Kingdoms in Sri Lanka – I

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Sri Lankan history dates back to around 35,000 years. Kingdoms in Sri Lanka began from about 6th century BCE. Here’s the first of two guides to help you better understand it.

Tambapanni (now Mannar) was the first that belonged to the Kingdom of Rajarata from 543-505 BC during the time of Vijaya. Following the rule of King Vijaya, was the Kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara or “Vijithapura” from 505-377 BC. The Prime Minister of Vijaya was the ruler and following his death arrived his nephew, Panduvasdeva. The remaining successors of this kingdom include Upatissa, Panduvasdeva, Abhaya, Tissa and Pandukabhaya.

Anuradhapura Kingdom

Anuradhapura Kingdom is the first established kingdom in Sri Lanka among the Sinhala people. Its rule began with King Pandukabhaya and the Kingdom flourished from 377 BC to 1017 AD. One of the important events during the Anuradhapura Kingdom include the introduction of Buddhism. This was made possible due to the strong union between King Asoka of India and King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka.

Let’s take a look at the notable successors during this era. Some of these rulers are also of South Indian origin.

King Pandukabhaya

The founder and ruler of Upatissa Nuwara from 437-367 BC and first monarch of Anuradhapura. He had two sons Mutasiva and Suratissa. King Mutasiva ruled for over sixty years  (367-307 BC) and constructed Mahamevnawa Park. Mutasiva had 09 sons some of the known successors include Devanampiyatissa, Uttiya, Mahasiva and Asela.

King Devanampiyatissa

Son of Mutasiva, Devanampiyatissa ruled from 307-267 BC. An important monarch as Buddhism was first introduced during his reign. Following his rule, King Uttiya was in power for a short period from 267-257 BC. Succeeding his reign was brother and King Mahasiva from 257-247 BC.

It was only after Mahasiva’s reign did the younger son of King Pandukabhaya, Suratissa, rule from 247-237 BC. However, his reign was short lived. Two traders from South India, Sena and Guttika killed King Suratissa and ruled the Kingdom for 22 years. Following their rule, another son of King Mutasiva, Asela came in to power from 215-205 BC only to have been killed in battle by Tamil Chola Dynasty member named “Ellalan”.

Ellalan

Having gained supremacy over the Pandukabhaya dynasty, Ellalan ruled Anuradhapura for over 44 years. During his reign from 205-161 BC he was known to be a wise ruler until he was defeated and exiled by King Dutugamunu in 161 BC.

King Dutugamunu

Perhaps among the favourite rulers of the Kingdom, Dutugamunu was also known as Duttagamani Abhaya. An important ruler in the era, Anuradhapura flourished during his reign 161-137 BC) and the kingdom expanded vastly. Dutugamunu was best known and accompanied by ten giant warriors or Dasa Maha Yodhayo. Some of his known work include Mirisavetiya, Lovamahapaya and the 90m tall Ruvanwelisaya. His contribution to the Kingdom are among the Anuradhapura Sacred City tour itineraries today.

Following his rule, the throne did not go to his son due to being married to a lower cast. Instead, his successor was his brother King Saddha Tissa. Having ruled from 137-119 BC, his successors included his sons, Thulatthana, Lanja Tissa, Khallata Naga and Valagamba.

King Valagamba

Having ruled the peaceful Kingdom for only a mere five months, before he was thrown out by South Indian invaders in 103 BC, King Valagamba was in exile for 14 years hiding in the Dambulla Caves. Following a long exile, Valagamba defeated the invaders and took back the throne in 89 BC. In gratitude, he converted his exile-home into a temple and also constructed the Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura.

After the time of Valagamba, many in his family ruled the Anuradhapura Kingdom from 76 BC to 66 AD. King Subharaja was the final known King from house of Vijaya.

During this period however, it’s important to speak of the very first Queen in power from 47-42 BC. Queen Anula, was also the first female head of state in Asia. Having been in power for five years, history states that she poisoned at least four husbands and consorts during her time in order to stay in power.

Anuradhapura Kingdom after Vijaya

With the house of Vijaya ending in 66 AD with the killing of King Subharaja by King Vasamba, a new era began. Vasamba went on to construct 11 reservoirs and 12 canals during his reign from 67-111 AD to support paddy cultivation of the country. Following his reign, his son, grandson, King Gajabahu I and many more went on to rule the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

Here are some other cool facts about the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

  • King Mahasen (277-304 AD) built the tallest stupa Jethavanaramaya, sixteen large tanks and two irrigation canals, the largest among them the Minneriya Tank.
  • King Dhatusena (455-473 AD), another great sucessor who was responsible for many developments in the Kingdom. During his time, he built 18 irrigation tanks, a large canal or Yodha Ela (Jayahanga) and the iconic 43 ft “Avukana” statue of Lord Buddha.

The Anuradhapura Era ended with King Mahinda V (98 -1017 AD).  The Kingdom was the beginning of Buddhism and saw the start and increase in the number of temples, dagobas and stupas and steered the country’s development towards paddy with tanks and canals.

To this date, the beauty of Anuradhapura continues to be marvelled and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Nastashia Ekanayake - Yoho Creator

Nastashia Ekanayake is a travel enthusiastic who enjoys travelling solo when budget and time permit. Having currently moved back to Sri Lanka, she functions as an administration professional by day and wanderer and foodie by night. She enjoys journaling her adventures, exploring the joys of Instagram and looking up her next travel destination.