Sri Lanka, unlike many other ancient societies, had enjoyed a considerable degree of literacy from early times. As the oldest records in what is termed Sinhala Prakrit found in the stone inscriptions dating back to several centuries before the common era reveal, that Sri Lankans of old have been in the habit of recording for public purposes matters of religious and social significance. As students of history know, these records, along with the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, the unparalleled ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka, have helped to unravel not only the early history of this island but that of the adjoining sub-continent as well.
Unlike the above mentioned sources which help us largely to identify the lineages of kings and their regal years as well as the major work they had accomplished, in religious zeal or in public welfare, there are no historical sources extant today which provide us with a direct picture of the administrative structure that was operant in ancient times.
True, the inscriptions and the chronicles provide some information on these aspects of our history and some pioneering work has been done in identifying the administrative structure that operated in ancient Sri Lanka. For example, Lakshman S. Perera's path-breaking study covering the Anuradhapura Period, Institutions of Ancient Ceylon from Inscriptions submitted as a dissertation to receive the first Ph.D. from the University of Ceylon in 1949, is a case in point.(This work is available now in print published in three volumes by the ICES,Kandy a few years ago)
As we have had no specific work of the early historical period which listed and provided details about the officialdom who ran the central and provincial administrative system and the work assigned to them, scholars such as Lakshman S. Perera had to laboriously wade through large numbers of inscriptions and literary sources to identify the machinery of state that existed behind the chronicled history we find narrated in the Mahavamsa and other literary sources. In this respect we are somewhat better placed when we come to the medieval period, i.e. from the days of the Gampola kingdom up to the last days of the Sinhala kingdom in Kandy. The present study Lekam Miti Vimarshanaya by the veteran scholar Dr. H.A.P. Abhayawardena provides a glimpse into the working of the administrative structure that was operant at the time.
In these relatively unknown documents produced by the officials of state during the period from the 14th century to the early 19th century we find a wealth of information on the society of medieval Sri Lanka which is not available in any other source. In the present study the author has been able to examine 48 Lekam Miti documents which deal with various parts of the island. Interestingly, some parts of the old Kandyan kingdom which technically belonged to the "low country" were administered as parts of or in conjuction with areas of the Kandyan territories. For example the Satara Korale Disa Lekam Pota Hevat Maha Lekam Mitiya , belonging to the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747 - 82) lists the following seven Korales as part of its area of administration: Galbada Korale, Paranakuru Korale, Sandapandunu Korale, Kinigama Korale, Beligal Korale, Siyane Korale and Hapitigam Korale. During the British period the Siyane and Hapitigam Korales were attached to the Western Province while the others were made a part of the Sabaragamuva Province.
The Lekam Miti (Bundles of writings) were the traditional register of the lands, their assignees (because all land in the country belonged to the king) and the taxes or services due from them. Interestingly, although the political history of the period was a troubled one, characterized by foreign invasions, internal strife and the shifting of capitals, such factors did not prevent the periodical updating of these traditional records. As Dr. Abhayawardene has found, these documentations were updated every seven years. Furthermore, although we would call these documentations "land registers" for convenience, they contained much more information than a mere land register of modern times. As Prof. Ralph Pieris in compiling his magnificent study Sinhalese Social Organization states: the Lekam Miti contained "information on the persons sent for military service from each Korale, and the land grants given them (also) stated here are the taxes payable to the king from these Korales and Pattus. When considered broadly these documents are a great help in studying the political, economic, social and religious life of medieval Sri Lanka" (p .50).
Dr. Abhayawardene tells us that there were four categories of Lekam Miti .They were, Disaa Lekam Miti, Hii Lekam Miti, Kat Haal Lekam Miti and Dunkara Lekam Miti. The Disaa Lekam Mitiya contained full information on the villages and the services to be performed by the inhabitants. It was a comprehensive record of the Rajakariya system that was operant at the time. This record was kept in the custody of the Dissave who administered the province on the orders of the king. The Hii Lekam Mitiya contained all the information pertaining to the paddy lands of the area. The Kat Haal Lekam Miti contained information on the dues to the royal treasury from civil citizens who were not directly under the service of the king. The fourth category Dunukara Lekam Miti belonged to the broader category of departmental records which specified how villagers were recruited to serve in the different divisions of the army such as dunukara (bowman), lansakara (spearman) and patiisana (lance man) etc.
We realize how valuable the information provided by these documents was when we note that the foreign powers who came to control the areas formerly belonging to the Sinhala rulers, made full use of them when it came to the collection of revenue. The Portuguese compiled their Tombos obtaining information from the Lekam Miti. It has been revealed that the Portuguese enlisted the services of the Sinhala Mohottalas (secretaries) who were the traditional record keepers of the Lekam Miti.(p.43).
The Dutch who took over the administration of the maritime areas from the Portuguese in 1658 were more systematic and more exacting in the preparation of the Tombos. They utilized the Portuguese Tombos as well as the Sinhala Lekam Miti to extract larger dues from the villages (p.44).
The British who took over from the Dutch in 1796 to gain control over the whole island in 1815, again made use of these traditional records for revenue collection as well as to gain a firm hold over the country they had come to possess.
Among the Lekam Miti examined in this study are several compiled during the 19th century under the British administration: For example five records of the period 1828 - 29 which deal with the Matale region and dated 1840 dealing with Harispattuva.
Also, observing the fact that large tracts of land were the property of temples and Devales due to the piety of numerous kings, the British compiled new records called Komasaris Pot obtaining information from the Lekam Miti of the temples and the Devales whereby it was possible to have a better idea of the land the government could utilize for its commercial and other purposes. We should add that the major shrines such as the Temple of the Tooth, the Maha Devale, Natha Devale etc. had their own Lekam Miti compiled during the time of the Sinhala kings. The present study by Dr. Abhayawardena deals mainly with the secular Lekam Miti.
Among the fascinating details that can be gathered from the Lekam Miti are some rare historical details which are not found in the chronicles and other more well known sources. For example, the Satara Korale Lekam Mitiya (no.277674 - II in the Peradeniya University Library) gives details of the Nayakkar family who arrived at the Nuwarawewe Walawwa in Anuradhapura during the time of King Narendrasinghe (1707 - 39). According to this account two princesses accompanied their brother and one of them married the Nuwarawewe Nilame. The king heard about this and having recognized the kinship he had with the Nayakkars invited the brother and the other sister to Kandy, made the sister one of his queens and appointed the brother as Maha Gabada Nilame and gifted him land in Alakolanga where he built for himself a Walawwa.
It is also mentioned that subsequently he was assigned the duty of maintaining the Lekam Miti ( Abhayawardene, p.218). I am aware that Anuradhapura folklore has it that the king was enraged at the affront of the Nuwarawewe Nilame marrying a royal princess and was about to punish him before which the Nilame commited suicide by falling on a sword.
As for the appointment of a Nayakkar as the Maha Gabada Nilame, we note that Prof. Lorna Dewaraja in her authoritative book The Kandyan Kingdom1707-1760, mentions a rebellion raised by the Sinhalese courtiers against this appointment and that the king had to put it down ruthlessly, executing a large number of the rebels. The information in the Lekam Miti therefore appears to be incomplete.
Dr. Abhayawardene devotes Chapter Seven of his book to provide a detailed account of the Satara Korale (Four Korales) region which received special favours from the Kandyan kings because of the intense loyalty the people of that region displayed in defending the kingdom in the face of foreign invasions.
Also, the Satara Korale, as it was called, was a rich region providing the royal treasury with much revenue. Basing his account on the various Lekam Miti the author gives fascinating details of the Fivefold Honours (Manna Paha) which the people of the Four Korales were privileged to receive from the Kandyan rulers (p.150-51). Furthermore, there are other interesting details of this region, including accounts of 44 well known villages, several shrines and important personalities such as warrior Levke Disava who was tragically executed on the orders of King Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe.
In order to give the reader of this review a general idea about the breadth of the subject matter covered in Lekam Miti Vimarshanaya, listed below are the titles of some of the chapters : Ch. 7 – "Administrative divisions of the Kandyan Kingdom; Ch. 9 – The Political Structure;Ch. 10 – Some significant Political and Religious Incidents Mentioned in the Lekam Miti ; The Vihara and Devala Lekam Miti ; Ch.12 – The Economic Organization : The System of Taxation ; Ch. 13 – Weights, Measures and Currency; Ch.14 – The Caste System and Social Organization; Ch.15 – The Portuguese Tombos and the Dutch Tombos; Ch.16 – The British Lekam Miti ; Ch. 17 – Ascertaining the Legal Validity of State Documents; Ch. 18 – Traditional Words Relating to Land Holdings Found in the Lekam Miti.
Finally, there are two valuable appendices. Appendix one gives the texts of 10 selected Lekam Miti and Appendix two gives the texts of some valuable historical documents, such as the Kandavuru Sirita giving the daily routine followed by King Parakamabahu II (1236 - 70), the 1766 treaty between King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe and the Dutch.
Thus the Kandyan Pot Vimarshanaya is a mine of information on Medieval Sri Lanka bearing the imprint of high quality scholarship from a veteran whose dedication and commitment to his task is evident in every page of the book. The Department of National Archieves should be congratulated for undertaking this publication.