Bernard VanCuylenburg

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.

Read More →

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.

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 →

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.

Read More →

            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.

Read More →

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

 

 

 

 

 

Read More →

THE CAMBODIAN CONNECTION – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

From its inception by King Yashovarman in 889 AD, to its decline in the 14th century, Angkor in Cambodia was the capital of the powerful Khmer empire. The world famous temple complex of Angkor Wat  built and extended by various Khmer kings between the 7th and eleventh centuries when this civilisation was at the height of its extraordinary creativity, is today a world heritage site.  A few years ago during my travels in Cambodia  I spent a few days at Angkor marvelling at these magnificient monuments of ancient glory in stone. Apart from wishing to drink deep of her archaeological splendour, my main reason for visiting Angkor was to travel about 900 years back in time and see this kingdom which had close cultural ties with ancient Sri Lanka specially during the Polonnaruwa period. When King Parakramabahu the 1st ascended the throne in 1153 AD he established close  diplomatic links with the powerful Khmer kingdom, true to his foreign policy of expanding trade with countries in South East Asia.  Relations between ancient Ceylon and Cambodia were so close that King Jayavarman who ruled Angkor from 1181 to 1218 AD sent one of his sons to spend some time at the royal court in Polonnaruwa. The young Khmer prince was thus a VIP guest at the court and some records indicate he stayed there for three years.

 

In her excellent book HISTORY OF ANGKOR Professor Madeleine Giteau of the Sorbonne University Paris, mentions this visit and also goes on to state that in the 13th century the Sinhalese kings were responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia which until that time practiced Mahayana Buddhism. As a result of King Parakramabahu’s dynamic foreign policy, there were many foreign merchants residing in Ceylon at the time. Among these were the Cambodian bird catchers because an important item in international trade during this period were exotic bird feathers. Apart from diplomatic missions, there were probably Sinhala merchants residing in Cambodia, specifically in Angkor which facilitated two way trade. Cambodia also had some influence in the architecture during the Polonnaruwa period, albeit very limited. The “Sathmahal Prasadaya” in Polonnaruwa with its design of seven storeys is typically Cambodian. King Parakramabahu’s policy of fostering ties with the Khmer empire had one negative  (though fortunately temporary) result for ancient Ceylon. Before he became king, Ceylon enjoyed very close ties with Burma. Burma also enjoyed close trade links with Cambodia.

 

When Ceylon established diplomatic ties with Cambodia the Burmese king Alaungsithu became very suspicious . He feared that Ceylon would deprive Burma of a major share of her trade with Cambodia. He then became openly hostile by obstructing Ceylon’s trade with South East Asian kingdoms   – an act which strained relations between Burma and Ceylon. And unfortunately, this led to war. What the Burmese king failed to realise was that he picked on the wrong man !  King Parakramabahu was not know as “The Great” for nothing ! A man who did not believe in half measures, and being the great statesman  he was, he explored all diplomatic avenues, playing the pacifist to dispel the crisis which had developed. When all failed he dispatched an army to lower Burma to teach the Burmese king a lesson. (This incidentally would give one an idea of the strength of Ceylon’s army and  navy at the time). Fortunately, King Alaungsithu sued for peace and happily diplomatic relations were restored .

 

After King Parakramabahu’s death in 1186 AD his successors King Nissanka Malla and King Vijayabahu 2nd continued maintaining strong diplomatic links with Cambodia. In 1353 Angkor was abandoned when this once mighty empire was seized by the Siamese King, Ramadhipathi. However, in 1358 another Khmer prince Suryavamsa Rajadhiraja recaptured Angkor and ruled until 1370, when another massive attack from Siam (present day Thailand) signalled the fall of this once proud kingdom. Sadly, one hundred and fifty years before, a similar fate befell Ceylon when Polonnaruwa was captured in 1215 by an Indian prince, Magha. By 1235 the destruction of Polonnaruwa was complete . Perusing the pages of history, I formed the opinion that the fall of Polonnaruwa began with the death of King Nissanka Malla 1n 1196 AD. The four kings after him spent their time and energy squabbling and plotting . Corruption spread through the land resulting in neglect and weakening of the kingdom. Unity they say is strength. Conversely, disunity results in division and weakness. It was during this time that Prince Magha of the Kalinga dynasty invaded the island to deliver the coup de grace. The lessons of history it seems are never learned.

Today, two ancient kingdoms which had close links over 900 years ago merit the honour of being classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, evoking the admiration of visitors from all over the world   –  Angkor, capital of ancient Cambodia, and Polonnaruwa capital of medieval Ceylon.

 

Bernard VanCuylenburg. 

Read More →

ANCIENT TREASURES OF THE EASTERN SEABOARD – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

There is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders in the Eastern seaboard of Sri Lanka and one specific location is the Kuchchaveli,  Pulmoddai and Tiriyaya district of Trincomalee. And that brief introductory line is the genesis of this article.

I walked through the desolate track through patches of thick shrub and dense forest, my curiosity aroused by some stone slabs and granite pillars which lay scattered in disarray on the forest floor. Ocassionally I came across ancient brickwork which I surmised may have once been part of a wall. The villagers in the area told me that further on, in deep jungle there were statues of the Buddha badly damaged. This did not surprise me because there is an inscription that this whole area was occupied by members of the Buddhist clergy since the 3rd century B.C. It was late in the evening and having been warned that leopard and bear were seen in the vicinity, I ventured no further.  I was in Kuchchaveli about 14 miles from Trincomalee, on the Trincomalee – Pulmoddai road. On one side lay the ocean, and on the other the jungle, bisected by the road. The jungle track which I was on branched off the main road.

The year was 1974, and I was employed at Nilaveli Beach Hotels Limited. It was the year the hotel opened for business. Whenever I had time off I would visit this area and heal my soul in the silence and solitude of this place which must have once been a place of spiritual grandeur. To the best of my knowledge these ruins were never classified and no archaeological excavations were undertaken. The intervening ethnic conflict made this task impossible. My heartache then was that these ruins would surrender to the grip of the strangling jungle. Reclaiming them for posterity was a forlorn hope. My heartbreak today 44 years later from a different time and place, is that they may have disappeared from the pages of our history forever.

Fortunately, there is one special treasure which has been restored and will forever have a special place in my heart. This is the TIRIYAYA VATADAGE, a further twenty four miles from Nilaveli. Historically the Vatadage has been dated to the 7th century A.D. although there is a brahmin inscription which states that the Buddhist clergy occupied this site since the 3rd century B.C. What is most important is that there is a record of two merchants named Tapassu and Bhalluka who visited Tiriyaya during Lord Buddha’s lifetime and enshrined hair relics of the Buddha at this shrine. I visited Tiriyaya often. Surrounded by thick forest the Vatadage stood majestic in beautiful countryside. The total isolation and solitude of the place was interrupted by sweet birdsong and the sounds of the forest, which enriched its spiritual atmosphere. I would spend hours here listening to the music of the wind and the sounds of silence. Inspired by the fact that this shrine could be traced back to the lifetime of the Buddha, I left each time, enriched in spirit with a deeper level of consciousness which enabled me to see and understand life more clearly. My fervent hope is that this sacred shrine is well preserved as it was when I first visited it over thirty years ago and has not suffered any damage in the ethnic conflict. In the Kuchchaveli area there are caves along the seashore with Brahmin inscriptions dating from the 3rd century B.C. There had to be a centre of learning, perhaps even some monasteries in the vicinity. Given the vagaries of the weather, I fear these inscriptions will be lost forever.

About seven miles from Trincomalee, on the main Trincomalee – Anuradhapura road, there is a track which branches off into the forest (It was a track then. It is a road now). About three miles down this road is a jewel in the crown of Sri Lanka’s archaeological sites   – the ancient temple complex of THE VELGAM VEHARA. When I first visited it I wondered why nothing had ever been written about it, and it did not even feature in any tourist brochure. Neither  could I find reference to it in the Mahavamsa or the Culavamsa. It has to be in the Mahavamsa, or maybe I am missing something. Relatively unknown then, this beautiful complex is as magnificient as any in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. There are ruins of many buildings near the Vehara, and elegant pillars cover a wide area in what once may have been lush gardens. It is a precious gem, and the venerable Chief Priest of the temple was my mentor each time I visited this site. He told me that the Velgam Vehara is over a thousand years old but could not provide me with any historical information. Perhaps in perusing the Mahavamsa, the information I seek stares at me from the hallowed pages of this ancient chronicle, and my spiritual thirst and enthusiasm blinds me. I can only hope that this site will be preserved for future generations. In her long and glorious history of over 2500 years, a once proud civilisation chose to build her spiritual heart here. The stillness of the woods and the mystery that surrounded the site intrigued me then, as it does now after all these years.

 Sadly, the description of this site in the preceeding paragraph is confined to the past tense. When I visited this site in September 2014 I was shattered to find that many of the statues had been destroyed and vandalised. This once beautiful temple complex in lush gardens did not in any way reflect its past glory and is only a pale shadow compared to when I used to visit it in the mid seventies and early eighties.  When I expressed my disappointment to the high priest, he told me that it is a miracle that he and his assistant priest escaped with their lives during the dark days of the ethnic conflict.

Fortunately the archaeological sites in Sri Lanka have not been attacked by the Thyo – Bacillicus which causes a disease of stone. This vicious bacillicus  crumbles any stone surface thus erasing its beauty forever. It is the scourge of archaeologists, the world over and has been prevalent in Cambodia and other sites around the world. However, some consolation can be taken from the fact that advances in modern restoration techniques have proved a timely antidote. There are surely other ruins buried deep in the jungles of the eastern  province which will never be retrieved. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who gave us monuments like the Tiriyaya Vatadage and the Velgam Vehera.  Since there is no record of their names, they remain among the many unsung heroes who took ancient Lanka to first world standards. But their monuments are a testimony to their skill, and will keep their legacy alive, while helping us to widen our window into the past.



Read More →

THE HEALING HANDS OF ROYALTY – By Bernard VanCuylenburg

According to the great chronicles of Sri Lanka’s glorious history the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa, 184 kings and one queen ruled the island beginning with Prince Vijaya in 483 BC. and ending with the reign of King Sri Vickrama Rajasinghe in 1815 AD. which heralded the start of British colonial rule in the country. Within this time frame spanning a period over 2000 years, a few names stride history’s stage    – rulers whose names are forever enshrined in letters of gold in the hearts minds and psyche of Sri Lanka……King Devanampiyatissa, King Pandhukabhaya, King Dutthagamini, the great tank builders King Dhatusena and King Mahasena, the genius who gave us Sigiriya King Kasyappa, and the great King Parakramabahu  the first , to name just a few……..

In this article I wish to pay tribute to a man who was not only a great king and philanthropist, but also a famous surgeon who whilst attending to affairs of state, found  time to travel the island healing the sick and giving those who needed healing, the benefit of his medical expertise.  This man was KING BUDDHADASA who ascended the throne in 337 AD and ruled till 365 AD , a glorious reign of 28 years.

A generous human being and devout Buddhist, he merits the highest praise of the chronicler writing in the Culavamsa who states ” He had pity for all beings as a father has pity and love for his children….” I venture to state that King Buddhadasa was the ‘Mother Teresa’ of his day !  In the chapter dealing with his reign, the chronicler gives us numerous examples  where he treated the sick . There is the classic instance of the young man treated by the king for a head ailment although we have no details regarding the precise nature of the injury. It is obvious that surgery was performed on the young man because the Culavamsa states “The king split the skull, performed the operation and put the parts of the skull together again…..” He also cured a Buddhist monk suffering from epilepsy  and saved the life of a woman seven months pregnant whose foetus was in the wrong  position. It should be noted that his kindness and medical skill was not limited to human beings, but also to animals. He appointed physicians to attend to elephants and horses all over the island. There is the interesting story of a snake (probably a cobra) suffering from a tumour in its belly that was healed by the king. Having cured the reptile, the people remarked “Even the reptiles benefit from the king’s medical expertise…….”  The health of the people was his greatest concern and he initiated a medical scheme which would have been one of the best in the world at the time.

He built hospitals for the sick in every village and appointed a chief physician whose responsibility was to administer three hospitals in each district . He also set up hostels for the crippled and the blind with instructions that they be fed and their needs attended to.  Whenever he could get away from  matters of state, he travelled the land attending to the sick, performing surgery whenever necessary. According to the Culavamsa, he had a pocket made inside his mantle to carry his surgeons knife  and the chronicler further adds “….whenever he met them he freed the afflicted from their pain…..” The actual word used in the Culavamsa is “Satthavatim Sattha”. (Surgical knife). In the limited space of this article it is not possible to detail the many cases where  he healed the sick. I can only add that any reader interested in the life of this great king should peruse the Culavamsa  in the chapter dealing with his reign.

This good and great king led the life of a Boddhisatva and the chronicler describes him as “….a mine of virtue….” When he died in 365 AD the island was plunged into grief. With his passing a golden era of twenty eight years ended, and the country lost a great king, a brilliant surgeon, a philosopher and philanthropist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard VanCuylenburg

Read More →