Unveiling Eastern treasures

Significant inscriptions of Ruhuna

Let us visit some of the significant places in the Ampara District while trying to understand the area’s history.

As we have explained in our previous articles, the modern-day Ampara District belonged to the ancient Ruhunu Rata, one of the three main administrative divisions of ancient Sinhale or Lankadeepa. Ruhunu Rata or the Rohanaya was under Sinhala rulers all the time, even when the country’s capital Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and other capitals were under foreign usurpers and invaders.

The inscriptions at Bowaththegala and Kotadamuhela in the Kumana area are greatly significant inscriptions in Sri Lankan history. These inscriptions reveal details about the Dasaba kings or the 10 brother-kings who were regional rulers of the area. Also, they mention the Kshatriyas of Kataragama. Also, these inscriptions are proof of the historical existence of Queen Viharamahadevi, known as Abhi-Savera in inscriptions.

The inscription at Rajagala is another highly crucial inscription of the history of
Sri Lanka. This is an inscription that proves the arrival of Arhat Mahinda to Sri Lanka during the time of King Devanampiyathissa
(247 – 207 BC).

The Karandahela Inscription, which belongs to King Kavanthissa (205 – 161 BC) is evidence of the king’s rule in the modern-day Ampara District.

A large number of Brahmi inscriptions in the Ampara District are evidence of the spread of Buddhism in the district since the 3rd century BCE. Also, these inscriptions narrate the story of the Ruhuna kings’ dynasties such as the Kataragama Kshatriyas and the 10 brother-kings of Ruhuna.

Many other inscriptions belonging to the kings of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, and some also prove the arrival of the early Aryan settlers on the island.

We shall explore these inscriptions and the history they reveal as we visit these places, one by one.

Bowaththegala Monastery

Among the many places in ancient Sri Lanka, the Bowaththegala Monastery ruins are one of the most enchanting places that one must surely visit. It is situated within the Yala National Park and in the exact area today known as Kumana.

What is interesting about this area is that this area has a history starting from Sri Lanka’s prehistoric times. There are ruins of tools and places where the prehistoric people lived in the Yala area. Then, evidence of the earliest Indo-Aryan settlements and evidence of the earliest village and urban developments of the group of people who organised themselves as a race known as the Sinhalese are also found here. This is also the homeland of one of the Sinhaleses’ oldest royal dynasties.

Bowaththegala Monastery is a cave monastery with inscriptions. The caves have drip-ledges. While most of these caves were used by meditating monks, there are also engravings and some paintings which are believed to be creations of prehistoric or Vedda people who lived in these caves either before the historic times or during the times that they were abandoned. This is still debated among scholars.


A large number of caves were cleaned and prepared for use and have been offered to the Sangha. The earliest period of these caves can be dated to the early pre-Christian era as the inscriptions belong to that period. Some of the later constructions of some caves such as brick walls, and partitions reveal that the place has been in continuous use by Buddhist monks. On the top of the rocky area, can be seen evidence of ruined stupa mounds. Bricks can be seen scattered all over the area.

The inscriptions

Purawidya Chakravarti, Purawidya Paryeshanashuri, Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera writes about the four discovered rock inscriptions at this place.

One says about a Naka Amathi or a minister named Naka. Another inscription says about an offering of rice. Two other inscriptions are by a king named Jetathisa Maharaja. The Thera identifies him as King Jettathissa II of Anuradhapura. The inscription was engraved on the eighth year of the king.

The rest are significant cave inscriptions. The main and most important cave inscriptions read as below;

Gamani puthe dasha bathikana jete shava jetaha puthe

Damaraja damarajaha puthe mahathisha aye karithe ima

Lene maha shudashana shagasha dine

Ven. Medhanandha Thera explains the meaning of this inscription as follows;

Prince Maha Thiss who is the son of King Dama, is the eldest of the 10 brothers, who are the sons of Gamini, prepared this cave Sudarshana and offered it to the Sangha.

Who were the 10 brother-kings of Ruhuna?

This inscription says about a generation of kings. The first is Gamini. Gamini/Gramini, was a term used by ancient Sinhalese kings. Therefore, the name of the king who used the term Gamini is not mentioned in the inscription. As Ven. Medhanandha Thera explains, Gamini had 10 sons called Dasha Bathika or Dashabaayo. The eldest of them is known as Shavajeta, which means, senior to all. His son was King Dama. King Dama’s son was Prince Maha Thissa.

As the Thera writes, in another inscription, King Uthi is named as another son of Gamini. His son Abhaya and Abhaya’s daughter Anuradha are also mentioned.

Ven. Medhanandha Thera says that it is unfortunate that there is no sufficient evidence in chronicles to identify this royal dynasty. However, Prof. Senarath Paranavitana argues that this is the Kataragama Dasaba kings or the 10 brother-kings of Kataragama that are mentioned in the Dhathuwamsa.

Some historians also think that the 10 brother-kings who were killed by king Gotabaya could be the Kataragama Kshathriya royal dynasty.

The Thera further explains that, another inscription close to Bowaththegala, Kotadamugela, mentions names of kings, princes, and princesses and that comparing that information, it can be seen that the Kataragama royal dynasty was linked to the royal dynasty of King Mahanaga (3rd century BC). Mahanaga was the brother of King Devanmpiyathissa of Anuradhapura.

Prof. Paranavitana says that Queen Viharamahadevi was a princess of this royal dynasty and not a princess of the Kelaniya in the Western Province. He further states that Princess Abhi Savera who is mentioned in the Kotadamuhela Inscription is Queen Viharamahadevi, and that there was an ancient Kelaniya in Ruhuna.

Was a sacred Bo sapling planted at Bowaththegala Monastery?

Another interesting fact is that the name of this place, Bowaththegala which means the ‘Rock by the Garden of the Bo Tree’, makes us inquisitive about the place’s past legacy. Why is it called so? Was it because of a special Bo tree that gave the place the name? If so, what is that special Bo tree?

According to chronicles, the Kshatriyas of Kataragama planted the sacred Bo tree they received when they participated in the ceremony to plant the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bo tree at Anuradhapura Maha Megha gardens. This was one of the eight Bo saplings. It is said that the Kshatriyas of Kataragama planted their Bo sapling at Kacharagama or Kataragama. 

Hence, some historians assume that the Kataragama sacred Ashtaphala Bodhi tree planted by the Kataragama Kshatriyas could be at Bowaththegala Monastery. Also, the fact that all inscription information about the Kataragama Kshatriyas are from the Kumbukkan River valley area including Bowaththegala and Kotadamahela, and not from modern-day Kataragama, is supporting this idea.

Adding to this, Ven. Medhanandha Thera writes that Budupatun Kanda caves at the Hadaoya Valley reveal important information about members of the Gamini royal dynasty.

These inscriptions and monasteries reveal that the Dasaba kings or the 10 brother-kings ruled the Ruhuna area and had great powers with them. This was one reason that King Gotabaya waged war against them and crushed their powers by killing all of them.

As Prof. Paranavitana argues, the Kataragama royal dynasty was a descendant of the Anuradhapura royal dynasty and they both were interconnected. Thus, this makes us understand that members of the same Sinhalese royal dynasty ruled the entire island. Inscription and chronicles also suggest that these sub-kingdoms were loyal to the king or Maharaja of Anuradhapura and Anuradhapura was the capital of the country from the 5th century BCE to the 11th century CE; making Anuradhapura one of the longest-lasting capital cities of the world.

Who was king Gotabaya?

The information we present to you now is solely based on chronicles and inscriptions.

The Shakya prince Degha who established the Deega Janapada in the modern-day Ampara District married princess Chithra, daughter of Shakya Princess Bhaddakachchana and King Panduwasudeva. Panduwasudeva was the son of King Sumitta of Sinhapura, Lata kingdom, in modern-day Gujarat. Sumitta was the brother of Vijaya.

Chithra’s son was Pandukabhya. Pandukabhaya’s son Mutasiva reigned from 367 – 307 BCE. He had many sons and one was Devanampiyathissa. Mahanaga was a second son.

Mahanaga fled to Ruhuna and established the Magama royal dynasty. Yatala Thissa was his son and Gotabya was Yatala Thissa’s son.

According to Pujawaliya Yatala Thissa ruled at Kelaniya. As new research based on inscriptions suggests that there was an ancient Kelaniya in Ruhuna, Yatala Thissa might have ruled in Magama and Kelaniya. The historical existence of this king is proved through a notable number of inscriptions bearing his name in the vicinity.

Although chronicles say that Gotabaya was Yatala Thissa’s son, Brahmi inscriptions at Kusalankanda, Kadulu Pothanamale, Mottayaakkallu, Malayadikanda, and Samangala suggest that they were brothers and not father and son. This is mentioned by the Ven. Medhanandha Thera too. However, Prof. Paranavitana bears a mixed view about this. As Ven. Medhanandha Thera states, Gotabaya was the son of Mahnanga, which makes him a grandson of Mutasiva.

By crushing the powers of the 10 brother-kings, Gotabaya established the power of the Magama sub-kingdom and paved the path for a more powerful rule for his son Kavanthissa who kept the first steps in uniting the Ruhuna Rata, while usurper Elara was ruling Anuradhapura. Under Kavanthissa, Ruhuna was more powerful and sustainable. His eldest son Dutugamunu led the Ruhunu Rata in the great war against Elara and finally united the Thri-Sinhale. 

(To be continued…)

(Pix courtesy
Dr. Ashan Geeganage/amazinglanka)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

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