A Lady painted on Sigiriya Rock, the inscription predates this painting over 500 years.

A Lady painted on Sigiriya Rock, the inscription of Tosa predates this painting by over 500 years.

A Rock Inscription at Sigiriya described by Dr S Paranavitane in Insciption of Ceylon Volume I No 1186 is shown below. He states that a Dealer in Tamarind named Sala and his dealings in Tamarind may not have been without profit., Sala may have supplied this sour substance which may have been in great demand in the cities. His preoccupation with a Courtesanv[Vesaya] appropriately named Tosa[ Delight] is on the inscription.Vesya means the the revenue from Courtsans.

Inscription at SigiriThe women who engaged in these activities are described by Dr Nandadeva Wijesekera BA, PhD in the book Anthropological Gleanings from Sinhala Literture as below

Hansa Sandeshaya V 16
These woman were young. Their wanderings by day or night are in search of lovers (paramours). Such women constituted- a regular feature of the society in ancient times.

Tisara Sandesaya Verse 39 & 86

These women who roamed the city streets did not wear bright ornaments. By dawn they shone by their own beauty .

Saddharmaratnavaliya Page 543
The prostitutes were accustomed to adopt special postures and attitudes. They behaved so with the idea of enticing men. They stand before men and wear the waist cloth over and over again even if it is not loose. They loosen the hair on head and tie it several times. After demonstrating in this manner, they laugh loudly

Saddharmaratnavaliya Page 478
There were prostitutes who accepted money (gold pieces) to be retained as a mistress of a person for a fixed period of time.’ During this period, the woman remained faithful to the same person until he returned, even though she was offered at thousand gold pieces by another suitor.

Saddharmaratnavaliya Page 1027
A detailed account of the behavior of a woman to induce sex is given in one literary work. The woman behaves like an actress or an acrobat. Diverse movements adopted in dancing, singing, twisting, bending, rising are exhibited in every possible way. She bites her nails crosses her legs. She pretends to be playing with children. She cries and laughs aloud. She adorns herself . Looking at one’s face. she shakes her hips and exhibits the female organ. She exposes her thighs. She lays bare her breasts by removing the shawl covering the upper body. The armpits are shewn, She winks, The tongue is put out.Hair on head is loosened. The lower garment (waist cloth) is loosened and is worn tight over and over again. She ties the hair again and again.

A story from the Buddhist Jatakas states that courtesan named Vasavadatta who demanded 500 silver pieces or kahapanas as the price for her favours, it is said that the Indian ladies were as expensive as the Greek Hetairae of Corinth.

If what was in practiced in India was in vogue in the Island, this would have been a lucrative business. Shown below is some Laws regarding this trade in the days of Chandragupta[ 300 BC], the Grandfather of King Asoka.



Profession to be supervised

The regulations regarding courtesans and prostitutes also apply to actors, dancers,  singers, musicians, story tellers, bards, rope  dancers[acrobats],juggler, wondering minstrels  people who deal  in women and women who deal in secret professions.

The wives  of actors and similar entertainers shall  be taught language the science of signs and signals. They shall be employed using the profession  their relatives [as a cover] to detect  delude or murder the wicked.

Training of Prostitutes and  Courtesans

The state shall bear expenditure on training  courtesans, prostitute and actresses  in the following accomplishment’s , singing  playing musical  instruments,(including  the Vina, the flute and the mridangam),  conversing, reciting, dancing , acting, writing painting and mind-reading , preparing garlands, shampooing and making love.

Ravantha- the Vina, a string Instrement.

Ravantha– the Vina, a string Instrument.

Their sons shall also be trained [at state expense] to be producers of  plays and dances

Management of Brothels.

A beautiful young and talented woman, whether a member or a courtesans family or not,shall be appointed as the .madam of a brothel; she shall be given, on appointment, grant of i000panas[for setting up the establishment.’

A deputy shall be appointed with a grant of 500 panas.

If the madam of a brothel dies or goes away, her daughter or sister shall take over  the establishment. Or the madam  before her departure appoint a deputy [promoting her own deputy to be the head].

If no such arrangement  are possible the establishment shall  revert to the King [and the chief controller shall place it under the charge of  someone else.

Court attendants:

Ladies attending on a - Abeyagiri Vihare.

Ladies attending on a King Mahasen – Jetwana Dagebo.[ 3 Cent AD]

Courtesans shall be appointed to at attend  on the King in one of three grades, according to their beauty and  the splendour of their make-up and ornaments. The lowest grade, on a salary of 1000 Panas per month, shall hold the umbrella over the King, the middle grade  on a salary of 2000 panas  per month, shall carry his water -jug and  the highest, on a salary of 3000 panas per month, shall be his fan bearer.


In order to add distinction, courtesans of the lower grade shall attend on the King when he is carried in his palanquin, the middle  grade when he is seated on his throne and the highest shall accompany in his chariot.

Courtesans who are no longer beautiful shall be put in charge supervising court attendants.

Sons of courtesans shall work as the King’s minstrels from the age of eight.

[Reference has been made LATER t0 preventing dangers to the King from Queens by ensuring that only trusted courtesans attended on them.

Courtesans shall cleanse themselves with baths and change into fresh garments before attending on the Queen. Release and retirement.

The payment for obtaining the release of a courtesan [the head of an establishment ] shall be 24,000 panas and for her son, 12,00panas.

when they can no longer work ,prostitutes under a madam in an establishment shall be given work in the pantry or kitchen. Any one who does not work but is kept by someone shall pay 1 1/4 panas [per month?l as compensation.

Obligations of a prostitute

A prostitute shall not hand over her jewellery and ornaments to anyone except the madam and shall not sell or mortgage them.

A prostitute shall not show dislike [and refuse service] to a client after receiving payment from him.

She shall not abuse a client, disfigure him or cause him physical injury.

She shall not refuse to sleep with a client staying overnight, unless the client has physical defects or is ill.

She shall not disobey the King’s command to attend on a particular person.

Protection of prostitutes:

The  proper procedure shall be used to take a virgin daughter of, whether she is willing or not; coercive methods shall not used.

No one shall abduct a prostitute, keep her confined against her will or  spoil her beauty by wounding her.

A client shall not rob a prostitute of her jewellery, ornaments  or belongings nor cheat her of the payment due to her.


In establishments

Every prostitute shall report the persons entertained, the payments received and the net income to the Chief Controller.

The Chief Controller shall keep an account of the payments and  gifts  received by each prostitute  her total income, expenditure and net income.

He shall ensure that prostitutes do not incur excessive expenditure

Independent prostitutes

Women who live by their beauty (rupajiva) [ not in state controlled establishments ] shall pay a tax of one-sixth of their earnings

[The special taxes levied in times of financial distress on prostitutes and brothel keepers are described in 5.2.21

Foreign entertainers:

Foreign entertainers shall pay a license fee show of 5 panas per {show.


In all cases, the punishment prescribed shall be imposed for the first offence; it shall be doubled for the second and trebled for the third. If the offence is committed a fourth time, any punishment may be awarded, as the King pleases.

Violations by a prostitute:

Handing over ornaments and jewellery to an unauthorized person is 4 1/4 panas

Selling or mortgaging her belongings is 50 1/4 panas

Abusing a client is 24 panas

Causing physical injury to a client 48 panas

Disfigurement (e.g. cutting off a client’s ear)  is 51 3/4 panas

Showing dislike to a client after receiving payment is Double the fee

Refusing to sleep with an overnight client is 8 times the fee

Disobeying a command of the King to attend on someone is 1000 strokes of the whip or  5000 panas

Killing a client is Death by burning alive or by drowning

Offences against a prostitute:

For making a courtesan’s daughter lose her virginity without her mother’s consent is

54 panas fine plus compensation to the mother of 15 times the fee for a visit

Cheating a prostitute or robbing her of her ornaments, or belongings is 8  times the amount

Using coercion to take a consenting virgin from a prostitute’s family is Lowest SP

Using coercion to take an unwilling virgin from a prostitute’s family is Highest SP

Raping a prostitute, is  12 panas

Gang rape of a prostitute is 24 panas for each

Abducting, confining or disfiguring depending on the status of the victim is 1000 to 2000 panas

Killing a courtesan who has been appointed head of establishment is 3 times the release price

Killing a mother, daughter or a prostitute in an establishment is Highest SP


For having sexual relations with the exclusive mistress of another, is 48 panas



  1. Just curious, where did the “foreign entertainers” come from?

    • They were sent as presents or with greeting from Kings with in the Indian Ocean. Many Princess were exchanged , this was a means of bonding nations.Even during the Portuguese period a Sinhala Princess was taken away by envoys from Burma to be wedded to the King.Many Princess were brought down from Kalinga and other states. Even Roman and Africam girls may have been sold here by traders.

      • This 5.2.21…would be from the Mahavamsa, would it? Also this is quite an interesting look into this segment of the daily lives of people. A character of mine is a courtesan, and takes care of a noblewoman (I’m not finished my drafts just yet) and I’ve described a large establishment in my work. Was it more normal for them to be headed by a man or by a woman, because in this case it’s a man. What do you make of it?

  2. 5.2.21 is Arthasastra Book 5, part 2. 21 verse

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