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The Kurundi Temple in Sri Lanka: Uncovering the History, Heritage, and Archaeology

The Kurundi Temple, situated in the northern part of Sri Lanka, holds a significant place in the
country’s history, heritage, and archaeology. However, recent issues surrounding the temple have
raised concerns about proper governance, archaeological preservation, and the protection of the
rights and interests of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. In this critical analysis, we will
delve into the facts and information available to shed light on the problem and explore potential
constructive solutions.
The prolonged Thirty Years’ War significantly impacted the archaeological heritage of the North
East region of Sri Lanka, with much of the area becoming densely forested. While some
archaeological sites managed to remain protected during this period, others fell victim to the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) activities in the jungle areas.
Following the end of the war, the process of returning land to its rightful Tamil owners faced
numerous challenges. Instead of implementing a structured approach to land restitution, there was
an unfortunate occurrence of large-scale land grabbing. This land-grabbing phenomenon was not
limited to archaeological sites alone but extended to tourist attractions along the Eastern
Seaboard, with the infamous Panama land grab serving as a prime example.
It is important to note that this should not be seen as inherently wrong, as individuals sought to
establish their livelihoods and secure their futures. To truly grasp the magnitude of these changes,
one need only compare the currently cultivated lands with the state of those same areas depicted
on Google Maps two decades ago. Such an observation would undoubtedly provide a clearer
understanding of the situation at hand.
The Historical Significance of Kurundi Temple:
The Kurundi Temple, also known as Kurundaka, Kurunda, or Kurugnapasaka, dates back
centuries, with historical records mentioning its existence as early as 109-104 BC. The temple has
witnessed periods of construction, repair, and cultural significance under different rulers throughout
history. For instance, King Khallatanaga established the temple, while King Agbo I repaired it in the
6th century AD. The Kurundi Temple’s historical significance is further emphasized by its mention
in the Mahavamsa, where it is noted that King Parakumba destroyed the military camp of Kalinga’s
invader, Magha, in the vicinity.
The Archaeological Reserve and Recent Developments:
This archaeological site holds significant historical and religious importance as a Buddhist
monastic site situated within the Nagachole Forest Reserve in the Thannimuruppu Grama Seva
Domain, under the administration of the Seabadapattu Regional Secretariat in Mullaitivu District.
Positioned atop a hill, the site comprises three courtyards and exhibits various ruins such as a
kapok stone stupa, ramparts, a stone idol house with pillared buildings, moonlit lamps, and
intricately carved stone doorways. Adjacent to the site, the Kurundi Lake reveals the remnants of a
Buddhist monastery.
In 1905, the Archaeological Department documented an inscription attributed to King Mihindu III
discovered at this site. The area surrounding this site, known as Kurungama, witnessed the
resolution of a water dispute, as indicated by the inscription. Henry Parker, a civil officer from the
colonial period, provided accounts of the site’s remains, which were further elaborated upon by
Designated as an archaeological reserve on May 12, 1933, through a special gazette, this site and
its surrounding area covered approximately 78 acres of land. After 87 years, on November 26-29,
2020, the Department of Archaeology and the Department of Survey jointly commenced the re-

establishment of the original boundaries. Notably, 90 per cent of the boundary stones were found
intact within the dense forest.
On December 2, 2020, an expedition team from the Vavuniya Regional Archaeology Office
conducted an exploration in the forested area below Kurundi Lake. The team identified additional
archaeological factors beyond the previously established boundaries, including the Kurundi Stupa.
These monuments of the hermitage span approximately 229 acres.
The initial discovery of this inscription was reported by Henry Parker, and it was subsequently
published in the 1949 Archaeological Survey report, based on an article by Dr C. E. Godakumbura
dating back to 1931. Within the designated 78 acres of land, watch-stone pillars, old bricks, a tiled
mound, and approximately 10 stone-pillared and brick buildings have been unearthed in close
proximity to the main monument.
The Kurundi Temple and its surrounding area were designated as an archaeological reserve in
1933, covering approximately 78 acres of land. In 2020, the Vavuniya Regional Archaeology Office
initiated a survey to reestablish the boundaries of the reserve, revealing that the archaeological
artefacts and ruins extended beyond the initial 78-acre area. This new discovery highlights the
need for comprehensive archaeological intervention and preservation measures, ensuring the
protection of the site’s historical and cultural heritage.
The issue surrounding the Kurundi Temple reflects broader challenges in governance and heritage
management in post-war Sri Lanka. The appointment of a mono-racial task force for the
management of archaeological heritage in the Eastern Province, led by General Kamal Gunaratne,
raised concerns among the Tamil population. Such a task force, lacking support and representation
from all communities, undermines the inclusivity and credibility of archaeological interventions in
the region.
Furthermore, the involvement of religious figures in the management and acquisition of
archaeological sites can lead to complications. The case of Venerable Panamure Thilakawansa,
whose history and behaviour in the land acquisition were questioned, highlights the potential for
biases and conflicts of interest. To ensure unbiased preservation and maintenance of
archaeological sites, it is crucial to entrust these responsibilities to professional bodies like the
Department of Archaeology rather than religious institutions.
Balancing Preservation and Community Interests:
Resolving the problem at the Kurundi Temple necessitates a comprehensive approach that
considers the interests and rights of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. It is essential to
address the issue of land cultivation around the archaeological monument. If Tamil farmers have
built houses or engaged in cultivation on the site, alternative lands and fair compensation should
be provided to mitigate any injustices caused by the reserved land.
Moreover, the government must clarify the ownership of the temple and the role of the temple chief
monk in its administration. The restoration of archaeological sites to temples, particularly in the
North and East regions, should be approached cautiously to avoid exacerbating ethnic tensions
and to preserve the historical and archaeological value of the sites.
The resolution of the problem at the Kurundi Temple
The Kurundi Temple stands as a testament to Sri Lanka’s rich history, heritage, and archaeology.
However, the current problem surrounding the temple calls for immediate action and constructive
solutions. By implementing proper governance, involving professional archaeological bodies,
ensuring inclusivity and transparency, and addressing the interests of both the Tamil and Sinhalese
communities, the Kurundi Temple can be preserved and celebrated as an invaluable cultural asset
for future generations.

Authorities must conduct a thorough archaeological survey of the Kurundi Temple and its
surroundings to document and assess the extent of the archaeological artefacts and ruins. This
survey should involve experts from the Department of Archaeology, local historians, and
archaeologists to ensure accurate and comprehensive findings. Then the department should
develop a detailed preservation and conservation plan for the Kurundi Temple based on the
findings of the archaeological survey. This plan should include measures for the restoration and
maintenance of the existing structures and guidelines for future excavations, research, and public
access to the site.
In order to resolve the conflict among ethnic communities it is wise to initiate a dialogue between
the government, the Department of Archaeology, and the local Tamil and Sinhalese communities to
understand their perspectives, concerns, and interests. This engagement will help in building trust
and ensuring that the rights of all stakeholders are considered in decision-making processes.
An inclusive governance structure that includes representation from both the Tamil and Sinhalese
communities, as well as experts from the Department of Archaeology, to oversee the management
and preservation of the Kurundi Temple should be implemented. This inclusive approach will help
ensure that decisions are made in a transparent and equitable manner. Authorities could support
and collaborate with international organizations and experts in archaeological preservation and
heritage management. This can include technical assistance, capacity-building programs, and
funding opportunities to ensure successful preservation.
If farmers have built houses or engaged in cultivation within the archaeological reserve, provide
them with alternative lands and fair compensation to address any potential injustices. This should
be done in consultation with the affected individuals and in adherence to existing land and
compensation laws.
By adopting a comprehensive and inclusive approach that considers the interests of both the Tamil
and Sinhalese communities, while involving professional bodies such as the Department of
Archaeology, the government can resolve the current problem and ensure the long-term
conservation of the temple. Through dialogue, collaboration, and proper governance, the Kurundi
Temple can serve as a symbol of unity, cultural diversity, and historical significance in Sri Lanka.