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Sigiriya - a story of revenge and retribution

by Godwin Witane

Both kings Datusena and son Kasyapa suffered tragic deaths in retribution for their individual crimes. Datusena was buried alive being plastered against a wall while Kasyapa committed suicide slashing his throat with his own sword. Datusena was a great builder of irrigation reservoirs.


He believed that irrigation reservoirs were the greatest treasures that a king could bequeath to his people. Datusena was a devout follower of the Buddha and once he contemplated taking to robes but his uncle the High Priest Venerable Mahasena of the Maha Vihara dissuaded him from doing so as the country was at that time in the hands of the Cholians of South India.

Datusena thereafter waged war against the South Indians and restored the country and re-established the religion of the Buddha. His next ambition was to make the country self-sufficient in rice the staple food of the people. He thereupon constructed great irrigation reservoirs. He dammed the waters of the Mahaweli Ganga at Minipe and opened up vast new tracts for cultivation. His greatest work was the construction of the Kalawewa reservoir. When the work on the Kalawewa bund was nearing completion the workmen were confronted by a hermit seated in meditation on the pathway demarcated for the bund.

However much the workmen pleaded with the hermit to give up his meditation and move away he remained silent in his meditative mood. This was reported to the king and he himself arrived at the scene and tried to persuade the hermit to move away but without success and then the irate king ordered the workmen to construct the bund enclosing him in the earthwork.


When the bund was completed it was the king's great pleasure and pride as well as a great treasure to the nation. The forty mile canal constructed from Kalawewa supplied an unending flow of drinking water to Tissawewa for the use of the people of Anuradhapura. The incident of the hermit was almost forgotten by the people but many years later it became an ironic reminder of just retribution when Datusena met his death at the hands of his son Kasyapa who ascended the throne.

At that time there were three contenders to the throne. They were Kasyapa, his eldest son by a lesser queen, his second son Moggallana by his anointed queen and Migara son of the King's sister, who was the Chief of the Army and to whom the king's only daughter Anudhi was married.

However, the king decided on his second son Moggallana to succeed him and held a great banquet in celebration of the event. While the feasting was on there appeared Anudhi, Datusena's daughter complaining that her husband Migara whipped her.

Thereupon the king on seeing the gash on his daughter's thigh from which blood was pouring, got into a terrific rage and instead of punishing the wrong doer ordered punishment not on Migara who had shed Royal blood which was an act punishable by death but punished the king's own sister, Migara's mother by stripping her in public and burning her at the stake.


As a consequence, Migara, the Chief of the Army made Kasyapa usurp the throne in a sudden coup. Thereafter Datusena was imprisoned and Moggallana escaped to India where he collected a large army to fight his brother Kasyapa and regain the throne.

Kasyapa betook himself to the safety of the Sigiriya Rock where he built a Lion Staircase and lived there in proud glory like god Kuvera. Kasyapa needed untold wealth to build his fortress and such an enormous palace. Therefore he sent for his father and demanded his wealth which the deposed king was supposed to possess hidden somewhere.

To the king's reply that his wealth was not hidden anywhere but was visible to everyone, Kasyapa said that he had not seen it. Then the king pointing his finger to Kalawewa said that Tissawewa and all other irrigation reservoirs he had built were the treasures he had bequeathed on his land for the benefit of the people.

Kasyapa then asked the father whether the treasure was hidden at the bed of the reservoirs when Migara, who stood by whispered to Kasyapa that the king was cheating him in order to save the wealth for his son Moggallana. These words drove Kasyapa into an uncontrollable temper and at once ordered Migara to kill his father, the deposed king by plastering him alive onto a wall.

In the dim stillness of the audience hall Datusena stood for the last time in life Calm and unmoved before the traitor there

Who judged a father from
the father's throne
And now pronounced
the solemn words of doom
"Take this man and build him
in a wall"
Standing him there to face
the rising sun
Which he shall wait to see
for ever more.

Migara then in his moment of triumph finding an opportunity to avenge the shameful and cruel death of his mother at the hands of Datusena carried out the command of Kasyapa to bury the deposed king alive on a wall.

The condemned king before his death asked for one favour from Kasyapa that of leave to hear a sermon by the High Priest, his uncle Mahanama and bathe in the waters of Kalawewa for the last time. When the favour was granted and the king fulfilled his desire he asked the persecutors to kill him in any manner they pleased.

Thereupon Migara shouted that he would wall him up just as Datusena buried the innocent hermit on the bund of Kalawewa. Moggallana returned from India with a formidable army to battle with Kasyapa.

Kasyapa although he could have lived for long on the secure Sigiri Fortress came down riding on an elephant to meet his brother Moggallana. At the battlefield Kasyapa's elephant slipped into a marsh and when Kasyapa turned back the elephant to circumvent the bog his army thinking that Kasyapa was retreating at seeing Moggallana's army abandoned the king and fled. Kasyapa was left alone single-handed in the battlefield. Rather than being captured Kasyapa committed suicide by slitting his throat with his own sword.

Moggallana now king ruled from Anuradhapura having handed over the magnificent Sigiriya stronghold to the use of the Sangha. While Kasyapa was guilty of patricide his father Datusena was guilty of two heinous crimes that of burying the hermit in the Kalawewa bund and burning his own sister disgracefully at the stake.

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