Posted by: lrrp | May 19, 2006

Sankapala Viharaya’s archaeological importance by P. D. A. S. Gunasekera

Among the many ancient viharas in the Sabargamuwa Province, Sankapala stands out prominently as a renowned place of worship since the days of the ‘Mahinda-Gamanaya’ (arrival of Mihindu) during the reign of the King Devanampiyatissa, centuries ago according to tradition.

The name

The name Sankapala had originated in the time of Dutugamunu when he was conscripting his army with the help of Dasamaha-Yodoyas (the 10 warriors) including Pussadeva who acted as the ‘clarion call’ of the army during emergencies to put the area under instant security operations with the help of the ‘Sanka (conch-shell) which he blew-aloud to call the attention of the people and the army.

The viharaya is situated at the foot of a mountain range on the Ratnapura-Embilipitiya road. In the wilderness of the mountain stands a large rock overlooking the viharaya which had come to be known as ‘Sankapala Rock’ after Dasa-Mahayoda, Pussadeva took to the robe and became an ‘Arahat’ at the end of the military operations under King Dutugamunu. Tradition has it, that the spot in which the rock-lay became Sankapala Viharaya.

Surrounding wilderness

The wilderness surrounding the ‘rock’ was filled with large and spacious caves, 14 in number, inhabited by ‘Arahats’ in the distant past and invested with a deep Buddhist atmosphere and influence. The mute evidence of the caves and the stone inscriptions on the rock, provide sufficiently convincing proofs of the ‘lip-service-transmission’ of the time regarding the identity of the historical place.

Pussadeva had kept in a ‘specially-cut notche’ of the front-face of the rock, unapproachable by any but himself, the Sanka (the couch-shell) only he was able to blow, to be heard in all directions in the area of military operations.

How it thrived

With the passage of time the ‘Arahat’ had disappeared leaving the place to the posterity under whose guidance the viharaya had come into being and thrived in its present state. The viharaya had also been an ancient seat of learning where an incumbent Thera had composed ‘a Dolos-Maha-Kawya’, a piece of intricate verse, which unfolded itself into twelve separate verses of four lines each, with a deep meaning only a few of the highest erudition could decifer.

The existence of the verse and its attribution to the time and place are the only evidence, beside the oral tradition carried through the centuries.

Historical relations

However the historical relations pertaining to the place leave no doubt of the oral-tradition as an authentic source of information of the pre-historical age.

Sankapala, no doubt, contains buried information for the reconstruction of the earlier religious traditions, if any, peculiar to that time, before the arrival of Buddhism in Lankadipa, and trace them back to the age of the ‘Balangoda-Man’ whose civilisation, some 30,000 years old, has been established by the excavations of the former Archaeological Commissioner Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and his father before him in Sabaragamuwa.


The ‘cave-culture’ common to both the ‘Balangoda Man’ and the ‘Arahat’ in the Dutugemunu era traces a similarity between the two with the one more developed than the other. The excavation, if undertaken by the Dept. of Archaeology could bring to light the thread of the development of the culture from the ‘Balangoda Man’, the earliest established link to the Sankapala-era and then to the present day.

Though the suggestion appears to be far-fetched at the same time, it appears to be worth following considering the excavations of Batadomba Lena and other areas of excavations which have proved successful beyond expectations.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: