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 Post subject: Mutur, Toppur and Sampur
 Post Posted: Fri Sep 22, 2006 3:26 am 
Mutur, Toppur and Sampur: Pointers to ancient history

The historical evidence advanced here goes to show that Mutur was the site of ancient Giri Nuvara, Toppur the site of Seru Nuvara and Sampur the site of Somapura in the second century BC. It also shows that boundaries of the present “Somawathi Catiya sanctuary” have to be extended northwards to include all these three places. In fact it should include the whole delta between the Mahaveli and its major branch now called Verugal Aru, but in reality “Berugal Ara,” or the stream strewn with drum-shaped (S. Beru) boulders (S. gal.)

By D.G.A. Perera
@ ST/17Sep2006


Kiliveddi is the odd sounding name for a small town on the western bank of Seruvila. I say it is odd because it is perhaps the only place name in Sri Lanka that ends in ‘veddi’ (pronounced ‘vetti’), meaning road in Tamil. It is at the beginning of the road that leads to Mutur.

Taking ‘kili’ to be a variation of ‘kiri’ meaning ‘mountain’ (S. giri), Kiliveddi means “the Giri Road”. This makes it possible that the older name for Mutur, where this road ends, was ‘Giri’. Mutur itself means “Ancient City’ from T. ‘mootu’ = 'ancient’ and T. ‘oor’ = ‘puram’ or city. This shows that Mutur could be the ancient city called ‘Giri Nuvara’. It is a city that is mentioned in connection with building of the Seruvila Dagaba in the 2nd century B.C. The story about its construction is recorded in the Dhatuvamsa.

The Seruvila Dagaba was built by King Kavantissa shortly before his death in the first half of the 2nd century BC. The name Seru Vila means teals’ lake. It comes from ‘seruva’, the Sinhala name for a very small duck, not much bigger than a domestic pigeon called Anas crecca in Latin, and ‘teal’ in English. This lake is situated close to the right bank of the Mahaveli River at the northern extremity of Ruhuna then ruled by King Kavantissa.

Beyond the left bank of this river was the Rajarata ruled by King Elara.

Although he was outspoken against going to war too soon, it was in preparation for such an eventuality that King Kavantissa began this campaign to strengthen the borders of his kingdom. The history of that period bears some similarity to the present situation in the country.

The details of these preparations for war, which the main chronicle failed to record, are given in a later work called the Dhatuvamsa. According to that document (which probably got the material from the ancient Ruhuna chronicle mentioned by Geiger), Kavantissa had got his own sister, Somadevi married to his brother-in-law Abhaya (a brother of Viharamahadevi from the lesser kingdom of Kelaniya) and sent him to reside at the outpost called Giri Nuvara ‘near Seruvila’. Thereafter, he first sent his younger son Saddhatissa to increase food production, in view of the impending war, in the principality of Digamadulla near Ampara (then called Ambaragama). He sent the more recalcitrant elder son, Dutugemunu, to reside at far away Giri Nuvara, perhaps to keep him away from getting into trouble by his penchant for a hasty war with King Elara.

Toppur or ‘Seru nuvara’

Dutugemunu did not take too long to create trouble at Giri Nuvara too, He made some insulting remarks at the inferiority of his uncle Abhaya’s clan. Abhaya decided not to take this bait and start a quarrel. Instead he left Giri Nuvara and went to Seru Nuvara which is Toppur (Toppu + ur) or ‘Grove City' in Tamil, situated at the northern end of Seruvila, ruled by Giri Abhaya’s brother Siva.

Siva found a suitable site and helped Giri Abhaya to build a city there. Giri Abhaya named that city “Somapura” (or 'Soma Nuwara') after his queen Somadevi and continued to live there. As the queen was reluctant to go back to Giri Nuwara for religious worship, she built the Somawathi Caitya in consultation with Giri Abhaya, at a place “not too far or too close” to Somapura. Hastily built, the Somawathi Caitya could not have been a large shrine like the Seruvila Dagaba. Hence, its ruins are still to be traced. This story also shows us that Seru Nuvara was midway between Giri Nuvara and Somapura. It also confirms the fact that all three places were on the right bank side of the Mahaveli, for king Elara’s kingdom began on its left bank.

It is to be noted that in recent times, Seruvila has acquired an alternative Tamil name as ‘Allai’. This is a result of Tamil settlers finding it to be a good place to dig for ‘allai’ (Dioscorea pentaphylla), the favourite food of jungle people. The yam is called Katu-ala in Sinhala. It is from the second part of this name ‘ala’, which means ‘yam,’ that the Tamil name for it as “allay” is derived.

Mutur or ‘Giri Nuvara’

Giri Nuvara, the northern outpost of Ruhuna was on the right bank of a small branch of the Mahaveli called Kati Are or End Stream, which enters the sea in the Bay of Koti Ara (now Koddiyar Bay). Close to the river’s mouth on the opposite side was Elara’s Koti Nagara where the ‘o’ is long, (meaning, “End City” in Pali and ‘Kelanaru’ in Sinhala).

About six miles to the southwest of this ancient site of Giri Nuvara (present Mutur) is the Seruvila Dagaba.

This Dagaba with its own monastery on the western bank of Seruvila was built by King Kavantissa (about two and a half miles south of Seru Nuvara) when he visited the site with Queen Viharamahadevi. Before that, the king recalled Dutugeumunu back to Mahagama, probably to prevent him from creating further trouble at Giri Nuvara. But that impetuous prince quarrelled with his own father and fled to Kotmale. Therefore he was not in the capital to carry out the funeral rites when his father died. Hence that duty fell on the shoulders of his younger brother Saddhatissa, who finished the task and returned to Digamadulla with his mother Viharamahadevi and the state elephant Kandula, before Dutugemunu arrived at the scene. This paved the way for a war between the two brothers.

The death of King Kavantissa removes the last obstacle in the warlike path of Dutugemunu. However, before he died, Kavantissa did not fail to anticipate the possible conflict of interests between his two sons. Therefore, he summoned the ten generals and got them to promise that they would not support either side if there was a war between his sons. This foresight by the old king saved the bulk of the army to fight against the main enemy who was in occupation of the Rajarata.

Sampur or ‘Somapura’

The place where Giri Abhaya went to build the new city of Somapura is about six miles to the north of Seru Nuvara and close to the western bank of Koti Ara Bay. It is about four miles northwest of Mutur, sufficiently distant from the rude, new Lord of Giri Nuvara, and also a vantage point to monitor the movement of enemy ships to Trincomalee harbour. (The Tigers moved into that place after the ceasefire agreement was signed, for the same reason.) Its present name is Sampur, which is obviously a Tamilized version of the old name “Somapura.” The other Somawathi Caitya in what was then Elara’s territory on the left bank of the Mahaveli River is a large dagaba with its own history, but was built at a later period of time.

The historical evidence advanced here goes to show that Mutur was the site of ancient Giri Nuvara, Toppur the site of Seru Nuvara and Sampur the site of Somapura in the second century BC. It also shows that boundaries of the present “Somawathi Catiya sanctuary” have to be extended northwards to include all these three places. In fact it should include the whole delta between the Mahaveli and its major branch now called Verugal Aru, but in reality “Berugal Ara,” or the stream strewn with drum-shaped (S. Beru) boulders (S. gal.)


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