a little known village in the Kaduwela Divisional Secretariat, can
boast of having the two oldest cave inscriptions discovered in the
Colombo District. These historic cave inscriptions dating back 2000
years are seen at the Korathota Raja Maha Viharaya, located on the
road to Homagama, off the old Colombo - Ratnapura road.
Signs of an ancient civilization dating back to
around the 6th century B.C., have been found along the banks of
the Kelani river. After Prince Vijaya landed in the island of Ceylon,
it is believed that his entourage moved through the Western Province,
setting up villages along the fertile river lands.
reign of King Devanampiyatissa, Buddhism spread throughout the country.
Stone inscriptions dating back to this period 3 B.C. - 1 A.D. have
been discovered in the Western Province, at temples in Pilikuttuwa,
Warana and Medabowita as well as in Korathota in the Colombo district.
According to these inscriptions, settlement reports and finds of
pottery, coins and such that have been unearthed, the civilization
of the area can be dated to this period, which was the early Anuradhpura
period, explains Mr. A. E. L. Tillekewardene, Research Officer of
the Archaeological Department. At this time, the Western Province
was part of the Kelani kingdom, under the reign of King Kelanitissa.
When the country was united by King Dutugemunu, it became a part
of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Thereafter, no more archeological sites
were found in the Western Province until the Kotte period.
The focal points
of the Korathota Raja Maha Viharaya are the historic cave inscriptions
and the six caves, which show signs of having been the dwelling
place of monks in early times. Five naturally formed caves, can
be seen high up on the rock that bounds the temple premises. A long
flight of steps, recently built, leads up to the caves. All these
caves have the 'kataram' carving, which is a groove or channel cut
along the top of the overhanging rock, to prevent water dripping
into the caves. This was a characteristic of that period.
cave, measuring 25 metres in length, 15 metres in width and 18 metres
in height, houses a temple, also constructed more recently. It contains
a large statue of a reclining Buddha, five large standing Buddha
statues and two smaller ones. However, Mr. Tillekewardene said,
these statues are not of archaeological importance because they
have been reconstructed after the Kandy period. Although the cave
temple must have existed during the Kandy period, nothing of the
Kandy era is seen here. The characteristics of the statues are of
a later period. To the right of the large cave temple is a smaller
cave with an old chaitya in front.
To the left
of the cave temple is another cave, 16 metres long, 10 metres wide
and 22 metres high, which is used as a 'Pattini Devale' at present.
Below the kataram carving on the roof overhang of the cave, can
be seen carved into the rock, two rows of letters, which are said
to be of the pre-Brahmin period. The inscription dating back to
3B.C. - 1 A.D., refers to a king although the name is not mentioned.
According to research by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, the king is
said to be Mahachulika Mahatissa. To the left of this cave is a
smaller cave, 12 feet long, 8 feet wide and 18 feet high. The rocky
overhang of this cave also has an inscription dated to the same
period, carved on the rock. In this inscription too, a king is referred
to but his name is not mentioned. It was thought to be Walagamba
by Ellawela Medhananda Himi, while Prof. Paranavitana's idea was
that it was Mahachulika Mahatissa. Whatever it may be, these two
cave inscriptions are the most ancient in the Western Province.
Furthermore, according to Mr. Tillekewardene, archaeologically,
they are very important factors in determining the government, economic,
social, religious background prevalent during the period concerned.
of the caves, lies further left of the caves with the inscriptions.
The bodhi stands before it. The last cave is located about 350 metres
north of the cave temple, on the western extremity of the temple
land, in a wooded area on the rocky hill. The way to the cave is
rough and steep. The entrance naturally hewn into the rock, is almost
covered with a thick growth of foliage. This would have resembled
the original environment of the caves. Here, one could imagine the
monks of yore, meditating, performing their religious rites and
living their simple lives in these forest caves, with only the rustling
of leaves and the call of birds to disturb them.
last cave, some private properties are also located on the rock.
Mining of the granite on these properties poses a threat to the
historic caves and the inscriptions. During a recent inspection
of the Korathota site by officers of the Archeological Department,
several significant facts were noted and proposals for the safeguarding
of the archeological site were made.
The first step
was to make a detailed list of the archaeologically important sites
in the area. It has been proposed that the cave temples and the
historic inscriptions be declared archaeological protected sites.
This proposal has already been sent to the Attorney General's Department
to be gazetted. As rock mining is taking place on a large scale
in the vicinity of the cave temples, it is proposed under the Archaeological
Act, to proclaim a restricted area of 400 yards by a gazette notification
in order to protect the caves. According to this proclamation, no
quarrying or building activities would be permitted at all within
200 yards of the caves.
and 400 yards, clearance would have to be obtained from the Archeological
Department for any construction or rock mining. The Archeological
officers stressed that it is necessary to control the quarrying
on this rock in order to protect the ancient inscriptions, which
is a national heritage, for future generations. They are also attempting
to preserve as far as possible the natural environment around the