VEN. ELLAWALA MEDHANANDA Part 7A
Posted on June 9th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 27.6.20

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda made a special effort to find and record stone inscriptions from the archaeological sites he explored. Medhananda had been very successful in this venture. He says he has found over 500 ‘new’ inscriptions. This can be accepted as Medhananda has been engaged in archaeological explorations for over 35 years.

Medhananda is a self taught epigraphist.  He said he learnt epigraphy from Tennekoon Wimalananda’s ‘Sellipi Sangrahaya. As far as I can see, Medhananda’s findings and interpretations have not been dismissed by academics.  His findings were first published in newspapers, such as ‘Divaina’ and ‘Davasa.’ These essays had a good reception. Medhananda received many letters of praise and was asked to compile his writings into books, which he did.His book on the Sinhala Buddhist heritage in the north and east,” won a State Literary Award.

The inscriptions found by Medhananda cover a wide time period.   Lahugala wewa inscriptions are dated from 1 century AD to 6 AD. Udagala Dagoba (Kalakulam) inscription was 9th century AD. This inscription shows the ‘pirisindu Sinahla viyavahara of the time,’  said Medhananda.

Medhananda has found several important inscriptions. They are discussed in the next essay, but here is one unique finding. Medhananda found a cave inscription in Erabadda, in Nivitigala in Ratnapura district, in brahmi script, dated to 2 century AD. The inscription said that one Revata had donated a cave. This is the only inscription found so far in Ratnapura in brahmi script. It shows that Ratnapura was a part of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilization of the time, said Medhananda.

 Unlike some epigraphists, Medhananda never disparages Senerat Paranavitana. Medhananda  noted that the Bovattegala inscription  was found by Paranavitana. Medhananda’s   Interpretations are always intended to support and expand the good work done by Paranavitana.. For instance, at Diyahinne, the Department of Archaeology had taken down just one part of an inscription. Medhananda stated that Paranavitana had used this defective copy. Medhananda had recorded the full inscription. At Kirimakulgolle Medhananda said he found an inscription on the same rock, in addition to the inscription there which Paranavitana had seen. Medhananda said he had found ten more inscriptions to what Paranavitana had found at Kudimbigala.

Medhananda is not so kind towards the Department of Archaeology. Medhananda complained that the Department does not help outsiders who engage in archaeological exploration voluntarily. During Paranavitana’s time, if you sent in a finding you got a letter thanking you. Now they do not do even that.

Medhananda observed that the Department of Archaeology, which was set up in 1890 had collected a total of 3339 inscription by 2007. That means 30 per year. Medhananda found 86 inscriptions in one month. In Horowopotana area alone Medhananda found 80 ‘new’ inscriptions.

Medhananda added further factual data to this. Henanigala had yielded one column inscription and 22 rock inscriptions. Kongala ruins yielded 14 cave inscription and 4 rock inscriptions. Maragala kanda had an old forest monastery with lots of Inscriptions. There were lots of inscriptions at Uhana too, concluded Medhananda.   

Medhananda said he had found inscriptions which the Department of Archaeology had not found.  Here is a selection.  Department of Archaeology had found 20 inscriptions at Bambaragastalawa, I found 14 more, said Medhananda. Medhananda had found three more to the 14 already known at Pulakunawa kande, Ampara. At Ritigala, Medhananda had found one inscription which the Department had not seen.

Medhananda has gone to sites which the Department of Archaeology had not explored and found ‘new’ inscriptions. At Katupotakande (close to Mihintale) Medhananda had found 4 inscriptions. Department had not explored there, said Medhananda. The inscriptions at Diviyagala vihara in Ampara district also had not been read by the Department. Sipavata vihara at Linemalai has inscriptions which have not been examined before. They indicate that this area was once a Sinhala Buddhist agricultural area.  

Medhananda is definite that he has found inscriptions which had not been seen before. That can be accepted. Medhananda has deliberately gone to difficult, inaccessible places which have not been visited before. Once he got there, he surveyed the site as fully as he could.

 At Gal len vihara, Giribawa, Kurunegala, Medhananda had found 14 inscriptions, some were carved under the drip ledge, others on cave wall or the rock.  At Nimala vana senasuna, Kirinda  Medhananda had found 14 inscriptions, cave 14, rock 7.

Medhananda  found 17 inscriptions at Samangala, one in Karosthi script. No one  knew these inscriptions existed, said Medhananda.  Medhananda had found 19 inscriptions at Magul Maha vihara, Kirinda. They were first copied and published  by me, he said. At Namalu vihara  Medhananda found 12 inscriptions, not listed before. At Akasa chetiya, Hambantota, he found 2 cave and I rock inscription.

At Sastravela   Medhananda had found  three brahmi inscriptions,  two rock inscriptions and  one cave inscription dated to 1 century  AD. Medhananda had  found 15 inscriptions at Malayadikanda, having gone there several times.  He published his findings in 1968 and 1984. ‘Till then nobody knew about them’ said Medhananda .

Medhananda provides the original names for many temples, wewa and villages. Perilya kulam was known as Manavatu tank. Uruwela is known as Arippu today. Arugam bay was formerly ‘Rugama’ derived from Aramagama. Kodavattuvana tank is the  Tamilised version of ‘Kandewattavana’. Verugal Aru is Veheragala . Ilukpiti vihara was Malayagikanda. Eravur was Erahulu.. Bambaragastalawa had Viyolaka vihara. The vihara  at Sastravela was originally Bodigiri naga pabbata vihara.’ Linemalai  had a monastery called Sipavata ( Sinha parvata). “Vav niyava” became Vavuniya.

Medhananda did not fail to record the pictures and decorations in the inscriptions he found. there is   an   inscription with wrestlers carved on it in the second Henannegala cave, he said. Duvegala vihara Tamamkaduva inscription had a sailing ship carved on it. Halbe Raja Maha Vihara pillar inscription dated to Kassapa IV, had carving of    snake,     sickle, dog and crow and a large Sri at the top of the inscription.  The inscription at Padikemgala ruins had two lotus flower bouquets on either side of the inscription. Samangala forest hermitage had an inscription with a sketch of a stupa resembling the Sanchi stupa. 

Medhananda did not explore sites blindly, he made inquiries first.  At Diyahinna, a chena farmer directed them to the inscriptions there.  One Samel, living in Uhana had directed Medhananda to the inscriptions in Samangala. He had seen them when he went there. Samel also directed Medhananda to the Piyangala inscriptions and told Medhananda how to get to Madanakanda.

Some inscriptions were found by accident. On the way to Halambagala, Medhananda got caught to the rain and took shelter under a rock, with a sandy floor. Then they found that there was an inscription under the sand. They photographed it.  

Medhananda has been very determined when it came to copying inscriptions. At Samangala Medhananda saw an inscription about 60 feet above the ketarama. There was a tree about the same height close by. ‘I climbed the tree and copied the inscription,’ he said.

Medhananda visited Kirimakulgolle six times to gather inscriptions. One the fifth visit, the inscription he was aiming at was difficult to get close to. Medhananda undaunted, climbed on to a ledge with aid of trees and bushes. Then he decided to cut a tree and climb up further using it.  The tree was cut but it did not stay in place. Medhananda and tree fell down. 

So Medhananda went again, for the sixth time. This time they took axes and ropes. They lifted up the tree they had cut earlier and put cross pieces on it, like a ladder. As Medhananda climbed up, the tree turned over, he clung to it and both came down, for a second time. Then the team re-fixed the trunk onto the tree stump, wedging it firmly this time, and Medhananda climbed again, ‘risking his life’.

Maragala kanda had an old forest monastery with lots of inscriptions.  On an instinct, Medhananda put his hand   under a low lying rock. This was a dangerous thing to do, since he could be bitten, but instead he felt an inscription. He had to dig to get at it.  He found a sharp pointed piece of wood and scraped with it. The soil was very hard as it was dry season. Then he lay on his back with his head knocking on the ketarama and copied what he could, since most of it had faded. (Continued)

Appendix  1

  • Medhananda had explored Bambaragastalawa,      Lenama, Budubava,  Nalitta,   and found ruins which the Department of archaeology had not found. .
  • Niyagunakanda vihara close to Hingurana sugar factory has caves near it with drip ledge inscriptions. This site has never been examined before.
  • Saman gala forest hermitage on Ampara Mahaoya road has inscriptions which have not yet been  recorded. There is a cave 60 feet in height which can shelter about 500 people.
  • After the Eelam war ended, Medhananda  went to Vakarai, Mavil aru, Sampur. He found 25 archaeological  sites which had not been listed before.  He also found 6 inscriptions.  Till I found  these inscriptions with the assistance of  the army, no one knew about them. they are historically important. After I told them  the Archaeological  Department went and copied inscriptions from Kalladi.

Appendix  2

  • Medhananda found four inscription  close to Mihintale and was openly surprised that the Archaeological Department had not seen them.
  • Medhananda discovered an important inscription on Devanampiyatissa  in  Kegalle district ,  covered in soil. Department of Archaeological had not  seen it.
  • Medhananda had seen over 200 unrecorded inscriptions at Weli oya Sampath nuwara. They are not recorded in any Archaeological Department register, said Medhananda. 
  • Medhananda found 22 broken chaitya at Sastravela, Ampara. There was no record of these in the Department. Medhananda discovered  one rock and two cave inscriptions. 
  • Viharagal kanda at Trikonmadu has ruins for 10 acres. These have not been explored before. Medhananda found Stupa, walls, caves, asanaghara and an old wewa. He also found a cave inscription dated to 1 century AD. 
  • There are no reports in the archeological depts. as to the ruins at Mahapattuva. Mahapattuva is about 8 km from Timbirigolla Vidyalaya aside the Ampara Ambalan oya road.
  • Toppigala had not been examined ‘properly’ by the Department of archaeology. Not one place in Toppigala had been looked at, said Medhananda.
  • After the Eelam war ended Medhananda went to Vakarai and Mavil Aru in Batticaloa and Sampur in Trincomalee. He found 25 archaeological sites which had not been listed before.   He also found five archaeological ruins at Kadavat maduva near Batticaloa   railway station. No one had looked there before. There is very useful archaeological evidence there, said Medhananda.
  • C. W Nicholas had found the cave inscription at Karandahela. Medhananda had found, and publicized, the cave inscriptions   there.
  • Serupitiya ruins had not been examined till Medhananda got there.
  • Six important inscriptions were found by Medhananda at Punyadi ruins.
  • Ruins at Pillumalai, Kopavali, and Tamketiya in Ampara have never been investigated, till I did so, said Medhananda. The same with the ruins around Dighavapi.

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