Highway System in Ancient Sri Lanka


Dr.(Mrs.) P. Vidanapathirana


Historical information about the ancient road network of Sri Lankais restricted to random records encountered in historical documents and also to information recorded as a result of research carried out during the British administration. This study is based on a recent research conducted with special attention towards the technical aspects of the ancient road system and it’s expansion over the island. An attempt is also made to reconstruct the road system that existed from thethird century BC up to 13th century AD. Modern research techniques are applied in identifying technical aspects and the expansion of the road system under discussion.

Political stability, strength of the ruling power, economic prosperity and the establishment, and the spread of religious institutions contributed to the sustainabulity and expansion of a developed road network during the period. Technical know-how and the expertise that had been applied and made use of in constructing road system in contemporary South Asian countries could be identified within the national road network in ancient Sri Lanka too. Geographically country being an island it had maintained a close relationship with several international sea routs hence asd and infrastructural facility, a road network connecting cities and urban areas to places inwards had developed. Furthermore island had maintained a close relationship with long distance sea routs that facilitated the international trade. That helped the existence of a systematic road network expanding towards regions and peripheries from the main cities.

Keywords: roads, infrastructure, transport technology, maintenance, reconstruction

Highway system in Sri Lanka: Method of study

Archaeological data has to be gathered on a national as well as on a provincial basis. This data may include ruins of neglected road patches of long established ancient road ways as well as stone and wooden bridges, ambalamas or wayside resting pleases, gavukanu or stone wayside pillars (to guide travellers about directions and distances, gavukanu were fixed at 4 mile distances), road junctions, ferries, rural settlements, monastery sites and geographical distribution of tanks. Thus framework regarding the basic principles carried out in the construction of a national and provincial road system could be established by comparing recorded historical data with already available ruins pertaining to road network that existed in the past. Such comparison may reveal features and the mode of construction of a national and provincial road system in the country (Vidanapathirana, 2012, 2016). Identification of such a framework will also express the development of contemporary social and cultural progress along with the political and economic stability of the country during the period. It is also necessary to understand various fluctuations and changers that occurred with respect to road contrition due to political and economic instabilities.

A well-organised road system in a country reflects the political stability economic strength and social as well as cultural development during a certain period of time. Above factors enable us to map out clearly the special distribution of boundaries contemporary urban, provincial and outlying areas. In the study special attention will be focussed on six main roads leading toward six directions from the main city of Anuradhpura during the Anuradhapura period (Vidanapathirana 2012). Along with political stability of Asokan Empire the Royal Highway stating from the city of Pataleputta wound up to Pesarwar (Purushupura) and Takhasila in the eastern boulder of Decan, covering three thousand miles to join the Silk Road (Needhum,1971; Hendrickson, 2010). Construction of such a high way is concurrent with the power and strength of the powerful ruler Emperor Asoka. Modern concept that a systematically constructed well maintained road network reflects the prosperity and developed of such a state is further strengthened by studies carried out on the develop road systems in ancient Rome, China, Angkor in Cambodia and Inkas in South America. Excavations carried out in Rome China and India during the Mauryan period had proved that in constructing and planning major road network attention had been focussed on security tactics too (Needhum,1971) Engineering principals and the geographical expansion patterns were closely integrated in planning road constructing systems in any part of the world during ancient times (Needhum,1971; Kautilya Arthahastra vol.2 )

In this study it is expected to discuss some of the elementary principals followed in the construction of road ways. It is necessary to find out whether the roadways that existed the ancient Sri Lanka had been in use throughout in the past and how this system had contributed to the construction and development of national and provincial roads. There is evidence of a systematic road network that had existed from the 4th century BC. Yet it is doubtful whether this network continued to function for a long time. However certain sections of the ancient road network in north eastern and western parts of the island have crept in to the present national network.

During the British rule when constructing new roads in the Dry Zone there are several instances where they followed the existing ancient road network. It is mentioned that aver in Indian Peninsula the British had followed the same method when constructing new roads. Roads always never existed in the same condition throughout (Vidanapathirana,2012 ; Rahman Dar, 2000). Provincially roads of different types were used by the masses. Thus ridges separating rice fields, tank bunds, irrigation canal bunds too continued to connect villages as roads network. However, in the Dry Zone due to geographical factors water ways were not used a road. When classifying road types and crossing types similar methods were used to cross rivers in order to reach the main cities. Some roads extended up to the provincial areas leading from the main high ways. International sea routes had trading and commercial links with the harbours. Roads connecting the land and the harbours were of major importance as export material and goods had to be transported through these routes. There is evidences that in constructing roads constructions, maintenance, providing necessary resources were based on political and economic stability up to the 13th century. Everything had to done under the royal patronage. In recognising the expansion and the development of a historical road network above factors provide us with a logical base.

Ancient Road network in Sri Lanka

According to the nature of the geo-political structure of the island, and also due to the directions through which water flows on to the sea along major and minor rivers main roads that connected the metropolitans’ areas of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva roads had to cross rivers at various points to reach the cities. Even up to date wooden and stone bridges over the rivers are to be seen at certain places and this proves that the infrastructure facility of roads running over land had been supported by stone and wooden bridges. Routes connected significant points like the temple premises ambalamas or resting places, minor tanks, and wells as well. Through archaeological research carried out from the 19th century they have found govukanu by the side of the road and the gavukanu were meant to mark the distance from one point to another. The gavukanu resemble the milestones later fixed by the British. During the Anuradhapura period there were six main roads running from the capital covering a distances of 1100 km (Vidanapathirqana,2016). Those routs ran up to Jambukolapattana in the north, up to Magama in the south Gokannatittha and Pallavavamka ports in the east, and finally up to Mahatittha, Magana and Uruvala ports in the western cost (Vidanapathirana,2012; Vidanapathirana& Karunarathne, 2015).
Safe and flourishing economy, establishment of religious institutions in abundance and their progress and the cultural aspects influenced the spread of a transport network up to distant corners of the country from the capital. Although there is a possibility to reconstruct the road network within the capital with the help of the ruins of 19 small and large stone and wooden bridges across Malvatu Oya and it’s tributaries and also irrigation canals no adequate information could be found on the gradual progress of a road system that existed for more than 1500 years(Vidanapathirana, 2012). Yet, we come across certain factors revealing bleak information regarding the development and the progress of a road system that centred round the main city of Anuradhapura from the 1st century AD. As an introduction for their findings, the British in the 19th century used such information as their base and also jungle infested roads.

Around the area associated with the main city bridges connecting a multitude of roads forming a cluster have been mapped out as a result of these findings. There were thirteen bridges constructed over Malvatu Oya and out of the three roads connecting the main southern and eastern roads which cartable. Apart from the three main stone bridges ruins of seven small stone bridges have been discovered. These bridges known as Jamhasethu in Visuddhimagga are six to eight feet in breath (Visud. 301). It is inbred that four to five pedestrians could cross horizontally at a time over these bridges. May be these bridges had been used by carts smaller in size when crossing the Malvatu Oya. By crossing the bridges over Malvatu Oya and it’s tributaries one could enter the access roads to Ruvanvalisaya, Sri Mahabodhi, Jetavanarama viharaya and turn to Rajaveediya too. From rajaveediya same routs entered the metropolitan area later to move through four main gates and then enter the national road network past the main stone bridges. (Vidanapathirana, 2012;2016). They were straight roads leading to all four directions proportionately in across pattern. These principles were visible as main aspects of town planning in Anuradhapura as well as in Polonnaruva. Streets within the city were fifteen to twenty feet in breath and this was a common aspect in both cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva(Vidanapathirana,2012; 2013).

Inner city of Anuradhapura had a major road network extending onwards the four main gates north south east and the west. According to the excavation done rajaveediya leaving the inner city from the southern gate was 58 feet wide (ASCAR 1960; Ratnayake, 1984). Ruin of a building 25 feet in length and 16 ft. in breath, inferred to be a watch post has been found on highway at the middle of the southern gate(Ratnayake, 1984). Kautilyain his Arthasastra says that the entrances to cities and the royal highways has to be 48 ft. in width(KA :53). In contemporary China according to their norms main roads in a city had to be 50 ft. width. Main roads according to Roman standards had to be 25 ft. wide. An excavation was carried out at a four ways junction in the capital Chhang-an in China. It was discovered that roads in the city to be 19.7ft. in width (Needham ,1971).

Evidences of historical and archaeological documents

Certain historical records indicating significant incidents of the past and also information records about the royals and the royalty also contain valuable hints about the prevailed routes and roadways that had existed in the country. Inscriptions depicting royal grants, activities related to military operations and provincial economic affairs appear to carry significant information about the road system that existed within the island. Hence in a way it is possible to re-construct the road network that had been in use by cartography with the help of geographical expansion and historical and archaeological data and transport component, like bridges, ancient road tracks and gavu pillars. For this propose provincial maps prepared by the Dutch and the British during their rule will contribute to a great extent. Neglected jungle covered ancient roads made use of by that British during their archaeological exploration in the Dry Zone were of much importance for the task of reconstructing a historical road system in the country. In cartography record maintained by the British they had marked the location of ruins and road tracks. This provides us with valuable data in reconstructing the road network within the capital cities of ancient Sri Lanka.

During the Anuradhapura period a national highway was constructed to touch the four main gates of the inner city of Anuradhapyra. This evidence is primarily gathered from Mahavamsa describing the visit of Bhikkuni Sangamitta carrying the Sri Mahabodhi sapling from Jambukolapattana to Anuradhapura during the reign of Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC). Procession camping to Sri Mahabodhi entered from the northern gate of the city went it’s way along the rajaveediya to enter Mahamegavana. Geographical location of northern, southern and the eastern gates were confirmed through the excavation confuted by the Department of Archaeology found from the year 1960 (Paranavitana, 1960) .These excavations had been conducted at different intervals. Historical sources reveal facts about a few ferries in Malvatu Oya connecting roads associated with the city of Anuradhapura. Remains of bridges constructed at their ferry points have been already identified by the archaeologists. According to Visuddimagga one of these ferries may be the historical ferry Arahat Mahinda had to cross on his way from Anuradhapura to Sagiriya(Mihintale) (Visud:302). According to Mahavamsa this ferry in Malvatu Oya appears to be the same that was connected to the road covered with white sand continued up to Malvatu Oya during the reign of Mahamegavarna to reach Sagiriya where the Girikanda festival was held (Mv 34.78). May be that is the same routs where a statue of Arahat Mahinda was carried with much festivity from Mihintale to Anuradhapura during the reign of Sri Megavanna (301-328AD). (Mv. 37.73-79)

In 1892 to the north of this road another ancient road running towards theeast from Jetavanarama has been cartographic. The stone bridge that we come across on this road belong to Jamhasetu type and is about 6 ft. in width (Vidanapathirana,1912). It is further combined through recent excavation that this is the same route that left towards the east and west running to the west of southern rampart of the city. Main bridge connecting the eastern highway may have been busy as there had been a constant flow of passengers wending their way towards Pacchena Tissababatavihara nestling on the southern bank of Malvatu Oya. When entering the city across Malvatu Oya there had been different routes and bridges to different shrines and temples.

Ruins of cross roads deviating from the eastern highway to reach a road by the Puliyankulama monastery had been cartographies by Hocart in 1929 (Horcart, 1929,pl ixxii).
Information could be gathered from historical chronicles from the 3rdcentury BC regarding a traditional way of decorating roads and streets during festivals. It is stated that at the festival held to celebrate the planting of Sri Mahabodhi the royal highway was covered with white sand and road side was decorated with flowers of five different colours (panchchvarna).Remains of Arahat Mahinda who passed away during the time of king Uttiya were carried in procession from Mihintale to Anuradhapura. Remains placed in a golden bier were carried along the royal highway which was decorated with flags and innumerable flowers. There had been a large congregation by the royal highway to pay homage to Arahat Mahinda (Mv.19.37-38). Till the end of Anuradhapura period it is implied that there had been a tradition of decorating streets during festivals. It is also implied that the streets were sprinkled with pirit-pan to bring solace to masses at the time of famine and plagues (Mv20.36-40).

Apart from decorating streets of Anuradhapura during festivities, there had been the tradition of decorating roads and highways even otherwise according to the slab inscription of queen Kalyanawatie (1202-1208AD) at Ruvanvalisaya compound.(dhaja, pathaka, kadale toranin veedi sarasa) These decorations consisted of flags and pandol, erected with banana trees(Paranavitana, 1944). Although the geographical location of certain roads and streets cannot be exactly identified it is further implied that there had been streets allocated for certain specific purposes.

Thus, according to Mahavamsaarea outside the western rampart had been allocated for commercial activates from the 5th century BC onwards. The streets outside were named velanda veediya (market street) Pandukabhaya settled his trading community who migrated from the West Asia in this area when there had been trading activities (Mv.10.89-90). Excavation conducted in the inner city has proved the presence of foreign traders even before the 5th century BC (Deraniyagala&Abeyratne, 2000; Silva, 2000). According to Basavakkulama rock inscription during the era of king Upatissa (368-410), the area around the western gate of the city had remained a trade centre (Paranavitana, 1960).Comparing historical and archaeological research the main road network running to all four directions of the capital had finally entered the market street which was outside the western gate. Stone bridges of different dimension found in the central city of Anuradhapura are of strong archaeological evidence to say that the streets within the city were constructed according to the constructed principles of Kautilay’s Arthasasthra. It says that certain roads were constructed according to the purpose they served.

Movement by road to significant destinations

From around 4th century AD a road network had spread over the island as a result of activities like pilgrimages to temples and contacts with the harbour. Historical events record from the time of king Pandukabhaya carry information about an overland road network connecting the city of Anuradhapura to thecoastal peripheries. After the advent of Buddhism during the reign of Devanampiyatissa Buddhism was spread throughout the country through the road network which has covered the whole island ( Sv,. 445-446)

Evidence could be found from ancient chronicles and from inscriptions regarding the maintenances, construction and the development of a road network reaching the northern maritime province of Jambukolapattan and also Magama city and Godavaya harbour of the southern Sri Lanka (Vidanapathirana,2016). There were roads touching the harbour along the eastern and western coast. Chronicles and inscriptional record the existence of a developed road network connecting even significant religious destinations like SriPada in Samanalakanda (Adam’s peak) in the central hill (Wickremesinghe,1927).These roads had been developed and maintained with the royal patronage. Northern highway leaving Anuradhapura citadel up to Jambukolapattana in the northern coast reach the harbour of Uratota (Kayts).Mahavamsa further record the contacts between the royalty in Anuradhapura and Kajaragama (Kataragama) and Candanaga main Ruhana desa in the southern part of the island.

During the famine that occurred in the 1st century BC according to Sammohavenodani Attakata of Rev. Buddhaghosa it was from the port of Jambukolapattana that the Buddhist monks embarked on their journey to temples in India. It is mentioned in the same text that ships were assembled in Jambukolapattana for this purpose. As mentioned inRajavaliya it implied that king Gajaba 1 (114-136 AD) left for Jaffna on the same routeto invade the Chola kingdom of southern India. According to Dathuvamsa, king Kitsirimevan (331-569AD) carrying the sacred tooth relic disembarked at Jambukolapattana to reach Anuradhapura (Datu.8-11).Depending on its nature of activities of the port at Uratota it is necessary to pay our attention to that main overland road that connected the port city to the capital city of Anuradhapura. Construction and maintenance of roads up to the northern boundary came under the supervision of the kings. Tamil Inscription at Nagadepa Island in north by the king Parakkramabahu I says that Uratota had been the principle port where Indian trades entered the country (Indrapala,1963). The king had paid special attention to Indian ships that carried elephants and horses in to the country. According to Mahavamsaking Parakkramabahu had assembled ships at Uratota to invade South India. It further states that Uratota port appeared like a ship building factory (Mv.76.45-46).

During the Anuradhapura period there were roads connecting the capital city with ports open to in international trade. This net work extended up to miner ports along the western coast.Road network connected to the main internal trade route from Mahatittha was planned in such a way that all major and minor routes leaving to all four direction of the island had joined the main trade route from the northern and southern area of the inner city (Vidanapathirana,2012). Systematic transport facilitated the carrying out and implementing the state export import principles, movement of commercial items and the maintenance of a well organised custom office system. Existence of a proper road system from capital city to port of Mahatittha is evident from the fact that foreign invaders who landed the island at Mahatittha, during political instability commanded their troops enter Anuradhapura along this route. There were three major routs connected to Mahatittha, Magana and Uruvela ports from the main trade routes (Vidanapathirana, 2012) Western merchants Street of Anuradhapura had a direct approach to the main road to Mahatittha from Anuradhapura. The road network in the metropolis was connected to trade routes of the west of Anuradhapura so that the export items reaching from different part of the country could be collected at this point. There could have been market stalls by the road side along with store house facility for import and export items. Port bound carts carrying trading items from provincial areas close to the city were subject to custom regulations (Vidanapathirana,2016).

When constructing the road to Mahatittha streets within the city limits were constructed at a higher elevation. With the excavation carried out in 1891 a foundation of ruined rectangular building has been found by the road side (ASCAR1892). These ruins are inferred to be either market stalls or store houses for goods bound for exportation. Similar features have been identified along the main market street in Polonnaruva outer city area. This same market route led toward the ports of Gokanantittha (Trincomalee) and Lankapattana and other smaller ports situated to the south of Gokanantittha from Polonnaruva (Vidanapathirana, 2016).

Road connection between Rajarata to Magama from the time of king Kavantissa in 2nd century BC has been recorded on Mahavamsa on several occasions. Certain place names mentioned in Mahavamsa when describing the road followed by king Dutugamunu leading the forces from Magama in Rohana-desa to Anuradhapura seems to agree with certain place names identified with the ancient southern highway(Mv25.11;Pu.:28;Tu 146) Fixing of gavukanu by the road side mark the distance during king Nissankamalla. This is an indication to prove that there had been a constant use of an established road system in the country (Hocart,1929:1-12)). Often this road had been familiarised by the royals of Anuradhapura to visit Mahiyangana temple. According to Mahavamsa, the construction of Mahiyangana stupa had been patronised by a brother of king Devanampiyatissa. Since the completion of this construction the stupa had been renovated by several kings up to the reign of king Prakkramabahu VI (1412-1467) (Mv1.24,40,42,25.7-8;Tu:50’Vp98-100,473;Sbo:212;Pu:736; Paranavitana, 1955:177-195;). Hopitigamuva inscription by king Kassapa IV (946-954) says that Mahiyangana temple had remained a significant land mark on the way to Rohana-desa (Paranavitana,1933:71-78)). Discovery of a gavukanu at the village Valigatta proves that the road continued even beyond Magama up to the Godavaya port of the southern coast (Hocart 1929, 1930: plate LXXIII. ; Codrington 1930:129-136. ; Paranavitana1944:161).

Evidence of Infrastructure

In understanding the expansion and extension of a road network techniques employed in the construction of resting places and crossing points are significant clues. Construction of permanent stone bridges across the rivers is an archaeological evidence of a well established road system. In accordance with the geographical location wooden bridges were constructed on rock lying under the river. Still remaining infrastructural features are the stone and wooden bridges ambalam or resting houses, gavukanu or distant marking, wells, temples and small tanks. By the Grand trunk road running from Pataluputra to Peshawar (Purushupura) pillars were installed after every 2.5 miles for the convenience of travellers (K A. vol2:.53;Needham, 1971:.5-6;Rahman Dar 2000:159-160,179) Those pillars were identical with present day mile posts (kos miner).

From the remains found in some main roads in Sri Lanka it is understood that the same technique had been practised in country too. Isolated stone pillars found to the north of Abhyagiriya on the ancient western high way to Mahatittha road and the stone pillar discovered by Bell as a gavu pillar close to Vijayarama temple complex (north of Anuradhapura city) are some of the remaining evidence to say that the technique followed in India has been followed in Sri Lanka too (Bell,1892:3-4). This is further understood from the gavu pillars discovered from the main road within the city limits of Anuradhapura and those found by the southern high way supposed to have been fixed during Polonnaruva period (Vidanapathirana, 2016). According the practise of setting gavu pillars had been a continuing practise in Sri Lanka. Apart from the about archaeological evidences regarding the fixing of gavu pillars one could fine as from the Hatadage wahalkada inscription of king Nissankamalla that says Tam hinduva akuru kotava Nissanka gavu yay nam kota (Wickremesinghe.1927:119)These is a whale street of gavu pillars discovered though exploration the Rohana high way and the main road way to the east. A few gavu pillars on the way of Magana minor port are being carried close to Mahavilachchiyavava Magana port is situated to the south of Mahatittha in the western coast (Vidanapathirana 2012,2013,2016).

There is evidence of a rectangular foundation among the ruins adjoining Abhyagiri watch found in this area is inscribed mahavata chathussala meaning a building open from all sides to same as an open hall or an ambalama.(Bell,1891:5,1893:4; Paranavitana,2001:150-151)

Bell has reported that the foundation on a rocky plane at Palugasvava village close to southern high way to be another ambalama. In metropolitan area ambalamas were constructed at points where cross road meet. Bell has recorded about two ambalamas constructed at a junction where three road meet (tun-man-handiya) on the southern and western high way. There had been another ambalama at a junction where four road meet (satara-man handiya) resting place for travelling from the northern eastern and north-eastern area.There is evidence of an ambalama and a gavu pillar in the city limits close to Tissavava on the southern high way. Hattavanagalla vihavamsaya andJataka-atuva-gatapadaya supposed to have been written at the time of Parakkramabahu II (1236-1270) and they mention about an ambalama and a wooden bridge constructed near Tissavava. Jataka-atuva-gatapadaya names the bridge as puvaraheya (Ja.16;Hat.21-25). The bridge is supposed to have been constructed on stone pillars set across a stream and they are paved with wooden planks. Road leading to Dakkhina- desa and Uruvala port had to cross this wooden bridge.During the reign of Parakkramabahu II there is recorded information to say that the construction of ambalam and bridges were done with the royal patronage. Stone bridges belong to historical age can treated across river and streams in the Dry Zone have been

Thus on the northern high way bridges at Halpan ela, Malvatu Oya, Kandara Uya near Tulavaliya, Kal Aru across Pavakkulam and Ulukkulam constructed to the advancement of infrastructure of northern high way (Vidanapathirana,2016). On the eastern high way up to Gokannatittha Malvatu Oya stone bridge at tai eastern gate of Anuradhapura stone bridge across Mahakanadara Oya and Hunukanadara Oya, Kongollava and Parangiyavadiya across Yan Oya remain as landmarks. Three bridges across Yan Oya have been identified in the eastern coast at Pallavavamka. A port to the north of the Gokannatittha and some more ports that have not been unidentified yet are assumed to have played a supportive role to the Gokanna harbour (Vidanapathirana &Karunatathne, 2015). Ports at the eastern coast seem to have gathered more prominence as a result of the changes in the trade monopoly in the Indian Ocean and the shifting of capital to Polonnaruva from Anuradhapura in 8thcentury AD.

On the main road to the port at Pallavavamka there was a stone bridge at Sangilikanadara Uya a tributary of Mavatu Oya from the north east to the Anuradhapura city. This main road had to pass the stone bridges at Rambava across Mora Oya and at Demodara across Yan Oya. There was another main road from the main road to Pallavavamka Port., to reach Kokilai lagoon. Stone bridge across Yan Oya Moragama is a landmark on the road. Another road deviating from the main road to reach Pllavavamka port reaches the port passing a stone bridge across Yan Oya at Kimbulpitiyava (Vidanapathirana &Karunatathne, 2015; Vidanapathirana 2016).

Branching from the eastern high way there was a road to reach Seruvila and Lankapattana across Kantale Ara Passing a stone bridge. Road to the Valachchne coastal area from Polonnaruva passes through Kasatota across river Mahavali ganga and Pollipota Ara situated at Kayankani in the eastern coast passing another stone bridge (Dayananda & Karunarathne, 2014; Vidanapathirana,2016). Although there were less settlement along this route there had been a well established infrastructure with the presses of temples monasteries along with an expansion of small scale tanks. Stone bridges at Kala Oya Radatota and the bridge at Mudennegama across Siyabalangamu Oya as landmarks on the road to Dakkhina-desa from Anuradhapura Vidanapathirana,2012). This road run parallel to modern Anuradhapura – Kurunagala road. Ruins of certain monastery and ambalam from village names Ballala to Padeniya are remaining evidences of the existence of this road. So far no research has been done to examine whether royal patronage had been there to a systematic coordination in the construction of provincial road network in the country. Yet it could be inferred that the dams of major and minor irrigation canals and major tank bunds had a direct amalgamation with the major road network in the island. It has been revealed that within the ancient Chinese civilization banks of irrigation canals spread over the past agricultural landscape that had been in amalgamation with transport network from the second century AD onwards.

Construction, maintenance and the continuation of roads

In Kautliya’s Arthasastra written in the 4th century BC it is stated that the ruler of the country should card mate with national and provincial institutions to construct road according to necessity. Thus according to Arthasastra it is the duty and the responsibility of the king to construct and maintain roads within the capital, military headquarters, ports city, and road laying to transport vehicles carrying elephants and other animals commercial roads overland and over water ways. It is his duty to protect carts carrying commercial goods from way laying.

Priority had to be given to maintenance and administration of roads in the metropolis. Fa-yuan in his report has mentioned that the roads and streets within the inner city of Anuradhapura were flattened and maintained with very high standards in the 5th century AD. It is reported that there had been stupa and dharmasala constructed at the road junctions (Balagalle, 1999). Streets within the city limits were laden with stone slabs and steps were constructed at points where those streets were not even. Recent excavation have confirmed that these were walls by the side of streets at certain places Ruins of streets with side walls and paved stone slabs were among the recent findings within the capital city. Road were systematically done even outside the city limits and further away as Cave pointed out in 1887 (Cave,1887).

Ruins of systematically constructed pathway and by-lanes within the monasteries complexes are clear examples of the advanced technical knowledge of those who have constructed them. Expert technical knowledge has been applied to the maximum to build them by preserving the natural environment to maintain the longevity of their systems. Just as in Chinese and Roman civilizations, the construction maintenance and the control of major road network came under the king in India Mauryan empire. Apart from the information to say that the construction of roads in Sri Lanka had been based on town planning because archaeological and historical sources refer to instances about the king’s instructions to the construction of the road network in Sri Lanka. There is evidence to infrastructure that fixing of gavu pillars by the side of main roads, construction of bridges, construction of ambalamas at provincial and distant places, construction of danasala at crossings within the city limits for the benefit of Bikkkus arriving from all four directions, allocation of grants for those who constructed and maintained danasala in different places like Sri Pada to have come under the king supervision. Mahavamsa says that Vijayabahu 1 during his rule in planning the city constructed darmasala in the city of Polonnaruva for Bikkus reaching the city from all four directions. This information proves that the Indian system had been followed in Sri Lanka.

According to Arthasatra it was the duty of the king to contribute to maintain all national and provincial roads including water ways. Road network includes all types of major and minor roads and they had to be constructed to proper standards with standards width. It was the duty of the king to find security to carts carrying goods for trade on trade rout and assign an officer for such duties. To supply water to travellers it was the kindness of the king to dig wells constructs ponds, and minor tanks by the road side. It was his duty to construct security huts at important chine hint plant fixed trees by the road side. In Chang-an city in China it is recorded that trees were at an equal distance of 30 ft. in the 3rd century BC. During the Mauyan Empire resting places were constructed after way 1.5 miles (half korsa) on the Grand trunk road from Pataliputra to Peshawar. Stone pillars were fixed of in every 3 miles. Present Anuradhapura Kurunagala road appears to be the same as the ancient road from Daladagama to Padeniya there were the ambalam after 1.5 miles respectably at Daladagama, Balalla, Kumbukvava, Kudagama and Padeniya. Existing ambalamas and this road belong to the Kandyan period. But there is evidence to say that they existed at the same places for a long period of time.

There is uniformity in the technique of construction among stone bridges as they were done mostly under the royal patronage. When examining the construction of stone bridges at Malvatu Oya, Kala Oya and Yan Oya it is obvious that the height and the strength of stone pillars were decided considering the water level of these rivers. Constructed with technique were the stone bridges at Malvatu Oya connecting northern and eastern high ways.Radatota and Palankadavala Bridges in Kala Oya, and the bridges over Mahakanadarava and Yan Oya connected to main roads. Main Bridges were connected over three stone pillars set across. Bridge across Kal Aru (tributary of Mahakanadara Oya) carrying lesser value of water was constructed only on two stone pillars. The bridges across Kal Aru at Puvarasankulama on the northern high way, across Kantale Ara on Anuradhapura Seruvila Road, across Pulliyanpota at Kayankani are constructed only on two stone pillars. Stone bridge at Mahkanadarava helps us to decide on the time frame and the technique of these stone bridges. Leaving a single stone slab, all remaining sabs survive up to date. This is a bridge constructed across aevince reaching Kanadara Oya. Kanadaravava as recorded in historical sources is identified as Kanavava and was constructed by king Mahasen. After the construction of the tank the stream was known as van ela(spill) after which the area remained a dry valley for most part of the year. The bridge remained well peeved as it was not to the heavy value of water that ran for centavos with the long and heavy monsoon rains. This shows that the bridge was constructed prior to the construction of the tank. Modern Kanadaravava were seen today had been developed and expanded during historical time and also after the independence with several agricultural projects. This bridge had been constructed applying advanced technology with a saved knowledge in the construction field between1st century BC to 1st century AD (Vidanapathirana,2016).

Information about officials who had administered the maintenance of road is seen in some of the Early Brahmi inscriptions belonging to 3rd century BC. Pareka-adika one of such officers had donated a cave according to the 1st century BC cave inscription at Annaikutti-kanda in Mihintale. Ward paraka-adika has been identified as a road inspector by Paranavitana. In a contemporary inscription at Periyapuliyankulama in Vavuniya district an officer who had donated a cave identified it has official name as asa-adika is defined as the superintendent of horses. The past sivaka-adika is also associated with road administration. This official name is identified as the one who looks after and superintendent of palanquins and the royal chariot. There is evidence up to the 3rd century BC tue that the services related to road administration were conducted and supervised by officers appointed by the road king himself.

Defining the word mag-mahavaridentified in inscription belonging to the 8th century AD to the 10th century AD it could be imposed that they were the officers appointed to administer the work related to roads and high ways. Although the nature of their services is not clearly identified and it may be that they were examine the maintenance of roads as well as the control of theirs way laying those travelling up and down. Paranavitana in his definition about the ward mag-mahavar appearing as Tamaravava pillar inscription of Kassapa IV (724-730AD) rock inscription at Mihintale and Gonava-devala pillar inscription in Kurunagala district belonging to 9th century AD as un-officer employed look after the roads. The ward mag-mahavar encountered in the slab inscription of Mahinda IV (956-972 AD) at Mihintale is analysed by Wickremasinghe as people employed as labour to maintain high way and subsidiary road (Wickremesinghe, 1912). Ranawell present a contradictory explanation about the ward mag-mahavar acceding to him it is only a road tax levied from all road including the high way. Base on the contents Rambava pillar inscription of the 8th century AD, Paranavitana says that there were government officers worked upon looters.

There is evidence to say that, there was a tax collecting mechanise from carts transporting goods up and down and these taxes were stationed at city gate and entrances to villages. In Arthasastra there was a tax known as dvara-daka evade at entrance the villages, settlements and city gates. According to Badulla pillar inscription the 8th century AD. it was prohibited to collect taxes from every cats passing by other than from carts entering the trading village of Hopitigamuva. According by the 8th century AD there was a system where taxes were levied only from carts carrying goods for sale (Paranavitana,1933). Akind of an office had been setup the entrance of the villages and hamlets. Vimativinodani has mentioned about the kings who collected road taxes from carts transporting commercial goods. There was a systematic mechanism adopted to collect taxes at the entrance to cities limits. According to an inscription of the 10th century AD traced from the inner city of Anuradhapura, a tax has to be paid to the king from ever cart carrying commercial items passing the city limits and instructed in the above inscription from every sack of paddy that is calmed through the city one pata had be offered to Mahapali alms hall. Custom officers maintained city gates were known as madisa according to the pillar inscription of queen Lelyanavathie (1202-1208) in Anuradhapura. It is implied that the system existed at ferries of Kathatittha and Sahassatittha main ferries and some more unidentified ferries down of Mhavali ganga. Minvila rock inscription of Kanikkhatissa (167-186) and the slab inscription at Somavathie chaitya say that the tax collected from ferries at Kehigamakatota, Sumanagamakatota and Totagamakatota on offered to Mani-agiya rajamahavihara (Paranavitana,2001). Taxes collected from ferries down the river were allocated from the propose of road administration. A legal framework had been adopted for the proper collection of taxes, continually city gates, entrance to villages and hamlets and ferries.


Historical road network of Sri Lanka had been established from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD with the establishment of a permanent irrigation system, expansion of commercial area and stabilised powerful political situation may have helped to develop the road system to an extent of constructing strong stone bridges and with permanent highway system. As the road network was extended up to a vast area within the island the development of roads continued up to 13th century AD.

There are six main highways and main roads leaning Anuradhapura to join the main and minor ports in the island. There is a link between road network of the country and the international trade affairs, Capital cities, ports, monasteries complexes were connected to each often by a systematically planned well maintained road network. Construction, maintenance and the control of roads and highways followed the contemporary principles of road management. This task comes under the supervisor of the king a representative appointed by the king. Therefore, the infrastructure connected to roads technology had uniformity as the same principals were applied when fixing gavu pillars, main roads constructing of stone bridges, establishing temples, ambalams and constructing tanks.

With the economic progress in the country tax stratus high too was subjected to change. Thus there were changes in taxed envied and roads. There were rules and regulations when spouting security prowled protecting carts from way laying. In conclusion based on this research it could be finally understood that any improvement and the establishment on the country’s minor and major roads network was based on the historical road network that existed are the island.


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    • Its in Anuradhapura and is known as the “stone bridge”. Some person around there told me that one of the kings built it for the troops, weapons and elephants heading north to fight the Indian invaders.

  1. It would be a great service to all readers that a map which highlights all the ancient road networks mentioned in the article. I have visited Sri Lanka three times but I find it us hard to follow the texts without map as a reference. Thanks.


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