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The Anuradhapura Kingdom – Sinhela Chronicles Part 3 | Ramanie de Zoysa (CA) – Gold Coast

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Sinhala Chronicles – The Anuradhapura Kingdom | Ramanie de Zoysa (CA) – Gold Coast

In our last two articles we read about the historical epic of the early beginnings of the Sinhela people of the island now known as Sri Lanka. We read about how the arrival of a prince named Vijaya to the island in 543 BC made a noteworthy impact on an already existing wonderful civilization that had been evolving in the island for possibly 40,000 years or so. 

According to archaeological findings, the city of Anuradhapura itself has been populated for the last 5,500 years- i.e., since around 3,500 BC even though the area was named Anuradhagama or Anuradhapura only after the arrival of Vijaya in 543 BC, after Anuradha- one of the subordinates that arrived with Vijaya. 

The ancestor who lived around 3,500 BCE on the island could well have been a descendant of the “Balangoda man” or Homosapiens Balangodensis – in fact it can only be none other! The extent of habitat in Anuradhapura in 3,500 BCE was limited to about 10 hectares according to Siran Deraniyagala 1991:20, 1995:5,2000:76. This pre-historic population had every resource they needed to sustain a comfortable life in the environs of Anuradhapura. In Wessagiriya alone there were 27 caves and in the Abhayagiri area there were five caves. 

Natural geographic features that supported the later reservoirs such as Thisa wewa and Abhaya wewa were there for life to thrive. The city was strategically placed northwest and northeast of major ports. It was buried deep inside the jungle, providing natural cover against invaders. It was also surrounded by vast fertile and irrigable land. By 1,000 BCE the island’s civilization had become a stable agrarian one where people lived in permanent-built houses and grew their food- having left behind the nomadic life. By 1,000 BCE the Balangodensis ancestors were using iron to make their weapons which was a parallel development with India. There was also a well-developed manufacture of fine clay utensils. All these were evident from the archaeological excavations carried out by the Cambridge University in the Anuradhapura, Athulunuwara, Salgahawatte area and the Sigiriya Aligala excavations carried out by the Kelaniya University Post-Graduate Institute. 

By 800 BCE the extraction and use of iron, copper and other metals were at a developed stage to such an extent that there were families or castes who specialized in the metallic ore extraction and manufacture (per Dr Thusitha Mendis). Raw material from Seruvila copper deposits were used in Anuradhapura to manufacture iron utensils (Deraniyagala 1972-Senaviratne 1994) and there is evidence of the manufacture of glass beads during this era. In this period there is evidence that there was a network of access roads connecting Anuradhapura with four corners of the island that carried minerals and other resources from the highlands to Anuradhapura and from the West to the highlands.

By 700 BCE the island nation was trading with other countries. Evidence exists that semi-precious stones such as carnelian agate which originate from India were traded from Manthai to the highlands. Further items that came to Anuradhapura were marine treasures such as pearls. By this time the population of the island was increasing and the circumference of habitats was increasing to about 50 hectares. Houses built in this era were round shaped and were made of wattle and daub. These excavations reveal that there were paddy husks in the daub that sealed the walls of the houses; these are distinct signs of paddy cultivation during this period – way before Prince Vijaya set foot on the island.

600 BCE saw the advent of even higher levels of manufacturing technical know-how; for example people started using clay tiles for the roof. These tiles consisted of a hole whereby the tile was tied to the roof with vine. At the time Prince Vijaya arrived in this island now called Sri Lanka, the original inhabitants lived in houses with terracotta tiled roofs; maidens wore jewellry according to their status; people travelled long distances on horseback and had chieftains or rulers whose ceremonial gatherings in the evenings were replete with fine music and singing. Horses were not indigenous to Sri Lanka; they were further evidence of trade with foreign lands. This is the island that a Prince named Vijaya set foot in 543 BCE either by accident or by design. 

Like Vijaya or not, he well and truly conquered the island with the connivance of the local Yakkha gothric leaders, such as Kueni. Vijaya had no heir; but his brother’s son Panduwasdeva came from India and took over the reign from him. We read in the earlier two articles that Panduwasdeva married the Sakya Princess, Bhadrakatchayana. Their only daughter Chitra/ Citta produced a son Pandukabhaya, very likely (per Cumaranathunga Munidasa) fathered by Chitraraja, a Yakkha gothric youth, despite the claims of Mahawansa that Pandukhabhaya’s father was Digha Gamini- queen Bhadracatchayana’s nephew. The birth of Prince Pandukhabhaya is dated 474 BCE. Princess Citta exchanged her son with a Yakka infant born on the same day and entrusted her son to the care of Yakkha people who kept him safe out of the reach of the swords of Citta’s nine brothers. The very fact that the Royal Palace believed the Yakkha infant to be that of Princess Chitra could be evidence that the Palace was expecting to see a newborn with Yakkha features and/ or coloring. 

Sundayobserver.lk: Jounior Observer | King Pandukabhaya

Artistic impression of Ek Tam Ge

When the young Prince was old enough to start his education, Princess Citta entrusted her son to a Brahmin by the name of Pandula. Pandula, a rich man and well versed in the Vedas, dwelt in the southern district in (the village of) Pandulagamaka. Pandula made his own son, Canda (Chandra), the fellow student of the Prince and the Prince Pandukhabhaya and Canda became good friends. 

Time passed and Prince Pandukhabhaya came of age. The young prince, now versatile with his princely education, was also growing in stature and popularity among the Yakkhas who saw him as their own. Yakka gothrics assisted him in gathering troops from the local villages to wage war against his uncles. The decision was for the young prince to station himself in his own safe area and prepare to battle for his kingdom. Before they set off, Pandula the Brahamin said to the prince `The (woman) at whose touch leaves turn to gold make thou thy queen, and my son Canda thy chaplain’, says Mahavansa. The prince travelled forth to the city of Pana near the Kasa-mountain together with seven hundred followers and provisions for all. From there he went followed by one thousand two hundred men to the mountain called Girikanda. 

An uncle of Pandukhabhaya, named Girikandasiva (brother of Bhadracatchayana), drew his revenues from the Girikanda district that Panduvasudeva (Pandukhabhaya’s grand-father) had handed over to him. Girikandasiva had a daughter, a beautiful princess named Pali. Happily, here we come to the second great love story of this era! 

Princess Pali with her retinue was on her way to a harvesting session bringing food for her father and for the harvesters. Prince Pandukhabhaya’s men who saw the princess hastily went and told the Prince about her. Bless the youth- the young prince came in haste to see the beautiful girl! Pandukhabhaya asked Pali who she was and what she was doing and when he was told that she was bringing food for the harvesters asked for some food for himself (perhaps he knew the way to a woman’s heart was to evoke her compassion, or, perhaps he was genuinely hungry!) 

Being the generous compassionate beauty, Pali stepped down from her wagon and, at the foot of a banyan-tree, she offered the prince food in a golden bowl. Then she took banyan-leaves to offer the rest of Prince Pandukhabhaya’s people food and in an instant the very banyan leaves changed into golden vessels. When the prince saw this and remembered the Brahmin’s words he realized that he had found the maiden who is worthy to be made his queen. Mahawamsa says that Pali fed them all, yet the food did not diminish; ‘it seemed that but one man’s portion had been taken away’! Thus from that time onwards the youthful princess who was so rich in virtues and merit was called by the name Suvannapali (Swarnapali). Pandukhabhaya went back to his abode taking his new found love with him. When her father heard about this he dispatched all his soldiers to defeat Pandukhabhaya but were defeated themselves. Later, Pandukhabhaya built a village in the place the battle raged naming it Kalahanagara. When the news reached Swarnapali’s five brothers they too departed to make war. Canda the son of Pandula, defeated them all and that battlefield was named Lohitavahakhanda.

Pandukabhaya married Swarnapali. By now his uncles had no qualms about Pandukhabhaya’s existence and the imminent danger that posed to their own lives. The hunt for the Prince was back on the menu. Prince Pandukhabhaya learned that his Ritigala camp that stood for seven years had been surrounded by enemy forces. While Prince Pandukhabhaya and his confidantes were scrutinizing enemy movements a messenger emerged with a message. The message asked the Prince to surrender to his uncles or perish. The Prince who held talks with his advisor Canda sent a message to his uncles that he was ready to surrender and also wished to send a battalion to the uncles as a gesture of goodwill. The uncles fell into the trap and Pandukhabhaya’s battalion gained the upper hand in a counter –attack. Eight of his ten uncles perished.

Abhaya, who had never fought against Pandukabhaya, was not killed. 

When he was thus left victorious in battle, Pandukhabhaya went to the dwelling-place of his great-uncle Anuradha. The great-uncle handed over his palace to Pandukhabhaya and built himself a dwelling elsewhere. Pandukhabhaya sought the help of an astrologist as to a suitable site for his capital city and he founded the capital near that village. Since the place had served as a residence for two important people named Anuradha (the minister of king Vijaya and the brother of queen Badhrakatchayana) and also because it was founded under the constellation Anura (anura neketha) the city was named Anuradhapura. 

In 437 BCE, Pandukabhaya at the age of thirty-seven, assumed the rule over the kingdom with Anuradhapura as his capital city; Swarnapali became his queen. On the young Canda, as he had agreed with Brahmin Pandula, he conferred the office of his chaplain and made other appointments on his other followers according to their merits.


King Pandukhabhaya reigned for seventy years and died at the age of 107 in 367 BCE. Pandukhabhaya, according to many historians and philosophers, is the first truly Sri Lankan King since the Vijaya invasion, and he is also credited with being the king who ended the recurrent clashes and conflict between the Vijaya’s clan and the local Yakkha clan.

King pandukabhaya (474 - 367 BCE) - YouTube

King Pandukabhaya- an artistic expression

Pandukhabhaya did not slay king Abhaya as mentioned earlier, his eldest uncle, but handed over the city administration to him for the night-time- he was made the `Nagaraguttika’ (Guardian of the City). This can be seen as the beginning of city officials in the post- Vijayan era- I make that distinction with due consideration of the fact that pre-Vijaya, we cannot rule out that a system of rule of law existed with a machinery of city officials and local leaders. From Abhaya’s appointment onwards the post of nagaraguttika was a feature of the local administration in the capital cities. 

Pandukhabhaya had the pond from which he had taken water after his victories for his consecration, deepened and abundantly filled with water and called it Jayavapi or Jaya wewa. 

The king should be bestowed honor for his great service of building a city which came to be called Anuradhapura and an organized system of governance. He ordered the demarcation of all the villages in the island in his tenth year of reign. He was the first king to do so. He constructed three tanks, namely Abaya Wewa, Gamini Wewa and Jaya Wewa. To the east of the city he built the Kalawelayaku Devalaya

 It was only after having built the Anuradhapura City that he sought consecration as King and ruler of Lanka with Swarnapali Devi as his chief consort. Therefore, the king also holds an important place being the first monarch in the history of Sri Lanka. He placed the soldiers in due positions safeguarding the city. 

King Pandukhabhaya was a visionary and he planned his City of Anuradhapura, which was a first for the island. The King built a public cemetery and a prison. Moreover, he founded villages for a diversity of people such as 500 of city cleaners who belonged to the Sadol caste, stool cleaners of Sadol and 150 of Sadol who were subjected to carry dead bodies as well as 150 of Sadols at cemetery service. He also built up separate cemeteries for the Sadol people. To the north of the cemetery he built up a line of dwelling places for the Veddha people. To the north from there he had cloisters built up for various ascetics. The king also built the residence of the Jothiya Niganta where the Giri Niganta and a number of other recluses resided. The king also had a place built on behalf of the Niganta named Kumbhanda. The king further constructed houses for Ajiwaka people and Brahmin people.

Ten years after his consecration King Pandukhabhaya, the ruler of Lanka established the village-boundaries over the whole of the island of Lanka. It is said that Cittaraja the Yakkha gothric youth who is believed to have been Pandukhabhaya’s biological father who was put to death by the Royal Palace together with his friend Kalavela (who was also employed as a guard of the Ektam Ge where Princess Citta was held and put to death with Cittaraja) were with King Pandukhabhaya at all times and were visible (in bodily form)! Lanka was without a King between King Pandukhabhaya and Abhaya for seventeen years. The public opinion about the King must have been more than good as proven by the very fact that the King was able to reign Anuradhapura for 70 years, uninterrupted. Therefore, king Pandukabhaya’s service for the development of Anuradhapura to a level that it was chosen continuously as the capital by the kings who came into power afterwards is to be greatly admired.   

Founded by King Pandukabhaya in 377 BC, the kingdom’s authority extended throughout the country, although several independent areas emerged from time to time, which grew more numerous towards the end of the kingdom. Nonetheless, the King of Anuradhapura was seen as the supreme ruler of the country throughout the Anuradhapura period. 

No story is complete without its context and let us look at the global context comparative to the time King Pandukhabhaya was living his amazing life story in Lanka between 474 BCE to 367 BCE. 

In India in 483 BCE the Budddha parinibbana occurred followed closely in 486 BCE by the First Buddhist Council (Maha sangaayana) held at Rajagaha under the patronage of the King – oral tradition established for the first time. India was going through many upheavals even during the Buddha’s time due to the burgeoning Persian and Meditterranean power blocks. The Persian invasion of India occurred in about 550 BCE (almost a century before the Prince Siddhartha came of age) when Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire invaded the north-western part of India.  At that time, there were many small provinces like Gandhara, Kamboja and Madra who were constantly fighting one another. At that time, Bimbisara of the Haryanka dynasty was ruling over Magadha. Cyrus succeeded in bringing under Persian control all the Indian tribes west of the Indus like Gandhara. Punjab and Sindh were annexed by Darius I, Cyrus’s grandson. Son of Darius, Xerxes, could not move ahead with further conquests of India because of the eruption of its wars with the Greeks. He had employed Indian cavalry and infantry. Effects of Persian invasion of India were that trade between India and Persia grew and the Kharoshti script was brought to northwest India by the Persians. Some Ashokan inscriptions found in these parts of India were written in the Kharoshti script, which is derived from the Aramaic script and is written from right to left (like Arabic or Urdu). 

India moved swiftly from the Persian invasions to suffering Greek invasions when Alexander invaded India in 327 BCE. Alexander (356 BC – 323 BCE) was the son of Philip of Macedonia; he became king in 336 BCE. Alexander had conquered Asia Minor along with Persia. He then marched into northwest India from Persia. Alexander had annexed the whole of Persia (Babylon) by defeating Persian King Darius III in the Battle of Arbela (330 BC). In northwest India, just before Alexander’s invasion, there were many small rulers like Ambhi of Taxila, and Porus of the region of Jhelum (Hydaspes). Ambhi accepted Alexander’s sovereignty but Porus put up a valiant but unsuccessful fight. Alexander was so impressed with Porus’s fight that he granted him his territory back. Porus might have accepted lordship. The battle between him and Porus is called the Battle of Hydaspes. After that, Alexander’s army crossed the river Chenab near Sialkot, modern day Pakistan. The Chenab is formed by the confluence of two streams, Chandra and Bhaga, in the western (Punjab) Himalayas in India’s Himachal Pradesh state. After crossing the Chenab Alexander’s army annexed the tribes between Ravi and Chenab. But his army refused to cross the river Beas and revolted. They were exhausted after years of battles. Beas River (ancient Greek name Hyphasis, Sanskrit Vipasha) is a river also in the Himachal Pradesh and Punjab states of northwestern India. It is one of the five rivers that give the Punjab (“Five Rivers”) its name. Alexander was forced to retreat in 326 BC. On his way back, he died at Babylon in 323 BC aged 32. After his death, the Greek Empire split in 321 BC. In northwest India, Alexander left four of his generals in charge of four regions, one of them being Seleucus I Nicator, who would later trade his territories in the Indus Valley with Chandragupta Maurya. Eudamas was the last General of Alexander in India. Effects of Alexander’s invasion on India include the political unification in northern India under the Mauryas. After the invasion, there was direct contact between India and Greece. Post invasion there were Indo-Greek rulers in the northwest part of India. Grecian impact on Indian art can be seen in the Gandhara School of art. 

There was no Chola empire in the south of India as none existed until about 848 years after Christ even though the Chola dynasty was established in around 300 BCE. The earliest datable references to the Chola are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Ashoka, of the Maurya Empire (Ashoka Major Rock Edict No.13). The Chola dynasty continued to govern over varying territory until the 13th century CE. Despite these ancient origins, the period when it is appropriate to speak of a “Chola Empire” only begins with the medieval Cholas in the mid-9th century CE.

In Europe, 492 BC saw the first expedition of King Darius I of Persia against Greece, under the leadership of his son-in-law Mardonius. This marks the start of the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The Battle of Marathon, where Darius I of Persia was defeated by the Athenians and Plataeans under Miltiades. In the same year (in 490 BC) Phidippides ran 40 kilometers from Marathon to Athens to announce the news of the Greek victory; this is the origin of the marathon long-distance race. In 479 BC in the Battle of Plataea, the Greeks defeated the Persians, ending the constant Persian wars. In 469 BC (when Pandukhabhaya was just 5 years old and was being brought up by the Yakkha clan) Philosopher Socrates was born in Attica, Athens, Greece! In 460 BCE Physician Hippocrates was born in Kos, Greece. In 447 BC Athens began the construction of the Parthenon, at the initiative of Pericles.

Greece and Italy were both going through volatile times in Europe at this time. In Italy 474 BC in the Battle of Cumae the Syracusans under Hiero I defeated the Etruscans and ended Etruscan expansion in southern Italy. The Etruscans were responsible for laying the foundation of Rome as a city beginning about 750 BCE. Rome started as a settlement on the Tiber river and grew into a city of Western Europe. The Latin settlers lived in small communities on the Tiber river. The place where the Latin tribes lived was called Latium. On the north side of the Tiber river, facing the Latin settlers were Etruscans who were a fierce and aggressive people and the Latins feared them. The Latins and Etruscans were enemies but they traded with each other and both participated in nautical piracy. The Etruscans from time to time invaded and conquered the Latins and took possession of their lands and the Battle of Cumae was a major landmark in curtailing the Etruscan aggression. In 449 BC The Twelve Tables were promulgated to the people of Rome- these were the first public laws of the Roman Republic. Sadly, natural disasters caused devastation to the burgeoning Italian civilization. In 440 BC there was a famine in Rome and then again ten years later in 430 BC Athens suffered a major pestilence, believed to be caused by epidemic typhus. The following year in 429 BC an outbreak of a plague killed over one-third of the population of Athens.

China has been a distinct culture since at least 8,000 BCE! Early Chinese settlers built small villages and farmed along the major rivers including the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. In 2696 BCE there was the rule of the legendary Yellow Emperor; his wife Leizu invented the process of making silk cloth. Between 2205 – 1575 BCE the Chinese learnt how to make bronze. The Xia Dynasty became the first dynasty in China around this time. In 551 BCE the philosopher and thinker Confucius was born; he died in 479 BCE. In 544 BCE Sun Tzu -the author of the Art of War- was born. Around 500 BCE cast iron was invented in China; the iron plough was likely invented shortly after. In 478 BCE the Temple of Confucius was established at (modern-day) Qufu. In 468 BCE King Zhending of Zhou became King of the Zhou Dynasty of China followed in 441 BCE by King Ai of Zhou – but King Ai died before the year’s end. The dynasty was continued in 440 BCE by King Kao of Zhou. Famous Silk Route (139 BCE) and its creator Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 AD) was another couple of centuries away. 

In the middle-east Ezra lead the second body of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem in 459 BCE (Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian captivity in the first year of Cyrus the Great, the king of the Achaemenid Empire.) Ezra was living in Babylon when in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, king of Persia (c. 457 BCE), sent him to Jerusalem to teach the laws of God to any who did not know them. In 457 BCE the Decree of Artaxerxes I was issued to re-establish the city government of Jerusalem. 

That was the world in which our great King Pandukhabhaya survived many threats to his life and against all odds became the ruler of the land and built the great city of Anuradhapura as his Capital. The City in all its glory remained the resplendent Capital City it was built to be until 993 AD when it was sacked and taken by the Pandyan kings during the 9th century and then returned against payment of a ransom. The majority of the monuments were restored but the city never recovered after its destruction in AD 993 by King Chola Rajaraja I. More on the great Sinhela kings that ruled the country from Anuradhapura in the articles to follow.

Note: BCE (Before Common Era) and BC (Before Christ) mean the same thing.

Ramanie de Zoysa (CA)

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