Panavitiya Ambalama – paradigm of Sri Lankan architecture By Arundathie Abeysinghe
Located in *Dambadeniya in *Kurunegala District, Panavitiya Ambalama (Ambalama meaning a rest-hall in Sinhala) is located en route to an ancient footpath from Dambadeniya to Kurunegala and Yapahuwa. Panavitiya Ambalama is a modest wooden structure erected on a flat land adjacent to a stretch of paddy fields and the carvings cover almost every available space. The elaborate carvings of wooden beams and rafters of Panavitiya Ambalama bear resemblance to those in Embekke Temple in Udunuwara in Kandy.
The structure of Panavitiya Ambalama stands on a platform of 12′ 4″ and 9′ 6″ (approximately 3.6 meters and 2.7 meters) raised about a foot (approximately 0.3 meters) from the ground with rubble as its base resting on four rounded boulders.
The nine inner pillars with some pillars 6 feet (approximately 1.8 meters) in height are copiously carved with mythical creatures, floral designs and scenes from daily life including musicians, dancers, acrobats, wrestlers and persons greeting each other.
The woodwork of the roof comprising beams, posts and rafters of exceptional wood comprise mythical creatures, processions with musicians as well as demigods.
According to scholars, Panavitiya Ambalama dates to the 18th century. At present, it is a unique monument that displays the ancient architecture of Sri Lanka (former Ceylon).
Although, the majority of ancient Ambalamas went into a state of neglect, Panavitiya Ambalama is renovated and restored by the Department of Archeology with funds provided by the Department of Cultural Affairs.
At present, during a long haul journey, travelers stop at roadside hotels and rest houses to freshen up and have some tea. Yet, in the past, the weary traveler needed a place of refuge when traveling through long stretches of mountainous areas, fields and forests. Centuries ago, travelers, merchants, pilgrims and horsemen stopped over at an Ambalama to take a rest from their long arduous journey. Aristocrats traveling on palanquins, traders traveling in bullock carts and people from all walks of life made use of Ambalama as a place to rest.
With the advancements in modern transport methods and accommodation facilities, the necessity and usefulness of Ambalamas diminished. Hence, at present, this simple structure is considered as a unique monument, a memoir of yesteryear and an icon of journeys of old Ceylonese travelers. The construction of an Ambalama was a cooperative effort by villagers. Sinhala Buddhists believed that it was a meritorious deed to provide shelter for the weary wanderer. In the past, a pinthaliya (a traditional container with potable water) was placed in front of certain Ambalamas and villagers had filled them with water for travelers.
Robert Knox has described about an Ambalama in his text ‘A Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681)’ as: “At their leisure, they commonly meet at places built for strangers and wayfaring men to lodge in, in their language called amblomb, where they sit chewing betel, discoursing concerning the affairs at court between the King and great men”.
Ambalama is a structure designed and constructed as an architecturally simple structure to provide shelter for travelers. It had also served as a meeting place for the village folk where they exchanged gossip, pleasantries, discussed politics, especially the mighty deeds carried out by the reigning king as well as served as a Gam Sabhawa (Village Council). Ambalama was a unique structure closely associated with Sri Lankan culture and embedded in day-to-day life of people. The majority of Ambalamas are located on a rocky boulder, near rivers or streams where the weary wayfarer can quench his/her thirst with water and refresh himself/herself by bathing.
Image courtesy – infolanka.lk & lanka-excurssions-holidays.com
- Dambadeniya – A ruined ancient city situated in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. Dambadeniya was the capital of Sri Lanka in the mid-13th century. Kingdom of Dambadeniya was a medieval kingdom from 1220–1345. It was the third kingdom of Sri Lanka which became significant due to the Sacred Tooth Relic placed there during the reign of King Vijayabahu III (1220 to 1224) in the 13th Century. Dambadeniya was initially used as a fortification and was constructed on a rock protected by a moat, marsh, ramparts as well as royal gardens. King Vijayabahu’s successor was his son King Parakramabahu II (1234 – 1269). King Parakramabahu was well-known as a genius and during his reign, Kingdom of Dambadeniya had flourished.
- Kurunegala – A major city in Sri Lanka, Kurunegala is the capital city of the North Western Province and Kurunegala District. Kurunegala was an ancient royal capital for 50 years, from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th century. Kurunegala has been named after the Elephant rock (Ethugala in Sinhala). “Kurune” means tusker or an elephant with protruding teeth and “gala” (in Sinhala) means rock. The ancient name of Kurunegala was “Hasthishaila-pura” (in Sanskrit), translated as ‘The City of the Elephant Rock’. In certain ancient literature, Kurunegala is referred to as “Athugal-pura”.