Jottings from a Jungle Diary

To begin a Paper with an apology is neither novel nor admirable, yet I feel that some apology is due for laying before a Literary and Scientific Society a Paper with so frivolous a title and such ill assorted contents.

The only possible excuse is, that to the intellectual as to the physical palate a change of diet may sometimes be acceptable, even though the change be from caviar to cabbage.

The scheme of this Paper is simple almost to crudeness. It is to give some account of the more recent archaeological discoveries at Anuradhapura, and to describe one or two places and incidents which I have come across on circuit in the less beaten tracks of the North Central Province.


It may be doubted whether there is anything much more exciting than the finding of a really fine archaeological treasure which has lain hid for many centuries. Mr. Wallace, in his “Malay Archipelago,” has described the hysterical state, almost ending in a fainting fit, into which he was thrown by the discovery of a really new butterfly ; and though perhaps “stone hunting” may petrify the heart against such emotional expression, yet the sensation is somewhat akin.

While carrying out some excavations on the Outer Circular road near the “Stone Canoe” in November last, we had the good fortune to dig up a magnificent stone, nearly square, and weighing some four or five tons, with sunk panelled mouldings to a depth of one and a quarter foot. As the stone had fallen on its face, the delicate lines of moulding proved to be almost as perfect as on the day they were carved. A little further search was rewarded by the discovery of two smaller stones of similar design, which exactly fitted on to either side of the centre piece; and it was then evident that the trio had formed an oblong canopy over some statue, or perhaps over a throne. When the centre piece was first discovered, the square impress of each of the pillars that supported it was plainly visible, as were the notches by which the masons had determined the square where each pillar was to rest. In the centre of one of the longer sides we found what I believe is called by masons “ the primary mark,” from which all the other measurements are taken. In this case it bore a very fair resemblance to the familiar “ broad arrow.” The pillars were discovered at some little distance from the canopy, at a depth of about four feet below the surface, and by degrees a series of oblong slabs were turned up, each bearing a bold fresco of peculiar design, which ran along, and were keyed into, the upper rim of the canopy. Finally, the site of the building was found about two feet down. The subsidence of the ground had displaced some of its pavement stones, but the general shape and the measurements left no doubt of its identity.

Now came the task of restoring the canopy as nearly as possible to its former condition. The combined weight of the three roof stones may be put at about fifteen tons; the pillars were ten feet high. We had no appliances whatsoever but an old bit of chain, and our only “skilled labour” consisted of a convict who was said to have been a mason before he took to the more profitable pursuits of a burglar. So we had to set to work in truly native fashion. Fixing the eight pillars in three feet of concrete and cement, we filled up the space between them with earth, just leaving the tops of the pillars visible. A sloping platform of earth, from the tops of the pillars to the ground level, was then made, and up this, with considerable difficulty, the heavy roof stones were prized with wooden levers and rollers; and it was a gratifying moment when the last roller was knocked out, and the stones allowed to drop upon their allotted resting places. The slabs of the frieze were then put in position, the earth cut away, and the restoration complete.

Further excavations revealed no less than three large stone sannas, one quite perfect, the other two more or less mutilated, and also a very perfect specimen of a Yoga stone with twenty five squares. These stones, of which four specimens have been discovered, appear to have been always placed near some shrine of peculiar sanctity and importance. They were used by the Yogis, or Mystics, for purposes of abstract meditation, and the number of squares with which each stone was provided had a mystic signification : nine, for instance, representing the nine gates of the body. These squares were filled with certain prescribed ingredients, and the devotee whose contemplation of them was sufficiently abstracted and prolonged, was rewarded at last by discerning a faint flicker of the light in the centre square, which gradually expanded and increased until the whole of the heaven above and the earth beneath was revealed to him. But perhaps, after all, the most striking point elucidated by the operations at the stone canopy was the extraordinary depth to which it was necessary to go before reaching natural soil. Dig as deep as you might, there were still tiles, bricks, broken chatties, and stone fragments, bearing strange testimony to the vast size and dense population of the buried city.

A careful exploration of the jungles on the opposite side of the road to the stone canoe led to some very satisfactory “finds.” Besides a multitude of stone pillars, stairways, and pokunu, too indefinite to describe, a very large sedent statue of Buddha was uncovered, in excellent preservation, with the exception of the forearms, which are missing. A smaller sedent limestone figure, seated at right angles to it, was also discovered, but terribly mutilated. The deeply worn hollows in the “kneeling stone” at its base perhaps attest its sanctity and account for its mutilation. A little further on the extreme tip of a large dvarapala, or “door guardian stone,” and a small square pillar, protruded above the surface.

Curiosity, excited by the size of the dvarapala, prompted excavation, which resulted in the unearthing of a magnificent staircase, unrivalled in the ruins for completeness and size, leading to the platform of a large Vihara, of which the outer boundary wall is almost perfect. One of the “door guardian stones” had fallen headlong, and was buried seven feet or eight feet deep, but when it was at length raised into position it proved to be the most perfect specimen yet discovered. It measures 4 feet. 6 inches high by 2 feet. 3 inches wide inside the frame, the total length of the stone being 6 feet. The tip of the nose is broken, otherwise it is as perfect as on the day when it was carved. On either side of the landing stone at the top of the stairs two oblong slabs are let in, which are carved exactly to represent the sides of a couch, and are hollowed to receive the back of a man in a sitting posture. Mr. Wrightson of the Public Works Department calculates that the landing stone by itself weighs about sixteen tons. The whole of the staircase (which has also a fine “moonstone”) is in solid granite, the outer sides terminating in bold ogee moulding. This moulding is continued in brickwork coated with chunam the whole way round the outer wall of the platform, which measures 85 feet by 68 feet; the brick moulding is based on a square stone pediment. Very little trace of the flooring of the platform is left, and most of the huge pillars have been broken, but near the southern boundary, and exactly opposite to the great staircase, a Yoga stone with twenty five squares has been uncovered, still in its original position, surrounded by a broad pavement of planed granite. Besides a considerable quantity of iron clamps and nails, pieces of mica and basketfuls of dummala (which I believe to be a species of sandarac, and which is still used here for sacrificial purposes), two copper nails and a few small pieces of copper were found here at a depth of three feet to five feet, but not in the least corroded, a fact I am unable to explain unless by the extreme purity of the copper. I also found two round pieces of the blue glass decorated with a spiral groove, and apparently fragments of a necklace, and also some very thin fragments of green glass, which seemed to be the remains of a small vase or box. The large Vihara has four smaller annexes at its four corners, with stairways facing each other.

Still deeper in the jungle another large Vihara was discovered. When the trees and underwood that entombed it were at length cleared away, several pillars of great beauty were brought to light. They are monoliths, with highly decorated capitals, 10 feet 6 inches in height, while the width of each side of the pillars is 1 ⅛ feet. Excavations are still going on here, as I have failed at present to discover the staircase which must have led to this beautiful shrine, owing to the vast accumulation of earth and tiles round it. In the centre of the building a “kneeling-stone”, a granite fald stool, has been unearthed, one side being decorated with the familiar “dwarf and pillar” ornament.

About two hundred yards to the east of this shrine I discovered still another Vihara, which differs in design from all those previously exposed to view. The platform is, as nearly as possible, 38 feet square. Three rows of beautiful monolithic pillars, with delicately carved capitals, run from east to west along the two sides of the platform, leaving a blank space in the middle, and I have little doubt that they supported a pagoda, or dome shaped roof, and represent the only instance of this kind of roof at present discovered in Anuradhapura. The pillars are much longer and thinner in the shaft than those described last, standing, on an average, twelve feet out of the ground. The whole building is in the most picturesque state of ruin conceivable. The long graceful pillars slope in every direction ; the moulded granite basement heaves and undulates as though from the shock of a great earthquake; the fine “ moonstone,” and every step of the decorated staircase, is cracked right in half; broken pillars, portions of the flooring, fragments of the frieze, lie about in wild confusion ; while the deep russet of the felled jungle, and the brilliant background of dense foliage and fantastic creepers, lend colour to the scene, and complete a striking picture of gorgeous desolation. I have succeeded in unearthing some portions of a frieze which must have surmounted the moulding of the platform : lions and grotesque men in very high relief figure on it in alternate panels, and it bears a strong resemblance to the frieze that surrounds the Watadage at Polonnaruwa, but I do not know whether the resemblance may be taken as a fair criterion of the date of this building.

I would further mention two other discoveries made still more recently. One is of a Vihara and Dagaba near the Gal ge on the Lankarama road. The Vihara is remarkable for its doorway, which is composed of two solid upright slabs of granite, standing about 5 feet. apart, each measuring about 8 feet in height by 3 feet 8 inches wide, and 5 inches thick. The platform and the mouldings on its outer wall are fairly perfect, and it has four annexes at its four corners, the dvarapala, “moonstone,” and steps of each annexe being elaborately carved. The Dagaba is at present a grass covered mound, but I hope to cut a trench through the debris that covers it, and see what time and Tamils have left of the original structure.

To the north west of the Kuttam Pokuna a square Pokuna of similarly elaborate workmanship has been found. The sides are lined with long smooth slabs of granite, arranged in tiers, and a long stone water pipe projects into it, supported on a very grotesque and obese figure. Near it a very curious inscription was found, in a character unknown to me. A careful copy has been taken of it, and forwarded to the Colonial Secretary. Two other excavations are also being carried on. Out of the five so called “Pavilions” on the Outer Circular road, two are being carefully cleared. It is hoped that when all the scattered stones are fairly exposed to view, a good many of the staircases, door ways, bathing chambers, &c, may be replaced and revealed, and a better idea be gained of the details of these ancient palaces ; but of course no restoration will be undertaken which is in any way doubtful or “original.” Also the debris which entirely covers the eastern chapel of the Abhayagiri Dagaba is being removed, and a trench is being cut inwards towards the bell of the Dagaba. No doubt the chapel will prove to be in ruins, but the prospect of recovering some remnants similar to the magnificent fragments that mark the sites of the other three chapels makes it well worth while to prosecute the search.

At the risk of being wearisome, I must briefly describe two other “finds” of some interest. In the jungle not far from the Thupardma, I came across a curious stone, which has been identified as a pandu oruwa, or dyeing vessel. It is an oblong stone, about 5 feet in length and 1½ feet thick. At one end there is a deep circular hollow, narrowing towards the bottom ; the outer rim of the upper lip being decorated with the lotus leaf pattern. At the opposite end of the stone an oblong raised platform is cut, and its edges moulded. The stone was apparently used exclusively for the dyeing of priests’ robes. The pandu, or “dye,” was poured into the hollow, and the robes, after being thoroughly soaked in it, were laid out upon the little platform, and the dye worked into them with wooden pounders and rollers. The pandu appears to have been made by boiling the following ingredients:- either (i), the heart of the kos gaha (Artocarpus integrifolia) with the leaves of the kora kaha (Memecylon umbellatum) and of the bombu (Symplocos spicata), and the heart of the Ahu tree (Morinda citrifolia) ; or (ii), the flowers of the sepalikaa tree (Nyctanthes arbortristis), this is supposed to make the choicest pandu; or (iii), the wood of the timbol, a large thorny creeper ; or (iv), the heart of the milla (Vitex altissima), with ashes made by burning the wood of the kebella tree (Aporosa Lindleyana).

In the banks of a channel recently cut I have found a large collection of ancient roof tiles, thickly coated with blue enamel or glaze. None are absolutely perfect, though many are very nearly so. One fragment is coated with white enamel, the only specimen I have seen of this colour, while another has evidently been thickly gilded, and still bears very perceptible traces of its gold coating. All the blue tiles were found in one spot, about seven feet deep, and even the offer of a reward has failed to elicit any more specimens.

From such authorities, as I have been able to consult on the subject of enamelled or glazed tiles, I gather that glazes having the composition of good enamels were manufactured at a very early date. Excellent glazes are still preserved on some of the bricks which have been referred to the eighth or seventh centuries B.C. Nor should we forget the glazed slipper shaped coffins which occur in great numbers at Warka, probably the ancient Ur of the Chaldees,  and are referred to the Sassanian period. The glazes on the Babylonian bricks were examined by Dr. Percy, who found that the base was a soda glass or silicate of sodium, rendered opaque in some specimens by the presence of stannic oxide, or coloured blue in others by means of silicate of copper associated with the sodic silicate. Glazes of a similar character were also manufactured by the Egyptians as early as the sixth dynasty. Separate figures, &c, were produced in a substance which has been miscalled porcelain, and which is in fact a frit coated with various coloured glazes, of which the most common is a fine celestial blue colour. This colour is due to the presence of a double silicate of copper and sodium.

Now I cannot help thinking that some interesting links with other civilisations might be discovered by a careful analysis of the glaze on these Anuradhapura tiles. I would call attention to the fact that the prevailing colour in these, as in the Egyptian tiles, is blue; and perhaps the various pieces of pure copper which we have found in the course of our excavations may have a close connection with that colour.

But I must leave such a subject in the hands of more scientific investigators than myself. One or two minor details remain to be mentioned. A great deal of old iron has been found, mostly in the form of nails, clamps, and bolts, proving, I think clearly, that most of these stone pillars bore superstructures, and that the superstructures were of timber. The only articles of domestic use I have found are two old keti, a pair of long iron scissors of a peculiar design, and one leg of an iron areca nut cutter, ornamented with the head of a mythical beast.

There is an old Italian saying, that the safest time to turn heretic is when the Pope is dying. Perhaps it may appear to be somewhat on the same principle that, in connection with the carvings and buildings we have been discussing this evening, I venture to suggest a theory to which I know that our President, of whom we are to take regretful leave tonight, will not agree. But I cannot help thinking that it is just possible that the Tamil invader, who is generally looked upon as a mere iconoclast, was both the artist who designed and the workman who carried out the patterns and mouldings of the Great City. Of course one would like to believe that these delicate and chaste designs were the spontaneous outcome of the artistic Aryan mind and spread from the cities of the Aryan invaders in Ceylon to the dark Dravidian continent, its neighbour on the north. Mr. Phoebus, the prophet of Aryan principles in Disraeli’s “Lothair,” “ did not care for the political or commercial consequences of the Suez Canal, but was glad that a natural division should be established between the greater races and the Ethiopian. It might not lead to any considerable result, but it asserted a principle. He looked upon that trench as a protest.” In the same way, there are many followers of Mr. Phoebus who looked upon the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar as a protest, a watery intervention between the Tamil iconoclast and the Aryan artist. I confess that my own view of the matter is different, though an Aryan fellow feeling makes me hope that the arguments which weigh with me will be successfully demolished. They are these:

  1. Failing evidence to the contrary (and I submit that there is none trustworthy), the natural hypothesis to form concerning the architectural and artistic ideas which are realised in stone at Anuradhapura is that they gradually travelled down from north to south, and so were imported into the Island from the extremity of the continent, and not vice versa.
  2. Unless we are to believe in the mystical flight through the air of the great missionary Mahindo, the assumption is that he travelled through the south of India to Ceylon, carrying with him reminiscences of the sacred edifices he had seen in his native land and on his journey, which he persuaded his insular converts to imitate, and perhaps surpass, for the honour and glory of Buddha.
  3. If we may trust the “ Mahawanso,” we know as a fact that the early Rajas all sought their wives from Southern India, that the Tamil Elala reigned peaceably for 44 years, that the great Polonnaruwa monarch, Parakrama Bahu, imported Tamil artificers to carve his temples, and, as a pretty certain inference, that the early religion of the Island was Hinduism.
  4. Nearly all the religious emblems are plainly imported, and not originally representations of local animals and ideas. The conventional rendering of the horse, the lion, the bull, and probably of the goose, must have travelled southward from the continent; while the dvarapala or door guardians, the makara toran and the frescoes at the Isurumuniya Temple are obviously of Hinduistic
  5. The interesting ruins thirty-five miles south of Madras, known as “the Seven Pagodas” (so-called on the lucus a non-lucendo principle, because they are nine in number), which are of unknown antiquity, present so many strong points of resemblance to the sculptures of Anuradhapura that I am surprised they have not been more dwelt upon. There are to be seen the same stairways, with highly mythical animals forming the balustrades; the same “door guardians,” in the same saltatory attitude; there is the familiar flute player of Isurumuniya (an incarnation of the Hindu Mercury), and the squat, obese figures with a half fractious expression, looking like Falstaff after he had swallowed his halfpennyworth of bread. There is a roof precisely the same as that of the newly-discovered stone canopy; a stone bull, which is own brother to the Anuradhapura bull with the prolific reputation; a wall with a bold frieze of elephants and lions, closely resembling the elephant wall that surrounds the Ruwanweliseya; and many other minor likenesses too numerous to detail. If my previous arguments are of any value, they go to prove that Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are more or less replicas of “the Seven Pagodas” and similar Indian

My Paper has already run to such a length that I must reserve for a future occasion several subjects that I meant to touch upon. But I should like to add a word of admiration for the monolithic statue of Buddha at Sasseruwa, which I visited on my last circuit. It is a thousand pities that it is not in a more accessible situation, for it is difficult to conceive a more impressive image. Mr. Wrightson succeeded in measuring it, and found it to be of exactly the same height as the Aukana Buddha, viz., 39 feet 6 inches; but the rock from which it is carved is of far more imposing dimensions, and the position of the statue is much more cunningly chosen. There are some very curious artificial caves in its immediate vicinity, surmounted by inscriptions which I presume have been already deciphered, though I have failed to find any record of the fact.

Time will not permit me to dwell on the interesting folklore that has collected around the Kalawewa tank, and the tales its villagers tell of the terrible exactions of the “Aiyana Dewiyo.”

But I may be allowed to add as a postscript two small but interesting’ discoveries made since this Paper was begun.

  1. I have unearthed the stone “sill” of a doorway made for folding doors, near the Outer Circular road. Two shallow holes are cut in it to receive the door-pins, and in each hole there is a fragment of an iron door pin firmly fixed in the stone. It has always been supposed hitherto that the ancient doors were made entirely of wood, revolving on wooden pins. This small discovery possibly proves that the ancients were much more addicted to the use of iron, and adept at working it, than we are generally inclined to admit. Perhaps the iron gate which secured the primeval citadel of Vijitapura, and the tall iron pillar which several people have seen in the Anuradhapura jungles, but can never find again, are not mere fables after all !
  2. Very little has hitherto been known of the irrigation system of ancient Anuradhapura. Former and recent jungle clearings have laid bare a large number of long rows of stone blocks, which have been generally taken for boundaries or enclosures. This week we have, in the course of some excavations, come across a channel about two feet down, which runs up close to the side of the beautiful pokuna north of the Public Works Department yard. Here a stone water pipe meets the channel, passes through the side of the pokuna, and projects into it. This channel exactly resembles in formation the long rows of granite blocks referred to above and appears to prove two things : (1) that these pokunu were not dependent on the clouds for their supply of water, but were all carefully connected by elaborate irrigation works with the larger tanks (for the newly found channel can be traced right up to Basawakkulam, a distance of three-quarters of a mile); and (2) that the long lines of granite blocks are not merely enclosures, but were all connected channels, bringing water past the various religious and secular buildings and into the several pokuna, and ultimately discharging themselves into the Halpan ela or Malwatte oya.

In conclusion, I would venture respectfully to urge upon this Society the advisability of encouraging in every possible way excavations similar to those I have detailed in so disjointed a fashion this evening. I only speak from a year’s experience, but I am quite sure that an immense quantity of interesting discoveries remain to be made by a careful and intelligent use of the mamotie and pickaxe, and I can conceive no better archaeological investment than the gradual acquisition of details concerning the two magnificent cities which have been so long and shamefully neglected. The first great want is an accurate and complete survey of all that has been discovered up to date; and with that foundation to work upon, with a regular supply of convict labour under intelligent overseers, and an annual monetary grant, I feel confident that these ruins would rank among the most interesting and instructive to be found in the East.

-S. M. Burrows