A Short history of Lanka

by Humphry William Codrington | 1926 | 48,606 words

Printed Edition 1926 Macmillan and Co., Limited St Martin's Street, London Web Edition 2000 Rhajiv Ratnatunga Pittsburgh. PA USA...

Chapter II - Duttha Gamani to Kassapa of Sigiriya; third century B.C.—Sixth Century A.D. (161 BC—479 AD)

Elara or as he is called in Sinhala Elala, was a Tamil from the Chola country, of which Tanjore was the capital in mediaeval times: he invaded Lanka and put Asela to death. Though a Hindu, his justice commanded the respect of his Sinhala subjects. Concerning this the Mahavansa relates that the king bad a bell with a rope attached at the head of his bed, so that all who sought redress might ring it. Among other instances of the royal justice the chronicle tells how a calf was killed unintentionally by the chariot wheel of the king's son, and how, on the mother cow ringing the bell, the father had the prince's head struck off by the same wheel. The story is also told in Tamil literature of the Chola king Manu.

At this period there were branches of the royal family established at Kelaniya and at Magama in the present Hambantota District. The queen of Devanampiya Tissa tried to poison her brother-in-law, the sub-king Mahanaga, who thereupon fled towards Ruhuna. On the way his wife gave birth to a son, Tissa, at the Yatthala Vihara, whence, proceeding to Ruhuna, he established himself at Magama. The site of Tissa's birthplace usually is identified with a temple near Galle, but it is clear from the narrative that it was not in Ruhuna: possibly it was the vihara of the same name in Kegalla District.

Tissa is said in the Pujavaliya to have built the Kelani Dagaba: he, his son Gothabhaya, and his grandson Kakavanna Tissa (KavanTissa, `Crow-colour Tissa') succeeded to the government of the principality or kingdom of Magama; the last named ruler's wife was the daughter of Tissa, king of Kelaniya. The queen of this king Tissa had carried on an intrigue with her brother-inlaw, who on being detected fled and corresponded with her by a messenger disguised as a priest. The man attached himself to the attendants of the chief priest who was visiting the palace, and catching the eye of the queen dropped his master's letter. Unfortunately the palm-leaf missive made & noise in falling; the correspondence was detected, and the king in his fury slew not only the messenger but the chief priest, whose complicity he suspected. Thereupon the sea, which. according to the Rajavaliya was then about seven gaus (some fifteen miles) from Kelaniya, overwhelmed the land, submerging many towns and villages. To put an end to this the king placed his daughter Devi in a golden vessel and launched it into the sea: she was carried southwards and east ashore near a temple (vihara), when she became the queen consort of Kakavanna Tissa under the name of Vihara Devi. Their sons were Gamani Abhaya, the future hero, and Tissa.

Gamani Abhaya at an early age showed signs of an adventurous disposition, and in particular resented the confined limits of his father's kingdom, which was bounded by the Mahaweliganga, on the other bank of which the Tamils ruled. The young prince surrounded himself with a chosen band of companions, finally asked permission of his father to fight the Tamils, and, being refused, fled in anger to the hills, thus earning by his conduct the surname of `Duttha,' `bad'. On the death of his father, Duttha Gamani (Dutu Gemunu), as we must now call him, succeeded to the kingdom, though not withoutj an armed struggle with his brother, with whom he was finally reconciled.

Duttha Gamani was now free to open his campaign against Elara. Advancing through the hills on his famous state elephant Kandula (Kadol), he commenced operations at Mahiyangana, and gradually fought his way down the Mahaweliganga river. The Tamils at last threw themselves into Vijitapura, the siege. of which took four months. This town usually is identified with the place now called by this name near Kalavewa: but, as it was garrisoned by those Tamils `who had escaped the slaughter along the bank of the river,' it seems more probable that it was in the neighbourhood of the later Polonnaruwa, a suburb of which in the twelfth century still went by the name of Vijita. This place undoubtedly is better situated than Kalavewa for the next operation, the reduction of Girilaka, if this be Giritale. Duttha Gamani then advanced to the Kasa mountain or Kahagala, fifteen miles south-west of Anuradhapura, where he fortified himself and awaited the onset of Elara In the battle which ensued Elara fled towards the capital; but he was pursued by Duttha Gamani and slain by him in single combat close to the southern gate of the city. His body was burnt with royal honours, and such was the respect in which he was held that succeeding kings of Lanka silenced their musical instruments when passing his tomb in procession. The so-called Elala Sohona or Tomb of Elala at Anuradhapura does not mark his burial-place, but is the Dakkhina Thupa or Southern Dagaba.

Duttha Gamani (second or first century B.C.), having disposed of reinforcements which arrived from India under nephew, was now sole monarch of Lanka, and kept the feast of his coronation. On the seventh day thereafter he celebrated an aquatic festival at Tisa-vewa. At its conclusion he found, that he was unable to take up his spear, into which a relic had been inserted, from the ground, and, considering this a miracle, began the building of the Mirisveti Dagaba on that spot, in penance for his failure to share with the priesthood a ripe chilly-pod (miris). He also constructed the Brazen Palace, so called from its tiles being of brass: this also is attributed to Devanampiya Tissa. His chief work of piety, however, was the great Ruwanweli Dagaba or Maha Thupa, erected upon the site where Buddha had stayed on his third visit to Lanka. The huge mass was still unfinished and lacking the spire when Duttha Gamani fell sick. His younger brother, Saddha Tissa, having covered the dagaba with white cloth and crowned it with' a spire of bamboo, the king was brought out and died, his eyes fixed on his masterpiece. He had reigned twenty-four years. Duttha Gamani, as seen by later generations, too well acquainted with Dravidian conquerors, became the heroic figure of Sinhala history, the expeller of the foreigner and the restorer of the national religion.

Ruwanweli Dagaba or Maha Thupa

The new king, Saddha Tissa, rebuilt the Brazen Palace, which had been burnt, and formed the Padi tank or Padawiya in the North Central Province. To him is ascribed the inscription by the drip-line over the great cave temple of Dambulla, though tradition attributes the construction of this shrine to Vatta Gamani.

After three of Saddha Tissa's sons had ruled, a fourth, by name Vatta Gamani (Valagam Abha, first century B.C.) came to the throne, but was expelled by Tamil invaders in the fifth month of his reign, and concealed himself in the hill country. Five Tamils, apparently Pandyans, maintained their hold of the capital for fourteen years: the last was slain by Vatta Gamani, who thus regained his sovereignty. Now the king on his flight from Anuradhapura had been mocked by a Jain ascetic of the establishment founded by Pandukabhaya, and had then resolved, if he `were successful, to build a vihara on the spot. This he now proceeded to carry out, and built the great Abhayagiri Dagaba, said to have been completed in the 218th year from the foundation of the Maha Vihara: this structure is not the one commonly called by the name, but that now styled the Jetavanarama. North of Ruwanweli Dagaba the king constructed the Silasobbhakandaka Dagaba, the modem Lankarama; and his soldier Uttiya the Dakkhina or `Southern' Vihara, now known as `Elala's Tomb.'

In this reign we hear of the first dissension in the priesthood, the Abhayagiri fraternity separating itself from the Maha Vihara under the name of the Dharmaruchi sect. It is stated that at the same period and on account of false doctrine the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitalca) and their commentaries, hitherto handed down by word of mouth, were recorded in books. The traditional site of the convocation assembled for this purpose is Aluvihare, near Matale

Among the successors of Vatta Gamani appears the infamous queen Anula. She first poisoned two husbands, then ruled by means of four paramours in succession, and having rid herself, of them by poison finally governed openly alone, but was speedily supplanted by Kutakanna Tissa (about the beginning of the Christian era). This king built a wall seven cubits high round Anuradhapura. His grandson Amanda Gamani was the founder of the well-known Ridi Vihara in Kurunegala District, a temple which derives its name from the silver miraculously dis covered at this place for the purpose of constructing the Ruwanweli Dagaba. Ila Naga (first century A.D.) built the great dagaba at Tissamaharama, then known as the Naga Maha Vihara. Vasabha, his fourth successor, raised in height Kutakanna Tissa's wall round the capital; if we are to believe the later chronicle it had a circumference of sixteen gaus, or over thirty-five miles. Vasabha did much for irrigation, constructing eleven tanks; the Elahera channel, which took water to Kawdulu-vewa, is mentioned in his reign.

The monotony of piety and murder is broken by Gamani, nicknamed Gaja Bahu or elephant arm' (second century A.D.). A king of little account in the older chronicle, he has attained a certain fame in popular legend. According to the mediaeval account, in the time of his father, 12,000 men had been sent to work at Kaveri on the Coromandel coast; in the late Rajavaliya this has developed into an invasion by the Chola king. Gaja Bahu, while walking in the city one night, heard a widow weeping because her children had been carried off. The king, who was unaware of what had happened in his father's' time, assembled his army, but resolved to accomplish his purpose unaided in person. The Rajavaliya relates the story thus:

`Taking the giant Nila with him he went and struck the sea with an iron mace,. divided the waters in twain, and going quietly on arrived at the Soli capital, struck terror into the king of Soli, and seated himself on the throne like King Sak; whilst the giant Nila seized the elephants. in the city and killed them by striking one against another.

`The ministers informed the king of Soli of the devastation of the city thus being made. Thereupon he inquired of Gajaba, "Is the Sinhala host come to destroy this city?" Gajaba repiled, " I have a little boy who accompanied me; there is no army," and caused the giant Nila to be brought and made to stand by his side. Thereupon the king of Soli asked, "Why has your Majesty come along without an army?" Gajaba replied, " I have come to take back the 12,000 persons whom your royal father brought here as prisoners in the time of my father." To this the king of Soli saying, "A king of our family it was who, in time past, went to the city of the gods and gained victory in the war with the Asuras," refused to send for and deliver the men. Then Gajaba grew `wroth and said, "Forthwith restore my 12,000 people, giving 12,000 more besides them; else will I destroy this city and reduce it to ashes." Having said this, he squeezed out water from sand and showed it; squeezed water from his iron mace and showed that. Having in this way intimidated the king of Soli he received the original number supplemented by an equal number of men as interest, making 24,000 persons in all. He also took away the jewelled anklets of the goddess Pattini, and the insignia of the gods of the four devala, and also the bowl-relic which had been carried off in the time of king Valagamba; and admonishing the king not to act thus in future, departed.'

The story Continues that the 24,000 were distributed by the king in different districts, thus accounting for such names as Sarasiyapattuwa, `the 400 pattu,' and the like. Similar names of districts, however, occur in India. The tradition as to the goddess Pattini may have some foun dation in fact, as in ancient Tamil literature Gaja Bahu of Lanka attended the consecration of the Pattini temple at Vanji by the Chera King Senguttavan. To this king's maternal grandfather, the Chola Karikala, is attributed the construction of embankments along the Kaveri river.

Pricipal Tanks and Channels in the King's Country


Voharika Tissa (third century A.D.), so called from his knowledge of law and from having set judicial business free from maiming, or perhaps torture, suppressed the Vaitulya heresy, a Mahayana or northern form of Buddhism which had appeared at Abhayagiri. He is said to have come to the throne when 752 years had passed since the death of Buddha.

Thirty-three years later three members of the Lambakanna `Lemeni,(`having ears with long Lobes') branch of the royal family conspired against the reigning King Vijaya, slew him, and set the eldest, Sangha Tissa, on the throne. He was succeeded by the second, Siri Sanghabodhi (Sri Sangabo, third or early forth century A.D.), who has become a saintly figure in popular story. Of him it is related that in a severe drought he sat himself on the ground before the Ruwanweli Dagaba, and resolved not to rise there from until rain should have fallen sufficient to lift him from the earth. Rain immediately fell, but, as the king who was not floating on the water still refused to rise, his household officers stopped up the drains and enabled him to fulfil his vow. Again, on the occasion of an epidemic, attributed to a red-eyed demon, the king compelled the monster to appear and offered himself in satisfaction of his hunger. This offer was politely refused, and instead ` bali `offerings were instituted throughout Lanka. The third Lambakanna, Gothakabhaya (Golu Aba), rebelled against him, and Sri Sanghabodhi, abhorring the idea of being the cause of death to others, fled southwards from the capital. The usurper offered a reward for his head. A traveller happened to meet the king, whom he did not recognize, and pressed his own food and drink upon him. The king ate, and in order to reward the man proclaimed his identity, and bade him take his head. On his refusal Sin Sanghabodhi severed his own head, which was duly taken to Gothakabhaya. The story has grown in course of time, later versions telling how the usurper refused to believe that it was his rival's head, and how the head sprang up thrice by the power of the gods saying, ` I am King Sin Sangabo'. Gothakabhaya made amends by erecting a shrine over the lath king's burial-place at Attanagalla.

In Gothakabhaya's fourth year some of the Abhayagiri monks adopted the Vaitulya heresy once more, and a secession took place to the Dakunugiri Vihara, where a new sect, the Sagaliya, was formed after 794 years had elapsed since Buddha's death. The heresy was put down by the king. His son, Jettha Tissa, signalized his accession and acquired the surname of the Cruel' by impaling round his father's funeral pyre sixty treasonable ministers. He built six tanks as well as Mulginigala Vihara in Hambantota District, and restored Mutiyangana Vihara at Badulla, of which the construction is attributed to Devanampiya Tissa. Mahasena (Mahasen, fourth century A.D.), the next son, persecuted the Maha Vihara and favoured the Dharmaruchi fraternity at Abhayagiri. Later he was reconciled with the orthodox brotherhood, but offended them by building within their precincts the Jetavanarama, now mis-called the Abhayagiri Dagaba, for the Sagaliya sect. He constructed seventeen reservoirs, including Rantisa or Kawdulu-vewa, and the great Minneri tank, which he fed by a channel taken off from the Ambanganga. Padawiya also is attributed to him by local tradition; be may have enlarged it. Mahasena has left his mark on the country by his irrigation works, but has received scant justice from the chronicler, whose monastery, the Maha Vihara, be suppresse& With his death, after a reign of twenty-seven years, when 844 years had passed since the Nirvana, the Mahavansa chronicle proper ends, a fact perhaps due to the lack of materials in the monastic archives after the disturbances at Maha Vihara. The termination of the old record is the sole reason for the division of the kings into the Great and Lesser Dynasties. Of the so-called `Great Race' more than a third ended their days by violence.

The reign of Mahasena's son, Siri Meghavanna (Kit Siri Mevan), is chiefly famous for the arrival of the Tooth Relic in his ninth year, when it was brought from Kalinga to prevent its falling into the hands of a hostile king. According to Chinese authority Siri Meghavanna was a contemporary of the Indian monarch Samudragupta (c. AD. 340), to whom he sent presents.

The Sacred Tooth Relic came to Sri Lanka in the 4th century A.D. in the hair of a princess.
A Kelaniya Temple mural recalls this event.


Buddhadasa (Bujas, fourth century A.D.), of the same dynasty, provided dispensaries, throughout the kingdom, and ordained that there should be physicians for every ten villages, the first mention of this ancient grouping (gandahaya) which still survives in name in certain districts. The king also composed in Sanskrit a work on medicine, the Sarartha-sangraha. Strange but impossible stories of operations are recorded of him. His son Upatissa constructed Topavewa.

In the reign of his second son, Mahanama (fifth century A.D.), the famous commentator Buddhaghosa came to Lanka, rewrote the Sinhala commentaries on the Buddhist scriptures in the Pali language, and composed the philosophical work Visuddhimagga. In his restatement of religious thought his influence on later Buddhists has been profound. In A.D. 428 a letter from this king Was received by the Chinese court: this synchronism Postulates an earlier date for the reign than that usually assigned to it.

With Mahanama the Lambakanna dynasty became extinct. A Pandyan invasion established foreign rule at Anuradhapura, which is said to have lasted twenty-seven Years, but may well have lasted longer. The principal Sinhala fled to Ruhuna; here they ultimately found a leader in Dhatusena (Dasenkeli, late fifth century, A.D.), of the royal Moriyan race, who expelled the Tamils and reunited Lanka in one sovereignty. His chief work was the construction of the great tank Kalavewa. His uncle, the priest Mahanama, was the author of the Mahavansa. He had two sons, Moggallana and, by a wife of inferior rank, Kassapa. Kassapa (Kaspaya, or Kasub, sixth century A.D.) rebelled, and seized his father in the hope of securing his treasure. Disappointed in this he buried him alive, and failing to assassinate his brother Moggallana, who escaped to India, fled to the hill of Sigiriya. This rises abruptly from the surrounding country and forms an almost impregnable fortress. Kassapa built his palace on the top, an inclined way winding round the rock up to a platform; here a great lion was constructed, the ascent to the summit passing between its paws. Hence the name Sigiriya (Sinha-giri, `lion hill `). The king reigned from his fortress until his eighteenth year, when he was defeated by his brother, and committed suicide. His approximate date is fixed by the receipt at the Chinese court of a letter from him in A.D. 527.


Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sigiriya

Four of the Twenty Two Sigiriya Frescoes

Moggallana ruled for eighteen years and was succeeded by his son Kumara Dhatusena, who according to the local tradition was the contemporary arid friend of Kalidasa and threw himself upon the poet's funeral pyre. If Kalidasa be the Indian bard the synchronism is impossible, as he flourished not later than the middle of the fifth century.

It is convenient in this place to consider Lanka as it was in the first five centuries of the present era. The innumerable irrigation works at once strike the imagination. The reader, however, must beware of reckoning as new works those merely restored; the chronicle often makes no difference between the two. The practical certainty that all were not in working order throughout our period must also be considered. Nevertheless, those actually in use at one and the same time must have been very numerous; the majority indeed were small, and many may. have been abandoned as the Soli was exhausted, new reservoirs being constructed in their place. There is no reason to suppose that the total population of Lanka was larger than it is now. Vast tracts of the country must have been in forest, and the more thickly inhabited centres were in the north, south and south-east of the Island. Tamil literature tells us that rice was exported in early times, but against this has to be set the occurrence of serious famines, several of which are mentioned in the chronicles. Cities in our sense of the word were few, if indeed Anuradhapura was not the only one; the capital was of vast extent, but contained many parks, open spaces and monastic establishments. It possessed a quarter assigned to foreign merchants, in whose hands was most of the trade. About A.D. 500 we read of a Persian Christian colony; a Nestorian cross undoubtedly belonging to this community is to be seen in the Anuradhapura museum. Traders from Egypt, subjects of the Roman Empire, visited the country, and small Roman copper coins of the fourth century at one time formed the bulk of the currency; they are found in quantities not only at almost every small port but even at Sigiriya itself. The chief port of the Island was in the north-west at Mahatittha or Mantota; about A.D. 500 it was in the hands of an independent prince, just as Colombo was in the fourteenth century.

The earliest alphabet is a local variety of the `Brahma lipi,' which appears in the inscriptions of Asoka and has its origin in a Semitic script. The most ancient records in Lanka are met with over caves, and usually consist of a short dedication to the community of monks. In a few the legend still reads from right to left, as in Semitic. For centuries the alphabet developed gradually and on conservative lines. But after the Sigiriya period the writing becomes so degenerate that it is difficult to distinguish the various letters. The trend towards the modern script began about the eighth or ninth century.


For general history, see Dpv. and mhv.

Elara. For the story of the Chola king Manu see Hultzsch, `Contributions to Sinhala Chronology,' J.R.A.S'., 1913, p. 530.

Duttha Gamani. The theory that Vijitapura was in the neighbourhood of Polonnaruwa is elaborated by Parker, Ancient Ceylon, PP. 237, 238 cf. also C.A. x. p. 52.

The construction of Padawiya is attributed to Saddha Tissa by the Puj. p. 680. For the Dambulla inscription see E.Z. i. Pp. 141, 142; but the Puj. ascribes Dambulla to Vatta Gamani. Vatta Gamani. The Tamil invaders are supposed to be Pandyan because of the names ending in -mara, the usual Pandyan title Maran. The identification of Abbayagiri with the dagaba now known as Jetavanarama was made by Mr. Nevile (Ceylon Sessional Papers, 1914, p. 486, note).

Ila Naga. For the inscription identifying the Great Dagaba at Tissamaharama see A.I.C. 4 and C.A. v. 139.

Vasabha. The size of Anuradhapura is given in Puj. p. 682; it clearly does not refer to the ` Inner City,' which was quite small. Tissavaddhamanaka (Mhv. xxxv. 84; xxxvii. 48) is identified by the Puj. p. 683, with Rantisa tank and this with the modern Kawdulu-vewa by the Medirigiriya inscription (E.Z. ii. No. 6); Medirigiriya is not far from Kawdulu-vewa. The Elahera (Alisara, Mhv. xxxv. 84) channel runs through Minneri and Kawdulu-vewa into Kantalai. The Mayetti of Mhv. xliv. 90, 101, 102, and li. 131 seems to be identical with the Mayanti, Chayanti, or Vassanti of Vasabha's reign (Mhv. xxxv. 94); it is either Nachchaduwa tank or the breached reservoir Eruvewa.

Gaja Bahu. See Puj. and its derivative the Raj. For the king's connection with Pattini worship see Ancient India. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, 1911, p. 363. J.R.A.S., C.B. xiii. No. 44, p. 81, and No. 45, p. 144, should he consulted.

Samudragupta's expedition to the south took place about A.D. 350 according to Vincent Smith; but G. Jouveau-Dubreuil, Ancient History of the Deccan, 1920, prefers 340 or even 335. For the synchronism of this king with Sri Meghavanna and the Chinese dates for Mahanama and Kassapa see J.R.A.S.J O.B. xxiv. No. 68. If the date given to these two kings is correct a longer period of Pandyan rule must be supposed. But see `The Date of Buddhadasa of Ceylon from a Chinese Source,' E. R. Ayrton, J.R.A.S. 1911, p. 1142. The attribution of Topavewa to Upatissa is made by Puj. For Kalidasa's death see Imperial Gazetteer of India, Introduction, p. 333. The presence of a Persian colony is attested by Cosmas Indicopleustes, Topographia Christiana, as also the independence of the principal port. For a foreign quarter in Anuradhapura see Ceylon Notes and Queries, 1913, pt. i. p. viii., and 1914, pt. iv. p. lxii.; the cross referred to in the text was found in the Inner City.

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