The ancient stone statue of King Parakramabahu, the greatest monarch from the polonnaruwa realm
The ancient stone statue of King Parakramabahu, the greatest monarch from the polonnaruwa realm

Sri Lanka, the charming island amidst the mighty blue waves of the Indian ocean, holds with it a graceful history that is worth exploring. Of course, one might even say that its proud heritage is one of the main reasons that make Sir Lanka a significant tourist attraction as well. However, if you are also an enthusiast of exploring the delight of Sir Lankan history, this certainly happens to be a must-read. Of course, we are ready to share with you about an eminent figure that created a golden era in the Sri Lankan saga. And that is none other than King Parakramabahu, who was one of the greatest monarchs in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.

Simply, King Parakramabahu made Sri Lanka a united and self-sufficient isle for an era. As a result of his significant service to agriculture, Sri Lanka even earned the title, “The Oriental Granary” during his period. That is just a glimpse of his significance. Why not? Let us get to know about him, and his era in detail!

Life of King Parakramabahu before Crown

The journey King Parakramabahu traversed up to the point of crowning was never an easy one at all. He had to face many hardships, and he also had to take several controversial decisions. Yet, he succeeded in becoming one of the greatest monarchs in Sri Lankan history. For a better overview of this remarkable king, let us get to know his life story, from his childhood itself.

Childhood of King Parakramabahu

According to Chulavamsa, the birth of baby Parakramabahu was signified by a dream. His father, King Manabarana dreamt that a figure akin to a god is giving him a message with regard. Owing to this reason, King Manabarana was spending time with much excitement. However, his beloved wife Rathnawali, gave birth to a prince making this prediction a truth. Still, even the king and queen never thought that this infant would be the supreme king of Sri Lanka one day. Besides, the baby got his name “Parakramabahu” because of his “foe crushing hands.” Although his birth date is unconfirmed, archaeologists believe that he was born during 1123 A.C. At present, we could see a monument called “Kotawehera” raised in Dedigama, at the birthplace of Parakramabahu.

However, King Wikramabahu was the ruler of Polonnaruwa when Prince Parakramabahu was born. King Wickramabahu requested King Manabarana to bring Parakramabahu to the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. Also, he said that he will award the crown to Parakramabahu after his reign. Of course, it was a huge decision about Prince Parakramabahu’s future. Yet, King Manabarana was quite unsure with King Wikramabahu’s utterances. Thus, he decided to refuse King Wikramabahu’s suggestion.

Seeking Protection from Ruhuna

King Manabarana did not live until Prince Parakramabahu got fit to be a king. He died after a short term from Prince Parakramabahu’s birth. After King Manabarana, his younger brother Kitti Sri Mega ascended the throne of Dakkina Deshaya. Later on, Parakramabahu, his mother Rathnawali, and his two sisters Miththa and Prabhawathi sought protection under the King of Ruhuna, Sri Wallaba. He was also an uncle of Prince Parakramabahu.

Parakrambahu’s Decision to Leave Ruhuna

Although Parakramabahu had shelter and protection from Ruhuna, he understood that nothing favourable would possibly happen to his ownership of royal blood. King Sri Wallaba forced Prince Parakramabahu’s elder sister to marry Sri Wallaba’s son Manabarana without considering the allegation of Parakramabahu’s mother, Rathnawali. Even though she was a widow of a king of the Arya clan, she anticipated her daughter’s marriage with a person who belongs to the Kalinga Clan. Finally, her expectation flunked.

King Gajabahu II at The Throne

In 1132 A.C, King Wikramabahu died keeping an opportunity for the throne of Rajarata. Breaking down the expectations of the two Arya kings, Gajabahu II took the opportunity of the throne. Later, he was crowned as the new king of Rajarata. Every attempt of the two Arya kings, Sri Wallaba and King Kitti Sri Megha came unproductive at the end. However, neither King Sri Wallaba, nor King Kitti Sri Megha survived to see King Gajabahu dethroned.

Prince Parakramabahu Returning Sankhatthali

After the end of the Arya-Kalinga civil war, Prince Parakramabahu decided to leave Ruhuna. Several reasons influenced his withdrawal. The Culavamsa briefly explains that the impatience and lack of stimulation when living in Ruhuna probably affected him to take such a decision. In addition, the court neglected him due to Sri Wallaba’s plan of making his beloved son, Manabarana the new monarch of Ruhuna. Finally, Parakramabahu left Sri Wallaba’s place in Ruhuna. Later, he returned to Sankhatthali, the new capital of Dakkina Desha where he took up dwelling with his uncle, Kitti Sri Megha. Culavamsa thereafter refers to Kitti as Parakramabahu’s father. However, during the days spent on Dakkina Desha, Prince Parakramabahu nurtured with grammar, literature, martial arts, and also with mirthful sections like elephant riding. In addition, he studied the important works of Chanakya.

Entering King Gajabahu’s Kingdom

Day by day Prince Parakramabahu matured into a grown-up. He was quite uncertain about the prevalent elements and conditions in the Kingdom of Rajarata. Similarly, he had a desire to scrutinize on his own. Therefore, he left Dakkina Deshaya secretly without informing Kitti Sri Megha, the caretaker of Parakramabahu. He encountered his friendly allies in Badalwatta and met Senpathi Sankha near the boundary separating Rajarata and Dakkina Desha.

Prince’s Combat With Sankha

According to Megha, Sankha was the most powerful and indispensable personality in his kingdom. And also, he was the guardian of Kitthi. Sankha tried to inform the presence of Parakramabahu to Kitti. As it was an obstacle to his journey, Parakramabahu killed Sankha. Later, he acquitted Sankha’s treasure and the Buddhagama. Kitti Sri Megha was in fear that Parakramabahu would enter the Kingdom of Rajarata. As a result he sent his troops to stop Prince Parakramabahu. But, Prince Parakramabahu was able to fight and defeat all of them. Finally, he entered the Rajarata, the Gajabahu’s Kingdom through the Malaya region.

Prince Parakramabahu’s Well-Spent Days at Gajabahu’s Kingdom

During the days spent on Gajabahu’s court, Parakramabahu wisely acted on two things of significance. The first was to enmesh the court of the king in a network of espionage. The other was the marriage between one of his sisters, Baddhavati and Gajabahu. But, he retained the entirety of her dowry. He tried his best to fulfil all the duties assigned by the king’s court. As a result, he got everyone’s admiration.

In addition to all these, Parakramabahu entered into secret negotiations with the king’s general, Gokanna. But, he planned to depart Rajarata, and accordingly he returned to Dakkina Deshaya secretly. The reason behind this transition was his realisation that King Gajabahu was skeptical about him.

Parakramabahu Crowning as the King of Dakkina Deshaya

Parakramabahu was not satisfied with his uncle, Kitti. He was rather reluctant to enter the capital Sankhatthali to meet his uncle other than his mother’s persuasion. In the chronicle Culavamsa, it explains that Parakramabahu did not seem to be in grief about his uncle’s death. Further, it reveals that the recent animosity between the two might be the reason for that. However, with this, Parakramabahu had his first experience in ruling a region. Finally, yes, he became the new king of Dakkina Deshaya.

King Parakramabahu’s Great Service to Dakkina Deshaya

King Parakramabahu understood what the manpower could perpetrate. However, he intended to develop Dakkina Deshaya so that it would transcend the greatness of the other kingdoms established. Similarly, Parakramabahu started vast projects in construction and renovation. Certain remains found in central Sri Lanka provide evidence for the construction progress he reinforced. In addition, the ancient texts reveal that he built the “Kotabadda” bridge that lies across the Deduru Oya. Further, he was interested in agricultural advancement. He built the massive reservoir “Parakrama Samudra” to provide a continuous supply of water for the paddy fields and other plantations in the region. Finally, he converted the miserable lands to green fields. Similarly, he removed and wielded the forests and thickets for cultivation purposes. As a result of his great effort, every sight was green in this kingdom.

King’s New Kingdom in Dakkina Deshaya

He built his palace on an island situated at the center of Parakrama Samudra. In addition, a stupa was among the constructions on those islands. Under a new concept, he converted the Royal Court into a place rich with cultural activities. Other than the two existing departments, he reformed the government by adding another department to oversee the management of mines.

King Parakramabahu’s Trading Pattern During Dakkina Deshaya

However, King Parakrmabahu was interested in trading some demanded and valuable things such as pearls, gems, war elephants, and cinnamon. As a result, he exported such things from Sri Lanka. When considering the imports, he imported Chinese Silk for the consecration of statues and shrines. Also, he carried out most trades through ports such as Kalpitiya, Chilaw, and Colombo. Finally, these great steps resulted in the brisk development of Dakkina Deshaya.

Preparation for the Crucial War

King Parakramabahu formed a force that made a serious threat to Gajabahu’s forces. Ancient texts reveal that he formulated the army with a diverse ethnic makeup. In addition, he was able to field war elephants, siege, and cavalry in the crucial war against Gajabahu.

Certain officers from the very old clans, Maurya and Lambakarna also represented his army. Similarly, King Parakramabahu had support from a crew of Tamil soldiers from Kurunegala and also from a group of people who were under the control of a person styling himself as the King of Malaya. Therefore, when considering the total military count, King Parakramabahu had an army with about 100,000 military units.

The Battle Against Gajabahu

King Parakramabahu initiated the war against Gajabahu by seizing the control of Malaya. Securing his eastern flank, he continued the battle against the chieftains who rose in the boundaries of Rajarata. This early campaign resulted in a defeat for Gajabahu. After a short ceasefire, the war undertook again. King Gajabahu pleaded for the backing of foreign reinforcements. But somehow, Parakramabahu was able to take control of Mallavana fort and the western coastline.

Vanquishing Gokanna, The Senior General of Gajabahu

After, Parakramabahu’s forces reached a place called Mutukara near modern Mannar. They reached there by sailing. Meanwhile, Gajabahu’s senior general Gokanna yearned for more reinforcements from Rajarata because he underwent several defeats against Parakramabahu’s forces. Although he had built up some stability with the backing, he was defeated again by Parakramabahu’s general, Mahinda. However, the only thing he could do is to flee as an acceptance of defeat. Hoping not to participate in more conflicts, he fled into a jungle with the remnants. Thereafter, he constructed a fortress in the jungle and dwelled with the rest. Day by day, the moment arrived for Gajabahu to leave the throne of Polonnaruwa.

Capturing the Polonnaruwa Kingdom

By 1153 A.C, Parakramabahu’s forces could capture Polonnaruwa. Another fight resulted in a defeat for Gajabahu. The fight undertook about 15 kilometers away from the capital city. Rakkha and the junior general Sukha induced a defeat for Gajabahu. Soon the capital was taken under control.

Later, they jailed Gajabahu and his two sons. Parakramabahu ordered the townspeople and the former king to treat his loyal generals. Some disloyal members of Parakramabahu’s forces discarded his commands and tried to embarrass the people by breaking their dwellings, plundering their valuable ornaments and goods. It was very irritating news for the general Gokanna. As a result, he pleaded help from the Manabarana who was at Sorabora, ruling the Kingdom Ruhuna.

Laying the Foundation for Another Battle

Although King Manabarana had an alliance with Gajabahu, he was neutral during the invasion of Parakramabahu. But, he would not stay any longer on that profile when considering the situation. As soon as Parakramabahu confirmed his victory, Manabarana entered into the conflict and launched an invasion of Rajarata. Finally, Parakramabahu had to launch his second main battle against Manabarana.

Parakramabahu did not attend any of the above fights. But, he was the major role who drove his troops to battle. His suggestions were more practical in withstanding some special instances during conflicts. His unavailability was the major reason for the above misbehavior of some soldiers. Therefore, Parakramabahu sent his Senapati Deva to handle the situation. But owing to the problematic environment, he had to struggle with the forces of Manabarana, before reforming the troops. Parakramabahu’s forces had to flee from Polonnaruwa with Manabarana’s brutal attack. He also killed several senior generals of the former king Gajabahu and ordered to jail Gajabahu in a prison built underground.

King Manabarana Becoming Disloyal Among the People

Later, Manabarana informed the messengers to summon his mother Sugala and his other princesses to Rajarata. Then he brought back the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Alms Bowl Relic of Lord Buddha, the symbols of royalty, from Southern Sri Lanka to Rajarata. In this situation, Gajabahu pleaded for help from Parakramabahu. Thinking wisely, Parakramabahu advised his forces to close every path where Polonnaruwa received cereals. Similarly, he advised to embarrass the tourists who travelled among Ruhuna and Rajarata. Those activities resulted in the disloyalty of people towards Manabarana.

Capturing Back the Polonnaruwa Kingdom

Finally, Parakramabahu captured Polonnaruwa at the moment where Manabarana went away from the capital to commit war against Rakkha who caused disastrous harm in western Rajarata. Manabarana was discouraged in that situation and decided to fall back to Ruhuna with his family and the relics of the Buddha. Later, Parakramabahu released Gajabahu. But, there were several minor conflicts among the loyal soldiers and the troops of Parakramabahu in that case. Finally, the Sangha persuaded King Parakramabahu to give relief to Gajabahu.

King Parakramabahu Crowning as the Monarch of Rajarata

After all those conflicts, Parakramabahu was crowned as the king of Rajarata. He was able to keep his standpoint for 33 years. His reign was one of the golden periods of Sri Lankan history. He rendered many different services in different fields. But, he mainly targeted religious and agricultural services.

Religious Reforms under King Parakramabahu

King Prakramabahu became stable in the kingdom in 1153 A.C. After his coronation he worked hard for the upliftment of the Buddha sasana.

Removing the Corrupted Monks from Buddha Sasana and Improving the Unity among Monks

During the period of King Walagamba, the Buddhist monks divided into three main groups as Maha Vihara Therawada Sector, Abhayagiri Sector and Dakkina Vihara Sector. King Parakramabahu needed to unite all these three groups into one. In addition, at the same time monks had become more corrupted. Even some of them had children. Therefore, the king worked hard to misplace these corrupted monks from Buddha Sasana and purify it.

Establishing the Temple of Tooth Relic in Polonnaruwa

After defeating Queen Sugala in 1157 A.C, King Parakramabahu became the prime owner of the Sacred Tooth Relic and Alms Bowl Relic, the symbols of the ruler of Sri Lanka. Then he established a Temple for the Tooth Relic in Polonnaruwa. Later, he kept the tooth relic there after placing it inside a valuable gem.

Great Constructions by King Parakramabahu

King Parakramabahu patronized a large number of significant constructions throughout the kingdom. If you are able to visit Polonnaruwa, you still have the ability of watching them as ruins.

Renovation of Ruwanweliseya, Thuparamaya and Mihintale Temple

With the invasion and great battle with Chola, the whole Anuradhapura Kingdom had turned into ruins. Therefore, King Parakramabahu needed to renovate all the significant places that were among the ruins. As a result, he renovated Ruwanweliseya which was done by King Dutugemunu during the Anuradhapura period. In addition, he renovated Thuparamaya, which was the first stupa in Sri Lanka and Mihintale Temple.

Making Polonnaruwa a Well-Planned City

At the beginning of his reign, King Parakramabahu divided the Polonnaruwa Kingdom into four main sub-towns. After that, he constructed alms halls at each of them in order to provide food and other facilities to Monks. In addition, he constructed a number of hospitals in Polonnaruwa. Also, King Parakramanahu has expanded the defensive walls of Polonnaruwa. Yet, at least their ruins are not there to be found by now. However, as per history, he has visited all the construction sites while they were under construction to encourage the workers.

Construction of Ponds throughout the City

King Parakramabahu constructed a number of parks and ponds around the city of Polonnaruwa. His main intention was to make the people easy with bathing and other sanitary purposes. You will be able to see one of the above ponds, Kuttam Pokuna even in the present, if you visit this area.

The Construction of Amazing Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa

The credit of constructing the Gal Vihara at Polonnaruwa goes to King Parakramabahu. Even though Queen Sugala had constructed a part of Gal Viharaya, the King constructed all other parts. Gal Viharaya includes three statues of Lord Buddha in three different postures. The amazing thing is that all these three statues were done using three single rocks. Thus, it not only holds a significance as a religious place, but also a cultural attraction, with a high aesthetic value. So, this surely happens to be a must-visit, in the city of Polonnaruwa.

Continuing and Construction of Other Irrigation Works

Before reaching the throne at Polonnaruwa, King Parakramabahu reigned as the ruler of Dakkina Deshaya. During his period at Dakkina Deshaya, he started a number of irrigation projects there. After crowning as the king of Polonnaruwa, he did not forget to continue his work. As a result, he renovated a large number of tanks, ponds, and lakes in Anuradhapura, which were completely destroyed by Cholas during their invasion. In addition, he constructed a huge number of amazing tanks, ponds, and lakes in Polonnaruwa Kingdom as well. Out of them Parakrama Samudraya happens to be a remarkable highlight.

Parakrama Samudraya by King Parakramabahu

When considering the contributions of King Parakramabahu in terms of developing irrigation systems, Parakrama Samudraya can never be ignored. Its name simply means ‘the sea of King Parakrama’. However, being a shallow large reservoir, it indeed looks like a sea at sight. It consists of five separate reservoirs, connected with narrow channels. From the olden days, it still flows rhythmically, prospering yards of cultivations that belong to the region of Polonnaruwa. Moreover, the contribution of Parakrama Samudraya in the field of cultivation was a major reason that made Sri Lanka popular as the ‘The Oriental Granary’, in the period of King Parakramabahu as well.

The Death of King Parakramabahu

King Parakramabahu, the great monarchy of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, continued his rule for almost thirty-three long years. After doing a great service to the country and his kingdom, he passed away in Polonnaruwa. Vijayabahu II, his sister’s son, as the chronicles reveal, succeeded to the throne next.

The Bottom Line

There are various factors that make King Parakramabahu special. He was fortunate enough to be the last king of Sri Lanka, who unified three lesser kings of the island. King Parakramabahu not only expanded and well-planned his capital, Polonnaruwa, but also took steps to beautify the city in the best possible way. He prospered Buddhism on this island, yet never disregarded Hinduism. His contributions in terms of developing irrigation systems, and prospering the country are impressive beyond words. He reorganized the military power of Sri Lankan and even went to the extent of undertaking military campaigns in South India.

Likewise, the service of King Parakramabahu covered an extensive range. Moreover, he was one of the greatest kings who was admired and appreciated immensely. Further, his period was indeed a golden era of Sri Lankan history. Owing to these reasons, King Parakramabahu undoubtedly happens to be the greatest monarch of the Polonnaruwa realm.