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Ratnapura (Rathnapura)

Ratnapura literaly meaning "City of Gems" in local languages is the provincial capital of Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Although origan of name is also referred to the Portuguese name Rapadura for jaggery, the palm candy produced traditionally in this region, but locals belive the name indeed comes from the Ratena meaning "Gems".

Located some 101 km south east of Colombo, it is the centre of precious stone mining including rubies, sapphires, and other gems. Apart from gem mining, the popularity of the town is not gems it is also famous for rice and fruit cultivations. Large plantations of tea and rubber surround the town. Tea grown here is called low-country tea.

Tourism

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.

Population and cultures

In 1901, the town of Ratnapura had a population of 4,084, and in 2001, it had increased to 46,309. The population of the Ratnapura district was 1,008,164 in 2001, and this consisted of 86.42% Buddhists and 9.88% Hindus, with the rest of the population being Christians and Muslims.

Getting to Ratnapura

Ratnapura is located in the A4 Highway which connects capital Colombo to Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. Another Highway A8 connects the town with Panadura in the western coast of Sri Lanka. During the British occupation of the Island, narrow gauge train track was laid in 1912 connecting Colombo - Avissawella - Ratnapura - Opanayake however line Avissawella onwards removed in 1976. Thus reducing the mode of transportation to road. In 2006, construction started on a new broad gauge railway line to Awissawella only.

Gem trade

Local population of Ratnapura depends on the gem trade. Gem pits are a seen all around, most of the large-scale gem businessmen of Sri Lanka operate from here. Not just that there are considerable numbers of foreign gem traders in the town too. Among the foreign traders, Thai (Thailand) traders are in the majority. Large number of traders from suburbs and other towns gather in Ratnapura 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.

Agriculture

In combination to Gems agricultural industry is also well developed. Lush green plantations of tea and rubber surround the town. In early days rice fields also used to be a common sight around the town bust since the gem trade is thriving rice cultivation is now a story of past. However not all farmers have given up traditional agriculture. Many delicious fruits like mango and papaya) and vegetables are grown as market products.

Religious places

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:

The mountain Sri Pada -Adam's Peak(Buddhist/Hindu/Islam)

Maha Saman Devala (Buddhist)
Delgamu Viharaya (Buddhist)
Pothgul Viharaya (Buddhist)
Saints Peter and Paul's Cathedral (Catholic Church)
St. Luke's Church(Church of England)
Siva Temple (Hindu)
Jumma Mosque (Islam)
Diva Guhava (Buddhist)

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 staring 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.

Peter-Paul ChurchThe 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.

Diva Guhava

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

Waterfalls

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 Colombo - Ratnapura road go about 2 KM. The fall is like a boo leaf that gives it name.

Katugas Ella

A popular water fall among locals, situated at Mahawalawatta, 3 km away from Ratnapura town.

Kirindi Ella

The seventh highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. Situated 4 km away from Ratnapura - Pelmadulla Main road from Pelmadulla town.

Rajanawa

Situated next to Ratnapura Kalawana main road in Marapana village, this beautiful scenery been captured in few famous Sinhala films.

Gem MinesThere 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.


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