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LEGEND and ethnographic observation are the only materials for constructing the history of Ceylon in the early period previous to the death of Gautama Buddha (probably BC 483). Events from that date onward are recorded in the official chronicles kept by the Buddhist Church after its introduction into Ceylon by Mahinda (Mahendra) in 246 BC; and these chronicles were incorporated in the atthakathas or canonical commentaries upon the Pali Scriptures, and thence into the Pali histories known as Dipavamsa, the 'Chronicle of the Island', and Mahavamsa, the 'Great Chronicle'. These records, while mainly interested in the relations of the kings of Ceylon to the Church, and often erring in important details, are nevertheless on the whole valuable sources of information, to which however the later histories or Rajavaliyas, 'Lists of Kings,' and the inscriptions form an indispensable supplement.

The oldest and purest race in Ceylon is that of the Vaddas, who inhabit the larger part of the Eastern Province, a small region in Tamankaduwa, and nearly one-fifth of Uva, but are known to have been formerly spread over the whole of Uva and a large portion of the Central, North Central, and North Western Provinces, and no doubt were at first undisputed masters of the island. Their ethnical affinities are somewhat uncertain; but there is good reason for classing them with the Kurumbas, Irulas, and some of the wilder tribes of the mainland as pre-Dravidian. A few of them still live under the most primitive conditions as homeless hunters; others are somewhat more civilized, and practise rude arts of culture similar to those of the Sinhalese peasantry.

Early Immigrants

The population of Ceylon however is for the most part a mixed race. Besides Vaddas, both Dravidians and Aryans have contributed to their blood and in modern times Europeans Portuguese, Dutch, and British - and the usual cosmopolitan visitors to their ports have all added something to the strain. The proportion of Vadda blood in the stock is uncertain, but probably considerable.

To judge from the legends recorded in Mhv. and Dip. and from the vernacular ballads, it is not unlikely that in pre-Buddhist times some of the Vaddas had reached a fair degree of civilization, mingling on terms of approximate equality with the Aryan and Dravidian invaders, and by this combination producing the main stock of the Sinhalese race.

The relative proportion of Aryan and Dravidian blood is likewise uncertain. The stream of immigration from the Dravidian regions of India, especially the Tamil country, has been constant since the dawn of history, sometimes proceeding in drops, sometimes in great waves, and at the present day the northern part of the island is mainly Tamil; but the Sinhalese language, though marked by traces of Dravidian influence, is Aryan, and is descended from a Sanskritic tongue closely akin to the Vedic. This fact, and certain data of legend to which we shall recur in the succeeding paragraph, suggest that at some early date an invading band of Aryans, conquering part or the whole of Ceylon, imposed its language and perhaps something of its culture and institutions upon the mixed Vadda-Dravidian population which it found there, and then gradually became fused in the racial congeries of the island.

Sinhalese tradition also relates that the Nagas, or semi-divine snake-men of Hindu myth, once dwelt in Ceylon, and gives details of their wars, which are said to have been settled by the intervention of Gautama Buddha. These Nagas belong to the realm of fiction; but as traditions record that they drove out the earlier inhabitants from the North and West, and it is a fact that the name Nagadipa, "Nagas' Island", long clung in early times to these regions down to the neighborhood of Madawachchiya, it is possible that in these legends there may lie some faint shadows of historical reality.

The Mhv. (VI, VIII) and Dip. (IX), with which a number of late histories and popular ballads agree more or less, tell a singular story. According to them, a daughter of a King of Vanga (Bengal) and a princess of Kalinga (Orissa) was carried away by a lion, who begot on her a son, Sihabahu (Lion-Arm), and a daughter, Sihasivali (in Sinh. ballads Simhavalli). After slaying his father, Sihabahu reigned at Sihapura, "Lion's Town", in Lala (Lata, i.e. Gujarat). His son Vijaya, banished for his lawlessness, departed from Sihapura with a band of adventurers and sailed southward. After stopping at Supparaka (Shurparaka, the modern Sopara, in the Thana District, Bombay Presidency), he continued his voyage to Ceylon, where he arrived very shortly before the death of Gautama Buddha, who in a prophetic vision learned of his coming and commended him to the care of the god Sakka (Shakra, or Indra). He found the island in the possession of yakkhas, or fairies. Having overcome the wiles of the Yakkha princess Kuvanna (in Sinh. Kuveni), he took her to wife, and drove away her kinsmen. When he had established himself, he repudiated her and his children by her - who became the ancestors of the Pulinda tribes of the interior - in order to marry a daughter of the Pandyan king of Madura, and reigned for 38 years (c. 483-445 BC) with much righteousness in the town of Tambapanni, which he had founded. Anuradhapura, Upatissagama, Vijitagama, Uruvela, and Ujjeni were founded by his followers.

This tale seems to contain the following nucleus of fact. There were apparently two streams of immigration celebrated in the earliest legends. The first, which probably was mainly Dravidian, came from Orissa and perhaps southern Bengal; the second, mainly Aryan, started from Sihapura in Lata (possibly the modern Sihor, in Kathiawar) and Sopara. The latter band belonged to the Simhalas (Sihalas) or 'Lion-tribe', and it was probably they who imposed their Aryan tongue on Ceylon. At any rate, they gave to their new home the name of Simhaladvipa (in Pali Sihaladipa), whence are derived its later titles, the Arabic Sarandib, the Portuguese Ceilao, and our Ceylon. Popular imagination combined the two movements by giving the eponymous Sihabahu a home on both sides of India, and so the legend shaped itself into its classical form. The lion, Kuvanna, and the Yakkhas are pure fiction.

Sinhalese chronology begins with the landing of Vijaya, which, as we have seen, is made to coincide with the decease of Gautama Buddha in 483 BC. The correctness of this synchronism may well be doubted; but probably the records on this and other points, if not absolutely reliable, are not very far from the truth. It will therefore be most suitable to base our account of subsequent events upon that of the Mhv., premising that our belief is subject to due reservations, and adding some of the more important variants and supplementary data given in other works.

The death of Vijaya was followed by an interregnum of one year (c. 445-444 BC).

(The Mhv., a Rajavaliya, and several other Sinhalese histories fill up this interregnum by stating that Tissa, a minister of Vijaya, who built Tissanuvara or Upatissagama north of Anuradhapura, near the Kolon Oya -now Malwatta Oya-, reigned for that time).

The next king was Pandu-Vasudeva, the youngest son of Vijaya's brother Sumitta. He married Bhaddakachchana, daughter of the Shakya Pandu, who bore to him ten sons and a daughter, Chitta. After reigning 30 years (c. 444-414 B.C.) he died, and was succeeded by his son Abhaya, who after ruling for 20 years (c. 414-394 BC) in Upatissagama was deposed.

(The Msr. states that Pandu-Vasudeva died AB. 74, and assigns 16 years to the reign of Abhaya).

An interregnum of 17 years (c. 394-377 BC) then followed, after which Pandukabhaya, an illegitimate son of Chitta by her cousin Digha-Gamani, established himself after a long struggle as king in Anuradhapura, and reigned 70 years (c. 377-307 BC). He was succeeded by his son Mutasiva, who had a reign of 60 years (c. 307-247 BC). The latter was followed by his second son Devanampiya Tissa.

(The Msr. states that Pandukabhaya, whom it calls the son of Abhaya, built Anuradhapura and reigned 37 years, and that his son Mutasiva constructed the Mahamegha-vana and died A.B. 187. The Rvp. allots a reign of 40 years to Ganapa Tissa, a son of Pandukabhaya, whom it places after Mutasiva. A. R. agrees in making Tissa the son of Pandukabhaya and giving him a reign of 40 years; but the Vr. places him between Abhaya and Pandukabhaya).

In the month Jettha of the year of Devanampiya's coronation (c. 246 BC) the Buddhist apostle Mahinda, son of the Maurya King Ashoka (Dhammasoka), miraculously travelled to Ceylon in company with the four friars Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala, and Bhaddasala and the novice Sumana, son of his sister Sanghamitta. He alighted at Mahindatala, where he met Devanampiya and converted him and his people. The Mahamegha-vana, a park south of Anuradhapura, was assigned to the service of the new Church, and the buildings erected in it were known afterwards as the Mahavihara. On the spot where Mahinda had alighted was built the Chetiyapabbata-vihara. A thupa (Skt. stupa) and a monastery in connection with it, the Thuparama, were constructed at the south of Anuradhapura to receive the collar-bone of the Buddha, and the southern branch of the famous Bodhi-tree of Gaya was brought and planted at Anuradhapura in the eighteenth year of Ashoka's reign.

After a pious reign of 40 years (c. 247-207 BC) Devanampiya died, and was succeeded by his brother Uttiya, who ruled for 10 years (c. 207-197 BC).

(According to the Msr. Uttiya died in A.B. 237).

Next reigned Uttiya's younger brother Mahasiva for 10 years (c. 197-187 BC), and another brother, Sura Tissa, previously known as Suvannapinda Tissa, likewise for 10 years (c. 187-177 BC). The latter was conquered by two Tamils named Sena and Guttaka, sons of a horse-dealer (assa-navika), who reigned justly for 22 years (c. 177-155 BC), and were then overcome by Asela, the youngest of Mutasiva's nine sons. Asela then reigned in Anuradhapura for 10 years (c. 155-145 BC), and was then ousted by Elara, a Tamil from the Chola country, who ruled for 44 years (c. 145-101 BC), and was famous for his justice.

(A Rajavaliya inserts after Sura Tissa an Upatissa with a reign of 10 years, and makes the two brothers Sena and Guttaka into one person, ; the printed R. describes them as 'two brothers who were horsemen'. The Dip. assigns to them only 12 years. Asela is not said by the Vr. to be a son of Mutasiva. His successor's name is usually given in Sinhalese as Elala; the same R. calls him a Malala (Malabari) from Soli (Chola-desha), and says that he brought over 1,080,000 Tamil soldiers and behaved with great impiety, desecrating the monasteries of Devenipa Tisa).

Devanampiya Tissa had a brother, Mahanaga, who resided in Mahagama and governed the province of Rohana. He was succeeded in this office by his son Yatthalaya Tissa, the latter's son Abhaya or Gothabhaya, and the latter's son Kakavanna Tissa. The last had two sons, Gamani-Abhaya, better known as Duttha-Gamani, and Saddha-Tissa.

(The Vrv. states that Yatthalaya Tissa reigned in Kalaniya and built there a sanctuary; his son Golu Abha ruled in Ruhuna, and was followed by his son Kavan Tisa. The Vr. gives the succession as Mahanama, Kalani Tissa (apparently meant for Yatthalaya Tissa), Gothabhaya, and Kavan).

When Kakavanna Tissa died at the age of 64 years, Duttha-Gamani, who had previously quarrelled with him (whence his name, meaning 'Wicked Gamani') and taken refuge in the interior, set himself up as king in Mahagama and waged a successful war against Saddha-Tissa. He then embarked upon a series of campaigns against the Tamils, which ended in the conquest of Elara in Anuradhapura. Duttha-Gamani was now master of the island. To make amends for a somewhat questionable past, he proceeded to patronise the Church royally. He founded the Marichavatti Vihara, the Lohapasada, and the Great Thupa, in which he enshrined a casket full of relics said to have been brought from the land of the Nagas by the Thera Sonuttara, and performed many other pious works. His reign lasted for 24 years.

His brother Saddha-Tissa ('Tissa of the Faith', so styled from his pious works, one of which was the rebuilding of the Lohapasada after it had been burnt), then ruled for 18 years (c. 77-59 B.C.).

Saddha-Tissa was followed by his younger son Thulathana, who after a reign of 1 month and 10 days (c. 59 BC) was ousted by his elder brother Lanja Tissa, who ruled for 9 years and 15 days (c. 59-50 BC). His younger brother Khallatanaga then reigned for 6 years (c. 50-44 BC).

Khallatanaga was ousted by a general named Kammaharattaka, who in his turn was slain by Khallatanaga's younger brother Vatta-Gamani Abhaya, who now became king. (Kammaharattaka is called Maharattaka in the Dip. (xx, 13), where he is said to have reigned one day).

After Vatta-Gamani had reigned 5 months (c. 44 BC) he was defeated by seven Tamil adventurers and fled, remaining in hiding in the interior of the island for 14 years and 7 months (c. 44-29 BC), while the throne was occupied successively by five Tamil usurpers, named Pulahattha (3 years), Bahiya (2 years), Panayamara (7 years), Pilayamara (7 months), and Dathika (2 years). Vatta-Gamani then conquered and slew Dathika, and reigned in Anuradhapura for 12 years (c. 29-17 BC). One of his pious foundations was the Abhaya-giri monastery.

Khallatanaga's son Mahachuli Mahatissa then reigned righteously for 14 years. He was followed by Vatta-Gamani's son Choranaga, who had previously been an outlaw, and now ruled impiously for 12 years (c. 3 BC-9 A.D.). He was then poisoned by his queen Anula. The next king was Mahachuli's son Tissa, who after a reign of 3 years (c. 9-12 A.D.) was poisoned by Anula, who raised to the throne Siva, one of the guards of the palace. Siva reigned for 14 months with Anula as his queen, after which she transferred her affections to a Tamil named Vatuka, and poisoned Siva. When she had reigned with Vatuka for 14 months, she wearied of him and poisoned him, choosing for her new consort a wood-carrier (daru-bhatika) named Tissa. After 13 months she poisoned him also, and elevated a Tamil chaplain named Niliya, but 6 months later removed him in the same manner, and reigned alone for 4 months. Mahachuli's second son, Kutakanna Tissa, who had fled from the court and taken orders in the Church, now raised an army, overthrew and killed Anula, and reigned with justice and piety for 22 years (c. 16-38 AD).