emerged regarding the larger question, which is discussed below. The discussions are described below, under separate headings.

The subscribers to Marhist merely responded to the call for help that was posted by the writer. Their responses were never meant to be works of research, and must be treated as such. For this reason their institutional affiliations are not shown. 

Overall impressions of construction, sails and rigging.

  1. Robert Parthesius, Netherlands

My first reaction (I will need some more time for further study) is:

18th century, may be 19th century! I base that conclusion on the rigging. On image 2 and 3 one can see foresails, those became in use in the 18th century before that time in the 17th century the ship as characteristic spritsail and spritsail topsail.

Also the lateen mizzen has a 18th century form (4 corners) In the 16th and 17th century the lateen mizzen was a triangle which yard was running further then the mast. This was unpractical if the ship tacked, so they replaced this system with a sail that was placed completely behind the mast.  Image 1 looks a bit like a brig, or small schooner (because of the visible rudder). These vessels were also in use in the 18th and 19th century.

  1. Paulo Alexandre Monteiro Portugal

(a) Unfortunately, nobody knows what a Portuguese ship looked like..Please let me know more…..Good iconography on Portuguese ships is not abundant but, hopefully, we can try and match what we have so far in Portugal with what you have.

(b) I received the photos of the graffiti and I have had not much time to do some research on them. On a first impression, looking at the lines and rigging, I would say were looking at Dutch or English ships of the late XVII or early XVIIIth centuries.

(c) I will dwell into it further, but I believe I concluded that the ships might belong to the late 18th century.

  1. Nick Burningham, Australia

(a) Interesting looking craft. The first is a single master, seemingly a gaff cutter or sloop, running before the wind with square topsail, course and probably stunsails set. She is fairly flat sheered and, somewhat curiously has a well raked stem. Apart from the stem, she seems to have the characteristics of a fast armed sloop built between about 1760 and 1840.

The second is obviously a larger vessel, also setting a full set of stunsails, and again with a well raked bow. The courses (lower sails) are very deep as if she is a schooner setting square canvas to run before the wind. The square sail set under the bowsprit is important for dating – it pretty firmly says not later than about 1830 if the vessel is European built.

The square sail on the mizzen is tiny. If the courses were not so deep one might descibe her as a barque with a square topsail which would fit with the date already ascribed.

The third is similar but the lacuna hides the bow.

All three vessels are heavily canvassed with slightly unusual late-18th — early 19th century rigs.

(b) The flat sheer and use of gaffs suggests ships of about a century later (i.e.  later than late XVII or early XVIII centuries) — circa 1800.

(c) It seems to me that the artist has some familiarity with ships but is probably not a professional sailor. The drawings do not show any particular concern with depicting details such as braces and sheets, anchor handling gear, and other equipment that provide the hardest physical work for sailors

  1. Rui Godinho, Portugal

I’m not an expert in shipbuilding or even in identification of ships. My research point more to the organization of India Run…..If you are sure that the pictures are from the XVIth century then this are Portuguese ships, probably “naus” with 3 or 4 masts, they seem so. Also for the number of sails it seems to be Portuguese or at least European ships, local vessels didn’t have a large number of sails and such big masts. Be careful with this notes because as I told before I’m no expert in this matter!


Were they locally built craft?

 Nick Burningham, Australia

(a) All three vessels are heavily canvassed with slightly unusual late-18th –early 19th century rigs. There were in the first half of this century, I believe, quite a number of Indian owned square-riggers that traded to Colombo carrying rice. Some of these carried interesting and somewhat anachronistic rigs, often very heavily canvassed. I don’t think any of them set a square sail under the bowsprit, but, aside from that detail, the deep courses and raked bows would fit quite well.

There is evidence of gunports and guns. Some of the rice carriers were painted with false ports but, I think, we are looking at genuinely armed ships — that doesn’t exclude the possibility that they are Asian built. Approximately circa 1800 is my first impression. I’ll let you know if other aspects occur to me.

(Response by the writer:

Thanks for information. The possibility of the Jaffna Dhoni (Hornell’s photographs) did cross my mind, but it is difficult to tie it up with the known historical record and the stratification of the site. Would an European draw a “native” ship? We have no tradition of detailed drawings/paintings of ships and those that survive from 8th. century onwards are clumsy and unreal. We could, it seems, build ships, but not draw them. Also, what do you make of the flags? Tri-colours and crosses are distinctly European ‘heraldic’ devices and have no place in the Indian/Sri Lankan vexicological tradition.

 Do give some thought to the flags and other details and a considered opinion. As I said, we are contemplating a paper juxtaposing the archaeological and nautical parameters.)

(b) Apologies for being a bit slow in responding — I’ve been away for a few days. It wasn’t actually the Jaffna Dhoni that I was thinking of. In competition with the Dhoni were a significant number European-style square riggers that were Indian owned. Some were very fine looking vessels and, because they operated at times in light winds they tended to have very tall rigs and to retain or re-invent some of the rig details of the early clippers. However, if the site’s history and stratigraphy do not fit easily with the iconography representing those Indian ships, then there is no good reason to pursue that idea.

Rui Godinho

For the first picture it can be a local ship? It doesn’t have a forecastle and Portuguese ships have. It has one main mast and Portuguese ships usually have 3 or 4 like in the second and third picture.

Can the flags be identified? 

There are two flags shown. In ships 1 and 3, a large flag is shown in the stern, in proportions that are acceptable. The flags are divided into two horizontal stripes although it is quite possible that the artist(s) intended them to be tri-colour flags. In ship 3  two flags are shown, one on the bowsprit and one at the stern, both of which feature a diagonal cross like the St. Andrew’s cross. Much interest was generated by vexicologists, particularly regarding this. A sampling of the different ideas expressed is given below.

Morgiana P.Halley,  USA

… query is *which* “Scottish flag”?  Is it the one with the blue field and the white X cross?  Or the one with the yellow field and the red lion rampant?  If the former, it’s so simple that it might have been used by just about anyone, especially if there are alterations that are invisible to the naked eye in a line-drawing situation.  If it’s the lion, there might be more basis for serious investigation, even though it’s a later item….a flag with an X on it in a line drawing might be *anything*!  A lion, however, has limited possibilities, but only one of them is Scottish.

Bill Bedford, UK

Yes (it could be Scottish) — but only if the drawings were dated to before the Act of Union of 1703.

David Asprey, UK

My (untutored) observation over the years has been that Scottish-like flags (ie blue with white saltire – or sometimes black base) were widely included in 18th and 19th century ship paintings – and for all I know actually by the ships themselves.  But I have not thought of them as actually being Scottish.

Bill Schleihauf ,Canada

(a) Could it not be the old Russian flag?

(b) I can’t say anything about the history of the Russian flag. The Naval flag was white with a blue saltire.*

(* “Saltire” in heraldry, is “A charge consisting of  a cross formed by a bend dexter and a bend sinister crossing in the center”)

Nick Burningham, Australia

(a) The flag certainly looks right. Did Krusenstern (the Russian circumnavigtor, not the sail training ship) ever visit Sri Lanka? He is of about the right date to fit the iconography.

(b) I don’t know what to make of those flags. Vexicology isn’t one of my strong points.

The crossed flag, like the flag of Scotland, is very clearly depicted and ought to be an unequivocal signifier of the ship’s origin. But what country had a flag like that? Looking through the selection of flags provided by my computer’s clip art only Jamaica and Scotland have flags with diagonal crosses and neither country was in the position to launch a naval expedition to Sri Lanka around the end of the 18th century. I’ve looked through a few books hoping to see a similar flag but haven’t come up with anything. I’ll keep an eye out and let you know if I do come across anything.

(c) In off-list discussion I said to Somasiri that the only national flags I knew of with diagonal crosses were Scottish and Jamaican, neither of which were likely to send naval forces to Sri Lanka circa 1800.

If Krusenstern’s ships visited Sri Lanka one could posit a fairly clear identification of the ship depiected with the mystery ensign. The other two vessels appear to have tricolours which could conceivably be the tricolour carried by Russian merchant ships?

Lincoln Paine, USA

So far as I know, Kruzenshtern’s ships NADEZHDA and NEVA did not visit Sri Lanka during their voyage to Russia’s Pacific coast in 1803-1806.  Other Russian voyages from the early 19th century include:

1807-13  Golovnin in DIANA.

1815-18  Kotzebue in RURIK.

1819-21  Bellingshausen in VOSTOK.

1823-26  Kotzebue in PREDPRIYATIYE.

I don’t think that any of these ships called in Sri Lanka.

Paulo Alexandre Monteiro, Portugal

(a)The banner with the X is quite curious. I have only seen such a flag and it was displayed on a late XVIth century representation, on an engraving done by Linschoten. Does any one have any ideas as to what might represent? I dont’ think the Portuguese or the Spanish ever used such a flag.

(b) As for the flag, as far as I know, no Portguese vessels ever had one as that.

David Prothero, UK

The ragged cross was a diagonal knotty cross, representing a tree trunk from which the projecting branches had been only roughly lopped.  The same as the staff in the Bear and Ragged Staff of the Earls of Warwick and some Public Houses. On a small scale the irregularities are invisible.  It is also called the cross of Burgundy, which suggests a connection with the Dutch through the Spanish Netherlands, but is unlikely to have been used on Dutch ships since it represented Spanish rule.

Flag charts of 1685 and c1700 show a white ragged cross on red as the ensign of Biskay/Biscays, and a red ragged cross on white as the ensign of Ostend.

There is also a rather remote Dutch possibility.  Some gyronny flags, (triangles radiating out from the centre) can, depending upon the number of triangles and pattern of colouring, look something like  diagonal crosses.

So not very likely (to be one of a new range of naval jacks in which the red, white and blue were arranged in a gyronny pattern radiating from the center)., particularly if your flags are also shown on mast and stern..

Robert Parthesius, Netherlands

The flags are more difficult. I find it hard to recognise a tri-colour (I can see only two), but the diagonal cross is certainly there. If we date the ships in the 18th or even the 19th century the cross can then be English (although the union jack should be in a corner of the flag and the red cross should be different)

Opinion: Eric Reith of Musee de la Marine, Paris.

The contribution of Dr. Eric Reith is dealt with separately as he was not commenting informally but in his capacity as Directeur de recherché au CNRS, Departement d’Archeologie Navale, CNRS. He is on the staff of the Musee de la Marine, Paris, and his assessment can be accepted as a considered opinion. Writing in French his comments were as follows”

“Doc 1 (ship 3)

Il s’agit manifestement d’un navire de guerre. On distingue une batterie avec des saborde (5 sont visible). Le greement est a trios mats avec une brigantine a l’artimon et des focs a l’avant. Il me semle que l’on pourrait dater le profil, sommaire it est vrai, de la fin du XVIIe siecle. En ce qui concerne le pavillon, je ne trouve que deux elements de comparaison, tous les deux brittanniques (croix de St Andre et croix de Saint Patrick.’

(Translation: The subject represented is a warship. A gun battery, with 5 guns visible is to be seen on the port side. There are three masts, the mizzen mast being rigged as a brigantine, and there are jibsails for’ard. It would appear that dating has to be done on the basis of ship’s profile and, although roughly, it can be dated to the end of the 18th. Century. As regards the flag, I forward two designs that may fit, both being British, the crosses of St.Andrew and St. Patrick.)

“Doc.2 (ship 1)

Il s’agit d’un navire (guerre ou commerce?) a deux mats et greement carre du type des bricks. Il me semble que la datation pourrait stre la meme que celle du doc. 1.”

(Translation: The representation is of a ship, but it is uncertain whether it is a warship or a merchantman. It carries two masts, square rigged in the style of a brig. The dating is he same as for ship 3 )

“Doc. 3 (ship 2)

Il s’apparente au doc.1.”

(Translation: This is similar to ship 3.)

Dr.Reith’s concluding remarks are also interesting. He says:

“Ce qui est frappant, c’est que le dessin de ces trios graffti de navires de type europeen presente, a mon avis, des resemblances qui pourraint indiquer qu’il s’agit du meme dessinateur (voir, par example, le facon don’t est represente le gaillard arriere). Par ailleurs, il est sur que ces representations sont sommaire mais qu’elles sont bien proportionnees.”

(Translation: A striking feature is that the graffiti of the three ships show, in my opinion, a similarity of style which would indicate that they are the work of the same artist. For example, note the manner in which the quarter deck is represented. However, other considerations indicate that the drawings have been done rather sketchily although the proportions are rendered well.)


After a consideration of all the comments and observations, it is possible to come to some conclusions, even tentatively.

The Artist. All the ships have been drawn by the same artist. That he was a skilled quick-sketch artist, used to drawing ships is apparent. (Reith) However, his vagueness as regards nautical details would identify him as not a sailor and more likely a soldier (Burningham).

Period. The ships represented belong to the late 18th. Century. During this period the presence of Portuguese ships in the area can be discounted. This leaves the Dutch and the British in the reckoning, and even the French. The Dutch, however, were the power who invaded Kandy around this time and the artist has to be considered a Dutchman. (Reith, Parthesius, Monteiro, Burningham)

Type of ships.

Ship 1:     

–  a warship, or a merchantman, two-masted and square sailed like a brig    (Reith),

– The first is a single master, seemingly a gaff cutter or sloop,….. with square topsail, course and probably stunsails set….. fairly flat sheered and, somewhat curiously has a well raked stem….. she seems to have the characteristics of a fast armed sloop. (Burningham)

–   the lateen mizzen is a square sail, not a lateen (Parthesius)


Ship 2:    

 –   On ships 2 and 3 one can see foresails (Parthesius)

The second is obviously a larger vessel…..a full set of stunsails, and ….. with a well raked bow. The courses (lower sails) are very deep …the square sail set under the bowsprit is important for dating. The square sail on the mizzen is tiny. If the courses were not so deep one might descibe her as a barque with a square topsail (Burningham)


Ship 3:      

– a warship. A gun battery, with 5 guns visible is to be seen on the port side….. three masts, the mizzen mast being rigged as a brigantine, and there are jibsails for’ard. (Reith)




Nationality. To judge from the flags, at least two (if not all) are Dutch and one (with the flag showing a cross) may be British.(Reith, Asprey). However, it is also likely that it is equally possible that the Cross is merely a non-specific symbol (Halley) comments. Nevertleless, as all the ships have been drawn by the same artist who has clearly indicated the Dutch flag on two ships, it is possible that this flag indicates that the ship is “non-Dutch”. Certainly not Portuguese (Monteiro). The period of occurrence of invasions precludes the possibility of them being “native craft” (Burningham).

Tentative identification

  • The graffiti was not the work of a sailor who is familiar with the details of a ship, but of one who is used to draw ships. Possibly he was a soldier who would have been frequently on board ship.
  • The ships are definitely European and not local or regional. More specifically, at least two are Dutch ships. The other may be British, or non-Dutch at least. They are definitely not Portuguese. Prof.Prematilaka’s earlier identification may have to be revised.
  • Identification by type is difficult, but one is definitely a warship or an armed merchantman while another may be a small vessel though armed.
  • Chronologically they would fit into the latter part of the 18th Hence the unknown ‘artist’ would have taken part in a Dutch invasion of Kandy


As stated at the beginning of the paper, the work so far carried out is not conclusive. There remains much to be done. For example, it would be useful to compare this graffiti with the drawings of ships shown in Dutch period maps of Ceylon, India and Indonesia. In addition, any dates arrived at with regard to the wall paintings on which the graffiti had been drawn, would have to be taken into consideration. In conclusion it is wished to invite scholars with specialist knowledge to build upon the foundation laid and carry this fascinating line of inquiry further.

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Whatever happened to the King’s mother?

By Somasiri Devendra and Prof. Sarath Edirisinghe

Questions, and an Answer

Signature of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe


Like so many good things, what follows is a spin-off  from the “Ceylankan”.

Last year Devendra wrote to the Editor of the “Sunday Times” voicing a question that had vexed him for long, and the Editor was kind enough to carry my query, as follows:

“On re-reading Andrew Scott’s piece on the ‘Capture and exile of the last king of Kandy’ in the ISLAND of February 4th, 2013, I was struck by a small but important fact. He quotes D’Oyly on the capture of the king thus:

“This morning the king again desired to see me and formally presented to me his mother and his four queens, and successively placing their hands in mine, committed them to my charge and protection. These female relatives, who have no participation in his crimes, are certainly deserving of our commiseration in his and particularly the aged mother who appears inconsolable, and I hear has been almost constantly in tears since the captivity of her son…”

Note the references to the King’s aged mother, which I have emphasized. Later, Andrew Scott quotes Henry Marshall about the embarkation of the Royal party:

“The king embarked, with his wives and mother-in-law, in the captain’s barge…”

Here there is no reference to an “aged mother”, but a “mother-in-law” appears on stage. Is this an error – or not? If not, what really happened to the King’s mother? Was D’Oyly mistaken and that she was not the “mother” but the “mother-in-law”? If not, she was not in the King’s party: what records do we have of her after the King’s departure? The answer to this conundrum comes to us from – of all places! – Australia.

Sometime ago, some members of the Ceylon Society of Australia were investigating the story of the first person from Ceylon to have been banished to the penal colony of Australia. As the story has been published both in Sri Lanka and Australia, I shall not repeat it here, other than to say that a genealogical search in Australia by a descendant, Glynnis Ferguson, for the founder of the O’Deane family there. [ see also M.D.(Tony) Saldin’s “Banishment of the first Sri Lankan family to Australia” in the SUNDAY ISLAND of 12th. January, 2003]  Among the first-hand material found was a newspaper: “The Sydney Gazette, and New South Wales Advertiser”, Volume the Fourteenth, dated Saturday, February, 1816

The paper announces the arrival of, and the ‘human cargo’, aboard the ship Kangaroo, from Colombo. Quite some space is devoted to a description of the ‘Malayan’ prisoner from Ceylon his wife and children, and the tone is one of great sympathy. But one little paragraph, apparently reporting something the Captain said, caught my eye:

“The reduced King of Kandy, who is a native of the Malabar Coast, is held close-prisoner at Colombo, – His mother died there during the stay of the Kangaroo, and was interred with royal honours.” (Emphasis mine)

So the old Queen Mother died before she saw her son deported. But where was she interred with royal honours? Whether she was interred according to Buddhist or Hindu rites, she must have been cremated: but where? And where were her ashes interred ‘with royal honours’? What information could we hope to find about her death, the honours accorded and the place she was interred?

In fact, what do we know about her, at all?

After all, she was the mother of our last King, and we should, surely, accord her our own (Republican, not Royal) honours? Being unable to undertake this search myself, may I ask that a historian or archivist to flesh out this story?”

No answers were forthcoming but, serendipitously, Prof. Edirisinghe [of the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University] did have some, and he forwarded them to the “Sunday Times”. He awaited the publication but, alas!, the Editor did not deign to publish it. After a while, Prof. Ediriweera agreed to the publication of his answers to the questions raised, as Devendra felt it too good to languish unread.

“Buried with Royal Honours in Vellore; last days of Sri Vikrama’s mother.

A short article, under the caption, Buried with Royal Honours and Forgotten appeared in the ‘Plus’ section of ‘The Sunday Times’ (2nd June 2013, written by Somasiri Devendra. He invited the readers to ‘flesh out’ the story of the burial of the mother of Sri Vikrama Rajasimha, the last King of the Kandyan kingdom. The question or the confusion was regarding a statement made by D’Oyly and a news item that appeared in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. The central character in the story is the mother or the mother in law of the deposed king.

As emphasized by Mr. Devendra, D’Oyly clearly says that the morning following the capture, the king desired to meet him. At the meeting that followed, the king presented his four queens and the mother to D’Oyly. According to D’Oyly the King had been reserved at first and on being assured that they would be treated kindly, betrayed evident signs of emotions and taking the hands of his aged mother and his four wives presented them to him one by one and ‘recommended them in the most solemn and affecting manner to his protection’. The confusion arose because Henry Marshall in his book ‘Ceylon, A general Description of the Island and Its Inhabitants’ says about the deportation of the ex-king that the deposed king embarked, with his wives and mother in law in the captain’s barge and the attendants in another. Mr. Devendra states that, sometime ago, the ‘Ceylon Society of Australia’ was investigating the story of the first person from Ceylon who was banished to the penal colony of Australia and one of the first hand material found was the news paper ‘ The Sydney gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Volume 14, Saturday February 1818). The paper had announced the arrival of a human cargo on board the ship Kangaroo from Colombo. Apart from the story of O’Deane and his Kandyan wife and children, the first family to be banished from Ceylon, the captain had also stated that, ‘…..The reduced king of Kandy, who is a relative of the Malabar Coast, is held close prisoner at Colombo”. The captain goes on to say that the king’s mother died while the Kangaroo was in the Colombo harbor and was interred with Royal honours. What Mr. Devendra requested was information on where the burial or the cremation took place and the honours accorded to mother of the deposed king.

Sri Vikrama’s (formerly Konnusamy Naik) mother was Subbamma Nayaka and the father was Sri Venkata Perumal. Subbamma Nayaka was a sister of one of Rajhadi Rajasimha’s queens. He was born in India in 1780 and arrived in the island of Lanka with the queens of Rajhadi Rajasimha. There are numerous stories regarding the paternity of this king, some involving the chief Adgar of the Kandyan courts. On the death of Rajhadi Rajasimha, apparently following a malignant fever, Pilimatalauve, the first Adigar put forward this eighteen year old lad with not much formal education to the vacant throne of the Kande Uda Rata. This departure from the traditional rules of succession, sidelining Queen Upendramma’s brother, Muttusamy was considered as a plan by the first Adigar to usurp the young king at a later date in order to place him on the Kandyan throne. The records show that the king’s mother was in the Kandyan courts throughout his reign that ended on the 10th of February 1815.

Sri Vikrama had four consorts – Venkataraja Rajammal, Venkatamima, Moodoocunamma and Venkata Jammal. It was customary for a large retinue to accompany new brides to the Kandyan courts. Therefore at least two mothers in law would have been in the palace if two of the queens were sisters. At the time of deportation of the ex-king and his relatives there were two fathers in law, named in a list prepared by the British

Detailed descriptions are available regarding the capture of the fleeing King. The king had been hiding in the house of an Arachchi at Galleyhe Watta with two of his queens. They were captured on the 18th of February 1815. The king and the two queens were later united with the other queens and the king’s mother. The Royal family was transferred to Colombo under the protection of the British, reaching Colombo on the 6th of March 1815. The king and his immediate family lived quite comfortably in Colombo until the 24th January 1816, when he and his all relations, dependents and adherents amounting to about hundred individuals were transferred to India. Although Marshall says that the king with his queens and the mother in law embarked at Colombo on board H. M. ship Cornwallis, a detailed description of the embarkation left by E. L. Seibel (see below P. E. E. Fernando) mentions the king and his four queens embarked on the Cornwallis, but makes no reference to the mother or a mother in law of the king. Prof. Fernando in his paper says that Robert Bownrigg informed Rt. Hon. Hue Eliott, the Governor – in- Council at Ft. St. George, Madras about the deportees and four separate lists of king’s relatives, classified according to the relationship to the king, were forwarded. The same paper gives the List No.1 – Immediate family members, as a foot note which gives the names and the relationship to king of ten persons. Two of his fathers in law and an aunt are mentioned but there is no mention of either the mother or a mother in law. K. T. Rajasingham, writing in the Asia Tribune (Volume 12) says that the declaration and the parole of the prisoner of war are found in a document of eight pages carrying two sets of signatures of king’s adherents. The first set dated 8th March has 62 signatures (some are thumb prints) and the second dated 27th July 1816, numbering altogether 168 Nayakkars.

The exile of Sri Vikrama is detailed in British records in India. Prof. P. E. E. Fernando, one time Professor of Sinhalese at Peradeniya in his paper on the ‘Deportation of Sri Vikrama Rajasimha and his exile in India’, published in the Ceylon University Review (volume xx, 1966) quotes the records kept by the British on the prisoner king in the Vellore Fort which proves that the king’s mother was still alive in the fort and details about her subsequent death. These records maintained by the British detail the administrative problems regarding non-stop harangues by the king for increased allowances, provisions, coming of age of his daughter, marriage preparations of his daughter, birth of a son, plans of the British to educate the boy and the state of health of the king’s mother, her death and the building of a monument. Thus it is very clear that the king’s mother was in fact with the family up to her demise in January 1831. There are several instances mentioned in Prof. Fernando’s paper where the Paymaster requests sanction for various expenditure with regards to king’s mother.

The king became quarrelsome frequently during his days in the Vellore Fort. Once when he quarreled with his brother on law – Coomaraswamy, the authorities decided to transfer the relative. The king intervened to say that in case his mother dies there will not be a brother in law to perform the funeral rites. At one time the Paymaster asks his superiors in Madras whether they would sanction the expenditure needed for the funeral of king’s mother in the event she dies. The Secretary of the Kandyan Provinces directed that the expenses for the funeral of the king’s mother, in the event of her death, be decided by the Paymaster in compliance with any orders the Ft. St. George might desire to give, stating that he saw no reason why a larger allowance should be given then than in the case of the funeral of the king’s aunt (named in the List No.1 of deportees)

As for the Royal Honours mentioned by Mr.Somasiri Devendra the following paragraph from Prof. Fernando’s paper gives glimpse of what actually happened.

“In 1826 the king’s mother became seriously ill and the Paymaster taking timely action sought permission from authorities at Ft. St. George to employ a party of soldiers to accompany the remains of the royal lady, in the event of her death to the cemetery. The authorities in Madras had no objection to a party of native officers being employed to accompany the remains of the king’s mother in the event of her death”. A sum of Rs. 3000/- 3500 was sanctioned for the expenditure.

“Towards the end of 1831 the king’s mother’s condition became alarming and Lt. Col. Stewart wrote as follows. It is customary with Hindoos of distinction and particularly with persons of the captive’s rank to preserve in tombs or transmit to Benares the bones of deceased relatives or erect over ashes a building…….Brindhavanam; the latter has been the usage of the Kandyan family and ….king possesses a drawing of the family tombs at Kandy (the Adhahana Maluwa). The colonel therefore suggested that a piece of land situated near the river and to the left of the road from Vellore to Chittore should be acquired for the purpose of erecting a Brindhavanam”.

The king’s mother died in last week of January 1831. Prof. Fernando, quoting British records, says that arrangements were made for a party of fifty men, all Hindus, commanded by a native officer and a drummer and a fifer to escort the remains of the deceased lady to the place of sepulcher on the banks of the river. The escort was provided with three rounds per man of blank ammunition.

It is now clear that the lady that was buried with royal honours, as narrated by the captain of the Ship Kangaroo, was not the mother of Sri Vikrama. If an event as stated in the ‘Sydney Gazette and the New South Wales Advertiser’ really took place in Colombo, it certainly was not concerning the king’s mother. The lady in question was more likely to be the mother in law of the king. She must have died soon after reaching Colombo since her name was not in the List No.1 of the deportees while the names of the two fathers in law were included. The aunt named in the list died in Vellore.”

The questions that had originally been posed have now been answered. It was not the old Queen Mother who died in Colombo, but a mother-in-law of the King. When the Queen Mother  died later, in Vellore, she was given the royal honours that the British considered due, and these are described in Prof. Edirisinghe.

And so the mystery is solved.

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Archaeological Milestones in Sri Lanka: Part 02

By Chryshane Mendis





This article series would sum up some of the most important events in the journey of Sri Lankan Archaeology, milestones which changed the way we think of the past, the way we know the past and the way we see and protect the past. Milestones in Sri Lanka archaeology would include important discoveries to institutional and policy establishments, which, has helped the field to progress to the present and helped expand our understanding of the past.

The previous article dealt with the milestones of the Translation of the Mahawamsa, the publication of Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon in 1883 and the Discovery of stone tools in the island. This article would feature:

  1. The re-Discovery of Sigiriya
  2. Establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey in 1890
  3. H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalle Report’


The re-Discovery of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, the 5th century AD rock fortress cum city of King Kasyapa I which traces its human occupation to prehistoric times, was after the death of the King, converted into a Buddhist monastery which continued till about the 12th century AD. Afterwards, the architecturally, artistically and technologically stunning remains we see today faded away from history and were consumed by the jungles. Sigiriya is only mentioned once by local sources in the Mandarampura Puvata of the 17th century which describes the settling of South Indian Saivites by King Rajasinghe I, and once again falls into obscurity until the adventuring British explores of the 19th century brings this lost city into light.

As Sigiriya is mentioned in the Mandarampura Puvata of the 17th century, there is no doubt that the locals knew of this ancient complex, but it was the writings of the British explorers that brought Sigiriya into the light of common knowledge and the academic sphere. Thus, on these grounds, the first person credited with the rediscovery of Sigiriya is Major Forbes of the 78th Highlanders in 1831. Publishing in 1840 in his work titled ‘Eleven Years in Ceylon, comprising sketches of the Field sports and Natural history of that Colony and an account of its History and Antiquities’ he describes two expeditions to Sigiriya in 1831 and 1833. In 1831 he explored up to the base of the rock on the western side and climbed up to the gallery level (mirror wall). In his own words:

“From the spot where we halted I could distinguish massive stone walls appearing through the trees near the base of the rock, and now felt convinced that this was the very place I was anxious to discover…to form the lower part of the fortress of Sigiri many detached rocks have been joined by massive walls of stone, supporting platforms of various sizes and unequal heights, which are now overgrown with forest-trees. Having surmounted these ramparts, we arrived at the foot of the bare and beetling crag; and perceived at a considerable distance overhead, a gallery clinging to the rock, and connecting two elevated terraces at opposite ends, and about half the height of the main column of rock. These remains were very different from anything I had expected to discover; not merely from their remarkable position and construction, but as being the only extensive fragments of the ancient capitals of Ceylon which are neither shrouded by vegetation nor overshadowed by the forest”

In 1833 he returned to Sigiriya and explored the area north of the rock towards Pidurangala and traced the ramparts and moat as well as again the gallery or the mirror wall and also the Sigiri tank to the south of the rock. He traced the section which ascends the summit in the north but never attempted to scale the rock due to the great rick involved and added by the discouragement by the local people on summiting the rock due to the area being infested with bears and leopards. In his own words:

“I returned to Sigiri in 1833, and ascertained that the town lay around the palace to the north of the rock, and traced for some distance a stone wall and wet ditch with which it had been surrounded. I then learned that from the highest terrace many small steps leading to the summit of the rock may still be perceived; but in much too dilapidated a state, and in too hazardous a position, for one to attempt… on my second visit I remarked that the projecting rock above the gallery, at least so much of it as is within reach, had been painted in bright colours, fragments of which may still be perceived”

Sigiriya in the 19th century (image courtesy:

In this initial exploration of the rock, it can be found that the famed Sigiri frescos, the Sigiri graffiti, the water gardens and the lion’s paws were yet to be discovered. The first record of summiting the rock was in 1853 by two young civil servants, A. Y. Adams and J. Bailey. Later in 1875 T. W. Rhys Davids in an article writes how he explored the site and describes how he saw the paintings on the western face of the rock through a telescope. The following year T. H. Baleskey published a much detailed paper on the remains of Sigiriya which describe the gallery, the fresco pocket and other prominent features such as the rampart and moat and also includes the first plan of the ruins of Sigiriya which were visible back then. In 1889 A. Murray of the Public Works Department under the advice of former Governor Sir William Gregory managed in scaling up to the fresco pocket and sketched out thirteen figures.

Systematic archaeological excavations began only in 1895 under the leadership of the first Archaeological Commissioner Harry Charles Purvis Bell. The site was explored by Bell on 15th and 16th April 1894 including the summit, which was ascended using jungle ladders. By the end of the year iron ladders had been fixed to ascend the summit and some clearing had begun in preparation for a full season’s work the following year. Work began in January 1895 and lasted till May. During the first four seasons from 1895 to 1898 generally taking place during the first several months of the year, the entire rock and its immediate surroundings were cleared and surveyed, which by the 5th season in 1899 extended to the surrounding sites of Mapagala and Pidurangala. Excavations were initially begun on the summit and beneath the western scarp in 1895 but from the following year till 1897 all excavations were concentrated on the summit. During the excavations of the summit in 1896, apart from revealing the ruins, systematic trenches were opened in order to study the foundations of the walls; and again in 1898 shafts were driven to the bedrock of the summit to further study the foundations which revealed an underground drainage system. In the seasons of 1896 and 1897 all 22 frescos were systematically studied and copied in oil paint.

Sigiriya summit after excavations (image courtesy:


Sigiriya fresco pocket (image courtesy:
Image from ‘H.C.P.Bell, archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives’, 1993


In the initial archaeological excavations in Sigiriya, one of the most stunning discoveries took place in 1898. Up until then, although the name of Sigiriya implied ‘Lion Rock’ no trace of a lion had been found, neither in painting nor in sculpture, which confused scholars on the origins of its name. That is until H. C. P. Bell began excavation of the ‘maluva’ or terrace to the north of the rock from which the final ascent to the summit is. At the base of the rock from where the upper gallery to the summit would have started was a mound from where the ladders were placed to ascend the summit; this was thought to be a mound of debris from when the upper gallery had fallen off. But the mass proved to be solid brick work and in the center the flight of stairs were found. This discovery is best described in Bell’s own words from the Annual report of that year:

“When following the curved ground line of the north façade to the massive brick structure, s0me stucco-covered work was uncovered. This at first seemed to represent very roughly moulded elephant heads – three on either side of the central staircase – projecting from the brick work in high relief, life size. Closer examination and the presence of a small boss further back than the ‘heads’ gave the clue to a startling discovery – the most interesting of many surprises furnished during the four season’s work at Sigiriya.  These alto relievos were not a variant form of the ‘elephant-headed dado’ of the chapel ‘screens’ of the larger dagabas of Anuradhapura.  They were none other than the huge claws – even to the dewclaw – of a once gigantic lion, conventionalized in brick and plaster, through whose body passed the winding stairway, connecting the upper and lower galleries…towering majestically against the dark granite cliff, bright coloured and gazing northwards over a vista that stretches almost hilless to the horizon, must have presented an awe inspiring sight for miles around. Thus was clinched forever to the hill the appellation Sihigiri “Lion Rock.”…here then is the simple solution of a crux which has exercised the summaries of writers – the difficulty of reconciling the categorical statement of the Mahawamsa and the perpetuation to the present day to the name “Singha-giri” (Sigiri) with the undeniable fact that no sculpture or paintings of lions exist on Sigiri-gala”

Image from ‘H.C.P.Bell, archaeologist of Ceylon and the Maldives’, 1993

By the beginning of the 20th century, much of what we know of Sigiriya had been revealed, properly surveyed and excavated, but the enchanting place still continued to reveal its secrets in the 20th century and even in the present. Thus the rediscovery of the fortress city and its total revelation served as a laboratory for the discipline and a huge step in the initial years of archaeology in Sri Lanka.


Establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey in 1890

H. C. P. Bell, first Commissioner of Archaeology (image courtesy:

Archaeology as a professional discipline began only in the early 19th century and by the mid-19th century had found its way to Sri Lanka with the British administration taking a keen interest in the ruined monuments found throughout the island, especially in the North Central Province. In 1868 Governor Sir Hercules Robinson appointed a committee to look into the ancient monuments in the island and by the early 1870s photographs and preliminary site surveys had been carried out in Anuradhapura. Until 1890 irregular investigations were conducted into the ancient monuments of the island such as the epigraphical survey carried out between 1875 to 1879 which led to the publication of the major work ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 and an archaeological survey under S. M. Burrows between 1884 to 1886 in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. During this particular survey, the area around the major monuments in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were cleared of the jungle and a surface search for monuments was carried out in and around the major sites; also old roads were cleared and new roads constructed to the larger ruins as well as the drawing of schemes for further excavations.

The proper establishment of a Government department for Archaeological work was started in February 1890 with Harry Charles Purvis Bell as its first Commissioner. His first assignment was a survey of the antiquities of the Kegalle District of which he was the District Judge; this survey produced the important work known as the ‘Kegalle Report’ (described below). After this preliminary survey of the Kegalle District, he was given the option of Tissamaharama or Anuradhapura for a major scientific investigation, which he chose Anuradhapura and proceeded to on the 7th of July 1890 – this date is thus considered the founding date of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon and the birth of scientific archaeology in the island.

H.C.P. Bell and his family in Sigiriya (image courtesy:

Bell started off his work in Anuradhapura with just a Labourer supervisor and 20 labourers, which was fondly known as ‘Bell’s Party’ and a systematic exploration of the jungle was carried out to determine what ruins lay above ground. Explorations were done in the modern town of Anuradhapura and immediate surroundings and were divided into 9 areas for ease of exploration. In 1893 archaeological work was extended to the Sabaragamuwa Province and to the Central Province the following year. During its initial years till the turn of the 20th century exploration, excavation and conservation work were centered primarily on the sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. The Archaeological Survey of Ceylon was at a later date named the Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka and continues to be the governing authority on the archaeological heritage of the island. Thus the establishment of an official governing body for the archaeological matters in the country was a major milestone in the expansion of the discipline of archaeology in Sri Lanka.


H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalla Report’

Interest into the archaeology of the island was shown by the British from early on and several sporadic efforts were made into the study from the 1870s; it was finally in February 1890 that the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon was begun with Harry Charles Purvis Bell as the first Commissioner. At the time of commencement, Bell was serving in the Kegalla district as District Judge, and hence his first assignment was the survey of his resident district which comprised of the ancient divisions of the Four Korales (Sathara Korale), Three Korales (Thun Korale) and Lower Bulatgama (Pata Bulatgama). This report which comprised of an intense historical and archaeological survey was thus the first official work of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon (which later became the Archaeological Department).

The title of the report goes as ‘Report on the Kegalla District of the Province of Sabaragamuwa’ and was first published in the Sessional Paper XIX – 1892: Archaeological Survey of Ceylon having been printed by George J. A. Skeen, Government Printer, in 1904. The work is structured into three Parts, and is best explained in Bell’s own introduction as follows:

“The present report has been arranged under four heads. The ‘Introduction’ deals with the historical geography of the Kegalla District. In Part I. (Historical) is recorded so much of its history as I have been able to glean from records, chiefly from the fifteenth century onwards. Part II. (Antiquarian) sums up briefly the characteristic forms of architecture and temple adornment in the District, and gives in some detail description both of ancient sites, legendary, and historical, and of the more important vihares, dewales and kovils of each Korale and Pattuwa. To Part III. (Epigraphical) has been left the treatment of all stone inscriptions and copper-plate or palm-leaf (ola) grants discovered in the course of research. finally, in the ‘Appendices’ will be found miscellaneous information bearing on the District which would have been out of place in the text”.

In Part I, he discusses the historicity of the district from ancient times unto the present. However the most important sections of the work are Parts II & III. Part II which deals with the antiquity of the district, although according to Bell’s own words, the Kegalle district is somewhat barren in terms of archaeology, the largest category of monuments recorded is religious establishments, a significant number of which traces its history to the Anuradhapura period. Part II opens with a general categorization and introduction to the monuments found, dividing them as Temples (cave temples and detached buildings), Viharas, Dagabas, Bodhi-maluvas, Dewales, and Architecture, Sculpture and Painting. From then on, the content is divided by the Korale, Pattuwa and finally by the Village in which is given a clear description of the antiquities, its location, present state with measurements and historical quotations from various sources to supplement the description. Apart from the many religious monuments described, there is recorded also other secular monuments such as the Manikkadawara fort, Balana fort and Peradeni Nuwara ruins.

Part III gives detail on the epigraphy of the district, dividing into Inscriptions, Sannas and Treasure and Boundary marks. Several early Brahmi cave inscriptions are described along with inscriptions dating from the 5th, 10th, 11th centuries all the way to the 19th century with the slab inscription of King Sri Vickrama Rajasinghe of 1806 in the Selawa Viharaya.

Many Sannas belonging to Viharas, Dewalas and private individuals too are recorded with the majority being written on copper plates. The oldest Sannas recorded is belonging to King Buvenekabahu V. Few locations of treasure marks and boundary marks too are given.

In the Appendices, the following details are supplied; Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom with the Four Korales in particular, Lists of villages held under different Tenures, Lists of Registered Service Villages appertaining to different Temples, Lists of Vihares, Devales and Kovils, Flags of the Disavas and other Kandyan Officials, Cartography of the Kegalla District and some Boundary Ballads.

The significance of this work lies not only in the fact that it being the first project of the Archaeological Survey but also as a comprehensive record of the monuments of that district as they were during the late 19th century. It serves at present as an important source document for any archaeological or historical research conducted within this area; also since much of the archaeological data given in the report mainly concerning the secular monuments have since vanished, this serves as one of the only records of these ruins in a systematic way (e.x:- the Balana kadawatha described in the report can no longer be seen and is the only description available of it).

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Archaeological Sites around Dimbulagala: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

Dimbulagala is a large isolated mountain situated in the North Central Province, east of Polonnaruwa. Its history dates back to the early historical period of Sri Lanka and was home to a Monastic complex during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. Dimbulagala is presently most famous for the Dimbulagala Rajamaha Viharaya and its late chief incumbent the Ven. Sri Seelalankara Thero who had served the people of Dimbulagala for decades but was murdered in 1995 by the LTTE.


The isolated mountain of Dimbulagala or ‘Gunner’s Qoin’, located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka is made up of two main rock formations stretching east to west and rises 530 m to the east and 510 m to the southwest. The southern face of the rock ends in a sheer rock precipice with gradual slopes to the north and west. Dimbulagala contains a Dry Monsoon forest cover is surrounded by paddy fields and scattered large tanks. Dimbulagala borders the Mahaweli Ganga with the Flood Plains National Park to the west, Manampitiya to the north and Aralaganwila to the south. It is about 250 km from Colombo and can be reached from Polonnnaruwa by traveling east along the Batticaloa road and turning right from Manampitiya junction to the Manampitiya-Aralaganwila road and from there turning right from Dalukkane junction. The Manampitiya-Aralaganwila road covers the eastern face of the mountain while the Mahiyangana-Dimbulagala road starting from Dalukkane junction covers the northern and western faces. Further a minor road covers the southern face linking the above two main roads.

Mountain in folklore and history

Dimbulagala first associates its self with King Pandukabaya in the 4th century BC. Known as Dhummarakka Pabbata in the Mahawamsa, it is stated that prince Pandukabaya during his war with his uncles encamped in the forests of Dhummarakka Pabbata for four years. During his stay here he captured a Yakkini named Cetiya who dwelt in the mountain in the form of a mare, who helped him from there on in his campaigns. The large number of drip ledge caves with Brahmic inscriptions dating to the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC and other ruins of the Anuradhapura period indicate its function as a monastic complex from early times. According to the Chief incumbent of the Namal Pokuna Temple, the Arahat Kuntagantatissa thero who after recording the Tripitakaya at the Matale Aluvihara in the 1st century BC retired to this mountain which was then furnished under the patronage of King Valagamba.

Dimbulagala next comes to prominence during the Polonnaruwa period, during which time it was known as Udumbaragiri or the Mountain covered in mist. An inscription at the site of Mara Vidiya in Dimbulagala states that Sundera Maha Devi, the wife of King Vickramabahu I (1111-1132 AD)  had contributed to the development of the monastic complex here. It is next mentioned as the residence of the Maha Thera Kashapa during the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD), who presided over the council held for the discipline of the Sangha which is inscribed in the Polonnaruwu Katikava at the Gal Vihara. The learned monks of the Dimbulagala Aranya sect were further consulted during the reigns of King Vijayabahu II (1232-1236 AD) and King Parakramabahu II (1236-1271 AD) for the disciplinary reforms of the Sangha.

It is believed that with the fall of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, the monastery ran into decline and the area was soon taken over by the forests. According to the Chief incumbent of the Namal Pokuna Temple, along with the Kalinga Maga invasion, a drought plagued the area and thousand monks were said to have perished in an area on the banks of the Mahaweli Ganga nearby, which came to be known as Dahastota. Subsequently Veddas from Mahiyangana migrated to the area of Dimbulagala and were occupying the lands here when the Ven. Sri Seelalankara Thero arrived to build the Dimbulagala Rajamaha Vihara in the mid-20th century; their descendants are still found in the surrounding villages.

Ven. Sri Seelalankara Thero who arrived here in 1932 gained the confidence of the Veddas, who allowed him to build a temple at the present Namal Pokuna Viharaya; but was subsequently asked to leave the place by the Department of Archaeology. He then selected and established the present site of the Dimbulagala Rajamaha Vihara.

Archaeological sites of Dimbulagala

The history of the forest monastery of Dimbulagala dates from the 4th century BC, and hence scattered throughout the mountain are numerous ruins of ponds, drip ledge caves with inscriptions, ruins of stupas and various other religious buildings. The archaeological sites of Dimbulagala fall primarily to five sites; the Namal Pokuna ruins, Mara Vidiya, Pulligoda cave paintings, Molahetiwelagala, and Kosgaha Ulpatha.

Namal Pokuna

Entrance to Namal Pokuna ruin complex.

Namal Pokuna archaeological site is found on the northern side of the mountain, it includes a monastic complex comprising of an Image House, a Stupa, a Bo-tree shrine and an unidentified building surrounded by a granite parapet, and further south of these are found several caves scattered about the forest (with some containing inscriptions) and two ponds.

Entering through the modern Namal Pokuna Viharaya on the Mahiyangana-Dimbulagala road, one needs to walk 500 meters from behind the temple along a rock cut stairway on a large rock outcrop to reach the ruins. Walking past the rock outcrop and falling on to a foot path one comes upon a large granite parapet with an entrance. The stone parapet comprises of an ancient temple complex and found within it are the ruins of a Stupa, an Image House, a Bo-tree shrine and the remains of an unidentified building. The Stupa is built upon a 2 meter high platform with three entrances and only a portion of the dome has survived. The large Image House comprises of a large platform with a single entrance facing north. Situated in the center of the platform is the central building comprising of the entrance chamber and the shrine room. Within the shrine room can be found the remains of two Buddha statues, one of which only the portion below the knee and the pedestal survive and the other, which is found on the ground in front of this, is lacking the head and feet. These ruins along with the Bo-tree shrine and the unidentified building remain in a good state of conservation and their architectural features places them to the Anuradhapura period.

The Unidentified building.
The Stupa.
Plastering and Inscription.

From the entrance of this ruined complex to the right, along the western parapet is an opening from which leads the path further to the rest of the sites. Immediately outside of the parapet can be found the remains of a large pond, according to folklore it is this pond that is called the ‘Namal Pokuna’, from which the entire site derives its name. Just above the pond is a small single-slab stone bridge over the tiny stream entering the pond; and from the bridge the path continues to the caves and other sites. In the vicinity of this pond can also be found traces of other ruins. The path from here continues at a slight ascent through the relatively low shrub forests with thin undergrowth. Walking several dozen meters from the stone bridge, a small flight of steps could be found to the left leading down; in this boulder strewn area are three caves with drip ledges.  Two of the caves are made on either side of one large rock, while the third cave contains just below the drip ledge an ancient Brahmi inscription reading ‘the cave of Asha Shamana’. On this cave could be found traces of plaster which once may have contained paintings. Further traces of the walls that would have once built up the chambers to these caves could still be seen.

Nil Diya Pokuna (dried)

Continuing along the path one arrives at the pond known as the ‘Nil Diya Pokuna’; this is named so due to its water being blue despite its contamination with leaves and other organic material. This pond is filled by the rain water and runs dry during the dry months. To the right of this pond is another cave with the chamber walls still intact to a certain extent.

Continuing few meters ahead one arrives at a large cave known as the ‘Kashapa Lena’ or the Cave of Kashapa, thought to be the dwelling place of the Maha Thera Dimbulagala Kashapa of the 12th century AD. This cave comprises of four chambers with the chamber walls perfectly preserved. In the large chamber, the window in the wall and a bed made of plastered stone and mud could still be seen. It is sad that the plaster on all these walls have been defaced by the scribbling of tourists who visit this place. Upon this cave too could be found an ancient Brahmi inscription denoting the name of a donor. The Chief incumbent of the present temple mentioned that there were two urinal stones found in the vicinity of this cave as well.

The Kashapa Lena

From here the open path turns into a forest trail with large trees and boulders providing a shady canopy from the sun. Although the path is less visible, arrows have been painted on several rocks indicating the direction. From here it leads to the other sites of the Ahas Gawwa and the Mara Veediya and the Aushada Pokuna.  

Mara Vidiya

Path leading up to the Mara Vidiya.

This is a cave complex situated on the southern face of the rock high above the ground level. The name Mara Vidiya or ‘Death’s Path’ is given due to the dangerous climb and path on which these caves are situated. This can be accessed from either Namal Pokuna or from the Dimbulagala Rajamaha Viharaya. The path from Namal Pokuna as stated above enters the forest from the Kashapa Lena and heads south west from where there is a steep climb to the summit of the mountain and from which one needs to climb down along the southern face of the mountain to arrive at its trail head. The trail from the Rajamaha Vihara is much shorter as it is situated at the southern edge of the south face of the mountain. Passing behind the meditation chambers of the Viharaya, one climbs upon an open rock face; the path is made visible by painted arrows on rocks and after a considerable climb one enters the forest on the southern face and from here begins a steep climb up the natural rocks studded path. After about 300 meters from the point of entry to the forest one would come upon a rectangular platform across the path made of stone, from here a smaller path branches off to the right at very steep angle; this is the trail head to the Mara Vidiya. Climbing this steep path for about 200 m one enters to a small path along the edge of the cliff with a stunning view of the plains south of Dimbulagala.

Beginning from here are sections of an iron cable installed to aid climbers leading to the first cave. This first cave is divided into four chambers with the walls in a good state of preservation; but which has not escaped the vandals of modern times whose scribbles dot the entire plaster. Found next to these chambers about four feet below the path and between the rock face is the pond known as the Aushada Pokuna or the Herbal Pond, this contains water which is said to never run dry. Passing the Herbal Pond and climbing further is a series of tunnels created by the action of the wind. The iron railings installed here have broken away making the passage through these dangerous. As the path along the edge of the cliff and these tunnels turns to the left, one comes across another chambered cave with traces of paintings. Also found here in the Mara Vidiya is the perfectly preserved inscription of Sundera Maha Devi, wife of King Vikramabahu who had given royal patronage to this place. The stunning site of Mara Vidiya gives a more-than satisfying ambience for meditation and is thus not hard to see why this place, so hard to access, was chosen to build the meditation chambers.

The next article will feature the other sites of Pulligoda, Molahetiwelagala and Kosgaha Ulpatha along with the list of bibliography…

The tour of Dimbulagala was conducted by Chandima Ambanwala, Sameera Prasanga, Buddhika Konara, Chamal Senadheera, Kasun Darshitha, Asanga and myself in August 2017 as part of a survey of sites in Polonnaruwa.



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Archaeological Milestones in Sri Lanka: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

Research into the field of Archaeology in Sri Lanka dates back to over 125 years, having being initiated by the British administration in the late 19th century. Archaeology as a professional discipline began in the early 19th century in Europe and as a result of our colonization by the British, the discipline found its way to the island from early on. Since then the archaeological field in Sri Lanka has been dominated first by the foreigners and after independence by the Sri Lankans, and has greatly aided in our understanding of our rich history. A large percentage of what we know of and all of what we see, of our ancient civilization at present, were all the result of archaeological research.

This article series would sum up some of the most important events in the journey of Sri Lankan Archaeology, milestones which changed the way we think of the past, the way we know the past and the way we see and protect the past. Milestones in Sri Lanka archaeology would include important discoveries to institutional and policy establishments, which, has helped the field to progress to the present and helped expand our understanding and protection of the past. Each article would feature three milestones typically in chronological order. This article would feature:

  1. Translation of the ‘Mahawamsa’
  2. ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ 1883
  3. Discovery of the first stone tools and the establishment of a prehistory in the island

Translation of the ‘Mahawamsa’

The Mahawamsa is one of the oldest continuously recorded chronicles in the world covering a period of over twenty three centuries; it records a continuous political and religious history of the island from the arrival of Vijaya to the fall of the island to the British. As a historical work, it is of immense value in understanding our past and has aided the historian and archaeologist greatly in his/her study. However, this chronicle was all but forgotten in the 19th century until an accurate translation was made in 1837 by George Turnour, which opened the doors to the study of both the history of Sri Lanka and India.

With the colonization of most of the Indian subcontinent by the beginning of the 19th century, European scholars began to explore the history of the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, like wise Ceylon was no exception. To European scholars, prior to the 1830s, it was believed that the island was devoid of any literature of historical interest, this view was carried forward by the Portuguese historians as well as the early British; Robert Percival in his book in 1803 states “the wild stories current among the natives throw no light whatever on the ancient history of the island. The earliest period which we can look for any authentic information is the arrival of the Portuguese under Almeida in 1505” and John Davy in his book in 1821 mentions “the Singhalese possess no accurate record of events; are ignorant of genuine history, and are not sufficiently advanced to relish it”. 

This view was all changed with the ‘discovery’ and translation of the Mahawamsa in 1837 by George Turnour. However, Turnour weren’t the first to ‘discover’ the text or even translate it.   Sir Alexander Johnston during his tenure as Chief Justice of Ceylon (1805-1819) had collected various manuscripts of Pali and Sinhalese from temples throughout the country which also included manuscripts of the Mahawamsa, Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya. These texts were translated to English by Edward Upham with the assistance of the native chief of the cinnamon department who was an authority in Pali and the Wesleyan missionary Rev. Fox; into the work known as Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon: Also, A Collection of Tracts Illustrative of the Doctrine and Literature of Buddhism, published in three volumes in London in 1833.

But it is the translation of George Turnour that is most remembered due to the fact that Upham’s translation contained many inaccuracies. Turnour in his introduction of his translation states his endeavor was to “account for one of the most extra-ordinary delusions perhaps, ever practiced on the literary world,” and on the other, to prevent these erroneous representations of the “Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon to be works of authority.”

George Turnour was an oriental scholar who served in the Ceylon Civil Service and it was during his tenure as Asst. Government Agent of Sabaragamuwa (1825-1828) in 1826 that he came across the rare text of the Mahawamsa. Turnour, who was pursuing his studies into the Pali literature of the island with the assistance of a learned Monk named Gallē, came to know of the existence of a continuous written chronicle on the history of the island. He obtained the manuscript  in 1826 from the Mulgirigala Viharaya in Tangalle which was ‘tika’ or a running commentary of the Pali work known as the Mahawamsa, which contained a continuous written history of the island from 543 B.C. To 1758 A.D. Coming to know the importance of this work, he dedicated his life from then on to the translation and dissemination of this material, which brought to light the unknown history of the island. It is stated that due to his official duties the translation was delayed and when he learned of the translation and publication of Upham, he was glad, but soon found that translation to be faulty.

In 1833 he published a paper titled ‘Epitome of the History of Ceylon’ in the Ceylon Almanac which he listed down the succession and genealogy of 165 Kings from the arrival of Vijaya to the British, based on his study of the Mahawamsa and other materials. According to Tennent “in this work, after infinite labour, he succeeded in condensing the events of each reign, commemorating the founders of the chief cities, and noting the erection of the great temples and Buddhist monuments, and the construction of some of the reservoirs…he thus effectually demonstrated the misconceptions of those who previously believed the literature of Ceylon to be destitute of historic materials”.

Original copy of Turnour’s Mahawanso at the Royal Asiatic Library

His translation of the main text from Pali to English was published titled ‘The Mahāwanso, in Roman Characters with the Translation subjoined; and an introductory essay on Pali Buddhistical Literature’, published by the Cotta Church Mission Press in 1837. This goes as volume I and contains chapters 01 to 38 ending with the reign of King Dhatusena. Volume II of George Turnour’s Mahawama was published only in 1889 which was translated and edited by L. C. Wijesinghe as Mahawamsa Part II.

The first Sinhala translation of the Mahawamsa was undertaken by Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera and Don de Silva Batuwanthudawe between 1877-1883. Subsequently many critical editions have since come about.

By the early 20th century the Government of Ceylon was in wanting of an official English critical translation of Turnour’s Mahawanso; this they found in the person of Prof. Wilhelm Geiger. Prof. Geiger had made a critical translation of this into German in 1908 which was published by the Pali Text Society and subsequently with the assistance of Dr. Mrs. Mabel Haynes Bode; it was translated to English with Prof. Geiger revising the English translation. This critical edition of the Mahawamsa was published in 1912 and remains to date the official translation of the work in English. However Prof. Geiger through his studies had divided the Mahawamsa into two parts, Chapters 01 to 37 he termed the Mahawamsa of which was published in 1912, and from chapters 38 to 101 he termed the Culawamsa which he once again divided as Culawamsa part I and Culawamsa part II, and were published only in 1930.

As mentioned above, at the beginning of the 19th century a detailed history of Sri Lanka before the colonization was unknown to the European scholars and the populace at large. With the fall of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815 and the subsequent decline literature, historical texts of Pali and Sinhalese which were with the Buddhist monks were soon forgotten, having been locked up in Buddhist temple libraries; and it is stated that when Turnour came across it, hardly a Monk knew of its existence. Subsequently with its accurate translation in 1837 by Turnour, a path was created for scholars to explore the island’s past and to know of the people and rulers who shaped Sri Lanka’s ancient Sinhalese civilization.

The translation of the Mahawamsa from Pali to English came in a time when even mainland India lacked a continuous written historical literature and was therefore a major leap forward in deciphering the history of India. It was from the Mahawamsa that the identification of Devanampiya Raja of the Indian inscriptions as Dharmasoka was arrived at, and the subsequent chronology of the predecessors and successors of Dharmasoka were calculated based on the dates of the Mahawamsa. Hence the translation of the Mahawamsa not only unlocked doors in the Sri Lankan context in understanding its past, but also for the south Asian region as well.

 ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ 1883

Epigraphical data is an important tool in archaeological research. A main mode of communication in the ancient world was through inscriptions, and in the Sri Lankan context, there are thousands of inscriptions from ancient times inscribed on rock surfaces, stone slabs, stone pillars, and caves on various topics of secular and religious nature. The study of epigraphy in Sri Lanka has greatly aided in the authentication of the literature works such as the Mahawamsa and continues to shed light on subjects of social nature not found in the ancient books. As such, the identification of the inscriptions, the deciphering of the text, the translation and publication of the text is of utmost importance for the students of both history and archaeology. Hence the first publication on inscriptions (and the forerunner for major works such as Epigraphia Zeylanica) was a major leap forward and deserves a special place in the progress of archaeology in Sri Lanka.

The story on of the publication of ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 dates back to the year 1874, when on request of the British colonial Government, Dr. P. Goldschmidt was appointed to look into the various inscriptions reported throughout the island. He began his work in 1875 starting from the Anuradhapura district and published his first report on 2nd September 1875. This report, also published in the Indian Antiquary, V, contains details of inscriptions within the Anuradhapura town and immediate neighborhood, especially Mihintale. His second report came out on 6th May 1876 and deals with the same material but in a more careful and accurate manner. He soon began to distinguish ancient from modern inscriptions based on paleographical reasons and was able to read and translate them. Dr. Goldschmidt moved on to Polonnaruwa and from thereon searched the districts of Trincomallee, Batticaloa, and Hambantota, writing his final report on 11th September 1876 from Akurasse, before his untimely death in May 1877.

Dr. Edward Muller was next appointed in the beginning of the 1878 to continue the work of Dr. Goldschmidt. He first began the unfinished work of the former in Hambantota and subsequently toured the districts of Anuradhapura, Kurunagala and Puttalam.  Under his supervision, in Polonnaruwa, inscriptions were photographed but the ones not possible to photograph, transcripts were made instead. His attention was chiefly to the inscriptions up to the 13th century; this being due to the fact of them being of philological and historical interest as he considered the ones after the 13th century more of modern period as the language was similar to the present. He finally completed the surveys and compiled the first published book on ephigraphical records in the island titled ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 published in London.  The book is divided into three parts:

1st part – text and translations of caves and smaller rock inscriptions

2nd part – text of all the longer rock inscriptions as well as pillar and slab inscriptions.

3rd part – translations of text of the 2nd part.

It contains over 200 inscriptions with a systematic explanation of the language of the inscriptions in the introduction.

Discovery of the first stone tools and the establishment of a prehistory in the island

The story of prehistoric man and his environment in Sri Lanka as we know today derives totally from archaeology. One of the main sources of our study of prehistoric man is the stone tools he left behind. And it is the discovery of such stone tools that became the key to the door of Sri Lanka’s prehistoric studies and most importantly, it gave life to the idea of the existence of a Stone Age in the island. Two persons are credited with the discovery of such stone tools; they are Mr. E. E. Green and Mr. J. Pole.

Surface collections of stone tools made of quartz and chert were first discovered by Mr. E. E. Green and Mr. J. Pole in 1885, the latter finding from the vicinity of Maskeliya, and the former from Peradeniya and Nawalapitiya. According to Pole in his 1907 article to the Journal of the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, he states that flakes from all parts of the island, from Puttalam, Hambantota, Nawalapitiya, Matale, Dimbula, Dikoya, and Maskeliya were subsequently discovered and were initially thought to belong to the Neolithic age.

In his article J. Pole states “we merely summarize the uses they were put to: the peeling of the arrow-wands, and scraping of the bow into shape, and shafts of spear or javelin, the skinning of the slain animal and dressing of the skins for raiment, manufacture of bags for porterage of their stone implements, etc.”

Initially the authenticity of these finds were held in doubt by the academics; but it were the investigations of the Sarasin brothers, the Swiss anthropologist duo that studied the anthropology and ethnography of the Veddas, who in 1907 confirmed these stone tools to be the works of prehistoric men. The Sarasin brothers who explored the Uva Province in the 1890s found similar stone artefacts mostly from the Nilgala caves but they were themselves doubtful of its status. In 1903 they excavated the Toala tribe caves in the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where they encountered similar stone artefacts which confirmed to them the artefacts found from the Nilgala caves were indeed stone tools. Subsequently they arrived in the island once again in 1907 and after examining their findings as well as those of J. Pole’s, they concluded that they were made by prehistoric Veddas and belonged to the Paleolithic age.

The next article in this series would feature the Rediscovery of Sigiriya, establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey and H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalle Report’ of 1890.


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Prehistory of Sri Lanka 7 : the Pleistocene flora and fauna of Ratnapura

Chandima Bandara Ambanwala

Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University of  Sri Lanka, Mihintale.

Translated by. Chryshane Mendis

Chandima Ambanwala

The Pleistocene epoch is a scientific time period in geology which formed millions of years ago. During much of this epoch the world was covered under ice. This Pleistocene epoch had its effects on Sri Lanka as well according to geologists; Dr. Paul Edward Pieris Deraniyagala had conducted the most number of researches into this period in Sri Lanka. The details and results of his investigations into this epoch were included in a thesis which won him his Doctorate from Harvard University in the US. Based on that important thesis his book The Pleistocene of Ceylon was published by the Department of National Museums in 1958 (P.E.P. Deraniyagala (1958), The Pleistocene of Ceylon, Natural History Series, Ceylon National Museum, Ceylon). According to him this epoch would have been from 1.8 million years to 12,000-10,000 years ago.  All due credit for the present knowledge on the Pleistocene epoch amoung the scholarly society in Sri Lanka belong to Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala (He is the son of famous historian and Civil Servant Paul. E. Pieris and his son is the notable prehistorian and former Director General of the Archaeology Department Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala). Before and after him, no Sri Lankan could be found with the interest to explore this important aspect of prehistory which is a sad situation. But the effort by Kalum Nalinda Manamendra-archchi out of the modern scholars to the study of fossils from the Rathnapura area must be appreciated. The difficulties in finding evidences, the lack of faith in the evidences revealed, inability to properly date the evidences, and the difficulty in identifying the context in which the finds are found can be stated as some of the factors that discourage scholars in the study of this period.

Dr. P.E.P. Deraniyagala

At 65,610 km2 Sri Lanka is one of the large islands in the Indian Ocean and during the Pleistocene epoch studies have shown that the island was joined to the mainland of the Indian Subcontinent. Due to the cold temperatures of this epoch the scattered glaciers caused the water level to fall and thus much of the places under water today was land during this time. Due to the drop in sea levels Sri Lanka and India was combined for the last time about 7,000 years ago. During the last 500,000 years the island was joined with the Indian mainland several times. According to some scientists during the past 1 million years the two lands were one landmass for most of the time. When the sea level fell approximately 70 meters, Sri Lanka and India was connected by a land bridge of about 100 km in width. Thus this land bridge caused species to inter-migrate between the two lands.

Kelum Nalinda Manamendra-archchi

At the end of the Pleistocene in Sri Lanka as a result of the rising temperatures the ice sheets that covered the world began to melt away. With the melting of the ice sheets the different materials found on the surface of the earth were mixed with the water and were deposited in low areas. Thus along with the alluvial deposits formed, environmental material on the surface through

The Pleistocene of Ceylon

anticline formations have been deposited in these low depths. Thus human and animal remains on the surface had been washed down and embedded in these deposits. The gem and seam deposits and other deposits of Rathnapura and other adjoining areas were created through the above process.

Found below is a comparison of this state of the Pleistocene with that found in the Alps mountain range by Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala. These ideas have been expressed by Dr. Deraniyagala with regard to the glacial periods of Gunz, Mindel, Riss and Wurm and also the warmer interglacial periods.

The soil layers of the gem and seam deposits of Rathnapura and the surrounding areas are the results of the melting of the ice from the mountainous areas. The fossilized remains of fauna and flora of that time or even before are preserved within these layers. In the process of excavating these seam deposits for gem stones, fossils of plant and animal life are usually found. Some of the main places that produce fossils in the Rathnapura alluvial deposits are Gatahaththa, Balangoda, Ambilipitiya and Kalawana. The gravel layer with such data is usually between 6 inches to 3 feet in depth and rarely exceeds 3 feet. The alluvial deposits can be found 12-40 feet deep and at certain places like Rakwana it is found 108 feet below the surface but certain places may also contain these deposits on the surface as well. Based on the data collected thus far, the details of the soil layers of a normal Rathnapura alluvial deposit can be stated as below.

            1 ½ feet – humus

            3 feet – loam

            5 feet – black clay

            5 feet – greyish clay

            3 feet – clay with fossils

            1 ½ feet – sand

            1 ½ feet – gravel

            ½ feet – mineral gravels with large amounts of fossils


It is evident that certain layers containing fossils have been re-deposited due to the process of glacierization. According to the above it is hard to ascertain that these would have been deposited in a regular/methodical way as certain deposits have been found which were thought to be very old but contained pearls, pottery and iron of much later periods. Such deposits show a disturbed nature therefore because of this it is difficult to properly date the deposits chronologically.

A gem mine in Rathnapura (image taken from

In the middle of the 1930s under the supervision of P. E. P. Deraniyagala from the National Museums (in 1939 he was made Director of National Museums), investigations were carried out into the alluvial strata that contained gem stones in the Rathnapura deposits. From then until 1963 the fossils of animal and plant life were subjected to investigation by Dr. Deraniyagala. By examining the fossil records found within these layers, a high knowledge on the species that lived during the Pleistocene was developed and amoung them identifying animal species that have gone extinct and those that are still living.

Below is a list of the large number of spices that have gone extinct.

Scientific name Common name Features
1 Geoemyda trijuga sinhaleya A species of tortoise Can be larger than the present ඝණ කටු සහිත ඉබ්බා tortoise
2 Trionyx punctate sinhaleya A species of tortoise  Can be larger than the present මෘ දු කටුව සහිත ඉබ්බා
3 Crocodylus sp. A species of Crocodile A more slender head than the present crocodile
4 Hypselephus hysundricus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Comparable to the Indian sub-species.
5 Palaeoloxodon namadicus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Could be a smaller species than the Indian sub-species.
6 Rhinocerus sinhaleyus A species of Rhinoceros A single horned Rhinoceros
7 Rhinocerus kagavena A species of Rhinoceros A single horned Rhinoceros
8 Hexaprotodon sinhaleyus A species of Hippopotamus A Hippopotamus very similar to Hexaprotodon palaeindicus of the Narmada region but with 6 teeth in the front.
9 Hystrix sivalensis sinhaleyus A species of Porcupine Relatively small in size.
10 Homopithecus sinhaleyus A hominid species From a gem mine in the Karangoda area of Ratnapura.
11 Homo sinhaleyus A hominid species From a area close to Ratnapura.
12 Elephas maximus sinhaleyus A species of Elephant Now extinct.
13 Leo leo sinhaleyus A species of Lion A lion much larger than the present Indian lion.
14 Muva sinhaleya A species of Sambur Small in size.
15 Sus sinhaleyus A species of Wild boar 2/3 the size of the present Wild boar in Sri Lanka.
16 Bibos gaurus sinhaleyus A species of Bison Shorter small horns than the present Indian bison.
17 Gona sinhaleya කුළුමීමා Could be the ancestor of the කුළුමීමා Bos indicus that inhabits the North Central Province.
18 Tatera sinhaleya A species of Rat This species had longer and broader teeth than the present Rat in Sri Lanka.
19 Axis axis ceylonensis Spotted deer The present spotted deer.
20 Rusa unicolor Sambar deer The present Sambar.
21 Bubalus bubalis migona Buffalo The present Buffalo.

Number 10 & 11 in the above, Homopithecus sinhaleyus and Homo sinhaleyus respectively are two of the most important fossil finds. An ancestor of modern humans, the fossil of Homopithecus sinhaleyus which was an incisor tooth was found from a gem mine in the Karangoda area of Ratnapura.

The tooth belonging to Homopithecus sinhaleyus and the skull fragment above the left eye of Homo sinhaleyus. (Images by Kalum Nalinda Manadendarachchi )

The enamel of the tooth has turned black and is semi-cylindrical at the bottom which enlarges when going up. The deposit stratification of the site that contained this fossil is given below:

6 feet – black mud

 6 feet – laterite soil

3 feet – organic materials and sand

 1 ½  feet – blue clay

1 feet – fine white sand

 ½ feet – hardened sand

1 feet – Gem gravel with fossils (the layer in which these fossils were found)

Decayed rock


The fossil of the hominid Homopithecus sinhaleyus was found along with the fossils of Hexaprotodon sinhaleyus, Rhinoceros kagavena, Elephas maximus sinhaleyus, Axis axis ceylonensis, and Rusa unicolor unicolor and through the Uranium dating method were dated to the same period.

Below is a result of the comparison of the incisor tooth of Homopithecus sinhaleyus with the same of a modern Gorilla and Human.

The extinct Hypeselephas hysundricus

Through this comparison it is proven that this belonged to an ancestor of modern humans and also it shows close resemblance to those of Pithecanthropus robustus of Java and Gigantopithecus blacki of China. Further Prof. A. Raymond of the University of Kyle? Through his great knowledge on the subject has stated this to be a fossil of an ancestor of humans.

The fossil of Homo sinhaleyus was found in a location close to Ratnapura and make up the bone fragment of the skull above the left eye. Along with this, the fossils of Hexaprotodon and Elephas maximus sinhaleyus and the deposit stratification of the site that contained these fossils are given below:

            3 feet – humus

            2 ½  feet – laterite soil

            4 feet – blue clay

            1 ½  feet – organic material and mud layer

            2 feet – black sand

            ½ – 2 feet – Gem gravel with fossils (the layer in which these fossils were found)


When taking the measurements of this bone fragment, the eye cavity was found to be relatively small, thus based on these measurements Dr. Deraniyagala has stated that this could be compared to the Neanderthal humans.

The relative age of the fossils of the Ratnapura deposits can be determined through comparison. Therefore the assumptions can be arranged as below:

  1. Hexaprotodon is older than Elephas maximus sinhaleyus.
  2. Hexaprotodon can sometimes be even older than Rhinoceros kagavena.
  3. Hexaprotodon, Elephas maximus sinhaleyus, Rhinoceros kagavena are same period/contemporary. There is a high possibility that the incisor tooth of Homopithecus sinhaleyus is of the same period as them.
  4. Rhinoceros kagavena can be twice as old as Elephas maximus sinhaleyus and also a bit older than

There are also plant fossils found from these deposits and according to the radiocarbon dating done by the TATA Corporation of India, the below results were arrived at:

  • Mesua species more than 47,000 years BP (Before the Present)
  • Largestroemia speciosa 7520 +/- 150 BP

These plants can even be found at present in this region.

The now extinct Rhinocerus sinhaleyus that lived during the Ice Age ( K.N. Manamendra-archchi)

The fossils found from the gem mines of Ratnapura share a comparison with those found in the regions of Swahilik and Narmada basins of India as shown by Dr. Deraniyagala. These regions of India belong to the Middle Pleistocene epoch.

Through this we could get a sound knowledge on this historical time period which is the Pleistocene. But as shown above due to the re-depositing, it is an obstruction to dating these finds accurately. But with modern technological developments it is important to re-examine these fossils; this could be done through the collaboration of future archaeologists, archaezoologists and geologists which could yield more important evidences.

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Kotte Heritage 4: Veherakanda

By Chryshane Mendis

The historic 15th century Capital city of Kotte, founded as a fortress against the Arya Chakravarithi of Jaffna and made into a fortified city and administrative center by King Parakramabahu VI was the last Capital city to rule over a unified Sri Lanka until independence. Being the Capital, this city would have flourished with mansions of the royalty and nobility, great religious monuments of the Buddhist Viharas, dwellings of the common people and buildings of trade and commerce; the local literary sources such as the Sandesha Kavyas and the accounts of the foreigners such as the Portuguese describe this magnificent city in all its glory. Yet what remains at present is a fraction of what it was during its heyday. The previous articles in this series have discussed the various remains of the fortifications of Kotte. The present article explores yet another prominent monument known to many in Kotte; the Veherakanda ruins in Baddegana.

The ruins of Veherakanda can be found at the end of Beddegana road in Kotte and comprise of a large platform with two small stupas and traces of other buildings around. This is the only one of its kind found in Kotte at present. The ruins have not been identified despite archaeological excavations conducted there in 1949 and various theories have been put forward regarding its identity. This well-maintained site is generally considered a religious site but some say them to be tombs. Mr. Prasad Fonseka in his book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS states that the two stupas belong to the Kotavehera style, which is generally thought to be tombs; the prominent feature being the absence of parts of an ordinary stupa. Accordingly these can be the tombs of Sunetradevi, the mother of King Parakramabahu VI and Vidagama Thero, the two most important persons to Parakramabahu. But however no evidence can be found to support any theory. Taking it into its historical background, this would have been placed in a location outside the outer city of Kotte. Such monuments, be them religious or civil would have no doubt been spread throughout the area around the capital city, hence whatever this may be, it would always be a monument to Kotte’s past.

Weherakanda can be found onto the right, outside the city limits of the ancient city of Kotte.

The excavations of 1949

Excavations were first conducted here in 1949 under Prof. Senerat Paranavitana. In 1946 steps were taken to acquire the site by the Department of Archaeology and finally this 2 acre land was taken over on the 19th December 1948. Upon acquisition this site was overgrown by shrubs and had even been once cultivated; folklore on the site had not prevailed and its identity was entirely unknown expect for its name- Veherakanda meaning Vihara mountain. The survey found the mound had been disturbed but not in recent times. The excavation revealed two small stupas on a large rectangular platform measuring 97 x 53 feet and a height of 5 feet 6 inches made of kabook. Stairways were found to the north and west with only a small section remaining. The base circumference of the larger stupa was 30 feet and the smaller stupa being 21 feet, with the large stupa being made of bricks and the smaller one made of kabook. Parts of the Pinnacle or Kothkaralla were found scattered around. To determine the identity of these, the larger stupa was examined further which revealed two relic chambers but were found empty, having being robbed of its antiquity.

Kotte being a suburb of Colombo in the mid-20th century was populated to a large extent and an archaeological excavation in the midst of this suburb drew much attention; it is recorded that in one week there was a crowd of approximately 25,000 visitors and a fence had to be erected to allow the large crowds gathering to view the site without causing damaging. It is recorded that work had to be halted for a week in order to allow the visitors to access the site. Prof. Paranavitana states that they received much support from the residents and also of a case where a gypsy poet had sung poems (kavi) of the excavation, printed on leaflets and sold in the area of Baddegana.  To the northwest was also found the remains of another building measuring 22 x 12 feet; this would have been used as an image house. To the north of the platform was found the remains of yet another building, the survey revealed tiled pieces around but when excavated no foundations were found, only mortise stones for fixing wooden pillars arranged to a pattern were found. It is believed that the walls of this would have been made out of clay. One of the most interesting finds was found under one of these mortise stones; a copper casket measuring 1.5” x 1.16” x 1” and within it were found few semi-precious stones and a gold coin.

Although this excavation failed to identify the location, it was no doubt revealed to belong to the Kotte period and hence offers an insight into the construction of buildings during this period. The conservations too were conducted within that year and the large kabook blocks of the front section of the platform had to be replaced as the original blocks had decayed. Prof. Paranavitana states that this might have not been a prominent monument as it does not fit the description and location of the prominent monuments described in the Sandesha Kavyas; but it would always stand as a testament to the heritage of Kotte.


Getting there

To arrive at the site one coming from Rajagiriya would have to turn down Ehtul Kotte road and from Baddegana junction turn left on Beddegana road and from there take the north Baddegana road (to the left from that junction). from here there are several ways to the site; the prominent way being to proceed along North Baddegana road till it takes a 90 degree right turn and from there continue passing the Bo-tree junction till the end where it meets Wehera Kanda road. From here turn left and taking the left at both the ‘Y’ junctions down it, one would come near the site which is fenced and the sign boards of the Archaeology Department.

Description of the ruins

The ruins are at present well maintained in a beautifully landscaped garden with iron wood trees. The sheer size of the platform states its majesty and would have been an imposing site in its heyday. The two stupas on the platform are also well preserved and when entering the platform to the right of the large stupa in the corner can be seen the remains of the image house. The remains of the building found north of the platform can hardly be seen as per a visit in September 2017 as the weeds around it have covered its form. Set in a quiet neighbourhood it is one of the most important monuments surviving in Kotte at present and is a must see site for all.


  • Fonseka.P, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
  • Paranavitana.S, Puravidyā Paryeshana, 2003.
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Untapped Archaeological Heritage: Muthugala

By Chryshane Mendis

Muthugala in Polonnaruwa is an enchanting location set amidst rocky outcrops and willus and houses the remains of a forest monastery inclusive of ruined stupas and drip ledged caves for the meditation of monks. This is a hardly known site and came to our light during a recently concluded archaeological survey of the Polonnaruwa District. Our research team comprising of Messrs. Chandima Ambanwala, Sameera Prasanga, Buddhika Konara, Chamal Senadheera, Kasun Darshitha and myself along with our resource person Mr. Attygala visited the site in August; accompanying us as guides were three men from the village including the village headmen. A union of history and nature, this was one adventurous exploration which deserves a deeper investigation.


Muthugala, a quiet dry zone village situated in the Welikanda Divisional Secretariat in the Polonnaruwa District is a paradise of nature where man and wilderness live side by side. This untapped archaeological heritage of the ancient Sinhalese lies in the forests boardering the village and the Flood Plains National Park along the Mahaweli Ganga. To arrive here, one needs to arrive at Sewanapitiya junction which is 18km from Kanduruwela on the Batticaloa road and from there turn left on the road running along the canal, proceeding about a kilometer on this turn left once more along with the branching off of the canal. From there proceed along this for 5km passing lush green fields and home gardens to the village of Muthugala; from there turn left from the school along the bund of a small tank till the road ends at the forest, from there is an off road track which is a 10 minute hike to the site. The remains of the forest monetary is spread throughout that area on the rock outcrops surrounded by willus created by the Mahaweli River.


Village background

A description of the village would add a charming note to this enchanting location. The village comprises of 224 families and though ethnically a Tamil village, some of the villages have Sinhalese ge-names; a glimpse of the mixed cultures that once grew here. There is one school in the village and the main economic activity of the villagers is cultivation, though a few individuals have Government jobs. The growing of paddy is the main activity but fishing and milking of cows are other such activities. The villagers say that canes (වේවැල් /weval) can also be harvested from here but no such industry exists. Certain sections of the roads are tarred while the rest are in the golden sands of the dry zone. Away from the bustling roads, this village brings the sereneness of the peaceful days of old into the modern world and an urban-vary soul would be glad to taste its calmness.

Description of the ruins

The visible ruined stupa

Heading with our guides in the late morning, we managed to go half the distance on the off road track in the van and hiked the rest as it was hard to get the van through the tiny path. We were told that this was Elephant country and that to be vigilant although they do not show up during this time of the day. Walking along the sandy road about the scrub forests we came near a large rock outcrop and climbed it by a path to the left. This was the main location, it was quite evident here that there was once human settlement as there were numerous rock cut steps in certain sections of the rock and the top was scattered around with bricks, mortise stones for columns and few stone pillars. But a closer examination with the trained eye revealed much more. Amoung the debris spread over the uneven rock surface was the clear mound of a small stupa. A close examination of this revealed that there were three visible stairways to the stupa from the north, east and the west and that this was erected on two podiums. But sadly the stupa had fallen prey to treasure hunters. An entrance had been effected from the north and dug to almost 10 feet. The inner structure of the brick stupa was quite visible. Right next to it was identified as the remains of another stupa, although no visible mound was there. Finally completely surveying the rock, the traces of another two more stupas were found in close proximity to the first two; and as well as two ponds made from the natural slope of the rock. On this same site towards the south from where one enters is found a cave with a drip ledge and an inscription. The inscription contains an early Brahmi script indicating the sites usage from the early Anuradhapura times. Close to this cave is a smaller cave and in it our resource person on a previous visit noticed small drawings in white; this was looked at by our team and hypothesized to be ancient Vadda paintings. There are about three to four scribbles of some form but one which resembles a figure of a man is quite evident. If this in fact dates to ancient Vaddas, it would take this site to the prehistoric times; but this needs to be clearly verified before any theory is put forward. Assessing the remains on the rock outcrop it was clear that this was indeed a forest monastery. From the top of the rock one could get a clear view of the surroundings, the lush green fields, the open willus with herds of buffaloes, the adjoining hilltops and the endless green of the Flood Plains National Park. Our guides stated that during the rains the entire area surrounding the rock becomes one entire willu under water.

The small cave with the paintings


The white figure, the figure to the right resembles a man.

They said that there were more, many caves with inscriptions on the adjoining hillock, so climbing down the rock we headed north east along the edge of the forest line and the open plains.

This hillock composed of a single high rock formation with thick jungle around it and one could easily get lost without prior knowledge; indeed we felt this way once we completed our tour of the site as it left us totally confused of our geography. Climbing through the thick vines and over and under rocks we explored here a total of 11 caves spread throughout the area. Out of the 11 caves with drip ledges, seven caves contained early Brahmi rock inscriptions just below the drip ledge. All the inscriptions found here mention the names of donors gifting the caves to the clergy. Near the cave on the highest elevation here was found the remaining materials of a small modern shelter, this the villagers explained that some time back they had brought a monk here to stay but was asked to leave by the Wildlife department. The cave here contained an inscription as well as a symbol; this was not a completely closed one for there was about a 5 foot high gap allowing access to the other side and within this were the ruins of large sleeping Buddha statue, the traces of which were hard to identify as it had been vandalized in antiquity. On the ceiling of this cave can be found the faint traces of paintings as well.

The ruined stupa in the first location, dug by treasure hunters.

Treasure hunting is a major problem here said the villagers who were with us and said that it is people from far away that are behind this and not from the village. The villagers try their best to protect these sites and have repeatedly appealed to the authorities to take action but to no avail. While the horror of the plundered stupa in the first hillock was still in our minds, we were in for yet another shock. Before going to the high cave they said that there was a boulder near another cave below that had been broken recently in the search of treasure, arriving at the said location we were taken aback as we found it completely destroyed and dug out, several feet until the bedrock. This was a fresh dig which appeared to have been dug just the previous night or a maximum of two nights before. All around were pieces of the slab of rock and fine soil from underneath. It was a sad sight in deed. The villagers stated that there is another location close to the Mahaweli River called Anakaluwa which was a large rock in the shape of an elephant drinking water and that there was a crown and a sword carved on it, this too has sadly been blasted away. They also mentioned that there was a large rock inscription in the first location near the ruined stupas which had been destroyed about 40 years ago.


The hole cut by treasure hunters in the second location.
The cave in the highest location, within can be found the remains of a statue and traces of paintings.


The splendid drip ledged caves, some reaching over a dozen feet in length surrounded by the ever green forests of the dry zone would have given a peaceful setting for the meditating monks of old and it is sad to see that these centuries old dwellings, protected so well by nature have been disturbed in our times due to false fantasies. Beyond the open plains further to the north was another large rock outcrop, this the villagers stated contained a large rock with one vertical surface in white which they believed would have been plaster for paintings. This too we investigated but found the white layer to be a natural phenomenon.  But there could be much more hidden amidst the jungles. Prof. Senerat Paranavitana in the Epigraphia Zeylanica gives details of 17 early Brahmi rock inscriptions from Muthugala but we were able to find only 8. This untapped archaeological site deserves a deeper investigation which would give valuable information on the human settlement of this now seemingly rural area.

The team with the villagers.