Valagamba (Vatthagamani Abhaya in Pali) was forced to go into exile to southern parts of Sri Lanka only five months after he ascended the throne in 103 B.C.E., because of a rebellion of a Brahmin priest and an invasion from South India, taking place at the same time, turned out to be successful in overthrowing him in Anuradhapura. But after 14 year in exile, he managed to regain the power in the capital and afterwards his reign turned out to be weighty for Sri Lankan history.
Valagamba plays an important role in the island’s Buddhist history, for at least three different reasons.
Many cave temples in the vicinity of Sri Lanka’s highlands claim to be a hiding place of Valagamba during his years of exile, in the west and south and east as well as in the northern direction. Dambulla is the most significant example. It proudly claims to be founded by Valagamba, though it might be even older, because the main Brahmi inscription above the caves is more likely to be attributed to Saddhatissa, who is a highly appreciated Buddhist king, too. But Valagamba seems to be even more popular and respected.
Secondly, it was under Valagamba’s rule, that a second Buddhist order came to existence in Anuradhapura. The Abhayagiri Vihara was founded by this king, at a place that was previously inhabited by a Jain monk, who had mocked the king when he saw him fleeing into exile. The Abhayagiri monastic order became even larger than the older Mahavihara. Abhayagiri was more broad-minded and open to Mahayana influences (regarded as heretic by the Theravada tradition of the rivaling Mahavihara).
Even more important than this establishment of Anuradhapura’s largest monastery is that it was under the reign of Valagamba that the Theravada Buddhist Holy Scriptures, called Tipitaka in Pali, were fixed in written form for the very first time. This is crucial insofar as this version of the earliest Buddhist texts is otherwise known only from Chinese and Tibetan translations, or more precisely: Passages in Sanskrit are also found. But the Pali Tipitaka from Sri Lanka is the only complete version of these Sacred Books of Buddhism handed down in an Indian language till the present day. Until Valagamba’s time, the Holy Scriptures were passed down only orally. Monks were specialized on different parts of the canon, because it was not easy to remember the full text which is much longer than the Bible. But in the first century B.C.E. Valagamba’s exile was a time of unrest, resulting in a horrible famine. Many monks died. So they saw a high risk that parts of the holy texts could be lost, if no monk of that group memorizing this passage survived. This is why the leadership, during the more peaceful period of Valagamba’s second reign, decided to assemble monks to put the Holy texts in writing. In the Theravada tradition using Pali as sacred language, this important assembly is known as the Fourth Buddhist Council.
We will cite some passages from the Mahavamsa chronicle about Valagamba
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