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 Post subject: Kings of ancient and medieval Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sat Dec 27, 2008 8:29 am 
Kings of ancient and medieval Sri Lanka

The monarchy was usually given to a male, but on four occasions, women ruled the country. The first was Anula (48-44 BC) the consort of King Coranaga. She became queen after poisoning Coranaga and his successor. She thereafter fell in love successively with a palace guard, a city carpenter, a wood carver, and the purohita. She poisoned all four. The next queen was Sivali (33 AD), also known as Revati. She was the sister of king Chulabhaya (32-33 AD) and therefore belonged to the ruling house. She ruled for four months after the death of Chulabhaya.

by Kamalika Pieris

In the ancient period Sri Lanka was initially organised into a number of "polities", each headed by a chieftain or ruler. This ruler was called raja, gamani, or aya. Inscriptions by these rulers, dated to the third and second centuries BC have been found. These polities were set up all over the island. There were polities at Periyapuliyankulama (Vavuniya district), Dimbulagala (Polonnaruwa district), Kusalanakanda and Bovattagala, (Batticaloa district), Bambaragala and Gonawatte (Kandy district), Lenagala and Yatahalena (Kegalle district), Heepavuva (Kurunegala district), Ambulambe and Pidurangala, (Matale district), Olagampola near Mahiyangana (Badulla district), Tankitiya (Balangoda district), Kolladeniya (Monaragala district), Kotadamuhela (Hambantota district) and Koratota near Kelani river. A map containing these locations is given in W. I. Siriweera’s History of Sri Lanka.

These polities thereafter consolidated into larger units. This was the start of the unification of the island. Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) ruled over the largest of these at Anuradhapura. He ruled over the present north, north-central and north-western provinces. He did not rule over the whole of Sri Lanka. Others were ruling in places such as Kataragama, Magama and Seruvila. But the idea of a single consecrated king for the whole island clearly developed during this time for Devanampiyatissa was consecrated as king. All the items needed for the consecration were sent over from India by king Dharmasoka. The ceremonial dress included a fan, a crown, a parasol, pair of shoes, turban and ear ornaments. Tilak Hettiarachchy who researched into the early period of kingship in Sri Lanka firmly declares that the concept of kingship did not come from India. It was a natural development of local leadership.

A similar momentum towards unification could also be seen at Ruhuna. King Kavantissa who ruled at Magama also wished to unite the island. He first unified Ruhuna. He married into the Kalyani dynasty and thus united it with the Magama dynasty. Kingdoms such as Girinuwara and the royal houses of Soma and Seru were subdued and added to his kingdom. Kavantissa did not live to see the unification of the island. His work was completed by his son Dutugemunu, who fought his way up to Anuradhapura and thus brought the island under his rule. Sri Lanka became a unified state under a single king during the time of Dutugemunu (161-13 7 BC). The vision of a single consecrated king who was treated as the king of the whole island now became a reality.

Then came a succession of Sinhala kings who ruled throughout the ancient and medieval periods. This Sinhala succession received a jolt when the Portuguese tried to replace the Sinhala king with a local representative of the Portuguese court. This failed and the Sinhala monarchy continued until 1815. In 1815 the island went under the rule of the British king and the local monarchy disappeared. A list of the Sinhala kings from Dutugemunu to Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe could be found in K. M. de Silva’s History of Sri Lanka.

Historian S. Pathmanathan says "An outstanding feature of the Sinhala monarchy is its almost unbroken continuity lasting for nearly two thousand years and its close connection with Buddhist institutions. No dynastic state has ever had such a continuity and stability in the neighbouring Indian sub continent. Nor could any kingdom in the countries of South East Asia, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam lay claim to such long continuity and historical experience. Sri Lanka was ruled from a single dynastic centre from early historical times."

This continuity was no accident. The king was considered essential for political stability. A concept of kingship was developed and the status of the king was carefully protected and looked after. Consecration was considered important. There was a coronation where the king received the symbols of office. The main symbol of office was initially a staff. This changed later to the chatra or parasol. The king also received other symbols of office such as the ekavali string of pearls. The queen had to be present at the coronation. This helped establish the lineal succession. Initially the kings used-their own names, such as Mihindal and Kasabal. The common man also had these names. Then these changed to Mahinda and Kassapa. There was a further name change in the Polonnaruva period to the Sanskritised Vijayabahu and Parakrama Bahu.

Ideally, the royal family was to be recruited from the Kshatriya or warrior class, but in practice, this was not always the case. The kings did not always come from the correct line of succession. When a dynasty died out, a provincial chief or some other person who showed leadership potential was allowed to take over and start a fresh dynasty. Vijayabahu III, who started the Dambadeniya dynasty, was not related to any previous king. According to the Pujavali, he started as a Vanni chieftain. The people accepted him because he successfully organised a resistance against the invader Magha.

There were several alternative routes to the throne. The eldest surviving male member of the royal family was regarded as the successor to the throne. Most of the time, therefore, it was the king’s brother who took the throne and he was usually middle-aged by then. The king’s sons could also inherit the throne. The sister’s son held a privileged position and was eligible if the king had no brothers or sons. By the 12th century, matrilineal descent was accepted and by the 13th century, it was considered necessary for the king to be of "equal birth" on the mother’s as well as the father’s side. The succession also depended on popular consent and acceptance.

On many occasions, when the king died, there were several claimants to the throne, resulting in a rush for the position of king. There was only one consecrated king and all the claimants wished to be that king. Some claimants went at each other. Mahinda II (777-797) was challenged by Dappula, the son of his predecessor. Dappula waged war and was defeated.

When Upatissa II (517-518) became king, Silakala (518-531) went off to the hill country, raised a rebellion, ousted Upatissa and became king. When Silakala died in 531 AD, there was a scramble for power between his three sons. Moggallana III rebelled against the reigning king Sadhatissa and occupied Magallegama near Nikaveratiya, from where he could not be dislodged.

Jettatissa I (263-273) adopted a different method. There had been a division of opinion as to whether Mahasena or Jettatissa should succeed Gotabhaya. Jettatissa ordered the doors to be closed after Gotabhaya’s funeral procession had left and killed all the ministers who opposed him.

Some claimants took a constructive approach. When Vasabha died in the year 111, the island was ruled in three principalities by his three sons. Since the division was among the legitimate heirs, the unity of the state was not shaken. Under Dharma Parakramabahu IX (1489-1513), the Kotte Kingdom was ruled by him and his four brothers. The brothers were united and ruled from their independent centres of administration at Madampe, Manikkadavara, Raigama and Udagampola.

Kings married within the royal family. The Habassa inscription shows that Gajabahu married a daughter of his paternal uncle. So did Sirinaga (Vessagiriya inscription). Kings also married into the ruling houses of foreign kingdoms. In the medieval period, the emphasis was on marriage alliances with the Kalinga kingdom of India (now Orissa). Kalinga had traded with Sri Lanka early on and is said to have colonised the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar and parts of Java. Mahinda IV (956-972) got down a princess of the ruling family and made her his first mahesi though he already had a queen. The children of this union were given royal title and the son succeeded as Sena V (972-982).

Vijayabahu I (1055-1110) married Tilokasundari of Kalinga. Tilokasundari arrived with her relatives, three princes and their sisters. She produced five daughters and a son, Vijayabahu I. King Nissankamalla and his stepbrother Sahassamalla also came from Kalinga, Queen Kalyartawati, the second of Nissankamalla, was of pure Kalinga descent. Additional royal alliances were created by exporting the Sinhala princesses. A Sinhala princess was sent to Cambodia during the time of Parakramabahu I.

The monarchy was usually given to a male, but on four occasions, women ruled the country. The first was Anula (48-44 BC) the consort of King Coranaga. She became queen after poisoning Coranaga and his successor. She thereafter fell in love successively with a palace guard, a city carpenter, a wood carver, and the purohita. She poisoned all four. The next queen was Sivali (33 AD), also known as Revati. She was the sister of king Chulabhaya (32-33 AD) and therefore belonged to the ruling house. She ruled for four months after the death of Chulabhaya.

Queen Lilavati became queen thrice between 1197-1212, and was on the throne, off and on, for a total of five years. Kalyanavati (1202-1208) ruled after Lilavati’s second time as queen. According to the Batalagoda inscription, Kalyanavati ruled over three autonomous provinces. Lilavati was the chief queen of Parakramabahu I and Kalyanavati was the second queen of King Nissankamalla. Lilavati and Kalyanavati were placed on the throne to prevent others taking over the throne. Their rule adds up to 11 years. Coins were issued in their names. They seem to have ruled well. Lilavati was praised in the Sasandavata and the Dhatuvamsa. She established an alms house in Anuradhapura for feeding the poor and funded it with taxes levied from the south Indian traders (Nanadesi) operating in Sri Lanka.

Kalyanavati built many viharas and endowed them with land.

A good number of kings exerted their authority over the whole island. In the Anuradhapura period, which is at the start of the ancient period, the inscriptions of Mahaculi Mahatissa (77-63 BC) are found in the north as well as the south. The inscriptions of Vasabha (67-111) have been found in different parts of the island. His authority was acknowledged throughout the island. The kings who ruled from Kutakanna Tissa, (42-22 BC) to Amadagamani (19-29 AD) as well as Saddhatissa, Vattagamani, Gajabahu I, Dhatusena, Aggabodhi I and Aggabodhi II also ruled over the whole island. Gajabahu unified the island by marriage alliances. Parakramabahu (Polonnaruwa period) and Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467) of Kotte ruled over the whole island. This is not an exhaustive list of the kings who exerted power over the whole island.

The notion of a separate "northern kingdom" with a separate set of Tamil kings should not be taken seriously. There is no evidence to support it. Jaffna was originally an island separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of water. It was known as Nagadipa. It was linked to the mainland only in the 18th century. Jaffna was under the Sinhala king during the ancient period. In the medieval period, Jaffna went under three separate south Indian kingdoms. It was first ruled by the Cholas, then it became a vassal state of the Pandyas and thereafter was ruled by the Vijayanagara kingdom. Then it went under Portuguese rule. The list of "Jaffna kings", created in the Dutch period, is probably false. The regnal dates are missing. Regnal dates are available for the Jaffna Kings only from Pararajasekeran (1478-1519) to Cankili (1616-1620). K. M. de Silva says that even these dates may not be accurate.

The king was expected at all times to protect Buddhism and promote the welfare of the people (loka sasana). He had to keep the island unified and maintain peace. He was expected to protect his subjects from external and internal strife and prevent famine, disease and want. To achieve this, he had to carry out certain tasks. He had to develop the economy. He had to direct and coordinate all administrative, judicial and welfare functions within the kingdom. As supreme judicial authority, the king had to maintain law and order. The ideal king was a benevolent monarch working for the good of the people. The ideal kingdom was one that was free of all thorns.

kingship in Sri Lanka was neither absolute nor despotic. In theory the king was supreme and did not have to account to anybody. He could inflict capital punishment and could demote a person from his social position. Bhatika-abhaya degraded some people to the level of scavengers for eating beef.

There were also constraints that prevented the king from exercising arbitrary power. One such was popular opinion, which was a formidable check on the king. Any act that was unpopular would help a pretender to the throne. The king was also expected to respect tradition and custom (pera sirit) when taking decisions. For example, though the king was the fount of justice, there was a body of accepted laws. If he violated these, he invited disaster. There was also a code of conduct for the king. He was expected to rule according to the ten kingly virtues (dasa raja dharma).

Great care was taken in the training of the future king. The heir was chosen by the king and given the designation of yuvaraja, uparaja or mahapa. This heir apparent was put in charge of a major province, so that he could have some experience of governing. Sena II appointed his younger brother as uparaja and assigned Dhakkinadesa to him. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the heir apparent governed the north western province.

Since the king was expected to be learned and wise, the heir to the throne was also given a sound education, According to the, Dambadeni asna, Parakramabahu II (1236-1270) was expected to plough through an enormous number of subjects. The subjects included the three pitaka of the Buddha dhamma and several languages, including Sanskrit and Pali together with the two schools of grammar that existed at the time. Because of the Tamil threat, he had to know Tamil as well. He also had to master eighteen crafts and study sixty-four arts, some of which are named in the asna. They include astrology, law, and logic. He was also trained in archery and sword ..Q. Historians point out that this was probably an ideal list rather an account of the actual attainments of any king.

On the whole, the Sinhala kings did well and the island prospered under them. There were periods of peace and calm. Here are three instances. Firstly, the period from Kutakanna tissa (44-22 BC) to Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD). Secondly, the period of Mahallaka naga (136-143) and his two sons, Bhatika tissa and Kanittha tissa (143-186) Thirdly, the Dambadeniya, to Yapahuwa period from 1232 to 1293. Some dynasties lasted for a considerable length of time. The dynasty of Manawamma (684-718) lasted for well over three centuries.

The kings supervised the central government, a ministered justice and saw to the poor. They encouraged scholarship and literature. Many ‘vamsas’ were written in the reign of Parakrama bahu II. The court of Aggabodhi I was adorned by twelve accomplished poets (maha kaveen). Parakrama bahu VI helped a large number of writers and poets. His minister Salavata Jayapala, asked Vaftave to write Guttila kavya. Some of the, kings were themselves scholars and poets.

Moggallana II was described as an intellectual and an incomparable poet (asadrusha) Sena I wrote Siyabaslakara. Parakama bahu VI composed Ruvanmala, a lexicon for poets. Kasyapa V wrote Dampiya atuvava, getapadaya and Parakrama bahu II wrote Visuddhimagga sannaya. These two books were based on many sources. These writers must have been extremely learned.

The kings have also been interested in scientific disciplines such as medicine. King Buddhadasa, wrote Sarartha sangraha, a text on medicine. Aggabodhi VIII (766-772 AD) studied the medicinal plants in the island to find out whether they were wholesome or harm for the sick. Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) also knew something about medicine. It is possibly this bent for scientific thinking that led to their interest in irrigation and engineering.

The Sinhala kings were responsible for the much-admired irrigation and water management schemes of ancient Sri Lanka. These schemes were extensive and complicated and needed much advance planning. Vasabha constructed eleven reservoirs and twelve canals including Alahera. Mahasena constricted 16 reservoirs and tanks, including Minneriya, Kavudulu, Hurulu and Vahalkada. He built reservoirs using the tributaries of the Deduru oya and developed the Kala- Malvatu network. Dhatusena constructed the Jaya Ganga and eighteen reservoirs, including Kala wewa, and Giants tank. Moggallana II built the largest tank, Padaviya as well as Nacchaduwa, the key reservoir for all the Malvatu oya irrigation projects. Moggallana ranks third below that of Mahasena, and Dhatusena when it comes to tank building. The kings made mistakes as well. In the time of Vira Parakrama bahu VIR (1477-1489), a canal intended to connect Kotte and Negombo, brought in salt water that destroyed the cultivation in the surrounding areas.

Life was not always rosy for the Sinhala king. Some kings had to face rebellions. Mahinda II had rebellions in Malaya, Ruhuna, Dhakkina, and Paccinadesa. The kings did not give into these rebellions. There was an island wide rebellion when Bhuvaneka bahu VI took office. During this, in 1470, a mission from Burma had arrived at Valigama. The king sent his brother, Ambulugala Raja by sea to Valigama to engage in operations against the rebels. The rebels were led by Garavi amatya who occupied the coastal regions between Kotte and Valigama. The mission had to stay several months at Valigama, until the rebellion was suppressed and then proceed to Kotte.

Some kings were ineffective. Mahinda V was so weak that he could not properly organise even the collection of taxes. Some kings were unable to exert authority over the whole island. Malaya and Ruhuna were independent during the reign of Silamegliavanna. (619-628) AD). Kassapa, I did not have territorial authority over the whole island during the last years of his reign. Parakrama bahu IV had no control over Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or even Yapahuwa.

Some kings did not last long. Khujjanaga, eldest son and successor to Kanittha tissa, was slain after one year and replaced by his younger brother Kuncanaga, who lasted only two years. Pandita Parakrama bahu, VII was murdered before he could reign for even a few months. King Sangha tissa loved to eat jambu. He used to take his retinue and visit a place that had jambu trees. These frequent visits were a nuisance to the people of the am So they poisoned the king, and thus got rid of this unwelcome guest.

The king was expected to protect Buddhism and rule according to Buddhism. The first was easy, the second was very difficult. The kings responded very readily to the task of protecting and nurturing Buddhism. There was a historical precedent for this. Devanampiyatissa, who was the first consecrated king of the island, helped to establish the sasana. He provided lands and buildings for the sanga. He established the Mahavihara monastery. He provided caves at Cetiya pabbata for the vas season. He built the Thuparama and had a great and beautiful stone image placed within it. He encouraged people to embrace Buddhism.

From Devanampiyatissa onwards Buddhism received royal support. Temples and stupas were built in many parts of the island, including Nagadipa (Jaffna) and Mahagama in Ruhuna. Dutugemunu built the Ruvanveliseya and Mirisavati. Vattagamani built Abbayagiri Dagoba and Mahasena built Jetavana. The maha thupa at Mihintale was built by Mahadathika Mahanaga and the Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa by Parakramabahu I. Vasabha had four images of the Buddha made and installed in a temple in the courtyard of the sacred Bo tree. The viharas were given valuable gifts such as gold and silver coverings for the stupas, gold images, golden door frames as well as jewellery, including the personal jewellery of kings and queens.

The kings set up monasteries for the sangha. Vattagamani constructed the Abhayagiri monastery and Parakramabahu I built the Alahana pirivena. They financed them lavishly. They gave the revenue of tanks and whole villages for the upkeep of the monasteries. The kings of the line of Vasabha made excessive land grants to the sangha. Vasabha granted a thousand and eight karisas of land to Anurarama, a share in the water of the canal of Alisara to the Mucela vihara and a pond to the sangha at Galambathitta vihara. The kings also issued regulations to ensure that these monasteries functioned effectively and granted immunities to the monasteries. The Mihintale tablets of Mahinda IV contain the orders of the king for the administration of the monasteries and the granting of immunities. The Anuradhapura slab inscription dated to Kassapa V gave rules for the Abhayagiri vihara.

Vesak was celebrated by the state. Dutugemunu held 24 Vesak pujas and Bhatika abhaya held 28 Vesak festivals. There were regular Buddhist festivals and processions sponsored by the king, with dancers and musicians supplied by him. Kassapa IV, Sena II and Mahinda IV held relic festivals. Udaya I donated funds to meet the expense of festivals relating to the Kholakkhiya Buddha image. In the time of Mahadathika Mahanaga a new festival named Giribhanda puja was introduced. Kings also held other lavish Buddhist festivals. Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD) celebrated the completion of the Mahathupa at Mihintale with a grand festival, which was like a carnival.

The kings improved access to religious places and renovated temples. Parakramabahu VI renovated the Kelaniya temple and had a railing fixed in Sri Pada, at places where the ascent was difficult. They arranged for public recitals of the dhamma. Kassapa II and Sena II sponsored public recitals of the abhidamma. Mahinda IV arranged a recital of the Vinaya. Mogallana II and Mogallana III held recitals of the Tipitaka. The recitals arranged by Kassapa II and Mogallana II included the commentaries.

The king encouraged the public to embrace Buddhism. Dutugemunu Appointed monks to recite bana and paid them from his own funds or that of the treasury. He had banapoth written and placed in each dharmasalava. Buddhadasa appointed a person in each village to read the banapotha and preach bana. Kassapa II arranged for monks to go about the country preaching the dhamma. Mogallana II lured children with sweetmeats to make them study the dhamma.

The kings took an interest in the study and preservation of the doctrine. They encouraged the writing of commentaries. Kassapa II had a compendium of the Pali texts composed. Vijayabahu I had the entire canon copied and presented to the sangha. Mahinda IV commissioned a commentary on the Abhidhamma. Some kings were themselves Buddhist scholars. Sena IV could discuss Buddhism with the monks. Kassapa V knew enough to deliver sermons. Vijavabahu I studied the Dhammasangani, a part of the Abhidhamma, and translated it to Sinhala. This is now lost. Various schools of Buddhist thought came into the island periodically from India. Kings took an interest in them. Sena I established Virankurarama where 25 monks from each of the major sects in Sri Lanka could study these new ideas.

Thanks to the kings, Buddhism was able to take root and flourish in the island. Sena II restored old viharas, gave endowments to temples, had images of the Buddha made, celebrated Wesak, and held a grand pirit ceremony. Vijayabahu I renovated viharas, built new ones, promoted the study of the dhamma. Parakramabahu VI regularly celebrated relic festivals and gave alms with atapitikara to the monks. He built viharas, set up scholastic institutions in various parts of the country and saw that the sangha were well organised and well looked after.

Ancient Sri Lanka practised both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. Both schools owed their position to the support of kings. Theravada was the first to arrive. It was brought by the Sthaviravadin Buddhists led by Mahinda. It became entrenched in the island, thanks to the support of kings led by Devanampiyatissa. The Mahayana school of Buddhism developed later in India. Mahasena became the first king to extensively support Mahayana in Sri Lanka. He was known even in India for his leanings towards Mahayana. Other kings followed his example. Dhatusena and Sena II patronised Bodhisatva statues. Silakala and Sena I honoured Mahayana manuscripts brought in their reigns.

Royal support for Mahayana varied with each king. Some kings, like Aggabodhi II supported the Abhayagiri and ignored the Mahavihara. Other kings like Aggabodhi I opposed Mahayana. Eventually, all three major viharas, Mahavihara, Abhayagiri and Jetavana received equal treatment at the hands of the king. The kings were also receptive to other splinter schools of Buddhism that developed in India. A sect called Vajiriya vada was introduced into Sri Lanka in the reign of Sena I who was converted.

The sangha was independent of the king, but they needed his support for certain matters. The kings did not hesitate to step in when it became clear that royal intervention was necessary. Vijayabahu I obtained Buddhist ordination from Myanmar in order to re-establish the sangha after the Cola occupation. Some monks who left Sri Lanka during the Cola occupation had gone to Myanmar. Parakramabahu I "unified" the sangha, which at the time consisted of several nikayas. It is said that the king was on his feet a whole night while a session of conciliation was in progress. Vijayabahu III set up an ecclesiastical court. Parakramabahu VI issued disciplinary rules for the sangha. In the medieval period, kings granted formal approval to ecclesiastical appointments such as those of Mahasami and Sangharaja. In the Dambadem period even heads of monastic colleges required the king’s approval.

The kings watched over the sangha. They took an interest in the upasampada or higher ordination of the monks. Some kings held annual ordination ceremonies. Vijayabahu II and Parakramabahu II arranged festivals in connection with a total of eighty upasampada ceremonies, each lasting seven days, "in order to invigorate the sangha". Parakramabahu I also arranged for upasampada festivals. The sangha was periodically cleansed on the orders of the king. Unsuitable monks were expelled. There were nine "purifications" in the Anuradhapura period, in the reigns of Moggallana I, Kumara Dhatusena, Moggallana III, Silemaghavanna, Aggabodhi VII, Sena II, Kassapa IV, Kassapa V and Mahinda IV. This was followed by at least three more thereafter, including one by Vijayabahu, I. These purifications depleted the ranks of the monks. Kassapa V recruited samaneras to fill their places after his purification.

The kings also saw to the general welfare of the sangha. They made regular grants of food, clothing, medicine and other requisites. Mahinda IV assigned the profits from a betel stall for the purchase of medicines for monks in a certain temple. Voharika Tissa spent a hundred thousand pieces of money to redeem monks who had got into debt. Kaniraju Tissa settled a dispute among the monks at Cetiyagiri.

The king was expected to rule according to Buddhism. The ideal Buddhist king was a king who avoided violence and conquered through righteousness. As late as the 13th century, the Saddharmaratnavali advised the king to rule righteously. A model Buddhist king actually emerged from the roster of Sinhala kings. King Siri Sangabo became the model for a righteous king. From the 7th to the 12th century, every alternate king assumed the name of Sirisangabo. From the 13th to 16th century, every king had his name as the throne name. Kings also took other Buddhist names such as Buddhadasa and Dathopatissa.

Buddhism was made an integral part of the institution of kingship. The vessels used for the consecration ceremony were made out of clay taken from several specified locations. These locations included places linked to Buddhism like the Mahavihara. The tooth relic and bowl were symbols of legitimate kingship. The king had to be in possession of both if he wished to be recognised as the king of Sri Lanka. The alms bowl of the Buddha, which was brought with the bodily relics of the Buddha, was kept in the palace. It became an object of veneration.

The tooth relic was housed in a shrine close to the palace. This policy was followed in all the capitals, whether Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or the later capitals like Yapahuwa. The Temple of the Tooth at Kotte was a three-storeyed building in the form of a conical crown. It was constructed of stone with finely carved granite pillars, surmounted by a pinnacle of solid gold. The tooth relic was kept in the innermost casket of four golden caskets of decreasing size. Rituals were performed thrice a day to drums and other music. The Gira Sandesaya refers to fine music that could be heard outside the ramparts.

The first thing the king did on ascending the throne was to show his interest in Buddhism by giving alms, granting endowments, building or repairing monasteries, and holding grand religious festivals. Mahadathika Mahanaga offered himself, his queen, his two sons, the state elephant and the state horse to the sangha. The sangha refused the offer.

Kings were careful to stay on the good side of the monks. It was in the interest of the king to do so. The sangha had close contact with the public and had great influence over the people. Approval of the monks ensured public support. The sangha were also a powerful means of propaganda for the king. When Mahinda II was ready to launch a campaign against Rohana he assembled the monks at Thuparama and obtained their consent to his military project.

The king was expected to take advice from the sangha. Some monks held a special position in this respect. Saddhatissa held the views of the Thera Kala Buddharakkita in high esteem. Thera Mahanaga was greatly respected by Kanittha tissa. The sangha was also useful in another way. The monasteries were safe havens for the royal princes during dynastic squabbles, and some of them actually donned robes for their personal protection. Mahanama and Silakala became monks till it was safe for them to claim the throne. Kanittha tissa, who was afraid of Queen Anula, went away and became a monk. When he came back he killed Anula and became king.

Walpola Rahula points out that the kings forgot Buddhism and killed one another on their way to seizing the throne. Buddhism was not a deterrent when the king’s political power was uncertain. But immediately after they ascended the throne, they became devoted Buddhists and performed "meritorious" activities to evade the evil consequences of their past. Kassapa II broke into the dagabas of Thuparama and Dakkhina vihara as well as other temples and seized valuables in order to maintain his army. But when he became king, he liberally built and repaired monasteries, granted endowments to temples and held religious festivals and ceremonies.

Some kings were hostile to Buddhism. Dathopatissa I plundered the monasteries of the three fraternities, carried away golden images and broke the umbrella of the Thuparama. Coranaga was hostile to the sangha and destroyed 18 viharas where he had not been given refuge during the days of his rebellion against Mahaculi Mahatissa. Vickramabahu I rejected monks from their viharas in Polonnaruva and turned the buildings into barracks for foreign mercenary solders. He expropriated temple lands and took their accumulated collections of gold, pearls, precious stones and jewellery. The monks sent the tooth and bowl relics to Ruhuna for safety. However, some kings were genuinely religious. Saddhatissa meditated at Cetiya pabbata on Poya day. Upatissa II observed ata-sil on four days of the month. He ate from the public refectory of the sangha to show that he was the servant of the sangha.



The writings of A. L. Basham, K. M. de Silva, H. Ellawela, C. Godakumbura, P. A. T. Gunasinghe, R. A. L. H. Gunawardana, T. Hettiarachchy, H. B. M. Illangasingha, S. Kiribamune, A. Liyanagamage, C. W. Nicholas, S. Paranavitana, S. Pathmanathan, L. S. Perera, Walpola Rahula, R. H. I. S. Ranasinghe, S. Ranwella, W. I. Siriweera, R. Thapar, V. Vitharana, W. M. K. Wijetunge were used for this essay.


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