Kotte Gal Ambalama
The 'Ruwan Thanapata' and a 'Royal Gal Ambalama' in Kotte
Kotte, the country's one time capital of Sinhalese kings was a grand and beautiful city where literature and art flourished.
Contemporary Sinhalese literature, in particular the Sandesa poems in their highly conventional descriptions of Kotte, refer to a number of splendid edifices which adorned the city. The Royal Palace was described as a mansion of five storeys, and the Temple of the Tooth was a building worthy, in its architectural grandeur of the venerable object which it housed. There were shrines dedicated to various gods within the walls and several Buddhist monasteries were located outside. The Portuguese too had written admiringly of the magnificence of these palaces and shrines.
Sadly, there is very little if any, monumental evidence left for us of Kotte's past splendour. The only substantive remains being found in the Veharakanda at Baddegana which 'Heritage' spotlighted last week. A few other archaeological sites which have been identified can hardly show anything worthwhile, or are in such a state as to be hardly recognizable.
The Kotte rampart which have been referred to in many works of history are still partly undiscovered, even though mixed up in a mess of modern house holds, sometimes marking a rear boundary or sometimes the front or even at times a part of a modern foundation.
Have you heard of Rampart road in modern Pita Kotte. Well this is the landmark if you ever think of visiting these old walls.
The conversion of Kotte into a fortress, was the act of Minister Alakeswara during the reign of King Vikramabahu III of the Gampola Kingdom about 1370-1375.
Kotte was well protected by these ramparts at that time, while on two sides ran streams, one of which was the Diyawanna Oya.
The Nikaya Sangarahaya carries the following account. "He ( Alakeswara) caused a great moat very broad and fearfully steep like a precipice to be sunk round Darugama, and as a solid defence he caused to be erected bordering the moat a wall of stone. He caused the space at the top of the wall to be decorated like into a creation of Visvakarma and protected it by fixing in various places various fortifications."
Well, today what remains is a mere kabook wall that is barely identifiable, and if you manage to find your way to it through the jumble of private residences, you may discover a familiar black Archaeological Department board, authenticating the fact. We reached the site through the garden of a friendly resident to whom this once glorious antiquity served as a rear parapet. The nice gentleman helped us up a ladder over his vegetable beds, to get on to the rampart itself and walked us along it, looking into either the backyards or front yards of the neighbouring houses.
It was difficult to imagine that it was this very same rampart that the great monk poet. Thotagamuwa Sri Rahula, described in a flight of poetic fancy as a 'Ruvan Thanapata' or a gold bra worn by a sensuous damsel of Lanka at the peak of her blossoming youth.
This reference is found in the Salalihini Sandesa, which he wrote during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI, who was the first king to make Kotte the seat of government. He was the greatest of the Kotte kings and the last Sinhalese sovereign to exercise effective control over the whole island.
It was also during his reign of more than a half century ( Circa 1415-1470 ) that Kotte was transformed from a Fort (Kotte meaning fortress) into Jayawardenapura ( the victorious city) 'a city prosperous and proud and magnificent to behold'.
Sri Rahula in the Salalihini Sandesaya says thus : " Know (thou) noble friend, the great city of Jayawardena an abode of great men adoring, and attached to the Triple Gem, a city that by its teeming opulence drives the Devas' city into insignificance, a city that has fittingly established its name by victories repeatedly won."
Along another by-road of Pitakotte in the quiet of a garden shaded by Na trees are the ruins of the tomb of Alakeshwara. And of course along the main Pita Kotte road are two other spots of interest.
The Diya Angala or the outer moat, can today be seen as a deep and overgrown ditch marked by an Archaeological Department board, in front of the Isurupaya building.
And the historic Gal Ambalama or travelers rest which goes back to the period of Parakramabahu VI.
The Ambalama has especial significance, since it was reputed that there was a secret path leading to the Kings Palace from behind it. And it was in this ambalama that royalty and important persons had to wait, till they obtained permission from the Palace to enter this secret tunnel. Sadly the present state of this antiquity needs consideration.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 17, 2007