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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 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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Two Arabic Epigraphs found from the Ambalangoda Harbour

Mahinda Karunarathna, Apprentice Graduate, Regional Office, Central Province, Department of Archaeology. – 0719945046

Dr. Mohamed Sulthan Mohamed Saleem, Senior Lecturer, Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya.

W.M Chandrarathne, Officer in Charge & Project Manager, Maritime Archaeology Unit & Maritime Archaeology Museum, Galle project, Central Cultural Fund.


The ancient harbor Ambalangoda is located in No 85 – Patabandimulla Grama Niladari Division (GND) of Ambalangoda Secretariat Division (SD), Galle District, Southern Province (6°14’07.4″N, 80°03’03.1″E) and about 800 m along the Ambalangoda – fisheries harbor road and 200m to the North from the jetty of fisheries harbor.

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Historical background

The great Chronicles Mahavamsha and Sandesa kavviya (messenger poems) had not mentioned about the activities of the ancient harbor at Ambalangoda. Thisara Sandesaya (1344-1359 AD) (Gunawardane, 2001 p. 1), Parevi Sandesaya (After 1415 AD) have described the coastal areas of the Southern province near Ambalangoda in their poems. Kalutota, Maggona, Beruwala, Aluthgama, Kosgoda, Bentota, Welitota (Balapitiya), Madampamodara, Totagamuwa, Rathgama mentioned in Thisara and Parevi sandesyas (Jayatilake, 2002 pp. 97, 101, 102, 103, 104, 107, 108, 109, 113; Gunawardane, 2001 pp. 101, 103, 107, 108, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116). However, one notable thing is the name “Ambalangoda” has not mentioned in this Sandesas.
Portuguese, Dutch and English (1505-1948) records depict the social, political, economical, religious relationships in the Ambalangoda harbor.

Research History

Three groups of Archaeology, Maritime Archaeology, and Harbour Development Project have intervened to the Maritime Archaeological activities in the Ambalangoda Harbor from 1998 to 2012.

The Artifacts found from the investigations in the Harbour

The Artifacts found in 1998

Most of the artifacts had been found by the private persons. On 14th May 1998, a maritime archaeology team (Department of Archaeology and volunteers) had carried out a preliminary investigation in the harbor (Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva, 1998 p. 1; Maritime Archaeology in the Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda, 2016 p. 32). According to the eyewitnesses, the timbers lie parallel to the shore. However, the team did not unearth the position of the wreck. Most of the artifacts found from the site had sold to the local dealers. The team gathered the information about the artifacts through interviews with eyewitnesses. The locals brought out various artifacts from their house and allowed to be photographed and recorded. 21 artifacts under 8 categories (A-H) were recorded by the group (Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva, 1998 pp. 1-5; Maritime Archaeology in the Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda, 2016 p. 32) (Table No 1).

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Some artifacts found in 1998

The Artifacts found in 2007

The Ambalangoda harbor development project was carried out in 2007. Several types of artifacts emerged while digging the sea bed of the harbor. Cowry shells (Cypraea moneta), copper plates and ceramics are some examples of the artifacts. Two Arabic inscriptions can be seen in two copper plates.

Cowry shells (Cypraea moneta)

The Artifacts found in 2012

The Maritime Archaeology Unit (MAU) of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) has explored and excavated the site (Grid No 5 & 9 / 10 m x 10 m) from 1st of March to 10th of April 2012 to unearth more archaeological objects that belong to the ship wreck. Unfortunately, the team did not find any object from the site (Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, 2012 p. 5).

While the excavation in 2012
Excavation pit, 2012

(Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, 2012 pp. 10-11 ).

The Arabic Epigraphy found from the Harbour at Ambalangoda

Introduction – The Ambalangoda harbor development project was carried out in 2007 while digging the sea bed unearthed several types of artifacts. Discovering 5 copper alloy plates were a remarkable finding of the site(Table No 2). A notable thing whichcan be seen is two epigraphy in the reverse of the copper plates number 2 (2007/SL/S/AMBA/02 ) and 5 (2007/SL/S/AMBA/05).

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The above table shows five copper alloy plates which have been displayed in the Maritime Archaeology Museum (MAM) of Central Cultural Fund in Galle Fort.

Epigraphy on copper alloy plates

I. Description of the epigraphy

This epigraphy is very small, 71.68mm in length ,1 mm in depth of the letters and ,10. 68667 mm in Length of a letter. Thickness is 1.21 mm, Radius 29 cm, Width 14.5 and Weight 697.3 g (copper plate 2) and Thickness 0.75 mm, Weight 285.4 g (copper plate 5).

The plate has fragmented into two parts, probably, when it was under the sea bed or when digging the sea bed by the high pressure water dredger. There are no decorations in the obverse and the reverse of the plate. The five plates have been made of the copper alloy. This plate with epigraphy were deteriorated. It is covered by the brownish or blackish “patina”. This plates conserved in 2014 before being displayed in the Maritime Archaeology Museum in Galle.

II. Photographs and stamp pages of the epigraphy

Epigraphy 1

Epigraphy II


III. Translation of the Epigraphy

The period between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. is generally considered to be a period of decline for the trade of Arabia.

The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all representing consonants, and is written from right to left. Twenty two of the letters are those of the Semitic alphabet from which it descended, modified only in letter from, and the remaining six letters represent sounds not used in the languages written in the earlier alphabet.

It is a Southern Central Semitic language spoken in a large area including North Africa, most of the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Middle East.

Arabic is a language of the Quran and is the religious language of all Muslims. Literary Arabic usually called Classical Arabic, is essentially the form of the language found in the Quran, with some modifications necessary for its use in modern times; it is uniform throughout the Arab world. Colloquial Arabic includes numerous spoken dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible (The New Encyclopedia Britannica,vol:1,, page: 508, 509, 51015th Edition, 2005, U.S.A).

Ceylon was earlier known to the Arabs on account of its pearl-fisheries and trade in precious stones and spices, and Arab merchants had formed commercial establishments there centuries before the rise of Islam (Abid;Page 838). This Arabic letter had been written without dottings, it reveals the early era before Islam, because after introducing Islam ,dotting to Arabic was introduced to make it easy to recite the Holy Quran.

Translation of the Epigraphy

Epigraphy 1
Arabic (منح له سيد عبد الرب) / (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb)
English “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”

Epigraphy 2
Arabic (منح له سيد عبد الرب) / (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb)
English “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”

This first epigraphy similar to the second epigraphy

Here this Arabic letter was written without dotting, its meaning is: “Mr. Abdul Rabb Awarded to him”, (منح له سيد عبد الرب), (Manehe Lahu Sayyid Abdul Rabb), Early Arabic writing had been included without dots. The dots found today in Arabic writing were one of the first innovations that came after the spread of Islam. These dots make it clear what consonant is to be pronounced. Before the dots, people read the text without any dots. They could do this through their experience. Arabic Writing has been using dots since the dotting system was first inventedby Abu al-Aswad Al-Du’ali ( 603–688 A.D) to prevent grammatical errors. He was a close companion of fourth Khaliphat Ali bin Abi Talib and grammarian. He was the first to place dots on Arabic letters and the first to write on Arabic linguistics.


Director General, Department of Archaeology, Director General, Central Cultural Fund, Mr. Rasika Mutukumarana, Maritime Archaeology Team of the MAU, Mr. Chandima Ambanwala, Miss. Mangali Disanayake and Mr Saman of Maritime Archaeology Museum, Mr.Sumeda Weerawardana, University of Peradeniya.


  1. Ambalangoda Exploration & Excavation Report – 2012, Maritime Archaeology Unit, Galle, Unpublished, 2012.
  2. Gunawardane, A.D.S. 2001. Tisara Sandesaya. Colombo 10 : Samayawadana, 2001.
  3. Jayatilake, K. 2002. Wimarshana Sahitha Parevi Sandesaya. Gangodawila : Pradeepa publishers, 2002.
  4. Jayatilaka, Gihan; Nerina de Silva. 1998. Ambalangoda Shipwreck Report on a Prelminarii Investigation. s.l. : Unpublished , 1998.
  5. Maritime Archaeology in Ancient harbour at Ambalangoda. Karunarathna, Mahinda; W.M Chandrarathne. 2016. Colombo 7 : Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, 2016.
  6. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005, vol:1,, page: 508, 509, 51015th Edition, 2005, U.S.A.
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An Epigraphic and Social archaeological study of Vaharala Inscriptions

R. M. Mangalika Rajapaksha

Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund, Anuradhapura.

Translated by Chryshane Mendis


Mangalika Rajapaksha

Civilization in 3rd century BC Sri Lanka was a highly cultured one (Pagnasara Thero 2005:10) with a tradition of continuous written records. Writing is an important feature in the evolutionary process of human communication (Bandara 2008:1) but the origin of writing is not as old as that of the origin of man. In the early 19th century James Princep was able to decipher a hitherto unknown script in India (Paranavitana 1970:i) which is called the Brahmi script. This was compared with the rock inscriptions of Sri Lanka by Turner and found to contain similarities in the language (Jayawardane 1). This new found interest caught the attention of many scholars which resulted in the recording and documenting of numerous rock inscriptions found throughout the island.

The majority of the rock inscriptions dating to the 4th and 5th century AD contain the word “Vaharala (වහරල)”. This specific word is found in many different variations such as Viharala (විහරල), Veherila (වෙහෙරිල), Viharila (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහාරලය), and Veheralaya (වෙහෙරලය)  (Priyanka 2008:1) and also it is found after the word “Chidavi (චිදවී)”. Although there are no specific types of inscriptions with this word, inscriptions with these words are collectively known as Vaharala inscriptions (වහරල ලිපි). Scholars have put forward various theories as to the meaning of this word but there seems to be no common theory amoung them. As the various theories on the meaning of this word have not paid much attention to the locations of the inscriptions and their nature, the main aim of this study is to investigate the Vaharala inscriptions that have been overlooked by others and to determine their epigraphical nature and their socio-archaeological data there by giving an outlook into the society at that time.

A Vaharala inscription from Vessagiriya

Vaharala inscriptions were first studied in 1906 (Uduwara 1991:121). Senarat Paranavitana has presented a more logical idea on the Vaharala inscriptions (Paranavitana 1955:35-65); where his idea that it means release from slavery or servant hood has been incorporated to the society. But based on linguistic, historical and cultural facts this statement is proved wrong according to the scholars Madauyangoda Vimalakthi Thera (Vimalakthi Thera 2004:107-108), Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24), Saddhamangala Karunarathne (Karunarathne 1984:117-118), Bandusena Gunersekara (1989 November 12:18), Sirimal Ranawella (Ranawella 2008:32-35), Malani Dias (Dias 1991), and Karunasena Hettiarachchi (Hettiarachchi 2005:137).

Being proficient in a given field is a great achievement. This proficiency is created by the deep sense of understanding and knowledge one has to that field. Accordingly given below are the ideas on the meaning of this word by scholars.

  • Sinhala Dictionary – slavery, servant, submission, performing all work (Sannasgala 1991:258)
  • Rock inscriptions Alphabet – Vahara/Vaharaya (වහර/වහරය) = Vehera/Viharaya (වෙහෙර/විහාරය)

Vaharala/Vahara layara/Vahera la (වහර ල/වහර ලයර/වහෙර ල)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක )

Vahara laha (වහර ලහ)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක) (Ranawalla 2004:123)

  • Senerat Paranavitane – the idea of Slavery or Vahal (වහල්) (Paranavitane 1955:35,36)
  • J. Wijeratne – wood or timber sacrifice (Paranavitane 1955:36)
  • Sirimal Ranawalla – making of Vihara Salaka
  • Malani Dias – being exempted from compulsory services (Dias 1989:19)
  • Wimalakthi Thera – a Vihara chamber/making a Vihara chamber (Wimalakthi Thera 2004:108)
  • Saddhamangala Karunarathne – making of buildings for Viharas (Karunarathne 1984:117-118)
  • Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera/ Bandusena Gunersekara – making the Viharageya/ making chambers in the Viharaya (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24, Gunersekara 1989 November 12:18)
  • Karunasena Hettiarachchi – being exempted from compulsory services (Hettiarachchi 2005:137)
  • Benil Priyanka – making chambers in the Viharaya/ Vihara chamber/making of a (Priyanka 2012:14)

Calligraphic details from Vaharala Inscriptions

The development of the Sinhalese language and alphabet goes hand in hand (Gunersekara 1996:40). The Brahmi script it is believed to have evolved over the centuries into the present Sinhalese script. The transitional period of the Brahmi script can be stated between the 6th – 7th centuries AD (Lankage 1996:49). Most of the Vaharala inscriptions belong to this period with a few belonging to the 5th century AD. In the development of the Sinhalese script, the middle period or the transitional period could be stated as the period between the 6th to 7th centuries AD where an acceleration of the transformation of the script could be observed (Gunersekara 1996:82). Although it is hard to confirm as to when the Brahmi script began transformation into the present Sinhalese script, a transformation is clearly observable during the 6th century AD (ibid 83).

Prof. Senerat Paranavitana

When comparing the inscriptions of the 6th – 7th centuries, variations in the scripts could be seen, (ibid 84) especially when comparing the Vaharala inscriptions to other contemporary inscriptions. These details would not be discussed individually but as a whole.

The letters of the Nilagama inscription which belongs to the middle of the 6th century AD are circular in shape (Paranavitana 1943:28) whereas the letters of the Nagirikanda inscription are vine-like (a free style without any angles)in shape (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:11). The Kudarathmale inscription contains totally different shapes when compared to the above two (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:37). The letter ‘අ’ in the Nilagama inscription is found in 3 different forms (Paranavitana 1943:37). The letters ‘ආල , ඇල & ඈ’ could not be identified in the studied inscriptions but the letter ‘ඉ’ although least used can be found in 8 places in the Nilagama inscription. The ‘උ’ of the Madagama Viharaya inscription contains an opening from the right with a line drawn from the top of an angle to left (Paranavitane 1943:142-143), this is found to be more circular in the Baros Mandapa Vaharala inscriptions (ibid:137-144). The base line of the letter ‘එ’  in the Kudarathmale inscription curves inwards a bit in the center with the ends vining outwards (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37) and in the inscriptions of the Baros Mandapa, the right side line rises up with an incline to the left with the semi-circle turned to the right (Paranavitana 1943:137-144). Also the letter ‘ඔ’ could be identified in the Vessagiriya inscription (Paranavitana 1943:128-139).

The letter ‘ක’ found during this period differs from earlier periods by having a vertical line with its bottom end curved to the left and a horizontal line from the center with its two ends curving downwards (Gunersekara 1996:89). The ‘ක’ symbols in the inscriptions of Uttimaduwa (Karunarathne 1984:117) and Madagama Viharaya  (Dias 1991:43) are beautifully designed (Gunesekara 1996:40) where the horizontal line having its ends curving downwards as before but having a small circle above the center of the horizontal line. From the Kudarathmale inscription the letter ‘ඛ’ is found in the shape of a hook (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37). Further circular shaped ‘ග’ letters could be found. The letter ‘ග’ which takes the form of a horseshoe in the Ridi Vihara inscriptions (Dias 1991:43) contain an inwards curve from the left (Gunesekara 1996:89).

A letter ‘ච’ not found before could be seen in the Ridi Vihara inscription (Gunewardane 1996:92) where two lines joining the horizontal line divide with the left line curving and another line across the right line (ibid). This could be seen in the Baros Mandapa and Vessagiriya inscriptions as well but the Kudarathmale inscription does not contain lines running across (ibid). The head of the letter ‘ඩ’ of the Madagama inscription is in the shape of a large hook. The letter ‘ණ’ could be seen in the Vessagiriya inscription but also a more beautified form could be found in the Kudarathmale inscription.

Kudarathmale inscription

The letter ‘ත’ could be found in two forms in the Kudarathmale inscription. The letter ‘ද’ of the Sangamu Vihara inscription contains a small horizontal line attached to one end of the larger semi-circle (Dias 1991:82). A number of variations of this letter could be found during this time. The letter ‘ද’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a smaller semi-circle curving towards the left at the bottom of the larger semicircle, it could be seen as forerunner to the present letter ‘ද’ (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:166). No noticeable difference could be seen in the letter ‘න’ with the older periods (Gunersekara 1996:99). The Kudarathmale inscription contains a somewhat developed ‘න’ but the ‘න’ of the Madagama inscription is closer to the modern letter.

Circular ‘ප’ letters with a small horizontal line joined to the left line of the figure could be found in Vaharala inscriptions as well as other contemporary inscriptions (Lankage 1996:56). Not much of a difference could be seen in the letter ‘බ’. The letter ‘ම’ could be found as angled shaped figures as well as free-shaped figures. The ‘ම’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a horizontal dash at the top.

The letter ‘ය’ of the Kudarathmale inscription could be found as a figure with two attached semi-circles with a vertical line running up from the center with a dash on it (Gunersekara 1996:103). Also the letter ‘ය’ with the shape of the contemporary ‘ප’ could be seen from the inscriptions of Baros Mandapaya. No difference could be seen in the letter ‘ර’ when compared to the same letter of earlier periods. The ‘ර’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions is just a vertical line but a small circle could be seen on the top of this line in the Uttimaduwa inscription. The stages of the development of the ‘ල’ could be seen from the inscriptions at Baros Mandapaya, Kudarathmale and Ridi Viharaya (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:176 & Gunersekara 1996:105). The letter ‘ව’ is a special figure found only in the Uttimaduwa inscription and Kandakaadu inscription.

The letters ‘ෂ & ශ’ are not found in any Vaharala inscription and a much more developed ‘ස’ could be found in the Ridi Viharaya Vaharala inscription when compared to other contemporary inscriptions (Gunersekara 1996:106). Very similar figures to the modern letter ‘හ’ could be found in the inscriptions of Ridi Viharaya, Vessagiriya and Madegama. In the bottom semi-circle of the letter ‘ළ’ in the Ridi Viharaya inscription a dot could be found at the end. In the Kudarathmale inscription the letters ‘ක්ඛ’ are found as one figure.

A large quantity of such letters could be found in these inscriptions and also instances where the sizes of the letters vary from one another within the same inscription. Further there are evidences of two or more inscriptions found on the same rock surface.

Language features

From the beginning to the 3rd centuryAD, most inscriptions contained Prakrit features but they seem to be lax later on (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). Most features unique to the Sinhala language could be specially observed from the period of the Vaharala inscriptions thus making this period an important phase in the development of the history of the Sinhala language (Gunersekara 1996:106). During the Prakrit period the long vowels became shorter and also the isolation of consonants could be seen. This is believed to be a characteristic of only written form (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27) but it is also believed that these features were included in the spoken form during this period (Gunersekara 1996:106). Words deriving from original Sanskrit could be seen especially words synonymous with common or solitary meanings of Vaharala or other forms known as “Kahavana” (කහවණ). In the development of sounds the transformation from hard to soft sounds could be seen (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27).


පාචීන > පජින

සංවච්ච්ර > හවජර

අහය > අපය

පධානඝර >පතනගල

The use of “ව” instead of “ප” could be seen –

කහාපණ > කහවණ

Paranavitana states that the meaning of the word Vaharala derives from the Sanskrit word “Vruhshala” (වෘෂල) (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:35). According to him it derives as “වෘෂල < වරෂල < වරසල < වරල. D. J. Wijerathna believes that it is from the Sanskrit word ‘විසාරල’ with a ‘ලී’ sound. ‘Vaharala (වහර ල)’ is the union of  ‘Vahara (වහර)’ and ‘La (ල)’ to form a compound states Sirimal Ranawella and that ‘Vahara (වහර)’ is ‘Vihara (විහාර)’ and the ‘ල’ meaning ‘Lahe (ලහ)’ or ‘Salaka (සලාක)’ (Ranawala 2008:34). Bandusena Gunersekara’s views goes similar to that of Chandajothi Thera’s were the words ‘Ala (ආල)’ , ‘Alaya (ආලය)’ means  ‘Ghruha (ගෘහ)’,  ‘Mandira (මන්දිර)’ and also ‘Vihari (විහාරි)’ meaning occupation  (වාසය කරන) and through that ‘විහාරි’ and ‘ආල’ becomes ‘Viharila (විහරිල)’ (Priyanka 2014:11). Malini Dias points out that the historical meaning for the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’ is “චිද් ධාතුවෙන් උපන්”.

In the early Brahmi period instead of the verb, participles were used (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). In the Vaharala inscriptions this changes and the verb takes more form (Paranavitane 1943:132-133). ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’  is a causative verb . ‘Veyawaya (වෙයවය)’ goes as an Acclamation verb (ආශිර්වාද ක්‍රියාව). In the first person tense in order to give the word “වෙමි”, they have added ‘මී’ to names of persons.

In the Vaharala inscriptions one could find many alternative words for one word such as the word ‘වහරල’ is found as Viharala (විහරල), Vaherila (වහෙරිල), Viharila  (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහරලය) and the word Chidavi (චිද්වී) as Chadawala (චදවල), Vadewala (චදෙවල), and Sidavi (සිදවී). Therefore when investigating the language features of the Vaharala inscriptions as a whole it could be found that the language was changing with an uncertainty in the formation of words (Amarawansha Thera 1969:28).

Formal features

The cave inscriptions written from the 3rd century BC appears to have died out, as between the 1st to the 2nd centuries AD longer inscriptions with greater details are found. The formations of the Vaharala inscriptions when compared to other contemporary inscriptions differ in formations.

Dr. Malini Dias

It has been observed that quite often Vaharala inscriptions are found in places where the foot touches the ground such as on a Sandakadapahana (Moonstone) or a flight of steps. In comparison with other rock inscriptions, a special feature of the Vaharala inscriptions is that the surface of the rock has not been specifically prepared for the inscription. The sentences either overlap each other or are quite close to each other and vary in size. At times these deviate from standard grammar and are mostly found in temple complexes. These are some of the special features identified when studying these inscriptions.

Therefore it is believed that these were inscribed for the needs of a specific group of people as most of these inscriptions are made of incomplete sentences. There is no evidence to show that these could have been the works of people still studying letters. Some inscriptions only contain a clause, thereby there could be times when someone could consider it a section of an inscription.

Socio-archaeological details found in Vaharala inscriptions

When studying these inscriptions, common features could be identified such as 1. the donor’s name, 2. donor’s village, 3. his positions or occupation, 4. the work, 5. the quantity of the donation, and 6. and rejoicing.

Names of People

Here two types of names could be seen, which are those of the names of Kings and royalty and those of the common people which includes regional and cast leaders and common people. There are many instances where in one Vaharala inscription, several names could be seen, for example on the No. 4 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya, three names;  Sahasawarala, Dalameya, and Sakanakana Wesaminiya are found (Paranavitane 1943:128-139).

In most of these inscriptions the names of children, spouse, siblings and relatives are mentioned and it seems that these names were not common names used in rock inscriptions but those of use by the common people in the society because a name found in one inscription would not be found in another. Apart from the Vaharala inscriptions, names found in other contemporary inscriptions too are hard to identify. From whatever the identifiable names, it is hard to distinguish as to if they are male or female and their ancestry.

Names of places

In studying Vaharala inscriptions it is possible to identify place names, village names and names of Temples. For example in No. 1 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya the village name of Lathakathala and the temple Boya Upulwan Kassapagiri Viharaya could be identified (Paranavitane 1943:128-139).  In certain inscriptions names of forests too could be found (Dias 137-141). A Vaharala inscription in Paaluhungamuwa mentions Uththara Deshaya (උත්තර දේශය) (Dias 1991:87). At certain times both the name of the area and the temple could be found separately on the same inscription. The place names identified in these inscriptions are hard to trace in the present. There are times where a said name of a temple in a Vaharala inscription is found in other rock inscriptions of the same era, likewise it should also be studied in respect of place names by searching other inscriptions.


When studying the context of Vaharala inscriptions it suggests that these were written by people not of high class. The majority of the occupations are from tile makers (උළු වඩුවන්) , identified by the words ‘ඔලුවඩු’, and ‘උලුවඩු’. Apart from them other occupations such as traders, carpenters, ministers and lords of the King, teachers could be found but most individuals do not mention their occupations, therefore they are thought to be local village people.

The Clergy

Most of the Vaharala inscriptions are found in temple premises and therefore frequently mentions the names of temples. Hence it is believed that the people of the inscriptions were people who rendered a service to the temples. When looking at temple names, the Kudarathmale inscription which states ‘පුවිජයි සිධට’ means ‘පැවිදි සිධාර්ථය’ (Paranavitane 1955:30-34). Although the Kumbukkanda inscription mentions a Monk, the name of the Monk could not be identified (Dias 1991:186).

The society as seen from the Vaharala inscriptions

The idea for writing the Vaharala type of inscriptions is still unknown. It is believed that these would have been written by a certain group of people in the society for a specific need. Most of the Vaharala inscriptions found in Sri Lanka are centered on a temple hence the majority of them speak about a temple. Therefore the people mentioned in the inscriptions could have been people who performed a certain service to the said temples. Such people who performed services to temples did exist as stated by other rock inscriptions and other literary sources. As Paranavitane states that the idea of Vaharala being slavery, it would actually mean slavery not as in the common social phenomenon but as a specific group of people in the society whose occupation was only to serve the temples.

In order to clarify this, one needs to look into the governing and organization of temples between the 5th to 7th centuries AD. When investigating contemporary temple organization, the functioning of an Aramaya or a Monastery was done completely by the Monks (Rahula Thera 1999:143). Just as there were laws for Monks, Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) and temple lands of a Monastery, there too were laws on the servants (දාසයන්) of an Monastery. And the servants and slaves attached to the temples were collectively known as Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:98). Therefore in order to maintain the large Vihara complexes it is believed that servants or slaves existed but they were not like the slaves of ancient Greece who had no personal freedom (Amarawansha Thera 1996:39). All people who served the temple were known as Aramika (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:99). Some of these people were given for the maintenance of the temple by Kings and other royal officials and facilities for their sustenance (ibid 100).

An interesting method regarding the income of the Aramayas or Monasteries was the donation of money which helped in the sustenance of the servants (දාසයන්) and also for the relieving of their services (Rahula Thera 1999:151). For what reasons they took servants as part of the Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්)  is unknown but evidence could be found on the notion that the word Vaharala is slavery as stated by Paranavitane. When searching more on the slavery in temples, although the Monks have preached against the use of helpers, with the expansion of the priestly community and the villages attached to each temple; they might have taken their services for the Monasteries. Although it is believed that Vaharala does not mean slavery, it is known that the temples used servants (Gunewardane 1993:123). It is recorded that King Silameghawarna gifted prisoners of war to temples (Sumangala Thera Devarakshitha 1996:44:51) and also Kings Aggabodhi IV, Pothakuttah, and Sena I have gifted servants or slaves to the various religious institutions founded by them. Therefore when observing the contemporary society of the Vaharala inscriptions from this historical perspective; a system of slavery or servants could be seen in the temple complexes. Hence it can be assumed according to Paranavitane that there was no profession or occupation called a slave among the people.

Regarding the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී) Paranavitane believes it means ‘Midaveeya (මිදවීය)’ or ‘being released’ (Paranavitane 1955:35-65). Presenting monetary gifts for the maintenance of the Monastery was believed to be a meritorious deed but releasing a person out of slavery or out of servant hood was believed to be an even more meritorious deed (Rahula Thera 1999:53). There is evidence to show that several people could come together and release one person from slavery or servant hood and also a person’s wife and children too could be released. In such instances the monetary amount paid was around 100 Kahawanu but situations where the value is more or less than 100 too have been identified. Therefore it could be assumed that the words ‘චිදවී වහරල’ means any form of activities or actions around the use of slaves or servants in the temple complexes.

When observing the content and structure of the Vaharala inscriptions, features of the society between the 5th to the 7th centuries could be studied. As most studied Vaharala inscriptions are found on stairways and Sadakadapahan (Moonstones) it could be thought that these belonged to a people of a low grade in the society. Also when comparing these Vaharala inscriptions with other rock inscriptions, the structure of the Vaharala inscriptions are found to be incomplete and with other rock inscriptions, a pre-surface preparation could be seen but in the Vaharala inscriptions, no such preparations could be found. Also the sharp distinction between Vaharala inscriptions and other inscriptions of a supposed higher class of people could be taken as a sign of respect to them. Based on the writing styles such as the grammar, variations in letters, and the use of different forms of the same word; it can be argued that these were done by people with a less education. All the Vaharala inscriptions found throughout the island contain the same writing style hence it could be seen that that specialization was present in the society concerning these type of social actions.

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