Exploration

Kotte Heritage 1: The Tunnels

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator, archaeology.lk

Chryshane Mendis

Introduction

This series ‘Kotte Heritage’ would explore the archaeological and heritage sites of the Kotte Kingdom. Kotte, before becoming the Capital in the 15th century was first developed as a fortress in the late 14th century by Nissanka Alakesvara to serve as a base for his attacks on the Arya Cakravarti of Jaffna. In 1415 with the ascension of Parakramabahu VI as King, Kotte was selected as the Capital due to its superb fortifications and expanded into a beautiful city with further fortifications. Kotte served as the Capital of the kingdom till 1565 when the Portuguese who were defending the Kingdom on behalf of King Dharmapala decided to relocate the city to Colombo due to the continuous attacks from the Seethavaka Kingdom under Rajasinghe I. It is stated that they demolished all the buildings and used the material to expand Colombo.

What remains of the city at present and commonly known are the Veherakanda ruins, Alakesvara’s palace, some ruins at Parakumba Pirivena, the tunnel at Ananda Sastralaya, the Inner and outer moats and sections of the rampart. There are traces of other ruins within Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte which belong to the fortress but which are not quite known and not conserved. This series will explore all known and unknown historic sites and the legends surrounding them.

The Inner-city and Outer-city

In order to get a proper understanding of the purpose of the tunnel systems it is important to know the city limits. As stated above the city of Kotte developed as a fortress and grew into a fortified city. The historic development of the fortifications of the city of Kotte could be seen in two stages, the first stage by Nissanka Alakeshvara and the second by King Parakramabahu VI. Throughout these two stages of development, various defense systems were constructed such as ramparts, bastions, moats, and various others (this series would explore each of these features in the future). During this development stage a network of tunnels was constructed for the security of the fort.

The fortified city was divided into two sections, as the inner-city and the outer-city, this is still known at present as Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte; and access to the city was through 7 passes with the only land pass being at Pita Kotte which was about 200 feet wide and was heavily fortified by Alakeshvara and later by the Portuguese as well.

The ancient fortress of Kotte (map taken from Kotte: The Fortress)

The area of the inner-city at present comprises of the land, from the north at the entrance to Ethul Kotte road from Parliament road to the south near the Salvation Army church on Ethul Kotte road and from the east, from Nippon Avenue to the area bordering the Kolonnawa Canal in the west. The inner-city gate was found in the area where the Salvation Army Church is, which is less than 100m to the south from the Kotte Archaeological Museum. The area of the outer-city comprises the area between the inner-city gate up to the Sirikotha which is about 80m before the Pita Kotte junction. This was the main land pass to the city. With this context, we could now look into the tunnel network with a clearer mind of the surroundings.

Red are the ramparts of the Kotte fortress

The Inner-City tunnel

Tunnels are an important feature of a fortification which serves as an escape for the occupants under a siege and also to attack the enemy by surprise. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with such a tunnel system. The fortified city of Kotte was equipped with two tunnel systems, one for the inner city and outer city.

The inner city tunnel was said to have been built by King Parakramabahu VI. It functioned as an escape route with its entrance inside the city and exit leading to the lake where people could easily take boats to the other side. It is rumored that the entrance to the tunnel was through a well inside the city. The exit of this tunnel network was to be found until recently in the premises of the Christian Mission College down Mission road now known as Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya.

Yellow shows the supposed path of the inner-city tunnel. Brown shows the southern ramparts of the fortress

The writer on the 4th February 2017 visited the College premises with Mr. Saliya De Silva, Council member of the Kotte Heritage Foundation, a resident of Kotte and old boy of the College. Mr. De Silva knew the location of the exit of the tunnel which was accessible during his school days. Walking towards the Primary section of the school near the lake which was a considerable drop in elevation, he pointed towards a stone wall and explained that the exit was found here. He states that the opening was about 5 feet in diameter and ran several meters inwards. This was visible in the 1960s during their school days but was subsequently sealed off as it posed a danger to students who might venture in. Judging from the surroundings, it was an ideal place for an exit of a tunnel as the terrain formed a ditch-like feature giving cover to the escapees. And its close proximity to the lake about 20 feet from the opening was ideal for an escape over the lake as the surrounding higher elevation and trees would made it hard to escapees to be seen.

Red circle marks the location of the exit of the tunnel, now covered by a wall

The edge of the Diyawanna Oya

Red circle marks the exit of the tunnel and Blue arrow shows the route to the lake

Climbing the higher ground and heading towards the school Mr. De Silva pointed to a location and explained that there used to be a Tennis Court during his school days were in the corner a certain section of the tunnel was revealed. This has been mentioned in the Administrative Report for 1968-70 of the Department of Archaeology. As at present, no visible location of the Inner-city tunnel exists.

Apart from this, there are few sites within the school of notable historic significance.

The Lambrick Hall

This massive Hall was constructed in 1822 by the Rev. Samuel Lambrick when he established the ‘Cotta-Institute’ providing Christian missionary education by the Church Missionary Society. In time this came to be known as the Christian Missionary College and now Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya. This is perhaps the oldest School in Sri Lanka still in existence. This hall is built of typical Bristish-Ceylonese style architecture with massive columns and corridors and characterised by a large single roof. The roof has been renovated in recent times but the columns and the wooden doors and frames bears witness to the beautiful architecture of the 19th century. This is protected by the Department of Archaeology.

The ancient Na-tree (ironwood tree)

Adjoining the hall is an old Na tree said to be over 1000 years old. Legend states that the Ven. Sri Rahula wrote the Salelihini Sandesaya under this tree; no historical or archaeological evidence is found to support this claim but it is believed that this land in the which the present school is, was known as ‘Erabath-Tota’ during the recent past. It is also believed that during the days of Kotte kingdom it was the seat of ancient learning known as the Dharma Rajika Pirivena. Since a Buddhist temple can be situated 500 dunu (bow) lengths away from the inner-city according to the Vinaya pitaka, there can be some truth in this legend. [The distance to the school premises from the inner-city gate is about 500 metres.]

The ancient Na tree

Kota Vehera

Mr Douglas Ranasinghe has shown in his map a Kotavehera by the side of Mission Road existed during mid-20th century. Kotavehera type dagabas are presumed to be tombs build for important persons. It is possible that this was built at the place where one of the air inlets of the tunnel existed.

Present location of the Kotavehera

Monument to the Son of Veera Keppatipola

Legend states that the son of Veera Keppatipola after his execution in 1818 was taken under British Missionaries and educated at this school where he lived in the hostel and had died due to a fever and was cremated within the school premises. In recent times a monument has been built to mark the spot where he is rumoured to have been cremated. This is right next to the old Na tree. There are no written records to prove this stated Mr. De Silva.

The writer would wish to thank the Principal Mr. D. A. D. Vanaguru for granting permission to document the historic sites within the school and is happy to note that he is keen in preserving these ancient monuments; and also to Mr. Saliya De Silva for the guided explanation of the monuments.

The Outer City Tunnels

There were two tunnels leading from the outer-city built by Alakeshvara for defensive purposes. One being a small tunnel only sufficient for people to walk through and the other tunnel is said to be large enough for a horse to ride. Both these tunnels appears to have started in the outer-city behind the outer moat and fortifications and opened up at a tunnel junction in Pita Kotte with the small tunnel leading further south and opening at the ditch passed the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya.

The smaller tunnel which had two sections began from the west of the main land pass and the first section opening up at the tunnel junction and the second section opening up further south. The Portuguese historian De Couto mentions an incident where during one of the sieges of Kotte by Rajasinghe of Seethawaka, that a Portuguese foraging expedition had discovered the forces of Rajasinghe hiding in the jungles outside the land pass and had used a tunnel to attack the rear of Rajasinghe’s army which caused much damage due to the surprised attack. This shows that the small tunnel was in existence during the times of the Portuguese. The larger tunnel is said to have begun from the eastern corner of the outer rampart and opened up at the tunnel junction.

The Tunnel Junction

Interestingly this tunnel junction could still be found in the premises of the Kotte Ananda Sastralaya and is one of the most unique archaeological remains of Kotte. The Kotte Ananda Sastralaya is one of the most prominent schools in Kotte and could be arrived at by taking the small road to the left of the Gal Ambalama in Pita Kotte junction. The ruins are found within the school premises.

Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka

Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka

There are two large structures which are cut out of living cabook rock or laterite and what is most interesting is that these are found below the ground level. Once entered from the main gate of the school one could find to the right an area demarcated by a fence and within that gaze in amazement at the two massive structures in the ground. The entire area is about 10×5 meters and about 2 meters below the ground level. There are about 12 steps to get to the base level. The first structure is cut in the shape of a stupa and the second is a tall rectangular shaped structure with a decorated entrance portico extending outwards. The entrance portico is carved with a Makara Thorana and one could enter from here and exit from another opening in the rear. No tunnel could be found at present inside the structure which is a circular cavity with a pillar in the centre for support and one could barely stand inside. This structure is decorated right round with impressions of pillars and other designs.

Entrance to the chamber in the second structure. Note the Makara Thorana on the entrance portico.

The archaeological reports date this site to the 16th century and state that the crown of the Sinhala Kings was believed to have been engraved on top of the entrance portico. This site was known to exist well into the 20th century as it and archaeological reports of 2011 states that this was covered by mud, exposing only a small section. Proper excavations were conducted in 2014 which revealed the real magnitude of this site. Although the excavations conducted here revealed no tunnel, a scan using Ground Penetrating Radar had revealed anomalies in the earth which could be the tunnel. Although no archaeological evidence can be found to prove this as the tunnel junction, its location being below the ground level and surrounded by trees makes it an ideal tunnel exit which would have given perfect cover for escapees.

Red circles show the proberbal outer-city tunnel entrances and exits. Yellow shows the path of the outer-city tunnel with the Red square the tunnel junction

The exit of the smaller tunnel is said to be through a ditch south of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya but no visible location is found today.

References

  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
  • De Silva, L.M.V., ‘We are Many Centuries Old’, Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya 168th Anniversary Celebration, 1990.
  • කෝට්ටේ නියාමක සැලසුම් ව්‍යාපෘතිය, නියමු සැලසුම් ඒකකය, පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, 2010.
  • කෝට්ටේ කෞතුකගාර අලුත්වැඩියාව 2010, අවිචිඡ්ද වැඩ, බස්නාහිර පළාත පුරාවිද්‍යා අංශය, 2011.

 

The next article would explore the ramparts and moats of the fort…

Holocene hunter-gatherer/foragers in action

A recent archaeological survey carried out in the mountainous landscape of the area around Illukkumbura in Balangoda of the intermediate climatic zone in Sri Lanka has revealed information pertaining to the interaction held with the surrounding environment by the Holocene hunter-gatherer/foragers. An area of approximately 15 acres of the summit of an elevated height of 550m msl. has a surface scattering of stone implements (quartz and chert), stone pebbles used as hammers cum pestles.

 

Panoramic view of the site explored

A large number of pitted-hammers reported suggest that a fairly long period of residential camping held at the location probably during the summer seasons. The assemblage of stone implements collected consists of specimens of flake technology which is comparable with the similar implements excavated from the prehistoric cave occupation in the area such as Lunugalge, Paragamadittagalge and Alugalge. The prehistoric occupations of all those caves are chronologically ascribed to the period between 4500 and 3450 cal. BCE showing the mid/late Holocene human existence.

Sampling is in progress

A magnificent artifact of a piece of a perforated quartz  flake, probably used as a pendent recovered from the surface of the explored location provides us an explicit example to their inclination towards symbolic expression. The panoramic view of the adjoining landscape may have been functioned as one of the stimulants to enhance the emotions of the sensitive personalities of those communities while push them into such a sentimental terrain.

Perforated quartz flake recovered from the site

Study of Holocene hunter-gatherers in Sri Lanka : towards a regional model

The archaeological project titled ‘Hunters in Transition’ initiated in the year 2009 focuses the Holocene adaptations of the prehistoric hunter-gatherers occupied in the deep mountainous hinterland in Sri Lanka. Three separate climatic regions i.e.  wet, intermediate and dry zone which are geographically adjacent to each other have been archaeologically investigated through a series of reconnaissance surveys and excavations.

A view of the Vavullena cave which is a large prehistoric occupation in Illukkumbura of Balangoda

Floral and faunal distribution in the sampled area were mapped against the dispersal of prehistoric sites. Six Spatio-temporal caves situated in the region; the elevation ranging between 900 and 300m msl. fall into the period between 9000 -3500 cal. BCE were probed to establish a spatio-temporal framework to the Holocene cultural development. All of the caves investigated are situated not very far from each other; the maximum distance does not exceed 20km.

Approaching the Vavullena cave in Paragahamaditta

Identification of a natural formation of a quartz deposit which had been extensively exploited for lithic manufacture (as suggested by the artifacts excavated)  suggests as one of the key attractors of the colonization of its surrounding landscape. 25 varieties of wild grass seeds, nuts together with an extensive index of small animals hunted suggest that the Holocene hunters-gatherers had shown a marked resilience to the new climatic regime. Some of the symbolic artifacts excavated evidenced the fresh approach of them seeing themselves and their external world.

A symbolic object (probably a female genital)

Three inscriptions discovered in Delft Island

The marine archaeologists from the Maritime Archaeology Unit (MAU) of Central Cultural Fund (CCF) established in Galle in their archaeological explorations carried out in Delft Island in the North of Sri Lanka in August this year have discovered three inscriptions that have not been hither to revealed.

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Brahmi script

Brahmi script

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Tamil Inscription 01

Tamil Inscription 01

 

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Tamil Inscription 02

Tamil Inscription 02

It has been observed that many archaeological ruins and artifacts could be seen scattered all over the island. Among them are remains of three ancient stupas of different sizes. The three inscriptions could be seen among the paved stones around the biggest of the three stupas which has a diameter of 13.54 meters and circumference of 31.93 meters.

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Small Degaba

Small Degaba

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Large Degaba

Large Degaba

 

Two of the three inscriptions are in Tamil script and the other is in Brahmi script. According to scientific data of the scripts the two Tamil inscriptions belong to the 14 – 15 centuries while the inscription having Brahmi script would date back to the 1st or 2nd century say calligraphists. According to the portion of the inscription that is legible the old Brahmi inscription had been written in Sinhalese prakrit language says Lecturer of calligraphy and epigraph at Rajarata University Chandima Ambanwala.

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Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit - Research Team

Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit – Research Team

 

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Chandima Ambanwala

Chandima Ambanwala

 

The discovery is an important revelation among the discoveries in the archaeological sector carried out in recent times and further studies are ongoing regarding the script found in the inscriptions.

Note and Photographs are by Mahinda Karunarathan

Mahinda Karunarathna and Chandima Ambanwala are co-founders of archaeology.lk[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Archaeology Demonstrations: Let’s meet people who lived in Udawalawe basin 3500 years ago!

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Sri Lankan archaeologists have shown that inhabitation of people in Sri Lanka could be dated back to 1.6 million years. Dedication exercised by our archaeologists to unwrap the proud past of the ancient people in Sri Lanka is immense. It is with pride that archaeology.lk share with you the essence of this experience

Until now only professional archaeologists have been the only shareholders in this venture to explore the ancient man in Sri Lanka that, in fact, should receive contributions from all. It is with great pleasure that we announce that an opportunity has been created now for you to experience the journey

exploring for the ancient man in Sri Lanka.

We would like to share with you the fascination of

the Haldummulla archaeological exploration that commences in August, 2011 and also experience the rare opportunity of partaking in an excavation of an ancient cemetery at Haldummulla which would reveal the life pattern of those ancient people

Conducted by

Prof. Raj Somadewa

Raj Somadewa PhD
Professor discount viagra of Archaeology
Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, Sri Lanka

The period excavations could be experienced is
14 days in August, 2011.

Explorations could be experienced on
4 days in September, 2011.

(Only a limited number would be considered for excavation and exploration projects)

For more information call
Anuradha – 0777428282
Mahinda –  0726069526
info@archaeology.lk

Note: More details will be published in this website by August 2 , 2011

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