Focus on a legendary national hero
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
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
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
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
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.