Kingdom of Kotte
Kotte:A Glimpse of its Old Glory
It is a remarkable fact that we know less about the art and architecture of the last capital of the Sinhalese kings, than we do of the early cities, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
This is partly thought to be due to the fact that none of the later kingdoms remained as the seat of government for sufficiently long period, for monuments equal in grandeur to those of the early cities, to be erected. And the few brief spells of prosperity and settled government were often punctuated by foreign invasions and internal discord.
However it is said that the main reason why there are so few monuments as witnesses to the history of these cities is that they have, unlike Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, continued as centres of population even after they ceased to be the seats of government. The jungle which swallowed up the earlier cities protected what remained of man's handiwork in those places, while the men who had their habitation on the sites of the later cities obliterated, in great measure, the evidence of the artistic achievements of their ancestors or predecessors.
Professor Senarat Paranavitana concludes that nowhere has this destruction been carried out with greater thoroughness than at Jayawardhana-pura or Kotte, which was the Sinhalese capital when the Portuguese, the first Europeans to gain ascendancy in this island, set foot on its shores.
Kotte had been a place of some importance in the middle of the fourteenth century, for De Marignolli, who visited Ceylon between A.D 1350 and 1352 refers to it as "Cota in Seyllan, a place where I have been". During the reign of Vikramabahu III (A.D 1357 - 1374) Kotte was rebuilt and fortified by the great minister Alakesvara, and for nearly two centuries after that date, the history of our country was centred round it.
The first king to make it the seat of government was Parakramabahu VI ( AD 1412 - 1467 ) He was also the greatest of the Kotte Kings, being the last Sinhalese sovereign to exercise effective control over the whole island. During his long reign, Kotte attained the zenith of its glory, but his death was the signal for dissension in the royal family -- ultimately resulting in the Portuguese reigning over the maritime provinces of Seyllan.
Kotte, today, has very little or nothing left of the grandeur of the Sinhala Kingdom to boast of. Many of the relics of the past lying within privately owned lands were either built upon or neglected and left to perish. Professor Paranavitana laments that it was only Mr. E. W. Perera, a distinguished citizen of Kotte, who made a lone protest against the neglect and destruction of these historical relics, but his was a voice in the wilderness which had little effect.
An archaeological site, and possibly the only one, which presents modern Jayawardhana-pura with a monument of its historical past and witnessing to its ancient splendour is Veherakanda at Baddegana, situated some distance to the south of the limits of the old city.
We made our way to this site through a tangle of roads and the hotch potch of new residences which are typical of the new environs of Pitta Kotte and somehow managed to arrive at a clearing with the familiar Archaeological Department board. I couldn't help but imagine that we had passed a few Portuguese soldiers on our way. Today, after the Archaeological Department's excavations and conservation measures, the site is impressive and a far cry from how it may have looked in 1949, when the land was cleared of jungle and the excavation of the site begun.
Today we can see an oblong platform on which there are two mounds, evidently ruined stupas. A flight of steps gives access to the platform. The sides of the platform are faced with blocks of laterite.
Of the two stupas, the larger one is 30ft in diameter at its base, faced with blocks of laterite, and at the base of the drum are three tiers of mouldings in brick, the upper slightly receding from the lower. The smaller stupa, which has a base diameter of 21 ft, has tiers of mouldings faced with laterite. Laterite is freely available in the locality, and it is thought that it was given preference over granite and limestone on that account. Professor Paranavitana observes that the remains of Beddagana are not without value in studying the development of the stupa in its later phases.
The form of the stupa of the Kotte period exactly resembles that of the karandu, of which many examples may be found dating from the Kandy period. These karandu, no doubt, were miniatures of the dagobas which then existed and which, stylistically, were the same as those of the Kotte period.
On the platform, in addition to the dagobas, are the remains of what is believed to be a shrine of an irregular plan. The remains show that it was entered by a flight of steps through a porch.
The Archaeological Department's excavations at this site have not established the identity of the site. However some scholars are of the opinion that it is the Mahasen-devarajapaya (shrine of Skanda).
But this is highly disputed. While others prefer to look upon the tradition in the locality as a guide, which is embodied in the name Veherakanda -- a vehera is a Buddhist place of worship.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 13, 2007