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 Post subject: Food and drink in ancient Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Mon Dec 05, 2005 2:29 am 
Food and drink in ancient Sri Lanka

by Kamalika Pieris
@ The Island


Sri Lanka has had a settled agriculture for thousands of years. The climate was favourable, the soil hospitable. There was an ever-wet south western quarter with limited rain in the remaining area. The far north-west and far south-east alone were semi-arid. This enabled a large number of crop plants, fruit trees, spices, and livestock to flourish. Hiuen Tsiang said in seventh century AD that ‘Sri Lanka’s soil is rich and fertile, the climate is hot, the ground is regularly cultivated, flowers and fruits are produced in abundance.’

The earliest form of cultivation was chena. Land was cleared by setting fire to the undergrowth. It was not manured or ploughed. The farmers built huts in the chena, and lived there when the crop had to be protected fro animals, returning home with the harvest. Wooden fences were constructed around the chena to guard it from stray cattle and wild animals. Grains such as undu, ma, mun, kurakkan, iringu, tala, amu, aba, duru, tana, and vegetables like karabatu, tibbatu, vambotu, alupuhul and vattakka were grown in these chenas, during the medieval period. There are references in the ancient period to chenas that grew cotton, sugar cane and sesame, ‘kapu hen, uk hen, tala hen.’

Chena cultivation was based on a sound principle. The fertility of the land declined with continued - use. Therefore the cultivated plot, or chena, was released back to the jungle and allowed to lie fallow. Since the population was small in ancient times, the chena plots had a long period in which to recover. According to the medieval sources, the chena cultivator had no permanent right to the land, but he could clear as much of it as he needed or could cultivate, with the express permission of the village headman or the king’s officer. The person who cleared the land got the produce. As soon as the land was abandoned, it reverted to the king who had a prerogative right over jungle land throughout the island. The king taxed the produce of chenas, but Nissanka malla (1187-1196) abolished this tax. From his reign to the end of the 16th century, there is no reference to taxes on chenas.

The earliest grain to be cultivated was kurakkan. Kurakkan came here in 10,000 BC. It is a very hardy grain and was used as a substitute for rice. There was a range of kurakkans. In the ancient period, they also grew undu, (ulundu) ma, mun, meneri, aba, koththamalli, suduru and maduru. ‘Me cereals cultivated in the medieval period included different varieties of rice, as well as kurakkan, iringu and amu, java, meneri, undu, mun, tal, green gram, ma ata and barley. Even today, thalapa made with kurakkan and a curry made with kollu is eaten in the dry zone.

Wet rice cultivation was the major agricultural activity of the ancient Sinhalese. It was also an important source of revenue for the king. Wetland rice cultivation can be seen from about 250 BC. It was an indigenous development, it was not introduced from outside. Rice was the most suitable crop for the ‘soggy’ soil in the area by the tank or reservoir. Rice was primarily grown under water but was also, less frequently, sown straight into the soil (goda goyam). The rice varieties used for wet rice were not suitable for land and vice versa. Rath hal, sinati, and mavi are the wet rice varieties most often mentioned in the literature of the medieval period. The various kinds of rice needed different lengths of time to mature. Sinati required three to four months, and mavi needed six to seven months.

There were two regular harvests, yala, and maha. The Tonigala inscription of fourth century AD refers to a third season in between, called mada (middle). This was an occasional harvest. The mada harvest was realised only when the reservoirs were full. Many districts did not even know of this harvest. The process of growing wet rice is described in detail in various medieval texts such as Saddharmaratnavali, Pujavali, Saddharmalankara (13th century) and Butsarana (possibly 12 or 13 century). These texts describe the various aspects of rice growing starting with the clearing of land, ploughing, weeding, I and regulating of the flow of water. The terms used in the medieval period for the paddy field and its divisions were, kumbura, keta, ketwata and liyadde. Large tracts of field were known as varupata and viyala. Bund was niyara, the threshing floor was known as kamata.

They also provide information on the agricultural implements used. There was the plough (nagula) and the leveller (porowa). There were two kinds of levellers, nagul porowa, drawn by buffaloes and ath porowa, which was manipulated by hand. A dated to 5 century AD was found in Sigiriya. Sri Lanka is believed to have had more than two dozen varieties of. The mammoty differed in design in various regions of the island. The yotta, implement dug out of wood was used to draw water out of or into a field. A metal sickle, dakatta, was used for reaping paddy. There was also the smaller pankatta or kurahan katta for reap other cereals such as kurakkan, and tana. The katta or bill hook with a very long handle, was used for clearing forests. A long pole with two prongs known as the koladebala was used to stack the heap of paddy on the threshing floor, A wooden instrument known as kolapatta was used to beat the edges of the corn in the stack. The datta, a long stick with a hook at the end, was used to brush away the straw from the paddy while the buffaloes were threshing the paddy.

A flycatcher known as boku kurulla made like a winnow with a long handle was used to protect the grain from insects and pests. Various kinds of resins were applied inside the winnow and this implement was dragged early morning above the plants so that the disturbed insects and flies got stuck on this. A takaporuwa or tiger box was used to keep birds and beasts at bay, This was in the form of a box with a gadget inside, which when swung round made a dreadful noise. The baskets used for sowing seed paddy and for measuring the harvest, were made of rattan, bamboo or palm leaves. These varied in size and shape in the different parts of the island. The measuring vessels were known by different names such as laha, kuruni and hali.

‘The ancient Sinhalese looked for a favourable time for carrying out their activities in the paddy field. Sowing ploughing harvesting were done according to the guidance of the astrologer. On certain days during certain unfavourable constellations, activities in the paddy field were avoided. They used charms (kema) as well as natural remedies to prevent plant disease. It was believed that if ashes of burnt wood from a ruined hut were spread on the ridges of a paddy field, animals and birds would not destroy a crop.

There were famines during the reign of Dutugemunu (161-137 BQ Vattagamani (89-77 BQ Kuncanaga, (187-189 AD) Sanghabodhi (247-249) Upatissa 1 (365-406) Kirttisirimegaha (551-569), Parakrama bahu 11 (1236-70) and Bhuvanekabahu 1 (1272-84) The whole island seems to have experienced a severe drought and famine during Vattagamani’s time, (BC 89-77) It was so serious that a considerable number of monks died and others left the island. The famine in the time of Parakrama, bahu 11 was caused by a serious failure of rains.

The earliest reference to cinnamon of Sri Lanka is found in a l3th century source. In the 14th century, Ibn Batuta referred to the cinnamon from Sri Lanka. The first reference to a coconut plantation is in an inscription from the reign of Mahadathika Mahanage (7-19 AD) at Mihintale. In the fifth and sixth centuries, there are references to extensive coconut plantations, some of which were owned by monasteries. Culavamsa refers to a large coconut plantation three yojanas in extent, close to Mannar, laid out by Aggabodhi 1 (571-604). Galapata vihara rock inscription refers to land planted with coconut and arecanut. There are references in the medieval period to varieties of coconut and arecanut. Coconut cultivation expanded in the 14th century and there are references to coconut plantations along the seacoast in Kalutara, Bentota, Totagamuwa, and Kapkanduru in Ruhuna. Sandesa, poems refer to coconut plantations at Moratuwa, Kaburugamuwa, and from Kelaniya to Karagala. The coconut tree provided food, drink, fuel, household utensils, and building materials for the community.

There are references to home gardens in the inscriptions of the ancient period. In the medieval period, these gardens were known as gevatu or arub. The Kavsilumina (13 century) has a section that could be considered a description of the home gardens of that time. It said that the home garden contained plants that supply ingredients for curries, such as turmeric, mustard, cloves and onions, medicinal plants such as iriveriya and ginger, vegetables such as ash plantains, brinjals, batu, komadu, cucumber, pulses such as undu, mun, kollu, fruit trees such as mango and jak as well as coconut, arecanut, palmyrah, and gingili. The medieval literature also refers to kitul, tamarind, betel, orange, bananas, jak, pepper and sugarcane. Yams such as sweet potatoes, katuala, hiriala, gonala were also cultivated. (Vidurava, 19:1 1999 p 43.) This mixed cultivation helped to make the household self sufficient in food. Mixed cultivation could be found today the wet zone, central hills and rainier localities of the dry zone.

Almost every village in the dry zone had its own village tank, which was capable of supplying water for the cultivation of an average of ten acres of ground. The tank created a high water table, which made it easy to dig wells and construct ponds. Houses were located immediately below the tank bund so that they were situated between the tank and the fields. The hills were left forested. These forests provided medic herbs, fruits, and other produce, fuel for cooking, timber for building and also protection from wind. The forest on the lower slopes was used for chena cultivation.

The mountain region above 2500 feet was largely unpopulated until the 9th and 10th centuries. The large scale settlements there started only after the 13 century. Terraced paddy fields were skilfully constructed obtaining water from natural streams that rarely failed. The highland that could not be converted into paddy field was used by the villager to build his house, to plant fruit trees, and to grow vegetables and other crops. The forests which provided honey, jungle rope, firewood, fence sticks, timber and leaf manure and pasture for cattle were at a higher level.

The literary sources dealing with Sri Lanka’s ancient period do not say much about food, but the medieval literature has a significant amount of information on the subject. Rice is the most frequently mentioned food in the medieval literature. There is a reference in Culavanisa to scented Rice stored in granaries for three years on various layers of aromatic drugs. There are references to roasted rice and to milk rice mixed with ghee. Rice was usually eaten with cooked meat and vegetables. Today we would call this ‘rice and curry’. Rice was eaten for the morning meal as well. Various kinds of millet such as meneri, amu, and tanahal were also consumed during the ancient period. Gruel, green gram soup and kirikanda are mentioned in the medieval period.

Curries were fried and tempered. Edible oil was obtained mostly from sesame in the ancient period and that explains the frequent reference to ‘tala hen’ in the texts. Sesamum oil (ginselly) is referred to in Mahavansa, and Sihalavatthu (Possibly 2nd century B.C.). There was also coconut, gingili, and erandu oil. Mustard oil is mentioned in Sikhavalanda vinisa (10 century ). Butter and ghee, were also used as cooking oil. Condiments included pepper, cumin seed, mustard, dried ginger, salt, chillies, oil and coconut

The vegetables mentioned in the literary sources of the ancient period are, pumpkin, ash pumpkin (puhul.), and two kinds of beans, black and white. The following vegetables appear in the mediaeval literature, kakiri, puhul, del, tampala, cucumber, tibbatu, labu, vatakolu, alupuhul, green herb, lotus roots, karabatu, vambatu, and wattaka. Saddharmalankaraya, refers to varieties of yam. Seeds of hal, beraliya, madu and plant hearts of kitul, indi, madu, and thala were ground to flour and used for various preparations. (Vidurava, 19(1) 1999 p 43)

Dairy products formed an important item of diet. The ancients consumed a great deal of milk and milk products. In the ancient period clarified butter, ghee, and curd were prepared from milk. Pali and Sinhala literature refers to milk, curd, butter milk, ghee and butter (venderu.) There are medieval references to the five products from a cow (pasgorasa), namely milk, curd, buttermilk, butter (venderu) and ghee. I have not found any mention of buffalo milk or curd in the writings I have looked at.

Starting from prehistoric times, the Sinhalese were carnivorous. They were never vegetarian. Evidence shows that turtles were eaten around 800 to 250 BC. They also ate tortoises and wild boar during this period. In the ancient period, beef eating was forbidden, and considered abominable but there was no such stigma over fish. They ate plenty of fish and seafood in the ancient period. The classical texts refer to kudamassa, lula, shark as well as eel, prawns and shrimp. This carnivorous style continued into the medieval period. There are medieval references to pork, rabbit, venison, pigeon, snipe, fowl, river fish, peafowl, turtle eggs and fowl eggs. A 10th century inscription at Medirigiriya, indicates that goat and chicken meat was provided for the inmates of the hospital located there. Samanthapana (12 century) refers to food centres. That sold cooked meat. Saddharmaratnavaliya said that some people always had a meat dish or fish dish.

The medieval literature talks of honey, jaggery, and sugar cane juice. Honey and jaggery are mentioned in the sources for the ancient period too. According to the Sikhavalanda, vinisa, jaggery was made from palmyrah and coconut. Sweets were delicacies, especially those made of rice flour. The medieval literature refers to kavun, pani kavum, tala, atirasa, talaguli, and aggala. Most of these were made out of rice flour and included as ingredients, green gram, jaggery, sugair cane, and sugar- cane-jaggery called uk sakuru. Machines were used to extract the juice from sugar cane (ukyantra). The ancient Sinhalese liked fruits. There are medieval references to amba, vala, varaka, jambu, kehel, and beli. Saddharmalankaraya refers to varieties of mango and banana.

Betel has been chewed in ancient and medieval times. Visuddhi magga (5th century) stated that betel was offered to a thief who was led to the scaffold. Badulla pillar inscription of Udaya IV (946-954) prohibited the sale of betel, leaves and areca nuts from places other than sheds intended for the purpose. Ariyapala found that betel and chunam were mentioned in medieval inscriptions. It was common to chew this after meals. They chewed it while listening to religious sermons too.

The medieval literature refers to beverages. According to the Sikhavalanda vinisa, drinks were made from mango, rose apple, plantains, ata kesel, olu, uguressa, and mee. There was also king coconut water. According to the Visuddhi magga sannaya (13 century) water was purified by putting ingini seeds inside the vessel. Intoxicating beverages were available in the ancient period. In one jataka story the village headman banned the sale of intoxicating drinks in the area under his Jurisdiction. Rasavahini (14th century) refers to a drinking party organised on a very elaborate scale for Dutugemunu by Gotaimbara

There has been an addiction to toddy in the medieval period. The Saddharamaratnavali is full of references to the drinking of toddy. It appears to have been sold in taverns. They all drank it, from king to commoner. It was a common drink, judging by the literature and there was an illicit sale in liquor going on as well, declared M. B. Ariyapala. ‘It may have been consumed on a large scale’ he said. We must therefore accept the fact that the ancient and medival Sinhalese were neither vegetarian nor teetotal. They ate flesh and they got drunk.

The medieval literature reflects the difference in the food eaten by the different social groups. The texts refer to the sumptuous dishes served at alms givings. The poor ate cooked unpolished rice with river fish. Samantapasadika refers to food centres within the city where meats, including cooked meats and sweets were available for sale. The excavations at Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura in the 1980s, unearthed a food heater made of burnt clay. (Sunday Observer 15.2.2004 p 34.)

Inland fishing was an acceptable economic activity during the ancient period. The Periyankulam rock inscription dated to Vasabha (67 - 111) showed that there was widespread fishing at the time. Fish were bred in reservoirs, canals, streams and ponds. Buddhagosa (5th century) records that people bought fish from state owned irrigation works and village irrigation works. They bred them in ponds in the back garden of their houses and caught two or three for their meals each day. They also reared fish in small streams and reservoirs. Paranavitana stated that fishing rights in state owned irrigation works were sometimes farmed out to individuals. Inscriptions such as that of Sena 11 (833-853) indicated that in certain areas fishing was prohibited, as by the side of the Mahavihara. The Culavamsa and Saddharmaratnavaliya show that fish was marketed and sold. It was also bartered for other commodities such as rice, ghee and milk.

There was a sizeable animal husbandry sector. There are references to cattle trade from ancient times. Inscriptions of the 9th and 10th centuries refer to buffaloes, oxen, and milk cows in small hamlets and villages. The king, the monasteries, and individuals all owned buffalo and cattle. Buffaloes could be hired in the medieval period. There are medieval references to the rearing of pigs, goats and poultry. Goats were bred for butter, meat and milk. Fowls for their eggs and flesh. There is no information on the breeding of pigs in the ancient period.

Cows were bred solely for milk. Beef eating was forbidden, and considered abominable. Theft of cattle was punished with branding under the armpit. If the stolen animal was slaughtered the punishment was death. Cattle were branded with identification. Marks to indicate ownership. Some herds consisted of more than a thousand animals. Cattle rearing was on such a large scale that there were separate villages for cowherds. There were communal grazing grounds and indigenous veterinary medicine for the cattle.

Cattle rearing had become an important economic activity by 4th century BC. It had become so important that even Buddhagosha (5th century) referred to techniques of cattle rearing. The cowherd was expected to know the exact number of cattle he was looking after. He was expected to take cattle to the same spot only once in five or seven days, to allow new grass to grow in pasture lands, He was expected to look after the weaker animals, and to also look after the leader of the herd. Food for cattle included rice gruel and coconut mixed with sesame. The 5th century Pali commentary, Papancasudani, described the manner in which a cow should be milked to obtain the amount of milk. Cattle hides were used for footwear, horns for making and ornamental items, indicating that further use was made of the animal, once it had died.

The earliest reference to cinnamon of Sri Lanka is found in a l3th century source. In the 14th century, Ibn Batuta referred to the cinnamon from Sri Lanka. The first reference to a coconut plantation is in an inscription from the reign of Mahadathika Mahanage (7-19 AD) at Mihintale. In the fifth and sixth centuries, there are references to extensive coconut plantations, some of which were owned by monasteries. Culavamsa refers to a large coconut plantation three yojanas in extent, close to Mannar, laid out by Aggabodhi 1 (571-604). Galapata Vihara rock inscription refers to land planted with coconut and arecanut. There are references in the medieval period to varieties of coconut and arecanut.

Coconut cultivation expanded in the 14th century and there are references to coconut plantations along the seacoast in Kalutara, Bentota, Totagamuwa, and Kapkanduru in Ruhuna. Sandesa, poems refer to coconut plantations at Moratuwa, Kaburugamuwa, and from Kelaniya to Karagala. The coconut tree provided food, drink, fuel, household utensils, and building materials for the community.

There are references to home gardens in the inscriptions of the ancient period. In the medieval period, these gardens were known as gevatu or arub. The Kavsilumina (13 century) has a section that could be considered a description of the home gardens of that time. It said that the home garden contained plants that supply ingredients for curries, such as turmeric, mustard, cloves and onions, medicinal plants such as iriveriya and ginger, vegetables such as ash plantains, brinjals, batu, komadu, cucumber, pulses such as undu, mun, kollu, fruit trees such as mango and jak as well as coconut, arecanut, palmyrah, and gingili. The medieval literature also refers to kitul, tamarind, betel, orange, bananas, jak, pepper and sugarcane. Yams such as sweet potatoes, katuala, hiriala, gonala were also cultivated. (Vidurava, 19:1 1999 p 43.) This mixed cultivation helped to make the household self sufficient in food. Mixed cultivation could be found today in the wet zone, central hills and rainier localities of the dry zone.

Almost every village in the dry zone had its own village tank, which was capable of supplying water for the cultivation of an average of ten acres of ground. The tank created a high water table, which made it easy to dig wells and construct ponds. Houses were located immediately below the tank bund so that they were situated between the tank and the fields. The hills were left forested. These forests provided medic herbs, fruits, and other produce, fuel for cooking, timber for building and also protection from wind. The forest on the lower slopes was used for chena cultivation.

The mountain region above 2500 feet was largely unpopulated until the 9th and 10th centuries. The large scale settlements there started only after the 13 century. Terraced paddy fields were skilfully constructed obtaining water from natural streams that rarely failed. The highland that could not be converted into paddy fields was used by the villager to build his house, to plant fruit trees, and to grow vegetables and other crops. The forests which provided honey, jungle rope, firewood, fence sticks, timber and leaf manure and pasture for cattle were at a higher level.

The literary sources dealing with Sri Lanka’s ancient period do not say much about food, but the medieval literature has a significant amount of information on the subject. Rice is the most frequently mentioned food in the medieval literature. There is a reference in Culavanisa to scented Rice stored in granaries for three years on various layers of aromatic drugs. There are references to roasted rice and to milk rice mixed with ghee. Rice was usually eaten with cooked meat and vegetables. Today we would call this ‘rice and curry’. Rice was eaten for the morning meal as well. Various kinds of millet such as meneri, amu, and tanahal were also consumed during the ancient period. Gruel, green gram soup and kirikanda are mentioned in the medieval period.

Curries were fried and tempered. Edible oil was obtained mostly from sesame in the ancient period and that explains the frequent reference to ‘tala hen’ in the texts. Sesamum oil (ginselly) is referred to in Mahavansa, and Sihalavatthu (Possibly 2nd century B.C.). There was also coconut, gingili, and erandu oil. Mustard oil is mentioned in Sikhavalanda vinisa (10 century). Butter and ghee, were also used as cooking oil. Condiments included pepper, cumin seed, mustard, dried ginger, salt, chillies, oil and coconut

The vegetables mentioned in the literary sources of the ancient period are, pumpkin, ash pumpkin (puhul), and two kinds of beans, black and white. The following vegetables appear in the mediaeval literature, kakiri, puhul, del, tampala, cucumber, tibbatu, labu, vatakolu, alupuhul, green herb, lotus roots, karabatu, vambatu, and wattaka. Saddharmalankaraya, refers to varieties of yam. Seeds of hal, beraliya, madu and plant hearts of kitul, indi, madu, and thala were ground to flour and used for various preparations. (Vidurava, 19(1) 1999 p 43)

Dairy products formed an important item of diet. The ancients consumed a great deal of milk and milk products. In the ancient period clarified butter, ghee, and curd were prepared from milk. Pali and Sinhala literature refers to milk, curd, butter milk, ghee and butter (venderu.) There are medieval references to the five products from a cow (pasgorasa), namely milk, curd, buttermilk, butter (venderu) and ghee. I have not found any mention of buffalo milk or curd in the writings I have looked at.

Starting from prehistoric times, the Sinhalese were carnivorous. They were never vegetarian. Evidence shows that turtles were eaten around 800 to 250 BC. They also ate tortoises and wild boar during this period. In the ancient period, beef eating was forbidden, and considered abominable but there was no such stigma over fish. They ate plenty of fish and seafood in the ancient period. The classical texts refer to kudamassa, lula, shark as well as eel, prawns and shrimp. This carnivorous style continued into the medieval period. There are medieval references to pork, rabbit, venison, pigeon, snipe, fowl, river fish, peafowl, turtle eggs and fowl eggs. A 10th century inscription at Medirigiriya, indicates that goat and chicken meat was provided for the inmates of the hospital located there. Samanthapana (12 century) refers to food centres. That sold cooked meat. Saddharmaratnavaliya said that some people always had a meat dish or fish dish.

The medieval literature talks of honey, jaggery, and sugar cane juice. Honey and jaggery are mentioned in the sources for the ancient period too. According to the Sikhavalanda, vinisa, jaggery was made from palmyrah and coconut. Sweets were delicacies, especially those made of rice flour. The medieval literature refers to kavun, pani kavum, tala, atirasa, talaguli, and aggala. Most of these were made out of rice flour and included as ingredients, green gram, jaggery, sugair cane, and sugar- cane-jaggery called uk sakuru. Machines were used to extract the juice from sugar cane (ukyantra). The ancient Sinhalese liked fruits. There are medieval references to amba, vala, varaka, jambu, kehel, and beli. Saddharmalankaraya refers to varieties of mango and banana.

Betel has been chewed in ancient and medieval times. Visuddhi magga (5th century) stated that betel was offered to a thief who was led to the scaffold. Badulla pillar inscription of Udaya IV (946-954) prohibited the sale of betel, leaves and areca nuts from places other than sheds intended for the purpose. Ariyapala found that betel and chunam were mentioned in medieval inscriptions. It was common to chew this after meals. They chewed it while listening to religious sermons too.

The medieval literature refers to beverages. According to the Sikhavalanda vinisa, drinks were made from mango, rose apple, plantains, ata kesel, olu, uguressa, and mee. There was also king coconut water. According to the Visuddhi magga sannaya (13 century) water was purified by putting ingini seeds inside the vessel. Intoxicating beverages were available in the ancient period. In one jataka story the village headman banned the sale of intoxicating drinks in the area under his Jurisdiction. Rasavahini (14th century) refers to a drinking party organised on a very elaborate scale for Dutugemunu by Gotaimbara

There has been an addiction to toddy in the medieval period. The Saddharamaratnavali is full of references to the drinking of toddy. It appears to have been sold in taverns. They all drank it, from king to commoner. It was a common drink, judging by the literature and there was an illicit sale in liquor going on as well, declared M. B. Ariyapala. ‘It may have been consumed on a large scale’ he said. We must therefore accept the fact that the ancient and medival Sinhalese were neither vegetarian nor teetotal. They ate flesh and they got drunk.

The medieval literature reflects the difference in the food eaten by the different social groups. The texts refer to the sumptuous dishes served at alms givings. The poor ate cooked unpolished rice with river fish. Samantapasadika refers to food centres within the city where meats, including cooked meats and sweets were available for sale. The excavations at Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura in the 1980s, unearthed a food heater made of burnt clay. (Sunday Observer 15.2.2004 p 34.)

Inland fishing was an acceptable economic activity during the ancient period. The Periyankulam rock inscription dated to Vasabha (67 - 111) showed that there was widespread fishing at the time. Fish were bred in reservoirs, canals, streams and ponds. Buddhagosa (5th century) records that people bought fish from state owned irrigation works and village irrigation works. They bred them in ponds in the back garden of their houses and caught two or three for their meals each day. They also reared fish in small streams and reservoirs. Paranavitana stated that fishing rights in state owned irrigation works were sometimes farmed out to individuals. Inscriptions such as that of Sena II (833-853) indicated that in certain areas fishing was prohibited, as by the side of the Mahavihara. The Culavamsa and Saddharmaratnavaliya show that fish was marketed and sold. It was also bartered for other commodities such as rice, ghee and milk.

There was a sizeable animal husbandry sector. There are references to cattle trade from ancient times. Inscriptions of the 9th and 10th centuries refer to buffaloes, oxen, and milk cows in small hamlets and villages. The king, the monasteries, and individuals all owned buffalo and cattle. Buffaloes could be hired in the medieval period. There are medieval references to the rearing of pigs, goats and poultry. Goats were bred for butter, meat and milk. Fowls for their eggs and flesh. There is no information on the breeding of pigs in the ancient period.

Cows were bred solely for milk. Beef eating was forbidden, and considered abominable. Theft of cattle was punished with branding under the armpit. If the stolen animal was slaughtered the punishment was death. Cattle were branded with identification. Marks to indicate ownership. Some herds consisted of more than a thousand animals. Cattle rearing was on such a large scale that there were separate villages for cowherds. There were communal grazing grounds and indigenous veterinary medicine for the cattle.

Cattle rearing had become an important economic activity by 4th century BC. It had become so important that even Buddhagosha (5th century) referred to techniques of cattle rearing. The cow herd was expected to know the exact number of cattle he was looking after. He was expected to take cattle to the same spot only once in five or seven days, to allow new grass to grow in pasture lands, he was expected to look after the weaker animals, and to also look after the leader of the herd. Food for cattle included rice gruel and coconut mixed with sesame. The 5th century Pali commentary, Papancasudani, described the manner in which a cow should be milked to obtain the amount of milk. Cattle hides were used for footwear, horns for making and ornamental items, indicating that further use was made of the animal, once it had died.


The writings of M. B. Ariyapala, H. Ellawala, R. A. L. H. Gunawardana, W. I. Siriweera, V. Vitharana, V. E. A. Wickramanayake were used for this essay.


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 Post Posted: Tue Aug 01, 2006 9:06 am 
interesting article about srilakan food but it is erroneous in one historical aspect.
sri lanka or all of asia had no chillies till they were brought over from mexico by columbus. they were brought over to asia by vasco de gama and has been used extensively since.


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