Mahavamsa is a Combination of Fiction with Significant Source of Material on Early History of Ceylon
It is unfair to dismiss Mahavamsa authored by Mahanama Thero as fiction. That does not mean that the work is ‘history’ in the modern sense of the word. Mahavamsa is a combination of fiction and some significant source of material about the early history of Ceylon.
According to the author, Mahavamsa was composed for the “serene joy and emotion of the pious” reveals the purpose of compiling the chronicle. That is to extol Buddhism, the battle cry of King Dutugemunu was “not for the Kingdom but for the Agama” proves the intention of the author.
Mahavamsa narration of the three visits of Buddha to Lanka through the air is pure fiction. Buddha’s missionary work was confined to North India and not South India. According to the chronicle, his first visit was to Mahiyankana, in the south-east, where Buddha is said to have quelled the heathen Yakshas. His second is said to be to Naga Dipa, in the north, where he quelled two warring factions of Naga Kings. On his third visit, Buddha is said to have gone to Kelaniya and several other places, including Anuradhapura, and “left traces of his footprints plain to see on Sumanakuta”.
There is no evidence whatsoever, not even legends in India or of any Buddhist country to support the claim Buddha visited Lanka.
The Mahavamsa links the story of the landing of Vijaya, the “original myth”, to a series of religious myths regarding the place of Buddhism in Lanka, as ordained by Buddha. According to the chronicle, Vijaya landed on the day Buddha passed into Nibbana (death and enlightenment) in 543 BC.
The landing of Vijaya is a legend and there is no historical existence of Singapura in Bengal/Orissa. His father was born to a Princes and a Lion is equally a fiction. Vijaya was simply the personification of early North Indian settlers who made Ceylon their home.
Mahavamsa records the existence of original clans of Lanka as Yaksha (Yakku), Naga, Deva, and Raksha (Rakus). To this list must be added the Veddas who are still extant. According to Mahavamsa Pulindas (Veddas) are the descendants of the children born to Vijaya and Kuveni.
The Nagas were the dominant group and they were followers of Vedic (Hindu) religion. Until the conversion of Devanampiya Tissa (BC 247-207), the kings who ruled Ceylon including the legendary Vijaya were Hindus. Even after embracing Buddhism, the Naga kings retained the suffix Naga/Tissa to their names like Mahanaga (n) Sri Naga (n) Abhaya Naga (n) etc. This practise continued until the 7th-8th century when Buddhist Nagas took the identity as Sinhalese
This explains why to this day Buddhists worship Hindu gods and prominent Sinhala leaders like Mrs Bandaranaike, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena regularly visited temples like Thiruppathy to receive blessings. The Tamil – Sinhala New Year is common to both.
Duttu Gemunu (BC 101-77) is easily the hero of Mahavamsa. While Dipavamsa devoted only 10 poems to narrate the story of Duttu Gemunu Mahavamsa blows up his birth and conquest of Anuradhapura in1 11 Chapters.
The war between Ellalan (BC 205 – 161
) and Duttu Gemunu was not a war between Tamil King and Sinhalese king; it was a war between the Hindu Tamil King and Buddhist Naga King! It was also not a war for Buddhism, but a war to regain the Kingdom his (Duttu Gemunu) forefathers ruled. Mahavamsa clearly says Duttu Gemunu was a Naga prince on both his paternal and maternal side. His mother was the daughter of the Naga King who ruled Kalyani (Kelani). He is related to Muttra Sivan, father of Devanampiya Tissa.
In course of time, Hindu Nagas were assimilated into Tamil race and Buddhist Nagas and Tamil Buddhists given the identity of Sinhalese about the 8th century AD. In fact, the term ‘Sinhale’ appeared only in the 13th Century AD Chulavamsa and NOT in Deepavamsa/Mahavamsa.
If not for the Mahavamsa, the story behind the large stupas in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, such as Ruwanwelisaya, Jetavanaramaya, Abhayagiri vihāra and other material would never have been known.
While Mahavamsa omitted to mention the Tamils as the original people of Lanka along with Nagars, Yakshas, Rashes, later it owns up Tamils presence beyond the river Maha Ganga (Mahaweli Oya) through Kavan Tissa who ruled Mahagama.
King Kavan Tissa tells his son Duttu Gemenu “Let Tamils rule that side of the Maha Ganga [now Mahaweli Ganga] and the districts this side of the Maha Ganga are more than enough for us to rule”. Duttu Gemunu on his march to Anuradhapura defeated 32 Tamil chieftains who ruled Maharagama to all the way to Anuradhapura.