Kumaradhatusena – the great unknown – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
“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.