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The Ceylon Press Complete Companion to Sri Lanka

A, a

Abeysekera, Karunaratne

“Come mild wind and convey my sad feelings,” wrote Abeysekera. Ours too - for the poet song-writer, who died in his early fifties, in 1983, was a much-loved, much-missed literary and cricket all-rounder. Beginning his career at a jejune 20 years old, he went on to write the lines of well over 2,000 songs. His award-winning lyrics underwrote the careers of some of the island’s most popular singers; and called to mind a gentle, kinder world, where there was room enough for emotion, feelings – and, of course, love. “My eyes are closing, and your image alone is seen,” he wrote in one of his most renowned hits. His fascination with cricket won him a place as the first notable Singhala broadcaster on the subject, his agile creativity well up to the task of having to invent cricketing terms for actions then unknown in the Singhala language.

Illustration courtesy of the artist's Facebook Page.

Abhaya Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The eleventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 56th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 237 – 245 CE. By any standards, Abhaya Naga was the sort of king a country might best avoid. Despite having both cuckolded and murdered his brother Voharika Tissa, the previous king, he still managed to last for eight years before dying a wholly undeserved natural death – just the 26th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have so died. His gaining of the throne with the help of a mercenary Tamil army suggests also just how close the links were between the Anuradhapuran kings and the monarchs of south India – the Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras and Pandiyans.

Illustration: A Lakshmi Plaque coin showing on the obverse the Goddess Lakshmi facing, being showered by two mini elephants atop of poles; and on the reverse: a clockwise revolving Swastika tree. The coin was in circulation in Anuradhapura from 20 BCE to 297 CE, including during the reign of Abhaya Naga, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of CoinTalk.

Abhaya, King of Upatissa Nuwara

The fourth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 474 – 454 BCE.

Abhaya, King Panduvasdeva’s eldest son, inherited the Vijayan throne from his father in 474 BCE. It is impossible to discern at this distance quite what passed for war and peace among his nine male siblings during his rule but clearly there was a rising dispute that only ended (for him) when in 454 BCE he had abdicated in favour of his bother Tissa. It is unlikely that Abhaya’s ousting took the pressure of what had become an incipient civil war as Panduvasdeva’s sons continued to vie for prominence, and survival. Spared his life, Abhaya retreated into a wise obscurity, sensibly declining his nephew’s later offer to retake the crown, settling instead for the far less pressured job of running the freshly minted city of Anuradhapura.

Illustration: The earliest known version of the Vijayan Flag, with the Lion shown. Courtsey of Narlaka Unleashed.

Abrar Mosque

Claimed as the island’s oldest mosque, Beruwala’s Abrar Mosque dates back to 920 CE - but was brutally improved in 1986 by a Provincial Governor. Indeed, over the recent centuries, so much of the ancient mosque has been forcibly renovated that its tangible antiquity is more a whisper than a certainty. But its claims to a deep and real history are strongly grounded, for Beruwala, located on the SW coast of the island, is said to be the country’s very first Muslim settlement, established sometime in the 10th CE by a Somali Sheikh - Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn. A man much given to spreading the word of the Prophet to neighbours near and far, the Sheik was called "the most outstanding saint in Somaliland". The Sri Lankan Moor descendants of these early settlers make up the town’s majority population, and the masjid’s devotees, 3,000 of which can fit into its cool interior at any one time in answer to the shahadah, calling them in five times a day.

Illustration courtesy of the mosque's Facebook Page.


Night-time is lights-out time in Sri Lanka; the polluting sodium glare of millions of civic lights and lit shop windows is largely absent here, bringing no comfort to achluophobics but lots to the country’s many nocturnal creatures. By 9 p.m., in most towns and small cities, barely a bulb glows. Except for insomniacs, the eternally overworked and slavish party animals, a Sri Lankan bedtime is early, in time for an early Sri Lankan bed rise.

Illustration courtsey of CEB.


A historical Sinhala term for land that is granted to someone for the duties they render or the office they hold.

Illustration: A Sketch map of Kandy and environ in1815. Public Domain.


A Buddhist country with deep Muslim and Hindu traditions, Sri Lanka could never be accused of minimalizing religion. It is no surprise to learn that this was also said to be the country to which Adam fled when exiled from the Garden of Eden. If so, he may have experienced a sharp sense of déjà vu upon arrival - for if ever there is a natural environment akin to that described in Genesis, it must surely be Sri Lanka. Archaeological or documentary corroboration of the Adam-in-Sri-Lanka myths are, at best, elusive; but it is believed that he left a foot print on the top of the sacred mountain of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). This is disputed by Buddhists who claim the footlike depression belongs to Lord Buddha. Hindus argue that it was left there by Hanuman or Shiva; whilst other Christians state it is actual a mark made by St Thomas.

But if his eponymous mountain has because a mildly litigious landmark, Adam can also claim the remarkable Adam’s Bridge, the causeway that links Sri Lanka to the rest of the Asian landmass. His association, post expulsion, with super large things is not surprising given that one of Allah’s hadiths have him at sixty cubits tall – some 27 metres high.

Illustration: The Angel of Revelation by William Blake.

Adam’s Bridge

Until a cyclone hit it in 1470 you could just about walk - at low tide - from India to Sri Lanka. Today, you will need scuba gear – to glimpse the shattered path that still remains on 48 kilometres of partially sunken limestone banks stretching in salty shallows between the two countries. Named for the Biblical Adam, this thread of 103 coral reefs separates the Gulf of Mannar in the south from Palk Bay in the north, and connects Rameswaram, a modest fishing town in India’s Tamil Nadu to Thalaimannar, a still smaller fishing settlement on the tip of Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island. These salty stretches of reef platforms, sandy beaches and mangroves offer a unique home to thousands of species of fauna and flora – fish, lobsters, shrimps, crabs; and the now highly endangered dugon, a marine mammal heralded as the original mermaid by ancient sailors; and closely – if unexpectedly - related to elephants. The very shallowness of the waters means that sea faring traffic finds the aera almost impossible to sail through; and various schemes have, since the 18th century, suggested dredging the watery gaps to create a shipping throughfare. The most recent of these nakedly destructive and environmentally vandalistic schemes, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, sits atop on a dusty shelf policed by the governments of India and Sri Lanka - an on-off Plan that has been discussed since the mid-1950s and, thankfully, with a price tag of several billion US dollars, one that is unlikely to undergo a malign hatching.

Illustration Courtsey of Google Maps.

Adam’s Peak

Few Sri Lankans, and fewer still visitors, have not taken the trouble to ascend Adam’s Peak, a 7,359 foot mountain in the south of the island, flanked by forest, home to elephants and leopards, glinting with rubies, and sapphires, and the source of three major rivers. So it is unsurprising that no less a tourist than Alexander the Great is said to have made a journey up the sacred mountain. It holds at its top a depression that is claimed by Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus, as – respectively - the footprint of the Buddha, Adam, and Siva.

Albeit somewhat late in the day, Ashraff, a 15th century Persian poet describes the royal visit, proceeded, he says, by obligatory orgies and partying, in his poem “Zaffer Namah Skendari”. A century before, the sweetly-named Arab explorer, Ibn Batuta (“son of the duckling”) describes coming across a grotto at the foot of the mountain inscribed with the word "Iskander," an Asian variant of the name “Alexander.” Fa Hein, a Chinese explorer, describes his trip uphill in 412 CE. and the Italian merchant Marco Polo mentions it in his Travels of 1298 CE. But long before this many a Sri Lankan king has made the ascent, starting with King Valagambahu who apparently discovered the famous footprint in around 100 BCE.

Despite being the country’s second highest mountain, its unique teardrop shape leaves it standing out from the surrounding mountains like a giraffe among a zebra herd, its distinctive shape immortalized in the “Sixth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor” in Scheherazade’s “Thousand and One Nights”. The engaging royal storyteller wrote of “marvels which are indescribable” and that “the mountain is conspicuous from a distance of three days, and it contains many rubies and other minerals, and spice trees of all sorts.” But perhaps what makes it most remarkable is the fact that it is respected as a place of pilgrimage for all the important religions on the island; and has been trouble-free for nearly its entire history.

Three paths lead to the top – the Ratnapura route, the Kuruwita route and the Hatton route. The pilgrim climb, regarded by all as exceptionally meritorious, takes several long hours, and is usually scheduled between December to April, a reliably dry period. More reckless pilgrims visit it out of season, battling heavy rain, extreme wind, and thick mist, more in search of rescue parties than God. The aim of all pilgrims to get to the top just before daybreak so as to witness a glorious sunrise prior to carrying out an variety of religious rites. It is not place for hermits: on weekends it is estimated that 20,000 people make the challenging ascent and up to five people a season die on the journey.

Illustration: A photograph by Unbekannt of Adam's Peak taken in 1926. Public Domain.

Adisham Hall

A comforting cross between the architectural outreaches of Kent’s Leeds Castle; and a cosy Cotswold Cottage, Adisham Hall overlooks the tea plantations around Haputale. Built in 1931, and standing proudly in a gentle time warp created by its architects R. Booth and F. Webster, it is as if the hit song of that year, Noël Coward’s "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" could still be heard drifting down its long green driveway. The house was built by Sir Thomas Villiers, a descendant of Lord John Russell, one of Britain’s most reforming prime ministers - but commerce not social enterprise ran in Villers’ veins – and he was to go onto become one of the principal businessmen of the colony. He retired in 1949, selling up and sailing back to England for the last ten years of his life. By 1963 his home had passed into the hands of The Benedictine Order and the house became Saint Benedict’s Monastery. Within its granite walls, many of the old rooms have been preserved, a Chapel created to house a chip of St Benedict himself; a shop set up to sell jams, cordials, and jellies; and inspirational quotations such as ”Lost time is never found again” dotted optimistically around its grounds and gardens.

Illustration: Adisham Hall courtsey of Diethelm Travel Sri Lanka.

Administrative Structures

A country’s structural divisions are rarely able to inspire even the merest flicker of excitement, but even so, it helps one’s basic orientation to have some sort of semblance of order. During the time of the Anuradhapura kings, the country was divided into 3 areas, but time has inflated this to 9 provinces. The quickest way to envisage them is:

Three Gaze Seaward;
Three Gaze over Hills;
Two are Very Flat;
One is tiny but busy.

The largest, the North Central Province, ranges over 10,000 square kilometres of dry evergreen forest and, though centred on the old capital of Anuradhapura itself, supports a modest population. At just under 10,000 square kilometres, is the long Eastern seaboard province, dominated by Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors and managed from Trincomalee. The sparsely populated Northern Province, run from Jaffna and dominated by Tamils stretches over nearly 9,000 square kilometres – similar in size and population to Uva Province, though Uva, centred on Badulla, with its massive lakes and reservoirs and mighty mountains is as different to the flat dry north as it is possible to be. At just under 8,000 square kilometres is the North Eastern Province, paddy and coconut rich flat lands that stretch from the capital at Kurunegala to the lagoons of Puttalam and supporting a population nudging 3 million. Next door, smaller in size and larger in population is the lush tea-rich Central Province, centred on Kandy - similar in size and population to the long seaboard Southern Province, centred on Galle. At just under 5000 square kilometres is Sabaragamuwa Province, sparsely populated and centred around the gem-rich town of Ratnapura, leaving the Colombo-dominated Western Province as the smallest in size (under 4,000 square kilometres) and the largest in population. For the determinately bureaucratic these 9 administrative divisions open out onto yet more complexity – 25 districts that are split again into 331 Divisional Secretary's Divisions, under which come 14,022 Grama Niladhari Divisions, centred around villages. Order is the greatest grace, as John Dryden remarked; and it is to be found all across Sri Lanka, should you wish to find it.

Illustration courtsey of DigiAtlas.


A modestly priced ($10 to $100 per carat) semi-precious quartz, agate occurs in a in a wide range of colours including brown, white, red, grey, pink, black, and yellow. Sri Lanka specialises in blue-tinted agate, said to pacify inner anger, and anxiety.

Image courtsey of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.


A modest coastal town near Galle, noted for Geoffrey Bawa's Heritance Ahungalla Hotel.

Illustration: Heritance Ahungalla courtsey of TripAdvisor.


A Muslim dominated town on the south east coast, situated at the entrance to the vast Periya Kalappu lagoon.

Illustration courtsey of Devaka Seneviratne.


In buying the semi-precious stone Alexandrite, purchasers gain two jewels for the price of one - for the stone’s unusual light absorbing qualities give it the possibly of such different appearances that it is often known as an emerald by day and a ruby by night. Although relatively scare on the island, Sri Lankan alexandrite's exceptional quality has made it much prized within the jewellery industry; and for between $3,000 - $20,000 per carat, you could sport one for your next appearance in Hallo Magazine. Alternatively, you might search the world for the missing Naleem Alexandrite, a Sri Lankan gem of unparalleled quality – said to be the largest such stone in the world – weighing in at 112 carats. It was sold by a noted gem collector, Al Haj Naleem, in Beruwala but the onward chain of buyers has long since gone cold and it has not been recorded as having been seen anywhere since 2011 – a year of such unpropitious and unparalleled misery as to offer perfect cover for the shy gemstone.

Image courtesy of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Amandagamani Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty eighth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 21 CE – 30 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne on the death of his brother, Mahadatika Mahanaga, King Amandagamani Abhaya’s rule ended abruptly when he was murdered by his brother, Kanirajanu Tissa. This seems - in retrospect - to be the tipping point for the Vijayan dynasty. The regicide unleased a murderous plenitude of competing ambitious amongst other family members, and within the wider nobility around the throne. Thereafter, murdering the sitting king because something of a dynastic craze. It was to take a further 29 years of feuding, assassination, and civil war for the once great dynasty to finally unseat themselves.

Illustration: The Ridi Viharaya, said to have been extended by Amandagamani Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtsey of Time Out.

Amangalla Hotel, The

For one hundred and forty years Galle’s most majestic hotel was known as the New Oriental Hotel before being rebaptised in 2005 as the Amangalla. Its real date stretches back to 1684 when it was the headquarters of the Dutch. Now a glorious heritage hotel, with deep, humbling verandas, it has wisely chosen to restrict its number of rooms to better focus on the sort of luxury you know you deserve the moment you find it.

Image courtsey of The Amangalla, Galle.


Sri Lanka is one of the world best sources of high quality amethysts, a semi-precious gem ($20-$50 per carat) that occurs in transparent pastel roses to deep purples. Used in jewellery, as well as alternative healing, its supporters argue that it helps relieve stress and anxiety, fend off headaches, fatigues, and anxiety; and promote cell regeneration.

Image courtesy of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Amiens, Treaty of

Illustration: "The plumb-pudding in danger," by James Gillray published in 1805. The satirical cartoon has Britain's Pitt and France's Napoleon facing each other at a round dinner-table on which, in a dish, is a terrestrial globe in the form of a steaming plum-pudding. The two men are caving up the world, and in the negociations, Dutch Ceylon is surrendered to the British. Public Domain


As in most nations, magic and superstition are alive and well on the island, though perhaps not quite as strong as once they were. Integral to this are amulets – those varied charms that keep misfortune at bay. All too easily, demons are thought to manipulate weather, raise storms, direct lightening; determine droughts, or even a woman’s fertility.

The amulet is often a shell or a boar’s tusk enclosed in a case and containing a charm, engraved, or written out on a copper or gold plate or an ola leaf. It is worn as a bracelet or necklace – or even around the waist. The charm is weaponized by incantations. And in such a deeply Buddhist country as this, most children wear a 'Panchauda,' a gold or silver pendant decorated with the symbols associated with Lord Buddha’s life, with the charm incanted over an altar of flowers with incense burning all about. In Tamil Sri Lanka, many wear the Pottu – a mark on the forehead in red or black to protect the wear against the evil eye, a tradition which has also spread into many Buddhist families too. Similarly, the malign effects of the evil eye are also dissipated by animal teeth, cobra hood rings or horseshoes above doors. Prosperity and good fortune is more likely if you wear rings or bangles that enclose elephant hair.

But best of all – for protection against all life’s travails – is the Navaratna ring, made up of 9 types of gems:
Ruby (Sun);
Pearl (Moon);
Emerald (Mercury);
Red Coral (Mars);
Yellow Sapphire (Jupiter);
Diamond (Venus);
Blue Sapphire (Saturn);
Hessonite (Rahu, the ascending lunar position in astrology);
Cat’s Eye (Ketu, the descending lunar position).

And there are also a host of other more specific protection that can be turned to including shark’s teeth, to prevent muscular cramps when swimming; and a piece of iron in a child’s lunchbox to block evil spirits getting at the food.

Image courtsey of The British Museum.

Anula, Queen of Anuradhapura

The thirty fourth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of her reign being sometime around 44 BCE – 42 BCE.

Anula, Queen of Anuradhapura was to leave a mark on queenship that would the office centuries to recover from. She began her royal career in 50 BCE by poisoning her Vijayan husband, Choura Naga, King of Anuradhapura. She was to repeat the same tried and trusted trick in 47 BCE by poisoning his successor, Kuda Thissa. Choosing at this point to rule from a distance, she appointed her lover Siva, as ex palace guard, to be king in 47 BCE before having him poisoned. Thereafter the pattern was set. Siva I was himself poisoned within a year and replaced by a new lover, Vatuka, who had till then being living the probably blameless life of a Tamil carpenter. The following year the carpenter was replaced in similar fashion by Darubhatika Tissa, a wood carrier – who also failed to measure up. Her last throw of the love dice was Niliya, a palace priest who she installed as king in 44 BCE before feeding him something he ought not to have eaten.

At this point Anula must have reached the logical conclusion: if you want something done well, do it yourself. And so, from 43 to 42 BCE she ruled in her own name, the country’s first female head of state, beating President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga by well over two thousand years. Anula’s own reign ended at the hands of her brother-in-law, Kutakanna Tissa, who, having sensibly become a Buddhist monk during Anula’s rocky reign, remained alive and so able to rescue the monarchy. He did so by burning the queen alive in her own palace in 42 BCE, bringing down the curtains on a royal career that eclipsed that of the entire Borgia clan put together.

Illustration courtsey of


A rock phosphate, Apatite is commercially used as a fertilizer and is mined in Sri Lanka at Eppawala, near Anuradhapura.

Image courtsey of Raimond Spekking.


The presence of iron within the crystal of this semi-precious stone is what gives it its cherished green-blue to blue colour variations. Abundant and comparatively affordable ($130 - $900 per carat), it is found in Rathnapura, Rakwana, Morawaka, Hatton, Nawalapitiya, Galle, Matara, Tissamaharama and Lunugamwehera. Its comparative inexpensiveness has not stopped it decorating some of the world’s more famous people, including the French Emperor Louis XV who owned the 109.92 carats Hirsch Aquamarine, Queen Elizabeth II who commissioned an Aquamarine Tiara, Eleanor Roosevelt who collected the gift of a 1,298-carrot aquamarine gemstone when she visited Brazil in 1936 - and the colossal 225,000 carrot Dom Pedro Aquamarine, named after the anachronistic Brazilian emperors, Pedro I and Pedro II.

Image courtesy of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Areca Nut Palm

A sketch by Edward Lear of Areca Nut Palms, 1874. Public Domain.

Asala Perahara

A Sinhala term for a religious ceremonial procession or important ritual.

Illustration courtsey of

Asela, King of Anuradhapura

The fourteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 215 BCE – 205 BCE.

The son Mutasiva, the Vijayan king of Anuradhapura, Asela took refuge in his cousin’s southern kingdom of Ruhuna when the Anuradhapuran Kingdom was overrun in 237 BCE by Sena and Guttik, a couple of opportunistic Tamil horse traders. It took 22 years of continual warfare before Asela was able to dislodge and kill them in 215 BCE. But his inheritance was a plundered and deeply weakened kingdom. He himself would have been worn down by decades of internecine warfare. He was to rule his newly acquired domain for just ten years, before losing both it and his own life in 205 BCE to yet another invader – this time to a prince of the Tamil Chola dynasty in Southern India – Ellalan.


In Sri Lanka it is not just what you do that matters. When and where you do it is just as important. A standard, well-entrenched discipline, astrology is widely used to ascertain the most auspicious time for important events – marriages, housebuilding, elections, company start-ups, naming ceremonies and many religious rituals. The well-regarded Sri Lanka Foundation adult education centre is among many to offer certified courses in the subject, and you don’t have to look far online or down most town streets, ministerial offices, or state buildings to come across one happy to chart your course.

Doing things in the right place at the right time is a matter of great importance. To determine such auspicious facts Sri Lankans turn, almost to a person, to astrologers and fortune-tellers. The starting point is most usually the person’s individual horoscope. This is determined by detailing all the planetary movements over the person’s lifetime and then writing them out on a Tailpot palm leaf.

In this the signs of the Zodiac are of course known by different names:
Aries (Mesha);
Taurus (Vrshabha);
Gemini (Mithuna);
Cancer (Kataka);
Leo (Sinha), Virgo (Kanya);
Libra (Thula);
Scorpios (Vruschika);
Sagittarius (Dhanu);
Capricorn (Makara);
Aquarius (Kumbha);
Pisces (Meena).

Most of the corresponding rituals are based on times calculated according to astrology and often based on agriculture. And it all starts with Mesha, or Aries. New Year begins not at midnight, but at the time determined by the astrologers, and the Sinhala and Tamil New Year only occurs when the sun moves from Pisces to Aries. Its exact calculation set by astrologers a week or so after the start of the year but the key Vesak Festival, which marks the dawn of the Buddhist new year, comes at least another month later. With its focus on this sun (of central importance to a farming community), moving into Aries heralds the Aluth Avurudda Mangallaya – the new rice festival. During this, the first rice is plucked and processed and donated to the temple, especially The Temple of the Tooth. It is typically followed by the Punyakalaya – a period of time devoted to religious duties. This is known as the nona gathe or neutral period - a little gap between the two years - when one is best advised to be wholly preoccupied with religious duties, including cooking Kiribath.

Illustration: Lord Buddha's horoscope picture courtsey of


Had Andy Warhol ever taken the trouble to visit Avissawella, some 50 kilometres east of Colombo, he might have rephrased his famous quip to read “In the past, everywhere was famous for at least 15 minutes.” For Avissawella, sleepy town that it is today, was once the seething capital of a nascent and short lived kingdom, forged at the fulcrum of the island’s fightback against its first European colonial invaders. Briefly did Avissawella glitter as the capital of the Kingdom of Sitawaka, a realm ruled from 1521 to 1593 by King Mayadunne and his son Rajasinghe the First. A younger son and later brother of the more senior King of Kotte, Mayadunne had carved out his own kingdom in protest at his family’s collaboration with the Portuguese who had first arrived on the island in 1505. Endless battles against the Iberian invaders followed; and when the old king died, his son continued the fight, despite an avalanche of patricide allegations that set him and the Buddhist religious establishment at odds just when unity might have been a more helpful position.

Rajasinghe’s death - of a festering wound in March 1592 - effectively ended his kingdom’s fight and Avissawella returned slowly back into the background. The opening up of the interior of Sir Lanka in the early 1900s by trains and train track gave the area a new jolt of life Today, it is best visited for being a stone’s throw from Seethawaka Botanical Garden, which specialises in conserving the most threatened endemic plants found in Sinharaja Rain Forest.

Illustration: A sketch by Edward Lear of Avisavella in 1874. Public Domain.


Past the occasional roadside shop, barber salon and office for Birth, Deaths, and Marriages, and almost lost in the jungle many miles north of Dambulla, the tiny village of Avukana hints at a more glorious past with its stunning 14 metre statue of Lord Buddha. Academics (as they do) argue about whether the statue is 5th or 8th century - but whomsoever wins that fringe debate, there is no argument about the sheer beauty of the piece.

The lofty standing Buddha is captured by his unknown sculptor making a gesture of blessing - but the way in which his delicate pleated clothing clings with astonishing realism to his body indicates that the sculptor was familiar with two key regional art movements - the naturalistic Hellenistic Gandhara school, and the more sensuous Amaravati school. There is - in such records as do exist – a tantalising hint as to its creator. A mere 15 kilometres away, at Sasseruwa, stands an almost exact copy of this statue – almost, but not quite as good; and one fatally left unfinished. The local villagers tell of a competition between a master sculptor and his pupil to finish the commission first; and the master won. Sadly, as the two statues are at least 400 years apart in age, this lovely tale could only have some residual truth in a parallel universe – but it amply shows how rich and ready are local folk tales to help fill in the many gaps in the island’s long and sometimes impenetrable history.

Illustration: the Avukana Buddha statue courtsey of

B, b


An historical Sinhala term for tax.

Illustration: The Hammillava Rock Inscription No 144 Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol II- S Paranavitane during the period of King Mahasen (277-304 CE). This early record ends with the sentence ‘ This is a legal enactment has been promulgated and recorded, having had it written on stone’. The line of this inscription mentions a Maha[ Ka]laka nakara [A revenue agency]. The lines regulate briefly an accounting system. Image courtsey of sirimunasiha.files.

Bahiya, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-third (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 100 BCE – 98 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Bahiya became king of Anuradhapura by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Pulahatta. Until then he had previously served him as chief minster. Much of his own short rule was spent dealing with threats to his own safety – from the avenging Valagamba - busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south - and from his own Dravidian colleagues, one of whom, Panya Mara, was to murder him.

Illustration of a Pandyan Kingdom coin depicting a temple between hill symbols and elephant, from Sri Lanka, 1st century CE. Public Domain.


Like biblical flowers of the field, the island’s banks are a profitable wonder to behold, with numerous independent bodies whose branches bloom like mangos in the remotest of places. Awash with credit cards, loans, savings, deposit and current accounts and numerous other financial services, including Byzantine online facilities, banks are part of the great glue that makes the country work. Some, such as the Hatton National Bank and the Commercial Bank, are keen and efficient. Others, like the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank are entrenched state-owned piggy banks whose colossal reach is slowly being eroded by nimbler competitors. A quarter of the twenty four banks licenced to provide commercial banking have but a single branch in the country, mysterious flag flying redoubts often located in the more agreeable office blocks. A further fifth own to just five or so branches per bank. The most networked eight banks share between them almost two and a half thousand branches – roughly one branch every twenty six square miles of Sri Lanka, a density that would make most Westerners envious as they witness the gradual evaporation of banking branch networks burnt away by online services. The 2023 national bankruptcy that devastated the country - and remains a source of great pressure – led the Central Bank to note recently that the “the financial sector is likely to encounter significant challenges in the face of the current economic environment with the contraction in economic output, sovereign debt restructuring, high interest rate environment, tax revisions and high exposure of the banking sector to SOBEs.” Despite this, the banking sector emerged through the crisis with striking resilience, dexterously navigating it way through treacherous currents and giving the country as degree of robust security without which levels of hardship would have undoubtedly reached wholly intolerable levels. Nearly forty percent of the banks have been able to maintain customer deposits of over five hundred billion rupees a piece, with a several recording deposits in trillions on their glowing balance sheets. The Central Bank list of licensed commercial banks are:
1. Amana Bank
2. Bank of Ceylon
3. Bank of China
4. Cargills Bank
5. Citibank
6. Commercial Bank of Ceylon
7. Deutsche Bank
8. DFCC Bank
9. Habib Bank
10. Hatton National Bank
11. Indian Bank
12. Indian Overseas Bank
13. MCB Bank
14. National Development Bank
15. Nations Trust Bank
16. Pan Asia Bank
17. People's Bank
18. Public Bank Berhad
19. Sampath Bank
20. Seylan Bank
21. Standard Chartered Bank
22. State Bank of India
23. Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC)
24. Union Bank of Colombo

Image coutrsey of

Basnayaka Nilame

An Sinhala term for the most important lay officer in a devela, a shrine of gods.

Illustration of Ruhunu Kataragama Maha Devale Basnayake Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dhala Bandara, courtesy of


Sri Lanka is bat country, its incredible range of environments supporting 30 of the world’s 1400 bat species. Despite the best efforts of Batman and his friends, bats have a troubled reputation with their Halloween and Vampire blood-sucking associations, though only three are known to sip the liquid; and with them the long shadow of vampire bat movies, once the last word in classic Hollywood horror, is slowly abating.

Bats range in size from ones tiny enough to sit comfortably upon a thumb nail to those with a wing span of 1 ½ metres and a weight of 1.6 kilos. They are the only mammals able to truly fly, angels excepted, and are famous for roosting upside down from their feet, viewing the world like happy drunks, a propensity make worse by their extremely poor vision. Using ultrasonic sound and the full capacity of their renowned hearing, they navigate the world, dining off insects, pollen, fruit small beasts and even one another. They are worth observing from a distance for they are enthusiastic harbingers of diseases, especially those best able to leap from animal to human. Most live in large colonies and are much given to hibernation, a habit that accounts for their exceptionally long lifespan – with one bat recorded to have lived 41 years.

Image: Public Domain.

Bawa, Geoffrey

One of Asian’s most influential architects, Bawa’s buildings radically changed the way in which people lived and worked, his creativity inspiring generations of new architects throughout the region to challenge and transform the built environment.

The Guardian puts it best: "Bawa's portfolio of work included religious, social, cultural, educational, governmental, commercial and residential buildings, and in each of these areas he established a canon of new prototypes. Early experiments in what was known as tropical modernism were tempered by a growing interest in the traditional architecture and building materials of Sri Lanka. This led to the development of an architecture that was a blend of both modern and traditional, of east and west, of formal and picturesque, that broke down the barriers between inside and outside, between building and landscape, and that offered a blueprint for new ways to live and work in a tropical city."

Whilst this observation sets out well the context for his achievements, it has yet to capture the liberating experience of moving about within one of his buildings. His city houses most typically centred around an inner courtyard, one wisely constructed to keep the focus personal - all the better to keep the foolish world at bay. Within its cool quite spaces, there is intimacy, peace; the space to think and live with minimal interruptions. The homes he built in the countryside, not least for himself at Lunuganga, enlist fields, plantations, hills and valleys as extra rooms, the built landscape opening out onto the natural one, a series of interconnected rooms that sometime only seem to end on the horizon. His public buildings were clean massive confident occupations of space, rooms opening into one another, breathing together like a single organic city, a lofty forest of light cement, glass, wood and plants.

A lawyer, who retrained as an architect, Bawa spent much of his younger years partying or studying in Europe, especially the UK. Independence in 1948 brought him more firmly back to the country of his birth. A Burgher mix of Sinhalese, German and Scottish, he came from that slim, rich impossibly lavish section of society that flared briefly with barely a care in the world until the ethic and political demons caught up on the country’s daily life enmeshing it in civil war and economic chaos.

As many of his contemporaries fled, Bawa stayed put, building first his own home in Lunuganga; and then an architectural practice that promoted his new vision of architecture - not just in Sri Lanka but in India, Indonesia, Mauritius, Japan, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore too. His homes in Bentota and Colombo magnetised all who had talent and originality, local or traveller; and his parties and gift for hospitality are still talked about today.

His parents must have done something right for both Bawa and his brother were not just both gay – but also hugely talented landscape gardeners too; and their adjoining country house gardens would put to shame anything better known in Florence, Oxfordshire or the South of France.

Should your week ahead look a little pedestrian, give it some purpose and take a trip round all his surviving Sri Lankan buildings.

The easiest ones to visit are his old office – now the Gallery Café which offers a heart-warming menu of martinis; his old home in Colombo - Number 11; 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo 03 – now a museum, but one you can spend the night at; and his country house, Lunuganga in Bentota; also now a museum cum hotel. The balance of his surviving architecture is:

1948–97 LUNUGANGA GARDEN, Bentota. Open to the public.

1958–62 CLASSROOMS FOR ST. THOMAS’ SCHOOL, Galle Road, Colombo.

1960–61 HOUSE & SURGERY FOR DR ASH DE SILVA In Galle; a private residence.

1960–62 ESTATE BUNGALOW, Strathspey Estate, Maskeliya. By appointment only.

1959–60 OFFICES FOR AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, Sir Marcan Markar Maw, Colombo.

1960–69 BAWA’S OWN TOWNHOUSE, 33rd Lane, Bagatelle Road, Colombo 3. Admission by ticket.

1961–63 BARTHOLOMEUSZ HOUSE, 2 Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3, now The Gallery Café.

1961–62 NAZARETH CHAPEL FOR GOOD SHEPHERD CONVENT, Bandarawela. Open by permission.

1961–63 FLATS FOR MRS. AF WIJEMANNA on Ananda Coomaraswamy Maw., Colombo 7. Private residences.

1962–64 HOUSE FOR CHRIS & CARMEL RAFFEL, Ward Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

1963–65 HOUSE FOR LEELA DIAS BANDARANAYAKE, Mount Lavinia. A private residence.

1963–64 MONTESSORI SCHOOL FOR ST. BRIDGET’S CONVENT, Maitland Crescent, Colombo 7. By appointment only.

1963–65 ESTATE BUNGALOW FOR BAUR & CO., Polontalawa, By appointment only.

1965–66 CLASSROOM BLOCK FOR LADIES COLLEGE, Ernest de Silva Mawatha, Colombo 7. By appointment only.

1965–66 YWCA BUILDING, Rotunda Gardens, Colombo. A public building.

1966–69 STEEL CORPORATION, offices, & staff housing in Oruwela. By appointment only.

1967–69 HOUSE FOR PIETER KEUNEMAN, now a beauty salon, Inner Flower Road, Colombo 3. Access by permission.

1967–69 BENTOTA RESORT, Railway Station & Tourist Village, Bentota. All public buildings.

1967–73 BENTOTA BEACH HOTEL, Bentota. A public building.

1967–74 SERENDIB HOTEL, Bentota. A public building.

1969–70 PUBLIC LIBRARY, Kalutara. A public building.

1969–71 OFFICE DEVELOPMENT opposite Matara Bus Station. A public building.

1970–72 4 ROW HOUSES FOR FC DE SARAM, 5th Lane Colombo 3. Only two remain, both private residences.

1971–73 HOUSE FOR STANLEY DE SARAM, Cambridge Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

1972–74 HOUSE CONVERSION FOR MR & MRS H.E TENNAKOON in Bagatelle Road. A private residence.

1973–76 NEPTUNE HOTEL, Beruwala. A public building.

1974–76 AGRARIAN RESEARCH & TRAINING INSTITUTE, Wijerama Maw., Colombo 7. Access by permission.

1975–77 NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MANAGEMENT STUDIES, Vidya Maw., Colombo. Access by permission.

1975–79 OFFICES FOR STATE MORTGAGE BANK, Hyde Park Corner, Darley Road, Colombo. A public building.

1976–78 SEEMA MALAKA ORDINATION TEMPLE, Beira Lake, Colombo. A public building.

1978–80 INTEGRAL EDUCATION CENTRE, Subodhi, Bolgoda Lake. Access by permission.

1978–80 HOUSE FOR LIDIA GUNASEKERA, 87, Galle Road, Bentota. Now a guest house.

1978–79 TOURIST POLICE STATION, Galle Road, Beruwala. A public building.

1978–81 HERITANCE TRITON HOTEL, Ahungalla. A public building.

1978–80 STAFF HOUSING FOR THE MINISTRY OF POWER, Sarana Rd, Colombo 7. Private residences.

1979 THE RATNASIVARATNAM HOUSE, Bhaudaloka Mawatha, Geoffrey Bawa, Colombo .

1979–82 NEW SRI LANKA PARLIAMENT, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte. Access by special permission.

1980–88 RUHUNU UNIVERSITY CAMPUS, Matara. Access by appointment.

1982–83 VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTRE, Ladies College, Inner Flower Road, Colombo 3. Access by appointment.

1982–83 PILGRIMS’ REST HOUSE, Anuradhapura. A public building.

1984–86 STABLE CONVERSION FOR SUNETHRA, Bandaranaike Horagolla. A private residence.

1985–86 HOUSE FOR RICHARD FITZHERBERT, Dikwella, Tangalle. Now a guest house.

1985–91 House for Cecil & Chloe de Soysa. Off Dharmapala Maw., Colombo 3. A private residence.

1990 REMODELLING & EXTENSION TO SINBAD HOTEL, Kalutara. A public building.

1991–94 KANDALAMA HERITANCE HOTEL, Dambulla. A public building.

1991–95 HOUSE FOR ROHAN & DULANJALEE JAYAKODY, Park Street, Colombo 2. A private residence.

1995–97 LIGHTHOUSE HOTEL, Galle. A public building.

1996–98 BLUE WATER HOTEL, Waduwa. A public building.

1997-98 HOUSE FOR PRADEEP JAYAWARDENE, Red Cliffs, Mirissa. A private residence.

1997–98 HOUSE FOR DAVID SPENCER, Rosemead Place, Colombo 7. A private residence.

Illustration courtsey of David Robson.

Bear, Sri Lankan Sloth

The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is a unique endemic sub species of the very same Sloth bear that inhabits the Indian sub-continent in ever declining numbers from India to Bhutan, Nepal, and, until recently Bangladesh. It is a little smaller in size than its Indian cousin, with shorter fur and, sadly, sometimes without the cuddly-looking white tummy fur of its northern relative. Even so, it is no midget, typically measuring six feet in length and weighing in at up to 300 pounds for a male or 200 for a female. Once found in plentiful numbers across the dry zone forests of the island, they are now in serious and significant retreat, with an estimated 500-1000 bears in the wild today. The destruction of their habitats has been instrumental in their decline, but the fear they engender amongst village populations has also played it part. They are often hunted and killed, with a reputation for damaging property and killing or maiming domestic animals humans running like a wave of terror before them. The “sloth” part of their name is rather misleading for the bears are quite capable of reaching speeds of thirty miles an hour – faster than the fastest human yet recorded. Although willing to eat almost anything, their preferred diet are termites for which their highly mobile snouts are especially well designed. With nostrils closed, the snouts become vacuums, sucking out the termites from their nest. Long curved claws enable them to dig the nest ever deeper till the last juicy termite has been consumed. The claws are also handy for rapidly scaling up trees to suck out honey from bee nests. Evolution has cast the sloth bear towards the Grumpy Old Man side of the mammalian spectrum. Its poor sight and hearing leaves it very dependent on its sense of smell, so it can all too often be surprised by what seems like the abrupt appearance of something threating – like a human – which it will attack with warrior like ferocity before asking any questions. It is very solitary, living alone in the forest except for those rare moments when it seeks a mate. Reproduction is not its strongest skill, and most females produce a single cub that stays with them for two to three years, the first months of which are endearing spent living or travelling on its mothers back. D.J.G Hennessy, a policeman who had a couple of bears on his land in Horowapotana in 1939, noted the emotive articulateness of their paw suckling: “The significance of the notes on which the bear sucks his paw is interesting; a high whine and rapid sucking denotes impatience and anger, a deep note like the humming of a hive full of bees on a summer’s day indicates that he is contented and pleased with life, a barely audible note shows great happiness while a silent suck in which he usually indulges in just before going to sleep on a full stomach denotes the acme of bliss”.

Image courtsey of Tourism Sri Lanka.

Bhathika Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty sixth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 20 BCE – 9 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne on the death of his father, Kutakanna Tissa, Bhathika Abhaya’s 29-year rule goes almost unmentioned in the chronicles. Given the turmoil of the previous decades caused by the regicide of six kings in a row, such silence was probably a blessing and Bhathika Abhaya appears to have died peaceably in 9 CE, which, when looked at from the dynasty’s later years (let alone its former ones), was an achievement to be celebrated.

Illustration of a stone statue of King Bathikabhaya facing the Ruwanweli Dágoba in Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

Bhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 50th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 141 – 165 CE.

Inheriting the throne from his father, Mahallaka Naga, little is known about Bhatika Tissa’s relatively long 24 year reign, But if, as Thomas Carlyle noted, “silence is golden,” the kingdom’ s golden years continued; and the monarch, though obscure, must have a much deserved place amongst the dynasty’s more successful rulers. He natural death earnt him a place as just the 23rd reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died in this way – no bad feat given that he was the 50th recorded monarch in the island’s history.

Illustration of the Anuradhapura Thuparamaya Chapter House said to have been built by Bhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura, image courtsey of AmazingLanka.


A Sinhala term for a monk or priest in a Buddhist order.

Illustration of monks at Polonnaruwa, courtsey of

Buddha, Hand Gestures of

Even the most serene and pacific statue of Lord Buddha offers a dynamic lesson in the evangelising of fundamental Buddhist beliefs – but such insight is only readily available to those amongst us who can interpret the gestures he is pictured making with his hands and fingers. For if ever hands can speak, those of Lord Buddha most certainly do. There are at least 11 core messages encoded in such hand signals, known as “mudras,” some with the most subtle of further variants; and most, but not all, in common use in Sri Lanka.

Easiest is all the “Anjali Mudra” - a 1 on 1 respectful gesture of greeting, palms pressed together at heart level, thumbs resting on the chest. At the other end, and not for the faint hearted, is the “Uttarabodhi Mudra.” Here, index fingers touch and point up; all other finger entwin at heart level – a bold gesture of supreme enlightenment, brought about by connecting oneself with divine universal energy. This Murda finds its nearest cousin in the “Jnana” or “Wisdom Mudra” - thumb tip and index finger touching as a circle and facing inwards, representing spiritual enlightenment.

The most popular Mudra is probably the “Karana Mudrā,” made by raising the index and little finger and folding all other digits, to ward off evil, negative thoughts – and demons. And not a hundred miles away from this is the “Abhaya Mudra” – or “gesture of fearlessness," a pose made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, arm crooked, palm facing outward, fingers upright; left hand hanging down at the side of the body. In this pose, Buddha represents protection, peace, and the dismissal of fear. Popular too is the “Bhumisparsha” – or “Earth Witness Mudra.” Here, all 5 fingers of the right hand touch the ground, to symbolise Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree. The left hand - held flat in his lap - symbolises the union of method and wisdom.

The remaining 5 Mudras are more complicated, eclectic, or doctrinal - or, quite possibly, all three.

The “Varada Mudra” is a largely one-handed affair. Here, the left hand hangs at the side of the body, palm open, facing forwards with all fingers extended – a representation of charity and compassion, one finger each for: Generosity; Morality; Patience; Effort; and Meditative Concentration.

The “Dhyana” or “Meditation Mudra” is made with one or both hands resting on the lap and is a gesture of mediation made when concentrating on Buddhism’s substantial body of “Good Laws” and the attainment of spiritual perfection.

The “Vajra Mudra” symbolises the unity of all Buddhist beliefs, the erect left hand of the forefinger being closed into the right fist, the tips of both fingers curled together.

The “Vitarka” or “Discussion Mudra” has the thumb and Index finger touching, the remaining fingers pointing straight, the gesture reflected with both hands and indicative of talking about and communicating Buddhist teaching.

And last of all is the famous “Wheel of Dharma” or “Dharmachakra Mudra.” Here the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle that represents the union of method and wisdom. To really complicate (or enrich) things, the 3 free fingers of both hands are also extended, and carry their own separate meanings. The 3 extended fingers of the left hand symbolize Buddha, the Dharma (the doctrine of universal truth), and the Sangha (the Buddhist monastic order, of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen). Those of the right symbolize the 3 main tools for his teaching – namely: the Hearers - who practice the teachings they listen to and – after 3 lifetimes - achieve "small" enlightenment; the “Solitary Realizers” who cultivate merit and wisdom over a 100 eons to achieve "middling" enlightenment; and the Mahayana or 'Great Vehicle' - collectively, Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices.

Illustration courtsey of

Buddhadasa, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty first monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 66th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 341 – 370 CE.

A blessedly peaceful succession saw Buddhadasa take the throne from his father Jettha Tissa II – and a twenty-eight-year reign beckoned. The Mahavaṃsa has nothing but praise for this king, characterized as a "Mind of Virtue and an Ocean of Gems." Unusually though, the new king preferred medicine to wars, stupas, temples, monasteries and plotting, and his reign was noted for the exceptional medical care he extended to his subjects. He wrote a medical handbook, the "Sarartha Sangraha,” built hospitals, appointed Medical Officers, and established infirmaries and asylums for the benefit of the blind, and the lame. Stories abound of his role as doctor to various ailing subjects who he came across. He even took care of animals, including, it is said, a snake with a stomach-ache.

Perhaps his interest in medicine can also help explain the eighty sons The Mahavaṃsa credits him with creating, each one, the chronicle approvingly states, named after a disciple of Buddha. Two were to reign after his natural death in 370 CE. For 116 years the Lambakarna dynasty, recovering from its earlier subversive bout of regicide, had settled down to govern well, fostering a prosperous and growing state. They had, in the words of John Lennon, given peace a chance. In the reigns that were to follow, it was, alas, soon to be time again for bloodletting.

Illustration Credit: Ancient palm-leaf medical manuscripts with diagrams of the kind that would be familiar to Buddhadasa, King of Anuradhapura. Picture courtesy of Sunday Observer.

Buffalo, Indian Water

Constructed by loving gods with luxuriant, solid, confident proportions, the Water Buffalo (Bubalus Bubalis Bubalis) makes its many other bovine relatives come across as whispery ragamuffins. Their literary pedigree dates back at least to the Akkadian kingdom of 2,500 BCE. They are fine sturdy creatures, fit to grace any field or lawn. Black to slate grey with generously curved horns and reassuringly stocky bodies, they typically weigh 1,200 pounds, though double that weight has been recorded in some instances. They work hard – often up to forty years with little holiday, living tractors for threshing and transportation. The unlucky ones are raised for meat; the lucky ones produce milk is richer in fat and protein than that of dairy cattle; and all produce the dung that fertilizes fields or is used to light cooking fires.

Image Public Domain.

C, c

Capital Punishment

An illustration from Robert Knox's book "A Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon" of an execution by an elephant, published in 1681. Public Domain.

Cat, Ceylon Rusty-Spotted

The Rusty-Spotted Cat (Prionailurus Rubiginosus) is the world’s smallest wild cat, smaller even than most domestic cats and one of the least studied and understood of the wild cat species. Covered in reddish fur, it is found in dry forests and grasslands and is largely nocturnal. Found only in Sri Lanka and India, its conservation status is threatened, with unending encroachments on its habitats fragmenting its home range.

Picture courtsey of UrLunkwill.

Cat, Indian Fishing

Double the size of a domestic cat, and weighing up to almost forty pounds, the Indian Fishing Cat (Prionailurus Viverrinus), though increasing vulnerable due to habitat loss, is found in Sri Lanka and across South and South East Asia. It has slightly webbed paws and, given its proclivity for fish, prefers to live around the island’s wetlands, rivers, lake and stream banks, swamps, and mangroves. Its striking yellow grey fur displays confident black strips along the head and upper back that fray into dots and stipples further down the body. The fur is specially layered to give it an extra barrier to water. Its lives up to ten years, with pregnancies lasting two months, after which two or three kittens are born.

Image courtsey of Pessac.

Cat, Jungle Cat

The Jungle Cat (Felis Chaus) appears to be thriving right across it distribution range – from Sri Lanka to China, the Middle East, to the Caucasus. Wholly sandy in colour, and roughly twice the size of the house cat, it lives its very solitary life feasting off birds and small animals. It has a variety of sub species, including one in Sri Lanka (Felis Chaus Kelaarti) but none so distinct as to excite cries for endemic status. It sticks to warmer locations within Sri Lanka, but abounds in grassland and forest - whatever offers the greatest cover and food.

Image courtsey of

Cat’s Eye

A semi-precious stone known to science as chrysoberyl, the colour of Cat’s Eye differ from semi-transparent golden-yellow to slightly greenish or brownish yellow. They exhibit a distinct, ever changing light band that glides across the surface, resembling the eye of a cat. They are found widely across Sri Lanka including Rakwana, Bulutota, Deniyaya, Morawaka, Elahera, Avissawella, Pelawatte, Horana, Matugama, Panadura, Rathnapura, Aluthgama, Ambalantota, Agalawaththa, Bulathsinghala, Kalapugama and Mestiya. Given their price range of $3 to $1700, there’s an affordable eye for almost everyone. The nation’s most notable cat’s eye was fished out of a paddy field in the late 1880s in Pelmadulla. The paddy was part of a 20,000 acre estate belong to Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy, the daughter of Iddamalgoda Basnayake Nilame. For decades the 700 carat stone lay unpolished, bequeathed eventually to the grand old lady’s grandson, a notable collector of cacti, who arranged for the gem to be cut and polished in 1930. The result was a stunning 465 carat cat’s eye, the largest cut example in the world, earning it the moniker "The Eye of the Lion". Other notable, if more modest, Sri Lankan cat’s eye can be found at Buckingham Palace (a 105-carat cat's eye passed down from Edward VII to Charles III); the 105 carat Ray of Treasure (now in the possession of the National Gem and Jewellery Authority in Sri Lanka); and the 58.19 carat Maharani Cat's Eye in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Image courtesy of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.


Proper caviar is almost impossible to find in Sri Lanka, though the odd tiny tin cylinder of the delicacy has occasionally shown up at the small food concession within Colombo’s House of Wine on Flower Road, next to the Prime Minister’s Office. However, the Faculty of Animal Science and Export Agriculture, at Uva Wellassa University, has busied itself investigating the most suitable methodology for producing simulated caviar using roe from Mrigal, a rare white Asian carp. The blinis are waiting, though the research, once so promising, appears to have stalled. Caviar’s absence – from even the fleshpots of Colombo and Galle, is the subtlest of reminders of how delicious are the foodstuffs more easily obtainable, the mangos, milk rice, tuna, spices, cashew, to name but a few.


A Sinhala term for a religious structure built over a relic, most typically a dome shaped monument.

Chandra Mukha Siva, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-third monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 44 CE – 52 CE.

The son of the Vijayan king, Ilanaga, and the penultimate kosher Vijayan king , Chandra Mukha Siva took the throne on his father’s death. His reign, about which almost nothing is known, is unlikely to have been much of a source of pleasure and strength to him though, for by 52 CE he had been murdered by his own brother, Yassalalaka Thissa.

Chattagahaka Jantu, Queen of Anuradhapura

The twenty fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 70th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE) the dates of her reign being 434 - 435 CE.

Chattagahaka Jantu is one of the island’s few transgender mysteries. Some chronicles mark her as a Queen; others as a King. A stepsister or stepbrother to King Soththisena, this gender defying monarch was to rule for less than a year, the reign entangled in the now lost tentacles of Lambakanna dynastic rivalries and alliances that were strangling both the dynasty and the country with a civil war it could ill afford. His/her death in 435 CE at the hands of a chief minister intent on putting in place a more pliable monarch had regicidal palace politics once again singing a song that would challenge any modern-day soap opera scriptwriter.

Illustration Credit: A Maneless Lion Copper coin. On one side, there is an image of a lion. On the other side, there are three or sometimes four dots. It is likely that these dots indicate the value of the coin. The diameter of this coin is between ½ - ¾ inches and it weighs between 15-40 grains. These coins were used from 3-4 A.D - including during the short reign of Chattagahaka Jantu, Queen of Anuradhapura. The coins have been found during excavations in Anuradhapura and the Northern regions of the island. Image credit: Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Cheetah, Ceylon Asiatic Cheetah

The extinction in Sri Lanka of the Ceylon Asiatic Cheetah (Acionyx Jubatus Venaticus) offers a clear warning to the existence of the island’s other great cat, the Leopard, whose numbers are plummeting. A distinctly different version of the Africa Cheetah, the Asiatic Cheetah once roamed the world from Arabia and the Caspian to South Asia - and Sri Lanka, until around ten thousand years ago. Today their numbers are so few that all but the most myopically optimistic enthusiasts, anticipate that it will soon cease to live in the wild at all.

Image Public Domain.

China Clay

Kaolin - or China clay has been mined almost to exhaustion in Sri Lanka, especially as Boralesgamuwa. The main component in porcelain, it is also used in medicine, cosmetics, and toothpaste.

Image courtsey of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Choura Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-eighth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 62 BCE – 50 BCE.

Inheriting the throne in from his stepbrother Mahakuli Mahatissa, Choura Naga, was the son of the Vijayan King Valagamba – that luckless but plucky monarch who had been ousted by the very Dravidians he then ousted himself after years of interminable warfare. Chora Naga’s reign appears to have been a tale of woe from the start. By virtue of not being a whole-hearwted follower of the dominant Theravada Mahavihara Buddhist sect, his popularity and support was ever in question; and his real loyalties probably laid more with the Buddhist monks who broke away and formed the Abhayagiri-vihara in the 1st century BCE . His most enduring (and fatal) decision, as it turned out, was his choice of wife - Anula, who had him poisoned by 50 BCE, an act which cut through all and any doctrinal disputes with a crude finality.

Chulabhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The fortieth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 33 CE – 35 CE.

Son of the assassinated Vijayan king, Amandagamani Abhaya, Chulabhaya succeeded to the throne on the death of his uncle Kanirajanu Tissa after a relatively brief reign of 3 years. Brief – and suspicious. Quite whether his predecessor died naturally or not, remains one of the many Vijayan mysteries unlikely ever to be cleared up. Three years later Chulabhaya too was dead (causes unknown), and his sister Sivali took the throne. Whatever it was that promoted Chulabhaya’s own departure from this good earth, was clearly as strong a signal as could be made that the Vijayan dynasty was edging ever closer to the chasm and civil insurrection that would all too soon entomb them all.


A 19th century lithograph of the True Cinnamon Tree. Public Domain.

Cinnamon Peeling

A chromolitography illustration by an unknown artist of the late 19th centuary of a cinnamon peeler. Public Domain.


Named from the Old French word for lemon, Citrine is a relatively rare semi-precious quartz gem mined in Sri Lanka in colours that vary from transparent and pale yellow to brownish orange. Selling for $10 to $50 per carat, it lives very happily at the affordable end of the bling world.

Image courtsey of

Civet, Asian Palm Civet

The Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus), more happily known as the Toddy Cat, lives in generous numbers across Sri Lanka, South and South East Asia. It is a small beast, little more than five kilos in weight, its stocky body painted with gorgeous markings: grey fur with a white forehead, white dots under its eyes and beside its nostrils – a sort of Panda in the making. Although primarily forest dwelling, it has acclimatised to urban life with alacrity, making its home in attics and unused civic spaces – and of course, palm plantations. And indeed wherever it can best find the fruit it most prefers. Like the golden palm civet, it is also famous in some countries for producing Civet Coffee, made from defecated and partially digested fermented coffee berries.

Picture courtesy of A-Z Animals.

Civet, Palm

When life was simple, long ago, and beige, like black or white, came in just one colour choice, it was thought that the island was home to just one endemic civet. But scientists, zookeepers, and wildlife photographs like Dhammika Malsinghe, Dr. Wolfgang Dittus, Dr Devka Weerakoon, and Channa Rajapaksha have in the past fifteen years worked hard to evaluate this assumption. By careful observation, the checking of paw prints, the measurement of bodies and assessment of markings, they have instead come to the conclusion – now widely accepted in the scientific community - that the country actually plays host to three endemic civets:

1. Wet Zone Golden Palm Civet (P. Aureus)
2. Montane Golden Palm Civet (P. montanus)
3. Dry-Zone Palm Civet (P. stenocephalus)

In fact, the debate about numbers on-going, with some scientists now claiming that a fourth civet also merits separate recognition: the Sri Lankan Mountain Palm Civet (Paradoxurus supp), found only in Dickoya, a refinement that makes Darwin's Galápagos finches look almost modest. But although each civet is zone specific and different enough to be so classified, it would take much effort on behalf of armchair naturalists to ever tell them apart. All three are golden beasts - more golden brown on their backs and lighter gold on their stomachs, though the Montane Golden Palm Civet is, the trained eye, a little darker all round. From nose to bottom they measure 40 to 70 centimetres – like large cats; and weigh in from 3 to 10 pounds. They are mild, secretive, forest loving creatures, living their life on trees and in high hollows, solitary and very nocturnal, munching their way through fruits and small animals. Occasionally they can be a more sociable: for four long months one lived very comfortably in the space between my bedroom ceiling and the roof, a home from home where it raised its many excitable and noisy offspring. Most curiously – and unexpectedly – their farts are widely known on the island to be so pleasant as to smell of the flower of the joy perfume tree – the Magnolia champaca, a scent immortalized in Jean Patou’s famous perfume, 'Joy', an odour that outsold all others, excepting Chanel No. 5. Civet Coffee, which can sell for $1300 per kilo, has thankfully yet to make any appearance on the island, associated as it has become with cruel farmed civet practices. The custom, in the past, was kinder, with partially digested and fermented coffee berries being collected from civet poo in the jungle and sold onto ridiculously wealthy Coffee Bubbas.

Image: Public Domain.


Clay deposits are found throughout Sri Lanka and mined especially in Nattandiya, Dediyawela, Boralasgamuwa, and Meetiyagoda. It is used widely in its ceramics industries, so much so that it is increasingly becoming a scarce resource.

Image courtsey of Olanka Travels.


Illustration showing a painting of coconuts by Edward Lear from 1874. Public Domain.


Illustration by S Shepherd C Bourne of Cleaning and Sorting Coffee in Colombo in 1870. Public Domain.

Colombo Cricket Club

A photograph by Unbekannt of the Colombo Cricket Club Ground in 1912. Public Domain.


An historical term for an administrative division under Dutch rule; sometimes known as a commandery.


A painting (acrylic on canvas) by Lincoln Seligman of Cricket on the beach 2012. Image courtsey of the artist.

Cula Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The seventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 52nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya; the dates of his reign being 193 – 195 CE.

The son of King Kanittha Tissa, Cula Naga was to enjoy his throne for a mere two years before being assassinated by his brother, Kuda Naga - the 27th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been so murdered. This single act of regicide would have far reached consequences for it ushered in a period of deeply unstable government that was to last until 254 CE – 59 years.

Illustration Credit: The tusker and swastika is a small Copper coin. On one side of the coin, there is an image of a walking tusker, a stupa drawn using three half-moons, a swastika and a Bo tree with three branches inscribed in a square. On the flipside, there is a swastika, a trident, and a stupa. The coin would have been in circulation through the early Anuradhapura era including during the reign of Cula Naga, King of Anuradhapura. Photo credit: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

D, d


A watercolour by Clive Wilson of Dambulla. Image courtsesy of the artist.

Darubhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty second (interloper) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being sometime around 47 to 44 BCE.

A forester or wood carrier by some accounts, Darubhatika Tissa was placed on the throne of Anuradhapura in 47 BCE by his terrifying lover, the widowed Vijayan Queen, Anula. Anula had come into her inheritance by murdering four earlier monarchs: her husband Choura Naga, the twenty-eighth King of Anuradhapura; his successor, Choura Naga, the twenty-ninth monarch; and her last two lovers, Siva I, the thirtieth monarch, and Vatuka, the thirty first monarch. Within a year Anula had Darubhatika Tissa poisoned too.

Dathika, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-sixth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 90 BCE – 89 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler, King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Dathika became king of Anuradhapura in 90 BCE. It is likely that he achieved this by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Pilaya Mara, who he had previously served as chief minister, although some stories credit Valagamba’s military campaign for his death. Much of Dathika’s own short rule was spent in an ultimately vain attempt to protect his crown from the avenging ex King, Valagamba, who was busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south. This was to culminate in Dathika’s own death on the battlefield.

Dathiya, King of Anuradhapura

The 5th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 76th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Dathiya’s relationship to the previous king, Tiritara, is unknown; but his reign (447 – 450 CE) would have been troublesome and turbulent, extending over an ever-shrinking area as the Sri Lankan Moriyan rebel leader, Dhatusena, gained more and more of a foothold on Pandiyan-held territory. Dathiya was to die in battle against Dhatusena, the 10th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have died in this way.

Illustration Credit: Pandyian fish relief courtsey of Quora.


Deer abound across Sri Lanka, some – like the Ceylon Spotted Deer – increasingly vulnerable, prey to poachers and habitat loss; others – like the Barking Deer – flourishing and presenting little concern to the scientists who maintain the Red List of Threatened Species. Two species are considered endemic to the island – the Ceylon Spotted Deer, the Sri Lankan Spotted Chevrotain, with Sri Lankan Sambar Deer the subject of mild debate among patriotic environmentalists trying to assess if it is so significantly more evolved as to present nature with what amounts to a new sub species unique to the island. The remaining three species found in Sri Lanka are also found across Southand South East India – the Hog Deer, the Mouse Deer, and the Barkling Deer.

Image courtsey of FabFunky.

Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia

Once the seaside playground for the inhabitants of Colombo, which lies just a few kilometres up the coast, Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia has become a garden suburb of the city, through it remains a municipality in its own right. To its south stretch the many inlets of Bolgoda Lake, a marshy wetland and freshwater landscape on whose shores rise the glittering facades of the prized, secluded mansions of the nicely rich. The area also boasts an old, small zoo with something of a mixed reputation.

Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia’s diffident life as a collection of quiet villages during the Kotte kingdom and Portuguese and Dutch occupations came to an abrupt halt in 1806 when the colony’s British Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, decided to build a private holiday home there on land known as Galkissa" (Mount Lavinia) - a small promontory with beaches on either side. In between governing and throwing parties, Maitland fell in love with a Portuguese Burger, a dancer named Lovinia, to whose house he had a secret tunnel constructed from his wine cellar. The affair must have ended by 1812 when Maitland was recalled to fight in the Peninsular War; and his house later became a hotel, one of the few in or near Colombo to look directly out across the beach into the Laccadive Sea.

Illustration Credit courtsey of MySL Travel.


Villagers and villages attached to a devale, or shrine to Buddhist gods.

Illustration by the celebrated artist Samuel Daniell -of a village scene between Galle and Matura about Six Miles from Galle in 1801 ( bodycolour over graphite on paper). Public Domain.

Devanampiya Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The ninth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 307 BCE – 267 BCE.

It was fortunate that when Sri Lanka’s paramount defining moment occurred, it had a king talented enough to make best sense of it. Devanampiya Tissa, second son of the Vijayan King, Mutasiva, is described by The Mahavamsa as being "foremost among all his brothers in virtue and intelligence". To get anywhere close to this remarkable leader head to the mountain of Mihintale, 16 kilometres east of Anuradhapura. There stands a modest, much weathered, armless stone statute of Devanampiya Tissa. Six feet high, he stands, gazing out across the grand ruins and remains of his religious citadel. It marks the spot where Sri Lanka became Buddhist. Gaze into his eyes – and note that, unlike so much other statutory and art, this one, argue the scholars, actually dates from very close to the death of this outstanding monarch.

Like the Vijayans, Buddhism also came from India - but it naturalised so completely across the island that it is impossible grasp any aspect of the country’s past or present, without first comprehending the centrality of this, its main religion. It arrived through a series of intimate stories in which faith follows friendship – for King Devanampiya Tissa had struck up a pen-pal relationship with the celebrated Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka. Gifts followed letters, and a missionary followed the gifts when Ashoka despatched his own son, Mahinda, to Sri Lanka. The young missionary prince was to live on the island for 48 years, out-living Devanampiya Tissa, and dying, aged 80 after a lifetime spent promoting Buddhism, the beneficiary of a state funeral at which his relics were interred in a stupa in Mihintale.

For it was at Mihintale that Mahinda first met Devanampiya Tissa. The king, it was said, was out hunting. Expecting a stag, the ruler instead found himself a missionary. A testing exchange on the nature of things followed, and then a sutra was preached. The rest, as they say, is history. The conversions began, and the country’s history took the most definitive turn in its long journey, becoming - and remaining to this day - a Buddhist country first and foremost, with all that this entailed. So great were the number of conversions that the king especially built the Maha Vihare (The Great Monastery) in the pleasure gardens of Anuradhapura to house the growing number of Buddhist monks; and for centuries after the building was to become the centre of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The evidence for all this comes of course from The Mahāvaṃsa Chronicle, but it is likely that Buddhism penetrated the island much earlier. Even so, it took the backing of a king to ensure that the religion became so dominant so fast. And as it did so, it carried along with it some of the many rituals and ceremonies of the pre Buddhist cults, especially those associated with agriculture and demons. It also helped spread a common language and script, and with it, the power of the centre - for the king was also the formal guardian of the Sanga, the religious organization.

Clearly, Mahinda, the young missionary had painted a compelling picture of his new island home in his letters home. He was soon joined by his sister, the nun, Sanghamittā. She brought with her a golden vase in which grew a sapling of Bodhi-Tree taken from the very one under which Buddha himself is said to have attained enlightenment. Accompanied by a number of other nuns, Sanghamittā landed in the north of the island. She was met by King Devanampiya Tissa himself. The party were ceremonially escorted to Anuradhapura along a road softened with white sand. The Bodhi sapling was planted in the Mahāmeghavana Grove in Anuradhapura, where it still grows. Saṅghamittā later ordained Queen Anula and the women of the court in Buddhism and stayed on in the island, promoting the religion. She died in 203 BCE aged 79, her death prompting national mourning. A stupa was erected over her cremation site in front of the Bodhi-Tree in Anuradhapura.

Devanampiya Tissa built a monastery and temple caves at Mihintale, a site that over successive years grew and grew. Indeed temple caves rapidly became the architectural hit of the time with ordinary people funding a stone mason to do all the necessary work. Between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE nearly 3,000 such caves were recorded. Other notable buildings followed: monasteries, palaces, the 550-acre Tissa Wewa water tank, still in use today; and the Thuparamaya of Anuradhapura, the county’s first stupa - which enshrined the right collarbone of Lord Buddha and whose remains today stretch out over 3 ½ acres. Devanampiya Tissa’s death after a long reign brought to a gradual end a golden period of Vijayan peace and prosperity.

Devil Dancers

Illustration of Devil Dancers from a hand-coloured photograph dating to 1900-1920. Public Domain.


A coastal village near Matara, Dikwella is a much loved by sea-seeking tourists; and by those moved by impressive Buddhist temples. The little settlement boasts an 18th century statue of Lord Buddha that is 160 feet high. The statue sits outside a temple, much enlarged from its earliest beginnings 250 years ago. The temple is unusual in the space it gives to celebrating, in uncensored detail, what happens to sinners who fails to follow the path of enlightenment. Being swan into pieces, boiled alive or merely disembowelled are just three of the options available.


A sketch of a Sinhalese washerman in Kandy from 1898. Public Domain.


An industrial mineral found in Sri Lanka, dolomite is widely mined and used in the island’s ceramic, glass, paint, rubber, and fertilizer industries and in local lime manufacturing plants. It is scattered across the island in such areas as Anuradhapura, Habarana, Matale, Kandy, Ratnapura, Balangoda, Badulla, Bibile, Welimada, Ambilipitiya, and Hambantota. Calcite, a related mineral, is often found in the same deposits, and is used in construction.

Image courtsey of Hayleys.


Even accepting their preference for tropical and sub-tropical waters, it is invidious to write of endemic dolphins in Sri Lanka, given the creature’s ability to swim where it pleases, be it the Caribbean, Atlantic, Pacific, or any ocean in between. But the island is especially blessed in being able to attract quite so many species to so many parts of its off shore waters. Although all the common species are backed by plentiful numbers, their long term prospects are worrying and their (often long) life expectancy is threatened by fishing, pollution, noise, and climate change. Dolphin watchers can curse their bad fortune if they fail to see at least two or three of the most common species to swim with accustomed acrobatic ease around Sri Lanka – including:

1. Common Bottlenose Dolphin
2. Common Dolphin
3. Spinner Dolphin
4. Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphin
5. Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
6. Risso's Dolphin
7. Fraser's Dolphin

Image Public Domain.


Sri Lanka’s diminishing herds of feral donkeys (Eques Caballos) are found mostly in Mannar, Talaimannar and Puttalam, descendants of equine immigrants that entered the great port of Maathottam near Mannar - once the shipping gateway to the ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom. Arab traders were probably most responsible for importing the beasts to carry their cargos inland. The species that lives here is said to be a direct decadent of the Nubian African Wild Ass, now extinct in its native Ethiopia and Sudan. Extinction also faces it in Sri Lanka, its habitat every diminishing; and hungry villagers occasionally helping themselves to what will become tomorrow’s stew. Ther are said to be under 3,000 still alive, through a wonderful charity, Bridging Lanka, has stepped in to try and nurse them back to happier times.

Image courtsey of

Dravidians, The Six

In 436 CE the Anuradhapura Kingdom was invaded and conquered by six Dravidian chiefs. It was the fourth such invasion from its mighty northern neighbour that Sri Lanka had experienced; and was not to be the last. These particular chiefs originated from within the Pandyan dynasty, centred around Madurai - one of the four great families that were to vie with one other for centuries over control of Southern India – the other three being the Pallavas, the Cholas and the Cheras. Little is known about the cadet branch that invaded Sri Lanka – whether they were all related or all acted in unison or relay. It is thought that they were Buddhist rather than Hindu, and the few ancient sources that refer to them note their obliging donations to Buddhist establishments. Even so, they amply demonstrated their divergence from those Buddhist teachings that strongly opposed the use of violence, to show that they were not above its expedient application to win themselves a kingdom. They were to rule the Anuradhapura Kingdom for sixteen turbulent years. Two were to die apparently natural deaths; one was murdered by a rival and the last three were all killed in battle or skirmishes with Dhatusena, the leader of the gathering Sri Lankan resistance and a member of the emergent Moriyan dynasty. The order of these invader kings is as follows:

1. Pandu. The first of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 72nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his five year reign being 436 – 441 CE.

2. Parindu, the son of King Pandu; the 2nd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 73rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). He was to rule for under a year in 441 CE, being killed by his brother and successor. His assassination trod a familiar path amidst Anuradhapuran kingship, Sri Lankan or otherwise – for he is the 35th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have been murdered for the succession.

3. Khudda Parinda. The Brother of King Parindu and son of King Pandu; the 3rd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 74th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). He is presumed to have died a natural death following an (albeit suspiciously short) six year reign (441 – 447 CE).

4. Tiritara, the 4th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 75th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). His relationship with the previous kings, Pandu, Parindu and Khudda Parinda remains opaque, but not so the length of his reign, which was to last under a year (447 CE). He was to die in battle against the future Sri Lankan rebel king, Dhatusena.

5. Dathiya, the 5th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 76th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). Like his predecessor, Dathiya, his kinship with the other Dravidian chiefs is unknown. His reign was to last just three years (447 – 450 CE), ending with his defeat and death at the hands of Dhatusena.

6. Pithiya, the last of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 77th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). As with his two immediate predecessors, Pithiya’s reign ended with his defeat and death at the hands of Dhatusena. He reign had lasted barely two years (450 – 452 CE), and with his death the country plunged into deeper anarchy until eventually, Dhatusena, was to quell all other opposition and be crowed King of Anuradhapura himself.

Illustration Credit: Gold coin of Alupas, showing the fish symbol of the Pandyian Dynasty

Dugong, Common

"On the previous day [8 Jan 1493],” read the Voyages of Columbus, “when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro, he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits." In fact, what Columbus say that day in early January off the coast of Haiti was a dugong, a remarkable creature whose DNA happily proves that real mermaids do not possess any of the plastic Barbie-and-Kens DNA that mermaids are more typically imaged with in films, cartoons, and illustrations. Also known as the sea cow, it lives with bovine contentment, grazing on sea grass meadows in shallow bays, mangroves, the waters of inshore islands and inter-reef waters. Growing to around eleven feet in length, with poor eyesight but a good sense of smell, they propel themselves forward by flippers and tail, and although they can live to up to seventy years, they are so vulnerable as to be close to extension. Widespread legal protection has not stopped them being hunted, whilst habitat pollution and degradation has also decimated their numbers. In Sri Lanka, their meat was highly sought and considered to have medicinal and aphrodisiac properties; and diaries note that as recently as the 1950s over one hundred and fifty slaughtered animals were offered for sale annually in Mannar alone. Their cautious reproductive habits do not much help them either, with males taking sometimes as many as eighteen years to reach sexual maturity. The impressive Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project reports depressingly that “large herds of dugongs were reported to have occurred in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka in the early 1900s; however, none were sighted during aerial surveys conducted of Palk Bay and the waters off western Sri Lanka in the 1980s, and their current status and distribution are unknown.” Even so, they have been uncorroborated reports of more recent sightings – including one in 2017 in Puttalam Lagoon.

Image courtsey of Australian Geographic.

Durbar, Kandy

Illustration by Henry Payne of The Duke of York and Cornwall at the Durbar in Kandy in 1901. Public Domain.

Dutugemunu, King of Anuradhapura

The sixteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 161 BCE – 137 BCE.

The son of King Kavantissa of Ruhuna, a southern kingdom established earlier by a cadet branch of the Anuradhapura’s Vijayan kings, Dutugemunu was able to benefit from his father’s lasting achievement in strengthening and enlarging Ruhuna. This he did not just to defend himself against the Ellalan, the Chola Tamil conqueror of Anuradhapuran – but also to see off the many more modest challenges that came his way from the many other fiefdoms that bordered his lands. King Kavantissa bequeathed to his son Dutugemunu a battle-ready country, but Dutugemunu was unable to focuses its powers beyond its existing borders until he had seen off a challenge to his own inheritance from his younger brother, Tissa. Living up to his various nicknames (rowdy, fearless, disobedient), Dutugemunu eventually defeated his brother but rather than putting him to death, the traditional punishment for such temerity, he promoted him to be one of his own generals.

With an army of chariots, monks, horses, a lucky spear, his favourite elephant (Kandula) and, states The Mahāvaṃsa, Ten Giant Warriors (Nandhimitra, Suranimala, Mahasena, Theraputtabhya, Gotaimbara, Bharana, Vasabha, Khanjadeva, Velusamanna, and Phussadeva), the new king of Ruhuna set off north to reclaim the family’s senior kingdom – Anuradhapura . Composed, as was normal of four units – elephants, horses, chariots, and infantry – Dutugemunu’s army was spectacularly successful, first mopping up the splintered Tamil statelets in the north before arriving outside the walls of Anuradhapura. King Ellalan, mounted on his elephant Mahapabbata, faced his younger rival, mounted on his elephant, Kandula.

The ancient texts report that the deadly combat was honourable but decisive, a spear thrust finally ending Ellalan’s life in 161 BCE. The records state that "the water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain'. And perhaps in acknowledgment of Ellalan’s fine reputation, Dutugemunu had his victim cremated properly and a stupa constructed over the pyre. “Even to this day,” comments The Mahāvaṃsa, “the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music'.

For a glorious, albeit extended moment, it seems as if the Vijayan dynasty’s good times had returned. Dutugemunu's victory left him ruling nearly the whole of the island, from Anuradhapura to Ruhuna, and much in between. And as if to confirm the return of Vijayan hegemony, the construction of more buildings commenced. Anuradhapura expanded exponentially, its infrastructure, utilities, water resources so upgraded as to ensure that it would flourish for centuries to come, the longest surviving capital city of the Indian sub-continent. Still more spectacular was the building of many of its most celebrated structures. A large monastery, the Maricavatti, was erected, together with a nine-story chapter house for monks, with a bright copper-tiled roof; and most famous of all, what is today called the Ruwanweliseya, the Great Stupa which housed Buddha’s begging bowl. The building programme was not restricted to the capital alone – 89 other temples are said to have been constructed in the kingdom, along with hospitals and smaller tanks. Trade opened up with the west, the ports busy with merchants from Arabia, Persia and possibly even Rome.

But back at the palace, events were going less smoothly. Dutugemunu's heir, Saliya, having fallen for a girl from one of the lowest castes, was disinherited. The ailing king, dying before his eye-catching Stupa was finished, ensured the throne passed instead to his own brother, Saddha Tissa in 137 BCE.

Image courtsery of Lankapura.

E, e


A district in the North Central Province, Elahera is noted for its abundance of gemstones. It is estimated that 35% of the country’s gems are mined from this area - leaving the greater balance being mined in Ratnapura. Its history is one of rediscovery. Recent archaeological discoveries show Elahera as an active gem mining area for centuries - excavations revealing the remains of tools and even some engraved stones. The remarkable Polonnaruwa king, Parakramabahu the Great (1153 – 1186 CE) even permitted foreigners to mine there. But the burden of civil wars and repeated foreign invasions led to the mines being abandoned and overplanted by rice paddy. This insensible interregnum came to a sensational end in the 1940s when a Sri Lankan engineer spent an afternoon searching for a lost ring along the banks of the Amban River. He never found his ring - but he did discover a number of blue and red pebbles that were to gladden the heart of his bank manager. He kept the secret of the stones to himself, and it took a later discovery by construction workers of sapphires washed out in heavy rain for the gem rush to begin. By the 1960s the as area was once more back in the business of gem mining. Today it is noted for its blue, pink, yellow, violet, and "padparadschal' sapphires; spinels; rhodolite and hessonite garnets; chrysoberyls (including alexandrite and chatoyant varieties); zircons; green and "cognac" tourmalines; garnets, rock crystal quartz, amethyst, and topaz.

Image courtsey of Andrew Lucas/GIA.

Elephant, Ceylon

Numbers of the Sri Lankan elephant, which goes by the beautiful Latin name of Elephas maximus maximus, are falling fast. The WWF put their total at between two and a half to four thousand, and although killing one carries the death penalty, habitat erosion and human-elephant conflict has pushed this largest of beasts into ever smaller areas. Smart, sociable, gregarious, and emotionally intelligent, it is unconscionable how widespread is the cruelty they face – heavily chained and marshalled to be more accessible for visitors. Even the leading elephant of the renowned Kandy Perehera was found to be suffering from such severe malnourishment, that it later died. Veterinarians International, a global charity, has built the country’s first bespoke elephant hospital and, like others, is doing much to reverse the institutionalized abuse they suffer. Just under one hundred people die in elephant attacks each year – compared to over three hundred elephants. One such death is remembered in Ruanwella from long ago - the 27th of September 1838. “Having heard of a tusker, Mr. Wallett, attended by two native boys, went in pursuit, and met it in a herd of 3. He fired one barrel and is said to have hit the animal; but the 2nd barrel of his gun missed fire, and the elephant rushed upon him before he could get another gun from his terrified attendants. It immediately crushed him to death, and went off for a few minutes; but, returning, thrust his tusks through the body, and tore all the clothes off it.“ Back then elephants were widespread across the island; today they are mostly to be found in the dry parts of the north, east and south east – especially in such wildlife parks as Udawalawe, Yala, Lunugamvehera, Wilpattu and Minneriya but also live outside protected areas. Although Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia, as roads, villages, farms, plantations, and towns grow, they come into ever closer contact with humans, usually to their extreme disadvantage. Over a twelve year period to 2022, elephant fatalities have more than doubled to four hundred and thirty nine. Owning an elephant brings with it immense prestige and the more ambitious temples are as eager as tourist sites to host their own animal. Laws – and more importantly – the enforcement of laws protecting elephants remains often frontier territory.

Image Public Domain.

Elephant, Ceylon Marsh Elephant

A noted sub species of Sri Lanka’s endemic elephant, Elephas Maximus Maximus, the Ceylon Marsh (Elephas Maximus Vil-Aliya) is a still rarer beast, barely seen outside the flood plains of the Mahaweli Basin. It is a vast animal, its size and habitat preference marking it out more than anything else from its cousin.

Image courtsey of The Partying Traveler.

Elephant, Pygmy

Almost as rare as the dodo, the Sri Lankan pygmy elephant was first recorded in 2012 in the Uda Walawe National Park. Standing barely two metres tall, it was the first confirmed case of disproportionate dwarfism in a fully-grown wild Asian elephant. When filmed he was busy attacking (and winning) a duel with a rival twice his size.

Image courtsey of Brad Abbott.

Elephants, Extinct

The current and endangered Sri Lankan Elephant is considered to be a subspecies of Elephas Maximus Sinhaleyus, an elephant now extinct in Sri Lanka, Its treasured fossils, unearthed in Kuruwita, indicates that it last lived 100,000 years ago. Its similarity to the present-day elephant is likely to have made it all but impossible to tell them apart, the difference lying in such things as smaller molars and a wider spout. A scant dusting of other fossils reveal the existence of two futher elephant sub species that may have called Sri Lanka home before becoming extinct: Hypselephus Hysundricus Sinhaleyus and Palaeoloxodon Namadicus Sinhaleyus.

Image courtsey of Deraniyagala.

Ellalan, King of Anuradhapura

The fifteenth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 205 BCE – 161 BCE.

King Ellalan is a striking and positive figure in Sri Lankan history, his Tamilness eliciting not even a scintilla of condemnation in The Mahavaṃsa, which notes instead “a Damila of noble descent, named Elara, who came hither from the Cola-country to seize on the kingdom, ruled when he had overpowered king Asela, forty-four years, with even justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law.” Despite having taken the throne, Ellalan’s authority probably reached little further than the Rajarata, the traditional territory of the first Anuradhapuran kings stretching just north of the Mahaweli River. The Mahavaṃsa makes a special point to illuminate Ellalan’s many acts of justice and generosity. Just, to the point of terrifying, he is said to have even executed his own son for transgressing the law.

Virtuous though he was, Ellalan was, all the same, a dynastic footnote - for the Vijayans were not yet finished with their rule. The main line of succession had been destroyed with the death of King Asela, but a cadet branch existed in the southern Kingdom of Ruhuna. This Vijayan redoubt was ruled over by descendants of King Devanampiya Tissa’s brother, King Mahanaga. Ruhuna had never really been part of the Anuradhapura domain. Indeed, since at least the reign of King Surathissa the Anuradhapura Kingdom itself had begun to fracture, The Mahavamsa pointing out the presence of 32 semi-independent Tamil states coexisting alongside King Ellalan’s Anuradhapura.

At the time King Ellalan conquered Anuradhapura, Ruhana was fortunate enough to be ruled by the King Kavantissa, who pursued an implacable strategy of soaking up the little would-be challenging kingships the boarded his land. By the time of his death he had created a powerful southern state, one that was perfectly poised to help the family regain control of Anuradhapura itself. After a predictable sibling spat around the succession of King Kavantissa, his older son Dutugemunu emerged victorious following a series of trials involving elephants, the kidnapping of the dowager queen, and set-piece battles. With an army of chariots, monks, horses, a lucky spear, his favourite elephant (Kandula) and, states The Mahāvaṃsa, Ten Giant Warriors (Nandhimitra, Suranimala, Mahasena, Theraputtabhya, Gotaimbara, Bharana, Vasabha, Khanjadeva, Velusamanna, and Phussadeva), the new king of Ruhuna set off north to reclaim the family’s senior kingdom – Anuradhapura .

Composed, as was normal of four units – elephants, horses, chariots, and infantry – Dutugemunu’s army was spectacularly successful, first mopping up the splintered Tamil statelets in the north before arriving outside the walls of Anuradhapura. King Ellalan, mounted on his elephant Mahäpabbata, faced his younger rival, mounted on his elephant, Kandula. The ancient texts report that the deadly combat was honourable but decisive, a spear thrust finally ending Ellalan’s life in 161 BCE. The records state that "the water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain'. And perhaps in acknowledgment of Ellalan’s fine reputation, Dutugemunu had his victim cremated properly and a stupa constructed over the pyre. “Even to this day,” comments The Mahāvaṃsa, “the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music'.

Emblem of Ceylon, The British

A variety of designs, mostly linked to the crown coat of arms, were used by the British in their government of Ceylon, before they eventually settled, close to the end of their occupation of the island, on a symbol unique to the country – that of an elephant, walking, as it had done since 1505 on the Portuguese Emblem, through coconut palms with mountains in the background.

Illustration: Public Domain.

Emblem of Ceylon, The Dutch

The emblem used by the Dutch to administer Ceylon was almost identical to that of of the Portuguese – featuring an elephant walking though palm trees with mountains behind. But they added a key new detail, one that fitted very nearly with their entire economic purpose of being on the island at all – a few bales of the ultra-valuable cinnamon crop that they harvested across the island. More interesting each sub district they governed had its own version of the heraldic arms. In Trincomalee a mercenary soldier from Java is included. In Mannar a plant, hedyotis puberula, cherished for its dyes, was adopted. A fort and a bridge dominate the shield of Matara; and a single fort the shield of Kalpitiya. Ships features on the symbols of Chilaw and Puttalam; and a clay pitcher for Negombo.

Emblem of Ceylon, The Portuguse

From 1505 to 1658 the flag that fluttered over Portuguese Ceylon was identical to the one that flew over Portugal itself, featuring 7 gold castles and 5 blue shields within a red shield surmounted by a crown. But the emblem they used to rule the country was very different, displaying and elephant walking though palm trees with mountains behind.

Emblem of Sri Lanka, The

National emblems differ from national flags in as much as they are used by the state to validate their administration of the country. Sri Lanka’s colonial overlords adopted emblems for the island featuring elephants that they ran alongside their national flags (or in the case of the Dutch, the arms of the VOC). But by 1972 the country has developed an entirely new Emblem, which is still in use today. It was designed by the Venerable Mapalagama Wipulasara Maha Thera, a Buddhist monk and artist and features the traditional lion of the national flag. The lion sits within a round frame of lotus leaves and rice grains, the Wheel of Dharma above his head and Sinhalese sun and moon symbols beneath him.


A suburb of Batticaloa, facing inland into a large eponymous lagoon.

F, f


A silicate mineral, feldspar is used in many industries including glass and ceramics, and as fillers in paints, plastics, and rubber. Deposits of it, and accompanying mines, occur in many areas of Sri Lanka - including Rattota, Namaloya, Koslanda, and Balangoda.

Image courtsey of Dave Dyet.

Festival Calendar, The

Although most people, government workers aside, work on Saturdays, the annual work load is lessened by the fact that Sri Lanka probably has more public holidays than any other country. Taken together, they would add an extra month to the year. To the many Buddhist festivals, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim festivals have to be added – some long ago merged with ancient animist and agricultural ones. It is striking, though not surprising in so religiously-minded a country, that so many of the festivals are also public holiday, regardless of their religious origins. Here is a list of the thirty three most notable ones, each one an opportunity to lay a glittering happening on the otherwise workaday weeks and months of the year:

1. Patti Pongal. A Tamil festival ceremony for gratitude to cows that occurs in January.

2. Duruthu Poya. Occurring in January, this celebrates the first of the Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka – and the start of the three-month pilgrimage season to Adam's Peak

3. The Harvest Festival. A Hindu festival over 14-15 of January to celebrates Surya, the Sun god; Indra, the bringer of rains; and the cow. Observed mostly by Tamil farmers, it marks the first rice harvest of the year. It is seen as an opportunity for decluttering too and houses are cleaned and painted, and floors decorated with the leaves of fruit trees. Sweet rice is consumed in generous quantities and cow horns are painted, with some even wrapped in saris.

4. Duruthu Perahera. Taking place at the Kelaniya Temple near Colombo, this Buddhist festival commemorates the third visit of Buddha to Sri Lanka, with attendant elephants, torch bearers and dancers.

5. Independence Day. On the 4th of January large stands are erected along Galle Face Green for the country’s leading figures to sit and watch the armed forces march past.

6. The New Rice Festival. A Buddhist festival held in January at the Temple of the Tooth.

7. Medin Poya. A Buddhist festival in March that marks Lord Buddha's first visit to the island.

8. Maha Sivarathri. A Hindu festival in February or March to honour Shiva by fasting and all-night vigils.

9. Eid-e-Milad an-Nabi. A Muslim festival held in March to celebrated the birth of the prophet Muhammad.

10. Bak Poya. A Buddhist festival in April to mark Lord Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka.

11. The National Oil Anointing Ceremony. Organized by the Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Ministry and the Ayurvedic Department and held in April, the festival is meant to ensure good health for the year ahead. Whether many people outside the ministry know about it is debatable.

12. Sinhala & Tamil New Year. Occurring on the 13-14th of April, the festival brings together Tamils and the Sinhalese to celebrate New Year. A cross between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and News Years Eve, it is a time for families, milk rice and parties.

13. Good Friday and Easter Day. A Christian festival with a movable date, held to mark the crucifixion of Christ.

14. Vesak Poya. The Poya held in May is the most important Buddhist poya of the year, cramming in three anniversaries: the birth, enlightenment, and Nirvana of Lord Buddha. Every possible structure is decorated and at night paper lanterns, some of titanic proportions, flicker with gentle lights. Food is shared in huge quantities; the devout meditate and fast and the last pilgrims climb Adam’s Peak.

15. Labour Day. Held on the 1st May and a traditional bank holiday, though given the generous closing hours the banks often give themselves, an extra holiday seems superfluous.

16. Remembrance Day. Held in May, the day has had a significant identity change since it was first created by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to mark the defeat opf the LTTE. It was then called Victorty Day. But within five years, Rajapaksa’s successor, President Maithripala Sirisena had it renamed Remembrance Day.

17. Ramadan. A Muslim festival held in June to mark the Prophet Muhammad visitation by the angel Gabriel.

18. Poson Poya. Held in June this is the second most important poya day of the year and commemorates the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE. Festivals are widespread – but most especially glittering at Mihintale where the event took place.

19. Esala Poya. Held between July to August to mark Lord Buddha's first sermon and the arrival of the sacred Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka.

20. Esala Festivals. Throughout July and August Esala festivals are held at numerous temples, the dates held like poker cards to the chest until the very last moment, but always guaranteed to reach a climax for the full moon. The most famous of these is the Kandy Perahera, a pageant that runs for ten days with elephants dressed in silk, dancers, fire eaters, whip crackers and contented priests marching through the narrow streets of the hill city to crowds of thousands. Notable too is the Dondra Perahera held near Dikwella in southern Sri Lanka, and the fourteen day long Kataragama Perahera centred around the multi religious temple of Kataragama and attracting Buddhist, Hindus, Muslima and the Vedda, many of whom will have pilgrimaged there from other towns, and all of whom will plunge into the Manik Ganga for the cleansing water cutting ceremony.

21. The Water Cutting Ceremony. Held after the last Perehera procession in a number of places on the island – but most importantly on the Menik Ganga. The festival is designed to purify the clothes of the god that may have been polluted by sex. Once the auspicious time is determined - usually early in the morning - the object of veneration is placed in the river, accompanied by priests and even elephants,. People gather just downstream of it to splash and immerse themselves in the water, some of which, they hope, may derive from the holy object themselves. Flasks are filled, and – at least in more agrarian times – the multiple would go home, confident that the harvest was all but guaranteed.

22. Munneswaram. A Hindu festival often also attended by Buddhists that is held in the 1st week of August near Chilaw and dedicated – not least by lots of fire walking - to the God Siva.

23. Nikini Poya. A Buddhist festival moistly observed by monks to kick start three months of fasting in memory of Lord Buddha’s death. It is also known as Vas or Rain Retreat.

24. Vel Festival. The central Hindu festival of the year which celebrates the god Kartikeya (also known as Murugan or Kandhan) with elaborate processions, which feature chariots and spears.

25. Binara Poya. A Buddhist festival held in September to mark Lord Buddha's journey to heaven.

26. Dussehra. A Hindu festival that symbolises the triumph of good over evil that is held over September/October to honour the Mother Goddess Durga’s victory over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura.

27. Vap Poya. A Buddhist festival held in October to mark the end of fasting and the Vas Retreat, and commemorate Buddha's return to earth. It is usually accompanied by Katina Ceremonies (the Month of Robes) when money is donated to monasteries to buy new robes for the monks.

28. Deepavali. The Hindu Festivals of Lights that marks the return of Rama from exile and the triumph of light over darkness. Many people, regardless of religion in Sri Lanka wish that the Central Electricity Board might pay a little more attention to the lessons that derive from Deepavali.

29. Il Poya. A Buddhist festival held in November to mark Lord Buddha’s ordination of sixty disciples to spread his teachings.

30. Hajj. A Muslim festival held in November to kick start the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

31. Christmas Day. A Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Christ.

32. Unduvap Poya. A Buddhist festival of great importance in Anuradhapura which marks the arrival of the sapling of the bo-tree to Sri Lanka from India.

33. The Hakma Dance. An annual Adivasi Veddha festival that lasts two days focused on protecting the community and wild animals from diseases and to ensure a bountiful of bee honey harvest.

Image courtsey of Best Sri Lanka Travel.


A pen ink with wash on paper illustration by Lincoln Seligman of Fisherman Sri Lanka 2015. Image courtsey of the artist.

Flame Tree Estate & Hotel, The

An art deco plantation manor close to Kandy, the Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya and Dambulla, The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel has been described as “a little slice of heaven and a big dose of serenity.” Surrounded by jungle, and its own plantations of spices, timber, coconut, and rubber, it mixes collections of contemporary Sri Lankan art with European Modernism; and fuses classic Sri Lankan food with familiar European dishes. Restored with the help of the celebrated Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, the hotel is set beside the Galagedera Pass, where the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinha thwarted the attempt the Dutch East India army to invade the island’s last independent kingdom in 1765. The hotel is also the home of The Ceylon Press, a digital publishing initiative set up to tell the story of Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel.


A painting by Andrew Macara of Football in Bentota 1998. Image courtsey of the artist.

Fourteen Seventy CE

1470 was for Sri Lanka, the year a great storm fell across Adam’s Bridge and the Palk Straights, that modest sea channel that separates India from Sri Lanka. Running like a vertebra across the Palk Straights, Adam’s Bridge is comprised today of a series of are low islands and submerged reefs. But until 1470, at moments of extreme low tide, it was possible to practically walk across. Once this had been the main route south - until sea levels rose and storms wore away at the limestone islands.

The 1470 storm shattered much of the remaining limestone – leaving behind just a few islands and a watery thoroughfare that is still, to this day, too treacherously shallow for most ships to dare a crossing. Adam’s Bridge was a bridge no more. From 1470 onwards you would have to swim, or sail across. Emblematic of what was or might have been, but is no longer, the Bridge sits between the two countries, hinting at a unity that had already, hundreds of years before, fragmented so completely as to be missed by the earliest founding myths of both cultures. Its destruction made symbolically plain what was already nakedly obvious. Despite their proximity, their shared history and even their similarities, the two lands were wholly different. As the lost magnetic pull of the sub-continent become more remote, Sri Lanka continued on its journey forward, one in which it would continue to put down its own unique roots, to create a history to dwarf that of most other countries, ten times larger.

G, g


A Sinhala term for the Kandyan kingdom’s royal villages.

Gajabahu I, King of Anuradhapura

The third monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 48th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 113 - 135 CE.

Gajabahu was to rule for 22 years,. His governance is remembered for its predictable religious sensibility – and its military might, the two not often going hand in hand. He built monasteries (in Matuvihara and Rumika) and a stupa (Abhayuttara). More remarkably, he also co-opted the Hindu goddess Pattini to Sri Lanka. Several of her temples remain on the island, and she is still worshipped, the Buddhist patron goddess of fertility and health, an iconic ancient link that evokes deep and pacific links between the island’s two main religions that are often overlooked. She is even one of just five figures honoured in the annual Kandy Perehera, the country’s supreme Buddhist festival – which some historians date to around the reign of King Gajabahu himself. The king also managed to find her sacred anklet, said still to be hidden in the Hanguranketha Temple near Nuwara Aylia. This move which did not stop him also liberating the alms bowl of Buddha from India to Sri Lanka, a vessel with a history and provenance now every bit as complex as that of the Holy Grail.

But it is his military capabilities that are most honoured today, not least in the Sri Lanka Army’s infantry regiment, The Gajaba Regiment, or the country’s Navy with its ship the SLNS Gajabahu. For Gajabahu did that rarest of things: he took the fight with the Cholas, to the Cholas, leading an army to southern India to liberate the 12,000 thousand Sinhalese prisoners seized in his father's reign. Ancient sources also mention other visits to Tamil kings, this time more peaceful. Trade too seems to have flourished. Excavations at the ancient (now partially underwater) port of Godavaya in the far south have unearthed his regulations regarding custom tolls – as well as a collection of seventy five thousand Roman coins. Almost little is known of his personal life, and nothing to explain why he was succeeded in 135 CE by his father or son-in-law, Mahallaka Naga.

Illustration Credit: The Sri Lanka Navy Ship SLNS Gajabahu courtsey of The Sri Lankan Navy

Gal Vihara

A photograph by an unknown English Photographer of the Gal Vihara Standing Buddhist Statue dating from 1870-90 . Public Domain.

Galle Face Hotel, The

With a Victorian era guest list that reads like Who’s Who of the time, this iconic hotel is the only one in Colombo that still enjoys direct sea access – though to bathe off its slim rocky beach to invite prescient thoughts of mortality. It started life as a modest Dutch Guesthouse before the opening of the Suez Canal turned the tickle of eastward bound Europeans into a river. Continually enlarged and upgraded, most notably by Thomas Skinner in 1894, it became the city’s top luxury meeting point attracting an international A List. Gandhi, Noel Coward, Che Guevara, Yuri Gagarin, Nixon, Prince Philip, and Elizabeth Taylor all booked rooms. Vivien Leigh sulked in her bedroom, sent home in disgrace by her husband Laurence Olivier. Little has changed since her repeated calls to room service: it is just as lovely, weathering a recent upgrade with rare good taste. It is the best place to Wedding Watch as it hosts around one thousand society weddings a year. Enjoy them as you nibble Battenburg cakes on the terrace, sip Pimm’s and watch the Crow Man scare away the birds.

Image: Public Domain.

Gallery Café, The

In a fair just and equitable world, one would go to The Gallery Café simply to appreciate its stunning architecture. The business address of the architect Geoffrey Bawa, this beguiling building leads you ever deeper into peace, like a benign Pied Piper. Once through the gates, the humid decibels of Colombo fall mute.

As you walk through the building, the inner courtyard patrolled by languid koi, the calm cool rooms beyond and a garden and verandas beyond that, the hustle of the city evaporates. Surrounded by Ugly Sisters, this Cinderella of a building just keeps giving, for it now houses one of the more edible parts of Shanth Fernando’s Paradise Road empire, the café’s menu guaranteed to lock you in for several happy hours; and its walls, home to a changing gallery of contemporary Sri Lanka art, guaranteed to infuriate, delight or seduce you, depending on what is on show. Rarely does one building satisfy so many desires.

Ganatissa, King of Anuradhapura

The seventh monarch (possibly) of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being wholly unclear.

Ganatissa is but a shadow in the list of Sri Lanaka’s early Vijayan kings. The odds on his very existence are about evens for most of the early documents omit his life altogether. However, scholars, worrying about the improbable length of King Pandu Kabhaya’s reign (437 to 367 BCE), have suggested that Ganatissa filled in the royal register between kings Pandu Kabhaya and Mutasiva.


There are many so-called garnet species, the reddish shades being the most popular, and the blues the rarest. The greater their ability to transmit light, the greater their value as a semi previous stone. They range in price from $500 to $7000 per carat. From the Pharaohs to Jackie Onassis Kennedy, the gemstone has long been a favourite of jewellers worldwide. Sri Lankan garnets span a wide spectrum of colours, from deep reds to vibrant oranges, gentle pinks, and even green.

Image courtesy of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Garnet Sand

A mineral sand increasingly in demand, garnet sand is used widely across many industries as an abrasive. Although commercially relevant deposits of it exist in such areas in the south as Dondra and Hambantota, it remains little exploited in Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Gaur, Indian Bison

Once common throughout South and South East Asia, the Gaur, or Indian bison, is moving inexorably towards extinction, with a just 21,000 mature specimens still living. Related to yaks and water buffalo, they are the largest of all wild cattle and out ranked in size by other land mammals only by elephants, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus. The Ceylon Gaur (Bibos Sinhaleyus Deraniyagala) is a distinct sub species that used to be found in Sri Lanka but was last spotted by British adventurers in 1681 in the menagerie of King Rajasinghe II of Kandy. Proving its ability to juggle many varied priorities (political reform, economic stability, improved educational standards etc etc.), the Sri Lakan government recently proposed to its Indian counterpart that they send half a dozen gaur to the island as part of a reintroduction programme.

Image Public Domain.


Thanks to the extreme old age of its rocks (90% are between 500 to 2.5 million years old), Sri Lanka’s gems are so numerous as to often just wash out onto flood plains, and into rivers and streams. Indeed, the mining of alluvial deposits by simple water-winnowing river mining was for long the classic technique used to find gemstones, separating them out from the river sand and clay by simple sluicing in wicker baskets. Tunnel mining represents a more scalable technique. Typically, pits of 5 to 500 feet in depth are dug, with tunnels excavated horizontally from then. The clay, sand and gravel is then sluiced with water in conical baskets to separate out the heaver stones that then settle at the basket base. At a much more industrial level, backhoe earthmover machines, ablaze in their environmentally challenging acid yellow or orange livery, are used to excavate the top soil. Twenty five percent of the country’s total land area is potentially gem-bearing, but the greatest concentration of mining is around the town of Ratnapura which accounts for 65% of mined gems, the balance mostly coming from Elahera, a district in the North Central Province.

In the precise lexicon of intentional jewellers, there are just 4 precious stones: diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. All others – and these number some 200 – are judged semi-precious. Sri Lanka is home to 75 semi or precious gems – including two precious stones - rubies and sapphires, the latter being the gem that is unmistakably twinned with in popular imagination. Amongst its better known semi-precious stones are Spinels, Amethysts, Sapphires, Garnets, Rose Quartz, Aquamarines, Tourmalines, Agates, Cymophanes, Topazes, Citrines, Alexandrites, Zircons,and Moonstones. All are valued according to a strict criteria: Cut, Colour, Clarity, and Carat (weight). What marks out the precious stones is their hardness, as measured on the so-called Mohs scale. This ranks minerals on a scale of 1 to 10. Diamonds score 10; Rubies and Sapphires 9 and Emeralds 7.5-8. Only a diamond can scratch another diamond, but a Ruby, for example, can scratch an Emerald.

Sri Lankan Sapphires, the country’s principal precious stone, are usually blue but also come in a variety of other colours that depend on the chemical composition of the stone: variants of red, orange, yellow, green, purple; pink, gold sapphires, and lavender. Its green sapphires are its most distinctive, exhibiting a colour that is not found among the sapphires mined in other gem-producing countries. Rubies, classically distinguished by red tones, actually go through a gradient from pink to purple, to slightly brown. Sri Lakan Rubies are noted for their lighter red and pink colour.

The country’s gem mining recorded history reaches back to at least the 2nd century BCE, with the mention of a gem mine in The Mahavamsa. However, if biblical rumours of King Solomon’s wooing of the Queen of Sheba with gifts of priceless Sri Lankan gems, are to be believed, the country’s gem mines can be back dated at least another 700 years. In 550 CE a Greek trader, Cosmas, wrote that "the temples are numerous, and in one in particular, situated on an eminence, is the great hyacinth [amethyst or ruby], as large as a pine cone, the colour of fire, and flashing from a great distance, especially when catching the beams of the sun - a matchless sight". A later traveller to the island, Marco Polo, wrote in the 13th century CE that "the king of Ceylon is reputed to have the grandest ruby that was ever seen, a span in length, the thickness of a man's arm; brilliant beyond description, and without a single flaw. It has the appearance of glowing fire, and its worth cannot be estimated in money”. Hard on his heals was Ibn Batuta who noted that "in the Island of Ceylon rubies are found in all parts. The land is private property, and a man buys a parcel of it and digs for rubies. He finds white stones, deeply cracked, and it is inside these that the rubies are formed. He gives them to the lapidaries who scrape them down until they split away from the ruby stones. Some of them are red, some yellow, and some blue, which they call nailam (saffires)".

Today, the country’s gem industry is high regulated and its exports are one of the country’s main foreign revenue earners, with sales escalating from around $40 million in 1980 to over $473 million in 2022. This places it in 4th position, below that of Garments ($4.7 billion); Coffee, Tea & Spices ($1.6 billion); and Rubber ($1.06 billion). This phenomenal acceleration dates in part to two bouts of government intervention: the establishment of the State Gem Corporation in 1971 and the 1993 Gem and Jewellery Authority Act. By these moves, the government centralised and professionalised the issuing of gem-mining licenses and the leasing government land for mining. They extended control over sales and exporting and made it mandatory that gems discovered within mines could be sold arbitrarily; but must instead be presented at public auctions, with the government receiving a share of sales amounting to 2.5%. The industry’s value chain is a long one. Gem miners sell their stones to dealers, who sell the rough stones to cutter-polishers. Historically, these have usually been Ceylon Moors descendants of Arabians traders. The glittering stones are then sold to wholesalers and onto retailers, where the greatest profits are to be made. The Sri Lankan Export Development Board claims that right across this chain some 650,000 people are employed – through the figure is difficult to verify.

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of gem mining around 1890. Public Domain.

Gerbil, Ceylon Gerbil Or Antilope-Rat

Happily widespread, the Ceylon Gerbil (Tatera Indica Ceylonica) is a distinct variant of the Indian Gerbil. Well distributed across the island, it lives in small colonies inside nests lined with dry grasses at the end of deep labyrinthine burrows. It is notably unneighbourly, aggressive and territorial with gerbils from other colonies. Like most gerbils it is exhaustively fertile, with pregnancies lasting under a month that produce up to nine young - who will themselves reach sexual maturity within four months. It is tiny – little more than 4 centimetres head to tail and clothed in brownish grey fur, all the better to pass unnoticed.

Image courtsey of

Gothabhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The sixteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 61st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 254 – 267 CE.

One of three plotters (the other two being Sangha Tissa I and Siri Sangha Bodhi), Gothabhaya had conspired to kill the reigning king, Vijaya Kumara in 248 CE. Like his co-conspirators, he came from a more modest cadet branch of the Lambakanna Dynasty but was made of stern stuff. As the first of his murderous partners, Sangha Tissa I, was killed by the second, Siri Sangha Bodhi I, Gothabhaya set out to gain the crown in just the same tried and trusted way.

According to The Mahavaṃsa, he needn’t have bothered for Sangha Bodhi I killed himself in a manner that was both anatomically impossible and socially impressive. Quite how he really met his death remains a mystery. The important thing was that the king was dead, leaving Gothabhaya to rule. What the new king lacked in charm, charity, and religious tolerance, he made up for with the sort of firm government that took the fizz out of regicide. For 14 years he ruled it with the proverbial rod of iron. A man of deeply conservative religious beliefs, he was unimpressed by the Vajrayana movement, a form of tantric Buddhism that was making slim but noticeable appearances into his kingdom. The movement was closely aligned with Mahayana Buddhism and seen by many as incompatible with the Theravāda Buddhism that had been practiced on the island since the 3rd century BCE.

The king did all he could to thwart it, even banishing 60 monks for such beliefs. But what he kept out with one door slammed shut, he inadvertently let in with another. For he entrusted his son’s education to an Indian monk named Sanghamitta, a follower of Vaitulya Buddhism. This doctrinal strand was even more radical than the Vajrayana doctrine the king was so busy trying to eradicate. Like a time bomb, the impact of this private religious education on his successor, was set to go off the moment Gotabhaya died. His death, in 267 CE, left behind a divided country. Several ministers refused to participate in his funeral rites and his son and heir, Jetta Tissa I, a chip off the monstrous old block, had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body.

Illustration Credit: The Abhayagiri Monastery, whose monks King Gothabhaya banished for embracing the Vetulya doctrine. Photo credit: courtesy of Alchetron and taken before the stupa was restored.

Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya, The

The definitive jewel in the collection of excellently run Tangerine Group Hotels, The Grand Hotel was built by the Duke of Wellington’s adjutant, Sir Edward Barnes in 1828, a holiday home fit for the busy Colonial Governor he was. In his short time governing, he arranged the construction of the Colombo and Kandy road, the first census of the population, and introduced coffee to the island. By 1843 the home had become a hotel, to be added to over the decades with a Governor’s Wing; a Southern Golf Wing, Tudor facades; and all the other opulent necessities of a first class colonial hotel. Its Edwardian luxury is now mediated by such things as a Mindfulness Studio, a dizzying range of restaurants and bars, and gardens large enough to keep at bay the ever greater crowds who cleave to the cool climate of Nuwara Eliya.

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, taken in 1890-1910. Public Domain.

Grand Oriential Hotel, The

Home to Dutch governors and British squaddies, The Grand Oriental Hotel was turned into a luxury billet back in 1875; and fights on still. Its bar offers one of the best views of Colombo Harbour.

An illustration by Unbekannt from the turn of the 20th century of The Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo. Public Domain.


Graphite, also known as Plumbago, has long been a major mineral export for Sri Lanka, thanks largely to its exceptional purity. It is a key ingredient in lubricants, and lithium batteries and with the explosion of electric cars and electronics has seen demand growing exponentially. It is, of course, also used in pencils - as Sarvesh Murthi observed: “It is always better to write your feeling in GRAPHITE than in INK, as it’s much easier to erase them and start fresh.”

Image courtsey of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

H, h


A village with uncertain pretentions to becoming a town, Habarana is situated bang in the middle of the northern part of the island. It is the gateway to the Minneriya National Park, elephant safari central, where, at the right time of the year, the big beasts gather in their migrating hundreds.

Hakgalla Botanical Gardens

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of Hakgalla Gardens from the Lotus Pond, Nuwara Eliya in 1890s. Public Domain.

Hammenhiel Fort

An illustration by Cornelis Steiger of Hammenhiel Fort. Public Domain.


Nestling in the heart of the hill country south of Ella, Haputale is a craggy cool world of lush tea plantations, and misty cloud-festooned mountains. The town is largely Tamil - yet also houses a miniature Anglican church, St. Andrew's, circa 1869; and, in an adjacent valley, an almost abandoned 1st BCE Buddhist cave temple, reached through the remains of an ancient Ambalama, its tiny stupa protected by overhanging rocks. From its famous pass the southern plains of the country open out, a luxuriant panorama of tea, tea, and tea. This was a view much enjoyed by Sir Thomas Lipton, the once penniless, probably gay, Glaswegian tea baron, who did so much to put the island’s tea into the living rooms of homes the world over. His Seat, literally a seat to sit down on, in order to enjoy the view, is now probably one of the most visited outdoor armchairs in the world, with tea-loving tourists flocking to perch on its planks. And just outside the little town is Adisham Hall, the faux Tudor country house folly built by a much later tea baron, Sir Thomas Villers.

Hare, Ceylon Black-Naped

Curiously Sri Lanka lacks rabbits – though it does have a hare. Just the one. And an endemic one too, a distinct variant of the Indian Hare. The Ceylon Black-Naped Hare (Lepus Nigricollis Singhala) is a mere fifty centimetres head to body, and distinguished by having a black patch on the back on its neck. It is notable also for its dozy daytime habit – being more of a night creature, leaving the day for sleeping alone in the grassland that is its preferred habitat. Blessed with excellent sight, hearing, and smell, it can usually outrun any would-be enemy; and remains happily widespread across the island.

Image courtsey of David Hosking.

Hippopotamus, Sri Lankan

Dating back between 800,00 to 100,000 years ago, the fossilised remains of a hippopotamus’s jawbone, showing the presence of a couple more teeth than exist in the current living hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), are all that is left to prove the once lively presence on Sri Lanka’s rivers of this great land mammal, the largest after the elephant. Hexaprotodon Sinhaleyus, a distinct sub species, probably fell afoul of early climate change when rainfall become significantly less heavy, so putting pressure on their preferred habitat.

Image courtsey of Kemonofriends.


Of Sri Lanka’s 10,000+ places listed as offering accommodation, the greater majority are privately let villas and apartments, supplemented by homestays. Less than a quarter of its accommodation is classified as a hotel – 2,500 in all. A third of these hotels are 4-star and less than 8% (200) are rated as 5-star.

For a small island still greatly overlooked by international visitors who are more accustomed to visit Thailand, the Maldives or India, this may seem more than sufficient – but most of the 200 5-star hotels are small private operations that focus on providing authentic boutique experiences rather than long corridors of identical bedrooms.

The hotel chains that dominate the rest of the world – Taj, Sheraton, Marriot, Starwood, Meridian, etc. – have yet to put in much of an appearance in Sri Lanka. Even so, as tourism roves forward on its somewhat uneven upward trajectory across the island, local chains – such as Jetwing, Cinnamon, Resplendent, Tangerine, Teardrop, Taru and Uga - are developing a growing reputation for exceptional hospitality that can be evenly experienced in any of their branded hotels.

Most hotel development has, of course, followed the tourists and so hugs the coastline from Negombo, near the airport, to Yala in the far south, with the greater number coalescing around Galle. A much more modest sprinkling of other 5-star hotel dusts such locations as Kandy and the cultural triangle, with a few outstanding examples reaching out into the north and east.

Although it is invidiously partial to pick out the best, here are the most likely contenders for happy stays in 2024.


1. Colombo Court Hotel & Spa
Affordable, and very environmentally-minded, this much overlooked boutique hotel is within walking distance of many of Colombo’s nicest haunts. Sitting just off the traffic jam that is Duplication Road, it is a habitat of rare calm and tranquillity, its lush pool and rooftop bar among its many subtle delights.

2. Cinnamon Grand
The flagship hotel in a chain of Cinnamon Hotels, the Grand is a stone’s throw from the President’s Office in Colombo. Despite its rather corporate, blocky architecture, its secret weapon is its people. It tends to make a point of knowing who you actually are and what you really want. From lavish pools to flaky croissants, themed restaurants to battleship-large reception desks, it offers all you would hope for from a large, successful hotel.

3. Galle Face Hotel
With a Victorian era guest list that reads like Who’s Who of the time, this iconic hotel is the only one in Colombo that still enjoys direct sea access – though to bathe off its slim rocky beach to invite prescient thoughts of mortality. It started life as a modest Dutch Guesthouse before the opening of the Suez Canal turned the tickle of eastward bound Europeans into a river. Continually enlarged and upgraded, most notably by Thomas Skinner in 1894, it became the city’s top luxury meeting point attracting an international A List. Gandhi, Noel Coward, Che Guevara, Yuri Gagarin, Nixon, Prince Philip, and Elizabeth Taylor all booked rooms. Vivien Leigh sulked in her bedroom, sent home in disgrace by her husband Laurence Olivier. Little has changed since her repeated calls to room service: it is just as lovely, weathering a recent upgrade with rare good taste. It is the best place to Wedding Watch as it hosts around one thousand society weddings a year. Enjoy them as you nibble Battenburg cakes on the terrace, sip Pimm’s and watch the Crow Man scare away the birds.

4. The Grand Oriental Hotel
Home to Dutch governors and British squaddies, The Grand Oriental Hotel was turned into a luxury billet back in 1875; and fights on still. Its bar offers one of the best views of Colombo Harbour.

5. Hilton
Weathering a troubled birth, the Colombo Hilton was nevertheless one of the first globally branded hotels to wash up on Colombo’s then more parochial shores. It was finally launched in 1987, a year which, but for this, the country would chose not to dwell upon. Civil war raged, Jaffna was besieged and a serious of murderous race riots broke out. But to honour the hotel’s thirty years of indefatigably providing guests with all the best services of a major hotel (and one of the best brunches on offer in the city), a stamp and a first day cover were issued by the Sri Lanka Post in 2017.

6. Jetwing Seven
Jetwing is the island’s leading independent hotel chain with over thirty hotels and villas operating to standards and dining most other international hotel chains might be smart to pay attention to. Jetwing hotels promote strong environmental values; and their Colombo hotel offers one of the best sunset views in the city, its abundant bar enfolding a pool and languid seats from which to enjoy the urban panorama.

7. The Kingsbury
A splendidly straightforward 5-star hotel situated at the top end of Galle Face Green with views onto the Old Parliament, the sea, and the docks. Yue Chuan, one of its several restaurants, serves up some of the best Chinese food in Colombo.

8. Mount Lavinia Hotel
Built in 1806 by the British Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, Mount Lavinia gained immediate fame for its not-so-secret tunnel linking the governor’s wine cellar to the home of his burgher lover. Successive governors would go on to use it as their out-of-town seaside retreat, enjoying its smart siting on a rock overlooking the sea and two pleasant beaches, restyling it in 1830 as an Italianate palace. With two hundred and seventy five rooms, it has been operating as a hotel since 1947, much loved as a wedding venue and brunching spot.

9. Maniumpathy
By checking in at the beautifully restored walawwa that is Maniumpathy, you can pretend that you are anywhere but in a big city. Cool, quiet, and calm, the little hotel, despite having changed hands multiple times, is a great option for anyone wishing to replace big brand hotels with something on a much more human a scale.

10. Number 11
Hidden down the 33rd Lane that turns off Colombo’s Bagatelle Road is Geoffray Bawa’s private town house, a rambling architectural marvel and museum which, whilst not run as a regular hotel, lets out two rooms to visitors. With demand far outstripping supply, getting to stay there can prove tricky – but lucky guests then have the great good fortune of having the entire museum, with its gorgeous assemblage of curios and masterpieces, all to themselves once the day trippers have gone.

11. Shangri-La
One of the milestones in Colombo’s journey from a overlooked and embattled post-Independence past into a more materialistically glamorous future was the creation of the high rise Shangri-La Hotel. Built by the Chinese as a sort of off-shoot of their Belt-and-Braces mission, it overlooks the sea at Galle Face Green with half a dozen bars and restaurants, and lavish bedrooms well able to match the best in any other globally branded five star hotel. Just a stones throw away is China’s greater investment in the country - Colombo International Financial City, a 300 acre, $15 billion, special economic zone reclaimed from the sea which, the suits claim that will be a place that “fuzes the culture and energy of a nation with best international practice.” Whilst the exact meaning of this penetrating solipsism is hard to unpick, and the planned architecture so modernistically predictable as to make it tricky to know whether you are in Dubai, Shanghai, or London Docklands, Pricewaterhouse Cooper insists it will add almost twelve billion dollars to the country’s annual GDP.

12. Taj Samudra
One of the oldest luxury hotels in Colombo, the Taj was constructed before astonishing premiums was put on the capital’s sea facing land. It therefore enjoys a rare calming green skirt of lush gardens and wings that go out rather than up. Scion of the Taj India chain, it offers its guests everything they might hope for from a massive corporate hotel, including excellent restaurants (especially YUMI), a useful hair salon – and, hidden in its gardens, all that is left of the once mighty Colombo Club, established in 1871 for the purpose of establishing and maintaining reading, billiard, card, and refreshment rooms in Colombo for the benefit of the members”.

13. Tintagel
The graceful Colombo residence of the Bandaranaike families and scene of the assassination of S.W.R. Bandaranaike, Tintagel is now an impressive boutique hotel run by the Paradise Road designer and entrepreneur, Udayshanth Fernando. If sinking into unquestionable peace and luxury is your principal need, this is the place for you.

14. Uga Residence
The landmark hotel in a small and growing local chain, Uga Residence is a 19th century mansion that has morphed delightfully into a lavish boutique hotel. Set like a delightful navel in the heart of the city, its bar offers an inexhaustible range of whiskeys.


1. The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel, Kandy
An art deco plantation manor close to Kandy, the Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya and Dambulla, The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel has been described as “a little slice of heaven and a big dose of serenity.” Surrounded by jungle, and its own plantations of spices, timber, coconut, and rubber, it mixes collections of contemporary Sri Lankan art with European Modernism; and fuses classic Sri Lankan food with familiar European dishes. Restored with the help of the celebrated Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, the hotel is set beside the Galagedera Pass, where the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinha thwarted the attempt the Dutch East India army to invade the island’s last independent kingdom in 1765. The hotel is also the home of The Ceylon Press, a digital publishing initiative set up to tell the story of Sri Lanka.

2. Helga’s Folly, Kandy
No list of Sri Lankan hotels would ever be complete without Helga Blow’s famous anti-hotel. Sri Lanka’s last great eccentric, Helga Blow, Dior model, and niece of the eminent architect Minette de Silva, returned to her homeland in 1988. Seeking therapeutic distractions from a tortuous divorce, she set about decorating her home with the extraordinary murals that still adorn every spare inch of wall space. Home became a hotel and guests can still find Madame Helga (as in the Kelly Jones Stereophonics song), walking the lush corridors of her eyrie in Philip Treacy hats, doyenne of “an eccentric collision between Faulty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous”.

3. The Kandy House, Kandy
Built by the last Chief Minister to the Kandyan kings just before the British overran the kingdom, The Kandy House is discreet, deeply peaceful luxury hotel outside Kandy. One of the first really outstanding boutique hotels on the island, it attracts such guests as Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent and Madhur Jaffrey, the grand dame of Indian cookery whose Sri Lankan Fish Curry remains the apogee for any ambitious pisces cisternina.

4. Queen's Hotel Kandy
The crown has slipped slightly at this once grandest of grand hotels. Built by the last King of Kandy before being grabbed by the British Governor, The Queen’s Hotel opened as one of the island’s top hotels in 1869 attracting the great, the good and the wickedly wealthy. Its bar served Lord Mountbatten of Burma and every luminary before with rounds of cocktails and peppery gins. From its priceless position next to the Temple of the Tooth, guests can watch the birds on the Sea of Milk, as the lake opposite is called. Now more of an elderly stolid county maiden than a glamorous queen, it remains a decent and charming place, especially for those in search of shade, beer, and a rest from the relentless tide of busy Kandyans shopping and sightseeing just beyond its doors.

5. The Suisse Hotel, Kandy
Originally built in the 17th century by a minister of the Kandyan king, the Suisse hotel got its name when it was sold to Madam Burdayron, an intrepid Swiss hotelier. Lord Mountbatten gave her a block booking from 1943-45 when he took over the entire hotel as the Headquarters of the South East Asia Command. It is now run as a ninety room hotel owned by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, standing in four acres of gardens, and offering a service and décor that is serviceably vintage.


1. Amangalla, Galle
For one hundred and forty years Galle’s most majestic hotel was known as the New Oriental Hotel before being rebaptised in 2005 as the Amangalla. Its real date stretches back to 1684 when it was the headquarters of the Dutch. Now a glorious heritage hotel, with deep, humbling verandas, it has wisely chosen to restrict its number of rooms to better focus on the sort of luxury you know you deserve the moment you find it.

2. Amanwella, Tangalle
Amanwella is the sort of hotel that guests often chose to arrive at by seaplane. One of 34 Aman hotels spread across 20 countries, it has a deep knowledge of how to best please its demanding guests. Shy celebrities, discarded Western prime ministers - all have found their way to this uber stylish retreat of infinity pools and gourmet menus that overlook the golden beaches of Godellawela near Tangalle.

3. Cape Weligama, Weligama
One of Resplendent Ceylon’s Relais & Châteaux hotels, Cape Weligama is made up of 39 villas and suites gathered loosely together, village style, on a headland overlooking Weligame Bay opposite Mirissa. Expect nothing less than the best.

4. Fort Bazaar, Galle
A seventeenth century merchant’s townhouse in downtown Galle Fort Bazzar is now home to a boutique hotel of handsome guestrooms, delicious food, and verandas from which to watch the busy world worry past.

5. The Fort Printers, Galle
A small eighteenth century building, Fort Printer’s is now run as a boutique hotel. Its restaurant serves some of the very best food on the island, a dazzling gustation played out on Sri Lankan, Lebanese, and Pakistani themes.

6. The Fortress Resort & Spa, Galle
Situated near Galle, this seaside boutique, overlooking sandy beaches and stilt fishermen, is spacious, luxurious, and calming. It polished bedrooms, yoga and excellent menu foster such as sense of well-being as to bring even Lazarus back to life, where he to drop by unexpectedly.

7. Galle Fort Hotel
A gem merchant’s grand mansion; RAF barracks; post office; bakery; lapidary; and playground for local cricketers - this small, ultra-luxurious, boutique hotel in downtown Galle saw many iterations before it settled most happily down upon its present one.

8. Kahanda Kanda, Galle
Kahanda Kanda is the star hotel in a small group of luxury South Coast boutique hotels (The KK Collection) founded by George Cooper, a British interior designer. Its two siblings are The Villa Bentota, and KK Beach. Kahanda Kanda, perched on a very private hill near Koggala Lake, is an indulgence of sequestered English country style villas that have happily woken up in a more tropical wonderland than Hampshire, Harrogate, or Hartlepool.

9. The Last House, Tangalle
Said to be the last building created by Asia’s famous architect Geoffrey Bawa, the Last House overlooks a sandy beach near Tangalle, its capacious gardens enclosing a calm and beautiful building of just five bedrooms that offers every necessary luxury.

10. The Long House, Bentota
The most glamorous of a collection of Taru villas and hotels, The Long House overlooks the sea in Bentota, its artfully designed spaces and rooms, gardens and menus offering all that is needed to satisfy a seaside sojourn.

11. Lunuganga, Bentota
You can now do better than briefly visit Geoffry Bawa’s country house estate – you can stay there too. “ Each vista,” wrote Michael Ondaatje, “each location feels like another elegy or another voice—the first person, then the third person, the vernacular, then the classical. You discover you wish to be at one location at noon, another at twilight, some when you are young, others later in life.” The estate stretches across a peninsula, the lagoon water of Dedduwa Lake on both sides; and views of water dominating the gardens as much as the many statues do - classical and animal, urns, pots, and follies. The house itself gazes out through the branches of a massive frangipani tree onto its sequestered landscape, the hotel side of it now managed by Teadrop Hotels, a local chain that knows all that is needed to be known about comfort.

12. Malabar Hill, Weligama
Ten very discreet villas make up this luxury retreat high on a hill surrounded by paddy fields and less than three miles from Weligama’s surf crazy beach. From its menus to its infinity pool, the hotel is beautifully thought through, a gloriously successful expression of hospitality and striking architecture.

13. Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant, Galle
Thalpe’s homage to Edward Lear provides everything you might want from a small boutique seaside hotel. Overlooking the ocean, its pool and restaurant, bedrooms and open spaces are just the place to sit back “hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, (to dance) by the light of the moon”. Lear himself made a brief visit to the island in 1874, travelling by train, mail coach and one-horse trap to the South, Ratnapura, Colombo and Kandy, painting his way from place to place and leaving behind 76 landscapes that beautifully capture the alluring charm of the tropics to a jaded western eye.

14. Pedlar's Manor
A stylish private hotel created within an old manor; Pedlar's Manor is located in Unawatuna near Galle. It has but a handful of rooms, a heartfelt collection of vintage cars and the promise of almost-perfect peace in what has become one of the busiest and most visited sections of the Sri Lankan south.

15. The Sun House, Galle
The ideal place to avoid the tourist crowds of Galle – and yet still be as close to it as any lover, The Sun House was built by a Scottish spice merchant in the 1860s. Elegantly casual, with gardens of frangipani and an enviable menu, it is the kind of hotel that truly makes itself your home.

16. Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Yala
Described as “a chic safari lodge,” this cluster of cocoon-like seed pod ocean facing villa-etts lies adjacent to the famous Yala National Park. Whilst offering both utter seclusion and all the amenities of a luscious hotel, it also has on hand a well-informed team of young naturalists to help you make sense of the wildlife.


1. Amba Estate Sri Lanka, Ella
Just a short drive out of Ella lies the Amba Estate, which rather modestly defines itself as a farm stay. Set amidst lofty mountains, it is much more than that – a 130 acre organic farm, the centre of the growing artisanal tea movement on the island and a true social enterprise that delivers on its stated mission: “to maximise local employment and incomes, while preserving and restoring the natural environment.” With stunning walks and tea tasting like no other, a stay here gives you all the pleasure of earning a gold star, with none of the accompanying and often irksome typically effort.

2. Ceylon Tea Trails, Hatton
Established by Resplendent Ceylon, Ceylon Tea Trails is a rare Sri Lankan inclusion in Relais & Châteaux’s list of Leading Hotels. The mini chain specialises in super luxury hospitality and has five properties across the island. Tea Trails, near Hatton, comprises 5 separate planter’s bungalows perched at 1,250 metres and overlooking a working tea estate and is the kind of place Louis XV might have dropped into for a decent cup of tea, had his armies ever strayed out of India in the 18 th century.

3. The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
The definitive jewel in the collection of excellently run Tangerine Group Hotels, The Grand Hotel was built by the Duke of Wellington’s adjutant, Sir Edward Barnes in 1828, a holiday home fit for the busy Colonial Governor he was. In his short time governing, he arranged the construction of the Colombo and Kandy road, the first census of the population, and introduced coffee to the island. By 1843 the home had become a hotel, to be added to over the decades with a Governor’s Wing; a Southern Golf Wing, Tudor facades; and all the other opulent necessities of a first class colonial hotel. Its Edwardian luxury is now mediated by such things as a Mindfulness Studio, a dizzying range of restaurants and bars, and gardens large enough to keep at bay the ever greater crowds who cleave to the cool climate of Nuwara Eliya

4. Jetwing St Andrew's, Nuwara Eliya
The Sri Lankan hotel chain, Jetwing, has made a potent name for itself by rolling out outstandingly good modern hotels. But - at least once - it has combined the best of this tradition with a rare historical twinning. St Andrew's, its Nuwara Eliya hotel, is one of the country’s most iconic heritage hotels, and began life in 1875 as the Scot’s Club. A somewhat tortuous life then lay before it - as a hotel flickering between boom and bust, a rest centre for soldiers and sailors, a refuge for Tamil labourers – before finally being bought by Jetwing in 1987. Since then, it has gone from strength to elegant strength, big enough to be impressive but small enough to be personal

5. Living Heritage, Koslanda
Tucked away inside an area known as God’s Forest, Living Heritage is a most personal hotel, a one-off home-from-home type of place close to Adam’s Peak and Lipton’s Seat. With understated elegance and a focus on ecology sustainability, it connects its guests most gently to its wonderful surrounding wilderness.

6. 98 Acres Resort & Spa, Ella
Its panoramic lookouts stretch across and beyond its own 98 acres of tea near Ella that surround this organic grunge-lux hotel. Made up of a series of chalets perched on a hilltop, its style is laid out in generous helpings of real wood, granite, railways sleepers and large windows whose sweeping views will out compete most other holiday photographs.


1. Jetwing Surf
The 20 ocean facing cabanas of Jetwing Surf offer a deliciously comfortable and luxurious bolt hole from which to enjoy the surfing rigors of Arugam Bay.

2. The Spice Trail, Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay, rated as one of the top ten surf destinations in the world, remains – just – one of the surf world’s better kept secrets – but now is now beginning to attracts plane loads of dudes with boards set upon a week or so skimming its waves. For most hotels, it remains frontier country but for those who wish to go a little further up the pecking order of comfort and luxury, it offers The Spice Trail, a hotel on the main beach with an ethos of local provision as to gladden even the hardest environmental heart.

3. Uga Bay, Pasikuda
The beaches of the far eastern seaboard are long, sandy, and still relatively little visited, though a number of group-oriented resorts have set up shop on its coves. The best however is not in the least bit group oriented. Uga Bay in Pasikuda is a rare hotel in the area because it knows all about the magic “X” in “luxury” – as you would expect from an Uga branded hotel. Simple, sophisticated, and scenic, it gives you access to all the best sea sports, from a base of reassuring indulgence.


1. Heritance Kandalama
The Kandalama Hotel is the indubitable jewel in a small group of large hotels owned by Aitken Spence and operated under the brand name Heritance. Aitken Spence is one of the island’s most conscious conglomerates, with businesses in such diverse fields as plantations, garments, financial services – and, of course, hospitality. Overlooking a lake near Dambulla, the Kandalama has gained much of its reputation for being one of the unquestioned masterpieces created by the architect Geoffry Bawa. Built in 1981, the hotel is literally wrapped around a cliff and so well planted that it is all but impossible to tell where nature ends, and the reception desk begins. Across one kilometre, its one hundred and fifty two rooms rise up seven floors almost invisibly, the entire exterior of the building clad in jungle vegetation. An architectural marvel, it has minimal environmental impact – yet within is everything you would expect of tropical modernism: simple, stunning, efficient, open. Its views over the great lake below are unmatched, as is the entertainment value of having a shower on the top floor with monkeys gambolling outside the windows.

2. Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo
Facing the ocean on the further reaches of the Negombo Lagoon, Jetwing Lagoon is the best positioned and most restful of one of a number of Jetwing hotels in Negombo. It owes much of its stunning design to the fact that it was one of the first creations of the architect Geoffrey Bawa back in 1965, but it owes to Jetwing its abiding fine hospitality.

3. Jetwing Mahesa Bhawan, Jaffna
Getting one of the (just) four rooms at this Jetwing villa is as good a reason to be happy as any. An art deco villa tucked away in Jaffna city, it serves the sort of delicious Tamil food that necessitates a glad rescheduling of the rest of the day’s activities. Few tourists venture as far north as Jaffna, but its dazzling history, kovils, shallow seas and fishermen’s villages make it the sort of place wiser visitors might chose to retire to forever.

4. Uga Ulagalla, Anuradhapura
Only those who have spent time in Anuradhapura can be said to get a real insight into Sri Lanka. The ruins of this once-mighty capital are mesmerising and breathtaking - and Uga Ulagalla offers a rare touch of luxury within which to reflect on all that you might have seen. Set inside almost 60 acres of garden, this restored 150 year old mansion is as good a reason to hope that the nascent Uga brand might go on creating more such lovely hotels.

5. Wallawwa, Negombo
Despite being most conveniently close to Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport, Wallawwa is as far removed from a typical airport hotel as it is possible to get. An 18th century manor house, run with precision elegance by Teardrop Hotels, its eighteen rooms are the perfect place to land into if your flight to the island has proven to be too bumpy.

6. Water Garden, Sigiriya
Created by the architect Channa Deswatte, and within sight of the vast rock fortress of Sigiriya, the Water Gardens comprises 30 villas artfully arranged around a series of lakes. Minimalist, low-key and calm, it is a happy place within which guests can recover from the often life-threatening climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Image: Galle Face Hotel, Public Domain.

I, i

Ilanaga, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-second monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 35 CE – 35 CE; and then, after an interregnum, 38 CE – 44 CE.

Nephew of the slain Vijayan King, Amandagamani Abhaya, Ilanaga managed to dethrone the sitting monarch, Sivali, King, Amandagamani Abhaya’s daughter in 35 CE. In so doing he turbo-charged the unrest and insurrection that was beginning to terminally eat away at the kingdom. Within months Ilanaga had fallen out with the Lambakarna clan, a most significant noble family within his court. In the consequent turmoil he had to flee the country, leaving the Lambakarna in nominal and no doubt, fluctuating charge. Hunted somewhat ineptly, Ilanaga managed to hide in hill country, before catching a ship to south India. He was to return 3 years later at the head of a borrowed Chola army to take back his throne in 38 CE. His reign lasted another 7 years ending with his surprisingly natural death in 44 CE.


Ilmenite, extracted from ‘black gold’ mineral sand is a major industrial mineral produced in Sri Lanka for export. Its deposits also contain relevant amounts of Rutile and Zircon – all ingredients used to make Titanium Dioxide, a raw material required for the productions of paints, plastic, and paper industries; and titanium metal. It is extracted from beach sand mined at Pulmoddai.

Image courtsey of Rob Lavinsky.

Issurumuniya, The

An illustration of The Issurumuniya by Felse taken in 1926. Public Domain.

J, j


A sturdy, burgeoning town on the indices of major roads to Colombo, Katunayake, Gampaha, Negombo and Kandy, Ja-Ela is, more interestingly something of an etymological puzzle. “Ela” in Singhala means stream – but “Ja” in both Malay and Singhala, means Javanese. Quite how the name came to be is a trail long gone cold. Buddhist invaders from Java are recorded as having briefly ruled over Jaffna; and possibly elsewhere on the island; whilst later Dutch colonists favoured Sri Lanka as a place of exile for the many Javan chieftains they destoned as they conquered Indonesia. Little but such tantalising cross cultural names remain and almost none of the descending Malay Moors speak Sri Lankan Malay today. To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “tomorrow we disappear into the unknown. This account I am transmitting …may be our last word to those who are interested in our fate.”

Jackal, Ceylon

“It is far better,” wrote Tipu Sultan, shortly before being killed by the future Duke of Wellington in Srirangapatna in 1799, “to live like a lion for a day then to live like a jackal for hundred years”. The Sultan, who, of course, saw himself as the lion, was mere passing on the relentlessly poor press releases the beasts had endured since creation - in Arabic holy writ, the Bible; even in Buddhist Pali literature which depicts them as inferior, greedy, cunning creatures. Small wonder then that their numbers face increasing pressure. The future of the Sri Lankan Jackel (Canis Aureus Lanka) generates little of the media alarm that surrounds other, more politically correct species. Much threatened by habitat loss and infected by dog borne rabies, the Sri Lankan Jackel is second only to the Leopard in the pecking order of island predators. A skilled hunter, slightly smaller than a wolf, it is, like them, a pack animal and scavenger, and will eat anything from rodents, birds, and mice to young gazelles, reptiles, and even fruit.

Image courtsey of Chandika Jayaratne.

Jaffna Fort

An illustration by Cornelis_Steiger of Jaffna Fort. Public Domain.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

An early 20th century French illustration of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The seventeenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 62nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 267 – 277 CE.

Jetta Tissa I was the son of the previous king, Gothabhaya, and something of a chip off the monstrous old block. To deal with unruly minsters at his father’s funeral, he had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body in 267 CE. This display of strong-armed governance under yet another king was probably precisely what was needed to help keep at bay the lurking regicidal tendencies inherent in the Lambakanna dynasty.

Jetta Tissa’s decade long rule is unlikely to have been a comfortable ride for those around him. Indeed, states the Mahavamsa Chronicle “he came by the surname: the Cruel” It then elaborates, with evident dismay, the steps he took to move patronage and resource from the orbit of Theravada Buddhism to Vaitulya Buddhism. Even so, he was to die in 277 CE, just the 29th reigning Sri Lankan monarch out of a list of 62 to have died a natural death. Modest as this rounds, it was still something of a major achievement.

Illustration Credit: Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara in Badulla town which was renovated by Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of Lankapura.

Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The seventeenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 62nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 267 – 277 CE.

Jetta Tissa I was the son of the previous king, Gothabhaya, and something of a chip off the monstrous old block. To deal with unruly minsters at his father’s funeral, he had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body in 267 CE. This display of strong-armed governance under yet another king was probably precisely what was needed to help keep at bay the lurking regicidal tendencies inherent in the Lambakanna dynasty.

Jetta Tissa’s decade long rule is unlikely to have been a comfortable ride for those around him. Indeed, states the Mahavamsa Chronicle “he came by the surname: the Cruel” It then elaborates, with evident dismay, the steps he took to move patronage and resource from the orbit of Theravada Buddhism to Vaitulya Buddhism. Even so, he was to die in 277 CE, just the 29th reigning Sri Lankan monarch out of a list of 62 to have died a natural death. Modest as this rounds, it was still something of a major achievement.

Illustration Credit: A reconstruction of the Lohapasada Brazen Palace Lowamahapaya whihc was restored by Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura; image courtsey of 3D Warehouse

Jettha Tissa II, King of Anuradhapura

The twentieth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 65th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 332 – 341 CE.

Jettha Tissa II inherited a secure throne and a prosperous country from his brother, King Sirimeghavanna. Little is known of his reign except that it is likely that he was able to extend the dynasty’s reputation for good governance over his entire reign. He was to die after a nine year reign, the 32nd reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death.

The Ruwanweli Stupa in Anuradhapura that was built in 140 BCE and would have been a deeply familiar sight to Jettha Tissa II, King of Anuradhapura. Photo courtesy of Hand Luggage Only.


Illustration by S Shepherd & C Bourne of Jewellers of Galle in 1872. Public Domain.


A 19th century French engraving of Jewish women in Ceylon. Public Domain.

K, k


A Sinhala term for a provincial secretariat.

Kachcheri Mudaliyar

A Sinhala term for a governmental assistant who helps or supports a government agent or the provincial secretariat.


Snug within its mountainous walls, the kingdom of Kandy resisted colonial occupation until the British tricked their way inside, in February 1815. An ancient Singhalese prophesy had foretold that no foreigner would ever rule the kingdom if it was unable to piece its mountains. And so, when constructing the 1820 road from Colombo to Kandy, the British did just that, choosing, it is said, to include a tunnel on the road – the Kadugannawa Pass, a small section of pierced rock for which the little village of Kadugannawa claims its gentle fame. Many dispute the veracity of the story, but it has a wily charm about it and so deserves to be true even if it is not.

The construction of the road itself, a mere five years after capturing the kingdom and the country, was something of an engineering feat – and one carried out by the relatively junior Captain William Dawson. Although he never saw the completion of his work, being bitten by a poisonous snake three years before it was completed, his memory lives on in the village’s Dawson Tower, erected in his honour, and still standing. A wayside Ambalama, or resting place for weary travellers, was also erected in the village which has, since the opening of the National Railway Museum in 2009 also become a favoured place for ferroequinologists, eager to photograph old motors, trains, rail autos, trolleys, carriages, and other railway memorabilia not still used on the current railway grid.


A Sinhala term for the standard coins issued in the 1st and 2nd century CE by the Anuradhapuran kingdom. Also known as kahapana, they were made of various metals and so differed significantly in their weight.


Half way between Tangalle and Hambatota lies the island’s oldest bird sanctuary – Kalametiya. From November to March its thousands of acres of mangrove, lagoon and wetland provide twitchers with the best possible opportunities to spot some 150 species from Black-Capped and Stork-Billed Kingfishers, Brahminy Kites and Reef Herons to Jungle Fowl and Glossy Ibis.


On the edge of the vast Puttalam Lagoon, running up the island’s western seaboard, and facing inland is the coastal town of Kalpitiya. Once a beneficial participant in the pre and early Medieval maritime trade that ran from SE Asia to the Horn of Africa by way of India, the town became a notable part of Portuguese Ceylon in the early 17th CE before passing into Dutch hands and equipped with a star fort in 1667.

Almost all this early history-in-stone is now a wreck, fragile archaeological lines demarking the boundaries of barracks, a prison, warehouses, a Jesuit chapel, a commander’s, house, and a graveyard. The church font stands there still, surrounded by a few forsaken gravestones. Though of little value as a harbour, Kalpitiya nevertheless commanded the entrance to Puttalam harbour which bestowed on it a certain modest authority, later exploited by the Dutch to help maintain their monopoly on cinnamon. The coconut groves and salted fish that provided it with its basic economy linger on, though today the area is being rediscovered by tourists lured by the prospect of kitesurfing and scuba diving, dolphin and whale watching. Parts of it have even been declared a marine sanctuary, from whose reefs, and swamps, mangrove and dunes live a wide variety of marine life – including the elusive and almost extinct. Dugong.


A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of the Banyan Tree at Kalutara around the 1890s. Public Domain.


A Sinhala term for the self-selected or appointed headman of a group of labourers in the plantation sector.

Kanirajanu Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty ninth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 30 CE – 33 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne by (doubtful) virtue of murdering his brother, Amandagamani Abhaya, Kanirajanu Tissa’s own reign terminated after just 3 suspiciously short and turbulent years when in 33 CE, Chulabhaya, Amandagamani Abhaya’s son suddenly became king. For all but the very short sighted, Kanirajanu Tissa’s abrupt death made it abundantly clear that the Vijayan dynasty were more focused on forwarding their own self-destruction than they were on ruling their country.

Kanittha Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The sixth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 51st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 165 - 193.

The reliable historical record is mute on the reign of Kanittha Tissa, except to say that he was the brother of the late king, Bhatika Tissa, and the son of King Mahallaka Naga. The reign was apparently calm and uneventful, and was to last 4 years longer than that of Bhatika Tissa’s. “No news is good news,” noted a later English king renowned for being “the 'wisest fool in Christendom.” And so one might assume of this indistinct reign. Certainly, in the years that followed, the administration would have looked – along with 4 of the 5 previous ones, as the lush salad days of the Lambakarnas. Kanittha Tissa’s successor, Cula Naga, was not so fortunate.

Illustration Credit: The Abayagiriya Rathna Prasada said to have built by Kanittha Tissa, King of Anuradhapura; image courtsey of Theeshya Dulmini


A small island and harbour town north east of Jaffna, Karainagar has seen cross border footfall since before records began. To the north stands a lighthouse built by the British in 1916; and to the south Fort Hammenhiel, a Portuguese-cum-Dutch fort that guarded the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula until repositioned by the British as a maximum security prison; a hospital for infectious diseases and finally a base for Special Operations. After Independence, it was used a prison for JVP prisoners, including (in 1971) Rohana Wijeweera, before being taken over by the Sri Lankan Navy as a place to detain errant sailors. It has now become a luxury hotel, where, its management claim, “a feeling of exclusivity is rampart;” and where guests “can experience real time living and sleeping within an actual cell.”