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”.
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.
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 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.
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 archaeology.lk
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.
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:
The re-Discovery of Sigiriya
Establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey in 1890
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”
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.
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 altorelievos 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”
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
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Translation of the ‘Mahawamsa’
‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ 1883
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”.
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.
The Martello Tower is a type of fortification constructed by the British in the 19th century. This was a small round fortification of about 20-25 feet in height and could garrison up to 20 – 30 men. Their round structure made it resistant to bombardment and was generally suited for coastal defense. The design originated from around fortified tower at ‘Mortella’ point in the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, which was garrisoned by the French; the British impressed by its resistance to their naval assault on the tower in February 1794 studied its design and adapted its defensive properties in their own strategies after 1796. Thus the name ‘Martello’, the Anglicized form of Mortella was used to refer to such round towers. These towers were built throughout the British Empire in the first half of the 19th century but were rendered obsolete by the end of that century.
The Martello Tower situated in Hambantota is the only tower found in Sri Lanka and has been mistakenly identified in the past as a Dutch fortification. The need to protect Hambantota had occurred to the British in 1803 when the Kandyans had attacked Hambantota on two occasions, and thus by the request of Major General D.D. Wemyss, Commander of the Forces in Ceylon, the Martello Tower was built by Lt. William Gosset of the Royal Engineers. The exact date of the construction of this tower was not known, with many starting between 1796 and 1803. Through a thorough research conducted by the researcher, although the exact date of construction may not be known, construction on the tower had commenced after September 1804 and by May 1805 was still under construction.
This tower is 25 feet in height and 120 feet and 4 inches in circumference with a base diameter of 38 feet. It comprises of two stories. This tower never saw action and was later handed over to the Public Works Department. In 1999 the Martello Tower of Hambantota was restored and used as a fisheries museum.
Mr. Dhanesh Wisumperuma is an independent researcher and a freelance writer. Graduating from the University of Colombo with a BSc degree, he holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Archaeology from the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR), University of Kelaniya and an MA in History from University of Kelaniya.
He’s main research area is environmental history but with a special interest in history and archaeology as well. As a writer, he occasionally writes on environment, history, and archaeology to Sinhala and English newspapers and to his own blog. He has also contributed few papers on the above subjects to various journals.
He currently works as a freelance consultant on environmental issues with few environmental organizations.