Ports in ancient Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean and to the south of the Indian peninsula. Sri Lanka was the only favourite port of call for re-victualling and water for the mariner sea borne from west to east and vice versa.
- Sri Lanka - ancient maritime hub
- Island full of treasures
- South Indian connection
- Ports in Northern region
- Ancient ports in Southern region
Sri Lanka - ancient maritime hub
Five centuries before Christ, Sri Lanka was a land throbbing with vitality and a well-ordered civilization. Cities, palaces, reservoirs, parks, temples, monasteries, monuments and works of art bore testament to the character, imagination, culture, philosophy and faith of the people of Sri Lanka, the Resplendent Land. Vestiges of this ancient civilization are abundantly extant today. Since ships were the main mode of travelling in ancient times, many people came to Sri Lanka for various purposes in ships. Some came as merchants, some as invaders and there were also some famous travelers like Fa-Hsien. This little pearl of the Indian Ocean had some busy ports in ancient times.Claudius Ptolemy in c. 150 A.D. provided us with the locations of nearly fifty places with their co-ordinates that fixes their position on ground. They comprise the capitals, major townships. International Emporiums and harbours as well as the location of the major tribes distributed in the different parts of Sri Lanka. The island was a central location for all the ships to get food and other things needed for the crew as well as the fuel for the ship.
Island full of treasures
Merchants found treasures like gems, pearls, Gajamuthu (ivory), cloth and even elephants in Sri Lanka. Through these sources, Indian and European kings got to know about this little island and they wanted this little pearl to be brought under their control and the invaders posed as merchants first came to Sri Lanka set up their enterprises and decided to take control too. The Dutch people who ruled our country once is the best indicative of their motives as they were aware that the strategic central location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean was the ideal maritime trade system many sea routes of which is running through Sri Lanka. Several local ports played an important role in trade carried through sea routes and the country was connected by sea routes with ports in the Southern, Western and North Eastern regions of India, with ports in Arabia and also with China.
South Indian connection
Among great ports in ancient Sri Lanka, Mahatitha or the great port has been given a prominent place which is situated opposite Mannar on the north western coast facing the Arabinan sea. It was considered most important port for ships coming from South India. It has been recorded that the population around this port had a strong South Indian connection during many period of history but its glorious past had faded to some extent after the seventh century AD. Gokanna (Trincomalee) port was another port of much significance situated in North Eastern zone of Sri Lanka. The most conspicuous feature of this port was that it is a natural port. Mahatittha continued as the chief port of Rajarata at least up to the middle of the 13th century. Other two important ports - Jambukolapattana and Uraturai (or Urathota, Jambukolapatana can be identified as Kankasanturai. Jambukola and Mahatittha are two ports frequently alluded to in the Mahavamsa unfolding the earliest historical eras of the Island. Presumably the origin of these ports are not datable, however, it could be assumed without any predilection, that they were in existence long before the colonization of the Island by Aryans in the sixth century BC. ) But it was widely used as a port of embarkation and landing, in the Anuradhapura era.
Ports in Northern region
The other port in the Jaffna peninsula, Ureaturai is now known as Kayts and attained importance as a port of maritime hub especially during the era of the Pollonnaruwa kings. Ancient Nainativu Tamil inscription dating back to the reign of Parakramabahu 1 thrown light to the fact that foreign ships overloaded with merchandise arrived at this port of Uraturai. The ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka, Chulavamsa provides much evidence to a several number of less important ports in the North, north western and eastern coasts in the 12th century.
Ancient ports in Southern region
When it comes to exploring maritime history of Southern region, the port of Godapavata (Godavaya) is the commercial maritime hub in the Hambantota district. The ports of South and South Western coasts became important in international trade, when the capital of the island moved to those respective areas. ( It seems almost like a modern harbour - but all this happened as far back as the 2nd century AD in Godapavata Pattana, west of Hambantota. Evidence is being unearthed every day to prove Godavaya's importance in the maritime Silk Route, with excavations and research revealing connections from China in the East to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean in the West. Dondra or Devinuwara was another leading commercial port in the south in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. The ancient Dondra inscription of King Parakramabahu 11 carries regulations to prevent the evasion of custom duties. The Kelaniya inscriptions unfolds much evidence that a ship sent by the Burmese King to Sri Lanka arrived at Weligama in Southern Province. Another ancient chronicle, Dambadeni Asna refers to the landing of foreigners at the port of Beruwala.. However, with the passage of time, Colombo became Sri Lanka's major port with the arrival of Portuguese in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Maritime commercial hubs are key drivers today with the dawn of peace in Sri Lanka thanks to the total elimination of terrorism from this soil and we are proud of exploring the glorious past today with much delight.