Posted by: lrrp | July 17, 2015

‘Kuragala is a undisputable buddhist religious site’ – Professor Raj Somadeva finds

Kuragala is a rock outcrop elevated 360 metres above sea level, and has been identified as a focal point of human occupation since the Terminal Pleistocene.

The area has been the focal point of controversy for a number of years, with the Muslims of Sri Lanka claiming that the mountain of Kuragala was a holy mountain and is home to an ancient Sufi shrine sacred to Muslims while the Buddhists in the country claim that the rock cave is an ancient Buddhist monastic site.

Kuragala is a rock outcrop elevated 360 metres above sea level, and has been identified as a focal point of human occupation since the Terminal Pleistocene.

The area has been the focal point of controversy for a number of years, with the Muslims of Sri Lanka claiming that the mountain of Kuragala was a holy mountain and is home to an ancient Sufi shrine sacred to Muslims while the Buddhists in the country claim that the rock cave is an ancient Buddhist monastic site.

The shrine at Jailani has also placed the Sri Lankan Muslims in a potential geo-religious conflict with Sinhala Buddhist majority, which is most often the case when it comes to Buddhist-Muslim conflicts in Sri Lanka.
The Buddhist hardliners, mostly the Bodu Bala Sena and the Ravana Balaya, are demanding the site to be cleared of all Islamic buildings and monuments.

The Muslims on the other hand are resolute that the mosque remains in its current location because it holds great significance for Muslims all over the island.

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Meanwhile, as a solution to this problem, Minister of Arts and Culture Nandimitra Ekanayake said that a decision was taken to remove the mosque built in the Kuragala archaeological site and to establish it in another location, following various protests and unrests that were mainly initiated by the BBS and other hardliners.

Keeping religious differences aside, Professor Raj Somadeva conducted a survey on the macro area of the Kaltota escarpment, which houses the controversial Kuragala site. What he found out about Kuragala is part of a research called ‘Hunters in Transition’.

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The survey titled Kaltota Survey – Phase 1 was launched on Friday (11) at the Auditorium of the Department of the National Archives organized by the Ravana Shakthi National Organization.

Prof. Somadeva said that the survey was launched in such a way due to the demands of those who funded the project (The Dayaka Sabha of the Dewram Vehera in Pannipitiya) and to clarify the archeological and historical value of the site.
“There is a lot of controversy propagated on Kuragala. They wanted to clarify the archaeology and the history of the sight and tell this scientifically constructed story to the society,” Prof. Somadeva said. Furthermore, Prof. Somadeva added that the survey was done solely for the purpose of finding out its archeological and historical value and not to take the side of any religion.

“I did the survey as a professional, according to the laws and principles of archaeology,” he said.

The Kaltota Survey – Phase 1
A surface reconnaissance survey was conducted in the Kaltota area of the Balangoda Divisional Secretariat of the Ratnapura District, with the permission granted by the Director General of the Department of Archaeology.
According to the Survey Report “the total archaeological landscape of Kuragala has been interrupted by several modern constructions. The major one is the mosque erected in the terrace of one cave.” The major archaeological representation of the site of the Kuragala rock outcrop is the 10 natural caves that were occupied by the Buddhist Sangha in the early phase of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

While several short inscriptions written in the early form of Brahmi letters were also found it was made clear in the report that evidence of the caves being occupied by the Buddhist Sangha were abundant while “according to the short inscription showing the date of the establishment of the Islamic religious building there, the history of the mosque does not go beyond the year 1926. Several burials of Islamic religious devotees in the western sector of the terrace could be post-dated to the construction of the mosque.”

Meanwhile, the survey added that either side of the main entrance path leading to the site has also been considerably modified by the construction of several permanent buildings. The foot survey carried out has identified the surface scattering of a limited number of prehistoric quartz implements.

The report states “it could be suggested that each and every slope and summit of the adjacent landscape of the Kuragala Rock outcrop has been intensively used by the Holocene hunter-gatherers for their food quest. It is highly recommended to control the present day human intervention to at least the area demarcated as the ‘sensitive zone’… Freeing this area from the man-made disturbances will be an important decision that has to be taken for the sake of the future researchers and students of history and archaeology who intend to study the total landscape of the late Holocene hunter gatherers in the deep hinterland in Sri Lanka.”

Inscriptions and statues
Ten out of the 14 inscriptions that were observed during the investigation were new inscriptions and most of them were already studied and published by the likes of C.H. Collins and Rev. Kirielle Gnanawimala Thero.
All the inscriptions that were observed carried a short statement of the dedication of caves to the Buddhist Sangha.

Furthermore, a limestone statue of a human figure was accidentally unearthed by the villagers during the digging of a home garden.

After extensive investigations done by the Department of Archaeology, it was determined that this was a statue of the Buddha and was the work of the 7th or the 8th century, despite its worn condition.

Twin layers of culture
According to the investigations, twin layers of cultural and religious existence were to be observed.
“Except the presence of the prehistoric hunter gatherers in the Holocene and the distribution of residential-cum-ritual abodes of Buddhist clergy in the early historic period respectively, the occurrence of Arabic affiliations with the site is indicated by a short inscription engraved on a natural rock surface in a cave on the higher level of the site.”

Accordingly, this inscription has a single line in Arabic letters engraved on a vertical surface of a natural rock situated in front of one of the caves.

Although the meaning of the inscription is obscured, according to the Kufic style of the Arabic letters in the Kuragala inscription, Dr H.M. Shukri, Director of the Naleemiah Institute of Islamic Studies in Beruwala has argued that it could be the work of a Zufi saint of Persian or North Indian origin.

Historical analysis reveals that presence of the Arabic traders in the modern day Sabaragamuwa Province could be post dated to the 10th century CE.

However, the professor also said that apart from the Buddhist stupa that is considered to belong to the category of old “all new construction whether Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist should be removed.”

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