Click here to see a Glimpse of Ancient Sinhala
Sri Lanka is a comparatively small, independent country, about half the size of England. The island is located near the southern tip of India.
Marcopolo, one of the greatest travelers of the ancient world, identified Sri Lanka as the "finest island of its size in all the world". Certainly he must have been referring to the abundant resources & unparalleled tropical beauty of this precious land.
Sri Lanka has one of the best documented histories in the world. Its history and dynasty is well documented in an epic chronicle, written in Pali by Buddhist priests. The chronicle is divided in to two sections, the Mahavansa (Great Dynasty) & the Kulavansa (Lower Dynasty). The entire chronicle covers a time period between 483 BC - 1825 AD. Many archeological evidences found in modern Sri Lanka, provide testimony for the reliability of this document.
The chronicle begins with the arrival of prince Vijaya (Victorious one). He was a native of Gujarat in northwestern India. In 483 BC, prince Vijaya and seven hundred of his followers landed on Sri Lanka, in a region called Thambapanni (Red Earth). He established a monarchy and named the new race of people Sinhala (Lion Race) after his grandfather.
Prince Vijaya and his immediate successors did not make any emphasis on a particular religion. It was during the regime of king Thissa (307-267 BC) that Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka. Buddhism became the first and only religion of many Sinhalese people. The Sri Lankan kings, who paved the way to a golden era, made many achievements in the name of Buddhism.
Out of the 123 kings & queens who ruled Sri Lanka, several monarchs in particular are still revered for their outstanding achievements.
King Dutugamunu (161-131 BC) was originally the ruler of the southeastern kingdom of Ruhuna. He united the country and re-established the first capital city of Anuradhapura, in north-central Sri Lanka. Many Buddhist shrines and stupas were built in the capital. The magnificent scale and craftsmanship of his constructions are perplexing. After king Dutugamunu's regime, the capital city was constantly besieged by south Indian invaders. Each time the Sri Lankan kings defended and liberated the island.
The settlers were also faced with the challenge of living in a region of the island where rain was seasonal but not regular. In response, the ancient engineers came up with a highly complex irrigation system which exhibited a remarkable knowledge of trigonometry and a firm grasp of hydraulic principles. Sri Lankan engineers had discovered the principles of "valve tower" or "valve pit", more than two thousand years ago. The ancient capital city of Anuradhapura was served by four major reservoirs, which still continue to be sources of water for that region.
During the regime of king Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD), the capital city of Anuradhapura was already relocated in Pollonnaruwa. There in Pollonnaruwa, he utilized his dynamic energy to build a city much worthy of being the royal capital. The agrarian society prospered and there was plentiful for everyone. The awesome system of irrigation was at its best. King Parakramabahu built or restored 156 dams, 3910 canals, 163 major tanks & 2376 minor tanks.
The prosperous city's highlighting grandeur was Vaijayantha, the grand palace. With a floor of gold lighted by chandeliers, Vejayanta had one thousand apartments in seven storeys. Pavilions, dance halls, theaters, public baths, libraries, hospitals, schools and parks were also built within city boundaries. Many Buddhist monuments were built by the devoted king. Lankathilaka (Jewel of Lanka) temple was the greatest of them all. Lankathilaka was one of the most impressive temples in Buddhist Asia during that time period.
King Parakramabahu was also a formidable warrior. Incensed by an insult made to his merchants and ministers, he sent a Sri Lankan army to the Chola kingdom of south India. They defeated the Chola kingdom and for once the tables were turned around as Cholas paid tribute to Sri Lanka. This was Sri Lanka's first and only empire.
In November 1505, the Portuguese empire invaded Sri Lanka. For 150 years they ruled the island, except for the central mountain terrain kingdom of Kandy. Encircled by a ring of hills, the Kandyan kingdom was well shielded. From above, arrows rained on those who attempted to advance over the hills.
In 1638, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and ruled Sri Lanka for 158 years. The Kandyan kingdom remained free from Dutch rule.
In 1795, the British defeated the Dutch and ruled the island for 153 years. The Kandyan kingdom continued to survive for another 20 years after British invasion. Explosives were used to blow a tunnel through the hills and in to the Kandyan kingdom, which was unreachable by any other means. The last king of the dynasty, Shri Wickrama Raja Sinha (valiant lion king), carried on a fearless battle with the British, which ended with his capture in 1815. With him, the ancient dynasty which had survived for 2300 years, defiant against aggression from many invaders, came to an end.