North and East Were Garrisoned with High Security Zones in Ancient Times
Posted on December 17th, 2011

Dilrook Kannangara

There is a big hue and cry for HSZs (High Security Zones) in the north. However, little those who protest against it realize HSZs were permanent historical features of the north and parts of the east. Those who are surprised at the large number of military bases in the north are ignorant of history may be because contrary to their claims, their ancestors were not living in this area. There is indisputable evidence to indicate that the north was heavily garrisoned in ancient times. It is further proof that the current military strategy is perfectly acceptable as in historic times. It is easy to see why. The north being closest to South India is the prime target of illegal immigration, illegal weapons smuggling and a host of cross border crimes. What defies logic is why it was not sufficiently militarised until war broke out. Had the governments resorted to the same ancient military strategy soon after Independence, the war could have been contained or avoided.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Interestingly, a number of new military garrisons are situated in the same places ancient fortifications stood. The threat is the same and so is the response.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Ancient place names are sourced from historical accounts including the Sinhala (referring to the entire island) Nam Potha – a 17th century account of place names used mainly for the purpose of tax collection for the Kandyan king. Most parts of the north and the east were under the Kandyan kingdom until 1815. Military bases in the north helped control international trade, have a say in international maritime negotiations, collect taxes, fight off invaders and expel illegal immigrants.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Among the ancient and present fortifications Muramaalae (Muhamalai in Tamil) takes a foremost place. Muramaalae means a defence ring encircling this strategically important area. Innumerable foreign traders landed in the Jaffna peninsula in the past mainly for trade. However, along with them came the security risk of invasion and illegal migration. Muramaalae is situated between the main parts of the peninsular and the mainland link making it a vital check point. Interestingly, many fierce battles took place during the war over this place. Its strategic importance was such that the Muramaalae – Kirala (Kilali in Tamil) – Nagakovila (Nagarkovil in Tamil) Forward Defence Line was called the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-national frontƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ during the war. Re-establishing vital military bases here is only resorting back to how things were before the European invasion.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Henamurachchiya (Thenmarachchi in Tamil) also suggest a cultivated area that doubled as a checkpoint. Hena-murachchiya means a checkpoint by the chena. Due to the remoteness of this area, it was vital to have a permanent food and water supply source adjacent to the checkpoints which suggests that it was a large base. Not surprisingly, this area of Jaffna is scattered with many military fortifications even today.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Vedimurakkiya (Vadamarachchi in Tamil) is on the other side of the peninsular. Vedi-murakkiya means the military barrack with extensive firing capabilities. The word clearly connotes a major military base in ancient times. Due to it being in the eastern most part of the peninsular, it assumes immense security importance. European records identify this place with the presence of the Sinhala army in the 17th century. Today it is an important Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy base. The legendary Operation Liberation was carried out by state troops in this area in May 1987 rather successfully prompting the failed Indian intervention.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Yapapatuna (Jaffna) was another military base in ancient times. Yapa is the name of a top official, often denoting a military official. Yapa-patuna means the port under the rule of a top government appointed official, most likely a military official. Given the strategic importance of the ancient Yapanaya port it is not difficult to see why. King Parakramabhu VI who unified the nation for the last time before the Portuguese conquest appointed his close relative Prince Sapumal to rule the north. He was a military commander who erased the entirety of South Indian temporary rule in the north. Having a military savvy close relative rule the north was indeed a wise decision. Direct rule of this area by the centre or by the appointees of the centre with military prowess is critical even today.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Maedamurekkiya (Nallimuruppu in Tamil) is a place in the modern Mukalanduwa (Mulaitivu) district. It was clearly a central military garrison going by the name. North Eastern Sri Lanka was also vulnerable to South Indian illegal migration hence the military response. During British times illegal migration in this area was so horrendous that the present day Mulaitivu hospital was known as the Immigration Hospital. Today a large military garrison stands in this area. Pitched battles took place in this area including the decisive final battle that wiped out Tamil Tigers for good.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Murathaenna (Muruthanni in Tamil) in Madakalapuwa (Batticaloa) was an area of a military watch post. Given the plains in this area, it was guarded with ease by Sri Lankan forces in ancient times.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Murakanda (Murugandy in Tamil) in Giranikka (Kilinochchi in Tamil) was another check point in ancient times according to the meaning of the name. A hilly terrain along the centre of northern part of the island, this was a strategic military town. Today there is a large military complex a few kilometres from here. Thelamurakanda (Therumurigandi in Tamil) is also situated in the same district which also suggests an ancient military garrison. It is located between two very important places that saw multiple bloody battles over the past three decades – Ranamaduwa (Iranaimadu in Tamil) ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” also connotes a military base – and Kokawila (Kokavil in Tamil). The former is an air force base and the latter hosts a transmission tower which was repeatedly attacked by Tamil separatists. It was reinstated in 2011 and complete transmission of state broadcasts to the north recommenced.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Vavuniya is home to an ancient town of Balanaedigalla (Paranaddakallu in Tamil) which means a natural fortification used to watch over by a large army. The surrounding area was a major military stage of war until a few years ago.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The fact that these names are still in use despite their Tamilization proves that these place names were not just temporary military bases but well established permanent ones.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Our ancestors have taught us not only military tactics and practical heroism, but also where to fortify against the enemy. It is time the defence command study historical accounts in detail and factor these into national security plans. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Those who complain about High Security Zones and military bases in the north are only aliens to this nation who landed in the island after these historical military bases were erased by Portuguese, Dutch and British invaders.

5 Responses to “North and East Were Garrisoned with High Security Zones in Ancient Times”

  1. Christie Says:

    The Government of the Island nation should start to dilute the priviledges enjoyed by the Tamil minority. The per capita land occupied by the Tamils are much higher than the Majority and other minorities.

    That is why I always ask Sinhalese to unite together and fight for their basic rights they lost to the British Indian Inperialism and colonialism.

  2. Bodhi Says:

    Note also Vaddukkoddai, with the name “Batakotte” (garrison fort) being used as such even in 1900. “Bata” is Bhatayo, or soldiers. Kotte or Kotuva is a fort (see the place-names website). As Kannagara has pointed out, there were lots of invasions from India since ancient times, and we will neeed even more of it as Tamil Nadu crumbles with internecine problems, caste divisions, and the LTTE taking root there.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Thanks for this article, Dilrook.
    HSZ plus Counter insurgency measures must be maintained, may be for a very long time, till Tamil Nadu separatist ideas are no more. Even so, illegal migration into Lanka must never happen and new Laws re migration into Lanka & Lanka Citizenship should be formulated, perhaps in line with the British Immigration law. Many centuries ago, Britain suffered the same fate as Lanka now, and had to contend with waves of invaders.

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Ranil re-elected as UNP leader.

    People should vote him out! :)

  5. Dilrook Says:

    Thanks Bodhi.

    Fran Diaz:

    Ancient rulers correctly identified illegal migration as the main security threat and did something about it. Modern leaders must follow them.


    Per capita land availability is an interesting thing to look at.

    S T M Total
    Available area 53872 65610 56726 65610
    (exc. NP, Batticaloa) (exc. NP)
    Population 74% 18% 8% 20,000,000

    Equitable land allocation 48,551 11,810 5,249
    Actual land available 39,865 11,810 4,538
    % 82% 100% 86%
    Per capital land availability
    (hectares) 0.27 0.33 0.28

    Per capita land availability of main ethnic groups (hectares).

    Sinhalese 0.27
    Tamils 0.33
    Muslims 0.28

    This abnormality in land availability needs to be corrected.

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