The Formation of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and its History

The Formation of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and its History
The Formation of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and its History | Polonnaruwa Watadage | SL ART CAFE.COM

History of Polonnaruwa Downfall of Anuradhapura. The founding of the city of Polonnaruwa as the medieval capital of Sri Lanka after the downfall of Anuradhapura, which was the country's first capital city and which lasted for nearly sixteen centuries, is not merely a coincidence. It was a well-planned decision taken by the Sinhalese kings of the mid-Anuradhapura period beginning in the fifth century AD. 

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Rise of Polonnaruwa

No research has been carried out so far on the pre-history of the Polonnaruva region. But the presence of a vadda population in the area suggests that they had been living in caves around Polonnaruva such as the ones at Dimbulagala, known as Dhumarakkhapabbata or Udumbara-Giri-pabbata since early days. If veddas are considered to be the descendants of the early cavemen in Sri Lanka, then the very presence of these people suggests that Polonnaru has a long history of human habitation. From a historical point of view, the area in and around Polonnaruva began to develop as a human settlement with an agricultural base as far back as the beginning of the Sinhala civilization in the sixth century BC. This is evident from a reference in the Mahavamsa which says that Vijitagama, identified today as Kaduruwela in Polonnaru, was a settlement said to have been founded by one of the ministers of Vijaya, the first legendary king of Sri Lanka of the sixth century BC. There is also a tradition that it was founded by a brother-in-law of Panduvasudeva, the son of Vijaya's brother. According to this latter tradition, Bhaddakaccana, the bride of Panduvasudeva, arrived in Trincomalee by ship from India with her companions and was met at Vijitanagara by the ministers on their way to Anuradhapura which was a yojana distance from here.

History Associated With the Vijayanagara

Vijitanagara reappears in history again in the second century BC during the reign of Elara and the heroic king Dutugemunu According to the same chronicle it was here in Vijitapura that Dutugemunu's army destroyed the fortress of the extraordinary strength of Elara. When Dutugemunu advanced towards the for. tress he is said to have encamped in the open at a place close by which in later times came to be known as (in Pali) khandhavara- pitthi. It may have been called kandavuru-piti in Sinhala.  Elara's fortress would have been built at this point to control his position across the Mahaweli river and to safeguard the frontiers of the Anuradhapura kingdom against attacks levelled by the Rohana kingdom in the south of Sri Lanka. The University of Ceylon, History of Ceylon points out that the strategic purpose of Vijitapura corresponded to that of Polonnaru which was known in medieval times as Kandavura, meaning camp, otherwise known as Kandavuru-nuvara, the camp-city which was the earlier name for Polonnaruva, translates into Pali language, as Pulatthinagara, the city of Pulasti. This name reminds us of the great Indian sage Pulasti. Thus, it is clear from historical sources that the earlier name of Polonnaruva was Vijitagama, which subsequently be- came Vijitanagara showing a shift from the village level to urbanisation. And in the medieval Anuradhapura period, around the fifth century, it became known as Kandavura, meaning a military camp, owing to the strategic importance of the area. The strategic importance of Polonnaruva lay in its ability to commar d the river crossing of Mahaweli providing a buffer against any invading army. Thus, Kandavuru-nuvara, the fortified outpost where the Sinhalese garrisons camped during war times, especially during conflicts between the rivals of Anuradhapura and the Rohana, was a significant area. Towards the latter period it was known as Pulanari in Tamil and Polonnaru in Sinhala which translates into Pali as Pulatthinagara. 

The Reign of Vijayabahu1 (1095-1110 AD)

During the reign of Vijayabahu I (1095-1110 AD), this town was called Vijayarajapura, otherwise Pulanari in Tamil, as the Velaikkara Inscription tells us. During Kirti Sri Nissankamalla's reign, between 1187-1197 AD, the name was again changed to Kalingarajapura as evident by the slab-inscription at the North

The Formation of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and its History | Polonnaruwa Royal Place | SL ART CAFE.COM

Gate at Polonnaruwa. On both these occasions, the city was named after the ruling king. However, the popular name Polonnaru remained and continued to be used even thereafter up to this day. Inscriptions in Brahmi letters belonging to the two centuries preceding the Christian era have been discovered at several places in the Polonnaruva district. These include places like Duvegala, Galkanda, Dimbulagala, Konattegodawatta, Kandegamakanda, Mutugalla, Kandakadu and Lunuvaranagala. These are short inscriptions recording the donation of cave dwellings by devotees to the community of Sangha, the Buddhist monks. Among the devotees are important people who were respected Baratas or Batas meaning lords, Parumakas, (chiefs), Gapatis (householders), Gamikas (village councillors) and Bamanas (Brahmins). There are no kings or provincial rulers mentioned among them. The presence of early Brahmi inscriptions in the caves of Buddhist monks donated to them by lay devotees also suggests that these pious people maintained the monks for their spiritual development while looking after their material gains. 

That the People Who lived in this area were prosperous

This also proves beyond doubt that the people living in this area were prosperous. These inscriptional records go back to the early period of the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, about the third or second century BC. There is another important inscription belonging to the reign of King Meghavanna of the fourth century. This is a private document and the king's name is introduced here only for the purpose of dating the inscription. This is important because the inscription provides us with some information about the economic conditions of the period. It suggests that at least up to this period

Agricultural and Irrigation Development in Polonnaruwa

 Polonnaruva did not emerge as an important place of royal administration thought it was important in terms of agricultural and irrigational development. The district is seen gaining importance with the construction of large size reservoirs like the one at Minneriya built in the fourth century by King Mahasena. Apart from its importance as a strategic point, Polonnaruva now emerges as a central agricultural area attracting new colonisers. This is the reason why the kings of Anuradhapura in the subsequent centuries chose 

The Formation of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa and its History | Polonnaruwa Lankatilaka & Kiriwehera | SL ART CAFE.COM

Lankatilaka before conservation Polonnaruva as a safe place to live in the event of a threat from enemies across the ocean. It is thus evident from literary sources that from the very beginning of the history of Sri Lanka in the sixth century BC Polonnaruva had housed a colony of farmers who had settled down on the banks of the nearby Mahaweli river basin and had led a peaceful life. Besides literary evidence, we also have archaeological and inscriptional evidence to show that the population in this area was so high that a large number of Buddhist monks took residence in the area and enjoyed the patronage of the ruler and the support of the peasants.

The agricultural development of the area in the subsequent centuries was remarkable and resulted in the construction of medium and large reservoirs such as the Minneriya reservoir of the fourth century, Topaveva of the same period and Giritale and Kantale of the seventh century. The famous Minipe and Elahera canals are masterpieces of ancient irrigation in Sri Lanka. The Kaudulla and the Maduru-Oya tanks in the district were major irrigational constructions in the fourth century. This is ample evidence to show that the Polonnaruva district was fast moving towards a major development era and was an area gradually gaining popularity. With the presence of a large population in the area, the kings ruling from Anuradhapura were able to move their centre of administration to Polonnaruva whenever threats from enemies were posed. It was in the fifth century that for the first time the famous king Kasyapa shifted his capital to Sigiriya, moving very close to Polonnaruva.


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