Similar to animal protection, heritage conservation is known to have been a significant task of Sri Lankan rulers since antiquity. The island’s ancient Buddhist chronicles always praise kings for 2 major achievements: irrigation works for the benefit of people and animals and donations and support for religious institutions. Construction works at Buddhist monasteries are listed in detail for each king’s reign. But not only new buildings are mentioned, restoration works are an equally important issue. Ancient rulers in Sri Lanka were less eager to surpass the achievements of previous rulers than in other parts of Asia. But they were careful to lavish patronage for renovation of those monuments erected by earlier rulers.
In his many large inscriptions, Polonnaruwa’s King Nissankamalla (1187-96) boasts not only of renovations a number of monasteries, he also claims to have appointed of a team of officials to supervise the maintenance and beautification of religious heritage sites. Already his most significant predecessor in Polonnarawu, King Parakramabahu I, had appointed a minister for the restoration of heritage structures fallen in ruins due to neglect in times of civil war. Historical chronicles stress that rulers themselves supervised the maintenance of ancient sites. Conservation and restoration was not only a personal merit (good karma) of the king, it was politics. The influential Buddhist order had to be pleased and royal support for this Sangha was a public demonstration of the legitimacy of rule.
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