From Devundera to Dedigama
It is difficult to imagine that Dedigama once had a paramount ruler
and was the administrative capital of the country in the 14th century.
A mile or two to your right from Nelundeniya, as you drive towards
Kandy, there is little evidence today in this sleepy village of the Sri
Vibhutiya this once splendid city is said to have had, according to the
Tisara Sandesaya, the oldest of our sandesa poems.
Again, we have no Alakeswara around to contest my elevation of
Dedigama to the administrative capital of a
Map of ancient Ceylon
paramount ruler of the island when about the same time he was
building the fortress of the Sri Jayavadanapura to outwit the predatory
attacks of those fief holders in Jaffna, who styled themselves the Arya
Chakravartis and not Dravida Chakravartis.
Truth to say the 14th century was a pretty confusing period in our
history with a third kingdom, and a Bhuveneka Bahu as its head, was
attempting to run the country from Gampala.
The Tisara Sandesaya itself makes it clear that these were troubled
times. For the author of the poem, an unidentified monk from Matara, was
using a swan to fly a message in the form of a poem, all the way from
the southern tip of the island in Devundera, to Dedigama, praying to the
god Upulvan to safeguard the king and his ministers from the treachery
of his enemies who were plotting to overthrow him.
Perhaps he needed such a reassurance. Though nothing in detail is
still known about the shadowy events of this time, there was a good deal
of intrigue going on. The astute Alakeswara did not like what the
kinglet of Dedigama, Parakrama Bahu V, was up to. For reasons not too
clear he seemed to have been in the way of his plans and had to be got
rid of. And he did it in the most amazing way.
It appears that at this time in the country’s most confusing period,
the kinglet with the most clout was the Aryachakravarti in the North. He
had on the land side swept down to Matale and was almost a stone’s throw
On the seaside he had command over all the western ports from Chilaw,
Wattala right up to Panadura. Soon he could get complete control over
the country’s economy. It was in anticipation of all this that
Alakeswara built his solid fortress in Kotte. How solid such a fort
could be may be described in the words of Codrington:
A central tower of four storeys was surrounded by two concentric
stockades, between which lay a ditch twenty to thirty cubits wide,
strewn with thorns and spikes. This ditch was some 700 feet round.
Beyond the outer stockade lay another similar ditch, and beyond this
a row of spikes and a thorn fence with a deeper ditch outside. The whole
was surrounded by an outer space cleared in the forest.
The approaches were defended by concealed pits dug in the paths,
commanded by archers in ambush. In the attack on this fortress...stones
were hurled from engines, of reed fired and thrown among the enemy, and
of fire darts. Permanent fortifications (such as Kotte) were to be found
only in the case of cities. (A Short History of Ceylon).
Meanwhile, Gampala with the backing of Raigama (in effect Alakeswara)
was intriguing with the Aryachakravarti to rid Dedigama of Parakrama
Bahu V. If you are reminded of similar unholy alliances being arranged
today you are not far wrong.
How it all happened is not spelt out in any history book, but the
evidence that the Aryachakravarti left behind of his Dedigama invasion
was a stone inscription in Tamil in the heart of the Sinhala stronghold,
eight or nine miles away from the capital.
The Kotagama stone, as it is known, has remained a mystery,
intriguing our epigraphists just as much as the trilingual stone in
Here is this very poetic (too poetic in fact as a memorial of
conquest) inscription left on the Kotagama stone as translated from the
Tamil by the Indian government epigraphist, with some explanatory words
The innocent women-folk of Anuresa (term used for any Sinhala
capital) who did not submit to Aryan of Singainagar of foaming and
resounding waters exhibiting drops of water in (shed tears from) their
lance shaped eyes and spread their forehead-marks on their beautiful
braceleted lotus like hands (erased them in their token of widowhood).
Having succeeded with his first move Alakeswara turned to his second.
He threw the gauntlet into the Aryachakravarti camp by hanging his tax
collectors sent by Aryachakavarti to gather the tax from the hill
country (the pay off for ousting the kinglet from Dedigama).
Aryachakravarti did not take this lightly. He planned a simultaneous
attack on several fronts both in the hills as well as in several places
on the western coast.
However, the men who Alakeswara had trained in guerilla fighting did
their jobs splendidly and Aryachakravarti was totally routed and his
ships off the Panadura coast were left in flames. It was not only a rout
but also a slap in the face of the Vijayanagar imperialists who had by
then taken over the reins from the Pandyan king and the funding of the
fief holder in the North for his Lankan adventure.
Parakrama Bahu V had nothing else to do now but flee to the south.
And there he took up residence with his queen at Lahugala. The remains
of a palace, now popularly known as Vihara Mahadevi’s Maligawa, carrying
an inscription has helped to identify the Dedigama king and his queen.
The queen was wife to both the Gampala and Dedigama rulers according
to the polyandrous custom prevailing at that time. A more recent
discovery of an inscription says that Parakrama Bahu V set sail from the
south to Java with whom this Savulu dynasty, the latest, had intimate
connections. But that story must await another day
Dedigama that entered history first as the preferred country
residence of the Gampala kings went into a slow decline soon after these
embarrassing moments in our history. But it need not fade altogether
from our minds because it holds several momentous events of political
and cultural importance some of which are seldom held up as the sri
vibhutiya of our country.
First, only a few still know that this is the birth- place of the
only king in this country who has earned the singular honour of being
called The Great. Though the landmark that was erected by him to
commemorate his birthplace is in the shape of a dagoba, an unfinished
one at that, Parakrama Bahu The Great’s resting place has come to be
called the kotavehera.
In fact it may not have been meant as a place of worship because
hardly anyone visits it today or ever did for that purpose. Further,
this great hero did not come as they usually do from either the Ruhuna
or the Raja Rata but from the Maya Rata, maya signifying cunning and
diplomacy, both of which he was master.
The memorial left by the great Parakrama Bahu deserves greater
recognition today. The second event is how Dedigama comes to figure in
the abduction and transport to China, of the ruler of Raigama, Veera
Alagakkonara, from his capital in Kotte by the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho.
The evidence is now forthcoming that it was done with the assistance
of another Parakrama Bahu, known to historians as the Dedigama Parakrama
Bahu. In a struggle for power that reined at that time, China apparently
had come to the rescue of Dedigama Parakrama Bahu who hailed from
Senkadagala. He has now been identified as the monarch who paid tribute
The third object of great interest that Dedigama holds for the
visitor today is the work of a master craftsman, a hanging oil lamp in
the shape of an elephant. It may not look a startling creation at first
glance, but soon amazement dawns on you on seeing the subtlety of his
skill in utilising the principles of hydraulics to create a perpetual
And in the process displaying also his wit in employing the function
performed by living elephants in relieving urine, to feed the oil in
similar fashion to the lamp, drop by drop.
The fourth of the objects of historical interest connected with
Dedigama is the poetic message carried by the Swan to the monarch of
Dedigama. Here the poet has given us a rare view of a royal court in
full assembly with a relaxing monarch enjoying a musical session.
The assembly greets the monarch as he enters by standing up and the
poet compares the folded palms of the audience, raised over the heads in
a gesture of greeting, to the numerous lotus buds in a pool.
Next the pothay gura or the master of ceremonies, signals to a group
standing behind a curtain. Then one by one the dancers tip toe to the
sound of a band of variegated drums and pipes, some not seen today.
One dancer twirls in a manner so as to spread her garment like a
parasol spread out which the poet immediately compares to none but the
amorous Anangaya’s (Cupid’s) parasol itself.
After this joyous spectacle of watching the dancers, both male and
female, the poet tells his messenger, now that the monarch is in a good
mood, is the time for you to announce your presence and bless him that
he may live long safeguarded by the gods from his enemies.
Not unnaturally this section of the poem is very enjoyable reading,
with the poetic metres virtually keeping time with what is going on in
the dance hall.
For a religieux, the poet has a good eye for beauty too, judging from
the descriptions of places and people the swan messenger encounters on
the way. Some of the imagery is very flamboyant of course, but that is a
characteristic of eastern poetry of the Alankarist school.
The following verse should be of special interest because (1) it is a
poet’s view of Wattala as it appeared then in contrast to the bustling
suburb it is now and (2) the imagery, in a way, seems to me strangely
enough closer to, at one time, a school of modern poetry in the West -
Wattala streets are like rivers
The waters made up by the glitter Of women’s eyes
The waves are
The streets’ horses.
Soldiery the rivers’ fish
Glide, oh swan! down these rivers
Like a silver ship admiring the spectacle
The city of Colombo is not far away either. What he sees there is
probably what went on in this place, which was mostly a port of call and
so a kind of haven for men sailing the Seven Seas.