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Sunday, 16 September 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Focus on a legendary national hero

King Dutugamunu
The Commander-in-chief
Author: Dr P. G. Punchihewa

The dust cover of Dr P. G. Punchihewa's latest book entitled King Dutugamunu, Commander-in-Chief carries an interesting quotation from The History of Ceylon written by the British historian William Knighton. It says, “...preserving indefatigable, energetic, warlike and religious prince, loved by his people, honoured by his contemporaries and extolled by posterity as the deliverer of his country, the embellisher of Ceylon and the prop and support of Buddhism itself.”

King Dutugamunu is also remembered for his magnanimity shown towards the fallen adversary King Elara who was defeated in a duel with him. Elara was accorded a State funeral and a monument was built in his honour, which according to the Sinhalese chronicle Saddharmalamkaraya promulgated that “In future members of the royalty when passing this place should dismount from elephants, horses, palanquins and litters and also should refrain from playing music. “ For 2000 years or more people of Sri Lanka obeyed the decree.


Although there are many books written on the national hero King Dutugamunu, Dr Punchihewa's King Dutugamunu is perhaps the most readable out of them. Here is an author who had been fascinated by the life story of king Dutugamunu even when the author was a child of five years. He remembers prostrating before the Ruwanveli dagaba when he went on a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura accompanied by his mother. The sheer size of the dagaba was awe inspiring. The massive white dome with its pinnacle crowned by the crystal gleaming in the morning sun evoked in him a sense of inexpressile admiration for its builder.

Prof K. N. O. Dharmadasa in his foreword says, “Dutugamunu as war hero has earned a unique place in Sri Lankan history as the Maha Senapati (Great General) who won back the country from a non-Buddhist usurper who had been well entrenched in power for over four decades.”

Dr Punchihewa has taken great care to compare the Mahawamsa story with material available in other ancient sources. He has apparently consulted literary works such as Vamsatthappakasini (The Mahavamsa Commentary), the Rajavaliya, the Tupavamsa and the Saddharmalankaraya and cave inscriptions.


The opening paragraph of the book is an open invitation to read the rest found in it. “King Dutugamunu reigned about 2100 years ago, from 161 BC to 137 BC. Although he lived for 68 years, his reign lasted only 24 years . In spite of the short period, there is no other personality in the history of the island who commands such reverence, adulation and homage, from royalty, nobility and commonalty for a period of over two millennia.”

Dutugamunu's life story differs very much from that of great warriors such as Emperor Asoka, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, George Washington and Winston Churchill. Dutugamunu came to be known as a hero not because of his victories. He had a mission to fulfil. His solemn declaration was, “Not for the joy of sovereignty is this toil of mine, my striving has been ever to establish the doctrine of the Sambuddha.”

Dutugamunu was a rare king who rejected human carnage. After defeating his adversary- Elara- he devoted his time for nation building and promoting Buddhism. Unlike many other historians Punchihewa devotes considerable space for Dutugamunu's father King Kavantissa. In fact, Kavantissa was the first king to raise a professional army.

Being a farsighted ruler he sent his young prince Dutugamunu for training in archery and statecraft. He enlisted the support of ten warriors who raised an army of 11,100 soldiers.


The book has a separate chapter on Viharamahadevi, the wife of King Kavantissa and the mother of Dutugamunu. Unknown to many, she played a keyrole behind the throne guiding the destinies of the country.

When we talk about Dutugamunu we invariably mention his ten warriors, Kandula the royal elephant and King Elara, Ruwanweliseya and other religious edifices the warriors were the Generals of the Rohana army. Velusumana was the first to be recruited. He was skilled cavalier. Nandimitra, another warrior was the army commander. Suranimala played a big role in the Vijithapura battle. Pussadeva was another warrior who was skilled in handling elephants, horses, swords and spears. Gotabhaya or gotimbara was a brave hero.

Dutugamunu also had the services of Kandula, the elephant which had attracted public attention. According to the chronicles there is no other elephant which had displayed patriotism, courage, pugnacity and endurance.


Having discussed Gamini's adolescence the author gives us a vivid picture of King Elara and the major battle with his forces. The chapter on “March to Anuradhapura” is a lively account of Dutugamunu's war against Elara. In the duel Dutugamunu kills Elara and put an end to the latter's rule.

Dutugamunu is credited with the construction of Ruwanveliseya and 99 other temples. He also celebratesd the Vesak festival every year during his reign. Apart from his religious activities, the king provided funds for the welfare of the people. He set up hospitals and provided free food to the needy.

Dr P. G. Punchihewa's King Dutugamunu, the Commander-in-Chief is sure to rekindle the reader's interest in a national hero par excellence.



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