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Mahavamsa, An Introduction by Douglas Bullis

Saturday, August 20th, 2011


My Sri Lanka Holidays is proud to present you all a series of introductory articles on Mahavamsa (The Great Chronicle). These articles are written by scholars, historians, translators of Mahavamsa and colonial British civil servants in Ceylon. The knowledge of Mahavamsa is bound to bring about Skanda Pandia Light and enlightenment to all the tourists of Sri Lanka Holidays visiting the numerous archeological, historical, Buddhist religious and cultural attractions, tourist destinations and sites of Sri Lanka.Following extract is by courtesy of Douglas Bullis: Mahavamsa, The Greatest Chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahanama Thera, Modern Text and Historical Commentary by Douglas Bullis, Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka, ISBN 955-1266-09-9

The epic of ancient Lanka’s founding and early history is probably the least known of all the world’s great chronicles. The Mahavamsa or ‘Great Chronicle” is much less familiar than its forebears, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.[1] The Mahavamsa describes the introduction of Theravada Buddhism into Lanka and the development of the Buddhist nation-state that predominates in Sri Lanka Today.

The Mahavamsa’s sweeping relation of the period from approximately 500 BCE through 301 ACE describes the origins of virtually every religious practice and social institution on the island. Some of these are; the commonwealth that developed between ruler, religion, and populace; popular Buddhism’s fusion with local shamanistic beliefs and practices from Brahmanism, Hinduism, and Tantra; the dilution of the caste system by removing its religious proscriptions; the perennially mistrustful relationship with Dravidian kingdoms in southern India; the great reservoir-based irrigation system; and the assertive yet non aggressive culture which developed from the cultivator mentality of the rice paddy and moral principals of Buddhism.

Beyond these social and historical issues, the Mahavamsa possesses literary qualities which place it alongside the best of the literature emanating from the Subcontinent’s civilization. Every Sri Lankan schoolchild knows long passages of the Mahavamsa by heart. No end of Sri Lankan writers devote sizable portions of their careers to its explications of popularization. The Mahavamsa and its successor the Culavamsa relate a 2,300-year span of history from the quasi-legendary arrival of an Indo-Aryan royal prince from about 483 BCE [2] to 1795, the beginning of the British colonial period.

For many years Western scholars thought the fabulous stories in the few available written copies of the Mahavamsa to be a mix of apocrypha and speculative literature. Only in 1826 did a British civil servant discover a long-lost commentary called a Tika, in a cave [3] in the south of the island. The Tika established the factual nature of much what the Mahavamsa related.

The Mahavamsa was overlooked for so long for several reasons. It was not readily available until many centauries after it was first inscribed. Until about the first century BCE the writing of religious scriptures was considered a sacrilege. The Lankan monks about 35 BCE who first committed to writing ancient Buddhism’s body of literature never developed the technique of producing it in mass quantities such as we are familiar with today. When the Mahavamsa’s author, Thera Mahanama, penned it in the late fourth century ACE, he was relying on over four centuries of oral transmission followed by three centuries of labourisly hand-scriven written editions.

During the Ceylonese colonial era [4], the Pali language of the original suttas (the ancient Pali spelling of the Buddha’s sutras) was so obscure that few Dutch or British bothered to learn it. Hence the Mahavamsa was largely the preserve of monks and elite Sinhalese until philologists became interested in it after the discovery the Tika in 1826. The Tika provided scholars with authenticating information which allowed the Mahavamsa to be fully understood as a work of great epic literature as well as combination of legend and fact. It now resides alongside the Mahabharata and the Ramayana as an epochal tale detailing the formation of cultural attitudes.

The most accurate Mahavamsa translation in this century was made by the German Sanskritist Wilhelm Geiger in 1912, although several less spirited nineteenth-century editions also were produced. Herr Geiger also translated numerous other documents which exposed to the west the Lankan people’s 2500-year –old culture. The most recent version of the Mahavamsa was translated by Ananda Guruge, a Sri Lankan scholar who also has been the country’s Ambassador to France and the United States. Dr. Guruge’s work is of such exactitude that every reader who desires to delve deeper into the complex literary qualities of the Mahavamsa must consult his book. Unfortunately, it is available only in Sri Lanka [5], and even there is hard to locate. Herr Geiger and Dr. Guruge are the inspirations for this study of the Mahavamsa and Lankan Buddhism, while the Pali Text Society’s translation is the ultimate resource for this book’s rendering.

Until fairly recently Western scholars too often ignored the historical knowledge of their Sri Lankan counterparts. This is a disservice to a people with a profound regard for their culture. Today a casual visit to a Colombo, Kandy, or Galle bookstore will discover an impressive body of cultural expression-scholarship, poetry, classic and contemporary literature, dances, music both ancient and new, cuisine, and garments. Lanka was, and Sri Lanka is, a fascinating coherent society. A visit to Colombo National Museum, the Archeological Museum on Anuradhapura, the great cave paintings of Dambulla, the Temple of the Tooth and Kataragama devale in Kandy, a Hindu kovil or the Christian churches along the coast, the myriad architectural works such as Aukana, the impressive irrigation system, or the brick standing Buddha at Lankatilaka in Polonnaruwa give a taste of the complexity and pride of the Sinhalese civilization.

[To be continued]

Footnotes by bunpeiris

[1] Ramayana and the Mahabharata of India are ancient Hindu epic poems written in Sanskrit whose historicity, to say the least, is unclear: Kurukshetra War and Rama-Ravana War aren’t authenticated. In contrast, <strong>Mahavamsa</strong> of Sri Lanka is an unparalleled historical chronicle. Its authenticity is amply borne out of archeological, epigraphical and numismatic evidence which corroborates supplements and clarifies the wealth of information recorded in it. You only need to visit Anuradhapura and read the chapters on King Dutugamunu, the Hero of the Nation in Mahavamsa. That would do. Till the rest is read.

[2] The accuracy of the year 483 BCE is challenged by the historians and scholars. The accepted year is 543 BCE.

[3] Tika, Sri Lanka’s Rosetta Stone, the commentaries written on ola leaf upon the narrative of Mahavamsa, was discovered at the ancient Buddhist library at Mulkirigala (Mulgirigala) Rock Temple located at a 25 minutes drive off the pristine southern beach of Tangalle , by colonial civil servant George Turnour in the year 1826.

[4] Sri Lanka’s colonial era: Portuguese [1505-1640]; Dutch [1640-1796]; British [1796-1948]

[5] Copies of The great chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahavamsa, Chapter one to thirty seven. An annotated new translation with prolegomena by Ananda W. Guruge is available at S. Godage & Brothers, Godage Book Emporium, 675, P. De S. Kularatna Mw, Maradana, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka. It can be bought on-line at or

Maduru Oya National Park

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Maduru Oya National Park that lies between the Polonnaruwa-Batticaloa road and Mahiyangana-Padiyatalawa road in the districts of Ampara, Badulla and Polonnaruwa is created to protect the catchment area of Maduru Oya Irrigation Reservoir, Ratkinda Reservoir and Ulhitiya reservoir developed under the Mahaweli Development Project in the year 1983. Maduru Oya National Park is one the four Sri Lanka Wildlife Parks designated under the Mahaweli Development Project. The other three are Sri Lanka Holidays Wasgamuwa (Wasgomuwa) National Park, Flood Plains National Park and Somawathiya National Park. To protect the elephant population of Maduru Oya National Park, it has been proposed to create a corridor linking it to Gal Oya National Park. The elephant corridor would be called Nilgala Jungle corridor (10,360 ha). The concept was as same as those of other modern irrigation projects that necessitated the creation of new Sri Lanka Wildlife Parks: Udawalve reservoir – Udawalave National Park; Senanyake Samudraya – Gal Oya National Park; Lunugamvehera reservoir – Lunugamvehera National Park of Sri Lanka Holidays.


Location of and Access to Maduru Oya National Park
Maduru Oya National Park is located 265km north-east of Colombo, that is when the northern route, the most practical route from Colombo is taken: via Kurunegala, Dambulla, Habarana, Polonnaruwa and Manampitiya.
The gateway to Maduru Oya National Park is Manampitiya on Polonnaruwa – Batticaloa road, 25km north of the entrance to park.
Manampitya can be reached by railway line that runs from Gal Oya to Batticaloa via Kaduruwela, Polonnaruwa of Sri Lanka Holidays. From Manapitiya, a B grade road to the south via Dakukana leads to the village of Aralaganwila. From Aralaganwila onwards a minor road via the villages of Damminna nad Kandegama leads to the park entrance. At the park entrance close to the Maduru Oya modern irrigation reservoir are two circuit bungalows and one dormitory for the tourists.

Maduru Oya National Park can be reached from Maha Oya, arriving from the south too. The route to Maha Oya from Colombo is via Kandy, Mahiyangana and Padiyatalawa.
To the north-west of Maduru Oya National Park is Wasgomuwa (Wasgamuwa) National Park also of Polonnaruwa district and to the south-east is Gal-Oya National Park of Ampara district.
Ulhitiya Campsite facing the Ulhitiya Reservoir at the south of the park is an ideal location for the nature lovers for an overnight stay.

The expanse, climate, terrain and vegetation of Maduru Oya National Park
The low land dry zone park spreading 58850 hectares, features a 8km long rocky range of hills to the south-west of the park. 15% of the park is constituted by water bodies: Maduru Oya, Ulhitiya, Ratkinda, NDK and Henanigala reserviors and tributaries of the Mahaweli and Maduru Oya river systems.
Climatic conditions are influenced by the north-east monsoon during the months spreading from October to January called Maha harvesting season. The north-east monsoon is instrumental in the mean annual rainfall of 1650 mm. Mean annual temperature at the park is 27 degrees Celsius.
The tropical evergreen forest is characterized by Buruta (Sinhala: Satin), Weera, Palu, Divul (Sinhala: Woodapple) and Ehela etc. Open plains are dominated by shrub and grass.

Hot Springs at MahaOya
Maha Oya Hot Water Springs aren’t as crowded as Kanniya Hot Water springs at Trincomalee. Maha Oya Hot Springs located off the Aralaganwila road are protected by the local authorities.

Elephants at Maduru Oya National Park
Maduru Oya National Park is home to about 150-200 elephants. The best hour to witness herds of elephants is at 4-5 pm when sun begins to set over the vast modern man-made irrigation reservoir.

Mammals at Maduru Oya National Park
Apart from the elephants, Maduru Oya National Park is home to Water Buffalo, Sloth Bear, Leopard, Torque Macaque, Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Jackal, Fishing cat, Spotted Deer and Wild Boar. Nocturnal Slender Loris, a rare specie has been recorded at Maduru Oya National Park. Among the smaller mammals are Porcupine, Black Naped Hare, Indian Pangolin and Squirrels.

Reptiles and Amphibians at Maduru Oya National Park
Among the reptiles at the Maduru Oya National Park are Common Monitor, Water Monitor, Black-tailed Python,K, Common Cobra, Mugger Crocodile and Estuarine Crocodile. Other reptiles associated with aquatic habits are Indian Black Turtle and Indian Flap-shelled Turtle.

Birdlife at Maduru Oya National Park
Among the more than 100 species of birds found at the park are lesser Adjutant, Wooly necked stork, Open Bill, Painted Stork, Racket Tailed Drongo, Yellow Fronted Barbet, Sri Lanka Junglefowl and Spurfowl.

Maduru Oya Modern Irrigation Resevoir
Maduru Oya Reservoir is a major modern reservoir (capacity at FSL: 596 million cubic meters) constructed under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. It was built by means of a dam 1090 meters in length and 30 meters in height across the River Maduru Oya. The catchment area of the reservoir spreads to an area of 453 sq,km.
Maduru Oya reservoir is built combining ancient irrigation technology with modern. Remnants of an ancient sluice and a dam were discovered while the surveys were done for the most suitable location for the dam. The ruins are believed to be “Mahadhara Gallaka” ancient irrigation reservoir built by the great builder of reservoirs, King Mahasena (275-301 B.C.), who built a thousand reservoirs including the vast Minneriya Reservoir. The ancient sluice gate and the dam are preserved in commemoration of Maduru Oya’s heritage of the ancient irrigation engineering.

Sri Lanka Aborigines or Vedda of Maduru Oya National Park
A community of Vedda people (Sri Lanka Aborigines) also called Wannila Aththo, the indigenous ethnic group of Sri Lanka lives within the park boundary in Henanigala.

Kuda Sigiriya
Kuda Sigiriya (Sinhala: small Sigirya) forest reserve in Dehiattakandiya is a biodiversity conservation site of Sri Lanka Holidays. This area is also of significant archaeological importance though unexplored as yet.

Sri Lanka Holidays Cultural Attractions nearby Maduru Oya National Park
An ancient sluice on the old ruptured earthen bund of the Maduru Oya was discovered in the 1980s.The sluice made up of stone slabs and bricks, is about 30 feet (9.1 m) high, 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 219 feet (67 m) long. The upper sluice was built in two phases, the first of which dates to before the 6th century BC. The lower sluice is believed to be older than that.

Ruins of Buddhist shrines, temples, dagobas, statues, and hermitages are found in Henanigala, Kudawila, Gurukumbura, Ulketangoda, and Werapokuna belonging to various periods of 2553 years of unbroken recorded history of Sri Lanka. Early Brahmi inscriptions from first to third century AD have been discovered in Kandegamakanda.

The discovery of the ruins of ancient dam and sluice at Maduru Oya
Discovery of the ancient earthen dam and the sluice built during the reign of King Mahasena (275-301 B.C.) at the very location surveyed and calculated by the local and foreign irrigation engineering experts to build a dam straddling the river Maduru Oya in the year 1981, took Sri Lankans by storm. Some gasped, chuckled and took it on the stride: modern western engineering has just managed to match the ancient hydraulic engineering of Sri Lanka. Others grinned and bore it: in spite of the inland-sea like man-made made rainwater reservoirs at Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, it was only then, it dawned on them that our ancient Sinhalese Irrigation engineering, the hydraulic civilization of Sri Lanka has been second to none, no matter, ancient or modern. Overnight, Maduru Oya became a house hold name in Sri Lanka in the year 1981.

River Maduru Oya
The River Maduru Oya has its source to the North-east of Central Highlands of Sri Lanka at Uva hills east of Bibile at an elevation of 274 m. (900 ft.) above sea level. It flows north-eastwards covering a distance of about 136 km. and disgorges into the Vandaloos bay near lovely beaches of Kalkudah and Passikudha on the east coast.

The largest Modern Irrigation Project of Sri Lanka
Maduru Oya was the first major project (1978) taken up for construction under the Accelerated Programme of Mahaweli Development. The Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme (multi-purpose Mahaweli river diversification scheme) is the largest irrigation project of Sri Lanka ever. The modern experts had the use of intricate surveys, sophisticated instruments, rainfall and river data to make their calculations. Obviously the ancient Sri Lankan engineers were also backed by a knowledge of exact sciences without which such a technological achievement would not have been possible thousands of years ago. The workers who were who were leveling the ground, cutting the trenches, removing the earth had noticed ancient bricks getting unearthed. No matter, chuckled or grin, all had their intuition raised, ante up: there could be easily be an ancient brick structure buried herein: it could be ruins of an ancient Buddhist stupa dagoba or a sluice or embankment of an ancient man-made rainwater. The use of heavy machinery-earth moving equipments- was restrained and manual labour was employed in delicate situations. Ruins of a dam and almost intact sluice, a masterpiece of irrigation construction were unearthed.
Hidden in the sands of time and evergreen forest in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka

A matted forest canopy had hidden the breached earthen embankment on the very spot that foreign and local engineering experts chose to straddle the river. The remains of the massive ancient embankment on the right bank of the river Maduru Oya, about 23 metres (75.4 ft.) high and pitched with round stones along the upstream slope to break the ripple action amply testified to the magnitude of the ancient man-made rainwater reservoir constructed by our ancient irrigation and hydraulic engineers.

The significance of the ruins of ancient dam and sluice
A technical review committee appointed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) made a special report to Mr. Gamini Dissanyake, the Minister of Mahaweli Devlopment Project, Sri Lanka: “The upstream portion of the sluice is a masterpiece of construction. Twin conduits with corbeled arches approximately 2.5 m. apart pass through the bund. At the downstream and a carved terracotta relief depositing between the two arches. The dancing figures have been mutilated and the marks of the chisel used can be clearly seen on the carved relief.” The report gushed: “Major irrigation works and water control structures have been constructed throughout the civilized world since the 4th Millennium BC. These works include earth and rock dams, spillways, canals, dykes and embankments – the same structures that modern day engineers design for the same purposes. Some of the structures were advanced in engineering concept, major in scale, and in view of the lack of sophisticated machinery for construction, Herculean in execution. “The sluiceway and old bund at Maduru Oya rank in the forefront of these works. Several unique features of this structure testify to the sophisticated level of engineering practiced by the ancients.

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Gal Oya National Park

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Gal Oya National Park was established to protect the catchment area of modern Senanayake Samudra irrigation reservoir (7760 ha) nearly four times larger than ancient Parakrama Samudra Irrigation Reservoir. Gal Oya National Park wholly encompasses the great reservoir. Located east of the Sri Lanka Holidays  Central Highlands, Gal Oya National Park straddles borders of Ampara district of Eastern Province and Monaragala district of Uva Province. The gateway to Gal Oya National Park is at Inginiyagala, 50km inland from the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka. And Inginiyagala can be reached from Siyambalanduwa, a small town, which is also the gateway to Arugambay surf beach, one of the finest surfing beaches of the world where International surfing competition are held. The 300km route to Gal Oya National Park from Colombo lies via Sri Lanka Holidays  Ratnapura (City of Gems), Pelmadulla, Udawalawe (the location of  Sri Lanka Holidays  Uda Walawe National Park, home to 400 elephants), Thanamalwila, Wellawaya, Moneragala and Inginiyagala. To the north-west of the park, within a couple of hours drive is the Maduru Oya National Park. A jungle corridor through Nilgala jungle (an area of 10,360 ha that was inhabited by Veddha, the aborigines of Sri Lanka until recently) has been proposed between Gal Oya National Park and Sri Lanka Holidays  Maduru Oya National Park [1] to allow the elephants traverse from one to other following the failure of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Colombo to have a veterinary surgeon attend an injured elephant at Gal Oya resulting in the death of the beast.

The expanse, climate, terrain and vegetation of Gal Oya National Park
The elevation of the park varies from 30 meters to about 900 meters, Danigala, Nilgala, and Ulpotha mountains being the highest peaks. Rain is received during the North-eastern monsoon resulting in an average annual rainfall of 1,700 milli meters.

Gal Oya National Park that extends to 540 km rolling country has Senanayake Samudra irrigation reservoir (7760 ha), the centerpiece of the park, bisecting it from east to west at its shortest breadth in the midway area, while extending three long narrow tongues to the northern part as well as the southern part. That is in the perspective while at Inginigala, 20 km west of Ampara.
In reality, the great reservoir begins at a location off the center, to the south, called Makara Kata (Sinhala: Dragon’s mouth). It was at this location the River Gal Oya falls in a natural tunnel to the reservoir.
45% the park is an ever green forest: Sri Lankan hardwood such as Vevarana, Halmilla, Veera, Palu, Ebony and Mahogany are found in great numbers. Rolling land is 33% savanna, tall grass called illuk and Mana, 09% grassland, 02% chena cultivations. The remainder is water bodies dominated by the Senanayake Samudraya. Some areas of the park are still home to herbs and plants that were planted centuries ago and made use in Ayurvedic medical treatments. A host of medicinal shrubs and trees including Aralu, Bulu, Nelli the three indispensable herbs of the Ayurveda medicine abound in the Nilgala area.


Gal Oya Boat Safari
Gal Oya National Park stand unique among the Wildlife Parks of Sri Lanka, in the sense it is best explored by boat unlike the other toured by jeeps. The park entrance at Inginyagala dishes out the chance to hire a boat to ride for 2 hours or more cruising 18km from Gal Oya bund to Makara Kata.
Boating Safari in Senanayake samudraya (Sinhala: Sea of Senanayake) brings all the tourists closer to the wildlife: the elephants swimming from one island in the reservoir to another; one of the islands called “Bird Island” as its name suggests, rich in birdlife, is the favorite nesting ground of the birds.

Jeep Safari
The jeep safaris can be enjoyed in two tracks, one of which is about 13lm and other only 5 km and other about 13 km. Jeep Safari too affords the opportunities for wildlife photography.

Mammals at Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park is a sanctuary to 32 terrestrial mammals: Sri Lankan Elephant, Sri Lankan Sambar Deer, Sri Lanka Leopard, Toque Monkey, Sri Lankan Axis Deer, Water Buffalo, and Wild Boar are among them.

Amphibians at Gal Oya National Park
Mugger Crocodile and Star Tortoise are the silent stars among Amphibians of the Gal Oya National Park.

Birdlife at Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park is a merry fly lucky refuge for more than 150 species of birds.
Among the resident birds are Lesser Adjutant, Spot-billed Pelican and Red-faced Malkoha.
The Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Grey Heron, and Lesser Whistling Duck are among the common water birds of the Senanayake reservoir.
The White-bellied Sea Eagle, and Grey-headed Fish Eagle are the notable raptors of the area.

Butterflies at Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park’s butterfly species include the endemic Lesser Albatross.

Sri Lanka Holidays Cultural Attractions nearby Gal Oya National Park
Digavapi Stupa
Location: some thirteen miles east of Ampara
Ruins: 35 archaeological sites including the site of the ancient Buddhist shrine of Dighavapi hallowed by the visit of Lord Buddha.
Restoration: very slow in view of limited funds at the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka
Devastation: very quick. The area declared under the Archaeological department is only four hundred yards in radius of each site leaving the other areas unprotected under the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940. As a result of this pathetic situation there has been a great deal of illegal excavations, sand mining and encroachments in the open areas.

Buddhangala Hermitage
Location: 8km from the town of Ampara
Ruins: Buddhangala hermitage of about 1280 acres and Girikumbhila Vihara, where the Venerable Arhath Mahinda’s relics are enshrined, is located to the west of the hermitage
Restoration: following a century of negligence, the ancient site is being restored by Buddhist Monk Rev. Kalutara Dhammananda Thero.
The landscape: streams of water flows over and around the boulders of the ancient rock hermitage.
The highest point of the rock is about 150 Meters. On ascending to the top of it, one can see the Gal-Oya valley on one side. To the south are the Inginiyagala, Vadinagala and the Govinda Pabbatha which was once the realm of Buwanekabahu Äpa

Photographs are by kind courtesy of Mr. Pierre M. Richard.

[1] For Maduru Oya go to Maduru Oya

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Major Thomas William Rogers

Friday, April 15th, 2011

In memory of Major Thomas William Rogers: St. Marks Anglican Church at Badulla of Central Highlands.
At Badulla, the terminal city of the highland railway line of Sri Lanka, is an unpretentious Anglican Church that hides behind a lych gate at the foot of the hill below the fort. On a wall covered with memorial tablets is a dedication to Major Thomas William Rogers ( 1804 -1845).

“This church was erected to the honour of God in memory of Thomas William Rogers, Major, Ceylon Rifle Regiment, Assistant Government Agent and District Judge of Badulla, by all classes of his people, friends and admirers. He was killed by lightening at Haputale, June 7, 1845, aged 41. In the midst of life we are in death.”
Major Thomas William Rogers, a pioneer administrator in Badulla during the British colonial era, is now seldom remembered, in spite of his significant contribution towards laying the road network in the Sri Lanka Holidays Central Highlands. Illustrious Major Skinner lamented “after his death it required four men to perform with far less efficiency, promptitude and punctuality than when they were administered” Today, Major Rogers is most remembered as the man who killed 1400 elephants and lost count.

Elephant hunting

Elephant hunting

Most of the colonialist civil servants took up killing elephants as a sport and called themselves sportsmen. Then there were rare others who were driven onto the guns by necessity of their profession as well as in extending assistance to Sinhalese villagers so that their cultivation could be protected.

The arrival of demi-devil of the wild elephants at Uva province of Sri Lanka
In 1824, 20 year old Rogers arrived at Trincomalee, Ceylon and became a second lieutenant in the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. When stationed in Colombo, Rogers became a friend of no lees a person than illustrious Major Thomas Skinner, the builder of Colombo Kandy Road. In 1828, Rogers was appointed Commandant of Alupota, an important bastion. Alupota had been a British stronghold during the Uva Wellassa Rebellion in the year 1818. Rogers was to spend six years in the wild, roadless jungle military station overrun by herds of elephants, which devastated the crops of the Sinhalese villagers. Such was the regular encroachment in large herds, in night after night, in Ceylon, the elephants were likened to wolves in Europe by the British colonialists. Rogers spurred by the circumstances, following initial fumbling, in good time, became an elephant hunter of great skill and courage. Rogers soon became a legendary elephant hunter in his own lifetime.

Major Rogers, the demi-god of the Sinhalese villagers in Uva province of Sri Lanka.
Given the record of the Rogers, it is difficult to believe that there was ever a swifter pair of hands that held a rifle. His hunting exploits made such a deep impression on the Sinhalese villagers, it was said no elephant could ever get too close to him.

Killing 1400 elephants during an 11 year period (1834 to 1845) is astounding by any stretch of credulity. One would imagine Rogers was a day and night professional hunter hired to get rid of the elephants encroaching the villages to lay waste the paddy fields, chena (slash-and-burn) cultivation, topes of coconut trees and groves of banana. Occasionally, whole lands of cultivation were devastated in the course of a single night. Elephants having a great liking for the leaves of the coconut, when unable to reach them with their trunks, would throw their whole weight against the tree, and persist with great pressure till it is laid down.
Today herds of wild elephants are mostly seen at the grassland forests and irrigation reservoirs in the plains. Elephants are the star attraction in most of the Sri Lanka Holidays National Wild life Parks. However during the colonial era wild elephants roamed in large herds in the Central Highlands. The capability of the elephants in enduring extreme climatic change is especially significant: they are at home in valleys of the interior; on the elevated thickly-wooded forty five degree steep mountains which run upto six thousand feet above the sea-level.

Major Rogers, the highland road builder based in Badulla
Rogers, an engineer by profession, was the Assistant Government Agent and District Judge of Badulla. The modern map of Uva owes much to the planning of Major Rogers. Contributions of Rogers to the construction of highland roads under the leadership of Major Thomas Skinner was well recorded in the colonial history of Sri Lanka, then called, Ceylon. He was credited with connecting Nuwara Eliya with Badulla. Furthermore, he was instrumental in building roads, Badulla onwards to three directions: to Bibile and through Bibile to Batticaloa on the east coast, a distance of over 200 miles through difficult terrain; Badulla to Ratnapura, all the way through the hills to the west of the island; Badulla to Wellawaya and then continued this road to the south coast at Hambantota.
Rogers, traversing from Badulla to Kandy, avoiding the arduous climb via Ramboda to Sri Lanka Holidays Nuwara Eliya, traced the Lower Badulla Road via Walapone and to Sri Lanka Holidays  Kandy. However, since the tea plantations never penetrated the wilds of lower Hewaheta and Walapone during the colonial era, the path had fallen into disuse. It took no less than another 140 years for the path to be converted into a broad highway. That was by late Gamini Dissanayaka while the Mahaweli Development Project was at its busiest days in the 1980s. Today it is one of the most picturesque roads in Sri Lanka Holidays.

Rogers misses a shot at Hambantota
In his endless close encounters with herds of wild elephants Major Rogers was caught napping, caught by the trunk of an elephant only once; that was on the 29th of December, 1841, when he was exploring a new forest track in the Hambantota district.

Following is an extraction from Ceylon and Cingalese written by Henry Charles Sirr, 1850, London
The major had shot at an elephant, but the ball glanced off, merely inflicting a flesh-wound; the creature, infuriated with pain, raised its trunk, uttering the terrific trumpet-like squeal, which they always make preparatory to a charge. The elephant seized Rogers with the proboscis, and carried him a short distance, then dashed him on the ground, into a deep hole, and trampled upon him, breaking his right arm in two places, and several of his ribs; and it was only the small size of the hole into which he had been thrown that saved his life, as the elephant had not sufficient room to use his full strength.

When his brother sportsmen came up to the Major, they found him lying senseless, and, so soon as he recovered his speech he stated, that he was perfectly conscious when the elephant both seized and trampled upon him, but that he knew attempting to escape, or struggling was worse than futile, and that he was entirely passive upon principal, as he had often reflected upon such an event occurring, and had resolved to remain perfectly motionless. We believe no greater mastery of mind over matter, or resolution, was ever recorded than this.

Lightening kills Rogers at Haputale of Central Highlands.
The death of the most fearless elephant hunter ever was melancholy as well as extraordinary. No mortal elephant could kill him in spite of more than 1400 death or life encounters. An elephant wouldn’t be shot dead unless the ball of a rifle is sunk right into the brain. In all those encounters, Rogers was swift and dead on the target and prevailed except the one narrated above. He had much more than fabled cat’s nine lives. Whom, the elephants couldn’t kill, it took no less than a bolt of lightening.

Following is an extraction from Ceylon, Beaten Track written by W. T. Keble, 1940, Colombo
It was when he went up to Sri Lanka Holidays  Haputale to meet the Government Agent, C. R. Buller, that Major Rogers met his tragic death on the 7th of June, 1845. Mr. and Mrs. Buller had arrived in Haputale, and Rogers went up from Badulla to meet his chief. They had probably been doing some outdoor inspection work, when a sudden thunder-storm blackened the sky and the mountains, and compelled them to take shelter in the Haputale Resthouse. The rain beat down upon the roof as they sat in the inner roof as they sat in the inner room of Haputale Resthouse. After a time the pattering of the rain drops grew less violent, and major Rogers stepped out onto the verandah to see if the storm had abated. He turned round and called out to Mrs. Buller: “it is all over now”, when suddenly there was a blinding flash of lightening, followed by shattering thunder-clap. The central pole of the pandal before the house was split down the middle, the coolies and horses in the back verandah and outhouses were all struck down, though not seriously injured; but Rogers fell forward with his face to the floor, dead. It was evident that the lightening had been attracted by his military spurs, for one heel was discolored.

Tomb of Major Rogers at Nuwara Eliya,
Right behind the golf course at Nuwara Eliya of Central Highlands is an old colonial cemetery. All around the wall of the cemetery is a ditch, which was once a moat wide and deep enough to stop the elephants crossing onto the cemetery. Thus cemetery was well protected from the wild elephants then abounded at Sri Lanka Holidays Nuwara Eliya. Therein at the cemetery lies the remains of Major Rogers. The tombstone that elephants couldn’t reach was visited by a bolt of lightening. The tombstone of Major Thomas William Rogers is cracked with lightening.

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Senerat Paranavitana

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Dr. Senerat Paranavitana (1896-1972), Sri Lanka
Senerat Paranvitana, was trained in epigraphy under the guidance of K.V. Subrahmanya Ayyar at the Office of the Government Epigraphist of India, Ootacamund, South India, in the years 1923-1926. In 1936, he obtained the doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Leyden, the Netherlands, on the first four chapters of his monograph on The Stupa in Ceylon. His supervisor for this thesis was J. Ph. Vogel, a leading authority on Indian archaeology.

In 1940, Senerat Paranavitana became the first Ceylonese Archeological Commissioner. He held this post for sixteen years. In 1958, he became the Professor of Archeology in the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, the first chair of its kind to be established in Sri Lanka.

A self-taught prodigy in the field of archaeology, Senerat Paranavitana combined his talent with other aspects of culture such as history and linguistics, in which he excelled equally. Possessing indigenous vision and intuition, he comprehended with exactitude the nature and design of edifices concerned and conserved then accordingly. Such monuments as the Kantaka Cetiya at Sri Lanka Holidays  Mihintale, the Vatadage at Madirigiya and  Sri Lanka Holidays Sigirya Lion Rock Citadel are among the main contributions of Paranavitana to the archeology of Sri Lanka. Since his first edition of an inscription in 1926, he made innumerable contributions to foreign and local journals which dealt not only with epigraphy, but also with various other branches such as history, art, religion, languages and literature.

His untiring work on aspects of Ceylonese culture brought him many distinctions. Senerat Paranavitana was awarded the Silver Medal by the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1950 and the Gold Medal by the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1955. He was the honored possessor of three D. Litt.s from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya at Sri Lanka Holidays Kandy, the Vidyodaya University of Ceylon at Colombo and the Vidyalankara University of Ceylon, Kelaniya. The British government honored him by making him an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1951) and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1952). Senerat Paranvitana, held the post of President, Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society for three consecutive years (1957, 1958 and 1959). He served as Editor of Epigraphia Zeylancia (from 1929), Member of the Editorial Board of the Annual Bibliography of the Kern Institute, Leyden (from 1935), Corresponding Member of I’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, Member of the Consultative Committee of Artibus Asiae, Associate Editor of the Ceylon Journal of Science (Section G) (from 1933), Editor of the University History of Ceylon, vol 1 pt. 1 (1959) and vol. 1 pt. 2 (1960) and joint Editor of A Concise History of Ceylon (1961).

Senerat Paranvitana,’s magnum opus is his work on the Sigiri Graffiti (graffiti on the mirror wall of Lion Rock Citadel Sigiriya), published in two monumental volumes by the Oxford University Press in 1956. Among his other publications are The Shrine of Upulvan at Devundara (1953), The God of  Sri Lanka Holidays  Adam’s Peak (1958), Ceylon and Malaysia (1961), Inscriptions of Ceylon –Vol 1 (1970), The Greeks and the Mauryas (1961) and Arts of Ancient Sinhalese (1971). Vol 2 of the Inscriptions of Ceylon and The Story of Sigiri were published posthumously.
Above extract from the book Sinhalayo is published herein by courtesy of Ratna Paranavitana
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Ancient Stupas (Dagobas) of Sri Lanka
The sights of modern and ancient Stupas or dagobas of Sri Lanka, seated prettily on a built up ground or perched on a natural elevation or a hill, sheltered by the foliage of all shades and tones of green set up a regular feature of your Sri Lanka Holidays. Serenely overlooking the landscape, the great white symmetrical domes painted in white or blue-white brings about enormous soothing influence to release the tension on the stressed minds.

Mihintale Mahaseya Stupa

Mihintale Mahaseya Stupa

Stupa in the Sinhalese civilization
Moreover, the concept of Sinhalese civilization being based upon triple pillars of irrigation reservoir, Buddhist temple and dagoba (stupa), most often the expansive rice fields in the foreground and irrigation reservoirs in the background spread over the landscape. The stupa is the most pleasant and most prominent feature of the Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka. The group of buildings at the Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka consist of complementary elements: pilimage (Sinhala: image house), bodhigara (Sinhala: enclosure with the Bo Peeple tree), Vihara (Sinhala: dwellings of the Buddhist monks) and of course stupa.

Tissa Maha Stupa at Tissamaharama

Tissa Maha Stupa at Tissamaharama

The scale of the stupa
The ancient cities had the main stupa designed in line with the scale of the city. It was an urban concept of displaying the same respect and reverence accorded to the stupa at the villages. The dominance in the landscape and the sphere of influence created by the stupa was unmistakable, whether at the southern town of  Sri Lanka Holidays Tissamaharama of the ancient Ruhuna, ancient Anuradhapura (UNESCO World Heritage Site), medieval Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World heritage Site) in the north central plains or the Somawatiya sanctuary in the north-east.

Ruwanweliseya Dagoba phot credit to Nandasiri Wanninayaka

Ruwanweliseya Dagoba photo credit to Nandasiri Wanninayaka

Stupa Vs Cosmos
To illustrious Dr. Senerath Paranavitana (1896 – 1972), the eminent archeologist-historian-epigraphist of Sri Lanka, to whom the Sinhalese nation owes a great debt of gratitude for his tireless archeological discoveries, works and interpretations, stupa or dagaba symbolized the cosmos. The rational of the three relic chambers inside the hemispherical dome is explained thus: “That at the ground level symbolized the earth, the one above it the heavenly world and that below ground the subterranean world of the serpents.” Dr. Paranavitana’s view assumes the omnipresence of the Buddha or Tathagata in the world. “The simple and austere lines of the hemispherical white dome would thus have conveyed to the pious devotee the idea of the vault of heaven, with the celestial abodes represented by the superstructure. The relics enshrined within the stupa which at once symbolized the world and the Tathagatha, would convey the idea of the Tathagata being immanent in the universe. The umbrella, the symbol of sovereignty, suggested to the faithful the idea of the Buddha being lord of the world. Whatever the symbolic significance of the stupa may be, it reflects a harmonious synthesis of simple artistic beauty with architectural design and philosophical thought.

Stupas-at-anuradhapura, a view from Minintale

Stupas at Anuradhapura, a view from Mihintale: to the far left is Mirisavatiya stupa; at the center is Ruwanweliseya stupa; to the right, the blurred image is that of Jetavana Stupa. Image by courtesy of Thorondo.

The most venerated stupas of Sri Lanka
Among the most adored great stupas of Sri Lanka are Jetawana stupa (400ft in height), Abhayagiri stupa (370 feet), Ruwanweliseya (338 ft) located in Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura, the greatest monastic city of the classical world. Among these ancient stupas too, Sri Lanka Holidays Golden Sand Ruwanweliseya stupa built by the King Dutugemunu (161- 137 B.C.), the Hero of the Nation, is the most adored, most visited great stupa of Sri Lanka.

the wild elephant is a regular visitor of Somawathiya Stupa

The wild elephant from the nearby sanctuary is a regular visitor of Somawathiya Stupa

At a monumental height of 338 feet, Ruwanweliseya stupa also called Mahathupa or Swaranmali chetiya covers over an acre and half with a diameter of the circular base being 294 feet. The immense dimensions of the great stupa make the famous Sanchi Stupa (60 feet) of India, which is the largest monument of this class of the same age in India, dwarfed into insignificant proportions. 250 years later Sri Lanka Holidays Abhayagiri stupa (370 feet) built by King Gajabahu (113-135 A.D.) at the Abayagiri monastery (founded by King Vattagamaini Abhaya or Valagambahu (103-102 B.C. and 89 -77 B.C.), towered over Ruwanweliseya.


Somawathiya Stupa

Another 350 years later, King Mahasena (276-302 A.D.), the builder of vast Sri Lanka Holidays Minneriya irrigation reservoir, would do still better: that was by the monumental Jethawana stupa which was originally built to 400ft in height and surpassed, at that time, only by two of the larger pyramids of Egypt. Today restored Jethavana stupa, still the largest among the stupas in Sri Lanka stands majestically, east of the Sri Lanka Holidays  Golden Sand Ruwanweliseya stupa.
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Rock Temples

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Rock Cave Temples of Ancient Sri Lanka

Ancient Sinhalese had drawn to rock caves as ducks to the water; and they had hoarded river water and rainwater by way of vast irrigation reservoirs as if there was no tomorrow. But then, even today, those vast ancient irrigation reservoirs extend the life-line to the nation. Then again, while water thus collected, naturally has been for the physical sustenance of the people and self sufficiency of the nation, rock caves were solely for the ascetic Buddhist monks leading themselves to the higher spiritual stream of the faith. The nation, the Sinhalese and the faith, Buddhism has been interwoven into the fabric of Sinhalese civilization since the arrival of Arahat Mahinda, the great Buddhist missionary to Sri Lanka from India during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (307-267 BC).

Rock caves that had given shelter and shade to the ascetic monks, scattered throughout Sri Lanka run into many hundreds testifying to the existence of thousands of bhikkus, who chose those for their abodes for long years of meditation. The rock caves being isolated from the general mode of life and immersed in the profound silence in the wilderness, provided sanctuary to lead a life of sanctity and piety in search of higher levels of spiritual stream.

The villagers took upon themselves to cleanse and smoothen the rough rock caves into habitable dwellings in a process that required labor in no small measure. Scholar Buddhist monk Dr. Walpola Rahula narrates the preparation that was adopted as far as back in the 5th century AD, as follows:

First of all the cave was filled with firewood and the wood was then burnt; this helped to remove all loose splinters of rock as well as to dispel unpleasant odors. After the rock cave was cleaned, walls of brick were built on the exposed sides, and doors and windows fixed. Some-times walls were plastered and whitewashed. Then such simple articles of furniture as a bed and a chair necessary for a recluse were provided.
A cave thus appointed was a pleasant residence to live in for a person of unsophisticated aesthetic sense quiet temperament, besides it was an ideal place for deep meditation. The inside of a cave is pleasantly cool during the hot season. Unquote

Most often the walls and ceilings of the rock caves were painted with history of Buddhism, life of Gautama Buddha and episodes from the history of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, a multitude of Buddha statues of varying dimension from colossal to life size were carved of the granite rocks. The finest of such rock cave temple has been Sri Lanka Holidays  Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site) at Dambulla. Among other popular rock cave temple that are visited today by the Sinhalese Buddhist pilgrims and Sri Lanka Holidays tourists are Mulkirigla Rock Cave Temple, more than 70 rock caves at Sri Lanka Holidays Ritigala Monastery, rock caves at Mihintale Monastery, Dimbulagala rock Cave Temple and Sithulpawwa Rock cave monastery.

Following rapid spread of Buddhism during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (Sinhala: dear to the gods) (307-267 BC), the Buddhist monks according to Scholar Buddhist monk Dr. Walpola Rahula, “could not be allowed to live alone in lonely caves and huts on mountains and in jungles cut off from society, ignoring their obligations to the people who supported them and looked up to them for guidance.”

As a result of this necessity, village temples emerged within the prosperous villages; monasteries with royal patronage were built in the neighborhood of flourishing cities; the religious intercourse and social obligations between the Buddhist order of Sangha and the laity was elevated onto a higher level. The supreme fruit of this development was the concept of Sinhalese villages of Sri Lanka Holidays that consist on triple pillars: rainwater reservoir; Buddhist temple and dagaoba (stupa).

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Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Ceylon, the terrestrial Paradise

Sri Lanka Holidays is proud to present you all with gleanings off the book written by a Portuguese Captain named Joao Rebeiro during the colonial era in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, titled “The Historic Tragedy of the Island of Ceilao” dedicated to his most Serene Majesty Dom Pedro the Second of Portugal. The classic historical narration was first published in Lisbon on the 8th January 1685. Captain Rebeiro lamented on the loss of coastal belts of Sri Lanka to the Dutch. The book was translated from Portuguese to English by Dr. Paul E. Peiris (a Sri Lankan, then called Ceylonese) in 1947 at Colombo, the emporium of Sri Lanka Holidays.


I should wish all who have traveled over the world or have read of its greatness, to tell me if they have seen or heard of any part which produces the treasures which as we have shown, are to be found in this Island [1]? If we take the whole of Africa, we would not find there more than a little gold obtained by purchase, together with some amber and Ivory.

America produces gold, silver, pearls, emeralds, some amber and numerous drugs; but we ought to remember that so vast is the extent of the country, that it is named the New World, and that it stretches from Pole to Pole, including numerous kingdoms and provinces, and that the majority of them lack most of the articles we have described. These which have some, have not got the others.

Brazil produces sugar and tobacco; in Arabia there is incense, myrrh, dates and horses; in Persia, silk and some drugs, while pearls are found in the Gulf; in Gusarate, cloth and drugs; in Canara, rice and pepper; in Malavar, pepper, cardamom, and ginger; in the Xoromandel Coast, cloth; in the Kingdom of Carnate which is subject to Golconda, diamonds; in Bengala and throughout the Kingdom of the Mogor, cloth, rice, sugar and wax. There are also numerous provinces which have some products and not others. In pegu are found rubies and lacre; in Sumathra gold, copper, tin, benzoin and pepper; in Champa, ebony, calamba and aguila; in Borneo, camphor, diamonds and pepper; in Siam, benzoin and drugs; in China, gold, silk, musk, and drugs; in Japao [2], silver and copper; in the Malucas, cloves; in Banda, nutmegs and mace; in Timor and Solor, sandal.

The products of each kingdom of Europe are well-known, but they are more the result of cultivation than the gift of nature; accordingly we do not refer to them.

We see that several of the lands which we have named include numerous large kingdoms, and they cannot fail to have a reputation for great wealth. What then should we say about an Island, the greatest length of which is not more than seventy two leagues [3], and which produces the five commodities we have described, in such store?

Its cinnamon [4] is the best in the world; its gems [5] are in such abundance, and only diamonds and emeralds are wanting; its elephants [6] are the most prized of any within our discoveries, its pepper [7] is the finest in the East, the pearls [8] and seed pearls of its waters are considered very excellent. I do not speak of the numerous other drugs which the Island produces, and of which we take no account. Some amber is found on the coast.

Methinks that those who declared that this Island is the terrestrial Paradise, did so not in consequence of its fertility or the profusion of every kind of dainty to support life, nor for the blandness or healthfulness of its climate, nor for the footprints two palms long [9] which the Gentiles have fabricated to attract veneration to the spot; but because while its extent is so limited, it produces such an abundance of riches. Unquote


Footnotes by Sri Lanka Holidays bunpeiris
[1] Island of Sri Lanka was then called Ceilao by the Portuguese.
[2] Japan was then called Japao by the Portuguese
[3] Distance between the two furthest points (northernmost point in Sri Lanka, Point Pedro and southernmost point of Dondra Head or Devi Nuwara -Sinhala: City of the Gods) in north-south axis: 432 km; the distance between furthest points in the west-east axis is 224 km. Area of the island: 65625 sq. km.

[4] Even today Ceylon Cinnamon is the finest cinnamon in the world. Moreover, Sri Lanka is the main exporter of cinnamon in the world. Sri Lanka, since the ancient times has been an Island famous for a spectacular range of tropical spices. Even today, Sri Lanka spices are not only grown in the wild but also systematically cultivated. During your Sri Lanka Holidays, you will be visiting a spice garden at Matale on our way to Kandy from Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple at Dambulla.

[5] Sri Lanka has been legendary for its gems since the biblical times. Sri Lanka Holidays  Ratnapura (Sinhala: city of gems) located in a valley on the banks of a major river called Kalu Ganga, has been unearthing almost every variety of gems ranging from precious stones to semi precious stones. The most vigorously marketed gem of Sri Lanka is Ceylon Sapphire. Ratnapura of Sri Lanka Holidays also unearths chrysoberyl cat’s eye, ruby, garnet, perodot, topaz, tourmaline, alexandrite, spinal and zircon. During your Sri Lanka Holidays Ratnapura primitive gem mine (large-scale mechanized mining isn’t allowed in Sri Lanka in view of possible environmental hazards), gem markets, gem merchants, gem shops and gem museums too can be visited. Sri Lanka is one of the major gem exporters of the world.

[6] Sri Lanka Holidays Afford all tourists the opportunity to sight herds of elephants at close range in its numerous wildlife parks. The popular of wildlife parks called Minneriya National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Wasgomua National Park are located within an hour’s drive from the transportation and accommodation hub of Habarana. The location of Habarana makes it the ideal base to explore the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) within the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka Holidays. Uda Walve National Park and Gal Oya National Park too afford the opportunity to view large herds of elephants. So are Ruhuna Yala National Park, Willpattu National Park and Maduru Oya National Park.

[7] Following the arrival of Portuguese in Sri Lanka in the year 1505, the seaport of Cochin in India, which had been famous for Black Pepper (such was the value of the spice then, it was called Malabar Gold), was pushed down into a secondary source of Black pepper.

[8] Sri Lanka had been famous for its sea pearls during its colonial era. Such was the scale of ripping Sri Lanka of its pearls by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English for nearly 500 years (since 1505 to1948), today Sri Lanka is no longer a major source of natural sea pearls.

[9] This is a reference to Sri Pada (Sinhala: resplendent footprint of Buddha) Adam’s Peak (2,243 metres) also called Samanala Kanda (Sinhala: butterfly mountain). Sri Lanka Holidays Sri Pada night ascent (illuminated all the way up to the summit) trekking pilgrimage season begins in December and last till April in the following year. The night ascent has been the traditional trekking mode in view of the spectacular phenomenon of light and shadow of the mountain on the summit at the crack of dawn. The longer route (southern route) to the base of the Sri Pada Adam’s Peak begins at the valley of Ratnapura and the shorter route (northern route) begins at a higher elevation at the Central Highlands city of Hatton, home to vast plantations of Ceylon Tea.

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Trincomalee, Ceylon

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Trincomalee during Portuguese era in Ceylon
Apart from the products and wealth which I have described we could have built great fleets at little expense, as there is an abundance of timber and iron and resin, all article which are largely employed in such work. There is in the island a plant [1] which produces something like our linen thread, out of which the native fishermen make their nets; from this we could manufacture ship shrouds similar to those of Europe, without the coarseness and thickness of coir [the fiber of the outer husk of the Coconut].

In what words should I speak of the harbor and bay “Dos Arcos” [2]? It is the best in the whole of India, with a bottom between sand and clay, and is protected from every wind save the East, which however does not blow except occasionally and then too gently; moreover it contains several inlets, which are protected from this as well.

The chief winds which blow during the year are the North and the South, called respectively Vara and Cachao [3], and they create in the Island two wet and two dry seasons. The longest and most beautiful river in the Island [4] two wet [5] and dry seasons [6]. The longest and most beautiful river beautiful river [7] falls into this bay; its water, which comes from Adam’s Peak, is very good, and on its banks are found an abundance of trees remarkable for their size and variety.

A deck could be made in the bay itself, and fleets of numerous ships of any tonnage that is required built there, especially as we had that large river for conveying all the material without any expense; for as we have shown in the tenth chapter of the first book, it is the duty of the woodcutters to fell timber, and of the iron smelters and smiths, carpenters, turners, pile and gun makers, and all other craftsmen in the Island [8], to serve His Majesty [9] without any payment.

The weapons for arming them such as muskets, arquebuses, carbines, bacamartes, spears, pikes, swords, and gun stocks, would cost almost nothing; all these are made in the Island [10] in great abundance and of excellent workmanship. With these our forts and armies would be supplied without the expense which the Royal Treasury [11] would have to meet everywhere else. Their carriage too cost nothing, as it is the duty of the culles to convey them, just as the other entire craftsman has their own duties to perform. So that we can see the great advantages we had for making fleets; a splendid harbor in which to keep them, with liberty to go out and come in without danger at any season of the year, and an abundance of provisions for their use. Yet we never thought of utilizing this harbor for building fleets, which were always the essential requirement in that State.


Above narration consists of precise words of  Captain Joao Rebeiro lamenting on the loss of coastal belts of Sri Lanka to the Dutch: “The Historic Tragedy of the Island of Ceilao” dedicated to his most Serene Majesty Dom Pedro the Second. Lisbon, 8th January 1685.
Translated from Portuguese to English by Dr. Paul E. Peiris, 1947, Colombo, Sri Lanka

[1] Crotolaria Juncea
[2] Baia dos Arcos:  Sri Lanka Holidays : Trincomalee Bay Harbor, North-Eastern Coast
[3] Varakan (Sinhala: The North-East Monsoon and South-West Monsoon of Sri Lanka)
[4] [8] [10] Sri Lanka
[5] Wet seasons- tropical monsoons: The northeast monsoon (December to March), and the southwest monsoon (June to October)
[6] Dry seasons: November to April main tourist season of Sri Lanka Holidays and May to September for tourism in the Eastern Coast
[7] River Mahaweli Ganga of Sri Lanka
[9] His Serene Majesty Dom Pedro The Second of Portugal
[11] Royal Treasury of Portugal

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Kandy Road

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Kandy Road, Sri Lanka

Kandy, the natural fortress
Kandy had no roads leading to it from Colombo. Sri Lanka Holidays  Kandy (altitude: 489 meters), the gateway to the Central Highlands (altitude: 489-1800 meters) of  Sri Lanka, was a natural fortress of wooded mountains and as if that wouldn’t do, it was devoid of roads from the surrounding plains. In the early 1800s roads in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka were not very different from the Colonial Dutch tracks along the coasts. The roads were merely rough clearings cut through forests. There were no permanent bridges or culverts.

Since the establishment of the royal city of Kandy in 1592, the succession of kings reigning in Kandy, refrained from cutting pathways to the plains surrounding the central highlands of Sri Lanka leaving the Sinhalese inhabitants of the coastal areas to the sword and fire of the invading Europeans. With the exception of battles fought at Tricomalee and Jaffna by King Senarath (1604-1634 AD) and his son King Rajasinghe the second (1634-1684) at Colombo, kings reigning in Kandy had no pricks of conscience in leaving the lowlanders at the mercy of the European invaders., i.e. Portuguese (1505- 1656), Dutch (1656-1796) and English (1796-1948).

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Highlanders rebelled against the king when the Portuguese were at the brink of total annihilation in the lowlands.
Furthermore, we mustn’t forget the opportunity to defeat the Portuguese and thereby preventing their successor Dutch and British from occupying the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, was deliberately squashed by the Sinhalese in Kandy. That was during the relentless siege of impregnable Portuguese fort in Colombo by the great warrior King Sitawake Rajansinghe (1581-1592 AD) reigning at Sitawake, Awissawlla in the lowlands. Sinhalese in the highland stronghold of Kandy revolted against the king, resulting in withdrawal of the Sinhalese forces, who had brought down the Portuguese to the brink of total annihilation. Portuguese had already suffered the worst ever defeat of an European power in an Asian region: Mulleriyawa battle in the year 1562 at the hands of the Sinhalese forces of King Sitawake Rajansinghe, the most ferocious warrior king ever lived in Sri Lanka. Medieval Sinhalese chronicle “Rajavaliya” records that the waters Mulleiryawa marshy land overflowed with the blood of Portuguese. Reinforcement from Goa, the Portuguese maritime stronghold in India, couldn’t be prevented from another defeat on the banks of River Kelang ganga close to Colombo.

The last refuge of the Portuguese was at the great fort of Colombo: Portuguese, already reduced to slaughter rats, cats and dogs for meat, were thrown a  lifeline with the revolt by the Sinhalese in Kandy against King Sitawake Rajasinghe.

Sinhalese must stay united in all fronts and close ranks against all foreign enemies and local traitors.

Lowlanders had been put to the sword and the fire by the Portuguese.
The Portuguese with free reign given, held sway in the coastal area to toss up the Sinhalese infants high into the air and then hold their long spears high up to have them impaled. Following the death of the King Sitawake Rajasinghe, unable to bear the utter brutality of the Portuguese, a significant proportion of the Sinhalese inhabitants in the coastal areas found embracing Roman Catholicism was the only means of preventing their children killed. Portuguese wouldn’t massacre baptized infants and their parents.

The Lowlanders continue to suffer at the hands of European invaders., i.e. Portuguese (1505- 1656), Dutch (1656-1796) and English (1796-1948). The highlanders sat tight in the refuge city of Kandy.

The ultimate betrayal of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation at Kandy
The kings in Kandy had been saving the provinces of Kandy from the colonialists since 1505 only to be served in subjugation on a platter by the Sinhalese in Kandy themselves to the British on 2nd March 1815. And that was amidst “magul bera” traditional Sinhalese ceremonial explosive drum beatings at the Great Hall of Audience of Kandy. The Kandyan ministers in Kandy betrayed Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, the last king of Sri Lanka. It was the ultimate betrayal of the Sinhalese nation and island of Sri Lanka.

Sinhalese must never allow division among themselves to dish out advantage to the foreign enemies and local traitors.

The downfall of the kingdom of Sri Lanka was the result of the shameless treachery and treason by the most powerful minister at the Royal Court of Kandy, Adigar Pilima Talawwa. The capture of the king Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was effected by the rebel chief Ekneligoda Dissawa, one of the henchman of Ehelapola, a Minister at the Royal Court of Kandy.

On the night of 13th February 1815, while General Brownrigg was at dinner with a small party of officers, intelligence of the capture of the king reached him. “He stood at table,” says an eye-witness, “and while the tears rolled down the cheeks, shook hands with every one present and thanked them for their assistance in furtherance of an object which seemed to be nearly accomplished, and which had been vainly attempted for nearly three centuries by three European powers in succession-the conquest of the kingdom of Kandy.” ‘From this day,’ says William Kinghton (History of Ceylon from the Earliest Period to the Present Time), “we may date the extinction of Sinhalese independence, an independence which had continued without any interruption for 2357 years.”

The island that couldn’t be conquered, in its glorious history running as far back to 543 BC, in spite of the succession of waves of invasions by the marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India in the ancient times and then by the Europeans in the medieval times, was served on a platter to the British by those who lived in a natural fortress city surrounded by rings of hills and the largest river of the island.

The jungle track to Kandy that witnessed the massacres of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British
The one and only access to Kandy made use by the Portuguese and the Dutch to attack Kandy was a jungle track via Hanwella. Then came the British. Once again the main access road to Sri Lanka Holidays  Kandy and the interior of the country was via Hanwella, a small town in Sri Lanka, situated about 30 km from Colombo, that lies on the Colombo-Ratnapura main road, on the banks of the Kelani River. Hanwella was part of the medieval Seethawaka kingdom in the lowlands.

Hanwella, the battleground
Hanwella witnessed a many a ferocious battles between the Portuguese and the Sinhalese. From Hanwella a jungle track, along most of which men had to walk in single file, led through Ruanwella, Hettimulla to Attapitiya (Fort King), and so up what was then known as Balana Pass to Gannoruwa 15km East of Kandy. Gannarowa saw the massacre of Portuguese on their return to Colombo from Kandy. Indeed, the invaders would cut their pathway with great effort and reach Kandy to find the city is deserted. On each occasion the invaders were routed in their return journey; Kandyans were masters of jungle guerilla warfare.

Hanwella Today
Portuguese and other colonial influences are still visible in the town. Several Christian churches scattered in and around Hanwella is testimony to these influences. Hanwella lies on both Colombo-Ratnapura roads of Sri Lanka Holidays, namely the High-level and Low-level roads. The Kelani River, one of Sri Lanka’s major rivers, runs alongside the town.The nearest towns are Padukka (8 km), Pugoda (8 km), Kosgama (8 km) and Nawagamuwa (8 km).

Avissawella, the British outpost
Till the Kandy Road was built the British military outpost was at Avissawella, 15 km furthermore to the interior of the island from Hanwella, on the River Kelani Ganga. From Avissawella, a jungle track, along most of which men had to walk in single file, led through Ruanwella, Hettimulla to Attapitiya (Fort King), and so up what was then known as Balana Pass to Gannoruwa.

Balana Mountain Pass twice witnessed utter defeats of Portuguese forces in Sri Lanka. In 1594, a Portuguese army led by Lopez de Zosa escorting Sinhalese Princess Dona Catherina was totally destroyed. Commander Lopez de Souza gambled that escorting the Princess Catherina, the daughter of Kandy’s King Weerabahu who died while in exile at Mannar with Portuguese would lessen the resistance of the Sinhalese. Princess Dona Catherina fell into the hands of King Wimaladharma Suriya (Konappu Bandara) who married her in the victorious battlefield itself to consolidate his right to the crown of Sri Lanka. Following the demolition of the Portuguese forces, another army was sent to Ceylon by the Portuguese governor in Goa, India with Commander Don Geronimo De Azavedo. Once again the Portuguese force was defeated at Balana on their return from Kandy and for five days Sinhalese has chased the defeated army retreating to Colombo .In 1638 Diego de Mello got through but on the return, the whole army was slaughtered. The Dutch, in the year 1765, found their way into Kandy by another route followed by the British in 1803. But the classic ascent to Balana was made by the British in 1815 though no Sinhalese force encountered them there following the betrayal of the last king of Sri Lanka.

Major Skinner, then a second lieutenant had marched a detachment down the Kandy Road in 1819, narrates:
“The second day’s march was down the old Ballany Pass, over which, four years before, my father had brought up his battery of heavy guns, one of them a 42-pounder, for the taking of Kandy. It was a marvel to me how he could have accomplished it; I subsequently learned that he had parbuckled the guns from tree to tree. I can scarcely imagine anything better calculate to expunge from a son’s vocabulary the word ‘impossible’ than this feat; the mountain path was so narrow, broken, steep and rocky, that it was quite impassable for any horse and rider.

Thanks to Captain Dawson and Major Skinner, the near insurmountable mountain passes at Kadugannawa and Balana pass are made accessible for the Sri Lanka Holidays tourists.

Bridge of boats” over the Kelani river near Colombo
When then governor (1820-1822; 1824-1831) of Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) Sir Edward Barnes planned to construct a road from colonial seaport and capital of Colombo to the medieval royal city of Kandy, there was no bridge across the River Kelani Ganga at Colombo. In the year 1822 “bridge of boats” pontoon was thrown over the Kelani River near Colombo Grandpass on the South bank to Peliyagoda on the opposite bank by Lieutenant General John Sheaffer. This boat bridge, which was 500 feet long, was built over the Kelani River at Grand Pass in 1822 by Lieutenant General John Sheaffer. Bridge making use of 21 boats tied together, made entirely out of timber. It served passengers and goods crossing the Kelani River until the building of the Victoria Bridge in 1895.

[In the year 1995, Sir John Kotelawa, then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) commenced construction of another bridge over the River Kelani Ganga. On 3rd February 1959, the supreme leader of modern Ceylon, S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake, then Prime Minister, had the new bridge opened by the bridge builders themselves. In 1998 colonial Victoria Bridge was dismantled. A new bridge called Japanese Friendship Bridge was built with aid from the Japanese Government. Another bridge named New Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Bridge was built in the year 2002. The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway is planned to connect to the new Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Bridge]

Kurunagala Tunnel
Quote Henry Charles Sirr
On every side Kandy is approached by mountain passes; and through one of these ran the celebrated Kurunagala tunnel, which was 537 feet in length. The road through the tunnel united at the base of the mountain, with principal route to Colombo, thus enabling troops advancing on Kandy, to turn the heights near the Kadugannawa pass. This tunnel was constructed by order of Sir Edward Barnes, to consolidate, so to speak, the British power after Kandy came into our possession; for a legend has been extant, from time immemorial, that no foreign power could retain the Kandian dominions, until a path was bored through the mountain. And a chief told us, that when his countrymen beheld this task commenced, their hearts failed them, but, when they saw it completed, and men walking through the bowels of the earth, they then knew it was their destiny to be ruled by a nation who could pierce rock, and undermine mountains. The tunnel was completed on the 8th of December, 1823, but we regret to say this has now collapsed.
Unquote Henry Charles Sirr (Late Deputy Queen’s Advocate for the Southern Circuit in the Island of Ceylon): Ceylon and the Cingalese, 1850, London.

The Kuruangala tunnel (year 1823), which was a result of an enormous endeavor in road construction engineering, in no way, ought to be mistaken for the piercing of a small rock at the hair-pin bend of Kadugannawa (please see the image in the cluster above) on Colombo-Kandy road. Unfortunately, that is precisely, what has been done erroneously by numerous websites on Sri Lanka Holidays. Bunpeiris

The British fulfill the near-ultimate prophecy on Sri Lanka
The prophecy was not confined to a legend or tradition of drilling a hill, which the British had already done with the 537 feet Kurunagala tunnel in 1823. The prophesy encompassed still more: bridging the River Mahaweli Ganga; taking possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha.

The British was to build a bridge over distance of 215 ft across the Peradeniya gorge in the year 1832. And the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha fell into their hands by accident on 2nd November 1818. “Its recovery had a manifest effect on all classes and its having fallen into British hands again by accident, demonstrated to the superstitious people that it was the destiny of the British Nation to govern the Kandyan Kingdom,” wrote Gov. Brownrigg to Earl Bathurst in triumph. Some months earlier, Keppetipola Dissawe had the Sacred Tooth Relic spirited away from under the very noses of the British sentries at the Dalada Maligawa.

The fortune favors the brave. They had the Golden Pearl of the orient in their hands to rip its wealth off and fatten the coffers of Empire or rather the market of Great Britain.

Quote Ali Foad Toulba Ceylon, the land of eternal charm
Barnes had, according to the Major Skinner (the chief engineer of Kandy road), who was one of his trusted lieutenants, the rare faculty of gaining the affections of those who served under him, and inspiring them with his own enthusiasm. The result was that within an incredibly short period the capital, first by way of Kurunegla and Galagedara, and finally by the Grand Kadugannawa Pass, by means of roads. These were marvels of then engineering skill, and were valuable in military sense, as they broke for ever the power of highland chieftains. But their chief use was in opening up the country to industrial enterprises.

Kaduganawa Pass
No article on Colombo-Kandy road would be complete without paying tribute to Captain William Francis Dawson of Royal Engineers of Ceylon, who made the road via Kadugannawa pass possible. Dawson died in Colombo on the 28th of March, 1829. prior to the completion of Colombo-Kandy road. In his memory is erected light house like Dawson tower on the summit of the Kadugannawa hill.

“We believe the road that winds round Kaduganawa Pass can be compared to nothing of the same construction in modern time, save the Simplon”. Henry Charles Sirr: Ceylon and the Cingalese, 1850, London

[Simplon Pass (Italian: Passo del Sempione) (2,008 m) is a high mountain pass between the Pennine Alps and the Lepontine Alps in Switzerland. It connects Brig in the canton of Valais with Domodossola in Piedmont (Italy). The pass itself and the villages on each side of it, such as Gondo, are in Switzerland. The Simplon Tunnel was built beneath the vicinity of the pass in the early 20th century to carry rail traffic between the two countries.]

Satin-wood Bridge of a single span across the Mahaveligamga (the largest river in Ceylon) at Peradeniya
The road to Kandy was completed by constructing graceful single-arch Satinwood Bridge spanning a distance of 215 ft across the Peradeniya gorge, over the Sri Lanka Holidays Mahaweli River in the year 1832. Designed and constructed by Lt. Colonel John Fraser (1790-1863), a proficient road-builder and cartographer with technical assistance from Captain Brown the satinwood bridge was not only spectacular but had an innovative, sophisticated structure. The bridge’s ribs were also of 4ft long satin wood. The wood was neatly wedged and jointed. Surprisingly no metal nails or screws had been used for this purpose, only wood.

[The spectacular and unique wooden bridge had been in us for long years from 1832 to1904 till it was dismantled and replaced by a stone bridge which too, in turn, was replaced by a modern concrete bridge]

Completion of the Colombo-Kandy Road
On this road (115 km in length) on the 1st February, 1832, the Colombo and Kandy mail-coach-the first mail-coach-the first mail-coach in Asia-was started; and it continued to run successfully till the road superseded by the railway in 1867. Sir George Barrow (Ceylon: Past and Present, 1857, London) narrated that the road from Colombo to Kandy was the only metaled road in the island, and is considered to be equal to any road in the world.

Barnes on the completion of the Colombo-Kandy Road

Sir Edward Barnes was hell bent to establish the total British domination of the by means of breaking off the isolation of newly acquired highlands from the lowlands. ‘It was of utmost importance’, Barnes narrated later, ‘to destroy the confidence which the Kandyan people had in the intricate and difficult nature of their country’. He added that with the opening of the road to Kandy, a first-class macadamized road, one of the great military barriers on which the Kandyans greatly relied was broken.

[ A plan for an alternative road to Kandy was brought into the drawing room only in the year 2000, after nearly 175 years since the British Governor of Ceylon Edward Barnes directed the construction of a military road between Colombo and Kandy in 1831.

This proposed alternative road would be constructed as an expressway from Kadawatha via Ambepussa to Katugastota. For the first time in Sri Lanka a stretch of over 6.6 kilometers of this expressway from Gampaha to Veyangoda would be built on concrete pillars leaving the flood prone areas of Gampaha district undisturbed and the banks of River Kelani Ganga intact. Colombo-Kandy expressway is expected to be completed in 2016.]

Barnes was right
Sinhalese miserably failed to mount a successful revolt against the British colonial occupation during the long years of subjugation that spanned from year 1815 to year 1948. Inexplicably, Sinhalese failed to rise, taking the advantage of the occasions even in which the Military garrison of Ceylon sank from 6000 troops to 1000 troops.

Two unsuccessful revolts in the year 1818 (Uva rebellion) and year 1848 (Matale rebellion) ended with British capturing and killing the leaders.

The last wish of Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Monarawila Keppetipola, the warrior Dissawe of Uva of the Kandyan dominions, uttered in the temple of the Sacred Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of Tooth Relic, where he was taken for his religious rights, before being led to be beheaded for his part in the Uva Rebellion in the year 1818, speaks the voice of the that patriotism which is the pure flame of an impassioned & selfless idealism. “May I be reborn in Lanka to continue the struggle for freedom” (of Sinhalese from the British)

Weerahennadige Francisco Fernando alias Puran Appu of Moratuwa (that’s my hometown-bunpeiris) of western coastal belt to the south of Colombo, in Colombo district faced the British colonial firing squad saying “if there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead there would not be a white man living in the Kandyan Provinces”. Fernando was betrayed by the Sinhalese rebels in Sri Lanka Holidays Kandy themselves.

Sinhalese must never allow dissent and division among themselves to pave the way to the foreign elements to destroy our nation. Sinhalese must always stand united against all foreign invaders and local traitors at all times. bunpeiris. Sri Lanka will protect Buddhism till the ascent of Maithree Buddha.

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