dittus polon inscrip7 to 8 April 2011. At the inaugural conference of the International Association for Asian Heritage, Dr. Wolfgang Dittus and Sunil Gunathilake, presented a paper concerning the history of nature conservation in Sri Lanka based on ancient stone inscriptions and other records.

Sri Lanka’s Ancient Culture of Respect for its Biological Heritage

Dr. Dittus outlined the history of the conservation ethic with its roots in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The philosophical ethic was first enacted as secular law (edicts) by the Indian king Ashoka of the Mauryan empire in about 250-230 BCE. It was embraced in Sri Lanka shortly thereafter and was the basis for the establishment of world’s first nature sanctuaries (e.g., at Mihintale) by Sri Lankan kings more than a thousand years ago. Stone inscriptions at various archeological sites in Sri Lanka attest to this history.

Stone inscriptions are well known by the Sri Lankan archaeological community, but emphasis had been placed on those of political importance. Our purpose was to seek out (in the field as well as in museums and in the literature) and highlight the existence and significance of ancient messages of conservation and nature appreciation in Sri Lanka.

For example, the image above depicts a pillar inscription from king Nissankamalla, 1187-92, at the Rankoth Vehera, Polonnaruwa. The ancient Singhalese script has been translated as “Security is granted to all animals in Ranatisa, Minihoru, Ganthale, Padan and many other great tanks (lake-reservoirs) in three kingdoms: Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti.” (Epigraphica Zeylonica, Vol. 2, #23)