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Maudgalyana’s holocaust: The inferno

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





 The third and final part of the retelling of Buddhamitra’s account of Sigiriya: 

The traditional view of Kassyapa as a renegade who walled his father to death is not present in Buddhamitra’s account. The Culavamsa is emphatic on the point that Kassyapa’s murder of Dhatusena was instigated in part by the scheming of Dhatusena’s son-in-law Migara, whose mother Dhatusena had burnt naked when she injured his daughter “without blame on her part” or for an offence she did not commit. There is debate about the sequence of events that follows: Migara, nursing hatred and vengeance, awakens in Kassyapa “the desire for the royal dignity” and encourages him to rebel against the father. Rumours about a great treasure lying about blinds Kassyapa, who has his father murdered by walling him in when he is led to the Kala Wewa by the latter on the pretext of revealing the treasures to him, only to see the father, after washing himself by the banks of the wewa, stand up and declare that his kingdom represents his wealth. Obeyesekere (1989) argues that the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa record of this incident serves two purposes: to present Kassyapa as a regicide and depict Dhatusena as a righteous ruler who, for misdeeds committed in the past, has to undergo a karmic payoff by being murdered at the hands of his own son.   



When Kassyapa, incensed at his father’s decision to give the Sinhala kingdom to Maudgalyana, his brother, secretly conspires to kill and defeat Dhatusena, by appointing the father to it

In Buddhamitra’s account Dhatusena isn’t murdered; he merely kills himself when he realises that his forces have lost to Kassyapa’s. However, certain parallels between the Pali chronicles and this narrative do exist: for instance, Migara is the son-in-law, and it is his mother that the king has burnt naked for insulting his daughter. And yet, here the parallel ends, because while the chronicles do not tell us exactly why she was insulted, Buddhamitra’s account tells us that the mother-in-law, Dhatusena’s sister, tried to convert the daughter to the new faith. What is this new faith? Kraistava, or Christianity. The mother’s execution frightens the father and the son, and they both manage to escape a similar fate.   

The circumstances that earlier led to Migara’s father, a general in the Pallava army, to come to Sri Lanka present us with a radically different view of how politics and religion cohabited at the time in the region. Migara the general is said to have embraced Christianity and this, the Pallava king Sinhavarna had disliked. When Kassyapa, incensed at his father’s decision to give the Sinhala kingdom to Maudgalyana, his brother, secretly conspires to kill and defeat Dhatusena, the latter, realising that some sort of understanding has been reached by his errant son with the Kraistava Pundra soldiers, decides to send him on a suicide mission to subjugate the elder Migara who has arrived in Salavata, or Halawata. On the other hand, the king of Pallava wants to get rid of Migara, so he sends him on a similar suicide mission to ostensibly defeat Dhatusena. Kassyapa, while on the battlefield, sends a missive to Migara stating he has no intention of defeating him. The matter is settled so that the general allegedly surrenders, when in fact he’s giving time for Kassyapa to raise forces against his father.   
Dhatusena’s death, and Kassyapa’s succession, no doubt complicated religious matters even further. While Dhatusena had toyed with the idea of turning to not only the Abhayagiriya but also the Magi priest, he had nevertheless not allowed religious controversies to get in the way of his ultimate goal of becoming a Parvataraja. Kassyapa, on the other hand, had won a decisive battle, if not by luck then by the guidance and leadership of Kraistava soldiers. His brother in the meantime having escaped the country “with 12 chief companions”, arrived in Swarnapura and after wandering from one region to another, found a refuge in Malayapura. While there, he and his troops along with the king of Malayapura were captured by a Yaksha chief called Ravana, then imprisoned. This chief is said to have sacrificed to Yamaraja more than a thousand yaksas and accordingly put Maudgalyana in his death list. Having been saved at the last moment by the king of Swarnapura, we are told that Maudgalyana vowed to make a similar sacrifice every year to Yamaraja in the Sinhala kingdom.   

Kassyapa was now in his 17th year. Around this time, both the Abhayagiri Sanghasthivara and the Maga Brahmana had passed away. The Brahmana had been appointed as purohita by Dhatusena and when his son did not receive that post – in part because Dhatusena, having broken all precedent and custom by appointing the father to it, promised that he would choose a local Brahmana once the post fell vacant again – he became disloyal to the king and moved to Syria. There, the Maga Brahmana embraced Christianity. Circumstances conspired to bring him into contact with Maudgalyana. The Brahmana is said to have had a hand in the death of Kassyapa – not surprisingly, this version differs considerably from the final battle at Sigiriya between the two brothers in traditional narratives – by having him killed, after which he asks Maudgalyana to not merely embrace Christianity but also proclaim himself “as Christ come for the second time.” In response to Maudgalyana’s question whether he can do so and retain his faith in Yamaraja, the Brahmana, seeing it expedient to acquiesce if that will spur the aspiring ruler to convert and end the authority of the Mahavihara, says he can, adding that the power of Christ will give him “the power to cast into the flames and kill those who had remained without taking his side.” Which is what Maudgalyana does.   

Mention is made in the Culavamsa of Maudgalyana, “at the thought that high dignitaries have attached themselves to my father’s murderer [Kassyapa]”, gnashing his teeth and putting to death more than a thousand dignitaries. Notice the similarities: in Buddhamitra’s account the Yaksha chief, Ravana, also has “more than a thousand” sacrificed at his altar. Of course the motives are different: in the Pali Chronicles Maudgalyana is moved to hatred and violence by the thought of his father’s murder, while in Buddhamitra’s account he is moved to it owing to a megalomaniac desire to appease both Yamaraja and Christ. 

Maudgalyana, in the course of his reign, holds two sacrificial ceremonies, and both follow the same pattern. Important dignitaries and officials are thrown into the fire, the Sinhala soldiers and even the Pundra soldiers – who being devout Christians would no doubt have opposed in private the cult of sacrifice – betray their reluctance to obey orders, fear is invoked by the king displaying his canine teeth – which, according to Paranavitana, is what was really meant by the Pali phrase translated by Geiger as “gnashing his teeth” – and finally, the king is ordered by the Brahmana to destroy the Sri Maha Bodhiya since the Mahavihara monks are harbouring schemes against him; he comes tantalisingly close to doing the deed, but relents. Ironically, the Brahmana meets his end thereafter when, to test his resilience against fire, the king has him thrown into the conflagration; this, we are told, moves him to despair and to beg for forgiveness from the Mahavihara monks, while he is excommunicated by Christian priests in the Pundra kingdom later on for having held a pagan sacrificial ritual.   
The second holocaust emerges from a different context: Dhatusena and his two sons hail from the Moriya clan, and towards the end of Maudgalyana’s reign a Lambakarna aspirant to the throne by the name of Silakala (Buddhamitra), the son of an official of Kassyapa by the name of Dathapabhuti (Culavamsa), wages war with the Sinhala king, claiming his right to kinship. This Silakala gets a bad press in the Culavamsa; Paranavitana argues the reason to be that while he patronised Buddhism he was a Mahayanist. Buddhamitra’s account of events on the other hand privileges his patronage to Buddhism over his heretical inclinations; Paranavitana claims that “to the elders of the Mahavihara”, even a Christian would have been preferable to a Mahayanist. No doubt the difference in treatment of Silakala in these accounts tells us a lot about how belief systems tend to colour the retelling of history.   



Kasyapa II – restores the city by rebuilding banks and tanks, while Maudgalyana is converted to Buddhism by the son of Migara, after being excommunicated by the Pundra prelate, in the seventh year of his reign

In that sense there’s little which follows in the second holocaust: after sacrificing dignitaries yet again, Maudgalyana flees Anuradhapura – where the sacrificial ceremony was held – for Sigiriya, leaving the capital of the kingdom to Silakala’s forces. Silakala – also referred to as Kasyapa II – restores the city by rebuilding banks and tanks, while Maudgalyana is converted to Buddhism by the son of Migara, after being excommunicated by the Pundra prelate, in the seventh year of his reign. 10 years later, he dies peacefully.   

Superficially less complex than any of the events which preceded it, the act of re-conversion yet complicates our understanding of history, not because it confounds our understanding of the role played by Christian priests but because of the identity of the Buddhist monk, the son of Migara, who causes Maudgalyana to embrace Buddhism for the second time. He is none other than Mahanama Thera, the same Mahanama who would author the Mahavamsa – a book that tells us absolutely nothing about the incidents Buddhamitra wrote of. If history is written by the winners, it would seem to amount to a series of omissions, additions, and obfuscations conjured by the winners. So it is with Vijaya, Pandukabhaya, and Parakramabahu, and so it is more controversially with Dhatusena, Kassyapa, and Maudgalyana. 


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