Saturday Magazine
Jambukolapotana and Thiruketeswaram
Fact or fiction?

by A. Denis N. Fernando
Fellow National Academy of Sciences
Ancient places mentioned in the Chronicles, with new evidence provided by Science and Technology, there seem to be a reluctance to discard the earlier misconceptions of their locations based on outdated information. There seems to be the reluctance on the basis that they are an affront or lack of respect to our savants who had in fact based their conclusions then on limited facts available at that time, which is unfortunately a sign of illogical thinking.

Science has always progressed by asking questions, when there is doubt or in the face of new evidence. Science has progressed from the concept that the earth was flat to a sphere and the ellipsoid; and that the centre of the world was the earth till Copernicus stated that the earth revolved round the sun and paid the price. Newtonian Physics gave way to Einsteins theory of relativity and so forth. All was possible because a Scientist always questions and are not followers, but rational people trained in logical thought and questions when in doubt.

Thus with the new tools of Aerospace Technology, and the availability of mathematically corrected three dimensional coordinates of Ptolemy’s Taprobane for the newly known size of the earth and sum azimuthal variations of the coordinates of places mentioned in circa 150 A. D, has provided us valuable and irrefutable evidence of locating several historical places mentioned in the chronicles in the B.C. Period. The location of these places in the mathematically corrected maps as well as from Aerial Photographs, are location specific and are similar to the location of stone inscriptions found in situ.

I have always followed the advice of my mentor Dr. R. L. Brohier who told me not to engage in "Desk top research writing" but always to visit the site to satisfy oneself before committing to writing, especially on historical subjects to get first hand information. This I have done for several decades.

I have indicated in an invitation Lecture for the International Seminar on "Trade and Economics of Ancient Sri Lanka and South India" on 21st May 1999 on the subject "The role of Ancient Sea Ports of Sri Lanka as depicted in Ancient maps and described in other sources with special reference to International Trade and related aspects." These included the location of undetermined or doubtful locations of places mentioned in the Mahawamsa, in the BC period, not because the Mahawamsa was wrong, but because it was wrongly located by the interpreter. For example Kelaniya, Nagadipa, Vijithapura, Jambukolapotana, etc. the townships of the Chandanagama and Kataragama Kshatriyas, who came to pay homage to the Sacred Bodhi Tree brought by Sangamitta. This international habour was identified by Ptolemy as the Talakori Emporium. And was known as Palavakki in the time of Parakrama Bahu I. The journey to Jambukola from Tamalitta took seven days travel by ship and homage he paid to it for three days at Jambukola which I have identified as Palavakki (the place where the sacred plant was kept) and took four days travel from Jambukola to Anuradhapura in processing with three night stops midway, which I have identified and are about 12 miles apart with the name Madavachchi. And finally reaching Anuradhapura on the fourth night. In fact the entire area from Palavakki to Anuradhapura contains numerous Buddhist ruins, inscriptions and ancient settlements. This completely discounts the identification of Jambukola with Jaffna. The relevant locations of Talakori Emporium which has a large natural harbour with two piers one mile long projecting to the sea which are one mile apart and has a permanent source of water from the Kunchikulamaru While Margana Civitas has a Horse shoe moat with no evidence of any ancient shrine in the investigations made by the Archaeological Department except for the recent constructions that are about half a century old. In fact while I visited Kalpakam, Nuclear facility in India I passed through Mahabalipuram in the 1970s and noticed rock sculptures being constructed for the temple in Tiruketeswaram. While Architect Ashley de Vos also noted the same and had taken photographs of same. The investigations of these sites made by me that are relevant to this presentation is included now together with the relevant aerial Photographs.

Talalkori Emporium - Tiriyaya was an important port of call from north east India form the mouth of the Ganges to Sri Lanka from where the religious missions came to Sri Lanka. while the port near Tiriyaya did not have a specific name, but several names at different periods. The Mahawamsa records that in the 6th century B.C, the horse traders Tapassu and Bhalluka are said to have enshrined the hair relics of the Buddha, while he was yet alive at the chaitya of Tiriya (Geiger 1950; Sirisoma 1983).

Mention is also made of the sea route and ports of departure and arrival during the journey in bringing the Sacred Bodhi Tree from Buddhagaya to the city of Anuradhapura in the 3rd century B.C. which indicates the principal seaport Tamalitti of India and Jambukola Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is only 60 miles from Palavakki which is five days travel time when walking both morning and in the evening. Peninsula Jaffna is nearly 200 kms away from Anuradhapura and would have taken more than 3 times the time as it has to cross the lagoon and through uninhabited terrains as well. The ancient port of Jambukola has been identified as lying between Tiriyaya and Kuchchaveli. Where Tapassu and Balluka used that port as well as Ptolemy indicated that it was an International Emporium called Talakori Emporium.

The sea port adjacent to Tiriya had several names at different periods. It was called Jambukola, when the sacred Bodhi tree was brought in the 3rd century B.C. from the port Tamalitti on the Ganges delta. The Sacred Bodhi tree was taken in a grand procession that lasted five days from Jambukola to the city of Anuradhapura, 60 miles away, where it was planted and remains to this day as the oldest tree recorded in history. This ancient sea port was also called Talakori Emporium by Ptolemy in ca. 110 A.C, while in 1150 A.D. in the time of Parakramabahu I, it was called Palavavanka from where he set sail with a fleet on his expedition to Burma.

Today it is called Palavaki and its etymological meaning is very revealing. In the environment of the Yan Oya are also remains of Cist Burials quite different to the Urn or Pot burials near Pomparippu.

The identification of a port in Jaffna Peninsula by some historians cannot be accepted as Jambukolapatuna as from all the evidence indicated above, the port of Jambukola-potana of the 3rd century B.C. has to be associated with the port near Tiriyaya Kuchchaveli, presently known as Palavaki.

Margana Civitas — This was the ancient harbour of Mantota and as the Latin name suggests was a place where pearls were traded. It was located on the northern section of the main land side east of the narrow passage of Pall; Strait. This port had a unique horse-shoe shaped fortress with two moats. Archaeological evidence indicates that it was used as a trade port by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs and Chinese. Dr. John Carswell and others including myself, were involved in the archaeological excavations in 1980. In addition to coins of the period indicated, there was the presence of Celadon and the absence of blue and white ceramic of the post 14th century which indicated that it was in use prior to and abandoned during the colonial era. However, north of Mantota, at Allimpidi on the road to Kayts, there was a hoard of Chinese celadon porcelain close to the coast and could very well have been from a disabled ship in distress of the Sung period.

The Palk Strait passage was narrow and shallow and not deep for large sailing ships. The larger ships that could not use the passage used the Port of Cochin from which the land route was used for the transfer of goods to Akirumadu (see Map), and as reflected in the Peutinger Table of the Romans, while the ports in Sri Lanka on the north western coast from Mantota were used to transfer goods through Anuradhapura to the two Emporia of Talakori Emporium (Jambukolapotana) and Moduttu Emporium (Seruwavila). This was why possibly Anuradhapura became a capital due to its central position between the dominant ports on the north western and north eastern seaboard. As postulated by Vidya Jothi Ashley de Vos. Below is illustrated the ports in Southern India and Northern Sri Lanka and the ancient double moat trade fortress of Mantota. This fortress city was mainly to protect foreign traders from. Pirates and robbers and encourage international trade. With time, the passage in the Palk Straight became very narrow due to its silting by long shore currents. Mantota was abandoned as an ineffective port in this post 14th century.

It is recorded that Ibn Batuta in the 14th century visited Mantota. While the Kokila Sandesaya too mentions it as a trade centre, no mention however is made by any of them of a Hindu Temple there.

It has been recorded by H. C. P. Bell in 1907 that "some wealthy Tamils in search of the reputed ‘Lingam’ used 300 workmen for six months with the help of a soothsayer but found none except for some Buddhist objects, which was also reported by Hocart in 1927.

The Portuguese built their fortress west of the Palk Strait on the south eastern side of the Mannar island, cannibalizing much material from the ancient fortress of Mantota. Mantota was not suitable as a port or harbour at later times, as Mantota had silted up and the narrow channel was more westward and closer to the new harbour on the island of Mannar.