A black and white image of The Great King Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka, wearing a crown and earrings
The Great King Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a long history of the monarchy. During this monarchical rule, there were some kings who were very popular for their kingship. King Pandukabhaya is also one such king that did a great service to this country.

His story is one of the most popular and interesting ones in Sri Lankan history. Therefore, it was the main focus of many television dramas and movies as well. However, King Pandukabhaya’s reign was from 437 BC to 367 BC as the 6th monarch of Sri Lanka, considering King Vijaya as the first monarch of the country. Pandukabhaya first became the king of Upatissa Nuwara and later became the first monarch of the Anuradhapura kingdom.

Since King Vijaya, the first Sri Lankan king came from India, many historians and philosophers consider King Pandukabhaya as the first true Sri Lankan king. Besides, he was able to end the conflicts between the Sinha clan and the local clan.

There are many things that you need to know about this wonderful ruler of Sri Lanka. So, here is all you need to know about his adventure-filled life story.

Ancestry and Family of King Pandukabhaya

Prince Panduvasadewa migrated to Sri Lanka from Bengal, India. He ascended the throne of Sri Lanka after King Vijaya. King Panduvasadewa married the Kshatriya princess Baddakachchana who also migrated from Bengal, India. The capital of King Panduvasadewa was Panduvasnuwara. The king and the queen had 11 children, 10 sons, and 1 daughter. The daughter was the famous princess, Unmadachitra.

Queen Baddakachchana had a brother named Prince Digayu. Prince Digayu and Princess Disala had a son named Prince Deega Gamini. Princess Unmadachitra and Prince Deega Gamini formed an alliance and the son they got was Pandukabhaya. However, history also reveals that Pandukabhaya had no relation to the Aryan dynasty. So, many consider him a local hero. Pandukabhaya’s teacher was Pandula and his son Chandra became his advisor.

King Pandukabhaya’s Childhood

Prior to the birth of Prince Pandukabhaya, an astrologer who served in the royal court presented a prophecy. It said that princess Unmadachitra’s son will one day destroy his 10 uncles to gain the throne. Due to this prophecy, princess Chitra and prince Digha Gamini had to promise to put to death any son that princess Chitra may bear.

However, after little Pandukabhaya was born, princess Chitra was not willing to put her son to death. So, she made a plan with the queen’s mother and exchanged her baby son for a baby girl who was born on the same day. Only the princess and the queen’s mother were aware of this secret situation. The baby daughter’s mother took the little prince to a nearby village called Doramadalawa where he spent his childhood as a son of a herdsman. However, while this little prince was living in that village, he got the training to be the future king even without his knowledge.

The Attempts on Pandukabhaya’s Life

Even though the prince was secretly exchanged, there were several suspicions about this. Therefore, Pandukabhaya’s uncles always stayed alert about any possible threats. As a result, Pandukabhaya had to face many death attempts during his childhood.

The prince met with his first threat right after his birth when he was being taken to the village called Doramadalawa. The woman carried the prince in a basket and unfortunately, she ran into the brothers of princess Chitra. Upon suspicion, they inquired about the basket and she told them that she is carrying food. Luckily, two wild boars made a distraction which made the woman travel safely to the village. Afterward, the little baby was handed over to the village’s herdsman to be brought up along with his own son who was born at the same time.

Later, when the prince was just 7 years old, his uncles again had a suspicion about a boy in the village, Doramadalawa who showed unusual qualities for a village boy. As a result, they ordered to murder of all the boys around the same age in that village. They executed a plan to kill the kids while they were bathing at the village river. Here also, the prince could save his life by hiding. Unfortunately, many of his friends lost their lives at the scene.

Since the uncles were quite sure about the prince’s demise in this situation, he could live peacefully in the village for a while. Then, later also, another attempt at his life failed when he was a teenager. However, Prince Pandukabhaya went to live with the Brahmin Pandula when he was 16 years old. This was the place where he got the real training to be a king.

How King Pandukabhaya Attained the Throne

Due to various attempts made on prince Pandukabhaya’s life, Princess Chitra was worried for his safety. Yet, this prince was able to stay safe until he was old enough to become the king, under the care and guidance of Brahmin Pandula.

Upon his return, he had to conduct a prolonged war for 17 years to fight with his uncles. In this war, he perished with 8 of his 10 uncles. He didn’t harm Abhaya who never fought against him and Girikandasiva, who was his father-in-law. Afterward, he attained the throne and ruled the country for 70 years during which Sri Lanka flourished into prosperity. Sri Lankan history considers King Pandukabhaya’s reign as a golden time period for the country.

Kingship of King Pandukabhaya

King Pandukabhaya became the first king to establish a Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka’s northwestern area. His royal councilor was Brahmin Pandula’s son, prince Chandra. He chose Anuradhapura as the capital of his kingdom.

King Pandukabhaya received the crown according to the local tradition and he chose princess Swarnapali as his queen. He was utterly grateful for the people who helped him to attain the throne. Accordingly, he created a position called ‘Nagara Guththika’ and gave it to his uncle, Abhaya. He also built a shrine to the east of the city for the Yakkha Kalavela. Another shrine was built for Chittaraja close to the Abhaya tank. He gave the administration powers of the Girikandasiva area to his uncle, Girikandasiva.

Moreover, King Pandukabhaya did great services for the well-being of his kingdom during his kingship. The following sections will enlighten you with regard!

Urban Development

The most notable service of King Pandukabhaya is building the city of Anuradhapura. His town planning was as advanced as modern urban planning.

He focused on the convenience and hygiene of its citizens in planning the city. And also another major concern was the cleanliness of the city. Therefore, there were 500 men to clean the streets and another 200 men to clean the sewers, during his reign. Then, there were 150 men to bear the dead bodies. These people belonged to the ‘Chandala’ caste. These workers got accommodation close to the town’s cemetery and they received regular wages too.

However, records reveal that King Pandukabhaya got this influence for properly planning the city from Kautilya’s Arthashastra book, which was a book that gave advice to the Indian rulers for their administration.

Religious Policy

King Pandukabhaya followed a consolidative policy with all kinds of religious beliefs. Due to his upbringing, he had a special respect for the Yakkha clan and their beliefs.

Yakshas are considered the earliest settlers of the country. The king built several shrines for the Yakkhas to perform their religious rites. He was very concerned about the clan and their convenience as they were the ones who protected him in his childhood. In fact, even the majority of King Pandukabhaya’s men consisted of the Yakkha clan.

He also built temples for Brahmin leaders and for the worshippers of the Shiva linga. Basically, King Pandukabhaya respected and supported all kinds of religious and mythical beliefs of his time. His impartial treatment of all the religions helped him to gain the trust and support of all his citizens during his reign.

Agricultural Service

As per history, Abhaya wewa is the first lake in Sri Lanka, and it was a work of King Pandukabhaya. It is situated in Anuradhapura city.

King Pandukabhaya built the Abhaya wewa in the 4th century BC. It was named Abhaya Vapi, in remembrance of the king’s uncle, Abhaya. This lake also goes by the name, Bassawek reservoir. The purpose of this lake was to satisfy the water needs of the population of Anuradhapura city.

The land area of the lake is about 1235 acres. At present, the lake is about 225 acres and the dam of the reservoir is about 10 meters tall. Abhaya wewa still is the main support for the irrigation system of the northwestern province.

The Importance of King Pandukabhaya’s Reign in the Sri Lankan History

In the famous chronicles, Dipavamsa and the Samanthapasadika, there is only a brief description of King Pandukabhaya. Yet, in the historical chronicle of Mahavamsa, there is an in-detail and long description of two chapters about him. However, the Mahavamsa author has decorated the Pandukabhaya character with a lot of mythical stories. Since his story is full of such mythical and folk stories, it is important to consider the historical importance of the king accordingly.

However, there were two immigrant groups from different locations in India on the northwestern and eastern sides of Sri Lanka. King Pandukabhaya can be considered the one who unified these two immigrant groups. Besides, he was the first king to follow a proper and very organized administration plan for his reign. He also built three lakes for the irrigation system which directly resulted in the development of the agricultural industry of the area. According to historical sources, he is also the first king to follow a proper urban plan. Likewise, his services tend to continue in lists, and owing to all these reasons, we can undoubtedly mention that King Pandukabhaya was one of the most important figures in Sri Lankan history.

The Bottom Line

The Anuradhapura kingdom that king Pandukabhaya built, remained in its glory for over 1500 years. King Pandukabhaya became the king of the Anuradhapura kingdom when he was 37 years old and conducted a successful reign for 70 years. So, he is indeed a person who played a significant role in the country. His services should be surely appreciated, and his contributions have surely made him a living legacy in this beautiful island.