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A new facet of our history buried with the copper plate of codaganga

Dr. Malini Dias - Sunday Island Oct 19 2003
Archaeological Department

A buried element of our heritage was uncovered by the sudden discovery of a rare piece of evidence that was brought to the Archaeological Department from Kurunegala by the ASP Kuliyapitiya, Mr. Rohan Fernando. Four Copper Plates with writing on either side of each plate had been inscribed in the Polonnaruwa period during the reign of King Codaganga (1196-97 AD). The chronicle Culavamsa reveals that king Codaganga had been a nephew of King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) who preceded him as the ruler of Sri Lanka. Though the reign of King Codaganga was very short, this epistle brings to light a Cola invasion from South India, which was successfully repulsed during this period of reign. The script in these copper plates shows a resemblance to the script of the Panakaduwa copper plate of King Vijayabhahu I (1056-1110 AD) and the script of the Devanagala Rock inscription of King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 AD).

Similar panegyrics on the achievements of the Kings, frequently found in the stone inscriptions of the twelfth century are found in this copper plate as well. With minor variations from those of King Vijayabahu I, King Parakramabahu I and King Nissankamalla, the eulogy of this copper plate confirms the regency of King Codaganga.

The copper plate mentions the prevalence of rival invasions during this period. This is all the more important as it mentions a foreign invasion Sri Lanka had experienced. The copper plate states that the leaders who repulsed the invading Army of Cholas (who are identified as Tamils, who had landed at Mavutu Tota) called Mantota today and Mantai in Tamil had been gifted with titles and with farm lands.

By having placed the country on a war footing during his reign, Parakramabahu I was successful in countering foreign invasions and waging war with success against foreign countries. The Devanagala Inscription, dated in the twelfth year of King Parakramabahu, records a grant of lands to Kit Nuvaragala, a Commander of the Army who won success in the Myanmar expedition. The loss of human resources and the depletion of the coffers due to these costly wars resulted in the inability of the kings who ruled after him to stave off foreign invasions.

The undue prominence given to the wars by King Parakramabahu I resulted in some of his generals crowning puppet rulers and ruling the country according to their whims and fancies after his demise. The underlying factor emerging from the incidents mentioned in the copper plate is that a certain general with the intention of deposing King Codaganga from the throne and foist an aristocrat of his choice on the throne had been instrumental in bringing a Chola army from South India which was summarily routed by the King.

The copper plate mentions how the Colas, with the "four armed forces" stormed Mavutu Tota, took over the harbour and subjugated the people whilst making incursions inland. The description also adds that two hours before the dawn of the fifth day, the Cola invasion was quelled. The King elated by the rout of the Cola Tamil army by a general named Kilingam Minalnavan, who exhibited his valor at war is said to have bestowed him with titles and lands. The lands were located in the kingdom of Maya. These gifts are termed as "Pamunu Deemana" and the presentation of these were to be considered perpetual by the fact that it was done by the king with an entourage of queens, ministers and generals. The title Lanka Adhikari mentioned here and in some of the inscriptions of this period was generally given to the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister.

A general by the name Lolupelakulu Kitalnavan, mentioned in this copper plate and in Doratiya Sannasa of King Nissankamalla could be one and the same person. The copper plate describes how King Codaganga with his chief queen and queen Ratnavali accompanied by the heads of the royal assembly including the ministers met the general and bestowed on him the Pamunu Deemana of paddy fields and other properties. An exceptionally important feature is that the chief queen and queen Ratnavali are mentioned in this function. The significance of Pamunu Deemana is borne out in the Doratiyava Sannasa that the head queen Subadra and queen Kalyanawathi of King Nissankamalla too had taken part in similar presentations.

Another significant discovery is that the engravings found in the copper plates are very lucid and the script is engraved in a series of minute punch marks. This method of engraving has hitherto not been discovered in any inscription either on plate or on rock. This copper plate could be grouped in the same category of rare copper plates as the allai Kantale and the Panakaduwa copper plates. The moon and the sun engraved in the first of the four copper plates signify that this Pamunu Deemana should not be revoked until the sun and the moon continue to exist.

Though a number of copper plate inscriptions have been discovered in India, only three have been discovered so far in Sri Lanka. These copper plates have undergone deterioration by the fact that they had been buried in the soil for a considerable period of time. They should all be treated chemically, deciphered, published in the Epigraphical series and thereafter placed on public view.