Ancient Ruwanweli Saya Dagaba (


In the 2nd century BC, a king by the name of Kelanithissa reigned over the west of the island from his capital at Kelaniya. Kelanithissa suspected a monk of being involved in an intrigue between the Queen and his brother. When the king had this monk put to death in a cauldron of boiling oil, both his ministers and subjects were horrified. Furthermore, the gods were annoyed and caused the ocean to flood the land.

Overcome with remorse, the king decided to atone for his sacrilegious act by making a sacrifice that would impress on his people the sincerity of his repentance as well as appease the gods. Accordingly he built a boat of gold, provisioned it with enough supplies for one person for one month - and placed in it his eldest daughter. The boat was then cast adrift, with an inscription to inform anyone who should come across it that aboard was a princess.

Days later a lone fisherman spotted the strange looking craft as it drifted off Dovera, near Kirinda. Drawing closer he read the inscription and carried the news to the King of this southern region, Kavantissa, who resided nearby. The princess was rescued, brought before the king, and given a warm welcome. Eventually Kavantissa married her and named her Viharamahadevi. She bore him two sons who were to become national heroes. The eldest, Gemunu, became King Duthugemunu (161 - 137BC), who united the Sinhalese for the first time after defeating the Tamil king Elara.


How Gemunu became Dutugemunu




This article is part of a continuing series on the “Mahavamsa’, the recorded chronicle of Sri Lankan history
The death of Elara

Phussadeva, who witnessed the fate of the warrior Dighajanthu, was extremely happy. When he glanced at Suranimala, he too smiled. Phussadeva, then took the conch-shell he had with him and began to blow it hard. The sound was so deafening, the Tamil soldiers were disturbed. Then they heard of the death of Dighajanthu. This news broke the morale of the Tamil soldiers.
On the other hand, the Sinhala forces were getting boosted. There was a lot of bloodshed and King Elara was disturbed. He thought it was pointless continuing to fight, without Dighajanthu. Mounting on his elephant, ‘Mahaparvata’, Elara fled from the battle field. King Dutugemunu, who noticed this, ordered his men to stop fighting. By this time, the water in the tank, near the battle field had turned red in colour. Thereafter, that tank was renamed ‘Kalata’.
 King Dutugemunu, immediately summoned a tom-tom beater and proclaimed with the beat of drum, “None, but myself shall slay Elara”. Then he mounted the armed elephant, ‘Kandula’ and pursued Elara. The two kings met near the southern gate of Anuradhapura. The battle began. When King Elara hurled his dart at Dutugemunu, he evaded it.
Dutugemunu was quick to act. He threw his dart at Elara, without missing his target. It hit King Elara’s chest. Meanwhile, Kandula too, was attacking Mahaparvata – the elephant, with his tusks. King Elara, who ruled the country, for nearly 40 years, fell dead. In spite of being an invader, he was a just king. In our long history, Elara remains the only foreign king, who was just and kind. Race or religion did not matter to him, when it came to matters of state. He respected the law, to its very letter and lived up to his principles.
When the Sinhala army surrounded Dutugemunu, cheering over the victory, the king silenced them. He assembled the citizens, got them to place Elara’s body in a ‘Ransivige’ and took it for cremation in a beautiful procession. At the place where he was cremated, Dutugemunu got an inscription installed. It read thus, “No king, including me, should pass this place, mounted on horse back or elephant. All music should be silenced at this point”.
King Dutugemunu was able to defeat the enemy completely and become the sole ruler of the entire island. He was consecrated in 161 BC and ruled over Lanka, in single sovereignty. Only a week passed. A warrior named Bhalluka, a nephew of Elara, landed here with sixty thousand men. They came by boat and landed near modern Mannar.
When ‘Vijithanagara’ was destroyed, Dighajanthu had sent a message to Bhalluka asking for more soldiers. Bhalluka heard of Elara’s death, only when he landed here. He was so shaken by this sad news that he announced that he would not go back without killing Dutugemunu. He immediately organized his army and marched towards Anuradhapura. He pitched his camp near the village Kolambahalaka.
When King Dutugemunu heard of Bhalluka’s arrival, he got ready for war again. He mounted on Kandula and behind him sat Phussadeva. He was armed with the traditional five weapons which included the sword, spear, dart, shield and the conch.

By Halaliye Karunathilaka
Edited and translated by Kamala Silva
Illustrated by
Saman Kalubowila