King Manavamma, founder of the second Lambakanna dynasty, had seized power with the assistance of a Tamil kingdom in South India, namely the Pallava dynasty. He remained to be an ally of the Pallavas, although he sought to impose restraints on Tamil mercenaries and courtiers within his Sinhalese kingdom after ascending the throne in Anuradhapura. But in the 8th century, the Pallavas were not the only powerful dynasty in South India. Even closer to Sri Lanka, at the southernmost tip of India, the Pandyas from Madurai were forming their own empire in confrontation with the Pallavas. In the 9th century, the Pandyas finally prevailed over their Tamil rivals and now increasingly threatend the Pallava’s allies, the Sinhalese Anuradhapura kings.
It was during the reign of Sena I in the middle of the 8th century, that a devastating invasion by a South Indian Tamil empire occured in Sri Lanka for the first time. Previous attacks on the islands and occupation of Anuradhapura by Tamil mercenaries had been carried out by armies led by Tamil adventurers, some of them even by traders. But from now on internal South Indian politics of newly established empires had a much larger effect on the island and finally led to the fall of Anuradhapura in the late 10th century. There is another difference between these new attacks of Tamil kings and previous raids of Tamil warriors. The ethnical divide between Sinhalese and Tamils had been of little importance in earlier periods. Though invasions from South India were carried out by Tamils, they were usually not supported by local Tamil communities. Many mercenaries of Sinhalese kings were Tamils themselves and the main rivals of Sinhalese kings were not Tamil leaders - though incidents of rebelling Tamil generals had sometimes occured - but members of other Sinhalese clans in Anuradhapura - for example Moriyas versus Lambakannas - and, even more dangerous, powerful local Sinhalese rulers, particularly those from the south of the island. But from the times of Sena I onwards till the arrival of Chinese and European invaders, the Tamil kingdoms of South India and local Tamil communities played a major role in the wars on the island, though sometimes these different Tamil groups were hostile too each other, too. However, more often they cooperated against the Sinhalese kings. Furthermore, the newly established Tamil kingdoms in South India rose as distinctive Hindu states, so there was also an element of religious animosity reinforcing the political hostility. But all in all the importance of religious differences played a much lesser role in South Asia than in Europe and tends to be overestimated by Western analyses of conflicts.
Already the first invasion of a mighty Southindian emperor, the Pandyan king Sri Vallabha, taking place during the reign of Sena I, found support from the Tamil population from the northern parts of the island. Their joined forces defeated the army of Sena I at Mahathalithagama and sacked Anuradhapura. Those Hindu armies also plundered Buddhist monasteries. Only later chronicles state that even the Tooth and Bowl Relics were carried off. But the Tamil invadors were interested in the riches of the Sinhalese kingdom more than in political control, for now, and not at all in religious persecution. The Pandyan army finally left Sri Lanka after successfully imposing a substantial indemnity as the price of their withdrawal. But as already mentioned, for the rest of the Anuradhapura period, the threat of invasion was ever-present. The foreign policy of Sri Lanka's rulers from now on was a permanent attempt to prevent any single South Indian kingdom from gaining dominance in the region. Thus the Anuradhapura kings supported South Indian rivals of that South Indian empire that was most powerful and most threatening at a given time. This balance-of-power politics caused Sinhalese rulers to shift their alliances, as soon as their former Tamil ally became too powerful.
After Sena I managed to return to Anuradhapura and to make peace with the Pandyas, he left it for Polonnaruwa, where he died. So the rise of South Indian Tamil empires indirectly contributed to the rise of Polonnaruwa as a second royal residence.
There is another influence from India to be mentioned for the reign of Sena I. A Tantric school called Vajravada was introduced by a monk from Anuradhapura. Sena I himself seems to have become an adherent of Tantrism. Tantric images in bronze and copper, for example depicting the goddess Tara, as well as Tantric incantations, so-called Dharanis, written in the Indian Nagari script of the ninth century, were inscribed on stones, clay tablets and copper plaques. They have been found throughout the Rajarata, the heartland of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Mahayanism and Tantrism did not supersede the Theravada tradition of Sinhalese Buddhism, but during the Anuradhapura period, though Theravada remained predominant, they played a much more influential role than later from the Polonnaruwa period onwards.
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