We over took 3 huge buses crammed with school children on the narrow Rambukkana – Walgama road. Happy faces of girls and boys singing songs peeped out of the windows. The children waved to us and we waved back. Little did we know that they were heading for the same destination. The Doleman or the Gal-massa of Padavigampola is one of our pre historic relics, attributed to Stone Age Man. It is also the only known relic of such design in Sri Lanka . Rectangular in shape it consists of three sides of enormous solid rock slabs the fourth constituting the roof. A curious shape, a curious structure – some what like the dining table of a giant. And I could almost imagine the stone seat or chair that would go with it.
What does the word Doleman mean? To me it was as mysterious as the very purpose of the structure.
Scholars believe that the word was probably derived from the Cornish and meaning stone hole. It is also said that Stone edifices like dolmens and those at Stonehenge were once associated with the sun-worship and human sacrifices of the Druids.
However more recently it has been attributed by the locals to the shelter and dwelling of the Arahath Maliyadeva and so calling it the Maliyadeva Guharamaya,
In his book “this other lanka” eminent writer, historian and archeologist D.T. Devendra , analyzing the structure says that, scholars are of opinion that they were chambers for the dead or and temples of a primitive cult. The dead were held in awe and worshipped, consequently they were housed magnificently in contrast with the living who were satisfied with caves and crude rock shelters.
The tribal chieftain of Neolithic man, the probable author of dolmens and other megalithic structures, was buried in these chambers of stone, and earth heaped over the pile. There were also huge mounds of earth and rubble known as ‘barrows’ which contained stone ‘boxes’ within them.
According to Devendra ; the origin of these monuments have not been discovered. Chains of dolmens exist, chiefly along the coast, from India to Egypt, from Asia Minor along the Mediterranean littoral (both African and European), up the Atlantic, across the North Sea in the Scandinavian countries, and, in special, Denmark by the Baltic, the source of amber supply. The islets of the Mediterranean, particularly Malta abound in these relics.
He says; it is contended that a race of Asian sea-traders who colonised in the Mediterranean spread their art of erecting these lithic monuments amongst the people with whom they came into contact. Monuments of antiquity such as dolmens, megaliths, cromlechs, menhirs, are connected with sea-trade and ore deposits, of gold, copper, tin, besides amber. Hence some scientists call the traders megalith-builders. These monuments have not been discovered in the heart of Europe, in Germany (central) and Austria, for instance, and this negative evidence led them to associate them with sea-borne traffic.
Devendra explains that the Azilian period of the early hunter and nomad is said to have ended eight to nine thousand years ago. Then came Neo-lithic man whose ‘advanced civilisation’ with polished stone implements, hatchets, saws, hafted axes, adzes, etc., enabled him to put up crude settlements, grow wild crops and throw up protecting palisades. Crops necessitated the recording of seasons. Hence the Stonehenge which was a chronometer in addition to its ‘religious’ significance, such buildings are attributed to this new Stone Age of ‘improved’ stone instruments.
But Padavigampola is nearly 40 miles from the seacoast. As such how come that such a monument has been set up at such a distance inland? Devendra concludes by quoting the answer in the words of a famous anthropologist, Professor Childe:
“But it must be remembered that most of these tombs, and especially those in the hinterlands, were not built by the visitors themselves, but by natives who had assimilated the idea rather imperfectly and were trying with increasing ill-success to copy the models that they had seen.
These latter were far too preoccupied with their cult and the labours it involved to make any real progress in the more practical arts.”
As we stood admiring the Doleman, old Girigoris with scythe in hand and chewing a wad of betel joined us. Visitors to the pre historic site meant tips for him – for another drink.
“There are rock caves up on these hills, I can take you there if you like” he said pointing at the hills over the site. “Ah the path is not difficult but you cannot go there alone.” A hint of the strong stuff already tainted his breadth.
Now the children from the three buses also joined us. An enthusiastic lot of seventh graders accompanied by their teachers. Laughing , chattering unceasingly, clinging to each other, holding hands, pushing each other, books and pencil cases in hand they crowded around the stone structure. One of the teachers informed us that they were on their field trip in relation to the pre historic period. A printed questionnaire had been distributed amongst them.. The questions included the geographical location, the the construction design, its history, and the measurements of the structure with their palms or viyan. Some of the more ingenious even sketched the structure. After a while one of the teachers calling for attention began to relate its pre history and other facts of the site, while the children earnestly copied in their books what they could.
They were the future; the men and women of the tomorrow, taking notes on the past, so wonderfully carefree and so typically like children. It was a pleasure to watch them.
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within 25 kilometers