Brig Siri Munasinghe.

We are fortunate that our ancestors left traces of these words and the symbols  for numbers on their rock inscriptions. These traces are extracted and listed for information of scholars interested in research. Few other numeration system existed and was practiced in Sri Lanka until the Portuguese reintroduced the numeral they obtained through the Arabs from India.

THE BASIC SINHALA  NUMBER WORDS [.S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon Volume I . 1970  Pg xlii

The  historical records  of  Twenty  basic words that are required to express  all numbers   is found on rock inscriptions of ancient Sri Lanka. The number words for one in   Ek patake meaning one lot of land , do– kahapana  to indicate  two silver kahapanas donated by the officer in charge of canals ,tini silapatani –the word for  three  stone steps donated by  Upasika Tisaya, catara –disa to indicate four directions mentioned often in the donations made to  the Sanga, the cave of the paca1  – batikana – of the five brothers, and  number words for saye [Six]sata[Seven], ata[Eight] is similarly found. Then a chief named Uba during the time of Mahasenpathi[  Dr S Paranavitane believes him to be King Dutugemeunu himself] builds a cave  for the Sanga or a King spending Nava [nine] lakhs for labour of hands and feet for construction of a cave  , a Princess whose father was King Gamini Uttiya donating  a cave in the memory of her father and mother to the Sanga of the dasa[ten] directions,  visiti[Twenty] appears in an inscription of King Lanjatissa in regard an donation of twenty five cool cave to the Sanga, other numbers such as of tisa [Thirty], catalisa  for Forty on Pg 337], panasa  [Fifty onPg 335 ], sati [Sixty on Pg 343], satati  [ Seventy on Pg 343 ], atasti   [ eighty for Pg 357], [The the pages given are those on Volume II Inscriptions of Ceylon- S Paranaviyane is published in two parts]Anu[Ninety- on Gold nugget Abeyagirri Vihare], sata  [Hundred], sahasa  [ Thousand] and an extra number word to indicate very large numbers –lak 1 [Lakh]of Money[ Kahapanas] or land measures[ Karihas]  are all in the two volumes of the  ‘Inscription of Ceylon’ Volume I by Dr S Paranavitane., the word for Ninety has not yet been traced in those Inscriptions available to the author . These words are similar to the words of  Sanskrit and Pali, that were  used in India and Sri Lanka during this ancient period. These words  later developed into Elu and these are  different to the early Dravadian words used by our closest neighbor. Those Dravidian number names  which are  described in the recently published book ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy’- I Mahadevan   2003  Pg 283,is listed alongside for comparison in Table I.



The Number Words  for expressing multiples of Tens, Hundreds and Thousands  or the round numbers are also found on inscriptions from 3 Cent BC to 3 Cent AD was obtained from Dr Paranavitane’s three volumes ‘The  Inscriptions of Ceylon’. These words for numbers used express the measures of land in Karihsa , sums of money such as Ranas [ Gold Coins], Kahavanas{ Silver],  and Massas[ Copper or Alloy], dates of the lunar  Month, etc in the inscriptions. The words for the Multiples of Tens are a combine of the Initial letters of the nine digits  as the first member  with the words with sa in case of Tisa, Catalisa, Panasa or with ti in Visiti, Sati, Satati, Asati, as the second member.  The number word for ten ending with ti sounds more like the English Twenty, thirty, forty etc. Perhaps the rhythm made it easy to memorize the numbers.  The   Sinhala word for multiples Hundred and Thousands is a Compound of the Nine words for Sinhala Digits as the first member of the combined with the word for Hundred [ Sata] and Thousand[ Sahasa] as the second member. This way of expressing number names is similar to the present system adopted in present day Sinhala and English.


The construction of number words from 11 to 99.

The words for many numbers from eleven to eighty four  is recorded  on rock before the  3 Cent AD are shown on Table  II . These words were expressed as a  compound of the two word , the first word for  Units and then the word  for tens. The name for units as a rule came first. EK CATALISA  [41S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon Volume II Part II 2001. Pg 328] . It was One and forty instead of Forty and one . In the present day Sinhala this is different as its is a compound of  the word for Tens is expressed as the  first word  followed by the word for Units[ Hatalis eka], which is closer to the expression in English[ Forty One]. Both these system are in use in modern languages.

An exception is the  word for nineteen and twenty nine the word one less than twenty- ekuna visiti in Dakkina Stupa inscription and thirty- ekuna tisa is used[ S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon Volume II Part II 2001. Pg 329]. The One  less than twenty or one less than Thirty statement gives some indication of Number – sense such as less than or greater than.  The Sinhala name numbers was very flexible and akin to the Roman written numerals for 19 or 29 which was IXX or IXXX , placing  I to the left of XX or XXX for less than and to the right for one greater than .



There are many records of the donations of allotments of land for temples and purchases or payment of money which provides an incite as to how the ancient Sinhala constructed name for numbers using Hundred ,Tens and Units free from ambiguities and misleading statements .The expression for land measurements are different to those expressing a  sum of money. Traces of these from inscriptions are separately shown below, and there had been a separate tradition for these different transactions.

When  expressing three digit numbers in the measurement of land, the   word  Karisha which was a measure equivalent of four acres is interspersed   between the word  for sata [hundred ] examples . eka Kiriha sataka, tini Kariha sata, catara ,kiraha sateka,Etc.  this is followed by the word Ca  the ancient word for and. The rest of the  numbers from 1 to 99 were constructed  in the manner described below.

These Written or Verbal notations seems to have a adopted a general rule in constructing  Thousands , Hundreds , Tens and Units into a precise mathematical language free of ambiguities and misleading statements. Was this a requirement for  the additions and subtractions of numbers, which was essential until the Zero was introduced  after the 3 Cent AD in India?.

The sentence for four hundred seventy seven was written as below.

Catari  Kariha            Sate     ca       sata       satati        Kariha     [S.Paranavitane – Inscription ofCeylon Volume II Part II ,2001. Pg 168]

Four     Kiraha       Hundred   and      seven  seventy    Kiraha



An interesting observation made by Dr Paranavitane about expressing 600 as six times Hundred ‘The expression sata kala satekahas been taken to mean seven times hundred  i.e multiplied by seven[ Bakki Ala Inscription] .  He states that it is  interesting to find the same expression to denote the idea of multiplication in old Sinhalese as well as in modern English[S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon Volume II Part I 1983. Pg 19 ].


There are interesting inscriptions where traces of names for Numbers consisting of thousands, Hundreds, Tens and units. These amounts on inscriptions give the cost of purchases and donations of Tanks to Monasteries. Few examples of these are shown below

The ancients were flexible in expressing these numbers specially in the case land measurements , they interspersed the units of measurement, the  Kariha in between the unit word and the word for  Hundred or thousand when expressing the number of Hundred or thousands. In case of expressing numbers over ten and up to ninety nine they sometimes used the Kariha  after the number word. How ever when large numbers expressing money  Kahapana  they wrote the whole word beginning with the highest denomination the thousand then hundred and the tens and units followed by the word Kahavana orMassa.


Page 8


The traces of symbols to express the written number were used on Inscriptions. Most of the  number words described in table 1 that is required to express any number was  represented  by  symbols. The traces of these symbols or Numerals of the ancient Sinhalese  found in the ancient inscriptions are shown in Table III. The two main inscription where these Numeral are seen are those of Situlpavu and of the Dakkina Stupa Inscriptions.  Others are shown under Inscriptions with numerals page.

Most of these symbols for numbers [Numerals] appear next to and  are attested by written number words. These are well described in Dr Abya Aryasinghe in ‘A Short Study of  Brahmi Numerals in Sri Lanka- ’SAMSKRTI Cultural Quarterly Vol 17 No 3. 1983. Pg 31-50. These numerals bear a close resemblance to the Indian counterparts. The Sinhala numbering system  in written form or in numerical representation was based on the powers of Ten[ Decimal]. It was similar to the Indian counterpart and to the Egyptian Hieratic Script. All three  had 20 symbols or numerals which could be written  in free form on Palm leaves/ Papyrus.The simple additions and Subtractions may have been the  same as the present day arithmetic where it was necessary only to collect numerals of the same order and exchange ten like symbols for the next higher order[ David M Burton-History of Mathematics, 1997 Pg 12.] and subtraction was performed by the same process in the reverse order. Some times borrowing was used when the a symbol was exchanged for a larger number was exchanged for ten lower order symbol to provide enough for the smaller number to be subtracted.  Multiplications and Divisions were additive according to the Rhind’s Papyrus , where the product of two numbers was obtained by repeated doubling of one of the  numbers and then adding the appropriate duplications to from the products. Division  was multiplication in the reverse and was not easy when fractions were involved. To divide one would begin by doubling the divisor to a point at which the next duplication would exceed the dividend, then he would start halving the divisor in order complete the remainder.The construction of large Dagobas, the construction of Tanks and Canals, the creation of the Calendar,

Surveying of land and the record keeping for commerce required a  numerical system and precise mathematical language free of ambiguities and misleading statements. All these subjects should be studied in greater detail, as a lot of factors could be deduced from Rock Inscriptions, Ancients Texts and other evidence.

One such  example is the  constructions of a Stupa of the magnitude of the Maha seya at Anurhadapura. This stupa is     tall and  where a  truncated hemisphere rests  on three concentric short cylinder of descending diameters. On top of the this is placed a  Cube    and on which is built a spire in the shape of Cone. All from of two and three dimensional shapes available to the ancient has been utilized in its construction. Precise  formulas for their areas and volumes  would have been available either those of the Greeks , but more so the Hindu Mathematics. To quote one such formula that the Hindus and perhaps the Sinhalese used was that for  the area of a Circle. This   was Half the circumference multiplied by the half the Diameter34. This eliminated the value of Phi which is now 22/7 an approximate. This would not be  that accurate when  large diameters are considered. Perhaps they had there own Geometrical treaties now lost to us.

Perhaps King Sadhatissa was aware of the Thales of Miletus[625-547 BC] method of measuring the height of the pyramid35. The King may have measured the length of the Shadow from the Dagabo  to the tip of  the Pinnacle of the Maha- seya,  when his own shadow equal in length  to his own height. He had only to add the half the diameter at the base to get the true height of the Maha- seya.

34 David M Burton-History of Mathematics, 1997 Pg 59

35 ibid, 1997 Pg 86



51 S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon.Volume II Part I ,1983.Pl XXIII  No 48

52 ibid.Pl XXIV  No 49

53  S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon.Volume II Part II ,2001.Pl VII to XII & Siri Munasinghe- The Island-Midweek Review 16.02. 2005, Pg IV

54 A. Aryasinghe- SAMSKRTI Cultural Quarterly Vol 17 No 3. 1983. Pg43

55 S.Paranavitane – Inscription of Ceylon.Volume II Part I ,1983.Pl XXXI  No 65

56 ibid.Pl XXXI No 146

57 MH Sirisoma & Gita Amerasinghe- Has Ebu Kahavana 1986, Pg 148

58 DMDe Silva Wickremasinghe- Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol I 1912 Pl 13(b).

59 S.Paranavitane – Inscription of CeylonVolume II Part II ,2001.Pl XLVII No 168

60 S.Paranavitane – Inscription of CeylonVolume II Part I ,1983.Pl VIII No 14(2)

61 Rev Habarakada Varira- Abeyagiri Inscription Sankrutika Puranaya 1994 Jan-March Pg 12


The Emblems of Royalty of Sri Lanka.


‘The Duties of a Monarch propounded by the Buddha stated that the root of all Social Evil was Poverty and Unemployment. A King who merely collected taxes had the duty to supply Seed and Food for those who lived by Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. Those who lived by Trade should be provided with the necessary capital. The Government Servant were properly paid or compensated so that they don’t squeeze the people. New wealth had to be generated, the Citizens was free from Robbers and Cheats, could bring up Children in comfort and happiness, free from Want and Fear. The best way to spend surplus accumulation, whether from the Treasury or from Private donations would be in Public Works such as Tanks, Hospitals, and Monasteries that provided Education, Health care, Banks etc along the Trade Routes maintained by the King.”

The Raja Anka or the heraldic Emblems of rulers of the Brihadhartha dynasty of Maghadha  was the Bull mentioned in the Mahabaratha. But the Bull symbol is a universal symbols used by other nations on the coins and art.Most  states of India too had their own Royal emblems that signifies the Royal authority of the King when placed on official documents and on coins. In fact in the text book Arthasastra of the Maghdan Empire ,the Master of the Mint was called Laksanaadhayasaka, Laksana in this name apparantly  refers to the Emblem of the King and State stamped on the coin.

Closer home, the independent states of the Southern India the Pandayan’s had the stylised fish, the Chola’s the tiger[ This Animal looks very much like a Lion, than a Tiger] , Cera’s the Bow etc. These heraldic marks was also placed on seals on copper grants etc. After about the 2 Cent AD, most  of these nations stopped using their  Emblems. The Sri Lankan used the Four Dots with a circle emblem or the Purangantha or the Vase Symbol after 2 Cent AD.After about the 6 Cent AD, they opted to inscribe on the face of the coin ,the the name of the Country and the Value  alongside the other traditional symbols. The gradual changes that took place , and why these changes took place over the last 2500 year of the  coins is a very interesting study.

The Elephant was a prominent symbol placed on coins of all different ancient Empires/Nations  in India and Sri Lanka. Most of these  different nations had their own Raja-anka on the other side of the coin.The Emblem on the reverse of their coins was a means by which   the people with in the area of Kings influence to identify  and accept  coins as money  or reject those with other emblems. A few examples of elephant and many Buddhist symbols on the obverse of the  coins with different reverse heraldic emblems is shown below.


The Swastika was the most popular symbol of the Indus civilisations , the later Aryan of India soon made this a religious good luck symbol. The ancient people of Sri Lanka too followed the suit and used the Swastika as a religious  or a good luck symbol .Some historian is of view this smbol also represented the Buddha or his taechings. But in ancient Sri Lanka  an emblem using swastika as the main component , standing on a central staff attended to by two short pillars on either side.This was called the Railed Swastika.

Two Important Factors is respect of the Railed Swastika.

a. Which is the most popular symbol  on ancient coins found in Sri Lanka?.  With out doubt it is this Railed Swastika, perhaps next to the Lotus- A rough estimate is that  over 10,000  ancient coins[ some of them dated to 3 cent BC]  with this symbols on them.  I have seen over 4000 of them at Museums,with Collectors and Dealers. A fair number  of ancient inscriptions of royalty has this symbol. A fair number of  seals inscribed with names and titles  of Royalty around the railed swastika has been published.

b. The Railed swastika is unique to the Island of Sri Lanka.


i.An unread inscribed Intaglio with a Railed Swastika, the mirror image of seal and this may read Ma Ha Sa[Se?] Na  Pa Tha……..to an untrained eye. This needs be read by experts. Dr Paranavitane identifies Mahasenpathi as King Dutugemunu on an inscription at              .

ii. Many Seals and sealing’ s with Railed swastika was discovered , most of them  are inscribed.The two below are legible.

    1. A clay seals with railed swastika with letters Maharaja[ Great King] is visible.
    2. A sealing with railed swastika inscribed .. [Ma Ha Ra ] Jha Ga Mi Ni Ti Sa ha de Va Na pi Ya[The Great King Gamini Tisa Devanampiya.Perhaps of King Sadatissa [ Bopeatachchi and Wickremasinghe ] . The German excavation team has published many sealing found in the same location as above sealing. The rear of these sealing was affixed on to Ola leaf’s as  the outline  of the grain of the Ola is  still visible.
  1. Cave inscriptions In Inscription of Ceylon Volume I – S Paranavitane.
    1. N0 835 :-This is found on Rock Inscriptions of kings identified as King Sada-tissa at Dambulla Inscription.
    2. No 406 :- On Gamini-Tissa and Mijhi- Maharaja at Henannegala.
    3. No 563:On Inscription of Royal Prince and Princess at Kottadamuhela identified with Queen Viharamaha devi. Ms Chandrika Jayasinghe published a coins from the British Museum of a lady Standing on a Boat of the Obverse with a Railed Swastika on the reverse.In our history a lady on  a boat can only be connected to Vihare Maha Devi , the mother of our hero King Dutugemunu.

    1. No 1018:-1027 – of a Maharaja-Gamani Abayasa– at Gallena Vihare.

    A similar coins was found by PE Pieris at Kantarodi in the North of Sri Lanka.

    British Museum Coin.

    This symbols was good enough for the ancient Maharaja to place next to their rock inscriptions and on their  Royal Seals. Henry Parker suggest that the central vertical cross bar represents the royal Standard while the four lateral lines symbolize the four fold army of ancient kings ,ie the Corp of elephants, the  Chariots, the Cavalry and the foot soldiers, He admits it is far fetched. From the above data this is quite possible and this had a strong connections with Royalty. This symbol is flanked by either the Standard, the Asana or throne and the Triratna which according to reputed writers had implicitly expressed an regal authority.

  2. The Railed swastika is usually found on the most early coins of the Island. It does not appear alone. In  good condition coins, two symbols are found on either side. In all the types of coins with the railed swastika, a few examples having the Caitiya or three arched hill appears under it.  The associations of these symbols with the railed swastika and their  placement around is a special characteristic of the Sri Lanka early coins. The significance of these symbols is quite relevant to Kingship as discussed by TB Karunaratne. This will be dealt with later.  

Of the Coins shown above, Dr DPE Hettiarchchi has speculated that the Multi symbol Elephant and Railed Swastika coin is that of Devanampiyatissa. C14 and Thermoluminance dating of layer of undisturbed layer of earth in which this type of coin was found , justify the credence of this statement. It is possible that this king had the Railed Swastika on his coin.

The Standard

In an RAS Journal Mr P Weerasinghe suggest that Mahatissa in the inscription shown above was King Devanpiyatissa. If this is so, then this suggest that  in addition to Railed Swastika , the monarch would have palced a personel monogram on thier coins , which was Dhajaya or a Standard which King Asoka used. So perhaps the Railed Swastika was the emblem of  of a particular Royal family which ruled during the issue of these coins, perhaps that  known as those of the Devanampiya Kula on inscriptions. Could it be that the Kings used the Railed Swastika symbol as the emblem that belonged to the Kula or as family emblem.Did they have their  own mongrams in addition to this??. But on coins more than one such symbol is placed around the Railed Swastika.

The Standard  suggested as used by Devanampiyatissa on coins is also found on Tree and Railed Swastika Coins, Lion and Railed Swastika Coin.

The Throne or Asana

.Mr MH Sirisoma in Inscriptions Vol II 1990 gave a number of symbols associated with inscriptions of Kings. One of them is of is from Minvila , and is of King Katakanna Tissa[ 41-19 BC].The symbol on the inscription is simalar to symbols on coins of Sri lanka with the Railed Swastika. This is found on the the King Devanampiyatissa coin on the reverse of the coin shown above to the right of the Railed Swastika. There are various forms of the Asana found on coins . The Asana is a auspicious  symbol of India and also of the Sinhalese. These Lucky symbols are used extensively of Sinhalese art and mentioned in our chronicles.those on coins are analysed on Symbols around the Railed Swastika.


The Swastika is found with the Inscriptions of Kings. The Swastika with out the Railing is found on our coins too.

One of the earliest inscriptions that can be historically dated from ancient text is thatof a daughter of the King Uti or Uttiya the brother of king Devanampiyatisa, and reigned after him. The cave donated to the Sanga for the benefit of her parents. This has two symbols , the first is a T on Railing and a Swastika. Therailing is similar o that of the Railed Swastika.

The First Three Lines

A Swastika –        “Success| King Abaya the eldest son of King Kuakanna and grandson of great king Tissa, the friend of Gods[ Devanampiya] dedicated the golden Vase channel at Galatataka to the Community of bhikhus in the Payelipavata monastery”.

Last Line

A Swastika-  “The great king Naga gave therefore said channel to the Sanga”.

The King Naga is identified as King Mahadathika Mahanaga [9-21 BC].

This king ‘s inscription at At Vehera  Minhintale  shown below has a Swastika below it.

The First part is of King Batiya Abaya[ 19 BC]. Great-Great-Great grand son of King Sadatissa, whose mother was Queen Vihare Mahadevi.

The second part is of King Mahadathika Mahanaga [ 9 -21 AD]- a brother of King Batiya Abaya.

The Swastika as a minor symbol on coins

This is a round Treein Railing and Railed Swastika Coin. To the right of the Tree is a Swastika symbol.

The Fish and Railed Triratna

The Fish and the Railed Triratna is found on inscription that is linked to the parent of King Dutugemunu. The Fish emblem is associated with the Kastriya of Kataragama , Dr Paravitane suggest they have connection to the Sakayan Group of Princess Baddhkacchana who came from India and some on them sttleed in the South[ Mahavansa].

Dr S paranavitane links Abi Savera as Princess Vihare mahadevi

The Fish and Triratna is popular symbols on Coins and is very common on ancient Sri lankan art.  The Railed  Triratne is not yet found on coins.


A symbol on Inscription of King Sabha[ 59-65 AD]. A Scythe like symbol is seen on an inscription of King Sabha. No such symbol is found on coins, but the Deity or Standing Figure and Railed Swastika coins there are many such symbol fixed at the end of the staff .

Pahala Kayinattama Of King Saba

For  Emblem of Kings of later period.

King Gajabahu II – Peace Treaty placed on a Rock Inscription

A few symbol on coins and similar symbol on Rock Inscriptions of Kings.