Vijayabahu I - liberator of Lanka
@ WS / 06MAY2006
Written By: Chandra Edirisuriya
Vijayabahu I died in 1110/11 AC in the fifty fifth year of his reign and at the age of seventy three. As a warrior, no other Sinhala king surpassed him. ‘It may be on overstatement to say “Had there been no Vijayabahu there would, perhaps, have been no Sinhala people in Lanka today.” But beyond a shadow of doubt, he was the author of Sinhala freedom, and one of the chief architects of Sinhala nationality state C. W. Nicholas and S. Paranavitana in their work “University of Ceylon A Concise History of Ceylon’ from which I have drawn maternal in extenso. Vijayabahu I is regarded as one of Lanka’s greatest kings. He found Lanka weak, torn by internal dissension and civil strife and dominated by a foreign power.
He unified Lanka, strengthened its armed forces, expelled the foreign rulers and gave Lanka a much needed period of peace. He found the economic development of the country neglected and Buddhism languishing for want of royal patronage. He restored irrigation works and attended to agricultural development and succeeded, to a certain extent, in restoring Buddhism to its pristine glory.
In his eighteenth year 1073/74 AC that is three years after he liberated Lanka from Chola rule, Vijayabahu celebrated with high festival at Anuradhapura, the ceremonial of kingly consecration. But he did not thereafter rule Lanka from Anuradhapura: he transferred his capital to Polonnaruwa. It is also possible that he decided to build a new city at Polonnaruwa which he had renamed Vijayarajapura. (The Cholas had named it Jananathapura). Polonnaruwa was always a place of strategic importance. It commanded the crossings of the Mahaveli Ganga, the defence of which was vital against rebel forces advancing into Rajarata form Ruhuna: at the same time in the event of an invasion by a South Indian power, its position was distant enough to give time for the organisation and manning of the river defences so as to halt the invading forces on the river - line and furthermore if those defences failed, to facilitate retreat into Ruhuna. So that it gave greater security to the king from his enemies both within and outside the kingdom.
Another reason for the choice of Polonnaruwa as the capital might have been the inauguration of a new policy of administrative centralisation which did away with the large degree of autonomy, which the provinces, particularly Ruhuna, had previously enjoyed. Vijayabahu who had been solely responsible for expelling the Cholas from Lanka, decided to make himself the real master of the whole country. And finally a new city had to be built at Polonnaruwa.
Vijayabahu appointed his next younger brother Virabahu to be uparaja with Dakkhinadesa as his principality and his youngest brother Jayabahu to be adipada with authority over Ruhuna. He assigned powers and duties to his ministers, re-established the revenue-collection and taxation systems, and restored confidence in the administration of justice. The process of rehabilitation had but begun when the kingdom was disturbed by another rebellion. Three brothers, all high and influential persons, became hostile to the king and fled to India where they probably made contacts with the Chola court. In 1074/75 AC they returned to Lanka and roused revolt in three provinces. The king’s forces finally brought the main body of the rebels to battle in the uparaja’s territory, and seized the three ring leaders and executed them.
Vijayabahu married as his first mahesi, Lilawathie the daughter of Jagatipala of Oudh who had been ruler of Ruhuna from about 1042 to 1046 AC: she and her mother had been prisoners of the Cholas but escaped from captivity and found their way safely to Lanka. Vijayabahu’s younger sister, Mittha, was given in marriage to a Pandya prince, offers for her hand from the Chola royal house being rejected. Friendship was established with the Kannata (Western Chalukya) king by exchange of envoys and gifts. The alliance with the Malay kingdom of Srivijaya which had been so helpful to Vijayabahu in his struggle with the Cholas was strengthened by the king’s marriage to princess Tilokasundari of that kingdom who became the second mahesi.
Built a Tooth-Relic temple
Vijayabahu’s foreign policy was thus directed to strengthening the existing ties and creating new bonds of friendship with the enemies, actual and potential, of the Cholas. This was a wise policy and in all probability, it was the principal factor in securing for Lanka immunity from further attack by the Cholas.
The internal peace of the country was not disturbed during the eleven years following 1075 AC and the king was able to engage in activities of a constructive nature. During the preceding period of nearly a century of internal turmoil, war and foreign domination, the country had become seriously impoverished. Institutional Buddhism was on the point of disappearing: apart from acts of repression and pillage by the Cholas, the decay of temples and the diminution by neglect or lapse of temple revenues, the Sangha had suffered so severely in its membership, by natural loss and lack of new monks of quality to replace the loss, that it became impossible to assemble a full Chapter for the ceremony of ordination and other necessary acts. The king therefore made a request to the king of Burma (Myanmar) to send to Lanka monks of that country who were recognised to be learned and pious theras and when they arrived here, he had them to perform repeatedly the necessary ceremonies so that numerous new Sinhala monks were admitted to the order, and the Sangha became competent in numbers and learning to resume its position in the religious life of the people.
Under the king’s orders a strong wall with bastions and parapets and surrounded by a moat was constructed round the new capital city of Polonnaruwa. It may be assumed that one of the earliest buildings to be constructed within the new citadel was Vijayabahu’s own palace. He built a Tooth-Relic temple immediately to the north of the palace grounds. New viharas were also built in the town and the Elahera district through which flowed the great feeder canal to Minneriya tank was assigned to these monasteries for their support. Numerous decayed and damaged Buddhist temples including many of the most venerated shrines were renovated and their maintenance-villages were restored to them. To provide food and shelter for monks and pilgrims who made the difficult, journey to Sri Pada, the king repaired the roads and provided rest houses and alms – houses (danasala) on the three routes which then existed namely, the Sabaragamuwa route through Gilimale, the Rajarata road via Ulapane, Weligampala, Ambagamuwa and Kehelgamuwa and the path from Uva. The royal family and the courtiers and the officials of the king emulated his example in restoring, building and endowing religious institutions. The king sent envoys to India with pearls, precious stones and other jewels to be offered on his hehalf to the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Buddha Gaya. The revival of religion, the restoration of temples which had fallen into decay, the granting of revenues to monastic institutions, the providing of necessaries for monks and the performance of numerous acts of piety and charity, all formed a highly important part of the king’s activities.
Minneriya tank filled once again
The restoration of breached tanks and channels and the construction of new irrigation works, so as to make the land once again productive and fruitful and make the people self – sufficient in food, constituted the most important of the king’s undertakings for the material welfare of his subjects. The Chronicle names several large tanks which were restored. The last section of the Elahera canal was repaired and the Minneriya tank was filled once again. But the impoverishment of the country during the century preceding Vijayabahu’s accession was not wholly made good inspite of the king’s strenuous efforts. Vijayabahu’s Polonnaruwa was a small fortified town, not to be compared with Parakramabahu’s later Polonnaruwa. There was little new that was or could be done, all that the country’s depleted resources would permit in the constructional spheres of irrigation and agriculture was extensive repair and restoration.
Friendly relations with Srivijaya
The Chola inscriptions contain no reference to the loss of Lanka from the Chola empire. When Kullotunga I (1070 – 1120 AC) the Chola king ascended the throne, portions of the Chola empire had broken off and re-established their independence and war and rebellion threatened in other quarters. Lanka was lost in his first year. If he had any intentions of renewing hostilities with Lanka it was not by open war but by devious and indirect methods, first setting up dissension and then intervening if a favourable opporturity offered. Vijayabahu’s friendly relations with Srivijaya, Western Chalukya and Pandya would have been a deterrent against direct aggression. For fifteen years Kullotunga did not exhibit any hostility towards Vijayabahu: on the other hand he feigned friendly intentions by asking for Vijayabahu’s sister in marriage and by the despatch of a conciliatory embassy to the Polonnaruwa court. About 1085 AC however he made an attempt to create a state of disorder in Lanka which could be turned to his own advantage. Envoys bearing presents arrived at Polonnaruwa from the kingdoms of Kannata (Western Chalukya) and Chola, and were received very cordially.
Tamil mercenaries revolt
Vijayabahu sent back the Kannata embassy first, accompanied by Sinhala envoys carrying gifts in return. While the two missions were travelling through Chola territory, the Sinhala envoys were seized by the Cholas who tortured them and cut off their ears and noses. In this maimed condition they returned to Lanka and told their story to Vijayabahu, who became infuriated. He summoned the Chola ambassadors before him, charged them to convey his challenge to the Chola king and sent them home dressed in women’s garments. He then mobilized his army, marched to Anuradhpura and sent two divisions each under a general to the sea ports of Mahatittha and Mattikavatatittha to take ship and invade the Chola kingdom. While preparations for the provisioning and embarkation of these troops were being made, the Velaikkara division composed mainly of Tamil mercenaries revolted because they did not wish to participate in operations in Tamil territory. They slew the two generals, caftured the king’s younger sister with her two sons, burned down the royal palace and plundered the country around Polonnaruwa. Vijayabahu was forced to take refuge for the second time, with all his valuables in the rock fortress of Vakirigala in Kegalle district. Having re-assembled his loyal troops, he took the field, accompanied by the uparaja Virabahu, against the rebel soldiers, advanced to Polonnaruwa and after a sharp fight defeated the Velaikkaras. He inflicted savage punishment on the Velaikkara leaders and accepted the submission of the survivors.
Savage punishment on Velaikkara leaders
Velaikkara regiments were common in the Chola kingdom and the adoption of this institution in the Sinhala army was undoubtedly a borrowing of the Chola model with which Vijayabahu must have been familiar. These troops were in the nature of a king’s bodyguard sworn to defend him with their lives: they were this royal guards and a corps d’ elite. Vijayabahu’s Velaikkaras were professional Tamil soldiers and they appear to have included a number of Cholas, because the cause of their revolt was their unwillingness to join in an invasion of the Chola kingdom. It is significant that after years of bitter warfare against the Cholas, Vijayabahu relied on Chola mercenaries for his personal protection.
No invader set foot on the soil of Lanka
In 1100/01 AC there appears to have been a threat of a Chola invasion because it is stated that Vijayabahu marched with his army to the seaport (presumably Mahatitta) and stayed there some time awaiting the arrival of the Cholas but no attack materalised. The grounds for apprehending an attack are not disclosed. From 1070 AC the year of liberation to the end of Vijayabahu’s reign in 1110/11 AC no invader set foot on the soil of Lanka. The internal peace of the country during this period was seriously disturbed twice, first by the rebellion led by the three brothers in 1074/75 AC and again by the Velaikkara revolt ten years later. But prolonged peace did not make good the slender resources of a country long impoverished and the process of restoration and rehabilitation was a difficult task for Vijayabahu as his war of liberation.
Record of unique human interest
Vijayabahu is described in the Chulavansa as an eminent poet. He patronised literature and many scholars who came here from India shared in that patronage. The king’s qualities are summed up in the Ambagamuwa inscription in these words: ‘Veneration for the Triple Gem, hospitable attention to preceptors, homage to the righteous, prosperous conditions to the learned, assistance to kinsmen, intimacy to friends, haughtiness towards foes, compassion for all living beings, wisdom in council (all these qualities) he made completely secure for himself.’
Privileges to Sitnaru – bim Budalvan
The unique Parakaduwa inscription of the king’s twenty seventh year claims special mention. This is the earliest in date of the copper- plate charters so far discovered in Lanka. It embodies an order, delivered by Vijayabahu I sitting in Council granting certain privileges to Sitnaru – bim Budalvan, dandanayake of Ruhuna who protected Vijayabahu in his tender years, his father and other members of the royal family, when they had to seek refuge in the forests as a consequence of the disorders brought about by the Chola invasion, and established him in the principality of Ruhuna. The very words of the king spoken in the royal assembly are embodied in the grant; they are eloquent of the hardships and dangers through which Vijayabahu – Kitti as he was known in his early years – had to pass before he could make himself acknowledged as the leader of the Sinhalas, in the war of independence against the Cholas. This is the only ancient Sinhala document in which a king of Lanka gives us biographical details concerning himself and referring, as it does, to the tribulations of a great man in his days of adversity, the record is of unique human interest.
Srivijaya matrimorial connection
Vijayabahu’s Uparaja, his brother Virabahu, died during the king’s lifetime and he was succeeded by the adipada Jayabahu, Vijayabahu’s youngest brother. Vijayabahu’s son by the Kalinga (Srivijya) mahesi, Vikramabahu was made adipada and appointed to the rulership of Ruhuna. With this mahesi there came to Lanka three princes of Srivijaya and their younger sister princess Sundari: she married Vikramabahu, Vijayabahu’s son. Vikramabahu’s son was Gajabahu, afterwards Gajabahu II. The matrimorial connection between the royal houses of Lanka and Srivijaya was, therefore continued.
Vijayabahu’s task of liberating Lanka from Chola rule was not so simple as Dutugamunu’s as he had to fight the Chola empire at the height of its power.
Written By: Chandra Edirisuriya