Heritage in Peril


As the Most Ven. Purawidya Paryeshanashuri, Purawidya Chakrawarthi Ellawala Medhananda Thera explains, ‘Kaduru’ is a synonym for the Pali word ‘Kandara’. In Pali, Kandara means a wetland or a stream. The word Kadurugoda means a temple located on land in a vicinity of a wetland or a stream. The Thera identifies the Valuka Aaru which flows close to Kadurugoda as the stream that must have given the place the name.

He further states that in Portuguese documents the place is referred to as ‘Kandara Kudde’ – the Portuguese pronunciation of the Sinhala word Kadurugoda.

In 1965 the Commissioner of Archaeology C.E. Godakumbura conducted excavation work at this site. He discovered stone pillars, various archaeological remains, and ruins of more than 30 small stupas.

The diameter of the largest stupa found so far is reported to be 23.5 feet and the smallest stupa found so far is 6 feet in diameter.

The Harmika, Garadi Weta and the hole to fix the Chathra remind us of the earliest form of a Buddhist stupa. The earliest model of a Buddhist stupa that was followed by the entire Buddhist world is the Sanchi Stupa or the Stupa of Asoka. The earliest Buddhist stupas of Sri Lanka also followed this structure and later, with time they evolved architecturally.

Hence, the architectural features such as the Harmika, Garadi Weta and Chathras suggest that the Kadurugoda stupas were built during the early Anuradhapura period.

Among the other archaeological remains unearthed are; remains of Buddha statues, stone and limestone relic caskets, carvings of dwarfs (vamanas), guard stones (muragal), stone slabs of the Buddha’s footprint, head of a Bodhisattva, painted roof tiles, and a broken inscription.

The guard stone has a carving of a Punkalasa or a filled pot. In the evolution of the guard stone, the guard stone with a carving of a Punkalasa is one of the earliest stages.

Also, Buddha’s footprint stone slabs (Siripathul Gal) were worshiped during the early times, centuries before the Buddha statue was created (It is generally believed that the Buddha statue was created in the 1st century CE).

All this evidence suggests that this place was a Buddhist monastery that was in use in the early Anuradhapura period, and the Buddha and Bodhisattva statues suggest that the monastery was in continuous use for centuries.

A large number of beads, bricks, pottery, and tiles reveal the vast spread of the ancient Kadurugoda monastery. The coins of kings of the Polonnaruwa period such as Parakramabahu I, Sahassamalla, Queen Leelawathi, Dharmashoka, and Bhuwanekabahu clearly make us understand that the monastery was still a flourishing religious place during the Polonnaruwa period and break the myth of a historical Elam in Jaffna.

These above-mentioned kings are rulers of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom and their historical existence is proven through historical texts, coins bearing their names, inscriptions bearing their names, and archaeological remains such as palaces, temples, tanks, gardens, and other buildings built by them. As coins, inscriptions, irrigation work, and other building construction work were found in many places of the country, that are proven to be built by these kings and queens, it is clear that their authority was spread all over the island including the entire Jaffna peninsula and the North and East. Thus, it is crystal clear that a historical Elam in the North and East of Sri Lanka is merely a baseless myth.

Kadurugoda: The Rajayathana Chethiya of Nagadeepa?

As Most Ven. Medhananda Thera explains, the little stupas seem to be built around a sacred object of veneration and he suggests that this could be the Rajayathana Chethiya that was built during Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka. The Thera writes that during his visit to the place in 1977 the Hindu priest of Chulipuram who was a very good friend of his, said that Kadurugoda was also known as Rajayathana Chethiya.

The art and architecture of the place also suggest that the place’s earliest stage as a Buddhist monastery belongs to the earliest time of the Anuradhapura period, as we have explained above. Therefore, as many other archaeologists also suggest, this could be the Rajayathana Chethiya of Nagadeepa.

In our previous segments, we explained the Rajayathana tree was a Kiripalu tree. According to historical texts and Buddhist literature, it was brought from the Jetavanarama monastery in India, during Buddha’s second visit to Nagadeepa (Jaffna). The tree was planted at the place where Buddha was seated at Nagadeepa.

Sinhala inscriptions at Kadurugoda

The other most interesting as well as one of the most precious pieces of evidence found at Kadurugoda is the piece of a begging bowl (pathra) with letters inscribed on it. The letters are in Brahmi script and in the Sinhala language. This Brahmi script belongs to the 2nd century BCE and reads as Datahapatha, which means, Datta’s Pathraya or the Begging bowl of Datta. This could be the begging bowl of a monk named Datta or a begging bowl offered to a monk by a layman named Datta.

The pillar inscription found at Kadurugoda is once again written in the Sinhala language. The letters suggest that the inscription belongs to the 9th – 10th century. It is an inscription that belongs to the reign of king Kasyapa IV (898 – 914 CE). This type of a pillar inscription is known as Atthani Kanu, which means offers and donations given to the monasteries.

As the 9th – 10th-century inscription was written in Sinhala language and the 2nd-century BCE inscription was also written in the old Sinhala language and the coins of 12th century Polonnaruwa kings are found at Kadurugoda monastery, there is no doubt about the continued existence of the monastery, its connection with the capital city and the use of Sinhala language among the inhabitants.

Kadurugoda and Anuradhapura

The Buddha statues found at this place are similar to those once found at Anuradhapura, especially those found at Ruwanwaliseya. Emphasising this, former Assistant Director of the Department of Aachaeology (DoA), archaeologist Sirisaman Wijethunga writes in Wallipuram Ransannasa saha Hela Urumaya that the Buddha statues found at Kadurugoda display characteristics of the Amaravati Art School as the ones at Ruwanwaliseya does. Therefore, the same art style was in existence in Jaffna as well as Anuradhapura, once again proving the similar culture and social and political authority of the Rajarata civilisation that was spread across the island.

(The Amaravati style is an ancient Buddhist art school that originated in Amaravati in Andra Pradesh. It is the most influential art style in Sri Lanka’s ancient Buddhist arts, especially on the Buddha statue and Buddhist carvings in Sri Lanka. Note that there is an ancient Sinhala vihara at Nagarjunkonda, Andra Pradesh which highlights the close cultural and religious ties between ancient Andra Pradesh and the Sinhalese.) 

Was there an independent kingdom in Jaffna before the 13th century?

Dr. Somapala Jayawardhena in Sinhala Deshika Wishwakoshaya writes that King Vijayabahu I, after defeating the Cholas renovated the Jambukola temple at Nagadeepa. He further writes that according to a Chola inscription of king Rajadhiraja II, King Parakramabahu I (1123–1186) was at Urathota (Kytes) preparing the army to invade the Chola country.

As Dr. Jayawardhena explains, during the time of Queen Kalyanawathi in 1209 or 1210 a large Tamil army from South India invaded Sri Lanka and this invasion caused a terrible blow to the Sinhala settlements in Jaffna. According to him, this is the first greatest threat to the shrinking of the Sinhala population in Jaffna. Starting from this, for almost a century horrible invasions continuously occurred. Due to these continuous invasions, and the terrible turbulences in the lives of the inhabitants in Jaffna, they gradually left the villages that had been their traditional homeland for at least 17 centuries and moved towards the south.

The result of this was that the invaders largely inhabited these abandoned villages in Jaffna. Dr. Jayawardhena further writes that after the Buddhist monasteries were also abandoned, later kovils were built on the premises. However, for more centuries, Sinhalese and Muslims had and are still living in Jaffna, reluctant to leave their traditional homes.

We also must add that unless racist politicians and rulers, starting from king Sankili to today’s politicians, the general Tamil public and Tamil Hindu priests are not of the view of eradicating the Sinhalese and the Muslims from the North and East. Even these kovils later built on abandoned temples are just a simple little stone or Velayudha along with some flowers and a lamp, exhibiting the innocent beliefs of people. It is the vicious politicians who interfere and insist on building permanent buildings on the temple premises.

The writer and the majority of the public are not of the view that the kovils built on ancient Buddhist monasteries should be removed. We are opposing the idea of building permanent buildings violating the original purpose of the ancient structure and that creates dispute among ethnicities. Yet, a simple shrine for the purpose of worship of the Hindus of these areas should be also protected as a mark of respect to the community’s religious beliefs, while preserving the ancient Buddhist temple and not violating its true identity.

As much as we respect and acknowledge the ethnic and religious identity of present-day Jaffna, we also insist that the ancient Sinhala – Buddhist identity of the place should not be forcefully erased and should be acknowledged and accepted. It is important to learn and put into practice the lesson of coexisting and harmony among the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

During the 15th century, King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte, dispatched an army headed by prince Sapumal to defeat the Aryachakrawartin kings of Jaffna. As per what Dr. Jayawardhena says, the Sinhala community in Jaffna supported the Kotte king’s army, thus Aryachakrawartin had to flee the country as he could not face the rise of the inhabitants. He says that this was possible because a notable population was still living in Jaffna.

In the 18th-century book Vihara Asna (composed during the reign of King Keerti Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy) a number of temples in Jaffna are mentioned and all those bear Sinhala names. A temple cannot thrive on its own as there need to be lay devotees that maintain the temple. Writing further, Dr. Jayawardhena says that it was during the time of British rule (150 years) Buddhist temples in Jaffna were totally abandoned and ruined.

As we have presented in one of our previous segments, Prof. Senarath Paranavitana insists that there is no archaeological and textual evidence to think of an independent kingdom in Jaffna prior to the 13th century CE. Prof. Paranavitana also says that South Indian inscriptions that mention Sri Lanka do not mention anything about an independent kingdom in Jaffna or in the Northern part of Sri Lanka. Doing extensive research about the Aryachakrawartins of Jaffna, Prof. Paranavitana explains that the Aryachakrawartins are not of Tamil ethnicity but are from Kalinga (Jawaka or Malaysia).

Keeping this in our minds, let us travel to our next destination, known today as Mallakam in Jaffna. Its ancient name is Mallawagama or Mallawapitiya.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy