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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 Lanka.

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 as well.

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 currency.

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 expedition.

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 female nurses.

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 Mawanella.

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.

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