Kegalle Jubilee Ambalama – commemoration of a Jubilee – By Arundathie Abeysinghe

Kegalle Jubilee Ambalama – commemoration of a Jubilee – By Arundathie AbeysingheKegalle Jubilee Ambalama – commemoration of a Jubilee – By Arundathie Abeysinghe

Located in *Kegalle town of *Sabaragamuwa Province, Kegalle Jubilee *Ambalama is a large building similar to a small house and it is considered as the largest ambalama in Sri Lanka.  Constructed in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), Jubilee Ambalama is an archaeologically protected monument, declared by a government notification on July 22, 2011.

Unnoticed and unknown by the majority of travelers on Colombo – Kandy Road, including daily commuters as well as the public who visit Kegalle town daily and situated in the busy metropolis of Kegalle, Jubilee Ambalama showcases marvelous craftsmanship of our ancestors.

According to the plaque, (in Sinhala and English Languages) on the front wall of the Ambalama, it had been constructed to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

According to folklore, the Ambalama has also been used as a location utilized by village headmen to dress in official costumes when they visited the Government Agent in Kegalle for official purposes. Unlike the other wayside resting places in Sri Lanka, Kegalle Jubilee Ambalama has the atmosphere of a well-built house. It has also been used as a resting place of merchants traveling from Colombo to Kandy during the British Colonial Era, especially those traveling during night.

Jubilee Ambalama had also been utilized as a location where Sinhalese nobles and office bearers met and discussed their issues with the British Colonials during the British Colonial Era, before meeting British Government Agents who came to Kegalle on behalf of the Queen.

Jubilee Ambalama is constructed on 16 wooden pillars decorated with ornate designs and carvings with strong beams and there are two rooms in it. The roof is tiled and has two towers.

Although, these structures are not used any more, they are a symbol of Sri Lankan culture and heritage. Place names such as “Andiambalama” and “Ambalangoda” may have derived from the word “Ambalama”. The majority of Ambalamas in Sri Lanka have been well preserved and are archaeological monuments.

Many Sri Lankans are of the view that the construction of an ambalama is s a meritorious deed (providing shelter and water to weary travelers). Hence, in the past, everybody in a village assisted in constructing an ambalama (wayside shelter). The size and style of the ambalama, depended on the wealth of its residents and on some occasions, wealthy nobles spent their wealth to construct wayside shelters.

Selecting the most suitable location to construct an ambalama was a vital decision as it had to be in a place convenient for many people, especially travelers. Hence, the majority of ambalamas were located near wells, streams or locations where there was plenty of water and shade.

According to scholars, the earliest recorded details with regard to an ambalama were in a stone inscription dating back to the reigns of King Mahasen (277 to 304 AD). The inscription describes a location known as a mahavata vatussala (meaning a resting place alongside a main street). There are also mentions of an ambalama in *sandesha kawyas, especially the Salalihini Sandeshaya with descriptions of a route from *Kotte to *Kelaniya. Gira Sandeshaya also mentions about travelers reciting poems and incidents of solving riddles while staying in Welithota Ambalama.

According to *Robert Knox’s “An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon” (1681), he has also described about ambalamas as places where people relaxed and discussed about politics with other villagers.

Image courtesy –

Panavitiya Ambalama – paradigm of Sri Lankan architecture – By Arundathie Abeysinghe

Robert Knox Memorial – tribute to a British Traveler By Arundathie Abeysinghe

  • Ambalama – A simple structure constructed to provide shelter for pilgrims, traders as well as travelers to rest in Sri Lanka. They played a significant role in traditional Sinhalese culture. During the Kandyan period, they served as resting places, refuges and free overnight accommodations along pilgrimage routes. Centuries ago, merchants, pilgrims and travelers stayed in an ambalama to take a respite from their long journeys. Ambalama was built and designed as an architecturally simple structure with the purpose of providing shelter for the travelers. An ambalama also served diverse purposes in historical times and are still in use as a place for a tea break or as a hut of farmers. In the past, Gam Sabhava (village tribunal) also assembled in an ambalama. Village headmen, aristocrats on palanquins, traders on bullock carts, travelers, mendicants and people from all walks of life, used to frequent an ambalama. It also served as a meeting place for the village folk to exchange gossip, pleasantries and discuss politics. There were no charges involved in using an ambalama.
  • Kalidasa – A classical Sanskrit author, poet and playwright (flourished during 5th century ce in India), considered as the greatest Indian writer in ancient India (of any epoch), his plays and poetry are predominantly based on the Vedas, the RamayanaMahabharata and Puranas.
  • Kegalle – Kegalle (known as “Kegalla” in Sinhala) is a large town in west-central Sri Lanka located on Colombo – Kandy Road, approximately 78 kilometers from Colombo and 40 kilometers from Kandy. Kegalle is the main town in Kegalle District.
  • Kelaniya – A suburb of Colombo in the Western Province of Sri Lanka, Kelaniya is famous for the well-known Buddhist Temple Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya (Kelaniya Temple) built on the banks of *Kelani River.
  • Kelani River – One of the major rivers in Sri Lanka and is 145 kilometers long.
  • Kingdom of Gampola – Gampola is a town situated in close proximity to Kandy in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, established as the capital of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by King Buwanekabahu IV (from 1344 – 1345 and from 1353 – 1354) in the mid-14th century.
  • Kingdom of Kotte – This was a kingdom which flourished in the 15th century in Ceylon. The term “Kotte” is believed to have derived from the Sinhalese word “kotta” and Tamil word “kottei”, meaning fortress. The word “Kotte” was introduced by Nissankamalla Alagakkonara, the founder of the fortress. According to legends, Kotte had been founded as a fortress by Minister Alakeswara (1370 -1385) of *Kingdom of Gampola.
  • Sabaragamuwa Province – One of the nine provinces of Sri Lanka located in the south-central region of Sri Lanka.
  • Sandesha Kawyas  A messenger poem to a particular person with the messenger provided with descriptions of the route to be travelled and delivered by a special bearer. The messenger may be a pigeon, swan, parrot or salalihiniya (Sri Lanka’s hill myna. Gracula ptilogenys). *Kalidasa’s “Meghaduta” is the first and most famous Sandesha Kawya. The messenger of every Sinhala Sandeshaya is a bird and messages of a “Sandesha” have a common ritual of invocation and welcome to the courier with detailed descriptions of praise of the courier, the recipient of the message, the itinerary and description of the recipient’s place of residence as well as the recipient. There are several Sandesha Kawyas in Sinhala Literature such as “Gira Sandesha”, “Paravi Sandesha” and “Salalihini Sandesha”.

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