WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC)


[Contemporaries: Meander (Milinda) - Indo-Greek Ruler, Sunga Dynasty - India, Maccabean Rulers - Palestine, Tiberius & Caius Gracchus - Rome, Marius -Rome, Cato - Rome]


In the 2nd century BC, a king by the name of Kelanithissa reigned over the west of the island from his capital at Kelaniya. Kelanithissa suspected a monk of being involved in an intrigue between the Queen and his brother. When the king had this monk put to death in a cauldron of boiling oil, both his ministers and subjects were horrified. Furthermore, the gods were annoyed and caused the ocean to flood the land.

Overcome with remorse, the king decided to atone for his sacrilegious act by making a sacrifice that would impress on his people the sincerity of his repentance as well as appease the gods. Accordingly he built a boat of gold, provisioned it with enough supplies for one person for one month - and placed in it his eldest daughter. The boat was then cast adrift, with an inscription to inform anyone who should come across it that aboard was a princess.

Days later a lone fisherman spotted the strange looking craft as it drifted off Dovera, near Kirinda. Drawing closer he read the inscription and carried the news to the King of this southern region, Kavantissa, who resided nearby. The princess was rescued, brought before the king, and given a warm welcome. Eventually Kavantissa married her and named her Viharamahadevi. She bore him two sons who were to become national heroes. The eldest, Gemunu, became King Duthugemunu (161 - 137BC), who united the Sinhalese for the first time after defeating the Tamil king Elara.

How Gemunu became Dutugemunu

Prince Gemunu wanted to launch a battle against Elara. With this idea in mind he decided to set out with his forces and marched to Kasatota. He remembered what his father, King Kavantissa had told him - that he should not war with Elara because the time was not right.

After reaching his destination Prince Gemunu thought he will force his father to start an attack against Elara. So, he sent a message to his father. He wanted his father's permission to cross over to the other side of the Mahaweli river. When King Kavantissa heard what his son had done, he was alarmed.

He sent a message to his son saying that Elara had a strong army with over a million soldiers. After reading the message, the Prince sent a message back to his father ridiculing him and calling him a woman for not allowing him to go ahead with the war. Together with this message he sent his father a pair of bangles and a dress. The King was angry. He ordered his men to arrest the Prince and to bring him back.

He ordered a golden chain to bind and keep his son prisoner. After hearing this, the Prince fled to Gilimale (close to Ratnapura) and went into hiding. In disguise he made his way to Kotmale and lived with a farming family. The behavior and disobedience of the King made the people call him Dutta Gamini (Dutu Gamunu or wicked Gamini) Prince Tissa was then put in command of the King's army.

The Ten giant warriors (Dasa Maha Yodayas)

King Kavanatissa knew that the task of getting rid of the invaders would not be possible in his lifetime. He was getting old and weak. However he started building an army for the future war with invaders with a band of warriors who proved themselves to be brave. Ten giant warriors (Dasa Maha Yodayas) were recruited and they spent their time practicing martial arts. They were joined by the two brothers Princes Gemunu and Tissa. They had their training in archery, swordsmanship and in riding horses and elephants. King Kavantissa's call to arms began with the recruitment of 10 young men. They were summoned before him and asked to find ten warriors. Within a short time there were a 100 able soldiers. In this manner 1000 were taken in. They raised a formidable army of 11 110, men within a short time. They came from various parts of the country with the aim to drive away the Cholas. Soon the army was ready at the capital Mahagama. The men were asked to equip themselves with horses, elephants, chariots and food. The King then sent Prince Tissa with soldiers and chariots to Dighavapi to guard the country.

The first giant warrior was Nandhimitra, a nephew of a Sinhalese general in Elara's army. He lived in the South of Anuradhapura. He was named Mittha after his father. It is said that when his mother went to the well to fetch water she was in the habit of tying a rope or strap around his body and fastening it to a grinding stone, so that he would not stray outside. One day when the mother was away, he dragged the heavy stone after him and later broke the rope and freed himself. Thus, he became known as Nandhi- mittha.

There was a headman named Samgha who had seven sons. Nimala was the youngest who was known for his idleness. King Kavantissa was looking out for young men to join his army. When this message came to their village, six of Nimala's brothers thought that he should join the army. But his parents thought otherwise. Their pet son Nimala was angry when his brothers made fun of him and decided to join the army. With much regret his parents gave him permission. The day he was to leave he rose early and ate rice from his mother's hand. He worshipped his parents and left for Kasatota. This was about 30 miles from his home. By sunrise he had reached his destination and presented himself before the Prince. Later he was known as Suranimala.

In the village of Hundarivapi there lived a man named Tissa, who had eight sons. The youngest was named Sona and later became known as Maha Sona. It is said that when Mahasona was seven years old, he had the strength to tear young palms with his bear hands. When he was ten, he could uproot palm trees.The King who was looking for brave young men for his army, heard of the this young boy's strength and sent his men with gifts to his parents, requesting them to send their son to the royal court. After seeing him, the King enlisted him into the service of Prince Gemunu who was building up his army.

Theraputtabhya, a Buddhist monk, disrobed and joined King Dutugemunu's army and became one of the 10 famous generals who fought the war. Upon victory he left the King's army and re-ordained himself and as the story goes became an Arhath in the end.

Bharana was the son of Kumara. When he was 10, he used to go to the jungle with the other boys to chase hares. He was also one of those whom the king requested should serve the prince's army.

There also lived a man called Rohana in a village close to the Kota mountains. Gothabaya was his son. One day Rohana decided to give up his lay life and become a monk. The King was told about this and was asked if his son could become the village headman in his place. His son was known as Abyaya, the son of the thera. He was very strong - so much so that when he was a child he could lift huge stones that would take four to five men usually. The king heard about this and he too was recruited to the army.

In the village of Nitulvita there lived a man named Mahanaga who had several sons. The youngest was Gota who was short and lazy. One day his brothers left home in the morning to clear a jungle patch for cultivation. They worked throughout the day in the hot sun, leaving a small portion before they returned. They told their father that they had worked hard but left a portion to be done by their youngest brother. Gotaimbara was hurt with what his brothers said. He went to the field where there were Imbara trees. He immediately uprooted all Imbara trees and made a field without wasting anytime. Then he went home and told them that he had uprooted all the Imbara trees and prepared the field for cultivation. His brothers laughed at him and went to see what he had done. When they got there they were surprised to see the work done by Gota. They called him Gota Imbara which became Gotaimbara because he uprooted all the Imbara trees

Vasabha was the son of Matta. His body was well framed and had the appearance of a handsome young man and was called Labhiya Vasabha. He was very strong. When he was 25 he was given work that took some men to complete. One day he began to build a vewa and he did this within a short time. King Kavantissa hearing this sent for him.

Velusumana was the chief warrior of King Kavan Tissa. He was the son of Vasubha who lived in the district of Giri. Vasubha was well respected by the people. On the day his son was born two friends of his, Vela a neighbour, and Sumana the governor of the district, came to visit him with gifts. The boy's father gave his son the name Velu Sumana combining the names of his friends.When the boy grew up the governor of the district Giri asked his friend Vasabha to make him stay with him. The governor had a horse that could run fast and was known as Sindhu, who did not allow anyone to mount him. But he allowed Velusumana and the people who saw this were taken up by him. He was known as the greatest horseman in the country. The king heard of this and requested the governor to send Velusumana to serve the King's army as a horseman.


Phussadeva was the 10th giant worrior in the army who was known for his marksmanship


Death of King Kavantissa

The death of King Kavantissa saw internal conflicts within the kingdom of Ruhuna. It was during this time that Queen Vihara Maha Devi removed the King's body in a horse-driven carriage to Tissamaharama.

The venerable monks were consulted regarding the cremation of the dead king. Prince Tissa, after receiving this news, hurried from Dighavapi (Digamadulla) and attended to the funeral rites of his father. Prince Tissa returned to Dighavapi before the arrival of his brother Dutugemunu.

While these were happening, ministers of the late King met in consultation to decide over the successor to the throne. They decided on Prince Gemunu. A message was sent to the ministers of Dutugemunu who was in Kotmale to return to Magama and take over the kingship. Dutugemunu arrived. Prince Dutugemunu held a consecration ceremony and was declared as successor to his father.

After King Kavantissa's death, the struggle for power began between his two sons Dutugemunu and Tissa, each claiming the right of ownership of the royal tusker Kandula and the queen mother Viharamaha Devi. Dutugemunu realised the danger from his brother Tissa who was in Dighavapi.

He then marched with some of his soldiers to prevent sudden attacks. Guttahala was the centre between Mahiyangana and Magama. It was considered a vital spot for security. He stationed some soldiers to guard the area in case of a sudden attack.  Soon afterwards messages were sent asking his brother Tissa to send his mother and the elephant Kandula to Magama. The requests were ignored. Prince Dutugemunu marched with his soldiers to compel him to hand over them as requested.The two brothers met each other close to Guttahala in the direction of Dighavapi. They were getting ready for a battle. It resulted in two battles in which one was won by Prince Dutugemunu and the other by Prince Tissa.

The legend relates how Prince Tissa lost and fled to Dematamal Viharaya where the chief incumbent Ven. Gonashanka Tissa Thera who saved the life of the prince. Prince Dutugemunu it is said, after entering the vihara premises, inquired from the chief incumbent the whereabouts of his brother who at that time was hiding underneath the bed of the Maha Thera.

Prince Dutugemunu realized what happened and politely asked the Thera for his brother. The VenerableThera was not willing to accede to his request and remained silent. The prince thereafter placed his soldiers in vulnerable places to prevent the hiding prince from escaping.

Prince Tissa stayed within the viharaya for some days and a plan was drawn up for him to escape. Accordingly he was carried on a bed in the guise of a dead monk. The samaneras carried the bed, on seeing this act it was said, Prince Dutugemunu remarked, "Tissa, never get carried on the shoulders of monk." Later the chief monk brought about unity between two brothers and this unity remained throughout their life time.

Dutugamunu recieved a warm welcome from his people on his return to Mahagama. He offered alms to the sangha who offered him advice and was helped by his mother.

Defeat of Elara

Dutugemunu with his ten generals took over and occupied the well protected fortress of Elara called Vijithapura. The Sinhala army went along the road from Dambulla to Anuradhapura attacking another fortress. Before long Mahela Nagara was also captured by Dutugemunu. Then Dutugemunu decided to attack Anuradhapura where Elara was. Dutugemunu realised the danger of fighting inside the city and wanted to avoid it. So he waited outside the city, watching the movements of his enemy.

During this time, he built a wewa and treated the wounded soldiers. He collected many strong men to increase the number of his army for the final battle.

Meanwhile Elara was distressed with the news of the number of fortresses that were conquered by Dutugemunu.

He wanted to consult his ministers and generals and get their advice as to what should be done to stop the advancing of Dutugemunu's army. They advised Elara about the danger of fighting inside the city walls. It was then decided to meet Dutugemunu in an open battle. There were 30,000 men who were on Elara's side, ready to confront Dutugemunu's army.

At this stage Elara decided to fight alone with Dutugemunu. Dressed in full armour, he got on his elephant Mahapabbata, and together with 20 warriors who were his bodyguards, marched towards Dutugemunu who was waiting for him. Dutugemunu hurriedly consulted his mother Vihara Maha Devi and summoned his ministers to get their advice. It was then decided to meet Elara and his army. The giant called Nandimithra stood on the right of Dutugemunu, and the giant called Suranimala on the left.Both sides advanced and met in battle. At the beginning Dutugemunu lost some of his men. Elara's army was very powerful, and to prevent a further loss of his men, Dutugemunu's army stopped moving forward. The fight raged on. Dutugemunu was surrounded by Elara's men who saw the weakness of Dutugemunu's men.

Elara's general Dighajantu made his way to fight with Dutugemunu. He was getting nearer to the place where Dutugemunu stood.

Suranimala sensed the danger ahead and challenged Dighajantu. Dighajantu gave up rushing towards Dutugemunu. Instead he turned towards Suranimala with his sword. He raised the sword and brought it down with a powerful force on Suranimala who avoided the blow by holding out his shield. The sword slipped and fell to the ground. Dighajantu was injured. There was pain on his face and Suranimala was coming towards him. Quickly, Dighajantu bent down to pick up the fallen sword. With a lightning speed Suranimala held the sword tightly and with a mighty stroke, dealt Dighajantu a blow. Dighajantu could not avoid the blow and fell with a loud cry that was heard throughout the battle front.

Elara's brother Bhalluka was advancing towards the capital city Anuradhapura from the day he landed on the shores of Lanka. On hearing this, Dutugemunu decided to meet him before he reached the city gates. After consulting his ministers on what action to take, Dutugemunu mounted his favourite elephant Kandula with Phussadeva who was known for his marksmanship. They saw that Bhalluka was advancing at the head of an army of soldiers.

Suddenly King's favorite elephant kanduala started retreating. Dutugemunu was surprised and alarmed. He thought for a while and addressed his faithful general, "Before this, in twenty eight battles, Kandula never retreated; what does this mean Phussadeva?" Phussadeva thought of re-assuring the King. He knew that the King was superstitious to believe that Kandula's unusual retreat was a sign of defeat. Phussadeva then addressed the King: "O King, look for the place of victory where the elephant drew back. At the place of victory he will halt. Let us take one stand where Kandula stood". There was no alternative for Dutugemunu but to fall back

Bhalluka, in his shinning armour came forward to meet Dutugemunu. He did not act in haste, but looked straight at the King and addressed him in a mocking manner. On hearing the insulting words, Dutugemunu covered his mouth with the blade of his sword and replied Bhalluka. Bhalluka grew angry and said, "I will send an arrow into your mouth'. Saying this, he drew his bow and arrow and shot an arrow at Dutugemunu. Instantly Dutugamunu held his sword in his mouth and prevented the arrow striking his face. It struck on the blade of the sword and fell on the ground.  Bhalluka thought his arrow had struck Dutugemunu in the mouth, and cried out joyfully. It was then that Phussadeva, who was seated behind Dutugemunu, shot an arrow into the mouth of Bhalluka. The arrow flew close to Dutugemunu's ear-ring before hitting Bhalluka. Bhalluka fell to the ground in pain with a loud cry and at the same time, a loud shout of victory was heard from those who were watching. That evening, the King's palace was decorated brightly and lit up with lamps. The sweet smell of fragrance drifted around. There was dancing and rejoicing throughout the night, over the victory.

Although Dutugemunu had his mighty warriors, the dravidians were well fortified in a large and strong fortress which kept the Sinhala army at bay. Kandula, then set the Herculean task of crushing down the fortress, had charged with such fiery force and power which crumbled the fort and brought out the Dravidians, who were no match for Dutugemunu's army.

King Dutugemunu in his historic war with King Elara had an army consisting of Eth, As, Riya and Pabala (elephants, horses, chariots and soldiers). It is said that the elephant army consisted of over 1000 tuskers.

Dutugemunu unites Anuradhapura

After the victory, Dutugemunu became the undisputed King of Lanka. He united the country after defeating the invaders who occupied the seat of government in Anuradhapura. All his warriors were richly rewarded according to their ranks.

But there was one warrior, Theraputtabhaya did not accept what was offered to him. The King summoned him and asked him what was wrong. He answered, "O King! The war was won. Now, there is one country after defeating the invaders". What do you want to do?, the King then asked. Theraputtabhaya respectfully said, "I will fight against the passions. It is difficult to win against such forces". The King tried to restrain him but found it difficult. With the permission of the King, Theraputtabhaya took to robes and went to live with 500 monks.

After celebrating the victory for a week, the consecration ceremony was held with pomp and pageantry, which ended with the water festival held at Tissa Weva.

It was on the Esala full moon day in BC 149 (i.e. 2,147 years ago), that the foundation stone was ceremonially laid for the building of the Maha Thupa (Ruwanveliseya) in Anuradhapura, by king Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) in the fulfillment of his religious zeal towards Buddhism. With the ascendance of King Dutugemunu to the throne in the second century BC, he built Mirisavatiya, Ruvanvaliseya stupas and Lovamahaprasada (Brazen Palace).

Lovamahapaya or Lovamahaprasada was built by King Dutugemunu in the Second Century BC. The building was called by that name because its roof was covered with brazen tiles. This nine storied building stood on stone pillars and had thousand chambers to house Buddhist monks who gathered to perform uposatha - to decide on incidents when monks violate vinaya rules. Lovamahapaya was the tallest building in Anuradhapura. It was 200 feet tall and 200 feet wide and resembled the palace of goddess Barani. It was here that monks assembled and had discourses on Dhamma. (Saddhatissa who succeeded his brother King Dutugemunu, rebuilt this building when fire destroyed it. The building was reduced from nine stories to five by King Saddhatissa. The kings who succeeded him Tullatthana, Sirinaga 1, Sena 1 and Parakramabahu 1 renovated Lovamahapaya and made it an important part of Maha Vihara.)

The story of Dutugemunu is familiar but many may not be aware that he married the daughter of a rebel chieftain who continued to pay tributes to the Tamil King Elara. Ran Etana, the chieftain's daughter who went against her father's wishes, joined Dutugemnunu, personally leading an army of stalwart youths and maidens to help him conquer Elara.

Saliya & Asokamala: Crime of Love

Their son Saliya, who married a beautiful maiden of the scavenger caste( Chandala) and thereby disqualified himself from inheriting the throne.

Mahawansa says "In the time of king Dutugemunu, the people were rejoiced. He had a son named Saliya who was virtuous and he indulged in a life with constant meritorious deeds. He had an affair with a low caste girl who had been connected with him in his past lives. She had enchanting beauty and Saliya liking her forgot the kingdom……." (Mahawansa - chapter 33)

Once the King visited the area and Asokamala has sent him a curry made of a delicious herb called, Raththampala, the king was really happy to see the dish and inquired from where it came from. The servants replied, "Your honor, it is from Ashokamala." The king glistened with rage and slammed the dish on the wall. The time passed, the kings granite heart never softened towards the son, just like his giant stone buildings in the Anuradhapura. Once he had a wound in his leg caused by a small blister. It was so painful and the royal doctors were summoned. They did their best but the wound got worsened. The final prescription needed Raththampla but it was no where to be found. One servant remembered the pulp dried in the wall and immediately a royal guard was sent to scratch it. Soon the medicine was made and the wound was cured. Then the king enquired from where they got Raththampala. The servants amidst utmost fear related the story and the king felt very sorry for Ashokamala. Soon the couple was summoned to the palace and an official wedding was arranged. The king became very happy seeing the pretty Ashokamala and they were pardoned for the crime of love.

Death of King Dutugemunu

According to legends, King Dutugemunu died when he was stung on his head by a Naga who had transformed himself into a cobra and lay in waiting in a coconut pandal.

King Dutugemunu was succeeded by his brother Saddhatissa who completed Ruvanvali Saya and Lovamahapaya built by King Dutugemunu.
His son Valagamba succeeded to the throne. There was an invasion of Anuradhapura by the Pandyans and the king had to live in exile for 14 years. King Valagamba also known as  Vattagamini Abhaya built Abhayagiri viharaya. Thus there came into existence two main viharayas namely, Mahavihara and Abhayagiri.

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