Saturday, March 9, 2019

Vallipuram Gold Plate and Buddha Statue

Vallipuram Gold Plate
Vallipuram Gold Plate (also called Vallipurama Ran Sannasa) is a small sheet of gold, containing an inscription written in early Sinhalese language (Paranavitana, 1983). It was discovered from a Hindu temple located in Vallipuram, Wadamarachchi Division, Jaffna District. As it is the oldest gold plate inscription found in the country, this artifact is considered very important to a person who researches the history of Sri Lanka as well as the Sinhala language in the 1st century A.D..

Besides the gold plate, other ruins such as some funerary urns, bricks, pottery, coins and a Buddha image of stone in the Amaravati style were discovered from the site (Veluppillai, 1981).

The gold sheet
The gold sheet was found in 1936, together with some other objects beneath the foundation of an ancient structure on a land adjacent to the Vallipuram Vishnu temple (Paranavitana, 1983). The sheet was brought to Paranavitana in 1937, by Rev. W. Rahula (Paranavitana, 1983) who had got it from a friend named S. Thangarajah (Fernando, 1990). Mr. Thangarah had got it from his cousin Rajah of Puloli, the finder of the sheet (Fernando, 1990).

After taking the necessary estampages and photographs, the sheet was returned to its owners. Later the National Museum Department had made an attempt to obtain the gold sheet. Mudaliyar Rasanayagam, a well-known antiquarian from Jaffna had been made to intervene and the finder was prepared to sell the sheet for 500 rupees (Fernando, 1990). However, suddenly the sheet vanished (Fernando, 1990). Marcus Fernando in his article (Fernando, 1990) mentions more details about the lost of the gold sheet as follows;
Sometime after the period to which this Chapter relates Mr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne (Now Dr.), then Secretary to the Minister of Cultural Affairs, made an effort to trace this gold-sheet. When that effort proved a failure, he ordered the Department of Archaeology to make an exact copy of the gold-sheet and to exhibit same at the Archaeological Museum, Jaffna. This order was carried out by the Department. When communal troubles erupted in 1983 this imitation sheet was removed to the Jaffna Kachcheri.
Then, one fine day, somebody created a flurry saying that the lost Vallipuram Gold-sheet was found in the Kachcheri vault, Enquiries, however, showed that what was found was the replica and not the original.
Citation : Fernando, 1990. p.113.
The inscription has been engraved only on one side of a very thin gold sheet. It records about the construction of a Vihara at a place called Badakara Atana by a person named Piyaguka Tissa, when the minister Isigiraya was the Governor of Nagadipa, during the reign of King Vasabha (Dias et al., 2016).

  • Vallipuram Gold Sheet

    Reign  : King Vasabha (67-111 A.D.)
    Period : 1st century AC
    Script  : Later Brahmi
    Language : Old Sinhalese
    Material :
    Length    : 10.1 cm
    Width      :
    4.2 cm
    Weight    : 5 g
    Location : Vallipuram
  • Content : 

    Transcript : Sidha! Maharaja-Vahayaha rajahi amete Isigiraye Nakadiva Bujameni Badakara-atanehi Piyaguka-Tisa Vihara karite
    Translation : Success! in the reign of the great king Vasabha, when the minister Isigiraya was governing the Nagadeepa, Piyaguka Tissa caused a Vihara to be built at Badakara Atana.
    References : Paranavitana, 1983; National Museum of Colombo.

The inscription contains 40 letters in 4 lines and has been written in the scripts of Brahmi that was in vogue in the first and second centuries A.D.

This inscription reveals that the king had a minister for North in his reign and therefore it confirms that King Vasabha had ruled the whole country including Nakadiva (Dias et al., 2016; Prematilaka & Hewage, 2018). Nakadiva in Old Sinhala is the equivalent of Pali Nagadipa (Dias et al., 2016) and it gives evidence that the northern part of the island was known at the time as Nagadipa, the name which is found in the Pali chronicle Mahawamsa.

Dr. Alvappillai Veluppillai, a Sri Lankan Tamil author, however, strove to show that some of the claims done for the Vallipuram gold plate by Senarath Paranavithana (Paranavitana, 1939) are in too exaggerated mode (Veluppillai, 1981). Through an article published in 1981, he had tried to suggest several Dravidian elements related to the gold plate (Veluppillai, 1981).

Vallipuram Buddha Statue
Vallipuram Buddha Statue (a replica)
According to the account given in the 'Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register' (Ceylon Antiquary 1916-17) by J. P. Lewis (the Government Agent for the Northern Province in 1903-1904), a Buddha statue of about 2.5 m tall had been unearthed in the precinct of the modern Vishnu temple at Vallipuram (Dias et al., 2016). It remained in a lumber-room of this Hindu temple until 1902 (Schalk, 1996). Lewis had obtained that statue from the caretaker priest of the Vishnu temple and installed it under a Bodhi-tree located in the Old Park of Jaffna. 

However, in 1906, the statue was presented by Governor Sir Henry Blake to the King of Siam (present Thailand), who was particularly anxious to have it, as it was supposed to be of an archaic type (Schalk, 1996). The statue is now preserved in a Buddhist Vihara (Wat Benchamabophit, which is known by tourists as "the Marble Temple) in Bangkok in Thailand (Dias et al., 2016; Schalk, 1996). A replica of this statue is also being displayed at the National Museum of Colombo.

The Buddha statue is made of limestone and in the Amaravathi style (Paranavitana, 1983). Depending on the characteristic features of the statue it has been dated to the 9th-10th centuries A.D.

1) Dias, M.; Koralage, S.B.; Asanga, K., 2016. The archaeological heritage of Jaffna peninsula. Department of Archaeology. Colombo. pp.166-167, 204-205.
2) Fernando, M., 1990. (Editor in chief: Wijesekara, N.) Section III: History of the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka: 1930-1950. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): History of the Department of Archaeology (Vol. 1). Commissioner of Archaeology. pp.88-89, 113.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1939. Vallipuram Gold Plate Inscription of the reign of  Vasabha. Epigraphia Zeylanica (Vol. IV). Colombo. pp.229-237.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Vallipuram Gold Sheet Inscription. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Late Brahmi Inscriptions, 2 (part 1). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka. pp.79-81.
5) Prematilaka, L., Hewage, R., 2018. A guide to the National Museum, Colombo: Department of National Museum. ISBN: 978-955-578-035-3. p.14.
6) Schalk, P., 1996. The Vallipuram Buddha Image" Rediscovered". Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 16, pp.295-312.
7) Veluppillai, A., 1981. Tamils in Ancient Jaffna and Vallipuram Gold Plate. Journal of Tamil Studies, 19, pp.1-14.

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This page was last updated on 15 September 2019


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