Galge InscriptionThe earliest Lawyer on Record.

In No. 1122,is a very old inscription[ 1 Cent BC- 1 Cent AD] there is reference to a personage named Naka, the proprietor of the Kadahalaka Tank,who is further distinguished as a Vohara. This word, which is the equivalent of Skt. Vayavahara,Pali. Vohara,means   ‘law’, or when treated. as a derivative in Old Sinhalese,’lawyer‘. He made the donation of a cave,in partnership with another person named Anulaya, and a lapidary whose name is not, preserved.. We have seen above that one of the categories of mahamattas [ The Three Chief Minister of Madhadan Empire during the period of the Buddha] was the Vohdrika, who had judicial functions to perform. It is not possible to ascertain whether the Vohara of our inscription was a dignitary of that status, or whether he practiced law in some other capacity.

 Silver kahapanas at SitulpavuThe Earliest Courts of Justice on record

 The above Inscription of the 2 Cent AD , Royal decree of King Gajabahu I [112-134 AD], that  two Kahapanas from the daily collection of Fines from the Two Great Courts of Justice at Dubala- yahala Gama and Akuju Mahagama was to given to the Cittabapata Monastery[ Present Situlpavu] for the purpose of medicine of the Bhikklhus residing there.

King Elara famous Bell of Justice hung up for any body who suffered injustice to ring.[Mahawansa]


The Responsibility of King- 

This was obtained from Dr Ariyapala’s  Society in Mediaeval Ceylon – For further reading click on   Dr Ariyapala Notes

Legal System in SLAncient Legal Alimony Payment and Punishment in Mahawansa.

a.King Vijeya separates from Kuveni and pays alimony of 1000 Kahapanas and separates from her.[ Mahawansa ChapterVII verse 61]. Read Arthsastra – Punishments

b.Having Sex with the Queen
The ancient punishment for sexual offenses. Any man caught or suspected having sexual relations with the Queen shall be boiled alive- For further reading the Punishment reccomended by Kautiliya in ancient Book , available and studied by our Kings Please click  Arthsastra – Punishments

 This same punishment meted out to the priest when a written letter was discovered written by the Queens Lover Aya- Utika( the King Brother whose writing was similar to that of the Priest), during the time of King Kelanitissa , the cause for the First Tsunami[ 1 Cent BC]. Mahavansa Chapter XXII Verses 13-19.



Interestingly from the earlier period of history we do not have such detailed information from lithic records about the secular and religious institutions ope rant in Sri Lankan society. Two of the most interesting secular records of the late Anuradhapura Period are the Badulla pillar inscription which describes the regulations governing town named Hopitigama-Padayviya which was situated near the Sorabora tank and the Vevalketiya inscription which gives us glimpses of the Legal system and the  administration of Justice during this time.
The Badulla pillar inscription as the author says “gives the most full and reliable data we have on local government” The reference here is to a well-developed market- town where the administrative machinery was special and was not normative for the larger part of the country,which would have consisted of villages. The author has drawn our attention to the fact that this inscription is the most informative contemporary record on the relationship between the royal officials and the semi-official landholders on the one hand and between each of them and the people at large

This whole record was the result of a complaint made to the king on the oppression suffered by the people,and the merchants at the hands of the servants of the local officials. This record informs us
that there was a practice by Kings and their officials of going on circuit to remote parts of the kingdom at which time People were free to bring their grievances to his notice. Furthermore established custom hallowed by time (Pere sirit) had strong validity and could not be transgressed (see Pages 330-33).

The laws

Chapter 6 of the book deals with the legal system and the administration of justice and again we come to know thal sirit or custom plays a major role.Custom,” says the author seems to have set the Pattern within which the lives of the People and society moved.”
The Vevalketiva Inscription is unique record provides us of considerable information the Crimes and punishments situation in late Anuradhapura period. The author draws our attention to the fact that the information provided here gives an insight into the mind of the age”. Interestedly some refer to “the five great crimes, which were most probably the “Pancanantariya kamma” referred to in Buddhist texts. The Sinhala term found in the inscriptions of the period is “pas maha savadda“. Royal officials on circuit were to inquire and judge cases involving those crimes. Murder (mini kota van), assault (kotavan)), robbery with assault (kanda pala soakam),theft or robbery (Sorakam) helping in these crimes (atpa vahalat giya) and the effacing of brand marks (anamakavan ) had to be judged by the officials (dadanayaka) when they went on circuit, and the judgement placed on record.
Professor Perera brings to our notice that there were three levels in the administration of justice. At the bottom of the scale was the summary dealing with transgression of custom and law at the village level where petty crimes, thefts and the like were settled or punishments meted out (p 341). At the second level the legal system was put into effect by the local royal officials and semi-officials and landholders.
The problems arising with regard to lands control led by the viharas fell into this category (p 345). And,finally justice at the highest level was administered by the Samdaruvan or the royal officials who represented the central administration (p 351). Also, it needs mention that there was the possibility of a final appeal to the king.
The above discussion deals with only a few aspects of the exhaustive study by Professor Lakshman S. Perera on the political institutions of the late Anuradhapura period.


The Determination of Fines at Village level- LS Perera

This determination of the fine to be levied is incidentally referred to several times and in each instant the people of the village who estimate it, and it was not done haphazardly but according to the Customs of the village The phrases-

a.pirikapa dakva dun dada,[E.Z lll, PP 71-100 (No 4,1nsp B 4-5, 13),); [EZ.V, 1955-66 (No 16), pp 177-195).

b.pere Sirit dada,-E.Z lll. Insp B 34-35;

c. kiru dand EZ I, pp 75-113 (No 7A,lnsp 51)

d.tira Kot gat dad.EZ .2 pp 9-14 (No.3).

e. gam vasiyan pas denuku ki dad,EZ.1 pp 113-120 (No 8,lnsp 34)

f. gam dannase EZ.I, pp 41-57 (No 4,lnsp 20)

all show that there was a system calculating the fine to suit the offense. One of the charges in the Badulla Pillar was that illegal flnes (annnyen dada)-EZ III pp 71-100( no 4 A 25-26); ;were levied by the semi-official landholders. The record now provides that all fines were to be estimated by the village officials such as Mandrandin, Vaniggramayan and Mahagramayan according to the Customs of the village (pere sirit) and the previous charter-(….davasa vavastha se)

The Anuradhapura slab of Kassapa V again contains a clause that if there be any dispute (Gingiriyak)about a fine the Royal Officials on circuit should appoint a Danda-nayaka to go into it and restore what should be restored.(danda-nayakayan hinda vicara-kot yut Hariya yutuvak harnn isa)EZ.I, pp 41-57 (No 4,lnsp23-24). Similarly the same record states that the same offence was not to be made the subject two fines-one by the Vihara officials and then by royal officials (patvu varadat vatala dand no ganna isa)-EZ I, Insp No 21.

Specific Fines
Fines were paid both in money and kind. The Vevalkatiya inscription measures all its fines tn kalandas and even has a fine as heavy as a hundred and twenty five kalandas as payable by the village if the culprits are not found. For assault without murder and abetment the fines was fifty kalandas-EZ.I. pp 241-251(No 21 Insp18, 20).The Badulla pillar prescribes for trading on the poya day a fine of a paddak of oil to be given as offering for lamps at Miyugun Vehera-EZ III , pp 71-100 ( no 4, Insp B 26-36- this inscription was from Sorabora Veva area], Failing that the customary fine had. to be paid. There is one example of fines being commuted for service . One would expect this to be a solution

where a person was unable to pay a fine. This states that where a villager cannot Pay a fine it was to b”u.,e,s”da ccording to village.custom and in lieu of the assessed fine he shall be made to perform tank work by undertaking portions of sixteen cubits in circumferance and a cubit in depth at the side of the Mina tank (kudin kula varajak ata gam sirit dand kira kiru dand Mina aka avata solos riyan gambura riyan kabul bagin gena vav mehe karaviya yutu)

Something akin to commuting can aiso be seen in the Vevalkatiya inscription where those who aided and abetted in murder had to Pay a fine of fifty kalandas of gold failing this ge-dad was to be exacted and if this was not forthcoming, his hands and feet were to be cut off. similarly for assault not amounting to murder the alternative to a fine of fifty kalandas of gold was the  appropriation of ge-dad.

Though dand and. dada were generally used. for fines, for crime and transgression of orders, there were besides lpecial fines called by different terms. That which appears most often in the inscriptions is ge-dad.


The exact meaning of this term is obscure but the usage of the term in the context of the inscriptions may provide a clue to its meaning. The Vevalkatiya inscription stated that for assault or for aiding in an assault the fine was to be fifty kalandas of gold. If this was not possible ge-dad was to be taken in each case[ EZ.I, pp 247-251(No 21,1ns18-23). Similar to this is the order in the Kaludiyapokuna inscription that Vihara servants who committed murder were to forfeit their ge-dad and were to be sent away, (unge ge-dad gena pitat karanu)[EZ.llI,pp 260-269 (No.27B,1nsp32-33); (Sig. Rep.I,1984, pp 214-216)].
In the Mihintale tablets, this same panishment was to be meted out to those Vihara servants who had transgressed the rules laid down in the kitika (me sirit ikut kamiyan ge-dand gena meheyin hariya yutu-EZ.I, pp 75-113 (No 7 A,1nsp 58)). The Anuradhapura slab inscription of Kassapa V states that those who come for sanctuary with the monks after
committing murder were to be banished to India but ge-dad was not to be taken from those coming through fear of anything else{EZ.I, PP 41-57 (No 4,in 25)]. This would mean that ge-dad was taken from those who came for sanctuary after committing murder.

It would appear from the se examples that was not a direct form of punishment like a fine but an alternative to punishment which cannot be meted out or which was taken from people banished to Indla. It was definitely a charge or an impost for more serious crimes like murder. The best interpretation for this term to suit all these contexts would be to regard it as some sort of security that was taken either at the place or residence or on entering some new place as when taking sanctuary. This security could be forfeited if fines were not paid or if the criminal was banished to India. These are not the only instances where security was taken.
In the Mihintale inscription ge-dad was placed alongside ko-dand kara, perelivar and from two villages that belonged to the pilimage of the dage(EZ.I, pp 75-113 (No.7A,lns37-38). It appears in the Kataragama pillar as a tax in the form, ge-dad.(EZ III, pp 212-225 (No.21C)


This was the name given to the fine taken from those who had committed murder.It may even be regarded as compensation for dependants of the murdered person, for the literal translation of the term is “life price.” It was aiso taken in case of assault and may have been granted to the victim-EZ.I, pp 241-251. (No.21,Insp18). We cannot however be sure of this, for the third alternative to this- if the criminal was not apprehended was that a fine of fifty kalandas was to be given to the state. This may stand alongside the interpretation given above.

Oiher fines mentioned are ko-dand already referred to[EZ.I, pp 241-251. (No.21,Insp18)] and Vu-dand, also in the Vevalkatiya inscription where these fines were to be shared by gamladdan and pamunu-laddan[EZ.l, pp 211-251 (No.21,1n24)]. There is no evidence to determine their meanings. Sihin-dand however means “the lesser fine” or “fine for the lesser offense.


Along with the development of law and legal institutions, a philosophy of law has also gradually,evolved in ancient Sri lanka.

(i) The king in general was very dear to the people.Clemency of the Crown was not uncommon. Well-being of the subjects was the aim of the king. He was the libripens of justice (Jatakapota), p. 1036). The king was so dear and near to the people that a rex sacrorum seems to hav been placed in the provincial palaces of the king.

(ii) Punishment as a legal remedy was applied with great care at the early period. An accused seems to have been considered innocent till the contrary was proved in a recognized legal proceeding. None other than the offender was to be punished for the offense.Thus it is observed in the Badulla Pillar Inscription set up by king Udaya IV (946-54A.C.) that when a householder committed an offense he alone was to be punished, but not his wife and children (dadata svami ginut misa amhtdaruvan valakme noganna isa).

(iii) We have already seen that the idea of double jeopardy was in existence in ancient Sri Lanka. this means that the well known maxim of nemo debet bis puniri pro uno delicto, no one ought to be punished twice for the same offence, was an established principle in the legal philosophy in anient Sri Lanka

(iv) We have already see the complaint against Bhikkhu Tissa, a friend of King Mahasena, heard by the Kings Minister( mahamata). This may imply signs of the Legal maxim of Nemo judex in sua causa, no person should be a judge in his own cause,has clearly been adhered to by the king. The incident further implies the view in vogue that nobody was labove the law.
(v) An incident that took place during the lifetime of Tipitaka Culabbhaya thera is relevant to us. One day he was taking a class in the “Brazen Palace (Lohapasada) in Anuradhapura. When the class was ,over all but two monks left the place. The two monks \were arguing about something.The venerable thera could overhear the dispute.later the two monks requested him to hear their case. The learned thera declined it. He told them that he was unable to comply with their request as he was already prejudiced against the defendant on over-hearing the dispute in question. The principle of impartiality of the judge is clearly seen in this anecdote.

(vi) It is recorded in the Sammohavinodani (Smv),the commentary on the Vibhanga that one day some people accused of the offence of eating beef (gomam-sakhadake) were brought before king Bhatika Abaya (or Bhatiya) (B.C. l9-A.C. 9). They were found fault with. On finding that they were unable to pay the fine the king ordered them to clean the compound of the Royal Palace instead. One of the offenders, a fair-looking married female, after due inquiry, was granted a place in the king’s harem. On realising that his act was unfair by the other accused the king immediately released them too from the punishment and sent them away suitably rewarded.This clearly implies that the king was well aware of the concept of justice and fair-play for everybody without discrimination.

(vii) We know that king Devanampiyatissa who went on a hunting expedition did not want to shoot a deer browsing in thi thicket. The king who was trained in Indian legal philosophy (under Brahmins in his father’s palace) thought it unnatural to shoot an animal feeding itself to satisfy hunger, a phenomenon common to all living beings. He also considered it to be unfair to kill an animal without giving it a chance to defend itself in the sense of escaplng the predicament. It appears to be a traditional-legal principle among the Ksatriyas that they would not attack an unheeding or a defenceless (pamattam ) creature (Mahavansa Chapter XIV verse 4). Hence he gave a signal to the animal by twanging his bowstring and the animal ran away forthwith unhurt.This appears to be an unparalleled incident in the annals of mankind. One may clearly notice here a sort of natural justice on the pari of the Great Monarch of Sri Lanka.

– What we have discussed so far is a fair index to the law and legal activities in ancient Sri lanka Legal concepts are often found in our ancient writings in Sanskiit, Pali and Sinhala. We have already seen the general position of the ancient inscriptionl, Pali Chronicles and the commentaries. Ancient classical Sinhala writings such as the Butsaran and The Pujavaliya , and the Ns reflect many a legal doctrine of the early period .
We saw that great legal luminaries such as king Voharika Tissa have adorned the cultural history of this country. Law reporting and legal treatises were not at all lacking in the glorious past of this land of ours. In course of time legal writing and a valuable legal philosophy came into being. Foreign invasions such as those of Megha (12th cent) and others were the primary cause of their destruction. We have still a great deal of data pertaining to this field in our ancient writings which is practically neglected except for a few studies by some .

Dr MB Ariyapala has written at length on the subject of legal Administration in Ceylon in his book Society in Medivial Ceylon. Please click


A few examples of Crimes and Punishments

On Konduvattuvan Inscription[ Read]

a. Contravening a Royal Order 2 Akas of Gold is equvalent to

b.Offense of Abuse or Slandering 2 Akas of Gold

c.Offense of Assault 1 Kalanda of Gold

d.Belated Furloughing 5 Kalandas of Gold

Self assessed Fines may be requested by Culprit be reviwed by Official of Inner Village, nothing in excess shall be paid.
Kautiliya The Arthsastra
According to Kautiliya Ancient Laws Causing Physical Injury is the most serious crime, causing damage to property is less serious and  Verble Injury the least serious,

In case of Verble Injury the fine varies,Towards Superiors Double the fine, towards inferiors half the fine, toward wife’s and others double the fine, in case diminished responsibility such as mistakes, intoxication or temporary loss of sense half the fine.
similarly is case of defamation is highest for Sarcastic defamation, example Lovely eye if blind and fine depends on the position of the person.
If defamed is equal in status is about 12 panas and more than this if false or used sarcastically.The Fines Laid down in detail by Kautiliya depending the degree of Hurt etc, vary from 3 Panas to 24 Panas[ A Prostitute abusing a Client].

Assaults means hurting or wounding
a. vary from 3 Pana to 24 panas to 48 Panas. if Bleeding happen during assault.
b. Striking using weapons is 200 panas in a crime with passion and 800 Panas for Blinding and offences of such nature . For injuring the Penis or Testicle the punishment is same organ of culprit be cut off.

For Theft– The value of Item or animal Plus equal value is Panas.
Robbery with Violence as per Kuatiliya may vary from 12 to 500 Panas depending on the value of stolen goods.

Mutilations & Death penalty.

Mutilations, Death with out torture and with torture, death by a firing squad of Archers, Impalement, Execution by drowning or burning depending on the crime is laid down, but Monetary Fine in Lieu of Mutilation may vary from 54 Panas to a 1000 panas depending on Crime.

Having Sex with the Queen
A separate table of punishment for sexual offenses. Any man caught having sexual relations with the Queen shall be boiled alive

This same punishment was given during the time of King Kelanitissa time, the cause for the First Tsunami[ 1 Cent BC].




  1. This rticle is helpful to enhance our knoeledge on encient legal system of sro lanka.h

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