Thonigala Inscription at Vavuniya (වවුනියාව තෝනිගල සෙල් ලිපිය)

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There are two well-known inscriptions called Thonigala. The most well known and visited inscription lies at Anamaduwa which is popular for the inscriptions with 1 foot high letters found on the rock and the folklore surrounding the rock and Kuweni (කුවේණි), the local queen of Vijaya.

The Thonigala Inscription in the Vavuniya District lies in the jungles about 10 km on the Vavuniya – Horowpathana road,  on the northern side of the road on the North and North Western border in the area known as Thilakkulama (also known as Naradagala).

Lying on a rocky plain in the animal infested jungles, Vavuniya Thonigala inscriptions consist of 3 separate inscriptions. Only the main inscription has been read so far. The second is a duplicate of the first but incomplete. It may be that this might have been the first inscription but stopped halfway due to some mistake and redone again in the second location. The third inscription is one single line written a few centuries earlier than the other 2. This has not been read so far.

The main inscription was made during the period of King Sirimeghavanna (Kithsiri Mevan) (303-311) and is considered one of the most important inscriptions found in the country. The inscription read and documented by Mr Paranawithana in 1933 was first recorded by HCP Bell in 1866.

The Sinhala translation of the inscription is as follows ;

“මංගලයක්‌ වේවා. පෘතුවීශ්වර (පෙර සිටි) මහසෙන මහ රජුගේ පුත්‍ර වූ සිරි මේඝවණ්‌ණ අභය මහරජතුමා සේසත් එස වූ තුන්වැනි වර්ෂයේ දී නගරයෙහි උතුරු දිශාවේ ‘කලහුමනක’ නම් වෙළඳ සභාවේ (බැංකුවේ) තමා විසින් පරිත්‍යාග කරන ලද වස්‌තුව අඩුවීමක්‌ හෝ හීනවීමක්‌ නොවන ලෙස කඩුබලගම වාසය කරන අමාත්‍යය පර්ෂදයේ සිවගේ පුත්‍රයා වන දේව විසින් යහිස පර්වතයෙහි අභිනව විහාරයට දෙන ලද අරියවංශ වෘත්තිය පැවැත්වීම සඳහා වී සකට (කරත්ත) දෙකක්‌ හා දස අමුණක වී ද අමුණු හයක උඳු ද මුං ඇට අමුණු දහයක්‌ ද දෙන ලදි. මෙම දස අමුණක වී වල මහකන්නයේ පොළිය ද යළකන්නයේ පොළිය ද මැදකන්නයේ පොළිය ද වශයෙන් අමුණු විසිපහක වී ද උඳු හය අමුණක පොළිය ද උඳු එක අමුණු පෙකඩ දෙකක්‌ ද මුං දස අමුණක පොළිය අමුණු දෙකයි පෙකඩ දෙකක්‌ද වේ. මේ ඉහත කී තැන්පතුවේ මූල ධනය වෙනස්‌ නොකොට පොළිය ගෙන බත් සඳහා ද අතුරුපස කෑමට ගන්නා ආහාර මී කිරි, මී පැණි, කැවිලි, තල, දුන් තෙල්, ලුණු, පළා වර්ග සහ කහ සඳහා ද විහාරස්‌ථානයේ භෝජන ශාලාවේ ආහාර පිසින කටයුතු ගෙවීම සඳහා ද දිය යුතුය. මෙකීතාක්‌ වස්‌තුව එහි පොළියෙන් ගෙන පැමිණෙන පැමිණෙන වස්‌කාලයක්‌ තුළ නිකිණි මස ශුක්‌ල පක්‍ෂයෙහි දොළොස්‌ වන දිනයෙහි අරියවංශ ප්‍රතිපදාව කරන මහා භික්‍ෂු සංඝයාට නියම කොට යහිස පර්වතයෙහි අභිනව විහාරයට දෙන ලදි.”

The inscription consists of 17 lines of text with a 3 inch-high letters. The author of this inscription is called “Deva”, son of minister Siva, who has been residing in the “Yahisa Parwatha Viharaya”. It describes how the interest from the grain bank at the  “Kalahumanaka” commercial centre has been donated to the priests carrying out the “Ariyavansha Puja” at the temple. The inscription was made in the 3rd year after the consecration of King Sirimeghavanna, son of King Mahasen.

A copy of the Thonigala Inscription
A copy of the Thonigala Inscription

Further analysis of the inscription provides a detailed insight into the political, economic, commercial and religious activities of the 4th century Sri Lanka.

Political Background

King Sirimeghavanna came to the throne at an interesting juncture in the country. His father, who took reservoir building to new heights by building 16 gigantic tanks also had destroyed temples such as Maha Viharaya of Anuradhapura and discriminated against Theravada bikkus. This made the reign of King Sirimeghavanna spend more time resorting to the faith of Theravada bhikkhus and the trust of the people. It was also during this time the most venerated item of the Buddhist world, the Tooth Relic of Buddha was brought to the island.

Including the name of the father of King Sirimeghavanna in this inscription is thought to establish the right to the throne and to enhance the image of King Sirimeghavanna. This also shows that King Mahasen had re-established the trust of the people after the reconciliation of the Maha Vihara Bikkus.

This area has been probably under the control of Minister Siva and the son Deva seems to have active participation in managing this area.

Economic Background

It can be induced from the inscription that the inscription that there were 2 types of economies in operation at the turn of the 4th century;

  1. Agricultural Economy
  2. Commercial Economy

Sri Lanka had a strong agriculture-based economy at the time, and the inscription states three cultivation seasons; yala season, maha season and meda (middle) season. The spread of large reservoirs throughout the country has made it possible to obtain a 3rd harvest in a year at this time.

It also can be seen that that there was chena cultivation along with the paddy since it mentions grains such as sesame and green gram which should be donated to the temple.

In addition to cultivation, these societies also did animal husbandry to fulfil their dairy needs. The inscription also mentions some dairy products which should be supplied to the temple.

Prof Paranawithana states that the closest description for “Niyamathana”  is village council and he explains that this council has operated in the form of a bank. The capital of the bank has been in the form of various grains. “Deva” has set up the grain bank with 50 amunu (a unit of measurement) of paddy, 6 amunu of Undu, and 10 amunu of green gram.

Anybody from the village could draw out grain from the bank and had to pay it back in grains with interest. The annual interest rate for paddy has been around 50%  and for other grains around 25%.

The inscription also emphasizes that the bank should be operated without loss to its capital.

Religious Background

The purpose of the whole grain bank seems to be to support the continuous “Ariyavansha Puja” of the temple. Though this is unknown today, “Ariyavansha Puja” would have been a very important religious activity in this society. Mention of the same “Ariyavansha Puja” has been discovered at the Nelumpokuna inscription in Batticaloa district and also in an inscription at Angamuwa.

Location

Lying in the middle of the jungle,  rarely visited by anybody there is no path to this site.  Even very few villagers would be knowledgeable about this place. To reach this site travel 9.5 km on the Horowpathana road until you reach a small clearing on the left with a new Pahan Ge with a Buddha statue has been built. Just the frame of a typical archaeological “Kalu” board can be seen hidden among the mana trees just by this statue. To reach the Thonigala Rock you need to walk 350 km into the jungle from this clearing. Since this whole area is elephant country, you may consider obtaining the services of a villager as a guide.

The inscriptions have been protected from damages caused by elephants and nature by a small brick tank filled with sand. Therefore you will not see the inscriptions today.

Also See

Map of Thonigala Inscription at Vavuniya

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)
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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Thonigala Inscription at Vavuniya

Route from Vavuniya up to Thonigala Inscription
Distance : 1o km
Travel time : 1 hour (with the hike)
Driving directions : see on google map

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