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Reforms and freedom fighters

More about the 62nd Anniversary of Sri Lanka's Independence:

The first king to rule Lanka was Prince Vijaya of the 6th century (543 B/C). According to legend, Vijaya and his 700 followers had come from North India, probably Bengal. They landed on the west coast at a place called Tambapanni. At the time of Vijaya's visit, Lanka was inhabited by two fierce types of tribes, namely the Yakkhas and Nagas.

The Nagas were mostly confined to the Northern and Western parts, while the Yakkhas were confined to the mountain forests and its interior. When Vijaya and his men landed here, the king of the Yakkhas was Maha Kulasena, and his queen consort was called Gonda. The Yakkhas capital was called Lankapura.

Kuveni's banishment and her children

Vijaya married Kuweni - a daughter of a Yakkha chieftain. Later Vijaya deserted her and her two children after taking a princes from Madhura in South India. With her came a retinue of princes and a thousand families of all trades.


Harmony for all children. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

As Vijaya had no heir, emissaries were sent to Sinhapura to his brother Sumitta to take over the kingdom of Lanka.

As King Sinhabahu had died Sumitta had succeeded him. Sumitta had married the daughter of king of Madda (Madura Madras hailing from the Sakyaclan. They were blessed with three sons.

So King Sumitta's youngest son - Panduvasdeva was sent to Lanka as a successor to Vijaya. During that time the capital was at Tammannanuwara.

Prince Panduvasdeva who became king after Vijaya shifted his capital from Tammannanuwara to Upatisagama. His consort queen came from Pandu in India the daughter of the king of Pandu.

She was named Subhaddakaccani or Kasyindevi. She came here with six of her brothers among whom the kingdoms were divided. Giving each such kingdom after their name. These were Anura-Gama, Dighayu-Dighamadulla, Rama-Gam, Rohana (Ruhuna), Uruwela and Vijithapura.

King Panduvasudeva had ten sons and one daughter. His eldest son - Abhaya succeeded him at Upatissagama. Panduvasudeva's only daughter Ummada Sita - a raving beauty was married to Prince Digha Gamani son of Prince Dighyu. In their wedlock a son was born to them and he was named Pandukabhaya. It was foretold by the royal soothsayers that if a son was born he would take revenge against his eight uncles and wage war against them.

Hence Pandukabhaya from his childhood was given for adoption. As the years grew on he became a valiant prince and fought against his eight uncles, and killed all of them. Thereafter he was crowned as King of Lanka and shifted his capital from Upatissagama to Anuradhapura. So Pandukabhaya was the first king to rule in Anuradhapura from 504-474 BC.

186 Kings ruled

From this line of kings, starting first from Vijaya to Panduvasudeva, and Pandukabhaya up to the time of the last king of Kandy (18th century AD) there reigned altogether a dynasty of 186 kings spread out over 2400 years of a chequered history unprecedent in other parts of the world, filled with episodes, exploits, victories with Chola invasions, bringing of Buddhism and the sacred Tooth Relic, a bubbling hydraulic civilization.

In the medieval times of the 16th to the 18 centuries when foreign invaders like the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British took over our resplendent isle. During this long history of 2400 years, capitals too from time to time came to be shifted mostly due to foreign invasions from India and other agrarian problems.

The capital of Anuradhapura came to be shifted to Polonnaruwa in 8th-9th centuries first under Aggabodhi VII and Sena from thereto Vijaya Bahu (11th century) to Parkarama Bahu the great of the 12th century.

It was during his peerless reign that foreign invasions from Chola and local insurrections were completely wiped out and made Lanka united and great tanks were built. In the early 2nd-3rd centuries BC there were two kingdoms in the West coast and the Southern sector. The former was the Kelaniya kingdom where reigned Kelani Tissa whose daughter Vihare Maha Devi became the queen consort of Kavan Tissa.

Prince Dutugemunu was a dynamic prince who defeated Elara of Anuradhapura who reigned for 44 years and Gemunu thereafter united Lanka. Then in Ruhuna Rata, there was the ancient kingdom of Mahagama founded by King Mahanaga of the 3rd century BC and later ruled by king Kavantissa of Ruhunu Rata who made his capital at Tissamaharama.

Changing capitals

After the fall of Polonnaruwa mostly due to Chola invasions, the capital came to be shifted to Yapahuva in the reign of King Bhuvaneka Bahu (I) (1273-1284) where he built a Temple of the Sacred Tooth.

From Yapahuwa the capital came to be shifted to Dambadeniya (13th century) and Kurunegala and to Gampola (14-15th century) and from there finally to Kotte. During the Kotte period, of the 15th century AD there was the literary brilliance when poets of eminence like Totagamuwe Sri Raula, Vidagama Maitriya, and Keragalla Vanaratana all drawn from luminary Buddhist clergy came into prominence. It was during this Kotte period, that the Portuguese invaded Ceylon in Colombo. But civil strife treachery prevailed among the kingships. Colombo and its suburbs were taken ever by the Portuguese. Then came the warrier like King Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka who defeated the Portuguese, and ruled most parts of Lanka and even the Kandyan kingdom was in his control. Ultimately Rajasinghe was defeated and after his death, Vimala Dharma Suriya became the second king to rule the Kandyan kingdom (1591-1604).

The last Vijaya dynasty to rule over Kandy was Narendrasinha (1707-1739). The last three kings to rule over Kandy were Kirti Sri Raja Singha (1739-1747), Rajadhi Raja Sinha (1780-1798) and the last of all came Sri Vikrama Raja Sinha (1798-1815).

Of these 186 kings who ruled over ancient Lanka, there were also two queens. One of them was the infamous bulicerious queen Anula. She killed her six husbands by poisoning them, two of whom were kings and the other four, a palace guard, city carpenter, a wood carrier and a royal chaplain. Her infamous rule lasted four years from 44 BC-48 BC. The other queen was Sivala who reigned for four months (AD.32). The alien kings were Elara (BC- 205-161) who reigned for forty-four years, and the other was Magha (1215 AD), he reigned for twenty-one years. He invaded Lanka from Kalinga.

Reforms and freedom fighters

Ceylon became a crown Colony of the maritime provinces in (1796-1802) while Kandy was annexed to it on 1815 when the whole of the island became a full-fledged British colony. In the first few years of their rule, there were uprisings against the British rule. The first came from valiant patriots like Gongalagoda Banda, Keppetipola Dissawe, Madugalle, Purana Appu, Ven. Kudahapola Thera, Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera, Haguranketa Dingirala and a host of other martyrs who fought to free Lanka from the fetters of British rule. The first Governor of Ceylon was Sir Frederick North (1798-1804).

First legislative council

In 1831, Lt. Col. Colebrooke and C.H. Cameron had been commissioned by the British Government of Ceylon.

An Executive Council and a Legislative Council were proposed by these commissions. In 1833, consequent to these recommendations, the Legislative Councils was formed. It included six unofficial members, nominated by the Governor to represent the Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, General European, planting and Mercantile communities.

Starting from 1901 the reformists and freedom-fighters commenced their crusades for more reforms in the administration of the island's governance.

Among those dauntless freedom-fighters and martyrs who fought with hammer and tongs with the Governors and Secretary of State and even with the Whitall government in England were Anagarika Dharmapala, E.W. Perera, F.R. Senanayke, Sir James Peris, D.S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir D.B. Jayatilleke, Dr. W.A. de Silva, H.J.C. Perera, D.D. Pedris, Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, George E. de Silva, J.W. Silva, K. Gomes. Among the other agitations, they asked for was the enactment of the Franchise Ordinance.

In the aftermath of the riots in 1915, the Ceylon Reforms League was formed under the stewardship of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam. This was followed by the formation of the Ceylon National Congress in 1920. So a new Legislative Council was formed in October, 1924. Still the reforms were not satisfied with its new Legislative Council that was set up in 1924. In 1927, under, the recommendation of the then Governor Sir Hugh Clifford, a Royal Commission was set up which resulted in the formation of the Donoughmore Commission.

As there was dissension among some members of the Legislative Council, it was debated when a vote was taken, and it was won by two votes for the acceptance of the Donoughmore Scheme of Reforms.

The new State Council under the Donoughmore Constitution was born on 7th July, 1931, along with it came the exercise of the universal franchise for the election of its members, by secret vote, for the first time, in 1981, Her Majesty the Queen of England graced the occasion in Sri Lanka to commemorate, its jubilee celebrations of the franchise. The first session of the State Council was held on 22nd September, 1931.

Thereafter more reforms were pressed forward to the Governor and Mother of Parliament in England. Consequently the Soulbury Commission was published on 9.10.45 and dominion states was conferred on Ceylon, on 4th February, 1948 which culminated in the enactment of the Ceylon Independent Act, 1947.

Its first Prime Minister was Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, while its first Governor General was viscount Lord Soulbury.


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