We Sri Lankans love gloating about our glorious ancient history. The traditional Victorian minded thing to do is to rub in the notion that while our colonial masters were “running around in animal skins”, our ancestors were living the refined life in a technologically advanced Hydraulic civilisation. Naturally it is a history laced with blood and gore just like everybody else’s. However the neighbours (particularly the Rajputs and the Moguls) have out shone us in that department which is ok by me.
At first glance, it looks like there is nothing physical left of that history outside an impressive and still operational irritation irrigation system which we secretly know looks dull and unglamorous. Ancient Sri Lankans were a very pragmatic bunch who were actively interested in avoiding starvation. They never intended to leave something for hard currency tourists to point their Nikons at. They lived the best they could and left something to ensure future generations won’t starve as well. I don’t think we can match that.
Of course they did the impressive building project thing with the stupas, monasteries, and left us a serious load of stunning art. Yet you could hardly call those things decadent personal indulgences. Budget busting grandiose splashes like Persepolis, Versailles or the Taj (which was not cheap) was not they’re thing. King Kashyapa’s pad at Sigirya is the closest we get and even that was recycled into a monastery.
Overall, Sri Lanka’s rulers have been a comparatively low key bunch who lived in tastefully human proportioned palaces. Even when their backs we against the wall (such as in Dambadeniya), they cared about the plumbing and standardised water pipes. Some might grumble that the Kings of the last 30 years have not inherited those frugal tastes. The only consolation I can offer is that we haven’t been cursed with a Mobutu Sese Seko.
And I won’t say “yet”, yet.