Ambalama in Sri Lanka

Ambalama in Sri Lanka
Ambalama (Sinhala: අම්බලම; Tamil: அம்பலம்), also known as Isimbuhal, Mawath Madu and Madam, is a traditional resting place built in Sri Lanka by locals to accommodate wayfarers who were travelling to distant places (Abeyawardana, 2002). They were also used as a place for people to gather, hold meetings and as a public place for state activities such as the collection of taxes, judicial inquiries etc. Sometimes, a Penthaliya/Pinthaliya (a water container) made of clay or stone is kept in front of the Ambalama for the convenience of the travellers (Abeyawardana, 2002; De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

Etymology & early references
The word Ambalama is used in the Sinhala language to mean a building of simple construction built to provide a resting place for wayfarers (Godakumbure, 1993). In the Tamil language, the word Ambalam is used to denote an open space for the use of public, abode, dwelling place, or village revenue office (Godakumbure, 1993). In the Pali language, Ambalama is called Sala, Mathasabha, Uttara Sala, Ambara (Dasanayaka, 2018).

In the Tamil language, the word Madam has several meanings. It can be the place where sages or Acariyar dwell, a Cattiram, a Kavati, an Iratam or a Kovil (Pushparatnam, 2014).

A rock inscription of the 6-7th centuries A.D. at Hindagala Viharaya gives details about a grant for the purpose of constructing a Bodhighara (a Bodhi-tree shrine) by a minister who was the custodian of an Abala (Ambalama) named Patasala (Dasanayaka, 2018). A Tamil inscription, belonging to the 11th century A.D. found in southern Sri Lanka tells of a Madam (Ambalama) where traders get together (Pushparatnam, 2014).

Literary sources
The first reference to an Ambalama in literary sources is found in the chronicle Culavamsa. It says that King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) built Sala (Pali word for rest house) for the pilgrims visiting Sri Pada mountain (Dasanayaka, 2018). It further says that King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) and Parakramabahu II (1236-1270 A.D.) also constructed Sala for the convenience of people (Dasanayaka, 2018).

The 13th-century Sinhalese text Pujavaliya mentions the construction of Ambalamas by King Nissankamalla [(1187-1196 A.D.) Dasanayaka, 2018]. More literary sources such as Saddharma Ratnavaliya (13th century), Elu Attanagaluvamsa (13th century), Pansiya Panas Jataka (14th century), Saddharmaratnakaraya, Mandaram Puvatha (17th century), Sarartha Sangrahaya (18th century) also reveal several details about the building of Ambalamas (Dasanayaka, 2018).

Pitakotte Gal Ambalama
Sandesha Kavyas are considered valuable sources that give details about these ancient resting places. The 15th century Gira Sandeshaya mentions an Ambalama situated at the Velitota village in the south of the Bentota area (Dasanayaka, 2018; Godakumbure, 1993). The Selalihini Sandeshaya (1437 A.D.) describes a resting hall named Val-Ambalama located close to a water pool on the road from Kotte to Kelaniya (Dasanayaka, 2018; Godakumbure, 1993). The Nilakobo Sandeshaya of the 18th century records an Ambalama situated at the verge of a paddy field in Palonnaruva village in Southern Province (Godakumbure, 1993). The Diyasevula Sandeshaya (1813 A.D.) and Astanari Sandeshaya (1833 A.D.) also mention Ambalamas situated in Uduwela village in Southern Province and in the middle of a paddy field by the Deduru Oya stream in Kurunegala District respectively (Godakumbure, 1993).

Udammita Ambalama
Before the introduction of modern methods of quick transport, Ambalamas were used as resting places by people going on pilgrimages or visiting relatives and it was a great necessity for them when they had to cover long journeys on foot (Godakumbure, 1993). It also served as a meeting place for the villagers where they can exchange gossip and other village information, as well as a place for community activities and state activities such as the collection of taxes, judicial inquiries etc (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

The usefulness of Ambalamas diminished with the development of modern transport methods and they went into a state of neglect and disrepair (Godakumbure, 1993). By today, many of the Ambalamas have disappeared from the original landscape due to the lack of patronage for their maintenance (Abeyawardana, 2002). However, the Department of Archaeology has conserved a number of old Ambalamas throughout the country and some of them have been declared as archaeological monuments. Some Ambalamas located on the wayside are used by people as bus stops.

Ranamune Ambalama
The construction of a shelter for tired travellers or homeless people was considered a meritorious act (Godakumbure, 1993). Most of the Ambalamas in the country have been built by local initiatives or on the initiative of the chieftains (Abeyawardana, 2002). The size and grandeur of an Ambalama are usually depended on the ability and aesthetic sense of those involved in its construction (Abeyawardana, 2002; Godakumbure, 1993). The durability and the need for lesser maintenance in future were the facts considered in designing an Ambalama (Mendis et al., 2020). 
Ambalamas were usually erected on a rocky site, at the edges of stretches of fields, or near rivers or streams so the tired wayfarers could find an easy supply of water for bathing and washing (Godakumbure, 1993). Its design varied with the location where they stand (Karunaratne, 1993). The Ambalams on a rock site are usually have been constructed over four boulder-supported carved pillars (Karunaratne, 1993). According to the method of construction, Ambalamas can be divided into two categories, viz; Tempita Ambalamas (wooden structures on boulders) and Plinth Ambalamas (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009)

Tempita Ambalama
These Ambalamas are always square or rectangular in shape and the vertical timber columns used to hold the roof are mounted on wooden beams that are rested on stone boulders (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). This arrangement prevents any direct contact of timber with the ground and therefore, the wooden structure is preserved for a long time from damp, fungal disease and termite attacks (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

Plinth Ambalama 
Ambalamas on plinths have been constructed on the ground with stone or mud masonry superstructures with clay tile roofs (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

Some notable features of Ambalama structures
The majority of Ambalamas in Sri Lanka are open collonaded structures while some have half-raised walls (Mendis et al., 2020). Some Ambalamas have fine carvings on the pillars and rafters holding the roof. Usually, these carvings depict scenes from village life or traditional designs (Karunaratne, 1993).

The roof of an Ambalama is another part that shows the skills of the ancient craftsmen. The utilization of wooden beams and rafters for the roof varied according to the shape and size of the Ambalama. The following are some of the features that can be seen on the roof of an Ambalama;
#) Pekada: A structural element between the roof beam and the pillar. It handles the load transfer from the roof to the ground (Mendis et al., 2020).
#) Kenimadala: The point where the rafters get together at the top as a circular superior on the roof (Mendis et al., 2020).
#) Madol Kurupawa: The intermediate connection between rafters and the ridge plate at the outer side of the pitched roofs (Mendis et al., 2020).

Madam in the Jaffna peninsula
Ambalama in the Jaffna Peninsula is called Madam and it is generally different from similar structures in other parts of the country. Through most of the Madams of the later period were associated with Hindu temples, in the beginning, they were constructed around trading centres, around the places where a lot of people got together for various purposes (Pushparatnam, 2014). Some Madams served the pregnant mothers who travelled on foot, for their childbirth by allowing them to take rest (Pushparatnam, 2014). Some Madams have been erected in memory of the women who died during childbirth (Pushparatnam, 2014).

Madams consist of the following sub-components (Ragupathy, 1987);
#) Sumaithangi: a stone platform used to keep the goods carried on the head, shoulder or waist of the traveller. Traditionally, the stone is said to be erected as a symbol of prayer, vowing for the soul of a mother who dies pregnant to rest in peace.
#) Aavuranchikkal: a stone erected for the cattle to relieve themselves from an itch called Thinavu by rubbing against the stone. It was constructed by means of a single stone with a height of 3 or 4 feet.
#) Keni: a big well meant for the cattle to quench their thirst.
#) Kinaru: a well, constructed to quench the thirst of both people and cattle.

Distribution of Ambalamas in Sri Lanka
Central Province 
Kandy District
1) Alikewala Ambalama                  2) Amunugama Ambalama                 3) Appallagoda Ambalama 
4) Arambepola Ambalama             5) Attaragama Ambalama                   6) Botota Ambalama
7) Daulagala Ambalama                 8) Dehalkada Ambalama                     9) Digana Ambalama   
10) Dodamwala Ambalama           11) Dolapihilla Ambalama                   12) Dombagammana Ambalama
13) Elle Oya Ambalama                  14) Embekke Ambalama                     15) Galkona Ambalama
16) Godamunna Ambalama          17) Hewawissa Ambalama                 18) Ilukthenna Ambalama
19) Kaiwadanthenna Ambalama  20) Kandekumbura Ambalama         21) Kandewala Ambalama
22) Karaliyadda Ambalama           23) Kengalla Ambalama                    24) Kevulgama Ambalama 
25) Kohanga Ambalama                26) Kolongahameditta Ambalama   27) Konakalagala Ambalama
28) Kumburadeniya Ambalama    29) Kumburegama Ambalama         30) Kurukuttala Ambalama  
31) Mal Gamandeniya Ambalama  32) Marassana Ambalama              33) Bowala Rathu Ambalama
34) Muruthalawa Ambalama        35) Narampanawa Ambalama          36) Naranwala Ambalama 
37) Palledigala Ambalama            38) Pallegama Ambalama                 39) Pattiyawatta Ambalama 
40) Pitawala Ambalama                41) Putuhapuwa Ambalama              42) Siridigana Ambalama
43) Sirimalwatta Ambalama        44) Uduwawala Ambalama                45) Wahugapitiya Ambalama
46) Wathupola Ambalama           47) Wattappola Ambalama                 49) Wegiriya Ambalama

Matale District
1) Ambokka Ambalama                 2) Deevilla Ambalama                3) Katuaththamada Ambalama 
4) Naula Ambalama                       5) Padiwita Ambalama               6) Wahugapitiya Ambalama

Nuwara Eliya District
1) Getakulama Ambalama             2) Hanguranketha Ambalama           3) Hedunuwewa Ambalama
4) Kotagepitiya Ambalama            5) Madanwala Ambalama                  6) Morapaya Ambalama 
7) Poramadulla Ambalama            8) Ranamune Ambalama                   9) Rikillagaskada Ambalama
10) Udalumada Ambalama            11) Watarakgoda Ambalama           12) Wellagiriya Ambalama

Eastern Province
Ampara District
1) Vijayapura Ambalama                               
Northern Province
Jaffna District
1) Aru Kaal Madam                               2) Santhaiyar Madam                              3) Sirappar Madam
4) Theru Moodi Madam                        5) Vathiri Madam                                    6) Sangarathai Madam
Mannar District
1) Mundanputti Madam                        2) Vidattaltivu Tharama Madam
North Central Province
Anuradhapura District
1) Alapatwewa Ambalama                   2) Maha Elagamuwa Ambalama
North Western Province
Kurunegala District
1) Bogamuwa Ambalama        2) Devategedara Wele Ambalama         3) Karagahagedara Ambalama
4) Katupilagolla Ambalama     5) Kelimune Ambalama                          6) Kumarapeliya Ambalama
7) Nahalla Ambalama              8) Panavitiya Ambalama                         9) Paramaulla Ambalama            
Sabaragamuwa Province
Kegalle District
1) Alagalla Ambalama                      2) Giruwa Ambalama                     3) Godigamuwa Ambalama 
4) Heenatipana Ambalama             5) Jubilee Ambalama                     6) Kadugannawa Ambalama  
7) Kiuldeniya Ambalama                  8) Mahawatta Ambalama             9) Makadawara Ambalama 
10) Makehelwala Ambalama          11) Makura Ambalama                  12) Mangalagama Ambalama
13) Medagoda Ambalama              14) Mediliyagama Ambalama      15) Metiyagane Ambalama 
16) Nepalana Ambalama                17) Rukula Ambalama                   18) Ruwanwella Ambalama
19) Tholangamuwa Ambalama      20) Udumahana Ambalama          21) Villagoda Ambalama
22) Wakirigala Ambalama               23) Weththewa Ambalama           24) Yatimahana Ambalama 
25) Alawala Ambalama                   26) Ihala Kotuwella
Southern Province 
Galle District
1) Baddegama Ambalama                    2) Batahena Ambalama                     3) Galle Fort Ambalama
4) Meepe Ambalama                              5) Weniyarawela Ambalama             6) Polpagoda Ambalama
Matara District
1) Lenabatuwa Ambalama                 2) Neluwewa Ambalama                   3) Parawahera Ambalama
4) Rathmale Ambalama                      5) Uduwaka Ambalama                     6) Wellamadama Ambalama
7) Weragampita Ambalama               8) Watagedara Ambalama                  9) Kamburupitiya Ambalama

Hambantota District
Uva Province
Badulla District
1) Alugollakade Ambalama     2) Ambalanpotha Ambalama            3) Badulla Kachcheri Ambalama
4) Bogoda Ambalam Palama  5) Bokanoruwa Ambalama                6) Dehikindayaya Ambalama 
7) Dippitiya Ambalama             8) Divurumwelahandiye Ambalama 9) Etampitiya Ambalama
10) Gannilewela Ambalama    11) Imbulgashinna Ambalama         12) Kahatthewela Ambalama
13) Ketawala Ambalama         14) Kirioruwa Ambalama               15) Koskandawanguwe Ambalama  
16) Kottagoda Ambalama       17) Moragolla Ambalama                  18) Pallegama Ambalama
19) Panjolla Ambalama           20) Pille Arawa Ambalama                21) Polwatta Ambalama
22) Potawa Ambalama            23) Wattekele Ambalama                  24) Thotupala Arawa Ambalama 
25) Warigabedda Ambalama
Western Province
Colombo District
1) Athurugiriya Ambalama         2) Kotte Ambalama        3) Welikada Junction Ambalama (no more) 
Gampaha District
1) Ahugammana Ambalama      2) Ambagaspitiya Ambalama       3) Amunugoda Ambalama
4) Apalawatta Ambalama           5) Awariyawala Ambalama           6) Balabowa Ambalama
7) Bogahawatta Ambalama       8) Bollatha Ambalama                    9) Bothale Welameda Ambalama  
10) Bulugahagoda Ambalama  11) Ketawala Ambalama                12) Daranagama Ambalama
13) Gallindawatta Ambalama   14) Kehelella Ambalama                15) Kossinna Ambalama 
16) Kottunna Ambalama           17) Mattegoda Ambalama          18) Putupagala Ambalama (no more)
19) Udammita Ambalama         20) Wegowwa Ambalama            21) Horagolla Ambalama
22) Thibbotugoda Ambalama
Kalutara District
1) Gelanigama Ambalama                     2) Kirigala Ambalama
1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2002. Heritage of Sabaragamuwa: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Sabaragamuwa Development Bank and The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-077-7.  pp.56-57.
2) Dasanayaka, R., 2018. Ambalama saha samajaya (In Sinhala). S. Godage & Brothers.  pp.24-44.
3) De Silva, N.; Chandrasekara, D.P., 2009. Heritage Buildings of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, ISBN: 978-955-0093-01-4. p.16.
4) Godakumbure, C.E., 1993. Rest-hall at Panavitiya. Wood. International Scientific Committee, 10th General Assembly, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1993. pp.54-56.
5) Karunaratne, L.K., 1993. The timber frame building tradition in Sri Lanka. Wood. International Scientific Committee, 10th General Assembly, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1993. pp.26-32. 
6) Pushparatnam, P., 2014. Tourism and monuments of archaeological heritage in Northern Sri Lanka. Author Publication. ISBN: 978-955-0811-08-3. pp.79-81.
7) Ragupathy, P. 1987. Early settlements in Jaffna, An archaeological survey. Published by Mrs. Thilimalar Ragupathy. Madras. p.156. 
8) Mendis, M.S., Rajapaksha, M. and Halwatura, R.U., 2020. Unleashing the Potentials of Traditional Construction Technique in Bioclimatic Building Designs: A Case of Ambalam Sri Lanka. Int. J. Environ. Sci. Dev., 11(6). pp.298-304.

This page was last updated on 11 February 2024
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