Parakramabahu I makes Lanka prosperous

Just as much as it could be said that no other king surpassed King Vijayabahu I as a warrior, and had there been no Vijayabahu there would have been no Sinhala people in Sri Lanka today, and that beyond a shadow of doubt he was the author of Sinhala freedom and one of the chief architects of Sinhala nationality, it could also be said that King Parakramabahu I re-united the country, increased the food supply of the people, raised their standard of living, gave security to all inhabitants, elevated Lanka to a position of eminence in the Indian world and made the country prosperous.

The unity achieved by King Vijayabahu I bringing the whole country under one flag began to crumble with his death; an unfortunate incident led to it. A power hungry clique tried to grab the throne disregarding tradition relating to royal succession. At the time of the death of King Vijayabahu, his brother Jayabahu was Yuva Raja and his son Vickramabahu was the Adipada of Ruhuna. Jayabahu succeeded him and instead of appointing Vickramabahu as the Adipada of Ruhuna as Vijayabahu had no other siblings, Manabhrana the eldest son of Princess Mitta was appointed to that position.

As the Maha Theras played a part in this exercise Vickramabahu developed an animosity towards the Maha Sangha. This breaking of tradition led to political turmoil disrupting the unity of the country that King Vijayabahu took a long time to build up. It was King Parakramabahu I or Parakramabahu the Great who came to the throne about three decades later in 1153 CE who re-united Lanka and brought it under one flag again and made the country prosperous.

Parakramabahu’s place of birth was Punkhagama in Dakkinadesa or present day Dedigama in the Kegalla District, where his father Manabharana had set up his capital. When Manabharana died young Prince Parakramabahu was taken to his father’s brother, Siri Vallabha of Ruhuna for protection. However, before long Prince Parakramabahu appeared in the Court of Kittisirimegha his step father who was the ruler of Dakkinadesa. As he had no children of his own Kittisirimegha brought up the Prince as his own son grooming him for the ruler-ship of his kingdom.

Prince Parakramabahu was instructed by chosen teachers in language and literature, religion, statecraft, the bearing of arms, sport, dance and music. Kittisirmegha encouraged the Prince in his studies and took him on tours of inspection. At fourteen or fifteen years of age Parakramabahu was ambitious and precocious. In the plans for the future formulating in his young mind, the annexation of Rajarata to Dakkhinadesa was the first step in his scheme for the unification of the whole of Lanka into one kingdom with himself as the king. His immediate purpose towards that end was to spy out the conditions prevailing in Rajarata, ruled by Gajabahu II.

Prince Parakramabahu knew that his guardian Kittisirimegha would not consent to his leaving Dakkhinadesa and he therefore planned to leave secretly with a few chosen followers. The opportunity came a year or so later. Gajabahu learning that Parakramabahu was travelling about on the frontier sent him a courteous invitation to visit him at his capital. Parakramabahu accepted the invitation and, with his retinue went to Polonnaruwa as the guest of Gajabahu. There he spent a considerable time, making himself familiar with local conditions and generally spying out the land and secretly endeavouring to wean from their loyalty the discontented officers of Gajabahu. He sent a message to his mother Queen Ratnavali in Ruhuna, fetched his youngest sister Princess Bhaddawathi and had her wedded to Gajabahu. He continued his stay and when he had discovered all he wished to know about affairs in Gajabahu’s principality he judged it time to depart, because at about this same time, Gajabahu had at last begun to be suspicious.

Shortly afterwards, Kittisirimegha died and Parakramabahu succeeded him as ruler of Dakkhinadesa. Upon assuming the overlordship of the principality of Dakkhinadesa, Prince Parakramabahu’s first step was to secure his frontiers, against possible aggression, and to this end, he established military posts at various points, in particular on the east and north, where his boundary was contiguous with that of Gajabahu. He then proceeded to develop the agricultural resources of his territory by putting in hand a number of irrigation projects designed to bring large areas of new land under cultivation. It was at the incipient stage of this great new programme of development that he is said to have declared, referring not to Lanka as a whole but to the peculiar physical features of his own principality, that ‘not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man’.

These activities had as their object the building up of the material resources of Dakkhinadesa to make it the most powerful of the three principalities, Rajarata, Ruhuna and Dakkinadesa. They were preparations for the inevitable armed struggle ahead in which Parakramabahu would have to be victorious in order to achieve his growing ambition of establishing his authority as undisputed ruler over a unified kingdom comprising the whole of Lanka.

Parakramabahu’s development projects were centred mainly on harnessing the Deduru Oya but they extended also to the Wet Zone. Pasdun Korale, which was a great swampy wilderness, was drained of its marshes and a large extent of new land was made cultivable. His first great undertaking was to harness the waters of the Deduru Oya. At three points on this river he constructed dams which were the head works of three river diversion schemes. The lowest was that known as Kotthabaddha. Although his engineers prophesied failure – and their forebodings came true because the dam had to be repaired in Parakramabahu’s own lifetime – the prince insisted that the work be carried out. A broad, deep canal led water from the dam as far as the sea, and the whole area irrigated by the scheme was named Kotthabaddha after the dam. He established his capital at Parakramapura, now the ruins known as Panduwasnuwara, near Hettipola, a central position, and constructed there the first Parakramasamudra or ‘Sea of Parakrama’, by enlarging the existing tank, Panda Wewa, submerging 1,000 acres. Close to the tank he built a palace within a walled citadel. The administration of the principality was reorganized. All lands of extraordinary value, such as lands containing gems, metals or minerals, were administered by a special department. Trade was established with foreign countries and precious stones were exported. The main ports of the principality were, probably, Kalpitiya, Chilaw and Colombo. The export trade added materially to the Prince’s money sources.

The organization and training of the armed forces of the principality were a complementary part of the expansion in agricultural and commercial activity. Foreign mercenaries, Malays and South Indians, formed the nucleus of the standing army. A section of these constituted the Velaikkara regiment or king’s bodyguard. Certain units of the standing army were specially trained and equipped for night-fighting, others for breaking into fortifications and defended buildings. Throughout the principality the acquisition of skill in the use of military weapons and martial training of every kind were encouraged among young men. Youths were organized as cadet units bearing special names. Military commanders were appointed to direct the training of the militia and the rural bands. In these ways, military training was made part of the education of all able-bodied youths so that, in time of war, a large body of trained militia would become available for service in the field.
Parakramabahu was now ready to begin offensive operations and his plan of attack provided, first of all, for the annexation of Mahamalayadesa, that is, that part of the hill country which fell within Gajabahu’s realm. It was a sound plan, because the possession of this region which included Laggala, Patha Dumbara and Uda Dumbara, secured the right flank of the operations. Parakramabahu resorted to intrigue in the first instance. He won over to his side Rakkha, Gajabahu’s dandanayaka in the southern part of Mahamalayadesa, and hoped to make use of Rakkha’s influence and authority to gain control over the whole region. Patha Dumbara was quickly seized and then, with Rakkha’s influence, the areas around Napana, Rambukwella and Dunuwila were subdued. But resistance around Mediwaka and in the Kosvagga district was strong, and had to be overcome by guile as well as by force, in the final battle in Kosvagga district, the preliminary campaign for the annexation of Gajabahu’s mountain territory terminated successfully.

Parakramabahu now launched his main series of attacks upon Rajarata. He is said to have himself planned the operations, following the text-book instructions of Kautilya and other authorities, and to have set down his orders in writing and delivered them to his commanders. The opening attack was on the West coast, the objective being the Pearl Banks. The commander on this sector advanced from Vellavela, near Battulu Oya, and captured Gajabahu’s fortress near Puttalam. Then he embarked his troops, sailed to the Pearl Banks and fought a naval action. The troops secured the Pearl Banks, landed on the mainland and built a fort from which to control the north-western seaboard. In support of the naval operations, a parallel advance was made inland. The Kala Oya was crossed and Kattiyawa was captured.

Parakramabahu, strengthening his forces advanced directly upon Polonnaruwa. In the main thrust towards Polonnaruwa, Parakramabahu established his battle headquarters at Nalanda. The Elahera district was systematically conquered in a series of encounters, and, when this had been accomplished, Parakramabahu gave orders for the capture of Polonnaruwa. Manabharana the ruler of Ruhuna who had allied himself with Gajabahu and his troops had fought alongside those of Gajabahu in several battles.

However, seeing that that the course of the war was going against Gajabahu and triumph for Parakramabahu appeared to be in sight, he abrogated his alliance with Gajabahu and entered into a treaty with Parakramabahu. In order to attack Gajabahu from the rear while Parakramabahu made his frontal assault upon Polonnaruwa, Manabharana set up camp with his troops at Sorabora. The advance to Polonnaruwa now reached its climax. The victorious army of Parakramabahu entered Polonnaruwa, made Gajabahu captive and imprisoned him in his palace.

Parakramabahu who had remained behind at Nalanda desired that Gajabahu should retain his royal dignity and sent him presents of garments and ornaments and gave instructions to his officers to treat him with honour. But the victorious and elated soldiery had got out of hand, and pillage, rioting and disturbances were taking place in Polonnaruwa. Parakramabahu’s commanders at Polonnaruwa and the district chieftains conferred together and sent him the following message: “So long as King Gajabahu is alive, the people dwelling in his kingdom will not submit to thy sovereignty: he must therefore be put to death’. Translating this idea of political expediency into practice, they and their soldiers intensified their pillage of Polonnaruwa, breaking into houses and plundering property to such an extent that the enraged population gathered together under their own officials and councillors and sent an urgent appeal to Manabharana of Ruhuna, who was at Sorabora, to come speedily to their deliverance, promising him the rulership of Rajarata. Manabharana responded to the appeal and marching to Polonnaruwa defeated Parakramabahu’s forces and took his senapathi prisoner.

Although, Manabharana restored order and calm in Rajarata treated Gajabahu with reverence at first he later seized Gajabahu and imprisoned him in a dungeon. He even began to starve and ill-treat Gajabahu so that he would die by slow degrees. Gajabahu succeeded in getting a secret message delivered to Parakramabahu, imploring the latter to release him from this torment. Parakramabahu responded at once and mounted and attack on Polonnaruwa in aid of Gajabahu. Gajabahu died in 1153 CE an on his death his ministers sent a message to Manabharana of Ruhuna, the son of Sri Vallabha, to come with all haste and assume rulership of Rajarata. Manabharana responded to the call and marched to Kottiyar with a host of troops. Parakramabahu, on hearing the news, sent forward his army and occupied Polonnaruwa. Parakramabahu celebrated his consecration at Polonnaruwa as ruler of Rajarata and set forth to war. Having vanquished Manabharana he entered Polonnaruwa in triumph and celebrated his second consecration, this time as ruler over the whole of Lanka. In the Devanagala inscription of his twelfth regnal year, Parakramabahu declares that he ‘made war with two persons, Gajabahu and Manabharana, and made the authority of one umbrella of dominion prevail in the Island of Lanka.

Four kingly aspirations
Soon after Parakramabahu ascended the throne at Polonnaruwa as king of Lanka, he put into effective practice four kingly aspirations which he desired to see fulfilled, namely, (1) the happiness of the mass of the people, (2) the stability of the religion, (3) the protection of the nobility, and (4) the support of those in want. First of all he bestowed office according to worth on those who deserved royal favour. Then he held a great almsgiving and distribution of gifts. Next he cleansed the religious Order, which had long been corrupt and established uniform, orthodox practice. This is confirmed by the king’s inscription at Galavihara, Plonnaruwa, which states that the king, with the advice and assistance of the honoured Maha Kassapa Maha Thera of Dimbulagala Vihara, expelled many hundreds of sinful monks, united the three fraternities into one single nikaya, caused new monasteries to be built, and made provision for the spiritual and material wants of the Sangha.

Every year, in the king’s presence, a ceremony of admission to the Order was held on a mandapa moored in the Mahaweli ganga. In the capital he had five alms houses built where monks, mendicant Brahamins, poor travellers and other supplicants were provided with food daily. A great hall was built to serve as a hospital, equipped with every necessity and provided with a staff of physicians and male and female nurses and attendants. The king himself paid visits of inspection to the hospital on Poya days.
Parakramabahu I united Lanka into one kingdom in 1153 CE and reigned till 1186 CE. During his reign he constructed or restored 165 dams, 33, 910 canals, 163 major tanks and 2, 376 minor tanks – a prodigious achievement unmatched by any other king. Pride of place in the list of irrigation works of the reign is given to a second and much larger Parakrama Samudra, ‘that king of reservoirs’, at Polonnaruwa. It was formed by damming the Amban ganga at Angamedilla and conveying the water to the reservoir by the canal named Akasa ganga, now Angamedilla Ela. It also received a supplementary supply from Giritala wewa and this link united two gigantic irrigation systems both originating in the Amban ganga, older system with head works at Hattota and including Minneriya, Giritale, Kavudulla and Kantale tanks, and the later system with head works at Angamedilla and including Parakrama Samudra and the network of channels and smaller tanks under it. The bund of Parakrama Samudra, as now restored, is 8½ miles long and 40 feet high, the area of the tank is 5,940 acres and it irrigates 18, 200 acres.

Parakramabahu’s reign appears to be glorious because of the comparative peace the Island enjoyed under his rule, because of the splendid buildings that he caused to be erected and of the sculptures carved under his patronage; because of his restoration of Buddhism to its pristine purity, unity and glory; and finally, because of the vast scheme of agricultural reconstruction which he initiated and completed. Parakramabahu I, who brought unprecedented prosperity to Sri Lanka, is considered one of Lanka’s greatest kings. Some have ranked him with Dutugemunu and Vijayabahu I.
(Facts drawn largely from University of Ceylon – A Concise History of Ceylon by C.W. Nicholas and S. Paranavitana)

By Chandra Tilake Edirisuriya

Courtesy: Ceylon Today


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