Friday, July 31, 2020

Dedigama Eth Pahana

Dedigama Eth Pahana
Dedigama Eth Pahana (meaning: Elephant lamp) is referred to a unique hanging lamp discovered from Dedigama Suthighara Stupa, Kegalle District, Sri Lanka. The lamp is presently on the display in the Polonnaruwa Gallery at Colombo National Museum.

In 1951, two Eth Pahana lamps similar in design were discovered from the upper relic chamber of Suthighara Stupa at Dedigama (Jayawardana & Peiris, 2009; Udayakumari, 2016). This Stupa has been identified as the ancient Cuthighara Dagoba built by King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) in the 12 century A.D. (Nicholas, 1963). According to Mahawamsa, King Manabharana, the father of King Parakramabahu I, used Punkhagama (present Dedigama) as the capital city of the southern locality. It is mentioned that King Parakramabahu I was born there and afterward, he built the Cuthighara (Suthighara) Stupa of 120 cubits (180 ft) tall on the site of the house in which he was born (Nicholas, 1963). 

As it was found from the relic chamber of Suthighara Stupa, the Eth Pahana lamp has been dated by scholars to the reign of King Parakramabahu I; to the 12 century A.D. (Jayawardana & Peiris, 2009).

The lamp
The lamp has been made out of bronze and predominantly represents a figure of an elephant (hollow cast) carrying two mahouts on its shoulder. The elephant is 12.6 cm tall and 6.1 cm wide and stands on the top of a dish base (oil receptacle) with a diameter of 23 cm and a height of 8.5 cm (Jayawardana & Peiris, 2009). The elephant and the two mahouts are held in position by a movable Makara Thorana (the Dragon arch) locked onto the elephant. The total height of the lamp is said to be about 28.5 cm.

The chain by which the lamp is hanged is decorated with a female dancer, a male cymbal player and, a drummer. The end of the chain is decked with an open-hooded cobra forming a hook for hanging the lamp.

A sufficient quantity of oil should be present on the receptacle of a lamp if it is needed to be lit for a long period. In the Eth Pahana lamp, the elephant stands on the oil receptacle (R) and its belly (B) acts as a vessel and a reservoir for the oil. It is possible to remove the elephant figure from the oil receptacle and a pipe (P) has been provided on one of its front legs. By inverting the elephant figure, oil could be poured into the belly of the elephant through the given pipe and the oil stocked in is automatically closed by a valve within. After fixing the elephant figure on the lamp, the stocked oil is started to flow out as droplets onto the receptacle through the elephant's genital organ (O) when the level of the oil in "R" goes below the bottom level of the "P" in the leg due to the consumption of oil by the burning lamp-wick. The air that enters the elephant belly through the opening of "P" builds up the atmospheric pressure inside the belly and causes the oil inside to drip out onto the receptacle. The oil flows even after the opening is covered with oil until such time that the air pressure inside the belly goes below the atmospheric pressure by an amount equal to the pressure developed by the height (H) of oil inside the elephant.

This sequence of events has been demonstrated and proved using the real lamp at the National Museum of Colombo (Jayawardana & Peiris, 2009).

1) Jayawardana, C. and Peiris, K., 2009. Ancient micro scale hydraulic elements in Sri Lanka. Engineer - Vol. XXXXII, No. 03. The Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka. pp.51-56.  
2) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.123. 
3) Udayakumari, P.A.N. 2016. Relationship between Elephant Figure and Hydrostatic Principle of Eth Pahana in Dedigama. In: International Conference on Asian Elephants in Culture & Nature, 20th – 21st August 2016. p.22.

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This page was last updated on 1 August 2020
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