The Travels of Ibn Batuta in Sri Lanka (1344 AD)

The travels of Ibn Batuta in Sri Lanka is a very famous historical record about ancient Sri Lanka. Ibn Battuta was a famous Arab traveler who visited Sri Lanka in 1344 AD and later recorded his journey in our island in his famous book called, ‘Al Rihla’ (The Travels). Reproduced below is the chapter about Sri Lanka from a English translation of his book. It is not only interesting but a very valuable historical document about life in our country in the 14th century.

The Historical Writings of Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka


We set sail though we had no able captain with us. The distance between the Maldive islands and Ma’bar [Tamil Nadu coast] amounted to three days’ journey. We were, however, nine days at sea and landed on the ninth day on the island of Ceylon.

We sighted Mount Sarandib [Adam’s Peak] rising up into the sky like a column of smoke. When we arrived at the island the sailors said, “This harbour is not in the country of the king whose territory merchants can enter with security but in the territory of King AyrI Shakarwati, a vicious tyrant who owns ships which carry on piracy”. We feared to land in his harbour, but the wind increased in violence and we feared lest we should be drowned. I said to the captain, “Put me down on the coast and I shall get you a promise of safe conduct from the king”. This he did and let me down on the coast. The infidels came towards us calling, “Who are you?” Thereupon I informed them that I was Suf [brother-in-law] to the Sultan of Ma’bar and his friend and that I was on my way to visit him and what was on the ship was a present for him. They went to their king and told him of this, whereupon he sent for me. I went to him in the town of Battala [Patlam/Puttelam], his capital, a beautiful little town surrounded by wooden walls and wooden towers. The entire coast of the country is covered with cinnamon sticks washed down by torrents and deposited on the coast looking like hills. The inhabitants of Ma’bar [Tamil Nadu] and Malabar [Kerala] take them away without paying for them, but in return for this they only make presents of cloth and similar things to the king. Between Ma’bar and this island of Ceylon there is a distance of a day and night’s journey.

Here there is plenty of Brazilwood and Indian Aloe which is called Kalkhi, but it is not like the Qamdri and Qdquli which we shall describe later on.

King of Ceylon

His name is Arya Shakarwati [Arya Chakravarti], and he is strong at sea. Once when I was in Ma’bar [Tamil Nadu] I saw one hundred of his ships, small as well as big, which had arrived there. And in the harbour there lay at anchor eight ships of the sultan of Ma’bar bound for Yemen (Yaman). The Sultan ordered that preparations should be made, and he collected annas [troops] with a view to protecting his ships. Despaired of availing themselves of an opportunity to waylay the ships the Ceylonese said, “We came here only to protect our own ships which are also bound for Yemen”.

When I came before this infidel king he rose, made me sit by his side, spoke to me very politely and said, “Your comrades may disembark here safely; they will be my guests until they choose to depart, since friendship exists between me and the Sultan of Ma’bar.” Then he ordered that I should be lodged. So I stayed there three days and received great honours which increased every day. He understood Persian, and all that I related to him about kings and countries impressed him. One day I went to him, while there lay about him a large number of pearls which had been brought to him from the pearl-fishery in his dominion. His employees were busy sorting out and classifying the best pearls from the rest. “Have you seen any pearl-fishery in the countries you come from?” he inquired of me. ‘Yes’, said I, “I saw them in the islands of Qais and Kish [in the Persian Gulf], which belong to Ibn-iiH-Sawamli.” “I have heard about it”, said he. Then he picked up a few pearls out of the lot and said, “Are the pearls in those islands like these?” “The pearls I saw”, I replied, “were inferior to these.” He was delighted at this and said, “These pearls are yours; do not be shy. You can demand of me whatever you desire.” “There is nothing I desire so much since I have landed here”, said I “as paying a visit to the sacred Foot of Adam (Peace he on him) They call Adam, ‘Baba’, and Eve they call ‘Mama’. “This is easy enough”, said he. “We shall send along with you someone who will take you to the place.” “This is what I want”, said I. Then I added, “The ship in which I have come shall have safe conduct to Ma’bar, and on my return would you send me in your own ship?” ‘Yes’, he said. When I related this to the owner of the ship, he observed, ‘I shall not depart until you return, even if 1 have to wait a year for your sake.’ I reported this to the king. ‘He will be my guest until you return,’ said the king. So he gave me a dola which his slaves carried on their shoulders. And he sent along with me four jogis, who go as a rule every year on a pilgrimage to the foot— besides three Brahmins and ten from the whole lot of his companions and fifteen porters to carry the provisions. As for the water, it is abundantly found on the way.

That day we encamped by the side of a river which we crossed by means of a ferry-boat made of the lopped off branches of bamboos. Then we left for Hanar Mandali [Minnen-Msndel]. 6 It is a beautiful city lying at the extremity of the king’s dominion. Its inhabitants gave us a splendid feast which con- sisted of young buffaloes whom they had hunted in the neighbouring jangle and brought alive, besides rice, quail, fish, poultry and milk. In this city we met no Muslim except one from gfrurasan who had been stranded there on account of his illness. He travelled along with us and we left for Bandar Salawat [Halawatha/Chilaw]. It is a small town whence we travelled to places difficult to pass and with abundant waters. There are ‘numerous elephants * there which do not molest the visitors and strangers on account of the blessings of Shaikh Abu ‘Abdullah bin Khaflf. 8 May God have mercy on him! He was the first to have opened the way to visiting the Foot. Previously infidels prevented the Muslims from visiting it, vexed them and neither dined with them nor had any dealings with them. When there took place Shaikh Abu ‘ Abdullah’s adventure which we have described in the course of Part First 4 of our journey, that is, when his companions had been killed by the elephants and he himself was saved — an elephant having installed him on his own back — the infidels began from that day onward to honour the Muslims. They admitted them into their houses, dined with them and would entrust them with their wives and children. And up to this day they profoundly revere the said Shailgi and call him the ‘Great Shaikh’.

Afterwards, we arrived at the town of Kunakar** [Kurunegala/Gampola] which is the capital of the Sultan-ul-Kabir [Emperor] of this country. The town is constructed in a trench in the midst of two mountains on a great bay which is called the ‘Ruby Bay’, for rubies are found there. Outside this town there stands the mosque of Shaikh ‘Ugman of Shiraz, known as Shaush. The ruler of this land as well as the inhabitants visit him and hold him in high esteem. It was he who acted as guide to the Foot. When his hand and foot were cut off, his sons and servants became guides instead. The reason for his mutilation was that he had slaughtered a cow, and the Hindu law which obtained there prescribes that one who slaughters a cow must either be slaughtered in the same way or closed up in the cow’s skin and burnt. But Shaikh ‘Ugman being held in high esteem by the Hindus, they only cut off his hand and foot and gave him the proceeds of taxes from a certain market.

Kunakar** – Some translation mention ‘Kunakar’ others as ‘Kanka’, ‘Kinar’ etc. Tenent (1860) thinks its ‘Kanka’ shortened from ‘Ganga Sri Pura’ the name of Gampola at the time. Many historians including Dr. Lorna Devraja is uncertain exactly which city, or even the capital of Sri Lanka at this year 1344 AD. This was a turbulent period with shifting kingdoms from Kurunegala to Gampola and rival/regional kings proclaiming them as Emperor (Maha Raja) of Sri Lanka.

King of Kunakar [Kurunegala/Gampola]

He is called Kunwar/Kinar [Alagakkonara?] and possesses a white elephant; and a white elephant I did not see in the whole world except the one which he owns and rides during festivals and on whose forehead he puts large rubies. It happened that the nobles of his kingdom raised a rebellion against him, and they blinded him and installed his son as king, while the blind man is still there.


Wonderful rubies I called d-bdkraman are found in this area. Some are collected from the gulf— and these are considered the most precious by the natives — others are dug out from the earth As for the island of Oylon, rubies are found in all its parts. There the land is transferable; out of it if one purchases a piece and digs for rubies one finds intertwining white stones concealing rubies in their inside. These stones are taken to the cutters who cut them until the rubies are extracted; some of these are red rubies, some are yellow topazes and some blue sapphires, which are called nailam. Their custom is that those of the rubies whose value rises to a hundred fanams are reserved for the king who pays their priee and takes them, while those which are of lower price may be disposed of by the respective owners. As for the rate of exchange a hundred fanams are equal in value to six gold dinars.

All women in the island of Ceylon wear coloured ruby necklaces* which they also use in place of bracelets and anklets. But the king’s slave girls make a network 5 of the rubies which they place over their heads. On the forehead of the white elephant I noticed seven stones, each of which was greater in size than a hen’s egg. I saw with king Ayr! ShakarwatI a bowl ir-ndo of ruby as big as the palm of the hand which contained aloe- oil — a sight which astonished me. Thereupon the king observed, ‘In fact, we possess still bigger rubies’, i Then we left Kunakar and halted at a cave called after the name of Usta, Ma h mud Liiri, who was a pious man. He had dug out the cave at the foot of a hill which lay there adjacent to a small bay. Then we departed from that place and halted near the Buztna 9 Bay ; bvzina stands for, qurOd, 1


Monkeys are in great abundance in these hills ; they are of black colour with longiwh tails, and their males have beards like men. Shaikh ‘Ugman and his son as well as other persons told me that these monkeys have a chief to whom they make obeisance as though he were a sovereign (Wfcin). The chief wears on his head a headband of the leaves of trees and support* himself on a stick. And four monkeys with four sticks in their hands stand to his right and to his left and when the chief sits, they stand behind him. His female and young ones come and Bit in front of him every day, while other monkeys come and sit at a distance from him. At that time one of the said four monkeys addresses her, and then all retire. Afterwards each monkey brings a banana or a lemon or the like and the chief monkey, his young ones and the said four monkeys eat them. One of the jogis told me that he had seen the four monkeys sitting before their chiefess while she wa8 beating a monkey with a stick, and that after the beating she pulled out his hair. Some reliable persons told me that when any one of these monkeys seizes a girl she cannot protect herself from hiB lust. One of the inhabitants of the island narrated to me that he had such a monkey in his house. Incidentally one of his girls entered some room and was followed by the monkey. She cried but was overpowered by him. ‘ When we entered ‘, continued the islander, ‘we found the monkey busy with her and we killed him. ‘

Subsequently we left for the Bay of Bamboos whence Abu ‘Abdullah bin Khafif extracted two 1 rubies which he presented to the sulfc&n of this island, as has been described in Part First* of our journey. Then we travelled to a place called ‘the old woman’s house’, which lay at the extremity of the inhabited area. Thence we journeyed to the cave of Baba Talm:. who was a pious man, and afterwards to the cave of Sablk. Sablk was one of the infidel kings who had retired there for devotion.

Flying Leech

Here we saw the flying leech which they call ruJC* It is found on the trees and weeds near the water and leaps to the person who happens to pass by it.* At whichever part of the body the leech settles, great quantity of blood gushes from it. To meet its onslaught people provide themselves with lemons, whose juice being poured over it the leech falls off. Then they scrape the part attacked by it with a wooden knife prepared for the purpose. It is said that a certain pilgrim passed by a place whence leeches sprang at him and settled on his body. He bore it patiently and no lemon juice was poured with the result that his blood gushed forth and he died. His name was Baba Khuzi. There is a cave which has been named after him.

Then we journeyed to the ‘seven caves,’ and afterwards to the ‘aqba-i- t Iskandar’, the ‘ Isfahan! cave ‘, the ‘ water-spring ‘ and the ‘ uninhabited fortress ‘ successively. Underneath the ‘ uninhabited fortress’ there is a bay called the jjbp&llkfih-i-‘drifdn. 6 There lies a cave which is called the cave of ‘bitter orange’ and another still which is known as the raja’s (sultan’s) cave; and in its vicinity lies the darwdza* that is, gate of the mountain.

Mountain of Sarandib

It is one of the world’s highest mountains which we saw from the get, although we were still at a distance of nine days’ journey from it. When we climbed to the mountain we saw the clouds below, which held from our view things underneath. On this mountain there are many trees whose leaves do not fall off; and there are also flowers of various colours, notably the red rose as big as the palm of the hand. It is believed that in the said rose there is some writing in which can be read the name of Allah the exalted and that of His Prophet. May peace be on him ! In tie mountain there are two roads which lead to Adam’s Foot; one is called the Biba track and the other the Mama track, namely’ the tracks of Adam and Eve Peace be on them!

The Mama track is easy enough, which the pilgrims follow on their return. But if any one pursues that track for the purpose of reaching the Foot be is looked upon as not having performed the pilgrimage at all. The Baba track is stiff and difficult to climb. At the foot of the mountain, where lies its gate, there is a cave which is also ascribed to Alexander; and there is a spring of water.

Men of yore have hewn stairs in the mountain by which one could climb, and they have driven in iron pegs from which chains are suspended and these might be caught by the person climbing the mountain. The chains are ten in number — two in the lower part of the mountain where there is the gate, and seven adjacent to these. The tenth chain is the chain of the Islamic Creed, and is so named a because when a person arrives at it and looks down at the base of the mountain he apprehends a fall to avoid which he recites the Creed**. 8 After crossing this chain, one finds a road which has been neglected, and from the tenth chain to the Khidr Cave there is a distance of seven miles. The cave lies in a vast expanse adjoining a water spring full of fish which also bears the name of Hup. No one fishes there and in the vicinity of the cave there are on both sides of the track two reservoirs cut out of a rock. It is at the Khidr cave that the pilgrims leave off all their belongings; thence they climb two miles still to the mountain’s peak where lies the Foot.

**”There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger”.

Account of The Foot

This is the mark of the sacred Foot of our father Adam— peace and blessing be on him!— engraved into a black and lofty stone lying in a spacious area. The sacred Foot had imprinted itself in the stone so as to have made its mark; its length is eleven spans. From the old times the Chinese used to visit it; they cut out of it the space of the great toe and the adjacent part and placed it in the temple in the city of Ts’wan-ohow.fu {ZaitQ*) -where it is visited by people from the remotest parts. In the rook close to the Foot-mark are dug out nine hollows which the pagan visitors fill with gold, rubies and pearls. Consequently it is seen that the poor immediately on their arrival at the Khizr cave endeavour to surpass each other in hastening to the said hollows and seizing their contents ; but we found nothing except some little pieces of precious stones and gold which we gave away to the guide. And the custom is that the pilgrims remain three days at the Khizr oave and that all these days they walk up to the Foot, morning as well as evening. We did the same. The three days being over, we returned by way of the Mama track. We encamped at the cave of Shaim, namely Slug, the son of Adam. Peace be on them ! Then, we journeyed to the Samak 1 bay, and thence to the villages of Kurmula, Jabarkawan, Dildinawa and Atqalanja successively. At Atqalanja Shaikjj Abu ‘Abdullah bin Khafif used to spend the winter. All these villages and stations lie in the mountain. And close to the foot of the mountain in this track there is a moving tree (darakht-i-rawdn), which is a very old tree whose leaves do not fall off; I met no one who had seen them. The tree is also called Mdshla because he who looks at it from the height of the mountain sees it at considerable distance from himself and close to the foot of the mountain while to him who views it from its base, the tree appears in a reverse position. At the foot of the mountain I saw a number of the jogis who live there looking for the tree’s leaves to fall, but the tree lies at a place where it is not possible at all to reach. And they tell many lies about it ; for instance, whosoever eats the leaves of that tree will be rejuvenated although he were an old haggard. But this is untrue.

Below this mountain there is a large bay whence rubies are collected, and its waters appear to the eye as deep blue. From that place we journeyed for two days until we reached the point of Dondra [Devundara]. It is a big city lying on the coast and inhabited by merchants. There is an idol called Dinawar lodged in a huge temple in which there live about a thousand of the Brahmins and Jogis, besides five hundred or so of Hindu girls who sing and dance the whole night in front of the idol. The city and its revenues are dedicated to the idol, and all those who live in the temple as well as those who visit it live thereupon. The idol is made of gold and is as big as a man, and in place of two eyes it has two big rubies which, I was told, shine in the course of the night like two lanterns.

Then we journeyed to the city of Kali [Galle] which is a small city lying at a distance of six parasangs [twenty-one miles] from Dondra [Devundara]. There lives a Muslim called Captain Ibrahim who gave us a treat at his house. Later we departed for the city of Kalanbu [Colombo] which is one of the finest and greatest cities of Sarendib [Sri Lanka]. In it lives the minister and admiral Jibuti who has with him about five hundred Abyssinians [slaves]. Then we resumed our journey, and after three days we arrived at Battala [Putlam] which has been described before. We went to visit king Ayra ShakarwatI and I found Captain Ibrahim** awaiting me. Then we sailed for the country of Ma’bar [Tamil Nadu].

** This Captain Ibrahim should not be confused with his namesake at Kali [Galle].


Background: Ibn Battuta was a Arab traveler and scholar born in Morroco. He is widely recognised as one of the greatest travelers of all time. He lived from 1304-1368 and traveled over 40 countries in Africa, Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, China and Central Asia. After returning home the Morroan ruler of the time encouraged him to write about his travels. He called his manuscript writings as, “A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling”. It became famous simply as, “Al Rihla” (The Travels). It is still a very famous book of travel, adventure and history with various copies and publications of the book vailable on We encourage you to find a copy of his book and explore the strange wonders of the ancient world.

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