Veherakanda Ruins of Kotte Kingdom (කෝට්ටේ වෙහෙරකන්ද පුරාවිද්‍යා භූමිය)

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On a trail to Vehera Kanda

Unless one visits the ancient capital cities in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or Kandy, it’s rather unlikely that a person will imagine finding similar remnants of a glorious history within the most developed city in Sri Lanka. In some parts of modern sophisticated suburbs close to Colombo, rare relics of the past still exist.

Kotte, also known as Sri Jayawardenapura, was initially built as a fort by powerful minister Nishshanka Alakeshawara in 1400 AD. This eventually became the capital of Sri Lanka around 1415 AD under King Parakramabahu VI. Reasons why such a change was made, is something that needs to be checked. The desertion of the earlier capital cities due to the collapse of the irrigation systems as a result of invasion, subsequent plagues and the wet zone of the country being more fertile and having enough rain pushed the people to migrate towards the western coastal side of the country.

Along with the citizens, the kings were also forced to move their kingdoms, since the king had to be where the people were. Having moved in such a way, everyone adapted themselves to harvesting the land for what it was and making do with what was available. Kotte unlike Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa was built using mainly laterite, locally known as Kabok; a kind of rock that can be easily cut and is freely available in the wet zone. Thus the use of laterite is identified as one of the significant characteristic features in the construction methods used during this era.

It’s imperative to note here that the colonial invasions played a significant part in the downfall of the Kotte Kingdom. The final blow to the kingdom is said to have come from King Rajasingha. It is believed that he completely destroyed the city. While the earlier cities were protected since people left the areas and consequently the remains were covered by jungle, keeping the ruins intact and safe; the Kingdom of Kotte even after its abandonment continued to be occupied by people. This meant that with the ever-expanding population, the lands were occupied and even things like laterite blocks and stone pillars were used in constructing local houses, leading to the unrestrained destruction of many archaeological sites in Kotte.

Among the few remaining structures built using laterite during the Kotte Kingdom, one is located in Baddegana, named Vehera Kanda ruins. The place is about 4km from Pitakotte Junction and can be reached by travelling through a labyrinth of by-roads. Even the locals are mostly unaware of the existence of these ruins. Declared to be an archaeological site in 1949, it is given restricted access surrounded by barbed wire and locked gates with a caretaker appointed to maintain and protect the place from vandals.

The ruins are a sight to behold. An elevated rectangular-shaped platform about 5.5 feet high holds two stupas surrounded by gigantic Na trees. The platform is 97 feet in length and 58 feet in width. There are two flights of steps made of laterite; leading up to the platform and one can go straight up to the stupas. One of the stupas is large in scale, about 30 feet in diameter and the smaller one is 24 feet in diameter. On the left of the structure, one can see the foundation of a small shrine where possibly a statue of the Buddha may have been kept. Today no such statue can be seen. The land around the platform shows that there had been few other structures around this. However, one is only able to see the scattered stones; remnants of what once would have been part of a much larger temple complex.

Looking into the reasons this structure was built, the word ‘Vehera’ in Veherakanda meaning stupa, suggests that this indeed was a temple, where people came to worship. The remnants of the shrine itself are proof of that. However, Professor Senerath Paranavithana had a different notion contradicting the theory that it is simply a temple. According to his theory, the stupas are the mausoleums of King Parakramabahu VI and his Queen Ranmenika. If that is true maybe the stupas later became a place of worship and were named Veherakanda. Some scholars believe that this is in fact a Kovil named Mahasen-Devarajapaya dedicated to God Katharagama. This is however a theory that is controversial since there were no such indications that there was a Kovil here. What it exactly was is something that is debated to date.

It is truly heartwarming to see the Veherakanda ruins standing tall, revealing only the tips of the iceberg. As one of the handful archaeologically significant sites remaining within Colombo, it is our responsibility to make sure that these places are protected, so that the coming generations will learn to appreciate the history that we all have inherited.

By Manuri Kulatunge
The Nation

Also See

Travel Directions to Vehera Kanda Ruins

Route from Colombo to Vehera Kanda Ruins
Through : Rajagiriya
Distance : 12 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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