A brief historical background to coinage
of the Polonnaruva Period
Medieval Lanka - 9th to 13th century AD

During the later part of the seventh century the island of Lanka was again subject to Pallava influence. This came about when the aspiring king of Lanka, Manavamma, had to flee the island and took refuge with Narasimhavarman Pallava, whom he assisted in the campaign of AD 642 against the Chalukyas. Manavamma twice invaded Lanka at the head of a Pallava army and, on his second attempt, succeeded in gaining the Sinhala throne in AD 668, the year when his supporter Narasimhavarman died. From the time of the Pallava defeat at the hands of the Chalukyas in 740 this people ceased to exert their influence in the south, but it was not until nearly a century later that the Pandyas, who now dominated the Penninsula, began to make their power felt on the island.

In the middle of the ninth century Lanka was attacked by the Pandya king Srimara Srivallabha (815-862) during the reign of the Sinhala king Sena I (824-844), probably because Sena's father had expelled the legitimate heir, Mahendra who spent his exile with the Pandyas, and Sena himself had arranged Mahendra's death. Sena I's son Sena II (844-879) gave refuge to a rebel son of the Pandya king and later invaded the Pandyan realm, capturing Madura. He killed the Pandya king Srimara Srivallabha in 862 and placed his son Varaguna II on the Pandys throne. A few years later Sena provided an army to enable Varaguna's brother, Parantaka Vira-narayana Pandya, to invade the Pandya country (878), when Varaguna was engaging in successful northern campaigns against the Cholas and the Gangas. When Varaguna returned south he was defeated by the joint armies of Parantaka Vira Narayana and Sena II. Parantaka Vira Narayana (878- 900) took the throne of Madura.

In 909 the Cholas, resurgent under the leadership of Parantaka I Chola (907-941), occupied the Pandyan capital and Parantaka gave himself the epithet 'Maduraikonda'. His suzerainty was also recognized by the Cheras and the Gangas, the other contemporary powers in the Penninsula. The Pandya king Maravarman Rajasimha II requested Sinhala help and Kasyapa VI (907-917) sent an army, but Parantaka Chola defeated 917/8 the combined armies of Rajasimha and Kasyapa. Rajasimha Pandya took refuge in Lanka, then moved on to Kerala.

Barely two decades later, between 943 and 949, Parantaka Chola invaded Lanka and sacked the Royal Palace, and obliged the Sinhala king Udaya IV (942-950) to take refuge at Ruhuna in the south of the island. Northern Lanka remained under Chola occupation until Parantaka was obliged to retire in 949, due to invasion of his own lands by the Rashtrakutas. Krishna III Rashtrakuta later led a raid on northern Lanka during the reign of the Sinhala king Mahendra IV (953-969) but no conquest was achieved. After Mahendra had been succeeded by his 12 year old son Sena V in 969 the island was ravaged by the Tamils; mercenaries hired by a rebellious general who was also named Sena. The king again took refuge at Ruhuna in the south of the island. Anarchy persisted during the reign of the next youthful king, Sena V's younger brother Mahendra V (979-1027).

This anarchy enabled the King Rajaraja Chola to invade and conquer the northern half of Lanka, a region which he re-named Mummudi-cholamandalam. His successor Rajendra Chola conquered the rest of the island on 1017 and the Sinhala king, Mahendra, was taken prisoner to Tanjore, where he died in 1027. From 1017 until 1070 Lanka was dominated by the Cholas. During that time some local dignitaries, who were given the title king in the Sinhala Chronicles, exercised some authority in the Ruhuna district of southern Lanka at times when they were not subjected to attacks by the Chola masters of the island.

Anonymous gold coins was issued in opposition to Chola issues of Rajaraja type. The series appears to have been initiated only shortly before the date when Rajaraja Chola invaded Lanka (990) and the coinage appears to have been struck through the period when the Cholas dominated the island (1017-1070). It is not certain whether this type of coin was introduced at Polonnaruwa shortly before Rajaraja Chola occupied northern Lanka or whether it was introduced at Ruhuna, the capital in the south of the island to which the Sinhala court had been obliged to move as a result of Rajaraja's conquests.

Lanka was freed from the Cholas by Vijayabahu in 1070/1. The ensuing century and a half is often known as the Polonnaruwa age. Vijaya-bahu made his younger brother Virabahu governor of Dakshina-desa province and his youngest brother Jaya-bahu governor of Ruhuna province. Lilavati, daughter of the former Sinhala 'king' Jagatipala (1042-1046) escaped from the Chola country and, on her return to the island, she became Vijaya-bahu's queen. Marriage alliances were arranged with both the Pandyan and the Kalingan royal houses.

When Vijaya-bahu died in 1110 his sister Mitra, assisted by her Pandyan husband, ralsed Jaya-bahu (Vijayabahu's youngest brother) to the throne of Polonnaruwa and made her own son Manabharana the Yuvaraja (heir). But these moves outraged the Kalingan faction at court. They supported prince Vikrama-bahu who had been born of a Kalingan princess. Civil war ensued, and continued until Jaya-bahu died in 1116. Vilrama-bahu (1116-1137) was able to rule in peace and passed the crown of Polonnaruwa on to his son Gaja-bahu (1137-1153). Meanwhile Manabharana, former Yuvaraja to the deceased Jaya-bahu, had produced a son named Parakrama-bahu. Parakrarna-bahu had now grown to maturity and led the pro-Pandyan partisans in the south of the island. Parakrama-bahu mounted a campaign against Gaja-bahu and, after a civil war lasting several years, Parakrama-bahu was able to enjoy the throne of Polonnaruwa when Gaja-bahu had died in 1153.

Parakramabahu (1153-1186) Aiiirejaresya-bhujanga, grandson of Vijaya-bahu, was a powerful monarch who re-organised the administration of the island and rebuilt the cities of Polonnaruwa and Ahuradhapura. The formerly friendly relations enjoyed with the Burmese kingdom of Pagan turned sour and a war fleet was despatched to that land in 1060. Parakrama-bahu also took advantage of the Pandya civil war (1169-1177) to intervene at Madura in support of whichever candidate was currently opposed by the Cholas. In 1186 Vijaya-bahu II (1186-1187) followed his uncle on the throne, but he was soon killed by Mahendra VI of Kalinga. Vijaya-bahu's heir Nihsanka-malla (Kirti-nihsanka: 1187-1196) avenged the murder and mounted the Sinhala throne. When Nihsanka-malla died his son Vira-bahu II was murdered next day and Nihsanka-malla's younger brother Vikrama-bahu II mounted the throne for three months (1196); until killed by his nephew Chodaganga, who was himself deposed by the general Kirti nine months later. The throne was then given to queen Lilavati (1197-1200), first queen of the former great monarch Parakrama-bahu. The throne passed from Lilavati to Nihsanka-malla's step brother Sahasainalla (1200-1202), but he was deposed by general Ayushmat in favour of Kalyanavati (1202-1208), first wife of Nihsanka-malla. The same general, Ayushmat, then placed the three month old Dharmasoka (1208-1209) as his puppet on the throne. Then both Ayushmat and Dharmasoka were killed by Dharmasoka's father Anikanga, who was himself put to death by another general who reinstalled the elderly queen Lilavati (1209-1210) on the throne.

For several months Lanka was subdued by a Tamil named Lokesvara (1210-1211). After his expulsion queen Lilavati was once again installed (1211) and ruled until the arrival of another Tamil army led by Parakrama Pandya, who occupied the island for the next three years (1211-1214). The Pandya was deposed by the Kalingan faction at the Sinhala court, led by Magha (1214-1235). But Magha and his successors only ruled part of the island; substantial tracts of land in the north were controlled by the Tamils from the 1220's and the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna was founded, following invasion of the island by the Pandyan general Arya Chakravarti in 1284. Then, at the end of the century the Sinhala king Parakramabahu III (1302-1310) was obliged to acknowledge suzerainty of the Pandyan king Maravarman Kulasekhara (1268-1310).

Please also see Tom K. Mallon's website on Ancient coins of Lanka

Text edited from
* Oriental Coins: Michael Mitchiner, London, Hawkins Publications, 1978.