Ambalama Heritage of Sri Lanka – ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පුරාණ අම්බලම්

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In the ancient times, when there were no proper roadways or transport facilities other than narrow footpaths through dense jungles. Infested with wild animals and for transport only bullock carts were available, the villagers very seldom opt to leave their villages for Pilgrimages or to visit their friends and relatives who stayed in other areas. With greatest difficulties and hundred and one risks, one journey, they dared to take was to go to Sri Pada once a year to worship. It is said that since this was a very dangerous journey, the villagers, were in the habit of transferring their belongings and properties to next of kin as they were doubtful of their safe return.

Since this journey takes a number of days, they had to spend the nights in some safe place and relax. Main purpose of building ambalams was to help these travelers to rest their weary limbs, prepare meals and to spend the night. Very often these ambalams were erected near a stream. Also by the side of it they placed a big pitcher of water called “pinthaaliya” moulded either in clay or stone.

The Sri Lankan-born art-historian and philosopher Ananda K Coomaraswamy in an open letter to the Kandyan chiefs published in the Ceylon Observer on 17th February 1905, referring to ambalams says “Of the latter I know but few really fine and ancient example; of these, one is at Mangalama near Kegalle; this Ambalama was rebuilt so late as the middle of the last century from the materials of the earlier one, and is, even so, a very fine specimen of Kandyan architecture specially as regards the timbering of the roof and the beautiful gones or drooping lotus capitals, so different from careless modern copies that are sometimes seen, as for example in the new ambalama at Ratnapura, which is indeed built in a real Kandyan style, but much degraded in the details of its wood-work”.

In addition to using ambalams as resting places for the weary travellers, they were used as centres to exchange news and to chew betel in leisure. Also it was the place where village committees met. Robert Knox in his book on Ceylon says: “At their leisure when their affairs will permit, they commonly meet at places built for strangers and way-faring men to lodge in, in their language called Amblomb, where they sit chewing betel and looking one upon the other very gravely and solidly, discoursing concerning the affairs of court between the king and the great men; and what employment the people of the city are busied about. For as it is the chief of their business to serve the King, so the chief of their discourse is concerning such matters. Also they talk of their own affairs, about cattle and husbandry. And when they meet with outlandish men they inquire about the laws and government of their country, and if it be like theirs; and what taxes and duties we are bound to pay, and perform to our king, &c” Thus we could see, the ambalams had played a very intimate and vital role in the lives of the villagers.

Davy in his book on Ceylon says that at Rambukwella, in Teldeniya, there was a small ambalama in close proximity to a beautiful temple custody of which was under four Buddhist monks.

In the Sinhalese encyclopedia (Volume 1, Page 696-1963 First Edition) ambalama is defined as a kind of hall erected by the side of the road for the benefit of wayfarers to relax on the way, as vehicles were rare in ancient times.

Stone pillar caving stating the name of the doner at Kengalla Ambalama

Stone pillar caving stating the name of the donor at Kengalla Ambalama
published under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Denish C

It was believed that to build these Ambalamas for the use of travelers is a meritorious deed and to pollute them is an unpardonable sin. On this belief people of means did not hesitate to construct these resting places on suitable locations and. They tried. Their best to keep- them spick and span.

In some of these ambalams there had been planks erected as seats on different levels. It was said, specially when there were discussions on matters relating to the village with the elders and the chiefs of the village, those who gather there are expected to occupy the seats according to their age, status and sometimes according to their castes as well.

Even in our Sandeesha poems (Messenger Poems) reference had been made to ambalams. For example verse number 110 of Selalihini Sandeeshaya and verse number 166 of Gira Sandeeshaya request their ‘Messengers’ to enjoy the beautiful vista of the surrounding and to rest at the ambalama before proceeding.

Due to carelessness, ignorance or lack of patriotism most of these Ambalams are no more and what is left are in a dilapidated condition which need early attention for the benefit of our descendents.

In addition to the famous ambalama at Kadugannawa which was recently renovated by the archeological department at a cost of Rs. 300,000.00, some of the ambalams in the central province are at Siridigana, close proximity to Teldeniya-Rangala road, at Teldeniya close to the police station by the side of Kandy-Mahiyangana road, at Kengalle on the Kandy-Digana road via Kundasale, at Makuldeniya close to the Sub Post Office, Makuldeniya, on Teldeniya-Rangala road and at Dunhinna on Teldeniya-Werapitiya road close to Dunhinna Rural Hospital. On the Old Victoria road about 1 1/2 km. from Digana Junction there are remnants of a Gal Ambalama. It is revealed that most of the stone pillars and slabs have been removed by unscrupulous people to construct houses or to beautify their gardens.

Other than above, there are several ambalams and remnants of ambalams strewn in most parts of the country. Just a few of them are at Daulugala and Embekke in Kandy district, Panavitiya on Dambadeniya-Anuradhapura road, Walawala – along Beliatte-Hakmana road, Werahera, Pita Kotte and on the Bellanwila road.

Before long, since there’s a possibility of these buildings of archeological value to disappear, for the sake of posterity it’s the bounden duty of those in authority to take immediate precautionary measures to protect and maintain these Ambalams – our architectural heritage.

Lionel de silva
Katugastota
The Island

Ancient Ambalam of Sri Lanka

NoNameLocationProvinceDistrictNotes
001Galkotha AmbalamanoCentralThis ambalama has been constructed in 1928 by one Seneviratne. No other information available.
002Alapatwewa AmbalamanoNorth CentralAnuradhapuraArcheologists mapping the ancient road network from Anuradhapura found remains of ambalamas at Vijayarama and Alapatwewa. At Alapatwewa the ambalama was placed at a junction where several roads met. It was about 48 feet long, rectangular and constructed on a natural bed rock.
003Ambalanpotha AmbalamayesUvaBadullaBuilt in a elephant infested forest long time ago, this Ambalama is built on a 8 foot high brick platform to protect the vary travelers from elephant attacks in the night.
004Badulla Kachcheriya AmbalamayesUvaBadullaLies inside the Kachcheri land in the middle of the Badulla town. The ambalama has been built during early 19th century with finely carved wooden pillars, arches and pillar tops.
005Ettampitiya AmbalamayesUvaBadullaStands on Welimada- Badulla road on the junction at the turn off to the Ketawala road. This is a small brick and mortar building tiled with sinhala ulu.
006Kahaththewela AmbalamayesUvaBadullaLies in Bandarawela. In 2013, this ambalama was completely reconstructed and what is seen today is this re constructed building. How much of its original design and architecture had been preserved is not known.
007Ketawala AmbalamayesUvaBadullaa small brick and mortar structure with no special decoration built on the ancient route to Kandyan kingdom to Muthiyangana Viharaya in Badulla
008Kirioruwa Ambalamaapprox. locationUvaBadullaA small brick and mortar hidden away from popular road network between Bandarawela and Attempitiya.
009Kolongahamaditta Ambalamaapprox. locationUvaBadullaThe ambalama is a brick and mortar square structure with four huge cylindrical pillars rising from the half height walls. The half walls of the ambalama served as a benches for the travelers.
010Bellanwila AmbalamayesWesternColomboDoes not exisit. Only the name remains as Ambalama Junction
011Gelanigama AmbalamayesWesternColomboLie close to the Southern Expressway entrance at Gelanigama on the Panadura - Horana road.
012Pitakotte Gal AmbalamayesWesternColomboLying at the Pitakotte junction this ancient ambalama is over looked by many and has become home to street vendors.
013Galle Fort AmbalamayesSouthernGalleLies at the far end of the fort in the open space known as the Courthouse Square. This is a simple brick and mortar structure with with four cylindrical pillars.
014Habaraduwa Meepe Ambalamaapprox. areaSouthernGalleA 300 year old Ambalama constructed on the Waguressa rock in the Meepe paddy fields, Reported to be in dilapidated state without attention from authorities. Declared as a protected monument in 2011.
015Ambagaspitiya AmbalamayesWesternGampahaA 18th century wayside rest built on granite pillars situated on the Yakkala-Radawana road, 4.7 km from Yakkala. The ambalama is built with 12 granite pillars with a design similar to the Gallindawatta Ambalama few kilometers away.
016Ambagaspitiya Gallindawatta AmbalamayesWesternGampahaThe ambalama is built on a small square granite platform. The roof is held by four granite pillars with alternating 4 sided and 8 sided shape,
017Apalawatta AmbalamayesWesternGampahaNine brick pillars hold the roof of the building and a half height wall is built around the building. Out of the nine pillars, four pillars at the corners are square and the others are cylindrical. All the pillars are plain and carries no artwork.
018Awariyawala AmbalamayesWesternGampahabelieved to be built by king Wattagamini Abaya aka king Walagamba (89-77 BC). The ambalama lies in a picturesque landscape on a flat rock adjoining a small pond.
019Bogahawaththa AmbalamayesWesternGampahalying close the the Kirindiwela police station, the ambalama is rectangular in shape and built on 10 granite pillars.
020Bollatha AmbalamayesWesternGampahaLies at the 5th mile post on Kandana – Ganemulla Road. The Ambalama has been restored recently with brick and cement. It is quite small and has a single entrance from the Walpola Road.
021Bothale Welameda Ambalamaapproximate locationWesternGampahaThe history of the Bothale village goes back to times of King Gothabaya (253-266 AD) of Anuradhapura kingdom. Lies in the middle of a paddy field.
022Putupagala Ambalamaapprox. areaWesternGampahaThe ambalama lies in the village of Putupagala in the Gampaha District. This ambalama is believed to be built by king Weeraparakrama (1477 – 1489) of Kotte kingdom.
023Udammita Ambalama - VeyangodayesWesternGampahaThis is an ancient brick and mortar wayside rest built in 1829 on the Nittambuwa – Veyangoda road. This ambalama is a comparatively large building, size of a small house with 2 rooms.
024Wathumulla Ketawala AmbalamyesWesternGampahaThe Ketawala Ambalama in Wathumulla is an ancient wayside rest now lying in surrounded by paddy fields. The ambalama lies close to the Daraluwa Railway Station.
025Wegowwa Ambalama - MinuwangodayesWesternGampahaLacking the typical architectural features of ambalama buildings of Kandyan era, this is a brick and mortar house with a single room and a half height wall going around the building.
026Kirigala AmbalamayesWesternKalutaraA brick and mortar wayside rest but built similar to a small house lying on the Meepe – Ingiriya Road inside the Sagara Palansuriya Maha Vidyalaya premises.
027Ambagasthanne Kurukulttala AmbalamayesCentralKandyKurukulttala Ambalama is an ancient wayside rest now lying in surrounded by paddy fields on the road to Ambagasthanne from Illukwatte close to Kadugannawa.
028Appallagoda AmbalamayesCentralKandyBuilt in 1922 this ambalama has a floor area of approximately 80 square meters and it measures 5.6 meters from floor to pinnacle. The roof is supported by two sets of stone columns, 12 externally and 4 internally.
029Daulagala AmbalamayesCentralKandyTha Ambalama lies on the junction where Watadeniya road meets Peradeniya – Gadoladeniya Road (B116) at Daulagala Town.
030Digana Gal AmbalamayesCentralKandyLie on the Old Victoria road about 1 1/2 km. from Digana Junction there are remnants of a Gal Ambalama. It is revealed that most of the stone pillars and slabs have been removed by unscrupulous people to construct houses or to beautify their gardens.
031Dunhinna AmbalamanoCentralKandyLie on the Teldeniya-Werapitiya road close to Dunhinna Rural Hospital
032Embekke AmbalamayesCentralKandyLies on the route to Embekke Devalaya. It is generally accepted that this Ambalama is much older than the Embekke Devalaya and was probably built by king Buvanekabahu IV (1341-1351) of Gampola kingdom.
033Getakulama Ambalama at RikillagaskadayesCentralKandyLies at the Getakulama junction. The building is square in its plan and four large pillars hold the roof of the building. The pillars are built using granite blocks held together by cement.
034Godamunne AmbalamayesCentralKandyIt is said that the wooden pillars of the Hanguranketa palace destroyed by fire by the Dutch in the 17th century were used for the construction of this wayside resting house.
035Godamunne Gal AmbalamayesCentralKandylittle known Ambalama in Godamunne hidden by the butiques near the Godamunna Ella.
036Hewawissa AmbalamayesCentralKandyThe building is built upon 8 cylindrical pillars with a shape typical on most brick and mortar Ambalams of this era. Four pillars marks the outside corners of the building. Eight more wooden pillars between the brick and mortar pillars provides additional support.
037Ilukthenna AmbalamayesCentralKandylie on the route to famous Suriyagoda Rajamaha Viharaya about 8 km from Kandy city. Unfortunately the Ambalama seems to have been renovated without much consideration to its antiquity some time ago.
038Kadugannawa AmbalamayesCentralKandyOne of the most known and seen ambalama in the country. Said to have built during the reign of King Sri Wickremerajasinghe and must have been a popular stopover for the merchants traveling on the arduous route between ancient hill capital and the lowlands.
039Kandekumbura AmbalamayesCentralKandyThis ambalama has been built on 1st March 1938 by a person called Galpatigedhara Kiripuncha. Even though this structure lies just beside a main road, its roof and the structure is crumbling and weeds cover the surrounding area.
040Kandewela Ambalamaapprox. locationCentralKandyFour large pillars with carvings carry the main weight of the roof of this building supported by 12 wooden pillars on the outer square. The inner pillars carry carved designs.
041Kengalla AmbalamayesCentralKandyBuilt in 1907 by a Tamil planter from Tanjur, Tamil Nadu and member of Nayak dynasty who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom from 1739 to 1815, this 100-year-old ambalama has an interesting story combined with historical facts.
042Kevulgama AmbalamayesCentralKandyA tiny ambalama made of wood in Madamahanuwara area. The base of the structure is made of four large wooden beams raised from the ground. Four finely carved wooden pillars rising from the base holds the roof.
043Konakalagala AmbalamayesCentralKandyA tiny ambalama made of wood in Madamahanuwara area. The base of the structure is made of four large wooden beams raised from the ground. Four finely carved wooden pillars rising from the base holds the roof.
044Konhange AmbalamanoCentralKandyKonhange with traditional carvings was built by a villager in 1800 for those travelling from Kadugannawa to Kurukuththala.
045Makuldeniya AmbalamanoCentralKandyThe ambalama lie close to the Sub Post Office at Makuldeniya on Teldeniya - Rangala road
046Malgamandeniya Ambalamaapprox. locationCentralKandyThis wooden Ambalama at Malgamandeniya lies on the edge of a paddy field interior to the main road. The structure stands on 4 huge raised wooden beams. The roof is held by another four pillars connected to the floor beams.
047Marassana Ambalamaapprox. locationCentralKandyThe Ambalama is believed to be built in the 18th or 19th centuries. The complete ambalama is made of wood from the “Mee” tree. The outer square is 6 feet 20 inches in length and the inner square 4 feet 17 inches in length. The wooden beams rest on 8 granite stumps to protect the wood from rotting.
048Megoda Kalugamuwa AmbalamayesCentralKandyAn ancient wayside rest on the route to to Gampola through Hindagala, about 13 km from Kandy city. The ambalama sits in the middle of a picturesque paddy field on the banks of Mahaweli River in the Kalugamuwa area.
049Narampanawa AmbalamayesCentralKandyNarampanawa is a small town in Kandy just above Theldeniya on the banks of Hulu Ganga. The Narampanawa Ambalama lies underneath a temple tree on the edge of a picturesque paddy field along the road from Oruthota.
050Naranwala AmbalamayesCentralKandyAn exquisitely built building with typical Kandyan architecture lying 12 kilometers away from Kandy towards Gampola.
051Poramadulla AmbalamayesCentralKandyHidden behind a large cement arch of the entrance to the Poramadulla Vidyakara Maha Vidyalaya you will find the dilapidated Poramadulla Ambalama neglected and forgotten.
052Pujapitiya Dolapihilla Ambalamaapprox. areaCentralKandyPujapitiya is a small town 14 km away from Kandy towards Matale. Dolapihilla Ambalama is said to lie close to the Pujapitiya town.No further information is available on this Ambalama.
053Rikillagaskada AmbalamayesCentralKandyUnfortunately being at the center of the town, it has lost its ancient glory and turned in a another building to do a business. The ambalama is dilapidated and the roof has been patched haphazardly with tin roof sheets without any consideration to the antiquity of the building.
054Siridigana AmbalamanoCentralKandyThis ambalama lies in close proximity to Teldeniya-Rangala road. No further information
055Teldeniya Putuhapuwa AmbalamayesCentralKandyThe ambalama was delipadated with the part of the roof and and walls caved in until beginning of 2017. The Archaeology department has now carried out a complete restoration of this ambalama while maintaining its ancient design features.
056Uduwawala Ambalama - KatugastotayesCentralKandy A small ancient Ambalama (wayside rest) lies on the Uduwawala Junction on the Katuagastota – Medawala road partly functioning as a Bus Stop.
057Wathupola AmbalamayesCentralKandyThe ancient Wathupola Ambalama (wayside rest) is situated in middle of a paddy field in the Wathupola Grama Niladhari Division, Udunuwara Divisional Secretary’s Division, Kandy District in the Central Province.
058Yakgahapitiya Sirimalwatta AmbalamayesCentralKandyLies on the route to the popular Degaldoruwa Rajamaha Viharaya about 5km from Kandy. A 1995 article describes this ambalama as being built on a rough stone base though now the floor is made of cement.
059Yatawara Gal AmbalamayesCentralKandyYatawara Gal Ambalama is an ancient wayside shelter hidden and unknown in the Yatawara area in Kandy district. The ambalama is built on 4 granite pillars and during renovations, the roof has been made in concrete.
060Algama Mahawaththa AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleLies on the Algama – Horagasmankada road. Made of brick and mortar, the ambalama is rectangular in shape and built on seven square pillars and 2 cylindrical pillars which acts at the entrance pillars.
061Aluthnuwara Giruwa AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleA historic wayside rest close to the Aluthnuwara Dedimunda Devalaya in Kegalle District.This site has been built by Queen Sunethradevi, chief consort of King Parakramabahu II (A.D 1236-1276) and mother of King Bhuvanekabahu I.
062Kegalle Jubilee AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleA large building size of a small house lying in the center of the Kagalle City. It has been built in 1887 in parallel to the visit by Queen Victoria of England to then Ceylon.
063Makadawara ambalamanoSabaragamuwaKegalleMakadawara ambalama was built in 1850 and is located in Mawanella, a little interior from Ganethenna Junction on Kandy Colombo main road.
064Makura Ambalamaapprox. locationSabaragamuwaKegalleThis is a unique from all the ambalam in the country since this is built on a granite slab laid across a water canal. The ambalama is located between Hettimulla and Deewala in Kegalle District
065Mangalagama AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleIs situated on the Colombo – Kandy road 85 km away from Colombo. The Ambalama you see today was re-built in 1970 by the Department of Archaeology. By that time only one wooden pillar with the cap and 8 granite pillars had been remaining of the building. The new building had been reconstructed with additional 8 concrete pillars shaped similar to the ancient granite pillars and wooden pillars carved based on the original remaining pillar.
066Mawanella Nepalana AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleA brick and mortar way side rest in the Nepalana area in Kegalle District. The ambalama lies along the Mawanella Thalagolla Road adjoining a picturesque paddy field. The history of this Ambalama is not known.
067Nilwakka AmbalamanoSabaragamuwaKegallelies about 3 kms from Kegalle on the Nilwakka Road which starts near the Kegalle Police station.
068Rukula Ambalamaapprox. areaSabaragamuwaKegalleThis ambalama is said to belonging to 13th century, built for travelers to the Devalaya.The Rukula Ambalama is built with brick and motar. 12 large columns carry the weight of the roof. The roof is tiled with semi cylindrical clay tiles (sinhala ulu)
069Ruwanwella AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleThe ambalama lies in the center of the crowded, traffic – congested Ruwanwella town close to the ancient fort. This is said to be the largest ambalama found in the county. Today it is used as a ayurvedic medicine sales outlet for the local government.
070Udumahana Ambalama - MawanellayesSabaragamuwaKegalleA small ambalama made out of brick and mortar. The building is square in its plan and four large pillars hold the roof of the building.
071Wakirigala AmbalamayesSabaragamuwaKegalleA fairly large ambalama built with 10 granite pillars on the outer square and 4 granite pillars of 20 feet on the inner square. The Northern Entrance of the ambalama is made out of a large granite door frame which is believed to be part of the ancient Wakirigala temple.
072Karagahagedara AmbalamayesNorth WesternKurunegalaIs celebrated for its scenic setting among the local paddy fields. This is built on 4 boulders on a rocky plain.
073Kelimune AmbalamayesNorth WesternKurunegalaA delapidated ambalama on the Kurunegala - Wariyapola road.
074Panavitiya AmbalamayesNorth WesternKurunegalaOne of the most popular ambalama due to its exquisite wood carvings of the Kandyan Era.
075Arambepola AmbalamayesCentralMataleArambepola Ambalama is a small Ambalama lying between Akurana and Alawathugoda on the main road to Matale from Kandy.Made out of clay/cement the the roof is covered with a tin roof today.
076Deevilla AmbalamayesCentralMataleAmbalama stands on 18 massive cement pillars and is a comparatively large ambalama located at the Deevilla Junction.
077Padiwita AmbalamayesCentralMataleLies in middle of a paddy field in the Matale District. History of this Ambalama is not known but it can be presumed that this has been built during the Kandyan kingdom, before the British invasion.
078Lenabatuwa AmbalamayesSouthernMataraA brick and mortar wayside rest in front of the Lenabatuwa Wewa also known as Wilpita Wewa. The Ambalama is rectangular in shape and three sides other than the front is fully covered.
079Nelumwewa AmbalamanoSouthernMataraA 250 year old ambalama in Nelumwewa which was destroyed in 2014. Who destroyed this structure is unknown.
080Parawahera AmbalamayesSouthernMataraA brick and motar plain wayside rest on the lying 9 kms from Matara on the Ratmale Road built during the 19th century.
081Rathmale AmbalamayesSouthernMataraThe unique Rathmale Ambalama is the only two storied ambalama found in the country. The upper floor of the ambalama is said to be used by the priests and the lower floor by the laymen.
082Weragampita AmbalamanoSouthernMataraA restored brick and mortar ambalama lying close to the old Navimana Ferry port across Nilwala River close to Matara.
083Hanguranketha AmbalamayesCentralNuwara EliyaLie between the Pothgul Rajamaha Viharaya and the Hanguranketha Vishnu Devalaya. Believed to be built around 150 years ago.
084Kotagapitiya Ambalamaapprox. locationCentralNuwara EliyaA small Ambalama lying on the narrow road to Kotagapitiya which is believed to be built by the prince Dutugemunu. It is built on a square platform made of granite blocks. The roof is held by four finely cut granite pillars.
085Morapaya AmbalamayesCentralNuwara EliyaLies about 2 kms on the road to Mandaram Nuwara from Padiyapellela. Even through lying right next to the road, this Ambalama doesn’t seems to have been caught the eye of the authorities.
086Ranamune AmbalamayesCentralNuwara EliyaAssociated with the time prince Dutugemunu hid away from his father in Kothmale. Lies atop a paddy field close to a water sprout which is also believed to be a bathing place of the prince.

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