Saturday Magazine
Ancient Buddhist shrines in Batticaloa and Ampara

by Walter Rupesinghe
In an article which appeared in The Island’s magazine section of 6th July 2002 attention was drawn to the 74 ancient Buddhist shrines and archaeological sites in the Trincomalee district. The late Cyril Matthew and his friends in the Archaeological Department have identified 55 such shrines and archaeological sites in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts — vide the map reproduced with this article. A description of a few of these sites culled from the records of the Archaeological Department is given below:


This site at the boundary of the Galoya scheme on the Ampara-Mahiyangana road is on a large forested hill. On the southern scrap of the hill are a large number of dripledged caves. In many of these caves are pre-Christian inscriptions. In the flat area south of this hill are the remains of a number of structures. Among these are a dagaba dug into by treasure hunters, some pillared structures and a pond. Buried under the earth is the torso of a Buddhist statue. The structures at the site are girt by a prakara.

Dutch Fort Batticaloa.

A dagoba chatra stone and an asana stone probably belonging to the early centuries of the Christian era were found inside the Fort. These appear to have belonged to a very early Buddhist structure.


In the Vakaneri colony near Valachchenai is an ancient site with a pilfered dagaba and the remains of three structures. There are also the remains of a pond and a stone prakara around it.


This site is about five miles to the west of the Kohombana junction on the Ampara — Gonagala road. On the eastern escarpment of Samangala hill are found a large number of dripledged caves bearing pre-Christian Brahmi inscriptions. On a high boulder close to an ancient cave is incised the representation of a dagoba similar to the stupas at Sanchi.


On the Ampara-Hingurana road there are the remains of a dagoba mounted on a square platform and of a structure with stone pillars.


See special article on Dighavapi in The Island magazine section of 14th September 2002.

Magul Maha Viharaya

This has been known as the Ruhunu Maha Vihara in ancient times. It was built by King Dhatusena (453-474 A.D.). The structures here had been reconstructed by Vihara Maha Devi wife of Bhuwenakabahu IV of Gampola and Parakramabahu V of Dedigama in the 14th century. Two inscriptions of this queen are at the site. In an area girt by a prakara of stone slabs are a Bodhigara, an image house, a dagaba and a sabbath house.

Moodu Maha Viharaya (Pottuvil)

This site is on the seashore. Much of the remains at the site appear to be covered by sea sand. At an elevated site is a ruined dagaba. West of the dagoba are the remains of a pillared structure. There is a torso of a standing Buddha statue. To the south is an image house and a pond. East of the dagoba are seen stumps of pillars and brick walls. It is believed that buried under a thick layer of sand are other remains of ancient structures.

Ratraveli Viharaya

The remains of a very ancient dagoba of large dimensions has been found near the 73rd milepost on the Pottuvil-Panama road. At this site are dripledged caves, remains of ancient structures and Buddha statues of stone. The ancient name of the site was Bahogiri Nama Pavata according to an inscription of Mahadathika-Mahanaga (A.D. 7-19). The Archaeological Department says that there is no doubt that the site is the Maninaga Pabbata Vihara of the Mahawamsa.


Situated on the road from Panama to the Ruhunu National Park, there are a large number of dripledged caves here some of which bear inscriptions.

Ancient Buddhist

There are traces of paintings which go back to ancient times. On Kudumbigala, the largest rock at the site, are the remains of two small dagobas.

Nilagiri Dagoba, Lahugala

This dagoba is a very old one. To the south east of the Nilagiri hill there are several caves with pre-Christian inscriptions. It is said that the Pasanadipika Vihara constructed by Mahadathika Mahanaga (9-21 A.D.) may be this.

Mullikulam Malai

There are two short rock inscriptions of the first century B.C. beside a flight of steps cut on the hill of Mallikulam Malai. Below the drip ledge of a cave is a cave inscription of the 1st century B.C.

Malayadi Kanda

On this hill are many dripledged caves. About fifteen of them have inscriptions and in one cave there are many paintings.

The above are descriptions of only a few of the sacred sites in the two districts. A description of all the sites would make this article voluminous. There are travel agents in this country who specialise in domestic tourism. I would exhort them to arrange study tours to these sites.

It would be a wonderful experience delving into the past in these remote corners of Sri Lanka which are now accessible to us.

The future of ancient Buddhist shrines and archaeological sites in the northern and eastern provinces:

The late Mr. Cyril Matthew and his friends in the Archaeological Department located a total of 261 ancient Buddhist shrines and archaeological sites in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Of these 132 are in the northern province and 129 in the eastern province. What is the future of these ancient shrines and archaelogical sites under the proposed interim council? Who will be in control of and administer them? To find the answer to this question we will have to look at the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution under which Provincial Councils were established.

Article 154 G of the Constitution (the Thirteenth Amendment) sets out the powers and functions of provincial councils. This article specifies three lists of subjects. List I of the ninth schedule is the provincial councils list. The reserved list is at List II of the ninth schedule and List III is the concurrent list. Let us now see the relevance of these three lists.

Article 154 G (7) states that a Provincial Council shall have no power to make statues on any matter set out in List II — the reserved list. The relevant entry in this list in regard to the matter we are discussing is as follows:

The Reserved List — List II

"National Archives: Archaelogical activities and sites and antiquities declared by or under any law made by parliament to be of national importance.

This would include — Ancient and historical monuments and records and archaeological sites and remains declared by or under any law made by parliament to be of national importance".

The Provincial Councils List: List I

Article 154 G (1) states that every provincial council may, subject to the provisions of the constitution, make statues applicable to its area with respect to any matter set out in List I.

The relevant entry for our purposes reads as follows: "25:2 Ancient and historical monuments and records other than those declared by or under any law made by parliament to be of national importance."

The Concurrent List — List III

Article 154 G (5)(a) states that parliament may make laws in respect of any matter set out in List III after such consultation with all provincial councils as parliament may consider appropriate in the circumstances of each case. The relevant entry in List III reads as follows:

"34: Archaelogical sites and remains other than those declared by or under any law made by parliament to be of national importance".

The legislators in their wisdom have used different phraseology in the three lists but to a layman like me this is somewhat puzzling.

I have no doubt that the Archaelogical Department would have been consulted on the entries that have been made in the three lists. Could the department therefore explain to the public, the difference between "ancient and historical monuments and records" in the provincial councils list and "archaeological sites and remains" on the concurrent list and also the difference between these two and "archaelogical activities and sites and antiquities including ancient and historical monuments and records and archaelogical sites and remains" mentioned in the reserved list. To pose the question more specifically — what is the status of places like Nagadipa, Tiriyaya, Welgam Vehera, Seruwila, Dighavapi, Magul Maha Vihara, Mudu Maha Vihara, Kudumbigala to mention only a few of the important Buddhist shrines and archaelogical sites in the two provinces.

It will certainly be in the interest of all concerned if the Archaelogical Department will publish a list of the archaelogical sites, historical monuments and remains, records and antiquities in the north and east which have been declared by or made by any law by parliament as being of national importance.

Any ambiguities or grey areas in the interpretation of the three lists could cause serious problems to both the central government as well as the provincial council.

Attention must be drawn to another matter of vital importance. How effective is the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940? I asked this question because I have seen a draft Concept Plan prepared by the Chairman, Urban Development Authority some time ago for the development of the Dighavapi area which stated as follows:

"A proposal was forwarded to the Chairman Urban Development Authority from the Minister of Religious Affairs for the declaration of the Dighavapi archaeological area under Section 3 of the UDA Act No. 41 of 1978 for development and conservation purposes."

The Chairman, UDA explained the need for this course of action in his Concept Plan. He stated that the Dighavapi archaeological area has 35 ancient sites and the area declared under the Archaelogical Department was only 400 yards in radius of each site which left the surrounding areas unprotected under the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940 because these areas have not been declared under it. This has lead to illegal excavation and encroachment of those open areas. This has created problems to control sand mining and illegal encroachments. He goes on to say that the UDA Law 41 of 1978 has legal power to control such unauthorised activities.

According to the information available to me no further action had been taken on the matter for reasons best known to the authorities concerned. Similar problems might be existing in the vicinity of other ancient Buddhist shrines and archaelogical sites.

It is my view that the relevant ministries should address this problem urgently and concert effective measures to protect our ancient Buddhist shrines and archaeological sites in the northern and eastern provinces.

Note: The information

given here is taken from

a map prepared by the

late Mr. Cyril Matthew

showing the Buddhist

shrines in the north

and east of Sri Lanka.

Batticaloa district:

207 — Kaudagala

208 –Pandienathamalai

209 — Akarana

210 — Barandicap

211 — Karavanikulama

212 — Dambaliyaddegala

213 — Maoddidoy

214 — Nelugala

215 — Kopaveli

216 — Kirimuttipola Viharaya

217 — Kota Vehera

218 — Niyankallukulama

219 — Kiragala

220 — Rottei Viharaya

221 — Lanka Viharaya

222 — Kinnaragala

223 — Mangala Oya

224 — Bambaragastalawa

225 — Pulumalai

226 — Kanthon Kovila

227 — Rajagala

228 — Bakkiella

229 — Samangala

230 — Kandurugoda

231 — Polukunawa

232 — Paranagama Bakkiella

233 — Gonagolla

234 — Vehera Pudama

Amparai district

235 — Pallanoya

236 — Buddangala

237 — Muwangala

238 — Malayadikanda

239 — Kiulegama

240 — Ganegama Viharaya

241 — Koknagara Colony

242 — Panathgoda Viharaya

243 — Wavinna

244 — Kotavehera

245 — Kanchikudi Aru

246 — Mullikulam Malai

247 — Dighavapi

248 — Sengamakand

249 — Rangama

250 — Hulan Nuge

251 — Kirimetti Aru

252 — Pottuvil Madu Maha Viharaya

253 — Moodu Maha Viharaya

254 — Ethnama

255 — Jayarampola

256 — Lahugala

257 — Magul Maha Viharaya

258 — Lahugala (additional site)

259 — Neelagiri Seya

260 — Rathrawela Viharaya

261 — Kudumbigala

Walter Rupesinghe,

Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Canada,