Godamunna Ambalama (ගොඩමුන්න අම්බලම)

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Godamunna Ambalama or the wayside rest lies in the village of Godamunna. It is said that the pillars used for this wayside rest are from Rajasinha II’s Castle of Hanguraketa. If so this would be the only remnants of this castle after it was burned down by the Dutch.

From the publication Buddhist Monastic Architecture in Sri Lanka: The Woodland Shrines by Anuradha Seneviratna, Benjamin Polk, published in 1992,

“Godamunne Ambalama : Pilgrims’ rests may be as old as south Asian civilization. Asoka, the greatest emperor of India -some historians say of the world -in about 230 BC issued orders carved on stone or iron columns, for the planting of avenues of trees and for building shelters, for the comfort of Pilgrims. Asoka was following a tradition of his forbears founded by kings from the Code of Manu of prehistoric times. These meritorious acts of the ancient kings withered away on time’s wind, even as Asoka’s great palace on the Ganges River, described by contemporaries as built with wood columns sheathed in beaten gold and harbouring aviaries of brilliantly coloured singing birds.

Wayfarer’s rests on Sri Lanka, many of them several hundreds of years old, have been kept close to their youth by the continuous replacements of decaying parts and are among the oldest wood structures on the island. Prominent families of a locality will donate and maintain a shelter, or they are put up by the villagers, as a place to rest and meet. A close look at a map of the Sri Lankan hills tells without words the intimate part the Ambalamas play in village life: on one section of land 3 miles by 2 miles, there are in one instance 7 ambalamas and 9 shrines.

One at least of the small shelters is a minor work of art; the Godamunna ambalama has charm and poise. The roof is square and like a tiled umbrella covers a stone platform about the size of a king-size bed (PI. 34). The construction is Simple: merely four huge foundation timbers joined to make a rectangle that has been raised to seat height from the stone plinth on four big boulders; four columns at the corners support heavy plain beams grained like watered silk, that support the roof. Its carved wooden pillars are damaged to some extent by having been chipped away with knives.

It 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. The British soldiers who camped in the neighbourhood after the anti-British rebellion of 1818 have used this as an abattoir. Placed on a rise overlooking a valley of rice fields near Kandy it is a tranquil, timeless little-heaven from a tropical downpour.

Godamunne Ambalama Image Source : Buddhist monastic architecture in Sri Lanka: the woodland shrines
Godamunna Ambalama
Image Source : Buddhist monastic architecture in Sri Lanka: the woodland shrines

Rajasinha II, the sixth king of the Udarata (The old name for the Kandyan Kingdom), the tyrant who captured the Englishman, Robert Knox, in 1657, was an astute ruler who managed to fend off both the Portuguese and the Dutch. Rajasinha was one of the few kings of Kandy whose palace was not burned to the ground by either The Dutch or the Portuguese. Both his father and grandfather lost so many of their palaces in Kandy that they at last put up sham palaces that would keep the rain off but could be quickly evacuated in a crisis.

Rajasinha, however, with justifiable confidence, built not only a substantial Kandy palace but an additional palace pleasance down the river at Hanguranketa. The king relied on a spy network that reported every move in the hills and intercepted every letter. Nothing got past them.

His strategies followed closely the Six Positions of Diplomacy as satirically proclaimed in the Panchantra story by the king of the Owls in dealing with the enemy, the Crows, namely: Peace, War, Change of Base, Entrenchment, Alliances and Duplicity. Rajasinha went through all of them, and when Robert Knox fell into his hands he was engaged in Duplicity. He appeared to encourage European trade, but European ambassadors who managed to slip past The Dutch monopoly guards and came to Kandy to talk business found themselves detained indefinitely although in princely style, provided with maid or men companions as they preferred, but allowed no contact with their governments or families.

Knox describes the king: he “loved animals, was a good swimmer and horseman and did not persecute Christians, although he was not free from some of the vices of the Roman Emperors. His mother was a Catholic, his father an ex-Buddhist monk, and his wife, from whom he lived apart, a Hindu.” In fact, no wives were permitted in Kandy, even those of the dignitaries who lived at court. Knox says the king was “…..a firm, able ruler (who) kept his crown for 52 years ….. a shrewd tactician.”

As he grew older he became disillusioned and whimsical. Having aided the Dutch to dislodge the Portuguese (see Positions of Diplomacy -Five) he complained he had “given pepper and got ginger.” ‘The King”, says Knox. “taketh great delight…to see his captive ambassadors brought before him in fine apparel, their swords at their sides, with great state and honour…..

He kept one miserable ambassador at a village not far from the riverside palace at Hanguranketa -and that brings us back to the ambalama at Godamunna. The villagers there say that during one foray against Kandy, the Dutch set fire to the Hanguranketa palace, and townspeople rescued from the flames the four columns now in the little shelter at Godamunna .”

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Map of Godamunna Ambalama

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Traveling Directions to Godamunna Ambalama

Route from Colombo to Godamunna Ambalama Route from Kandy to Godamunna Ambalama
Via : Colombo – Kandy Highway
Distance : 132 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Distance : 14- km
Travel time : 30 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

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