Ratnapura ("City of Gems") is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of Sabaragamuwa Province, Sri Lanka and the Ratnapura District. The name 'Ratnapura' is a direct Sanskrit word meaning City (from the Sanskrit word 'Pura') of Gems (from the Sanskrit word 'Ratna') over 2000 years ago when the first Buddhist monks arrived here from the north eastern provinces of India namely Bodh-Gaya, Varanasi and Patliputra they not only did bring with them the Buddhist religion but since their teachings were mainly in Sanskrit and Pali they also influenced the local language, the palm candy produced traditionally in this region, but the more common explanation in Sri Lanka is that it comes from the Sinhala "ratna" meaning gems and "pura" meaning city. Ratnapura is also spelled as Rathnapura. Located some 101 km south east of capital Colombo.
It is the centre of a long-established industry of precious stone mining including rubies, sapphires, and other gems. Apart from gem mining, the city is known for rice and fruit cultivations. Large plantations of tea and rubber surround the city. Tea grown in this region is called low-country tea. There is a well-established tourism industry in Ratnapura. Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Udawalawe National Park, Kitulgala, and Adam's Peak are especially popular among tourists.
In 1901, the town of Ratnapura had a population of 4,084, and in 2011, it had increased to 52,170 and this consisted of Buddhist,Hindus, Christians and Muslims.
The people of the town depends on the gem trade. Gem pits common site in the surrounding area. Most of the large-scale gem businessmen of Sri Lanka operate from Ratnapura. There are considerable numbers of foreign gem traders in the city too. Among the foreign traders, Thai (Thailand) traders are in the majority. Every day, large number of traders from suburbs and other towns gather in the town centre to sell or buy gemstones. Large-scale merchants collect gemstones from locals and sell them in the international market. Some traders go out of the city to buy gems. This includes neighboring towns like Kalawana, Bogawantalawa, and Ela-era. After the discovery of world-class alluvial sapphire deposits in the valley of Ilakaka in Madagascar, many Ratnapura merchants travel out of the country to Madagascar to buy gems.
The city's agricultural industry is also well developed. Large plantations of tea and rubber surround the town. Although rice fields also used to be a common sight around the town, rice cultivation presently faces an uncertain future in Ratnapura because many farmers are giving up their rice cultivation and switching to gem mining which is a more productive way of earning money. If many farmers give up on agriculture, it would be harder for farmers to harvest enough food for them and to trade in the markets. Many delicious fruits likemango and papaya) and vegetables are grown as market products.
The City of Ratnapura is situated in the flooding plain of the river Kalu. The town experiences regular floods usually in the month of May. There is no large dam across the Kalu, so this leaves the city at the mercy of nature's forces every year. Several proposals have been made to reduce the flood risk in the city, but none has reached the feasibility stage. In May 2003, the town experienced the largest flood since the independence of Sri Lanka from Britain in 1947.
Places of worship
There are many places of worship in and around the city. Buddhist places of worship are more in number, which is to be expected since Buddhists constitute the great majority in the area. Nevertheless, there are plenty of places of worship in the town related to other religions. The following are some important examples
Maha Saman Devalaya
This is a shrine dedicated to the god Saman. The god Saman is (a Buddhist deity) considered to be the guardian of Ratnapura. When the Portuguese captured Ratnapura, the ancient shrine that stood at this location was destroyed and a Portuguese church was constructed on top of it. When the Kandyan kingdom recaptured Ratnapura, the Portuguese church was destroyed and the shrine was rebuilt. Although there is no direct evidence to support the existence of the old shrine, indirect evidence supports the existence of a shrine that looked like a Hindu temple at the current location before Portuguese times. Currently this shrine is a very important place of worship for Buddhists.
The mountain Sri Pada (Adam's Peak)
Ratnapura is situated at the foot of the 2243 metre high Adam's Peak. All four major religions claim Adam's Peak as a holy mountain. Buddhists call the mountain Sri Pada (the sacred footprint), or Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain) and believe the Lord Buddha has visited the mountain and set his sacred footprint. This place also known as a place where many miracles happened. All people who go to worship should talk gently and behave gently.
Ratnapura is also the starting point for the 'Classic' Hard route up Adam's Peak, via Gilimale and Carney estate. The Pilgrimage season starts on Poya (full moon) day in December and runs until the start of the South-West Monsoon in April. It has been a pilgrimage centre for over 1000 years. King Parakramabahu and King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa provided ambalamas or 'resting places' for weary pilgrims along the mountain route. The other more popular route is through Dalhousie (pronounced 'Del-house') close to Dickoya. Other routes to Adam's Peak.
The history of Catholics in Ratnapura begins with Portuguese rule in Ratnapura. Very few Catholics lived in the town in the 17th century. Many of them are the descendants of Portuguese and locals that they married. There is evidence to suggest that the Portuguese built a church on top of a destroyed Buddhist temple. That Portuguese church was destroyed when the Kandyan kingdom recaptured Ratnapura from the Portuguese. The current church was built in a different location along the Main Street of Ratnapura (inside the town). The Church building being used now is said to be inspired by Blessed Joseph Vaz the Apostle of Ceylon during the 17th century when he visited Ratnapura as a part of his apostolic mission to Sabaragamuwa. After Sabaragamuwa became a diocese on 2 November 1995 SS. Peter-Paul's Church was raised to the status of the Cathedral of the diocese.
A cave temple, believes to be that the place Buddha had rest while visiting Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) with his 500 priests, as in Mahavamsa one of the nine places Buddha had visited during his third visit to the Sri Lanka. Spectacular view of Samanala Kanda (mountain of Sri Pada) and size of the cave (able to shelter over 500 people at once) lead widely acceptance as Diva Guhawa. About 5 km off from Kuruwita town (10 km towards to Colombo from Ratnapura) on Erathna road, one of the ancient road to Sri Pada, direct to Diva Guhawa.
Place to visit
Bopath Ella Situated at Kuruvita, few miles away from Colombo Ratnapura high level road and very easy access via a vehicles. Both waterfalls attract visitors from all over the country to Ratnapura. You are allow to bath in this waterfall, but warning for flash flood may appear in a matter of minutes. Despite its danger the beauty of this place is a gem to ratnapura. You have to turn to left at Higgassena close to Kuruwita from the main Ccolombo - Ratnapura road go about 2 km. The fall is like a boo leaf that gives it name.
A popular water fall among locals, situated at Mahawalawatta, 3 km away from Ratnapura town.
The seventh highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. Situated 4 km away from Ratnapura - Pelmadulla Main road from Pelmadulla town.
Situated next to Ratnapura Kalawana main road in Marapana village, this beautiful seenary been captured in few famous Sinhala films.
There are many gem mines around the area, especially in paddy fields on lower ground, which are deep around 10m to 50m.
Portable hand operating tools use for mining process such as shovel, picks, pans (specially made from bamboo) and cradles. Once soil lifts out from the mine, with the use of water, the dirt and mud wash out using pans and thus if there any gemstone, which heavier than normal stones, remains at the bottom of the pan as mud wash away.
In the time of the Last king of Sri Lanka "Sri Vikrama Rajasinha", Ehelepola Nilame was sent to Sabaragamuwa (Ratnapura) as "Disawe" or local governor of Sabaragamuwa. He built a small reservoir and water canal to support local rice farms. The works of this hero are still visible around the Ratnapura area and local people benefiting from his works even today. His house which is situated in the middle of Ratnapura city is now being used as the national museum building.
The portrayal of Ehelepola as a hero is quite controversial. Once he conspired with British and betrayed the Kandy king. The King ordered the execution of his family unless Ehelepola surrendered to the king (according to the prevailing laws). He became a coward and he let king execute his whole family in Kandy. His younger son became a child hero by bravely facing death by guillotine, while his elder brother was hiding behind his mother (who was drowned).