Silameghavanna is one of the many mediocre Anuradhapura Kings. The seventh century is a period of subversions in Sri Lanka. In the course of the century, fourteen successive monarchs ruled in Anuradhapura, most of them were overthrown by internal rivals.
Aggabodhi II, Anuradhapura’s last significant initiator of irrigation projects, was succeeded by his sword bearer, Sanghatissa II. It's not entirely clear whether Sanghatissa was a brother of Aggabodhi himself or of his wife or no relative at all.
Sanghatissa II was overthrown by a general called Moggallana, who was from the south of the island. Afterwards, Moggallana III was killed by his sword bearer Silameghavanna, who had started a rebellion against him. Silameghavanna was the son of Mogallana’s commander in chief, the Senapati, who had led the war against Sanghatissa II and later initiated a revolted against Moggalana III, that was finally one by his son.
Though he had come to power in a violent way, King Silameghavanna is credited with many meritorious deeds. During a famine, he dispensed milk-rice made with butter and syrup to the bhikkhus. And he is said to have cared generously for the poor. The great Abhayagiri Vihara was restored during Silameghavanna’s reign.
Srinaga, a Tamil general of Silameghavanna’s army, had gone to South India. When Srinaga, uncle of the later King Jethatissa III, came back to the island with a Tamil mercenary army, he threatened to rule the north of the kingdom by force. But Silameghavanna managed to defeat the invaders in battle and to kill Srinaga. Silameghavanna humiliated the surviving Tamil mercenaries by donating them as temple slaves to different monasteries throughout the kingdom. Positively speaking, he spared their lives and found peaceful jobs for them.
The Chulavamsa part of the Mahavamsa chronicle mentions, too, that Silameghavanna, urged by a monk called Bodhi, reformed the Buddhist order, the Sangha, by expelling undisciplined monks of the Abhayagiri Vihara, Anuradhapura’s largest monastery. But these former monks then took revenge and killed Bodhi. In retaliation, King Silameghavanna punished them severely by cutting off their hands. This is indeed a cruel punishment, but it's still an indication that Buddhist rulers of Sri Lanka hesitated to sentence criminals to death, even in cases of murder. The lives of the offenders were spared in this case.
One remarkable part of the Chulavamsa report about King Silamgehavanna is, that he ordered the Theravada monks of the Mahavihara monastery to observe common ceremonies with their arch rivals, the Mahayanists Abhayagiri monks. This is significant in two ways. Not sharing common cermonies though living as Buddhist monks in the same city, that's actually, by definition, a schism of the Buddhist order, regarded as one of the worst crimes in Buddhism. Nevertheless, this schism was normality in Anuradhapura, and it was tolerated or even facilitated by most Anuradhapura kings, because a united Sangha woul have been a too mighty political force within their realm. All the more remarkable is Silameghavanna’s attempt to reunite the order in his capital. How powerful even a divided order was indeed can be seen from the outcome of this attempt. The Theravada monks of the Mahavihara successfully refused to follow the king’s decree and the king, disillusioned and enraged, went into exile into the south. However, he was not overthrown. Remarkably, Silameghavanna is one of the few Sri Lankasn kings of the 7th century who managed to be succeeded by their own son. The name of his successor is Aggabodhi III.
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