The white stupa of Mirisawetiya, done by King Dutugemunu, the Great Buddhist Monarch from Anuradhapura!
Mirisawetiya stupa done by King Dutugemunu, the Great Buddhist Monarch from Anuradhapura!

If you have ever heard about the delight of the history of Sri Lanka, you surely know how exciting it is to traverse through it. The interesting incidents that took place in the past, the rivals that turned out to be significant milestones, the greatest monarchy! Of course, all of them together make the Sri Lankan saga, interesting beyond a doubt. However, when exploring them one after another, the tale of King Dutugemunu happens to be one of the most remarkable in Sri Lankan history. In fact, Mahawamsa, the great chronicle, dedicates one-fifth of the book to King Dutugemunu’s story.

Thus, it is indeed important that we get to know about this legend, especially, if you are interested in exploring the grandeur of the Sri Lankan saga. However, the tale of King Dutugemunu is often swapped with myth and truth, and the line between reality and fantasy is vague. Yet, it is certainly not to be missed. So, why not? Let us begin revealing the majesty of this greatest monarchy of Sri Lanka, King Dutugemunu!

The Valiant Narrative of Vihara Maha Devi

The parents of King Dutugmaunu also hold a remarkable place in the olden days of Sri Lanka. Moreover, the family background of King Dutugemunu played a vital role in moulding his character. Hence, it is important that we get to know about them as well.

King Kavantissa was the father of Prince Dutugemunu. Meanwhile, Vihara Maha Dewi was the mother of Prince Dutugemunu. King Kavantissa was a great-grandnephew of King Devanampiyatissa who ruled the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. Further, King Kavantissa was the ruler of Rohana, the Southern part of Sri Lanka. Similarly, Vihara Maha Dewi was the daughter of the regional ruler Kelanitissa. He was the ruler of the area, popular as Kelaniya today.

Illicit Love Affair Between Kelanitissa’s Brother and Wife

According to fables, one of King Kelanitissa’s brothers, Uttiya, had an affair with his queen. Kelanitissa got to know this. And indeed, he became furious over this incident. Meanwhile, his brother fled away in fear. Unable to forget his love, he sent a letter to his lover through a monk who visited Kelanitissa’s manor for almsgiving. Kelanitissa saw the monk dropping a letter at his castle. With this sight, he mistook that this letter was from Arhat Bhikkhu (a monk who has attained “Nibbana”). Accordingly, he ordered the monk to be killed in a hot oil cauldron.

The Great Sacrifice of Vihara Maha Devi to Secure the Country

Heavens got angry by his action. As a result, the sea flowed onto the land. Kelanitissa’s ministers informed him that sacrificing a maiden to the sea would stop this catastrophe. And thus with the willingness of Vihara Maha Dewi, King Kelanitissa sent her to the sea in a ship to satisfy the Gods. However, her ship landed near Rohana. Fishermen who sighted the boat brought her to their King, Kavantissa. King Kavantissa was impressed by her beauty and bravery. Thus, he decided to marry her. After the marriage, Vihara Maha Dewi, and King Kavantissa had two children. The elder son was Prince Gemunu. The younger son was Tissa.

Extraordinary Cravings of Vihara Maha Devi

According to chronicles, Vihara Maha Devi had peculiar cravings while bearing prince Gemunu in her womb. Once she needed to sleep on a pillow made of honeycombs. In addition, she needed to bathe in the water that used to clean the sword that slew the head of Elara, an invader of Northern Sri Lanka. Owing to these cravings, the palace soothsayers made several predictions. They also predicted that the prince-to-be-born will end the Tamil rule in the North and unify the island.

How Did Prince Gemunu Get the Name Dutugemunu?

During King Kavantissa’s rule, a Chola King from India ruled the Northern part of Sri Lanka, Rajarata. He was Elara. However, the capital of Rajarata was Anuradhapura and it was the traditional seat of Sinhalese kings. Still, King Elara maintained a strong army. Moreover, he could get extra troops from India in an emergency. Hence, King Kavantissa did not declare war against Elara. He knew that Sinhalese forces were meager and weak to bring about a victory in a battle.

Prince Gemunu Sending His Father a Set of Women Outfit

During his rule, King Kawantissa merely prepared for future war and laid the foundation of a unified Sri Lanka. However, Prince Gemunu did not agree with his father. Once, he rode to Kasathota with his troops and sent a message to his father asking for permission to cross the Mahaweli River. King Kavantissa refused to grant permission saying it was not the right time to unleash war.

Prince Gemunu thought his father was a coward for not launching battle. So, he ridiculed him by sending women’s jewelry and clothes for him. His father became enraged by this. Therefore, he ordered Prince Gamunu to be brought back in chains. However, when Prince Gemunu heard this, he fled to Ratnapura. Thus he became “Dhutta-Gamini”. It meant, “wicked or disobedient” Gamunu. Later, with the ease of pronunciation, Dhuttagamini became Dutugemunu.

Ten Giant Warriors of King Dutugemunu

King Kavantissa was aware of the fact that he could not defeat Elara during his lifetime. However, he raised an army that would assist his son in the war. The ten giant warriors and thousands of capable men had one ambition. That was to wipe off the Cholas from Sri Lanka. King trained them in archery, swordsmanship, riding horses and elephants. However, two little princes, Gemunu and Tissa joined them in practice.

Those ten giant great warriors were,

  • Nandimithra
  • Suranimala
  • Mahasona
  • Theraputtabhaya
  • Bharana
  • Gotaimbara
  • Labhiyawasabha
  • Velusumana
  • Pussadeva and
  • Khanjadeva.

They fought alongside the king in the “Great Battle of Vijithapura”. Accordingly, the King rewarded them handsomely after the war.

The Feud Between Two Brothers Gemunu and Tissa

After the death of King Kavantissa, internal conflicts arose in Rohana. The Buddhist bhikkhus and the ministers discussed among themselves with regard. Finally, they decided that it is Prince Gemunu, who should become the King next. However, two princes, Gemunu and Tissa had disputes, each of them coveting the throne. King Kavantissa foresaw this and had ordered the ten giant warriors to stay impartial in a battle between the princes. Prince Tissa lost to his brother and fled away to Dematamal Viharaya. The chief monk of Dematamal Viharaya, Ven. Gokanna Tissa Thero saved the prince’s life. He also resolved the dispute between the two brothers. Finally, Prince Tissa returned to Digavapi and Prince Gemunu returned to Magama. People welcomed both of them warmly and happily.

The Great Battle of Vijithapura

Soon after becoming the King of Rohana, King Dutugemunu launched a battle against Elara. The war campaign intended on “Restoring And Glorifying Buddhism.” King Dutugemunu and his troops set out from Magama. Next, they crossed the Kasathota of Mahaweli River. This led them to seize many of the forts and cities under King Elara. On their way, they captured a number of generals of King Elara as well. King Dutugemunu’s next target was to capture the Vijithapura fortress.

Settling Camps at Kandawurupitiya

At that time, Vijithapura fort was second only to the Anuradhapura fort. According to chronicles, at least three moats provided good security around it. King Elara’s remaining troops retreated to Vijithapura and elevated the security of the fortress. King Dutugemunu’s forces too, marched forward and camped in the city. The open area which Dutugemunu and his troops camped came to be known as Kandawurupitiya. However, King Dutugemunu stayed for months camping inside the city waiting for the right moment to attack the fort. Both the parties continued to assault each other during this time.

King Dutugemunu Capturing the Vijithapura Fort

Finally, after about six months, King Dutugemunu decided to attack the fort and seize it. King and the 10 generals, or better known as giant warriors, along with the troops attacked four gates of the fort simultaneously.  After casualties and injuries to both sides, King Dutugemunu was able to capture the Vijithapura fort.

The conquest of Vijithapura fort became crucial in the siege of the Anuradhapura city. Later, he marched to Anuradhapura with his troops and defeated Elara in combat. This led King Dutugemunu to become the King of Sri Lanka.

The Great Era of King Dutugemunu

King Dutugemunu beat Elara and became the first king to bring the whole of Sri Lanka under one flag. After the consolidation of power, King Dutugemunu went on to bring a golden age of Buddhism during his rule. He constructed many stupas, repaired the lakes, and extended trade between Sri Lanka and the West.

Great Stupas and Temples Done By King Dutugemunu

Among the Stupas he constructed,the following are the most notable.

  • Mirisawetiya
  • Ruwanweliseya
  • Lohapasada

Just as with everything else about his life, there are interesting chronicles behind these constructions too. Let us share with you a glimpse of them as well.

As history reveals, King Dutugemunu once travelled to the shores of Tissa wewa, for a water festival. On his way, he placed his spear that had a sacred relic, in the soft ground. Later, after returning he tried to get back his spear. Still, neither the king, nor anyone else was able to get it back from the ground. Thereafter, King Dutugemunu ordered to build a stupa there. And, the stupa that came up accordingly, in that place is Mirisawetiya.

Apart from that, there is an interesting story behind the construction of the gigantic stupa, Ruwanweli maha seya as well. As per chronicles, the Great Arhant Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, reserved a sacred land to build a stupa. Then, King Devanmpiyatissa, who was the king then, mentioned about this reservation in a stone pillar. Making that wish a reality, King Dutugemunu found this stone pillar. So, as per the stories, it is after this incident that King thought of constructing this gigantic stupa. However, this stupa was popular as Swarnamali Stupa as well.

According to folklore, while preparing for the battle against Elara, Kataragama Deity appeared before King Dutugemunu and presented him with a sword. King Dutugemunu later built a temple at this site. Today that temple is known as Henakaduwa (Hena means Thunder, Kaduwa meaning sword) Purana Raja Maha Viharaya. In addition, he constructed Ruhunu Kataragama Devalaya, a shrine separated for the worship of Kataragama Deity.

The Only Son of King Dutugemunu

In addition to his construction work, King Dutugemunu is yet again famous because of a dispute with his only son. Prince Saliya was the son of King Dutugemunu. Prince Saliya had a secret love affair with Ashokamala. She was a lady of scavenger caste. That caste was one of the lowest castes of Sinhalese Society. Thus, he had to either give up the throne, or the love of his life. However, Prince gave up the rights to the throne because he refused to give up on his love. Chronicles mention that later King forgave the couple and reconciled with them.

Death and Legacy of King Dutugemunu

King Dutugemunu died as an aged monarch who fulfilled his duty to his nation and religion. Therefore, his death is also entangled with a story. According to folklore, King Dutugemunu planned to finish the construction of Ruwanweliseya, his most renowned work before his death. Plans went awry and he was unable to finish it before he fell ill. Prince Tissa, knowing the last wish of his beloved brother, covered the stupa in white garb and showed it to his dying brother. King Dutugemunu died bearing this sight in his heart and was immediately born in Tusita heavens. Prince Tissa became the King of Sri Lanka after him.

The Bottom Line

After all, King Dutugemunu was a great leader who fought victoriously to resurrect the Sinhalese monarch. Moreover, he contributed immensely to the exhilaration of Buddhism. Most of the constructions found in Anuradhapura today are simply the great works of King Dutugemunu. So, by chance, if you explore the city of Anuradhapura, you will surely remind him several times in your journey. The bond he has with Anuradhapura is that much significant. However, owing to all these reasons, King Dutugemunu happens to be one of the greatest monarchs in Sri Lankan history. Hence, King Dutugemunu is still alive in the hearts of Sri Lankans, even after several hundreds of centuries of his lifetime.