Features
Thursday 15, October 1998

Heritage of the South

Tissamaharama is well known to be in the south-east of the Island-twenty miles by road to the north-east of Hambantota, and about six and a-half from the mouth of the Magama or Kirinde-ganga. It is also known as the site of the large dagabas built by Mahanaga, the third son of king Mutasiva, and his successors-the chief one being the Maharama-and of the Tissa tank, or Tissavava (commonly called Tihava), presumably constructed by the same son of Mutasiva, which has been restored during recent years. Five miles from Tissavava and three from the village of Kirinde is the village of Magama, said to be at the site of the ancient southern capital, Magama, on the bank of the Magama-ganga. A mile to the eastward of Tissavava is a larger shallow reservoir, long since abandoned, the bund of which now goes by the name of Yodayakandiya. This tank is probably the Dura and Duratissa tank of the Mahavamsa. The waste water of Tissavava flowed into this reservoir by a wide excavated channel, and there can be no doubt that the object of this larger tank was the irrigation of a considerable part of the land lying between Tissavava and the sea; Thissavava itself being of small capacity, and evidently originally intended to provide water chiefly for the use of the large monastic establishment of the Tissa Viharas, and for the numerous residents in its immediate neighbourhood.

As the early monarchs of Anuradhapura devoted their energies (after the introduction of Buddhism by Mahinda) to the construction of edifices in the sacred grounds attached to the Maha Vihara, so in the south the kings of Magama have left, on a smaller scale, an interesting series of remains at Tissavava, to testify their devotion to the religion of the "Enlightened." What the Maha Vihara with its numerous priests was to Anuradhapura, the Tissa Viharas were to the Magama of the period. At both capitals the lay buildings have almost disappeared.

As in the northern capital,the dagabas constitute the most imposing ruins at Tissavava.

There are four principal dagabas lying in an irregular east and west line, and also the ruins of two other minor ones, the names of which are not known. Beginning at the east, the name of the larger ones are, Sandagiri, Maharama, Yatthala, and Manik dagabas; and all four are locally attributed to Mahanaga, or the next kings, including Dutthagamini. It is only certain, however, that the Maharama dates from the reign of Mahanaga, but it is most probable that the Sandagiri dagaba is also one of his constructions, and that the other were also built while Magama remained the capital of a semi-independent Southern Kingdom, and were due to either the same ruler or his immediate successors. The Yatthala and Manik dagabas are comparatively small. Through the energy of two priests, the Maharama has lately been restored, and little but the spire now remains to be added; this will bring the whole height to about 130 feet, - low in comparison with the immense structures of Anuradhapura, yet enough to make the dagaba a prominent and imposing object in the flat field below the Tissa tank. It would be out of place to give in this report a detailed description of these dagabas. Although varying in the number of basal platforms, all appear to be otherwise built of solid brickwork laid horizontally, either dry or in mud, and to be after the usual ancient type as regards relative proportions. The unrepaired ones are in a very ruinous state, but the priests in charge of them intend to gradually place all the larger ones in order and the work of restoration has this year been begun at two of them. The two first mentioned dagabas are situated to the southeast of the Tissa tank, a short distance below its embankment, in what is now the paddy field; the other two large ones lie to the west of the tank, nearer the river (the Magama-ganga), which flows past at a distance of two miles from the tank. I may note here that Dr. Muller has inadvertently fallen into an error in stating that this river flows through the tank. (Ancient Inscriptions in Ceylon, p. 40, footnote.) The water is brought from the river to the tank by means of a deep excavated channel, several miles long. In former times tank was supplied with water in a similar manner, but by a channel following a different course from that now adopted.

Surrounding these dagabas are numerous remains of buildings which were doubtless, for the most part, Viharas built either by Mahanaga and his successors, or, in some cases, by rulers of a somewhat later period. The statement in the Mahavamsa (ed. Turnover, p. 217), to some extent confirmed by the inscription in the Maharama (Ancient Inscriptions, No. 4), that King Ilanaga "enlarged the Naga Maha Vihara to the extent of a hundred lengths of his unstrung bow" - that is, some 600 feet in length-will give an idea of the area once covered by these structures; but now all that is to be seen above-ground usually consists of the upper part of a few squared, upright pillars, which formed part of the walls, or assisted in supporting the roof.

On the western side of the Tissa tank, near the Manik and Yatthala dagabas, and not far from the river, there are (besides the buildings which were occupied by the priests) several other remains of edifices which appear to have belonged to influential members of the laity, as well as the ruins of what is said by some to have been the royal palace, a large hall about 140 feet long by 70 feet wide, of which the plain, rough, monolithic pillars, mostly upright, standing at present from 12 to 15 feet above the ground level, are all that is now visible. These pillars, measuring in cross section from 1 to 1 1/2 feet by 2 feet, and about 10 feet apart, may possibly have supported an upper room, and all have sockets cut in their top for the reception of beams.

Near this building is a very substantial, upright, octagonal monolith, the "Atabanduva," mentioned by Dr. Muller as bearing an inscription of the 6th or 7th century. A.D. (Ancient Inscriptions, No. 109), which is deeply worn by both the neck and feet chains by which the tusk-elephant was attached to it; and also has recesses cut in it near the top for the reception of the beams on which the roof of the elephant-shed rested. The more important private dwellings in this quarter were surrounded by a boundary wall of rectangular plan, which in some cases enclosed an extensive area, in the middle of which stood the house. The largest of these buildings was probably the palace.

On the opposite, or eastern, side of the tank were few buildings of magnitude; but two large, prostrate, octagonal pillars have been met with, bearing short inscriptions of a much older date than that on the Atabanduva, and apparently of the first or second century A.D. (See Appendix, Note 2). I have also seen pieces of tile and pottery extending for fully half a mile into the jungle, from the tank and there appears to have been a large population on this side also.

The accounts of early Simhala rule neglect everything which was not intimately connected with the rulers residing in the northern capitals, and contain only occasional curt notices of the capitals of the subsidiary kingdoms or provinces which at one time existed in Sri Lanka. Even in this fragmentary state of the history of the southern metropolis, magama, it is surprising to find no special reference to the construction of the important dagabas at Tissawewa, more especially when it is considered that the chief one, the Maharama, was by far the largest dagaba of its time in Sri Lanka, and that it continued to be so for 80 years at least.

It can hardly be assumed that the northern historians were ignorant of the building of this structure. When, however, the merely casual references to the Mahiyangana and Kalaniya dagabas-both of them, in ancient times, more sacred edifices in the eyes of a devout Buddhist-are taken into consideration, it is clear that the silence regarding these southern works is nothing unusual, and does not afford any evidence against their presumed early construction. There is no reason to doubt that the Maharama was built by Mahanaga, the younger brother of King Devanampiya Tissa, and the inscription in it, copied by Dr. Goldschmidt, leaves no uncertainty as to its bearing its constructor's name in the early part of the 1st century A.D. It is explicitly stated also (Mah, p.130) that Mahanaga constructed the vihara bearing his name, which must certainly have been close to the dagaba. This necessarily implies the residence of a considerable monastic fraternity at the spot, for whom a water-supply nearer than the river was plainly indispensable. There could be no water at the site, except during and immediately after the rainy seasons; and I am aware of only one ancient well in the neighbourhood, at the presumed royal palace. In order to construct the dagaba also, as well as to prepare the clay obtained on the spot for moulding the bricks of which it is built, a water-supply must undoubtedly have been provided.

The only regular water-supply which has ever existed has been furnished by the Tissa tank, and the conclusion is inevitable that the tank is at least as old as the dagaba and vihara. Possibly it may have been in existence, as a small tank, from a considerably earlier date, as there is some reason for believing; but, in any case, it cannot be assigned to a later one.

This Tissa tank was extended "in like manner" (i.e. made of larger area, just as the dagaba and vihara were increased in size) by King Ilanga, 38-44 A.D. (Mah. 217) - a fact which will be shown to afford some proof of the age of remains now reported on.

The tank and dagaba were again repaired by King Kanittha Tissa, 155-173 A.D., according to the Situlpahuwa inscription. (ancient Inscriptions, No. 16).

As the date of the construction of these works is intimately connected with the subject of this report, it is important to endeavour to fix the actual time with some approximation to greater accuracy than the ancient histories can lay claim to. Mahanaga settled at Magama soon after Devanampiya Tissa succeeded to the throne, which, according to the Mahavamsa, took place in 307 B.C. This event, however, occurred considerably later, - apparently about 62 years afterwards. In dealing with this part of the subject, I have taken the opportunity of investigating the chronology of the previous rulers of Sri Lanka, and of drawing up a corrected chronological table for them. If this has been previously done, of which I am not aware, such a table is, at any rate, not usually accessible to students in Sri Lanka.

If we consider King Mutasiva to have been 45 years old when his youngest son was born-(his ten sons-if not his two daughters-are explicitly stated to have the children of one mother; Mah., p. 128)-- the following will be the probable ages and lengths of reign of the earlier Kings of Sri Lanka, according to the Mahavamsa:-

King			Accession	Length of Reign			Age
			BC		Years
Vijaya			543		38				65
Panduvasa Deva		504		30				55
Abhaya			474		26				70
Pandukabhaya		437		70				107
Mutasiva		367		60				146
Devanampiya Tissa	307		40				156
Uttiya			267		10				158
Mahasiva		257		10				166
Suratissa		247		10				174
Sena and Guttika	237		22				---
Asela			215		10				204
Elara			205		44				70
Kakavannatissa		---		--				64
Dutthagamini		161		24				68
Saddhatissa		137		18				84

Of course such ages would be utterly preposterous, in whatever climate, and it is quite plain that this chronology has been deliberately falsified; probably, as Turnover pointed out, to make the period of Vijaya's landing in the Island coincide with the date adopted as the beginning of the Buddhist era. Except that Saddhatissa seems to have lived to a suspiciously great age, and Elara to have been too old to engage in single combat, even on an elephant, with Dutthagamini, there are no data by which to prove that any inaccuracy exists subsequent to the reign of Asela.

Taking, therefore, the date of Elara's accession as the foundation on which to build up a less impossible chronological table, and accepting the periods of the Mahavamsa only when in accordance with probabilities, we have first the fact that Asela died a violent death about 205 BC (Mah. p. 128). He was the ninth son of Mutasiva, Kira being the youngest son. As, apparently, all his brothers, except Suratissa, had previously died natural deaths, Asela appears to have reached an advanced age when Elara seizes the throne. If he was 75 years old when he was killed (an age attained by few monarchs), - he was born in 280 BC. Thus, his youngest brother, Kira, cannot have been born earlier than 279 BC. Considering that, as above stated, all Mustasiva's children were the issue of one mother, it is most improbable that this king was more than 45 years old when his youngest son, Kira was born. This will bring the date of Mutasiwa's birth to 324 BC. It might occur later, but it can hardly be assigned to an earlier date.

Panduvasa Deva died at the time of Pandukabhaya's birth (Mah. p. 58), and his son Abhaya reigned 20 years before Pandukabhaya, having made Suvannapali his queen, took field with his troop in the 17 years' fighting, which was ended by his acquiring the sovereignty. There are some discrepancies in the account of this desultory war given in the Mahavamsa (pp. 60-64), but as it is distinctly stated, both in that history (p. 67), and in the Dipavamsa (ed. Oldenberg, p. 164), that the campaigns lasted 17 years, that Pandukabhaya was 16 when he came under the guardianship of Pandala, under whom he remained while his education was being perfected (Mah., p. 60), and that he was 37 when be became king, we must conclude that the statement as to his being married at 20 is correct. In this case the birth of his son Mutasiva may have occurred when he was 21. Pandukabhaya was therefore born about 345 BC, and ascended the throne in 308 BC. It is evident (Mah., pp. 65-67) that he reigned many years. Practically, he built the city of Anuradhapura, which doubtless previously resembled a large irregular village, or a cluster of hamlets, rather than a town fit to be the capital of a kingdom. This was after he had "tranquillized" the country, and fixed the village boundaries throughout the Island, which alone occupied 10 or 12 years of his reign. Altogether, the length of his whole reign cannot have been much less than 80 years from 308 to 278 BC, and possibly it might be a few more.

Abhaya succeeded to the throne at the birth of Pandukabhaya, that is, in 345 BC.

Panduvasa Deva is said to have reigned 30 years (Mah. p. 58), that is, from 375 BC to 345 BC; and as there are no data for correcting this period, it must be accepted as accurate. He unmarried when he assumed the soverignty (Mah., pp. 54-55), so that we may presume his eldest son, Abhaya, to have born about 373 BC.

Uptissa held the sovereignty, as provisional ruler, for one year previous to Panduvasa deva's arrival - from 376 to 375 BC.

Vijaya is stated to have reigned 38 years; this will bring the date of his landing in Sri Lanka to 414 BC (Mah., P. 53). While this event cannot be considered to have occurred before 420 BC, it may very possibly have happened some years later-between 400 and 420 BC. In view of the Sinhala tradition that Vijaya landed in Sri Lanka at the time of the Buddha's death, I would invite special attention to Professor Rhys Davids' reasoning by which the date 412 BC is arrived at for the commencement of the Buddhist era. (Coins and Measures of Ceylon, p. 65).

Regarding the time of the accession of Devanampiya Tissa, we have the statement in the Dipavamsa (XI., 14) that "when seventeen years of that king (that is, Asoka) and six months of the next year had elapsed, in the second month of the winter season, under the most auspicious Nakkhatta of Asalha, Devanampiya Tissa was installed in the kingdom of Tambapanni. Asoka appears to have ascended the throne in 263 BC. (Duncker's History of Antiquity, Vol.IV., p. 525, fn), and this will bring the date of Devanampiya Tissa's accession to 245 BC. According to this chronology, Mutasiva died at the age of 79, which is quite in accordance with the statement that he attained a great age (Mah., p. 76). This nearly agrees, also, with the chronology in the Dipavamsa that places Mutasiva's death at 74 years after Chandragupta's accession, which Professor Duncker fixes at 315 BC, by means of Greek chronology (loc. cit, pp. 442-443).

Assuming Mutasiva to have been 45 years old, as above when his youngest son was born, it is not likely that he would be less than 28 at the birth of his third son, Mahanaga; that is, Mahanaga was born somewhere about 296 BC. This prince was thus about 51 years old when Devanampiya Tissa became king in 245 BC. Very shortly after this he came to Magama, say in 243 BC; and if so, we must assign the construction of the Tissa tank and great dagaba to about 230 or 240 BC.

It will be found that this leaves very little time for the princes of the Southern Kingdom between Mahanaga and Dutthagamini, and that if the above dates are to be depended on as being even an approximation to the truth, it is quite incorrect to state (as Turnour has done, on the authority of the Tika, I presume), that Yatthalaka Tissa was born during the flight of his parents to Magama. Most probably both he and his son, Gothabhaya, were born before their father finally left Anuradhapura, and there is nothing to show that this is not meaning of the words of Mahinda's prophecy to Devanampiya Tissa (Mah., p. 97). It is much more likely that Yatthalaka Tissa built the dagaba which bears his name, than that he was born at the spot. If his birth occurred there while his parents were coming to Magama, the date cannot possibly have been much earlier than 243 BC, yet his grandson, Kakavannatissa, lived 64 years, and died in 161 BC. In other words, according to this statement Yatthalaka Tissa was born only 18 years before his own grandson.

The revised chronological table now arrived at for the early Sinhalese Kings is, thus as follows:-

Name of King.		Accession	Length of Reign.	Probable age
			B.C.		Years.			Years

Vijaya			414		38			65
Upatissa		376		1			-
Panduvasa Deva		375		30			55
Abhaya			345		26			70
Interregnum (Tissa)	319		11			-	
Pandukabhaya		308		30(?)			67
Mutasiva		278		33(?)			79
Devanampiya Tissa	245	
Uttiya to Assela,			73			-
six/reigns	-
Elara			205		44			70
Dutthagamini		161		24			68
Saddhatissa		137		18			84

This gives a mean of 19.1 years for each reign, or almost the same as the average reigns of the English sovereigns from the establishment of the Heptarchy. From Vijaya to the accession of Elara, the date from which the table is calculated, the average reign is exactly 15 years, which is the same as the average for Indian Kings. (Report on Archaeological Survey of India, Vol. IX., p. 180.)

I now venture to refer to a collateral subject, more intimately allied to my report, regarding which there have been many conflicting opinions, and on which much writing has been expended without any satisfactory result, viz., the site of the first capital of Sri Lanka - the city of Tambapanni, founded by Wijaya. For many years it has been locally held that the place called Tammanna Nuwara, a few miles from Puttalam, was this city; the only apparent reason for the belief being the similarity of the names. Dr. E. Muller has already stated that this place does not appear to have been Vijaya's city, and having visited the site with Mr. P. Templer, when he was Assistant Government Agent of Puttalam, I can quite endorse his opinion. The Mi-oya, which flows past at the distance of fully a mile, is usually dry in the summer months; there are no wells to be seen at the site, nor was there any better watersupply for the inhabitants than was contained in three very small shallow tanks. This would be undoubtedly not suffice for the wants of any large population.

When the extreme likelihood that there were no artificial tanks - or, at any rate, none but tanks of the smallest size - in the Island before the advent of Vijaya is considered, the absolute necessity of a previously existing and unfailing natural water-supply at the site of the city, such as could only be found in one of the rivers, is apparent. In their need of fresh water the invaders must, without any doubt, have landed at the mouth of one of the rivers. On this, if the water-supply were sufficiently good, and to be depended on, and other things were favourable, their first settlement would probably be founded. Tambapanni must therefore be looked for near the mouth of a river which always contains a good supply of potable water near its mouth, yet which is not liable to have its banks overflowed in the wet seasons. This considerably reduces the list of possible sites. For one or the other of these reasons the north-western rivers-the Malvatta-oya (or Aruvi-aru), the Modaragamoya, the Kala-oya, and the mi-oya- must all be abandoned, as well as many other sites which have been suggested as likely ones. Dr. Muller has expressed an opinion (Ancient Inscriptions, p. 23) that the settlers may have merely come across from South India, in which case, as he states, traces of the capital should certainly be in existence near either the Aruvi-aru (or Malwatte-oya) or the Modaragam-oya. But from my acquaintance with the lower portions of these rivers, I am able to state that no such ruins are to be found near their mouths.

In this uncertainty we have valuable evidence in the old historical works, particularly in the Dipavamsa, which Dr. Oldenberg has shown to be an earlier work than the Mahavamsa, and most probably to contain, in some measure, literal extracts from the original Atthakatha. I venture to annex an extract from it regarding Vijaya's landing, the italics being mine:

"That crowd of men having gone on board their ship, sailing on the sea, were driven away by the violence of the wind, and lost their bearings. They came to Lamkadipa, where they disembarked and went on shore. The red-coloured dust of the ground covered their arms and hands; hence the name of the place was called Tambapanni (copper-palmed). Thambapanni was the first town in the most excellent Lamkadipa; there Vijaya resided and governed his kingdom. Many people, crowds of men and women, came together, (hence each) prince founded a town in the different parts. The town of Tambapanni surrounded by suburbs, was built by Vijaya in the south on the most lovely bank of the river. The king called Vijaya by name was the first ruler who reigned in Tambapanni over the delightful island of Lanka. When seven years (of his reign) had passed the land was crowded with people." (Dip., p. 162).

The remark in this extract that Vijaya and his followers were "driven away by the violence of the wind" can only indicate belief, at the time when the Atthakatha was composed, that they came to Ceylon during the north-east monsoon. Sailing from the east coast of India-whether in the south or as far as north as the Ganges-no other wind could drive them to Sri Lanka. If this were the case, it is improbable that they would attempt to land on the east coast of Sri Lanka in such rough weather exposed to the heavy seas from the Bay of Bengal. Rounding the south-east corner of the Island, the neighbourhood of Kirinde would be one of the places where they would have an opportunity of coming safely on shore. The sentence above quoted may thus be taken as a proof that at least 74 years before Christ Tambapanni Nuvara, of the exact site of which the compilers of the Atthakatha must have been aware, was known to be near the southern or south-eastern coast, as in fact is explicitly stated later on in the same extract if we adopt Dr. Oldenberg's reading.

The next piece of evidence is contained in the Rajawalliya (Upham's ed., p. 168), which describes Vijaya's arrival as follows:- .......... And when the said ship was sailing towards the country, Runa-Rata, in the midst of the sea, they perceived the large rock called Samanakuta Parvata of Adam's Peak, in Sri Lanka, and there they concluded amongst themselves that it was a good country for them to reside in; and so they landed at the place called Tammannatota in Sri Lanka."

Tammannatota means the landing-place, or ferry, or port of (or for) Tammanna. From the neighbourhood of Kirinde the top of Adam's Peak is visible, and of course the extract plainly indicates that the port for Tammanna was believed by the compiler to be in the Southern Province. There was thus a decided consensus of opinion in former times that Wijaya both landed and founded his capital in the south of Sri Lanka.

Practically, this is the whole of the evidence which is available regarding the arrival of Vijaya himself. But there is very valuable information respecting the landing of Vijaya's successor, Panduvasa Deva, who came from the same place, and presumably took the same route to Sri Lanka, less than 40 years afterwards. If it were shown that Panduvasa Deva landed in the north or west of Sri Lanka, that would be no proof that Wijaya landed in that part of the Island. But if it can be shown that Panduvasa Deva landed in the south of south-east of Sri Lanka, we shall have strong presumptive evidence that he took the same circuitous route as his predecessor. It is most unlikely that he would travel several hundred miles more than were known to be absolutely necessary; if he came to the south, therefore, he took the usual route of vessels from the Ganges. Vessels from the Ganges must at first have all come during the north-east monsoon, just as ships from the Far West were compelled to regulate their voyages by the prevailing winds. The Rajavaliya even says explicitly that Panduvasa Deva arrived at "the haven of Tammanna Nuvara," the same spot as Vijaya's landing-place, after coming by ship from Simhala Nuvara (p. 168).

There is not the least reason for doubting the statement in the Mahavamsa that Panduvasa Deva landed at the port of Gonagama at the mouth of the great Kandara river; and also that the Princess Bhaddhakacchana afterwards landed at the same site. According to these authorities, Gonagama is therefore the same spot as the port for Tammanna Nuwara. As to this place, where Panduvasa Deva disembarked, no uncertainty need exist. I am now able to suggest with confidence that this great Kandara river is no other than the Magama or Kirinde-ganga; and, in proof of the identification, I have discovered that Gonagama is yet the name of a natural tank, locally termed a wila (still bearing its original appellation, the penultimate syllable being of course shortened), near the mouth of the river, about 2 1/2 miles from the sea. The village has, however, disappeared.

A confirmation of this identification is to be found in Dr. Muller's words (Ancient Inscriptions, p. 57) regarding the grant by the 'Apa Mahinda-recorded in the Mayilagastota inscription (No. 120) - to the Maha Vihara and the "Uda Tisa Piriwena." Dr. Muller identifies the site as follows:- "By the Maha Wihara, most probably, we have to understand the Nagamahavihara at Tissamaharama, and the Udatisa pirivena is perhaps the Uddhakandara Vihara mentioned at Mah., p. 130." As is well known at Tissamaharama, Uda Tihawa is the present name of the upper part of the Tissa tank. It once formed a separate tank, the bund of which is now to be seen inside the present Tissa tank. If, then, the two names, Udatisa and Uddhakandara, are applied to this one place the latter can only be taken from the adjacent river, the Kandara, between which and the tank the pirivena probably stood. The villagers inform me that there are now a few pillars, which formed the remains of some such building in the jungle to the West of the upper part of the Tissa tank. At any rate, it is certain that Uddhakandara was in Rohana.


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