How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on the contemporary history of Sri Lanka?

How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on the contemporary history of Sri Lanka?


(Tamil Mirror propose to interview community leaders and/or activists in Toronto/Canada with a view of recording their involvement  in Canadian Tamil community. It is important that the future generations know about them and our history in Eelam and Canada. A person's life history is like a novel. In fact it is better since truth often is stranger than fiction! It is based on the real life of real people. In this important effort we presented Veluppillai Thangavelu with a set of 5 questions to obtain his views)
1) What do you think of the Mahavamsam’s influence  on contemporary  political history of Sri Lanka?

Before I answer the question,  I like to give a short narration of this Pali Chronicle  Mahavamsa (Greater Chronicle) written in the 5th century AD and how it came to influence  and shape contemporary history of Ceylon. Without exaggeration,  it  could be claimed  that the discovery of  Mahavamsa and its translation into English has reshaped and redefined  the country's politity from the beginning of the 19th century. The present clash between Thamils and Sinhalese is  due to the myth perpetrated by Mahavamsa that Thamils are invaders, vandals, marauders,  heathens and infidels while the Sinhala - Buddhists are considered as protectors of Buddhism and  saviours of Sinhalese. In fact the claim is made, like the Jews claiming they are  the chosen people of god, the Sinhalese too claim they are the chosen people of Lord Buddha. I will deal with this myth  later on.

Today,  political Buddhism  promotes  the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhist people, rather than religion (Buddhism) as a path for personal salvation, and it is the main impediment to peace in the Island of Sri Lanka. Because,  it is based on the doctrine of primacy and superiority of the Sinhala race and the Buddhist religion.

The Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, better known as Sinhala-Buddhism (or Mahavamsa-Buddhism) is different from the Theravada Buddhism practiced in other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and so on. The Buddhists in these countries follow only the Buddhist scriptures Tripitaka (Viniya, Sutta, Abhidhamma), whereas in Sri Lanka the 'Mahavamsa,' which was written by Mahanama Thero  more than 1000 years after the passing away of Lord Buddha is also considered as a part of the Buddhist scriptures. This despite the fact it deals mostly with mythical or supernatural Buddhist history, some episodes of which are copied from the 'Mahabaratha' and 'Ramayana.' Since the Buddhist scriptures (Tripitaka) and the mythical Buddhist history (Mahavamsa) were both written in the Pali language, a Buddhist layperson who does not understand Pali cannot understand the difference between the two and, therefore, he/she believes everything that the Buddhist monks preach, to be the true words of Buddha.

Due to ignorance, even the present day Sinhala-Buddhists still believe that they are blood relatives of Buddha because, according to the Mahavamsa, their forefather Pandu-Vasudeva belongs to the Sakya clan, and is a relative of the Buddha where as the historians believe that the term ‘Pandu’ in Pali means Pandyar who ruled Madurai as capital.

I have read Part 1 and 11 The Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle)  translated from the original Pali into English by George Turnour, CCS in 1836  with extensive Notes by L.C. Wijesingha, Mudaliar.  George Turnour was a historian and officer of the Ceylon Civil Service.

A German translation of Mahavamsa in prose  was completed by Wilhelm Geiger in 1912. It was published by T.W.Rhys Davids and  published in the same year.  This was then translated into  English  by Mabel Haynes Bode and the English translation was revised by Geiger.  The lengthy introduction by Geiger to the book covers  63 pages. I have  this volume also in my possession, but I  loath to make claim  that I have  made an in-depth study of the chronicle.  I have also read a Thamil translation of Mahavamsa.

It is only after Mahavamsa   was translated from Pali to English,  the  educated Sinhalese - Buddhists came to  know the existence of the chronicle. Before that it has remained in obscurity for almost 1,300  years.

Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara  maintained chronicles of Sri Lankan history, starting from the 3rd century BCE. These annals were combined and compiled into a single document in the 5th century by the Buddhist monk Mahanama Thero. It was written based on prior ancient compilation known as Dipavamsa which is much simpler and contains less information than the Mahavamsa.  Mahanama Thero  relied on this text, as he mentions in the preface to Mahavamsa.

A companion volume, the Culuvmsa ("lesser chronicle"), compiled by Buddhist monks, covers the period from the 4th century to the British  takeover of Sri Lanka in 1815.  The Culavamsa opens in the middle of the 37th chapter where the earlier Mahavamsa came to an abrupt end, and completes the 101th chapter which ends thus: “After they had brought the King, the torturer of his people, to the opposite coast the Ingirisi by name seized the whole kingdom” (i.e. the British took possession of the whole island with the capture of the last king of Sinhalese Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe). The Mahavamsa has been updated since, and now comprises the whole history of the island to date. Unlike in the earlier period Sinhala prose has replaced Pali verses.

Mahavamsa like  the pre-historical epics Ramayana and Mahabharath is replete with myths, legends, supernatural believes and popular tradition  yet gives a fairly reasonable account of kings who ruled Ceylon from about 6th  century BCE and their period of reign.

To understand today's politics of the  majority Sinhala - Buddhists one must read Mahavamsa written  more than 1000 years after the passing away of  Buddha  and considered as  part of the Buddhist scriptures, although it deals mostly with mythical or supernatural Buddhist history.  Mahavamsa is the most important epic poem in the Pali language. Mahavamsa, stripped of its poetic exaggerations and the beliefs that were probably commonplace at that time narrates the history of early kings beginning with Vijaya (544 BCE-505 BCE ) and ending with Datusena (452 BCE - 470 AD).  If not for the Mahavamsa and the earlier Dipavamsa  the early history of Ceylon would have remained somewhat dark and blank.  It is one of the few documents containing material relating to the Nāgas and Yakkhas, the  highly civilized indigenous people of Lanka prior to the legendary arrival of Vijaya.

Both the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa contain many stories of miracles orchestrating the historical events that they record, like the arrival of Arahat Mahinda with his companions flying through the air by their miraculous powers, and his making his followers invisible to the King until he was prepared to face them without fear. Such normally incredible details are only part of a tradition. They are meant to reflect the attitude of awe and  piety of the faithful towards those events which were extraordinarily significant for them.  It is siomewhat similar to  the Hindu puranas based on imaginary  and supernatural characters.  

The coming of Buddhism to the island, whether it happened over a period of time or during a single visit of some missionaries, actually took place; it is a historical fact. So is the conversion of  the Hindu  King  Devanampiya Theesan (BCE 247 - BCE 207)   (second son of Mutha Sivan - 307 BCE - 247 BCE) of the land to  Buddhism.  The extraneous mythical, legendary details express a people’s collective unconscious desire to emerge out of their own insignificance. In Ramayana too the monkey Hanuman flies over the ocean to Lanka in search Seetha the wife of Raman.  In fact,  Mahavamsa contains some episodes  which are copied from the 'Mahabaratha' and 'Ramayana.'

The grand purpose of  compiling Mahavamsa by Mahanama Thero was to  generate  “…for the serene joy and emotion of the pious”, (as the less than ideal English rendering of the original Pali phrase tells us). The book is intended to generate ’serene joy and emotion’ in the pious. Each chapter of the Mahavamsa and its sequel the Culavamsa ends with the postscript “Here ends the … chapter, called ‘…….’.  The Mahavaamsa was written unmistakenly from the Sinhalese - Buddhist standpoint extolling the victories of the so-called victories of the Sinhalese over the Thamil kings.  I say the "so-called" because  many Sinhalese kings were in fact Nagas or Thamils. Even the hero of Mahavamsa Dutugemunu (101-77 BCE) was a Naga prince from his paternal as well as maternal lineage.  The war between Dutugemunu and Ellalan was not a war between Sinhalese and Thamil kings, but a war between a Buddhist Naga and a Hindu Ellalan! More on this later.

Mahavamsa mentions that Buddha made three visits to Lanka. The first visit was made to Mahiyangana in the ninth month after the Buddha attained enlightenment. The Mahavamsa says that he conquered the yakshas there and sent them to an island named Giri, thereby setting the stage for the establishment of Buddhism in the country later on, where the Buddha knew that the dharma would prevail "in all its glory".

The Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka was made to Nagadipa in the fifth year after attaining enlightenment, where he settled a dispute between Naga  kings Chulodaran and Mahodaran regarding a jewelled chair.  In the eighth year after enlightenment, the Buddha made his third and final visit to the country accompanied by 500 bhikkhus. This visit was to Kalyani (Keleniya) and was due to an invitation by a Naga king named Maniakkhithan  who had asked Buddha to come to his kingdom during the previous visit. After a discourse on Dharma at Maniakkhithan’s, the Mahavamsa records that the Buddha visited Samantakuta, Diva Guhava, Dighavapi and the places where the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwanwelisaya, Thuparamaya and Sela Cetiya now stand. The Samantapasadika mentions that the Buddha also visited Mahiyangana during this visit.
The Naga people were the aboriginal inhabitants, who ruled the coastal districts of mostly the Western and Northern Ceylon, particularly the Jaffna peninsula from the 6th century BC to 3rd century BC. The interchangeable names Nagar and Naka or Naga, meaning Cobra or Serpent were applied to and self-described by this snake - worshiping people.

According to the Mahavamsa the Nagars were a set of super natural beings whose natural form was a serpent, but they could assume any a form at will. There were three Naga Kingdoms as Wadunnagala (Kalpitiya) ruled by a Naga King called Choolodaran, Samudra Naga Bhavanan (Nagadeepa) ruled by a Naga King Mahodaran and Kelani (Kelaniya) ruled by a Naga King called Maniakkhithan  and they lived as three separate Naga communities.

There is not the slightest doubt that the author of Mahavamsa wanted to give Lanka a Buddhist identity by concocting this fictitious story. By all accounts and sources in India, Buddha never travelled beyond the borders of India. In fact he never even visited the three Thamil kingdoms in the south. He came only as far as Bihar.

Buddha a historical figure (The word Buddha is a title for the first awakened being in an era) whose real name is Siddhartha Gautama was born in a royal Hindu Kshatriya family in Kapilavastu in Nepal in 624 BC.  His father was Suddhodana Shakya and his mother Maya Devi.  The famous Indian emperor King Asoka after his conversion to Buddhism erected a pillar exactly where Gautama Buddha was born. The pillar is still standing in Kapilavastu, Lumbini situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in modern Nepal.

Siddhartha was brought up by his mother's younger sister, Maha Pajapati. By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince, and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built for him.  When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā (Pāli: Yasodharā). According to the traditional account she gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is then said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life's ultimate goal.

At the age of 29, despite his father's efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic. Accompanied by Channa and aboard his horse Kanthaka, Gautama deserted  his palace for the life of a mendicant.

Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. He left Rajagaha and practised under two hermit teachers. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama (Skr. Ārāhat Kālāma), he was asked by Kalama to succeed him. However, Gautama felt unsatisfied by the practise, and moved on to become a student of Udaka Ramaputta (Skr. Udraka Rāmaputra). With him he achieved high levels of meditative consciousness, and was again asked to succeed his teacher. But, once more, he was not satisfied, and again moved on.

Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practising self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path.

According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditative jhana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn't work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way —a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.

Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodhi Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth.  Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment.  According to some traditions, this occurred in approximately in 589 BCE. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or "Awakened One"/ "The Enlightened One").

According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the "Four Noble Truths", which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that's free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or "defilements" (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the "end of the world", in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. Immediately after his awakening, the Buddha debated whether or not he should teach the Dharma to others. He was concerned that humans were so overpowered by ignorance, greed and hatred that they could never recognise the path, which is subtle, deep and hard to grasp. However, in the story, Brahmā Sahampati convinced him, arguing that at least some will understand it. The Buddha relented, and agreed to teach.

According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state and abandon his earthly body. After this, the Buddha ate his last meal which he had received as an offering from a blacksmith named Cunda. Falling violently ill, he then finally entered Parinirvana in Kushinagar in 543 BCE.

The Buddha's final words are reported to have been: "All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence." His body was cremated and the relics were placed in monuments or stupas, some of which are believed to have survived until the present. The Temple of Tooth or "Dalada Maligawa" in Kandy is the place where what some believe to be the relic of the right tooth of Buddha.

The above short narrative of Buddha's life and death rules out any possibility of his visits to Lanka, and that too through the air! (To be continued)

 How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence  on contemporary  history of Sri Lanka?

 The myth Sinhala - Buddhists  the Chosen people 


The Mahavamsa story about Vijaya's  lineage   is not at all flattering to the Sinhalese who claim they are the descendants of Vijaya! It  seems  though Mahanama Thero actually believed that Vijaya's grand father was a lion! Sihabahu since he had slain a lion was called Sihala (Pali word for lion) and  by the reason of the ties between him and them, all those followers of Vijaya were also called Sihala. This is the only reference to the use of the word Sihala in the whole of Mahavamsa.  (Chapter 7 - page 58) There was no collective identity of a race or people at this stage.

Vijaya was of evil conduct and his followers were even (like himself), and many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them. Angered by this the people told the matter to the king; the king, speaking persuasively to them, severely blamed his son. But all fell out again as before, the second and yet the third time; and the angered people said to the king: 'Kill thy son.'

Then did the king cause Vijaya and his followers, seven hundred men, to be shaven over half the head and put them on a ship and sent them forth upon the sea, and their wives and children also. The men, women, and children sent forth separately landed separately, each (company) upon an island, and they dwelt even there. The island where the children landed was called Naggadipa and the island where the women landed Mahiladipaka. But Vijaya landed at the haven called Supparaka, but being there in danger by reason of the violence of his followers be embarked again.

The prince named VIJAYA, the valiant, landed in Lanka, in the region called Tambapanni on the day that the Tathagata lay down between the two twinlike sala-trees to pass into Nibbana.

Here ends the sixth chapter, called 'The Coming of Vijaya', in the Mahavamsa, compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious.

The author of Mahavamsa   artificially  fixed  the arrival of Vijaya and his compatriots to coincide with the passing away of Buddha in 543 BCE.  Due to this subterfuge,  the period of reign of  kings who ascended the throne after Vijaya has been  stretched to fill the gap. For example,  King Pandukhabaya, nephew of Abhayan was supposed to have ruled from 377 BC - 307 BC that is 70 years. Muttasivan, son of Pandukhabaya ruled for 60 years (BC 307 . BC 247)  Thus father and son ruled for 130 years!  It may be remembered that the  story of Vijaya's arrival was written almost 1,000 years after the event in the 6th century CE.

Since the purpose of the author  compiling the  Mahavamsa was for the serene joy and emotion of the pious Buddhists he introduces myths and legends about Buddha's super natural powers and his ability to give command to Hindu gods! This despite the fact that Buddha himself did not believe in gods, worshiping of Hindu gods or ceremonies and rituals performed in Hindu temples by Bhramin priests. To follow Buddha it is necessary to retire from  the world completely. Buddha preached to the ascetic monks and not to ordinary people. Buddhism changed after Buddha's death.

Mahavamsa (Chapter 7 )  by claiming Vijaya landed in Lanka, in the region called Tambapanni on the day that the Tathagata lay down between the two twinlike sala-trees to pass into Nibbana vests the "origin myth" with religious significance.

According to Mahavamsa Buddha just before his nibbana summoned Sakka (Indra), the king of gods and the divine protector of the Sasana (the dhamma doctrine as taught by Buddha) and gave instructions to protect Vijaya and his 700 hundred followers. Mahavamsa narrates thus:  " WHEN the Guide of the World, having accomplished the salvation of the whole world and having reached the utmost stage of blissful rest, was lying on the bed of his nibbana, in the midst of the great assembly of gods, he, the great sage, the greatest of those who have speech, spoke to Sakka1 who stood there near him: `VIJAYA, son of king Sihabahu, is come to Lanka from the country of Lala, together with seven hundred followers. In Lanka, O lord of gods, will my religion be established, therefore carefully protect him with his followers and Lanka."

When the lord of gods heard the words of the Tathagata he from respect handed over the guardianship of Lanka to the god who is in colour like the lotus.

We already saw visits by Buddha to the island to make the pious believe that the island has been consecrated  by the Buddha on the full moon of Phusa,, himself  set forth  to the isle of Lanka to win his doctrine should shine in glory."

And no sooner had the god received the charge from Sakka than he came speedily to Lanka and sat down at the foot of a tree in the guise of a wandering ascetic. And all the followers of VIJAYA came to him and asked him: `What island is this, sir?’ `The island of Lanka, he answered. `There are no men here, and here no dangers will arise.’ And when he had spoken so and sprinkled water on them from his water-vessel, and had wound a thread about their hands he vanished through the air. And there appeared, in the form of a bitch, a yakkhini who was an attendant (of Kuvanna).

Based on this myth that Buddhist religion will be established in Lanka and therefore carefully protect Vijaya with his followers  has acquired as a religious edict with a political message.  The Sinhalese majority often use Mahavamsa as a proof of their claim that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation from historical time. The British historian Jane Russell  has recounted how a process of "Mahavamsa bashing" began in the 1930s, especially from within the Tamil Nationalist movement. The Mahavamsa, being a history of the Sinhala Buddhists, presented itself to the Tamil Nationalists and the Sinhala Nationalists as the hegemonic epic of the Sinhala people.

This view was attacked by G. G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Nationalist Tamils in the 1930s. He claimed that most of the Sinhala kings, including Vijaya, Kasyapa, and Parakramabahu were Tamils. Ponnambalam's 1939 speech in Navalpitiya, attacking the claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese, Buddhist nation was seen as an act against the notion of creating a Buddhist only nation. The Sinhala majority responded with a mob riot, which engulfed Navalapitiya, Passara, Maskeliya, and even Jaffna.

The riots were rapidly put down by the British colonial government, but later this turned through various movements into the civil war in Sri Lanka which ended for the time being  in 2009. 0

This "Mahavamsa mindset" deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Sinhalese is the epi-centre of  racial conflict between the Sinhalese and the Thamils. cause of conflict. has come to stay.  JHU parliamentarian Ven.Ellawela Medhananda Thero  recently claimed that Sinhalese are the original inhabitants of  Sri Lanka and others (Thamils and Muslims) came as invaders or illegal immigrants. He asked the Muslims who came to Sri Lanka for trade to go back to Saudi Arabia from where they came.

A Buddhist Vihara named Mahatota Raja maha vihara has come up within 50 meter distance of famed Thiruketheeswaram temple in the Mannar district. The ancient traditional name for Thirukethiswaram area was Mahathottam. This was anciently a port area and is called Mahathottam.

Mahatota Rajamaha Vihara is built under an old bo tree on the way to Thirukethiswaram along the A 32 highway. The vihara has been completed and opened up recently and decorated with bright lights. A Buddha statue weighing 150 kg has been installed. The name board of the vihara is not in Thamil or English but only in Sinhala. This is a prime example of  the Mahavamsa mindset which represents  Vijaya and his supposed descendants - the  Sinhala - Buddhists  - as the chosen people with a special mission to preserve and foster the Buddhist religion in Lanka!  The irony is Vijaya was not a Buddhist, but a Hindu and not Sinhalese but Bengali - Kalinga descent! (To be continued)

 How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on contemporary history of Sri Lanka?

  The myth Sinhalese have ruled Lanka from its founding to its ending


 According to Mahavamsa, Vijaya and his Pandyan queen had no issue.  He died without a heir. The Chief Minister and Purohita of Vijaya, Upatissa (505-504 BC) took over as Regent. Upatissa is a Saaligrama Brahmin according to the publication “King Vijaya and his Successors” which is based on A short history of Lanka by Humphry William Codrington.   He built a city Upatissa Nuwara named after himself, which became the second kingdom to be established in Sri Lanka.  He governed for one year until the arrival of Pandu Vasudeva, the younger son of Vijaya’s brother, Summitha.

The name  Pandu Vasudeva (444-414 BC) suggests he was of Pandyan descent. He was most likely, the  brother or  nephew of the queen.  The Deepavamsa does not say king Panduvasudeva, it says Panduvasa. As per B.C. Law, Mahavamsa  author seems to be  overtly desperate to spin a story to hide this fact.

According to the Mahavamsa, Vijaya sent a message to his brother king in Bengal to come and take over the throne of Lanka and the latter sent one of his sons. Mahavamsa claims that Pandu Vasudeva was Vijaya’s nephew. This appears very unlikely. Did Vijaya keep contact with his family which exiled him and his followers as good riddance? Could Vijaya’s brother send his young son to live among evil people so far away? Why did Vijaya not marry into a family in Bengal and instead chose a Pandya princess? As Vijaya had a large number of siblings, he could have married even a sister, following on the example set up by his father.

There was a Sakya Pandu, the first cousin of Buddha,  who was pushed out of his tribal area by the Kosala king to the Gangetic valley where he set up his rule. His daughter was so much sought after by other kings that he exiled her in a boat as he was not willing to accept any one of them as a suitor for his daughter. When his daughter accidentally landed in Lanka, her brothers welcomed her. The Mahavamsa does not say why and how her brothers came to Lanka. Was Lanka Buddhist at that time? As the Buddha’s three visits to the island should be dismissed as fiction, Sakya Pandu’s story appears to be another fiction, invented just to explain away this inconvenient Pandu/Pandya connection. If there is any truth in this story, all the Sinhala Buddhist kings might have been claiming that they were Pandus. Pandu Vasudeva  married the daughter (Bhaddakaccana) of Sakya Pandu. He was succeeded by his son Abhaya and he in turn after an interregnum of 17 years by his nephew Pandukabhaya (377 - 307 BC) who made Anuradhapura the capital. Pandukhabaya married Suvannapalli.

Pandukabhaya's first act as King was to honour those who had loyally stood by him and had otherwise assisted him before and after the war with his uncles. The Yakkha Chieftaness, Cetiya, he treated as a distinguished guest and housed her in the precincts of his own palace. and the two Yakkha princesses, Kalavela and Cittaraja received special consideration at his hands. The two were comfortably settled on the east and south-west sides respectively of the City, and on festival-days, at plays and theatrical performances, the King in public assembly sat with Cittaraja beside him on a seat of equal height as a special mark of his favour and friendship.  From this narrative it is clear the aboriginal people were not treated as a conquered race.

Pandukabhaya was King of Upatissa Nuwara and the first monarch of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and 6th over all of the island of Sri Lanka since the arrival of the Vijaya. According to many historians and philosophers, he is the first truly Sri Lankan king since the Vijaya's arrival and also the king who ended the conflict between the Sihala clan and local community, reorganizing the populace. His story is one wrapped in myth and legend.

The Mahavamsa gives the names of various tribes that inhabited Ceylon. They are Sihala (lion) Tarachcha (hyena) Lambakanna (hare or goat) Balibhojaka (crow) Moriya (peacock) and Kulinga (fork-tailed shrike). All these different names show that the early tribes of Ceylon were people who took their clan names from totems or emblems of animals or birds which they worshipped.

Pandukhabaya was succeeded by Muttusiva (307-247 BC) and the name suggests that he was of Pandyan lineage and Hindu by religion.

Scholars like Paranavitana and his followers find this statement of the Mahavamsa very uncomfortable. Therefore, they have taken pains to argue that even though the people of the Pandya kingdom might have been Tamil, the Pandya dynasty could have been a north Indian ksatriya dynasty, as they don’t want to accept that even from the beginning of the historical period, Tamils could have been an important element in Lankan population.

The Mahavamsa describes the Pandyan ladies as originating from "Dakshina Madura" or "Southern Madura", which most Sinhala scholars have interpreted as modern-day Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, "Northern Madura" being the city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. This is a solid evidence of the relationship that Sri Lanka and South India have shared for long. There are several such recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandyas and the Cheras.

This is solid evidence of the relationship that Sri Lanka and South India have shared for long. There are several such recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandyas and the Cheras.

The crude attempt to associate  Vijaya with Buddhism, though he is not a Buddhist himself, foreshadows the kingdom's conversion in Devanampiyatissa's time. Vijaya's relationship with Kuveni explains the presence of Yakkhas and his marriage to the Pandyan princess establishes a precedent for the often cordial relations between the Sinhalese and the various kingdoms of South India.

Of late there is an attempt to discount the coming of Vijaya and his compatriots to Lanka and portray him as not an immigrant, but an  indigenous person.   On May 23, 1956 the government issued a commemorative stamp showing Kuveni sitting under a tree spinning cloth and Vijaya asking for asylum. There was a hue cry by Sinhalese nationalists against depicting Vijaya as arriving from India and marrying Kuveni a Yakkha princess since that proved that the original inhabitants of Lanka are Yakkhas/Tamils and not Sinhalese. The stamp was later withdrawn from circulation although it got circulated all over the world before that. If the Sinhalese claim that they were the descendents of the indigenous people, they should accept that the Mahavamsa is a fiction. They cannot have it both ways! It is said that when Vijaya abandoned  Kuveni and her 2 children, she was broken hearted and alone, cursed Vijaya, his Kingdom and all the future rulers of the Island stating that no ruler would ever be able to rule the land without bloodshed and strife!

The claim that all, or at least a majority, of the Sinhala speaking people in Sri Lanka are descendants of Vijaya and his men and that their original ancestor was a Lion is a myth.  There is absolutely no historical evidence to justify such claim. On the contrary, none of the Kings and Queens of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa has ever claimed to be Sinhalese. But they have consistently claimed in their inscriptions to be from the Kshatriya race and the Indian Sun Dynasty and Lunar Dynasty (stone inscriptions in Sun & Moon symbols). The ancient Mahavamsa chronicle of Sri Lanka too refers to the ancient kings and queens of Sri Lanka, not as Sinhalese, but as Kshatriyas from the Solar and Lunar dynasties.

According to history, there was no such Mega Sinhala race in Sri Lanka until the British period. And the fact that most castes have their own origin stories proves this. For Instance the Salagamas caste traces it’s origin in Sri Lanka to Nambudiri and other Saligrama Brahmins who came over from Malabar (i.e. Kerala) at the invitation of king Vathhimi Buvenekabahu of Sri Lanka. The ‘muni’ clan names of the Salagamas bear testimony to their Brahmin origins. The Durava Caste traces its origins from the Nagas and retinues of Pandyan consorts. The Navandanna caste traces it’s origin to Vishwakarma. According to J. Kulatilleka, the Deva Kula (Also known as Wahumpura, Hakuru etc) are descended from a deified ruler of Sabaragamuwa named Sumana. (Ravaya 30 August 1998). According to Warnapurage Lal Chandrasena of Wellawatte, the Sunnakkara Kula (Also known as Hunu) are descended from the traditional architects and Engineers of Sri Lanka (Ravaya 13 September 1998). According to T. Jinadasa Fernando Municipal Councillor of Telawala Moratuwa, Kumbal Kula (Also known as Badal, Badahela etc.) are descended from the first humans to graduate from wild men to humans who cooked their food in clay pots; Cultivating and other occupations are breakaways from this first quantum leap. (Ravaya 18 October 1998). According to I. Gunaratna of Malvana, the Bathgama caste is descended from the original pre- Vijayan, Yakkha (also called Yaksha) inhabitants of Sri Lanka; They were expert Artificers. (Ravaya 13 December 1998).

The 'Govi Caste', according to the Janawamsayaa and other sources, sprung from the feet of Brahma as this fourth category was the lowest of the four caste groups. And the modern Govigama caste is an identity created during the British period by the De Saram Mudaliar family of mixed origins. Many successful individuals of unknown provenance joined the Govigama group during the British period. Several other castes trace their origin to the guilds that arrived with the sacred Bodhi tree.

Interestingly not a single caste has an origin story connecting it to Vijaya or a beastly lion ancestor. And according the Mahavamsa the term Sinhala could be applied only to the initial royal family and not to the population at large. And according to the chronicles Vijaya did not father a successor.

Four dynasties have ruled the kingdom from its founding to its ending. The rulers from Vijaya to Subharaja (60–67) are generally considered as the Vijayan dynasty.  Pandukabhaya was the first ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom belonging to this dynasty. The Vijayan dynasty existed until Vasabha of the Lambakanna (Nagas or mixed Tamils)  clan seized power in 66 AD. His ascension to the throne saw the start of the first Lambakanna dynasty, which ruled the country for more than three centuries.  A new dynasty began with Dhatusena in 455 AD. Named the Moriya dynasty, the origins of this line are uncertain, but  like the Lambakanna a blend of Naga and the Tamil (Ancicent Jaffna - page 230). Although some historians trace them to Shakya princes who accompanied the sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka. The last dynasty of the Anuradhapura period, the second Lambakanna dynasty, commenced with Manavanna (684–718) seizing the throne in 684 and continued till the last ruler of Anuradhapura, Mahinda V (AD 1001 - 1017).

The myth is floated that an unbroken line of Sinhalese kings beginning from Vijaja ruled Ceylon. But a critical look at history, including Mahavamsa, belies such a proposition. We know for certain that at least the last 4 kings of Kandy were Tamils! Up till the 9th century the kings who ruled Ceylon were Nagas and Tamils not Sinhalese. Their Naga origin and their Tamil connections are clearly seen from their names. (To be continued)

How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on contemporary history of Sri Lanka?

 The war between Ellara and Duttugemenu was not a war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese


As mentioned earlier four different dynasties ruled Ceylon from the beginning till the second Lambakanna dynasty that commenced with Manavanna (684–718) seizing the throne in 684 and continued till the last ruler of Anuradhapura, Mahinda V (AD 1001 - 1017).

Many kings who ruled from Anuradhapura had the word Naga/Tissa as their suffix. There are too many such names and I have omitted the names of Tamil kings who ruled from Anuradhapura. Vijaya did not have the expected son from his Pandyan Queen and died without a heir.

2. UPATISSA                     505-504 BC – The Chief Minister of Vijaya – He took over as Regent as Vijaya died without an heir. He governed for one year until the arrival of Panduvasudeva, the younger son of Vijaya’s brother, Summitha.

3. PANDUVASUDEVA     504-474 BC – Son of King Vijaya’s brother – This version is disputed. The Deepawamsa calls him Panduvasa and not Panduvasudeva. Apparently he is a prince  who came from Pandya dynasty.

4. ABHAYA                      474-454 BC – Eldest son of King Panduvasudeva

5. TISSA                            454-437 BC – Second son of King Panduvasudeva, younger brother of King Abhaya

6. PANDUKABHAYA      437-367 BC – Grandson of King Panduvasudeva, Son of Princess Umaddha Citta, Nephew of King Abhaya and Prince Tissa
  1. MUTASIVA                   367-307 BC – Son of King Pandukabhaya8. DEVANAMPIYA TISSA 307-267 BC – second Son of King Mutasiva – His close friendship with Emperor Asoka in India led to the introduction of Buddhism by Mahinda in 247 BC.
  1. UTTIYA                            267-257 BC – Brother of King Devanampiya Tissa10. MAHASIVA                    257-247 BC – Second (younger) brother of King Devanampiya Tissa
    11. SURATISSA                   247-237 BC – Younger brother of King Mutasiva
    13. ASELA                            215-205 BC – Youngest (ninth) brother of King Devanampiya Tissa, younger brother of King Suratissa regained the kingdom from the Indian invaders.
    15a KELANI TISSA – Mahanaga who established a local sovereignty at Magama devoted his time to religion.
    15b KAVAN TISSA              - Son of Gotabhaya succeeded his father on his death at Magama.
  2. DUTU GEMUNU aka DUTTA GAMINI or GAMINI                  161-137 BC – Eldest son of King Kavan Tissa of Ruhuna, (originally the ruler of the southeastern kingdom of Ruhuna), took power from Elara by killing him in battle after a 15 year campaign.
17. SADDHA TISSA                  137-119 BC – Brother of King Dutu Gemunu

18. THULLATTANA (Tulna)     119 BC – Second son of King Saddha Tissa ruled for 1 month and 10 days.

19. LAJJA TISSA                      119-110 BC – Older brother of King Thullattana, oldest son of King Saddha Tissa.

20. KHALLATANAGA (Kalunna) 110-104 BC – Brother of King Lajja Tissa, third son of King Saddha Tissa.

21. VALAGAMBAHU I                 104 BC – (Vattagamini Abhaya), fourth son of King Saddha Tissa.

22. PULAHATHA                         103-100 BC – Tamil Chief – Reigned supreme for three years and was murdered by his Chief Minister, Bahiya.

23. BAHIYA                                100-98 BC – Chief Minister of Pulahatha – Ruled for two years with the Chief Panayamara as Prime Minister who also murdered him and took power.

24. PANAYAMARA                 98-91 BC – Prime Minister of Bahiya – Reigned for seven years and was murdered by his Chief Minister, Piliyamara

25. PILAYAMARA                   91 BC – Chief Minister of Panayamara – Reigned for seven months and was murdered by his Chief Minister, Dathiya

26. DATHIYA                           90-88 BC – Chief Minister of Pilayamara – Reigned for two years before he was killed.

27. VALAGAMBAHU I            88-76 BC – Fourth son of King Saddha Tissa (137-119BC), restored the dynasty of King Dutu Gemunu.

28. MAHA CULA MAHA TISSA      76-62 BC – Son of Khallatanaga (110-104BC), nephew and adopted son of Valagambahu I.

29. CHORA NAGA (Mahanaga)      62-50 BC – Son of Valagambahu I, cousin of Maha Cola – He succeeded his cousin, Maha Cola, after his death. Lanka is said to have suffered a famine during this era. Cora Naga was killed with poisoned food given to him by his consort Anula after a reign of twelve years.

30. KUDA TISSA                            50-47 BC – Son of Maha Cula Maha Tissa – After the death of Cora Naga, Kuda Tissa seized the throne and made himself king and took Anula as his Queen.

31. Queen ANULA                          47-41 BC – Widow of Chora Naga and Kuda Tissa, first Queen of Lanka.

32. KUTTAKANNA TISSA            41-19 BC – Brother of Kuda Tissa (50-47BC), second son of Maha Cula Maha Tissa (76-62BC)
33. BHATIKA ABHAYA               19 BC-9 AD – Bhatika Tissa, son of Kuttakanna Tissa

34. MAHA DHATIKA MAHA NAGA        9-21 AD – Brother of Bhatika Abhaya

35. AMANDA GAMINI ABHAYA           21-30 AD – Son of Maha Dhatika Maha Naga

36. KANIRA JANU TISSA                       30-33 AD – Brother of Amanda Gamini Abhaya

37. CHULABHAYA                                 33-34 AD – Son of Amanda Gamini Abhaya (21-20AD)

38. QUEEN SIVALI                                 34 AD – Sister of Chulabhaya – ruled for 4 months

39. ILA NAGA                                       34-44 AD (Elunna) – Nephew of Queen Sivali – built Tissamaharama (Naga Maha Vihara)

40. CHANDHRAMUKA SIVA             44-52 AD – Son of Ila Naga – slain by younger brother Yasalaka Tissa

41. YASALAKA TISSA                       52-60 AD – Younger brother of Candhamuka Siva

42. SUBHA                                        60-66 AD – The hall porter of King Yasalaka Tissa

43. VASABHA                                66-110 AD – A member of the Lambakanna clan.

44. VANKANASIKA TISSA 110-113 AD – Son of Vasabha – during this period  Chola king named Karikkal invaded the country and took away 12,000  indeginous people to work on the irrigation project of the Kaveri river in South India.

45. GAJABAHU I 113-125 AD – Son of Vankanasika Tissa – invaded the Chola kingdom and brought back the 12,000 Sinhalese plus another 12,000 Chola captives. He also brought back the tooth relic of the Buddha and introduced the Pattini cult to Sri Lanka.

46. MAHALLAKA NAGA 125-131 AD – Father-in-Law of Gajabahu I

47. BHATIKA TISSA 131-155 AD – Son of Mahallaka Naga

48. KANITTHA TISSA 155-183 AD – Younger brother of Bhatika Tissa

49. KHULA NAGA 183-185 AD – Son of Kanitta Tissa

50. KHUDA NAGA 185-186 AD – Brother of Cula Naga – great  famine “EKANALIKA” occurred during this era

51. SIRI NAGA I 186-205 AD – Brother-in-Law of Kuda Naga

52. VOHARIKA TISSA (Vira Tissa) 205-227 AD – Son of Siri Naga I – suppressed heresies and checked Vaitulya doctrine.

53. ABHAYA NAGA 227-235 AD – Brother of Voharaka Tissa

54. SIRI NAGA II                   235-237 AD – Son of Voharaka Tissa (205-227AD)

55. VIJAYA KUMARA         237-238 AD – Son of Siri Naga II

56. SANGHA TISSA             238-242 AD – A Lambakanna

57. SIRI SANGHA BODHI I 242-244 AD – A Lambakanna

58. GOTHABHAYA             244-257 AD – Minister of State, a Lambakanna – seized the Capital. King Sangha Bodhi fled to the forest. Abhayagiri monks succeeded to the Dhakkina Valley. A new sect called Sagaliya was formed. A price was offered for the Kings head and he surrendered himself.

59. JETTHA TISSA I              267-269 AD – Eldest son of Gothabhaya

60. MAHASENA (Maha Sen)       269-296 AD – Brother of Jettha Tissa, younger son of Gothabhaya

61. KIT SIRI MEGHAVANNA (Kirti Siri Mevan) 296-324 AD – Son of Mahasena – Sacred Tooth Relic was brought back from Kalinga by Princess Hemamali.
  • JETTHA TISSA II                     324-333 AD – Brother of Kith Siri Meghavanna
63. BUDDHADASA                       333-362 AD – Son of Jettha Tissa II

64. UPATISSA I                             362-404 AD – Eldest son of Buddhadasa

65. MAHANAMA                          404-426 AD – Brother of Upatissa I

66. SOTTHISENA                          426 AD – Mahanama’s son born to a Tamil mother

67. JANTU (Lamani Tissa)           426-427 AD – Husband of Sangha, daughter of Mahanama by his native Queen

68. MITTA SENA                        427-428 AD - A noted plunderer – rule of Lambakanna Dynasty ended here.
  • KASYAPA                          470-488 AD - son of King Dhatusena by a Pallava woman, killed his father and moved his capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiraya. He was later dethroned by his exiled brother, Mogallana, who returned the capital to Anuradhapura – built the famous rock fortress at Sigiriya and also adorned the rock cave faces with the world famous paintings of Sigiriya. His rule ended when his brother Mogallana returned with an army from India and he committed suicide during this battle.
77. MOGALLANA (Mugalan)                        488-506 AD – Son of Dhatusena, brother of Kasyapa.

78. KUMARA DHATUSENA (Kumaradasa) 506-515 AD – Son of Mogallana.

79. KIRTI SENA                                           515 AD – Son of Kumara Dhatusena

80. SIVA                                                       515 AD – Uncle of Kirti Sena – Murdered by Upatissa.

81. UPATISSA II                                         515-517 AD – Son-in-Law of Kumara Dhatusena (506-515AD)

82. SILAKALA                                           517-530 AD – A prince of Lambakanna stock – previously son-in-law of King Dhatusena and brother-in-law of Mogalanna. Later son-in-law of Upatissa. Had three sons.

83. DATHAPATISSA                                  530 AD – Second son of Silakala – had his brother Upatissa murdered to become king for 6 months.

84. MOGALLANA II (Dala Mugalan)         530-550 AD – Eldest brother of Dathapatissa – killed his brother.

85. KIRTI SIRIMEGHA (Kuda Kitsirimevan) 550 AD – Son of Mogallana II

86. MAHANAGA                                           550-553 AD – A prince from pure Moriya stock who occupied the position of Minister of War under King Dathapatissa                                  (539AD)

87. AGGABODHI I (Akbo)                             553-587 AD – brother of Mahanaga, Nephew and Sub-King of Mahanaga

88. AGGABODHI II (Kuda Akbo)                  587-597 AD – Nephew and son-in-law of Aggabodhi I

89. SANGHA TISSA II                                   597 AD – Brother and Sword-bearer of Aggabodhi II

90. DALLA MOGALLANA                           597-603 AD – Commander-in-Chief during the reign of Kuda Akbo (587-597AD)

91. SILAMAGHAVANNA                            603-612 AD – King Mogallana’s Sword-bearer, a prince of the Lambakanna stock.

92. AGGABODHI III                                     612-628 AD – Son of Silimeghavanna

93. JETTHA TISSA III                                 613 AD – Son of King Sangha Tissa

94. AGGABODHI III                                   613-623-640 AD – Son of Silimeghavanna (603-612AD) – restored to power

95. DATHOPA TISSA                              624-636 AD – General of Jettha Tissa (Dathasiva) – Despoiled all the wealth of the Temples and religious places insteasd of paying homage and respect to them. Aggabodhi III returned with an army from India and deposed him and ascended the throne for the third time. Aggabodhi was again defeated by Dathopa Tissa and fled to the Ruhuna District where he died of a malady that afflicted him in 628 AD. Thereupon the sub-king Kassapa defeated Dathopa Tissa and drove him to India and ruled himself. Dathopa Tissa returned with a large army from India but was defeated and killed in 636 AD.

96. KASSAPA II                                      636-645 AD – Brother of Agbo II, Sub-King of Dathopa Tissa

97. DAPPULA I                                       645 – Son in law of Silimeghavanna

98. DATHOPA TISSA II                        645-654 AD – Nephew of Dathopa Tissa I (Hattha Datha) – died in 673

99. AGGABODHI IV (Siri Sangha Bodhi III) 654-670 AD – Younger brother of Dathopa Tissa

100. DATTA                                                  670-672 AD – A chief of Royal blood who was placed on the throne by a wealthy Tamil Officer, Pottha-Kuttha

101. HALHA-DATHA I                          672 AD – A youth also placed on the throne by the Tamil Officer, Pottha-Kuttha after the death of Datta

102. MANAVAMMA                           672-707 AD – Son of Kassapa I, descendant of Silamegahavanna - In the seventh century AD. Tamil influence became firmly embedded in the island's culture when  Prince Manavamma seized the throne with Pallava assistance. The dynasty that Manavamma established was heavily indebted to Pallava patronage and continued for almost three centuries. During this time, Pallava influence extended to architecture and sculpture, both of which bear noticeable Hindu motifs. By the middle of the ninth century, the Pandyans had risen to a position of ascendancy in southern India, invaded northern Sri Lanka, and sacked Anuradhapura. The Pandyans demanded an indemnity as a price for their withdrawal.

103. AGGABODHI V                                 707-713 AD – Son of Manavamma

104. KASSAPA III                                     713-720 AD – Brother of Aggabodhi V

105. MAHINDA I                                       720-723 AD – Younger brother of Kassapa III

106. SILAMEGHA (Aggabodhi VI)            723-763 AD – Son of Kassapa III

107. AGGABODHI VII                              763-769 AD – Son of Mahinda

108. MAHINDA II                                     769-789 AD – Son of Aggabodhi VI (Silamegha)

109. DAPPULA II (Udaya I)                     789-794 AD – The sub-king of Mahinda II (son of Mahinda II)

110. MAHINDA III                                   794-798 AD – Son of Dappula II (Udaya I)

111. AGGABODHI VIII                            798-809 AD – Brother of Mahinda III

112. DAPPULA III                                    809-825 AD – Younger brother of Aggabodhi VIII

113. AGGABODHI IX                              825-827 AD – Son of Dappula III

Pandyan king  invaded and captured Anuradhapura 846-866

114. SENA I (Silamegha II) 827-847 AD – Younger brother of Aggabodhi IX

115. SENA II                                        847-882 AD – Nephew of Sena I, son of Kassapa

116. UDAYA I                                     882-893 AD – Brother of sub-king of Sena II

118. KASSAPA IV                               893-910 AD – Son of Sena II (sub-king of Udaya I)

119. KASSAPA V                                 913-920 AD – Son of Kassapa IV

120. DAPPULA IV                                920 AD – Son of Kassapa V – ruled for 9 months

121. DAPPULA V (Kuda Dappula)      920-922 AD – Brother of Dappula IV

122. UDAYA II                                    922-925 AD – Nephew of Sena II, sub-king of Dappula V

123. SENA III                                       925-934 AD – Brother of Udaya II

124. UDAYA III                                   934-942 AD – Sub-king of Sena III (a great friend of the king)

125. SENA IV                                     942-945 AD – Son of Kassapa V, sub-king of Udaya III

126. MAHINDA IV                             945-961 AD – Brother of Sena IV, nephew of Udaya III, sub-king of Sena

127. SENA V                                      961-971 AD – Son of Mahinda IV

128. MAHINDA V                          971-1007 AD – younger brother of Sena V

Mahinda  the last  king  to rule from Anuradhapura fled to Ruhuna where he reigned until 1007, when the Chola took him prisoner. He subsequently died in Tamil Nadu in 1037.

Following Mahinda V, the next king of importance was Parakramabahu (1153 - 1186) whose grandfather was a Hindu Tamil Pandyan King. He was a strong ruler who brought the island together and waged wars with South India and Burma. Parakramabahu built temples for the Hindus and even prohibited the killing of cows sacred to Hindus.

The Nagas are likely to have lost their identity over time, due to the formation of alliances with the other tribes like Raksha, Yaksha, Deva. First two administrative centers of kingdom of Rajarata namely Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara were totally based on kings from Sinha clan in India. But natives didn't like foreign rulers. During the period dispute was rising between Sinha clan and local community. Pandukabhaya(437 BC) a prince who had both Sinha and Yaksha origin able to unified tribes to battle with Sinha rulers. Later Pandukabhaya was able to defeat Sinha clan and establish a kingdlom which could unified natives and Sinha clan. In Pandukabhaya's era all native groups seems to be centralized into one administration center which later converted into the Anuradhapura Kingdom. In 250  BC Arahath Mahinda came to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism and people  were officially converted to Buddhism. Yaksha, Raksha, Naga, Deva groups who were divided according to what they worshipped lost their identification after all converting to Buddhism. Similarly, Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus since ancient times have regard the Cobra as a divine being by the passing down of Naga traditions and believes. Further cobra can be found entwining itself round the neck of the supreme Hindu god Shiva as serpent king Vasuki. Cobras can also be found in images of Lord Vishnu.

The Sinhalese are a mixed race having assimilated local tribes like Nagas and Yakshas.   As the list above shows the earliest kings of Sri Lanka are Nagas. Devanampiya Tissa  the first convert to Buddhism was a Naga King. The infamous   Duttu Gemenu

(161 - 137BC) was not a Sinhalese. He is a descendant from Mahanaga who is the brother of Devanampiyathissa.

King Pandukabhaya's son was Mutasiva, king of Anuradhapura. Devanampiya Tissa was the second son of Mutasiva, next king of Anuradhapura. Mahanaga was the brother of King Devanampiya Tissa. Mahanaga was second in line to the throne. One of the wives of King Devanam Piyatissa decided to kill Mahanaga in order to get the crown to her son. Mahanaga fled to Rohana and founded a new kingdom there. After Mahanaga, his son Yatthalayaka Tissa became the King of Rohana. After Yatthlayaka Tissa, his son  Goetabhaya (Abhaya)  became the ruler of Rohana. After Abhaya, his son KakaVanna Tissa became the ruler of Rohana. And who is the son of King KakaVanna Tissa? None other than our hero King  Duttu Gemenu or Abaya Gamini!

Duttu Gamini's mother was  a Naga princess (Viharama Devi the daughter of Naga King  Kelanithissa) who ruled Kalyani (Keleniya) and Kavantheesan (Kaakavarna Theesan)  who is the son of Abaya.

The Naga Prince Duttu Gemunu had to fight with not one but thirty-two Tamil chieftains in Anuradhapuram Principality alone to reach the Tamil King Elara's palace.

If there were thirty-two Tamil chieftains and a Tamil king ruling the Anuradhapura kingdom, the Anuradhpuram kingdom must have had a huge Tamil population also. Therefore, we can safely say it was a Tamil city at that time. Without a large Tamil population, there is no need for thirty-two Tamil chieftains. To substantiate  my statement let me quote an extract from an article titled "A Response “Mahavamsa Mentality”; Can the charge of “Racism” leveled against the chronicle be sustained? by J.L. Devanada that appeared in the blog

"The kings belonging to the Tissa and Lambakarana dynasties that ruled the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Anuradhapura were Prakrit speaking Nagas. Dutugemunu, the national hero of Sri Lanka, was a Naga king belonging to the Tissa dynasty. His mother Vihara Maha Devi was the daughter of the Naga king of Keleniya, and his father Kavan Tissa, was the great grandson of Maha Naga, who established a kingdom in Mahagama in Rohana. Maha Naga’s older brother, Devanampiya Tissa, a contemporary of Emperor Asoka, was the first king of the Tissa dynasty. Some of the Tissa kings who proudly bore Naga clan names were Khallata Naga (Dutugemunu’s nephew), Cora Naga, who was one of the many victims poisoned to death by the amorous Queen Anula, Mahadathika Maha Naga and Ila Naga. Yasa Lalaka Tissa was the last king of the first dynasty that ruled the Anurdhapura kingdom.

A few known names of the Naga poets of Sri Lanka who contributed to ancient Tamil literature are Elaththu Pootha Thevanar (whose compositions are included in anthologies known as Nattrinai, Kurunthokai and Puranaanooru), Mudingarayar, Musiri Asiriyar, Neelakandanar and Ela Nakar.

On the other hand, the old Tamil names found in South India – Sri Lanka region are very similar to those Prakrit names (do not end with an ‘N’ or an ‘M’). For example, some of the names of ancient Sri Lankan Tamil kings (mentioned in Mahavamsa) were Sena, Guttika, Elara, Pulahatha, Bahiya, Panayamara, Parinda, Dathiya, and so on. Similarly in South India, the names of the ancient Tamil kings, for example some Chola kings were Kulothunga Chola, Vikrma Chola, Aditya Chola, and so on. Some Pandya kings were Kulasekara Pandya, Vira Wickrama Pandya, Parakrama Pandya, Sundara Pandya, and so on. Some Chera kings were Kulashekhara Varma, Rajashekhara Varma, Rama Varma Kulashekhara, Goda Ravi Varma, Bhaskara Ravi Varma, Vira Kerala, Rajasimha, and so on.

The war between Ellara and Duttugemenu was not a war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. It was a war between two dynasties for control of Anuradhapura kingdom for the Buddhists. Duttagemunu's  battle cry was "Not for the kingdom, but for Buddhism." (To be continued)

How do you assess the Mahavamsa’s influence on contemporary history of Sri Lanka?

Mahinda chinthanaya is only another version  of Mahavamsa mindset which says Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and the State will remain unitary 


The history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, especially its extended period of glory, is for many Sinhalese a potent symbol that links the past with the present. Duttagemunu's  battle cry  "Not for the kingdom, but for Buddhism" was purely a fiction invented by the fertile imagination of the author of Mahavamsa. These are words put into the mouth of Duttugemenu at least six centuries after the event. Obviously the author wanted to paint  Duttugemenu as the hero of Mahavamsa. This could be seen from the fact that while Dipavamsa devoted only ten verses to narrate the rule of Duttugemunu, Mahavamsa's author devotes ten chapters to his rule. And Vijaya is the central legendary figure in the Mahavamsa.

Mahavamsa Thero very methodically lays the stage for  the glorification of  Buddhism by imaginary episodes invented by him. Fictions were made with fixed points as framework  for the serene joy and emotion of the pious Buddhists. In that process he portrays Buddha in unflattering terms.

1) The  fiction that Buddha (Tathagata) visited the Island 3 times to win Lanka for his faith. For Lanka was known to the Conqueror as a place where his doctrine should (thereafter) shine in glory and (he knew that) from Lanka, filled with the Yakkhas, the Yakkhas must (first) be driven forth. Buddha left his footprints on Sumanakuta, that is, Afam's peak.

2) The landing of Vijaya, the valiant, landed in Lanka in the region called Tambapanni (Thamiraparani) on the day  that the Tathagata (Buddha) lay down between the two  twin like sla-trees to pass into nibbana. Mahavamsa states Buddha attained Nibbana in 543 BC  to coincide with the arrival Vijaya while most historians agree the actual year is 483 BC. In order to bridge the difference of 60 years Mahavamsa stretches the rule of subsequent kings who succeeded Vijaya.

3)  Lying on the bed of his nibbana, in the midst of the great assembly of gods, he, the great sage, the greatest of those who have speech, spoke to Sakka (Indra) who stood there near him" `Vijaya, son of king Sihabahu, is come to Lanka from the country of Lala, together with seven hundred followers. In Lanka, O lord of gods, will my religion be established, therefore carefully protect him with his followers and Lanka."

When the lord of gods heard the words of the Tathagata he from respect handed over the guardianship of Lanka to the god who is in colour like the lotus (Vishnu). And no sooner had the god received the charge from Sakka than he came speedily to Lanka and sat down at the foot of a tree in the guise of a wandering ascetic. And all the followers of Vijaya came to him and asked him: `What island is this, sir?' 'The island of Lanka,' he answered. `There are no men here, and here no dangers will arise.' And when he had spoken so and sprinkled water on them from his water-vessel, and had wound a thread about their hands he vanished through the air. And there appeared, in the form of a bitch, a yakkhini who was an attendant (of Kuvanna).

4) Long before the birth of Duttugamini the soothsayers tell Kakavantissa that "The queen's son, when he has vanquished the Damilas and built up a united kingdom, will make the doctrine to shine forth brightly." In time the queen bore a noble son, endowed with all auspicious signs, and great was the rejoicing in the house of the great monarch. By the effect of his merit there arrived that very day, from this place and that, seven ships laden with manifold gems. And in like manner, by the power of his merit, an elephant of the six-tusked race brought his young one thither and left him here and went his way.

5)  Three Wows: When Prince Gamini was twelve and Prince Tissa was ten years old, King Kakavantissa, brought them to his room. King had three small portions of rice in a dish for each Prince. The King said that they would be taking three wows today and they should never be broken. King asked the boys to take the first wow and eat the rice portion in front of them. “We will not do any harm to monks” boys took the first wow and ate the rice portion.

King asked the boys to take the second wow and eat the rice portion. “ We will not fight with each other” boys took the second wow and ate the rice portion.
King asked the boys to take the third wow and eat the rice portion. “ We will not fight with Damilas” Both boys refused to take the third wow. Both of them left the room. Prince Gamini went to his room and slept all curled up. Mother Vihara Maha Devi came to his room and asked why he is sleeping curled up in a large bed and why not stretch out and sleep comfortably. Then Prince Gamini stated “On one side there is the dumb ocean and on the other side beyond the river (Mahaveli ganaga) there are Damilas. How can I stretch out and sleep comfortably”. When King Kakavantissa   heard these remarks, he remained silent. Unwittingly, the author of  Mahavamsa admits  the fact that  Tamils inhabited  the entire land beyond  the river (Mahaveli Ganga) and Duttugemenu had to fight and defeat 32 Tamil Chieftains before his army could reach  the capital Anuradhapura.

6) The story describing the war between  Ellalan and Duttugemenu  (Chapter 25) is well known. It was included in Tamil text books in schools many years back.  Mahavamsa  makes  a virtue of killing  in defence of Buddhism. In the war between  the Tamil King Ellalan and Naga Prince Duttugemenu thousands of Tamils were killed. According to Mahavamsa Duttugemenu overwhelmed with grief over  the lives lost in the war addressed the eight arahats (saints) who had come to comfort him  thus:

“How shall there be any comfort for me, O venerable sirs, since by me was caused the slaughter of a great host numbering millions?”

The  arahats   replied “From this deed arises no hindrance in thy way to heaven. Only one and a half human beings have been slain by here by thee, Oh lord of men. The one had come unto the three refuges; the other had taken on himself the five precepts. Unbelievers and evil men were the rest, not more to be esteemed than beasts. But as for thee, thou wilt bring to the doctrine of the Buddha in manifold ways; therefore cast away care from thy heart, O ruler of men.”

The author of Mahavamsa to exalt Buddhism  invents several myths. One of them is the myth the Tamils who died "not more to be esteemed than beasts." Right at the beginning Mahavamsa  refers  indigenous people as invincible and superhuman. When Vijaya  banished Kuveni with her two children   fathered  by him she went to Lankapura where she was taken for a spy and  slain. But the two children managed to escape to the jungles and Mahavamsa claims from them sprung the Pulinda (Veddhas).  The strategy is to portray the indigenous Veddhas having originated  after Vijaya and not preceding him.

There are uncanny parallels between the legend of King Duttugemenu  and the ruler, who early in his reign was known as Asoka the Fierce but later as Dharma Asoka, Asoka the Righteous. His transformation is chronicled in Rock Edicts. Like Dutthagamini, Asoka won a great military victory. It was over the rival Kalingas. Several hundred thousand enemy soldiers were slain and Kalinga civilians experienced severe privation. It is written in the 13th Rock Edict that following the victory, “There was remorse of His Sacred Majesty having conquered the Kalingas. For where an independent country is forcibly reduced, that there are slaughter, death and deportations of people has been considered very painful and deplorable by His Sacred Majesty.” Following the victory, the edict describes how “became intense His Sacred Majesty's observance of Dharma, love of Dharma and his preaching of Dharma.” Missionary work throughout his realm and beyond became Asoka's mode of conquest.  The spread of  Dharma and the feeling of love.  Asoka advises his descendents to forgo military conquests, however, if a conquest is theirs (or pleases them) they should relish forbearance and mildness of punishment and that they should consider that only as conquest which is moral conquest.

7) In  what language did the apostle Mahinda Thero who came from Magadha and King Devanampiyatissa when the two of them met on a full day (246 BCE ) at Mihintala? The  Mahavamsa says,  the  monk Mahinda Maha Thero preached Buddhism to the people of the island in Deepa basa (language of the island) but it does not say that the deepa basa was ‘Elu’ or ‘Helu’ or ‘Sihala’. Once again the story of Mahinda meeting the King Devanampiyatissa of Anuradhapura and preaching him the doctrine as told in Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa is very similar to the story of Satuvan meeting the leader of the  Nagas and preaching him about the good way of life in the Tamil epic Manimehalai.  There are a number of description in Manimehalai that are same or similar to that of Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa.

The above myths taught to children in Buddhist viharas are embedded in the minds of Sinhalese psyche and prevent honest scientific  inquiry into Sri Lankan antiquity. In order to demythologize these myths the well renowned archaeologist Paranavitana, a Buddhist himself, declared that Mahavamsa's account of Buddha's visits to the island were pure legends. The Buddhist bhikkus raised a hue and cry against Paranavitana and he was silenced.

Mahavamsa stories are repeated and transmitted from generation to generation they occupy a  revered  place in the present-day Sinhalese - Buddhist rituals beliefs.

Contemporary Buddhism in Sri Lanka has little to do with the doctrinal and philosophical goals of the ancient religion. Buddhism is not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being. There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgment Day or at the time of death. No saviour concept in Buddhism. A Buddha is not a saviour who saves others by his personal salvation. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide who indicates the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender. A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in Him. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the "sins" of others. The relationship between  Buddha and his disciples and followers is that of a teacher and student. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one's own self. Buddhism does not call for an unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.

Nevertheless  doctrinal Buddhism is hard to found anywhere especially in Sri Lanka.  Buddhism has been greatly influenced or corrupted by Hinduism like believe in re-birth and the concept of karma. Followers of Buddhism had elevated Buddhism  to a religion by following  a set of rules "religiously" and paying homage to Buddha by building viharas, erecting statues and chanting prayers.  Followers of original Buddhism called Theravada (elders) or Hinayana do not worship images of Buddha or believe in Bodhisattvas, but Mahayana sect considers Buddha as the Supreme soul or the Highest Being.

The historical  Buddha taught in many things, but the basic concepts in  Theravada Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism are thus: 

1. SUFFERING is universal (to be born is to suffer)
 2. The CAUSE of suffering is desire (desire propels the cycle of Samsara)
 3. Suffering CAN be eliminated (through man's own untiring efforts)
4. There is an 8 fold  PATH to the cessation of suffering. (the practice of Dhamma)

The Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya-Ashtanga Marga)
  1. Right View Wisdom 
     2. Right Intention 
     3. Right Speech Ethical Conduct 
     4. Right Action 
     5. Right Livelihood 
     6. Right Effort Mental Development 
     7. Right Mindfulness 
     8. Right Concentration 
 The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama

 The Five Precepts in Buddhism are : 
 1. Abstinence from killing all forms of life
 2. Abstinence from sexual misconduct
 3. Abstinence from lies and deceit
 4. Abstinence from theft
 5. Abstinence from intoxicants
  What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?

Like any other religion  there is a wide gulf between theory and practice in Buddhism. This is so in Sri Lanka as well. Although in theory Theravada Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka in reality it is  Sinhala Buddhism like Tibetan Buddhism.  Buddhism has been used as a tool  to attain political power and stay in power. The hatred of Sinhala Buddhists  based on the Mahavamsa mindset  against  Tamils is very unbuddhistic. There is no rationality behind such mindset, nonetheless it is the  reality. May be we have to live with  it till such time a statesman among  Sinhalese Buddhists re-incarnates!

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike is the first politician to use the Sanga to capture power. In 1956 the Pancha Maha Balawegaya comprising the sangha, veda, guru, govi and kamkaru  provided the social forces behind the SLFP.

To sum  up let me quote extracts from the book Sri Lanka - The Nation Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle written by Sachchi Ponnambalam.

"Sinhalese collective identity, in terms of self ascription, is not an ethnic identity but an ethno religious identity—Sinhalese Buddhist. The dominant distinguishing mark is Buddhist religious culture, which is central in the self perception of the Sinhalese Buddhists. The emergence of the Sinhalese Catholics and Protestants brought about a cleavage in Sinhalese identity. To the Sinhalese Buddhists—in particular, to the Kandyans the Sinhalese non Buddhists are as much non Sinhalese as Tamils or Muslims, for their point of reference is religion and not linguistic identity.

Professor Gananath Obeyesekere pointed out that this self image resulted from the conversion of some Sinhalese to Christianity.

This identity simply equates Sinhalese = Buddhist—the two cultural labels are the constituent elements of a single identity . . . The Sinhalese Buddhists today perceive the Sinhalese Christians as not only non-Buddhists, but also in a sense as non Sinhalese, for their Christian cultural markers are viewed as alien.

This religious centrality in the self perception of the Sinhalese Buddhists is not something new; it was so in the pre colonial times. Professor Obeyesekere states:

Up to the 16th century being a Sinhalese implied being a Buddhist . . . With the advent of the European powers, a split in the Sinhalese identity occurred as a result of the existence of Catholic and Protestant Sinhalese who were clearly not Buddhist. Sinhalese ceased to be an ethnic identity.

The Catholic and Protestant Sinhalese, too, define themselves more in terms of their respective religion than their linguistic culture. It is their religious sub culture that is critical in their self ascription. In fact, when English held sway, i.e. before the "Sinhala only" law in 1956, the Sinhalese Christians found more in common with the Tamil Christians than with the Sinhalese Buddhists. And up to the "Sinhala only" law, there was considerable religious tolerance between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus.

But today the Tamils, be they Hindus or Christians, view the Sinhalese as a monolithic entity united in a single endeavour to subjugate and destroy their identity as a distinct ethnic entity in the country.

Mahinda chinthanaya is only an updated  version  of Mahavamsa mindset which says Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and the State will remain unitary. (Concluded)
About editor 3045 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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