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 Post subject: Management in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:56 pm 
Management in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka

The monks at the Abhayagiri hermitages were directed to collect the income from the villages belong to these hermitages. At the end of the year, the monks in the hermitages had to present a statement of income, expenditure and balance in hand for perusal by the monks nominated for the purpose by the main monastery. If any dishonesty was detected, the offender was to be made to restore the property in question. Disputes were to be inquired into by the senior monks who kept the register at Abhayagiri. Individual monks who enjoyed property belonging to the monastery also were required to show their accounts.


by Kamalika Pieris
@ The Island - Dec 2007


From the early Anuradhapura period onwards there was an elaborately organised and efficiently run administrative system in Sri Lanka. Managerial positions were created to ensure smooth delivery of administrative decisions. Brahmi inscriptions which record cave donations refer to the positions of ‘officer in charge of the administration of the city’ and ‘superintendent of state departments.’ There were many superintendents, known as ‘adeka’. Ninth century inscriptions show that the ‘royal departments’ had two classes of officials, senior (executive) and junior (non-executive).

The central administration consisted of a series of subject departments. Each department had a head with designated officers working under him. The treasury was under the bhandagarika. There was an inner treasury and an outer treasury with separate officers for each. Subjects were divided into categories. The tax department had a collector of road tax, collector of water tax and collector of higher taxes. Line management was practised. Inscriptions of the 9th century refer to superintendent of works and inspector of works, field overseer and work overseer. There were plenty of middle level officers. The inscriptions speak of agriculture officer, customs officer, warden of land allotments and warden of labour. Supporting staff were provided. According to the Kaduruwewa inscription there were several lesser Dovarika under the senior one, the Mahadoratana. There were clerical positions. One was the ‘clerk attending to security division’.

Important matters were set down in writing and the records were preserved. Proceedings of the royal court were recorded and preserved in the time of Udaya I. Registers were maintained. The divel poth listed the details of every divel holding. Donations were noted and the original record of the donation was kept in the king’s archives. Ruvanvelisaya inscription states that whenever a donation was made to an institution belonging to Mahavihara, the original was filed in the archives at Loha maha paya.

There is considerable information on the management of Buddhist monasteries. The Mihintale tablets of Mahinda IV (10th century) as well as the ‘Sanskrit inscription’ of Abhayagiri (9th century) give information on the management of Cetiyagiri and Abhayagiri monasteries. They show that management methods were known and practised in ancient Sri Lanka. The Mihintale tablets show that Chetiyagiri had an elaborately organised system of management.

Responsibility for the management of each monastery lay with the monks of that monastery. The monks of the two mulas and the six avasas of Abhayagiri were responsible for the administration of their institutions. But the final authority lay with the monks at the main monastery. The Chetiyagiri committee sometimes sat in session with a group of monks representing the two fraternities of the Abhayagiri monastery to administer Chetiyagiri matters. Disputes at the minor institutions were settled by the monks from the main monastery.

Inscriptions of the period between 800-1200 AD show that the monasteries were managed through a committee system involving many officials working for wages. These officials supervised the work, collected revenue and maintained the monastic buildings. At Abhayagiri however, monastic management was directly under the monks. There was a committee of management with lay officers, but they came under the direct supervision of the monks. There is evidence to show that monks engaged in management at Abhayagiri were paid.

At Chetiyagiri the overall administration was in the hands of a committee of management of eight persons. The titles of the persons on the committee are given in the Mihintale tablets, but historians have not been able to decide on the meaning of the terms. This committee was appointed by the monastery, and reported to a group of monks who represented the monastery. Monks were prohibited from appointing relatives to the committee. All relatives of monks appointed to office at the monastery were to be dismissed. Officials were to be instructed or reproached by the committee of monks, not by individual monks. Meetings of committee were held in the ‘inner monastery’. There was a ‘junior scribe’ to attend to the clerical work arising from its proceedings. The committee members were paid. They got the highest remuneration At Abhayagiri the payment to a committee member depended on the efficiency he showed in carrying out his duties.

The committee supervised the day to day running of the establishment. Three officials had to be present without fail, at the ‘pay office’ when allowances were distributed, at the place where raw rice was given for cooking and in the refectory when the food was distributed to the monks. The monastery employees were administered by the committee. The sureties and guarantors provided by the employees were accepted by them. No trees on monastic grounds could be felled without the permission of the committee and any person who violated this was liable to a fine. There seems to have been an official who liaised between Chetiyagiri and its hermitages.

This committee of management has similarities with the committee system operating in secular administration. Badulla pillar inscription of Udaya IV (946-954) refers to committees of eight persons. Some of the designations given for Chetiyagiri committee members are found in secular records of the 8th and 9th century. The lesser officials can be traced back as far as the 5th century. The designation ‘pirivahunava’ is found in two secular inscriptions, one of which is the Badulla inscription.

Mihintale tablets give detailed instructions on the management of administrative affairs. It was compulsory to maintain records. There was a monastery register known as ‘paspot’. Abhayagiri stipulated that upon appointment, the name of the employee and exact nature of his duties were to be entered in the register. Mihintale tablet stipulated that all receipts from estates as well as all payment made for the supply of food, for repairs and allowances were also recorded in the register. At Abhayagiri this register was maintained by the monks. At Chetiyagiri it was maintained by a layman. There was also a register listing the names of the monks in the monastery.

Mihintale tablets prescribe that the committee of management should attend to the duties connected with the revenue and expenditure of the main monastery as well as the subsidiary institutions attached to it. This would not have been an easy task. The large monasteries were rich. They owned vast extents of land, many buildings, villages and irrigation works. They also owned cattle and salterns. Monasteries also had a cash income. Money was used to purchase robes for monks, certain items which were not manufactured in the monastery and for the material needed for monastic repairs. In a few instances, allowances were also paid in gold. Institutions within a monastery such as ‘dage’ and ‘pilimage’ had separate endowments and separate officials.

I think that the monasteries worked according to a budget. Records show that allocations were made. Mihintale tablets stipulated that the produce from two villages, Damgamiya and Algamiya, were to be used for repairs at Katu maha saya and Kiriband pavu dagoba respectively. However, all offerings at these two shrines as well as the shrines of the main monastery together with one ‘yal’ of paddy and one hundred kalandas of gold were to be allocated for repairs at the main monastery.

At Abhayagiri a 10th century record stated that the income from the villages and the land set apart for meeting the cost of repairs should be used for that purpose alone. If there were no such funds, whatever was left from funds set aside for food and clothing was to be used. If there was no balance from the funds set apart for food, then half of the funds set apart for robes were to be used for repairs. Monks who failed to carry out these instructions were to be expelled from the monastery. .

The monasteries maintained elaborate accounts. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana remarked that the book keeping and accounting of the monastery was ‘worthy of a business house.’ Abhayagiri obtained regular accounts from all institutions under it. Abhayagiri stipulated that separate statements of accounts, giving income, expenditure and the payments made to employees be prepared for each of the various establishments attached to monastery, such as Bo tree, refectory and image house. According to the inscription of Kassapa V (914-923) the monks appointed a committee of eight members to obtain the accounts of the Maha Kapara fraternity and prepare the statement of accounts, which was to be presented to the general assembly of Abhayagiri monks at the end of year. The committee consisted of both junior and senior monks.

The monks at the Abhayagiri hermitages were directed to collect the income from the villages belonging to these hermitages. At the end of the year, the monks in the hermitages had to present a statement of income, expenditure and balance in hand for perusal by the monks nominated for the purpose by the main monastery. If any dishonesty was detected, the offender was to be made to restore the property in question. Disputes were to be inquired into by the senior monks who kept the register at Abhayagiri. Individual monks who enjoyed property belonging to the monastery also were required to show their accounts. Minor monasteries had to submit their accounts to the main monastery.

At Chetiyagiri 145 kaland and one aka in gold were set apart for its annual expenses. In 1924, Codrington calculated that this added up to more than ten thousand English grains of gold.


The committee of management at Chetiyagiri had to prepare a daily statement of accounts from the entries in the registers. This was signed and placed in a locked casket. The committee had its own seal and the casket was stamped with this seal. Since this was done daily, the committee of management knew the day today state of its finances and was able to exert full control over financial matters and to reduce chances of financial misappropriation. At the end of the month, a monthly statement of accounts was prepared from the daily statements. At the end of the year, the twelve monthly statements were used to prepare the annual statement of accounts. Kaludiyapokuna inscription directs officials to submit accounts before a certain date in October or November.


This statement of accounts was presented to the assembly of monks. Monks representing the two mulas of Abhayagiri nikaya met the committee of management at Chetiyagiri and looked at the statement of accounts. They then submitted the annual statement to the general assembly of Abhayagiri monastery for ratification. It is likely that accounting was both in cash and kind. Gunawardana suggests that the two incomes were totalled and accounted separately.


Monasteries employed a large number of persons. The Chetiyagiri and Abhayagiri inscriptions contain a list of the various types of workers, with detailed information regarding services and remuneration. Chetiyagiri monastery employed more than a 170 workers. They included officials connected to the ceremonial and ritual aspects of the monastery as well as support staff. There was an officer in charge of repairs, with 12 men under him. There was a permanent staff of craftsmen for renovation work. There was a caretaker for the storehouse. Cooks were employed for the kitchen. A register of employees was maintained.


Monastery employment was bounded by all sorts of conditions. The assignments were very specific At Chetiyagiri and Abhayagiri carpenters, brick makers and stone cutters had to serve the monastery 65 days per year. Some employees had to provide sureties and guarantors to ensure the reimbursement of any loss that might be incurred by them. Monastery work was supervised. Some of the craftsmen at Chetiyagiri such as carpenters, brick makers, and stone cutters, were organised under ‘chief master artisans’ and ‘master artisans.’ The monastery owned all the implements needed for monastery work. Kankavitarani lists as monastery property the metal implements used by craftsmen such as carpenters, leather workers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths and lapidaries and the agricultural implements like hoes, spade, and axes.


Craftsmen who supplied the monastery with goods were given specific quotas. Mihintale tablets refer to five potters who had to provide five vessels a day, another potter had to supply ten bowls and ten water pots every month. These potters provided exclusively for the monastery. There were time limits. If an employee failed to complete the work in the allotted time, the allotments of land made over to him were liable to be withdrawn. Chetiyagiri could dismiss employees and withdraw the allowances and land allotments made over to them of they failed in their duties. Gunawardana observed that monastery employment was like a contract between two unequal parties. However, Mihintale tablets also stipulated that no employee who had fulfilled his obligations should be harassed or dismissed.


Employees were paid from monastery resources. At Chetiyagiri payment was in terms of land and a daily allowance of rice. The land allotments made to the workers at Chetiyagiri amounted to more than 431 acres. There were paymasters. Walpola Rahula pointed out that every little detail of work necessary for the maintenance of the monastery was very carefully considered and remuneration for each item of work was assigned. Even such minor servants as flower gatherers were paid definite sums of money. Payment varied according to the work done and the rank of the workman.


At Chetiyagiri the officer in charge of repairs, and his 12 assistants, the stone workers, carpenters, and the temple official who supervised such work, the master lapidaries, goldsmiths, blacksmiths and painters, the florists who placed flowers in the relic houses, the washerman and carters all got varying amount of land. Craftsmen received relatively high emoluments. The highest was for master lapidaries, followed by potter, painter, florist and astrologer. Potters were given graded amounts of land for their services, as well as a daily allowance of rice. Cooks and washer men got more than the lesser administrative officials. The assistant to the ‘chief caretaker of the storehouse’ got less pay than his superior. The chief cook got more than the servant who procured the firewood. Some of the employees at Chetiyagiri received an allowance for clothing. Chetiyagiri also set apart three kiri of land to be assigned to washer men for laundering the garments of its employees. Employees wore an upper garment, a lower garment and a headdress.


The monasteries owned villages, reservoirs and irrigation channels. These also needed managing and monastic officials were in direct contact with tenants. Mihintale tablets give information on rights of tenants and remuneration. Fines to be levied for offences committed by tenants were specified.. Officials who went on tour were prohibited from demanding form monastic tenants anything other than the portion of rice they are entitled to. They were not to accept any presents. The monastery was entitled to dues from tenants using its canals, fields, and forests. Samantapasadika advocates tact when dealing with new tenants. The text suggests that new tenants be told that the earlier tenants had supplied certain services and goods to the monastery. It should be left to the new tenants to decide whether to do the same.

Management methods had percolated into the communal areas of the monastery as well. There were common refectories attached to large monasteries like Mahavihara, Abhayagiri and Mihintale. According to Rasavahini the Mahapali refectory had thousands of monks assembling there. Tickets were issued to monks before proceeding to the refectory for their ration of food.


The writings of M. Dias, R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, T. Hettiarachchy, S.Paranavitana, S. Ranawella, W.I. Siriweera and Walpola Rahula were used for this essay.


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