Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ganegama Rajamaha Viharaya

Original name: Ganegama
geographical location: Sabaragamuwa, Sri Lanka.
geographical coordinates: 6° 38' 0" North, 80° 31' 0" East

Set amidst a carpet of paddy fields it is difficult to miss the Ganegama Rajamaha Viharaya , when you are traveling on the Ratnapura -Palmadulla main road.

The Bo Tree in this temple is of historical value. According to the Bhodiwansa it is one of the 32 saplings of the sacred BO tree at Anuradhapura.

Among the several Buddha statutes in this temple is a valuable wooden Buddha statue, about which there is an interesting legend.

When the Portuguese were destroying and plundering the Buddhist temples in the Sabaragamuwa province, it is said that this statue was kept hidden immersed in the waters of the Denawaka river, and was brought back to the temple after many years when the threat had subsided.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Battles on the banks of the Kalu ganga

Many major battles were fought on the banks of the Kalu ganga between the Portuguese forces and King Mayadunne, King Dharmapala (of Kotte 16th century) and Bhuvaneka Bahu (VII) helped the Portuguese.

King Mayadunne (of Sitawake) led by his gallant son, then a boy of 13, Tikiri Rajjuru Bandara (later King Rajasinghe I) fought the Portuguese forces supported by Widiya Bandara's forces.

P. E. Pieris, in his 'Ceylon and Portuguese (1920)' describes the blood-battles fought on the banks of Kalu ganga and Kalutara itself: "In accordance with this the Sitawake army commanded by the youngest son of Mayadunne, Tikiri Rajjuru Bandara, a boy of thirteen, with whom was associated Wickremasingha Mudiyanse, the bravest of his father's generals, advanced to the Kalu ganga, and was joined at Kalutara by the Portuguese contingent of three hundred men. After crossing the limpid waters of the Pelen ganga the allied forces were met and attacked by Widiya Bandara, who after a hard fought battle was forced to flee, abandoning his wife and treasures to the conquerors."

Later on, Widiya Bandara was forced to seek refuge in the Udarata region under the protection of Karaliyadda Bandara. The fate of Widiya Bandara is another part of the story where he actually had to take refuge in Jaffna. In Jaffna he along with his son Wijayapala was slained.

Coming back to the battle scenes around Kalutara, the blood thirsty Portuguese in 1574, commanded by Diogo de Mele with his forces devastated that part of the country destroying shrines and temple. These ravages took place from Kelaniya, to the towns of Kalutara and Beruwala.

In late 1594 the Portuguese forces led by General de Azavedo were fast advancing towards Kalutara to capture it. Paul Pieris in his above quoted book has recounted how de Azavedo planned the capture.

The builder of Kalutara fort was Jorg de Albuquerque in 1622. Later it was captured by King Rajasinghe I of the Sitawaka kingdom. Then still later it was captured by the Dutch and re-captured by the Portuguese. On 14.10.1655 the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch.

Phillipus Baldaeus was a Dutch Pastro who lived most of his sojourns in Jaffna. He wrote a book in Dutch (later translated into English by Pieter Brohier), titled 'A True and Exact Description of the Great Island of Ceylon (1672). In it, he gives the following vivid description of the Portuguese fort of Kalutara built by the Portuguese and captured later by the Dutch "Within days journey of Gale (present Galle), lies the fortress of Caletura (Kalutara) situated in a most locality near the mouth of a large and broad river close by the sea. The defence is strongly built with double earthen walls, and is at present under our sway, it was taken over by us (by gods' blessings) under the directions of Honourable Director General Hulft (sic) on the 15th October 1655".

Portuguese, Dutch named present Kalutara as Caletura. Dr. R. L. Brohier, the author of many books on ancient irrigation works in his 'Seeing Ceylon' (1965) summarises an historical account of Kalutara thus: "There is much to interest one in this hinterland, but it is rather on fragments of the earlier history was ruled by a Sinhalese king, and when, if you look from the northern bank across the waters of the Kalu ganga, near its mouth, you saw, on the outlying spur an insignificant hill, an ivory-white dagaba poised on its crest, Gangatilaka Vihara, they called it: and De Queyroz, the historian, says of the river flowing by, that it was named 'Santosa Ganga'. There large trees and avenues of teak which cast shadows over green maiden and gardens in bloom. All this, and more, the Sandesa poems have translated into song". That was the glorious past of Kalutara.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Sadismof Azevedo

Crocodiles were whistled for to feed on humans

In 1505 Lorenzo de Almeida, son of the Vice Roy of Goa set foot in Galle accidentally when his fleet of ships got caught in a great storm at sea on the way to the Maldive Islands and was compelled to take refuge at Galle Harbour. Though they wrested Galle from the Sinhalese they were the first Europeans to settle down in Colombo. The news of the arrival of a strange fleet reached the ears of the King of Kotte Vira Parakramabahu VIII. The message was that there was a race of people of fair skin donning jackets and hats of iron, eating hunks of stone and drinking blood. They were lavish with their silver and gold coins, so that they gave two or three of them for one fish or lime. The report of their cannon was louder then thunder striking on the rock of Yugandaraa.

The King although willing to entertain the newcomers was reluctant to reveal the closeness of Kotte to Colombo. Therefore an envoy of Portuguese were led by a circuitous route for three days through hill and dale and thorny jungle crossing the same river many times at different points. The Sinhalese saying "Parangiya Kotte giyaa wage" even now is aptly quoted in similar circumstances in gay ridicule after nearly five centuries.

The ultimate result was that the Portuguese gained a permanent foothold in this country. Within a few decades several changes took place as one after another Royal descendants ascended the Throne of Kotte. Vijayabahu VII succeeded Vira Parakramabahu VIII, Vijayabahu’s son Buwanekabahu followed him. As Buwanekabahu had no sons his grandson Prince Dharmapala, the son of his daughter ascended the Throne of Kotte.

It is recorded history that Sri Lanka had never been devoid of traitors. Qveni was the first of its breed. She handed over the country to a foreigner. Moggalana brought an alien army to defeat his brother Kasyapa who was the reigning King. Dharmapala gifted the country on a deed to the King of Portugal on 12th, August 1580. He signed a document virtually bequeathing his kingdom, his subjects, his country and all his people to a foreign foe. The consequences were disastrous. Above all, his most foolhardy and treacherous act was embracing Christianity, under the name Don Juan Dharmapala. He became the first and the last Sri Lankan Monarch to become a Christian.

The Sri Lankan Monarchs were absolute and all powerful. They could dispose of their kingdom as they pleased. They allotted Nindagam, extent of land and villages to their favourites. Devalagam and Viharagam were given to Devalas and Temples. The King of Kotte ruled over the South-Western lowlands of the country and had Imperial Rights in the other two kingdoms Kandy and Jaffna. With the Christian King on the Throne, the Franciscan friars acted aggressively to stamp out Buddhism and Buddhists including the Bikkhus were treated brutally by the Portuguese. As a result, most people moved over to Seethawaka, the kingdom of Mayadunne. The ruthless hand of the foreign foe descended heavily on Kotte. Dharmapala divested the income from temple lands to the Franciscan Order, while temples were converted to churches by demolishing the sacred shrines. This angered the Buddhists, so that Mayadunne waged war against Dharmapala who being unable to resist the onslaught moved his council to Colombo where Portuguese held sway. Mayadunne’s son Rajasinghe attacked Colombo and a greater part of Colombo fell into Rajasinghe’s hands.

The Portuguese had no regard for Dharmapala and he was king only in name. Besides Dharmapala had no issues to inherit the Throne. Rajasinghe of Seetawaka died in 1592 following an accident where a bamboo splinter pierced his foot, which in turn led to blood poisoning. Whatever be the manner of his death, his personality looms large in the history of Sri Lanka both for courage and warfare. He defected to Hinduism and wantomly killed Buddhist Monks and burnt their temples and books. He transferred the custody of Adam’s Peak to the Hindus. His death brought about a complete change in the affairs of the Island. The Portuguese succeeded in recovering the lost territory. All uprisings were crushed by them and all lowlands were brought under their control. The Portuguese were masters there and Dharmapala was King only nominally.

Dharmapala died in 1597 and the Portuguese gained formal possession of his kingdom by virtue of his deed of gift and Philip II of Spain became Kotte’s king. Dharmapala was one of the most pathetic figures among Sri Lanka’s Royalty.

While Wimala Dharmasuriya was ruling in Kandy there appeared in Kotte in 1594 Don Jeronimo de Azevedo as Captain General to recover the lost territory and retrieve the lost reputation and avenge indignities endured at the hands of Wimala Dharma of Kandy. He was a soldier less distinguished for his military prowess than his cruelty. The Portuguese resorted to violent measures of retaliation unsurpassed in atrocity and blood shed. Those outrageous brutalities lasted as long as Azevedo, the arch imperialist who ruled the country. The Portuguese got all their wants in territory acquired by violence and brutal force. They dehumanized the population subjugating them, the effects of terror too revolting to relate. Wherever any hostility was reported troops were let loose on measures of repression: to harass, intimidate and manhandle all opponents in brutish manner.

The trigger happy soldiers simply shot at sight in wantom manslaughter. The Portuguese apportioned to themselves, an altogether disproportionate share of wealth. Trade was their main concern. Azevedo maintained his Headquarters at Malvana, established a judicial court and large elephant stables. While resident at Malvana, de Azevedo practised most appalling cruelties. One such wily act was that of throwing people from Raxapana Rock at Malvana into the Kelani River, where crocodiles had become so accustomed to their regular food that they raised their heads at the blowing of a whistle. This was one form of entertaining his sadistic soldiers who watched how the crocodiles devoured the unfortunate victims.

In his heyday he beheaded mothers after forcing them to cast their babes betwixt mill stones. The autocratic power-drunk top runger ruler Azevedo caused his soldiers to take up children on the points of their spears and get them to cry out to see "how the young cocks crow". The Portuguese branded the people of Lanka as Gallos or cock birds, consequent to the sound of the crowing of a cock bird they heard while they were anchored at the Galle harbour in their first encounter. Reparation has got to be made not only for his brutality but for the numerous massacres committed on innocent people for their pleasure. It is said that de Azevedo ended his days in a dungeon in Lisbon.

Dharmapala gifting his kingdom was tantamount to a betrayal of his Kingship. Sri Lanka which has a history of over two thousand five hundred years valued its traditional religion, culture and independence. The spirit of the nation based on its culture cannot be bartered away in anticipation of largess from foreigners. Gone are the days when Sri Lanka succumbed to any form of foreign rule. People have a better right to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned Independence which one cannot allow to be undermined.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Search for Sri Lanka’s ancient ports and harbours

“Some of the important places of the B.C. period located in this presentation are places like Kelaniya, Nagadipa, Kuduramalai, Jambukola, Potana, coastal cities of the Chandanagama Kshtriyas of the Buddhachchana clan the coastal city of the Kataragama Kshatriyas, etc. The ports around Sri Lanka together with harbour sites and coastal settlements were occupied by several races and tribes who migrated to Sri Lanka in different periods as evident from the names in the above-mentioned maps and other literary sources indicated in this paper and I am sure, this would be of interest to the conference and the public in general.”

This introduction would serve as background information in respect to Sri Lanka’s contact with the rest of the civilised world from ancient times. Sri Lanka was known as Taprobane Palesimundum Serendib and Sinhaladipa in ancient times to the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and others. She lay across the main shipping lanes of Asia and was strategically placed across the Indian Ocean for all seafaring, trade, commerce and religious propagation activities, etc. Its seaports played a key role in such foreign contact and related activities.

In order to ascertain a better knowledge of Sri Lanka in relation to the Indian Ocean, we would first have to examine the external sources of information where reference is made to Sri Lanka directly or indirectly.

The main objective of this chapter is to bring to the notice of the reader the overview of the contacts Sri Lanka had with the rest of the world as our contacts were not confined to South India. This is very necessary to indicate as otherwise our concepts of our early contacts could be warped and distorted like the proverbial blind men describing the elephant.

This would also provide us the information to ascertain that in addition to its unique position in the Indian Ocean as to whether there were other reasons to attract the different people around the world to our shores. This would provide us with the overview and the role played by Taprobane from ancient times resulting in the settlement of different people and tribes from different cultures, resulting in the diversity of the Sinhalese, the Sinhalisation process which led to a blend of different cultures into a unique people and nation.

Fortunately today, we have access to new tools like Aerial Photographs as they also provide us with visual information to locate these places in their environmental setting very convincingly. A few examples of locating places of interest including ports; harbours and emporiums of Sri Lanka would be indicated in the next chapter.

1.1 Sailing, Travel and Immigration in the Indian Ocean

Periplus means sailing around or an account of a coastal voyage which described the form or ancient travel by sea where the ancient mariners coasted in close proximity to the land as they navigated using visible landmarks. This was the practice of the Persians, Cyprians. Phoenicians and Egyptians. These records were called Periploi. This form of travel prevailed till the Arab mariners used the monsoon to sail across the ocean, navigated by the stars, the moon and sun from the Arabian coast of Sabae, Hydramant and Oman to Maldives, Malabar, Sri Lanka and the Golden Cherconese (Indonesia).

The coastal voyage planned by Alexander the Great (circa 326 B. C.) from the mouth of Indus to the head of the Persian Gulf was executed by Nearkhos who gave a written account of it. It is also recorded that Alexander the Great built a fleet of ships during his eastern exploration so as to proceed southwards to explore Taprobane but as he fell sick, he had to return to Babylon where he died and was buried in Egypt. However, Onesicrities the Admiral of Alexander sailed south and mention is made of Taprobane, though there are hardly any details given of it and the sea named the Erythrean sea. Though the description of the voyage is not presented to us in the original, it is available to us in the second part of the Indika of Arrian. It would appear that the Kataragama Ksatriyas were part of that expedition and some would have remained back in Sri Lanka as would be explained later.

Ports from which the fleets sailed to the east from the Red Sea, together with the months of departure and return and the time they took for such journeys is indicated in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. A translation by Dr. William Vincent is quoted.

"Both from Myos Hormus and Berenice the fleets sailed for Africa and Arabia in the month of September and for India in July: dates which agree admirably with the regular winds as stated by Bruce. For in the first instance if they cleared the gulf before November, they in that month fell in with the wind which carried them down the coast of Africa and which served them to return in May. And in their voyage to India, failing in July, if they cleared the gulf before the 1st of September they had the monsoon for nearly three months to perform the voyage to the coast of Malabar which was generally completed in forty days".

We have Pliny (52 A.D.) who records his observation on Palesimundum (by which name Sri Lanka was then known) where he was driven to by the monsoon winds when he was farming for taxes in the Red Sea for the Romans. He says of Sri Lanka as follows:

"There was a haven therein regarding the south coast, lying hard under Palesimundum, the principal city of all that realm and the King’s seat and palace: there were by just account 200,000 commoners and citizens: as for the King, he is arrayed in apparel as Bacchus went in old times but the subjects and common people are clad in the habit of Arabians".

The description fits with Tissamaharama, the Nacaduma of Ptolemy, the Magama of the 3rd century B.C. A closer examination of Ptolemy’s work shows that the township of Kirinda called Dionysi Sei Bachi Civitas was possibly associated with the Greek God Dionysious or Alexander the Great by which name he was also known and the location of Kataragama being described as Nanigiri. Prof. Heinz Bechert is clearly of the view that Skanda deification at Kataragama associated with Deity Siva is a post 12th century phenomenon after there was Chola influence in Sri Lanka. Then the question arises as to who was the War God that King Dutugemunu worshipped at Kataragama in the 2nd century B.C. All evidence so far points to Alexander the Great.

1.2 The Spice Trade in the Indian Ocean

The term Mummia or Mumia was a term used for medicine and certainly not on account of its cadaverous associations but as an aromatic substance. It is well known that these spices were employed in the embalming of mummies in Pharaohnic times. The sources of spices in these times could be very revealing as all the aromatic oils (cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves, etc.) could not have originated from Africa but from the East, better known later as the East Indies or spice countries.

1.3 The Dispersion of Metallurgy and Rice in the Indian Ocean

Though the Bronze Age triggered the forward march of civilization, as is notably seen in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in the Indus Valley, China and Fertile Crescent, it was however the Iron Age that accelerated it by leaps and bounds. The well known cultures that based their advnaces on iron were notably the Assyrians, Sumerians, Philistines as well as the Egyptians in the Fertile Crescent.

It was the fabrication of Steel in Sri Lanka that made it possible to develop our Ancient Hydraulic Civilization. This has been recorded by Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Dr. Gill Juleff. This Ancient Hydraulic Civilization of Sri Lanka was dependent on the irrigation of rice. This civilization was in existence prior to the 6th century B.C. Rice had its origins in East Asia, while the technology of irrigation that was known in West Asia for wheat irrigation was adapted in Sri Lanka for rice irrigation with improved techniques.

1.4 The spread of Religious Beliefs through the Indian Ocean

We note that early religious beliefs like those of sun and moon worship, spread across the seas to islands like Sri Lanka from the Fertile Crescent. We note the presence of pre-Buddhist worship of the Greek Gods, as well, since there were also centres of their worship in Sri Lanka in Ptolemy’s time (150 A.D.) dedicated to Zeus, Dionysius, Iskander (deified as a War God), etc. We note that Buddhism spread not only along the land route across Asia, particularly, along the Silk Route, but also along the sea routes, notably through the Bay of Bengal to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Indo-China, the Maldives, etc. The Gandhara Buddhist iconography clearly spread to Sri Lanka along the sea route. A good example is the large statue of the Buddha at Aukana, a replica of what is in Afghanistan.

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 5 days travel time when walking both morning and in the evening. Peninsula Jaffna is nearly 200kms 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 Tapussa and Balluka used that port as well as Ptolemy indicated that it was an International Emporium called Talakori Emporium.


Ptolemy’s Taprobane indicates places of Sri Lanka in Circa 150 A.D. and was the only source that provided us with their absolute co-ordinates giving their specific locations mathematically and their locations are not subject to speculation like in other sources of information which are descriptive. These co-ordinates were corrected by me mathematically to rectify the inherent errors of Sun Azimuth and the size of the earth at Ptolemy had under-estimated the size of the earth by 30%. Sailing ships in that period had access to Sri Lanka either to the eastern seaboard or the western seaboard because of the monsoons operating in two distinct periods that gave rise to sun azimuthal errors which had to be corrected.

2.1 Other Sources of Information

Most of the information provided by several other authors in respect to place names in Sri Lanka, both foreign and local, often do not provide us with sufficient information to locate them on the ground, except where their locations have been supported by Archaeological evidence during excavations.

Descriptions of ports, harbours, coastal port cities and settlements and emporia are indicated in literary sources and chronicles like the Mahawamsa compiled in the 4th century A.D. from the collective memory and recordings by Buddhist monks. That provide us with much descriptive information of places during different periods of time, as well as places associated with different events of special significance like the bringing of the Sacred Bodhi Tree from India. But often, their descriptions have not been location specific, which has led to much confusion. Their locations have been interpreted at the whims and fancies of the interpreter, using etymology and present names as their guide, which had led to further confusion as there are several places with the same name.


Claudius Ptolemy in c. 150 A.D. provided us with the locations of nearly fifty places with their co-ordinates that fixes their position on ground. They comprise the capitals, major townships. International Emporiums and harbours as well as the location of the major tribes distributed in the different parts of Sri Lanka (refer RASSL sesquitional Vol. 1995 for further details).

In describing the coastal trade outposts, namely, the harbours, ports emporiums and associated cities and settlements, I would be using Ptolemy’s Taprobane, as it definitely indicates to us these place names together with their locations with co-ordiantes.

These would be supported by not only literary sources but also observations made by me on the ground with field verification in the course of several visits to these places in the last four decades in the course of my official duties and private explorations. I would indicate their presence both before and after 150 A.D. with reference to Ptolemy’s Taprobane which I have used as the benchmark survey for my presentation.

This map compiled by me gives the absolute positions of places in Sri Lanka for which Ptolemy provided three dimensional co-ordinates in addition to the relative positions of regional names in relation to the absolute position of places for which he had provided co-ordinates. After these co-ordinates were corrected by me they were subsequently plotted on a Transverse Mercator Projection.

Subsequently in the 13th century there were incursions by Magha and Chandrabanu. The large scale settlement of Jaffna commenced with the introduction of Tobacco in the Portuguese era after 1550 A.D. There were mass scale migrations from the Coramandal and they used the lift irrigation technology of well and shadaff to cultivate tobacco.

We have today, topographical maps compiled in the last century by the British which provides with place names some of which existed from ancient times but could sometimes confuse us because there are several locations with the same place names which cannot be linked with any period of history due to lack of other corroborative evidence. Sometimes new places are given old names lest historical names are forgotten when they settle in new places.


Though the tradition and collective memory of the Sri Lankans have indicated important ports and places of interest, there has been confusion in relation to their location in regard to some of the more important ones. This paper has attempted to locate some of them that were in doubt using the exact locations provided by Claudius Ptolemy and confirmed by modern Aerospace Technology and field verified together with related archaeological evidence and writings of erudite scholars.

Some of the important places of the B.C. period located in this presentation are places like Kelaniya, Nagadipa, Kuduramalai, Jambukola, Potana, coastal cities of the Chandanagama Kshtriyas of the Buddhachchana clan the coastal city of the Kataragama Kshatriyas, etc. The ports around Sri Lanka together with harbour sites and coastal settlements were occupied by several races and tribes who migrated to Sri Lanka in different periods as evident from the names in the above-mentioned maps and other literary sources indicated in this paper and I am sure, this would be of interest to the conference and the public in general.

Sri Lanka being centrally located on the hub of the sea routes was fortunate to be the recipient of cultures and technologies from all parts of Asia (ref. Advent of Rice and the Ancient Hydraulic Civilization of Sri Lanka 1998).

In fact, the settlement of different people and tribes from different cultures and races resulted in the diversity and the Sinhalisation process led to the blend of different cultures into a unique people and nation, who called themselves Sinhalese in the Island of Sinhaladipa and included pre-Islamic Arabs and Tamils of the pre-colonial period. Their language was likewise a fusion of many vocables from different languages. It also evolved a unique hydraulic civilization based on gravity irrigation, as distinct from the lift irrigation techniques of the Vellalar Tamils in Peninsula Jaffna. With the advent of Islam, the Muslims lived in a very closely linked community because of religious reasons.

It is only in relatively recent times with the dawn of the Colonial Era that tobacco was introduced by the Portuguese. During both the Portuguese and Dutch periods of occupation, they encouraged large numbers of Vellalar Tamils to grow tobacco in Peninsula Jaffna, using lift irrigation systems, which is quite different to irrigation systems practised by the Sinhalese. In the British period, with the introduction of coffee, tea and rubber in the hill country, large numbers of indentured Tamil labour were brought from the Madras area for planting these crops under rain-fed conditions. It is in this colonial era that the assimilation of these new immigrants to the body politic was slow, resulting in their relatively isolated existence from the rest of the community who had settled much earlier, have a bearing to the present problem which the country is facing today which is basically socio-economic. It is very clear that all measures have to be taken at the earliest to integrate them with the rest of the community.

Finally we would have to examine our Ancient Ports and Harbours indicated in this presentation if one is seriously interested in gathering further numismatic evidence and contacts we have had from aboard, especially in the submerged ports and harbours in southern Sri Lanka which were the first contact points of foreign traders in Sri Lanka.

(Sri Lanka Guardian)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Saving Galle Fort and Ignoring Vijitapura

D. H. Gunadasa of Hikkaduwa has raised a valid question about our sense of values as a nation (The Island, 11-02-08). He has suggested that Sri Lanka could enter the Guinness Book of Records for being the only country in the world to glorify foreign invaders. The sarcasm involved here is quite appropriate, for successive Governments have not only neglected, but also allowed the desecration, of two of our most important ancient forts.

One of our heritage sites that is still a tourist attraction comprises the remains of the 12th century Fort of Polonnaruwa. Apart from caring for the ruins of religious edifices, the only concern here had been to conserve the impressive walls of the inner citadel and the walls of the burnt down Royal Palace therein. Plenty of ancient buildings and valuable artefacts still continue to be dug up by private owners of the land within walls of the ancient city.

The trunk road from Maradankadawala to Batticaloa (A 11) passes right through the Northern Wall of Polonnaruwa fort up to the Police Station close to its Southern end. From there, it turns northeast to pierce through the Eastern Wall to reach what is now being called Kaduruwela (Kanduruwela in Survey Dept. maps earlier.) It is the site of Kandavurupitya where King Dutugemunu pitched his Kandavura or Military Camp to lay siege on the Elara’s fort of Vijitapura, in the 2nd century BC. The road (branching off near the Police Station,) to the New Town passes through the southern wall. Thus more than two miles of major roadways have been built to pass through the northern, southern and eastern walls of this ancient Fort.

The land on the southern end of the Polonnaruwa Fort, and all along the road through the eastern wall, land has been alienated to private owners. It has become a haven for treasure hunters, some of whom have become rich thereby. That is the treatment given to a fort built by our own kings nearly eight centuries before the Dutch built their ugly fort at Galle, using the impounded labour of the indigenous folk.

In the 12th century, Vijitapura was a suburb of Polonnaruwa where Parakrama Bahu the Great built the Veluvana Vihara (Mahavamsa Ch. 73 v.87). It was the site of the greatest of all forts belonging to King Elara, 14 centuries before Parakrama Bahu. The moats of this rectangular fort are clearly marked on the one-inch to-a-mile maps. But it was recognised as the site of the ancient fort of Vijitapura with the three fold moats on the southern side as described in the Chronicles only in 1980. This was done by two officials, B. H. Hemapriya (then Secretary to the Ministry of Lands and Land Development), and Dennis Fernando when both were flying over it by helicopter. The pair of them, and especially Dennis, has been crying out aloud to the Government and to Dept. of Archaeology to recognize this ancient site and conduct archaeological excavations there, for over quarter of a century now.

I too visited the site and contributed an article on the subject to the Sunday Observer in April 1980. (Perhaps it will be converted back to a Sugar-cane Farm very soon). The legitimate plea of these two amateur archaeologists fell on the deaf years of the JRJ Government that was pushing ahead with the preservation of old Dutch buildings. It has been the same with all the subsequent governments up to now, as well as the so-called archaeologists of the Cultural Triangle Project at Polonnaruwa. The damage done to archaeology by the latter group has been rightly exposed by Dr. Raja de Silva in his recent book "Digging into the Past".

D. H. Gunadasa’s parting shot should be modified to read as follows: "We are the only country in the world to glorify foreign invaders and preserve their leftovers, while consigning the much older ruins of greater value to our heritage, to be desecrated and passed down to total oblivion."

Friday, November 23, 2007

One dream – one world: Olympic free of terror threats

The nation of Dragons is fully geared to host the global event – Beijing Olympics 2008 - with every corner of the city is decorated with Olympic colours, symbols and its motto “One Dream – One World.” But whether its security establishments are prepared to take up the challenge of any ‘disturbing effort’ by global terror groups remains an unanswered question.

No one on earth can answer this hypothetical question, let alone the Chinese. But, Beijing is getting its eyes and ears sharpened through many avenues to make the global event free of any such disturbing incident, a move that needs assistance from all the nations around the world, including the US, an unsung arch rival of China.

The US, the main actor in the global war against terror, is still reluctant to collaborate with the Chinese in the counter-terrorism front. China, too, has its own way of ‘doing things’ which annoy the West. Like for many other instances, sport is the best opportunity to break the ice. Olympics and its preparations could play a significant role in bridging the gaps in security fronts between China and the West, especially with the US, at least in combating global terrorism.

China is not a declared ‘enemy’ of the global terror network Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden, in all his speeches since 9/11 has mentioned China only in two instances along with several other countries, without any specific references to Beijing. China so far is a neutral player for Al Qaeda, but closely watching its future role once it becomes a global leader. Would China join the West in its global war against terror and support ‘bogus’ Muslim states, is the present worry among Al-Qaeda leadership. It would also closely monitor how future China is going to treat the Jews. China, therefore, is not a target of Al-Qaeda, so far.

But the Olympic is. For Islamic extremists, Olympic is an event of the West and its activities and surroundings are very much against the ‘fundamentals of pure Islam.’ Hence, the event itself had been a major attraction of Jihadi movements for some time. The PLO launched an attack on Munich Olympics in 1972. Someone could claim that this attack is no more relevant to the present day context, but its reasons behind and the justifications are still remain valid, even after 35 years.

The attackers always look for better ways of getting maximum publicity for their cause through major cross-border impact. For an example, if one considers the July 07 attacks in London, it signified two events – the UK’s victory of the next Olympic venue against France (July 06) and the G8 Summit (July 8). Thus, Olympics provide a fabulous opportunity to gain maximum publicity through a major impact. Therefore, the intention of the potential terror networks would be extremely high to make use of the opportunity to reach their goals.

Who are the capable groups that could launch an attack on Beijing Olympics?

As Chinese authorities believe, it can be from many fronts. They suspect Tibetan movements, Southern Thai insurgents, Faalung Gong activists, anti China NGOs or some entities (probably countries) who are not happy with Chinese policies.

But the most capable groups which are highly active and motivated in conducting such an attack are the Jihadi movements operating in the East Tajikistan region. Among them, the most dangerous is East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist Muslim group operating in China's western Xinjiang province.

The ETIM, one of the most militant and highly networked groups in the region, demands separation from China and the creation of an independent state called East Turkestan. With operating cells in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan, ETIM has carried out more than 200 attacks since 1990, killing 162 people. Its close links with the Uzbek Islamic Movement (UIM), another Jihadi movement in the region, is also a strong worrying factor to Chinese.

China has long viewed the ETIM, a listed terrorist outfit by both US and the UN, and similar groups as a threat to its territorial integrity. The US has detained many ETIM members in Guntanamo Bay and refuses to hand over them to China fearing execution, a traditional punishment by China.

Its link with Al Qaeda is well known to the research and intelligence agencies. Initially a nationalistic movement lead by Hassan Maksum, ETIM has been turned into a major Jihadi movement under the present leadership of Abdul Qadeer Haj. Most of its cadres had been trained in Waziristan by two brothers - Abu Yahiya Lebbe and Abu Lethe Lebbe. Two prominent cadres who were recently arrested by Chinese operatives in Hong Kong divulged details about the movement and its future operations.

It is important to notice that the majority of the Xinjiang Muslim population do not support ETIM - they prefer the rule of Chinese government. China has destroyed more than 10 ETIM camps for the past couple of years and launched successful operations to crush the group while implementing socio-economic development programs in the region. The total number of ETIM cadres does not exceed 500 with a comprehensive portion of it gaining Al-Qaeda training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The training included suicide bombing, a major concern for Chinese, especially during the Olympics.

According to intelligence reports Al Qaeda’s instructions to ETIM had been to operate in and outside of Xingjian. Hit small number of symbolic, high profile, specific targets with high impact and also to conduct suicide attacks.

Though they had been trained, it is highly arguable whether the ETIM can practically carry out such attacks against Olympics. It may have the intention, capacity to some extend, but whether it has the required opportunities is the million worth question.

Conducting a high intensity attack in Beijing by ETIM is a remote possibility, believe many security experts. They may have to transport explosives from far (probably from Tajik or Uzbek borders) to Beijing and conduct a highly secretive preparation in order to carry out such an operation, which is an extremely a difficult task given the high security network in the capital. But the threat probabilities could never be ruled out.

Chinese security services have already commenced their home work and adopting necessary precautions against such possible incidents, Beijing authorities said. Security has already been tightened and plain cloths sleuths are on high alert everywhere. However, they require more knowledge on modus operandi of terrorist activities and also networking with other intelligence agencies, especially those of the West. It should not confine to ETIM, but should even learn about the behavioural patterns of groups like the LTTE.

The threats shall necessarily be in China or its capital alone. All Chinese interests around the globe could be vulnerable, if the Jihadi movements intend to make some disturbance to the Games. In that case, not only the Chinese interests, but the key participating nations should also be vigilant.

Also, the Chinese should be vigilant on the infiltrations into its system by other groups like the LTTE which would, eventually open doors for many like-minded terror networks. For example, the US counter-terrorism experts who are investigating on Pradeean Thavarasa, the second in command of LTTE international finance and procurement division found that the LTTE has purchased arms and ammunitions from Norinco - the weapon dealing arm of the Chinese government. It was discovered that the dealing has taken place through a subsidiary of Norinco called Jang.

The LTTE has produced bogus end-user certificates for this purchase – its usual practice in procuring weapons from State entities. Such activities would not only undermine the credibility of Chinese State entities, but would also open doors for many other groups by setting unethical trends.

At last, the major threat does not always come from the major groups or networks. The present threats are basically emanating from the home-grown extremists who have learnt the know-how of attacks through internet. Indoctrinated by Islamic fundamental teachings through hundreds of websites, these attackers launch low-scale attacks against Western targets. China should be mindful of all these possibilities, if we are to enjoy a peaceful Olympic on 08.08.2008 – a day of happiness according to Chinese belief.

JVP statement clarified by Prof. Indraratna

"My attention has been drawn to a reference to me in the Daily Mirror today, in an interview given by Mr. Somawansa Amerasinghe on the 2008.Budget. He has quoted me quite out of context from my Presidential Address at the 2007 Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Economic Association, at which the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Ajith Nivard Cabraal was the Chief Guest. The theme of my address was on Inequity and Poverty: Causes and Consequences and Implications for Development. There was no reference in this whatsoever to either the vision of the Government or the 2008 Budget. My immediate comments on the Budget were telecast on the ITN and the Sirasa, in the course of which I, in fact, raised the question whether, in the context of serious challenges facing the Government such as the rocketing international fuel prices, the imminent need to significantly increase the defence expenditure to eradicate the menacing terrorism and to sustain high growth rate to reduce unemployment and poverty , two major problems of the country, the Government could have presented a better budget."

I shall be grateful if you will give the same publicity to the above statement as you have given to Mr.Amarasinghe's interview.


Historical places in the North Central Province lack tourists

Historical and religious sites of the Sigiriya and the Polonnaruwa areas has come to a standstill due to non arrival of local or foreign tourists and most of the small scale traders who run their businesses in the Cultural Triangle , Polonnaruwa say that they cannot manage their day to day expenses.

At present number of foreign countries have imposed travel warnings to their citizens on Sri Lankan security situation. Due to this there are no tourists at these historical sites.

“However some foreigners who work in local NGOs and other institutions visit these sites, but not many opportunities for us, said vendors.

A number of guest houses and small tourists’ resorts are also affected due to the dearth of tourists.

Britain has advised its citizens not to travel to the Yala wildlife sanctuary after a increase in killings and explosions. A travel advisory issued by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth office said the British tourists must obtain advice of their tour operator or the local authorities before traveling to areas adjacent to Yala sanctuary.

Meanwhile Independent Safari Drivers Association has requested the government to provide concessions to meet their day to day problems due to the lack of tourists in Uda Walawe sanctuary. They issued a detailed report on their recent business and said most of hotels in Udawalawe also faced similar problem due to the lack of tourists.

The British Travel Advisory said it does not advise against travel to the city of Anuradhapura. Britons were advised that terrorist activity could take place anywhere in the country.

Local tourism industry faces number of difficulties due to these travel advisories. Beginning of this year, a number of countries including France relaxed their travel advisories.

But renewed LTTE activities have encouraged Britain and also Australia to tighten travel restrictions. On October 19, 2007 US Department of State has updated its travel advisory. It says this Travel Warning provides updated security information and alerts American citizens traveling to or living in Sri Lanka about the continuing danger of terrorist actions against military, government, and economic targets in certain areas of the country. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Sri Lanka dated April 5, 2007.

The Department of State specifically warns Americans against travel to northern and eastern areas of Sri Lanka.

While the government has effectively controlled the eastern part of the country since July 2007, security is not yet assured. Some LTTE members and larger numbers of armed paramilitary members are active in the area, leading to instability and incidents of violence. This situation is likely to continue for some time. Americans are particularly warned against travel to LTTE-controlled areas in the north, which may pose severe hazards.

Official travel by U.S. Government personnel to areas north of a line following the highway from Puttalam through Anuradhapura to Polonaruwa, Bibile, and Pottuvil in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka is restricted, and unofficial travel is prohibited.

The Department also alerts American citizens to the dangers posed by recent acts of terrorism throughout Sri Lanka. Although other parts of the country remain largely unaffected, the LTTE has conducted attacks outside of the northern and eastern areas.

Americans should comply with all instructions from security forces and police when traveling in Sri Lanka. American citizens, including those of Sri Lankan origin, living in Sri Lanka or traveling there for even a few days are strongly urged to register with the Embassy. Registration will allow the embassy to provide direct information on the security situation as necessary.

In last month the tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka dropped by 21 % after the LTTE attack in airbase at Anuradhapura.

Tourist arrivals during the month of September slipped 3.6 percent to 37,104 compared to the same period in 2006.

The drop for the first nine months to September was 21 percent to 350,779, Sri Lanka Tourism (SLT) said.

Inland tours account for about 10 percent of the hotel bookings, and tour operators are faced with many problems after a marked decrease in the arrival of tourists.

According to Central Bank data, earnings from tourism from January to September were 273.6 million dollars in 2007, down from 325.5 million dollars in the same period last year.

However most of small scale vendors in the historical sites said during the December season local tourists are expected to visit historical areas.

“We are waiting till they come, said D.M.Sujatha , a handcraft vendor who is located in Polonnaruwa historical site.
“Most of days we do not have sufficient business to pay our workers or maintain day to day activities,” said a guest house owner of the Polonnaruwa city.

“We do not need any concessions from the government, but need a stable peaceful situation in Sri Lanka , “said D.W.Piyathilaka , another hotel owner of the Polonnaruwa city.