Wednesday 27, May 1998

The archaeological aspects of Jetavana conservation

By Ravi Ladduwahetty

The Cultural Triangle Project which commenced the conservation works of the Jetavanarama Dagaba, determined that the conservation work could not be completed without conducting excavations by expert archaeologists.

The original idea was to subject the Stupa to a wholesome restoration process, but it was determined that the venue should be conserved.

Central Cultural Triangle's Project Director for Jetavanaramaya Dr. Hema Ratnayake says: "the Triangle has acquired around 200 acres for the conservation process out of which the total area will not be subject to the conservation process.

We will leave out around 25 percent for future purposes. The focal point of the conservation area is of course the Dagaba which is the largest and the tallest brick monument in the entire world. To the west of the Stupa is the Halpannala Ela. To the eastern and southern direction, one finds the Malwatu Oya and to the North, one finds the Citadel.

There are certain areas that the Triangle cannot touch as far as the conservation works go, as there are people who are occupied there. There are a large number of buildings that the excavation works depict. However, a former Commissioner of Archaeology H.C.P. Bell documented quite a lot of these, he said.

The Dagaba itself has been conserved in parts. The square at the top (Hatareskotuva) and part of the Spire (Kotkerella) had been restored during the British period in 1885. Within a few years of the rebuilding, certain parts of the Hatareskotuva has collapsed in 1895. Therefore, the western phase of the stupa had got washed away and that is where we were wanting to excavate the stupa. The bricks that were available for the project were also not of any worthy quality. The State Engineering Corporation of Sri Lanka had set up a special kiln for the purpose.

Dr. Ratnayake said:" During the course of the rebuilding exercise, we found that there were a few matters which were not as they ought to be. We were wanting to see the position of the dome at the Hatareskotuva level. From what we could see at that time, we excavated to around 8 feet below, we found that the Stupa was intact with the ancient plaster plus the mouldings.

What would have happened during the British period was the building of a new wall on rubble and earth so that it could not have withstood the pressure. So water would have gone into it and it would have got clipped, he opined. The original Hatareskotuva was found 7-8 feet below the present one.

The project has used over 1.5 million of a special variety of brick which is 400 pounds per Square Inch(PSI). Yet, here is a shortage of around 400,000 which the contractor- the SEC says , will take around six months to complete from the date the needed bricks are provided.

According to Dr.Ratnayake, a very specific observation was made when the western phase of the dome collapsed. While clearing the debris, it was revealed that the base was not as solid as it was claimed and conceived in popular belief. Up to a certain point at the beginning of the curvature, the base is solid, beyond that, the inner core had been made of clay. The Hatareskotuva goes from the base.Otherwise it would have collapsed. Then the dome went and touched the Hatareskotuva in the curvature. The inner area was clay and the second layer was clay and brick. The third layer was brick kept in like a star cake. The outer covering was of good bricks.

Ratnayake said:" We started the excavations of the base of the stupa first in the north, followed by the east, and subsequently the south, to find out how far it was solid.When we excavated the southern region of the stupa, we found that the three Pesa Valalu (Basal Terraces) had been constructed on a massive brick platform and the platform starting from the base rock. Another discovery that we made was that the dome had been constructed first and the Basal Terraces had been added later. Another salient feature about the Jetavanarama Stupa is that the Basal Terraces were built first and then the dome subsequently in sharp contrast to all the significant monuments of that time such as Ruvanveliseya, Mirisavetiya and Abhayagiriya where the domes were constructed ahead of the Basal Terraces.

Dr. Ratnayake is also of the opinion that the Hatareskotuva has been built on a very solid base. If it was otherwise, there is oscillation at that height, resulting in a certain swing. He has also discovered the weak points in the South- Western and North- Eastern wings of the Hatareskotuva. The bricks in this section would have been over a thousand years old.

"During the course of the excavations, we also found something that we never expected and that was two beautiful ponds, he said.

" The current conservation works is centred round the Vahalkada (Ayaka-Frontispiece). The conservation officials had found this area broken into pieces which are now being amalgamated together. Earth is being collected from the Salapatala Maluva (Stone paved Terrace) and this too is being conserved which would be of assistance in determining the levels. The conservation of the western to the southern end of the stone paved terrace will commence in a few weeks time.

A further moot point in the excavations of the base area of the stupa, was that a large number of artefacts including coins were found, Ratnayake said , added, "We found around beads which have been made out of glass, terracotta,natural stones were found here.We found the largest collection of ivory too. In addition, there were a large number of clay vessels including engraved vessels.

All these have to be conserved. They are now stored in a Museum. Quite a number of these items show foreign origin, including West Asian and North Indian, West Asian and North Indian travellers. We have found a very rare coin. It is so rare that there are five of those coins in the whole world.All these coins were found at the basement of the Jetavanaramaya can be attributed to the period before 305 AD.

From what has been observed in recent times, there have been small stupas in those areas and all the contents have been reburied, which have provided archaeological information from the second century BC to the end of the third century BC which accounts for around 500 years. There will be separate studies on each of the artefacts. Individual studies will be carried on pottery etc.

The Chief Sangha Nayaka of the North- East Region who is also the new Anuradhapura Atamasthanadhipati- Venerable Pallegama Sirisumana Dhammarakkhita Sirinivasa Thera said:" When the restoration work of the Jetavanarama sacred area were embarked in around 1979, the entire area was cloaked with dense jungle. The excavations started by the Cultural Triangle Project have unearthed a large number of prehistoric buildings.

Rationalising the historical background of the location, the Thera said:" The Jetavanarama monastery was started as a settlement of a dispute between the Sangha at the Maha Vihara and the Abhayagiriya. The chronicles have unfolded that the Maha Viharaya monastery was started following the arrival of Arahant Mahinda to Sri Lanka. The Abhayagiriya Viharaya and the monastery was built by King Valagambahu and presented to Tissa Thera. The Jetavana Vihara also had its monastery which was independent of the other monasteries, he said.

The excavations have revealed invaluable and intricate wood carvings. The investigations had also unfolded the manner in which the brick structure had been placed and the structure of the Square (Hatareskotuva).

Director-General of the Department of Archaeology Dr. Siran Deraniyagala said:" The Jetavanaramaya represents the peak of the architectural and artistic achievement in our archaeological records from as early as the fourth century.

Our focus ahead is to bring about a law of balance of our archaeological heritage which had over a century of archaeological investigations into the high points of our history as represented at the living monasteries at Anuradhapura. Now, we want to give a less biased interpretation of our cultural heritage through investigations into the not so pronounced elements of our physical heritage which means that excavations into areas where people settled.

The prime example of the excavation is the excavation of the Anuradhapura Citadel which is situated north east of Thuparamaya along with Sanghamitta Mavata and Anula Mavata which covers around 200 acres, which the ancient city are in contrast to the monastic areas of Anuradhapura. We have been conducting test excavations in the city for the last ten years and it has changed our perceptions on Sri Lankan heritage totally. This is the first time that we found evidence of a very advanced civilisation where iron used, horse breeding, paddy cultivating culture had prevailed as early as 900 B.C.

There keep evidence us on line with the major.

Jetavanarama represents one of the high points of the architectural manifestations of the ancient civilisation in the middle historical period.It is equal to the many of our best known archaeological sites and it is in no way second to any other monument in respect of the magnificence in terms of achievements in aesthetics and design etc. It also displays certain phases of monastic development. What has been done at this once pristine site, conforms to archaeological practice where there is a major programme which we refer to as enhancement of public awareness of the archaeological heritage in contrast to pure research.The Jetawana project has achieved that.

As regards the restoration of the Stupa, the new thinking is that the methodology we use should encompass the minimum additions of new structural elements to the ancient Stupa. This will be more preventive conservation than restorative conservation. Whoever who looks at the stupa will be able to grasp its authentic nature.

Gamini Wijesuriya Director of Architectural Conservation said: "The Jetavanaramaya Stupa is being conserved by the Cultural Triangle Project of the Central Cultural Fund entails the consolidation of the old brick structure. However, at the upper level which is almost at the Hatareskotuva level,investigations have revealed that there was structure built during the tenure of former Archaeological Commissioner H.C.P. Bell which were totally unsound. There were a lot of cracks in that area and parts of the structure had collapsed. Other parts are about to collapse.

With the restoration works in progress, we had the opportunity to work and find out what the original structure looked like. Those investigations at the upper level at the Hatareskotuva were indeed interesting where we found the original base of the Hatareskotuva. Since the existing structure has been damaged, we decided to restore it in accordance and conformity with the details we discovered which revolve round the materials and the techniques used.

Produced by Lake House in collaboration with Lanka Internet Services Ltd
Copyright 1996 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited

Mail any comments and suggestions about this service to