BUDDHIST VIHARAS AND EELAM Part 10G
Posted on November 28th, 2023

KAMALIKA PIERIS

A book titled Kurundi Vihara Vamsaya” was published in 2023, by Sarasavi Prakashakayo.    The idea of such a publication originated with Channa Jayasumana, who felt that an authoritative book on Kurundi was urgently needed. He has funded the publication as well.

The book was edited by Chandima Bandara Ambanwela and Sumedha Weerawarne. Chandima is from the Department of Archaeology & Heritage Management, Rajarata University.  Sumedha is from Department of Philosophy, University of Peradeniya. The essays were written by 15 or so contributors.

 Chandima and Sumedha have carried out their task as editors with much devotion and care. Before embarking on this book, they had done site visits to Kurundi for two years, accompanied by officers from the Department of Archaeology. The Institute of   Archaeology and Heritage Studies (IAHS) presented their findings from these visits on its YouTube channel. See at

Kurundi Vihara Vamsaya”   is a heavy tome running to 430 pages. It is not a coffee table book though it looks like one. It is an excellent production. The various contributors have gone deep into their subjects and provided a definitive work on Kurundi. The book covers every possible aspect of the subject, including information we do not want, such as the fauna and flora of the Kurundi region.

The book starts with the geography and geology of the area, complete with satellite photos. There is a detailed account of the natural environment in the Kurundi area, its flora and fauna. The book then goes on to the aspect which we are most interested in, the origins of Kurundi and what is happening to Kurundi today.

 That section of the book tells us of the historical documents, inscriptions and early archaeological findings relating to Kurundi. It tells us   the origins of Kurundi. It also tells us of the Kurundi connection to Abhayagiri, showing that it had a firm link with Anuradhapura. The book contains a chapter on the Sangha parapura of Kurundi, past and present. This is intended to show that Kurundi was a   functioning place of worship, then and now.

The book moves next to the modern history of Kurundi. The book discusses at length, the attention paid to Kurundi by Cyril Mathew, in the 1970s .The work done by Cyril Mathew and his team in the 1970s to save threatened viharas, including Kurundi, was forgotten until the Kurundi issue brought it back   to our attention. The book carries a photo of Cyril Mathew and group at Kurundi in 1970s.

The book uses information fromPiyasena S Jayaweera’s Lakdiva bauddha urumaye jeevamana sanketha (Ratna Poth Prakasakayo, 2005) .This gives first hand information on Mathew’s work.  The book is out of print and I was unable to obtain a copy.

The Kurundi book   relates how Cyril Mathew in 1977 obtained cabinet approval for placing bhikkhus in selected Buddhist places of worship, which were in ruins. He allocated Rs 5000 to build an aramaya in each of these places, with a monthly stipend of Rs 200 for two years for the bhikkhus resident there.

The Cultural Ministry did not have sufficient funds, for this, therefore the   Buddhist societies of State Corporations stepped in. In the late 1970s,  Ministry of Industries, Science and Technology  had at the time, 47 Corporations and Statutory Boards coming under its purview. These included giant Corporations such as Petroleum, Steel, Ceramics, Paper, Salt, Fertilizer and  Tyre .

Piyasena S. Jayaweera says the Corporation employees donated the money they would have used for recreation, as well as ‘the money in the tills at home’ for this. Jayaweera says that even at this time, the Buddhist societies were hindered in their activities by the Tamil politicians.

The Buddhist Societies of the State Corporations decided to restore 70 of the 239 sites found.  They set up avasa and dayaka organizations and started excavations. This too was obstructed by the Tamil Separatist Movement, said Jayaweera.

The Buddhist societies were going to develop 5 puja nagara of which one was to be Kurundi.  For this purpose they had set up a body known as Kurundi Vehera puja nagara Sanwardana Samitiya.”  They arranged for a police post at Oddusuddan to protect Kurundi.   In 1981 this Samitiya wrote to the Minister of Cultural affairs that   Buddhist ruins at Kurundi have been destroyed and a Kovil had been set up there.

The book then launches into a detailed description of the current excavation and conservation activities at Kurundi. The book provides a detailed account of the work done by the Department of Archaeology at Kurundi,   recording    their discoveries, excavations and   conservation activities.

The archaeology  team  found evidence of iron manufacture, in the cleared area within  the forest reserve. We found there pieces of iron ore, charcoal, sea shells also pieces of  the  crucibles used .  There has been a large iron manufacture   concern there, said the team. When you walk on the tank bund you see iron nodules ,plenty it of them. They come from the soil removed from the reserve.  Excavations   also  yielded a kabok quarry.

The book  carries a lengthy account of the pioneering  work done at Kurundi by Ven. Santhabodhi   and the opposition he had to face. It is permanently on record here. The book also  shows that the Kurundi monks helped the Tamil villagers living nearby. They provided them,  among other things,  with a Montessori.  Some of the items  were provided by Jagath Sumathipala at the request of Santhabodhi . The Tamil villagers   accepted  these readily. The book carries a  photo of  two  Bhikkhus  holding a class for the children in a  Tamil village..

The book also has a chapter on the Buddhist archaeological findings n Manal are/Weli Oya area.. The ruins show that Wedikkinarimale was heavily populated in  ancient times .There was a  Buddhist monastery  at Wedikkinarimale. At Anandakulam the Department of Archaeology  found  about 19 hectares of  ruins, with three separate places of Buddhist worship.

The book records the damage done to the Buddhist ruins at Manal Aru. At Vadunagala,  all Buddhist ruins have been systematically  cleared and thrown down the hill and a Hindu kovil established. At Magalmottai, there were 8 acres of Buddhist ruins, much of which has been   destroyed. Land has been taken at Magalmottai for agriculture.

At Veddikkinnarimalai a cave with a Brahmi inscription had been walled up with soil and a kovil planted there.   Shiva Nagar  had Buddhist ruins including an inscription .  A kovil  had been planted on  these ruins.  The land around  Thanduvan  had been cultivated and this has affected the archaeological findings. Illippakulam  had  about 7 acres of Buddhist ruins.  The area has been taken over for agriculture and human settlements.  At Kumalamunai , there is a kovil  on the Buddhist ruins.

The last two chapters of the book are  a), on Kurundi and the Buddhist Heritage of the north and east and b) on the possibility of a Buddhist revival in the north –east. 

Special mention must be made of the photographs in this book. The book is full of photographs, there are dozens of them. Some will have great historic importance later on, though they seem utterly obvious today.  The photographs support the narrative excellently.

There are photos of the start of excavation  and   completion of the stupa   with  a fine aerial photo of the  stupa and pilimage once the project was completed. There are heaps of photos, showing the various stages of excavation and the discoveries  made. The oldest item found at the stupa, we are told,  was a vajrasanaya. There are photos of the stupa, pilimage, bodhigara and   pond before excavation .There are photos of the iron production area and   iron producing items found there.

There are many photos of   historical importance such as the first visit of Santhabodhi to Kurundi, Santhabodhi giving evidence before the Buddhist Rights Commission of the ACBC  and  the  signing of the agreement between Bauddhaloka Foundation and Department of Archaeology. There is also a photo of the meeting held at Ministry of Buddha Sasana on 2020.09.30 by the Secretary, Kapila Gunawardena, with President ACBC, Jagath Sumathipala, Vice President Nimal Wakista, Director, Archaeology Senerat Dissanayake and Ven. Santhabodhi

There are photos of the many bhikkhus who visited   Kurundi. There are also photos of the lay devotees who came to see Kurundi and returned to work for Kurundi in Colombo. They are all shown standing by the stupa. One photo is of the Jatika Sanvidana Ekamutuva group at Kurundi.

There are photos of those who worked at Kurundi. There are photos of the survey team, the Rajarata team, the civil defence team and the legal team of Nuwan, Piyumi and Samith.   The archaeology team is shown through individual photographs.

There are photos of the first confrontation with Tamil Separatist Movement   and the commotion created by them on relic enshrining day later on. There is a large photo of the area of Nagacholai forest that has been deforested and prepared for paddy cultivation. There are photographs of the kovils planted in Buddhist ruins. The new Hindu kovil at Siva Nagar is  shown. Also the kovil” in the Kurundi pilimage where they were worshipping the korawak gala.  (Continued)

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