Epigraphy History Inscriptions

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.

History Inscriptions

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)


Velikkara Inscription at Polonnaruwa





By Anuradha Piyadasa

Reign – After the death of Vijayabahu
Period – 12th century A.D.
Script – Grantha Tamil and Sinhala
Language – Tamil Mixed with Sanskrit


The Velaikkaras rebelled against King Vijayabahu (1055-1110 A.D.) in his 30th year refusing to fight against the Colas and they were punished. It seems that Velaikkaras provided protection to the Temple of Tooth even during the early period of Vijayabahu due to the mention of construction of some buildings by them around the Temple of Tooth. Perhaps after the rebellion, they were removed beings the guards of the Temple of Tooth. After the death of Vijayabahu, there were several internal struggles and it is very likely that Mugalan Thera decided to engage Velaikkara forces again, for the protection of the Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic of the Buddha, during that turbulent period. The purpose of this inscription is to give an assurance by the Velaieckara Soldiers that they would protect the sacred relics and the properties no matter what happened.


This inscription is located just next to the Atadage at Polonnaruwa.

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Velikkara Inscription – Photo Credit: Anuradha Piyadasa

The Temple of Tooth Relic built by the Commander Nagaragiri Deva on the instructions of King Vijayabahu and the surrounding shrines founded by the Velaikkaras shall be protected by the Velaikkara forces unto the dissolution of the world.

Obeisance to the Buddha! In the prosperous island of King Sirisangabo, Vijayabahu scion of the lineage of Iksavaku of the Solar Race gaining victory over many an enemy, entered Anuradhapura. At the request of the Buddhist monks he put on the crown in order to protect the Buddhist Religion. The king invited monks from Aramana (Myanmar) and purified the three Nikayas. The king who brought Lanka under a single canopy made donations to the three Nikayas three times equivalent to his own weight (coins), reigned 55 years and lived 73 years.

The Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic which was at the Uttaramula of Abhayagiri Vihara was brought to Pulanari or Vijayarajapura and permanently kept at the Temple of Tooth Relic. The first anointment ceremony (of Vijayabahu) was held there (according to the Cullavamsa in the 18th year at Polonnaruva) which also house the colossal Buddha Statue, in which is held annually the ceremony of unloosening of sacred eyes and applying collyrium to them.

Rajaguru Mugalan Thera of Uttaramula, who is virtuous and learned, associating himself with the dignitaries came to the spot, called us and said “The Tooth Relic Temple should be under your custody’.

Closeup of Velikkara Inscription – Photo Credit: Anuradha Piyadasa

Thereupon we convened a meeting along with our elders and named the shrine ‘The great Temple of Tooth Relic belonging to three divisions of Velakkaras’ and decided that it will remain as our charitable institution under our own custody. 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, We shall protect the villages, the retainers, and the property belonging to the shrine, as well as those who enter for refuge, even it is detrimental to us. We shall endeavour as long as our lineage exists and even if we suffer deeper than we have suffered already.

To attest this we have delivered over (to Mugala Thora), having had it engraved on the copper plate and also engraved on a stone so that it may last as long as the sun and the moon endure.

Accordingly anyone who infringes (what is stated above) or consent to infringes or tell others to infringe becomes our enemy, who has committed an offence against Matantra, committed five great sins, a great sinner who had appropriated what was offered to gods, committed an offence against the (Triple) gem, who will enter the hell.


Extracted from the information panel(Department of Archaeology) near the inscription.