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

By Chryshane Mendis


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



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

The Investigation

The King in Colombo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The identity of this building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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



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




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Important Inscriptions of Sri Lanka: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

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

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


Vallipuram Gold Plate inscription

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV

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

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

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

Reign: – King Vasabha (126-170 A.D.)

Script: – 2nd century Brahmi

Language: – Old Sinhalese

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

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

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

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


Gadaladeniya Dharmakeerthi Inscription

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV

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

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

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

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

Script: – Fourteenth century Sinhalese

Language: – Sinhalese

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

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

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


Badulla Pillar Inscription(Horabora Inscription)

Image taken from

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

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

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

Reign: – King Udaya IV (946-954 A.D.)

Script: – Tenth century Sinhalese

Language: – Tenth century Sinhalese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Panakaduwa Copper-Plate Charter of Vijayabahu I

Taken from Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. V

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

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

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

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

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

Language: – Sinhalese prose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archaeological Sites around Dimbulagala: Part 02

By Chryshane Mendis


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



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




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



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

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

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

Inscription with the Swastikas.

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

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

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


Kosgaha Ulpata

Chamber with reclining figure.

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

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

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



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



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

Other references:

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

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

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

Paranavitana. S, 1933. Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. III

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

Interview of Chief Incumbent of the Namal Pokuna Viharaya.

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Whatever happened to the King’s mother?

By Somasiri Devendra and Prof. Sarath Edirisinghe

Questions, and an Answer

Signature of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so the mystery is solved.

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Archaeological Sites around Dimbulagala: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

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


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

Mountain in folklore and history

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

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

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

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

Archaeological sites of Dimbulagala

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

Namal Pokuna

Entrance to Namal Pokuna ruin complex.

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

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

The Unidentified building.
The Stupa.
Plastering and Inscription.

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

Nil Diya Pokuna (dried)

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

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

The Kashapa Lena

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

Mara Vidiya

Path leading up to the Mara Vidiya.

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

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

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

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



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The depository of Tooth Relic during the Cōḷa Occupation of Anuradhapura?

By Prasad Fonseka

Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription – Photo Anuradha Piyadasa

From the time the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka, there were several foreign invasions. The Sri Lankan Chronicles have not recorded any information about the fate of the Relics1 during such invasions in Anuradhapura Period. The Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription provides some important clues on this subject.

This inscription has been first published by H. C. P. Bell in his Annual Report of Archaeological Survey for 1911-12, in 1913. The text of the inscription had been published by Krishna Sastri in the Annual Report of Epigraphy (India) Vol. IV. It had been edited by Wickramasinghe in the Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. II (No. 40) to be re-edited by Paranavitana and published in the Epigraphia Indica Vol. XVIII, No. 53.

The scripts here are Tamil and Grantha but a few Sinhala letters are also found according to Wickramasinghe, although Paranavitana says that only Tamil and Grantha scripts have been used with a few Sinhala words. The language is largely Tamil mixed with Sanskrit and the introductory phrase is in Sanskrit.

However, both these editors, Wickramasinghe and Paranavitana, have not gone into the matter of the Tooth Relic in their analysis.

There are outstanding differences in the versions of Wickramasinghe and Paranavitana. According to the Wickramasinghe the place of permanent depository of the Tooth Relic was Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri [in Anuradhapura], and the commander of Vijayabāhu named Dēva had built a new building which became the permanent depository in Polonnaruva. Paranavitana has interpreted the word ‘mūlasthāna’ in line 18 of the inscription as the head-quarters of Abhayagiri. Wickramasinghe interprets it as the original place of the depository. Based on his interpretation, Paranavitana considers that Dēva built a new building at Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri in Polonnaruva which he asserts different from the Abhayagiri in Anuradhapura.

The Permanent place of Depository of the Relics

The main historical facts that come to light from the inscription according to the Wickramasinghe version is: The main historical facts that come to light from the inscription according to the Wickramasinghe version is:

  1.  The Temple of Tooth Relic built by the Commander Nagaragiri Deva on the instructions of King Vijayabāhu and the surrounding shrines founded by the Veḷaikkāṛas shall be protected by them unto the dissolution of the world.
  2. King Sirisaňgabō Vijayabāhu on gaining victory over many an enemy entered Anuradhapura and at the request of the Buddhist monks he put on the crown in order to protect the Buddhist Religion.
  3. The Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic which were at the Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri Vihāra were brought to Pulanari or Vijayarājapura and permanently kept at the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
  4.  The virtuous and learned, Rājaguru Mugalan Thera of Uttaramūla, associating himself with the dignitaries, came to the spot and told the Veḷaikkāṛas ‘The Tooth Relic Temple should be under your custody’.
  5.  For the protection of the shrine one servitor from each of the [three] divisions was appointed and one veli of land was allocated for the maintenance of each person.

A short history of the Tooth Relic during the Anuradhapura Period

When the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the 9th year2 of Mēghavarṇa Abhaya (302-330 A.D.)3 , i.e. in 311 A.D., it was originally kept in a building called Dharmacakra, built by King Devānaṁpiya Tissa, situated near his palace (Cūḷavaṁsa, 37.95-97). Perhaps it was originally built as a small shrine of the palace later to be called the Temple of Tooth Relic. However, according to the Daḷadā Sirita (5.05) and the Dāṭhāvaṁsa (5.37), Mēghavarṇa Abhaya built a new house for Daḷadā. Perhaps the Relic was first deposited in the Dharmacakra and later transferred to a new building built close by.

It is evident that in the Kāliṅga, the responsibility of protecting of the Daḷadā rested with the kings. This is understandable since there were many attempts by the non-Buddhists to destroy it. According to the Daḷadā Sirita when it was brought to Sri Lanka it was first taken to Mēgiri Vihāra. This may be due to Danta and Hēmamālā being under instructions by King Guhasīva of Kāliṅga to hand it over to the successor of King Mahasen (275-302). The reason could be the Mahāyāna orientation of Mahasen which was prevalent in Kālinga. Danta and Hēmamālā arrived in Sri Lanka4 nine years after the death of Mahasen and they probably had to first verify whether it was in order to hand over the relic to the successor Mēghavarṇa Abhaya. It is unlikely that for nine years the Kāliṅgas were unaware of the change in the kingship in Sri Lanka, since Sri Lanka had trade relations with all the countries in the region. According to the Daḷadā Sirita when Danta and Hēmamālā arrived at the port of Tāmralipta, there was a merchant ship ready to sail to Sri Lanka. Perhaps they knew about the change but knew little about the new king. As reported in the Chronicles, Mēghavarṇa was against Mahasen and even about to fight with him due to the destruction of Mahā Vihāra by him. Therefore, Danta and Hēmamālā appear to have first gone to a Vihāra belonged to Mahayana tradition. The Mēgiri Vihāra mentioned in the Daḷadā Sirita is perhaps the Vihāra known as Uttaramēghagiri. According to the Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. I, No.11 this name is mentioned in an inscription found at the place now known as Kiribat Vehera. This is the first major monastery Danta and Hēmamālā would have come across as they entered Anuradhapura. The theras of the Vihāra would have informed them that the reigning king is also a protector of Buddhism. Perhaps after Mēghavarṇa became king, he treated both Abhayagiri and Mahā Vihāra equally. The Mēgiri Vihāra could be identified as one of the vihāras belonging to the Abhayagiri fraternity. It is clear that the monks of Abhayagiri got to know of the arrival of the Tooth Relic before the others (Daḷadā Sirita 5th chapter). Then they sent a monk to inform the king about the arrival of the Relic. The king was delighted and went with his retinue to see and pay homage to the Tooth Relic.

Following the custom in the Kāliṅga the king arranged for the maximum protection to the Relic by keeping it close to his palace in the inner city. According to the Daḷadā Sirita and the Dāṭhāvaṁsa he had decreed to take it annually to Abhayagiri on a request made by the people so they may see and worship the Relic. Sometimes the reason to send it only to Abhayagiri could be that this institution had some claim over it because in Kāliṅga too it was the non-Theravada traditions prevailed. On the other hand, the Theravada monks very likely not in favour of worshiping of relics.

Fa Hsain’s account provides some important facts about the traditions in the fifth century5. It is reasonable to believe that almost the same traditions continued in the 10th century since some of them are still being followed. He says the Tooth of the Buddha was always brought forth in the middle of the third month. As it is known the festival is held in the month of Äsaḷa (June/July). The middle of the third month is two weeks early due to counting differences in North India and China. Fa Hsian says that the Tooth Relic had been taken to the Abhayagiri Vihāra in procession. It had been brought out and conveyed in the middle of the road to the hall of the Buddha in the Abhayagiri Vihāra to be kept for 90 days before returning to the Vihāra6 within the inner-city.

It could be surmised that the Tooth Relic was at Uttaramūla when the Cōḷa invasion occurred since Vijayabāhu brought it from Uttaramūla. However, that is unlikely since it was the time of southwest monsoon and not possible to cross over to Sri Lanka, which means it would have been at the Temple of Tooth Relic.

The first serious threat to the Tooth Relic, if at all, would have taken place during the invasion of Paṇḍu and his associates (434-461 A.D.) from whom Dhātusēna (461-479 A.D.) annexed the throne. According to the Cūḷavaṁsa (38.12) all the kinsmen of noble families fled to Rōhaṇa. However, there is no mention about the monks leaving Anuradhapura. Therefore, it is possible that it was kept at the Temple of the Tooth Relic or some other secure place in Anuradhapura. After being victories Dhātusēna repaired the Temple of Tooth Relic (Cūḷavaṁsa, 38.71-72), which suggests that the temple was neglected. According to Yālpāna Vayipavamālayi, Paṇḍu destroyed the temple built by Mahasen at Gōkaṇṇa. The reason could be that Mahasen destroyed the dēvālas and built the temple as reported in the Moggallāna Mahāvaṁsa (37.41). However, there are no records that the invaders destroyed any shrines in Anuradhapura. Considering the fact that there were Buddhists among the Cōḷas and other invaders, there is a greater possibility that relics were taken to Abhayagiri if at all, any further protection was needed. It is also observed that the wife of Khuddhapārinda (442-458), an associate of Paṇḍu had made a grant to a vihāra (Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV, No. 13), which further confirms that they did not harm Buddhism and the institutions other than neglecting the shrines and patronising the Hindu shrines.

When two royal families fought with each other (614-673 A.D.) for the throne, Dāṭhōpatissa I (641-653), among other things, looted and set fire to the Temple of Tooth and many more (Cūḷavaṁsa, 44.134). Certainly, the Relics would have been removed before that by the monks. However, there is no mention that either of the royal families attempted to acquire the Tooth Relic as a means of enhancing their legitimacy to the throne. When the Indian monk Vajrabōdhi (671-741) had come to Sri Lanka perhaps by 710 A.D., he worshiped the Relics at Abhayagiri. King Mahinda II (760-780 A.D.) had made an offering to the relics (Cūḷavaṁsa 48.124). During the reign of King Sēna I (819-839 A.D.) the Pāṇḍyan king had looted everything including the Temple of Tooth Relic. Perhaps the Relics were not there at that time or the Pāṇḍyans did not harm the Relics. Sēna II (839-874) had held a festival for the Tooth Relic (Cūḷavaṁsa 51.22-26). King Sēna IV (949-952 A.D.) instituted a sacrificial festival for the Relics (54.05). King Mahinda IV (952-968 A.D.) held a festival for them (Cūḷavaṁsa 54.55).

The second year of Sēna V (968-978 A.D.) marks the period of Tamil domination of Anuradhapura. In the 10th year of Mahinda V (978-1026) the king was unable to pay wages to the soldiers. It is clear from the Cūḷavaṁsa (55.05, 55.11) that there were considerable Kēraḷa and Karṇāṭaka soldiers served in the army of Mahinda V, in addition to the Sinhala soldiers. With the start of the rebellion, the king fled the capital leaving the unpaid soldiers which situation certainly would have resulted in looting and destruction.

The Permanent Depository


Buddha Image inside Hatadage – The Tooth Relic Temple fiunded by king Nissankamalla 12 A.D. Photo -Anuradha Piyadasa

From the above, it is clear that the Tooth Relic was kept at a place known as Dharmacakra when it was brought to Sri Lanka and then moved to the new Vihāra built by Mēghavarṇa Abhaya. Was that the place of permanent depository during the whole of Anuradhapura Period? To answer this question there is a clue in the Cūḷavaṁsa (57.20-23). As mentioned above Dāṭhōpatissa set fire to the Temple of Tooth Relic. Mānavamma (689-698) was the king who brought back peace, and he built a piriveṇa named Uttaramūla. This Uttaramūla cannot be an ordinary piriveṇa as revealed by the details given in the Cūḷavaṁsa. The king had given 600 bhikṣus, seven supervisory officers and five groups of servitors to the chief monk, who was his brother. The king had further given him servants versed in various handicrafts. Then the guardians of the Tooth Relic were placed under the chief monk. The guardians of the Tooth Relic should be granted to a place only if it was kept there. Therefore evidence is strong that the Tooth Relic had been placed at a new location since the old Temple of Tooth Relic was destroyed by Dāṭhōpatissa. As stated above, Vajrabōdhi has reported that he worshiped the Tooth Relic at Abhayagiri which can be considered as further evidence. Therefore, from that time for a certain period, the permanent depository of the Relics seems to be the Uttaramūla built by Mānavamma. Perhaps this could be part of the Mēgiri Vihāra complex. Since the Relics had been there at the Temple of Tooth Relic during the Pāṇḍyan invasion when Sēna I was reigning (Mahāvaṁsa, 51.22-25), it appears that they had been again moved there at some stage. It is likely that during the latter part of Anuradhapura when there were threats the Relics were moved to Uttaramūla. Perhaps the monks of the Uttaramūla controlled the movement of the Relics depending on the situation and the Temple of the Tooth Relic was under them. Further, it is likely that only the Relics were moved and not the other things in the temple. One of the reasons for this can be that the looters came for anything valuable and not to acquire the Relics.


It is now possible to decide that Paranavitana’s contention that Uttaramūla was the main administrative centre of Abhayagiri of Polonnaruva is incorrect. Uttaramūla mentioned in the Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription is to be taken as the name of the piriveṇa, which was built by Mānavamma in Anuradhapura. That means, as stated by Wickramasinghe, the Tooth Relic was brought from the Uttaramūla, which was the original depository during the latter part of Anuradhapura Period, to the new place in Polonnaruva. This also confirms that the relics were kept in Anuradhapura during the Cōḷa occupation. The reasons for such a situation are to be analysed since one would wonder as to why it was not removed from Anuradhapura for safety reasons.

The Protection of the Relics during Cōḷa Occupation

According to the Cūḷavaṁsa (55.21) the Cōḷa representative at Polonnaruva plundered the vihāras of the three fraternities. If so, how the Tooth Relic survived in Anuradhapura has to be investigated. There could be many reasons for the survival of the relics in Anuradhapura. They have looted the valuables from the temples which included the breaking of the dāgäbas. It seems that the Cōḷas did not carry out a campaign against Buddhism, but there was no doubt the Sāsana [dispensation] was neglected leading to its deterioration. They were really interested in amassing of wealth as seen by the description in the Chronicles. It is likely that there were Buddhists among the invading forces since Buddhism in South India vanished much later. As such, there would not have been a general policy of the Cōḷas to do any specific harm to the Buddhism or to the Relics. However, the Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription reveals much protection was provided.

The Cōḷa occupation in the early eleventh century was not sudden. In the second year of the 14-year-old child king Sēna V (968-978), there was a South Indian invasion and during which the king dismissed the commander who was fighting the invaders (Cūḷavaṁsa, 54.59-73) and killed his own brother who was the viceroy. Since that time there was no proper administration in Anuradhapura. The Dravidian soldiers employed by the king had some domination perhaps due to the influence of the Cōḷas. The mother of the king lived in Polonnaruva with the other brother, and the king lived in Rōhaṇa after fleeing there. That was in 970 A.D. After the death of Sēna V, his brother Mahinda V (978-1026) came to the throne in Anuradhapura7. He would have no doubt promised to bring back peace. However, it was very difficult since the administrative system had totally disappeared during the reign of Sēna V, who became an alcoholic and died at the age of 22. In the tenth year [988] the King Mahinda secretly fled the capital Anuradhapura, as he was unable to pay wages to the soldiers. There is no evidence at all that the king took the Relics with him as he fled. Not a single king up to Vijayabāhu had anything to do with the Tooth Relic. When three of them were captured by the Cōḷas there is no mention of the Tooth Relic, though they were able to recover all royal insignia. This again indicates that the Relics were safe at the Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri.

The Veḷaikkāṛa inscription indicates that they were the guards at the site on a previous occasion. They had even built some shrines in the vicinity. It is necessary to find out as to why Vijayabāhu engaged Veḷaikkāṛas as the guards at the site on an earlier occasion, without engaging Sinhala soldiers. Perhaps it was not Vijayabāhu who appointed them as guards but they were on the job even when the Tooth Relic was in Anuradhapura during the occupation. That may be the reason they have mentioned about Vijayabāhu arriving at Anuradhapura after defeating many an enemy. That means, when Vijayabāhu arrived in Anuradhapura the Veḷaikkāṛas were there protecting the relics.

Later Mugalan Thera had invited them following the tradition prevailing earlier. Mugalan Thera would have thought that the re-introduction of the tradition was necessary due to the expected threats. There is an indication in the Cūḷavaṁsa that the Veḷaikkāṛas were involved in their protection during the latter part of the Anuradhapura Period. According to 55.05 the Kēraḷa’s demanded wages from the King Mahinda V. It is known that Veḷaikkāṛas were from Kēraḷa. They are again mentioned in 55.12. Therefore, it could be presumed that the Veḷaikkāṛas were paid soldiers and worked as guards during peaceful times.

Although Mahinda V was unable to pay the guards, it is possible that the guards protecting the Tooth Relic were paid since the shrine had wealth in store and assets donated by the kings. As such, the guards would not have been paid by cash but in kind. Land would have been allocated for their services, as at present. It is apparent that they were assigned to manage the property owned by the Temple of Tooth Relic as well. Therefore it is possible that the Veḷaikkāṛas continued being guards during the Cōḷa occupation. Being a Dravidian community, would have been an added advantage that contributed for better security of the relics. Perhaps that was the main consideration of the monks when selecting the guards. This suggests that the Veḷaikkāṛas were the guards even before the Cōḷa invasion of Anuradhapura and they continued till Vijayabāhu removed them due to their disobedience8.

The assignment of Protection to the Veḷaikkāṛas during the Polonnaruva Period

The Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription could be dated to a period after the death of Vijayabāhu I (1056-1111 A.D.) and the shrines built by the Veḷaikkāṛas could be dated to the reign of Vijayabāhu from the evidence in the Cūḷavaṁsa and the inscription. It further suggests that Mugalan Thera instructed them to take over the job back, since there was a tradition to provide protection to the Relics by the Veḷaikkāṛas. This can be related to the story in the Cūḷavaṁsa (60.35-45), which says that Vijayabāhu punished Veḷaikkāṛas for the rebellion they caused. When Veḷaikkāṛas rebelled refusing to fight against the Cōḷas during an invasion, Vijayabāhu would have removed them being the guards and punished them severely. This gives an indication to the position of the Veḷaikkāṛas. They were a neutral force and the Cōḷas would not have fought with them. Due to the same reason the Veḷaikkāṛas did not want to fight the Cōḷas. For that principle they had to pay a heavy price.

The other reason why the Veḷaikkāṛas were selected on the job of providing protection would have been their neutrality. In any case there is little doubt that prior to their removal they were the guards of the Relics due to the presence of some shrines constructed by them in the surroundings of the Temple of Tooth. It is not clear whether those were Buddhist shrines or Hindu shrines, but agreeing to give protection to them as well, it appears that they also were Buddhist shrines.

It cannot be due to lack of Sinhala soldiers that the South Indian soldiers were engaged originally. The main reason seems to be the necessity for a neutral force to guard the strategic locations pending the Cōḷa invasion. It seems that the monks in charge of the Tooth Relic perceived that Veḷaikkāṛa soldiers could provide better security.

It is important to note that the Veḷaikkāṛas changed the name of the shrine as ‘The great Temple of Tooth Relic belonging to three divisions of Veḷaikkāṛa’. This would have done so to give it an additional protection. However, the protection of Veḷaikkāṛas certainly was not effective against any threats from the king, who is really supposed to protect the Relics. Accordingly, although the Veḷaikkāṛas promised to protect the Tooth Relic till the dissolution of the world, it really lasted perhaps only for a few months until the monks removed it to Rōhaṇa with the continuous onslaught of Vikramabāhu II (1114-1135) towards Polonnaruva.

It should be emphasised that the true guardians of the Relics were the monks perhaps from the time of Mānavamma, but during the periods of invasions, riots etc. since then, the monks appear to have engaged paid guards, as the kings were unable to provide sufficient protection.


During the period of Cōḷa occupation in the early eleventh century, it is likely that the two Relics, namely the Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic were permanently kept in the Uttaramūla Vihāra of the Abhayagiri Monastery. Perhaps during the Anuradhapura Period, the Relics were more respected and were not considered as objects, to legitimize kingship as suggested by some scholars. As a result, they were removed by the monks from the Temple of Tooth Relic only when there was no security. Perhaps during the early part of Anuradhapura Period when there was a threat, the Relics which were kept near the palace were taken to Abhayagiri Vihāra. During the latter part of Anuradhapura Period, the Relics appear to have been kept permanently at Uttaramūla of the Abhayagiri Vihāra, protected by hired guards.


Cūḷavaṁsa Part I and II, Translated from Pali to German by Geiger W., The English translation published by Ceylon Government Information Department, Colombo, 1953
Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vol. II, edited by D M de Z Wickramasinghe, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, 1928
Mahāvaṁsa Part II (Sinhala) ed. Sri Sumaṅgala Thera and Paṇḍita Baṭuvantuḍāve Dēvarakṣita, 1963
Moggolāna Mahāvaṁsa (Sinhala) ed. Aruna Talagala, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2008
Pūjāvaliya [Sinhala], Buddhist Cultural Centre, 3rd edition, 2007
Yālpāna Vayipavamāla, Mayil Vāganar Pulavar (1736), Translated from Tamil into Sinhala by K. H. De Silva, Ruhuṇu Book Publishers, Colombo, 1999

1  During the past, up to the Kōṭṭe Period the Tooth Relic was always kept along with the Bowl Relic. The Bowl Relic was last reported as possessed by Sēnāsammata Vikramabāhu (1472-1509) the powerful regional king of Kandy (Cūḷavaṁsa, 92.10). According to the Chronicles the Bowl Relic had been brought to Sri Lanka by Sumana Sāmaṇēra.1  During the past, up to the Kōṭṭe Period the Tooth Relic was always kept along with the Bowl Relic. The Bowl Relic was last reported as possessed by Sēnāsammata Vikramabāhu (1472-1509) the powerful regional king of Kandy (Cūḷavaṁsa, 92.10). According to the Chronicles the Bowl Relic had been brought to Sri Lanka by Sumana Sāmaṇēra.
2  Daḷadā Sirita 4.24, Cūḷavaṁsa 37.92
3  The chronology of kings of this article is based on a research study by the author
4  The place they landed is mentioned as Māvaṭu Paṭuna [Mātoṭa] in the Daḷadā Sirita. In the Pali work Dāṭhāvaṁsa it is mentioned as Laṅkāpaṭṭana. If they got a ship which sailed direct to Sri Lanka they would have landed at Mātoṭa which was the main port. It is also possible to land in the north or east of the country, since they started from Kāliṅga on the east of India. If they landed at Gōkaṇṇa (Trincomalee) they would have entered the city through the eastern gate. If the landing point was Jambukōla in the Jaffna Peninsula they could enter the city from the northern gate. As such it is very unlikely that the landing place was the present Laṅkāpṭuna near Trincimalee. According to Kalyāṇa Inscription of Burma there was a monastery at Nāgapaṭṭana in India called Padarikārāma in 1475, where it is believed that Danta and Hemamāli stayed for a while. It says the monastery was built by order of the king of China. It is possible that the ship they came anchored at Nāgapaṭṭana for business.
5  It is very likely that he was in Sri Lanka from 410-412
6  This should be Vihāra built by Mēghavarṇa Abhaya near his palace
7  He left Anuradhapura in his tenth year and lived in Rōhaṇa. During the last 12 years he was held in India as a prisoner
8  However the Veḷaikkāṛas remained a powerful group even during the reign of Gajabāhu II (1135 -1157) Cūḷavaṁsa 63.24, 63.28, 74.44)

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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.

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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.


  • 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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Pilikkuththuwa: a love story between nature and history

By Chryshane Mendis

There are only few places that have had human associations from the prehistoric times and throughout all the ages up to the present. Pilikkuththuwa is one such place which has been a part of the human history of the island from prehistoric times to the present. This enchanting place is situated in about 200 acres of forest and contains 99 caves along with the present Viharaya known as the Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya. Entwined in nature and history, this beautiful site is a must visit site for Sri Lankans.

Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya is located in the Mahara Divisional Secretariat of the Gampaha District and is surrounded by Buthpitiya, Yongamulla, Koskandawala, Ambhagaspitiya, Maligathanna and Kandumulla areas and is within a boulder stud forest reserve. This can be reached by two ways, one by traveling to Miriswatta junction along the Kandy road from Colombo and turning right on the Wathurugama road and traveling 4km down, from the Pilikkuththuwa junction turn left on a small road and proceed 1km. The second route is from Yakkala junction coming from Colombo turning right on to the Radawana road and coming about 3km down this road take the right turn from the Batagolla junction and proceed about 1.5km to the site.

There are several legends as to how this place got its name, one Pilikkuththuwa is believed to have derived from Pilikothuwa which is the combination of the five Pili kotuwa, Arachchi kotuwa, Mal kotuwa, Harlpan kotuwa, and Bileegaha kotuwa. Further it is thought to be from the village that supplied Pili to the Kings and also that of the village that hid King Valagamba’s Queen’s jewelry.

Historical background

This unique location, once a prehistoric site, was used as a monastery for meditating Monks during the Anuradhapura period all the way up to the Kandyan period. The present Vihara complex dates to the Kandyan period but the presence of drip ledges on most of the caves suggest this site dates back to a much earlier period and the discovery of Brahmi inscriptions on some of the caves dates back to the 2nd century BC confirming that this site was used by the Sangha from the early Anuradhapura period also coins found from the Thoppigala cave dating to the Polonnaruwa and Dambadeniya periods indicates that this site was used even after the Anuradhapura era.

It is known that in 1747 a disciple of Weliwita Sri Saranagkara Thera, Paranathala Sonuththara Thera arrived here and established the present Len Viharaya and also constructed the small stupa found in the premises. The buildings of the present Viharaya were established at various stages after its first establishment.

The inscriptions

Speaking to the officer at the Archaeological Department Office within the premises, she explained that 4 rock inscriptions have been discovered so far and belong to the early Brahmi script; three of them are found within the premises and one in a private land. This place is littered with massive rock formations and natural caves, and these inscriptions are found on the top ledge of three caves.

The first inscription is found in a cave situated on the left of the Len Viharaya and is the cave which houses the small Archaeological Department Office as well. The four letter word can be found just below the drip ledge and reads ‘මනොරමෙ’ or in modern Sinhalese ‘මනෝරම්‍ය’ meaning delightful thus indicating the name of the cave. Even to this day this word is used to describe houses. This inscription is dated to the 1st century BC and the letters are 8 inches in height.

Cave with the Archaeology Dept. Office on the left of the Image house. Also known as the Manorame Lena due to the inscription on the top of the cave.

The second inscription is the most important and the longest. This inscription is found on a cave on the left after about 100m when entering the forest behind the Viharaya. It reads ‘අනිකටශ බතු නො අගිබුති නො දිනේ අගත අනගත වතුදිශ ශගශ’ meaning ‘Donation of Agibuthi, brother of the Cavalry Officer. Offered to the Sangha of the four quarters present and absent’. The special feature of this inscription is that the first line is read right to left and the second line in read left to right. This inscription which is dated between the 3rd to 1st centuries BC further proves that this site was hermitage for Monks and also gives indication of an organized military.

Cave containing the inscription.

The third inscription can be found in the cave known as the Dakkina Lena and reads ‘දකිණි ලෙණේ’ meaning the cave to the right, thus giving the name of this cave. This is small in size and dated the 1st century BC.

The caves

The sources referred to states that there are 99 caves within the Vihara complex and the Pilikkuththuwa forest reserve and the majority of these contains drip ledges which are gutters cut along the top edge of the caves in order to prevent rain water from dripping into the cave.

This is a feature of the early historical period and is one of the main factors pointing the sites occupation as far as the early Anuradhapura period. Much of the caves within the Vihara complex have been used as Len Viharas and it is noted that buildings were constructed in different periods. Out of the forest caves, two prominent caves could be noted, them being the Thoppigala cave and the Dakkina cave. The Thoppigala cave could be found close to the Buthapitiya village boundary on a hillock. This cave was excavated in 1995 by digging a 5’-6’ deep pit and beads and red painted pottery fragments were found dating them to the early historic period and further coins belonging to the Polonnaruwa and Dambadeniya eras were found from this cave. The Dakkina cave with the inscription of the same name is small in size and from this cave too, through excavations, prehistoric lithic implements or stone tools along with animal bones were found, thus clearly dating the site to the prehistoric times.

Picture from the book Aithihasika Pilikkuththuwa Puravidya Stana, Department of Archaeology.

The monuments

Out of the notable monuments found here, the image house and its paintings, the small stupa, the ancient pond, the Dharmashalawa, the wooden bridge takes prominence. Arriving at Pilikkuththuwa one is greeted by the beautifully designed Dharmashalawa which is said to have been built in 1910. The center pillars are made of granite and the roof is designed into a 3 sections making it look like a three storied building. Taking the path to the right from here one would pass the present Awasage of the Monks which too is a beautiful old building and a compound of many old Awasa Len, some of which date from the Dutch period.

The Dharmashalawa.

The present Awasageya.

The large pond could be found to the east of the Dharmashalawa, this pond, said to be from the Anuradhapura period is supplied with water from underground springs from the surrounding forests and boulders. This pond is 21 feet in length and 20.8 feet in breath and is 8 feet deep with two identifiable levels. This pond is made from a large number of kalugal or granite and the entrance to the pond is from the eastern side by a flight of steps.

The entrance stairs.

Going eastwards one would pass the pond and come across the old Bho tree which is claimed by residents to be an ancient tree but no archaeological evidence has been found to prove this. Continuing eastwards and passing the Bo tree one would come across the cave with the image house. The image house contains one sleeping figure of the Buddha, two seated statutes and statutes of Vishnu and Natha and Avalokitheiswara.  The image house contains various other floral designs and Jataka stories. Most interesting of these paintings are those of two guardian figures painted on either side of the inner doorway, drawn in a European outfit, to which some sources claim them to be Portuguese soldiers and another source to English soldiers. These drawings were repainted in 1894 by an artist named ‘Mangali Heriye Siriya’.

Entering the inner complex passing the pond and the Dharmashalawa. The old Bo tree can be seen to the right with the Image house in front.

Painting of the Doratupala figure inside the Image House.
Picture from the book Aithihasika Pilikkuththuwa Puravidya Stana, Department of Archaeology as the Image House was closed during the writer’s visit.

To the right of the image house can be found the small stupa dating back to the Kandyan times under a large rock. From the base of the cave to the drip ledge is about 40 feet in height and touches the boulder of the cave with the image house at about 60 feet above the ground. This small stupa was protected by a decorative roof but was removed in recent times.

Going south passing the present Awasageya and the old Len Awasas, one would come across the small beautiful wooden bridge. This is said to have been built during the Kandyan times or even older and is made across a small stream. The length of the bridge is about 14 feet and 4 feet wide. The roof and railings are made of wood and the planks for the foundation are said to belong to a much older period. This is one of the most interesting monuments at the site.

One of the Awasa Lenas during the British period.
This Awasa Lena is said to be during the Dutch period.
The wooden bridge.

A little beyond this is found the Pilikkuththuwa wawe which is said to be fed by the springs generated from the high forests above and which pass through the ancient pond to the north. The Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya also contains an antique Palanquin or Dolawa which is said to have carried Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera to preach Bana at this temple, this Dolawa was conserved in 2011 by the Department of Archaeology. Unfortunately the writer was unable to photograph this unique artifact.

Apart from its historical aspects, the surrounding forests of the monastic complex contain a wide variety of flora such as Jack, Waldel, Kaju, Kithul, Heen bovitiya, and Kanduru. There is also found an ancient Pusswela or creeper which is said to be over 400 years old and the circumference of the bark at a certain point is about 6 feet. This could be found when entering the forest with the caves from the left of the Manorame cave and traveling about 50m up that path. There is a board indicating it but to see the massive bark of the Pusswela, one must climb the nearby boulder to witness this marvel of nature rising between a gap in the rocks like the fabled bean stock of the famous children’s story.

The ancient Pusswela.

For a true exploration of this place with all its caves, even two days would not be sufficient. This enchanting place where nature, prehistory and history entwine is a fascinating paradise to both the lover of history and nature. Pilikkuththuwa was gazetted as an archaeologically protected monument in 2002 and is constantly looked after by the Department of Archaeology with major conservation projects carried out in 2011 and 2012.


  • Pilikkuththuwa Sangwardana Salasuma, Department of Archaeology, 2011.
  • Pilikkuththuwa Sangwardana Salasuma, Department of Archaeology, 2012.
  • Aithihasika Pilikkuththuwa Puravidya Stana, Department of Archaeology
  • Damayanthi, M. A. M., Pilikkuththuwa Charikawa,
  • Senevirathna, S., ‘The Pilikkuththuwa Rajamaha Viharaya, Gampaha District’, Kelaniya Area Archaeological Research Project Vol. 4,


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Sinhalese Influence on Laos: From its Beginning to Consolidation – Part II – The regional context


Asia Map - The Sri Lanka Regional Context
Asia Map – The Sri Lanka Regional Context

Hema Goonatilake PhD (Lond)
Visiting Professor, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, New Series, Vol. LIII, 2008

The development of Sinhalese-Lao relations is tied to Sinhalese relations with the broad South-east Asian region, immediately prior to the establishment of the Lao kingdom. It is therefore useful to survey the political and religious situation in the region, with special emphasis on their relations with Sri Lanka. Continue reading Sinhalese Influence on Laos: From its Beginning to Consolidation – Part II – The regional context

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Sinhalese Influence on Laos: From its Beginning to Consolidation – Part I – Sources


Sri Lanka and Laos
Sri Lanka and Laos

Hema Goonatilake PhD (Lond)

Visiting Professor, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, New Series, Vol. LIII, 2008.

Sri Lanka, till the arrival of the Europeans, has been very possibly the major influence of a high culture in the whole South East Asian region. The earlier Hindu influences which led to such descriptions as “The Indianized States of Southeast Asia’1 are now being increasingly recognised as an over-statement. South Asian influences outside the royal court and among the common people actually occurred largely through Sinhalese contacts (Hall, 1981, p. 22)”. Continue reading Sinhalese Influence on Laos: From its Beginning to Consolidation – Part I – Sources

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Ramba(Rambha) Viharaya and its connection with Myanmar

Hema Goonatilake PhD (Lond)
Visiting Professor, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia



Ramba Viharaya

The intensive relations between Sri Lanka and Myanmar span over a period of 1000 years beginning with the emergence of the city of Bagan (written by British as Pagan) in the 11th century as the cradle of Burmese culture and civilization.

This ancient capital of Myanmar epitomizes one of the world’s greatest feats of building construction – greater than all of Europe’s cathedrals, the construction of which spread over nearly seven centuries whereas Bagan is home to 4,446 monuments built within a period of two and a half centuries, mostly within a period of 150 years. Bagan is a unique city encompassing approximately 40 square km. with a wide variety of religious buildings, some standing higher than 70 metres. Among these are 260 large monuments influenced by Sinhalese. Continue reading Ramba(Rambha) Viharaya and its connection with Myanmar