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Maudgalyana’s holocaust Dhatusena’s peak

11 Feb 2020 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

If Parakramabahu I unified the country, the writing of the Culavamsa sealed his position and legacy for posterity. His legacy, unfortunately, could not be maintained for very long after his death, and the polity which he had unified disintegrated. 300 years or so later Parakramabahu VI, having made Kotte the capital, paved the way for a renaissance in literature and the arts. The sixth Parakramabahu had assumed the throne in circumstances altogether different from the time his first namesake had done so centuries earlier, but essentially, as with the latter, he led the country on the path of unification after a long period of turmoil which had culminated, not a little symbolically, with an invasion by Chinese mercenaries. The first Parakramabahu’s custom of purifying the Buddhist order was continued by him, and during the latter part of his reign a Vajiracarya monk from Pelambang in Sumatra, Buddhamitra, arrived in the country, subsequently being ordained as a Theravada monk.

Once ordained, Buddhamitra adopted the name of Ananda-Sthavira. We are told that he had a good knowledge of Pali and Sinhala and he improved on it during his stay in the country. By the time of his arrival, he had already acquainted himself with local inscriptions and had a good grasp of Indian epigraphy. According to Senarat Paranavitana, who wrote not only on him but also his take on the Kasyapa-Sigiriya saga, he was a brilliant scholar. Having arrived in the country, he soon put his mind on the task of writing, and redacting, important historical documents. Among these documents were the Paramparapustaka, the Svarnnapuravamsaya, the Mugalansirita, and the Ambaherana-Salamevan-sirita.

These documents relate accounts of Dhatusena, Kasyapa, and Maugalyana or Mugalan quite different to those found in the Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, and Rajavaliya, which Buddhamitra nevertheless resorted and referred to in his writings. Buddhamitra’s account, incidentally and naturally, begins with Dhatusena, who is presented in a much less flattering light than in the Culavamsa. 

Who were these Pundras, Kalabhras, and Murundas and how did they figure in the history of India and Sri Lanka at this time? Buddhamitra ends his account of the Kasyapa-Maugalyana story with a detailed description, but while it captures the essence it does not place the rise of these dynasties against their historical context. Kulke and Rothermund (1998) emphatically state that the region of Kongunad, or Kongu Nadu, to the south of Coimbatore, or Kovai, was “of some importance in antiquity” and “may have been an area of transit” for important trade routes, leading to alliances being formed with Greek kings. However, they also point out that very few records remain, if at all they do, of those who established their kingdoms there; they conjecture that it was never a stronghold for an important dynasty, but make an exception for the Kalabhras, who are said to have dominated the southeast coast from the fourth to the sixth century AD: roughly the time of Dhatusena’s coming to power. From the Sangham era to the rise of the first major South Indian dynasty, the Pallavas, the Kalabhras reportedly dominated the region; in medieval Tamil literature, they are referred to as “bad kings” or “kalia rashar.” 
How Dhatusena came to power, according to Buddhamitra, again significantly diverges from the Culavams-ist narrative: Samgha, the daughter of one Mahanama-maharaja, had two sons, of whom one was Dhatusena. The story goes that Samgha’s husband Damstranama-maharaja had a son by another queen; this queen is referred to in the Mahavamsa as a Tamil woman, though in Buddhamitra’s account she is Damstranama’s second mahesi; we would do well to consider that in the Pali chronicles, most pretenders to the throne were depicted as having low caste origins, even if this doesn’t mean that we should accept what alternative accounts have to say either. 

The conflict which ensued between different factions of the Pundras and Kalabhras led to the queen mother returning to Anuradhapura with her child and around 75 or so Pundra soldiers. Having emphasised her genealogy and that of her son, she managed to convince the generals in the country that the throne rightfully belonged to Dhatusena, who, later having cast off his allegiances to all the foreign ties that had bound his predecessors, became “his own master.” Obviously, this is completely irreconcilable with the Culavams-ist reading of it, which has Dhatusena conform to a Dutugemunu type hero who, according to the Mahavamsa, not only built 18 viharas, 18 wewas, and 18 smaller viharas, but also had spent a part of his youth as a monk in a pirivena near the Mahaviharaya built by a senpati in Devanampiyatissa’s military, Dighasanda. That heroic pose, as we shall see, is absent in Buddhamitra’s account; the latter, indeed, has him as a ruler harbouring almost megalomaniac pretensions.

Paranavitana (1971), while agreeing with the Mahavamsa chronology which places the length of Dhatusena’s reign at 18 years, suggests that Mahanama Thera the writer of that chronicle, in his bid to present the king as a heroic figure, had him fight off Tamil kings, an event which is not present in Buddhamitra’s account. What happened thereafter is not related in the Pali chronicles, but according to the Paramparapustaka, when Dhatusena had turned 37 (the 15th year of his reign?), a ceremony called the Bodhimandaya was instituted in Svarnnapura, and seven years later it was solemnised in Malayadvipa and Samudradvipa, in South East Asia. Those who had the authority to hold the ceremony were called Bodhirajas; by losing his right to do so, Dhatusena lost the title of Bodhiraja.” To become a Parvataraja, Dhatusena was told by the priest, a Maga Brahmana who’d arrived in Anuradhapura from Persia with the Murundas, it was necessary to build a large fortress on top of a rock, a custom that had adhered to by even the kings of Babylon. The parallels with the rock abode of Yama-raja must be obvious even to those not acquainted with this period of history in the country. Paranavitana himself, in a series of controversial monographs, essays, and longer works towards the latter part of his life, made the case for the cult of Yama as the origin story of Sumana-saman and Samantakuta or Adam’s Peak. The fortress, or abode, was meant to resemble Kailasa, which according to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs was the peak of Kuvera, a paradisiacal realm occupied by heavenly beings. While Paranavitana’s thesis has been fully discredited since, we know from the Culavamsa itself that Kassyapa, when he fled to Sigiriya, the fortress that Dhatusena on the advice of the Brahmana chose, built on top of it an abode “like another Alakamanda and dwelt there like the god Kuvera.”



Who were these Pundras, Kalabhras, and Murundas and how did they figure in the history of India and Sri Lanka at this time?

We know from the Pali chronicles that Kassyapa, who completed the fortress, reigned for 18 years. We can assume that it could not have been possible for anyone to build such an abode, at that time in history, within such a short period. The number 18, as we will later see with the number 12, has some mythical significance which may or may not have been borne out by the historical reality, but for now what we need to understand is that, at least according to Buddhamitra, by the time Kassyapa deposed Dhatusena – in a series of events quite different to the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa – the construction of a Kailasa-like or Alakamanda-like abode on top of the rock had been put on hold. We shall resume the story next week.