A stone sculpture of King Devanampiyatissa, the Great Buddhist Monarch of the Anuradhapura Kingdom

When exploring the delight of the graceful history of Sri Lanka, there are a few escapades that can never be missed. Indeed, the period of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka is an era as such. In the course, the astounding epoch of Anuradhapura Kingdom, was a remarkable highlight. How this splendid island flourished during that period, in terms of economy, cultivations, religion and culture, is simply significant. However, the monarchy of the kingdom played a vital role with regard. Among them, King Devanampiyatissa was one of the greatest and earliest kings in Sri Lanka’s history who reigned the country  choosing the ancient city of Anuradhapura as his capital.

Owing to his strong rule, noteworthy contributions, and pleasant character, he is famous as an eminent personality in the Sri Lankan monarchy. Hence, we thought of sharing with you about this great king of Sri Lanka, along with the important incidents that happened during his reign.

The Family of King Devanampiyatissa

Tissa was the second son of King Mutasiva. The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka Mahavamsa exemplifies that Tissa was the most intelligent one among his brothers. In addition, he was the most prominent person leading virtues and moralities. Therefore, after King Mutasiva, his second beloved son Tissa reigned the Kingdom of Anuradhapura from 247 B.C to 207 B.C.

Later, after the King’s Coronation, many wonders came to pass. The treasures and jewels buried deep rose to the surface in the isle. Jewels that were buried with shipwrecks under deep waters reached the isle. Moreover, they naturally formed ones forth upon the land. Likewise, a number of great miracles followed. Thus, the new king was very glad about those occurrences. Also, himself, as well as the country, believed that they were signs of the dawn of a better future.

Altering the Name King Tissa to King Devanampiyatissa

The emperor Dharmashoka was a major role that influenced King Tissa’s crowning a huge success. As per history, they had never met each other. Still, Mahavamsa reveals that they were in an intense friendship for a long period. Also, there are mentions in the chronicles of how they were exchanging valuable gifts and secrets that they followed when ruling Kingdoms. Thus, their friendship had been strong. Further, this bond was the reason behind alteration of the name King Tissa to King Devanampiyatissa. The story that follows would reveal you how this happened!

Exchanging Gratuities among the Kings

Once King Tissa sent a group of messengers with the treasure raised within the isle during his coronation. Prince Aritta, Bamunuya, Amathiya, and Ganakaya were in the group. The Emperor was pleased with their presence. He greeted them with great dignity. In addition, he offered some valuable posts to them. When the group attempted to return, Emperor Dharmashoka did not forget to send gifts to his friend Tissa. He decided to send five insignia of royalty needed for a proper coronation according to Maurya traditions. A tail whisk, forehead plate, royal sword, golden footwear, and a pearl umbrella were among them.

In addition, he conveyed a message to King Tissa informing him that he had converted to Buddhism and a plea to adopt the faith as well. But, the King did not appear to comprehend the importance of his plea at that moment. Instead, he adopted the name “Devanampiya”.

What is the meaning of Devanampiya?

It meant “Beloved of the Gods”. Mostly, Indian kings used these sorts of terms. However, it is no secret that it is with the influence of the bond between Emperor Ashoka, and King Tissa, that this name conversion took place.

Afterward, a fest of Coronation was accomplished for the second time following the traditions of Maurya. Finally, the king secured the throne with the new title “Dewanampiyatissa”.

And yes, that was how the name of ‘King Tissa’, turned ‘King Devanampiyatissa’!

Sri Lanka Embracing Buddhism

Emperor Ashoka’s name turned into Dharmashoka because of the well-known service he rendered to the Buddha Sasana. To be specific, he built around 84,000 places of shrines for the wellness of pure Theravada Buddhism. In addition, he was much interested in the propagation of Buddhism in the outer world.

At that time, he started sending Buddhist missionaries to pass the message of Buddhism throughout the world. Owing to the friendship with King Devanampiyatissa, he decided to send the message of Buddhism to Sri Lanka as well. Accordingly, he sent his beloved son, Arhat Mahinda in order to propagate Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The Arrival of Arahat Mahinda Thero with Buddhism

Mahavamsa elucidates how King Devanampiyatissa embraced Buddhism, in a way that makes us imagine it as a series of visuals.

According to the great chronicles, the incident took place on a Poson Full Moon Poya Day. At the moment, the King was enjoying deer hunting with his 40,000 soldiers near the city of Mihintale. He saw a stag eating grass near the foot of Mihintale. With a rush, he chased after the stag. Finally, he was stunned with the sound of someone calling him “Tissa”. He felt unfamiliar because no one had called him “Tissa” without an honor, after his crowning. He saw some bright orange bodies standing at the top of the Aradhana Rock of Mihintale. There stood Arhat Mahinda and his companions.

The First Conversation between the King Devanampiyatissa and Mahinda Thero

“Recluses we are, O great King, disciples of the King of Dhamma (Buddha) out of compassion for you alone have we come here from Jambudipa (India).”

The Arahat Mahinda Thero declared the above words in order to remind the king about his friend’s campaign on propagation. Later,King Devanampiyatissa realized that they were the missionaries sent from India. However, his mind enthralled the calm figures standing on the rock. Thus, he was ready to abide by the noble religion.

Initiating Buddhism by Delivering the Chulla Hasthi Padopama Sutta

After a brief conversation, Arhat Mahinda recovered how intelligent the king was. The Thero delivered the discourse on “Chulla Hasthi Padopama Sutta” and converted King Devanampiyatissa and the assembled, to Buddhism. It was a remarkable day in Sri Lanka’s history. Of course, it was the memorial day on which the establishment of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka took place.

Finally, King Devanampiyatissa’s name was added to historical texts earning a title as the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka.

Religious Services Rendered by King Devanampiyatissa

King Devanampiyatissa was able to build many incredible temples and stupas. This caused for the rapid propagation of Buddhism throughout the country within a very short period of time. The below section includes some of the great religious services rendered by King Devanampiyatissa.

Propagation of Buddhism throughout the Country

The King thanked his friend, Emperor Dharmashoka for introducing a noble religion for the Sri Lankans. He continued to propagate Buddhism all over the country. He built sacred places to show his gratitude to the Buddha. Moreover, he did not forget to treat the bhikkhus, who are the followers of the noble religion.

Planting the Sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi at Mahamewuna Park

Emperor Ashoka sacrificed both his son and daughter for the better future of Buddhism. His beloved eldest daughter, Theri Sanghamiththa arrived in Sri Lanka with a sapling of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi. It is the southern branch of the Sacred Bo Tree at Buddhagaya in India, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.

Thus, it was a tree with a great historical and religious value. Moreover, it reflected the power and blessings of Lord Buddha. So, King Dewanampiyatissa held a great ceremony to plant the sacred sapling. He planted the sapling on a higher terrace in Mahamewuna Park in Anuradhapura. The amazing fact about this tree is that it is the oldest tree with a recorded planting date in the world.

Therefore, even today, hundreds of Sri Lankans and tourists visit this site with much devoutness daily. Indeed, it is a must-visit in the ancient city of Anuradhapura.

Construction of The Thuparamaya Stupa, the First Stupa in Sri Lanka’s History

In addition, the king built Thuparamaya. It is the first stupa in Sri Lanka. King Devanampiyatissa constructed it by enshrining the right collar bone of the Lord Buddha. As a result, people who believed in stones and tree gods, started to worship Thuparamaya and Sri Maha Bodhi showing their gratitude to the Lord Buddha.

Even today, many visit Thuparamaya. It not only remains as a religious place, but also as a cultural attraction. Hence, Thusparamaya also ranks top, in the lists of must-visits in the ancient city of Anuradhapura.

Establishment of the Bhikkuni Sasana in Sri Lanka

King Devanampiyatissa gave his maximum support and the guidance for the  establishment of the Bhikkuni Sasana in Sri Lanka. This concept came to his mind as a result of Theri Sanghamiththa’s visit.

Offering the Mahameghavahana to Buddha Sasana

Mahameghavahana, also known as Mahamewunawa, was a royal garden. King Mutasiva, father of King Devenampiyatissa established it. It was a charming garden with colorful blossoms, a number of trees and fruits.

However, King Devanampiyatiisa offered the Mahameghavahana to the bhikkhus. Later, he built the center of Theravada Buddhism, Mahavihara within the premises. Also, it is the garden where the Sri Maha bodhi, Ruwanweli Seya, Samadhi Statue, and many other Buddhist sites are located.

Temples built by King Devanampiyatissa

By now, it is clear that the era of King Devanampiyatissa was a noteworthy era in the Buddhist history of Sri Lanka as well. The temples built by him were the main reason behind this significance.

Apart from building Thuparamaya, he built several other temples. Vessagiri Vihara, Isinbassagala Ruwangiri Raja Maha Vihara, Isurumuniya Vihara are few of his works that depict Buddhist culture.

Of course, each of them holds religious, cultural and historical values. For a better overview, go through the briefs below.

Isinbassagala Ruwangiri Raja Maha ViharaA temple complex built by King Devenampiyatissa.A new stups is there in premises in the present.A number of ancient ruins have been discovered through excavation from this site.  
Isurumuniya ViharayaA temple by a rock, built by King Devenampiyatissa. Stands majestically by the rhythmically flowing Tissa wewa. Famous for the amazing stone carvings it shelters. 
Vessagiri ViharaBelieved to be the original Isurumuniya Viharaya. It is more like a cave complex. There is a belief that five hundred commoners dwelled here in the period of King Devenampiyatissa.   
Temples built by King Devanampiyatissa

Establishment of The Maha Vihara, the Main Centre of Theravada Buddhist Education in Sri Lanka

Arhat Mahinda’s preaching was so fascinating to listen to. Therefore, People in the country struggled to attend his discourses. But, there was no such a huge hall for that purpose. Still, King Devanampiyatissa wanted the whole country to listen to Arhat Mahinda’s preaching. So, he constructed a hall, where a huge crowd of people could sit and listen to Arhat’s preaching . It was named Maha Vihara.

Unexpectedly, this hall was not sufficient to fulfill his intention. Therefore, he modified a nearby elephant dwelling house into a hall as well. Later, this Mahavihara became a major site of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The chronicles reveal that it was possibly the most developed university in Southern or Eastern Asia during the 5th century.  Finally, King Devanampiyathissa’s initial movement was very successful, because many monks progressed their careers centering The Maha Vihara.

King Devanampiyatissa’s Astonishing Creation of Tissa Wewa (Tank)

King Devanampiyatissa built an artificial reservoir, the Tissa Wewa, to get an adequate supply of water to his kingdom. This vast reservoir covers an area of approximately 550 acres. Similarly, it is one of the most ancient reservoirs built by the kings. However, according to historical texts, Tissa Wewa is only younger than Panda Wewa and Abhaya Wewa constructed by King Pandukabahaya.

The amazing fact about the Tissa Wewa is that the embankment of the tank is 11,000 feet in length and 25 feet in height. Later, King Devanampiyatissa noticed the importance of this huge tank for the development of agriculture in Sri Lanka. So he constructed an irrigation system to provide water for the paddy fields in his kingdom.

Even today, most of the people in the sacred city of Anuradhapura consume water from Tissa Wewa for their day-to-day activities and agricultural activities. Therefore, it was an indispensable creation of King Devanampiyatissa.

Moreover, if you ever visit Anuradhapura, never forget to soothe yourself, by the rhythmically flowing Tissa wewa. It would certainly be a wonderful experience to cherish.

The Bottom Line

Of course, all these factors again and again prove what an eminent personality King Devanampiyatissa was. Simply, his period was a golden era of the history of Sri Lanka. The shades of his reign are still visible when exploring the grandeur of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. Moreover, his creations are still appreciated and benefitted by thousands of Sri Lankans. Hence, King Devanampiyatissa is still alive in the hearts of Sri Lankans, as a significant Buddhist Monarch in the era of Anuradhapura.