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Sunday, 9 November 2008

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You would have read how King Vijaya, our ancestor and the founder of the Sinhala race, became the ruler of Sri Lanka with the help of Kuveni, a princess from the Yakka race. She did so while neglecting her race, customs and relatives. But things turned upside down as Vijaya wanted a royal queen; Kuveni was chased away and Vijaya married a princess from India.

You would also know how when ungrateful Vijaya died, messages were sent to India asking Vijaya’s brother Sumiththa to come and take up the throne here, and how he sent his son Panduwasdev. The prince arrived in Tambapanni with 32 of his men and was crowned as the second king of the island.

Prince Panduwasdev was a relation of the Buddha, by marriage to Princess Baddakachchayana who was the daughter of Pandusakya, a son of Amithodana. (The latter was the brother of King Suddodana who was the Buddha’s - Prince Siddhrtha’s - father.)

Baddakachchayana

The story of Baddakachchayana is similar to that of Vihara Maha Devi, as she was sent in a ship by her father, who couldn’t fulfil the wishes of all the princes who sought her hand in marriage.

She arrived in Gokanna (the present Trincomalee) area, according to the Mahawamsa . It further says that her six brothers too came to Sri Lanka later. They built colonies which came to be known as Rohana, Anurada, Wijitha, Uruwela and Deegayu.

Panduwasdev and Baddakachchayana had 10 sons and a daughter called Chithra. When this daughter was born, astrologers predicted that her son would kill his uncles one day and become the king of the country. This shocking prediction made the brothers force the king to kill their own sister, but she was spared. Instead, she was placed in an ‘ektamge’ (a one-pillar chamber), which nobody could enter, without the king’s permission.

When Chithra was young and beautiful, she happened to see from her ‘ektamge’ a young man called Deegagamini(Gamini in short form). He was Baddakachchayana’s brother Deegayu’s son. The two soon fell in love with each other and were well supported by two Yakka men called Kalawela and Chiththaraja, who were sentries of the ‘ektamge’. With their assistance, the lovers would secretly meet each other.

Soon, it became known at the palace that Chithra was expecting a child. Her brother again planned to kill Chithra, but the queen mother intervened and told them to wait till the child is born. They all agreed to kill the baby if it’s a son.

As history reveals, the Yakka race helped Gamini secretly bring in another pregnant woman to Chithra’s room. When the princess delivered the baby, which was a boy, Queen Baddakachchayana told the royal family that it was a girl to the utter relief of the brothers. Then Gamini’s secret plan was put into action. That was to exchange Chithra’s new-born son with the daughter born to the other woman. So, the new-born prince was taken to a village called Doramadala.

At Doramadala

At Doramadala, the prince who was named Pandukabhaya was looked after well by a village family. Nobody could suspect anything as the head of the family had told the others that his wife had twins.

The young prince behaved like any other village boy, but it was obvious that he was different to them. The king’s spies came to hear about this and they started gathering more information. The message soon reached the king and the princes, who promptly ordered men to go and kill the boy.

They went to a place where the village boys usually gathered to play and since they couldn’t identify the prince, they massacred all village boys who were playing there. But the prince was saved, as during a game of hide-and-seek, he had hidden in an underwater cave.

The prince escaped with his life, but spying went on and another killing was planned years later. This took place in a paddy field; all young village boys were again killed, but not the prince. He managed to escape again.

Upon attaining teenagehood, the young boy was sent to study to a Brahmin’s place. Pandula, the teacher, taught all ‘shilpa’ (skills and crafts) to the prince. Under the guidance of Pandula, Prince Pandukabhaya began his struggle against his relatives.

When the war finally started, Pandukabhaya was well-organised. The chasing away of Kuveni by Vijaya and the loosing of their kingdom to Vijaya was a big blow to yakka tribes, so their support was automatically extended to Pandukabhaya. He led them to victories in Dolugala and Dumrakgala and became strong in the present Polonnaruwa area.

By building a fortress at Ritigala, Pandukabhaya strengthen his defences. It was a natural place for fighting, and gave maximum advantage to the fighting prince. For nearly seven years, the prince organised matters. Finally, the big battle began and the ancient prediction was proved right as the prince’s uncles were all killed.

New dynasty

Prince Pandukabhaya, with the help of natives, formed a new dynasty and changed the capital to Anuradhapura. By doing so, he became the first ever city builder in history. The town was planned in a complete way. A hospital, trading areas and cemetery were established. Hermitages were built for different religions.

A pilgrims’ rest and some devalas were also set up. The two yakkas, Chiththaraja and Kalawela, who were killed in battle were remembered by building a devala for each. An organised city was therefore established.Pandukabhaya began the Gamsabha system. He marked the borders of villages. He appointed a Nagara Guththika post for the capital city, to maintain law and order there.

He made the first ever wewa ‘Aba Wewa’ in Sri Lanka. He ruled for 70 years, one of the longest reigns in the country. He was one of the greatest figures in our history and was a first in many areas. His most endearing and outstanding quality was to get the support of all communities like yakka and Brahmas in all important matters. Another outstanding feature of King Pandukabhaya’s reign was the religious freedom he granted to all alike.

- Asha Senevirathne Based on Pandukabhaya by Ashoka Karunarathne

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