Dipavamsa (study)

by Sibani Barman | 2017 | 55,946 words

This page relates ‘Social Conditions (before the arrival of Buddhism)’ of the study on the Dipavamsa conducted by S. Barman in 2017. The Dipavamsa is the base material of the Vamsa literatures of Ceylon (Srilanka or Sri-Lanka) writtin the Pali language.

Chapter 1b - Social Conditions (before the arrival of Buddhism)

Before the arrival of Buddhism, the population grew centering villages or ‘gāma’s. It appears from the Mahāvaṃsa that both ‘gāma’ and ‘nagara’ were used to signify ‘village’ and ‘city’ indiscriminantly. Before Anurādhapura came to be an important place, there were places like Tambapaṇṇi, Vijitapura, Upatissagāma, Ujjeni etc. We do not get any information about their size and extent. They served as seat of government for short periods. Pāṇḍukābhaya raised Anurādhapura to the eminence of a city and it remained as a capital city for about twelve centuries from the later part of the 4th century B.C. Before Pāṇḍukābhaya there was nothing to be called a city in Ceylon.

The architectural development of Anurādhapura seems to have attained a reasonably high stage in the third century B.C. Pāṇḍukābhaya’s grand uncle Anurādha, built a house for him and named it Rājageha.

When Pāṇḍukābhaya entered Anurādhapura after his victory, the old ruler, his grand uncle left Rājageha offering his house to his victorious grand nephew. Pāṇḍukābhaya did not build another palace for himself. But various buildings were reported to have erected by him in Anurādhapura and its subarbs. Pāṇḍukabhaya’s uncles erected a building called ‘Ekathūṇika’ in Upatissa-gāma, the seat of government before Anurādhapura, which stood on one pillar to put in prison their sister Cittā. It was aerated with windows or gavākkha.

Except these few buildings no other mention is made upto the time of Devānāmpiya-Tissa. Devānāmpiya-Tissa could not find an appropriate house for his honourable guest Mahinda. He hastily builds a house of mud and dries it with fire. Due to this drying method, the walls become dark and the house came to be called ‘Kālāpāsāda-parivena’. Walpola rahula says, perhaps there were no proper building materials and experienced architects at least locally or within easy reach. What is more, the king couldn’t afford any large hall, when people started coming to see and hear Mahinda. He arranged the hall of the state elephant for the purpose. As the gathering became numerous, the venue had to be shifted from the Elephant Hall to the Nandanavana outside the southern gate of the city. Walpola Rahula opines that, it was only after the introduction of Buddhism that massive buildings like Lohapāsāda began to rise in Ceylon, and people of Ceylon began to hold organized public gathering for specific purposes.

Well civic sense had existed in the society. Pāṇḍukābhaya’s town planning was as advanced as modern day time. There were Caṇḍālas (scavengers), five hundred in number for cleaning the city, two-hundred for sewers; hundred and fifty for taking dead bodies away to the cemetaries; and hundred and fifty for watchers.

Pāṇḍukābhaya employed his uncle Abhaya, in the charge of administration of the government at the night-time (ratti-rajjaṃ), creating a new post for him, called Nagara-gutthika (guardian of the city).

Mention had been made of two parks near the capital. The Nandanavana, which in later time came to be called as Jotivana, and Mahāmeghavana. Nandanavana was almost closed to the city, outside the southern gate, where Mahinda delivered most of his sermons. The park Mahāmeghavana, was designed by Pāṇḍukābhaya’s son Muṭasiva, and was provided with ‘fruit tree and flower trees’. This was neither too far nor too near the city, and was situated outside the eastern gate of the city. In the park, there was a house called Rājageha, built for the use of the king. In this house, Mahinda spent quite a lot of days at the beginning of his arrival.Within the park was beautiful tanks and ponds. There was a little tank called Kakudhavāpi within the area, and also a beautiful pond called Marutta to the north of the royal pavilion.

We learn from Chronicles that, the early Aryans, opened up new settlements in areas where water was easily available, mainly along the principal rivers of Ceylon. Where there was no river, large reservoirs were built in order to make the settlement fit for human habitation. Absence of rivers in their locality inspired Anurādha and Pāṇḍukābhaya to built reservoirs.

Climate always played a major and fundamental factor in the process of human development. According to climate Sri-Lanka is divided into two major divisions: wet zone and dry zone. The south-western part of the country and the mountains comprises the wet zone. The dry zone embraces the north-western, northern, north eastern, north central, eastern and south eastern parts of Sri-Lanka. It appears that early Aryan settlers who came from the north-eastern and north-western India possessed some ideas of irrigation and cultivation. These settlers made their way inside the country along the banks of the rivers and started staying on the plain regions. By the third century B.C. Anurādhapurapura and the the surrounding districts, practically the whole of Ceylon, except the hilly region and the eastern coast, seems to have been populated 104. There were roads connecting the capital with four famous sea-ports situated along the coast between north and west—namely Mahātittha, near Mannar, in the north was Jambukolapaṭṭana, Goṇagāmapaṭṭana on the eastern coast, and sea-port at the mouth of the Mahā-kandara-river (probably in the north). The last three have not yet been identified. The four roads ran through many villages, great and small. It is said that Bodhi branch was taken from Jambukolapaṭṭana to Anurādhapura the procesion halted at several places.

Thus it is seen that, agriculture was the main source of livelyhood. The Mahāvaṃsa says that, Girikaṇḍa-Śiva one of the uncles of Pāṇḍukābhaya, cultivated an area of hundred 100 karīsas (about 800 acres). Harvesting was regarded as great festival in which everyone took part equally.

Cattle-breeding was another important occupation. A village called Dvāramaṇḍala is mentioned in the Mahāvaṃsa, where herdsmen (gopālaka) used to live. This village which was near Cetiya-pabbata (Mihintale) seems to have been composed mainly of herdsmen.

Hunting was also as important as agriculture or cattle breeding as a means of livelyhood. It is asserted that Pāṇḍukābhaya built a line of huts for hunts’ men between the Nicasusāna and Pāsāṇa mountain. Mention is made of roast meat (aṅgāra-māṃsa) as a special delicacy.

Hunting was not only an occupation but was a means of entertainment. Ummāda-Cittā’s brothers; Pāṅḍukābhaya’s uncles are said to have gone for hunting in the Tumbara forest. By the time of Devanampiya-Tissa hunting had become a great royal sport. Devanampiya-Tissa’s famous hunting expeditions to Missaka-Pabbata (later Mihintale) were regarded as great kind of amusements.

Arts and crafts, Walpola Rahula thinks, were not much developed because the early settlers gave priority to improve the land for dwelling and opening new settlements in various parts of the country. Mention has been made in the Mahāvaṃsa that king of Madhurā sent ‘a thousand families of the eighteen guilds’ during the time of Vijaya. Many other families that came from Madhurā helped to improve the country.

There were occupations like, kumbhakāra (pottery) and Kammāra (Iron smith).

Pāṇḍukābhaya is said to have built village boundaries in the whole of Ceylon. Most of these villages were named after their chiefs. There seems to have no proper kingship in pre-Buddhist Ceylon. That what was present may be called leadership. When settlement went on increasing, presence of a central government was necessary to control the distant provinces, which was absent in the pre-Buddhist Ceylon.

Co-ordination of different local governments with Anuradhapura, the capital, was not possible due to lack of communications. Therefore the chiefs of different localities became automatically the rulers of those provinces. Almost no information was available about the details of these local governments.

The title used by most of the Sinhalese kings was Gāmaṇī, which signify the head of a village corporation. S. Paranavitana says, the title parumaka (Skt. pramukha) is found in numerous cave inscriptions before the name of private donors which signify the head of a guild or corporation. The same is true for the word Jeṭṭha. Paranavita observes that these names give us an idea about the kingship of those days. From the etymology of these words it appears that kings of Ceylon seem to be the leaders through heredity and in later days they assumed the role of absolute ruler.

Walpola Rahula observes that kings of Ceylon in pre Christian centuries may or may not be of Khatriya caste but of Vaisya origin. In the third century B.C. the presence of a Khatriya clan is referred in the Mahāvaṃsa at Kajaragāma. These Khatriyas were among the persons who attended the celebrations held in honour of the Bodhi-branch brought from India by Saṅghamittā. One of the Bo-saplings was first planted at Kajaragāma.

Rev. Rahula says that,

‘Devānāmpiya-Tissa’s brother, the vice reagent Mahānāga, fled from Anurādhapura to Rohaṇa with his family and ruled in Mahāgāma to stay away from the queen’s treachery. The fact suggests that the Kṣatriyas there were connected with the royal family at Anurādhapura. Throughout the history of Ceylon we find Rohaṇa as the last refuge and sanctuary of freedom. Whenever there was danger at Anuradhapura, either from foreign invasion or from internal conflicts, kings, ministers, monks and others who desired freedom and protection took shelter in the south’.

There was another settlement of the Kṣatriyas at Candanagāma which is unidentified till now. One of the first Bo-saplings was planted here.

There was another settlement in Kalyāṇī. About a century after Devānāmpiya-Tissa, Duṭṭha-Gāmaṇi’s mother Vihāra-Mahādevi came from this principality.

Before Devānāmpiya-Tissa there was no proper coronation of kings.

Rev. Rahula says,

‘perhaps the early kings have no idea of a complete royal coronation. But they had a simple ceremony which served as a consecration when they assumed authority as rulers. The most important element of the consecration was the king should have a maiden of the khatriya caste as his queen at the time of the ceremony. Prince Vijaya refused to consecrate himself as a king without a maiden of the khatriya caste. His ministers send ambassadors to Madhurā of South India to have a royal maiden for the purpose. His successor Pāṇḍuvāsudeva too waited for a khatriya maiden as queen for consecration. Pāṇḍukabhaya is said to have ordered the Chatta or the state umbrella of his uncles, to be brought, and he had it purified by washing it in a natural lake (jātassare) in Anurādhapura.Then he had it placed over him and solemnized his own coronation with the water of the same lake, while he himself consecrated Suvaṇṇa-Pāli, his spouse as queen. This passage indicates that the same state umbrella had been used earlier by his uncles in connection with their coronation too’.

It was Aśoka who introduced proper form of coronation into Ceylon. Soon after his succession Devānāmpiya-Tissa sent various valuable gifts to Aśoka at Pāṭaliputra. Aśoka in his turn sent his friend all the requisites for a complete coronation. As a result, the Sinhalese ministers consecrated Devānṃmpiya-Tissa for the second time with full ceremony according in the instructions given by Aśoka.

Hunting and water festival were two famous festivals in pre-Buddhist Cylon, both of which were held on the full moon day of the month of Jeṭṭha. These festivals were held in connection with the agricultural activities.

There is no reference to any literary activities in pre-Buddhist Ceylon. Probably education was prevailed among the ruling classes, and among Brāhmanas.

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