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The Ceylon Press Companion to History in Sri Lanka

The Ceylon Press Companion to fffin Sri Lanka

Kanittha Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The sixth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 51st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 165 - 193.

The reliable historical record is mute on the reign of Kanittha Tissa, except to say that he was the brother of the late king, Bhatika Tissa, and the son of King Mahallaka Naga. The reign was apparently calm and uneventful, and was to last 4 years longer than that of Bhatika Tissa’s. “No news is good news,” noted a later English king renowned for being “the 'wisest fool in Christendom.” And so one might assume of this indistinct reign. Certainly, in the years that followed, the administration would have looked – along with 4 of the 5 previous ones, as the lush salad days of the Lambakarnas. Kanittha Tissa’s successor, Cula Naga, was not so fortunate.

Illustration Credit: The Abayagiriya Rathna Prasada said to have built by Kanittha Tissa, King of Anuradhapura; image courtsey of Theeshya Dulmini

Kutakanna Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty fifth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of her reign being 42 BCE – 20 BCE.

With the ascension of the monkish Kutakanna Tissa to the Vijayan throne a modicum of stability returned to Anuradhapuran politics. Having had his murderous predecessor, Queen Anula, burned alive in her own palace, Kutakanna Tissa settled down for 18 apparently uneventful years before dying, peaceably, in 20 BCE.

Panya Mara, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-fourth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 98 BCE – 91 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Panya Mara became king of Anuradhapura in 98 BCE by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Bahiya. He has previously served him as chief minster. Much of his own short rule was dealing with threats to his own safety – from the avenging Valagamba - busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south - and from his own Dravidian colleagues, one of whom, Pilaya Mara, was to murder him.

Siri Sangha Bodhi I, King of Anuradhapura

The fifteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 60th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 252 – 254 CE.

One of three plotters (the other two being Gothabhaya and Sangha Tissa I), Siri Sangha Bodhi had made his own special contribution to killing the then king, Vijaya Kumara in 248 CE. Like his co-conspirators, he was a paid-up member of the Lambakanna Dynasty, albeit from one of its less glamorous branches. His regicidal ambitions would have been propelled by the Knossonian alliances and betrayals that now so deeply coloured family politics, creating a family that would reframe most regular definitions of dysfunctional. His own route to the throne was also regicide, his predecessor, Sangha Tissa I, being murdered after just four years on the throne.

Despite his earlier handiwork, The Mahavaṃsa takes a gentle and forgiving tone to him, his devotion to Buddhism so absolute that he refused to execute criminals. Facing a rebellion by the third plotter, Gathabhaya, he voluntarily abdicated and retired to the forest to live as an ascetic after a reign of just three years in 253 CE. And in an end both grisly, contradictory, and anatomically impressive, he then decapitated himself to enable a poor peasant to collect the bounty on his head, bringing to an end nearly sixty years of royal knockabout.

Illustration: The archaeological site of Hatthikuchchi (fromerly named Rayangana after the nearby village) believed to be the location of the royal self-decapitation of Siri Sangha Bodhi I, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtsey of Ruta Chile

Belief & Culture

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Mahallaka Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The fourth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 49th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 135 - 141 CE.

Said to be the wrong side of late middle age at the time of his ascension, Mahallaka Naga, the new king, still managed to live on until 141 CE before handing things onto his son with the sort of blameless succession choreography that more modern leaders like Mugabe or Trump might have learnt much from. He was said to be the father-in-law of the pervious King Gajabahu I; if so, then the succession would have run down a less travelled thoroughfare, but this did not imply it was anything but orderly. Little is known about his reign, but it can be assumed that it took its rightful place amongst that period of calm governance that characterised the reigns of all the early Lambakanna - from 67 CE to 195 CE.

Illustration Credit: The smaller stupa of the Mahiyanganaya Ancient Nagadeepa Viharaya where Mahallaka Naga, King of Anuradhapura is said to have built a monastery. Image courtsey of AmazingLanka.com

Sivali, Queen of Anuradhapura

The forty-first monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of her reign being 35 CE – ?.

Sister of the previous Vijayan monarch Chulabhaya, Sivali was to briefly take the throne in 35 CE. But her ascension was clearly as much a symptom of the life-threatening era the kingdom had entered, as it was a contributory factor to it. Though little is known about her brother’s reign, the signs are that it was deeply unstable. Whether Chulabhaya himself met a natural death is a bet that offers odds way too short to take. During Sivali brief tenure the country fell into several years of total civil war, during which time, the unfortunate queen rose briefly once again to the surface only to then depart completely from the historical record when Ilanaga, nephew of the slain King Amandagamani Abhaya dethroned her.

Chattagahaka Jantu, Queen of Anuradhapura

The twenty fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 70th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE) the dates of her reign being 434 - 435 CE.

Chattagahaka Jantu is one of the island’s few transgender mysteries. Some chronicles mark her as a Queen; others as a King. A stepsister or stepbrother to King Soththisena, this gender defying monarch was to rule for less than a year, the reign entangled in the now lost tentacles of Lambakanna dynastic rivalries and alliances that were strangling both the dynasty and the country with a civil war it could ill afford. His/her death in 435 CE at the hands of a chief minister intent on putting in place a more pliable monarch had regicidal palace politics once again singing a song that would challenge any modern-day soap opera scriptwriter.

Illustration Credit: A Maneless Lion Copper coin. On one side, there is an image of a lion. On the other side, there are three or sometimes four dots. It is likely that these dots indicate the value of the coin. The diameter of this coin is between ½ - ¾ inches and it weighs between 15-40 grains. These coins were used from 3-4 A.D - including during the short reign of Chattagahaka Jantu, Queen of Anuradhapura. The coins have been found during excavations in Anuradhapura and the Northern regions of the island. Image credit: Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Tiritara, King of Anuradhapura

The 4th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 75th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Whether he acquired the Anuradhapura kingship by fair or foul means is unknown. What is certain is that Tiritara managed to enjoy his crown for less than a year (447 CE), dying in military skirmishes with the Sri Lankan Moriyan rebel leader, Dhatusena, who had corralled opposition to the invaders from his base in the south of the island. He was the 9th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have died in battle.

Illustration Credit: Current packaging for Madurai Pandian Aappalam showing the dynasty's classic fish emblem.

Amiens, Treaty of

Illustration: "The plumb-pudding in danger," by James Gillray published in 1805. The satirical cartoon has Britain's Pitt and France's Napoleon facing each other at a round dinner-table on which, in a dish, is a terrestrial globe in the form of a steaming plum-pudding. The two men are caving up the world, and in the negociations, Dutch Ceylon is surrendered to the British. Public Domain

Thulatthana, King of Anuradhapura

The eighteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 119 BCE – 118 BCE.

The son of Saddha Tissa, the previous Vijayan King of Anuradhapura, Thulatthana was crowned in 119 BCE but was fated to enjoy his regal status for just a single year before being dethroned and murdered by his older brother, Lanja Tissa. It is possible that Thulatthana accession owned more to his being most expediently in Anuradhapura at the time of his father’s death, whilst his older brother, and possibly more legitimate heir, Lanja Tissa was far down south in Ruhana.

Mittasena, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty sixth and last monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 71st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 435 – 436 CE.

Mittasena was a distant relative of the previous monarch, Chattagahaka Jantu, who had been murdered by a chief minister intent on finding a more pliable boss. The move did neither any good. Mittasena, preoccupied by religious devotions, was wholly unprepared for the fourth Tamil invasion of the realm in 436 CE. That the state was so unable to defend itself was no great surprise. For the past few extreme decades family politics would have pushed good governance into a back seat. The eye, as Ford Frick, the famous basketball player might have observed, was firmly off the ball. The regime fell with minimal resistance.

It was a shocking and sudden end. For 369 years the dynasty had ruled, its two periods of firm and effective guardianship tragically balanced by two other periods of regicidal insanity and power vacuums. This last Lambakarna king was slain in battle in 436 CE and a Tamil king, Pandu, took over his rule. Quite what this meant or how far his rule extended is hard to estimate. But for sixteen years the Six Dravidians, as history would come to know them, were to rule what was left of the once great Anuradhapura Kingdom,.

Illustration Credit: A story told of King Mittasena in Chapter 38 of the Mahawamsa states: “There was a feast (and) the people cried: “If a king is there, let him come with us.” When the Lord of men heard that, he, arrayed in all his ornaments, said to those who led forth the royal elephant: “this befits me not”, and indicated the elephant made of stucco at the temple of the Tooth Relic1. At the words: “’it is the King’s command”, the elephant began to move. The (King) mounted it, rode round the town with his right side towards it and when he reached the eastern gate by the Pathamacetiya, he restored it to the Relic Temple. At the elephant wall of the three great cetiyas he had a gateway constructed. After doing many meritorious works Mittasena died in a year.

The image, of the Elephant wall, Ruvanelraya Dagoba in Anuradhapura, is courtesy of Monkey’s Tales.

Belief & Culture

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Prehistory of Sri Lanka, The

Sri Lanka’s first Palaeolithic and later Mesolithic settlers most probably arrived on the island by simply walking across Adam’s Bridge from the Indian sub-continent. Since Jurassic times (200-167 million years BCE) Sri Lanka had, as part of India, broken off from the great Gondwana sub content that had been formed in the Triassic era (300 – 200 million years BCE). Adam’s Bridge was becoming the sole point of access to the far south; but by 7,500 BCE it was almost unwalkable.

Beguiling hints of these earliest inhabitants are still only just emerging. Excavations conducted in 1984 by Prof. S. Krishnarajah near Point Pedro, north east of Jaffna revealed Stone Age tools and axes that are anything from 500,000 to 1.6 million years old. As the fossil record demonstrates, the land they inhabited was ecologically richer and more dramatic than it is today, teaming not simply with a plenitude of the wildlife still found in Sri Lanka today, but with hippopotamus and rhinoceros as well. Hundreds of millennia later, one of their Stone Age descendants was to leave behind the most anatomically perfect modern human remains yet uncovered on the island.

Balangoda Man, as he was to be named, was found in the hills south of Horton Plains inland from Matara, a short walk from the birthplace of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. His complete 30,000 year old skeleton is bewitchingly life-like. Probing his remains, scientists have concluded that Balangoda Man and his heirs were eager consumers of raw meat, from snails and snakes to elephants. And artistic too, as evidenced in the ornamental fish bones, sea shell beads and pendants left behind. All across the island, similar finds are being uncovered, pointing to a sparce but widespread population of hunter gathers, living in caves – such as Batadomba in Kuruwita (29,000 BCE – 9,000 BCE), Aliga (8,000 BCE) and Beli-lena in Kitulgala (28,000 BCE – 1,500 BCE). The tools and weapons found in these caves, made of quartz crystal and flint, are well in advance of such technological developments in Europe, which date from around 10,000 BCE compared to 29,000 BCE in Sri Lanka.

Later evidence indicates that Stone Age hunter-gathers then made the transition to a more settled lifestyle, growing, at least by 17,000-15,000 BCE, oats, and barley on what is now Horton Plains, thousands of years before it even began in that fulcrum of early global civilization - Mesopotamia. Astonishingly, their direct descendants, the Veddas, are still alive today, making up less than 1% of the island’s total population, an aboriginal community with strong animist beliefs that has, against the odds, retained a distinctive identity. Leaner, and darker than modern Sri Lankans, their original religion - cherishing demons, and deities - was associated with the dead and the certainty that the spirits of dead relatives can cause good or bad outcomes. Their language, unique to them, is now almost – but not quite - extinct. And perhaps it was the Vedda or their spirits that Fa-Hsien, the 5th century CE traveller had in mind when he conjured up his fable of early Sri Lanka in his book “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms:”

“The country originally had no human inhabitants, but was occupied only by spirits and nagas, with which merchants of various countries carried on a trade. When the trafficking was taking place, the spirits did not show themselves. They simply set forth their precious commodities, with labels of the price attached to them; while the merchants made their purchases according to the price; and took the things away.“

Fa-Hsien’s colourful travelogue shows just readily the early origins of the country depend on myth and fable. Centuries passed before there are finally some tantalising hints of the Stone Ages’ transition into the Iron Age, and with it more evidence of new waves of colonization into the island from India. As new travellers arrived from the sub-continent, Balangoda man and his ancestors were pushed into the more inaccessible parts of the country, especially the rainforests of Sabaragamuva, a small part of which, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, miraculously survives in its original state today.

Using the progressive technology of the iron age, the new colonists were able to clear land and plant crops, mine for metals like copper, and even establish pearl fisheries. By 1,500 BCE there is evidence of cinnamon being exported to the ancient Egyptians. A series of major excavations in Anuradhapura dating to around 900 BCE has uncovered abundant treasure including artefacts that show the use of iron, the domestication of horses and cattle, the use of high-quality pottery and possibly even the cultivation of rice. The settlement was large – even by today’s standards: 4 hectares.

Other equally large settlements undoubtedly wait still to be found. One that has already been unearthed and studied are the burial mounds at Ibbankutuwa near Dambulla that date back to around 1,000 BCE. Here a wealth of pottery vessels interned with the dead contain ornaments of bronze and copper, beads and, most interesting of all, such stones as carnelian and onyx that could only have come to the island from India. Other such sites exist in places like Padiyagampola and Jamburagala in Yala. By the early 7th century BCE evidence comes of the use of the Brahmi script using a language that is an early form of Sinhala. Inventive, adaptive, increasingly sophisticated - urban living was arriving – whether as an independent island-wide development or because of the rapid spread of urbanised culture from India still using Adam’s Bridge as a convenient thoroughfare, is still the stuff of impassioned academic debate. Either way, the evolutionary ball was rolling like never before. From urban living, came city states. And into one of these, in 543 BC, stepped the Indian Prince, Vijaya, to found the country’s first fully recorded royal dynasty.

Russian, Tsar

Illustration by Walter Paget of the Reception of the Czarevitch at Colombo passing under Triumphal Arches with the Governor in 1891. Public Domain.

Asela, King of Anuradhapura

The fourteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 215 BCE – 205 BCE.

The son Mutasiva, the Vijayan king of Anuradhapura, Asela took refuge in his cousin’s southern kingdom of Ruhuna when the Anuradhapuran Kingdom was overrun in 237 BCE by Sena and Guttik, a couple of opportunistic Tamil horse traders. It took 22 years of continual warfare before Asela was able to dislodge and kill them in 215 BCE. But his inheritance was a plundered and deeply weakened kingdom. He himself would have been worn down by decades of internecine warfare. He was to rule his newly acquired domain for just ten years, before losing both it and his own life in 205 BCE to yet another invader – this time to a prince of the Tamil Chola dynasty in Southern India – Ellalan.

Jettha Tissa II, King of Anuradhapura

The twentieth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 65th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 332 – 341 CE.

Jettha Tissa II inherited a secure throne and a prosperous country from his brother, King Sirimeghavanna. Little is known of his reign except that it is likely that he was able to extend the dynasty’s reputation for good governance over his entire reign. He was to die after a nine year reign, the 32nd reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death.

The Ruwanweli Stupa in Anuradhapura that was built in 140 BCE and would have been a deeply familiar sight to Jettha Tissa II, King of Anuradhapura. Photo courtesy of Hand Luggage Only.

Kanirajanu Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty ninth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 30 CE – 33 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne by (doubtful) virtue of murdering his brother, Amandagamani Abhaya, Kanirajanu Tissa’s own reign terminated after just 3 suspiciously short and turbulent years when in 33 CE, Chulabhaya, Amandagamani Abhaya’s son suddenly became king. For all but the very short sighted, Kanirajanu Tissa’s abrupt death made it abundantly clear that the Vijayan dynasty were more focused on forwarding their own self-destruction than they were on ruling their country.

Durbar, Kandy

Illustration by Henry Payne of The Duke of York and Cornwall at the Durbar in Kandy in 1901. Public Domain.

Pulahatta, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-second (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 103 BCE – 100 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Pandyan Dynasty, in South India, Pulahatta seized the throne from the reigning Anuradhapuran king, Valagamba, in 103 BCE. His successes in so wining himself a kingdom would have come with troubling ease for Anuradhapuran had been seriously weakened by decades of misrule, drought, and plague. Valagamba himself had only been king for a few months before being ousted. But the defeated king smartly manage to avoid death, fleeing south to the relative safety of Ruhana and leaving the new Pandyan interlopers to loot within the much reduced boundaries of the Anuradhapuran Kingdom. One of Pulahatta’s most significant and (as it turned out) ruinous decisions was to appoint his fellow Dravidian chief, Bahiya as his chief minister - for by 100 BCE Bahiya had murdered Pulahatta.

Upatissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty second monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 67th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being: 370 – 412 CE.

Buddhadasa’ death in 370 CE left his son, Upatissa I, a most secure throne to sit upon. Little is known about his reign except two things. It lasted a long time – 42 years. And it was to end in disaster, its terminus foretelling the implosion of the dynasty itself just a few decades later. That his reign should end in 412 CE with his murder would have surprised Upatissa. His shock would have been amplified had he known that it would be delivered by a monk – his own bother, Mahanama who, according to the chronicles, was busy cuckolding him with the queen.

Illustration: A Moonstone in the fields to the south of Thuparama, Anuradhapura of the sort that would have been highly familiar to Upatissa I, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of Ian Lockwood.

Anula, Queen of Anuradhapura

The thirty fourth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of her reign being sometime around 44 BCE – 42 BCE.

Anula, Queen of Anuradhapura was to leave a mark on queenship that would the office centuries to recover from. She began her royal career in 50 BCE by poisoning her Vijayan husband, Choura Naga, King of Anuradhapura. She was to repeat the same tried and trusted trick in 47 BCE by poisoning his successor, Kuda Thissa. Choosing at this point to rule from a distance, she appointed her lover Siva, as ex palace guard, to be king in 47 BCE before having him poisoned. Thereafter the pattern was set. Siva I was himself poisoned within a year and replaced by a new lover, Vatuka, who had till then being living the probably blameless life of a Tamil carpenter. The following year the carpenter was replaced in similar fashion by Darubhatika Tissa, a wood carrier – who also failed to measure up. Her last throw of the love dice was Niliya, a palace priest who she installed as king in 44 BCE before feeding him something he ought not to have eaten.

At this point Anula must have reached the logical conclusion: if you want something done well, do it yourself. And so, from 43 to 42 BCE she ruled in her own name, the country’s first female head of state, beating President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga by well over two thousand years. Anula’s own reign ended at the hands of her brother-in-law, Kutakanna Tissa, who, having sensibly become a Buddhist monk during Anula’s rocky reign, remained alive and so able to rescue the monarchy. He did so by burning the queen alive in her own palace in 42 BCE, bringing down the curtains on a royal career that eclipsed that of the entire Borgia clan put together.

Illustration courtsey of Journo.lk.

Devanampiya Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The ninth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 307 BCE – 267 BCE.

It was fortunate that when Sri Lanka’s paramount defining moment occurred, it had a king talented enough to make best sense of it. Devanampiya Tissa, second son of the Vijayan King, Mutasiva, is described by The Mahavamsa as being "foremost among all his brothers in virtue and intelligence". To get anywhere close to this remarkable leader head to the mountain of Mihintale, 16 kilometres east of Anuradhapura. There stands a modest, much weathered, armless stone statute of Devanampiya Tissa. Six feet high, he stands, gazing out across the grand ruins and remains of his religious citadel. It marks the spot where Sri Lanka became Buddhist. Gaze into his eyes – and note that, unlike so much other statutory and art, this one, argue the scholars, actually dates from very close to the death of this outstanding monarch.

Like the Vijayans, Buddhism also came from India - but it naturalised so completely across the island that it is impossible grasp any aspect of the country’s past or present, without first comprehending the centrality of this, its main religion. It arrived through a series of intimate stories in which faith follows friendship – for King Devanampiya Tissa had struck up a pen-pal relationship with the celebrated Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka. Gifts followed letters, and a missionary followed the gifts when Ashoka despatched his own son, Mahinda, to Sri Lanka. The young missionary prince was to live on the island for 48 years, out-living Devanampiya Tissa, and dying, aged 80 after a lifetime spent promoting Buddhism, the beneficiary of a state funeral at which his relics were interred in a stupa in Mihintale.

For it was at Mihintale that Mahinda first met Devanampiya Tissa. The king, it was said, was out hunting. Expecting a stag, the ruler instead found himself a missionary. A testing exchange on the nature of things followed, and then a sutra was preached. The rest, as they say, is history. The conversions began, and the country’s history took the most definitive turn in its long journey, becoming - and remaining to this day - a Buddhist country first and foremost, with all that this entailed. So great were the number of conversions that the king especially built the Maha Vihare (The Great Monastery) in the pleasure gardens of Anuradhapura to house the growing number of Buddhist monks; and for centuries after the building was to become the centre of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The evidence for all this comes of course from The Mahāvaṃsa Chronicle, but it is likely that Buddhism penetrated the island much earlier. Even so, it took the backing of a king to ensure that the religion became so dominant so fast. And as it did so, it carried along with it some of the many rituals and ceremonies of the pre Buddhist cults, especially those associated with agriculture and demons. It also helped spread a common language and script, and with it, the power of the centre - for the king was also the formal guardian of the Sanga, the religious organization.

Clearly, Mahinda, the young missionary had painted a compelling picture of his new island home in his letters home. He was soon joined by his sister, the nun, Sanghamittā. She brought with her a golden vase in which grew a sapling of Bodhi-Tree taken from the very one under which Buddha himself is said to have attained enlightenment. Accompanied by a number of other nuns, Sanghamittā landed in the north of the island. She was met by King Devanampiya Tissa himself. The party were ceremonially escorted to Anuradhapura along a road softened with white sand. The Bodhi sapling was planted in the Mahāmeghavana Grove in Anuradhapura, where it still grows. Saṅghamittā later ordained Queen Anula and the women of the court in Buddhism and stayed on in the island, promoting the religion. She died in 203 BCE aged 79, her death prompting national mourning. A stupa was erected over her cremation site in front of the Bodhi-Tree in Anuradhapura.

Devanampiya Tissa built a monastery and temple caves at Mihintale, a site that over successive years grew and grew. Indeed temple caves rapidly became the architectural hit of the time with ordinary people funding a stone mason to do all the necessary work. Between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE nearly 3,000 such caves were recorded. Other notable buildings followed: monasteries, palaces, the 550-acre Tissa Wewa water tank, still in use today; and the Thuparamaya of Anuradhapura, the county’s first stupa - which enshrined the right collarbone of Lord Buddha and whose remains today stretch out over 3 ½ acres. Devanampiya Tissa’s death after a long reign brought to a gradual end a golden period of Vijayan peace and prosperity.

Pilaya Mara, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-fifth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 91 BCE – 90 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Pilaya Mara became king of Anuradhapura in 91 BCE by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Panya Mara. He had previously served him as chief minster. Much of his own blink-short rule was spent dealing with threats to his own safety – from the avenging Valagamba - busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south - and from his own Dravidian colleagues. It is unclear whether he met his own death at the hands on his chief general, Dathika, who would succeed him, or Valagamba himself, whose military successes were at last lapping over closer to the gates of Anuradhapura itself.

Belief & Culture

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Buddhadasa, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty first monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 66th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 341 – 370 CE.

A blessedly peaceful succession saw Buddhadasa take the throne from his father Jettha Tissa II – and a twenty-eight-year reign beckoned. The Mahavaṃsa has nothing but praise for this king, characterized as a "Mind of Virtue and an Ocean of Gems." Unusually though, the new king preferred medicine to wars, stupas, temples, monasteries and plotting, and his reign was noted for the exceptional medical care he extended to his subjects. He wrote a medical handbook, the "Sarartha Sangraha,” built hospitals, appointed Medical Officers, and established infirmaries and asylums for the benefit of the blind, and the lame. Stories abound of his role as doctor to various ailing subjects who he came across. He even took care of animals, including, it is said, a snake with a stomach-ache.

Perhaps his interest in medicine can also help explain the eighty sons The Mahavaṃsa credits him with creating, each one, the chronicle approvingly states, named after a disciple of Buddha. Two were to reign after his natural death in 370 CE. For 116 years the Lambakarna dynasty, recovering from its earlier subversive bout of regicide, had settled down to govern well, fostering a prosperous and growing state. They had, in the words of John Lennon, given peace a chance. In the reigns that were to follow, it was, alas, soon to be time again for bloodletting.

Illustration Credit: Ancient palm-leaf medical manuscripts with diagrams of the kind that would be familiar to Buddhadasa, King of Anuradhapura. Picture courtesy of Sunday Observer.

Surathissa, King of Anuradhapura

The twelfth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 247 BCE – 237 BCE.

A modest degree of scholarly mystery surrounds the parentage of Surathissa – who was either the brother of the previous Vijayan king, Mahasiwa, or a much younger brother of Mahasiwa’s own father, King Mutasiva. Little is known about his ten year reign except that it was ultimately utterly unsuccessful. His kingdom was overrun and conquered by an opportunistic invasion from South India. The apparently swift collapse of the state under his care implies, at best, his failure to master that first essential rule of kingship: ensuring the country is able to defend itself. Its takeover by couple of Tamil horse traders, Sena and Guttik, was the first time the kingdom was to experience such military ravishing from its mighty northern neighbour.

Tissa, King of Upatissa Nuwara

The fifth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 454 BCE – 437 BCE.

Forcing his brother, Abhaya into abdication, the Vijayan king, Tissa, though titular King of Upatissa Nuwara, never confidently occupied the office he had so greatly sought. He was a haunted man – obsessed by the morbid predictions of a court soothsayer who predicted that he and all his brothers would all be killed by their nephew, Pandu Kabhaya, son of his only sister, Princess Citta. His rule was characterised by an ultimately unsuccessful balancing act: feuding with his bothers (many of whom died in the troubles) whilst keeping at bay his nephew Pandu Kabhaya. As civil war rocked the new nation, and almost brought the nascent dynasty to its feet, Tissa’s repeated attempts to find and slay his nephew, Pandu Kabhaya, were foiled and his reign came to a predictable end when Pandu Kabhaya killed him in battle.

Kuda Thissa, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-ninth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 50 BCE – 47 BCE.

Kuda Thissa, step nephew to the previous king, Choura Naga, and his now-widowed queen ,Anula, was to enjoy his throne for just a few years. His uncle, Choura Naga, had met his end from a draft of poison administered by Queen Anula, and the very same was to happen to Kuda Thissa, who departed this earth from a surfeit of poison in 47 BCE.

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Mahasiwa, King of Anuradhapura

The eleventh monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 257 BCE – 247 BCE.

Inheriting the Vijayan throne from his brother, Uththiya in 257 BCE, Mahasiwa’s reign is a model of almost total obscurity. Most historians agree on the fact that he probably constructed the Nagarangana Monastery in Anuradhapura; and they also largely agree on the date of his death – in 247 BCE.

Valagamba, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-first monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 103 BCE; and then, after an interregnum, 89 BCE – 77 BCE.

Valagamba, a brother of the previous Vijayan king, Khallata Naga had to first kill Kammaharattaka, his sibling’s murderer and chief general, before gaining the crown for himself in 103 BCE. This was to prove one of his two only really successful accomplishments. Decades of royal misrule - going back to the death of King Dutugemunu in 137 BCE - had set the grand old kingdom up for utter disaster. Within months of taking power, a rebellion broke out in Rohana. A devastating drought began – a less than positive development in a land where the king was considered to have the power to cause rain. The kingdom’s preeminent port, Māhatittha (now Mantota, opposite Mannar) fell to Dravidian Tamil invaders. And at a battle at Kolambalaka, the hapless King Valagamba was defeated, racing from the battlefield in a chariot lightened by the (accidental?) exit of his wife, Queen Somadevi.

Valagamba’s kingdom was now ruled by a series of Dravidian Tamil kings who, between 103 BCE and 89 BCE were to either murder one another or fall victim to the guerrilla campaign that now became ex-king Valagamba’s passion and priority. For over 10 years the island was crippled by war, and an ever diminishing government. Pulahatta, the first Dravidian king, was killed by Bahiya, another of the five remaining Dravidians and head of the army. He was in turn murdered in 99 BCE by Panayamara, the third Dravidian who had been unwisely promoted to run the army. Panayamara was next assassinated in 92 BCE by his general, the fourth Dravidian, Pilayamara. Seven months was all Pilayamara managed to last - before dying in skirmishes with Valagamba and passing the throne to the last Dravidian and army commander, Dathika who ruled until his defeat in battle against Valagamba in 89 BCE.

Victory earnt King Valagamba the second of only two moments of real success in his otherwise sorrowful reign. Valagamba ruled on for a further 12 years, building a monastery, stupa and more memorably converting the Dambulla caves in which he hid during his wilderness years, into the famous Rock Temple that exists today. Less adroitly, Valagamba managed to drive a wedge between the monks, his favouritism of one sect for another, setting in motion the island’s first Buddhist schism. Despite this, it was under Valagamba’s patronage that 30 miles north of Kandy 500 monks gathered at the Aluvihare Rock Temple to write down for the very first time, the precepts of Buddhism. The monks were probably still hard at work on The Pali Canon when Valagamba died in 77 BCE, bringing his adopted son, Mahakuli Mahatissa to power for 14 years.

Vatuka, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty first (interloper) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 47 BCE.

A Tamil and a carpenter, Vatuka was placed on the throne of Anuradhapura in 47 BCE by his terrifying lover, the widowed Vijayan Queen, Anula. Anula had come into her inheritance by murdering three earlier monarchs: her husband Choura Naga, the twenty-eighth King of Anuradhapura; his successor, Choura Naga, the twenty-ninth monarch; and her most recent lover, Siva I, the thirtieth monarch. Within a year Anula had Vatuka poisoned too.

Gothabhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The sixteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 61st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 254 – 267 CE.

One of three plotters (the other two being Sangha Tissa I and Siri Sangha Bodhi), Gothabhaya had conspired to kill the reigning king, Vijaya Kumara in 248 CE. Like his co-conspirators, he came from a more modest cadet branch of the Lambakanna Dynasty but was made of stern stuff. As the first of his murderous partners, Sangha Tissa I, was killed by the second, Siri Sangha Bodhi I, Gothabhaya set out to gain the crown in just the same tried and trusted way.

According to The Mahavaṃsa, he needn’t have bothered for Sangha Bodhi I killed himself in a manner that was both anatomically impossible and socially impressive. Quite how he really met his death remains a mystery. The important thing was that the king was dead, leaving Gothabhaya to rule. What the new king lacked in charm, charity, and religious tolerance, he made up for with the sort of firm government that took the fizz out of regicide. For 14 years he ruled it with the proverbial rod of iron. A man of deeply conservative religious beliefs, he was unimpressed by the Vajrayana movement, a form of tantric Buddhism that was making slim but noticeable appearances into his kingdom. The movement was closely aligned with Mahayana Buddhism and seen by many as incompatible with the Theravāda Buddhism that had been practiced on the island since the 3rd century BCE.

The king did all he could to thwart it, even banishing 60 monks for such beliefs. But what he kept out with one door slammed shut, he inadvertently let in with another. For he entrusted his son’s education to an Indian monk named Sanghamitta, a follower of Vaitulya Buddhism. This doctrinal strand was even more radical than the Vajrayana doctrine the king was so busy trying to eradicate. Like a time bomb, the impact of this private religious education on his successor, was set to go off the moment Gotabhaya died. His death, in 267 CE, left behind a divided country. Several ministers refused to participate in his funeral rites and his son and heir, Jetta Tissa I, a chip off the monstrous old block, had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body.

Illustration Credit: The Abhayagiri Monastery, whose monks King Gothabhaya banished for embracing the Vetulya doctrine. Photo credit: courtesy of Alchetron and taken before the stupa was restored.

X-Press Pearl

On 20 May 2021, a Singapore-registered container ship, the X-Press Pearl, caught fire off the Colombo coast. Stricken, sinking, it lingered on for almost two weeks a burning, still-floating hulk, discharging nitric acid, a variety of other poisonous chemicals and polyethylene pellets. It caused the worst marine damage the country had ever seen – estimated by some to be over $6 billion. Efforts to seeks compensation in the Singaporean courts before the window for legal action closed have since been festooned with predictable accusations of ineptitude, corruption, bribes of over $200 million, and ministers and MPs arguing through long theatrical parliamentary sessions in Kotte.

Dravidians, The Six

In 436 CE the Anuradhapura Kingdom was invaded and conquered by six Dravidian chiefs. It was the fourth such invasion from its mighty northern neighbour that Sri Lanka had experienced; and was not to be the last. These particular chiefs originated from within the Pandyan dynasty, centred around Madurai - one of the four great families that were to vie with one other for centuries over control of Southern India – the other three being the Pallavas, the Cholas and the Cheras. Little is known about the cadet branch that invaded Sri Lanka – whether they were all related or all acted in unison or relay. It is thought that they were Buddhist rather than Hindu, and the few ancient sources that refer to them note their obliging donations to Buddhist establishments. Even so, they amply demonstrated their divergence from those Buddhist teachings that strongly opposed the use of violence, to show that they were not above its expedient application to win themselves a kingdom. They were to rule the Anuradhapura Kingdom for sixteen turbulent years. Two were to die apparently natural deaths; one was murdered by a rival and the last three were all killed in battle or skirmishes with Dhatusena, the leader of the gathering Sri Lankan resistance and a member of the emergent Moriyan dynasty. The order of these invader kings is as follows:

1. Pandu. The first of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 72nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his five year reign being 436 – 441 CE.

2. Parindu, the son of King Pandu; the 2nd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 73rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). He was to rule for under a year in 441 CE, being killed by his brother and successor. His assassination trod a familiar path amidst Anuradhapuran kingship, Sri Lankan or otherwise – for he is the 35th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have been murdered for the succession.

3. Khudda Parinda. The Brother of King Parindu and son of King Pandu; the 3rd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 74th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). He is presumed to have died a natural death following an (albeit suspiciously short) six year reign (441 – 447 CE).

4. Tiritara, the 4th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 75th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). His relationship with the previous kings, Pandu, Parindu and Khudda Parinda remains opaque, but not so the length of his reign, which was to last under a year (447 CE). He was to die in battle against the future Sri Lankan rebel king, Dhatusena.

5. Dathiya, the 5th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 76th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). Like his predecessor, Dathiya, his kinship with the other Dravidian chiefs is unknown. His reign was to last just three years (447 – 450 CE), ending with his defeat and death at the hands of Dhatusena.

6. Pithiya, the last of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 77th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE). As with his two immediate predecessors, Pithiya’s reign ended with his defeat and death at the hands of Dhatusena. He reign had lasted barely two years (450 – 452 CE), and with his death the country plunged into deeper anarchy until eventually, Dhatusena, was to quell all other opposition and be crowed King of Anuradhapura himself.

Illustration Credit: Gold coin of Alupas, showing the fish symbol of the Pandyian Dynasty

Saddha Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The seventeenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 137 BCE – 119 BCE.

Inheriting the throne in 137 BCE from his brother, King Dutugemunu, Saddha Tissa moved to the Vijayan capital at Anuradhapura from his own more modest kingdom of Digamadulla, Sri Lanka’s present day eastern province. In so doing he united Anuradhapura, and Ruhuna with the east to cast Vijayan dominance across nearly the entirety of the island. Almost nothing is known about his reign expect for the fact that he obligingly built a temple – the Dighavapi vihara in Ampara – and, perhaps more usefully a tremendous water tank, the Duratissa Reservoir which held 336 million cubic feet of water. His death in 119 BCE set off a pattern for family politics that was ultimately to result in the downfall of the entire Vijayan dynasty.

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Ilanaga, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-second monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 35 CE – 35 CE; and then, after an interregnum, 38 CE – 44 CE.

Nephew of the slain Vijayan King, Amandagamani Abhaya, Ilanaga managed to dethrone the sitting monarch, Sivali, King, Amandagamani Abhaya’s daughter in 35 CE. In so doing he turbo-charged the unrest and insurrection that was beginning to terminally eat away at the kingdom. Within months Ilanaga had fallen out with the Lambakarna clan, a most significant noble family within his court. In the consequent turmoil he had to flee the country, leaving the Lambakarna in nominal and no doubt, fluctuating charge. Hunted somewhat ineptly, Ilanaga managed to hide in hill country, before catching a ship to south India. He was to return 3 years later at the head of a borrowed Chola army to take back his throne in 38 CE. His reign lasted another 7 years ending with his surprisingly natural death in 44 CE.

Bahiya, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-third (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 100 BCE – 98 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Bahiya became king of Anuradhapura by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Pulahatta. Until then he had previously served him as chief minster. Much of his own short rule was spent dealing with threats to his own safety – from the avenging Valagamba - busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south - and from his own Dravidian colleagues, one of whom, Panya Mara, was to murder him.

Illustration of a Pandyan Kingdom coin depicting a temple between hill symbols and elephant, from Sri Lanka, 1st century CE. Public Domain.

Abhaya, King of Upatissa Nuwara

The fourth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 474 – 454 BCE.

Abhaya, King Panduvasdeva’s eldest son, inherited the Vijayan throne from his father in 474 BCE. It is impossible to discern at this distance quite what passed for war and peace among his nine male siblings during his rule but clearly there was a rising dispute that only ended (for him) when in 454 BCE he had abdicated in favour of his bother Tissa. It is unlikely that Abhaya’s ousting took the pressure of what had become an incipient civil war as Panduvasdeva’s sons continued to vie for prominence, and survival. Spared his life, Abhaya retreated into a wise obscurity, sensibly declining his nephew’s later offer to retake the crown, settling instead for the far less pressured job of running the freshly minted city of Anuradhapura.

Illustration: The earliest known version of the Vijayan Flag, with the Lion shown. Courtsey of Narlaka Unleashed.

Dathiya, King of Anuradhapura

The 5th of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 76th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Dathiya’s relationship to the previous king, Tiritara, is unknown; but his reign (447 – 450 CE) would have been troublesome and turbulent, extending over an ever-shrinking area as the Sri Lankan Moriyan rebel leader, Dhatusena, gained more and more of a foothold on Pandiyan-held territory. Dathiya was to die in battle against Dhatusena, the 10th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have died in this way.

Illustration Credit: Pandyian fish relief courtsey of Quora.

Lanja Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The nineteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 118 BCE – 109 BCE.

Lanja Tissa gained his crown by murdering his younger Vijayan brother Thulatthana who had quite possibly stolen the throne from him on the death of their father Saddha Tissa in 119 BCE. Leading an army up from his own base in Ruhana, Lanja Tissa took back what he clearly regarded as his own in the first place, and seems to have met little obvious resistance. Even so, it is said that, in penance, he then spent the ten years that his reign was to encompass appeasing the Buddhist monks’ disapproval of fratricide by devoting himself to the betterment of Buddhism. He died, peacefully it seems, in 109 BCE.

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Dutugemunu, King of Anuradhapura

The sixteenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 161 BCE – 137 BCE.

The son of King Kavantissa of Ruhuna, a southern kingdom established earlier by a cadet branch of the Anuradhapura’s Vijayan kings, Dutugemunu was able to benefit from his father’s lasting achievement in strengthening and enlarging Ruhuna. This he did not just to defend himself against the Ellalan, the Chola Tamil conqueror of Anuradhapuran – but also to see off the many more modest challenges that came his way from the many other fiefdoms that bordered his lands. King Kavantissa bequeathed to his son Dutugemunu a battle-ready country, but Dutugemunu was unable to focuses its powers beyond its existing borders until he had seen off a challenge to his own inheritance from his younger brother, Tissa. Living up to his various nicknames (rowdy, fearless, disobedient), Dutugemunu eventually defeated his brother but rather than putting him to death, the traditional punishment for such temerity, he promoted him to be one of his own generals.

With an army of chariots, monks, horses, a lucky spear, his favourite elephant (Kandula) and, states The Mahāvaṃsa, Ten Giant Warriors (Nandhimitra, Suranimala, Mahasena, Theraputtabhya, Gotaimbara, Bharana, Vasabha, Khanjadeva, Velusamanna, and Phussadeva), the new king of Ruhuna set off north to reclaim the family’s senior kingdom – Anuradhapura . Composed, as was normal of four units – elephants, horses, chariots, and infantry – Dutugemunu’s army was spectacularly successful, first mopping up the splintered Tamil statelets in the north before arriving outside the walls of Anuradhapura. King Ellalan, mounted on his elephant Mahapabbata, faced his younger rival, mounted on his elephant, Kandula.

The ancient texts report that the deadly combat was honourable but decisive, a spear thrust finally ending Ellalan’s life in 161 BCE. The records state that "the water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain'. And perhaps in acknowledgment of Ellalan’s fine reputation, Dutugemunu had his victim cremated properly and a stupa constructed over the pyre. “Even to this day,” comments The Mahāvaṃsa, “the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music'.

For a glorious, albeit extended moment, it seems as if the Vijayan dynasty’s good times had returned. Dutugemunu's victory left him ruling nearly the whole of the island, from Anuradhapura to Ruhuna, and much in between. And as if to confirm the return of Vijayan hegemony, the construction of more buildings commenced. Anuradhapura expanded exponentially, its infrastructure, utilities, water resources so upgraded as to ensure that it would flourish for centuries to come, the longest surviving capital city of the Indian sub-continent. Still more spectacular was the building of many of its most celebrated structures. A large monastery, the Maricavatti, was erected, together with a nine-story chapter house for monks, with a bright copper-tiled roof; and most famous of all, what is today called the Ruwanweliseya, the Great Stupa which housed Buddha’s begging bowl. The building programme was not restricted to the capital alone – 89 other temples are said to have been constructed in the kingdom, along with hospitals and smaller tanks. Trade opened up with the west, the ports busy with merchants from Arabia, Persia and possibly even Rome.

But back at the palace, events were going less smoothly. Dutugemunu's heir, Saliya, having fallen for a girl from one of the lowest castes, was disinherited. The ailing king, dying before his eye-catching Stupa was finished, ensured the throne passed instead to his own brother, Saddha Tissa in 137 BCE.

Image courtsery of Lankapura.

Yassalalaka Thissa, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-fourth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 52 CE – 60 CE.

The son of the Vijayan king, Ilanaga, Yassalalaka Thissa seized the throne by the simple expedient of murdering his brother, Chandra Mukha Siva. In so doing, he set the stage for one of most eccentric periods of island governance. With the ascension of the regicidal Yassalalaka Thissa, the last Vijayan chorus sounded, singing a story too bathetic to be encumbered by any inconvenient disbelief, The Mahāvaṃsa recounts the bizarre end of this once great dynasty in 60 CE.

“Now a son of Datta the gate-watchman, named Subha, who was himself a gate-watchman, bore a close likeness to the king. And this palace-guard Subha did the king Yasalalaka, in jest, bedeck with the royal ornaments and place upon the throne and binding the guard's turban about his own head, and taking himself his place, staff in band, at the gate, he made merry over the ministers as they paid homage to Subha sitting on the throne. Thus, was he wont to do, from time to time. Now one day the guard cried out to the king, who was laughing: `Why does this guard laugh in my presence?' And Subha the guard ordered to slay the king, and he himself reigned here six years under the name Subha Raja.”

Despatched by his own lookalike, Yassalalaka Thissa, the last Vijayan king died, one hopes, seeing the unexpectedly funny side of assassination. The last so-called Vijayan king, Subha Raja, was to be the most ironic of suppressed monarchical paradoxes: an genuine imposter.

Kuda Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The eighth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 53rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 195 -196 CE.

Kuda Naga was to gain his throne by murdering his brother, Cula Naga. By so doing, he ushered in a period of deeply unstable government that was to last until 254 CE – 59 years - and was to count himself as one of the greatest losers. His act of regicide must have earned some considerable censure for he himself was murdered after barely a year by his own brother-in-law, Siri Naga I.

Illustration Credit: The tusker and swastika is a small Copper coin. On one side of the coin, there is an image of a walking tusker, a stupa drawn using three half-moons, a swastika and a Bo tree with three branches inscribed in a square. On the flipside, there is a swastika, a trident, and a stupa. The coin would have been in circulation through the early Anuradhapura era including during the reign of Kuda Naga, King of Anuradhapura. Photo credit: The Central Bank of Dri Lanka.

Pandu, King of Anuradhapura

The first of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 72nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Leading a confederation of Pandiyan forces from South India, Pandu seized the throne from the reigning Anuradhapura king, Mittasena – who was to become the twenty sixth and last monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period). Decades of political turmoil and internecine regicide had numbed Mittasena’s kingdom, lowering its defences and its capability to meet any invader, let alone govern effectively. Mittasena, by all accounts a deeply devout king, was more given to religion than warfare. He enjoyed his throne for just a year before being killed in battle by Pandu. Pandu himself is thought to have been the 35th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death, the dates of his reign being 436 – 441 CE.

Illustration Credit: Fish Symbol - Later Pandya Collapsed Architectural Engineering Adinarayana Perumal Temple In Madurai Ground Report By S Rajagopal

Upatissa, King of Upatissa Nuwara

The second monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 505 BCE to 504 BCE.

A Chief Minister to King Vijaya of Tambapaṇṇī, the founding father of the island’s first recorded royal dynasty, the Vijayans, Upatissa was also a priest and had founded his own modest city state kingdom, Upatissa Nuwara, a few miles distance from Tambapaṇṇī. On the death of King Vijaya in 505 BCE, he stepped into the breach to rule the new kingdom as a regent until Vijaya’s chosen successor, his brother Sumitta arrived from India. Except Sumitta failed to come. Pleading old age, he passed on the offer, preferring his own more familiar kingdom. Instead, his youngest son, Panduvasdeva, volunteered and set off with over 30 companions to take command of his new kingdom in 504 BCE. At this point the ever-helpful Upatissa vanishes from the historical record. It seems likely that he surrendered both the regency of Tambapaṇṇī and his own kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara to Panduvasdeva.

Siri Naga II, King of Anuradhapura

The twelfth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 57th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 245 – 247 CE.

The son of King Voharika Tissa, he was more than a little put out by how his side of the family had put through the ringers of hell by his uncle. For his uncle was the reigning king, Abhaya Naga, a man had managed not just to cuckold his bother, but assassinate him too before having the unfair temerity to die a natural death after an eight year reign. News of his death was rushed to the Ruhuna redoubt in southern Sri Lanka where the writ of Anuradhapura often failed to leave but the faintest of traces. Here, Siri Naga, Ahaya Naga embittered nephew, had been holding out since his father’s murder. Claiming his rightful inheritance, the new king hastened back to Anuradhapura to take to the throne as King Siri Naga II. Sadly, he was to enjoy just three years of kingship. His death, in 247 CE was also, apparently natural (the 27th reigning Sri Lankan monarch die so), and he was succeeded by his own son, Vijaya Kumara.

Illustration: Yala in Ruhana, the out-of-reach sub kingdom where Siri Naga II, King of Anuradhapura was to lie low and safe. Image courtesy of Nerd Nomads.

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Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The seventeenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 62nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 267 – 277 CE.

Jetta Tissa I was the son of the previous king, Gothabhaya, and something of a chip off the monstrous old block. To deal with unruly minsters at his father’s funeral, he had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body in 267 CE. This display of strong-armed governance under yet another king was probably precisely what was needed to help keep at bay the lurking regicidal tendencies inherent in the Lambakanna dynasty.

Jetta Tissa’s decade long rule is unlikely to have been a comfortable ride for those around him. Indeed, states the Mahavamsa Chronicle “he came by the surname: the Cruel” It then elaborates, with evident dismay, the steps he took to move patronage and resource from the orbit of Theravada Buddhism to Vaitulya Buddhism. Even so, he was to die in 277 CE, just the 29th reigning Sri Lankan monarch out of a list of 62 to have died a natural death. Modest as this rounds, it was still something of a major achievement.

Illustration Credit: Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara in Badulla town which was renovated by Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of Lankapura.

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Mahasena, King of Anuradhapura

The eighteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 63rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 277 - 304 CE.

The son of King Gothabhaya and brother of King Jettha Tissa I, Mahasen took the throne in 277 CE, a succession notable for being natural. Like his brother, Mahasen had been educated by the radical monk Sanghamitta; and so, from the perspective of the majority Theravāda Buddhists, life got still worse as the religious schisms that continued to ravage the country worsened. A twenty-seven-year reign lay ahead of the new king, who got off to a good start commissioning what would include sixteen massive reservoirs (the largest covering an area of nearly twenty square kilometres) and two big irrigation canals.

But this did little to defray the resentment his pro-Mahayana religious policies caused, which prompted a rash of insurrections opposing his own opposition to Theravada Buddhism. Mahasen set about building what would become the country’s largest stupa, the Jethavanaramaya – which was, until the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the second tallest building in the world. To help, he ordered the plundering of the Mahavihara, the greatest Theravada Buddhist monastery in the land. Monks that resisted his Mahayana policies were pressured by many means, including attempted starvation.

Soon enough the trickle of monks fleeing to the safely of Ruhuna in the south became a flood. Ominously they were also joined by Meghavannabaya, the king’s chief minister, who raised an army in their defence. With surprising wisdom, the king drew back from the confrontation, saving his throne, making peace with the disgruntled Theravada Buddhists, and enabling him to settle down to enjoy a long and apparently prosperous reign. This came to a natural end in 303 CE earning him the kudos of being just the 30th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death.

Illustration Credit: Jetavanarama stupa built by Mahasena, King of Anuradhapura - image courtsey of A.Savin, WikiCommons

Vijaya Kumara, King of Anuradhapura


The thirteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 58th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 247 – 248 CE.

The seemingly proscribed and normative ascension of Vijaya Kumara belied a much more malign thread that was now running through Lambakanna family politics. Since 195 CE, half the monarchs had murdered one another, a predilection that pointed either to some bizarre and yet to be identified DNA mutation that triggers irresistible thoughts of regicide – or, the existence, now beyond identification, of cabals, alliances, schisms and inter family power centres that were possibly connected to the hareem and the multitude of competing queens and demi queens and their semi related offspring whose ambitions surged like an unending sigh through the opulent corridors of the palaces they inhabited.

We will never know; and can, like the scriptwriters of a soap opera, mere guess at why disaster was snatched from the jaws of prosperity. For within a year the king was dead, the 29th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been murdered for the succession. Like the deadly tale behind a bloodthirsty Jacobean tragedy, the plot hatched by these three distant relatives sprang into action clan. Little is known of its details – but one can guess at them by seeing how it played out. And here the real trouble began as each took their turn to be king – a dubious achievement almost on a par with Rome’s Year of the Four Emperors in 69 CE or Britain’s Year of the Three Kings in 1936.

Illustration Credit: The tusker and swastika is a small Copper coin. On one side of the coin, there is an image of a walking tusker, a stupa drawn using three half-moons, a swastika and a Bo tree with three branches inscribed in a square. On the flipside, there is a swastika, a trident, and a stupa. The coin would have been in circulation through the early Anuradhapura era including during the reign of Vijaya Kumara, King of Anuradhapura. Photo credit: The Central Bank of Dri Lanka.

Belief & Culture

I, i

Gajabahu I, King of Anuradhapura

The third monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 48th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 113 - 135 CE.

Gajabahu was to rule for 22 years,. His governance is remembered for its predictable religious sensibility – and its military might, the two not often going hand in hand. He built monasteries (in Matuvihara and Rumika) and a stupa (Abhayuttara). More remarkably, he also co-opted the Hindu goddess Pattini to Sri Lanka. Several of her temples remain on the island, and she is still worshipped, the Buddhist patron goddess of fertility and health, an iconic ancient link that evokes deep and pacific links between the island’s two main religions that are often overlooked. She is even one of just five figures honoured in the annual Kandy Perehera, the country’s supreme Buddhist festival – which some historians date to around the reign of King Gajabahu himself. The king also managed to find her sacred anklet, said still to be hidden in the Hanguranketha Temple near Nuwara Aylia. This move which did not stop him also liberating the alms bowl of Buddha from India to Sri Lanka, a vessel with a history and provenance now every bit as complex as that of the Holy Grail.

But it is his military capabilities that are most honoured today, not least in the Sri Lanka Army’s infantry regiment, The Gajaba Regiment, or the country’s Navy with its ship the SLNS Gajabahu. For Gajabahu did that rarest of things: he took the fight with the Cholas, to the Cholas, leading an army to southern India to liberate the 12,000 thousand Sinhalese prisoners seized in his father's reign. Ancient sources also mention other visits to Tamil kings, this time more peaceful. Trade too seems to have flourished. Excavations at the ancient (now partially underwater) port of Godavaya in the far south have unearthed his regulations regarding custom tolls – as well as a collection of seventy five thousand Roman coins. Almost little is known of his personal life, and nothing to explain why he was succeeded in 135 CE by his father or son-in-law, Mahallaka Naga.

Illustration Credit: The Sri Lanka Navy Ship SLNS Gajabahu courtsey of The Sri Lankan Navy

Stupa

A Sinhala term for a religious structure built over a relic, most typically a dome shaped monument.

Illustration: A full reconstruction of the first stupa in Sri Lanka, along with its later Vatagage which was built over the monument. Known as the Thuparama Stupa in Anuradhapura, today only the stupa remains. The Vatadage structure reconstructed in this model in the main museum of Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

Bhathika Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty sixth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 20 BCE – 9 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne on the death of his father, Kutakanna Tissa, Bhathika Abhaya’s 29-year rule goes almost unmentioned in the chronicles. Given the turmoil of the previous decades caused by the regicide of six kings in a row, such silence was probably a blessing and Bhathika Abhaya appears to have died peaceably in 9 CE, which, when looked at from the dynasty’s later years (let alone its former ones), was an achievement to be celebrated.

Illustration of a stone statue of King Bathikabhaya facing the Ruwanweli Dágoba in Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

Lambakarna Dynasty (First Period), The

Governing from 66 CE to 436 CE, the Lambakarna were Sri Lanka’s second recorded royal dynasty, carrying the country into what historians call “the common era” and helping to more deeply embed a unique Singhalese culture across the entire island.

Originating possibly in India, it is likely that the Lambakarnas claimed descent from Sumitta - a prince who formed part of the escort that had brought the Bodhi-tree from India in 250 CE. From this botanical pilgrimage, they would go on to become one of the island’s great barons, alongside other such families as Moriyan, Taracchas and Balibhojak. The Lambakarnas’ own power derived from their position as hereditary guardians or secretaries to the king. They took a prominent part in religious ceremonies. But there was more to them than merely carrying coronation parasols and flags. They were connected to the military, to weapon manufacture and, as writers, must have been involved in much of the important administration of the kingdom.

The Lambakarnas managed the transition from one of several aristocratic families to ruling family with what at first appeared to be consummate ease. After the ruinous excesses of the last Vijayans, the new dynasty seemed to grip the one fundamental axiom of successful kingship: govern well, live long. They were to rule all or much of the island (depending on the period) over two distinct periods.

The first of these (The First Period) was to last for 369 years, through the reigns of 26 monarchs, from 67 CE to 436 CE.

It took the dynasty a blissfully long 126 years before regicide, that most corrosive of leadership viruses, to catch up with it in 193 CE. The sickness lasted for six decades, during which time being a king most typically meant an early and random appointment with reincarnation.

Matters appeared to stabilised from 254 CE. For 116 more years kings came and went with calm succession. But then, once more, the regicide virus reappeared - this time with a more comprehensively malign impact. For six more decades the country drifted as kings most typically succeeded one another at the point of a sword or a draft of poison. The invasion, when it came in 436 CE, put a one-year sell by date on the Lambakarna’s last king. King Mittasena was to enjoy his crown for just a year. Decades of focusing on the succession rather the defence or betterment of the country had left the kingdom so insufficiently capable as to be the perfect sitting target for the country’s fourth invasion from Tamil Nadu. It was the first serious Tamil invasion the Lambakarna dynasty had to face – the previous three being catastrophes that the previous Vijayan rulers had endured. But it was to be their last too. Facing an implacable Tamil army, the dynasty imploded, ceding the kingdom to seventeen years of foreign occupation and several more years of interregnal anarchy.

The Lambakarnas had ruled their kingdom for just over half the length of the Vijayans - and their 369 year innings was no small achievement. But it was a troubled epoch. Just under half the Lambakarna monarchs were to die at the hands of their successors, victims to a predilection for assassination that ran as a malign monomeric thread through their DNA. Even so, the nation they left behind was bigger, richer, more complex, developed and built out that it had been on its inheritance by them back in 67 CE. Stupas, monasteries, reservoirs, canals, temples, and dwellings filled out the land. The mores of society progressed. Agriculture flourished and technical advances from construction through to medicine bestowed its benefits on the kingdom. It was strong enough to weather repeated religious schisms, as well as succession crises; and – ultimately – its 16 year occupation by Tamil kings to enable the country to bounce back, albeit this time under yet another new dynasty. The order and run of its monarchs is as follows:

1. Vasabha. The first monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 46th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 67 - 111 CE.

2. Vankanasika Tissa. The second monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 47th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 111 - 113 CE.

3. Gajabahu I. The third monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 48th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 113 - 135 CE.

4. Mahallaka Naga. The fourth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 49th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 135 - 141 CE.

5. Bhatika Tissa. The fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 50th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 141 – 165 CE.

6. Kanittha Tissa. The sixth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 51st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 165 - 193.

7. Cula Naga. The seventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 52nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya; the dates of his reign being 193 – 195 CE.

8. Kuda Naga. The eighth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 53rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 195 -196 CE.

9. Siri Naga. The ninth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 54th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 196 – 215 CE.

10. Voharika Tissa. The tenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 55th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijay (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 215 – 237 CE.

11. Abhaya Naga. The eleventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 56th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 237 – 245 CE.

12. Siri Naga II. The twelfth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 57th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 245 – 247 CE.

13. Vijaya Kumara. The thirteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 58th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 247 – 248 CE.

14. Sangha Tissa I. The fourteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 59th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 248 – 252 CE.

15. Siri Sangha Bodhi I. The fifteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 60th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 252 – 254 CE.

16. Gothabhaya. The sixteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 61st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 254 – 267 CE.

17. Jettha Tissa I. The seventeenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 62nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 267 – 277 CE.

18. Mahasena. The eighteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 63rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 277 - 304 CE

19. Sirimeghavanna. The nineteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 64th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 304 - 332 CE

20. Jettha Tissa II. The twentieth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 65th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 332 – 341 CE.

21. Buddhadasa. The twenty first monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 66th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 341 – 370 CE.

22. Upatissa I. The twenty second monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 67th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being: 370 – 412 CE.

23. Mahanama. The twenty third monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 68th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 412 – 434 CE.

24. Soththisena. The twenty fourth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 69th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the date of his reign being 434 CE.

25. Chattagahaka Jantu. The twenty fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 70th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE) the dates of her reign being 434 - 435 CE.

26. Mittasena. The twenty sixth and last monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 71st recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 435 – 436 CE.

Illustration of the Mahavilachchiya Wewa constructed by the first king, Vasabha. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ashan Geeganage

Chandra Mukha Siva, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-third monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 44 CE – 52 CE.

The son of the Vijayan king, Ilanaga, and the penultimate kosher Vijayan king , Chandra Mukha Siva took the throne on his father’s death. His reign, about which almost nothing is known, is unlikely to have been much of a source of pleasure and strength to him though, for by 52 CE he had been murdered by his own brother, Yassalalaka Thissa.

Belief & Culture

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Abhaya Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The eleventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 56th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 237 – 245 CE. By any standards, Abhaya Naga was the sort of king a country might best avoid. Despite having both cuckolded and murdered his brother Voharika Tissa, the previous king, he still managed to last for eight years before dying a wholly undeserved natural death – just the 26th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have so died. His gaining of the throne with the help of a mercenary Tamil army suggests also just how close the links were between the Anuradhapuran kings and the monarchs of south India – the Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras and Pandiyans.

Illustration: A Lakshmi Plaque coin showing on the obverse the Goddess Lakshmi facing, being showered by two mini elephants atop of poles; and on the reverse: a clockwise revolving Swastika tree. The coin was in circulation in Anuradhapura from 20 BCE to 297 CE, including during the reign of Abhaya Naga, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of CoinTalk.

Emblem of Sri Lanka, The

National emblems differ from national flags in as much as they are used by the state to validate their administration of the country. Sri Lanka’s colonial overlords adopted emblems for the island featuring elephants that they ran alongside their national flags (or in the case of the Dutch, the arms of the VOC). But by 1972 the country has developed an entirely new Emblem, which is still in use today. It was designed by the Venerable Mapalagama Wipulasara Maha Thera, a Buddhist monk and artist and features the traditional lion of the national flag. The lion sits within a round frame of lotus leaves and rice grains, the Wheel of Dharma above his head and Sinhalese sun and moon symbols beneath him.

Ganatissa, King of Anuradhapura

The seventh monarch (possibly) of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being wholly unclear.

Ganatissa is but a shadow in the list of Sri Lanaka’s early Vijayan kings. The odds on his very existence are about evens for most of the early documents omit his life altogether. However, scholars, worrying about the improbable length of King Pandu Kabhaya’s reign (437 to 367 BCE), have suggested that Ganatissa filled in the royal register between kings Pandu Kabhaya and Mutasiva.

Bhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The fifth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 50th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 141 – 165 CE.

Inheriting the throne from his father, Mahallaka Naga, little is known about Bhatika Tissa’s relatively long 24 year reign, But if, as Thomas Carlyle noted, “silence is golden,” the kingdom’ s golden years continued; and the monarch, though obscure, must have a much deserved place amongst the dynasty’s more successful rulers. He natural death earnt him a place as just the 23rd reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died in this way – no bad feat given that he was the 50th recorded monarch in the island’s history.

Illustration of the Anuradhapura Thuparamaya Chapter House said to have been built by Bhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura, image courtsey of AmazingLanka.

Panduvasdeva, King of Upatissa Nuwara

The third monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 504 BCE to 474 BCE.

Nephew of Vijaya, King of Tambapanni, the Vijayan dynasty’s founding father, Panduvasdeva was just what the nascent Vijayan dynasty needed to entrench itself. His greatest achievements were being able to rule for decades and produce heirs - albeit ones fixated on familicide. Whether his many sons all came from the same wife or not is unknown, for the harem was to be a key institution of the royal court, and a magnet for intrigue and politics until the last king of the last kingdom breathed his last. Panduvasdeva moved his capital from Upatissa Nuwara to the fortress of Vijithapura, close to what would later become its great capital, Anuradhapura. Today, he is chiefly remembered for the chaos that later enveloped the country as his 10 sons battled against the morbid predictions of a court soothsayer who predicted that they would all be killed by their nephew, Pandu Kabhaya, son of their only sister, Princess Citta.

Mahanama, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty third monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 68th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 412 – 434 CE.

The son of King Buddhadasa, Mahanama was a Buddhist monk – but the kind of monk with more than a few extracurricular interests. Chief among these was his brother’s wife, the Queen, with whom he was to cuckold King Upatissa I, bringing his otherwise long reign to an unscheduled end by murdering him in 412 CE. Although the new king was to enjoy dying a natural death in 434 CE, the manor of his ascension legitimised regicide once again and set in train a chain of events that was to destroy both the dynasty and – for a time – the country. .

Illustration Credit: A Lakshmi Plaque coin with a female figure carved into the face It is believed that the woman on the coin is the goddess, Lakshmi. The coins were either plated or engraved pieces of Copper. They also came in different sizes. The plated kind were 1 ¼ inches in length and ½ inch in width. The coins are a mixture of approximately 60 percent Lead and 15 percent Copper. On the coin face, the goddess Lakshmi is standing on a lotus flower grasping two lotus stems that are protruding from either side of the flower. The stems, which reach her shoulders, each carry a blossomed lotus flower upon which stands a tusker holding a clay water vase. The image depicts the goddess bathing in the water pouring out of the vases held by the two tuskers. In some versions of this coin, goddess Lakshmi is shown seated on a lotus flower. The Lakshmi coins have been found is such places as Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Wallipuram and Thirukethiswaram as well as Kantharoda, Mannar, Mulativu, Chilaw and Thissamaharama; and were in circulation from 3 BCE to 8 CE – including during the reign of Mahanama, King of Anuradhapura. Picture courtesy of The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Mahakuli Mahatissa, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-seventh monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 77 BCE – 62 BCE.

Mahakuli Mahatissa, who became King of Anuradhapura in 76 BCE, was the adopted son of the previous Vijayan king, Valagamba. His paternal inheritance was something of a baited hook. His own (blood) father, the general Kammaharattaka, had been murdered by Valagamba for having killed the previous king, Valagamba’s brother, Khallata Naga. As was so often the case the with the early Anuradhapuran kings, if ever there was an opportunity to complicate already dangerously tortuously family matters, it was one they typically took with alacrity. In an act of reckless trust Valagamba adopted Mahakuli Mahatissa, the general’s son and married his wife. Unsurprisingly, there are hints in the ancient chronicles that Valagamba’s succession may not have been entirely orderly; if so, then Valagamba’s earlier trust in adopting Mahakuli Mahatissa can be read as an extended suicide note. But however he came to the throne, Mahakuli Mahatissa stayed the course, though whether he did anything constructive remains a niggling historical curiosity. He died, quite possibly peaceably, in 62 BCE.

Vijaya, King of Tambapanni

The first monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 543 BCE to 505 BCE.

Expelled from either Bengal or Gujarat by his father, Prince Vijaya, the founding father of an eponymous royal family, arrived on the island in 543 BCE. His landing kick started recorded Singhala history. His existence is known about only though The Dipavaṃsa (complied around the 3rd – 4th centuries CE) and the famous Mahavaṃsa Chronicle. Indeed much of all we know about Vijayan rule, comes courtesy of these works.

The Mahavaṃsa (The Great Chronicle), is epic poem written by a Buddhist monk (with later additions) in the ancient Pali script. It begins with Prince Vijaya’s arrival and ends in 302 CE – but was written centuries after the events it describes, in the 5th century CE. Historians debate the factual accuracy of the works, and many scholars believe that the date of 543 BCE itself is something of a contradiction, being synthetically fixed to coincide with the date of Lords Buddha’s own death.

Although verified archaeological, still less documentary evidence for Prince Vijaya remains tantalizingly absent, this has not stopped him taking centre stage as the nation’s paterfamilias. The many conflicting stories surrounding his arrival, his fights with man-eating wives, flying horses, skirmishes with indigenous tribes, protection under Buddha and willingness to swap his local wife Kuveni for a more glamorous and aristocratic Indian princess, are part of the country’s cherished creation myths. As a first choice of wife, Kuveni was a well-considered match. She was said to be a Yaksha queen, from a local tribe, now often considered to be just mythical, with demon like powers. They co-existed with the Naga, another local tribe, though in this case one that was linked to snake worship.

In the case of wife selection, Vijayan’s modus operandi set in train a royal habit that persisted to the end of the last kingdom in Kandy, over 2,000 years later. Selecting a wife amongst the dynasties of South India was forever considered a smart move. It did much to foster the continued interaction between rival kingdoms. Even so, the slimmest of ancient, folklorey hints marks his landing on Sri Lanka’s shores - at Kudirmalai Point in Witpattu National Park. Here are to be found the remains of an ancient temple dedicated to a horse, and overlooked by a massive horse statue made of brick, stone, and coral. Its rear leg is now all that remains. Inland are a further set of ruins – mere pillars half standing in the jungle and known locally as Kuveni’s Palace.

Although the Mahavaṃsa Chronicle portrays Prince Vijaya as the only Indian colonist to arrive in early Sri Lanka, it is likely that he was but one (albeit the most successful one) of several immigrant bands. He and his successors colonised the island from the north and west, moving inland along the banks of the Malvata Oya. Other settlers arrived on the east coast and followed the Mahaweli River inland. Still others landed in the south, following the Walawe River inland to make other settlements that would eventually coalesce into the (semi) independent kingdom of Ruhana. To survive, all new settlers would have had to quickly master the one force central to make a viable settlement: water. Ensuring its plentiful supply in all these dry and semi dry zone areas was critical. The early settlers focused on it immediately, cutting irrigation channels from its rivers to feed tanks and reservoirs, so crops, livestock and people could safely multiply.

Of course, Prince Vijaya did not step into a vacuum. The records list at least 4 different clans: Rakkhaka, Yakkha, Naga and Deva. The new migrants’ progress forced the island’s preexisting tribes to retreat inland – and accept a humble status from newcomers with steely views on caste. All Sinhalese castes derive in some form or another from here. History is, of course, written by the victors and the Vijayan dynasty was a victor like few others. The young prince was to create the Kingdom of Tambapaṇṇī (roughly located in present day Puttalam) - the island’s the first Sinhalese kingdom, situated in the northeast around Mannar and Puttalam. Yet, even as it began, it almost came to a premature end for Prince Vijaya died in 505 BCE, after a 38 year reign, leaving no credible son to inherit the throne.

Subha Raja, King of Anuradhapura

The forty-fifth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 60 CE – 66 CE.

Gaining the throne by impersonating, and then murdering, the previous king, Yassalalaka Thissa, Subha Raja managed to last 6 years before a resurgent wave of opposition from the nobility, led by the Lambakanna clan swept him from the throne and put a new dynasty (unsurprisingly, the Lambakannas) on the map.

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Darubhatika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty second (interloper) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being sometime around 47 to 44 BCE.

A forester or wood carrier by some accounts, Darubhatika Tissa was placed on the throne of Anuradhapura in 47 BCE by his terrifying lover, the widowed Vijayan Queen, Anula. Anula had come into her inheritance by murdering four earlier monarchs: her husband Choura Naga, the twenty-eighth King of Anuradhapura; his successor, Choura Naga, the twenty-ninth monarch; and her last two lovers, Siva I, the thirtieth monarch, and Vatuka, the thirty first monarch. Within a year Anula had Darubhatika Tissa poisoned too.

Mutasiva, King of Anuradhapura

The eighth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 367 BCE – 307 BCE.

Inheriting the throne from his father, Pandu Kabhaya, or possibly from the shadowy King Ganatissa who may have been his brother, father or merely a figure of antique fiction, Mutasiva was to rule as the second king of Anuradhapura until his death, peaceably, in in 307 BCE. Little is known about his reign except his enlargement of Mahamevnāwa, an enormous park in Anuradhapura noted for its flowering trees and fruits. Mindful of his dynastic Vijayan obligations, Mutasiva produced 9 sons, 5 of whom would rule after him. His own long reign would have done much to help entrench the Viyan dynasty’s early grip on the island.

Voharika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The tenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 55th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijay (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 215 – 237 CE.

What little the historical records have to tell us about the new king are glowing. A strong proponent of non-violence, he enacted several reforms to promote the practice. Erring on the side of conservative Buddhism, he also attempted to supresses new variants of Mahayana Buddhism which were threatening to eat away at the Theravada Buddhism that had dominated the island since its introduction in 2 BCE during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa.

In spite of (or perhaps, because of) the nature of such a king, Voharika Tissa found his throne snatched away from him by his brother, Abhaya Naga, 22 years into his reign. The Lambakanna’s regicide fizzle was back. Rumoured to be fuelled by the adulterous affair Abhaya Naga, his brother, was having with the queen, the king found himself facing a Tamil mercenary army led by Abhaya Naga – and his own death – becoming the 28th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been murdered for the succession. The next 17 years were to see the dynasty plunged a second time into homicidal politics – though, remarkably the new fratricidal king was to die naturally, in 245 CE. It was an achievement of sorts.

Illustration Credit: The tusker and swastika is a small Copper coin. On one side of the coin, there is an image of a walking tusker, a stupa drawn using three half-moons, a swastika and a Bo tree with three branches inscribed in a square. On the flipside, there is a swastika, a trident, and a stupa. The coin would have been in circulation through the early Anuradhapura era including during the reign of Voharika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura. Photo credit: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Emblem of Ceylon, The Portuguse

From 1505 to 1658 the flag that fluttered over Portuguese Ceylon was identical to the one that flew over Portugal itself, featuring 7 gold castles and 5 blue shields within a red shield surmounted by a crown. But the emblem they used to rule the country was very different, displaying and elephant walking though palm trees with mountains behind.

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Belief & Culture

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Vasabha, King of Anuradhapura

The first monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 46th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 67 - 111 CE.

Overcaution, on behalf of the last (albeit fraudulent) Vijayan king, propelled the new Lambakarnan dynasty and its first king to the throne. The soothsayers had been busy whispering appalling forecasts into the ear of Subharaja, the reigning Anuradhapuran king, foretelling of his certain destiny with death at the hands of someone called Vasabha. Herod-like, the troubled monarch ordered the execution of anyone of that name – not quite on the scale of the massacre of the innocents as in Bethlehem in 2 BCE – but certainly in a similarly bloodthirsty league.

Subharaja had come into the throne by impersonating the then king, Yassalalaka Tissa, so convincingly it seems that he successfully managed to hill him and carry on ruling. The story, coming to us via the famous Mahāvaṃsa Chronicle, is too bizarre to wreck with close questioning. But true or not, Subharaja was no Vijayan despite his pretence to belonging to the ruling dynasty and his grip on power would have been modest at best. Just a few decades earlier the Lambakarna family had exerted their considerable familial power and plunged the country into a civil war that saw at least one legitimate ruler vanquished. They were ready to do it all over again, unimpressed as any half way decent aristocrat might be by the pretentions of an imposter king. Needless to say as the wretched bodies of perfectly innocent men called Vasabha piled up across the island, the one the soothsayer actually had in mind manged to evade capture, betrayal, and execution.

Prince Vasabha was the kind of Lambakarnan that the dynasty could have well done with a few more of as it migrated from aristocratic family to ruling family. Rather like the Calvery in old American Westerns, the new king arrived in the nick of time. The state, if not quite worn out, was stumbling on with the political equivalent of one leg, two broken hips and a congenital heart disease. Recruiting an army, Vasabha wasted little time in putting it to proper use. By 67 CE King Subharaja was dead and the Vijayan dynasty deposited at the sorrowful gates of the historical cul de sac into which they would disappear. Having taken one prediction to heart and with such apparent rewards, the new king took the next one just as seriously. He would die, the soothsayers now warned, within 12 years. But they were wrong – and by an enormous margin of error, for Vasabha would rule for an astonishing 44 years. Even so, the effect of their severe projections must have turbo charged the new king.

Almost immediately he started a major programme of building works - not only of the obligatory monasteries and stupas which he constructed in a feverish haste to appease his maker, but of massive infrastructure works too. Eleven reservoirs, such as those at Mahavilachchiya and Nochchipotana, some with a circumference of two miles, were built. Twelve canals were dug to distribute their water. Rivers were dammed, and crops raised in new places with greater certainty than ever before. With plentiful water and the restitution of agriculture, the building blocks on which any centralized power rested were back in place, better than ever before. The state could prosper. Island-wide inscriptions testify to the power of the resurgent Kingdom stretching once again to Jaffa in the north, Situlpawwa and Tissamaharama in the south, Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the east and Kurunegala in the centre.

The great kingdom of Anuradhapura, brought to a state of civil war and near destitution by the previous Vijayan dynasty, was once again serene and strong, a fully functioning island-wide entity, capable of planning for the future and not just mere survival. Truly had Vasabha earned his place as one of the country’s greatest kings, the equal of best of the Vijayans, Vijaya, Pandu Kabhaya, Devanampiya Tissa, and Dutugemunu. For decades after his death in 111 CE his shadow loomed across his kingdom as it basked in the success and rewards of good governance, surviving with little ill effect the disastrous but brief reign of his successor and son, Vankanasika Tissa.

Illustration Credit: The Mahavilachchiya Wewa, constructed by King Vasabha; photo courtesy of Dr Ashan Geeganage.

Pithiya, King of Anuradhapura

The last of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 77th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Pithiya’s relationship with the previous king, Dathiya, is unknown, but the kingdom he gained was little more than a poisoned chalice. The boundaries of his Anuradhapura Kingdom had already begun to shrink alarmingly in the wake of the rebel attacks lead against the Pandiyan invaders by Dhatusena, a Sri Lankan Moriyan leader, who had corralled opposition to the invaders from his base in the south of the island. Pitjiya’s reign (450 – 452 CE) would have been filled with war and slaughter as he tried unsuccessfully to resist a resurgent Sir Lankan rebel force. He was to die in battle after just two years on the throne, the 11th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have died in this manner. After his death, the gains made by Dhatusena continued and within two to three years he was sufficiently confident of his position to declare himself the new King of Anuradhapura.

Illustration Credit: Reporoduciton of the Pandya flags courtsey of Tamil and Vedas.

Belief & Culture

C, c

Ellalan, King of Anuradhapura

The fifteenth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 205 BCE – 161 BCE.

King Ellalan is a striking and positive figure in Sri Lankan history, his Tamilness eliciting not even a scintilla of condemnation in The Mahavaṃsa, which notes instead “a Damila of noble descent, named Elara, who came hither from the Cola-country to seize on the kingdom, ruled when he had overpowered king Asela, forty-four years, with even justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law.” Despite having taken the throne, Ellalan’s authority probably reached little further than the Rajarata, the traditional territory of the first Anuradhapuran kings stretching just north of the Mahaweli River. The Mahavaṃsa makes a special point to illuminate Ellalan’s many acts of justice and generosity. Just, to the point of terrifying, he is said to have even executed his own son for transgressing the law.

Virtuous though he was, Ellalan was, all the same, a dynastic footnote - for the Vijayans were not yet finished with their rule. The main line of succession had been destroyed with the death of King Asela, but a cadet branch existed in the southern Kingdom of Ruhuna. This Vijayan redoubt was ruled over by descendants of King Devanampiya Tissa’s brother, King Mahanaga. Ruhuna had never really been part of the Anuradhapura domain. Indeed, since at least the reign of King Surathissa the Anuradhapura Kingdom itself had begun to fracture, The Mahavamsa pointing out the presence of 32 semi-independent Tamil states coexisting alongside King Ellalan’s Anuradhapura.

At the time King Ellalan conquered Anuradhapura, Ruhana was fortunate enough to be ruled by the King Kavantissa, who pursued an implacable strategy of soaking up the little would-be challenging kingships the boarded his land. By the time of his death he had created a powerful southern state, one that was perfectly poised to help the family regain control of Anuradhapura itself. After a predictable sibling spat around the succession of King Kavantissa, his older son Dutugemunu emerged victorious following a series of trials involving elephants, the kidnapping of the dowager queen, and set-piece battles. With an army of chariots, monks, horses, a lucky spear, his favourite elephant (Kandula) and, states The Mahāvaṃsa, Ten Giant Warriors (Nandhimitra, Suranimala, Mahasena, Theraputtabhya, Gotaimbara, Bharana, Vasabha, Khanjadeva, Velusamanna, and Phussadeva), the new king of Ruhuna set off north to reclaim the family’s senior kingdom – Anuradhapura .

Composed, as was normal of four units – elephants, horses, chariots, and infantry – Dutugemunu’s army was spectacularly successful, first mopping up the splintered Tamil statelets in the north before arriving outside the walls of Anuradhapura. King Ellalan, mounted on his elephant Mahäpabbata, faced his younger rival, mounted on his elephant, Kandula. The ancient texts report that the deadly combat was honourable but decisive, a spear thrust finally ending Ellalan’s life in 161 BCE. The records state that "the water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain'. And perhaps in acknowledgment of Ellalan’s fine reputation, Dutugemunu had his victim cremated properly and a stupa constructed over the pyre. “Even to this day,” comments The Mahāvaṃsa, “the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music'.

Fourteen Seventy CE

1470 was for Sri Lanka, the year a great storm fell across Adam’s Bridge and the Palk Straights, that modest sea channel that separates India from Sri Lanka. Running like a vertebra across the Palk Straights, Adam’s Bridge is comprised today of a series of are low islands and submerged reefs. But until 1470, at moments of extreme low tide, it was possible to practically walk across. Once this had been the main route south - until sea levels rose and storms wore away at the limestone islands.

The 1470 storm shattered much of the remaining limestone – leaving behind just a few islands and a watery thoroughfare that is still, to this day, too treacherously shallow for most ships to dare a crossing. Adam’s Bridge was a bridge no more. From 1470 onwards you would have to swim, or sail across. Emblematic of what was or might have been, but is no longer, the Bridge sits between the two countries, hinting at a unity that had already, hundreds of years before, fragmented so completely as to be missed by the earliest founding myths of both cultures. Its destruction made symbolically plain what was already nakedly obvious. Despite their proximity, their shared history and even their similarities, the two lands were wholly different. As the lost magnetic pull of the sub-continent become more remote, Sri Lanka continued on its journey forward, one in which it would continue to put down its own unique roots, to create a history to dwarf that of most other countries, ten times larger.

Belief & Culture

U, u

National Flag

The Sri Lankan lion became extinct some thirty-seven thousand years BC, but this has not stopped it dominating the current national flag. Quite possibly an earlier design of the lion flag travelled here as Prince Vijaya standard in 486 BC. It was used thereafter right across the country’s many kingdoms, including those of Sitawaka, Kotte and Kandy – but not by the Portuguese, Dutch or British colonists. It was returned to once again at Independence in 1948 when a simple design of a yellow knife-wielding lion within a yellow frame on a red background was adopted, the cornered decorated with Bo leaves.

Its current design dates to a significant revision in 1972; the lion then being joined by as many symbols as a metaphysical painting. Minorities are represented in the orange (Tamil) and green (Moor) stripe; and the yellow border (Malays, Burghers, Veddas, Kaffirs and the Sri Lankan Chinese). The Singhala occupy the overall maroon background. Four expectant Bodhi-tree leaves highlight the virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and self-control. The saffron border depicts unity. The lion himself is scattered with deeper meaning: intelligence (nose), purity (beard); a non-materialist outlook (front paws), hair (wisdom), and The Noble Eightfold Path (tail hairs). His sword stands for national sovereignty – but also water, fire, air, and earth.

In the height of the Civil Was, in 1987, individual flags were adopted for each of the country’s provinces. A golden bird, lion, and cobra feature on the Western Province flag, decorated with bo tree leaves and the four attributes of Buddhism. A lion with fig leaves dominates the flags of both the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, and a lion with fig leaves and lotus flowers that of the Central Province. A buffalo with sun, moon and stars is displayed on the North Western Province’s flag; a swan on Uvas’; and a fish, lion and eagle for the Eastern Province. The flag of the North Central Province is noticeably different to all others, featuring the first stupa in ancient Anuradhapura and an image of King Parakramabahu the Great, from Polonnaruwa. A greater degree of abstraction characterises the flag of the Northern Province - blocks of red (Hinduism), white (peace), and green (agriculture) framed by a blue border representing the sea.

Vijayan Dynasty, The

543 BCE – 66 CE

The Vijayans were Sri Lanka’s first recorded royal dynasty and to all intents and purposes, mark the beginning of documented Sinhalese history. Founded in 543 BCE, according to ancient sources (albeit unverified by archaeological or other contemporaneous evidence) by the arrival on the island by Prince Vijaya, a Bengali or Gujarati prince, the dynasty would run (ignoring regnal interruptions) for over 600 years, putting it comfortably ahead of Mings and Moguls, Valois, French Bourbons, German Hohenzollerns, Tudors, Stuarts, and Aztecs. The very earliest foundation stories of the Sinhala nation start with Vijay, covering 46 reigns (including, that is, more than a handful of extraneous royal interlopers), from Vijaya to the unrelated rogue, Subharaja, ruling 3 ever larger kingdoms - Tambapanni, Upatissa Nuwara and Anuradhapura, facing off three major Tamil invasions, until in the end, they toppled themselves.

It was under the rule of one of their earliest and greatest kings, Pandu Kabhaya, in around 437 BCE that the dynasty moved their capital to what became Anuradhapura – the city that would become one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities – and for 1,500 years the capital of the island state. As the Dark Ages fell across the West and society there returned to wattle and daub, the Anuradhapuran kingdom became the Versailles of the East with an almost inexhaustible tally of spectacular new temples, pools, stupas, gardens, palaces, and dwellings – unpinned by extraordinarily effective utilities and services, not least the cutting-edge hydrology that allowed the correct supply of water throughout the kingdom, necessary to sustain such a sophisticated state.

Under the rule of the great king’s grandson, Devanampiya Tissa the country’s history took the most definitive turn in its long journey, becoming - and remaining to this day - a Buddhist country first and foremost, with all that this entailed. The rapid growth of the new religion helped to swiftly spread a common language and script across the land, and with it, the power of the centre - for the king was also the formal guardian of the Sanga – the religion. Three invasions of the country from Southern India did much to add unwelcome regal interlopers into the Viyan list of kings but each time it seemed they had been ousted, they displayed an impressive faciality to regain their throne, none more so that in the victory of King Dutugemunu's against the Chola conqueror Ellalan, in 161 BCE. Dutugemunu's victory helped sew up the entire island under the dynastic rule of the Vijayans though successive kings displayed an alarming ability to get distracted by an almost unending flood of homemade catastrophes as different sections of the family fought, murdered, and manipulated one another for ultimate control. In total more than half the monarchs were to lose their thrones either by being murdered or killed in battle.

The dynasty’s final collapse in 66 CE under the rule of an intern king, Subha, is bizarrely bathetic – but collapse it did, ushering in a new line of kings, the Lambakarnas. It had taken 609 years for the country’s first royal dynasty to start, flourish and finally meet their inglorious end. Despite a rich choice of murderous would-be rulers, kings such as Vijaya, Pandu Kabhaya, Devanampiya Tissa, and Dutugemunu, had been able to establish the confidence, culture, and mindset of an entire nation, giving it the ballast and energy necessary to propel itself forward for centuries to come.

With a writ running at times across the entire island, they transformed a series of unremarkable warring statelets and villages into a nation. They bequeathed it with a legacy of literature, architecture, religion, and infrastructure that no other dynasty bettered. Looking out at water rippling still over the great tanks they built with cutting-edge engineering; sitting in the shade of the magnificent palaces and courts constructed at Anuradhapura, reading inscriptions that point to the bounty of trade routes extending from the island to places as far away as Rome; in the ancient chants of Buddhist priests, the coinage, delicate statutory, frescos and books that survive to this day: in taking all of this in, you take as said an early nation every bit as impressive as any in the ancient world – and way ahead of most. Its laws regulated a dynamic state, its armies and weapons defended it with a rigour that was effective. Even as they disappeared from history, the achievements of the Vijayans lay before them, the indispensable foundations of an entire island-nation state.

The order of the Vijayan Kings, and their interlopers:

1. Prince Vijaya, founder. Reign: 543 – 505 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural
2. Upatissa of Upatissa Nuwara, Chief Minister to Prince Vijaya. Reign: Reign: 505 – 504 BCE. Assumed to have abdicated.
3. Panduvasudeva, nephew of Prince Vijaya. Reign: 504 – 474 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
4. Abhaya, son of Panduvasudeva. Reign: Reign: 474 – 454 BCE. Abdicated.
5. Tissa, son of Panduvasudeva. Reign: Reign: 454 – 437 BCE. Nature of Death: Killed in battle.
6. Pandu Kabhaya, grandson of Panduvasudeva. Reign: 437- 367 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
7. Ganatissa, elusive son of Panduvasudeva. Reign: 367 -? BCE. Nature of Death: Unknown.
8. Mutasiva, son of Ganatissa or Pandu Kabhaya. Reign: 367 - 307 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
9. Devanampiya Tissa, son of Mutasiva. Reign: 307 - 267 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
10. Uttiya, son of Mutasiva. Reign: 267 – 257 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
11. Mahasiva, son of Mutasiva. Reign: 257 – 247 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
12. Suratissa, son of Pandukabhaya. Reign: 247 – 237 BCE. Nature of Death: Killed in battle.
13. Sena and Guttika, Tamil invaders and interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 237 – 215 BCE. Nature of Death: Highly likely to have been killed in battle.
14. Asela, son of Mutasiva. Reign: 215 – 205 BCE. Nature of Death: Killed in battle.
15. Ellalan, a Chola invader and interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 205 – 161 BCE. Nature of Death: Killed in battle.
16. Dutugamunu the Great, a Vijayan cousin. Reign: 161 – 137 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
17. Saddha Tissa, brother of Dutugamunu. Reign: 137 – 119 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
18. Thulatthana, son of Saddha Tissa. Reign: 119 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
19. Lanja Tissa, son of Saddha Tissa. Reign: 119 – 109 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
20. Khallata Naga, son of Saddha Tissa. Reign: 109 – 103 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
21. Valagamba, son of Saddha Tissa. Reign: Reign (part 1):103 BCE. Reign (part 2): 89 –77 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
22. Pulahatta, 1st of the 7 Dravidian invader and an interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 103 – 100 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
23. Bahiya, 2nd of the 7 Dravidian invader and an interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 100– 98 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
24. Panya Mara, 3rd of the 7 Dravidian invader and an interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 98– 91 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
25. Pilaya Mara, 4th of the 7 Dravidian invader and an interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 91 – 90 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
26. Dathika, 5th of the 7 Dravidian invader and an interloper into the Vijayan dynasty. Reign: 90 – 88 BCE. Nature of Death: Killed in battle.
27. Mahakuli Mahatissa, adopted son of Valagamba. Reign: 77 – 62 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
28. Chora Naga, son of Valagamba. Reign: 62 – 50 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
29. Kuda Tissa, son of Mahakuli Mahatissa. Reign: 50 - 47 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
30. Siva I, lover of Queen Anula. Reign: 47 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
31. Vatuka, lover of Queen Anula. Reign: 47 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
32. Darubhatika Tissa, lover of Queen Anula. Reign: 47 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
33. Niliya, lover of Queen Anula. Reign: 47 BCE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
34. Queen Anula, wife of Chora Naga. Reign: 47 – 42 BCE. Nature of Death: Burnt alive.
35. Kutakanna Tissa, brother of Kuda Tissa. Reign: 42 – 20 BCE. Nature of Death: Natural.
36. Bhatik Abhaya, son of Kutakanna Tissa. Reign: 20 BCE - 9 CE. Nature of Death: Natural.
37. Mahadathika Mahanaga, brother of Bhatik Aabhaya. Reign: 9 – 21 CE. Nature of Death: Natural.
38. Amandagamani Abhaya, son of Mahadathika Mahanaga. Reign: 21 - 30 CE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
39. Kanirajanu Tisa, son of Mahadathika Mahanaga. Reign: 30 – 33 CE. Nature of Death: Natural.
40. Chulabhaya, son of Amandagamani Abhaya. Reign: 33 – 35 CE. Nature of Death: Possibly Natural.
41. Queen Sivali, sister of Chulabhaya. Reign: 35 CE. Nature of Death: Murdered.

35 – 38 CE: Interregnum & Civil War

42. Ilanaga, nephew of Sivali. Reign: 38 – 44 CE. Nature of Death: Natural.
43. Chandamukha Siva, son of Ilanaga. Reign: 44 – 52 CE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
44. Yassalalaka Tissa, son of Ilanaga. Reign: 52 – 60 CE. Nature of Death: Murdered.
45. Subharaja, a lookalike intern. Reign: 60 – 66 CE. Nature of Death: Murdered.

Illustration: A fresco called "Coming Of Sinhala, " located in Cave 17, one of 29 Buddhist Caves in Maharashtra state, India. Covered with murals and rock sculptures, they are regarded as masterpieces of Buddhist religious art; and date from the 2nd centuary BCE to around 650CE. Public Domain,

Niliya, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty third (interloper) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being sometime around 47 to 44 BCE.

A palace priest, Niliya was placed on the throne of Anuradhapura in 47 or 44 BCE by his terrifying lover, the widowed Vijayan Queen, Anula. Anula had come into her inheritance by murdering five earlier monarchs: her husband Choura Naga, the twenty-eighth King of Anuradhapura; his successor, Choura Naga, the twenty-ninth monarch; and her last three lovers, Siva I, the thirtieth monarch, Vatuka, the thirty first monarch, and Darubhatika Tissa, the thirty second monarch. Within a year Anula had Niliya poisoned too.

Parakramabahu the Great

Illustration show the famous statue of Parakramabahu the Great in Pollonnaruwa, taken by an unknown photographer at the turn of the century. Public Domain.

Belief & Culture

D, d

Dathika, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-sixth (invader) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 90 BCE – 89 BCE.

One of 7 Dravidian chiefs from the Indian Pandyan Dynasty that forcibly took the Anuradhapuran Kingdom from its barely-established new ruler, King Valagamba in 103 BCE, Dathika became king of Anuradhapura in 90 BCE. It is likely that he achieved this by the simple expedient of murdering his Dravidian master, Pilaya Mara, who he had previously served as chief minister, although some stories credit Valagamba’s military campaign for his death. Much of Dathika’s own short rule was spent in an ultimately vain attempt to protect his crown from the avenging ex King, Valagamba, who was busy waging an ever more successful guerrilla war from the south. This was to culminate in Dathika’s own death on the battlefield.

Belief & Culture

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Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The seventeenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 62nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 267 – 277 CE.

Jetta Tissa I was the son of the previous king, Gothabhaya, and something of a chip off the monstrous old block. To deal with unruly minsters at his father’s funeral, he had sixty of them rounded up, staking their impaled heads in a mournful circle around the old king’s body in 267 CE. This display of strong-armed governance under yet another king was probably precisely what was needed to help keep at bay the lurking regicidal tendencies inherent in the Lambakanna dynasty.

Jetta Tissa’s decade long rule is unlikely to have been a comfortable ride for those around him. Indeed, states the Mahavamsa Chronicle “he came by the surname: the Cruel” It then elaborates, with evident dismay, the steps he took to move patronage and resource from the orbit of Theravada Buddhism to Vaitulya Buddhism. Even so, he was to die in 277 CE, just the 29th reigning Sri Lankan monarch out of a list of 62 to have died a natural death. Modest as this rounds, it was still something of a major achievement.

Illustration Credit: A reconstruction of the Lohapasada Brazen Palace Lowamahapaya whihc was restored by Jettha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura; image courtsey of 3D Warehouse

Sena and Guttik, Kings of Anuradhapura

The thirteenth (invader) monarchs of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of their reign being 237 BCE – 215 BCE.

In 237 BCE a couple of opportunistic Tamil horse traders, Sena and Guttik spotted the ultimate commercial opportunity (a kingdom) in the weak rule of the Vijayan King, Surathissa. The traders appear to have met little resistance in conquering Anuradhapura and slaughtering its ineffectual king. They were to rule it for 22 years, the first of a succession of Tamil invaders, before themselves being outsted and killed - by Asela in 215 BCE, a son of a previous king of Anuradhapura, Mutasiva.

Uththiya, King of Anuradhapura

The tenth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 267 BCE – 257 BCE.

Inheriting the Vijayan throne from his father, Mutasiva in 267 BCE, Uththiya’s own rule ended ten years later, the nature of his death, and indeed the achievements (or lack of them) of his reign defiantly absent from any reliable historical records.

Vankanasika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura

The second monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 47th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 111 - 113 CE.

Although we have no dates for the new king’s age, Vankanasika Tissa would have been no youngster on assuming his throne, given how long his father, Vasabha ’s reign, had been. It was his great misfortune to time his reign with that of Karikala, the greatest of the early Chola emperors in Tamil India. Having taken most of south India under his control, Karikala sighted next upon Sri Lanka. A military genius, Karikala was ever bound to win in any war, and his brief and surgical strike across the seas dealt Sri Lanka a bitter, albeit, fleeting, defeat - and left it much poorer in manpower.

The impetus for this particular Chola invasion appears to have been simply recruitment - for Karikala for busy building the famous Kaveri Dam that would later provide a major part of southern India with the water necessary for the growing quantities of millet and maize on which his kingdom depended. Dams need builders and Karikala, needing a lot of them, took away 12,000 Sinhalese men to work as slaves on his new dam. There is no evidence that the defeated Vankanasika Tissa died anything but a natural death two years after taking the throne in 113 CE. He was the 20th reigning Sri Lankan monarch known to have died naturally; and his convenient departure made way for his son Gajabahu I to become king, a monarch who had the winning ways of his grandfather, Vasabha.

Illustration Credit: Magul Maha Viharaya built by Vankanasika Tissa, King of Anuradhapura courtsey of Experiences in Arugambay | SriLankaInStyle

Choura Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty-eighth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 62 BCE – 50 BCE.

Inheriting the throne in from his stepbrother Mahakuli Mahatissa, Choura Naga, was the son of the Vijayan King Valagamba – that luckless but plucky monarch who had been ousted by the very Dravidians he then ousted himself after years of interminable warfare. Chora Naga’s reign appears to have been a tale of woe from the start. By virtue of not being a whole-hearwted follower of the dominant Theravada Mahavihara Buddhist sect, his popularity and support was ever in question; and his real loyalties probably laid more with the Buddhist monks who broke away and formed the Abhayagiri-vihara in the 1st century BCE . His most enduring (and fatal) decision, as it turned out, was his choice of wife - Anula, who had him poisoned by 50 BCE, an act which cut through all and any doctrinal disputes with a crude finality.

Sirimeghavanna, King of Anuradhapura

The nineteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 64th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 304 - 332 CE.

Sirimeghavanna inherited his throne peaceably and continued his father’s late religious policies of appeasement, going out of his way to make good any damage done to Theravada Buddhism, building, or repairing stupas and temples. He was also to benefit from the unexpected arrival into his Kingdom of the sacred relic of the tooth of the Buddha which was brought to Sri Lanka when a series of wars broke out in India. It was enshrined in the Isurumuniya Temple in Anuradhapura. Hisa death in 332 CE made him just the 31st reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death. By now the Lambakanna Dynasty was in full recovery from the regicidal tendencies that had rocked both it and the country and their kingdom was able to enjoy a much need period of calm good governance.

Illustration Credit: The Isurumuniya in which Sirimeghavanna, King of Anuradhapura lodged the Tooth Relic when it arrived in his kingdom. A 19C photograph courtsey of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Pandu Kabhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The sixth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), reigning from 437 BCE to 367 BCE.

Barely 100 years into their first royal dynasty, Sri Lanka had the great good fortune to encounter Pandu Kabhaya’s - one of its greatest kings. Inheriting, at best, a kinglet, he passed onto his Vijayan successors a fully functioning kingdom that for over centuries became a byword for opulence, sophistication, and progress. Pandu Kabhaya’s (improbably long) 70-year reign would have come as a blessed relief to family and subjects alike after a prolonged and murderous run of dynastic squabbling. This stemmed from his military campaign to wrest the kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara from Tisa, his uncle. A smart intelligence helped him see off repeated pre-ascension assassination attempts on his young life by his uncle Tissa. He won a total victory by 437 BCE, quite probably defeating or killing all but one of his other eight uncles in the process, putting the oldest, the ex-king Abhaya to work in his civil administration.

Pandu Kabhaya then set in train the real beginnings of the Anuradhapura Kingdom when he moved his capital to that site and, in Louis XIV-style, began building. Anuradhapura was then already some 200 years old and covered over 20 acres. Pandukabhaya took it to still greater heights. His efforts harnessed the country’s expertise in all areas of professionalism - from farming and engineering to administration and construction. By creating an unrivalled capital city, he was able to use it to project his dominance throughout the entire island. Documented remains of a great survey he conducted to assess his kingdom show some 700 villages spreading out across the island from the city of Anuradhapura across land described as Raja Ratna – the King’s country.

This ascendancy took the Vijayans time to foster, and for several centuries the kingdom co-existed with other smaller realms to the east and south before it was able to asset its pre-eminence. Anuradhapura was to become one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities – and for 1,500 years was the capital of the island state. Pandu Kabhaya was to give it its first palaces, new temples, pools, stupas, gardens, and dwellings. Nor did he appear to neglect the utilitarian, building hospitals, cemeteries, sewers and, in a marvellous feat of ancient engineering, constructing bisokotuwas to regulate the outflow of water from tanks and sluices to secure them against destruction in the annual floods

From the start Pandu Kabhaya’s rule respected his Vedda allies, the Yakkhas, Cittaraja and Kalavela, clans of the island’s earliest original inhabitants. The Mahāvaṃsa records his beneficial diligence:

“He settled the Yakkha Kalavela on the east side of the city, the Yakkha Cittaraja at the lower end of the Abhayatank…and on festival-days he sat with Cittaraja beside him on a seat of equal height, and having gods and men to dance before him, the king took his pleasure, in joyous and merry wise. He laid out also four suburbs as well as the Abhaya-tank, the common cemetery, the place of execution, and the chapel of the Queens of the West, the banyan-tree of Vessavana and the Palmyra-palm of the Demon of Maladies, the ground set apart for the Yonas and the house of the Great Sacrifice; all these he laid out near the west gate.

He set 500 candalas to the work of cleaning the town, 200 candalas to the work of cleaning the sewers, 150 candalas he employed to bear the dead and as many candalas to be watchers in the cemetery. For these he built a village north-west of the cemetery and they continually carried out their duty as it was appointed. Toward the north-east of the candala-village he made the cemetery, called the Lower Cemetery, for the candala folk. North of this cemetery, between (it and) the Pasana-mountain, the line of huts for the huntsmen were built thenceforth. Northward from thence, as far as the Gamani-tank, a hermitage was made for many ascetics; eastward of that same cemetery the ruler built a house for the nigantha Jotiya. In that same region dwelt the nigantha named Giri and many ascetics of various heretical sects. And there the lord of the land built also a chapel for the nigantha Kumbhanda.

Toward the west from thence and eastward of the street of the huntsmen lived five hundred families of heretical beliefs. On the further side of Jotiya’s house and on this side of the Gamani tank he likewise built a monastery for wandering mendicant monks, and a dwelling for the ajivakas and a residence for the brahmans, and in this place and that he built a lying-in shelter and a hall for those recovering from sickness. Ten years after his consecration did Pandu Kabhaya the ruler of Lanka establish the village-boundaries over the whole of the island of Lanka.”

Trade thrived exponentially; and there are even intriguing hints, documented by The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, of a small group of Greek merchants living in the royal city itself.

Credited with ending the guerrilla warfare that marked the resistance of the original island dwellers against the Vijayans, Pandu Kabhaya’s reign not only brought stability but bequeathed future constancy to the island, as his own son, Mutasiva, came peaceably to the throne in 367 BCE on his death.

Khudda Parinda, King of Anuradhapura

The 3rd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India and the 74th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Acquiring the throne by dint of assassination, Khudda Parinda terminated his bother Parindu’s reign before it was even a year old. He himself was to reign for a suspiciously short six years, though there is no mention in the ancient chronicles that his own death was anything but natural. It is highly probable that his actual rule would have extended over a very foreshortened version of the original Anuradhapura Kingdom’s boundaries for by now the island had become enflamed by anti-Pandiyan resistance, led by Sri Lankan Moriyan rebel leader, Dhatusena, from his base in the south of the island.

Illustration credit: Pandyian Emblam courtsey of Quora

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Parindu, King of Anuradhapura

The 2nd of the Six Dravidian invaders of the Pandiyan Dynasty of South India; and the 73rd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE).

Parindu inherited the throne from his father, Pandu, who appears to have died a natural death. But this was not to be the fate of his son. Parindu was murdered by his brother and successor, Khudda Parinda, becoming the 35th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been murdered for the succession after a reign of under a year (441 CE).

Illustration Credit: a reproduction of the PAndyian flag by Kiru-D-Kong

Chulabhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The fortieth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 33 CE – 35 CE.

Son of the assassinated Vijayan king, Amandagamani Abhaya, Chulabhaya succeeded to the throne on the death of his uncle Kanirajanu Tissa after a relatively brief reign of 3 years. Brief – and suspicious. Quite whether his predecessor died naturally or not, remains one of the many Vijayan mysteries unlikely ever to be cleared up. Three years later Chulabhaya too was dead (causes unknown), and his sister Sivali took the throne. Whatever it was that promoted Chulabhaya’s own departure from this good earth, was clearly as strong a signal as could be made that the Vijayan dynasty was edging ever closer to the chasm and civil insurrection that would all too soon entomb them all.

Amandagamani Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty eighth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 21 CE – 30 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne on the death of his brother, Mahadatika Mahanaga, King Amandagamani Abhaya’s rule ended abruptly when he was murdered by his brother, Kanirajanu Tissa. This seems - in retrospect - to be the tipping point for the Vijayan dynasty. The regicide unleased a murderous plenitude of competing ambitious amongst other family members, and within the wider nobility around the throne. Thereafter, murdering the sitting king because something of a dynastic craze. It was to take a further 29 years of feuding, assassination, and civil war for the once great dynasty to finally unseat themselves.

Illustration: The Ridi Viharaya, said to have been extended by Amandagamani Abhaya, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtsey of Time Out.

Siva I, King of Anuradhapura

The thirtieth (interloper) monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 47 BCE.

An ex-palace guard, Siva was placed on the throne of Anuradhapura in 47 BCE by his terrifying lover, the widowed Vijayan Queen, Anula. Anula had come into her widowhood by murdering her husband, Choura Naga, the twenty-eighth King of Anuradhapura, and his successor, Choura Naga, the twenty-ninth monarch. Within a year Anula had Siva poisoned too.

Khallata Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The twentieth monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 109 BCE – 103 BCE.

Inheriting the throne from his Vijayan brother, Lanja Tissa, in 109 BCE, Khallata Naga’s reign was a textbook of misery from its rebellious start to its abrupt and homicidal finish just 6 years later. From the outset he found himself unexpectedly busy quelling rebellions initiated by his own family – but to no avail. He was killed by his own chief general just 6 years later, his death doing much to normalize the treason, regicide, and rebellion that was to later bring down the Vijayan dynasty itself.

Soththisena, King of Anuradhapura

The twenty fourth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 69th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the date of his reign being 434 CE.

The natural death of King Mahanama brought to the throne his (possibly illegitimate) son Soththisena, whose one-day rule ended with a draft of poison administered by his queen, Sanga. It was quite probably the shorted reign of any king in Sri Lankan history, and gathered him with grateful welcoming arms into the ranks of the other 32 reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been murdered for the succession.

Illustration Credit: A Maneless Lion Copper coin. On one side, there is an image of a lion. On the other side, there are three or sometimes four dots. It is likely that these dots indicate the value of the coin. The diameter of this coin is between ½ - ¾ inches and it weighs between 15-40 grains. These coins were used from 3-4 A.D - including during the short reign of Soththisena, King of Anuradhapura. The coins have been found during excavations in Anuradhapura and the Northern regions of the island. Image credit: Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

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Adam

A Buddhist country with deep Muslim and Hindu traditions, Sri Lanka could never be accused of minimalizing religion. It is no surprise to learn that this was also said to be the country to which Adam fled when exiled from the Garden of Eden. If so, he may have experienced a sharp sense of déjà vu upon arrival - for if ever there is a natural environment akin to that described in Genesis, it must surely be Sri Lanka. Archaeological or documentary corroboration of the Adam-in-Sri-Lanka myths are, at best, elusive; but it is believed that he left a foot print on the top of the sacred mountain of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak). This is disputed by Buddhists who claim the footlike depression belongs to Lord Buddha. Hindus argue that it was left there by Hanuman or Shiva; whilst other Christians state it is actual a mark made by St Thomas.

But if his eponymous mountain has because a mildly litigious landmark, Adam can also claim the remarkable Adam’s Bridge, the causeway that links Sri Lanka to the rest of the Asian landmass. His association, post expulsion, with super large things is not surprising given that one of Allah’s hadiths have him at sixty cubits tall – some 27 metres high.

Illustration: The Angel of Revelation by William Blake.

Mahadatika Mahanaga, King of Anuradhapura

The thirty seventh monarch of the Vijayan Period (543 BCE - 66 CE), the dates of his reign being 9 CE – 21 CE.

Succeeding to the Anuradhapuran throne in 9 CE on the death of his brother, Bhathika Abhaya, Mahadatika Mahanaga was to rule with evident obscurity until his death, natural or otherwise, in 21 CE.

Siri Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The ninth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 54th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 196 – 215 CE.

Siri Naga gained the throne by murdering his brother, Kuda Naga, himself a regicide. And with his ascension, it seemed as if the Lambakarna Regicide Game has fizzled out. Certainly, for the next 41 years family politics took a backseat to good governance. Siri Naga was to reign, for 20 years. He even found time and resource to make good some of Anuradhapura’s most famous buildings - the great stupa of Ruwanweliseya, said to house more of Lord Budda’s relics than anywhere else in the world; the famous Brazen Palace with a roof of bronze tiles, the tallest structure on the island, and a fine new set of stone steps leading to the sacred Bo tree itself. When Siri Naga died in 215 CE (the 25th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have died a natural death) his son Voharika Tissa took the throne.

Illustration Credit: Sgteps to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, said to be built by Siri Naga, King of Anuradhapura, from an illustration dating to 1891

Sangha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura

The fourteenth monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 59th recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya (543 BCE); the dates of his reign being 248 – 252 CE.

Sangha Tissa I was said to be one of three murderous plotters intent to claiming the throne, the other two being Siri Sangha Bodhi I, and Gothabhaya. Relatives, albeit likely from the poorer side of the Lambakanna Dynasty, they conspired to assassinate the king, Vijaya Kumara, then barely into his second year of kingship. Inter competing family politics whose gossamer threads and alliances, betrayals and intrigues are now lost to the historical record must have propelled this sinister alliance. But it was not to do Sangha Tissa I much good. Murder, as Agatha Christie famously noted, becomes something of a habit, and Sangha Tissa was himself to fall to it when the second of the three plotters, Siri Sangha Bodhi, murdered him, giving him the unwanted kudos of being the 30th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been murdered for the succession - after a rule of just four years.

Illustration: A Lakshmi Plaque coin showing on the obverse the Goddess Lakshmi facing, being showered by two mini elephants atop of poles; and on the reverse: a clockwise revolving Swastika tree. The coin was in circulation in Anuradhapura from 20 BCE to 297 CE, including during the reign of Sangha Tissa I, King of Anuradhapura. Image courtesy of CoinTalk.

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Cula Naga, King of Anuradhapura

The seventh monarch of the Lambakanna Dynasty (1st Period) (66 CE – 436 CE); and the 52nd recorded monarch in Sri Lanka in the line running from Prince Vijaya; the dates of his reign being 193 – 195 CE.

The son of King Kanittha Tissa, Cula Naga was to enjoy his throne for a mere two years before being assassinated by his brother, Kuda Naga - the 27th reigning Sri Lankan monarch to have been so murdered. This single act of regicide would have far reached consequences for it ushered in a period of deeply unstable government that was to last until 254 CE – 59 years.

Illustration Credit: The tusker and swastika is a small Copper coin. On one side of the coin, there is an image of a walking tusker, a stupa drawn using three half-moons, a swastika and a Bo tree with three branches inscribed in a square. On the flipside, there is a swastika, a trident, and a stupa. The coin would have been in circulation through the early Anuradhapura era including during the reign of Cula Naga, King of Anuradhapura. Photo credit: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

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