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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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Kotte Heritage 4: Veherakanda

By Chryshane Mendis

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

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

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

The excavations of 1949

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

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

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

 

Getting there

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

Description of the ruins

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

References:

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

By Chryshane Mendis

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

Location

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

 

Village background

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

Description of the ruins

The visible ruined stupa

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

The small cave with the paintings

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

The team with the villagers.
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An Archaeological Study on the Kaduruwela Fortress

By Priyantha Susil Kumara Marasinghe

Senior Archaeological Officer

Central Cultural Fund

Translated by Chryshane Mendis

Research Objective

The main objective was to create a scale drawing of the architectural feature identified from Satellite images using the data taken from a field survey of the area. The secondary objective being the proper identification of the site using the archaeological evidence from the excavations.

Research Methodology

Location

This fort is situated in the Grama Niladari Divisions of Veerapedesa and 4th Ela of the Thamankaduwa Divisional Secretariat of the Polonnaruwa District of the North Central Province. The GPS coordinates of the fort’s four corners are as follows; south east corner N7 55.068 E81 01.613, south west corner N7 55.068 E81 01.122, north west corner N7 55.491 E81 01.114, north east corner N7 55.491 E81 01.611.

The boundaries of the fortress are thus; from the north, the Sacred City of Polonnaruwa, from the east, the present Kaduruwela town, from the west, the present Polonnaruwa new town, and from the south, the Aluth veva.

 

 

The Area of the fort

The fortress can be divided into two sections, the main section is a large quadrangle and the other sections are rectangular gateways on the four sides. The length of the southern rampart based on visible and topographic features is approximately 870 meters; with the eastern and western moats, the length of the entire southern section would be 963 meters. The western rampart from north to south is approximately 840 meters and with the northern and southern moats is 922 meters. The outer moat of the south along with residential area is 190 meters wide. In total the entire area covered by the fort is approximately 1,108,032 square meters; 43,813 perches; 273 acres; 110 hectares; and 1.10 square kilometers. In total this fort is spread over a square kilometre of area. The northern gate including the moat is 336 meters in length by 200 meters in width.

The southern side of the fortress appears to have been strongly built indicating the main perception for its construction, mainly targeting the approach path of the enemy which would have been from the south, thus strengthening that particular side. The moat beyond the southern rampart is 42 meters wide and beyond that is a stretch of land 160 meters in width. South of that is another moat 30 meters in width. It is believed that the area beyond the second moat was covered by a lake or a marshland. The 160 meters wide stretch between the two moats is believed to have been a security zone as well as a forward defence zone. This area can be identified as a housing scheme as evident from the pottery pieces, hence it is thought to be the living quarters of the soldiers. The southern gateway appears to have been placed towards the eastern end. Accordingly, the main access route would have been spread on a high ground towards the south where the Mahaweli River and Amban River meet as evidence has shown. When considering the area of the fort, it is equal to the area of the inner city of Anuradhapura but is six times larger than the inner city of Polonnaruwa.

The Rampart

From the main entrance of the Seed production farm, the internal road network that going south and west run on a mound of higher elevation which is the rampart of the fortress. The rampart at its shortest width is 14 meters but can reach to 16 meters at certain places. As an average, it could be taken as 15 meters in width. Due to erosion and harvesting of the fields, noticeable changes could be observed. From Seed production farm office 410 meters of the eastern rampart and 430 meters of the southern rampart function as access roads for the fields.

It was observed that earth has been used in the construction of the ramparts, and the lowest levels of earth appear to have been compressed. The external layers appear to have been made of a mix of crushed stone and earth; this could be the layer dug out during the construction of the moat. The methods used to create these ramparts can be observed from the center section of the south rampart and from certain sections of the north rampart. On the eastern corner of the northern rampart the remaining part is clearly observable. For this, broken long rectangular stones have been used with the earth. The stones found measured 70cm x 15cm x 10 cm. The northern rampart is about 4 meters from the level of the moat (at present from the layer of the paddy fields). The walkway which is 8 meters between the moat and the rampart could clearly be seen. Most likely on top of the earth bund wooden stakes would have been placed forming into watch towers which would have made up the rampart. According to Arthrashasthraya the height of the ramparts should be 36 feet.

The Gates

The main entrance to the fort was situated to the north. The width of the gate is around 200 meters and length around 336 meters. The inner area of this gate comprised of a complex design. The moat surrounding this was connected to the moat surrounding the entire fort and further there were two moats within the center of the gate. West of the gate is a stretch of land 125 meters wide and the moat beyond that running north to south is 20 meters. Another section of land 35 meters wide is surrounded by an inner moat. Built in a way that the moat can be observed from the higher ground, the gateway when approaching from the north from the lake could not be observed clearly due to disorientations created by the moat.

The other gateways are rectangular but not as the northern gate. The longer side of the rectangular gateway is placed along side the fortress. No ramparts can be seen around these, thus could have been surrounded by water or marshes. The eastern gateway can be identified with the area of the present Seed production farm office. Of this only a small area has been built up and the rest is under cultivation. According to vegetation features along the eastern gateway, the western gateway too could be identified; the southern gateway too could be identified through vegetation features and also within this area could be found the remains of a building with stone pillars.

An important feature in the fort is that the gateways are not joined to the fort. The link between the quadrangle of the fort and the gateway is through the moat. It is believed that the link between the gate and the rampart could be easily broken during emergencies. Accordingly, there must have been a draw bridge. The guards would have constantly patrolled the ramparts and there would have been tall watch towers in the four corners of the fort to observe enemy movements from afar.

The moat of the fortress

Around the fort is a moat. The outer moat is 33 meters in width and the rampart was 2 meters above the moat. The moat was covered with water plants such as Lotuses. At the sections still surviving of the moat, the muddy soil suggests it would have been very deep.

At the remaining sections of the moat, paddy fields, banana and kohila plantations and even ponds for exotic fish could be seen at present. The moat between the main fort and the northern and southern gateways is 42 meters wide. From the southern moat, 160 meters from here can be found a second moat 30 meters wide. This goes westwards and then turns northwards. In the area belonging to the Seed production farm this could still be seen.

The internal structure of the fort

Evidence as to how the internal fort was structured is meager. Half of it has been cultivated by fields and the rest has been built up. However, based on the excavations carried out in 2010, a simple idea can be arrived at as to how this was structured. For the excavation, an area in the paddy fields belonging to the Seed production farm and 100 meters to the center from the southern and western ramparts was selected. This area due to the continuous cultivation had exposed the mound; it was decided to excavate the area where there were lots of bricks and tile pieces which was not cultivatable.

This area was 33 x 10 meters and from the buildings that were exposed, it was clear that the internal buildings were situated according to the four directions. This shows that the internal buildings and streets would have been placed according to a well laid out plan. The excavations revealed an inner courtyard (mada midula) and external bathing area of a house and based on other archaeological artefacts found there, it is believed to be the residence of a high ranking official of the fort.

Are there features of a fort?

When going through the features of the Kaduruwela fort, it is believed to have taken design from the features of fortresses in the ‘Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya’ (කෞටිල්‍යගේ අර්ථශාස්ත‍්‍රය). According to that a fort should be surrounded by three moats, but in the Kanduruwela fortress this has been done only on the southern side where enemy attacks were expected. On the south are two moats with the lake used as the third moat. These features were designed based on the topographic features of the land and not according to any particular design it is understood.

The method of designing a fortress is given in the Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya: “for the erecting of a fort, the most suitable natural position must be selected. If it is not surrounded by a river, it should be built on a higher elevation with low plains surrounding it”. Such features can be seen on the Kanduruwela fort as it is situated on a higher elevation. When turning to the western gateway, it could be seen that the surrounding area is on a considerably lower elevation. Spread throughout this low plains at present are paddy fields fed by the no. 4 canal of the Parakramasamudraya.

The fortified city should be constructed in a circular, square or rectangular form and surrounded by three moats states the Kautilyage Arthrashasthraya. Further the Arthrashasthraya states for the strengthening of the moat, the banks on either side must be made out of granite or bricks with the base made of granite and made in a way that the moat is supplied with water throughout the year along with a mechanism for removing the excess water; and filled in with Lotus flowers and Crocodiles. Above the moat a rampart should be built, the width of which should be twice the height. The base should be compressed upon using Elephants to strengthen it. Poisonous thorn plants should also be planted.

The present bund of the bund is 16.46 meter (54 feet) in width; hence the height would have been 8.23 meters (27 feet). But the Arthrashasthraya says the rampart should be built at a distance of 24 feet from the moat at a height of 36 feet. Accordingly when 24 feet is taken off the complete width, only 28 feet remain. That would be the width of the bund. Therefore the height of the rampart would be 14 feet. There would have been an open area on the rampart used as the walkway. This feature can be seen on the northern rampart where remains are found. The Mahawamsa description mentions an 18 cubits high gateway. This would be approximately 27 feet. Accordingly the width of the rampart should be 52 feet. That is same the same width as with the present bund.

The eastern and southern sides of the fort were completely protected by tanks. It can be thought that the area under water was up to the foot of the rampart. In 1948 a section of the old tank was restored under a new name called Aluth wawe. Accordingly to folk lore it is believed to be the Dana wawe built by Sulu Mugalan or Chula Moggalana (Mahawamsa chapter 41, verse 61). The reason the southern gateway was not placed in the center may be due to the fact that the water from the tank reached up to the southern rampart hence building it on the remaining space available towards the east. Due to these special features it can be clearly identified with the features of a fortress.

Ideas and opinions on Vijithapura.

The idea that the present area known as Vijithapura (Anuradhapura Yugaya, page 58) which is 20 miles south of Mihintale and a bit north of Kalawawe was the site of the ancient Vijithapura fortress has been put forward only by Prof. Sirimal Ranawalla. But the majority of scholars puts Vijithapura to a location in Polonnaruwa; amoung them are Prof. Senerat Paranavitana (University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Vol.I, chapter iii, page 154), Henry Parker (Ancient Ceylon, pp.237-9), Prof. Mangala Ilangasinghe (Lankadeepa, 28.05.2006, Rajakale uthuru muhude navika satan), and Dr. Panditha Kamburupitiye Vanarathana Thero. Taking into consideration the majority opinion, it could be said that Vijithapura was situated in Polonnaruwa, but they have not suggested any specific location. In 1982 Denis Fernando identified the present ruins through satellite imagery and proposed that this could be the Vijithapura fortress.

Several mentions of fortresses and auxiliary cities in Polonnaruwa can be found. Regarding the Vijithapura fortress, this was captured from King Elara by King Dutugamunu and the 25th chapter of the Mahawamsa gives a detailed description. Further, a fortress is mentioned during the reign of King Vijayabahu, where it mentions that the Cholars in fear barricaded the fortress gate and gave battle and that it took 1 ½ months for the forces of Vijayabahu to capture it (Mahawamsa chapter 58, verse 54). There is no further mention of the fort captured by Vijayabahu.

Later during the reign of King Gajabahu II a fully equipped fortress is mentioned; it is recorded that King Parakramabahu besieged this fortress and after a battle outside, the defeated King Gajabahu locked himself within his fortress and later when it was about to be stormed the emissaries of the city opened up the gates.

During the Polonnaruwa period there were many auxiliary cities close to the main city such as Rajaweshibuganga, Singhapura and amoung them Vijithapura too is mentioned in the chronicles. King Parakramabahu is said to have built a Vihara known as Veluwana in the auxiliary city known as Vijitha.

Conclusion

A satellite imagery survey was carried out in 2009 once again to positively identify this fortress. And accordingly, through the field survey of the area, features of a fortress were clearly identified. Therefore is this the Vijithapura fortress of Elara? The fortress of the Cholars which Vijayabahu conquered? The fortress of Gajabahu? Or is it the auxiliary city named Vijitha of Parakramabahu? No clear conclusion has been arrived at as yet.

One of the main problems is the lack of sufficient research conducted into the fort’s dating. During the excavations carried out in 2010, by examining the size of the bricks and technology of the interior buildings it was identified that these belonged to the early Anuradhapura period; the tiles and clay artefacts found too fit to this period and no evidence has been found thus far indicating its use during the Polonnaruwa period. Hence as no design features of the Polonnaruwa period were found, it could be said to belong to the early Anuradhapura period. Therefore the ideas put forward above on Vijithapura, its descriptions in the chronicles and based on the material evidence found, there is a high possibility of this being the Vijithapura fortress.

This excavation was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Manutunga.

Bibliography

  1. Mārasiṁha, em.pī.es.kē. 2010 kaduruvela balakoṭuva gavēṣaṇaya hā paryēṣaṇa kæṇīma, madhyama saṁskṛtika aramudala,polonnaruva vyāpṛtiya
  2. Laṁkā viśvavidyālayē laṁkā itihāsaya i kāṇḍaya iii pari. duṭugæmuṇu rajugē jayagrahaṇaya, senarat paraṇavitāna 1964 vidyālaṁkāra mudraṇālaya
  3. Mhala Dīpavaṁśaya ,1997 candradāsa kahandava āracci es goḍagē
  4. vaṁsatathappakāsinī mahāvaṁsa ṭīkāva, 1994, siṁhala anuvādayatha akuraṭiyē amaravaṁsa nāhimi, hēmacandra disānāyaka. pāli hā bauddha adhyayana paścāt upādhi āyatanaya vidyālaṁkāra mudraṇālaya
  5. Parker,H. Ancient Ceylon,
  6. Mahāvaṁsaya I, II, 1996 śrī sumaṁgala himi, hikkaḍuvē, baṭuvantuḍāvē, dēvarakkhita, dīpānī prakāśakana, koḷam̆ba

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gates of Kandy: An Archaeo-historical Perspective of Balana

By Chryshane Mendis

Introduction and geographical position

The Balana pass, the key to the Kandyan Kingdom was a pass on the southern edge of the Alagalla Mountain range from which ran the old Colombo Kandy road giving access to the mountain kingdom. This was the most important pass in the Kingdom with the other being at Galagedara, as the road coming from the lower plains climbs over a thousand feet in less than a mile over the pass to the plateau of the central highlands. The hill of Balana, being over 600m (GPS – N 7° 16.18116, E 80° 29.77146) above sea level, fell under the ancient administrative division of the Four Korale (Sathara Korale) in the Galboda pattuwa. Balana is mentioned in the Trisinhale Kadaim Potha as being the boundary line which separated the Four Korales from the Uda Rata, and the maintenance of this post fell onto the Dissave of the Four Korales. Today Balana falls under the Central Province and is the also the boundary line between the Sabaragamuwa and the Central Provinces. Balana was a key point in the old road to Kandy (From Colombo via Kotte and Kaduwela to Sitavaka, Ruwanwella, Arandara, Attapitiya, Ganetanna and over Balana to Gannoruwa) which many a foreigner had written about its difficult climb.

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Percival” skin=”primary”]”very difficult…narrow intricate paths…steep ascents and descents…extremely fatiguing”[/porto_blockquote]

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Macpherson” skin=”secondary”]”by far the most difficult track of a journey I ever saw, having to scale numerous almost perpendicular rocks”[/porto_blockquote]

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Mahony” skin=”tertiary”]”This mountain exceeds steepness and wilderness any as I have yet met within India”[/porto_blockquote]

Are some of the comments on the pass as mentioned by Major R. Raven-Hart in his work the Great Road. This toilsome climb up the pass was rewarded with the stunning view of the western horizon. Balana which means the Look-Out in Sinhala was thus used as a sentry point on the approach to Kandy and as a strategic position in defence from invasions. The position was fitted with a fort to check enemy advances, the remains of which can still be found on the summit. The path behind the Balana railway station is said to be old road which runs a steep 2.5km climb to the summit of the mountain and from there on runs relatively flat to the open plains towards Danture. The path now is well carpeted and has a considerable built up neighbourhood including a bus service from Kadugannawa; hence it is hard to imagine the toilsome climb one would have had to endure 300 years ago. The summit of Balana gives a commanding view of the surroundings and one truly needs to be there to experience its strategic importance which words can not describe.

[wpgmza id=”4″]
Balana Fort on Google Maps

Google Street View 360 image of Balana Fort

Historical background

As per a survey of the writer, the first mention of Balana in the Sinhalese sources is during the invasion of Kanda Uda Rata by King Rajasinghe I of Sitavaka in 1582. The Rajavaliya notes that King Karaliyadde Bandara, ruler of the hill country was defeated at Balana by King Rajasinghe followed by the subjugation of the entire Kanda Uda Rata under Sitavaka.

The next episode Balana appears is during the last days of the Sitavaka kingdom where Kandy frees itself from the former. The Sitavaka kingdom lost its control over Kanda Uda Rata in the early 1591/92 which the Portuguese soon capitalized by sending an expedition under Konappu Bandara to crown Don Philip or Yamasinghe Bandara as a vassal King in Kandy; but with the untimely death of Yamasinghe Bandara, Konappu Bandara takes control over the kingdom. In 1593 King Rajasinghe invaded the Four Korales in order to regain control of Kandy and sent his general Arritta Kivendu Perumal ahead of a large army to attack the hill country but was prevented from going beyond Balana as it was blocked by Konappu Bandara and the army of the hill country. Seeing this, Rajasinghe himself took command of the army and once again attacked the pass in which he met his Waterloo at the hands of Konappu Bandara; and within less than a year after the battle he died and along with him the Kingdom of Sitavaka as well, marking the beginning of the Kandyan Kingdom as the sole independent Sinhalese kingdom in the island.

In 1594 the Portuguese under Pedro Lopes de Souza launched an invasion of Kandy carrying the Princess Dona Catherina or Kusumasala Devi to be placed on the throne by removing the usurper Konappu Bandara but which ended at their defeat in Danture. This time, there seems to have been no opposition at Balana for the only major source on this expedition, Queyroz, states that apart from fortified stockades and felled trees which were easily overtaken, the Portuguese made a swift climb of this most perilous part of the expedition and adds the victory over Balana as one of the General’s achievements. Here Gaston Perera gives two theories as to why there was no resistance at Balana; one was, the presence of Done Catherina may have changed the minds of the Kandyans to fight or not a force bringing the last relict of their royal line (as Konappu Bandara was not the legitimate ruler), and two, that it would have been part of Konappu Bandara, now known as Vimaladharmasuriya’s overall strategy of drawing the invading force deep within his territory. In the end, it may seem so as after the occupation of the city, with the defection of the Lascorins after the murder of their leader Jayavira, the Portuguese made a retreat back to Colombo but were cut down in the fields of Danture.

The next episode with Balana comes 9 years later in 1603 when under the command of Dom Jeronimo de Azevedo the Portuguese once again attempted to conquer Kandy ending in the Formosa Retirada or the Great Retreat. In the years up to 1603 Vimaladharamasuriya had been buildings a series of fortifications along the passes to the central hills in anticipation for the impending invasion, amoung them was a strong stone fortress of Ganetanne at the foothills of Balana and for the first time, it is mentioned by Queyroz that Balana was fortified with a fort. On previous occasions, the pass in its natural form functioned as a fort and with numerous stockades at narrow gaps as defenses. But under the new defence plan of Vimaladharmasuriya, Balana was equipped with a strong stone fortress. Queyroz gives the following description of it:

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”Queyroz” skin=”quaternary”]“The new fortalice of Balana stood on a lofty hill upon a rock on its topmost peak; and it was more strong by position than by art, with four bastions and one single gate; and for its defence within and without there was an arrayal of 8,000 men with two lines of stockade which protected them with its raised ground, and a gate at the foot of the rock and below one of the bastions which commanded the ascent by a narrow, rugged, steep, and long path cut in the Hill”[/porto_blockquote]

It is recorded by Queyroz that the Portuguese took a month in ascending the pass indicating bitter and protracted fighting up the pass as suggested by Gaston Perera. Coming within range of the fort they set up a battery of three artillery pieces on the neighbouring mountain and poured a continuous fire for three days without any effect. Another attempt was made to come up the rear via an Elephant path some two miles from Balana but that too was found defended by the Sinhalese. No direct assault was seen possible due to the steep and rugged nature of the terrain. A Sinhalese appeared to the Portuguese and offered to show another footpath up the mountain which commanded the fort.  The Captain Major and 200 selected veterans attempted the climb and as Queyroz gives it “so steep and precipitous that if there had not been the thick rattan which served them as foot hold, it would have been impossible to ascend it, and if any one of them had given way, there was no help but to fall down headlong. They sent the whole night in its ascent” but upon reaching the fort they found it deserted except a few to cover the retreat. Vimaladharmasuriya had resorted to his tactic used in 1594 and which would be characteristic of all future Kandyan operations, which is to strategically retreat allowing the enemy to venture deep into the territory and cut them on their retreat when their supplies run out. The Portuguese thus occupied the fort of Balana and even conducted a Thanksgiving service in the fort. But soon internal dissensions amoung the lascorins made the Captain General realize the grave situation he faced and before long the surrounding hills were full of Kandyans prompting the Portuguese to retreat leaving the stronghold of Balana; and this long retreat to Colombo with the entire lowlands under rebellion is known as the Famous Retreat. Thus although Balana fell to the Portuguese for a short time, it was never conquered militarily.

Once again under the command of Azevedo, the Portuguese in August 1611 launched another attempt to conquer the hills and upon reaching Balana found it abandoned, unlike the stiff resistance it gave eight years earlier. The Portuguese soon occupied it and in a fortnight erected a fortification of wood. This fact is confirmed by the Sinhalese war poem the Rajasinghe Hatana. This expedition which ventured into Kandy was called off by a truce between the two parties but sorties into the Kandyan territory continued for several years without any opposition from the Kandyans. And the Portuguese records indicate that Balana was even occupied for some time from 1615 to 1616. Paul E. Pieris notes that in 1616 Balana was put into good order by the Portuguese by constructing a large tank for the storage of water, clearing the forests around the fort to a distance of a musket shot and the construction of a drawbridge over the moat. The reasons the Portuguese were able to get a foothold at the gates of Kandy may be due to the fact of the weak administration of King Senerat who assumed the throne after the death of Vimaladharmasuriya in 1604 and his policy for peace over war unlike the former who was a battle hardened warrior trained under the Portuguese themselves.

The next encounter comes in the expedition by Diogo de Mello in 1638 which culminated at the battle of Gannoruwa. Here too once again Kandy under the leadership of Rajasinghe II evacuates Balana and the city-based on their famous strategy to draw the enemy deep within and attacks them on their retreat, this time ending at the plains of Gannoruwa and after the battle, the King re-sends troops to keep watch at Balana according to the Parangi Hatana. This is the last instance the Portuguese would be related to Balana as their expulsion from the island comes 20 years later in 1658.

Balana comes into only one military engagement with the Dutch more than a century later. The relative peace which the Dutch maintained with Kandy since the 1640s broke down in the 1760s and war began in 1761 ending in 1766. Towards the end of the war in 1765 the Dutch mounted an invasion to the Kandyan heartland through the usual route of Balana and found the pass and the city deserted in typical Kandyan fashion. The invading force occupied the city for several months but realizing their shortage of supplies decided to retreat back to Colombo but found the Balana pass occupied by the Sinhalese. The following is taken from a correspondence with Batavia (The Dutch Wars with Kandy 1764-1766)

[porto_blockquote skin=”quaternary”]“knowing that the usual pass over the notorious hill was beset with batteries, wolfpits, and other obstacles, they decided on the suggestion of the old Mudaliar Dessa Nayak to make their further retreat along a path until then-unknown to us running along the hill Ballane and over back of this, northwards to come out into the seven korales beyond Weewede”[/porto_blockquote]

The garrison of Kandy finding the Balana pass occupied by the Sinhalese was shown a by-path by the Mudaliyar of the Hapitigam Korale and thus avoided a total massacre.

The Balana pass would face another two military excursions under the British but yet, would be evacuated as per their famous strategy. During the war of 1803, when the British marched up the great road they found the pass to be abandoned. Once again during their final excursion in 1815, the Balana heights were found abandoned on the approach of a detachment under Major Moffatt on the 2nd of February. D’Oyly in his own words states “I sincerely rejoice, that the reputed difficulties of the Balana Mountain have been surmounted with so much Facility, & and that Yatinuwara & the Capital are so fairly open to our Troops”. And with the surrender of the Four Korales under the Adigar Molligoda to the British, the Balana pass as with the rest of the country a few days later came under British dominion thus ending the saga of the Balana pass as the key to the Kandyan Kingdom. And with the building of the new Kandy road in the 1820s, the old road up the Balana pass lost its prominence and was soon a forgotten path.

The Mountain of Balana, the gate way to Kandy as seen above, although defendable, was abandoned most of the time giving entrance to the city. Only twice was an enemy denied access and given battle at Balana, that when the redoubtable Rajasinghe attempted to retake Kandy and when Vimaladharmasuriya checked the Portuguese advance in 1603. These two incidents show the strength of the position if it is defended with determination, but the overall Kandyan strategy meant allowing the enemy access to the city thus abandoning the position at Balana. Further, the ideology of the Kandyans regarding field fortifications were as stated in Channa Wickramasekara’s Kandy at War“the field fortifications were built more for the purpose of hindering an advance than stopping it”.

The Fort: an archaeological analysis

[porto_blockquote footer_before=”H. C. P. Bell” skin=”quaternary”]“The site of the old fort…the villagers call the spot, where it stood, Ukkotu-tenna. Strictly there are two forts, the upper and lower, together covering about three acres, of which the lower fort claims five-sixths. This had been encircled by a stone wall about 4 ft. in thickness, now broken down. The walls of the upper fort are less visible”[/porto_blockquote]

The above is a description of the fort by H. C. P. Bell in his famous Report on The Kegalle District in 1892. As at today, only the upper fort remains. The present ruins of the Balana fort can be found on the summit of the Balana hill overlooking the Balana railway station. One can access it via the road from the Balana railway station from which it is a 2.5km hike up or from the Kandugannawa Balana road from behind the Kadugannawa station which is about 5km. The access to the fort is through a tea estate with a new board showing the fort. A paved path has been made recently leading to the fort. The present ruins are made of stone and the area is being cleared from time to time although certain sections were hard to access due to the thick thorn bushes. The entrance to the fort is from the southeast and is surrounded by three round bastions. There are two entrances on two levels. The two level entrance is flanked by two round bastions on either side. The first entrance is 2 feet 10 inches wide with a flight of six steps to the first level which is 3 feet 6inches above the ground; the second entrance is 10 feet directly in front of that which is 3 feet wide and rises 4 feet above that level giving access to the inside of the fort. The two bastions from the first level is 37 feet apart and the walls of these entrance features are roughly 1.5 feet thick. The two bastions ‘A & B’ slightly differ in size with the bastion ‘A’ being smaller than the other. The height of the bastions varies as the elevation there changes but not exceeding roughly 4 feet in height. The wall between bastions A and C is roughly 80 feet in length and contains three walls at three different heights. The total width between these three walls is 9 feet.

A ground plan of the fort by the writer based on a survey conducted in July 2017.

Bastion C was covered in thick undergrowth which was hitherto unknown to the writer and thus it was ‘discovered’ during a field survey carried out by the writer and the team in July 2017 when clearing the undergrowth. This bastion appears to be smaller than the other two and is situated above a small drop facing the Balana road. This is at the northern tip of the fort. From here, the wall turns southwest and runs for about 70 feet. This stretch too, the writer had to cut his way through the thorn bushes and hence it was difficult to gauge the height of the wall from the outside; as the entire area within the fort is of the same level as that of the walls. This wall ends at an ‘S’ shape at the edge of a natural rock. Few feet away it begins once more towards the southeast along the rock. From here one could gaze upon the open plains of the Four Korales which is similar to the view from the Kadugannawa climb on the Kandy road. The wall from here, now basically a foundation on top of the rock, runs for 43 feet till the rock ends and furthermore two drains could be seen cutting through the foundations of the wall; the width of the wall is about 4 feet here. From there turning further eastwards runs the wall for about 90 feet to bastion B. At the edge of the rock are a flight of steps to the base of the wall towards the bastion. There are three steps turning in towards the fort and 14 steps running parallel to the wall to the base, from which is a steep drop towards the west with large trees. On this section, the maximum height of the wall reaches 10 feet. Here 10 small drains could be found coming from within the wall. On the 90 feet stretch of the wall towards bastion B, there is a section 30 feet before the bastion which appears to have broken away creating a gap of 5 feet in width and 6 feet in height. The width of the wall on this long stretch is 4 feet. The entire area of the fort is roughly 14,900 square feet and the walls are perpendicular to the ground with only bastions A & B showing a slight angle.

Speaking to the department of Archaeology, they explained that no excavation has been conducted here but said some conservation work had been carried out in the early 2000s, and this was evident as all the remains are in a good state of preservation and in certain sections cement too could be seen used as mortar. At certain places within the fort, broken tiles could be seen indicating that a roofed structure in the center of the fort existed. A proper excavation would be necessary for a deeper analysis of the fortification.

A military perspective

From the remaining sections, it is possible to assume that a garrison of over 100 soldiers would have fitted within the fort. The bastions are not large enough to hold numerous heavy cannons but possibly one large cannon or three to four Kodithuwakku (Gingals-light artillery). The present road runs below bastions A and C and at a particular bend, the road runs less than 100 feet below bastion C. Therefore as this section is exposed to the road, it might be the reason for the extra strengthening of the wall in three lines on this section. Also, the old Kadawatha would have been placed in an area across the present road below the northern section of the fort (this section of the hill north of the fort to the road is in thick jungle, a proper survey would perhaps shed light onto more features connecting the fort to the Kadawatha). Bastion C could have commanded a large area across the road to the neighbouring mountain. The two entrances are designed in a fashion where only one person could enter or exit at a time thus making an entrance to the fort by storming almost impossible. The true topography of the fort has been distorted by the tea plantation making it hard to understand its historical and military context. Further the Kandyans had created an effective communication system from Balana to the Capital; this was by way of beacon signals. When the enemy was sighted, the beacon on the Balana hill and the neighbouring peak would be lit, which would be followed by the lighting of a beacon on Diyakelinawala mountain and from that to the Gannoruwa hill from which would be communicated to the city.

Towards the west of the fort about 100 feet below is an empty land with a rather flat surface with less trees; on our way down to the station we found a footpath just below the fort on the Balana road which led to this land, it was relatively flat with few trees and tea bushes at the beginning of the path. As stated earlier, the fort had two sections, an upper and lower. Clearly the ruins on the summit are that of the upper fort. It may be possible that the lower fort was situated on this location which appears to be larger in area than the upper fort. There were sections of stone walls along the path but those appear to have been put up for the tea plantation. The encroachment of the tea plantations in this lower section as well have rendered it impossible to identify any features as similar sized stone have been fitted as retaining walls for the tea bushes.

The land below the fort which could be the possible site of the lower fort. The present fort ruins are straight up and is covered by the trees.

Dating the present remains of the fort

Regarding the construction of the Balana fort, in historical literature, the first permanent fortifications appear in 1603 which were built by King Vimaladharmasuriya. Later it is recorded in 1611 that the Portuguese spent a fortnight erecting a fortification of wood. And with their occupation of the fort for a small period, in 1616 it is stated that the Portuguese added modifications to the place. Apart from these, there is no available record to indicate a construction.

The only means of finding an approximate date would be through a proper archaeological analysis through excavations and as well as examination of its features through a comparative analysis. The questions put forward here with regard to the present ruins are, the when and who of its construction? The ‘who’ comes due to the fact that although it is generally known as a Sinhalese fortification, it is a fact that it was occupied by foreigners at certain periods. The main elements drawn from the fortifications for a comparative analysis would definitely be the bastions. What is unique here is that the bastions are round; which is unusual for an artillery fortification.

Regarding the ‘who’ of the construction of the fort, all European artillery fortifications from the mid-16th century no matter how small, adapted the bastion fort design, which was the norm until the mid-1800s. In the bastion fort design, the bastions which were round during the middle ages were made to an angle with two sides and two flanks which removed any blind spots by giving fire cover from any point in the rampart. Thus the use of round bastions fell out of use; even small forts like the Matara Star fort and the Katuwana Dutch fort have angled bastions. Thus it is hard to assume that this is the work of any European power, hence it is more likely a Sinhalese work.

Regarding the ‘when’ of the construction, the last record of construction comes in the early 17th century as stated above. The Dutch nor British spent much time here, and with the fall of the Kingdom to the British, they concentrated on their military outpost at Amunupura a short distance away from Balana. Even during the 1818 rebellion, no record of any activity at Balana was found. Thus it has to be a work before 1815. The question of whether the present remains were constructed in the 1600s or the 1700s could only be confirmed by an archaeological excavation.

References

  • Abeyawardana, H.A.P. (1978), A Critical Study of Kada-Im-Pot, Author’s doctoral thesis. Government Printers.
  • Bell, H.C.P. (1904), Report on the Kegalle District – XIX 1892. Colombo: Government Printers.
  • Codrington, H.W. (1917), Diary of Mr. John D’Oyly 1810-1815. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXV.
  • Dolapihilla, P. (1959), In the Days of Sri Wickramasingha. Maharagama: Saman Press.
  • Perera. C.G. (2007), Kandy fights the Portuguese. Colombo.
  • Perera, F.S.G. (1930), The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon, Colombo: Acting Government Printer.
  • Pieris, P.E. (1913), Ceylon the Portuguese Era, Vol. I. 1992nd ed. Colombo: Tisara Prakasakayo.
  • Pieris, P.E. (1914), Ceylon the Portuguese Era, Vol. II. 1983rd ed. Colombo: Tisara Prakasakayo.
  • Powell, G. (1973), The Kandyan Wars, Great Britain: Trinity Press.
  • Ravan-Hart, R. (1964), Ceylon Historical Manuscripts Commission, Bulletin No. 06 ‘The Dutch Wars with Kandy 1764-1766’. Colombo: Government Printers.
  • Ravan-Hart, R. (1951), The Great Road, Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. IV
  • Suraweera, A.V. (2014), The Rajavaliya and the first ever translation of the Alakeshvara Yuddhaya, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
  • Lankananda, Ven. Labugama (1996), Mandaram Pura Puvatha, Cultural Affairs Department.
  • Parangi Hatana
  • Balane Hatana
  • Rajasinghe Hatana
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Kotte Heritage 3: The Bastions and Passes

Chryshane Mendis

Passes and bastions are important elements of fortifications. The Passes, large and small give access to and from a fort and at times of war would be heavily guarded. Bastions are fortified projections on the ramparts of a fort from which defenders could easily defend the rampart as well as attack enemies due to its wide angle of fire. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with both these elements.

The fortress of Kotte had 6 minor passes and one main land pass giving access to the outside world. The main land pass was through the Outer city in the south. This was around 200 feet in width and protected by the outer moat on both sides and granite stone walls along the moat along with two bastions. This main entrance to Kotte is at present north of Pita Kotte junction near the Sirikotha. There were further two minor passes to the outer city situated on the outer end of the moat.

In the inner city there were 4 minor passes apart from the inner city gate in the south. One pass lay in the northern tip of Kotte and was fortified with a drawbridge to the road towards Colombo. On the northeast of the inner city rampart was the Kantagantota pass and with the other two passes situated on the two edges of the south inner city rampart. The 6 minor passes were created through narrow channels across the lake and the mud layer that surrounded the fort. These passes would have been small concealed openings in the rampart which could have been easily defended during a siege. It is important to note that the fortress of Kotte was designed on that of the Indian city of ‘Mithila’ mentioned in the Ummaga Jataka and accordingly Mithila too had 7 passes to the city.

The bastions are recorded to have been built of granite instead of Kabook from which the rampart was built and they were placed at the entrances to each pass for their protection. Two bastions each guarded the main land access in the outer city and the inner city gate at the inner city and one bastion each protected the rest of the passes. Apart from these defences that were created before the arrival of the Portuguese, with their arrival and subsequent guardianship of the city of Kotte, they too erected defences at the inner city gate and the main land pass in the form of a vallation (a defensive structure like a bastion). Further the ancient Sinhalese chronicles states that Devalas and Kovils were built on top of the bastions.

At present very few of the remains of the above features can be identified. From the bastions, only the Angampitiya bastion which was on the western end of the south inner rampart can be seen and scanty remains of the draw bridge of the northern pass and the entrance to the Kantagantota pass can be seen. The following will go according to the numbering of the Passes and Bastions of the above map.

Pass 01 and Bastion 10

This was situated on the northern tip of the fortress of Kotte and gave entrance to the road to Colombo. This pass was known as the pass of Ambalama and fortified by a bastion and a draw bridge. At present it is would be the location between Morris Rajapakse Mawatha and Jayanthi Mawatha bordering the Parliament road soon after the bridge from Rajagiriya. Remains of the draw bridge, first identified by Mr. Prasad Fonseka of the Kotte Heritage Foundation can be found in the premises of the Lions Club on Morris Rajapakse Mawatha. Here 3-4 large stone pillars could be found which are believed to have been supporting pillars to the draw bridge.

The Pass of Ambalama with the bastion and draw bridge would have been situated in this location on the other side of the road.
Inside the Lions Club premises, there are 2 large stones on the mound bordering the Parliament road.
One of the large stone pillars in the Lions Club premises which would have supported the draw bridge.

 

Pass 02 and Bastion 09

Heading along the eastern inner city ramparts from the north, this was known as the Kantagantota pass and could be found at present in the Parakumba Pirivena. A conserved section of the rampart is found running across the Temple premises and the opening in the middle of the rampart is where the pass would have been. The bastion would have been in close proximity within the present Temple premises but no remains can be found at present.

The gap between the rampart in Parakumba Pirivena

Pass 03 and Bastion 05

This bastion and pass is situated on the edge where the southern and western ramparts meet. This is also known as the Angampitiya bastion and can be reached by turning onto Angampitiya road and after about 200m, from the four-way junction turn left till This bastion and pass is situated on the edge where the southern and western ramparts meet. This is also known as the Angampitiya bastion and can be reached by turning onto Angampitiya road and after about 200m, from the four-way junction turn left till you reach the Sri Jayawardhanapura school play grounds, the rampart can be found on this road in two sections and the bastion is found at the end on to the left. This bastion has been built on a natural mound and cut granite blocks could be found scattered around. This is the only visible bastion of the fortress of Kotte at present but is in a neglected state. A visit two years back showed some granite blocks inplace but these have since been disrupted. The 3rd pass to the inner city would have been near this bastion. Just in front of the bastion is an old well now situated inside a private land, it is stated that there were wells at the entrances to every pass so that the people may wash themselves before entring the fort. This bastion and pass is clearly marked in a Dutch map which is reproduced in the book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS.

Angampitiya bastion
Some of the dislocated granite stones of the bastion.

Bastions 06 & 07 and entrance to inner city

These two bastions would have covered the entrance to the inner city from the outer city. at present no remains of the bastions can be seen as the present Ethul Kotte road runs through this section and the area has been completely built up. A section of the rampart coming from Angampitiya bastion can be seen in the Salvation Army Church premises. The Portuguese sources state that they had built a defensive structure known as a vallation at this entrance, this too could clearly be seen on the Dutch map.

The location of the inner city gate just north of Baddagana junction.

Pass 04 and Bastion 08

This can be found on the end of the eastern rampart where it meets the inner city moat. The rampart here is conserved but no trace of the bastion can be found. From the point where the eastern rampart meets the southern rampart at the 90 degree angle, the southern rampart extends several meters towards the east. This could be the entrance peer to pass no. 04.

The newly conserved section would be the peer to the pass.

Pass 05 and Bastion 01

This pass and bastion was situated at the western end of the outer city moat and rampart and at present would be in an area somewhere down the southern end of 4th Lane. The bastion would have given entrance to the pass through the shallow mud layer here through the lake. This is situated at a lower elevation than the main land pass (Ethul Kotte road area) thus would have been ideal for as a pass as the entire approach could be seen from the higher elevation areas with much safety.

Pass 06 Bastions 02 & 03

Pass 06 was the main land access to the fortress of Kotte just north of Pita Kotte junction and the bastions were built on either side of the main land pass. At present no remains can be found and these would have been situated on either side of the Ethul Kotte road where the present Janatha Sevaka Sangamaya building is and another building on the opposite side. In the centre of this, the Portuguese had built another vallation for further protection.

View from the Land pass towards Pita Kotte junction (Sirikotha is on the left)
Site of bastion 03

 

Site of bastion 02. The western outer moat is behind the small truck.

Pass 07 and Bastion 04

This pass and bastion was situated on the eastern end of outer moat and rampart. At present it could be traced to a location down Ranpokuna Mawatha. This too is in a lower elevation such as Pass 05 and Bastion 01 but no remains can be traced.

Supposed location of the bastion down Ranpokuna Mawatha.

References:

  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
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Kotte Heritage 2: The Ramparts and the Moat

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator, archaeology.lk

The ramparts are an important feature in fortifications which serve as the defensive wall protecting the camp or city. Ramparts were used in the ancient world to protect a city, a military camp or a border. Due to the insecurity of the ancient world in comparison to the modern era almost all large urban centers or cities needed fortifications for its defence. The remains of walled cities could be found throughout the world from the ancient cities of Mesopotamia to each and every major civilization up until the dawn of the modern age. In Sri Lanka, the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Panduwasnuwara too were protected by a ring of ramparts. The city of Kotte was first developed in the late 14th century as a purely military fortress by Nissanka Alakesvara and later developed into a fortified city during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century.

The city of Kotte was divided into two sections, being the inner city and outer city. The inner city was surrounded by a strong rampart with a moat at the South and surrounded by the lake; while the outer city area was fortified by a moat and rampart from the South which guarded the only land pass to the city. The overall defenses were constructed by Nissanka Alakesvara at the inception but the rampart of the inner city area was constructed by King Parakramabahu VI.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Jayawardenepura_Kotte)

Inner city ramparts

The inner city ramparts were constructed by King Parakramabahu VI in the early 15th century and were made up of laterite (kabook) stones. This inner rampart circles the entire city only interrupted in about 6 locations by inner reservoirs. There were 4 small passes into the inner city from the outside and the principle entrance was the inner city gate in the centre of the Southern ramparts. There were further 6 bastions built along the ramparts with 4 guarding the entrance to the 4 passes and 2 at the main inner city gate. The city was protected by a purpose built mud layer and the lake from the North, the West and the East while the rampart from the South was protected by a deep moat. This moat was constructed only on the eastern section of the South ramparts as the western half was in proximity to the lake which provided sufficient protection.

Outer city ramparts

The outer city fortifications were faced to the South which was the main land pass to the city. It is stated that the outer fortifications were built by Nissanka Alakesvara. It composed of granite ramparts, a moat and 2 bastions and also some bastions built by the Portuguese. The granite rampart to the West would have run for about 190 meters while the Eastern section would have run for about 145 meters. In front of these was constructed on either side of the land pass two deep moats. These moats would have been filled with mud and a thin layer of water. The Nikaya Sangrahaya and the Saddharmaratnakaraya states that the outer ramparts were further protected with iron spikes, various other mechanisms and watch towers.

What remains at present?

The ramparts and moats are some of the only preserved archaeological sites in Kotte and a considerable stretch on the inner city rampart could be seen whereas no trace of the outer city granite ramparts could be found. The outer and inner city moats are also very much preserved. Below is a survey done by the writer in April 2017 on the accessible locations of the ramparts and moats.

Description of the inner city ramparts

This description would begin from the north from Parliament road and would go clockwise from thereon.

The outline indicates the inner city ramparts. Red is the ramparts which can no longer be traced. Blue is the conserved ramparts. Brown is the non conserved ramparts

A considerable length of ramparts could be found in the Perakumba Pirivena which could be accessed along the Parliament road. When entering the Pirivena, one could see the rampart running across the Temple premises with about 5 meters of rampart to the right and with an opening of about 10 feet leading to the other side of the Temple; it begins again and runs deep into the temple land for about 50 to 60 meters. The remaining ramparts throughout the area have been declared protected monuments by the Department of Archaeology but many encroachments have taken place; the section in the Temple is an excellent example on the encroachment as it could be clearly observed how the neighbouring lands have destroyed the ramparts. The height of the ramparts here is nothing over 2 feet and the width at the beginning is about 5 feet. One could walk along the long section of the ramparts and when moving forward it is evident on how the lands on the left have taken over; the initial width of 5 feet has about 5 kabook blocks, as one walks on this reduces to 3 kabook blocks and soon to just 2.

Red indicates the rampart

The small section of the rampart in the Pirivena
This road on the other side of the Pirivena and is part of the rampart continuing from the above picture

The encroachment could be clearly seen in two places

The next section of ramparts could be found down the scenic Sri Lanka Nippon Avenue. The first visible ramparts can be seen few meters after the Mahindarama Temple. From here on the rampart is preserved to a considerable extent running down to the south where it turns left along the inner moat. It runs through home gardens which are in certain places well maintained while other sections are overgrown with weeds and also at certain places it is destroyed for the connecting roads. The initial section here is currently being restored by the Department of Archaeology. The book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also stats that this rampart would have been plastered over with a section down this road containing plaster. As the rampart here runs through private lands a thorough photo-documenting was not possible.

This building is in the Mahindarama Temple down Nippon road and seems to fit the location of the rampart. Its base is made up of laterite blocks which may have been from the ramparts
Part of the rampart under conservation from the Department. This is the first section of ramparts visible down Nippon Avenue

The rampart coming to the inner city moat turns right and runs along the moat. But as the rampart coming near the moat, it turns right; a small section turns left projecting to the boarder of Nippon Avenue. This was according to KOTTE: THE FORTRESS the pier for one of the four passes entering to the city. This initial section is well preserved. Entering to the moat the road crosses on to the rampart and runs along it. Here much encroachment could be seen. As one walks up the ramparts along the moat, it increases in elevation and the great depth of the moat could be seen. From here there is only a single line of kabook bricks indicating the rampart. This section could also be accessed through the First Lane down Rampart Road from Ethul Kotte. This entire section is about 150 meters. It ends at a wall just 2 blocks from the Ethul Kotte road where the inner city gate would have been. Adjoining this block is a new apartment complex and few years back sections of the rampart was visible there but are now lost.

A view of the southern ramparts. Red indicates the conserved ramparts. Blue indicates the moat. Brown is rampart not conserved. Orange arrow indicates the location of the inner city gate
Rampart beginning along the inner city moat. The newly conserved section would have formed the pier for the pass that would have been from here. The eastern ramparts join the wall from where the older conserved section begins

The road running on top of the ramparts along the inner city moat

Rampart along the inner city moat

Now going along the South ramparts on the West of Ethul Kotte road a small section could be found in the Salvation Army Church premises. This stretch of rampart is not conserved and many walls of the neighbouring houses have been built on top. This rampart runs towards the west and ends near the Angampitiya bastion from where it turns north, these sections could be accessed along the Angampitiya road. From where the rampart ends in the Salvation Army premises after few blocks it could be traced again for about 20 meters. Arriving down Angampitiya road from the four ways junction turn left along the small road and arriving up to the Sri Jayawardhanapura School Play Ground one would come across the rampart. Arriving near the ground to the left is a high rising ground with trees, this is the ancient Angampitiya bastion and observing it clearly one could find granite stones which have now eroded away. The section from the Salvation Army Church joins here and turns north. This southern stretch is not clearly visible but walking at the base of this ridge through the thick undergrowth one could find the kabook blocks which make up the rampart.

The Salvation Army Church, part of the site of the inner city gate. Behind this could be found sections of the western half of the southern ramparts

Sections of the ramparts behind the Church
The Angampitiya bastion. The rampart comes straight from the inner city gate and at this point turn left (as per the picture) and forms the western rampart
Granite blocks of the Angampitiya bastion
Section of the rampart coming from the Inner city gate side. Note the elevation by the red arrow

Remains of the rampart on this section

From here the rampart runs northwards with few sections along this road and on the road across Angampitiya road could be seen.

Sections of the western rampart from Angampitiya bastion

Angampitiya road running across

The last visible ramparts along the western section

The western side of the ramparts of Kotte is interrupted at 3 places due to the ancient inner reservoirs but at present, after the above described ramparts, no remains of the ramparts or the reservoirs could be traced. A survey by the writer done along all the roads towards the North on the west of Ethul Kotte road revealed no visible ramparts. This area is highly residential and it is most likely that certain sections still remain within few home gardens as the book KOTTE: THE FORTRESS also mentions, but these are off limits for the regular tourist.

Description of the outer city ramparts

The outer city ramparts which were said to have been built of granite blocks is not visible at present. But traces of kabook blocks could be seen along the western section of the outer moat.

Remains of the rampart on the western section of the outer moat

Description of the inner city Moat

The inner city moat can be accessed as mentioned above along the Sri Lanka Nippon road or the First Lane down Rampart road. Walking along the ramparts along the moat one could see how gradually the moat deepens. The moat would have been filled with a layer of mud and water thereby restricting access by swimming and also maintaining the height of the ramparts. Scaling the moat from the bottom to the top of the ramparts is a near impossible task as the writer experienced thus adding a superb defence to this place. The inner city moat is found only on the east of the inner city gate and no moat was built on the west as area along the Salvation Army Church is levelled ground.

Inner city moat

Description of the outer city Moat

This can be found before the Pitta Kotte junction bordering the UNP Headquarters Sirikotha. The moat could be found on either side of the main road. Both sides of the moat are overgrown with shrubs but the great depth of the moat could be seen clearly. This outer moat and rampart guarded the only land pass to the fortress of Kotte and was the scene of many battles.

Western section of the outer city moat

Eastern section of the outer city moat

The ramparts of Kotte, as being some of the prominent archaeological sites of Kotte are also the most affected sites due to the encroachments made by residents. Although the Department of Archaeology has declared these as protected monuments, without the support from the residents it is an impossible task to preserve them.

References

  • Fonseka, Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.

 

The next article would explore the bastions, the passes, and the lake of the fort…

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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…

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The Archaeological Survey in Neelagiri seya Area in Lahugala of Ampara District – Interim Report

 

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Front Page Image

Raj Somadeva PhD

Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology

Introduction

An archaeological reconnaissance survey was conducted by the Postgraduate Institute cheap viagra canada of Archaeology in the area around Nilgiri stupa- a colossal ruined stupa- situated in the woods of the Lahugala Wildlife sanctuary of the Ampara District of the Eastern Province. This survey was initiated as a pre-requisite of the proposed restoration of the central stupa, which is the main focus of the site. Fieldwork was started on 20th June 2011 by a team consisted 1 13 archaeologists. The survey was funded by the Department of Archaeology on behalf of the Ministry of National Heritage.

To approach the site, one has to follow a considerably long way from the Monaragala-Potuvil main road from its 305 kilo meter post. There is a gravel road to the right of the main road

at this point leading to the Nilgiri stupa. The road is fairly good up to HädaOya which flows about 3km away from the main road. To cross the river and reach the site is on a tractor, as the road has not been developed yet.

Download complete report in PDF.

Neelagiriseya Survey 2011 – The Interim Report

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