in Sri Lanka was neither absolute nor despotic. In theory the
king was supreme and did not have to account to anybody. He
could inflict capital punishment and could demote a person from
his social position. Bhatika-abhaya degraded some people to the
level of scavengers for eating beef.
There were also constraints that prevented the
king from exercising arbitrary power. One such was popular
opinion, which was a formidable check on the king. Any act that
was unpopular would help a pretender to the throne. The king was
also expected to respect tradition and custom (pera sirit)
when taking decisions. For example, though the king was the
fount of justice, there was a body of accepted laws. If he
violated these, he invited disaster. There was also a code of
conduct for the king. He was expected to rule according to the
ten kingly virtues (dasa raja dharma).
Great care was taken in the training of the
future king. The heir was chosen by the king and given the
designation of yuvaraja, uparaja or mahapa.
This heir apparent was put in charge of a major province, so
that he could have some experience of governing. Sena II
appointed his younger brother as uparaja and assigned
Dhakkinadesa to him. In the 9th and 10th centuries, the heir
apparent governed the north western province.
Since the king was expected to be learned and
wise, the heir to the throne was also given a sound education,
According to the, Dambadeni asna, Parakramabahu II
(1236-1270) was expected to plough through an enormous number of
subjects. The subjects included the three pitaka of the
Buddha dhamma and several languages, including Sanskrit and Pali
together with the two schools of grammar that existed at the
time. Because of the Tamil threat, he had to know Tamil as well.
He also had to master eighteen crafts and study sixty-four arts,
some of which are named in the asna. They include astrology,
law, and logic. He was also trained in archery and sword ..Q.
Historians point out that this was probably an ideal list rather
an account of the actual attainments of any king.
On the whole, the Sinhala kings did well and the
island prospered under them. There were periods of peace and
calm. Here are three instances. Firstly, the period from
Kutakanna tissa (44-22 BC) to Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD).
Secondly, the period of Mahallaka naga (136-143) and his two
sons, Bhatika tissa and Kanittha tissa (143-186) Thirdly, the
Dambadeniya, to Yapahuwa period from 1232 to 1293. Some
dynasties lasted for a considerable length of time. The dynasty
of Manawamma (684-718) lasted for well over three centuries.
The kings supervised the central government, a
ministered justice and saw to the poor. They encouraged
scholarship and literature. Many ‘vamsas’ were written in the
reign of Parakrama bahu II. The court of Aggabodhi I was adorned
by twelve accomplished poets (maha kaveen). Parakrama bahu VI
helped a large number of writers and poets. His minister
Salavata Jayapala, asked Vaftave to write Guttila kavya. Some of
the, kings were themselves scholars and poets.
Moggallana II was described as an intellectual
and an incomparable poet (asadrusha) Sena I wrote Siyabaslakara.
Parakama bahu VI composed Ruvanmala, a lexicon for poets.
Kasyapa V wrote Dampiya atuvava, getapadaya and Parakrama bahu
II wrote Visuddhimagga sannaya. These two books were based on
many sources. These writers must have been extremely learned.
The kings have also been interested in
scientific disciplines such as medicine. King Buddhadasa, wrote
Sarartha sangraha, a text on medicine. Aggabodhi VIII
(766-772 AD) studied the medicinal plants in the island to find
out whether they were wholesome or harm for the sick.
Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) also knew something about medicine.
It is possibly this bent for scientific thinking that led to
their interest in irrigation and engineering.
The Sinhala kings were responsible for the
much-admired irrigation and water management schemes of ancient
Sri Lanka. These schemes were extensive and complicated and
needed much advance planning. Vasabha constructed eleven
reservoirs and twelve canals including Alahera. Mahasena
constricted 16 reservoirs and tanks, including Minneriya,
Kavudulu, Hurulu and Vahalkada. He built reservoirs using the
tributaries of the Deduru oya and developed the Kala- Malvatu
network. Dhatusena constructed the Jaya Ganga and eighteen
reservoirs, including Kala wewa, and Giants tank. Moggallana II
built the largest tank, Padaviya as well as Nacchaduwa, the key
reservoir for all the Malvatu oya irrigation projects.
Moggallana ranks third below that of Mahasena, and Dhatusena
when it comes to tank building. The kings made mistakes as well.
In the time of Vira Parakrama bahu VIR (1477-1489), a canal
intended to connect Kotte and Negombo, brought in salt water
that destroyed the cultivation in the surrounding areas.
Life was not always rosy for the Sinhala king.
Some kings had to face rebellions. Mahinda II had rebellions in
Malaya, Ruhuna, Dhakkina, and Paccinadesa. The kings did not
give into these rebellions. There was an island wide rebellion
when Bhuvaneka bahu VI took office. During this, in 1470, a
mission from Burma had arrived at Valigama. The king sent his
brother, Ambulugala Raja by sea to Valigama to engage in
operations against the rebels. The rebels were led by Garavi
amatya who occupied the coastal regions between Kotte and
Valigama. The mission had to stay several months at Valigama,
until the rebellion was suppressed and then proceed to Kotte.
Some kings were ineffective. Mahinda V was so
weak that he could not properly organise even the collection of
taxes. Some kings were unable to exert authority over the whole
island. Malaya and Ruhuna were independent during the reign of
Silamegliavanna. (619-628) AD). Kassapa, I did not have
territorial authority over the whole island during the last
years of his reign. Parakrama bahu IV had no control over
Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or even Yapahuwa.
Some kings did not last long. Khujjanaga, eldest
son and successor to Kanittha tissa, was slain after one year
and replaced by his younger brother Kuncanaga, who lasted only
two years. Pandita Parakrama bahu, VII was murdered before he
could reign for even a few months. King Sangha tissa loved to
eat jambu. He used to take his retinue and visit a place that
had jambu trees. These frequent visits were a nuisance to the
people of the am So they poisoned the king, and thus got rid of
this unwelcome guest.
(to be continued)