Posted on February 18th, 2024


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.” 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

Ven. Ellawala Medhananda(2003) has drawn attention to the damage done by ‘non-Buddhists’ , to the  ancient Buddhist monasteries, hermitages and  ruins in the north and east. Medhananda says that more than five hundred sites with ancient Buddhist ruins are either destroyed or are being destroyed in the north and east.

The ruins in Jaffna  and elsewhere are  in danger, said Medhananda speaking  in 2009 during Eelam war IV.  In 2009 Medhananda   wanted the  Department of Archaeology to take control of the Buddhist  ruins in the cleared areas of the Vanni. He said that there were over 1500 such sites in the districts of Vanni, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar. Lavatories have been built amidst Buddhist ruins in north, he said.

In 2010 that Medhananda had   told Daily Mirror that  more than 50 sites of archeological importance in the Mullaitivu district have been desecrated by the LTTE and used as bunkers and fortifications. Medhananda found a destroyed Buddha statue and moonstone at Oddusuddan.  others found that ruins at Etambagaskanda and  Kandikulam, in Vavuniya  had been destoyred.

A total of 1633 sites have been desecrated in the Anuradhapura, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts and that they should be preserved from further damage. Ellawala Medhananda requested the President to take steps to hand over the control of these archeological sites to the Department of Archaeology for preservation.  Monuments like moon stones and ancient fortresses belonging to 11th century have been severely affected.

Destroying Buddhist ruins in the East started long ago, said Medhananda. Initially, it was done secretly and cleverly.  The activity  has got speeded up and is now done openly on a large scale. Only Buddhist places face this destruction, not the other religions, observed Medhananda.

Medhananda found that ruins he had examined earlier in the Eastern Province had vanished when he went a second time. What we saw in 1964 at Veddikinarimalai had disappeared by 1973.  I found that ruins I had seen in 1966 had disappeared by 1976. What I saw in 1976 had disappeared by 1986” said Medhananda.

Buddhist sites in good condition in Trincomalee   in 1960 had vanished when Medhananda visited them in 1980. Hindu kovils had been built over many of them. Nilaveli has Mahayana Buddhist ruins. the vihara was known as Kanikaravelli vihara. The stupas were there in 1966, they had disappeared by 1978. 

The stupa and    arama of Okanda vihara were in good condition in 1978.They have now disappeared. At Rugam too, the ruins have been deliberately destroyed. Jayarampala, a few miles north of Karanda oya consists of many Buddhist ruins. These have been vandalized.

Sembumalai had a standing Buddha statue in limestone and a lotus pedestal. When I visited in 1978, the statue was not there. The remaining ruins   were also   damaged. At Digamadulla we found many inscription and ruins never seen before. Those ruins  have now vanished, said Medhananda in 2013.    

There were   Mahayana ruins at  Kuchchaveli Maha vihara in 1966, in pleasing form but when Medhananda visited in 1978 the upper parts of the most of them were destroyed. The stupa near Kinniya wells vanished after the Ceasefire AgreementOF 2002.

Medhananda went on to list other  Buddhist ruins that had been  destroyed. Stone pillars at Pulukunava were broken into pieces. This vandalism is not natural it has been done by persons, said Medhananda. Four siripatul from Pulukunawa Maha vihara have been taken away as miris gal.   The Viharakadu region close to Dighavapi has been leveled recently using machinery. At Dighavapi itself, a bulldozer had gone ‘by mistake’ through the temple. Buddhist ruins at Niyankullukama were shot and destroyed, while Medhananda was there, exploring in 1972.

Veheragama ruins are being deliberately destroyed. Sunetra wewa  had Buddhist ruins for 5 acres or so. They have been deliberately destroyed. Veheragala vihara near Araganvila is a monastery on a huge rock. All buildings, including stupa have been destroyed. Inscription shows that kings worshipped here. Veheratenna which had ruins dated to 5th century AD was heavily destroyed. Taravakulam ruins have been   damaged.

Galkulama had ruins stretching all the way to Kiliveddi. An Inscription there showed that its name was Girimahalaka Maha vehera and it had been built by Dutugemunu. This place has been completely destroyed, . Its stupa has been destroyed and bricks scattered for miles concluded Medhananda.

Vaddamana Pabbata ancient site was vandalised. The ancient stupa was removed and replaced by a Siva Linga. Today, it is in a completely devastated state, and no legal action is being taken to protect the site observed Ama Vanniarachchi.

In addition to  ruins, Buddhist place of worship were  also attacked and vandalized,  Shrine room at Mankulam had been vandalized on or around August 31 2016. It was erected by the army in its camp at Mankulam.  This was not an isolated incident, said the media. The Bo tree and shrine room at Sambaltivu in Trincomalee was cut down and destroyed.

 In November 2010, Sri Lanka Archeological Society presented a talk by Muditha Karunamuni on exploration and conservation of archaeology sites in north and eastern provinces. North and east is packed with Sinhala Buddhist monuments, he said and showed maps to indicate this.  some Buddhist remains were deliberately destroyed. These included Etambagaskanda, and Kandikulam in Vavuniya.

Buddhist places of worship have been attacked and vandalized in the years that   followed. A Buddhist   shrine room erected by the army in its camp at Kanagaarayakulam, Mankulam, was vandalized in 2016 and Buddha statue broken into pieces. There is no camp there at present, said the media. This was not an isolated incident, said the media. 

In 2017 the chaitya at Suda Kuda In Sampur area had been bulldozed.Critics faulted the state fornot providing security to the site immediately after recognizing the site as one belonging to the Anuradhapura era.

The destruction of Buddhist ruins  was accelerated in 2018 and 2019     said the Department of archaeology  Malinda Seneviratne, the respected journalist,   went to Budubava in 2020 and observed that the Buddhist ruins in Eastern Province were getting destroyed. The jungles around Panama are full of Buddhist shrines. There are remains of stupas and monastic complexes. There are hundreds of caves. [They are now being demolished]These were not destroyed by the elements, said Malinda. How else could a place like Budubava have stupas razed to the ground?

 The Wildlife Department, the Forest Department, the Special Task Force, the Irrigation Department and the Archaeology Department have jurisdiction over these jungles. Could all these institutions be in the dark about the vandalism that is taking place? All of them, all the time and together? asked Malinda. ( continued)

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