Bernard VanCuylenburg

Kumaradhatusena – the great unknown – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

PROLOGUE

 

“Cometh the hour cometh the man” from John Chapter 4 Verse 23 in the Holy Bible, signifies that the right man will arrive at the right time. However, I may stand corrected on this, as there are varying interpretations of this saying. But it is an appropriate introduction to a great unknown in Lanka’s ancient history who is seldom spoken about, unlike some of the better known heroes of Sinhala royalty. Prince Kumara Dhatusena in his brief reign of nine years ruled the island with a firm but just hand and won the loyalty of his subjects by his meritorious deeds. Sadly, after his death there followed a period of violence, greed, treachery and murder, so often a feature in ancient Lanka’s history and in the history of many lands. His name in the chronicles is recorded as one word, ‘Kumaradhatusena’. I have broken it up to facilitate easy reading.

 

                           KUMARA DHATUSENA  –  THE MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.

 

In the year 513 AD following the death of King Moggallana, his son Prince Kumara Dhatusena ascended the throne. The chroniclers account in the Culavamsa regarding this young king is almost a  contradiction. While referring to him as “a vigorous figure of God-like form” he  writes that “He had repairs carried out to the Vihara built by his father”  but the Vihara is not named . He further wrote ” He had a revision made to the sacred texts and reformed the Order”.  The nine year rule of King Kumara Dhatusena ends with the words ” After many meritorious works he passed away in the ninth year of his reign, that is in the year 522 AD.  He was after all the grandson of the great King Dhatusena but while the chronicler goes into rapture singing the praises of the great tank builder, the grandson’s rule and his “many meritorious works” have been skimmed over.  Despite the flowery phrases describing King  Kumara Dhatusena’s reign, there is a woeful lack of detail. Unless any new discoveries are made by way of rock inscriptions, stone tablets etc. referring to his rule, he will remain for the most part, another great unknown.

 

However, two  ancient publications, the “Pujavaliya” and the “Rajavaliya” refer to a certain friendship which King Kumara Dhatusena had with Kalidasa, a boyhood friend and son of King Moggallana’s first minister.  (This ‘Kalidasa’ is not to be confused with the great Indian Sanskrit poet and scholar by the same name). In the “Pujavaliya” Kumara Dhatusena is referred to as ‘Kumaradasa”.  There is a sensational account in these manuscripts which state that the bonds of friendship between them were so strong that on Kalidasa’s death, Kumara Dhatusena was so distraught and overcome with grief that he flung himself on the pyre of his dead friend in a sort of immolation and perished with him. This is supposed to have occurred in present day Matara, and people in the area are familiar with the names of the two friends and their tragic fate. This of course is in conflict with the account in the Culavamsa which simply states that King Kumaradhasa “passed away in the ninth year of his reign….”

 

The  stability which was a hallmark of the reigns of King Moggallana and his son King Kumara Dhatusena, was followed by a political firestorm. To call it an orgy of blood is no exaggeration. Prince Kittisena, Kumaradhatusena’s son ascended the throne in 522 AD the year of his father’s death. What followed was a family squabble of intrigue and lust for power with daggers drawn. King Kittisena ruled for only nine months and was murdered by his uncle , his mothers brother Siva. King Siva however did not last the distance. He ruled for twenty five days  (The Culavamsa records that he ruled for “Five and twenty days”) and was killed by Upatissa. Upatissa in various Sinhalese sources is referred to as ‘Lamanitissa’ signifying that he came from the Lambakanna clan. It gets worse because Upatissa was the late King Moggallana’s brother-in-law, having married King Moggallana’s sister.

  

King Upatissa ruled from 522 – 524 AD but in the brief period of two years he managed to win the populace over and also gave his daughter in marriage to Silakala with a substantial financial grant. This was the same Silakala who fled the island twenty six years ago for fear of his life and sought refuge in India, when King Kasyappa 1st ruled in Sigiriya. He is best remembered for having brought the hair relic of the Buddha to Ceylon . Silakala however had other ideas.  Deluded with a lust for power he fled to the central mountainous region of the island (which the Culavamsa for some unknown reason calls “Malaya”). Here he wasted no time in gathering a large and strong force. Confident that he could now take the throne he  arrived on the outskirts of Anuradhapura in a show of might terrifying the populace and the royal court. And this is where in the confused blood soaked fortunes of this family, history repeated itself once more. Enter the second Kasyappa, King Upatissa’a son. Following the example of his ancestor by the same name twenty six years ago, Prince Kasyappa mounted his favourite elephant and with an army ventured forth to confront the would be usurper Silakala. Fortune favoured Prince Kasyappa because Silakala suffered defeat after defeat in eight encounters. Silakala is referred to as ‘The Sword Bearer’  – a title which suits his capability in the field of battle and his staying power against all odds.  He was never captured and managed to flee, to live to fight another day. This ‘Sword Bearer’ seems to have been endowed with supernatural powers.

 

After some time in the wilderness, he raised another army and advanced on Anuradhapura for the second time. A ferocious battle raged for seven days and Prince Kasyappa finally saw the writing on the wall. Discretion he surmised, was the better part of valour and he decided to flee with his father King Upatisa and his mother, to the state of Merukandara in present day Malaysia. Merukandara was at the time a favourite place of refuge. It all went horribly wrong. The guides heading the fugitives and their band of loyalists lost their way and were surrounded by Silakala’s forces. If one does not believe in the saying that history repeats itself, the following incident may dispel any doubts.

 

In the final battle which the Culavamsa describes as “a fight between Gods and demons” Prince Kasyappa’s royal elephant succumbed to grievous flesh wounds and the prince doing what an ancestor of the same name did twenty six years ago. The chronicler writing in the Culavamsa states ” he cut his throat, wiped the blood from his dagger and stuck it back in its sheath. Then, supporting both hands on the temples of the elephant he sank down in death”.   King Upatissa when he heard the news “died pierced by the arrow of grief ” (Culavamsa). This could be interpreted that the news when conveyed to him caused him such shock and sorrow that he died following a heart attack.

 

In 524 AD Silakala ascended the throne and this one time rebel rouser now turned out to be a benevolent monarch who ruled the island for thirteen years. Also known as Lamani Ambaherana Salamevan, he first increased the revenues of the hospitals and forbade the killing of wild animals.  The Abhayagiri sect were particular  recipients of his benefactions and he made daily sacrifices to the sacred Bodhi tree. Throughout his reign the Culavamsa confirms that “he performed meritorious deeds without number”.

 

In the year 527 AD he sent a letter to the Chinese court. There is no mention of this in the Culavamsa, but receipt of the letter at the Chinese court is confirmed by Chinese annals although the contents and purpose of the letter are not known.  He died the same year after a just and peaceful rule. The orgy of blood and violence did not end with his death, but ultimately paved the way for one of the most distinguished Kings to sit on Lanka’s throne, who ranks second only to  King Mahasena and  King Dhatusena as one of the great tank building kings of the island, apart from being a gifted poet. He is better known as a king “who had poetic gifts without equal” (Culavamsa).  The chronicles refer to King Silakala as “an abode of virtue, generosity and goodness”.

 

Regarding the chronological investigation of Lanka’s history, it is a matter of regret that often one has to rely on foreign testimony. I refer specifically to relations with China, particularly in the Culavamsa.

The name of “China” is not mentioned even once whereas Chinese historical records and South Indian inscriptions bear ample testimony to relations between ancient Lanka and China. So much on this subject that is important to the reader, has been concealed  –  a great pity. 

 

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

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THE LAND OF MY FOREFATHERS – (Part 2) THE BENELUX BONANZA – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

 

My memories of Luxembourg and Belgium will forever remain etched in memory as two jewels in the crown of  any travel odyssey I have undertaken………..Pristine in their natural beauty, these countries have a rich history and vibrant culture, both of which are evident at every step of the road less travelled as I discovered. Recent history however has been bloody and I cannot avoid mentioning some incidents relating to World War 2.

 

THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE OR THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE.

 

The Germans called their offensive the “Wacht Am Rhine” (The watch on the river Rhine) and the allied forces termed it “The Ardennes Offensive”.  Due to the natural terrain on which this battle was fought in the Ardennes forest, history recorded it as “The Battle of the Bulge”. The Ardennes is a heavily wooded plateau in North East France extending to South East Belgium and Northern Luxembourg, which cuts through the river Meuse. It is breathtaking in in its natural beauty with thick forest cover in shades of glorious green and perceiving it from anywhere is soothing to the soul, a panorama of peaceful beauty resplendent in its verdant solitude. The Japanese have a phrase for nature’s treasures such as the Ardennes expressed in one simple line……”Take a walk in the wind and clear your mind…….” They refer to it very aptly as “Forest Bathing “.  It is difficult to imagine that a little over seventy years ago this part of paradise around the town of Bastogne was the scene of savage blood letting, guts and gore and killing unlimited, as Adolf Hitler unleashed his plan for a breakthrough in the allied forces defensive line by his Field Marshall Von Runstedt.

 

The German attack took the allies by complete surprise, but ultimately they held out against a very superior  German force in a conflict which lasted from the 16th December 1944 until the 28th January 1945. The allies lost 80,000 soldiers and the German casualties were listed at 130,000, including Hitler’s last powerful reserve, the Panzer Elite. The beauty of the Ardennes today conceals the horror and barbarism of that terrible time. Perhaps a line from the poem “The Windmill” by Henry Longfellow sums up the contrast today…… :

 

                                ”  On Sundays I take my rest, church going bells begin

                                    I cross my hands upon my breast and all is peace within…..”

 

All is peace within today, but over seventy years ago it seemed that hell was unleashed on earth.  A visit to the Luxembourg American  cemetery and  Memorial in Luxembourg City is a harsh lesson in reality. I spent a long time reading the names on the graves of the American soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice, and what tears one’s heart out is reading the ages of the soldiers  22, 25, 23, 32, citing a few examples, and  there was one of a soldier who was just nineteen years old. I suppose it is one of many. The graves are laid out row by row in a beautiful garden setting. At the entrance to the cemetery, as if by some bizarre twist of fate is the grave of General George S.Patton who was Commander of the US 7th army in the Mediterranean, and the US 3rd army in France and Germany. It was his decisive leadership which turned the tide in relieving the beleagured allied troops in Bastogne at ‘the Battle of the Bulge’. The graves of the fallen soldiers are laid out in a slight slope below his grave which is set apart. It gives one the impression that even in death he is at the head of his troops. It was General Patton who after the war once remarked ” We have accepted the mystery of the atom  – and rejected the Sermon on the Mount”……” Having survived the dangers of  war, General Patton was tragically killed in a car accident in Mannheim Germany, a few days before he was to return home to the USA.

 

In the senior forms at St.Anthony’s College Kandy, I recall the English literature class where under Mr.John Isaacs we studied the poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two in particular “Kublai Khan” and “The Ancient Mariner”. Amazingly, while reading the epitaphs of the fallen US soldiers, the veil of time was parted and  through the mists of time I recalled a passage from one of Coleridge’s passages dealing with melancholy thoughts of the past. It read ” If men could learn from history, what lessons it would teach us ! But passion blinds our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us…..” I surmise what he was telling us is that the lessons of history are never learned.

 

The Mardasson Memorial also in Luxembourg city is worth a visit for those interested in World War 2 history, and is another  tribute to all the American soldiers who gave their lives for their country.

 

A leisurely walking tour in the beautiful city center of Luxembourg is  therapeutic to heart and mind. Marvel at the Grand Ducal Palace with its Flemish renaissance facades, and the medieval cathedral. To add a fairy tale character to this ethereal city, there are spectacular views of the gorge of the rivers Alzette and Petrusse. Here nature has excelled…….Following this walk, some of my travelling companions and I spent a leisurely afternoon in the leafy Place d’ Armes watching the world go by fortified by some of the best coffee in the world ! 

 

The 12th century Cistercian Orval Abbey in an excellent state of preservation is a pearl of great price. This medieval abbey which was founded in 1132, is in the Gaume region of Belgium and is renowned for its distinct cheese and for being one of the few breweries that produces Trappiste beer.

 

BELGIUM:  Since 1945 this small country has been a  major force for international co-operation in Europe being a founder member of the Benelux Economic Union, the Council of Europe, and the Economic Union. (EU). I found this country to be the proverbial pearl of great price   — a rare gem in the chain of any travel itinerary. My introduction to this resplendent land commenced with a visit to the historic city of Bruges in North West Belgium. Bruges is the capital of the province of West Flanders. And there are more gems to behold  –  The 14th century cathedral of Notre Dame has a rare statue of the Virgin and Child by Michaelangelo. Visit the Gothic Town  and Market Hall and you think a time machine has taken you back 800 hundred years, because the historic buildings and the old roads weaving in and out are the originals from that period……Bruges incidentally has been named for its many bridges. For lovers of chocolate, a visit to a chocolate factory or even a shop will reveal why Belgian chocolates are the most exquisite and so highly prized  worldwide. I have no sweet tooth, but having tasted Belgian chocolates  I swear they are worth every calorie !!

 

 Before this however, there was another surprise in store. We stopped at the charming town of Dinant, an enchanting medieval village with history in every corner. But the most famous son of this town is Adolphe Sax, credited with having invented the saxophone. His home today is a museum visited by many, specially jazz music afficionados. This town is on the banks of a lovely river, and the scenery surrounding the area is once again, nature’s handiwork. Arriving in Bruges in the evening, another surprise awaited the group  –  a dinner invitation to the home of Marc and Judy Nyssen at their 17th century Bruges farmstead to learn about Flanders farm life and enjoy hearty Belgian fare. And cordon bleu fare it was, washed down by copious amounts of the nectar of the Gods  – Belgian beer and homemade wine !  Much more than that, the dinner was prepared and served with a lot of love and hospitality and was a feast for the Gods. I wished the night would never end ! In this simple act of kindness  – entertaining strangers in their home  – Marc and Judy were sharing the essence of who they were, their humanity and generosity with us. Where there is sharing, everybody wins  – the giver and the receiver.  Waking up the next morning in beautiful Bruges was akin to living in a dream. The hotel was by the banks of a river and in a very historic quarter. Taking a stroll down the old medieval road before breakfast, I made a note of the house numbers…..1604, 1624, 1658, 1712, 1759, 1780, 1792…….all original historic houses still standing….the place is a time warp. I started the day with a walking tour of Bruges, and then took to the water to enjoy a whimsical sightseeing cruise along the city’s wonderful canals lined with Gothic facades. A visit to a Lace Centre run by the nuns of the Immaculate Conception to admire the delicate art of Belgian lace followed. I spent the rest of the day soaking up the old world charm of this beguiling city. 

 

The next stop was the city of Ghent to delve into the centuries of port heritage of this city with its picturesque riverine backdrop. What stands out in Ghent are the three famous medieval towers – Saint Nichola’s church, the belfry and Saint Bavo’s cathedral dating from the eleven hundreds, in an excellent state of preservation. There was another surprise in store. Passing the municipality of Ixelles located South of the city centre of Brussels, I was told that this was the birthplace of  Audrey Hepburn. Her mother was a Dutch baroness Ella Van Heemstra, and her father was an English banker. They divorced when she was only six years old and she spent her childhood in Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands. Hollywood and stardom followed much later.

 

The multicultural melting pot of the Belgian capital Brussells is a revelation. The Atomium which was designed for the 1958 Brussel’s World Fair and the exquisite Grand Palace with its opulent and ornate guildhalls are only a small sample of the many splendoured delights and attractions of this charming city. The first enchanted evening in Brussels was spent sampling taste bud tantalizing Belgian cuisine washed down with the city’s best beers ! The next day I embraced a full day at leisure to explore the Belgian capital  on my own terms. A visit to the Cinquantenaire taught me all I needed to know about Belgian military history through the centuries. From there I meandered to the Royal Palace through the leafy lanes of the Brussels park. Intoxicated with the beautiful architecture of the buildings, I immersed myself in all this city had to offer and was not short of any food for thought.

 

The Belgian town of Ypres in West Flanders is not far from Brussels. Called ‘The City of Peace’ which I thought was very ironic, Ypres was a centre of heavy fighting during World War 1. I visited the cemeteries of Paschendale and Taryn Cot where many of the allied soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice are buried. Again, the ages of the soldiers engraved on the tombstones will move the hardest heart. The poem by William Collins “How Sleep the Brave” expresses the emotion felt by any visitor to this spot…..As I pondered life’s futility in the calm of an Autumn evening, some lines from this poem came to mind……

 

How sleep the brave who sink to rest

By all their countries wishes blest

When Spring with dewy fingers cold

Returns to deck their hallowed mould

She there shall dress a sweeter sod

Than fancy feet have ever trod

 

By fairy hands their knell is rung

By forms unseen their dirge is sung

There honour comes a pilgrim grey

To bless the form that wraps their clay……..

 

If the dead are always with us, it is in places like this that their presence is felt so intensely. I cannot remember who asked the question “If we can rest in peace, why cant we live in peace?

 

Ypres was the town in which the bulk of the allied forces were stationed. Each morning they sallied forth to the battlefield, and many never returned. Exiting the town, they had to go through The Menin Gate. Today, a very moving memorial ceremony takes place at 6.00 pm. sharp each evening. It is a ceremony to remember the soldiers who perished in the battles of World War 1 fought around the town from 1914 to 1918, and commences with a small parade, a eulogy followed by a hymn or two, and then the climax of this ceremony when a trumpeter plays “The Last Post”.  If one has managed to hold back his or her tears through the entire proceedings so far, the trumpeter’s rendition of ‘The Last Post’ will soon break down any emotional resistance. The sadness epitomised in each individual note sears through one’s very soul, and the only relief to assauge one’s grief is to let a few teardrops fall. The names of the soldiers who perished are engraved on the huge columns of the Menin Gate and I was also happy to read the names of the Indian and Bengali soldiers who left their home far away to fight for the empire and never returned to their homeland. I mention this because often in any remembrance ceremonies, the soldiers from the colonies hardly merit a mention. I hasten to add that this memorial ceremony has been enacted EVERY EVENING SINCE THE END OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR TO THIS VERY DAY. I was told that the place is packed every evening  –  there was hardly any room the evening, when I with the rest of the group were privileged to attend.

 

Two Canadians from the group and I made a special visit to the tomb of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the Canadian poet  who served as a medical officer in the first World War. This poet has left us a lasting legacy in his masterpiece IN FLANDERS FIELD, which was the reason I made the visit because I had admired this poem for as long as I care to remember. Google it and you can read all three verses, but I shall quote the first verse to emphasise its poignancy :

 

“In Flanders Fields the poppies grow/ Between the crosses row on row/ That mark our place and in the sky/ The larks still bravely singing fly/ Scarce heard amid the guns below………”

 

This poem which was published in 1915, honours and commemorates the men who died in the horrific battles in Flanders. He was inspired to write it having presided over the funeral of a comrade Alex Helmer, and having seen the blood red poppies grow on the graves of the soldiers who lost their lives. He wrote it seated in the back of an ambulance. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae died of pneumonia towards the end of the war.

 

WATERLOO –  In the year 1815, a battle was fought here which changed the face of Europe forever. The all conquering Corsican colonel Napoleon Bonaparte confronted the British army led by the Duke of Wellington in what history records as The Battle of Waterloo. The result is known to history, and this is where the once mighty emperor met HIS Waterloo. I visited the house which the Duke of Wellington occupied for the duration of this conflict located in the town of Waterloo. It is a museum today and houses many valuable exhibits, maps, letters, arms, swords, and other interesting exhibits. The room occupied by the Duke is still preserved with his writing desk and the bed he slept on. At one stage in this battle Napoleon almost had the upper hand, and it was the gallant arrival of the Prussians under General Blucher which turned the tide and saved the day for the English. Having played his part, General Blucher suffered an unexpected mishap, and suffered a broken leg when his horse fell on him ! He had to be removed from the field of battle and there is a picture of him being commended and presented with honours and awards a few weeks after the battle lying on a bed, his injured leg swathed in thick bandages. General Blucher was also the oldest soldier on the field that day. He was 72 years of age, while Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington were in their forties.The battlefield is partly farmland today and wide beautiful fields and grassland bordered by a few farms.

 

EPILOGUE

This has been a journey on a long road of many twists and turns……there have been moments of euphoria, delights, surprises, sadness, a lot of inspiration and philosophy –  and beautiful salt of the earth human beings who give of themselves unhesitatingly to make the world a better place. Art, culture, history, interaction with different people, unseen miracles which defy description but have to be experienced, the handiwork of Mother Nature, and other travel tit bits all combine to enrich one’s spirit and soothe the soul in a world which has lost its way.  And I headed home having learned the best lesson of all – The more I saw and learned, I realized how little I knew, and how much more there was to learn……..

 

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

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THE LAND OF MY FOREFATHERS (Part 1) – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

 

                                       The journey I was about to undertake would not only  in geographical terms span vast distances over land and sea……it was an odyssey which would cover a period of over four hundred years and one in which I would try to establish a “connection” with my ancestors. Navigating the paper chase of history and ancestry is never easy, but I was armed with a copy of the family tree which was sent to me by The  Hague in Holland in 1987, packed in my hand luggage, and one which I had perused times without number. The records I had obtained set the dates from 1625, but a cousin of mine who  travelled to Holland a few years ago had visited the town of Cuylenborg and even met some townsfolk with the same surname. The records he sent me dated from 1320. I was off on a tour of Holland and two Benelux countries and time was of the essence since the tour involved a packed itinerary everyday with some free time in between. I hoped to make a special trip to Cuylenborg in the free time available. It was a long long trail a winding, to quote the lyrics of an old song……….When I met my Tour Director in Amsterdam, he told me that in view of the busy tour schedule, which commenced the next day, a special trip to the home of my ancestors would be highly unlikely even in the free time available in between our daily travel itinerary. I still held on to the dream…….

 The gentle throbbing of the four Rolls Royce Trent Jet Engines   –  the beating heart of the giant  Airbus A-380 –  as it sat on its designated runway at Tullamarine International airport, resembled the  disgruntled growls of an angry beast straining at the leash in order to break its chains and seek its freedom. Inside the huge airbus, the cabin crew were all “action stations” as they prepared for take off, while the complement of passengers  –  542 as I later found out, sat patiently lost in their own thoughts in anticipation of the long journey ahead. Ensconced in seat No.41 D, the lyrics of a country hit by the late Don Williams came to mind –  “Some broken hearts never mend / Some memories never end……..” I mentally paraphrased the lyrics with my own version adding the words “Some Journeys never end……..” My experience has taught me that at the end of each destination, a new journey begins, there are new trails to explore, and distant horizons beckon, depending on how one fine tunes one’s antenna to life’s sensitivities. While the cabin crew explained the safety precautions, I was lost in a reverie of my own, until the calm collected voice of the Captain came soothingly over the speakers “Cabin crew prepare for take-off…..” and a few minutes later the behemoth of the skies  slowly hurtled down the runway picking up speed as it went along. Then gradually, with the grace of a ballerina this giant Beluga gently lifted up into the night sky its engines at full throttle, slotted on to its flight path, and roared off defiantly on the 14 hour 15 minute non stop flight to Dubai. I was bound for Amsterdam after a three hour transit in Dubai, from where the flight to Amsterdam entailed a time of seven hours and fifteen minutes.

 Twenty four hours and thirty minutes later I was one of the hundreds of passengers at Schipol International Airport standing in line in the “ALL OTHER PASSENGERS” queue waiting to clear Dutch immigration. Citizens of all European countries had a separate queue to facilitate immigration formalities. Exhausted beyond limits, I was finally happy to present my passport to the immigration officer. He took one look at it, looked at me again and then stated the obvious “But this is a Dutch name !!”  As coherently as possible I explained to him that my Dad’s ancestors originally hailed from the Dutch city of “Cuylenborg”‘ and left Holland around the mid 1600’s to go to Dutch occupied Ceylon to seek their fortunes. He then replied that he had heard about the Dutch East India Company, and with a cheery “Enjoy your stay in Holland” he stamped my passport and waved me on……And this was my genesis to getting acquainted with the land of my forefathers.

 In the collective human mind, the stereotyped image of Holland is a land of windmills, tulips and wooden shoes. This is almost cliched, because Holland today is much more than that. Amsterdam was my first port of call and I soon found it to be a free spirited city with an incredible diversity of cultures and cuisines in a fairy tale village like setting. The Dutch word “Gezellig” roughly translates it as ‘Cosy’ and ‘Convivial’. Its full meaning is more experienced than defined. It is a fascinating city. One hundred and sixty five canals criss cross the city spanned by 1753 bridges adding to her charm.  In fact Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and getting on the water is one of the best ways to feel her pulse. The canals were built during the “Golden Age” which roughly spanned a good part of the 17th century. Feel the good vibrations as you sit by the canals and watch the boats glide by and time permitting, you can check the cities 3050 houseboats. A cruise along the famous “World Heritage” listed UNESCO canal district will reveal the elegant merchant’s houses which have lined the canals over the past 400 years, the majestic facades and gables, beautiful churches and the iconic “Magere Bruge (” The ‘Skinny Bridge”) and many more delights.  The canals are just a backdrop for Amsterdams treasure packed museums, vintage shops, breweries, ultra niche restaurants, Dutch gin distilleries, and all the chocolate, coffee and cheese shops one could wish for ! It must be noted that since 2005 the houseboats have been required to connect to the cities sewerage system, and specialised cleaning boats patrol the canals regularly, to keep the waterways as pristine as possible. I would add that Amsterdam today is a city of coffee, cheese, and chocolate!   Practically every street has one of these shops to satisfy one’s sweet tooth or caffeine cravings. And there is an added bonus  – or temptation. Wander into any of these shops and there are rows of samples with all types of cheese and chocolate for the customer to sample before making a purchase. If one does not make a purchase, he or she is free to sample all they wish to anyway ! That is what I call an incentive to an indulgence – just nibble your way through on your own “tasting tour !”

 Amsterdam’s love affair with coffee goes back a long way. The first coffee beans in Europe were “discovered” in the conquered Ottoman army garrisons. In the 17th century the Dutch bypassed the Arab trade monopoly in coffee and also opened up large plantations in the territories which they conquered.  The writer Sanne Deurloo in her book “Why  do we drink so much coffee?” writes “…….Coffee and the Dutch are made for each other !  Unlike with wine and beer, you can drink coffee all day long and not get sick….!!!”  What a tantalising incentive to join the thousands of caffeine cravers ! The latest statistics place Spain and Italy second to Holland’s coffee rankings, and the American giant “Starbucks” got a foothold in Holland only five years ago. Much bigger than “Starbucks” is “Bagels and Beans” the Dutch Coffee giant which quoting their advertisements, “serves coffee pastries and happiness”.

ON YOUR BIKE !

Bicycles are what moves the masses to work in this delightful city which has more bicycles than cars. The young and the old, everybody rides a bike. Policeman on duty, executives in suits, clerks, schoolchildren, teachers, lawyers, shopkeepers , pedal power is their preferred mode of transport, and two wheeling is a way of life here. It is how the Amsterdammers get to work, do their shopping, and keep a date . The visitor if so inclined has an abundance of bike rental shops if he or she wishes to take a spin. Many visitors rent bikes and leaving the city behind head for the beautiful and green nature reserve called very aptly, “Waterland”.

THE JEWISH QUARTER

In the heart of Amsterdam is the Jewish Cultural Quarter. Magnificient synagogues, striking buildings and impressive memorials dominate the streetscape of the city’s Jewish neighbourhood. Jewish history, culture and traditions are evident in the Jewish Historical Museum and the national Holocaust Museum. Visiting the home of Anne Frank is a powerful and moving experience. During World War 2 the Germans occupied Holland in just five days, and many Jews like the Frank family went into hiding. The Franks moved into the upper floors of a building with another couple, the Van Pels. Here they survived until they were betrayed by the Gestapo in 1944. Except  for Mr.Otto Frank, Anne and the rest perished in the gas chambers in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  The story is too well known to bear repeating here.

THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT

The centuries old Red Light District  – or should I say the infamous Red Light District is where the action is pretty volatile ! And here’s the contradiction  – The oldest historic church in Amsterdam the “Oude Kerk” (Old Church) is incongruously situated in full view of The Red Light District !! Once a Catholic church, it is now Protestant and dates from 1306. Many famous citizens including Rembrandt’s second wife Saskia VanCuylenburg are buried under the tombstones. The city’s oldest church bell which dates from 1450 is in this church.

 THE ART WORLD

Each year, millions of visitors visit Holland and head for the world class art museums. Art collections take pride of place and one cannot walk a kilometre without bumping into a masterpiece. The glory goes to the tortured genius Vincent Van Gogh who toiled in ignominy while supported by his brother Theo. The other favourite Dutch  Masters like Vermeer, and Rembrandt, are big drawcards, but the art scene in this city goes well beyond them. Several art galleries in the city provide an outlet for avant-garde and emerging artists. But three iconic figures like Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Jan Vermeer are some of the world’s most revered and celebrated painters. Perhaps the 17th centuries greatest artist Rembrandt Van  Rijn was born in Leiden in 1606, the son of a miller. By the 1620’s this genius of the brush and pallette had become an accomplished painter. I crave the readers indulgence if I dwell on Rembrandt among a host of other painters, because this is where my family name enters the picture. In 1631 he went to Amsterdam having obtained employment to manage an art studio of a wealthy art dealer, Hendrick VanCuylenburg. In 1634 he married his bosse’s niece, Saskia VanCuylenburg. Unfortunately, Rembrandt fell out with his boss, but his wife’s money helped him to buy the house next door. Here he turned out his masterpieces, his paintings were a success and his studio became the largest in Holland. Saskia and he had a son Titus who was born in 1641. But then tragedy struck. In 1642 Saskia died and the business suffered a sharp decline. That same year he produced his masterpiece “The Night Watch” which can be seen in all its splendour in the world famous Rijks Museum. If one has been travelling a jaded vale in the world of art, one look at Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” will propel one to a mountain of enthusiasm. So graphic and realistic are the characters in this painting that they seem to be reaching out to the viewer over the centuries. This painting literally comes alive……….

 The Rijks Museum and the Vincent Van Gogh museum are a must for lovers of art. The Rijks is of course Holland’s top treasure house, while the latter houses the largest collection by Van Gogh. There are over two hundred canvases on display, plus other works by Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet. While Van Gogh expressed the emotion of his tortured soul in his paintings, perhaps the most beautiful words he ever spoke were “The more I think it over, the more I think there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people…..”

The port city of Rotterdam is worth a visit.  Most of the city was bombed out during World War 2, but has been completely rebuilt and is a joy to behold. To really appreciate the panoramic views of Rotterdam, ascend the iconic Euromast Tower and the beauty of this city and its surrounding landscapes will stun the senses. Visit the famous Food Market which has food from almost every European, Meditteranian, North African and Middle Eastern country to whet one’s appetite. A visit to Delft famous for its porcelaine blue pottery will not disappoint. Having visited the Wedgewood Pottery Plant in England a few years ago, and now having visited the Royal Delft Pottery workshop in Delft I surmised that beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder………

 The fortified city of Maastricht with its beautiful old churches, ancient city walls and stunning merchant houses took centre stage on my visit to this city. Ambling through the cobblestone streets  is a delight. And, on the way to Rotterdam discover the spectacular straight line of nineteen working windmills or the “Kinderdijk”.These windmills built in 1740 are below sea level and were built to pump water out of reclaimed land. And Masstricht is the home town of the classical music virtuoso Andre Rieu   –  the genius who gives the classics a shade of pop, which has kindled a love of the classics in pop and rock music fans. He is their favourite son as I soon discovered in the short time I spent in this city.

 DEN HAAG –  or THE HAGUE: Its treasured monuments, historic districts and prime location near the North Sea coastline makes The Hague one of the most extraordinary cities in Holland. Popularly known as “The Royal city by the sea”, The Hague is the residence of the Dutch royal family who have occupied it for the past four hundred years, and is also the seat of government. This entire area is set in a dreamworld fairy tale setting and a feast for the eyes to behold. It is a city easy to explore on foot and visitors who stay here for a few days will be amply rewarded with the numerous attractions the city offers   – museums, theatres, royal parks, restaurants galore, art museums, historical monuments……..in short a cultural cornucopia to satisfy the most fastidious visitor.

On the way to Rotterdam and Utretcht in the North, my Tour Director showed me the sign leading off the highway to the town of ‘Cuylenborg’. (The “Van” has been omitted because it simply means ‘OF’ in Dutch).   Alas for reasons explained earlier, a visit to this town was not possible and for now remains an elusive dream.  What I have highlighted is only a very brief thumbnail sketch of the myriad delights of this country which will always be a land of scenic landscapes dotted with windmills, centuries old picturesque villages , babbling brooks and green pastures, meandering canals, locals dressed in traditional costumes, Dutch specialities and picture postcard beauty. There are certain things in this world which one sees with one’s soul…….as Helen Keller, the American author and lecturer who lost her sight at the age of 18 once said, “The best and  most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart……” .Helen Keller was one of the most visually challenged and inspiring people, and the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree .

 EPILOGUE

Part two of this article  THE LAND OF MY FOREFATHERS  –  THE BENELUX BONANZA   –  will follow. It deals with my visit to two Benelux nations, Luxembourg and Belgium. It further confirmed to me that journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware……..

 

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

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ANCIENT GRANDEUR – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

 

Present day Xian in China is more famous today for the Terra Cotta Warriors. But in ancient times this grand city was once the capital of China and was known as Chang An. This is the city which saw the genesis of the Silk Road which ultimately led to ancient Rome.

 

The  Muslim Quarter in Xian deserves special mention due to its cultural diversity. As the name indicates, the Muslim Quarter has been home to the cities Hui community (Chinese Muslims) for centuries. Although Muslims have lived here since the 7th century, the community today did not take root until the time of the Ming dynasty. It is a fascinating place  – full of shops of every description  – books shops with copies of ancient maps and other historical trivia, coffee shops, tea shops, spice shops, shops with the best silks and items of clothing, shoe shops, shops with mountains of raisins, walnuts, almonds, pistacchios, plus the usual gauntlet of souvenir stands…..you name it, it is here.

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THE SILK ROAD – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

Bernard Van CuyenburgThis is the ‘Travelogue’ which I wrote, following my tour along the Silk Road. . I returned from China after what must surely rank as one of the best trips I ever made to this empire within empires, of which the travels along the old Silk Road and all the historical sites along its route are what enriched and nourished my spirit. Although I returned extremely tired and somewhat battered after the intense travel involved, what I saw in terms of a rich cultural heritage will forever live in memory, and a rich memory at that.

Bernard.                                                     

1.

                                                                  THE SILK ROAD

When I embarked on a visit to sections of The Silk Road on one of four visits to China, I never dreamed that it would be a journey which has no end ! My tour began in Beijing and then went to Xian (ancient Chang An) a former capital of ancient China, from where the Silk Road started over 1600 years ago on its long way to Europe and ultimately to ancient Rome. The very term “Silk Road” conjures up romantic notions of a fabled highway from a fairy tale leading to distant lands and dreamlike far horizons abounding in riches in lands unknown…..that image is true, but a “fabled highway” it was not !  The Silk Road at that time was a tortuous track fraught with danger which went through half a dozen Asian kingdoms for more than 11,000 kilometers, and finally ended in imperial Rome. It was in the legendary city of Xian that the Silk Road had its genesis. This may take longer than I expect, but  there is no other way, as it is impossible to skip detail on a journey of this nature.

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PORTRAIT OF A KING (Parts 1 & 2) – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

Introduction to the article by Des Kelly…….

He is just a little tardy, on this subject, but peruse, as I might, I could not find a song dedicated to King Dhatusena, the “Warrior King” of ancient Lanka. Instead, I have chosen a song by Keerthi Pasquel, about the “Portugeesi-karaya”, who invaded Sri Lanka long after Dhatusena had achieved Nirvana (hopefully). Keerthi Pasquel would have to be one of the finest Sinhalese Vocalists in Sri Lanka right now.

He sounds superb, no matter what he sings, writes his own songs, also plays bass, lead & rhythm, probably has some Royal blood in his veins, and as far as I am concerned, might even be a direct “Descendant of Dhatusena” 

Who knows ?, but read Bernard’s article folks. As usual, it is superbly written. Bernard’s ancestors, the Dutch, took over from the Portuguese, but that matters very little. He is truly an asset to eLanka, we are very proud of him, but don’t forget, folks, our “top website” cannot run on “love and fresh air”, so please “donate” whenever & whatever possible. 

D.K.


PORTRAIT OF A KING (Part 1) – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

The year was 432 AD   – an ominous year for the  resplendent island of Ceylon…….  Storm clouds were gathering on the horizon and the people of this paradise isle were in for a long dark night. It was the year in which a massive invasion from South India led by a chief named Pandu took place. The King on the throne Mittasena , who had ruled only for one year was slain in battle and Pandu seized the throne. For the next twenty eight years until 460 AD, four Tamil Kings from South India ruled the land. When this invasion took place, there was a young “Samenera” or novice in robes residing in a  “Pirivena” in the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura. In fact he was a pupil of a Buddhist monk who was also his uncle. Mark his name well . It is a name which should be gilded in letters of gold and as fate decreed in a future time, he would rank as one of the finest rulers who ever sat on the throne of ancient Lanka. This was the young Dhatusena, a memberof the royal Moriya clan.  Gifted with intelligence well above average, Dhatusena was no ordinary pupil . Whilst a novice at the monastery he had undergone the ceremony of world renunciation, but the change of political fortunes in the island stirred his young blood and his destiny deemed otherwise. The Moriyas were a powerful clan, and before long King Pandu became very suspicious of the young Dhatusena. His uncle felt however that he was too soft, and that living in a monastery, he would not know much about the world at large and could not develop into a natural leader. So he took Dhatusena  to a vihara far from Anuradhapura   – a vihara where there would be no enclosing walls and from where Dhatusena would develop his qualities for leadership.

 

It was a timely move. Scarcely had they left when soldiers of Pandu surrounded the monastery. Uncle and nephew ultimately ended up in distant Ruhuna, well beyond the reach of King Pandu and his soldiers. On this journey, something very prophetic happened when they attempted to cross the Kala -Oya river. The river was in flood, and the monk told Dhatusena  – his words are recorded in the Culavamsa  – ” Even as this river holds us back, so do thou in the future hold back its course by collecting its waters in a tank……”.  Call this a sign, an omen, or whatever supernatural term one cares to use. I delight at the thought that this prophecy was fulfilled when Dhatusena on ascending the throne years later constructed the mighty Kalaweva tank. Meanwhile, King Pandu died in the fifth year of his rule . He was succeeded by his son Parinda who ruled only for three years and after his death his younger brother Khuddaparinda became King.  By this time Dhatusena was raring to go, and came out with his followers in open rebellion.  After Khuddaparindas death his successors, three Tamil prince’s Tiritara, Dathiya, and Pithiya ruled the throne, but all three were slain in battle by Dhatusena. The chronicler in the Culavamsa sums it up in no uncertain terms . He wrote “Thus the race of the Damilas were annihilated in battle with Dhatusena…”

 

Finally, after a long dark night of twenty eight years, the fear, gloom and despair that had gripped the island disappeared when happiness and hope blossomed once more, and Dhatusena was crowned King in Anuradhapura in 460 AD.  The chronicler in the Culavamsa wrote thus “Now the lord of men Dhatusena became King in Lanka…” Dhatusena was one King who single handedly organiszed an army to expel the invader.  Six “invaders” to be precise. Once again, let the chronicler of the Culavamsa take over from me and expand on how Dhatusena began his noble rule. ” Having cleared the country of the invader and making her inhabitants happy, he restored to its former place ‘The Order’ (That is, the Buddhist clergy) which had been destroyed by the foe. But those who had attached themselves to the Damilas, he deprived of their villages. To the people who supported him he showed fitting honour and esteem, and to his ministers the companions of his misfortune, he brought contentment. After he had provided the Mahavihara with bands of ornaments, he had a house worthy to behold erected for the Bodhi Tree….”

 

Sometimes it is interesting to draw a timeline when events like this occur. When the young prince Dhatusena ascended the throne, in far away Europe the Romans had already withdrawn from Britain. They partially re-occupied the country from 417 – 427 AD, and again in 450 AD. In imperial Rome in the twilight years of that once mighty coloniser, Emperor Valentian 3rd ruled the empire.  In the East the powerful Jin dynasty took control of China. Pope Leo1st sat on the throne of St.Peter in the Vatican. King Yazdagird  2nd of the Sassanid dynasty ruled the powerful Persian empire. I mention this in the light of ancient Ceylon’s trade with the West.  Dhatusena however focused his foreign policy on the East and increased trade with that part of the world.


PORTRAIT OF A KING  (Part 2)

His name will forever be associated with tragedy, the great king Dhatusena who met a barbaric death at the hands of his son, Prince Kasyappa. But on the stage of Sri Lanka’s ancient history, he stands out like the proverbial colossus – a giant of a man, and in setting my thoughts on paper, I wonder if I am writing about a king, a superman, or a record breaker !

King Dhatusena ascended the throne in 460 AD and his reign ushered in a golden era in the island’s history. Securing the country’s defense was one of his priorities and the first thing he did was to construct twenty-one fortresses in various parts of the island. These fortresses were manned by crack battle hardened troops  commanded by brilliant generals, to ensure the islands protection against further invasion from South India. It should be remembered that the four kings who ruled the island before king Dhatusena were South Indian Tamils, and Dhatusena reclaimed the throne after a long period of resistance and a titanic struggle. Even after he became king, there were pockets of resistance but with the aid of his brother Seelatissa Bodhi and elite army commandos he carried out a series of mopping up operations, thus liberating the entire island. Credit must be given where it is due, and it was Seelatissa Bodhi who helped him to establish law and order in the country. Unfortunately nothing much is known about Seelatissa Bodhi. His name is mentioned only once in the Culavamsa, and thereafter he fades from history.

King Dhatusena next established an efficient coast guard system, but it is in the field of agriculture that his name should be written in letters of gold. He embarked on a massive construction project of eighteen irrigation schemes. One of these was the giant Yodawewa tank in the Mannar district. The others were the Balalawewa, the Suruluwewa  the Baduluwewa,  and the Sangamuwewa. But the jewel in the crown was the mighty Kalaweva tank which tapped the Kala Oya, and supplemented the water supply to Anuradhapura and the environs of the city. The Kalaweva tank is a prodigious feat of engineering and is living testimony to the skill of the engineers of ancient Ceylon. At a height of 40 ft. it has an embankment 3.25 miles in length with blocks of dressed granite morticed together . This tank irrigated an area of about 200 square miles. This was done by a canal known as the Jayaganga which was, and is even by todays standards an amazing technological feat, because the gradient in the first 17 miles of its length was only 6 inches to a mile.  It must be mentioned that some of these schemes were completed after his untimely death, but the Kalaweva was completed during his rule. He then built new dagabas whilst rebuilding those that were damaged. In summary, this was King Dhatusena’s Water World……

The chronicler in the Culavamsa poses the question “Who can ever describe in detail the good deeds he has done…..?” Whilst renovating the three main dagabas in Anuradhapura, the Jetavanarama, the Abhayagiri , and the Ruwanvelisaya, he constructed 18 new viharas  ( – a record of sorts considering he ruled for only 17 years  ) These viharas were built all over the island. For example, the Mangara Vihara, the Thupavithi Vihara, and the Dhatusena vihara were built in the northern province, and the Antaramega, the Devagama, and the Salavana viharas were built in Ruhuna. But king Dhatusena is best remembered for the  Kalavapi Vihara, better known as the Aukana Vihara . This masterpiece is treasured and famous the world over for the classic sculpture of the Aukana Buddha.  

Being a devout Buddhist, he safeguarded the Sangha and often distributed robes and other gifts to the Bhikkus. How many of those pilgrims visiting Mihintale are unaware that the Ambathala Vihara just below the summit of Mihintale was founded by him . The Culavamsa further states that lightning conductors were installed on the pinnacles of the main dagabas. Astute politician and great visionary, King Dhatusena focused his foreign policy on expanding trade with the East, and despatched emissaries and religious missions to China. Buddhist missions and pilgrims were encouraged to travel abroad to centres of Buddhist worship. Because the  island was an important port of call on the trade routes between the west and the far east , much prosperity by way of revenue was derived from international trade. He instructed his minister of trade and the treasury that foreign ships docking at the islands harbours were to be provided with every facility for the speedy unloading and loading of cargo. Perhaps one simple sentence written by the chronicler  in the Culavamsa sums up king Dhatusena’s rule “…..He did everything he could to make the people happy…..”

In a cruel twist of fate King Dhatusena  or “The lord of men” as he is referred to in the Culavamsa suffered a horrible death at the hands of his own son. The site of this ghastly murder is close to the bund of the Kalaweva tank, his irrigation masterpiece for which he is best remembered after 1500 years. I reflect sadly on the bitter irony of his destiny in life. The facts are recorded and known to history. Peruse the chapter on this great king in the Culavamsa, specially the section dealing with his resistance to the ursurpers of the throne, and the reader will see why king Dhatusena and his deeds should be enshrined in letters of gold .

 

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

 

Read More →

PORTRAIT OF A KING (Parts 1 & 2) – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

Introduction to the article by Des Kelly…….

He is just a little tardy, on this subject, but peruse, as I might, I could not find a song dedicated to King Dhatusena, the “Warrior King” of ancient Lanka. Instead, I have chosen a song by Keerthi Pasquel, about the “Portugeesi-karaya”, who invaded Sri Lanka long after Dhatusena had achieved Nirvana (hopefully). Keerthi Pasquel would have to be one of the finest Sinhalese Vocalists in Sri Lanka right now.

He sounds superb, no matter what he sings, writes his own songs, also plays bass, lead & rhythm, probably has some Royal blood in his veins, and as far as I am concerned, might even be a direct “Descendant of Dhatusena” 

Who knows ?, but read Bernard’s article folks. As usual, it is superbly written. Bernard’s ancestors, the Dutch, took over from the Portuguese, but that matters very little. He is truly an asset to eLanka, we are very proud of him, but don’t forget, folks, our “top website” cannot run on “love and fresh air”, so please “donate” whenever & whatever possible. 

D.K.


PORTRAIT OF A KING (Part 1) – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

The year was 432 AD   – an ominous year for the  resplendent island of Ceylon…….  Storm clouds were gathering on the horizon and the people of this paradise isle were in for a long dark night. It was the year in which a massive invasion from South India led by a chief named Pandu took place. The King on the throne Mittasena , who had ruled only for one year was slain in battle and Pandu seized the throne. For the next twenty eight years until 460 AD, four Tamil Kings from South India ruled the land. When this invasion took place, there was a young “Samenera” or novice in robes residing in a  “Pirivena” in the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura. In fact he was a pupil of a Buddhist monk who was also his uncle. Mark his name well . It is a name which should be gilded in letters of gold and as fate decreed in a future time, he would rank as one of the finest rulers who ever sat on the throne of ancient Lanka. This was the young Dhatusena, a memberof the royal Moriya clan.  Gifted with intelligence well above average, Dhatusena was no ordinary pupil . Whilst a novice at the monastery he had undergone the ceremony of world renunciation, but the change of political fortunes in the island stirred his young blood and his destiny deemed otherwise. The Moriyas were a powerful clan, and before long King Pandu became very suspicious of the young Dhatusena. His uncle felt however that he was too soft, and that living in a monastery, he would not know much about the world at large and could not develop into a natural leader. So he took Dhatusena  to a vihara far from Anuradhapura   – a vihara where there would be no enclosing walls and from where Dhatusena would develop his qualities for leadership.

 

It was a timely move. Scarcely had they left when soldiers of Pandu surrounded the monastery. Uncle and nephew ultimately ended up in distant Ruhuna, well beyond the reach of King Pandu and his soldiers. On this journey, something very prophetic happened when they attempted to cross the Kala -Oya river. The river was in flood, and the monk told Dhatusena  – his words are recorded in the Culavamsa  – ” Even as this river holds us back, so do thou in the future hold back its course by collecting its waters in a tank……”.  Call this a sign, an omen, or whatever supernatural term one cares to use. I delight at the thought that this prophecy was fulfilled when Dhatusena on ascending the throne years later constructed the mighty Kalaweva tank. Meanwhile, King Pandu died in the fifth year of his rule . He was succeeded by his son Parinda who ruled only for three years and after his death his younger brother Khuddaparinda became King.  By this time Dhatusena was raring to go, and came out with his followers in open rebellion.  After Khuddaparindas death his successors, three Tamil prince’s Tiritara, Dathiya, and Pithiya ruled the throne, but all three were slain in battle by Dhatusena. The chronicler in the Culavamsa sums it up in no uncertain terms . He wrote “Thus the race of the Damilas were annihilated in battle with Dhatusena…”

 

Finally, after a long dark night of twenty eight years, the fear, gloom and despair that had gripped the island disappeared when happiness and hope blossomed once more, and Dhatusena was crowned King in Anuradhapura in 460 AD.  The chronicler in the Culavamsa wrote thus “Now the lord of men Dhatusena became King in Lanka…” Dhatusena was one King who single handedly organiszed an army to expel the invader.  Six “invaders” to be precise. Once again, let the chronicler of the Culavamsa take over from me and expand on how Dhatusena began his noble rule. ” Having cleared the country of the invader and making her inhabitants happy, he restored to its former place ‘The Order’ (That is, the Buddhist clergy) which had been destroyed by the foe. But those who had attached themselves to the Damilas, he deprived of their villages. To the people who supported him he showed fitting honour and esteem, and to his ministers the companions of his misfortune, he brought contentment. After he had provided the Mahavihara with bands of ornaments, he had a house worthy to behold erected for the Bodhi Tree….”

 

Sometimes it is interesting to draw a timeline when events like this occur. When the young prince Dhatusena ascended the throne, in far away Europe the Romans had already withdrawn from Britain. They partially re-occupied the country from 417 – 427 AD, and again in 450 AD. In imperial Rome in the twilight years of that once mighty coloniser, Emperor Valentian 3rd ruled the empire.  In the East the powerful Jin dynasty took control of China. Pope Leo1st sat on the throne of St.Peter in the Vatican. King Yazdagird  2nd of the Sassanid dynasty ruled the powerful Persian empire. I mention this in the light of ancient Ceylon’s trade with the West.  Dhatusena however focused his foreign policy on the East and increased trade with that part of the world.


PORTRAIT OF A KING  (Part 2)

His name will forever be associated with tragedy, the great king Dhatusena who met a barbaric death at the hands of his son, Prince Kasyappa. But on the stage of Sri Lanka’s ancient history, he stands out like the proverbial colossus – a giant of a man, and in setting my thoughts on paper, I wonder if I am writing about a king, a superman, or a record breaker !

King Dhatusena ascended the throne in 460 AD and his reign ushered in a golden era in the island’s history. Securing the country’s defense was one of his priorities and the first thing he did was to construct twenty-one fortresses in various parts of the island. These fortresses were manned by crack battle hardened troops  commanded by brilliant generals, to ensure the islands protection against further invasion from South India. It should be remembered that the four kings who ruled the island before king Dhatusena were South Indian Tamils, and Dhatusena reclaimed the throne after a long period of resistance and a titanic struggle. Even after he became king, there were pockets of resistance but with the aid of his brother Seelatissa Bodhi and elite army commandos he carried out a series of mopping up operations, thus liberating the entire island. Credit must be given where it is due, and it was Seelatissa Bodhi who helped him to establish law and order in the country. Unfortunately nothing much is known about Seelatissa Bodhi. His name is mentioned only once in the Culavamsa, and thereafter he fades from history.

King Dhatusena next established an efficient coast guard system, but it is in the field of agriculture that his name should be written in letters of gold. He embarked on a massive construction project of eighteen irrigation schemes. One of these was the giant Yodawewa tank in the Mannar district. The others were the Balalawewa, the Suruluwewa  the Baduluwewa,  and the Sangamuwewa. But the jewel in the crown was the mighty Kalaweva tank which tapped the Kala Oya, and supplemented the water supply to Anuradhapura and the environs of the city. The Kalaweva tank is a prodigious feat of engineering and is living testimony to the skill of the engineers of ancient Ceylon. At a height of 40 ft. it has an embankment 3.25 miles in length with blocks of dressed granite morticed together . This tank irrigated an area of about 200 square miles. This was done by a canal known as the Jayaganga which was, and is even by todays standards an amazing technological feat, because the gradient in the first 17 miles of its length was only 6 inches to a mile.  It must be mentioned that some of these schemes were completed after his untimely death, but the Kalaweva was completed during his rule. He then built new dagabas whilst rebuilding those that were damaged. In summary, this was King Dhatusena’s Water World……

The chronicler in the Culavamsa poses the question “Who can ever describe in detail the good deeds he has done…..?” Whilst renovating the three main dagabas in Anuradhapura, the Jetavanarama, the Abhayagiri , and the Ruwanvelisaya, he constructed 18 new viharas  ( – a record of sorts considering he ruled for only 17 years  ) These viharas were built all over the island. For example, the Mangara Vihara, the Thupavithi Vihara, and the Dhatusena vihara were built in the northern province, and the Antaramega, the Devagama, and the Salavana viharas were built in Ruhuna. But king Dhatusena is best remembered for the  Kalavapi Vihara, better known as the Aukana Vihara . This masterpiece is treasured and famous the world over for the classic sculpture of the Aukana Buddha.  

Being a devout Buddhist, he safeguarded the Sangha and often distributed robes and other gifts to the Bhikkus. How many of those pilgrims visiting Mihintale are unaware that the Ambathala Vihara just below the summit of Mihintale was founded by him . The Culavamsa further states that lightning conductors were installed on the pinnacles of the main dagabas. Astute politician and great visionary, King Dhatusena focused his foreign policy on expanding trade with the East, and despatched emissaries and religious missions to China. Buddhist missions and pilgrims were encouraged to travel abroad to centres of Buddhist worship. Because the  island was an important port of call on the trade routes between the west and the far east , much prosperity by way of revenue was derived from international trade. He instructed his minister of trade and the treasury that foreign ships docking at the islands harbours were to be provided with every facility for the speedy unloading and loading of cargo. Perhaps one simple sentence written by the chronicler  in the Culavamsa sums up king Dhatusena’s rule “…..He did everything he could to make the people happy…..”

In a cruel twist of fate King Dhatusena  or “The lord of men” as he is referred to in the Culavamsa suffered a horrible death at the hands of his own son. The site of this ghastly murder is close to the bund of the Kalaweva tank, his irrigation masterpiece for which he is best remembered after 1500 years. I reflect sadly on the bitter irony of his destiny in life. The facts are recorded and known to history. Peruse the chapter on this great king in the Culavamsa, specially the section dealing with his resistance to the ursurpers of the throne, and the reader will see why king Dhatusena and his deeds should be enshrined in letters of gold .

 

Bernard Van Cuyenburg

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

 

Read More →

INDONESIA – AN ODYSSEY OF THE SOUL by Bernard VanCuylenburg

                                              

An alternate title for this article would be “Beyond Bali” since this resplendent island blessed with the bounties of nature is a favourite travel destination for many Australians. I have friends who have visited Bali more than once and can never resist the temptation of repeat visits ! However, Bali, is only a very small jewel in a large crown of a country, which nature has endowed with landscapes and scenery of soul stirring beauty and majesty. And that country is our neighbour to the North – Indonesia.

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            KING MOGGALLANA  THE  2nd  –  MOGGALLANA  THE MAGNIFICIENT –
BY Bernard VanCuylenburg

PROLOGUE

 

The recorded history of ancient Lanka begins with the arrival of Prince Vijaya from South India in the year 483 BC and ends with the conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British in 1815 AD and the defeat of King Sri Wickremasinghe Rajasinghe, the last king of Kandy.

Thus ended the monarchy of Ceylon which spanned a period of over 2000 years. In the hands of any good Hollywood writer or producer, the melting pot of history during this period has all the ingredients for a box office winner  – Lust, greed, passion, hate, romance, murder, patricide, nymphomania (as has been recorded during the reign of one female queen)   – in short the seven deadly sins multiplied many times over !  King Moggallana the 2nd is one of the relative “unknowns”. This is his story………

 

Before dealing with the reign of King Moggallana the 2nd, mention must be made of the king before him who ruled for six months in the year 537 AD. King Silakala had three sons. They were Prince Moggallana the eldest, the second son Prince Dhathapabhuti and the youngest Prince Upatissa. Prince Moggallana was entrusted with administering the Eastern province and was sent to live in the region. According to the Culavamsa, Prince Dhathapabuthi was given charge of the “sea coast”, but there is no detail as to where this exactly was. His favourite son Prince Upatissa, was kept in the capital Anuradhapura, with positions of less responsibility. He intended that the young Upatissa succeed him as King, contrary to the established order of succession when the eldest son succeeds his father. And once again jealousy reared its ugly head. Prince Dhathapabhuti bided his time and finally had Prince Upatissa murdered. This in turn enraged Prince Moggallana who on hearing of his brother’s murder is reported to have said – according to the Culavamsa  – “He has usurped the government though he has no right to it. Without cause he has slain my younger brother….” sarcastically adding “I will see that he has a merry reign !” 

 

I crave the reader’s indulgence if I digress here, but the lessons of history it seems are never learned. There are numerous instances where the ruling monarch incurred the wrath of a son who was next in line to rule, because he had a favourite  – usually the younger son  – who was the apple of his eye, and was being groomed for succession after him, resulting in the legal successor (the eldest son) being cast aside. I could draw a classic parallel to King Silakala’s show of favouritism where he allowed his heart to rule his head.  Exactly one thousand, one hundred and twenty one years later, in the year 1658 the Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan who gave the world The Taj Mahal , followed King Silakala’s rash example to the letter. His three legal son’s were Prince Aurangzeb, Prince Murad Baksh and Prince Dara Sukoh. Prince Aurangzeb was next in the line of succession, but the Emperor favoured his youngest son Dara Shukoh. He sent Aurangzeb to keep order in the Deccan  – as far away from Delhi as possible. Murad Baksh was sent to another far flung district, but his favourite Dara Shukoh was comfortably ensconsced in Delhi and groomed to take over as Emperor. In a rage, Prince Aurangzeb usurped the throne in a coup and imprisoned the Emperor who died a broken man. He paid a heavy price for his favouritism.

 

One of ancient Lanka’s beloved sons King Duttu Gemunu, liberated the island from Tamil rule in the year 101 BC. when he defeated the ruling King Elara in a duel of honour fought on the back of elephants. King Kasyappa of Sigiriya fame committed suicide on the back of the royal elephant confronting the army of his step brother Prince Moggallana the 1st in 496 AD.  Twenty eight years later, Prince Kasyappa, the eldest son of King Upatissa the second also committed suicide on the back of the royal tusker in 524 AD in battle with Silakala who had rebelled against the king. Once again, the stage was set for a clash between two brothers for kingship. The gallant Prince Moggallana sent out a challenge to his brother Prince Dhathapabhuti which was accepted. The Culavamsa quotes him as saying “We two alone will fight a combat on elephants…..”  Armed with the five weapons, the sword, battle-axe, spear, bow and shield, the protaganists faced each other on their elephants.  The chronicler is very graphic in his description of what followed. He wrote ” The huge elephants rammed each other and a crash was heard at their onslaught like the roar of thunder. Sparks flew at the striking of their tusks…..” King Dhathapabhuti’s elephant however was badly wounded and began to yield. The King on sensing this decided to commit suicide, rather than being taken prisoner, and “made as if to cut his throat…” (Culavamsa). How many times has one heard the old saying “Blood is thicker than water?”  Prince Moggallana on observing this greeted his brother with reverence and cried out to him “Forbear to do that

that!” What followed was gruesome in the extreme. Despite his brother’s plea, King Dhathapabhuti in full view of his nemesis and the onlookers, proceeded to cut his neck until he eventually bled to death. A bloody end to a reign of six months and six days.

 

In the year 537 AD Prince Moggallana ascended the throne and immediately found favour with the public and clergy alike because the chronicler writing in the Culavamsa uses every superlative possible to sing his praises. King Moggallana had a way with words and was a talented poet whose reputation spread through the length and breadth of the land. Sadly, none of his literary works has come down to posterity. Being a poet, learned monks and other poets were singled out by him for special merit and reward. His poetic talent was without equal, and his generosity, philanthrophy, largesse and kindness endeared him to his subjects with each passing day. He won the clergy over by alms giving, gifts of medicines and garments and the founding of Viharas. He is referred to as “an abode of virtue” and “a shining light of the good doctrine”. But this is not all for which he is famous. His literary talents were equalled by his achievements in the field of irrigation and hydrology.

 

To him goes the credit for having constructed the largest tank in ancient Lanka still in use today. This is the ‘Padavapi’ tank, today known as ‘Padaviya”. Another giant tank constructed by him was the ‘Pattapasanavapi’ or ‘Patpahanvewa’ known today as the Naccaduva tank. Both these projects are a glowing testimony once again to the engineering skill and brilliance of those ancient engineers.  The Naccaduva tank was the main reservoir for the irrigation projects under the Malvatu-Oya, the river which flows on the east side of Anuradhapura. Second only to King Mahasena and King Dhatusena as a tank builder, King Moggallana the second was one of the most distinguished and greatest kings of ancient Ceylon. He died in the year 556 AD after a glorious reign of twenty years, a paragon of virtue, a beacon of light, a son of Lanka beloved by his subjects who died in the words of the chronicler “full of pity for the world”. 

 

Bernard VanCuylenburg.

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SRI LANKA – THE CHINESE CONNECTION – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

 

Sri Lanka’s cultural ties with China go back about 2000 years, and it is a matter of regret that the compilers of the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa  – except for some passing references – mention very little about ancient Ceylon’s relations with China.  Historians have had to rely on Chinese records to obtain information regarding trade delegations, and cultural and diplomatic visits between both countries. Some of these Chinese visitors lived in the island , and kept records of their sojourn and the political conditions prevailing at the time. Perhaps the most famous Chinese visitor to Ceylon was Fa-Hsien who came to Ceylon in the year 411 AD. during the reign of King Mahanama. He spent two years in the island and in his writings gives us a marvellous account of the city of Anuradhapura in which he refers to the mansions of the merchants, and also of the colonies of Greek and Persian traders in the city. The flourishing Buddhist civilisation merits special mention. It is not possible to elaborate on details of these visits in a short article. But a few examples would suffice to highlight the excellent relations between the Chinese empire and ancient Ceylon.
In the year 428 AD. King Mahanama despatched an embassy with gifts to the emperor in China. Recording this visit at the time, the Chinese chroniclers refer to King Mahanama as “Mohonan”. Another Chinese record states that King Kitsiri Mevan, (also known as Sirimegavanna) son of the famous King Mahasena sent an embassy to the Indian emperor Samudragupta, requesting permission to build a monastery at Bodhi Gaya for pilgrims. For this fact to be recorded by the Chinese, is evidence of the interest which they had in the islands affairs of state. Another Chinese source refers to the ambassador sent by King Kumaradhatusena to the Chinese emperor in the year 515 AD. Incidentally, King Kumaradhatusena was the son of King Moggalana better known for the part he played in the Sigiriya story. He is therefore the grandson of the famous King Dhatusena. In the year 718 AD King Mahanavamma  received Chinese pilgrims in his court with great honour. The great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan who ruled China from 1259 to 1294 AD despatched a mission to Ceylon to obtain the sacred Tooth Relic. This mission failed in its task, and returned to China. Fortunately for Ceylon, the emperor did not take this failure personally. We were lucky a second time when in the year  1405  the famous Chinese admiral  Zheng He again visited the island determined to take the tooth relic back to China. He too failed in his mission and was rather peeved at the treatment he received at the court of King Vira Alakesvara the monarch at the time.  
Returning to China, Zheng He bided his time and returned to the island again with a vengeance in 1409 when our luck ran out. In a supreme display of might and imperial power he seized the King, his queen and some nobles of the court  and took them prisoner to China.  King Alakesvara was eventually released and returned to the island humiliated and broken in spirit.  Worse, he never recovered his throne. King Parakramabahu V1 ruled the island during his captivity. The rest of the prisoners were released in the year 1414 and returned to the island with a demand from the Chinese emperor , which I call the height of arrogance in the extreme. They returned with a nominee of the Chinese emperor to the throne of Ceylon !  Fortunately King ParakramabahuV1 speedily eliminated the emperor’s protege and began his long reign of 55 years in a stable political environment.
Historians have divided opinions on the Chinese account of an ambassador sent to China by King Kasyappa of Sigiriya. King Kasyappa  following his father’s foreign policy  intended to strengthen ties and trade with China, and sent this diplomatic mission to China while he ruled at Sigiriya.  But the ambassador and his entourage reached China only after the untimely death of King Kasyappa. The Culavamsa does not mention any record of such a mission, but the scribes in the imperial court in China recorded this visit, and King Kassyapa is referred to as “Kia – Che” It is interesting to note that King  Devanampiya Tissa who ruled the island from 247 – 207 BC is a contemporary of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi who initiated work on the Great Wall of China .
Sri Lanka’s relations with ancient China are as fascinating as her links with the classical world  –   ancient Greece and Rome.  

 

 

 

Bernard VanCuylenburg

 

 

 

 

 

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