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Giri Dipa Buddhist Religious Landscapes


Giri Dipa : Probably One of the Earliest Buddhist Religious Landscapes in Sri Lanka


In the mid second century BCE, as described in the historical chronicles in Sri Lanka, the first Buddhist missionary from Pataliputra in mainland India had arrived in Sri Lanka, at Mihintale in the north-eastern suburb of the ancient Capital of Anuradhapura. Soon after the legitimate acceptance of this new doctrine by the King of the country, a tradition of making residential quarters for the Buddhist Samgha was established. The natural cave shelters situated on the slopes of the mountainous landscape in Mihintale were converted into residential cum ritual abodes for this purpose and it has formed the first Buddhist religious landscape in the country. Concurrently the cave monastic tradition had proliferated to the outskirts of Anuradhapura within a very short period of time. Recent field investigations have thrown a challenge to this customary way of thinking on the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka while pushing its time limits several centuries back to antiquity. The historical chronicles have mentioned three consecutive visits by Buddha to the island in order to resolve certain conflicts among the native inhabitants. The Chronicles indicate that during his first visit, the Buddha had expelled and confined the native groups to a place called Giri Dipa and had preached them his doctrine. A surface reconnaissance survey carried out in the deep hinterland areas of the wet lowlands covering the northeastern part of the country reveals evidence providing a look at the spatial aspect of Giri Dipa in a broader historical perspective. This paper intends to discuss this topic based on literary and archaeological information.

  1. Introduction

This essay intends to present a fresh perspective developed on the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The fundamental argument of the article is based on the assumption that the native population of Sri Lanka were aware of Buddha’s teachings before the propagation by religious missionaries during the reign of Maurya Ashoka (269-232 BCE). The main focus of the essay is the geographical entity which is termed in the historical chronicles as Giri Dîpa that has been described as the territory where the Buddha met the native inhabitants and preached to them. It has been described as a spatially confined area situated at a great distance in the Indian Ocean. Archaeological field surveys conducted in the mountainous tracts of the southern slope of the central highlands since the year 2010 have revealed evidence suggesting that human occupation existed there (map 1) in the late third millennium BCE (Somadeva 2014). Some of the natural cave shelters (fig.1) formed in such mountainous landscape had been utilized by the Buddhist clergy for their residential-cum- ritualistic purposes during the second half of the first millennium BCE (Paranavitana 1970). Literary descriptions together with archaeological evidence corroborate that the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka is terminus ante quem to the advent of Mauryan Buddhist missionary that was held to be in c. 250 BCE.

The presentation of the text consists of two sections. First section provides introductory remarks on the existing notion of the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka narrated by the historical chronicles with some analytical comments. An attempt has been made here to evaluate the historical significance of the three visits of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. Section two discusses the matters related to the historical geography of early Buddhism of the country described in the ancient texts on the light of various other sources including the information gathered from the recent archaeological field surveys.

2. Arrival of Buddhism: a tale of two events

The circumstance of allowing people in Sri Lanka to be acquainted with the doctrine of Buddhism is marked by the local historical chronicles in association with two consecutive incidents. Those events have been described in Dipavamsa, compiled in the fourth century and in Mahavamsa written in the fifth century CE. As indicated by both sources, in the early days of the great enlightenment, (Mv I v. xix) i the Buddha has turned up in Sri Lanka for the purpose of subjugating the Yakkhas, that is said to be one of the groups of native inhabitants in the island (ibid: v. xx) ii Again he had visited Sri Lanka twice in the fifth and eighth years after the enlightenment (ibid v. xliv) to resolve the calamities promulgated by Nagas who are also described as another group among the native population. Considering the year 543 BCE as the year of the great demise (maha parinibbana) of the Buddha, those three events could chronologically be placed in the early 600 BCE.

 i … bodhito navame māse pussapunnamiyam jino – lam kādÎpam visodhetum lamkādÎpa mupāgami.

The second event, according to the chronicles and the inscriptions, was associated with a Buddhist missionary to Sri Lanka headed by Arhat Mahinda who departed from Pataliputra, the Capital of Magadha in the Ganges Valley. He had arrived in the country during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka in mainland India, as an outcome of his endeavor to propagate Buddhism in his neighboring countries. The Missionary to Sri Lanka was well received by King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC), the contemporary ruler in Sri Lankaiii. This event was described in Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa

in a detailed manner making it the legitimate beginning of the history of Theravādic Buddhism in the country. According to the chronicles, the objective of this missionary was to propagate the doctrine of the Buddha among the native people for the sake of their spiritual well beingiv. Authors of both sources had considered the arrival of Arhat Mahinda to the island is more significant, in terms of propagation of Buddhism, than the advent of the Buddha himself, the founder of the doctrine. The historical factors of the hierarchical ordering of those two events is somewhat questionable because of the ambiguity embedded in the narrative format of the first event i.e. the three visits by the Buddha presented in the chronicles.

This ambiguity is found in the description made by the chronicles itself. For instance, the description mentions the Buddha ‘s intention of purifying the island for the sake of the well being of Buddhism in the future (ibid l v. xix) and the nature of his confrontation with the so called Yakkhas has made a marked contrast. His objective of visiting the island and preaching the doctrine are accorded with the consistent practice of his boundless compassion and equanimity extended over all living beings. Once again, according to the description in the chronicles, the interaction of the Buddha with Yakkhas seems an act which is far from his doctrinal sublime path of loving-kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna). In spite of that, it bolsters a sense of cruelty (himsa) and anger (dosa). The Chronicles have reiterated the act of the Blessed one against the Yakkhas as ;

ii ……….sāsanujattatanam ṭānam lamkā gnātā jinena hi – yak[1]kapunnāya lamkāya yakkhā nibbāsiy ā ti ca.

iii ……. maha mahinda theram tam theram itttimuttiyam – sambala bhaddasalamcha samka saddhiviharite ‘ lamkadipam manuggnam jinasasanam- patitthapetha tumhe’ ti pamcha there apesai (Mv xii v. vii-viii).

iv …… ye patamaya idiya agatana (Rajagala cave inscription, Paranavitana 1970: …………..).

……he (the blessed one) had struck terror to their hearts by rain, storm, darkness and so forth. The Yakkhas, overwhelmed by fear.

Except for this description appearing in the chronicles, there is no reference to show anywhere in the canonical literature that the Buddha has made such a vindictive response to anyone at anytime. For instance, I would like to make an analogy between this story with the anecdote of the Buddha when he met with Yakkha Alavaka described in the Sarattappakasini, the commentary of Samyukta Nikaya (Sp 10.1.12) When approached Alavaka’s abode, the Yakkha has reacted with violence to create terror. He made a multiple mode of frightening things including the horror of nine types of rainsvi. But the blessed one had remained unmoved before Alavaka’s anger and expressed his loving-kindness upon the ignorance of the subject. There are many similar examples which could be made to substantiate the limitless compassion of the Buddha per se.

It is reasonable to argue that this part of writing in both chronicles reflects a conscious effort to radiate the author’s resistive attitude towards the native population of the country. The character of the Buddha appears in those anecdotes as an ideological metaphor created by the authors who carry an explicit prejudice over the cultural traits that they acquired from the north Indian tradition. North Indian cultural inspiration had flourished over most parts of South and South-east Asia through the rising trade activities in the Indian Ocean. It was a result of the dynamism triggered off parallel to the hegemonic dominance of Emperor Ashoka. Dispelling or subduing the ideologies and their related acts of the native people might have been considered as one of the main strategic approaches of the propagation of the new trends.

This idea is explicit in the description provided by the chronicles in relation to the early history of the country. For instance, the description made in Vamsattappakasini, the commentary of Mahavamsa has provided unambiguous clues in this regard. While describing the word

‘visodhetum’ in stanza 19, the author says that it means removing the obstacles ( Yakkhas. the opponents) of the establishment of the order of Buddhism in the countryvii (Vp v. 19). The phrase ‘yakkha nibbasiya ti ca’ in verse 20 in Mahavamsa is also vital to look at. According to Vamsattappakasini, the ‘nibbasiya’ (P. nibbahati > nis + bahati, ‘to pull out’) (PED : 198) stands to denote the meaning of ‘throw out’ and then the meaning of the complete phrase in Mahavamsa is ‘throw out the yakkhas’. Such a reflective statement of this kind is not ex nihilo but emits the oppressive attitude, of the learned monks of the contemporary society cultivated upon the existence of the native inhabitants of the country.

However, the conscious efforts of the authors of the chronicles, to legitimize the ‘otherness’ of the Yakka’s could be interpreted as an act of cultivating an idea of not only the uniqueness of the great Indian tradition but also the social prestige thrust upon its followers. The literary presentation under discussion has urged one to think that it seems ideologically composed through a racial connotation. This racial distinctiveness was initially sketched in the chronicles while elaborating the line of heredity from a noble clan of Shakya of north India into which the Buddha was born. Mahavamsa says that the Prince Panduvasadeva, the successor of King Vijaya, was married to Princess Bhadrakachchayana, a daughter of Princess Pandu Shakya of north India. It was said that Pandu Shakya’s father Amitodhana by name, was a brother of King Suddhodhana, viii the father of the blessed one. In this way the Mahavamsa has established a kinship along a series of patrimonial ties with a north Indian clan that was described as Kshastriyas, that was considered as the heirs of ruling power. It also establishes an insignia of ‘racial purity’ of the followers of that tradition. Intention of promulgating the racial uniqueness of the literate, power consuming Buddhist clergy is symbolically reflected in the name Kuveni (ku + vanna > ‘she who has a bad complexion’)ix adopted to the native woman narrated in Mahavamsa who met Vijaya, who was said to be an Aryan, on the occasion when he first landed in the island.

v … mahiyamganathûpassa ṭane vehāsayam ṭitô – vutṭivātandha[1]karehi tesam samvejanam akā.

vi .. evam yakkho imahi navahi vatavassapasanapaharanan[1]garakukkulavalikakalalakdhakaravutthihi bhagavantam palapetum…(Sp I:10.1.12).

vii …. visodhetum yanu budu sasun pihituveemata pas mituru yak piris namati katu kohol harava pirisindu karanu vas ….

viii ……..mahãbrtàü mårdhni krtàbhisekah Suddhodano nàma nrpo ‘rkabandhuh | adhyàèayo và sphutapudarãkam puràdhiràjam tadalamcakàra ( A king, by name Suddhodana, of the kindred of the sun, anointed to stand at the head of earths monarchs, ruling over the city, adorned it, as a bee-inmate a full-blown lotus.)(Cowell 1894)

The only chronicle that provides a fair description of the composition of the native people is Dipavamsa. x It is quite interesting to note that there were 8 distinctive groups (..nā nā yakkhā) among the Yakkhas who gathered for their assembly on the day of the arrival of the Blessed one. They included mahāghôrā (the people who wail loudly), luddā (hunters)xi, lôhitabhakkāsā (the people who consume blood), candā (the people who is prone to violent behaviour), ruddā, (the people who have a fierce appearancexii) pisacā, (the people who are antagonisticxiii) nā nā rûpavihesikā (the people who have different facial characteristics) and nā nā dhîmuttikā (different kinds of unwise peoplexiv).

This suggests that the people described as Yakkhas were not a stereotype entity but had comprised several groups of people that have distinct individual identities.

 As attempted to bolster by the chronicles, there is no evidence to show an indication of resistive command of the native groups against the rising politico-economic transformation of the day. It could be argued that there was no reason to make such an oppressive attitude by the native people towards a new socio[1]economic makeup because there is evidence to show that the local people were well acquainted with the experience of long-distance sailing in the Indian Ocean at that time.

ix Sri Lanka was designated by several names by the outside world during the pre-modern times. One among them was Simhala dipa. Its variants are Seylan, Seilediba and Serandib. Thus, the inhabitants of Simhala dipa were called Simhala. Those who were designated by this name would have been the local inhabitants of the island when the foreigners first came to know them. Physical anthropological analysis conducted on the prehistoric human skeletons unearthed in 1950s from Bellan[1]bandipallassa shows a greater degree of biological affinity between the prehistoric hunter-gatherers and the still living aborigines in Sri Lanka called the Vadda community. Kennedy states; …..It is with this latter problem that the present study is concerned, for the anthropometric analysis of the human remains from Bellan Bandi Palassa (sic.), Ceylon, indicates that the manufacturers of its Bandarawelian (Late Stone Age) industries bear striking phenotyoic similarities to the surviving Vadda population of the island. Thus, the closest analogy of the anthropometric traits of the local inhabitants in Sri Lanka is the forest dwelling Vädda aborigines who are still existing. In 1911, Seligmann & Seligmann stated; ……..The skin of the Veddas (sic.) varies enormously, that of the face being generally somewhat lighter than that of the skin of the chest. But apart from these minor variations, the skin colour of any series of individuals will be found to vary from a deep brown-black, through various shades of bronze, in some of which a definite reddish tone can be detected, to a colour which can only be called yellowish-brown. A medium brown-black is perhaps the commonest, but apart from the darkest brown-black every colour, even the lightest, occurs in individuals whose general appearance suggests that they are pure-, or almost pure blooded Veddas, and we have no doubt that the bronze shades occur quite as often among pure-blooded Veddas as among the less pure (1911:17). Vadda people has undergone a complex creolization process while they were mixing with rest of the people who speaks Indo-Aryan language and the Tamil speaking Dravidian groups in the country in different scales throughout the history (vide Stoudt 1961:157; Deraniyagala 1992:390-391 and also Dharmadasa 1975). However, some of the least affected Vaddas groups remained until the late 19th century.

x The Sinhala translation of Dipavamsa seems to have mistakenly taken the meaning of the relevant phrase in the original Pali text……..addasa virajo satthā lankadîpavar[1]uttamam- mahāvanam mahābhîmam āhu Lankatalam tada – nana yakkha mahaghora ludda lohitabhakkhasa- canda rudda ca pisaca nanarupavihesika nanandhimuttaka sabbe sannipate samagata. This passage has been translated as ‘ at that time he (the blessed one) had convinced that there was a frightening sce[1]nario in the Island of Lamka. What it was the rally of a blood and flesh eating yakshas gathered in the garden of Mahamevuna. They are violent in nature and utter useless things. They carry different arenas of false beliefs. All of them were gathered at the Mahamegha garden (Kahandavaarachchi 1997trs.).

This translations has made several mistakes and it gives a misleading idea. The word ‘ca’ in the original Pali text must be carefully considered here. In Pali it is used in two sense i.e, (i) as an enclitic particle to denote the sense of ‘ever’ (…….yam ca kho…cēteti yam ca pakāppeti. ‘whatever he thinks, whatever he intends ( Samyuktanikaya II:65). (ii) as an enclitic particle to denote the conditional ( eg. ‘if ‘) (….rupam ca atta abhavissā. Anmguttara nikaya 1. 58.v 87) and disjunctive (eg. ‘but’) senses. (……sace agāram ajjhāvasati sace ca pabbajati agāra .. (Sutta nipata 1003). In this context it is more appropriate to take it as an enclitic particle or a indeclinable conjunction. Thus the phrase ‘canda rudda ca’ could be translated as ‘Chanda and even the Ruddas…’ If so then this phrase denotes two kinds of groups that were present at the rally of yakshas. The next phrase ….. sabbe sannipate samagata.. could be translated as ‘all the assembly congregated (there). It is no doubt that the signifier of the word ‘sabbe’ (skt. sarva) = ‘ all’ signified the different groups of people who gathered at Mahamega garden. In this perspective, it could be argued as the term Yakkha signifies a single entity comprised with distinct native groups of people.

xi .. ludda ca kurura-kammanta lohita panitaya mach[1]chaghataka migabandhaka (Suttanipata atuva 247).

xii ..so luddako rudda-rupo… (Jt. IV: 416).

xiii ….pisaca mahanta-mahanta sutta ti vadati (DAt 1:164) xiv The word dhimuttika is derived from Skt. Dhi and mukta. The word dhi is used to denote the meaning of ‘wise’ and the word mukta for ‘release’. Then the composite meaning of the word dhimuttaka is ‘the one who released from wisdom’ . It could be inferred here that the intension of the author of Dipavamsa is to reflect the falseness of the distinct beliefs existed among the native groups. Perhaps this would have been a conscious effort of the author who attempted to bolster the inherent qualities of Buddhism.

3. Yakkhas in the Sea: reminiscence of early sea faring

Some of the indirect evidence derived from the textual analysis carried out on the legends presented in Mahavamsa and the records kept by the foreign travelers about Sri Lanka (vide Weerakkody 1984; Peris 1983) suggest that there were trans-oceanic voyages held between Sri Lanka and mainland India several centuries before the arrival of the Mauryan Buddhist missionary to the country. Greek travelers were the earliest who cited the Island of Taprobane. Onesicritus of Astypaleia,( 360 BC – c. 290 BCE) has mentioned about the ships that sailed from Taprobane which were inefficient for long-distance voyages. Such vessels destined at Sindh and ;

….. On the whole there is nothing to prevent us from assuming that there was a regular intercourse between Sri Lanka and the Indus Valley (Weerakkody 1984:6)

Commercial objectives were purely the de facto of such sailing activities. Several early Brahmi inscriptions found in Sri Lanka have mentioned about mariners who sailed up to India, and some destinations were the busy ports on the western coast of the mainland. For example, one of the cave inscriptions from Andiyagala in the Anuradhapura District refers to a mariner who sailed to Bhojakata. This place is identified with Bohojpur in Bhopal India (Paranavitana 1970:cxxviii). A mariner who sailed to Bharukachcha is reported in a cave inscription recovered from Bagavalena in Kandy District (ASCAR 1933:17). Such literary references could undoubtedly be considered as the reminiscence of a prolonged practice of pan-regional communications held by Sri Lanka with her external world at least since the period of the climax of the Indus Valley Civilization (c. 1750 BCE).

Onesicritus has repeatedly mentioned in his description about the prestige of the elephants of Taprobane. According to him Taprobane produces bigger and more war-like elephants than those of India (Pliny VI,:81 quoted from Weerakkody 1997:32). Perhaps he got this information from the western merchants who sailed up to the sea-port at Barygaza in Gujarat or if not the merchants from India and Sri Lanka who went further west up to Taxila.

As suggested by the records kept by the other Greek travelers such as Megasthenes and Pliny the elder, belonged to a later period than Onesicritus, there are no implication to argue that they had reported what they heard and saw about Taprobane, which was known to the Indian ocean traders and travelers for a long period that is terminus ante quem to Ashoka’s ascendancy to the throne.

Deraniyagala has commented upon the cultural traits that prevailed in Sri Lanka between 500 and 250 BCE, what he termed as the Lower Early Historic period (1992: 711-12). While expressing his observations, he has noted the significance of the Mahavamsa description on Pandukabhaya’s formal planning of the ‘City’ of Anuradhapura. According to this, there was a separate quarter in the city for Yonas, identified as Ionians or West Asian traders. If the Mahavamsa description of the presence of the west Asian traders in Anuradhapura during the Lower Early Historic period could be accepted, then it opens a new conceptual avenue to think on a process of flowing of not only the trade goods but also a dynamism of exchanging ideas and cultural practices on a pan-regional scale that had existed in Sri Lanka before the Mauryan Buddhist mission was held. Deraniyagala’ s excavation at the ancient citadel of Anuradhapura has revealed a few numbers of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) which could be one of the tangible evidence showing the affiliation that had existed between Sri Lanka and the northern parts of the mainland, India, at least since the mid first millennium BCE. According to the archaeological evidence unearthed from the excavations at Taxila, Hastinapur, Kausambi, Saravasti, and Sarnath, the time period for the origin and the circulation of NBPW is considered to be between 700 and 500 century BCE., NBPW were found in Taxila during the Pre-Greek period i.e. 300 BCE and therefore John Marshall has concluded 500-200 BCE as the appropriate time bracket for the circulation of this special earthenware (Marshall 1960).

It is worthy to note here about the findings of an excavation conducted in a natural cave shelter situated in Tämketiya of the Kirimakulgolla cave complex in Kaltota in the year 2014. It has revealed 3 pieces of NBPW shreds from a stratified context (fig.2). It is the only site that NBPW was found in so deep interior of the country. It is difficult to explain how NBPW drifted up to such a remote area far away from the major historical ports of the country. However there is a possibility to conclude that such material residual had resulted from the interactions by the native people with the communities in north and northwestern regions in the mainland India.

This hypothesis may be further strengthened by the finding of an inscription of an early date with the word ‘yagasha ‘ (belonging to yakkhas). This is a cave inscription engraved on a cave roof of about 60 meters above the surrounding ground level at a location in Tämketiya. It is situated about 10 meters north of the cave where the 3 pieces of NBPW were recovered (fig. 3). Conventionally the early Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lanka has been dated to the 3rd century BCE. If this inscription is not an earlier work than that, the word yakkha mentioned might have represented an ancestral lineage of the person who engraved the inscription (fig.4).

These isolated examples could be taken as two separate occurrences resulted by a single process that is the engagement of the Indian ocean sailing by the native groups several centuries before the north Indian colonization transpired as described by the chronicles.

Even to understand the context of flourishing Buddhist religious ideas in Sri Lanka before the period of Emperor Ashoka’s reign, it is necessary to realize the nature of the pan[1]regional links in the Indian Ocean maintained by the local inhabitants of the country.

4. Problem of Giridipa

According to Mahavamsa, The Buddha arrived at the garden Mahanagavana situated on the bank of Ganga in Mahiyangana on a day of an assembly of Yakshas held in that garden. His intention was to dispel the Yakkhas from the Island and finally he had succeeded. Chronicles say that the Yakkhas had been frightened by the Master and were dismissed to Giri dîpa (lit. the hilly island). The exact location of Giri dîpa

is still unknown and the historical importance of the identification of it, has not yet been subjected to a serious academic concern. It is thought that a thorough investigation on resolving the problem of identification of this location may shed light on any attempt to survey the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in a fresh perspective.

The word Giri dîpa literary means the ‘Island of mountainous landscape’. The description presented in the chronicles has compelled the reader to think that it was a place situated far away and external to the island of Sri Lankaxv. According to the detailed description of Giri Dîpa presented in the chronicles, it could be understood that the geographical area where the Yakkhas were banished was a fertile land which comprises diverse natural settings where the elevated terrains have played a dominant role in the general physical appearance of the landscape. The problem is that we cannot identify any island in the Indian Ocean fitting this description, at any distancexvi from Sri Lanka. The author of the Mahavamsa has made a conscious attempt to elaborate the impassability of the land where the Yakkhas were expelled. he says;

 ………..Then did the Savior cause the pleasant Giri dipa to come here near to them, and when they had settled there, he made it return to its former place (Mv 1 v. 30)xvii.

The literary marvel of this description is explicit and its contribution to understand the historical geography of Giri Dîpa is minimal if not negligible.

The pertinence of this statement was first questioned by Geiger (1912) in his translation of Mahavamsa. He commented; ………..It would be a mistake to look for a clear geographical statement. The underlying notion here expressed is simply that the yakkhas were driven back to the highlands (giri) in the interior

of the island. They are still to be found in Ceylon in later times. The meaning of dîpa was formerly a wide one; a later tradition has brought it to mean ‘island’ in our sense. cf. also Nāgadipa as name of a part of Ceylon itself (Geiger 1950 :4, note 4).

However Geiger was not eager to investigate this issue further afield and therefore is yet to be resolved.

5. Giri dipa: its etymology and spatiality

It is most appropriate to take the Geiger’s suspicion as a point of departure in the search of the geography of Giri Dîpa. As he aptly argued, the meaning of the word dîpa does not confine to express the idea of an ‘island’ itself. The word dîpa in Pali language derives from the Sanskrit word Dvipa (dvi + āp > ‘double watered’) (Williams 1896: 507). According to this definition, any geographical region that is bordered by two water streams could be considered as a dîpa or an island. Later, the meaning of that word has broadened and simultaneously became rigidly confined to a single meaningxviii. In this case it is appropriate to search for a region or a territory that could be identified as bordered by the water streams which could be situated in an accessible distance from Mahiyangana where the great assembly of yakkhas was held. A close observations carried out in the surrounding area of Mahiyangana suggest that there is a wide tract bordered by two natural water streams, the river Walave in the west and river Mahaveli in the east. The area

covers approximately 85% of the total of the central mountains in Sri Lanka (map 2). In spite of the rocky landscape and the existence of impassable rolling slopes, this area also consists of fertile plains, natural water-falls and grasslands that has supported the sustenance of human life since the prehistoric times (Pole 1907; Wayland 1919, 1926; Deraniyagala 1971). The archaeological surveys conducted since 2010 in the southern sector of this area shows a considerable thick distribution of archaeological sites that have a very deep antiquity. Some of the excavated sites have been dated to the period between late 3rd millennium BCE and the early 2nd millennium BCE. For instance the clay canoe burial unearthed in Kalupahanawatta in Beragala has revealed two 14C assays which go back to 2400 cal. yr BCE ± 100 yrs (BS 3437) and 2300 cal. yr BCE ± 250 yrs. Another two dates from the excavations carried out in Ranchamadama canoe burial and the Uda Ranchamadama ancient house floor show the human existence in that area in 1359 cal. yr BCE ± 163 yrs and 1125 cal. yr BCE± 104 yrs BCE respectively. Those scientific dates strongly suggest that the region associated with the central mountains of the island was a territory of human habitations at least since the late 3rd millennium BCE.

Once again the relevance of the literary mention about a group of people called ‘yakkha’ in the Tamketiya cave inscriptionxix should be reiterated

xviii …chattāro mahādîpā (Samyukta 343)

xix The purpose of setting up this inscription was to reg[1]ister a grant of a cave to the Buddhist Sangha by a lay devotee. His name is Upasona. The text reads as …Upasona aya Tisha puta aya Kerasha putaha aya Maha Shivaha lene Shupadine chatu disha shagasha. …yagasha…. ( vide Somadeva et al 2015). The mean height of the letters of this inscription is 25cm. The peculiarity of this inscription is there is another short line engraved in small letters below the main text of the inscription. It reads as ‘yagasha’. This word appears as a signature to the inscription. The word yagasha is in Genitive case and masculine gender. The consonant ‘ga’ here stands for the consonant ‘ka’. Consonant ‘ka’ transformed to ‘ga’ and vice versa in the early language in Sri Lanka. The change of a surd between vowels to its corresponding sonant is familiar in the early inscription. The letter ‘ga’ is a sonant and it could be change in to the correspond[1]ing letter ‘ka’ is a surd. This rule is only valid for sonants of

here. Tamketiya belongs to the hilly landscape of the southern extreme of the central mountains. There is no doubt that the greater area of the central mountains including the lower hills of Tamketiya and Kuragala were the territory of yakkhas during the period before one of the significant immigrations form mainland India to Sri Lanka which occurred in 600 BCE (map 3). The yakkhas mentioned in that inscription could be taken as a literary expression of the identity of one of the native groups who inhabited the central mountains which are also inadequately mentioned in Mahavamsa.

The most important observation made during the field survey was the distribution of natural caves on those hill slopes that had been used by the Buddhist monks during the later centuries of the first millennium BCE. The paleography of the inscriptions engraved on the roof of

some of the caves suggest that such locations could be dated to the second century BCE. Three types of caves were identified on the basis of its external characteristics notably the presence and absence of the drip-ledge and the technological sophistication of the engraving of the drip-ledge and its degree of weathering. Three types (I) identified are (i) caves that have no drip-ledge (unprocessed cave); (ii) caves that have drip-ledges and badly deteriorated due to natural causes (archaic cave abodes) and (iii) caves that have drip-ledges and an inscription engraved below it (cave abodes of the later period).

The chronological boundaries of those three individual types are not very clear but it could be inferred that they are sequential and types one and two are terminus ante quem to type three. The human association of type one caves is suggested by the stone implements (quartz) recovered from the interior surface of some of the cave floors in Kuragala, Velipotheyaya and Diyainna. Perhaps type two represents the earliest occupation of the Buddhist monks in that area. Three NBP shreds recovered from the excavated cave in Tamketiya may correspond to this phase. It is reasonable to think that those caves were in use before

the arrival of the Buddhist missionary to Sri Lanka under the auspices of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE. The donatory inscriptions in type three caves advocate a more sophisticated social setting emerging with the hierarchical formation of the internal organization. The social status held by some of the donors of the cave dwellings, for instance, Parumaka, Gamika, Bata, gapatixx provide a clear reference to this rising social differentiation. Sometimes type two caves had been reused during this phase as shown by the presence of two separate drip-ledges on some of the single cave roofs.

The dense scattering of cave dwellings of the Buddhist monks on the central mountains came to light only recently. It was revealed through a systematic survey program conducted within a limited time period. In comparison with the total area to be surveyed in the central mountains, the already investigated area does not exceed 2% and it explicitly shows the level of infancy of the current state of the field work towards this line of thinking.

guttural and dental classes. We know that the letter ‘ka’ and ‘ga’ are guttural. It is one of a grammatical rules of writing Prakrit words in ancient Sri Lanka. As Paranavitana (1970) has clearly stated this phonological change is only sporadically noticed in the early inscriptions in Sri Lanka. It also a regular feature in many other prakrit languages in South Asia. The Therefore the word ‘yaga’ is synonymous to the word ‘yaka’ and the last letter ‘sha’ appears in this case as the postfix of the genitive case. Then the word ‘yagasha’ could be translated as ‘belonging to Yakshas’ or ‘who wrote this inscription are Yakshas’.

6. A later dynamism

More than 2000 individual natural caves with donatory inscriptions have been reported from different areas in the country except its northern extreme (map 4). Perhaps this number may double if we considered the drip-ledged caves without any inscriptions. Majority of such caves are in the area out of the central mountains. Some of the notable locations are Mihintale, Ritigala, Manakanda, Dambulla, Situlpauva and Maha Alagamuva. Emergence of a large number

of cave monasteries-cum-residential abodes in the lowland plains marks the proliferation of the doctrine crossing the perimeters of the mountainous tracts towards the agro-pastoral settlements scattered on the alluvial plains. Chronicles describe this momentum was due to a population migration which occurred in c. 600 BCE elaborated as the ‘Aryan colonization’xxi in the historical chronicles. The archaeological investigations carried out during the last two decades covering the north central and south and south eastern plains show that the penetration of agro-pastoral communities into the floodplains was a gradual process that was influenced by various factors notably the development of flood control technology and a variety of demographic aspects

xxii. The archaeological evidences which outline this movement was mainly mono-directional i.e. from hilly flanks to the more fertile alluvial tracts. Temporal sequence of the distribution pattern of the canoe burial sites has elaborated that mobilization model explicitly (fig.5). The oldest canoe burial sites like Beragala Kalupahanawatta and Haldummulla situated in the high elevations and the late examples such as the canoe burials found in Nikavalamulla, Kalotuvava and Dummalasuriya are located in the low altitudes in the plains.

Accumulation of a greater density of drip ledged caves in the lower elevations mark an important dynamism triggered off during the last centuries of the first millennium BCE. It was the rising surplus of the agro-pastoralist production and also through the long-distance trade that had commenced in the period referred above. This profusion may create an idea of dominance of the politico-social milieu of the dry zone plain suppressing the historical significance of the settlements developed in the mountainous areas (eg. Senevirathne 1996). Future fieldwork will reveal more sites on the hill slopes of the central mountains showing the actual dimensions of the density and the extent of settlements of the early agro-pastoral communities of the native genre.

xx It is worth to mention here about R.A.L.H. Gun[1]awardhana’s seminal article written on the early political forma[1]tion in Sri Lanka for further information on those hierarchical social setting (vide, Gunawardhana .1982

xi …tattha tattha ca game te tassa’machcha nivesayum; an[1]uradhagamam tannamo kadambanadiyantike… gambhiranadiya tire upatisso purohito-upatissagamam mapesi anuradhassa uttare (Mv vii v. 43-44).

xxii An archaeological survey carried out in the Lower Kirindi Oya basin of the Hambantota district has suggested that there were ………. phases of the expansion of the settlements into the flood plain of Kirindi Oya. Earliest habitations were scattered in the outer flood-plain areas centering the small rain-fed reservoirs (vide Somadeva 2006).

7. Concluding remarks

Summing up the discussion that has been already presented in this essay, it could be argued that the territorial entity known as the Giri dîpa in the historical chronicles is not geographically external to the island per se and it was the land of the native inhabitants of Sri Lanka distributed over the central mountains. Radiometric dates suggest that some of those settlements existed in this region at least since the late third millennium BCE. In two inscriptions of the early period found in Sri Lanka, these people have identified themselves as Dîpa Kulas (dipi kulikana) xxiii which means ‘belonging to the island family’. As a result of the engagement with the long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean, as suggested by the historical and scanty but indicative archaeological evidence recovered so far, it seems that they got familiar with the teaching of Buddhist doctrine during Buddha’s lifetimexxiv. Thus the initial movement of diffusing of Buddhism in Sri Lanka had occurred before the Mauryan missionary set forth and the Giri Dîpa or the central mountainous tract of the country became the focus of stretching the cave monastic-cum-residential abodes of the Buddhist monks, while forming the archaic Buddhist religious landscape in Sri Lanka.

xxiii Paranavitana has also commented on this word com[1]pound. He takes the meaning of the word dipi as a synonym to the word ‘dipi’ in the Pali language. It uses to denote the meaning of ‘leopard’ (Skt. divipin> P. dipi> Elu. divi). Paranavitana thought that the compound dipi kulika appeared in the early Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lank means ‘ of those of the family or clan of the leopard people’. (1970:111). But neither literary nor archaeological evidence recovered to date to substantiate this notion. Instead, it is reasonable to think that the word dipi in this compound is derived from the word dvipa in Sanskrit and dipa in Pali. In this case the word dipa appears in locative case as an adjective to the word kulika. In Sinhala Prakrit, the postfix of the locative case singular that is frequently held was ‘i’. (vide …….Dubalagamakahi upasaka Utaraha lene (ASCAR 1911- 12:121). Here the postfix ‘pi’ in the word ‘dipi’ forms adding the vowel ‘i’ to the pure consonant of ‘pa’. It is also important to consider the meaning of the word ‘kulika’. It is the derivative form of the word ‘kula’ used in the Sinhala Prakrit to denote the meaning of ‘ family’.

xxiii Paranavitana has also commented on this word com[1]pound. He takes the meaning of the word dipi as a synonym to the word ‘dipi’ in the Pali language. It uses to denote the meaning of ‘leopard’ (Skt. divipin> P. dipi> Elu. divi). Paranavitana thought that the compound dipi kulika appeared in the early Brahmi inscriptions in Sri Lank means ‘ of those of the family or clan of the leopard people’. (1970:111). But neither literary nor archaeological evidence recovered to date to substantiate this notion. Instead, it is reasonable to think that the word dipi in this compound is derived from the word dvipa in Sanskrit and dipa in Pali. In this case the word dipa appears in locative case as an adjective to the word kulika. In Sinhala Prakrit, the postfix of the locative case singular that is frequently held was ‘i’. (vide …….Dubalagamakahi upasaka Utaraha lene (ASCAR 1911- 12:121). Here the postfix ‘pi’ in the word ‘dipi’ forms adding the vowel ‘i’ to the pure consonant of ‘pa’. It is also important to consider the meaning of the word ‘kulika’. It is the derivative form of the word ‘kula’ used in the Sinhala Prakrit to denote the meaning of ‘ family’.


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