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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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Archaeological Milestones in Sri Lanka: Part 01

By Chryshane Mendis

Research into the field of Archaeology in Sri Lanka dates back to over 125 years, having being initiated by the British administration in the late 19th century. Archaeology as a professional discipline began in the early 19th century in Europe and as a result of our colonization by the British, the discipline found its way to the island from early on. Since then the archaeological field in Sri Lanka has been dominated first by the foreigners and after independence by the Sri Lankans, and has greatly aided in our understanding of our rich history. A large percentage of what we know of and all of what we see, of our ancient civilization at present, were all the result of archaeological research.

This article series would sum up some of the most important events in the journey of Sri Lankan Archaeology, milestones which changed the way we think of the past, the way we know the past and the way we see and protect the past. Milestones in Sri Lanka archaeology would include important discoveries to institutional and policy establishments, which, has helped the field to progress to the present and helped expand our understanding and protection of the past. Each article would feature three milestones typically in chronological order. This article would feature:

  1. Translation of the ‘Mahawamsa’
  2. ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ 1883
  3. Discovery of the first stone tools and the establishment of a prehistory in the island

Translation of the ‘Mahawamsa’

The Mahawamsa is one of the oldest continuously recorded chronicles in the world covering a period of over twenty three centuries; it records a continuous political and religious history of the island from the arrival of Vijaya to the fall of the island to the British. As a historical work, it is of immense value in understanding our past and has aided the historian and archaeologist greatly in his/her study. However, this chronicle was all but forgotten in the 19th century until an accurate translation was made in 1837 by George Turnour, which opened the doors to the study of both the history of Sri Lanka and India.

With the colonization of most of the Indian subcontinent by the beginning of the 19th century, European scholars began to explore the history of the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, like wise Ceylon was no exception. To European scholars, prior to the 1830s, it was believed that the island was devoid of any literature of historical interest, this view was carried forward by the Portuguese historians as well as the early British; Robert Percival in his book in 1803 states “the wild stories current among the natives throw no light whatever on the ancient history of the island. The earliest period which we can look for any authentic information is the arrival of the Portuguese under Almeida in 1505” and John Davy in his book in 1821 mentions “the Singhalese possess no accurate record of events; are ignorant of genuine history, and are not sufficiently advanced to relish it”. 

This view was all changed with the ‘discovery’ and translation of the Mahawamsa in 1837 by George Turnour. However, Turnour weren’t the first to ‘discover’ the text or even translate it.   Sir Alexander Johnston during his tenure as Chief Justice of Ceylon (1805-1819) had collected various manuscripts of Pali and Sinhalese from temples throughout the country which also included manuscripts of the Mahawamsa, Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya. These texts were translated to English by Edward Upham with the assistance of the native chief of the cinnamon department who was an authority in Pali and the Wesleyan missionary Rev. Fox; into the work known as Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon: Also, A Collection of Tracts Illustrative of the Doctrine and Literature of Buddhism, published in three volumes in London in 1833.

But it is the translation of George Turnour that is most remembered due to the fact that Upham’s translation contained many inaccuracies. Turnour in his introduction of his translation states his endeavor was to “account for one of the most extra-ordinary delusions perhaps, ever practiced on the literary world,” and on the other, to prevent these erroneous representations of the “Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon to be works of authority.”

George Turnour was an oriental scholar who served in the Ceylon Civil Service and it was during his tenure as Asst. Government Agent of Sabaragamuwa (1825-1828) in 1826 that he came across the rare text of the Mahawamsa. Turnour, who was pursuing his studies into the Pali literature of the island with the assistance of a learned Monk named Gallē, came to know of the existence of a continuous written chronicle on the history of the island. He obtained the manuscript  in 1826 from the Mulgirigala Viharaya in Tangalle which was ‘tika’ or a running commentary of the Pali work known as the Mahawamsa, which contained a continuous written history of the island from 543 B.C. To 1758 A.D. Coming to know the importance of this work, he dedicated his life from then on to the translation and dissemination of this material, which brought to light the unknown history of the island. It is stated that due to his official duties the translation was delayed and when he learned of the translation and publication of Upham, he was glad, but soon found that translation to be faulty.

In 1833 he published a paper titled ‘Epitome of the History of Ceylon’ in the Ceylon Almanac which he listed down the succession and genealogy of 165 Kings from the arrival of Vijaya to the British, based on his study of the Mahawamsa and other materials. According to Tennent “in this work, after infinite labour, he succeeded in condensing the events of each reign, commemorating the founders of the chief cities, and noting the erection of the great temples and Buddhist monuments, and the construction of some of the reservoirs…he thus effectually demonstrated the misconceptions of those who previously believed the literature of Ceylon to be destitute of historic materials”.

Original copy of Turnour’s Mahawanso at the Royal Asiatic Library

His translation of the main text from Pali to English was published titled ‘The Mahāwanso, in Roman Characters with the Translation subjoined; and an introductory essay on Pali Buddhistical Literature’, published by the Cotta Church Mission Press in 1837. This goes as volume I and contains chapters 01 to 38 ending with the reign of King Dhatusena. Volume II of George Turnour’s Mahawama was published only in 1889 which was translated and edited by L. C. Wijesinghe as Mahawamsa Part II.

The first Sinhala translation of the Mahawamsa was undertaken by Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera and Don de Silva Batuwanthudawe between 1877-1883. Subsequently many critical editions have since come about.

By the early 20th century the Government of Ceylon was in wanting of an official English critical translation of Turnour’s Mahawanso; this they found in the person of Prof. Wilhelm Geiger. Prof. Geiger had made a critical translation of this into German in 1908 which was published by the Pali Text Society and subsequently with the assistance of Dr. Mrs. Mabel Haynes Bode; it was translated to English with Prof. Geiger revising the English translation. This critical edition of the Mahawamsa was published in 1912 and remains to date the official translation of the work in English. However Prof. Geiger through his studies had divided the Mahawamsa into two parts, Chapters 01 to 37 he termed the Mahawamsa of which was published in 1912, and from chapters 38 to 101 he termed the Culawamsa which he once again divided as Culawamsa part I and Culawamsa part II, and were published only in 1930.

As mentioned above, at the beginning of the 19th century a detailed history of Sri Lanka before the colonization was unknown to the European scholars and the populace at large. With the fall of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815 and the subsequent decline literature, historical texts of Pali and Sinhalese which were with the Buddhist monks were soon forgotten, having been locked up in Buddhist temple libraries; and it is stated that when Turnour came across it, hardly a Monk knew of its existence. Subsequently with its accurate translation in 1837 by Turnour, a path was created for scholars to explore the island’s past and to know of the people and rulers who shaped Sri Lanka’s ancient Sinhalese civilization.

The translation of the Mahawamsa from Pali to English came in a time when even mainland India lacked a continuous written historical literature and was therefore a major leap forward in deciphering the history of India. It was from the Mahawamsa that the identification of Devanampiya Raja of the Indian inscriptions as Dharmasoka was arrived at, and the subsequent chronology of the predecessors and successors of Dharmasoka were calculated based on the dates of the Mahawamsa. Hence the translation of the Mahawamsa not only unlocked doors in the Sri Lankan context in understanding its past, but also for the south Asian region as well.

 ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ 1883

Epigraphical data is an important tool in archaeological research. A main mode of communication in the ancient world was through inscriptions, and in the Sri Lankan context, there are thousands of inscriptions from ancient times inscribed on rock surfaces, stone slabs, stone pillars, and caves on various topics of secular and religious nature. The study of epigraphy in Sri Lanka has greatly aided in the authentication of the literature works such as the Mahawamsa and continues to shed light on subjects of social nature not found in the ancient books. As such, the identification of the inscriptions, the deciphering of the text, the translation and publication of the text is of utmost importance for the students of both history and archaeology. Hence the first publication on inscriptions (and the forerunner for major works such as Epigraphia Zeylanica) was a major leap forward and deserves a special place in the progress of archaeology in Sri Lanka.

The story on of the publication of ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 dates back to the year 1874, when on request of the British colonial Government, Dr. P. Goldschmidt was appointed to look into the various inscriptions reported throughout the island. He began his work in 1875 starting from the Anuradhapura district and published his first report on 2nd September 1875. This report, also published in the Indian Antiquary, V, contains details of inscriptions within the Anuradhapura town and immediate neighborhood, especially Mihintale. His second report came out on 6th May 1876 and deals with the same material but in a more careful and accurate manner. He soon began to distinguish ancient from modern inscriptions based on paleographical reasons and was able to read and translate them. Dr. Goldschmidt moved on to Polonnaruwa and from thereon searched the districts of Trincomallee, Batticaloa, and Hambantota, writing his final report on 11th September 1876 from Akurasse, before his untimely death in May 1877.

Dr. Edward Muller was next appointed in the beginning of the 1878 to continue the work of Dr. Goldschmidt. He first began the unfinished work of the former in Hambantota and subsequently toured the districts of Anuradhapura, Kurunagala and Puttalam.  Under his supervision, in Polonnaruwa, inscriptions were photographed but the ones not possible to photograph, transcripts were made instead. His attention was chiefly to the inscriptions up to the 13th century; this being due to the fact of them being of philological and historical interest as he considered the ones after the 13th century more of modern period as the language was similar to the present. He finally completed the surveys and compiled the first published book on ephigraphical records in the island titled ‘Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon’ in 1883 published in London.  The book is divided into three parts:

1st part – text and translations of caves and smaller rock inscriptions

2nd part – text of all the longer rock inscriptions as well as pillar and slab inscriptions.

3rd part – translations of text of the 2nd part.

It contains over 200 inscriptions with a systematic explanation of the language of the inscriptions in the introduction.

Discovery of the first stone tools and the establishment of a prehistory in the island

The story of prehistoric man and his environment in Sri Lanka as we know today derives totally from archaeology. One of the main sources of our study of prehistoric man is the stone tools he left behind. And it is the discovery of such stone tools that became the key to the door of Sri Lanka’s prehistoric studies and most importantly, it gave life to the idea of the existence of a Stone Age in the island. Two persons are credited with the discovery of such stone tools; they are Mr. E. E. Green and Mr. J. Pole.

Surface collections of stone tools made of quartz and chert were first discovered by Mr. E. E. Green and Mr. J. Pole in 1885, the latter finding from the vicinity of Maskeliya, and the former from Peradeniya and Nawalapitiya. According to Pole in his 1907 article to the Journal of the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, he states that flakes from all parts of the island, from Puttalam, Hambantota, Nawalapitiya, Matale, Dimbula, Dikoya, and Maskeliya were subsequently discovered and were initially thought to belong to the Neolithic age.

In his article J. Pole states “we merely summarize the uses they were put to: the peeling of the arrow-wands, and scraping of the bow into shape, and shafts of spear or javelin, the skinning of the slain animal and dressing of the skins for raiment, manufacture of bags for porterage of their stone implements, etc.”

Initially the authenticity of these finds were held in doubt by the academics; but it were the investigations of the Sarasin brothers, the Swiss anthropologist duo that studied the anthropology and ethnography of the Veddas, who in 1907 confirmed these stone tools to be the works of prehistoric men. The Sarasin brothers who explored the Uva Province in the 1890s found similar stone artefacts mostly from the Nilgala caves but they were themselves doubtful of its status. In 1903 they excavated the Toala tribe caves in the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, where they encountered similar stone artefacts which confirmed to them the artefacts found from the Nilgala caves were indeed stone tools. Subsequently they arrived in the island once again in 1907 and after examining their findings as well as those of J. Pole’s, they concluded that they were made by prehistoric Veddas and belonged to the Paleolithic age.

The next article in this series would feature the Rediscovery of Sigiriya, establishment of the Ceylon Archaeological Survey and H. C. P. Bell’s ‘Kegalle Report’ of 1890.


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An Epigraphic and Social archaeological study of Vaharala Inscriptions

R. M. Mangalika Rajapaksha

Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund, Anuradhapura.

Translated by Chryshane Mendis


Mangalika Rajapaksha

Civilization in 3rd century BC Sri Lanka was a highly cultured one (Pagnasara Thero 2005:10) with a tradition of continuous written records. Writing is an important feature in the evolutionary process of human communication (Bandara 2008:1) but the origin of writing is not as old as that of the origin of man. In the early 19th century James Princep was able to decipher a hitherto unknown script in India (Paranavitana 1970:i) which is called the Brahmi script. This was compared with the rock inscriptions of Sri Lanka by Turner and found to contain similarities in the language (Jayawardane 1). This new found interest caught the attention of many scholars which resulted in the recording and documenting of numerous rock inscriptions found throughout the island.

The majority of the rock inscriptions dating to the 4th and 5th century AD contain the word “Vaharala (වහරල)”. This specific word is found in many different variations such as Viharala (විහරල), Veherila (වෙහෙරිල), Viharila (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහාරලය), and Veheralaya (වෙහෙරලය)  (Priyanka 2008:1) and also it is found after the word “Chidavi (චිදවී)”. Although there are no specific types of inscriptions with this word, inscriptions with these words are collectively known as Vaharala inscriptions (වහරල ලිපි). Scholars have put forward various theories as to the meaning of this word but there seems to be no common theory amoung them. As the various theories on the meaning of this word have not paid much attention to the locations of the inscriptions and their nature, the main aim of this study is to investigate the Vaharala inscriptions that have been overlooked by others and to determine their epigraphical nature and their socio-archaeological data there by giving an outlook into the society at that time.

A Vaharala inscription from Vessagiriya

Vaharala inscriptions were first studied in 1906 (Uduwara 1991:121). Senarat Paranavitana has presented a more logical idea on the Vaharala inscriptions (Paranavitana 1955:35-65); where his idea that it means release from slavery or servant hood has been incorporated to the society. But based on linguistic, historical and cultural facts this statement is proved wrong according to the scholars Madauyangoda Vimalakthi Thera (Vimalakthi Thera 2004:107-108), Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24), Saddhamangala Karunarathne (Karunarathne 1984:117-118), Bandusena Gunersekara (1989 November 12:18), Sirimal Ranawella (Ranawella 2008:32-35), Malani Dias (Dias 1991), and Karunasena Hettiarachchi (Hettiarachchi 2005:137).

Being proficient in a given field is a great achievement. This proficiency is created by the deep sense of understanding and knowledge one has to that field. Accordingly given below are the ideas on the meaning of this word by scholars.

  • Sinhala Dictionary – slavery, servant, submission, performing all work (Sannasgala 1991:258)
  • Rock inscriptions Alphabet – Vahara/Vaharaya (වහර/වහරය) = Vehera/Viharaya (වෙහෙර/විහාරය)

Vaharala/Vahara layara/Vahera la (වහර ල/වහර ලයර/වහෙර ල)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක )

Vahara laha (වහර ලහ)  = Vihara Salaka (විහාර සලාක) (Ranawalla 2004:123)

  • Senerat Paranavitane – the idea of Slavery or Vahal (වහල්) (Paranavitane 1955:35,36)
  • J. Wijeratne – wood or timber sacrifice (Paranavitane 1955:36)
  • Sirimal Ranawalla – making of Vihara Salaka
  • Malani Dias – being exempted from compulsory services (Dias 1989:19)
  • Wimalakthi Thera – a Vihara chamber/making a Vihara chamber (Wimalakthi Thera 2004:108)
  • Saddhamangala Karunarathne – making of buildings for Viharas (Karunarathne 1984:117-118)
  • Kotaneluwe Chandajothi Thera/ Bandusena Gunersekara – making the Viharageya/ making chambers in the Viharaya (Chandajothi Thera 1962:24, Gunersekara 1989 November 12:18)
  • Karunasena Hettiarachchi – being exempted from compulsory services (Hettiarachchi 2005:137)
  • Benil Priyanka – making chambers in the Viharaya/ Vihara chamber/making of a (Priyanka 2012:14)

Calligraphic details from Vaharala Inscriptions

The development of the Sinhalese language and alphabet goes hand in hand (Gunersekara 1996:40). The Brahmi script it is believed to have evolved over the centuries into the present Sinhalese script. The transitional period of the Brahmi script can be stated between the 6th – 7th centuries AD (Lankage 1996:49). Most of the Vaharala inscriptions belong to this period with a few belonging to the 5th century AD. In the development of the Sinhalese script, the middle period or the transitional period could be stated as the period between the 6th to 7th centuries AD where an acceleration of the transformation of the script could be observed (Gunersekara 1996:82). Although it is hard to confirm as to when the Brahmi script began transformation into the present Sinhalese script, a transformation is clearly observable during the 6th century AD (ibid 83).

Prof. Senerat Paranavitana

When comparing the inscriptions of the 6th – 7th centuries, variations in the scripts could be seen, (ibid 84) especially when comparing the Vaharala inscriptions to other contemporary inscriptions. These details would not be discussed individually but as a whole.

The letters of the Nilagama inscription which belongs to the middle of the 6th century AD are circular in shape (Paranavitana 1943:28) whereas the letters of the Nagirikanda inscription are vine-like (a free style without any angles)in shape (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:11). The Kudarathmale inscription contains totally different shapes when compared to the above two (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:37). The letter ‘අ’ in the Nilagama inscription is found in 3 different forms (Paranavitana 1943:37). The letters ‘ආල , ඇල & ඈ’ could not be identified in the studied inscriptions but the letter ‘ඉ’ although least used can be found in 8 places in the Nilagama inscription. The ‘උ’ of the Madagama Viharaya inscription contains an opening from the right with a line drawn from the top of an angle to left (Paranavitane 1943:142-143), this is found to be more circular in the Baros Mandapa Vaharala inscriptions (ibid:137-144). The base line of the letter ‘එ’  in the Kudarathmale inscription curves inwards a bit in the center with the ends vining outwards (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37) and in the inscriptions of the Baros Mandapa, the right side line rises up with an incline to the left with the semi-circle turned to the right (Paranavitana 1943:137-144). Also the letter ‘ඔ’ could be identified in the Vessagiriya inscription (Paranavitana 1943:128-139).

The letter ‘ක’ found during this period differs from earlier periods by having a vertical line with its bottom end curved to the left and a horizontal line from the center with its two ends curving downwards (Gunersekara 1996:89). The ‘ක’ symbols in the inscriptions of Uttimaduwa (Karunarathne 1984:117) and Madagama Viharaya  (Dias 1991:43) are beautifully designed (Gunesekara 1996:40) where the horizontal line having its ends curving downwards as before but having a small circle above the center of the horizontal line. From the Kudarathmale inscription the letter ‘ඛ’ is found in the shape of a hook (Paranavitane & Godakumbura 1963:37). Further circular shaped ‘ග’ letters could be found. The letter ‘ග’ which takes the form of a horseshoe in the Ridi Vihara inscriptions (Dias 1991:43) contain an inwards curve from the left (Gunesekara 1996:89).

A letter ‘ච’ not found before could be seen in the Ridi Vihara inscription (Gunewardane 1996:92) where two lines joining the horizontal line divide with the left line curving and another line across the right line (ibid). This could be seen in the Baros Mandapa and Vessagiriya inscriptions as well but the Kudarathmale inscription does not contain lines running across (ibid). The head of the letter ‘ඩ’ of the Madagama inscription is in the shape of a large hook. The letter ‘ණ’ could be seen in the Vessagiriya inscription but also a more beautified form could be found in the Kudarathmale inscription.

Kudarathmale inscription

The letter ‘ත’ could be found in two forms in the Kudarathmale inscription. The letter ‘ද’ of the Sangamu Vihara inscription contains a small horizontal line attached to one end of the larger semi-circle (Dias 1991:82). A number of variations of this letter could be found during this time. The letter ‘ද’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a smaller semi-circle curving towards the left at the bottom of the larger semicircle, it could be seen as forerunner to the present letter ‘ද’ (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:166). No noticeable difference could be seen in the letter ‘න’ with the older periods (Gunersekara 1996:99). The Kudarathmale inscription contains a somewhat developed ‘න’ but the ‘න’ of the Madagama inscription is closer to the modern letter.

Circular ‘ප’ letters with a small horizontal line joined to the left line of the figure could be found in Vaharala inscriptions as well as other contemporary inscriptions (Lankage 1996:56). Not much of a difference could be seen in the letter ‘බ’. The letter ‘ම’ could be found as angled shaped figures as well as free-shaped figures. The ‘ම’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions contain a horizontal dash at the top.

The letter ‘ය’ of the Kudarathmale inscription could be found as a figure with two attached semi-circles with a vertical line running up from the center with a dash on it (Gunersekara 1996:103). Also the letter ‘ය’ with the shape of the contemporary ‘ප’ could be seen from the inscriptions of Baros Mandapaya. No difference could be seen in the letter ‘ර’ when compared to the same letter of earlier periods. The ‘ර’ of the Neelagama and Kudarathmale inscriptions is just a vertical line but a small circle could be seen on the top of this line in the Uttimaduwa inscription. The stages of the development of the ‘ල’ could be seen from the inscriptions at Baros Mandapaya, Kudarathmale and Ridi Viharaya (Pagnyasara Thera 2007:176 & Gunersekara 1996:105). The letter ‘ව’ is a special figure found only in the Uttimaduwa inscription and Kandakaadu inscription.

The letters ‘ෂ & ශ’ are not found in any Vaharala inscription and a much more developed ‘ස’ could be found in the Ridi Viharaya Vaharala inscription when compared to other contemporary inscriptions (Gunersekara 1996:106). Very similar figures to the modern letter ‘හ’ could be found in the inscriptions of Ridi Viharaya, Vessagiriya and Madegama. In the bottom semi-circle of the letter ‘ළ’ in the Ridi Viharaya inscription a dot could be found at the end. In the Kudarathmale inscription the letters ‘ක්ඛ’ are found as one figure.

A large quantity of such letters could be found in these inscriptions and also instances where the sizes of the letters vary from one another within the same inscription. Further there are evidences of two or more inscriptions found on the same rock surface.

Language features

From the beginning to the 3rd centuryAD, most inscriptions contained Prakrit features but they seem to be lax later on (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). Most features unique to the Sinhala language could be specially observed from the period of the Vaharala inscriptions thus making this period an important phase in the development of the history of the Sinhala language (Gunersekara 1996:106). During the Prakrit period the long vowels became shorter and also the isolation of consonants could be seen. This is believed to be a characteristic of only written form (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27) but it is also believed that these features were included in the spoken form during this period (Gunersekara 1996:106). Words deriving from original Sanskrit could be seen especially words synonymous with common or solitary meanings of Vaharala or other forms known as “Kahavana” (කහවණ). In the development of sounds the transformation from hard to soft sounds could be seen (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27).


පාචීන > පජින

සංවච්ච්ර > හවජර

අහය > අපය

පධානඝර >පතනගල

The use of “ව” instead of “ප” could be seen –

කහාපණ > කහවණ

Paranavitana states that the meaning of the word Vaharala derives from the Sanskrit word “Vruhshala” (වෘෂල) (Paranavitana & Godakumbura 1963:35). According to him it derives as “වෘෂල < වරෂල < වරසල < වරල. D. J. Wijerathna believes that it is from the Sanskrit word ‘විසාරල’ with a ‘ලී’ sound. ‘Vaharala (වහර ල)’ is the union of  ‘Vahara (වහර)’ and ‘La (ල)’ to form a compound states Sirimal Ranawella and that ‘Vahara (වහර)’ is ‘Vihara (විහාර)’ and the ‘ල’ meaning ‘Lahe (ලහ)’ or ‘Salaka (සලාක)’ (Ranawala 2008:34). Bandusena Gunersekara’s views goes similar to that of Chandajothi Thera’s were the words ‘Ala (ආල)’ , ‘Alaya (ආලය)’ means  ‘Ghruha (ගෘහ)’,  ‘Mandira (මන්දිර)’ and also ‘Vihari (විහාරි)’ meaning occupation  (වාසය කරන) and through that ‘විහාරි’ and ‘ආල’ becomes ‘Viharila (විහරිල)’ (Priyanka 2014:11). Malini Dias points out that the historical meaning for the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’ is “චිද් ධාතුවෙන් උපන්”.

In the early Brahmi period instead of the verb, participles were used (Amarawansha Thera 1969:27). In the Vaharala inscriptions this changes and the verb takes more form (Paranavitane 1943:132-133). ‘Chidavi (චිදවී)’  is a causative verb . ‘Veyawaya (වෙයවය)’ goes as an Acclamation verb (ආශිර්වාද ක්‍රියාව). In the first person tense in order to give the word “වෙමි”, they have added ‘මී’ to names of persons.

In the Vaharala inscriptions one could find many alternative words for one word such as the word ‘වහරල’ is found as Viharala (විහරල), Vaherila (වහෙරිල), Viharila  (විහාරිල), Vaharalaya (වහරලය), Viharalaya (විහරලය) and the word Chidavi (චිද්වී) as Chadawala (චදවල), Vadewala (චදෙවල), and Sidavi (සිදවී). Therefore when investigating the language features of the Vaharala inscriptions as a whole it could be found that the language was changing with an uncertainty in the formation of words (Amarawansha Thera 1969:28).

Formal features

The cave inscriptions written from the 3rd century BC appears to have died out, as between the 1st to the 2nd centuries AD longer inscriptions with greater details are found. The formations of the Vaharala inscriptions when compared to other contemporary inscriptions differ in formations.

Dr. Malini Dias

It has been observed that quite often Vaharala inscriptions are found in places where the foot touches the ground such as on a Sandakadapahana (Moonstone) or a flight of steps. In comparison with other rock inscriptions, a special feature of the Vaharala inscriptions is that the surface of the rock has not been specifically prepared for the inscription. The sentences either overlap each other or are quite close to each other and vary in size. At times these deviate from standard grammar and are mostly found in temple complexes. These are some of the special features identified when studying these inscriptions.

Therefore it is believed that these were inscribed for the needs of a specific group of people as most of these inscriptions are made of incomplete sentences. There is no evidence to show that these could have been the works of people still studying letters. Some inscriptions only contain a clause, thereby there could be times when someone could consider it a section of an inscription.

Socio-archaeological details found in Vaharala inscriptions

When studying these inscriptions, common features could be identified such as 1. the donor’s name, 2. donor’s village, 3. his positions or occupation, 4. the work, 5. the quantity of the donation, and 6. and rejoicing.

Names of People

Here two types of names could be seen, which are those of the names of Kings and royalty and those of the common people which includes regional and cast leaders and common people. There are many instances where in one Vaharala inscription, several names could be seen, for example on the No. 4 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya, three names;  Sahasawarala, Dalameya, and Sakanakana Wesaminiya are found (Paranavitane 1943:128-139).

In most of these inscriptions the names of children, spouse, siblings and relatives are mentioned and it seems that these names were not common names used in rock inscriptions but those of use by the common people in the society because a name found in one inscription would not be found in another. Apart from the Vaharala inscriptions, names found in other contemporary inscriptions too are hard to identify. From whatever the identifiable names, it is hard to distinguish as to if they are male or female and their ancestry.

Names of places

In studying Vaharala inscriptions it is possible to identify place names, village names and names of Temples. For example in No. 1 Vaharala inscription at Vessagiriya the village name of Lathakathala and the temple Boya Upulwan Kassapagiri Viharaya could be identified (Paranavitane 1943:128-139).  In certain inscriptions names of forests too could be found (Dias 137-141). A Vaharala inscription in Paaluhungamuwa mentions Uththara Deshaya (උත්තර දේශය) (Dias 1991:87). At certain times both the name of the area and the temple could be found separately on the same inscription. The place names identified in these inscriptions are hard to trace in the present. There are times where a said name of a temple in a Vaharala inscription is found in other rock inscriptions of the same era, likewise it should also be studied in respect of place names by searching other inscriptions.


When studying the context of Vaharala inscriptions it suggests that these were written by people not of high class. The majority of the occupations are from tile makers (උළු වඩුවන්) , identified by the words ‘ඔලුවඩු’, and ‘උලුවඩු’. Apart from them other occupations such as traders, carpenters, ministers and lords of the King, teachers could be found but most individuals do not mention their occupations, therefore they are thought to be local village people.

The Clergy

Most of the Vaharala inscriptions are found in temple premises and therefore frequently mentions the names of temples. Hence it is believed that the people of the inscriptions were people who rendered a service to the temples. When looking at temple names, the Kudarathmale inscription which states ‘පුවිජයි සිධට’ means ‘පැවිදි සිධාර්ථය’ (Paranavitane 1955:30-34). Although the Kumbukkanda inscription mentions a Monk, the name of the Monk could not be identified (Dias 1991:186).

The society as seen from the Vaharala inscriptions

The idea for writing the Vaharala type of inscriptions is still unknown. It is believed that these would have been written by a certain group of people in the society for a specific need. Most of the Vaharala inscriptions found in Sri Lanka are centered on a temple hence the majority of them speak about a temple. Therefore the people mentioned in the inscriptions could have been people who performed a certain service to the said temples. Such people who performed services to temples did exist as stated by other rock inscriptions and other literary sources. As Paranavitane states that the idea of Vaharala being slavery, it would actually mean slavery not as in the common social phenomenon but as a specific group of people in the society whose occupation was only to serve the temples.

In order to clarify this, one needs to look into the governing and organization of temples between the 5th to 7th centuries AD. When investigating contemporary temple organization, the functioning of an Aramaya or a Monastery was done completely by the Monks (Rahula Thera 1999:143). Just as there were laws for Monks, Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) and temple lands of a Monastery, there too were laws on the servants (දාසයන්) of an Monastery. And the servants and slaves attached to the temples were collectively known as Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:98). Therefore in order to maintain the large Vihara complexes it is believed that servants or slaves existed but they were not like the slaves of ancient Greece who had no personal freedom (Amarawansha Thera 1996:39). All people who served the temple were known as Aramika (ආරාමිකයන්) (Gunewardane 1993:99). Some of these people were given for the maintenance of the temple by Kings and other royal officials and facilities for their sustenance (ibid 100).

An interesting method regarding the income of the Aramayas or Monasteries was the donation of money which helped in the sustenance of the servants (දාසයන්) and also for the relieving of their services (Rahula Thera 1999:151). For what reasons they took servants as part of the Helpers (ආරාමිකයන්)  is unknown but evidence could be found on the notion that the word Vaharala is slavery as stated by Paranavitane. When searching more on the slavery in temples, although the Monks have preached against the use of helpers, with the expansion of the priestly community and the villages attached to each temple; they might have taken their services for the Monasteries. Although it is believed that Vaharala does not mean slavery, it is known that the temples used servants (Gunewardane 1993:123). It is recorded that King Silameghawarna gifted prisoners of war to temples (Sumangala Thera Devarakshitha 1996:44:51) and also Kings Aggabodhi IV, Pothakuttah, and Sena I have gifted servants or slaves to the various religious institutions founded by them. Therefore when observing the contemporary society of the Vaharala inscriptions from this historical perspective; a system of slavery or servants could be seen in the temple complexes. Hence it can be assumed according to Paranavitane that there was no profession or occupation called a slave among the people.

Regarding the word ‘Chidavi (චිදවී) Paranavitane believes it means ‘Midaveeya (මිදවීය)’ or ‘being released’ (Paranavitane 1955:35-65). Presenting monetary gifts for the maintenance of the Monastery was believed to be a meritorious deed but releasing a person out of slavery or out of servant hood was believed to be an even more meritorious deed (Rahula Thera 1999:53). There is evidence to show that several people could come together and release one person from slavery or servant hood and also a person’s wife and children too could be released. In such instances the monetary amount paid was around 100 Kahawanu but situations where the value is more or less than 100 too have been identified. Therefore it could be assumed that the words ‘චිදවී වහරල’ means any form of activities or actions around the use of slaves or servants in the temple complexes.

When observing the content and structure of the Vaharala inscriptions, features of the society between the 5th to the 7th centuries could be studied. As most studied Vaharala inscriptions are found on stairways and Sadakadapahan (Moonstones) it could be thought that these belonged to a people of a low grade in the society. Also when comparing these Vaharala inscriptions with other rock inscriptions, the structure of the Vaharala inscriptions are found to be incomplete and with other rock inscriptions, a pre-surface preparation could be seen but in the Vaharala inscriptions, no such preparations could be found. Also the sharp distinction between Vaharala inscriptions and other inscriptions of a supposed higher class of people could be taken as a sign of respect to them. Based on the writing styles such as the grammar, variations in letters, and the use of different forms of the same word; it can be argued that these were done by people with a less education. All the Vaharala inscriptions found throughout the island contain the same writing style hence it could be seen that that specialization was present in the society concerning these type of social actions.

List of Reference used for this article:

  • Dias, Malini (1991), Epigraphical Notes, Department of Archaeology, Colombo
  •  Karunarathne,Saddhamangala. (1984). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹¸¸, Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka
  • Paranavitana, S. (1970). Inscription of Ceylon Volume I, Archaeological Survey Department of Ceylon
  • Paranavitana, S. (1983). Inscription of Ceylon Volume ¸¸ Part ¸, Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka
  • Paranavitana, S., Dias, Malani. (2001). Inscription of Ceylon Volume ¸¸ Part ¸¸, Archaeological Survey Department
  • Paranavitana, S. (1943). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume¸¹, Published for the government of Ceylon by Humphrey Milford
  • Paranavitana, S., Godakumbura, C.E. (1963). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon
  • Renfrew, Colin,(2005), Archaeology- The key concepts, Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York
  • Uduwara, Jayanta (1991), Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¹¸ part II, Department of Archaeology, Sri lanka
  • Wickremasinghe, Don Marthino de Silva. (1912). Epigraphia Zeylanica Volume ¸, Published for the government of Ceylon by Henry Frowde
  • Paranavitana, S,(1962), Some Sinhalese Inscription of Circa Sixth Century, University of Ceylon Review vol XX, 1-11
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Three inscriptions discovered in Delft Island

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


Brahmi script
Brahmi script


Tamil Inscription 01
Tamil Inscription 01



Tamil Inscription 02
Tamil Inscription 02

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


Small Degaba
Small Degaba


Large Degaba
Large Degaba


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


Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit - Research Team
Galle Maritime Archaeology Unit – Research Team



Chandima Ambanwala
Chandima Ambanwala


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

Note and Photographs are by Mahinda Karunarathan

Mahinda Karunarathna and Chandima Ambanwala are co-founders of

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Godawaya: an ancient port city (2nd Century CE.) and the recent discovery of the unknown wooden wreck

Rasika Muthucumarana

Maritime Archaeologist

Maritime Archaeology unit – Central cultural fund – Galle – Sri Lanka

Godawaya is a small fishing village, which belongs to the Hambantota district of Southern

Sri Lanka. It is situated between Ambalantota and Hambantota near the river mouth of the Walawe River, the fourth-biggest river of the country. This used to be the old river mouth, but with some changes happened in the coastal area and due to the massive sand deposits the river mouth was blocked many years ago. The river is now flowing to the sea from Ambalantota 3 km west to Godawaya. The mouth is blocked by a narrow sand strip, time to time it get cleared by floods or the villagers have to create an artificial outlet at the river mouth to divert the flooding. (Figure 01) The temple on a small rocky mountain near the left bank of the river mouth is known by many Archaeologists, historians and travellers because of its historical value.


Figure 01 – Map of Sri Lanka, The Walawe River and artificial outlet at old river mouth
Figure 01 – Map of Sri Lanka, The Walawe River and artificial outlet at old river mouth

My first visit to Godawaya was in 1998, as an undergraduate who participated in the archaeological excavation at the temple premises. The excavation was conducted by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka and the German K.A.W.A. project. After a series of explorations and excavations from 1994, we were excavating the old image house area inside the temple. (Figure 02) A significant inscription found from this temple gives an idea about its history (Figure 03). A small and unclear inscription (No 01) and well-known inscription (No 02) found from this temple were first examined and reported by E.R. Ayortone in early 20th century. Later in 1930 professor Senarath Paranavitana read, prepared estampages and published these. (Paranavithana, S. 1983) The main and clear inscription carved on a natural

rock north to the Stupa state clearly about a seaport situated at Godawaya.


Figure 02 – Godawaya Image house excavation 1998
Figure 02 – Godawaya Image house excavation 1998


Figure 03 – Inscriptions No 02 and 03
Figure 03 – Inscriptions No 02 and 03

This inscription (No 02) consists of two lines, and the letters, which vary in height between 2 ½ in. and 6 in., have been clearly incised and regular in formation. These writings can be identified as belonging to the first or second century CE. (Paranavithana, S. 1983)

The record informs us that King Gamini Abaya (Gamani Abhaya) donated the customs duties of the port of Godapavata to the vihara at the site. The name Godapawatha, Gota pabbata or Godawaya means mountain with boulders (Gota – Short and round / Pabbata – Rocky Mountain). The Rocky Mount south to the temple is the highest place of this area. The small Stupa is built at the peak of this mount. From the sea, we can see the rock and the white stupa on it from miles away, which can be used as a landmark. Most probably the name Godapawatha can be a creation of early seafarers. The name Gamini Abhaya in the inscription can be identified as the king Gajabahu I, who ruled Sri Lanka in the 1st Century (113-135 CE).

The Text of the inscription No 02

1. Siddham Godapavata patanahi Su(ka) su(ri)yi
2. Raja Gamani Abaya viharata dini

Success! The customs duties of the port of Godapavata, King Gamani Abaya granted to the vihara (temple).

This is an excellent way to prove about the ancient temple, settlement and the seaport situated in Godawaya. This was not just a port; it was a developed and well-organized port, which was able to claim custom duties.

When the excavation team placed another new trench under the rock with the main inscription mentioned above, they found another completely new and well preserved three line inscription just one meter below the old one. (Figure 03) It is a separate inscription but in another way it also showed a continuation of the upper one. It also describes some of the donations to the temple.

Inscription No 03
1. Siddhama /* raja Gamani Abayaha rajika ahalaya bathika mithaye thini(ha kari)haka…
2. Arabapaya Godapavata viharata (dini) ethahi (Javaha)ka vihakalanakara(ka)
3. Kethahithinikarihaka bumi dine (symbols) nakaraka chethahata dine (symbols)

According to Dr. Piyathissa Senanayaka, who inspected the inscription at the site, this is the rough meaning of the text.

Success! Ahalaya bathikamithaya, the Queen of the King Gamini Abaya granted three Karisaka (twenty-two acres) of land to the Arabapaya Godapavata vihara (Temple). At the same time another three Karisaka (twenty-two acres) of land from the paddy field of the Jawahakavilaka city to the Stupa.


Figure 04 – Stone Pillars at the beach
Figure 04 – Stone Pillars at the beach

During the last two decades many explorations and excavations took place in and around the Godavaya temple. Through these researches many archaeological information related to the old port and its international trade relations were found. From an excavation that took place in front of the fishing village part of an old maritime structure was found. (Weissharr, H.J. / Wijeyapala, W. / Roth, H. (ed.) 2001) It looks like a part of a jetty or a bridge build with stone pillars, which are very similar to the stone pillars found from the old image house of the temple. (Figure 04) If we observe from the temple, the river is flowing to the sea from right side and the fishing village (Bay of Godavaya) is at the left side. Both of these places can be parts of the seaport. In one hand the Bay of Godawaya, the beach with the stone pillars and fishing village is the safest landing place of the area. On the other hand the river mouth and the wide sluggish river was also an appropriate way for transportation. Unloaded cargo from the vessels would have been transfered in to the country using boats and Barges. The Walawe River is flowing through ancient settlements and monastic sites such as Ridiyagama, Mahanavulu pura and Ramba monastic complex. There are records of coins, mainly thousands of Indo-Roman coins found from private lands and paddy fields near the riverbanks. (Bopearachchi,O. 1996)


Figure 05 – Stone Anchor, Bench and BRW from the site
Figure 05 – Stone Anchor, Bench and BRW from the site

In 2003 an old stone anchor was found from the sea near the fishing village. (Figure 05) The fishermen who found the anchor gave it to the research team. In the same year, when we (Maritime Archaeology Unit) went to see the temple and the excavation project, the Archaeologists (Professor Helmut Roth and Mr. Oliver Kessler) asked us whether there was a possibility to do an underwater exploration at the Godavaya. But at that time we were engaged with some other work in Galle harbour and weren’t ready to do anything outside that. We only managed to record the stone anchor and the surrounding environment.

It was a triangular shaped anchor fully made with Granite stone, and had a hole in the middle. More like the stone anchors found from the Galle harbour exploration. All were made of stone, but the material types were different. Godawaya anchor was more solid and heavier than those found from Galle. According to the records these types of stone anchors were used during the pre-colonial period, especially with the indo Arabian and Chinese vessels. (Maritime Lanka web site)

In the following year two local divers from Godavaya found another valuable item related to this story. Sunil and Peminda who lived near the Godavaya temple were well-experienced divers making their living by collecting Conchs and colour fish. Not like the most local divers, they are well trained and work with some sense. One day when they were diving in to the deep for shells, they found an area with potshards. They noticed some big parts of clay jars and some strange objects scattered all over that area. From that site they found a small stone object, which was more similar to a small bench (Figure 05). They brought it with them and marked the location of this unusual place on their GPS. The bench was handed over to the excavation project and was stored at the Tissamaharama storeroom, under the Department of Archaeology. But no one knew where the site was (except those two divers) and that incidence and the bench was forgotten with the time.

The second phase of the UNESCO regional field school program for maritime archaeology was held in Galle and ended in April 2008. At the end there was a need of finding a shipwreck with Asian origin to use for training activities for the next field school session. In October 2008 we started an exploration with the funds from UNESCO Bangkok office to find some new suitable sites for future fieldwork. Under the instructions of Dr. Mohan Abeyratne (Deputy Director General – Central Cultural fund) a team of maritime archaeologists and conservators set off for south coast. Our main targets were the wrecks around the famous Great Basses reef and the possible wreck site near the Godawaya.

After the exploration at the Great basses we came to Godavaya. During the exploration at Great basses we had time to collect and investigate the data related to the Godawaya. The Stone bench and the stone anchor were carefully investigated. Met the two conch divers and tried to get as much information as possible. According to them the site was at 30-meter depth and 03 kilometers away from the coast. There was no possibility to find potsherds and artefacts like the stone bench from that area unless there had been a Shipwreck. On the flat side of the bench we found some symbols, which belonged to very early periods.

On 18th October following the directions of those two divers, we did our first dive over that site. When we reached the seabed, 31 meter was indicated on our depth gages. We saw some mounds made with corals and sea plants on sandy bottom. The bottom was bit dark and cold. When we were searching this area we found some potsherds in the seabed among those reefs. We didn’t have much time to spend, because the divers were using only one air cylinder and at the 30-meter depth we were only able t spend around 20 minutes.


Figure 06 – Potsherds on the site
Figure 06 – Potsherds on the site

On the following day we carried out the exploration in more systematic way. Three buddy pairs searched the site separately and collected data and filmed the area. At the end of the twenty minutes the team re-united on the boat. What we found that day was tremendous. Under the mounds, which we thought were reefs, we found some timber sections. Those very fragile wooden parts were covered with thick layer of corals and plants. These were scattered over an about 100 square meter area. Between and around two large mounds there were lots of potsherds (Figure 06). Other than the potsherds, we found some complete and near complete jars. Some were huge and camouflaged with the environment. If the seabed was interrupted with strong currents these potsherds wouldn’t have been like this. This was a clear sign that the site was undisturbed and settled as it is. But it was not easy to understand the site formation, and weren’t able to identify any parts of ship’s constructions. Apart from the potsherds we found some glazed ingots, which were used to glaze or colour the clay pots.

Next few days spent to record the site and explore more. We also brought out some artefacts for further investigations. After cleaning the potsherds and jars we brought, they were all identified as BRW (Black & Red Ware). We found some big fragments more similar to the Amphora and some small rare types of plates and bowls (Figure 05). After five days we had to stop our site work due to the sudden changes of the climate and due to some strong surface currents, which started to flow just above the site.

If we compare this site with other underwater archaeological sites found so far in Sri Lanka, this is definitely a significant site. According to the analyses we did so far with the artefacts they should belonged to an era before the 4th Century CE. This is the minimum general boundary for the Black & Red Ware. BRW can be traced up to the 20th Century BCE. (De Silve N., Dissanayake R. B., 2009) Also some of the symbols on the stone bench were used between 3rd and 1st Century BCE.

The site and the artefacts are being investigated and carefully recorded again. We are hoping to identify and record the wooden parts to get an idea about the vessel and its constructions. Still we don’t have a correct evaluation about the area of the wreck site. We need to carryout a careful exploration around the main site to look for some more remains. It can be larger than what we expect and may extend under the sand.


  • Bopearachchi,O. 1996, Seafaring in the Indian Ocean. Archaeological Evidence from Sri Lanka, in: Ray/Salles 1996, 59-77.
  • Bopearachchi, O., 1993. Indo-Greek, Indo Seythia and Indo Pathian; coins in the Smithsonian Institution; Washington.
  • De Silve N., Dissanayake R. B., 2009. A Catalogue of Ancient Pottery from Sri Lanka., (PGIAR) Post Graduate Institute of Sri Lanka, Colombo.
  • Paranavithana, S. 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol. I. Containing cave inscriptions from 3rd cheap viagra century B.C. to 1st century A.D. and other inscriptions in the early Brahmi script (Colombo).
  • Paranavithana, S. 1983 Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol.11, part 1.Containing Rock and other Inscriptions from the Reign of Kutakanna Abhaya (41 B.C.-19 B.C.) to Bhatiya II (140-164 A.D.).Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, Colombo.(Moratuwa)

Weissharr, H.J. / Wijeyapala, W. / Roth, H. (ed.) 2001 Ancient Ruhuna. Sri Lankan-German Archaeological Project in the Southern Province., Vol.I., KAVA Institute, Bonn.

Maritime Lanka Website –

Photo credits

Figure 01 – Sanath Karunaratne

Figure 04 – Department of Archaeology/ KAWA Project

Figure 02, 03, 05 and 06 – Rasika Muthucumarana


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