The four decades that followed the death of King Saddhatissa (around 120 B.C.E.) were a period of political instability. In the second half of this period the situation was worsened by incursions from Southern India. Nonetheless, the major factor which caused political turmoil is to be found within the island itself. The kings of Anuradhapura lacked control over outlying domains. Unsufficient administrative structures and poor communication facilities were the main reasons for this. The king did not maintain garrisons of loyal troops in the various areas of the island. Most areas could only be reached by footpaths. Furthermore, the ruling Vijaya dynasty had not developed a religious narrative which distinguished them from other noble clans. Moreover, there was no recognized law of succession. Brothers as well as sons of the reigning monarch were rightful heirs to the throne, which led to many instances of disputed succession.
On the death of Saddhatissa, the chief ministers and the monks of the Mahavihara monastery chose his second son to succeed him. This is remarkable in another respect, it’s the first example of interference of the Buddhist order in politics of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Actually, involvement in politics is prohibited by the rules of the Buddhist Sangha given by the canonical Vinaya Pitaka. However, political engagement of monks is often interpreted as a kind of care for the community and thus claimed to be benevolence and welfare instead of party struggle.
This first case of political interference of the Sangha resulted in a war, because Saddhatissa’s eldest son, Lanjatissa (also spelt Lajjitissa or Lanja Tissa), who was in Rohana at the time of the death of his father, raised an army and marched to Anuradhapura and succeeded in ending his brother's reign after only fourty days. This of course tarnished the relations between the new king, Lanjatissa , and the monks. The political significance of the Buddhist Sangha can be seen from the fact that after three years of tensions, Lanjatissa initiated works to embellish the Mahavihara and Thuparama to please the order.
Remarkably, Lanjatissa is credited with building the Kantaka Chetiya in Mihintale. For today’s visitors of Sri Lanka, the Kantaka Chetiya is the oldest work of architecture which is preserved in almost original form, one of the best examples of early Buddhist architecture at all.
During the reign of Lanjatissa’s brother and successor, Khallatanaga, rebellions flared up again. After reigning five years he was overthrown and killed by the minister Maharatthaka, also known as Kammaharattaka.
But Vatthagamani, the youngest son of Saddhatissa, in turn killed this minister and ascended the throne himself in 103 BC. Only five months after his coronation a group of invaders from South India, led by seven Pandyan Tamils, united with a rebellious group, led by a Brahmin priest from Rohana, to oust the reigning Vatthagamani. Nevertheless, Vatthagamani must be called one of the most significant kings in Sri Lanka’s entire history. How can it be? Read more about this great king in our blog article next Sunday...
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