The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.
As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.
Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.
The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.
The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.
Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.
Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.
The Taprobane Island
A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.
A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.
While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.
As commanded by queen Bhaddakaccānā, Ummada Citta’s woman-attendant placed the infant boy in a basket and carried him to Dvaramandalaka, the village situated near the Cetiya mountain (Mihintale), east of Anuradhagama.
Some brothers of Ummada Citta, on a hunting spree in the Tumbara forest, saw the woman-attendant carrying the basket.
One of them asked her: “Where are you going? What are you carrying in the basket?”
She answered: “I am going to Dvramandalaka. I am taking sweet cake for my daughter.”
The prince then said: “Take the cake out and show it to us.”
Just then, the two dead attendants of Dighagamani, Citta the herdsman and Kalavela the slave, who as yakkas were protecting the infant, caused a great boar to appear. The princes pursued the boar. The attendant immediately hastened from there with the child and hurried towards the Dvaramandalaka.
She handed over Pandukabhaya and a thousand pieces of money to a herdsman who was secretly entrusted by queen Bhaddakaccānā to take care of her grandson.
On that very day, the herdsman’s wife bore him a son, and he declared that his wife had given birth to twins. He brought up and protected Pandukabhaya along with his own son.
Pandukabhaya practised diving deep in the pond and secretively hid in the hollow of a large tree standing in the middle of it. When he had stayed long enough in the hollow of the tree completely hidden from his playmates, he would come out and be again among them. When his friends asked him where he had been, he would mislead them with evasive words.
When Pandukabhaya was seven years old, his uncles came to know that he was alive. They found out where he lived and the pond where he used to play with his friends. They ordered their men to kill him, and his playmates.
One day, Pandukabhaya seated on the edge of the pond while his friends were playing in the pond saw the enforcers approaching. He dived deep into the water with his clothes on and reached the hollow tree. The assassins unable to find out who their victim counted the number of boys in the pond and the clothes lying nearby. When the count tallied they killed all the boys. They then went to their masters and declared that they killed all the boys.
Pandukabhaya’s foster-father comforted him for the loss of his playmates.
When Pandukabhaya was twelve years old, his uncles again came to know that he was alive. Once again, they charged their assassins to kill him.
One day, a group of Dvaramandalaka herdsmen caught a deer and sent Pandukabhaya to the village to bring fire from there. He went home. Feeling tired and footsore, he sent his foster-father’s son with the fire to the herdsmen.
The assassins surrounded the herdsmen and the twelve-year-old boy with the fire who they assumed to be Pandukabhaya and killed them all. They then went to their masters and declared that they killed the boy and all the herdsmen of the Dvaramandalaka village.
Then, when Pandukabhaya was sixteen years old, his uncles once again discovered that he was still alive and plotted to kill him. On knowing this, his mother, Citta, sent him a thousand pieces of money and a squad of armed men to accompany him to a safe place.
Pandukabhaya’s foster-father told him his mother’s message, and giving him a slave and the thousand pieces of money, sent him to seek out the Brahmin named Pandula, a rich man, well-versed in the vedic lieterature, who dwelt in Pandulagamaka village, in the southern district.
Pandula honoured Pandukabhaya as his guest. He tutored him the knowledge needed by a reigning prince. With assistance from Pandula’s son Canda (or Candena cassa puttena who belonged to the sippam samapitam), Pandukabhaya mastered ‘the art’ in a short time.
Pandula then gave him a hundred thousand pieces of money and asked him to enrol soldiers. When five hundred men had been enrolled, Pandula appointed his son Canda as Pandukabhaya’s chaplain.
Before sending Pandukabhaya with his soldiers in search of his quest, Pandula gave him money and told him that he should consecrate the woman as his queen at whose touch leaves turn to gold.
By the time Pandukabhaya reached Pana, a city near the Kasa-mountain (Probably near the modern Kahagalagama ‘village of the Kaha mountain ‘, about 18 miles SE from Anuradhapura, and 10 miles WNW from the mountain Ritigala), he had gathered seven hundred more followers on the way and gathered provision for all. From there he and his one thousand two hundred soldiers marched to the mountain called Girikanda.
The Veddhas or Wanniya-laeto (‘forest-dwellers’) of the wanni (dry monsoon forest) are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants. According to scholars, the Veddhas of today perpetuate a direct line of descent from the island’s original Neolithic community that dates back to at least 16,000 BC.
For the past eighteen centuries or more the indigenous Veddha communities have been forced to retreat deeper into the ever-shrinking forests pummeled by successive waves of immigration and colonization that began with the arrival of the north Indians in the 5th century BC.
According to their culture the Veddhas revere and venerate their ancestors. At present, the surviving dwindling Veddha communities still live in the dry monsoon forests with their uncanny knowledge of their jungle habitat. They still retain the memory of their prehistoric culture and preserve their cultural identity and traditional lifestyle, despite facing the many challenges and relentless pressure from the surrounding dominant Sinhala and Tamil communities.
In the North Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka, a few Veddhas have been absorbed into the mainstream Sinhala communities and on the East Coast into the Tamil communities.
Ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa, relate the origin of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from an area either in the northeast or northwest India, and his later affiliation with people from south India. Students of Indian history argue that the lore of Vijaya should be interpreted to favour either one or the other of the northern origins, or a mixture of people from both areas.
W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, a Sinhala linguist, supported the hypothesis that the Sinhalese people originated in Eastern India because over 50% Sinhala words resemble words in the Bengali language. Even so, the question: “Did Vijaya and his companions migrate to Sri Lanka from Singhpur, Kalinga in northeast India, or from Sihor, Gujarat in northwest India?” still remains unresolved.
Some scholars identify the Lála country, where Sinhabahu founded Sinhapur, with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India that is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh in the extreme hilly west of Bengal where the Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. However, some scholars identify the region as modern Gujarat.
References weigh more in favor of Vijaya’s origin to lower Indus, and Sihor, which was officially known as Sinhapur in Kathiawar peninsula in ancient times. Also, the only home to Asiatic lions (locally referred as ‘Sinh‘ or ‘Sinha‘) is Gir Forest in Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat and the approach to core Gir territory is just a few miles away from Sihor. In fact, to date, lions are sighted in rural areas adjoining Sihor.
According to the history chronicled in the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya and his wayward followers before landing at Tambapanni, first disembarked at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sapporo, in the Thana district north of Mumbai. If Lála country was in northeast India, how could Vijaya and his companions dispatched from there, land at the port of Suppäraka in northwest India?
If we presume that the story of Vijaya narrated in the Mahavasa is historically correct, then, Prince Vijaya and his followers would have set sail from northwest India from a coastal harbour in Gujarat. Their contribution to the modern Sinhalese must have been erased by the long-standing interrelationship with people from Tamil Nadu for over 2,000 years.
According to the Mahavamsa, the population of Sri Lanka is heterogeneous – composed of diverse ethnic groups from India.
So far, most studies on the genetic affinities of the Sinhalese have been contradictory. Some investigators suggest a predominantly Bengali contribution and a minor Tamil and North Western Indian contribution, while others point towards a predominantly Tamil origin followed by a significant Bengali contribution with no North Western Indian contribution.
However, it is emphatically proved that the ancient ancestors of the current Sinhalese people came originally from northeast or northwest India as shown by genetic, linguistic and religious connections. After their arrival in Sri Lanka, the ancients intermarried to a minor extent with the indigenous Veddhas. Population genetic studies on the Sinhalese undertaken by various investigators show that they certainly intermarried extensively with Tamils of Southern India than with the Veddhas.
For the most part, according to the Mahavamsa, the modern Sinhalese are related to the Tamils as far back as 543 BC, with some elements of ancestry connected later with Bengalis, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Indian Moors. This is also supported by a genetic distance study, which showed low differences in genetic distance between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, Keralite and Bengali volunteers.
Because Sri Lanka lies on important sea trade routes, it has from ancient times received a constant influx of people from India and from various parts of the world, especially from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe, and the far-east. However, the genetic studies on the Sinhalese do not seem to show any ancestry from China or Southeast Asia.
In the 1995 study, “Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan populations” by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya (Source: National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Munirka, New Delhi, India) published in Hum Biol. 1995 Dec;67(6):843-66, the author says:
Mythological and historical sketches of the Sri Lankan population indicate that it is heterogeneous and composed of diverse ethnic groups. Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka relate the origin of the Sinhalese to the legend of Prince Vijaya, who arrived on the northwest coast of the island in 543 B.C. from northeast or northwest India. … Taking into consideration mythological, historical, and linguistic records of Sri Lanka, I attempt to study the degree of gene diversity and genetic admixture among the population groups of Sri Lanka along with the populations of southern, northeastern, and northwestern India, the Middle East, and Europe.
The genetic distance analysis was conducted using 43 alleles controlled by 15 codominant loci in 8 populations and 40 alleles controlled by 13 codominant loci in 11 populations. Both analyses give a similar picture, indicating that present-day Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to Indian Tamils and South Indian Muslims. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India and Bengalis of northeast India. Veddhas, are distinct because they are confined to inhospitable dry zones and are hardly influenced by their neighbors.
The study of genetic admixture revealed that the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka have a higher contribution from the Tamils of southern India (69.86% +/- 0.61) compared with the Bengalis of northeast India (25.41% +/- 0.51), whereas the Tamils of Sri Lanka have received a higher contribution from the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (55.20% +/- 9.47) compared with the Tamils of India (16.63% +/- 8.73).
In the 2009 study, “Prevalence of genetic thrombophilic polymorphisms in the Sri Lankan population–implications for association study design and clinical genetic testing services” by V.H. Dissanayake, L.Y. Weerasekera, G.G. Gammulla, and R.W. Jayasekara (Source: Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.) first published electronically on July 8, 2009, is consistent with the notion that Sinhalese are closely related to other Sri Lankans. The frequencies of the alleles observed were very similar between Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Moors and they were also similar to those in some ethnic groups from southern India. Excerpts from the Abstract:
“We investigated the prevalence of genotypes/alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and haplotypes defined by them in three genes in which variations are associated with venous thromboembolism in 80 Sinhalese, 80 Sri Lankan Tamils and 80 Moors in the Sri Lankan population and compared the SNP data with that of other populations in Southern India and haplotype data with that of HapMap populations. … The frequencies observed were similar to data from other South Indian populations; […]”
Both the above studies present almost a similar picture. Genetic distance analysis, despite the limitations imposed by the data, shows that modern Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Tamils and Keralites of south India and the upper caste groups of Bengal. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India.
Similarly, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Sinhalese because they were always and are near to each other historically, linguistically, and culturally.
When the brothers of Bhaddakaccānā heard of their sister’s safe landing at Gonagamaka, they, except one, urged by their mother, departed to join their sister on the island. The six brothers were Rama, Uruvela, Anuradha, Vijita, Dighayu and Rohana. The seventh brother, Gamani, stayed at home.
After their arrival they visited their brother-in-law, king Panduvāsudeva, and their sister Bhaddakaccānā. They were hospitably received by the king and they having the king’s leave, went about the island and settled in different parts of the island.
Queen Bhaddakaccānā bore Panduvāsudeva ten sons and one daughter: the eldest of all named Abhaya, and the youngest child, a daughter, named Citta. King Panduvāsudeva consecrated his eldest son Abhaya as vice-regent.
When Citta the youngest child was born wise Brahmins well-versed in sacred texts foretold that her son would kill all his uncles. So, her brothers resolved to kill her, but her eldest brother, Abhaya, restrained them and saved her.
Citta grew up into a beautiful woman. People of the kingdom added an epithet “Ummada” to her name and called her “Ummada Citta”, because the mere sight of her beauty drove men mad.
In due course of time, they lodged her in a chamber built on a single pillar, with an only entrance through the king’s bedroom. They placed a woman-attendant within, and a hundred soldiers without.
When Dighagamani, the son of prince Dighayu, heard about his beautiful cousin Ummada Citta, he travelled to Upatissagama to see her. King Panduvāsudeva appointed him, his wife’s nephew, to serve the royal court together with his son Abhaya, the vice-regent.
Citta saw Dighagamani in the place from her window, and, her heart on fire with love, she asked her serving-woman who he was.
Her attendant, who was already in a league with the prince, told her that he was prince Dighagamani, the son of her uncle Dighayu.
Citta confided to her attendant her love for the prince. That night, Dighagamani entered Citta’s bedroom by fastening a hook-ladder to the window of her heavily guarded bedroom. They had intercourse until day break. From that day onwards Dighagamani came to Citta’s bedroom covertly at night. Their affair was not discovered for many days.
After some time, Citta became pregnant, and her attendant told her mother, queen Bhaddakaccānā about the clandestine affair. After questioning her daughter, the queen told her husband. The king took counsel with his sons and said: “We must acknowledge Dighagamani as one of us, and let us give Citta in marriage to him.”
His sons, except Abhaya, said: “We accept your proposal on one condition. If it is a son that would be born to Citta, we will kill the baby.”
King Panduvāsudeva gave his daughter Citta in marriage to Dighagamani.
When the time of her delivery was getting nearer, the nine brothers of Citta killed the two attendants on Dighagamani, a herdsman named Citta and a slave named Kalavela, since these two were accomplices to the clandestine love affair and would not fall in with their design to kill the baby boy who might be born. The two attendants of Dighagamani, After being killed, were reborn as yakkas and both kept guard over the child in the mother’s womb.
Fearing the fate that would befall on her son, Citta through her attendant found a woman who, like her, was near her period of delivery.
A few days later, Citta bore a son, and that woman bore a daughter. Citta gave a thousand pieces of money and her own son to that woman and laid that woman’s infant daughter beside her.
Citta’s brothers were happy when they heard that their sister had given birth to a daughter instead of a son.
Citta and her mother, queen Bhaddakaccānā, named the new-born baby boy Pandukabhaya by joining the names of his grandfather, king Panduväsudeva, and his eldest uncle, Prince Abhaya.
King Panduväsudeva died in 414 BC, after his grandson Pandukabhaya was born.
Prince Abhaya, the eldest son of King Panduväsudeva, was solemnly consecrated as king.
During the last years of his life Vijaya lamented that he had no male heir of royal blood to succeed him to the throne. He wished to bring his twin-brother Sumitta from Sinhapura and handover his kingdom to him. Consulting his ministers Vijaya sent a letter to Sumitta. After some time Vijaya died.
After Vijaya’s death which ended the Kingdom of Tambapanni, his chief minister a Brahmin chaplain named Upatissa became regent. While the wait was on for the coming of prince Sumitta, Upatissa ruled the kingless kingdom for a year from Upatissagama (or Upatissa Nuwara) founded by him in 505 BC on the bank of river Gambhīra, about 8 miles north of Anuradhagama.
Other noteworthy establishments around Tambapanni were Anuradhagama and Vijitagama.
Anuradha, a minister of Vijaya, founded Anuradhagama (‘Anuradha’s village’) near the Kadamba river, the present Malwatu Oya. In later years, it became the capital of Rajarata for over a thousand years under the name Anuradhapura (Anuradha’s city).
Vijitha, one of Vijaya’s chief followers, founded Vijithagama also known as Vijitha Nagara or Vijithapura, a fortress-city. Historians believe that the city may have been an important trade center during the early stages of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, connecting several trade routes.
When Vijaya’s letter arrived at Sinhapura, Sumitta after the death of his father king Sinhabahu was already enthroned as king of his country. Sumitta had three sons by the princess of Madda. When he had heard the letter he was unwilling to leave his native land. So, he spoke to his three sons: “I am old, dear ones; one of you must depart for the greatly favoured and beauteous island of Tambapanni belonging to my brother, and there, after his death, assume, the sovereignty of that fair kingdom.”
Sumitta’s youngest son Panduvāsudeva consented to sail to Tambapanni. After being empowered by his father for the success of his journey, Panduvāsudeva took with him thirty-two sons of ministers and sailed with them in the disguise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara river.
Sri Lanka’s foremost historian and pre-eminent archaeologist Dr. Senarath Paranavithana, in his essay “Aryan settlements and early kings” published in the Concise History of Ceylon wrote: “Panduvasdeva with thirty two followers, it is said, arrived in Ceylon in the guise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara River at the port of Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee according to the commentator of the chronicle (Mahavamsa).”
When people saw these mendicant monks they received them with due respect. Panduvāsudeva after inquiring about the capital, reached the city of Upatissagama, with his 32 followers.
The ministers at Upatissagama saw the mendicant monks arrive there, after questioning they recognized them, as prince Panduvāsudeva and his retinue from Sinhapura. The ministers entrusted Panduvāsudeva with the sovereignty of the kingdom left by Vijaya. Since Panduvāsudeva lacked a consort he was not solemn consecrated as their ruler.
In the meantime, Sakka Pandu, a Sakya king, who lived on the farther side of the river Ganges, in India, had seven sons and a daughter named Bhaddakaccānā. The princess was beautiful as if made of gold. The soothsayers had predicted that an auspicious journey would come her way that would result in a royal consecration. Seven kings competed in wooing princess Bhaddakaccānā. They sent precious gifts to king Sakka Pandu.
These seven rivals appeared so likely to fight among themselves, for the hand of the gorgeous princess. Unable to decide between her suitors, king Pandu after placing his daughter on a ship, together with thirty-two women-companions launched the vessel upon the Ganges, saying: “Whosoever can, let him take my daughter.”
None of the wooers was able to overtake her ship that sailed swiftly down the Ganges river and reached the ocean.
After a few days of sailing on the ocean, their vessel reached the haven called Gonagamaka (present Trincomalee harbour) on the east coast of the island where they landed, dressed as nuns.
In due course, princess Bhaddakaccānā and her companions reached Upatissagama, where prince Panduvāsudeva, who had heard the saying of a soothsayer, awaited their arrival.
Panduvāsudeva’s ministers, full of pious understanding, consecrated him as their king. He married princess Bhaddakaccānā and gave her women-companions to his
followers who had come with him from Sinhapura.
Panduvāsudeva reigned for thirty years from 444 BC to 414 BC.
Vijaya’s ministers were quite intrepid in founding their own villages around Tambapanni. After they had founded settlements, the ministers spoke to prince Vijaya.
“Sire, please consent to be consecrated as the ruler of this land,” they said.
In spite of their request, the prince refused the consecration for want of a maiden hailing from a noble house to be consecrated as his consort at the same time.
The ministers, sent emissaries entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls, and other valuables, to the city of “Then Madurai” (the modern-day city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu), in the Pandya kingdom of the Tamils in southern India, to woo the daughter of the Pandya king for their lord, and the daughters of others for his ministers and retainers whose wives got separated from them during their voyage from the Lála country.
Since then, there are several recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandya, Chola, and the Chera.
The messengers from Tambapanni, on reaching Then Madurai laid the gifts and letter of request before the Pandya king. After consulting his ministers, the king agreed to send his daughter to the island of Tambapanni to become the consort of Vijaya. So, he proclaimed with the beat of drums:
“Those citizens who are willing to let their daughter depart to the island of Tambapanni shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign we will know that we may take their daughters to ourselves.”
The Pandya king thus obtained a hundred maidens. After compensating the families of the maidens, he sent his daughter, bedecked with all her ornaments and all that was needful for the voyage, the maidens whom he had fitted out according to their rank, elephants, horses, waggons, an so forth as dowry. He also sent craftsmen and a thousand families belonging to the eighteen trade guilds.
This multitude from Then Madurai disembarked at the port of Mahatittha (Mantota or Manthotam).
When Vijaya heard that the princess from the Pandya kingdom had arrived at the port of Mahatittha with her retinue he said to Kuveni: “Go thou now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings.”
When Kuveni heard this, seized with mortal fear of the yakshas she started wailing.
Vijaya then told her, “Delay not! I will give you a thousand (pieces of money).”
Kuveni implored again and again, but Vijaya did not relent. Outraged, Kuveni scorned Vijaya with words of wrath and cursed him and his city of Tambapanni. She then departed from the city with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala, for Lankapura, the capital of the yakshas, knowing very well that evil would befall her.
On reaching Lankapura, she left the children outside the city in the forest glades and went alone into the city. The yakshas in the city on recognizing her took her for a spy, and a violent yaksha killed Kuveni with a single blow of his fist.
A yaksha, an uncle of Kuveni on her mother’s side, saw the children waiting in the glades for the return of their mother. On learning that they were Kuveni’s children, he said: “Your mother has been slain, and if the other yakshas see you they will kill you also. So, go away immediately from here!”
They children trekked towards Sumanaküta (Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District). When they grew up Jivahata took his sister Disala for his wife. Their offsprings are the Veddhas of Sri Lanka.
The envoys of the Pandya king delivered their princess, the maidens, and the dowry to Vijaya. The prince offered his hospitality and bestowed honours on the envoys of the Pandya king. He distributed the maidens to his ministers and retainers according to their rank.
The ministers solemnly consecrated Vijaya as their king and the Pandya princess as their queen. King Vijaya bestowed wealth on his ministers. Every year he sent a valuable pearl to his father-in-law, the Pandya king.
Vijaya forsook his former evil way of life. He reigned Tambapanni for thirty-eight years from 543 BC – 505 BC, in peace and righteousness.
Yakka or yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots, but there is also a darker version of the yakkas, which is a kind of ghost (bhutha) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakshasas. The yakkas appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. The feminine form of the word is yakshi or yakshini.
After Vijaya and his men landed at Tambapanni, there appeared a dog. Though Prince Vijaya had advised his men not to venture alone into the forest, one of them surmising that ‘dogs are found only in villages,’ followed the creature.
On entering the thick forest, he saw the mistress of the dog, a yakshini named Kuveni also known as Sesapathi or Kuvanna (in Mahavamsa), seated at the foot of a tree spinning as a woman-hermit might.
When the man saw the pond and the woman-hermit sitting there, he dived into the pond. When he came out of the pond, after his bath, Kuveni approached him and commanded, “Stay! You are my prey!”.
The man stood there, traumatized. Kuveni tried to devour him, but could not because of the power of the magic thread. Though she entreated him, the man would not yield up the thread. The yakshini then seized him, and hurled him into a chasm. Similarly, she hurled all seven hundred, one by one, after him.
When none of his men returned, fear came upon Vijaya. Armed with five weapons he set out to find them. When he came up to the beautiful pond, he saw no trace of any man having come there. Then, he saw the woman-hermit and thought: ‘Surely this woman has seized by men.’
He asked her, “O woman, have you seen my men?”
“Why do you want your men, prince?” she replied. “First quench your thirst and bathe in the pond.”
Vijaya thought: ‘This surely is a yakshini! How else could she know my rank?’
Drawing his bow, he swiftly caught her in the noose about the neck, and seizing her hair with his left hand he lifted his sword in the right and shouted: “Slave! Give me back my men, or I will kill you!”
Fearing for her life Kuveni cried out, “Spare my life, sir. I will give you a kingdom and do a woman’s service and other services as you wish.”
He then asked her to swear an oath, and ordered her to bring his men immediately.
When she brought all his men to that place, he said, “These men are hungry.”
Kuveni showed them rice and other foods and goods of every kind that had been in the ships of those traders whom she had devoured. Vijaya’s men prepared food with the rice and the condiments provided by her.
Kuveni was well pleased when Vijaya handed her the first portions of the meal. She assumed the lovely form of a 16-year-old maiden and approached the prince adorned with all her ornaments.
She made an alluring bed at the foot of a tree and covered it with a tent adorned with a canopy. Vijaya’s men encamped around the tent.
Vijaya united with Kuveni and they blissfully spent the night on that bed.
In due course of time, Vijaya’s men spread throughout the region and established settlements.
One night, Vijaya heard music and singing, and asked the Kuveni, lying near him about the noise.
Kuveni said, “Here there is a yakka city called Sirisavatthu. A great multitude of yakkas has gathered here for the marriage of the daughter of the chief of the yakkas. The wedding festivities will last for seven days; hence this noise.”
Then she continued: ‘I will bestow kingship on you my lord if you would slay all the yakkas else they will kill me because it is through me that your men have taken up their dwelling here in this land which belongs to the yakkas. Today, you must kill all the yakkas participating in the festivities, else it will not be possible to destroy them later.”
Vijaya asked, “How can I slay the invisible yakkas?”
The yakkas because of their stealthy movement would have been invisible to Vijaya and his men who were newcomers to the island, and unused to its thick jungles. Even today, the veddas move about in the thick jungles almost invisibly.
Kuveni replied, “Wherever they might be, I will utter cries. When you hear my voice, strike! By my magic power I will direct your weapons to pierce their bodies.”
Vijaya listened to his consort. Directed by her, Vijaya fought fiercely and slew all the yakkas. He donned the garments of the chief of the yakkas and gave the other raiments to his followers.
After spending some days in Sirisavatthu, Vijaya returned to the place where he and his men landed. There he founded the city of Tambapanni and dwelt there with Kuveni.
Kuveni bore Vijaya two children, a son named Jivahata and a daughter named Disala.
Prince-regent Vijaya, the eldest son born to Sinhabahu and his twin-sister Sinhasivali, was cruel and callous – an embodiment of evil – and likewise were his friends. Angered by the many intolerable deeds of violence executed by the prince-regent and his followers, the subjects of Sinhapura brought the matter before the king. However, the king took no action against the prince-regent. The angry subjects finally asked the king to kill his evil son Vijaya.
The exasperated king arrested his eldest son Vijaya, the prince-regent, and seven hundred men who were his followers. After disgracing them by shaving off half the head of each person, he banished them from Lála country by loading the men, their wives, and their children on separate vessels and set them afloat on the sea.
The children landed on an island called Naggadipa or the ‘island of the naked’ (Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka).
The women landed on an island called Mahiladipaka or ‘islet of women’ in the Maldivian Islands.
Prince Vijaya and his unruly followers landed first at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sopara, in Thana district north of Mumbai. However, the hostile reception by the natives, and also dissidence and violence among his men, forced Vijaya to embark again. The second time, their vessel driven by the violence of the wind, they landed on the island of Sri Lanka.
Vijaya and his men after disembarking from the ship sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.
The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) identified the Island as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from Tambapanni, when he drafted his map of Sri Lanka. It carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering tip.
At the place of their landing they saw a wandering ascetic seated at the foot of a tree. They approached him and asked him: “What land is this, sir?”
“The island of Lanka,” the ascetic answered.”There are no men (humans) here, and here no dangers will arise.”
The ascetic blessed them by sprinkling on them water from his kamandalu (Tamil: kamandalam). After winding a thread about their hands he disappeared.
The consort of the king of the Vanga (a seafaring nation, in the eastern part of the Indian Subcontinent, comprising today’s politically divided Bengal region comprising West Bengal and Bangladesh), was Queen Mayavati, a princess from Kalinga. The royal couple had a daughter named Suppadevi, of whom at birth the court astrologers and soothsayers foretold evil falling upon her. They prophesied that the princess would be wilful and would have union with the king of beasts and lead a wild and unbecoming life.
So, princess Suppadevi was jealously guarded. She was very fair and grew up as the loveliest maiden in the Vanga kingdom. However, she was amorous and exuded uncontrollable sexuality. The king and the queen were not able to tolerate her defiance of parental authority and social norms.
One fine day, desiring the joy of an independent life, Princess Suppadevi eluding the vigilant royal attendants left her royal abode. She joined a caravan travelling to the Magadha country.
While camping in the forest of the Lála country the caravan met with disaster.
Scholars identify Lála country with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India which is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh at the extreme hilly west of Bengal where Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. Some scholars identify it as modern Gujarat.
According to the Mahavamsa, a lion attacked the caravan. However, the truth seems to be that it was a robber chief named Sinha, who with his men plundered the caravan).
While the other folk fled this way and that, Suppadevi ran along the path by which the lion had come.
After having assuaged its hunger, the lion beheld the libidinous princess from afar. It immediately desired her carnally. Waving its tail and ears laid-back, it approached Suppadevi. Seeing the lion, the princess remembered the prophecy of the astrologers and soothsayers. Without fear, she caressed the lion lustily rousing it to a fiery passion by her sensuous touch.
Suppadevi climbed on to the beast’s back. The lion immediately sped to its cave carrying the princess, and there it united with her. From this union, the princess in time bore twins – a son and a daughter. The son’s limbs were formed like a lion’s and Suppadevi named him Sinhabahu or lion-armed and named the daughter Sinhasivali or lion-maiden.
The lion kept them in a cave and covered the entrance with a huge rock.
When Sinhabahu was about sixteen years old, Suppadevi told him about her ancestry. The youth, longing to know more about the civilized world, wanted to leave the lion’s den.
One day, when the lion left the cave in search of prey, Sinhabahu after rolled off the rocky barrier. He carried his mother and sister on his shoulders and left the cave in haste. They clothed themselves with branches of trees and reached a border-village. There they met a son of Suppadevi’s uncle, a commander in the army of the Vanga king who ruled the border-country.
The commander gave them clothing which transformed into splendid garments. He served them food on leaves and by reason of their merit, the leaves turned into dishes of gold. The amazed commander asked Suppadevi who she was. The princess told him about her family and clan. The commander then took his uncle’s daughter with him and went to the capital of the Vangas and married her.
When the lion, returning to its cave missed those three people it loved most. It grieved after its offsprings. It neither ate nor drank. Seeking its children it went to the villages in the border-country and found them deserted.
The border-folk came to the king and told that a ferocious lion ravaged their land and appealed to him to ward off this danger.
The king offered a thousand gold coins for the person who would kill the lion.
When Sinhabahu expressed his intention to kill the lion, twice did his mother restrain him.
Since no one dared to kill the lion, the king raised the bounty to two thousand and then to three thousand gold coins along with his kingdom for whoever killed the ravaging lion.
Without informing his mother, Sinhabahu presented himself before the aged king and volunteered to kill the lion.
The youth went to his former home, the lion’s den. When the beast saw Sinhabahu from afar it came forward, to greet its lost son. Sinhabahu without any remorse shot an arrow to slay his father, the lion. Due to the paternal love of the beast, the arrow struck its forehead, rebounded, and fell at the son’s feet without causing any harm. Sinhabahu shot another arrow and then a third, but neither harmed the lion. The lion became wrathful and growled. The fourth arrow pierced the lion’s body and killed it.
Sinhabahu cut off the head of the lion along with its majestic mane. When he reached the capital he learned that seven days had passed since the death of the king of the Vangas.
The ministers rejoiced over the youth’s valiant deed. When the ministers saw Suppadevi, they were all happy to learn that Sinhabahu was the grandson of the late king. The ministers in unison requested the valiant young man him to be their king. Sinhabahu accepted the kingship. Later when his mother got married he handed the kingdom to his mother’s husband.
Sinhabahu with his twin-sister Sinhasivali left the capital of the Vangas and went back to Lála country, the land of their birth. There he made his twin-sister Sinhasivali his consort. He built a city, and they called it Sinhapura.
Sinhasivali gave birth to twin sons sixteen times. Altogether there were thirty-two sons. King Sinhabahu named his eldest son Vijaya, and the younger twin-brother Sumitta. Sinhabahu consecrated Vijaya as prince-regent.
Sri Lanka has had a continuous record of human settlement for more than two millennia, and its civilization has been shaped largely by that of the Indian subcontinent. The island’s two major ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and its two dominant religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, made their way to the island from India, and Indian influence pervaded such diverse fields as art, architecture, literature, music, medicine, and astronomy. – Encyclopaedia Britannica (Sri Lanka)
Geologically, Sri Lanka, also known as India’s Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland. In consequence, the ancestors of almost all the communities now living in Sri Lanka migrated to the island at some time in the past from India. Scholars agree that the two major communities who now call themselves Sinhalese and Tamils migrated to Sri Lanka from India.
According to history, the Sri Lankan population of the past was not divided into two major races as Sinhalese and Tamils. In the past, in the two native languages Sinhala and Tamil, the word ‘Jathi‘ did not mean race but caste.
It was only in the 19th century, during the British period, consolidation of the population into two major races as Sinhalese and Tamils came into existence. As such, the various caste groups that now make up the Sinhala ‘race’ have their own stories of origin.
None of the Kings and Queens of Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa has ever claimed that they were Sinhalese. But they have consistently claimed in their inscriptions to have descended from the Kshatriya race and the Indian Sun Dynasty and Lunar Dynasty. The Sun and Moon Flag (Sinhala: Ira Handa Kodiya) symbolises the Solar and Lunar Dynasty origins of the Sinhalese community.
The ancientMahavamsaor the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka is a historical poem, written in the Pāli language around 4th century AD, about the rulers of Sri Lanka. The first few chapters the Pālicover the period from the coming of Prince Vijaya of the Rarh region of ancient Bengal in 543 BC to the reign of King Mahasena (334-361). The Mahavamsa too refers to the ancient kings and queens of Sri Lanka, not as Sinhalese, but as Kshatriyas from the Solar and Lunar dynasties.
Though not considered a canonical religious scripture, the Mahavamsa is an important text in Theravada Buddhism. It covers the early history of the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka, beginning with the time of Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Every chapter of the Mahavamsa ends by stating that it is written for the “serene joy of the pious“.
It is said Lord Buddha visited ancient Lanka three times, but there were no following nor disciples in Lanka as a result of his visits. It was only after Arahath Mahendra, and his fraternal twin of Theri Sanghamitra, the children of Samrat Asoka born to his supreme consort and first wife Vidisha Mahadevi, brought Buddhism here, and the Lankans followed it.
From the emphasis of its point-of-view, one can deduce that Buddhist monks compiled Mahavamsa to record the benevolent deeds of the kings who were patrons of the Mahavihara (Pali: “Great Monastery”) in Anuradhapura. The Theravada Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara chronicled the history of Sri Lankan beginning from the 3rd century BC. In the 5th century AD, the Buddhist monk Mahathera Mahanama combined and compiled these annals into a single document.
The official story of the origin of the Sinhalese from a lion in India is not from the original traditions of any Sinhalese caste. Even in the Mahavamsa, the ‘Lion’ myth encompasses only Vijaya’s family and does not include the service castes that came along with him. The Lion story does not even relate to his ministers. The fact that most Sinhalese castes have their own origin stories proves this.
The Salagamas caste traces its origin in Sri Lanka to Nambudiri and other Saligrama Brahmins who came over from Malabar in Kerala invited by king Vathhimi Buvenekabahu of Sri Lanka.
The muni clan names of the Salagamas bear testimony to their Brahmin origins.
The Durava caste traces its origins from the Nagas and retinues of Pandyan consorts.
The Navandanna caste traces its origin to Vishwakarma.
The Deva Kula (also known as Wahumpura, Hakuru, etc.) descended from a deified ruler of Sabaragamuwa named Sumana.
The Sunnakkara Kula (Also known as Hunu) descended from the traditional architects and engineers of Sri Lanka.
The Kumbal Kula (also known as Badal, Badahela, etc.) descended from the first humans to graduate from wild men to humans who cooked their food in clay pots. From this initial quantum leap, developed cultivation and other occupations.
The Bathgama caste is descended from the original pre-Vijayan, Yakka (also called Yaksha) inhabitants of Sri Lanka.
The Govi Caste, according to the Janawamsayaa and other sources, sprung from the feet of Brahma. The modern Govigama caste is an identity created during the British period by the De Saram Mudaliar family of mixed origins. Many successful people of unknown provenance joined the Govigama group during the British period.
Several other castes trace their origin to the guilds that arrived with the sacred Bodhi tree.
So, not a single Sinhalese caste has an origin story connecting it to Vijaya or a beastly lion ancestor. According to the Mahavamsa, the term Sinhala could be applied only to the first royal family of Vijaya and not to the population at large. Also, according to the chronicles, Vijaya did not sire a successor.
Whatever it be, the lore of Vijaya as told in the Mahavamsa brings to light the fact that the Sinhalese ‘race’ is not indigenous to the island but descended from many ethnic groups inherent to India.