Sinhalese belongs to the Indo-European language family with its roots
deeply associated with Indo-Aryan sub family to which the languages
such as Persian and Hindi belong. Although it is not very clear
whether people in
Sri Lanka spoke a dialect of Prakrit at the time of
arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there is enough evidence that
Sinhala evolved from mixing of Sanskrit, Magadi (the language which
was spoken in Magada Province of India where Lord Buddha was born) and
local language which was spoken by people of
Sri Lanka prior to the
arrival of Vijaya in Sri Lanka, the founder of Sinhala Kingdom. It
is also surmised that Sinhala had evolved from an ancient variant of
Apabramsa (middle Indic) which is known as ‘Elu’. When tracing
history of Elu, it was preceded by Hela or
Sinhala though has close relationships with Indo Aryan languages which
are spoken primarily in the north, north eastern and central India,
was very much influenced by Dravidian language families of
Hindi.Though Sinhala is related closely to Indic languages, it also
has its own unique characteristics: Sinhala has symbols for two vowels
which are not found in any other Indic languages in India: ‘æ’
(ඇ) and ‘æ:’ (ඈ).
The Sinhala script had evolved from Southern Brahmi script from which
almost all the Southern Indic Scripts such as Telugu and Oriya had
evolved. Later Sinhala was influenced by Grantha writing of Southern
India. Since 1250 AD, the Sinhala script had remained the same with
few changes. Although some scholars are of the view that the Brahmi
Script arrived with the Buddhism, Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle) speaks
of written language even right after the arrival of Vijaya.
Archeologists had found pottery fragments in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka
with older Brahmi script inscriptions, which had been carbon dated to
5th century BC. The earliest Brahmi Script found in India had been
dated to 6th Century BC in Tamil Nadu though most of Brahmi writing
found in India had been attributed to emperor Ashoka in the 3rd
Sinhala letters are round-shaped and are written from left to right
and they are the most circular-shaped script found in the Indic
scripts. The evolution of the script to the present shapes may have
taken place due to writing on Ola leaves. Unlike chiseling on a rock,
writing on palm leaves has to be more round-shaped to avoid the stylus
ripping the Palm leaf while writing on it. When drawing vertical or
horizontal straight lines on Ola leaf, the leaves would have been
ripped and this also may have influenced Sinhala not to have a period
or full stop. Instead a stylistic stop which was known as
‘Kundaliya’ is used. Period and commas were later introduced into
Sinhala script after the introduction of paper due to the influence of
Although various scholars had mentioned about numerations in the
Sinhala language in their writing on Sinhala language, a systematic
study had not been conducted up to now on numerals and numerations
found in Sinhala right before British occupation of Kandy. In modern
Sinhala, Arabic numerals, which were introduced by Portuguese, Dutch
and English, is used for writing numbers and carrying out
Roman numerals are used for writing dates and for
listing items or words in Sinhala though at present, Roman numerals
are not commonly used and they were also introduced by Westerners who
invaded Sri Lanka. It is accepted that
Arabic numerals had evolved
from Brahmi numerals. It had also been discovered by Sri Lankan
Brahmi numerals were used in the ancient Sri Lanka
and it may have evolved into two sets of numerals which were known as
Sinhala numerals and Lith Illakkum which were found in the
Kandyan period. This paper mainly covers numerals and numerations in
Sri Lanka at the time of British occupation of the Kandyan Kingdom and
their evolution to the forms which were found in 1815, the year the
British occupied the whole of Sri Lanka. This article will also touch
upon Brahmi numerals, which were found in Sri Lanka.
1 Numerals or numerations found immediately before the capture of the
Kandyan Kingdom in
Sri Lanka by the British
1.1 Sinhala archaic numerals or Sinhala Illakkam
1.2 Sinhala astrological numerals or Sinhala Lith Illakkam
1.4 Page numbering of Ola leaves using Sinhala ‘Swara
1.5 Bhootha Anka or Butha Samkaya
Brahmi numerals found in Sri Lanka
3 Research into Sinhala numerals
7 External links
Numerals or numerations found immediately before the capture of the
Kandyan Kingdom in
Sri Lanka by the British
It had been found that five different types of numerations were used
in the Sinhala language at the time of the invasion of the Kandyan
kingdom by the British. Out of the five types of numerations, two sets
of numerations were in use in the twentieth century mainly for
astrological calculations and to express traditional year and dates in
ephemeri des. The five types or sets of numerals or numerations are
Sinhala archaic numerals or Sinhala Illakkam
Abraham Mendis Gunasekera, in A Comprehensive Grammar of Sinhalese
Language (1891), described a set of archaic numerals which were no
longer in use. According to Mr. Gunesekera, these numerals were used
for ordinary calculations and to express simple numbers. Gunasekera
The Sinhalase had symbols of its own to represent the different
numerals which were in use until the beginning of the present century.
Arabic Figures are now universally used. For the benefit of the
student, the old numerals are given in the plate opposite (No. iii.).
Sinhala numerals did not have a zero and they also did not have zero
concept holder. They included separate symbols for 10, 40, 50, 100,
These numerals were also regarded as Lith Lakunu or ephemeris numbers
by W. A. De Silva in his Catalogue of Palm leaf manuscripts in the
library of Colombo Museum. This set of numerals was known as Sinhala
illakkam or Sinhala archaic numerals.
Sinhala numerals or Sinhala illakkam were used in the Kandyan
convention which was signed between Kandyan Chieftains and the British
governor, Robert Brownrig, in 1815. Eleven clauses were numbered in
Arabic numerals in the English part of the agreement, and the parallel
Sinhala clauses were numbered in Sinhala archaic numerals.
Sinhala numerals from Plate III of Gunasekera’s A
Comprehensive Grammar of Sinhalese Language.
Sinhala numerals from ‘Catalogue of Palm leaf manuscripts in
the library of Colombo Museum’, Volume I, compiled by W. A. De
Silva, published by the Government Printer in 1938.
A day had sixty Sinhala hora or hours. This watch, which belonged to
the last king of Kandy, shows thirty horas or hours in Sinhala
Illakkam. Even today, Sinhala astrologers express time of birth in
Sinhala Hora or Hours for casting horoscopes.
The Kandyan Convention of 1815, using Sinhala archaic numerals.
The first page of Kandyan Convention. The first clause of the
convention is numbered with Sinhala Illakkam. The numeral 'one' is
marked with a red square.
The second page of Kandyan Convention. The second and third clauses of
the convention are numbered with Sinhala Illakkam.
All eleven numerals found in the Kandyan Convention are given in the
second row and the corresponding numerals which are given by Mendis
Gunesekera are given below for comparison. Number 2 and 3 of Sinhala
Illakkam have a slight variation.
Sinhala astrological numerals or Sinhala Lith Illakkam
Sinhala Lith Illakkam or Sinhala Astrological Numbers. Zero of Lith
Illakkam is Halantha or Hal Lakuna. Hal Lakuna or Halantha removes the
inherent vowel sound in a consonant. This is the first version of
Sinhala Lith Illakkam and is the oldest version found. Please note
Number 2, 3, and 9 are given by shapes which are similar to older
Abraham Mendis Gunesekera became famous for the Sinhala Grammar Book
which was written by him in the latter part of the 18th century. This
book also gave the shapes of Sinhala Illakkam. Here in a rare magazine
Article, he describes Lith Illakkam and he further suggests instead of
using Hallantha or Hal Lakuna for zero to use modern zero. He writes
in this article large numbers with Lith Illakkam.
This Ola was found at Kandy museum and it contains Astrological
calculations. The book have been written in the 17th century.
This is the second version of Lith illakkam found in the modern books.
An astrological text book found in the Kandy Museum with Lith
A rare horoscope which was cast in 1936 with mixture of Lith Illakkam
and Arabic numerals. Please note 'Thunda Litha' in Lith Illakkam.
Page numbering with Lith Illakkam. Page numbers of Ola which are non
buddhist topics are numbered with Lith Illakkam.
Although this numeral set was commonly used for casting horoscopes and
to carry out astrological calculations, it had been found that this
set had been used for numbering pages of Ola palm leaf books which
covered primarily of none Buddhist topics in Sinhala. Numbers of lith
illakkam look Sinhala letters and vowel modifiers, and it had been
discovered that there are mainly two versions of these illakkam
according to the way numbers 2, 3 and 9 are written. The number six is
known as ‘akma’ in the Lith Illakkam. These numerals were in use
continuously for writing horoscopes on Ola leaf, the tradition of
which continued till the beginning of the twentieth century. Both
versions of Lith illakkam have a zero and the zero is the Halantha or
Hal lakuna (kodiya) in the Sinhala language. Although it is not
understood whether Sinhala mathematicians treated zero as a number, it
was quite possible they had known the concept of zero. In Lith
Illakkam, numbers greater than zero were written the same way as the
Arabic numbers with the zero and the value of the number in the left
was increased by ten. In other words, Lith illakkam had a zero and a
zero place holder concept. Lith illakkum version 1 had for 2, 3 and 9,
Sinhala letter ‘Murthda Na’ in 6 to 8th century. In the second
version of Lith Illakkam as W. A. De Silva had depicted in his book,
2,3 and 9, Sinhala letter, ‘Na’ (න) with vowel modifiers.
One of the most interesting articles which had been discovered is an
article on numerals and numerations in Sinhala language, the
authorship of which has been attributed to Abrham Mendis Gunesekera.
In this article, he refers to Lith Illakam as well as to Sinhala
Illakkam. For Sinhala illakkam, he produces the same shapes which had
been given in his English book. Abraham Mendis Gunesekera uses modern
Sinhala letters and vowel modifiers which is the Version 2 of Lith
illakkam. In this article, he clearly mentions that Hal lakuna or
‘Kodiya’ is the zero. In other words, ‘Sunayathana’ is filled
with a kodiya will multiply by ten of the number which is on the left
side of Sunayasthana. Abrham Mendis Gunesekera clearly states that
instead of Hal lakuna of the Sinhala language, a ‘Shunaya
binduawa’ (zero) can be used to fill the ‘Shunayasthana’ (Zero
Place Holder). In other words, Lith Illakkum uses duality of zero to
write numbers greater than 9.
Even to this day, years are given in the front page of popular
ephemeris in Sri Lanka, ‘Panchanga Lith’ using ‘Katapayadiya’.
Katapayadiya is a unique numbering scheme where numbers 1 to 9 and 0
have been depicted by Sinhala consonants. The katapayadiya is
mainly used for writing dates. This is numeration is known as
Katapayadiya1 since number one is allocated with the Sinhala letters
‘Ka’ (ක), ‘Ta’ (ට), ‘Pa’ (ප ) and ‘Ya’ (ය) .
In this tradition of writing numbers, the year 2007 can be written
with for instance ‘Ka’ (ඛ) ‘Na’ (න) ‘Na’ (න)
‘Sa’ (ස). Traditionally, 2007 will be written from right to
left: 7002. Ordinarily, using vowel modifiers, a word in Sanskrit will
be created for the year 2007 (7002 right to left) with the allocated
letters for 7002. When reading, one has to remove the vowel modifier.
Katapayadiya was widely used by South Indian astrologers and some of
Chola rock inscriptions in
Sri Lanka have dates inscribed in
Page numbering of Ola leaves using Sinhala ‘Swara
The method of page numbering of Ola using Sinhala Swara with
consonants had been common tradition in the ancient and recent history
of Sri Lanka. The author had found that using Sinhala Swara in place
of numeration could be traced back to Aryabhata’s (the great Indian
Mathematician and Astronomer) numbering system where he used Sanskrit
Swaras in place of numerals. Sinhala scribes had developed its own
numeration based upon Sinhala characters according to the order of the
position of consonants and vowels in the Sinhala Alphabet without the
modern two vowels: ‘Ae’ (ඇ) and ‘Ae:’ (ඈ) in the Sinhala
Sinhala alphabet without the above-mentioned two vowels
is known as ‘Pansal Hodiya’ or the alphabet of the temple). The
numeration method which is similar to the use of Sinhala Swara is
found in Burmese Ola collection.
The tradition of Swara as numeration in page numbering in Ola had been
commonly used for Buddhist manuscripts. The authors had the
opportunity of examining several Ola palm leaf books which are in the
Colombo Museum and the catalogues of Hugh Neville collection in the
London Museum. Having investigated paging of Ola leaves, the majority
of palm leaf manuscripts which are in the museum had Sinhala
consonants with ‘swara’ (ස්වර) (combinations of sounds)
for numbering. The number of combinations which can be made out of
consonants is 544 and once the first 544 finishes, paging begins with
the second cycle of 544 with the word ‘dwi:’ (ද්වී) or
second in English. If the second cycle does not end the palm leaf
book, it goes into third cycle of 544 which begins with the word
‘three’ (ත්රීp) or Three in English.
Bhootha Anka or Butha Samkaya
In Sinhala literature, certain words in the language were used to
denote numbers. For instance, sky is associated with zero or
‘Sunaya’, and a number which was denoted by words is known as
Bhuta Anka. Bhootha Anka was created by ancient Sanskrit
mathematicians and astronomers prior to the invention of a symbol for
zero. Some of the words which are associated with numbers are
Moon = one
Eye = two
Fire = three
To write 130, one would place moon, fire, sky together to form the
Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, in his article ‘Ancient Sanskrit
Mathematics: An oral tradition and a written literature”, describes
Bhootha Anka as object-number metronomic expressions.
As it was mentioned previously, knowledge was transferred through
memory rather than writing it down. In order to make memorization
easier, it is natural that the numbers are placed as words and the
words are formulated sequentially that they would sound rhythmical.
The Indian tradition of Bhootha anka was imported to
Sri Lanka as it
was used in India and the tradition continued with Sinahala words that
had same meanings.
Brahmi numerals found in Sri Lanka
Dr. Paranavithana (first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology) and
Dr. Abaya Aryiasinha had independently found in their research that
Sinhalese had used numerals which closely resembled
Brahmi numerals of
India in the early days of Sinhala civilization. The evidence for use
Brahmi numerals had been discovered primarily in rock inscriptions
which were inscribed in between AD 200 and 400. These numerals were
used to record donations given by royals and other people who were
belonged to the upper echelon of ancient Sinhala society to Buddhist
Brahmi numerals are ancestors of
Arabic numerals which are
used presently worldwide.
Brahmi numerals had symbols for 10,100, and
1000. Number 1 and 10 in Brahmi have not been found in
Sri Lanka up to
now. Therefore, shapes of these two numerals have been hypothesized
taking into consideration of shapes of Brahmi Number 1 and 10 found in
India without physical evidence . Sinhala rock inscriptions suddenly
become barren of numerals from A.D. 400 onwards. Tradition of writing
numbers in word becomes more prevalent from the above period.
In Sri Lanka, number 1 and 10 have not been physically found. In
Brahmi numerals 30, 40, 80 and 90 seemed to
have not been also discovered.
Brahmi Numeral Four on a tile, Kandy Museum Sri Lanka
Research into Sinhala numerals
Although a few scholars had recorded the existence of Sinhala numerals
after 1815, a comprehensive research was required to establish the
past existence and precise shapes of these numerals.
The proposal, L2/07-002R (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N3195R), which was
submitted by Mr.
Michael Everson to the
Unicode consortium for
encoding a set of numerals which he claimed were Sinhala numerals,
initiated research into
Sinhala numerals and numerations. 
Through the research which was carried out by Mr. Harsha
Wijayawardhana of University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC)
under the aegis of the Information and Communication Technology Agency
(ICTA) of Sri Lanka, it was discovered that other than the set of
numerals submitted by Mr.
Michael Everson for encoding, there were
four other sets which were commonly used by Sinhala scribes, namely
Sinhala Lith Illakkam (Astrological Digits) mainly used for writing
horoscopes; Swara, (Sinhala Consonant and vowel modifier based
numerals); Katapayadiya, a special Sinhala character based numeral set
which was used for inscribing years in astrological writing, in
ancient Ola and in rock inscriptions; and word based Bootha Anka or
Samkaya used in Sinhala Poetry. Mr. Wijayawardhana identified the
numeral set which was submitted by Mr.
Michael Everson to UCS as
Sinhala Illakkam (Sinhala Archaic Numerals).
Subsequently, Prof. K.D. Paranvithana of Raja Rata University, Sri
Lanka, and Mr. Harsha Wijayawardhana carried out further research and
the findings were presented at the National Archaeological Symposium
held in July 2009, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, organized by the Department
of Archaeology. The Synopsis of the paper was published in the Volume
II of the Symposium’s proceedings. In October 2009, Mr. Harsha
Wijayawardhana authored a book titled “Numerations in the Sinhala
The research into
Sinhala numerals were carried out from the both
linguistic and mathematical perspectives. In their research, the
researchers had looked specifically for the existence of zero in any
form of numerations in the Sinhala language, since the invention of
zero had been a major demarcation point in mathematics and advancement
in modern pure mathematics would have not been possible without having
the concept of zero. Although zero had been discovered and
re-discovered independently by various civilizations in the world, it
is now accepted that zero as an independent number was discovered and
used for the first time by the Indian mathematicians and it had been
taken to the west by the Arabs with the rest of numerals which were
developed in India from Brahmi numerals. E.T. Bell in his book, the
development of Mathematics, describes of the development of zero by
Indian mathematicians in the following manner: “The problem of
numeration was finally solved by Hindus at some controversial date
before A.D. 800. The introduction of zero as a symbol denoting the
absence of units or of certain powers of ten in a number represented
by the Hindu numerals has been rated as one of the greatest practical
inventions of all time”.
In their research into
Sinhala numerals or numerations, the authors
had looked into the following:
Papers or publications on Sinhala numerals
Original documents which had some of form of numerals or numerations
Ola leaf page numbering
Any evidence for zero in
Sinhala numerals or numerations
Shapes of several numeral sets which belong to Indic languages were
compared with of the numerals sets which were identified as numerals
or numerations in the Sinhala language. The Indic numerals sets which
were studied extensively were Thai, Lao, Burmese, and Malayalam
numerals. Colombo and Kandy museum were visited many instances to
study Ola leaf pagination by the researchers. Colombo museum library
hosts to an Ola leaf collection which is known as W. A. De Silva
Collection and this sizable collection amounts to be 5000. Some of the
original and older Ola leaf collections were found to be outside of
Sri Lanka. A major collection is located in Britain and is known as
Hue Neville collection and the catalogue of this collection is
available in Sri Lanka. Other country museums that are reputed to host
to Sinhala Ola leaf collections are in Arizona, US, Brussels, Belgium
Sinhala Archaic Numbers
Sinhala Archaic Numbers (
Sinhala numerals were added to the
Unicode Standard in June, 2014 with
the release of version 7.0.
Unicode block for Sinhala numerals, called Sinhala Archaic
Numbers, is U+111E0–U+111FF:
Sinhala Archaic Numbers
Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
1.^ As of
Unicode version 10.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
^ Dissanayaka, J.B. (2006). Sinahala Graphology. Sumitha
^ Mahanama, Thera. Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka. Vijith
^ Gunasekera, Abraham Mendis (1891). A Comprehensive Grammar of
Sri Lanka Sahitya Mandalaya (Academy of Letters).
^ ගුණසේකර ඒබ්රැුහැම්
කතෘ – (පිටු අංක 3 සිට 10 දක්වා).
^ Epa Panchanga (Epa Ephemeris). Epa Printers. 2007.
^ De Silva, W.A. (1938). Catalogue of Palm leaf manuscripts in the
library of Colombo Museum. 1. Government Printer.
^ Filliozat, Pierre-Sylvain (2004). Ancient Sanskrit Mathematics: An
oral tradition and a written literature, book 147, History of Science,
History Text by Karine Chemla.
^ අභිලේඛන, සමරු පොත් පෙළ,
දෙවන වෙළුම, ප්ර,ධාන
සංස්කාරක – පණ්ඩිත ආචාර්ය
දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව. 1990. p. 90.
^ Everson, Michael (2007). "N3195R: Proposal to add archaic numbers
for Sinhala to the BMP of UCS" (PDF). Retrieved 4 July 2014.
^ "N3888: Proposal to include Sinhala Numerals to the BMP and SMP of
the UCS" (PDF). Retrieved 4 July 2014.
^ Bell, Eric Temple (1945) . Development of Mathematics (2nd
ed.). McGraw Hill Book Company. p. 51.
Wijayawardhana, Harsha. Numerations in the Sinhala Language. Strategic
Communications and Media Unit – ICTA.
Hettigoda; De Silva, Hendrick (1987) . Life and Planets, Vishwa
Lekha, Sarvodaya. pp. 34–36.
Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit,
Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press
"Numeration by Kularathne P.D.S.". Sinhala Encyclopedia. 1967.
Menninger, Karl; Broneer, Paul (1992). Number words and number
symbols: A cultural history. Courier Dover Publications.
Samaranayake, V.K.; Nandasara, S.T.; Dissanayake, J.B.; Weerasinghe,
A.R.; Wijayawardhana, H. (2003). "An Introduction to UNICODE for
Sinhala Characters" (PDF). University of Colombo School of Computing.
Retrieved 4 July 2014.