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