Mining For Gems

The mining of precious stones in Sri Lanka seems to be as old as the country itself. The tales of ancient mariners about their visits to the island frequently mention the “jewels of Serendib” telling of “the sapphires, topazes, amethysts, garnets and other costly stones of Ceylon.”


One of the many names for Sri Lanka was Ratnadipa, island of gems. A great ruby given to the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon is said to have come from the island. A gem adorning the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba at Anuradhpura was described in 1293 by Marco Polo as ‘a flawless ruby a span long and quite as thick as a man’s arm.’ The crown of the British monarch contains a 400-carat blue sapphire known as ‘Blue Belle’ that was mined in the then Ceylon.

The mining operations we visited in Sri Lanka represented all the types of gemstone mining, including pit, mechanized, and, in this case, river.

The mining operations we visited in Sri Lanka represented all the types of gemstone mining, including pit, mechanized, and, in this case, river.


The abundance of precious stones in the countryside around what became known as the town of Ratnapura, a name meaning city of gems, makes it still the centre of gem mining even today. The plains and abandoned paddy fields near the town are dotted with thatched awnings, each one marking the location of an active gem mine.

Collecting Ceylon
Ceylon ceased to exist in 1972 when the island’s name became Sri Lanka, 24 years after obtaining Independence from Britain in 1948. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the country officially becoming part of the British Empire in 1815, but there are no commemorations of that. However, there are many collectable items that reflect the character of Ceylon – a name that still exists even today. There is the Bank of Ceylon, and I pay my electricity bill each month to the Ceylon Electricity Board.


The very name of Ceylon conjures up the tropical mystique, salubrious climate, tea-clad hills, jungle wilderness, rivers and waterfalls, majestic elephants, broad sandy beaches lapped by the surf of the Indian Ocean, glorious colourful pageants, and the serenity of a tranquil lifestyle. As a name, Sri Lanka conveys a different image although the country is still the same.




As a boy in England I used to collect stamps and those of Ceylon always fascinated me because of the tropical emblems such as a train passing a temple or an irrigation tank incorporated into the design, as well as the British King’s head. Today stamps of Ceylon can only be bought from collectors as they are no longer used on envelopes posted in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s rare martial art.
An item in a local newspaper has set me on a discovery of a unique Sri Lankan martial art. The report reads: “A presentation and display on Angampora was conducted by the Sri Lankan Air Force Angampora team in Colombo last month, marking yet another significant milestone in history of the indigenous art of Angampora.


“The event was made colourful by a performance of both Angam and Illangam by members of th RSF/SABF, the Angampora Display Team and the instructors of the ‘Ange Medilla Ranapila’ including the main Guru, Deshamanaya Dr Ajantha Mahantharachchi himself.”


Angampora, I discovered, is Unarmed Combat with Angam refering to the body while pora refers to combat. Angampora means the martial use of the limbs without the use of weapons, and is divided in to three main categories: (1) offensive and defensive techniques; (2) grips and locks; (3) vital point attacks.

A demonstration of Angam

A demonstration of Angam