Ancient Iratperiyakulam Wewa and Buddhist Ruins (ඊරට්පෙරියකුලම වැව සහ බෞද්ධ නටබුන්)

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Iratperiyakulama is a small town lying on the A9 route (Kandy – Jaffna) 19 km passing Medawachchiya and 6 km before Vavuniya. It is believed that the old name of this village was Maharathkulama but it has been tamilised over time into the current name. There are two important historically important artefacts in this small town. One is the Shailabimbarama Purana Viharaya and the other is the Iratperiyakulama reservoir which lies about ½ km from the main road.

The ancient reservoir at Iratperiyakulam is one of the largest reservoirs of the Vavuniya District and has been a key point of interest for British archaeologists and irrigation engineers such as Henry Parker, H.C.P Bell and J.P. Lewis during its rule of this island.

In 1895 Lewis noted about the Vanni District ;

The principal archaeological remains are to be seen in the ancient Sinhalese tanks, most of which have been described in detail in Mr Parker’s reports. These remains consist of massive embarkments, such as Thannimurippu where the bund is about 2¾ miles long; at Pavatkulam it is 2 miles long; at Mamadu 1¼ miles long; Iratperiyakulam and Kanukkeni 1 mile; and many of smaller dimensions.

Remains of ancient stone slices (Bisokotuwa) or Valve-Pits built with long slabs of stones of considerable breadth and small thickness, laid on edge and fitted together with great care.” Behind the stonework is a backing of brickwork. There are five of these sluices with bisokotuwas still to be seen at Pavatkulam, and Mr. Parker says, “so far as I am aware this is the only tank in the Island with more than four.” (Lewis,1895).

With regard to one of the sluices at Iratperiyakulam, which is still in use, Mr. Parker remarks: We have here a sluice which has continued in working order for 1,770 years or more. It is probably the oldest identified sluice in working order in the Island if this tank is the Alawichcha Lake (Brohier,1980).

According to Parker, there was an inscription at the junction of the embankment with the northern side of an immense rock by King Gajabahu I (112-134) on the bund, recording a grant made to the priesthood at the Tihadaya Viharaya, on the shore of the Alawichcha Wewa. It is almost certain that this is the ancient name of the reservoir and proves that this reservoir was built before 112 CE. Based on Parker’s papers, this inscription has been documented in the 1st part of the 2nd volume of “Inscriptions of Ceylon”.

Ven Medhānanda reports of his visits to Iratperiyakulam Wewa in 1969, 1976, 1981 and 1987 in search of the inscription and the monastery but was unable to find it. Parker writes that this inscription was covered up with the embankment of the reservoir when it was restored and therefore will not be seen when the inscriptions of that Province come to be copied (Parker,1909). According to Lewis, this rock was completely destroyed when the road was built (Lewis,1895).

Iratperiyakulam reservoir was rebuilt during 1886-1887 at a cost of LKR 18,500. The area of the tank was 535 acres (2.1 square kilometres), and it was capable of irrigating about 1,200 acres. It had been restored to retain 15 ft. of water and had been furnished with two iron sluices (Lewis,1895). Today this reservoir has a gross capacity of 14.4 million m3 and supports 400 farming families.

Buddhist Ruins

A Buddhist monastery had existed at Iratperiyakulam, where on the side of the road about a quarter of a mile from the bund of the reservoir. The ruins found in the late 1800’s include of a pohoya-geya with a large sedent stone image of Buddha and the usual two rows of pillars with a flight of steps. Mr. Parker would hesitate to identify (these ruins) as those belonging to the “Tihadiya Viharaya“, which was probably on the high rock Iratperiyakulam Kanda, where some remains were found when the trigonometrical tower was built (Lewis,1895).

After Parker, the only search for these ruins seems to have been done by Ven Ellāvala Medhānanda Thero. He reports of an elevated land consisting of rock cliffs close to the reservoir. Many bricks belonging to early periods are strewn all over the rock surface, inside rock caves and below. The rock can be the place where the Tihadaya Vihara stupa once stood. Traces of ancient ruined pieces can be found throughout a stretch up to the present Shailabimbarama Viharaya lying west of the road running in parallel to the bund.

A granite Buddha statue broken into pieces was found when new settlements came up with the establishment of the Shailabimbarama temple. Today this statue has been reconstructed and housed in the temple.

The present vihara consists of a Dhammasala, an Image House and a Bodhi Tree about 150 years old. Remains of a stupa are seen to the north of the vihara. Its circumference is 40 feet and its present height is about 9 feet. The other findings around it are two broken pieces of a flower altar, a stone seat and some pillars. The ‘Yupa Sthamba’ is seen jutting out from the debris of the stupa. By the side is a footprint stone done in lines according to Ven Ellāvala Medhananda Thero.

According to the Thero, it is fortunate to see vandals’ hands were not set on the tupa, except for natural hindrance. As pointed out earlier, The Tihadaya Arama stretched a long distance from the reservoir up to this place. The present Vavuniya-Kandy road runs between the reservoir and the Vihara. The donation of such a big reservoir (according to the inscription) to this monastery reveals a large number of Bhikkhus residing here.

The ancient chaitya and ruins in Irattaiperiyakulam Village in the Grama Niladhari Division No. S. 212-A, in Vavuniya South Divisional Secretary’s Division in Vavuniya District, Northern Province was gazetted as a protected archaeological site on 6th June 2008.

The Old Sinhala School

A government Sinhalese School was opened in Iratperiyakulam in 1892, the first ever opened in a Vanni Sinhalese village (Lewis,1895). Ven Medhānanda Thero mentions that this the present Parakum Maha Vidyalaya, now over 125 years old.

References

  1. Lewis, J.P. (1895). Manual of the Vanni Districts (Vavuniya and Mullaittivu), of the Northern Province, Ceylon. 1st ed. Colombo: H.C. Cottle, Acting Govt. Printer.
  2. Lewis, J.P. (1895) “Archaeology of Wanni,” Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 23(1893-1894), pp. 156–176.
  3. Bell, H., (1909). Archaeological Survey of Ceylon – North Central, Central, and Northern Provinces Annual Report 1905. Colombo: Archaeological Department of Ceylon, p.24-25.
  4. Ellāvala Medhānanda, 2005. The Sinhala Buddhist heritage in the East and the North of Shri [i.e. Sri] Lanka. 1st ed. Colombo: Dayawansa Jayakody & Co.
  5. Ceylon Administration Report for the year 1891 (1892). Colombo , Ceylon: George J. A. Skeen.
  6. Brohier, R., 1980. Ancient irrigation works in Ceylon. 1st ed. Colombo: Ministry of Mahaweli Development.
  7. Paranavitana, S. (1983) Inscriptions of Ceylon : Containing Rock and Other Inscriptions from the Reign of Kutakanna Abhaya (41 BC – 19 BC) to Bhatiya II (140 – 164 AD). Colombo, Sri Lanka: Department of Archaeology Sri Lanka (Vol.2, Part 1).
  8. Parker, H., 1909. Ancient Ceylon. 1st ed. London: Luzac, pp.257-260.
  9. Abeywardana, M.Y. (2008) “The Antiquities Ordinance (Chapter 188) ,” The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1553, p. 530.

Also See

Map of  the Iratperiyakulam Wewa

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Traveling to Iratperiyakulam Wewa

Route from Anuradhapura to Iratperiyakulam Wewa
Through : Medawachchiya
Distance : 50  km
Travel time : 60 minutes
Time to spend : 30-45 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

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