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Book Review

Musings of a monarch

Title: ‘King Dutugamunu
– The Commander-in-Chief’
Author: Dr P G Punchihewa

Continued from October 17

Punchihewa's title of the book throws light on many aspects, governance, science of building an Armed Force, and the historicity of the land becoming a unified country under one Monarch-who could have been called the emperor.

He selects the chapters to suit the main theme of Maha Senapathi becoming King of Lanka. There are fifteen chapters which depict the formation of a State which could hold against any enemy-State. Punchihewa in the introduction outlines the superlative status accorded to him by historical sources, Mahawamsa, Thupawamsa, Saddhammalankaraya, Thupavamsa, and blends the information contained with the writings of scholars like, Professor Paranavithana, Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy, P Arunachalam, Dr James Rutnam, and foreign writers, William Knighton (1845); it gives an uplift to the already existing hero-stature of Dutugamunu.

The warrior-king upheld, ‘human rights’, in warfare, as depicted by the reverence given to his adversary, King Elara, the righteous ruler by building a tomb called ‘Elara-Sohona’, commended by many a person even today. Even king Dutugamunu, by decree, and respect, used to alight from the conveyance, in which he travelled, when passing this tomb of former adversary king. Punchihewa brings out this character-trait of Gamunu very lucidly, with quotations.

It speaks volumes for respect for rights of adversaries, in warfare, human rights, and more correctly human values, followed by the Lankan rulers.

The story begins with King Kavantissa, where, Punchi, traces his superior-lineage from Devanampiyatissa; son of Gotabhaya, whose father was Mahanaga who established his Kingdom in Rohana, due to an attempt by Devanampiyatissa's queen, on his life; Kavantissa had therefore, a rightful claim to Anuradhapura Kingdom. Although, depicted as a non dynamic personage by Mahawamsa author, Punchi, illustrates his strategies at unification of the country, firstly the small kingdoms south of Rajarata, Seru, Lona, and Soma.

The Giri Nuwara ruled by Abhaya, was annexed by marriage, by giving his sister Soma in marriage to Abhaya, the ruler and later Gamini was sent as the administrator, over a dispute on birthright (jati). Abhaya moved with Soma, the queen to Seru, where the King Siva was the ruler, he built a city for Abhaya namely Somapura, in queen's name.

These three sub-kingdoms were brought under the suzerainty of Magama by building a Chaitya in Seru Nuwara, enshrining the relics of the Buddha, which Kavantissa was in possession.

All three rulers, Siva of Seru, Mahanaga in Lona and Giri Abhaya in Soma, participated in the meritorious deed, indicating their loyalty to Kavantissa. Thus having unified the South, he began the preparations for an offensive on the Kingdom of Anuradhapura, by building the forces, which Punchi, describes in the chapter on ‘The Ten Warriors'.

The chapter on ‘Viharamahadevi’, is written with devotion to a queen who was ready to sacrifice her life, for the Nation as princess, ‘Devi’ of twelve years, to halt the ‘ocean overflowing the land’, as described in the Mahawamsa and Saddharmalankaraya.

It was a modern day Tsunami, and the King Kelanitissa, did not think twice to decide to send the pretty loving daughter to sea to calm it, for the sake of the country on advice of sages.

The princess landed at Tolaka in Magama, and Kavantissa, rescued her, educated her and when she grew up with Royal etiquettes, married her. How she supported the King in the ruling of the country and bringing up the two sons is well-described in the book by Punchi.

Having a heroic, queen comparable to, or surpassing such ladies world-over, with two adorable sons, who were ready to fight the foreign-powers in Anuradhapura, for whom an armed force, was built, and the blessings of the Triple-Gem, showered on them, by building stupas and viharas, Kavantissa passed away after his return from Serunuwara, after the inauguration of the Caitya.

The science or the art of recruitment of the warriors, Velusumana, Nandimitra, Gotayimbara, Suranimala, Kanchadeva, Phussadeva, Therapuththabhaya, Mahasona, Labhiyawasabha and Mahabharana, is described in detail to make a huge army, under Dutugamunu.

Dathusena and Mahanela were recruited, but Dathusena is recorded as left, to lead a spiritual life in India. The importance attached to the elephant retinue is depicted by Punchi in describing the training of Kandula, the Royal Elephant.

Born on the same day as Gamini, he was a high quality warrior himself. Saddharmalankaraya, refers to a foal Dighathunika, also born on the same day, who was with Gamini during the family duel with Tissa. There were the ‘Eth, As, Riya, Pabala’ contingents in support of the Commander-in-Chief.

Kandula's role as a unique warrior in the war at Vijithapura is succinctly described by Punchi, although he refers to some doubts of chroniclers, whether it was Vijithapura in Kalawewa, which is the authentic one. Prof Senerath Paranawithana's views were useful in correct identification, perhaps.

Gamunu's young age as recounted by Punchi, is replete with adventure bordering disobedience, like, sending a woman's ornament to father, for not giving permission to wage war on Elara, fleeing to Malayarata, conflict with brother Tissa, of course, commencing from his famous, episode of non-listening to the father and Maha-Sangha to partake of three handfuls of rice, one of which was meant to promise that he will not got to war with the ruler in Anuradhapura.

At this request, he refused and left and he had recoiled himself in bed saying that he does not have room to extend his limbs as surrounding his kingdom, on three sides was the deaf-sea, and on the north are the foreign-rulers, when pleaded by mother Viharamahadevi, not to be disrespectful to parents and the Mahasangha.

It was on security of the country and the nationalistic feelings with piousness to Buddhism that drove him to such offensive acts.

Punchi, exonerates Gamunu by comparing the practice in Maharashtra of forced donning of women's dresses on Generals when they are defeated at war, to gifting the father woman's ornaments, by Gamunu. Gamunu left to Malayarata, and some inscriptions are quoted to say that he had a princess named Rajitha, or Ranmenike, from Kotmale.

According to Prof Paranavithana, his queen was Kati, as mentioned in Kosavakanda inscription. - S B Atugoda

To be Continued

 

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