chapter  9
24 Pages

Anuradhapura: ritual, power and resistance in a precolonial South Asian city

The process of urbanization makes its appearance in Sri Lanka, as it did in South India, much later than in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, although megalithic peoples enjoying access to the use of iron tools had been present in the island for a long time. Certainly by the 1st century BC urban settlements had already arisen in different parts of the island. Inscriptions written in the earliest form of the Br hm script refer to towns like Aba and Bama in the present

District, Bata a, Nilaya and iva in the District, Ka aba and Uti in the Amp r District and Cita in the Kandy District (Paranavitana 1970, pp. 32, 41, 60-1, 63, 75, 81). Later epigraphic records datable to a period falling within the next three centuries or so mention towns like Naka, Magana and Palo in the Anur dhapura District, in the Polonnaruva District and Bagu and in the District, (Paranavitana 1970, p. 89, 1983, pp. 23, 56). In his Geographia Ptolemy lists 11 places in the island, each of which he described as a civitas. These include Margana, Iogana, Sindocanda, Nubartha, Hodoca, Dionysiseu Bachi, Bocana, Abaratha, Procuri, Nagadiba and Anubingara. A twelfth place, Maagrammum which was clearly Mah gr ma in southern Sri Lanka, was referred to as a metropolis. Evidently, according to his informants, these were all fully fledged cities. Two places, Modutti and Talacori, are described as emporiu, and four others as portus (Ptolemaeus 1966, pp. 136-7). Certain place names cited here, like Margana and Abaratha, are reminiscent of some places mentioned in the inscriptions. Both epigraphic and literary sources suggest that elements of urban life were developing in a widespread area within the island. However, Anur dhapura clearly emerged as the leading urban centre and, apart for a few decades when S giri and, later, Polonnaruva became the residence of rulers, its dominance over the island persisted for about 12 centuries. In fact, Anur dhapura was one of the most durable centres of political power and urban life in South Asia. The study of Anur dhapura helps us to recognize some specific features of the South Asian city, and furthers our understanding of variant types of the pre-industrial city.