For 10 weeks, we have been exploring the Northern and Eastern provinces; their history, and archaeological remains. We understand that the heritage sites in the Northern and Eastern provinces are greatly threatened and vulnerable.

These ancient places are silent victims of the country’s still existing ethnic issue and of the 30-year-long war. Many sites were destroyed and damaged and this still continues. At present what happens a lot is distorting the identity of these places, encroaching on the sites and constructing new buildings on them. All these are done with the intention of wiping them off the face of the earth, in order to create a new identity for the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

Devotees, monks, and concerned citizens will fight to protect these vulnerable places, but in most of these cases, unjust is upon them. The recent Kurundi Temple incident is the best example.

As long as Tamil and Sinhala politicians provoke racism, and Tamil politicians stand for a separate state and dividing the country, and as long the minister who is responsible for taking care of Sri Lanka’s cultural property acts numb and dumb, and with the Department of Archaeology (DoA) and the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) flee from their duties and responsibilities, civil citizens and monks will have to engage in an endless and tiresome battle to protect the country’s cultural heritage. Also, no matter how hard the people (clergy and lay) fight, as long as the Director General (DG) of the DoA and the subject minister ignore the issue, saving these ancient places from racists, is a difficult task. If the DG is unable to fulfil his duties and responsibilities as the DG of Archaeology, it is appropriate that he allows a suitable professional to take over the position and protect Sri Lanka’s cultural property. It is the subject minister’s duty and responsibility to appoint a suitable, qualified, smart, and brave archaeologist to the position of the DG of Archaeology and not give in to the pressure put by any party when appointing a DG, especially the pressure and influence that comes from the clergy.

We would like to remind you and emphasise that the Archaeology Act in Sri Lanka is powerful to protect Sri Lanka’s cultural property. It is the weakness, cowardliness, and selfishness of those who are power and those who are responsible which leaves the vulnerable ancient places in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka neglected and ignored.

The last district of the Northern Province we are to explore is the Mannar District. Historically speaking, Mannar District is of great importance. The district is boarded by Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Vavunia districts and the Indian Ocean. It is also, geographically and environmentally highly significant.

The Estuaries of the Malwatu Oya are in the Mannar District. The Malwatu Oya plays a significant role in the Rajarata civilisation. Along the river, the early Indo-Aryan migrants travelled further inside the island and settled along its banks. The greatest city ever built by the Sinhalese, Anuradhapura, is the first settlement by the Indo-Aryans and is situated on the banks of the Malwatu Oya. An Indo-Aryan prince named Anuradha established a small village, named Anuradhagrama, and later as it grew into a major urban centre not only in Sri Lanka but also in ancient South Asia, it was called Anuradhapura or the City of Anuradha.

One of ancient Sri Lanka’s biggest harbours, the Matota is in this estuary area. This harbour was also known as Mahathiththa, Manthai, Manthota, Maputu, Mahavotu, or Mavatu thota in ancient times.

Mahathiththa ancient port

The port is mentioned a lot in chronicles and inscriptions. It is also the first port in ancient Sri Lanka to be mentioned in the chronicles. It is the port that was important when it came to political alliances and wars in ancient Sri Lanka. Other ports such as the Dambakola Patuna and Gokanna and other minor ports such as the Uratota and Lankapatuna were more significant when it came to religion, culture, and trade alliances but Mahathiththa was the port that held the greatest significance in terms of the island’s political and war history.

The name, Maha Thirtha, or the ‘Great Port’ also suggests the importance of this port.

According to the Mahavamsa, the Pandya princess (the chief queen of Vijaya) arrived at the Mahathirtha port in the 5th century BCE.

Bhalluka, in support of Elara during the last battle, arrived at the Mahathiththa port. This was in 161 BCE.

It is also reported that King Gajaba (112 – 134CE) departed from this port to the Chola kingdom and brought back 24,000 prisoners and the anklet of goddess Pattini.

King Sena II (853 – 887CE) invaded the Pandya kingdom and the victorious army returned to this port. The Sinhala army had burnt the entire Madura city of the Pandya kingdom and raided it and returned the stolen treasures back to Sri Lanka.

Also, during the time of king Udaya III (935 – 938CE) the Pandya king arrived at the Mahathiththa port, requesting the help of the Sinhala king. During the time of Kalinga Magha, he had camped at Mahathiththa, as the chronicles say.

During the great battle of king Vijayabahu 1 (1111 – 1132CE), he sent an army to this port to attack the Cholas.

King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186CE) and his army departed from this port to the Pandya kingdom to invade the kingdom.

Also, scholars believe and generally agree on the fact that Mahathiththa is mentioned in Ptolemy’s map as Moduttu.

A long list can present how ancient texts, maps, and inscriptions refer to Mahathiththa. All these point to the fact that Mahathiththa or Matota was a major port that was an international link in the region. And as evidence points out, large armies landed and departed from this port, which indicates that the port had the necessary facilities for all that.

Archaeology research has revealed that the history of Matota dates back to the prehistoric era. Archaeology excavations also revealed that the port was the main hub of international trade at the time.

A large number of inscriptions mention the port Mahathiththa starting from the Anuradhapura period to the Gampola period. And the importance of Mahathiththa from the 5th century BCE to the Kandyan Kingdom is revealed through references in the chronicles.

A large number of imported pottery, local and foreign coins, and remains of the ancient port were excavated at the port.

Thambapanni; a prince arrives on the copper shore

Personally, the writer feels that the most important place next to the port in the Mannar District is the historical place today known as Arippu, but historically known as Thambapanni or the copper shore. The place is important as it is believed to be the ancient Thambapanni, where Vijaya and the group of Indo-Aryans first landed in Sri Lanka.

Distorted stories say that there had been a legendary Tamil queen here and the ruins are of her fortress. But they are ruins of a Dutch building.

Stories about a queen named Alli Rani and her ruling Sri Lanka are all baseless myths that do not have any archaeological evidence or textual evidence. The ruins known as the palaces of Alli Rani are also buildings of the Dutch.

Mannankulama (Maligapitya)

The ancient name Maligapitiya is today known as Mannankulama in Tamil. The ruined building is known as a palace or a building for a lay purpose. However, it is reported that in 1974 a kovil was constructed here.


Today known as Malikeyikulama in Tamil, it is reported that ruins of ancient stupa and remains of Buddha statues were found here.

Other sites with ruins of the Anuradhapura period

– Thirukethishwaram Siva Devala

– Kompothukka Chethiya ruins

– Thalaguru Vehera (mentioned a lot in ancient texts. Believed to be marked in Ptolemy’s map)

– Thonikallu Temple (the ruins of the monastery and the inscriptions are severely damaged).

– Kadappiditta Kulam ruins (ruins of an asanaghara and a stupa is at this place. Asanagharas are sacred buildings in which the seat – a symbol of Buddhahood – is kept and worshiped and these were in use before the Buddha statue was created in the 1st century CE. It is reported that the beautiful Buddha statue found at this place is now kept at the Anuradhapura Museum. This statue displays characteristics of the Anuradhapura period arts.)

– Kudiramale

– Mullikulam (this is believed to be the ancient Maganama or Magana Nagara mentioned in a Sigiri graffiti and in an Anuradhapura-period inscription. It is also believed that this place is marked on Ptolemy’s map as Margana City).

– Kunchikulam (as reported, the seated Buddha statue found at this place is now kept at the Anuradhapura Museum. The ancient Buddha statue also displays characteristics of the arts of the Anuradhapura period.)

– Among the most remarkable discoveries is the small bronze Tara image found at the Mannar ancient port in 1957. Known as Jangali Tara, she is now kept at the Colombo National Museum. This is dated to the 8th century CE.

– There are a large number of inscriptions found in the Mannar District that is written in the Sinhala language. Tanks and ruined irrigation work in the district are the works of the kings of Anuradhapura.

Mannar mass grave; victims of religious extremism

Professor Emeritus T.G. Kulatunga says the Mannar mass grave resulted from a massacre committed by the provincial ruler of Jaffna, Pararajasekaran to punish the people who converted to Christianity.

Portuguese historical records mention this mass massacre. People of all age groups and gender were massacred due to their conversion to Christianity, by Pararajasekaran.

Prof. Kulatunga says it could be ascertained that this barbarity had been committed in the 1550s, according to Portuguese, English, and Tamil historical records.

It is not only Portuguese documents that record the brutal massacres of Christians by Tamil rulers of Jaffna, but also the only Tamil historical text in Sri Lanka the 18th-century Yalpana Vaipamalaei narrates this brutal act. The Yalpana Vaipamalaei narrates the massacre in a tone of appreciating the valour of Sankilli who massacred not only Christians but also Buddhists in the area.

Carbon dating analysis of the remains by the Beta Analytic in the USA has confirmed that the bone remains are of those who dies somewhere between 1400 – 1650 CE.

Although the missionary movements of the Portuguese, Dutch, and then the British, severely damaged the Buddhist society, neither a Sinhala king nor a Sinhala ruler had performed a massacre like this to punish the converted devotees or the priests. This is the level of religious reconciliation and harmony we have been practicing for over a millennia.

We shall end our explorations of the Northern Province here and will meet you next in the Eastern Province. We shall start from the Trincomalee District, and then explore the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. The density of ancient sites and monuments in the Eastern province is extremely high and perhaps even higher than the entire Northern Province. Also, the history of the Eastern Province is rich as it was a part of the ancient Ruhunu Rata or the Rohana Kingdom.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

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