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Kotte Heritage 4: Veherakanda

By Chryshane Mendis

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

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

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

The excavations of 1949

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

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

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

 

Getting there

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

Description of the ruins

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

References:

  • Fonseka.P, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
  • Paranavitana.S, Puravidyā Paryeshana, 2003.
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Kotte Heritage 3: The Bastions and Passes

Chryshane Mendis

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

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

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

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

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

Pass 01 and Bastion 10

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

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

 

Pass 02 and Bastion 09

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

The gap between the rampart in Parakumba Pirivena

Pass 03 and Bastion 05

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

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

Bastions 06 & 07 and entrance to inner city

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

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

Pass 04 and Bastion 08

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

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

Pass 05 and Bastion 01

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

Pass 06 Bastions 02 & 03

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

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

 

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

Pass 07 and Bastion 04

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

Supposed location of the bastion down Ranpokuna Mawatha.

References:

  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
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Kotte Heritage 1: The Tunnels

Chryshane Mendis

Program Coordinator, archaeology.lk

Chryshane Mendis

Introduction

This series ‘Kotte Heritage’ would explore the archaeological and heritage sites of the Kotte Kingdom. Kotte, before becoming the Capital in the 15th century was first developed as a fortress in the late 14th century by Nissanka Alakesvara to serve as a base for his attacks on the Arya Cakravarti of Jaffna. In 1415 with the ascension of Parakramabahu VI as King, Kotte was selected as the Capital due to its superb fortifications and expanded into a beautiful city with further fortifications. Kotte served as the Capital of the kingdom till 1565 when the Portuguese who were defending the Kingdom on behalf of King Dharmapala decided to relocate the city to Colombo due to the continuous attacks from the Seethavaka Kingdom under Rajasinghe I. It is stated that they demolished all the buildings and used the material to expand Colombo.

What remains of the city at present and commonly known are the Veherakanda ruins, Alakesvara’s palace, some ruins at Parakumba Pirivena, the tunnel at Ananda Sastralaya, the Inner and outer moats and sections of the rampart. There are traces of other ruins within Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte which belong to the fortress but which are not quite known and not conserved. This series will explore all known and unknown historic sites and the legends surrounding them.

The Inner-city and Outer-city

In order to get a proper understanding of the purpose of the tunnel systems it is important to know the city limits. As stated above the city of Kotte developed as a fortress and grew into a fortified city. The historic development of the fortifications of the city of Kotte could be seen in two stages, the first stage by Nissanka Alakeshvara and the second by King Parakramabahu VI. Throughout these two stages of development, various defense systems were constructed such as ramparts, bastions, moats, and various others (this series would explore each of these features in the future). During this development stage a network of tunnels was constructed for the security of the fort.

The fortified city was divided into two sections, as the inner-city and the outer-city, this is still known at present as Ethul Kotte and Pita Kotte; and access to the city was through 7 passes with the only land pass being at Pita Kotte which was about 200 feet wide and was heavily fortified by Alakeshvara and later by the Portuguese as well.

The ancient fortress of Kotte (map taken from Kotte: The Fortress)

The area of the inner-city at present comprises of the land, from the north at the entrance to Ethul Kotte road from Parliament road to the south near the Salvation Army church on Ethul Kotte road and from the east, from Nippon Avenue to the area bordering the Kolonnawa Canal in the west. The inner-city gate was found in the area where the Salvation Army Church is, which is less than 100m to the south from the Kotte Archaeological Museum. The area of the outer-city comprises the area between the inner-city gate up to the Sirikotha which is about 80m before the Pita Kotte junction. This was the main land pass to the city. With this context, we could now look into the tunnel network with a clearer mind of the surroundings.

Red are the ramparts of the Kotte fortress

The Inner-City tunnel

Tunnels are an important feature of a fortification which serves as an escape for the occupants under a siege and also to attack the enemy by surprise. The fortress of Kotte was equipped with such a tunnel system. The fortified city of Kotte was equipped with two tunnel systems, one for the inner city and outer city.

The inner city tunnel was said to have been built by King Parakramabahu VI. It functioned as an escape route with its entrance inside the city and exit leading to the lake where people could easily take boats to the other side. It is rumored that the entrance to the tunnel was through a well inside the city. The exit of this tunnel network was to be found until recently in the premises of the Christian Mission College down Mission road now known as Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya.

Yellow shows the supposed path of the inner-city tunnel. Brown shows the southern ramparts of the fortress

The writer on the 4th February 2017 visited the College premises with Mr. Saliya De Silva, Council member of the Kotte Heritage Foundation, a resident of Kotte and old boy of the College. Mr. De Silva knew the location of the exit of the tunnel which was accessible during his school days. Walking towards the Primary section of the school near the lake which was a considerable drop in elevation, he pointed towards a stone wall and explained that the exit was found here. He states that the opening was about 5 feet in diameter and ran several meters inwards. This was visible in the 1960s during their school days but was subsequently sealed off as it posed a danger to students who might venture in. Judging from the surroundings, it was an ideal place for an exit of a tunnel as the terrain formed a ditch-like feature giving cover to the escapees. And its close proximity to the lake about 20 feet from the opening was ideal for an escape over the lake as the surrounding higher elevation and trees would made it hard to escapees to be seen.

Red circle marks the location of the exit of the tunnel, now covered by a wall
The edge of the Diyawanna Oya
Red circle marks the exit of the tunnel and Blue arrow shows the route to the lake

Climbing the higher ground and heading towards the school Mr. De Silva pointed to a location and explained that there used to be a Tennis Court during his school days were in the corner a certain section of the tunnel was revealed. This has been mentioned in the Administrative Report for 1968-70 of the Department of Archaeology. As at present, no visible location of the Inner-city tunnel exists.

Apart from this, there are few sites within the school of notable historic significance.

The Lambrick Hall

This massive Hall was constructed in 1822 by the Rev. Samuel Lambrick when he established the ‘Cotta-Institute’ providing Christian missionary education by the Church Missionary Society. In time this came to be known as the Christian Missionary College and now Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya. This is perhaps the oldest School in Sri Lanka still in existence. This hall is built of typical Bristish-Ceylonese style architecture with massive columns and corridors and characterised by a large single roof. The roof has been renovated in recent times but the columns and the wooden doors and frames bears witness to the beautiful architecture of the 19th century. This is protected by the Department of Archaeology.

The ancient Na-tree (ironwood tree)

Adjoining the hall is an old Na tree said to be over 1000 years old. Legend states that the Ven. Sri Rahula wrote the Salelihini Sandesaya under this tree; no historical or archaeological evidence is found to support this claim but it is believed that this land in the which the present school is, was known as ‘Erabath-Tota’ during the recent past. It is also believed that during the days of Kotte kingdom it was the seat of ancient learning known as the Dharma Rajika Pirivena. Since a Buddhist temple can be situated 500 dunu (bow) lengths away from the inner-city according to the Vinaya pitaka, there can be some truth in this legend. [The distance to the school premises from the inner-city gate is about 500 metres.]

The ancient Na tree

Kota Vehera

Mr Douglas Ranasinghe has shown in his map a Kotavehera by the side of Mission Road existed during mid-20th century. Kotavehera type dagabas are presumed to be tombs build for important persons. It is possible that this was built at the place where one of the air inlets of the tunnel existed.

Present location of the Kotavehera

Monument to the Son of Veera Keppatipola

Legend states that the son of Veera Keppatipola after his execution in 1818 was taken under British Missionaries and educated at this school where he lived in the hostel and had died due to a fever and was cremated within the school premises. In recent times a monument has been built to mark the spot where he is rumoured to have been cremated. This is right next to the old Na tree. There are no written records to prove this stated Mr. De Silva.

The writer would wish to thank the Principal Mr. D. A. D. Vanaguru for granting permission to document the historic sites within the school and is happy to note that he is keen in preserving these ancient monuments; and also to Mr. Saliya De Silva for the guided explanation of the monuments.

The Outer City Tunnels

There were two tunnels leading from the outer-city built by Alakeshvara for defensive purposes. One being a small tunnel only sufficient for people to walk through and the other tunnel is said to be large enough for a horse to ride. Both these tunnels appears to have started in the outer-city behind the outer moat and fortifications and opened up at a tunnel junction in Pita Kotte with the small tunnel leading further south and opening at the ditch passed the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya.

The smaller tunnel which had two sections began from the west of the main land pass and the first section opening up at the tunnel junction and the second section opening up further south. The Portuguese historian De Couto mentions an incident where during one of the sieges of Kotte by Rajasinghe of Seethawaka, that a Portuguese foraging expedition had discovered the forces of Rajasinghe hiding in the jungles outside the land pass and had used a tunnel to attack the rear of Rajasinghe’s army which caused much damage due to the surprised attack. This shows that the small tunnel was in existence during the times of the Portuguese. The larger tunnel is said to have begun from the eastern corner of the outer rampart and opened up at the tunnel junction.

The Tunnel Junction

Interestingly this tunnel junction could still be found in the premises of the Kotte Ananda Sastralaya and is one of the most unique archaeological remains of Kotte. The Kotte Ananda Sastralaya is one of the most prominent schools in Kotte and could be arrived at by taking the small road to the left of the Gal Ambalama in Pita Kotte junction. The ruins are found within the school premises.

Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka
Photograph by Mr. Prasad Fonseka

There are two large structures which are cut out of living cabook rock or laterite and what is most interesting is that these are found below the ground level. Once entered from the main gate of the school one could find to the right an area demarcated by a fence and within that gaze in amazement at the two massive structures in the ground. The entire area is about 10×5 meters and about 2 meters below the ground level. There are about 12 steps to get to the base level. The first structure is cut in the shape of a stupa and the second is a tall rectangular shaped structure with a decorated entrance portico extending outwards. The entrance portico is carved with a Makara Thorana and one could enter from here and exit from another opening in the rear. No tunnel could be found at present inside the structure which is a circular cavity with a pillar in the centre for support and one could barely stand inside. This structure is decorated right round with impressions of pillars and other designs.

Entrance to the chamber in the second structure. Note the Makara Thorana on the entrance portico.

The archaeological reports date this site to the 16th century and state that the crown of the Sinhala Kings was believed to have been engraved on top of the entrance portico. This site was known to exist well into the 20th century as it and archaeological reports of 2011 states that this was covered by mud, exposing only a small section. Proper excavations were conducted in 2014 which revealed the real magnitude of this site. Although the excavations conducted here revealed no tunnel, a scan using Ground Penetrating Radar had revealed anomalies in the earth which could be the tunnel. Although no archaeological evidence can be found to prove this as the tunnel junction, its location being below the ground level and surrounded by trees makes it an ideal tunnel exit which would have given perfect cover for escapees.

Red circles show the proberbal outer-city tunnel entrances and exits. Yellow shows the path of the outer-city tunnel with the Red square the tunnel junction

The exit of the smaller tunnel is said to be through a ditch south of the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya but no visible location is found today.

References

  • Fonseka Prasad, KOTTE: THE FORTRESS, 2015.
  • De Silva, L.M.V., ‘We are Many Centuries Old’, Sri Jayawardenapura Maha Vidyalaya 168th Anniversary Celebration, 1990.
  • කෝට්ටේ නියාමක සැලසුම් ව්‍යාපෘතිය, නියමු සැලසුම් ඒකකය, පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව, 2010.
  • කෝට්ටේ කෞතුකගාර අලුත්වැඩියාව 2010, අවිචිඡ්ද වැඩ, බස්නාහිර පළාත පුරාවිද්‍යා අංශය, 2011.

 

The next article would explore the ramparts and moats of the fort…