Posted on August 10th, 2020


The   Eastern Province was an integral part of the Rajarata of the Anuradhapura kingdom. The Raja rata was divided into uttara passa (north) dakkhina, (south) pacina, (east) and pajjima (west) and ruled by king nominees.

The Eastern Province played a special role in the political life of ancient Sri Lanka. The Province    functioned as a refuge during the period. Whenever they were in trouble, not only princes but also monks ran to Ruhuna, said Medhananda. As a result, the Eastern Province nurtured a second independent kingdom, the Ruhuna kingdom ruled by the Magama kings. These Magama kings were closely related to the Anuradhapura kings. They were not a rival dynasty.

King Kavantissa of the Magama dynasty united Ruhuna under him. The capital of Ruhuna south was Magama, Ruhuna north was Dighavapi, said Medhananda.   Saddhatissa was put in charge of Dighavapi. Medhananda also said that Gal Oya was the boundary between Ruhuna and Pihiti   that  Uva province extended to Pottuvil    and that Digamadulla in ancient times included Ampara and Batticaloa.

Dutugemunu, the last Magama king, re-united Ruhuna and Anuradhapura, kicking out Elara, who had done absolutely nothing for Anuradhapura in his time there.   The Eastern Province was an asset to the Sinhala king. Trincomalee was a   major port. There was high grade copper at Seruwila. Ilankaturai is now emerging as a possible international port.

The Eastern Province continued under the Sinhala king .Kumachola inscription at Eravur   said that the eastern coast (pajinikara) was administered in king Vasabha’s time (67-111 AD) by minister Asigira.  At Kandakudichci aru ruins Medhananda  found two     cave inscriptions  dated to 2 AD. The script and language resembled that at Ritigala, Vessagiriya,  Mihintale . Velendagoda Salavana vihara had an inscription dated to Mahinda 1 (730-33).

An inscription near Allai wewa is dated to Dappula IV (924-35). Vijayabahu I (1055–1110) fought the Cholas from Ruhuna. Vikramabahu I  (1111-32)  had hidden in Ruhuna.   Kanichchigala in Beerihorowwa division, Ampara district,   had an inscription by Nissanka Malla (1187-96). Dathuvamsa (13 century) mentions 27 Sinhala villages around Kotthasara. Kotthasara is present day Kottiyar pattu, in the Trincomalee district. Kottiyar Pattu consists of Muttur, Seruwila and Eechchilampattu.

The Eastern Province eventually became a part of the Udarata kingdom. Udarata kingdom was huge, about three times the size of the Portuguese and Dutch possessions. Baldeus (1632-72) writing during the Dutch occupation, gave a list of places under the Sinhala king. It included Trincomalee, Mannar, Batticaloa and Jaffna.  Envoys from Britain, Denmark, France and Netherlands entered the Udarata kingdom in the 17th and 18th centuries, through the ports of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The Eastern Province remained with Udarata until the kingdom came to an end in 1815.

Archaeologists (I think they were from the Department of Archaeology) confirmed at a talk I attended, that the Eastern Provinces had a long standing, substantial civilization. It had many prehistoric settlements and at least 40 sites of the early brahmi period, they said. There was an unbroken sequence of inscriptions from 3rd century BC to 13 century AD. There were a huge number of sites containing Buddhist ruins. There have been many urban centers. There was evidence of many irrigation schemes.

Medhananda provided further information. The Eastern Province was very suitable for agriculture, he pointed out. It had flat land, water and excellent drainage. The evidence indicates that there were at least 25,000 settlements in Ruhuna, he said.

Medhananda estimated that there was a huge population at Piyangalla vihara. He said Arantalawa was populated in ancient times. This whole area has been populated said Medhananda  when he explored Mudugala pilima lena. The area was partly under Ruhuna and partly under Wellassa.

Villages were established close to rivers, as they needed water, observed Medhananda. Medhananda gave the names of some of the villages. Kamboja gama, near  Kumbukkan oya, Mayvelesa gama near Heda oya , Dighavapi near  Gal oya, Dahadiya near Verugal aru ( Vihara gala ara), Gonagamaya,  Uruvela,  Magana near Mahaweli. There was alsoKasaba nagara, Giritisa gama, Karaginitisa gama, Vilagama, Malu gama. 

Inscriptions show that Eastern Province was Buddhist said H.G Dayasiri and C.B. Ambanwela.  They found inscriptions at Kiripokunakanda, Lunubokke, Moralagommana, Imbuldeniyagodakanda and Pahala mawela kande Raja Maha Vihara, which showed this. Medhananda said that inscriptions at Seruwavila, Kulankallumalai, and Ichcilanpattai showed that there were Buddhist settlements there. Kulankallumalai is 3 miles from Ilankathurai. The inscription near Allai wewa speaks of Kavudul Vehera, he added. Sipavata vihara inscription indicated that this area was once a Buddhist agricultural area.

A list of Buddhist sites including those in the Eastern province, were prepared in 1962 by M. H. Sirisoma, Assistant Commissioner of Archaeology. Medhananda added further sites to this. 6 more for Trincomalee, 4 more for Batticaloa and 22 for Ampara.

Buddhist Times (2007) provided its own list of Buddhist sites in north and east. Trincomalee had 81, Batticaloa had 22 and Ampara had 41. Archaeological Department has listed 54 ancient religious places in the   Trincomalee  district, but  Medhananda says there are many more such sites.

Eastern Province was part of the Buddhist civilization of Sri Lanka from the very beginning. The ashes of Ven. Mahinda are interred in a stupa at Rajagala, in present day Ampara .Dighavapi is one of the solosmastana of Buddhist worship. There is also Girihandu Seya at Tiriyaya, considered the first stupa and  Kukkuta giri parvataya which held Buddha’s lalata dhatu.

The Eastern Province today has three levels of Buddhist monuments. There is the national level. Pilgrims worship at Dighavapi and Seruwila. They visit Tiriyaya and the forest monasteries. Secondly, there are the temples which serve the local population. Lastly, there are the ruins of the Buddhist temples which existed in the ancient and medieval period.

Researchers have gone to the Eastern Province to see what Buddhist ruins remain, and how the remaining Buddhist heritage can be protected. Researchers, notably Medhananda, have found many ruins of Buddhist monasteries and temples. Many ancient buildings were destroyed when the Mahaweli scheme started said Medhananda.

if one travels north along the sea coast road, starting from Trincomalee town, one can see many Buddhist ruins even at present. Kucchaveli is one such place. It was once Kanikaravellika samudda vihara. This area included present Sembumale, said Medhananda. Sembumale monastery complex spreads over an area of more than hundred acres. 

Many ruins can be seen at Ridikanda area in Trincomalee district said Medhananda. Pulukunawa Maha vihara has ruins all over” indicating that this whole area has been a developed Sinhala Buddhist area.   The Yan Oya valley is studded with many stupas and other buildings.  Panama pattu forest range is full of archaeological ruins. There is no protection for any of it, continued Medhananda.  

The hills in the belt between Karanda oya and Gal oya is full of viharas. Every paddy field,     empty land is full of archaeological remains and inscriptions. Wewas and canals which were part of ancient irrigation systems could be seen.

There are ruins at Kurundammalai or Kurunvashoka vihara.  I have not seen so many ruins in any other place I have gone to, said Medhananda. There are Buddhist ruins over at least    600 acres around Kudumbigala.  Numerous stupas can be seen today, on the rocks.   Madakande Dalada vihara was full of ruins. There are Buddhist ruins at Kusalana kanda, Kudulupothana malai and Othiya malai.

Diviyagala, Damana and Timbirigolle have inscriptions and ruins in the vicinity. Kudimbigala, Veheragoda, Panama vehera also had Buddhist ruins. These were watered by Kudimbigal Ara,   Halava oya, Vil oya and Heda oya. Medhananda explored the Thoppigala ruins.  He went in 1983 With three others. Every hill side  around Thoppigala has a ruin of  an aramaya, he said.

Medhananda also found ruins at Nawinna Raja Maha Vihara      and Kombanachchi or Ruhunu Somawathi vihara. There are hillocks full of old bricks around Verugal ara near Upparu lagoon, Medhananda said. Medhananda also looked at the Buddhist ruins at Icchilanpathi,  Kanchimalali, Kivulevatta, Kulankallumalai, Moraha Pokuna, Naraka mulla, Ranankaduwa, Ratugala  and Thottama. Medhananda had explored Boralukanda temple, Nilaveli,  Illukpitiya kanda Len vihara, Ampara, Malayadi kanda vihara, Digamadulla    and Sri Pana Raja Maha vihara, Pottuvil. 

Medhananda emphasized that many of the sites he had explored have not been seen by the Department of Archaeology. No exploration as been done at Samangala forest monastery. There are no reports in the Archeological Department as to the ruins at Mahapattuva or the Ovagiriya temple complex. These places have been ignored in archaeological investigations and it is difficult to get at any prior data, complained Medhananda.

Thottama, Manthottama, Pannala oya and Ambalan oya has archaeological  remains  which  are not registered. There are lots of ruins at Vasi bandagala,   Atubandagala, Iddagala, Nelugala, Mavulivala, in Eravur area, which have not been explored before, said Medhananda. Ruins at Pillumalai, Kopavali, Tamketiya have never been investigated. The area north of Badulla –Eravur has not been explored.  There are lots of Buddhist sites there in the forests, Also ruins of irrigation schemes. The ruins at Perillaveli are in thick forest. They have not been seen by the Archeological Department. Sipavata vihara inscriptions have not been examined. There are no reports in the Archeological Department  as to the ruins at Mahapattuva[1] which are about 8 km from Timbirigolla Vidayalya.

 There has been no systematic explorations of Welikanda to Batticaloa , Batticaloa to Badulla, Maduru oya area. these are now deep forest. Viharagal kanda at Trikonmadu has ruins for 10 acres. These have not been explored before. Even the ruins around Dighavapi have not been explored. Serupitiya ruins were examined for the first time by me, no one had gone there before, said Medhananda. Pallewela ruins were also discovered by me, he said. Medhananda has also visited the Bandaraduva and Balagala ruins, ruins near Higurana sugar factory, Veheragala ruins, Mulgama kanda ruins,  Koravanvadu ruins.

Medhananda has written extensively of his findings in the Eastern Province. a selection of these are given here.

  • Neelagiri pilima lena  was probably a very important aramaya.  There is set of steps all the way up the hill. there seem to be more than 200 steps.  It has breaks in it, for people to stop and rest every   50 feet or so. There are moon stones among it. the only other flight of steps like this is at Hachikuchi. There are two important caves at the top, both are shrines.  Walls are well built one of stones. They have been plastered. And the plaster is still there, it was then painted over.
  • Omunugala len vihara, Ampara  had astonishing number of caves. They extended from the foot of the mountain to a level little below the summit. One cave is startling.  The cave and the rock in front have been combined to make something like a two storey house. The largest cave is about 120’ in length, with walls on three sides and a window. Also an entrance. There is a flight of steps leading to a door frame to enter shrine.
  • Bambaragastalawa vihara area is full of ruins. This monastery has been over 450 acres. More than ten stupa, very old bricks, rock cut steps,   Buddha statues and asanaghara.  in one place there was a rectangle of six rows of six columns each, with four feet four inches between each column.
  • Kudimbigala has Ruins for about   600 acres. Numerous stupas on the rocks can be seen today. The caves technique is amazing. Cave after cave for 100 of acres. I counted 105 caves. 2 are worth describing. There is a trident in one inscription.  One cave is called Mahasudarsana. The other cave is Yoda lena. Kudimbigala also has the only cylindrical stupa.
  • Veheragoda ruins,  Ampara. There is  stupa which shows the earlier style of building with bricks and lumps of stone this is also seen at Buddhangala and Rajagala. Veheragoda had large bricks which are    2’1” by 1’2”.
  • Sastravela vihara had 22 stupa. The name originally  was Bodigiri naga pabbata Vihara’
  • Tampitiya vihara had  a very unique guard stone with 9 snakes heads, pun kalasa, a woman bending down and collecting water.
  • Velgama vihara  had a new type of relic chamber.
  • Karandahela vihara. Ampara,. Moon stone is only lotus petal. Bricks of the stupa are very old. There is a rock carved gal vangediya circumference 7 feet. 2 inches deep middle one foot deep. There is on huge cave. 512 feet long, wide 30 ft, height 82 feet.
  • Konduvattavana ruins. The siripatula is special. It is round, and siripatula is elevated in the middle of the  sculpture. This is rare. Kodavattuvana  is Tamilised version of ‘Kandewattavana’
  • Malayadikanda vihara had 27 caves and a ruined stupa.
  • There are ruins near Kodavattuvan army camp.  There is a  siripatula there which is round. There is an inscription  which names this monastery as Ahali Araba. Its tam lipiya names this area as Aram agama.  
  • Diviyagala vihara in Ampara district has a beautiful moonstone and umbrella stone in good preservation. also three siripatula.
  • Punyadi ruins,stupa had  ancient bricks, they were of different types. Some had rounded edges.
  • Kappangamuyaye Kadurugoda vihara near Namal oya had Stupa, columns, moonstone. More in the forest around.
  • One and a half miles to the east of the present Devalahinda school, there are many ruins of stupas, ponds, Buddha foot prints, asanagharas. There is a wall fortification 7 feet wide stretching for a distance of about 600 feet.
  • In Punani Grama Sevaka division, there is a ruined panchamaha vihara. 2 miles beyond ,  Padiettena malai also had  Buddhist  ruins.
  • Etha bandi wewa ruins.  there have been   very attractive steps, judging by  the decorative  bricks.
  • Samangala   forest monastery provided  an inscription  where three  of the five Magama kings, namely,  Uparaja Mahanaga, the  brother of Devanam piyatissa, Gotabaya,Kavantissa were listed together. Such inscriptions are rare, said Medhananda.
  • Inscriptions showed that Linemalai originally had an aramaya known as Sipavata, hosting many monks. One inscription stated that Mahadatika Mahanaga had donated two channels named Dakapunaka and    Girigamaka and its taxes to the vihara.
  • Pulukunawa Maha vihara, all over the hillside you see caves. With and without drip ledge and inscription. About 70 caves of different sizes.      Medhananda  found 17 inscriptions, there may be more.      ( continued)

[1] Ven Ellawala Medhananda. The Sinhala Buddhist heritage in the east and north of Sri Lanka. p 112.

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