Parakramabahu credited with raising first Lankan Navy
A statue in Polonnaruwa believed to be of King Parakramabahu.
In the middle of the 10th century, during the reign of Parakramabahu
the Great, the maritime trade between Sri Lanka and Ramanna (part of
present day Myanmar) was thriving. Sri Lankan merchants went to Myanmar
frequently to exchange their products for elephants, probably for the
large scale construction work taking place in the country after
Parakramabahu united the country under one banner after decades of
internal strife Ambassadors were exchanged either way with costly gifts
to maintain diplomatic relationships between the Kingdoms.
The movement of religious scholars was a regular feature in the
interaction between two countries. But a King of Ramanna for some reason
suddenly became unfriendly towards Sri Lanka and started harassing
envoys, traders and religious scholars who visited his country from Sri
He deprived Sri Lankan envoys who visited his country, of the
reciprocal maintenances that was formally granted and issued orders to
his traders, not to sell elephants to the ships calling at his ports.
Then he went even further and ordered traders in his country to increase
the price of elephants from, thousand silvers to three-thousand silvers.
The custom of presenting an elephant as a gift to each ship that arrived
with a commission from King of Sri Lanka was done away with.
When envoys from King Parakramabahu took a message written on a gold
leaf to the King of Ramanna, he accused them of taking that message to
King of a kingdom in Siam, perhaps an enemy of his, although the message
was for him, and imprisoned them in a fortress in the mountains.
An elephant at work in Myanmar
The envoy Tapassin was robbed of all his money, elephants and his
vessels, chained to a block of wood and was employed in sprinkling water
in the prison. The King of Ramanna acted this way not only towards Sri
Lankan envoys and merchants but to other envoys from Indian subcontinent
One day the King of Ramanna summoned the imprisoned Sri Lankan envoy
and declared "henceforth no vessel from Sinhala country shall be sent to
my kingdom. Give us now in writing the declaration that if messengers
from Sri Lanka send to us again if we slay the envoys that have come
here, no blame of any kind will come to us. If you do not sign this
declaration agreeing to our conditions you shall not have the permission
to return home".
After forcing the envoy to put his signature on the declaration
Ramanna King sent the envoys together with two scholars, Vegassara and
Dammakiththi in a leaky vessel to Sri Lanka.
The King's insolence had no limits, in another instant; he took the
money and cargo that were sent by King Parkramabahu in exchange for
elephants, promising the merchant 14 elephants and balance in silver
The promise was never fulfilled. Again he violated diplomatic norms
by forcibly taking a princess who was being sent from Sri Lanka to
Cambodia as a bride, to royal court there. When King Parakramabahu heard
of all the incidents he decided to launch a punitive expedition to the
country of Ramanna.
When this matter was discussed at the Royal Court general Damila
Adikari volunteered to lead the expedition. The King agreed and placed
under him a group of subordinate military officers to manage the
The King also made arrangements to build a large number of ships,
along the coast for the expedition, and according to Chulawamsa, the
coast around Sri Lanka resembled one great shipyard. Within five months
the building of ships were completed and they were ready to sail at
Silver Pallawanka port.
The ships were provided with one year supply of rice and other food
items along with an abundant supply of weapons. A special mention is
made of Gokannaka arrows against enemy elephants, medicine preserved in
cow hones for healing of venomous wounds caused by poisoned arrows,
remedies for curing sicknesses caused by bad drinking water, iron
pincers for extracting arrow heads from wounds, skilful physicians and
Chulawamsa describes the departing feet resembled a 'swimming island'
in the vast ocean. Of the great fleet, due to bad weather, a few ships
perished and several ships not being able to reach the destination
landed in different countries. One vessel had gone to Crows Island and
after a minor battle had come back to Sri Lanka with some prisoners from
that island. Five vessels under Nagaragiri Kiththi entered the port of
Kusumi in the Kingdom of "Ramanna". The ships under Damila Adikari
entered the port of Pupphalama, another port in Ramanna.
No sooner the troops landed the fighting began between the two
armies. After a series of battle the King of Ramanna was killed and
invading troops took control of the country and a victory parade was
held in which the leaders of the Sri Lankan army paraded streets,
mounted on white elephants.
Since both were Buddhist countries the bhikkhus in Ramanna knowing
that King Parakramabahu will listen to bhikkhus, sent a message to their
counterparts in Sri Lanka requesting them to intervene on their behalf.
In that message a tribute of any number of elephant for the King of
Sri Lanka was also offered. King Parakramabahu, magnanimous in the
victory, granted the people of Ramanna, freedom and withdrew his forces
back to Sri Lanka.
There is a living testimony of the invasion, in the form of a rock
inscription, which corroborates the vivid description in Chulawamsa, at
Devanagala in Mawanella. According to the inscription Nagaragiri Kiththi
is rewarded with a land grant for his service in the Ramanna invasion by
King Parakramabahu. Nagaragiri Kiththi would have been a chieftain from
the area and he would have spent his well-earned retirement in
Thus ended the expedition for which the nation raised its first navy
947 years ago to reach a far away country to discipline an impudent
ruler who had unfairly insulted the Sri Lankan nation.