Saturday, 5 September 2009

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The Sinhala state from Dambadeniya to Kotte

The general public is under the impression that Sri Lanka went steadily downhill after the two golden ages of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. That is not so. There were achievements in the subsequent periods too. The Dambadeniya kingdom saw the start of a new dynasty under Vijayabahu III (1232-1236) Vijayabahu was a Vanni chieftain. He was accepted as king because he defeated Magha. He used Dambadeniya as his base. The Tooth relic and Bowl relic were given to him and his royal authority established. The dynasty continued through Yapahuwa and Kurunegala periods, ending with Parakrama bahu IV (1302-1326).

The king functioned as head of state and protector of Buddhism. Parakrama bahu VI (1412-1467) took back Jaffna. Parakrama bahu II was concerned about preservation of Buddhist texts. He reformed the sangha. Dambadeni katikavata came from these reforms. Some kings were scholars. Parakrama bahu IV (1302- 1326) was known as Pandita Parakrama bahu. Parakrama bahu II is considered the author of Kavsilumina and Visuddimagga sannaya.

Sinhala literature flourished. Pujavaliya, Sidat sangarava, Saddharamaratnavaliya were written in Dambadeniya period. The Mahavamsa was updated to Parakrama bahu I. Dalada sirita and Mahabodhivamsa were from Kurunegala period. Sadharmalankaraya, Nikaya sangrahaya and the first sandesa style poem are from Gampola period. Buduguna alankaraya, Guttilaya, Kavyasekera, Selalihini, Parevi, Hamsa, Gira and Kokila sandesas are from Kotte period.

There were many threats to Sri Lanka's sovereignty. Chandrabanu attacked the Dambadeniya kingdom twice. Parakrama bahu II defeated him. Tamil invasions by Codaganga and by Marvaraman Kulasekhara Pandya (1268) were repelled by Buvaneka bahu I (1272-1284). Jaffna invaded in the time of Vikramabahu III (1359-74) and Buvaneka bahu V (1374-1408) and was pushed back. Invasions from Vijayanagara were defeated by Buvaneka bahu V in 1390 and by Parakrama bahu VI in 1432. This gave Sri Lanka a formidable reputation in war.

Sri Lanka was respected abroad. King of Pegu sent presents to Buvaneka bahu VI in 1475. In 1284 Kublai Khan had dispatched a mission to Sri Lanka asking for the Tooth, bowl and hair relics.

The request was refused but good relations were not affected. The envoys were sent back with some other relics and a 'very lovely green bowl.' Chief Minister, Vira Alakesvara was openly contemptuous and hostile towards Chinese envoy Cheng Ho.

When Cheng Ho came in 1411, Alakesvara attacked. The battle lasted six days. Alakesvara, his family, and officers of his court were taken prisoner to China. Instead of cutting off their heads, the Emperor treated them well, advised them and sent them back.

The king controlled external trade. Parakrama bahu II issued an edict saying that foreign traders could not conduct trade in Devinuwara without permission. Parakramabahu VI invaded a port in Tanjore because Sinhala traders had been humiliated. Buvaneka bahu I sent an embassy to Sultan Qulaun of Egypt offering to trade pearls, precious stones, elephants, cotton textiles, Brazil wood and cinnamon. He could supply twenty ships per year. Egyptian coins dating to Sultan Qulaun have been found between Colombo and Kandy. A coin datable to Bhuvaneka bahu I was found in Mogadishu (Kenya).

Exports underwent a change. From the 13th century, Europe and west Asia increased its demand for spices. Sri Lanka exported pepper, cardamom and nutmeg. These grew abundantly in the wet zone. In the Kotte period there was a flourishing export trade in areca nut.

The most valued spice was cinnamon. Portuguese writer do Couto said Sri Lanka was recognized the world over, for the fine cinnamon its jungles produced. Sri Lanka's cinnamon began to be well known in the time of Parakrama bahu II. The first local reference to cinnamon is in Jataka atuva getapadaya.

The ports in the south and southwest became important. There was a well developed port at Tangalle. Bays and inlets that served as harbors for sailing crafts were available at Bentota, Beruvala, Chilaw, Colombo, Dondra, Gintota, Kalutara, Puttalam. Wattala and Weligama. Almost all these ports were important centers of trade.

Lankatilaka inscription (Dambadeniya period) says that merchants from 18 countries came into nine ports. Ad valoram duty was imposed on all merchandise passing through. A special duty of quarter per cent was levied on imports and exports, for Lankatilaka temple. There were two customs houses, inner and outer customs house in Gampola period.

The kings also looked into food security. Vikrama bahu III brought new land under paddy cultivation. There was a 735 cubit long channel. Vijayabahu IV repaired Parakrama samudra and opened up vast tracts of rice fields which had been abandoned for about half a century. The reservoir at Batalagoda was restored. It was enlarged by diverting the waters of the Kospotu oya.

Large tracts of land which had gone back to jungle were cleared. About eight miles of land with ninety yalas of rice fields irrigated by the tank was given to Lankatilaka vihara. New rice fields were opened up at Godavela.

Parakrama bahu V repaired the dams and channels at Hapugastenna near Matale.

In the 15th century, the north was the least populated. There were stretches of forest between Malvatu oya and Jaffna.

There was cultivated land only in Mannar and Jaffna. Jaffna had gardens of palmyrah palms. Below Mannar the northwest coast had forests, paddy fields, mango and coconut groves. Toddy was available in Puttalam. The central hills were mainly forest. Badulla, Hanguranketa and Kandy were the main urban centres. The southeast coast was also forested.

Large scale commercial plantations of coconut, jak and cotton commenced in the 13th century. Extensive coconut plantations developed along the sea coast. There was a coconut belt from Bentara to Dondra and Kelaniya to Keragala. A new class of landowner, who grew commercial products, emerged. Land grants to temples mention crops such as coconut and jak. Coconut was an important item of export from the 15th century.

Nilvala Ganga area had coconut, arecanut, palmyrah, jak, breadfruit, goraka, plantains, citrus, pomegranates and mango trees alongside paddy fields. Literary sources speak of verdant natural vegetation, fields, gardens, cattle, and increasing population around the capital city of Kotte.

There was continuous habitation between Kotte and Kelaniya. A lively, vibrant society had developed. Sandesas speak of towns, shops and entertainment in addition to the rituals as devales.

(The writings of M.B.Ariyapala, K.M. de Silva, C. Godakumbure, S. Kiribamune, S. Paranavitana, P.E. Peiris, W.I. Siriweera and V. Vitharana were used for this essay.)


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