A foreign girl on a bicycle in front of an ancient brick stupa, exploring the ruins of the kingdom of Anuradhapura - Sri Lanka's astonishing epoch.

Although Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is small in size, its grace is indeed boundless. The significance it holds in every aspect is simply amazing, and wonderful beyond words. It is the same with its history as well. To be specific, Sri Lanka holds a majestical history with a span of around 125, 000 years. Of course, its earlier era is solely based on archeological evidence. Still, according to its documented history, its saga has had nine ancient kingdoms. However, out of all these nine kingdoms, the Kingdom of Anuradhapura was the very first Sinhalese kingdom, which lasted from 377 B.C. to 1017 A.D. Owing to this simple reason, its significance is worth exploring. Thus, we thought of sharing with you its grandeur, along with the remarkable incident that took place during this period. So, why not? Let us get to know all about them!

Establishment of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura

According to the historical resources, the Kingdom of Anuradhapura was founded by King Pandukabhaya. He ruled the kingdom from 474 B.C. – 367 B.C. In addition, his reign is considered as one of the stupendous stages in Sri Lanka’s history.

The Interesting Story of Prince Pandukabhaya

Prince Pandukabhaya was the only child of Prince Dighagamini (the son of Prince Digayu and Princess Disala) and Princess Unmadachitra (the daughter of King Panduvasdew and Queen Baddhakachchana). Before the birth of Prince Pandukabhaya, a sage prophesied that Chitra will bear a prince who will kill nine of his uncles and claim the throne. Frightened by the prophecy, nine of Chitra’s brothers persuaded King Panduwasdew to kill Princess Chitra. Still, the mission failed due to Prince Abhaya’s (the Eldest son of King Paduwasdewa) interference.

Later, Princess Chitra married Prince Dighagamini. He had promised to kill any son that Chitra will give birth to. However, once Prince Pandukabhaya was born Princess Chitra was hesitant to kill him. So, she secretly exchanged babies with another woman who had given birth to a baby girl on the same day. Meanwhile, she sent the new-born prince to a far-away village for safety. However, Chitra’s brothers were suspicious of the birth of the baby girl. Thus, they made several attempts to kill Prince Pandukabhaya. But, they fall short in each and every attempt. The unfortunate fact with regard was that they killed all other children in the area who were the same age as Prince Pandukabhaya, in order to ensnare him.

After years, once the prince was old enough to be on the throne, he fought with his uncles to claim the throne. Finally, eight out of ten of his uncles deceased during the process. Prince Abhaya, who supported Prince Pandukabhaya from the very beginning remained unharmed. Following these battles, Prince Pandukabhaya chose Anuradhagama as his capital city. Later, it became the Kingdom of Anuradhapura and lasted for many centuries making the whole world gape in wonder. Later he renamed “Anuradhagama” as “Anuradhapura” and expanded it to a well-built city complex.

The Capital Cities Existed During the Anuradhapura Kingdom

Almost all the rulers who ruled the Kingdom of Anuradhapura chose Anuradhapura as the capital city of the kingdom, except King Kashyapa (I). He chose Sigiriya, which is slightly away from Anuradhapura as his capital city.

Anuradhapura as the Capital City of the Kingdom

In 543 B.C. Indian prince named Vijaya set foot in Sri Lanka. He arrived with his 700 followers.  The reason was banishment from his homeland. He eventually took control of the island and established himself as the king. Later, his followers established villages and colonies throughout the country. One of those villages established by the minister Anuradha renamed Anuradhagama. Finally, it became “Anuradhapura” during the reign of King Pandukabhaya.

Sigiriya as the Capital City of the Kingdom

Sigiriya became the capital city of Anuradhapura Kingdom during the reign of King Kashyapa (I). King Kashyapa (I) took over the throne from his father, King Dhatusena after a successful coup in 477 A.C. As a result of the indecision of a possible attack from his stepbrother Moggallana, King Kashyapa moved his capital from Anuradhapura city to Sigiriya.

Sigiriya was more secure than the previous. During the reign of King Kashyapa, Sigiriya was developed into a rock fortress complex. This possessed a technologically advanced water system from the foot of the fortress to the top of the rock. This admirable system makes today’s engineers confused about the well-developed technology that existed in Sri Lanka during the Anuradhapura period. In addition, this fortress owns a well-planned landscaping system that you are still able to clearly see at the top of the fortress.

Invasions Took Place During The Anuradhapura Period

A number of invasions took place during the reign of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The specialty is that all the invasions were launched from South India. However, Sri Lanka was fortunate enough not to be completely subjugated by any of the attackers. The below section briefs some of those invasions that took place during this period.

Invasion of Sena and Guththika

Sena and Guththika were two horse dealers. They besieged Anuradhapura during the reign of King Suratissa (247 B.C. – 237 B.C.). However, they were able to capture the power of the kingdom. They successfully ruled the kingdom for 22 years (237 B.C. – 215 B.C.) until King Aselas’s counter attack.

Invasion of Elara

Elara was a Chola prince who successfully attacked the Anuradhapura kingdom during the reign of King Asela. He was able to direct the kingdom for 44 long years (205 B.C. -161 B.C.) until King Dutugammunu’s historical counter-attack.

Invasion of the Five Dravidian Chiefs

In the year of 103 B.C., during King Walagamba’s reign, a gang of seven Dravidian chiefs named Pulhatta, Bahiya, Panaya Mara, Pilaya Mara, Dathiya attacked the kingdom and captured the power. Later, King Walagamba was able to come back to the throne after a counter attack done during 88 B.C.

Invasion of Six Pandyan Tamil Invaders

This happened in the year of 433 A.C. A gang of six Pandyan invaders named Pandu, Parinda, Khuda Parinda, Tiritara, Dathiya, Pithiya were able to take the throne of Anuradhapura after a successful mission. However, they governed the country from 433 A.C. to 459 A.C. Finally, King Dathusena was powerful enough to get back the throne from them.

Invasion of Pandyan and Chola in the 9th Century

During the 9th century, Pandyans had risen to a position of ascendancy in the Southern region of India. By assuming the power of it, they invaded the Anuradhapura Kingdom in 846 A.C. – 866 A.C.

Invasion of Cholas

The Chola King Rajaraja (I) mounted an attack on Anuradhapura Kingdom in 993 A.D. Unfortunately, they were able to conquer it. Afterward, they gradually took over the power of other parts of the country. The Chola reign continued up to 1070 A.D. Finally, King Vijayabahu (I) overthrew the power of Chola and went back to the throne.

The List of Kings Who Ruled the Kingdom of Anuradhapura

The Anuradhapura Kingdom was fortunate enough to have a series of powerful kings throughout its reign. They were able to magnify the essence of the kingdom in each and every aspect such as political, cultural, social, and religious. You can find below a list of kings who were strong enough to get into the throne of Anuradhapura Monarchy.

The KingDuration
King Pandukabhaya (437-367 BC)
King Mutaseewa (367-306 BC)
King Dewanampiyathissa (306-266 BC)
King Surathissa (246-236 BC)
King Sena and Guththika (236-214 BC)
King Asela (214-204 BC)
King Elara (205-161 BC)
King Dutugamunu (161-137 BC)
King Saddhathissa (137-119 BC)
King Walagamba (104 BC)
Queen Anula(47-43 BC)
King Vasabha (65-109 AC)
King Mahasen (276-303 AC)
King Buddhadasa (340-368 AC)
King Dhathusena (459-477AC)
King Kashyapa (I) (477-495AC)
King Mugalan (I) (495-512AC)
King Sena (V) (972-982AC)
King Mahinda (V) (982-1029AC)
Significant Kings from the Kingdom of Anuradhapura

Even though there was an extensive list of kings that belonged to the Kingdom of Anuradhapura, we have specialized out a few of them who struggled hard to make the kingdom a stupendous success. The below section would provide you a better overview of them.

King Pandukabhaya

He was the first king of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. King Pandukabhaya ruled the country for 70 years. He was able to establish a well-organized governance system. In addition, he built three tanks in Anuradhapura as Abaya Tank, Gamini Tank and Jaya Tank.

King Devanampiyatissa

He was the grandson of King Pandukabhaya. The most important incident that happened during his reign was the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. In addition, Arahat Sanghamitta Theri arrived in Sri Lanka with the sacred right sapling of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Buddhagaya, India. King Devanampiyatissa welcomed it with immense respect and planted it at Mahamewna Park in Anuradhapura. Also, he patronized the Bhikkuni Sasana in Sri Lanka. Moreover, he built the Thuparama Stupa, enshrining the right collar bone of the Lord Buddha which is the first-ever stupa in Sri Lanka.

King Dutugemunu

He became the heir to the throne after defeating the Tamil King Elara through a brutal war. He rendered an immeasurable service to the Buddhism of Sri Lanka. His establishment of Ruwanweli Maha Seya pioneers out of all. In addition, he built Mirisawetiya Stupa and Lohapasada.

King Walagamba

He had to face an invasion from South India just after 5 months at the throne. But, he was able to get back the throne defeating them after fourteen years. He is well famous for the construction of Abhayagiri Viharaya. In addition, one of his most significant services was patronizing for the occasion of recording Tripitaka on palm leaves.

The Religious Background in the Anuradhapura Period

Buddhism was the main religion that existed during the Anuradhapura Kingdom. It secured the royal patronage too.

The Arrival of Buddhism

Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka while King Devanampiyathissa continued his reign. He was an eminent king who ruled the kingdom. At the time King Asoka who was the emperor of Indian subcontinent had developed a special interest in Buddhism among people. As a result of that he dispatched Buddhist delegations to the neighbouring states to propagate Buddhism.

Due to the close friendship between King Ashoka and King Devanampiyathissa, he had decided to send his own son Mahinda thero to Sri Lanka who had attained the sublime spiritual state of Arahat hood. The arahat Mahinda thero met King Devanampiyathissa at a place called Mihintale which is about 10kms away from Anuradhapura town. After understanding the deep meaning behind Buddhism teachings, King Devanampiyatissa immediately embraced the new teaching. Finally, he became a follower of the Buddha. As a result, Buddhism was recognized as the state religion and has been practiced with great reverence until today.

Indeed, the knowledge of Buddhism has inspired people to get rid of their greed, cruelty, wrong notions. Also, it has led the people to a simple, meaningful, and religious life. And the most important fact is that Buddhism is still well preserved and practiced in Sir Lanka for all these years.

Arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha

During the reign of Kithsirimevan, Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala brought the sacred Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka. The reason was the unrest that prevailed in their country. King Kithsirimevan accepted the Tooth Relic with the utmost respect. Then, he placed it in a mansion called Datadhatughara. The sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha soon became the most sacred object in the country. The whole of Sri Lanka recognized it as the symbol of kingship. Finally, a new tradition emerged among Sri Lankans as whoever possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic had a divine right to rule the land.

Arrival of the Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka

Buddhists consider Lord Gautama as the greatest human to appear on earth. He attained Buddhahood seated back with his back against Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya in Buddhagaya, India. However, the southern sapling of that sacred Bodhi tree was sent to Sri Lanka by King Dharmashoka in the hands of Arahat Sanghamitta Theri, his daughter. King Devanampiyathissa accepted the sacred sapling with the utmost respect and planted it in Mahamewna Park, Anuradhapura.

But, just after sending a branch of Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka, Queen Thishyarakka destroyed the Sri Maha Bodhi in India. She was the queen of King Dharmashoka who was observing a different faith. Similarly, the new saplings that rose from the roots of the tree were subjected to hostilities and natural disasters and destroyed again. Therefore, the Bhodi tree at present belongs to the fourth generation.

Owing to these factors, the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka happens to be one of the oldest trees in the world. Besides, it is the oldest living human planted tree with a known planting date. The amazing thing is that the tree is 2306 years old now!

The Irrigation System Existed In Anuradhapura Period

When considering the irrigation system in Anuradhapura Kingdom, it is delightful to say that no other kingdom ever existed in Sri Lanka could reach the supremacy of it in this field. The massive tanks and surprising canals which were in this era made the whole world gape in wonder.

The Tanks

From the beginning of the Anuradhapura kingdom, there was an elevated irrigation system. Later, the system spread out to the other kingdoms too. First, it started with little irrigation tanks in villages. Gradually, it developed to a middle scale. Finally, they became gigantic reservoirs.

The main reasoning behind constructing tanks was to collect water that was needed for agricultural purposes. Raising tax for the Buddhist community was another reason. Basawakkulama was the first middle-scale reservoir in the Anuradhapura era. King Pandukabhaya patronized it. Moreover, the amazing fact is that it still exists for centuries.

Of course, there were many more tanks and reservoirs built during this era. The below section would help you have a good idea about such tanks that were built in the course of the Anuradhapura period.

  1. Basawakkulama Tank – 5th Century B.C.
  2. Perimiyankulam Tank – 5th Century B.C.
  3. Tissa Tank – 3rd Century B.C.
  4. Naga Pokuna – 3rd Century B.C.
  5. Vannikulam Tank – 2nd Century B.C.
  6. Kalaththawa Tank – 2nd Century B.C.
  7. Tissa Tank – 1st Century B.C.
  8. Yoda Tank – 1st Century A.C.
  9. Mahavilachchiya Tank – 2nd Century A.C
  10. Nuwarawewa Tank – 2nd Century A.C
  11. Mahakanadarawa Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  12. Hurulu Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  13. Minneriya Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  14. Kaudulla Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  15. Kimbulwana Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  16. Magalla Tank – 3rd Century A.C
  17. Kala Tank – 5th Century A.C
  18. Giant’s Tank – 5th Century A.C
  19. Maeliya Tank – 5th Century A.C
  20. Nachchaduwa Tank – 6th Century A.C
  21. Padawiya Tank – 6th Century A.C
  22. Tannimurippu Tank – 6th Century A.C
  23. Giritale Tank – 7th Century A.C.
  24. Kantale Tank – 7th Century A.C.
  25. Mamaduwa Tank – 9th Century A.C.

The Canals

Canals also play a major role in the irrigation system in this era. One of the major canals built was Yoda Canal. Indeed, it is a man-made canal, yet impressively amazing. The magical fact about the Yoda Canal is that it has an unbelievable irrigation technology that surprised even today’s engineers. It starts from Kala Tank and ends in Thisa Tank. It has a distance of 54 miles mostly on the flatlands. The designers and planners of this canal had maintained a gradient of 6 to 12 inches per mile while carrying water from one tank to the other. Before reaching the destination it provides water to cultivate thousands of acres of paddy fields and lands.

Elahara Canal was another significant canal owned by this kingdom. It was constructed by damming the Amban River to divert water to the west. King Wasamba gets the credit for constructing the Elahara Canal initially. Later, King Mahasen extended it to supply water to the newly composed Minneriya tank.

The Education System Existed in Anuradhapura Kingdom

The first education system in Sri Lanka was based on Pirivena Education. It began during the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. There were two main pirivenas named Mahavihara and Abhayagirivihara. They housed around 3000 and 5000 Buddhist monks. The pirivena system that exists today received the basic structure and idea to originate from them. The noteworthy feature of this pirivena culture is that they nurtured thousands of outstanding and well educated local monks, as well as monks who come from all over the world. This contributed immensely to the propagation of Buddhism locally as well as overseas.

Religious and Cultural Attractions from the Anuradhapura Era

An interesting fact is that the ancient Buddhist kings of this era used to construct gigantic stupas all around the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Thus, when considering the glory of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, the religious places that belong to this period can never be ignored. We have highlighted below some of the most significant religious attractions from this era, that still exist.

  1. Ruwanweli Maha Seya
  2. Mirisawetiya Dagoba
  3. Thuparamaya
  4. Samadhi Buddha Statue in Mahamewnawa
  5. Lovamahapaya
  6. Jetawanarama Stupa and Monastery
  7. Isurumuniya Temple
  8. Mihintale
  9. Aukana Buddha Statue
  10. Abhayagiriya
  11. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya
  12. Lowamahapaya or Brazen Palace

Of course, all of these places hold a uniqueness of their own. Also, they are worth exploring! So, what not? Check our article on the ‘Sacred city of Anuradhapura‘, for a better overview of them.

The Downfall of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura

The great era of Anuradhapura came to its end during the reign of King Mahinda (V). The reason was the weaknesses in his ruling structure and government. According to the Mahavamse (the meticulously kept historical chronicle of Sri Lanka written in the Pali language), internal collisions arose during his reign. This distracted the kingdom from any possible attack from a foreign state.

The Chola emperor Rajaraja (I) took advantage of the situation and conquered the northern part of the country around 993 A.D. He incorporated it into Chola Kingdom as a province and named it as “Mummadi Chola Mandalam”. In 1017 A.D.  Rajendra(I), the son of Rajaraja(I) mounted an attack on Anuradhapura. Finally, he was able to take it under the control of Chola emperor.

End of the Sinhalese Reign in Anuradhapura

The Cholas took King Mahinda(V), the last king of the Anuradhapura kingdom as a captive to India. Unfortunately, he died there in 1029 A.D. As a result of the brutal battle that took place between Chola and Sinhalese kings, the Anuradhapura Kingdom was completely destroyed. Hence Chola King chose Polonnaruwa (At the time known as “Pulatthinagara”) as his capital city.

Finally, it marked the downfall of a glorious Kingdom of Anuradhapura by changing the centre of power in Sri Lanka that lasted for centuries!

The Bottom Line

Anuradhapura, the city from the Anuradhapura Kingdom has become one of the major tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, today. The secrets behind this popularity are the presence of Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwanweli Maha Seya, and the other religious attractions. Besides, this splendid city has become an exclusive religious hub for Buddhists all over the world. Also, Anuradhapura is indeed a cradle of traditions and cultures that prove the Sri Lankan pride to the world in the present day. Owing to these facts, thousands of locals, as well as tourists, visit this historic city to witness its grandeur and charm. So, if you get a chance to visit Sri Lanka by any chance, make sure to visit this unique, majestic city. It is just 200km away from Colombo, the commercial capital of the island.

Happy and Safe traveling!