Kurundumale Archaeological Reserve

Kurundumale Stupa
Kurundumale Stupa (Photo credit: Anuradha Piyadasa, Google Street View)

Kurundumale Archaeological Reserve or Kurundumale Viharaya/Kurundi Viharaya (Sinhala: කුරුඳුමලේ පුරාවිද්‍යා රක්ෂිතය, කුරුඳුමලේ විහාරය/කුරුන්දි විහාරය) is a site of a ruined Buddhist monastery situated in Kurudumale (or Kurundanmalai/ Komalamune) in Mullaitivu District, Sri Lanka. This place is referred to as Kurundavasoka, Kurundacullaka and Kurundivelu in Pali and Sinhala literary works (Pushparatnam, 2014). Although locals believe that the ruins in the area are of a Hindu temple, there are pieces of evidence which refer to the Buddhist temple there (Pushparatnam, 2014).

Sri Lankan chronicles such as Mahavamsa record that King Kallatanaga (110-103 B.C.) founded the Buddhist temple Kurundavasoka Viharaya (Asanga & Nishantha, 2018; Medhananda, 2003; Nicholas, 1963; Pushparatnam, 2014). They also mention that there was a Pirivena called Kurundacullaka and the ancient text Kurundi Atthakatha was composed at a temple named Kurundivelu Viharaya (Nicholas, 1963). Meanwhile, old commentaries reveal the existence of the village called Kurundaka in ancient times and it is said that King Aggabodhi I (571-604 A.D.) built Kurunda Viharaya and planted a coconut plantation around it (Medhananda, 2003; Nicholas, 1963). A minister of King Aggabodhi IV (667-683 A.D.) built a Pasada at Kurundapillaka Viharaya and King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) restored Kurundiya Viharaya (Asanga & Nishantha, 2018; Medhananda, 2003; Nicholas, 1963). It is generally accepted that all these are variant names of one and the same Buddhist monastery situated in Kurundi-rattha where the present Kurundumale archaeological reserve is located (Asanga & Nishantha, 2018; Medhananda, 2003; Nicholas, 1963).

During the reign of King Parakramabahu II (1236-1271 A.D.), Kurundi-rattha/district was under Tamil domination and later the area was occupied by the Javaka invader Chandrabanu [(Sri Dhammaraja of Tambralinga) Medhananda, 2003; Nicholas, 1963]. Pali and Sinhala literary works reveal that, during the reigns of Kalinga Magha (1216-1236 A.D.) and Chandrabanu (1255-1262 A.D.), this place was one of the important royal centres in Northern Sri Lanka (Pushparatnam, 2014).

Kurundanmalai fragmentary slab inscription of Udaya IV
This fragmentary inscription was first recorded by J.P Lewis in his 1895 publication "Manual of the Vanni District" (p.314) and it contained a fanciful account of this inscription given by H. Parker (Ranawella, 2004). As is mentioned in the "Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, 1949", the officials of the Department of Archaeology had made an attempt to discover this inscription in 1931 when the site was surveyed to be designated as an archaeological reserve but it had eventually become fruitless (Ranawella, 2004). However, the inscription was found in 1949, broken into several fragments due to the ignorant deeds of treasure hunters (Ranawella, 2004).

There had been about 19 lines of the writing of which only 16 lines have been partially preserved (Ranawella, 2004). The script and language of the inscription are Sinhala of the latter part of the 10th century (Ranawella, 2004). It is dated in the 8th regnal year of a king-styled Sirisangbo who, according to scholars, is none other than King Udaya IV [(946-954 A.D.) Ranawella, 2004].

This inscription is a Katikavata-type one that contains a set of regulations agreed upon by common consent of the monks, concerning a monastery affiliated to the Abhayagiri Monastery, named here as Abhaya-Isiripavi and a meditation hall named Ananda Piyangala attached to it (Ranawella, 2004). It also refers to an earlier Katikavata held in the 1st regnal year of a king styled Abha Salamevan, the son of a king who bore the same name, Abha Salamevan (Ranawella, 2004). This is probably a reference to the Katikavata, which is the subject matter of the Kaludiya Pokuna Slab Inscription of King Sena III (938-946 A.D.), and which was held in the 1st regnal year of that king, who himself and his father, King Udaya II (887-898 A.D.), had borne the throne name of Abha Salamevan (Ranawella, 2004).

Lost inscription of Mahinda III?
The "Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: North-Central, Central and Northern Provinces, Annual Report 1905" mentions an inscription belonging to King Mahinda III (812-816 A.D.) that existed at the present archaeological site (Asanga & Nishantha, 2018; Bell, 1909). However, this inscription has not been identified presently.

An unidentified inscription
In December 2020, another broken slab containing a part of an inscription was unearthed from the site by the workers of the Department of Archaeology. 

Early records and preservation of the site
The site was known among government officials since the end of the 19th century. J.P Lewis in his 1895 publication "Manual of the Vanni District" has given some descriptions regarding the antiquity of the site (Lewis, 1895). 

The town or large village that was built on the low side of the embankments, and traces of which are to be seen in the fragments of pottery that line the beds of the smaller water courses, is termed Kurungama in the inscription. The Tamil name was Kuruntan-ur. The later Tamil residents built a temple here, and they demolished the Vihare built by Sanghabodi and other buildings, and removed nearly all the bricks and stonework to it. It is not known when the tank was breached and the town was abandoned; all that can be said is that there is nothing to indicate that the place has been inhabited since the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
Citation: Lewis, 1895. pp.311-312.

The 1909 publication "Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: North-Central, Central and Northern Provinces, Annual Report 1905" also gave a detailed description of the site (Bell, 1909). On 12 May 1933, the site was declared as an archaeological reserve under the Gazette notification numbered 7981.

The site during the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009)
The Kurundumale archaeological reserve is situated in the middle of a thick jungle named Thannimuruppu or Nagachole (Asanga & Nishantha, 2018). The area was not accessible for archaeologists or devotees since the 1980s due to the presence of the cadres of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by a number of countries including Sri Lanka, India, the USA and the EU. After the LTTE was defeated by government forces in 2009, the site was again accessible to visitors.

Tensions between locals and the Department of Archaeology
Tension occurred over the Kurundumale archaeological site in September 2018 when a group of government officials including Buddhist monks were disturbed at the site by Tamil locals backed by TNA (Tamil National Alliance) politicians who claimed the site as a Siva temple. A case was filed at the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court in the same year inhibiting any further conservation work at the site by the Department of Archaeology but in September 2020, the Magistrate Court gave permission to the department to carry out relevant archaeological excavations.

Archaeological excavations and findings
Excavations were commenced at the site by the Department of Archaeology in January 2021. During the excavations, a vast number of Buddhist monuments including a ruined Kabok (laterite) Stupa, an image house, Sandakada Pahana, Korawak Gal, pieces of a marble standing Buddha statue, stone seated Buddha statue and Bodhisattva statues were unearthed from the site.

Mullaitivu court order
Due to objections that arose from local Hindus, on 14 July 2022, the Mullaitivu Magistrate ordered police to remove all new Buddhist constructions on the Kurundumale archaeology site restricting the conservation activities of the Department of Archaeology. However, the matter was resolved after the Magistrate nullified his order on 19 July 2022, following a site visit to the archaeological site with Anura Manatunga, the Director General of the Department of Archeology.

Resignation of the Director General of the Department of Archeology
It is reported in several news portals that the Director General of the Department of Archeology, Anura Manatunga stepped down from his position in June 2023 after President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed his harsh displeasure at the conduct of Manatunga over the allocation of land to Kurudumale Buddhist monastery.

An archaeological reserve complex
The land plots at Kurundanmalai Kadu [Pimburu anka 1812 no.1 (consist of 18 acres, 0 roods, 18 perches), Pimburu anka 8312 no.2 (consist of 1 acre, 3 roods, 1 perch), Pimburu anka 8312 no.3 (consist of 58 acres, 2 roods, 12 perches) and Pimburu anka 8312 no.4 (consist of 0 acres, 0 roods, 22 perches)] situated in Kurundanmalai Kadu village in the Divisional Secretary’s Division, Vavunia (present Mullaitivu) are archaeological reserves, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 12 May 1933.

Kurundumale ruins
See also

1) Asanga, M.V.G.K.; Nishantha, I.P.S., 2018. Pauranika Sthana Ha Smaraka: Mulathivu Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN:978-955-7457-25-3. pp.151-153.
2) Bell, H. C. P., 1909. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: North-Central, Central and Northern Provinces, Annual Report 1905. pp.32-34.
3) Lewis, J. P., 1895. Manual of the Vanni Districts (Vavuniya and Mullaittivu), of the Northern Province, Ceylon. 1st ed. Colombo: H.C. Cottle, Acting Govt. Printer. p.310-312,314.
4) Medhananda, E., 2003. Pacheena passa - Uttara passa: Negenahira palata ha uturu palate Sinhala bauddha urumaya (In Sinhala). Dayawansa Jayakody & Company. Colombo. ISBN: 978-955-686-112-9. pp.412-416.
5) 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). pp.86-87.
6) Pushparatnam, P., 2014. Tourism and monuments of archaeological heritage in Northern Sri Lanka. Author Publication. ISBN: 978-955-0811-08-3. p.72.
7) Ranawella, G.S., 2004. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part II. Department of Archaeology. pp.221-224.
8) The gazette notification. no: 7981. 12 May 1933.  

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This page was last updated on 11 December 2023
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