Kokebe Archaeological Reserve and Megalithic Burial Ground

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Monastic Ruins of Kokabe
Monastic Ruins of Kokabe
Image source : www.lanka-excursions-holidays.com

Anuradhapura District is dotted with ancient archaeology sites scattered all over the district rarely known by general public. To find these you need to go off the common roads and need to travel through interior roads where archaeological boards pop up every few hundred meters.

Kokebe Archaeological site is such a site which has been cleared and conserved off the beaten track. Located far off any current civilization, you can reach the site through Mahiyangana road from Anuradhapura or through Palugaswewa from Habarana.  The site is far way from the common pilgrim paths thus rarely visited by anybody. Kokebe is written in number of ways,  කොක්එබේ, කොක්-එබේ, කොක්ඇබේ and කොක් ඇබේ in Sinhala and Kokabe, Kok Abe, Kokebe or Kok Ebe in English.

There are several opinions as to how the village of Kokebe got its name. This village was known as Mahadutuwewa in ancient times. As the village is close to the Yan Oya, the Yan Oya overflows during the rainy season and collects water in in a water pit. These are called “Ebe” as in self-made pit in Sinhala. Another view is that the pits were later named “Ebe” because the villagers dipped in to these water holes and bathed when water was scarce.

It is also said that when a fair skinned governor during the British rule came to the village on a hunting expedition an asked the villagers where the storks (koka) were, they told that the storks were in the Ebe (koka ebe) as they didnt know the language but understood what he was referring to, and that the name of the village had also been changed to Kokebe. It is also believed that the area was named Kokebe because there were many storks in the waterhole (Ebe).

A Bodhigara (tree house), Stupa, Pratimagara (image house) and number of other buildings have been conserved by the archaeological department at  the site.

Based on the pre brahmin scripts found inscribed on the cave ledges, this Aramaic complex has been dated to pre christian times (early Anuradhapura period)  even tough the builder is unknown. The remains seen today has been dated to several periods indicating that several kings of different eras had contributed to the development of this complex. Brick balustrades at the entrance to the buildings is also interesting since steps and balustrades are almost always built with stone during the Anuradhapura era.

On the opposite southern side of the Kokabe village lies a rocky outcrop scattered with evidence of a monastery. On one rock lies a Gal Enda, a rock bed where the rock surface has been smoothed within a rectangle creating a bed on the rock. There is also a rock inscription protected by a iron fence close this rock bed.  The inscription is has faded with time. This inscription mentions of an administrative officer appointed by the king in Anuradhapura.

This ancient monastic site along with the ruins have been inspected by HCP Bell and reported in the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon Annual Report of 1891, Paranavitana in Archaeological Survey of Ceylon Annual Report of 1933, Edmund Godakumbura between 1961-62 and by R.H. De Silva in Archaeological Survey of Ceylon Annual Report of 1979.

Paranavitana has examined 2 cave inscriptions at this ancient monastery and published these in the Inscriptions of Ceylon Volume 1 as Vadakahagala Hinna – Kokebe inscriptions. The first one (#162) is written in 3 lines and is read as “The cave of the lay devotee Raki, Son of chief Saba, [is given to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and absent.” The second one (#1146) is in two lines and the first line has been only partly read. This inscription states “The cave of the female lay devotee Gutta, mother of the elder Tissa . . . . . .” Dr. R.H. de Silva, then the Commissioner of Archaeology, had inspected rock inscription with 13 lines of Brahmi Script 1979 and derived the ancient name of this complex as ‘Hareyada Viharaya‘.

The excavation and the conservation of the Bhodighara/Asanaghara at this site has been carried out in 1962 . Based on information received from a Kokebe villager, A standing Buddha statue carved out of limestone had been discovered at a another site in Kokebe and this statue has been transferred to the Archaeology Museum at Anuradhapura in 1961-62.

Edmund Godakumbura (1907-77), who was the Commissioner of Archaeology in Ceylon from 1956 to 1967 has put forward a alternative to one building being the Bodhigara and says it could have been a Asanagrara ( throne house). Before the time of building Buddha statue, devotees used stone slabs carved with the feet of Buddha (Sri Pathul Gala) or large flat stone slabs (Asana) as aniconic representations of Buddha. Like image houses, Asanagara were buildings which housed these Asana which were worshiped as the representation of Buddha himself. These were gradually phased out around the 1st century with he appearance of the first Buddha statues. Godakumbura believes that the large stone slab now lying in the building believed to be Bodhigara could be an Asana thus the building could have been in fact a Asanagara. It is also possible that this building housed both these venerated objects.

Further conservation and excavation work was carried out at Kokebe in 1979 including at the rocky outcrop with drip ledge caves and the megalithic burial grounds. Kokabe had already been identified as megalithic burial ground by 1970’s. The administration report of the Archaeology Commissioner for 1979 states that 201 Cist Burials has been discovered after clearing the land of vegetation.

On clearing of the Vadakahagala Hinna rocks, 64 rock cut steps had been discovered. Exploring the sides of the Asanaghara site had exposed a mound covering a buried building on either side of the asanagara. To the east was a large mound at the base of the rock outcrop which bears the inscription referred to above. Also the western side of the asanagara was a small mound littered with brickbats. A ruined dagoba was discovered to the north east of the rock inscription, and immediately to the south of the latter at the edge of the rock outcrop remains of a building was found. The pond of the monastery was sited north of the asanagara and the small mound, and it is lined with rubble with a ruined flight of steps leading down to it from the southern side. North-east of the pond the rising ground is dotted with boulders, three of which shelter caves. The second cave inscription at the site is to be seen in large clear letters in one of these caves. The low mound to the west of the asanagara was excavated and ‘a small dagoba with brick asanas on the north, south and western sides was uncovered. The excavation of the mound to the east of the asanagara was commenced and a brick platform was partially exposed. There were thirteen courses of brickwork largely intact on the northern side of the platform. On top of the mound there were signs of a ruined brick structure, the southern side of which is recognisable as circular in plan.

A research carried out by Raja De Silva and K.S Sithrampalam mentions that there are about 200 burials at Kokabe. In a 1982 report by Dr. Shiran Deraniyagla, chipped rocks which could have been stone tools have been discovered by him at the Vawul Lena cave in Koabe. In 1984, Sudarshan Senevirathne had reported of Cist Burials covering an area of 10-15 acres of land based on his research.

The most recent study of the Kokabe megalithic burial ground was carried out by the Rajarata University in 2016.  The initial study of the site has exposed about 267 burial sites with exposed rocks covering an area of about 25 acres. In addition to the Cist Burials discovered earlier, four more types of burials using stones were discovered.  Some burials were in the form of Cairn Mounds (Cairn Heaps), some in the form of Cairn Circles, some in the form of Alighed Burials and some in the form of Urn Pots.

Three of the discovered sites were further excavated and black and red pottery ware  of various shapes, over 100 various coloured glass marbles and ivory marbles which were deposited with the remains of humans as grave goods had been discovered. Three charcoal samples from the pits were sent to USA for carbon dating and they had been dated to 790BC, 770BC and 50AD indicating that this burial ground had been used for at least 850 years  from 800 BC upto 50 AD. This is also the oldest dated Megalithic Burial Ground found in the country so far.

The plan of the Asanaghara Building of Kokebe
The plan of the Asanaghara Building of Kokebe
source : Administration report of the archaeological commissioner for the year 1979

References

  • De Silva, R. and Karunaratne, W., n.d. Administration report of the archaeological commissioner for the year 1979. 1st ed. Colombo: Department of the Government Printing, p.17-19.
  • Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon. Volume 1. Containing cave inscriptions from 3rd century B.C. to 1st century A.C. and other inscriptions in the early Brahmi script. 1st ed. Colombo: Department of Archaeology.
  • Lanka Excursions Holidays – Kandy. n.d. Kokabe – archaeological sites off the beaten path in Auradhapura District. [online] Available at: <https://www.lanka-excursions-holidays.com/kokabe.html> [Accessed 13 June 2021].

Also See

Map of Kokebe Archaeological Reserve

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Driving Directions to Kokebe Archaeological Reserve

Route from Anuradhapura to Kokabe Archaeological Reserve

Route from Habarana to Kokabe Archaeological Reserve

Though : Mihinthale – Kahatagasdigiliya – Konwewa
Distance : 45 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Time to spend : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map
Though : Galenbindunuwewa
distance : 60 km
Travel time : 1.30 hours
Time to spend : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map

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