On the path to protect National Heritage | Sunday Observer

On the path to protect National Heritage

It is pleasing to note that a dialogue has been built up about the Bogambara Prison complex and the land where it is located, which has become an archaeological monument now. With the re-establishment of Bogambara Prison at Dumbara – Pallekale in 2014 by the government, no definite conclusion has been reached about the method of using that building. I presume, a clear decision would be taken, in a situation where manifold opinions have been expressed about the manner in which to use it in the development process of the historical Kandy City.

The objective of this article is to discuss several matters which should be focused on when taking decisions on the archeologically and historically valued Bogambara Prison complex, than highlighting its history or archaeological background. We have to think well before taking decisions about this building complex and the land, located at the heart of the World Heritage City of Kandy. We should clearly assess the decisions and methodologies to be adopted. A sustainable development cannot be expected without such an assessment.

As disclosed by the media, the President and the Prime Minister have stated that they intend to make it a cultural centre.

The land with the prison building, located at the centre of the Kandy city, can be assessed at very high value. But, a country cannot rise as a proud nation by merely subjecting everything it owns for money. Especially, when we consider Sri Lanka, it is not a secret that we have been deteriorated to the extent that we only have our heritage to be proud of, as a nation.

Physical asset

Therefore, development should be brought about not by destroying the values we have, but protecting them. Sustainable development means paving the way to preserve what we have today for our future generation. Most Venerable Maha Nayaka bikkhus and some scholars who have understood the situation are currently explaining to the government, submitting a list of proposals, as a plea not to destroy the heritage bound with this site. Accordingly, it seems the government has considered them and responded in a good manner. Hence, it is important to convince the manner how heritage can be used for development.

The prison building of Bogambara and its land is a composition of several buildings connected to each other. The old boundary wall, watch huts, the main entrance gate and the entire ancient building complex of the Bogambara Prison have been declared as, ‘ancient monuments’ by an Extraordinary Gazette notification. This building, constructed under British rule in 1876 is one of the most ancient buildings in the city of Kandy. It holds extreme importance archaeologically, as well as historically, by reason that it is the only building of that type in Sri Lanka and the interior and exterior characteristics of the building consist of an identity which cannot be reconstructed ever again.

A significant fact is, even today, the prisons are being run using this same architecture in the cities of United Kingdom, as I have seen in Leicester. Further, it can be evaluated not only because of the value of the architectural monument, but also as a physical asset. Taking an example, in the city of Manila, in the Philippines, among the multitude of sky kissing modern buildings, the ruins of a group of buildings smashed during World War II have been left for public presentation even now. So, why should not an archaeological hot spot like Bogambara, in our country, which is nearly 142 years old, be preserved? It is important to further conserve this and use it for an appropriate purpose.

The Prison building has been registered as a heritage of the country according to Archaeological Ordinances, which make it an offence breaking any part of it, altering, defacing, or making a new creation. However, on some occasions external parts may be added where suitable and necessary, without damaging the original work, by the relevant authorities. The entire authority of this site vests with the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka, and the final decision would be the decision of the respective Minister in charge of the subject.

Further, as the Kandy city has been registered as a World Heritage City, this monument is also considered as a World Heritage Monument. If we lose the assessed value of any land, archaeological site or monument, the name of such city will be removed from the register of World Heritage Cities. Therefore, we propose several facts likely to be useful for the region as well as for the country, in the conservation of the prison monument at Bogambara. First, to use it as a tourist site. The building and land can be improved as a visiting site for local and foreign travellers. The building and the sub parts can be exhibited as its distinguished characteristics. It could be named as the one and only complete prison available for public exhibition. Such ancient buildings, royal courts, chapels in many countries have been conserved and offered for public exhibition. Here in Sri Lanka, it can be planned as an income generating project under heritage tourism. An idea could be obtained by considering the number of persons who visited the Bogambara Prison when it was opened recently for public exhibition (it is said, 1.1 million people visited the place during the 18 day period of opening it to the public).

At present, the visitors to Kandy, first visit the Sri Dalada Maligawa – the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, and thereafter, the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Many do not have an understanding to visit the University of Peradeniya which has a beauty that amazed the world. Sometimes, they visit historical sites situated around Kandy such as, Degaldoruwa, Gadaladeniya, Ambakke, Lankathilaka etc. The Kandy city which can earn a lot of income through tourism does not have a plan for this purpose. The land related to the Bogambara Prison buildings can be used in a very productive manner, through tourism.

The area of land connected with the Bogambara Prison is most suitable for the building of a complete museum and a cultural centre. Many museums mushrooming in the country still have not reached the level to fulfil the need for a complete museum.


The Bogambara premises perfectly suit this purpose. The Kandy city has 5 museums at present. Many issues have arisen with regard to these museums, as they have not reached the expected level as museums.

The establishment of such a museum with a cultural centre would benefit the entire region. A museum today is the need of the community, for entertainment, education, leisure, and as a heritage of the community.

Thus, a heritage museum and cultural centre for Kandy would be a suitable medium of attracting both, local and foreign visitors, as well as an opportunity to increase the means of income generation. It could be established as a user-friendly Museum and Cultural Center in Kandy while earning good revenue, joining hands with the society instead of it totally depending on government funds as at present. Such a museum and cultural centre would attract tourism, and enhance the lives of urban and rural communities.

Various projects can be introduced. A multitude of industries native / indigenous to the upcountry and craftsmen of such industries can be found in almost all the villages of the upcountry. In this regard, lacquer works, textile, copper, brass, iron, wood, clay, gold, silver and many more crafts face the danger of deterioration. These projects can be put into operation in the cultural centre and the Museum vicinity in conjugation with such villages and craftsmen. Knowledge, research, trade and marketing about the industries can be introduced at local as well as foreign level by a cultural centre affiliated to the museum.

Also, other projects can be carried out in the vicinity of the Bogambara Prison building without damaging the premises or Kandyan Heritage. In the highly developed modern museums of the world, various types of restaurants and sections for entertainment have been added to cater to the basic needs of the people. All of them have been planned for the convenience, attraction, entertainment and knowledge of the public.

Accordingly, it is important to plan Kandy as a city somewhat different from other cities of the world, while protecting the heritage of the people living in that area. If not, the city of Kandy will also rise as a cluster of sky touching buildings, deteriorating its heritage. The ambition of the upcountry people is to step towards development while protecting the Senkadagala-Mahanuwara pride. To allow this World Heritage City to be visited merely for amusement would be in poor taste. Therefore, plans should be prepared in a manner which conserves its heritage for the future generations. It should be considered that using the building complex of the Bogambara Prison meaningfully will be an honour for the people of Kandy as well as for preserving our heritage.

The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya and Member of the Interim Statutory Board for Protection of the Kandyan Heritage, Ministry of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan Heritage.