Every "most important" list is a little bit arbitrary but there can be no doubt, that Devanampiya Tissa, who introduced Buddhis, national hero Dutthagamani and the three most important tank builders, Vasabha, Mahasena and Sutthagamani, are to be mentioned here. We added the first Sinhalese king, Vijaya, Anuradhapuras first and last kings, Pandukabhaya and Mahinda, and three early kings surrounded by legends, namely Walagambhu, Gajabahu and Sirisanghabo.
Of course, many interesting rulers are missing in this overview:
Anula was the first ruling queen in Asia at all. She will receive an blog post next year.
Kassapa, the founder of Sigiriya, must be mentioned in more detail next year.
Manavanna will be mentioned in an article about relations with South India next year.
The half-legendary Viyaya (“victory”), the first recorded king in Sri Lanka and a kind of progenitor of the Sinhales people, was a prince from northern India believed to be the grandson of a lion (“sinha”). After they had been banished for misconduct by Vijaya’s father, King Sinhabahu, Prince Vijaya and 700 followers sailed to the island of Sri Lanka and landed on the west coast near Puttalam, where they married local wifes.
The story of Pandukabhaya is also wrapped in legends. He was prophesized to kill his ten uncles in order to gain the throne, exchanged with another baby to recue him from the uncle’s infanticide and had to live in exile many years. After defeating and killing all his uncles, he became the king who choseAnuradhapura as the capital.
King Tissa is said to have been a friend of India’s Emperor Ashoka, who called himseld “Devanampiya Piyadasa” (“beloved of the gods, looking on with affection”) in his inscriptions. Tissa adopted the same honorific title “Devampiya” after being converted to Buddhism by the missionar monk Mahinda, who is believed to have been a son of Ashoka and sent by him. Mihintale was the place where king ans missionary first met. The introduction of Buddhism became one of the most defining events in Sinhalese history.
Dutthagamani is the Pali name mentioned in the Buddhist chronicles, Sinhalese call this most revered national hero Dutugemunu. The prince from the souther part of the island (Rohana /Ruhunu) managed to overthrow the the usurping Tamil regent in Anuradhapura. Remarkably, the chronicles describe it as a religious war in the name of Buddhism, not as a freedom fight against a foreign rule, since Elara is described as a righteous ruler. In Anuradhapura, Dutthagamani became the king who founded the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, then the largest Buddhist edifice at all.
Vattagamani Abhaya is known as King Walagamba among Sri Lankans. Only a few month after his coronation he had to leave Anuradhapura due to foreign invasion. He had been hiding in the hill country for 14 years, before he managed to regain power in Anuradhapura. Almost every remote forest cave complex in south of Anuradhapura claims to have been the abode of Walagamba, at least for a period of his exile. This way Walagamba is regarded as the founder of many monasteries. After he had become king in Anuradhapura again, he gratefully established them at those caves once sheltering him. Vattagami Abhaya founded the second very large Buddhist monastery in Anuradhapura, the Dagoba of the same name even surpassed the Ruwanweliseya in size. Even more important is another result of the 14 years crises. It was a period of famine, too. Many Buddhist monks died. The Holy Texts of Buddhism were at risk to get lost, at least partially, because certain passages of the text were handed down by specialized lines of monks orally. The death of the last persons knowing the texts would result in the loss of these texts, too. To prevent this from happening during possible future crises, Sri Lanka’s surviving monks assembled to secure the texts in written form, this meeting is 4th concile according to Theravada Buddhist traditions. After this historic textualisation, Sri Lanka became the only place in the entire world, were the whole Buddhist Tipitaka Canon has been handed down in an Indian language till the present day.
This long reigning king is the first member of the influential Lambakanna clan who could seize the throne. He had killed the last king of the Vijaya line, Subharaja. Nevertheless, the chronicles praise him as the founder or renovator of many Buddhist monasteries. Above all, Vasabha is considered to be the pioneering king in constructing irrigation works on a huge scale. Medium sized reservoires had been built since the arrival of Vijaya. But the era of Vasabha marks the beginning of a complex system of large reservoirs and canals in order to develop new areas for paddy cultivation. This long-range irrigation system became the fundamental pattern and hallmark of the ancient Sinhalese civilization for further 12 centuries.
Gajabahu means “elephant’s arm”. The story of this king is wrapped in later legends, not yet told in the early Buddhist chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa. So the story goes: Before Gajabahu ascended the throne, the Chola King Karikala from Southern India invaded the island and deported 12,000 Sinhalese people to India, where they were forced to build the dams along the river Kaveri. (The historical Chola King Karikala reigned later than Gajabahu.). Gajabahu went to India and managed to liberate his countrymen. Gajabahi is believed to have introduced the veneration of Pattini (the Sinhalese form of the Tamil goddess Kannagi) on the island as well as the first Perahera pageants celebrated at a Vishnu temple in commemoration of his victourious journey. Kandy Perahera festival periods still begin at a Vishu temple. In recent history, an infantry regiment and a navy ship were named after King Gajabahu.
Even more popular and more mythical than Gajabahu is King Sirisanghabo. In contrast to Gajabahu, his story is told in the Mahavansa and he is not credited with a military victory but, quite on the contrary, with renunciation of political poer and self-sacrifice. When his former friend Gotabaya conspired and entered Anuradhapura with troops, King Sirisangabo decided to avoid a blood shed and left the city to live a reclusive life But the new king began searching for him by putting a bounty on Sirisangabo’s head. As a result of ths, many persons were killed to bring their heads to Gotabaya. One day a passing by peasant offered Sirisangabo a meal, not knowing he was the former king. The peasant told him that many innocents were beheaded. Sirisangabo decided to end this killing of innocents. So he revealed his true identity and asked the peasant to cut his head and take the money as a reward for his kindness to offer the meal. When the shocked peasant refused, Sirisangabo himself separated his head and handed it over to the peasant.
Mahasena is one of the most prolific builders of tanks and canals in Sinhalese history. Minneriya and Kaudulla - now national parks famous for the annual elephant gatherings at their reservoirs - are among the dam construction projects of this king. Nevertheless, he has a bad reputation, the chroniclers accuse him of having oppressed the traditional Theravada teachings and to have devastated the island’s most ancient monastery, Mahavihara. Mahasena had been educated by the monk Sanghamitta, a follower of the Vaitulya doctrine, which was Mahayanist. When King Mahasena asked the monks of the Mahavihara to accept Mahayana teachings they refused to do so and left Anuradhapura. Mahasena built the new “hereditary” monastery within the premises of the Mahavihara, which is in violation of Buddhist monastic rules. Till the present day the Jetavanarama Dagoba is the world’s largest edifice built of burnt bricks.
After repulsing foreign Tamil rulers in Anuradhapura, Dhatusena became the founder of the Moriya dynasty. Besides Mahasena, Dhutusena is the most prolific tank builders among Anuradhapura’s kings. His most important achievement is the constuction of the Kalawewa and the Jaya Ganga, also called Yodha Ela, channelling the water of this reservoir to the Annuradhapura area. Dhatusena’s son Kassapa, who was not the heir to the throne, rebelled against Dhatusena and overthrew and imprisoned him. When Kassapa asked his father to hand out his treasures, Dhatusena led him to the Kalavewa tank and told him: this is his whole treasure. The enraged Kassapa then killed him by entombing him in a wall. Fearing the revenge of his half-brother Mogallana, the legitimate heir to the throne, Kassapa decided to leave the capital Anuradhapure and to fortify his new palace, Sigiriya.
Mahinda V, characterized as a very weak ruler by the chroniclers, marks the end of the Anuradhapura kingdom. In 993, the Tamil King Rajaraja I from southern India invaded Sri Lanka, the northern half of the island became a province of the Chola Empire. The Cholas were the only Indian dynasty conquering territory outside India. Mahinda V fled to Ruhuna in the south of the island. In 1017, Rajaraja Chola’s son Rajendra the Great invaded the south of Sri Lanka, too. Mahinda V was taken prisoner and died in captivity in India in 1029. The Cholas chose Polonnaruwa as their provincial capital of the island. Anuradhapura fell into decay.
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