Taprobane Island: Part 1 – Tambapanni the Island Paradise


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.

Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.

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Map of Taprobana- 1588
Ptolemy’s Map of Taprobana

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The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.

The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.

Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.

Weligama

Stilt Fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Stilts fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source – Написал Fergan_Trop)

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Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.

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The Taprobane Island

Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)
Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)

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A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.

A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.

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Tabrobane Island
Tabrobane Island

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While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.

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Next → Taprobane Island: Part 2

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