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Sri Lankan units of measurement

A number of different units of measurement were used in Sri Lanka to measure quantities like length, mass and capacity.[1] Under the British Empire, imperial units became the official units of measurement[2] and remained so until Sri Lanka adopted the metric system in the 1970s.[3][4]

Traditional units

Various units were used in Sri Lanka at different times and some only in certain regions. Some of these remained in use well into the colonial period.[1][5] The following is only a partial list.


One covid was equal to 0.464 m (18.5 in[2]).[1] The bamba, still in use in 2010, is the distance between a man's outstretched arms. Units used in measuring road distances included the gavva and yoduna (plurals gavu and yojana - a yoduna was 4 gavu) and the hoo kiyana dura.[5]

Area was often measured in terms of the land that could be sown with a specific amount of seed or rice, including the pala, amuna (4 pala) and kiriya (4 amunas) and the riyana. In one region, a kiriya was about 8 acres.[5]

Prinsep, writing in 1840, states that "at ... Ceylon ... English measures only are used, or at least a cubit based on the English measure of 18 inches."[6]:96


One candy or one bahar was equal to 226.8 kg,[1] or 500 lbs,[6]:86 or according to The Indian Trader's Guide 480 Dutch pounds or 520 pounds Avoirdupois.[7]

Small weights could be measured in seeds, such as the tala, amu, vee ata (3 amu), madati (8 vee ata), majadi, maditi, kalanda and manjadi.[5]


Different units were used for liquid and dry capacity.[2]


One seer was equal to 1.2 quarts and one parrah was equal to 6.75 gallons.[2]

Another source suggests that a seer was equal to 1.86 imperial pints or 1.06 litres. [8]


One ammonam was equal to 203.4 l. Some other units are provided below:[1]

1 parrah = 1/8 ammonam

1 seer = 1/288 ammonam.

The chundoo was equal to nearly half a pint.[2]

Maccauly stated in 1818 that to the north of Colombo an Ammonam contained 16 Parahs, and 2.5 Ammonams equalled one Acre, but that to the south there were 8 Parahs to the Ammonam. He describes the Parah as a measure 16.7 inches wide and 5.6 inches deep.[7]

Montgomery, writing in 1835, describes the interior measurement of a Parrah as a perfect cube of 11.571 inches, and the seer as a cylinder of depth 4.35 inches and diameter 4.35 inches.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e Washburn, E.W. (1926). International Critical Tables of Numerical Data, Physics, Chemistry and Technology. New York: McGraw-Hil Book Company, Inc. p. 4. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Clarke, F.W. (1891). Weights Measures and Money of All Nations. New York: D. Appleton & Company. p. 23. 
  3. ^ "History". Measurement Units and Services Department. Measurement Units and Services Department. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Cardarelli, F. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. Their SI Equivalences and Origins. London: Springer. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1. 
  5. ^ a b c d Pieris, Kamalika. "Weights and measures in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka". Daily News (Sri Lanka). Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Prinsep, James (1840). Useful tables, forming an appendix to the Journal of the Asiatic Society: part the first, Coins, weights, and measures of British India. Bishop's College Press. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Maccauly, Thomas (1818). The Indian Trader's complete Guide, being a correct account of coins, weights,measures &c. &c. at the different settlements of India and adjacent native sovereignties of Asia. Calcutta. p. 42. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Seer". Sizes, grades, units, scales, calendars, chronologies. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  9. ^ Montgomery, Martin (1835). "Ceylon". History of the British colonies: Vol 1: Possessions in Asia (2nd ed.). Cochrane. p. 561. Retrieved 2 January 2015.