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Kudiramalai and the buried city

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According to ‘Discovering Ceylon,’ a book authored by R.L. Brohier (first published in 1973), there had been an ancient settlement close to Kudiramalai, now buried under sand. Mr. Brohier states that surveyor Mr. H.G.A. de Silva was the first to discover this habitation. He had found this out while engaging in a topographical study for the survey department off the north western shores of the Island in 1923. The map makes reference to an “Ancient harbour, well and ruins.” However, Mr. Brohier had subsequently visited this site and found three ancient wells, large amounts of shattered bricks, plates, pottery, water-collecting vessels and other household items between the surface sand layer and the underlying lime stone layer. However, the eroding sea has made it easier to observe these artifacts. Three of my close friends and I were interested in witnessing this un-excavated archaeological site, and so we proceeded.  

On March 25, we set out from Mahawewa bungalow in Wilpattu. The site is about 40km from Mahawewa and it took us nearly three hours to reach Kudiramalai, which is a popular location for visitors to Wilpattu. On our way, we visited the ruins of the Kuweni Palace. According to legends, Princess Kuweni had resided in this palace and ruled Kali Villu, which is the present Wilpattu area. However, no archaeological excavations have been done to confirm whether these ruins are of a palace. After some time, we decided to travel from Kuweni palace to Kudiramalai, which is a one hour drive.

Kudiramalai, the famous ancient port city, lies in the north western coast between Mannar and Puttalam. It is in the northern most part of the Puttalam District and is within the Wilpattu National Park. The natural harbour opening into the Gulf of Mannar, world famous for its pearl banks, was named “Hipporus” harbour by the ancient Greeks. As stated in the Mahavamsa, when Prince Vijaya and his companions were approaching the Lankan shore, they saw a mountain and sailed towards it. According to Mr. R.L. Brohier, the only mountain visible to the sea on the north western coast is the Kudiramalai Mountain. Mr. Brohier had gone out to sea and made this observation. 

Once landed safely, Prince Vijaya and his companions rested on the shore and observed that their hands were reddish due to the red-coloured sand. Thus, they named the country “Tambapanni,” which means copper-coloured. This name is still being used by the locals to refer the area. According to historic facts, the north west of Sri Lanka was governed by Malabar kings of India in ancient times. During that period, a famous Malabar Queen called Alli Arasani (also named Alisabrani or Aliran) had governed the area. It is said that her palace and settlement were close to Kudiramalai. Some sources also reveal that she had traded pearls that found in plenty in the famous “pearl banks” for horses brought by Arab traders. It is believed that the name Kudiramalai (Horse Mountain) was derived from this trading. However, the speculation is that Queen Alli Arasani’s palace and settlement were buried following a cyclone or tsunami. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, a Roman tax collector by the name of Annius Placamus was caught up in a storm while in the Red sea and blown off the coast of Arabia, and landed at the Kudiramalai harbour. This is believed to be during King Chandamukasiva’s reign. It is possible that Prince Vijaya landed at this harbour as well. However, Roman historian Pliny mentions about the “Hipporus” harbour and a settlement in close vicinity to a hill, which is most likely the Kudiramalai Mountain. According to the Bible (Old Testament 1Kings 10:22), during the reign of Israeli King Solomon (around 1000.B.C.), ships arrived at Tarshish and took away sandalwood, gems, ivory, gold, silver and peacocks. However, French Biblical scholar Samuel Bochart was of the view that Tarshish was Kudiramalai.

After touring Kudiramalai, we travelled southwards along the Mannar-Puttalam road for a distance of about 3km to reach Pallugaturai. And after a further drive of 3km towards South, we reached Kollankanatta. Both these are migrant fisher villages. According to Mr. Brohier, there had been three ancient wells and eroding ruins between Pallugaturai and Kollankanatta. We walked a few hundred yards along the shore towards Pallugaturai, and were amazed to find shattered bricks, pottery and building material between the top sandy layer and the coral layer just as mentioned in Mr. Brohier’s book. At one point, we observed the walls of a large structure being eroded by the sea. The walls were very thick and the building must have been quite large. We also witnessed several other walls of buildings washed away by sea erosion. We were informed that the three wells referred to in Mr. Brohier’s book were washed away to the sea some time back. However, the shore is being rapidly eroded and most of the buildings covered by sand will be washed away by the sea in a short span of time. There is no doubt that an ancient settlement with large buildings lie buried between Kollankanatta and Pallugaturai, close to the shore. If archaeological excavations are not done before long, we will be unable to find out what this buried city is.

Several large ancient cities mentioned in the Mahavamsa have not been discovered as yet. Among them are Tambapanni, Uruvela, Upatissagama, Ujjeni and Vijitha. The city of Uruvela, founded by King Vijaya’s chieftain, may be this buried city. It can be supported by several facts: 

According to the Mahavamsa, Uruvela was five yojanas (40 miles) West of Anuradhapura. The site mentioned is also about 40 miles from Anuradhapura.  Fishermen of Uruvela, which had been a port city located close to the pearl banks, have donated pearls and corals when Ruwanwelisaya was constructed in 100 B.C. In Ptolemy’s 3rd century map of Taprobana, a port city named Margana was prominently marked in the North Western coast. Mr. B.J. Perera in his study ‘The Ports of Ancient Ceylon” states that Margana and Uruvela are the same.(Ceylon Historical Journal vol. 1.)  Mahavamsa mentions that Valli Vehera built by King Suba in 60-67 A. D. is close to Uruvela. The Vehera has however been discovered by the Archaeological Department and is close to the site.
Pomparippu, the ancient urn burial ground, discovered by Mr. R.L. Brohier in 1923 is also in close proximity to the site, and is estimated to have 10,000 to 12,000 burials and may have been the burial ground of Uruvela.  Alternatively, this could be the settlement and palace of Queen Alli Arasani, which was situated near Kudiramalai, and this buried city may well have been built by her. If not, on the other hand, it could be Tambapanni, the first city and capital of Sri Lanka founded by King Vijaya close to Kudiramalai.

It is of pivotal importance to identify this place for the rich history of Sri Lanka. One has to see for himself the buried eroding city. I hope that the Archaeological Department will enlighten us on this concern.

References: Discovering Ceylon by Mr. R.L. Brohier, Sri Lanka Wild Life Interlude vol. one by S.D. Saparamadu, Vol. XXX1., No.82 (1929), of the Journal, R.A.S (Ceylon).

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