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Polonnaruwa - 1055-1255

King Vijayabahu I drove the Chola out of Sri Lanka in AD 1070. Considered by many as the author of Sinhalese freedom, the king recaptured Anuradhapura but ruled from Polonnaruwa, slightly less than 100 kilometers to the southeast. During his forty-year reign, Vijayabahu I (AD 1070-1110) concentrated on rebuilding the Buddhist temples and monasteries that had been neglected during Chola rule. He left no clearly designated successor to his throne, and a period of instability and civil war followed his rule until the rise of King Parakramabahu I, known as the Great (AD 1153-86).

Parakramabahu is the greatest hero of the Culavamsa, and under his patronage, the city of Polonnaruwa grew to rival Anuradhapura in architectural diversity and as a repository of Buddhist art. Parakramabahu was a great patron of Buddhism and a reformer as well. He reorganized the sangha (community of monks) and healed a longstanding schism between Mahavihara -- the Theravada Buddhist monastery -- and Abhayagiri -- the Mahayana Buddhist monastery. Parakramabahu's reign coincided with the last great period of Sinhalese hydraulic engineering; many remarkable irrigation works were constructed during his rule, including his crowning achievement, the massive Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakrama or Parakrama Tank).

Polonnaruwa became one of the magnificent capitals of the ancient world, and nineteenth-century British historian Sir Emerson Tenant even estimated that during Parakramabahu's rule, the population of Polonnaruwa reached 3 million -- a figure, however, that is considered to be far too high by twentieth-century historians.

Parakramabahu's reign was not only a time of Buddhist renaissance but also a period of religious expansionism abroad. Parakramabahu was powerful enough to send a punitive mission against the Burmese for their mistreatment of a Sri Lankan mission in 1164. The Sinhalese monarch also meddled extensively in Indian politics and invaded southern India in several unsuccessful expeditions to aid a Pandyan claimant to the throne.

Although a revered figure in Sinhalese annals, Parakramabahu is believed to have greatly strained the royal treasury and contributed to the fall of the Sinhalese kingdom. The post- Parakramabahu history of Polonnaruwa describes the destruction of the city twenty-nine years after his death and fifteen rulers later.

For the decade following Parakramabahu's death, however, a period of peace and stability ensued during the reign of King Nissankamalla (AD 1187-97). During Nissankamalla's rule, the Brahmanic legal system came to regulate the Sinhalese caste system. Henceforth, the highest caste stratum became identified with the cultivator caste, and land ownership conferred high status. Occupational caste became hereditary and regulated dietary and marriage codes. At the bottom of the caste strata was the Chandala, who corresponded roughly to the Indian untouchable. It was during this brief period that it became mandatory for the Sinhalese king to be a Buddhist.

After Nissankamalla's death, a series of dynastic disputes hastened the breakup of the kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Domestic instability characterized the ensuing period, and incursions by Chola and Pandyan invaders created greater turbulence, culminating in a devastating campaign by the Kalinga, an eastern Indian dynasty. When Magha, the Kalinga king, died in 1255, another period of instability began, marking the beginning of the abandonment of Polonnaruwa and the Sinhalese migration to the southwest from the northern dry zone. The next three kings after Magha ruled from rock fortresses to the west of Polonnaruwa. The last king to rule from Polonnaruwa was Parakramabahu III (1278-93).

Foreign rulers took advantage of the disturbed political state of the Sinhalese kingdom, and in the thirteenth century Chandrabhanu, a Buddhist king from Malaya, invaded the island twice. He attempted to seize the two most sacred relics of the Buddha in Sinhalese custody, the Tooth Relic and the Alms Bowl.

During this extended period of domestic instability and frequent foreign invasion, Sinhalese culture experienced fundamental change. Rice cultivation continued as the mainstay of agriculture but was no longer dependent on an elaborate irrigation network. In the wet zone, large-scale administrative cooperation was not as necessary as it had been before. Foreign trade was of increasing importance to the Sinhalese kings. In particular, cinnamon--in great demand by Europeans--became a prime export commodity. Because of the value of cinnamon, the city of Kotte on the west coast (near modern Colombo) became the nominal capital of the Sinhalese kingdom in the mid-fifteenth century. Still, the Sinhalese kingdom remained divided into numerous competing petty principalities.

The Sinhalese withdrawal from the north is sometimes attributed to the cumulative effect of invasions from southern India (a rationale that has been exploited against the Tamils in modern Sinhalese politics). This interpretation has obvious weaknesses because after each of the south Indian invasions of the preceding centuries, the Sinhalese returned to the dry zone from the hills and repaired and revived the ancient irrigation system. K.M. de Silva suggests that the cumulative effects of repeated invasions "ate into the vitals of a society already losing its vigour with age."

A civilization based on a dry-zone irrigation complex presupposes a high degree of organization and a massive labor force to build and maintain the works. The decline of these public works mirrored the breakdown in the social order. Another factor that seems to have retarded the resettlement of the dry zone was the outbreak of malaria in the thirteenth century. The mosquito found ideal breeding grounds in the abandoned tanks and channels. (Malaria has often followed the destruction of irrigation works in other parts of Asia.) Indeed, all attempts at large-scale resettlement of the dry area in Sri Lanka were thwarted until the introduction of modern pesticides.

The migration is one of the great unsolved puzzles of South Asian history and is of considerable interest to academics because of the parallel abandonment of dry-zone civilizations in modern Cambodia, northern Thailand, and Burma.

King Vijayabahu - 1055 AD - 1110 AD

King Vijayabahu is the great king who defeated the Cholas and united the country again. He was the first king of Polonnaruwa kingdom. He repaired the irrigation systems, encouraged trading and did many things to make the country prosperous. Next king was his brother "Jayabahu" (1110 AD - 1111 AD) and then king Vijayabahu's son "Vickramabahu II" (1111 AD - 1132 AD) became the king. After him the throne goes to his son "Gajabahu II" (1132 AD - 1153 AD).

King Veera Parakramabahu - 1153 AD - 1186 AD

Next king of the country was the son of some monarchs relative named Manabharana and king Parakramabahu is said to be the greatest king of Polonnaruwa. During his reign he constructed massive irrigation systems, encouraged the arts, reorganized the army and undertook military campaigns in southern India and in Myanmar.

Among his constructions, the greatest is Parakrama Samudraya tank. It is a massive water reservoir and it was according to his famous utterance "not even a drop of water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to human".

In his reign he launched a punitive campaign against the kings of Ramanna and aided the Pandyas against the Chola in south India. He had the ability to export foods to other countries for free as the country was much prosperous. Another important fact is architectonic. This king has constructed many dagebas, shrines and palaces some buildings are still standing as they were. The next king was king Gajabahu's son "Vijayabahu II" (1186 AD - 1187 AD) and he was killed by king "Mahinda" (05 days).

King Nissanka Malla - 1187 AD to 1196 AD

Then the chief minister of king Vijayabahu, Nissanka Malla was able to defeat king Mahinda and to get the throne. He is also a famous king because of his constructions such as "Nissanka Latha Mandapaya" and "Hetadage" which was used as a tooth relic shrine. After him, his son "Weerabahu" (01 day) became the king but he was killed by ministers. Then king Nissanka Malla's brother "Wikramabahu" (3 months) became the king. Then king Nissanka Malla's nephew "Chodaganga" (09 months) owned the throne.

Queen Lilavati - 1197 AD to 1200 AD

Ministers killed king Chodaganga and king Veera Parakramabahu's wife Lilavati became the queen of the country. Then a king from Okkaka Vansa named "Sahassa Malla" (1200 AD - 1202 AD) took the crown from queen Lilavati and became the king.

Queen Kalyanavati - From 1202 AD to 1208 AD

King Sahassa Malla was killed by ministers and then the wife of king Nissanka Malla called Kalyanavati became the queen. Then her son "Dharmashoka" (1208 AD - 1209 AD) became the king. King Dharmashoka was killed by a Tamil minister called "Anikanga" (07 days) and he became the king.

Then queen Lilavati (1209 AD - 1210 AD) restored by defeating Anikanga. Then a minister called "Lokissara" (1210 AD - 1211 AD) dethroned queen Lilavati with the help of Tamils and queen Lilavati (1211 AD - 1212 AD) restored again by defeating king Lokissara. Finally queen Lilavati was dethroned by her kinsman "Parakrama Pandya" (1212 AD - 1215 AD). Then a Kalinga king called "Magha" known as Kalinga Magha (1215 AD - 1236 AD), from India, robbed the Sri Lankan throne and began to vanish many dagebas, temples, cities and many constructions. Magha the invader laid waste the kingdom and the royal city. It is not likely that Polonnarua ever recovered anything of its former grandeur after this.

During this time period, the power of native Sinhalese began to move to the south. They brought the tooth relic with them to protect it from Magha. Therefore next Sinhala king rises from south, Dambadeniya not from Polonnaruwa. Therefore Polonnaruwa was not the capital further.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:33 ZULU