The ports of ancient Sri Lanka served as entry and exit points for traders, immigrants and Buddhist missionaries. Sri Lanka, being located in the middle of the Indian Ocean and to the extreme south of the Indian Peninsula, held a commanding position as the sea routes lining the east and west lay along the coasts of Sri Lanka.
Jambukola in the Jaffna Peninsula (Nagadipa) and now identified as Kankesanthurai and Mahatottiha the pearling port on the north-western coast off Mannar are frequently mentioned in the Mahavamsa. The pre – Buddhistic Valahassa Jataka contain the account of voyages to Sri Lanka from North India testifies to the fact that one of these ports of the many referred to in the Jatakas was situated in the north western coast namely Mahatottiha which was half the distance from Jambukola to Anuradhapura and emerging as the easily accessible port to Sri Lanka. However, Jambukola, served as the closest port to South India, Bengal and the Gangetic plains, and was used mainly for Buddhist missionary voyages, and other activities connected with culture, while Mahatottiha continuing as the commercial port.
It was from Jambukola King Devanampiyatissa’s envoys set out for the Court of Emperor Asoka, (Mahavamsa P. T. S. edition ch 11, v.23) It was also at this port King Devanampiyatissa’s (250-210 B.C.). set out with the king’s message for the Sacred Relics of the Buddha an invitation to Theri Sanghamitta to establish Bhikkhuni Sasana (Order of Nuns) in Sri Lanka and saplings of the Sacred Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya.
Thus the sapling of the Maha Bodhi landed at Jambukola. From a reference in the Mahavamsa we gather Jambukola of Nagadipa and Anuradhapura were connected by a highway. It may be the present A 9, now being re-opened is laid on this ancient highway., It is of great significance, that the procession that brought the branch of the Maha Bodhi from Jambukolapattana (Jambukola Port) had stopped on its long way to Anuradhapura, at the entrance to the village of the Brahamana Tivakka (Tivakassa brahamanassa gamadvare) (Ibid XIX 37) and later sapling of the Maha Bodhi that were planted in 30 other places in Sri Lanka. Rivakka’s village was one.
The planting of a sapling at Tivakka’s village signifies that there were small Buddhist communities thereon in the environs. It may be the present tradition of planting Bo Trees for the veneration of travellers beside important highways originated from this event. The planting of the Maha Bodhi branch was performed with great ceremony. There were representatives from the North (Nagadipa) from Rohana (Sakyan princes from Kajaragama and Chandanagama and Brahaman Tivakka too being an honoured guest. (Mahavamsa xix, 54).
The second visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka was occasioned by a civil war in the north of Sri Lanka between Nagas and the planting of a large Kiripalu tree (Buchanania angustifolia) for the worship of Nagas indicates that there were Buddhist communities of Nagas in North Sri Lanka Nagadipa.
In these circumstances the fact emerging that the people who inhabited North of Sri Lanka were not totally Sinhalese but from various racial groups from South India, indigenous Nagas and Sinhalese as well and there was peaceful and productive coexistence, based on the doctrines of Ahimsa of Hinduism and the Four Brahma Viharas Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekkha – loving kindness compassion, blissful empathetic joy and equanimity).
In addition to the Jambukola Vihara built by king Devanampiyatissa, to commemorate the place of landing of the Sacred branch of the Maha Bodhi and Theri Sanghamitta, he built another Vihara in the north named Tissamaharama.
In addition to the above Vihara, with the passage of time another Vihara named Kantarodai Vihara came to be built in Jaffna. I am not certain whether the ruins of this Vihara are in cleared or uncleared areas of Jaffna.
The term Kantarodai is a corrupted form of Kandavurugoda or site of a military encampment.
The word ‘Kadur’ does not refer to ‘kaduru’ trees that grow in the mangroves and marshy lands of the south of Sri Lanka the wood of this tree being used to turn out masks. In places where mask-making is a popular handicraft such as Ambalangoda and its environs ‘kaduru’ trees grow. This corrupted form of ‘kandavuru’ as ‘Kaduru’ is visible in the Polonnaruwa city area proper known as kaduruwela, a corrupted form of Kandavuruwela ‘site of a military base’ of Polonnaruwa.
Kantarodai is now an archaeological reserve in the Jaffna Peninsula, and excavations carried out from time to time have unearthed Buddhist antiquities datable to pre-Christian eras upto medieval eras.
The late Sir Paul E. Peiris pioneered excavations at the site in the early decades of the last century, paving the way for later scholars to locate the ancient Kantarodai Vihara with a great degree of certainty, that had reference to in Sinhala literary works. (P.E. Peiris, “Nagadipa and Buddhist remains of Jaffna, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) vol. xxvi, No. 70 for 1917 – 18 pp. 11 ff; 1d,, Nagadipa etc. op. cit vol xxviii No. 72 for 1919 – 1921, pp. 40 – 67; 1d.op.cit; vol xxviii No. 74, pp 149).
These pioneering excavations have not been systematically followed thereafter. The evidence available indicates Kantarodai Vihara existed from about the first century BC and continued to flourist for a millennium, until Hinduism came into prominence in the Jaffna peninsula.
Professor Senerat Paranavithana, a few days prior to his passing away having read an interliner inscriptions suggested that the Kantarodai Vihara was built by a prince of the Sailendra dynasty of Sri Vijaya Kingdom (Java).
The English translation of the Sinhala translation of the interlinear inscriptions of Prof Paranavitana records the antiquity of Kantarodai Vihara is as follows:-
“King Samaratunga having ascended the thrown in the year of Saka 707 (785 A.C.) died after reigning for thirty-seven years. His son Samaragravira who succeeded him received his father’s kingdom, in addition to other principalities like Yamadvipa, the Island of Bali, Tayamara Burumaranasta and many other islands. The kingdom of Kutaya in the western sa-board, of Varhinadvipa (Borneo), the kingdom of Sahavasa in the island of Sulavi (Celbes) and the island of Nalikera further south (probably it was from Nalikera, Pali term for coconuts, that coconut growing was introduced to Sri Lanka further north all of which he had brought under is suzerainty.
During this time a prince from the Sinhaladvipe (Sri Lanka) by the name of Dappula, who had gone to Yamadvipa, met king Samaragravira and informed him that he would remain a vassal of Yamadvipa, of the Sinhaladvipa be conquered for him with the help of Yamadvipa forces.
King Samaragravira was happy to grab the opportunity of binging the Sinhala kingdom too under him and forthwith sent a fleet of seventy-seven shipa under the command of his minister to conquer the Sinhala kingdom for prince Dappula, so that he would remains a vassal of the king of Yamadvipa.
When King Agrabhodi (the monarch of Sri Lanka) heard of the landing of Yamadvipa troops, he ordered his son Mahendra, the Commander-in-Chief) to take his army to Nagadvipa and to thwart the forces of Yamadvipa. Prince Mahendra went to Nagadipa, defeated the general of the Yamadvipa king and chased them back to their ships.
Yamadvipa’s minister sent a message from his ship to prince Mahendra informing his willingness to enter into a friendly treaty between the two kingdoms (Sinhaladvipa and Yamadvipa). He also sought permission for his stay in Nagadipa for seven months (Jaffna Peninsula) for the purpose of constructing a Buddhist Vihara at the spot specified for the purpose by the Sinhalese monarch.
Prince Mahendra replied that permission could be granted only if the traitor Dappula be debarred from landing on the shore.
In a message that was despatched by the Yamadvipa minister, it was stated that Dappula will not be allowed to land. Finally king Agrabodhi granted permission to the Yamadvipa minister’s request.
Having received his father’s prince Mahendra informed that the Yamadvipa’s minister could construct a Vihara at Nagadipa (Jaffna Peninsula) near the village Sulanagama site with his army for seven months until the work is completed. The minister of Yamadvipa returned after having constructed the Vihara at Kanterodai (Kadurugida or Kandavurugoda), which resembled the stupas on the uppermost platform of the Baradudar Mahastupa (Indonesia)”. Professor Paranavitana further explained that Agrabodhi could be the king Agrabodhi IX, who succeeded to the thrine in circa 821 A.C. According to the Culavamsa a prince by the name of Mahendra, has fled to the other store during the reign of king Agrabodhi’s father, king Dappula.
Some scholars are of the view that Kantarodai Vihara with small bubble shaped stupas of varying sizes cramped within a limited area suggest that was an ancient sepulchral stupas burial ground erected over the cremated remains of the Buddhist Maha Theras who dwelt at the various shrines, drawn from a plethora of races and cultures, not Sinhala only at the Buddhsit Viharas in the Jaffna Peninsula. It is significant to mentions that at the ceremony of the enshrinement of sacred relics in the Ruwanveli Maha Seya (Mahathupa) built by king Duttha Gamani Abhaya (Dutugemunu) (101-77BC) at Anuradhapura there was a large delegation of Buddhist monks from the island of Pungudutivu off Jaffna Peninsula, most certainly of Dravidian origin.
The tradition of building small stupas enshring the – the cremated remains of leading Maha Theras, which continues to the present day is aptly amplified by Adahana Maluva, at Asgiri Maha Vihara, Kandy, Baddegane stupas at Kotte (Colombo) and the Alahena Pirivena group of stupas at Polonnaruwa of the Polonnaruwa period.
It is hoped with the return of normalcy the Cultural Ministry would initiate action of revive Kantarodai Vihara and re-commence excavations and put this Vihara on the pilgrims itinerary, along with Nagadipa Vihara.
Daily News, 23 July 2002