Posted on February 8th, 2024


With the rise of the Tamil Separatist Movement, Buddhists feared for the Buddhist ruins in the north and east. They wanted them listed and shown on maps. Several persons then started to list the Buddhist sites in the north.  M. H. Sirisoma, Asst. Archaeological Commissioner prepared a map of Buddhist sites in 1963. This was much valued and greatly used. It is   still cited as a pioneer contribution.

Buddhist  ruins  kept appearing in the north.In 1965, when a  Kurukkal chief priest was clearing the jungle in Kilinohchi he had come across the ruins of a Buddhist temple, some Buddha statues, stone carving as well as a Bo tree.

A map drawn up by the Dept of Archaeology in 1980 showed 18 Buddhist sites in Jaffna, 2 in Kilinochchi, 77 in Trincomalee, 27 in Batticaloa and 28 in Ampara. There were 109 sites in Vanni, mostly in Mullaitvu and Vavuniya.

In 1983, Cyril Mathew prepared a 167 page document, titled An appeal to UNESCO to safeguard and preserve the cultural property in Sri Lanka endangered by racial prejudice, unlawful occupation or willful destruction.” it is a privately published monograph, carrying the address. Barnes Place, Colombo 7.”

Cyril Mathew’s book has a large map which shows the location of the Buddhist sides of the north and east. Map lists 21 places   in Jaffna, 4 in Mannar, 105 in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu.’

The book also contains information on 24 selected sites, with supporting documents, showing the destruction of these Buddhist monuments. Among the monuments destroyed he lists Kurundanmalai where in 1981 there was an attempt to turn the image house into a Hindu kovil. A siripatula found there was used as a base to light camphor.

Further, the stupa at Nellikulam in Vavuniya had been leveled and cemented and a trident placed there.  A Hindu kovil has been constructed in the vihara premises at Mohantankulam in Vavuniya. The entire area, including ruins has been fenced in and turned into a large cattle shed, said Cyril Mathew.  A Hindu kovil was to be set up at Samalankulam in Vavuniya.

Cyril Mathew’s book ends with a set of photographs showing the damage caused to several Buddhist monuments in the north and east. The photographs include a wantonly damaged Buddha image from Etambagaskada. Cyril Mathew acknowledged the support of several others in preparing this document. He speaks of the support and cooperation he received from colleagues, friends and well wishers. (See last page)

Starting in 2003 and continuing into 2013 Ellawela Medhananda explored and wrote up his findings on   Buddhist  ruins in the north and east. Medhananda prepared a set of maps which showed those Buddhist ruins found by him, which are NOT shown on the Buddhist monument map compiled by the Department of Archaeology.

Medhananda‘s map shows 17 new locations   for Jaffna, including 4 on the smaller islands  and 19 for Vavuniya and Mullaitivu.   Mannar has 32 places, of which 15 are lined along the sea coast.  The map of the Eastern province showed Ampara 22 places, many along the coast or near it, Trincomalee   6, and Batticaloa 4.  Medhananda says this list is incomplete. ‘There should be much more than we found.’

In 2010 the Department of Archaeology initiated a survey of the Buddhist sites in the north. In 2010, the Department of Archeology sent a team to the North, to map out the Buddhist remains in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna. Their task was to find and list all the Buddhist monuments they found    and bring those areas under the authority of the Department of Archaeology. The purpose was to protect these archaeological sites from possible damage by the development projects planned for the Northern Province. See  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNeaiDsTBoY for a talk in this project given to Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Colombo.

The Department   obtained a grant from UNDP and started work in 2010. The UNDP grant ended in 2014, but the project continued to 2015.The team   paid 14 visits to the Northern Province, staying   10 days per month. We were unable to walk the full area of a site, as we should, said Vasana. The army did not allow us to do so. We were confined to the areas the army permitted us to go, but this included high security forested areas as well. However, they were able to cover 80% of Mullaitivu area and 60% of Vavuniya.

The team first looked at the 44 known sites, but more sites emerged and the project went on to discover a total of 379 sites. They found 48 in Jaffna 16 in Kilinochchi 175 in Mullaitivu 60 in Mannar and 80 in Vavuniya.

We were the first civil unit to go into these areas after the war, Vasana said. It was very difficult. There were no local informants. Also the Department of Archaeology had not been active there for the last 30 years. Therefore, the team did not follow the usual procedure of working with the administrators serving in that district.

Instead,   they worked in consultation with the army, who were firmly in control in the north.  The army had three regional commands at Jaffna, Wanni and Mullaitivu. The archaeological team worked closely with the brigades under these Commands. The brigades consisted mainly of infantry battalions. The army had been very supportive. They made sure that the team was comfortable. The army had given up their rooms to the archaeological team and had built toilets for the female members. The navy and the civil arakshaka Balakaya had also helped.  .Vasana and Kalpa expressed grateful thanks to the armed forces for their support.

The army and the archaeological team had worked together very harmoniously.  There was much dedication and cooperation on both sides in executing the project. The army was also very helpful in the actual search. ’They would call us to come and look at the things they had found.’

Once the team had identified a site as a Buddhist archaeological site, they erected an Archaeological Department column there. This concrete column was very heavy, but officers carried it willingly. The team also set boundary stones and put up a board announcing in all three languages.  that the place was now an archaeological site. Back in Colombo, the team recorded their findings in three ‘district books’.   They also had a large collection of photographs.

The team prepared maps containing the location of these sites. These maps were given to the other Departments to be included in their maps of the north. The locations were also put on the Department   website https://archaeologysl.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html. Wont these ruins disappear in ten years, now that they have been identified,” they were asked. Vasana replied ‘that is why we have put them on the website, so now they cannot do away with them’.

The team obtained   GPS positions for all the sites.  The team was asked, when you give GPS locators won’t that help people to destroy these places.  The team replied that most of these places are in  high security forests or high security zones, also we have not publicized the GPS locations.

Vasana said , in answer to a question,that the Department  did not take  the Sangha along to inspect sites. If we took them that could have created problems”. The only bhikkhu who had explored the area  successfully was Ellawela Medhananda.

The team found various types of evidence in these Buddhist sites. The team found a ketarama with brahmi script at Konagaharayan kulam   and Vedikumarimalai cave temple. They found a karanduwa of a stupa at Marandankurni, a huge vihara complex, with stupa mound at Sonanochcha kulam, a siripatula at Periyamadu Muttumani Ambal kovil, a pabbata vihara at Mutiyankattakulam and a guard stone at Kokilai.  In Mullaitivu, the ruins spread over  large areas. There were remains of stupa and many image houses. The Buddhist sites found in Mullaitivu and Mannar were  mainly Anuradhapura period , some were early Anuradhapura, some  middle Anuradhapura .

 In Mullaitivu the team found 175 archaeological sites, but not all were Buddhist, some were pre-Buddhist.  The team found 44 huge ( ‘visala’) monasteries , 34 sites where the Buddhist ruins could be identified and another 55 where they could not identify what the function of the Buddhist   ruins was.  

Here are some of the findings at Mullaitivu. Ambakamun ruins had a standing Buddha statue, stupa mound and ruins of monastery. At Andankulam the team found Buddhist ruins in 4 places there was a stupa 6 meters tall circumference 20 meters, a Buddha statue and asanaya. There was a monastic complex at Janakapura.

 Kachchidu had a large ruin complex, with Buddha statue and asana. Kalvilan was a monastery.

At Kalvilan, villagers had built houses over the whole monastic site using material from the Buddhist ruins. Various religious objects were found in the houses such as siripatula gala for washing clothes near the well. The team spoke to the villagers and persuaded them to part with these religious objects. Ruins were  found in a paddy field at Kalvilan.

 Kanyarkovil had Buddhist ruins. At  Kiribbanwewa there was a  seat  and a cave with ketarama . The site also had two pre-brahmi inscriptions.   Koddiyamalai site held two caves with  ketarama . There has been a huge  monastery at Kokavil. A complete guardstone was found .. Rupavahini is there now.  Komalamunai had a huge stupa mound; it has been a monastic complex.Kumbakarna malai also appears to have been a huge monastic complex. There were lots of ruins..the team thought this was probably Kumbaselaka vihara. Kurundavashoka vihara in Komalamunai site had a moonstone and steps.

Mutiankattikulam  has been a huge monastery. The  team found a korawakgala and  asana there.  A stupa  had emerged  in the wewa when the water went down. The Oddusuddan area had lots of Buddhist ruins spread about the area,  as at Keridamadu, Kachchilamadu, and Muniyan Kaddikulama. Materials from Buddhist ruins were used for the Oddusuddan kovil.

Buddhist pillars  were seen beside the Sivapuram Sri Malai Kovil also stone edict dated to 8 to 10 AD which has been published. Vannammaduva had a complete Buddhist statue in Samadhi, the army took it and it is now kept in the  army camp.

Buddhist sites were found in several places in Mannar. Maligapitti had lots of ruins with a  stupa mound. Place is surrounded by houses. A Buddha statue was  found near Murungan,  also  a stupa in a banana plantation. Buddhist ruins were found near Murungan hospital including siripatula, an inscription and stone columns. The inscription  and siripatula were used for  patients to sit on.  There were  Buddhist sites at Mardamadu  Pudalpitti,  Neeravi kulam and Pokkaravanni  .A. Buddha statue was found at Koviyamadu. The army had placed it inside a hut and were looking after it.

The team found 6  firmly established monasteries in Mannar. They were monastic complexes. They belonged to the Anuradhapura period,  but the team  did not have the time  to accurately identify which Anuradhapura period they belonged to. The large complexes were always  near water.    The team also found a vast number of inscriptions in Mannar which were not known earlier. The script  used in the northern inscriptions was the same as  the script found in the southern inscriptions.

In  2013   Sunday Tijmes reported that National Heritage Ministry has gazetted 83 ancient monuments in north and east many of them being ruins of Buddhist temples, Situated in villages in Mannar, Mullativu Jaffna and Vavuniya districts. There are nearly 30 such monuments Majority were in the Mullativu district with one in Jaffna district.

in 2014 Island  newspaper reported that the  Department of Archaeology  had accnouced that it has so far discovered 341 ancient sites neglected due to the war in the Northern Province.  125 in Mullaitivu, 68 Vavuniya district, 66 Mannar district, 15 Kilinochchi district, 67 Jaffna district.  They are now exploring the Sapumalgaskada and Ruwanmaduwa area in Vavuniya district. Already they have discovered 19 sites with stone inscriptions siripatulas and Buddha statues of the Anuradhapura period. 

the Department had also   found 84 new sites with inscriptions     in 13 divisional secretariats in Ampara district. . They have also  found 71 inscriptions in Padiyatalawa, Damana, eragama uhana lahugala, maha oya and Ampara division secretariats. Some inscriptions , of great importance have been fenced off for safety concluded Island. Daily News reported in 2014 that  Buddhist ruins dating to Polonnaruwa period have been found at Kilinochchi.

In 2016, the Integrated Strategic Environment Assessment for the Northern Province of Sri Lanka (ISEA-North) 2016-2017 prepared a map of the Buddhist remains in the north. It can be accessed at

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/17-Archaeological-sites-in-the-Northern-Province-Based-on-data-provided-by-the_fig14_340451884 (2016)   ( CONTINUED)

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