Ceylon Archaeologia


By- Dr, D.K. Jayaratne.

University of Peradeniya
Director, Archaeology - Sigiriya project.

The Back-ground and Aims:
The Veheragala Reservoir was constructed by “Manik Ganga” within the Yala sanctuary in order to supply water to the Lunugamvehera Reservoir which was generally prone to be starved of a full water capacity. The new project is expected to inundate about 3,000 acres of the sanctuary which is expected to contain a considerable amount of archaeological artifacts. In order to recover and study these artifacts the Tissamaharama project of the central cultural fund commenced this project in October 2007 as a rescue attempt.
This Project is aimed at;
i. Documentation of archaeological information about this area.
ii. The conservation of the artifacts that way be found.
iii. To collect material for the Kataragama museum expected to be constructed as part of the Tissamaharama project.
iv. To train student in archaeology and
v. To gain experience is rescue archaeology.
The Veheragala project was authorized by the Department of Archaeology under the patronage of the Central Cultural Fund, the Irrigation Department and the Netherlands Cultural Corporation programme. It was headed by the CCF Tissamaharama project, and the Archaeology graduates of the Universities of Sri Jayewardenepura, Peradeniya, Rununa and kelaniya and the CCF participated. It functioned from 28th October to 25th December 2007.

Historical back-ground
Recent evidence indicates the occurrence of pre-historic humans in this locality 125,000 years ago. In the Bundala region (between Hambantota and Tissa) and within the perimeter of the Yala sanctuary (in Minihagalkanda) there lived Sri Lanka’s most ancient humans. The Veheragala area is not too far from those sites. In addition, proto-historic settlements have been located in Allengala, Tambarava and, Akurugoda; and burial ground pertaining to that era were discovered at Kataragama, Mahapalassa, Mahagal Vava, Habaratteva, Tambarava, Bambava and Ranchamadama. Historic artifacts such as pottery, coins, metal object, bead etc., and evidence of hearths and furnaces, and inscriptions are not unknown here. Some of these, no doubt, point to relation with other countries, with Godavaya being on record as a sea port.Earlier, Magama was the focus of human habitation which appear to have shifted to wards the South owing to contemporary environmental and other changes. Demographic shift towards the SW during the 13th century and after turned the Raja Rata into a desolate wilderness. Ruhuna faced the same fate. Until recent settlements occurred during the 20th century these historic regions were less occupied by humans and more by wild beasts.

It was to large an area for a survey with very limited time, and hence, only a few places were chosen at random, specially points at which large excavators had removed the top - soil. There artifacts could be picked up with relative ease. In the preparation of maps, the GIS method was employed. With the help of 1:50,000 survey maps printed by the Survey Department and the use of the ARC GIS 9.2 soft-ware the identification of places was facilitated. The open excavation method was employed for the excavation of the chosen sites.

Results Obtained:
Through the surveys conducted in the Veheragala region 12 archeological sites identified.
In settlement No. 01 located about 50m. to the East of the Manik Ganga, an area of about 500sq.m. building artifacts were found.
In settlement No: 02, an area of about 250sq.m. mainly earthen-ware found. In the settlement No: 03 is a location from which earth has been removed for the construction of the Veheragala Reservoir.Within an area of about 300sq.m. earthen-were artifacts were found.
In the settlement No: 04 The Gonagam Ara, a tributary of the River, has on item right band, an area that provided earthen-were artifacts.
In the settlement No: 05 is located on the left bank of the River, 500m. away, from which bits of tiles and bricks in considerable quantities were found.

In the settlement No: 06 were earthen-were re
mains along with thecoin, a flat bead and a fragment of an iron tool.
In the settlement No: 07, which evidently has been a large habitation, were found fragments of clay pipes, and fair amount of iron slag likely connected with an industry.
In the settlement No: 08, are the remains of a monks’ abode, and this is located on the right bank.
In the settlement No: 09, a location which would be submerged by the Reservoir, two rock structures enciveled by a wall is evident.
In the settlement No: 10, located on the right bank, is solitary building.
In the settlement No: 11, are the remains of what may be suspected as a bodhigara or a asanaghara.
In the Lunugamvehera Reserve Varaluvapudama were the remains of a shrine room, a stupa and other ruins, and is identifiable as a centre of worship in the past. From Mahakemgala two Brahmi inscriptions were found. It is evident that a tank-based agricultural community lived in the area under study from the remains of pottery, iron producing sites, ruined land sites, etc. The pottery was found to belong to the 7th and 8th centuries. This study of the region of Manik-ganga indicates that the upper and lower regions would have had a developed civilization and therefore, these regions must be investigated in the near futures.

Exploration Team
Ven: Pathberiye Gnanaloka thero - Project Manager,Tissamaharama Project.

Dr. D.K. Jataratne - Department of Archaeology, University of

P.B.N.Abewardena - Department of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya.

T.M.C.Bandara - Exploration Officer, Departme
nt of Archaeology.

Lakshman Chandana - Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund. Kandy Project.

R.Upul Nisantha - Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund. Abayagiriya Project.

T.G.S.A. Gamage - Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund. Tissamaharama Project

Sumedha Priyantha - Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund. Tissamaharama Project

P. Pushpa Kumara -Training Research Officer, Central Cultural Fund. Tissamaharama Project

Archaeology Graduates
Thilina Pallethenna - University of Peradeniya.

Thusitha Herath - University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

M.Chanaka - University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

Sandhya Nawarathna - University of Peradeniya.

H.Piyathilaka - University of Ruhuna.

Manjula Karunathilaka - University of kelaniya.

Sarojani wijenayaka - University of kelaniya.

Plans - Dammika Siriwardena, Central Cultural Fund.
Photography - Suresh Sanjeewa , Central Cultural Fund.

* Heritage Achievements 2007 ,Central Cultural Fund,2008,p'52,Publication No:455


“The science of archaeology is problem-oriented and is
sue-related. It is essentially a multi disciplinary study investigating, documenting, interpreting and presenting human expressions, experiences and behaviour patterns of the past to its rightful inheritors, the next generation. The archaeologist investigating the past is a scientist who is objective, unbiased and unprejudiced. Above all, an archaeologist is a humanist and social activist who does not fear the past or compromises the future”

[professor.Sudharshan Seneviratne]

Director General. Central Cultural Fund

Professor of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya

* Heritage Achievements 2007 ,Central Cultural Fund,2008,p'60,Publication No:455



KATARAGAMA [1] is one of the most celebrated places of pilgrimage in Ceylon, sacred alike to the Buddhists as well as to the Hindus. To the former, it is one of the ‘sixteen great places’ at which the Buddha, during his third visit to the island, set is meditation. To the latter, it is the abode of Skanda, the youthful and fiery god of war. Kājaragāma, as the place is called in the pāli writings, was one of the earliest settlement of the Sinhalese in this island. In the third century B.C., it was already the seat of a kŞatriya clan whose representatives were among the distinguished personages assembled at Anurādhapura to pay homage to the branch of the sacred Bo-tree brought to Ceylon by Sańghamittā, the daughter of the great Indian emperor AŚoka [2]. One of the eight shoots which sprang up from this Bo-tree was planted at Kataragama; and thus the place became a centre of the Buddhist faith [3] at very early date. The foundation of Mahāgāma, about ten miles to the south, by Mahānāga, brother of Devānampiya Tissa, seems to have eclipsed the fame of Kataragamal ; for , from that time up to the eleventh century, the place is mentioned but once in the Mahāvamsa. Dappula I, one of the best known of the rulers of Ruhuṇa, who had also a brief tenure of authority at Anurādhapura (642 A.D), is said to have founded a monastery at Kataragama[4] .

In the first half of the eleventh century, Kataragama was, for a short period , of some moment in the affairs of the island. It was the last stronghold of the Sinhalese leaders of the time against the irresistible tide of Coḷa imperialism; and from there stared that movement which, after varying fortunes, resulted in the liberation of the island from the Coḷa yoke. Kataragama was, the scene of several hotly contested battles between the Sinhalese generals and the invading Coḷas on the one hand; and one of the other, of Kassapa the Kesadhātunāyaka against Kitti, the rising young hero who afterwards restored the sovereignty of the Sinhalese and ascended the throne of Poḷonnaruva as Vijayabāhu I. During these campaigns, the town was sacked by the invaders; and owing to this reason, as well as to the extension of Vijayabāhu’s activities to a wider sphere, the place seems to have sunk into comparative insignificance for it never again figures in the history of the island [5]

The shrine of the Kataragama god (see plate 20) which attracts such a large number of votaries annually from all parts of the island as well as from India, is a structure of modern origin [6]; and has no pretensions whatever to architectural beauty. It stands in the centre of a spacious enclosure within which there are also an old Bo-tree supposed to be identical with the one planted during the reign of Devānampiya Tissa, a Buddhist image house of modern style and several minor shrines dedicated to the worship of Skanda’s wives and brother. An inscribed pillar (A.S.I. 490), of which more will be said in the sequel, stands in front of image house. A number of ancient stones are lying about the place; but these have all been brought here, a few years ago, from the grounds of the kirivehera.

The dāgäba known as Kirivehera (see plate 21) about half a mile to the north of the devāle , is traditionally said to have been founded by Mahānāga (circa third century B.C). On some of the bricks fallen down from the dome, there are Brāhmi letters of about the first century B.C., inscribed as masons marks. And, as will be seen later, one of the inscriptions at the place records its enlargement in the first or second century A.D. Therefore, this stūpa may well be ascribed to a very early date, though we may not accept the tradition in its entirety. The monument itself is about the size of the Mirisaväṭiya dāgäba in Anurādhapura and stands on an artificially raised terrace, to which flights of steps lead on the four cardinal points. The harmmikā and the chatrāvalῑ have fallen down and the facing of the dome, too, is incomplete. Restoration work has recently been started and has now proceeded about half way up the dome. There are two inscriptions near this stūpa: one (A.S.I. 488) on a slab standing some 50 ft. to the south of the main entrance, and the other (A.S.I. 489) on a slab lying on the pavement now broken into four fragments of which one is missing.

[1] The Temple of Kataragama has been often described. For a good account of the place, giving references to previous writers, see Manual for Uwa Province by Herbert White, Colombo, 1893, pp.35-53. See also The Worship of Muruka by the late Sri Ponnambalam Arunachalam in the J.R.A.S., C.B., No-77, p.234 ff.

[2] Mahāvamsa, ch. xix, v. 54.

[3] Ibid., v. 62.

[4]see Mahāvamsa , ch. xiv, v. 45.

[5] Mahāvamsa , ch. lvii, vv .2, 67, 68, 70, 74, ch.lvii, v. 5.

[6] According to the tradition, a shrine of Skanda was built at Kataragama by Duṭṭagāmai in the first century B.C. in fulfillment of a vow made by him to that deity when he started on his memorable campaign against the Tamil usurper Elāḷa who was ruling at Anurādhapura. The literature, both Sinhalese and Tamil, connecting Skanda with Kataragama, is of recent origin; and there are, at the place, no vestiges whatever of the prevalence of a Hindu cult in early days. Therefore, this tradition may well be doubted; especially in view of the fact that there is a tendency among the Sinhalese villages to ascribe every possible religious foundation to the munificence of that pious monarch. The shrine has always been, and still is, under the supervision of Sinhalese priests (Kapurālas) ; and in the annual festival, I was informed by the priest the ceremonies connected with the Bo-tree and the dāgäba take precedence to those of the god. Some of the legends associated with Kataragamadeviyo are not known in India about Skanda; and the prevailing belief among the Sinhalese is that he is one of the four guardian deities of Ceylon and is destined to become a Buddha in the future. Therefore, we may be justified in concluding that Kataragamadeviyo was originally one of the local deities or Bodhisattvas of the Sinhalese Buddhist; and in process of time was identified with the Purāṇic deity Skanda, some centuries ago.