Dambadeniya is another remarkable era in ancient Sri Lanka, which became significant for many reasons. It is the third Kingdom that flourished in Sri Lanka after the Kingdom of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya is located in the North-Western(Wayamba) province of Sri Lanka. It is easy to access there when you travel along the road that leads to Kurunegala from Negombo. However, let’s go back along the timeline to explore the buried antiquity of this era, which marked a great significance in the graceful history of Sri Lanka.
History of the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya
The Kingdom of Dambadeniya came into existence in the 13th century. King Wijayabahu III founded it. It was with the demise of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa following the Kalinga Magha invasions. It is also called the Dambadeniya rock fortress.
King Wijayabahu III (1232-1236)
There is no sufficient data in the history that reveals King Wijayabahu III’s connection to the ancient Royal dynasty. However, following the Kalinga Magha invasions, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka- Polonnaruwa, began to diminish. Many divisional heads started to move towards the Southwest and set up camps and administrative units in several parts of Sri Lanka. That was to protect those areas from Magha. Wijayabahu III also was a ruler of the Wanni division of Sri Lanka. All the other divisional rulers acted only to protect their parts of the country from the enemies. None of them decided to rout the enemies and save the whole country.
At this time, the leader Wijayabahu III decided to set up a Kingdom in Dambadeniya. It was in the intention to unite the country and rule it under one ruler. History reveals that the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya became prosperous in all aspects during Wijayabahu III’s reign. He was also a ruler with wisdom and creativity. He also built the ancient temple Wijesundararamaya in Dambadeniya and made arrangements to renovate the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. King Vijayabahu was a pioneer in restoring ruined cities too. During his reign, he even made arrangements to re-write many Sinhala and Pali books. It was to protect them for future generations, which was a national service.
His name glitters in the graceful Sri Lankan history for another particular act. It was as a King who preserved the Sacred Tooth Relic from the enemies.
The Palace of the King Vijayabahu III and its Ruins
When you climb up to the rock, the view around it is picturesque! It can be one reason why King Wijayabahu has selected this place to put up the castle.
The palace has been on a steep rock spreading in a vast area with a royal garden in the middle. We can observe the steps carved on the stone still intact and the holes cut on the rock surface to hold the palace’s columns. They provide witness on how well the castle must have been constructed on the rock. The staircase, which leads to the top of the rock, is a unique structure. On the staircase at one place, the stairway is very narrow like a bottleneck. Space there allows only one person to climb up. Then, the steps are broader in length and steeper in height. It was a trick the King used to face the enemies successfully. The rainwater collects to the center of the courtyard and diverts through buried drains. The ruins of these drains are on the premises even today.
According to the old fortification architecture, there was a moat, marsh, and ramparts to protect the palace from enemies. In some places, there are small natural ponds with flowers as well. Maa Vee Pokuna among these ponds is said to be more than 20 feet deep.
Wijayasundararamaya – The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in the Ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya
With the Kalinga Magha invasion at Polonnaruwa, some genius Buddhist Theros who foresaw the danger, took the sacred tooth relic to Kothmale to hide it there. Subsequently, the King made arrangements to bring down the relic to Dambadeniya to protect it from the enemy. Moreover, he initiated in building a temple to keep the sacred Relic at Beligala.
The history reveals that later the sacred tooth relic was brought to the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya and placed at the Dambadeniya Raja Maha Viharaya. As per the historical records, the tooth relic shrine is in the middle of the premises. Its evidence is available even today. With chambers, pavilions, a flight of steps, guard stone, guardrail, and moonstone, the shrine would have been a marvelous structure that used to be subject to the devotees’ respect. It was a building of three stories; however, today, only one story remains. Many paintings are visible on the temple’s inner walls that belong to the Kandyan and Dambadeniya eras. The sacred Tooth Relic has been at this place for 35 years, as per the research.
Giving protection to the sacred tooth relic was equal to receiving the official Sovereignty at that time. Thus along with this incident, King Wijayabahu III and the Kingdom of Dambadeniya became very popular among the public. He led the country between 1232- 1236 DC keeping Dambadeniya as his controlling center.
Kings of Dambadeniya Kingdom
Although there are many articles about the Kings of the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya, the information mentioned therein is not trustworthy. Many of them say a King called Bosath Vijayabahu who succeeded the throne after Vijayabahu III. That is hard to believe as Bosath Vijayabahu is a grandson of King Vijayabahu III, who received the crown many years later.
Yet, let us highlight you that after the demise of the Dambadeniya Kingdom’s founder –King Vijayabahu III, his eldest son King Parakramabahu II came to the reign in 1236. (This information is gathered from the history recorded in the syllabus for the Ordinary level studies by the government institute-Educational Publications Department of Sri Lanka that can be trusted. )
The King Parakramabahu II (1236-1270)
King Vijayabahu III had two sons, namely Buwanekabahu and Parakramabahu. Among them, the eldest son, Parakramabahu, succeeded the throne after the demise of King Vijayabahu III.
First and foremost, the life of King Parakramabahu II is an exciting story. Parakramabahu’s mother died on the day he was born. Thus, his father, King Vijayabahu, married a Non-Buddhist princess. This queen wanted her own son to inherit the throne after Vijayabahu III. Therefore, she took all measures she could to put Parakramabahu’s life at risk. However, the Kingdom’s monks kept an eye on this situation, and they much objected to this intention of the new queen. Meanwhile, King Vijayabahu went off for the war to face the Indian invader Kalinga Magha leaving the responsibility of the prince Parakramabahu in the hands of his much-trusted general ‘Pathiraja.’ The queen continued planning to kill the prince.
Nevertheless, a chief monk called the Sangharaja Thero predicted that the prince would receive the throne one day in the future. Thus, general Pathiraja made arrangements to keep the prince disguised and protected in the village of Kalundewa. The prince grows up at the village chieftain’s house as an adopted child, not knowing the real story. Even the prince forgets his past at the palace. He received a good education of Buddhism, Pali, Sanskrit, and literature at the temple under the Monk at Kalundewa. Prince Parakramabahu was a bright student, and his knowledge and performance were subjected to many people’s amazement.
Finally, the old general Pathiraja made arrangements to bring back the prince to the castle, revealing the whole story and making arrangements to crown the prince as Parakramabahu II in 1236. That part of the story about the childhood of the King Parakramabahu II was extracted by a cinema creation ‘Siri Parakum’ of Sri Lanka.
This background makes him a person with wits and creativity. He became a great poet and writer. In turn to his knowledge in Sinhala and Pali languages, he was offered the dignity “Kalikala Sahithya Sarwagngne Panditha,” similar to a doctorate. He wrote many Buddhist scripts such as Kausilumina, Vanavisi Sannaya, and Visuddhi Marga Sannaya. During this period, some other famous literary works were the Sadhdharmarathanawaliya by Dharmsena Thero, Pujavaliya by Budhdhapuththa Thero, Sidath Sangarawa by Wedeha Thero. The Damadeniya era flourished in literature as a result of the extraordinary guidance and sponsorship towards the subject.
Moreover, during his reign, he had to face many challenges, including defeating the enemies and uniting the country. In 1247, while the country was under Kalinga Magha’s attacks, a new invader called ‘‘Chandrabhanu’ from the Southeast came to attack the country. Chandrabhanu intended to rob the sacred tooth relic and other valuable Buddhist properties from the island. However, King Parakramabahu’s wits could defeat all these enemies and unify the island’s three kingdoms in 1255. The conquest of the Kalinga Magha rule, which lasted for about 40 years on the island, was a distinguished achievement in Sri Lankan history.
Furthermore, King Parakramabahu II did a lot to improve the country’s religious, economic, and educational domains with the management assistance of General Pathiraja- his savior.
Unique Places in the Ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya
There are many other unique places in the Kingdom of Dambadeniya. Their importance runs as far as to the Dambadeniya era, and the stories behind those places are full of excitement.
- Waduwaketu gala
- Tampita Viharaya
- Panawitiya Ambalama
- Bogoda Wooden Bridge
Let us go through a brief description of each place as follows.
Among the interesting places to visit in the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya, Waduwaketu gala is another rock with historical importance. The story behind this rock is exciting and wonderful too.
When the Indian invaders were threatful at Polonnaruwa, the King took great efforts to protect the most honored Tooth Relic from the enemies. Subsequently, he took measures to imprison the chief carpenter who built the chamber where the Tooth Relic was. He chose this rock for that purpose and created a dome-shaped prison chamber on the top of it. The Royal guards were placed on one side of the rock, and from the other side, nobody could access or enter as it was so steep. His wife brought meals for the craftsman daily. They sent it to the top of the rock with the help of a rope.
However, it could not last too long as the craftsman’s wife managed to bring in the craftsman’s toolkit to carve rocks. He used the tools and carved steps on the steep side of the rock one by one secretly. Finally, the carpenter managed to elope with his wife’s assistance, and the King could never find them again.
This incident made way to call this rock ‘Waduwa Ketu Gala,’ which means the stone cut by the carpenter. The steps carved by him in the tedious slope can be seen even today, which is unbelievable!
The Tampita Viharaya is the relic house located in the Wijayasundara Ramaya temple. It is built on a stone platform raised from the ground level. This platform has a length of 18feet and a width of 11 feet. Around the ground floor, there is also a 3 feet wide path. There is a large wooden door to enter the image house on either side, of which there are statues of two guardian deities. They carry flower pots with them. Also, there are Buddha statues inside the image house.
Moreover, the second floor of the image house is accessible through a wooden stairway. There are 14 granite pillars and 12 wooden pillars to bear the second floor. There is a finely carved wooden railing placed around the 2 feet wide path around the second floor. In the Tampita Viharaya, you can find several murals that reveal the history of the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya.
Generally, an Ambalama is an open hall with pillars that are located at the roadsides. The purpose of an Ambalama is for the refugees and the pilgrims to rest overnight freely. The Ambalamas were also meeting points and courtrooms for different groups of people.
Thus, Panawitiya Ambalama is another unique place located within the Dambadeniya kingdom. It is a creation of the Kandyan era. The specialty of this structure lies in the artistic wooden decoration in the roof beams and the pillars. The carvings include human and animal sculptures, floral designs, and other artistic strokes that are finely carved out of wood. The building is on a 4m X 3m stone foundation on four granite pillars on four sides, another specialty.
Bogoda Wooden Bridge
One of the marvels from the era of Dambadeniya! The Bogoda Wooden Bridge hangs across the Gallanda Oya, and is the oldest surviving wooden bridge in Sri Lanka. As per the historical records, this bridge belongs to the 16th century, and is around 400 years old.
The delightful structure of this wooden bridge stands 2.4m tall and it spans across a wide area, approximately ranging around 15m in length, and around 1.5m in breadth. Besides, it is simply special in its design.
The bridge is fully made out of wood, and to be specific, even its nails and fixing materials are of wood. Moreover, there is a belief that the wood planks used for this whole bridge have come from a single tree. Also, this wonderful structure of the bridge stands on a huge tree trunk, that is around 11 meters in height. Furthermore, the charming decorations on the fences of this bridge are also out of wood, and they exhibit the grandeur of the traditional arts and crafts, as they hold a number of valuable decorations from the past. Owing to all these reasons, there is no harm in mentioning that this bridge simply brigs out the real sense of what it is called, a ‘Wooden Bridge’.
Apart from that, the roof of Bogoda Wooden Bridge is one of its highlighting features as well. Also, its structure, roof style, and roof tiles exhibit the shades of Kandyan Era as well. Further, visitors can find an ancient Buddhist temple, famous as the ‘Bogoda Buddhist Temple’, beside this wonderful bridge. This temple is from the Auradhapura era, and it holds with it a marvelous history. All these together makes Bogoda Wooden Bridge a significant attraction from the Dambadaneniya era. Thus, if you visit this vicinity, make sure you witness its splendor.
The Demise of the Ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya
King Parakramabahu II had two sons, namely, Vijayabahu and Buwanekabahu. After the demise of Parakramabahu II, his elder son succeeded in the throne as Vijayabahu IV. It was in 1270. He was also known as ‘Bosath Vijayabahu’ due to his modest behavior and the religious work he carried out. But unfortunately, he was killed by a minister in his cabinet called Miththa two years later.
Subsequently, the next line to the throne, King Buwanekabahu I, became the King of Dambadeniya, defeating the enemies in 1272. After several riots from the Wanni division and the Indian invasions, King Buwnekabahu foresaw the security threat. Thus, he decided to leave Dambadeniya. Accordingly, he shifted the capital to Yapahuwa.
With this incident, the 40-year prominence of the ancient Kingdom of Dambadeniya began to fade away, leaving its graceful history in ruins.
Exploring the Kingdom of Dambadeniya is incomplete if we did not peep into a brief history of Yapahuwa. It became the capital of the old Sri Lanka in the latter part of the 13th century.
The Yapahuwa kingdom’s founder was a military chief by the name of ‘Subha.’ However, the first King of Yapahuwa was King Buwanekabahu I, who shifted from Dambadeniya seeking safety. During his period, he transformed the old fortification of Yapahuwa Significantly, and King Buwanekabahu did a lot more to improve foreign friendship and trade connections. He reigned the Kingdom from 1272 till 1284.
Meanwhile, with the King’s demise, a conflict about the succession of the throne occurred between King Buwanekabahu’s son Buwanekabahu II and the former King Bosath Vijayabahu’s son, Prince Parakramabahu III. Besides, the Indian invader Arya Chakrawarthi robbed the Sacred Tooth Relic after beating Yapahuwa fortification. However, finally the son of Bosath Vijayabahu –the price Parakramabahu III went to India and won back the sacred relic after a discussion with the King in India. Subsequently, he went to Polonnaruwa and ruled the country between 1287-1293. In 1293, the son of Buwanekabahu I, Buwanekabahu II, fought with King Parakramabahu III. He then took hold of the tooth relic following this battle and established his Kingdom in Kurunegala.
King Buwanekabahu II started ruling in Kurunegala and was in the reign for about nine years. Then his son Parakramabahu IV succeeded to the throne.
During the Kurunegala era, many literature creations such as ‘Dalada Siritha’, ‘Sinhala Bodi Wanshaya,’ and ‘Dalada Pujawaliya’ came into life. Another remarkable incident that took place during that era, was translating the ‘Pansiya Panas Jathaka Potha’ or 550 births of Lord Buddha, which was in Pali, into Sinhala.
After King Parakramabahu IV, Buwanekabahu III ruled the Kingdom who built the famous Kurunegala tank. The last King in Kurunegala was Wijayabahu IV.
Finally, the power in the Kingdom of Dambadeniya thus came to an end, opening the doors to the 4th Kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka’ Gampola’. Yet, the significance of Kingdom of Dambadeniya in the history of Sri Lanka can never be ignored. It still remains a remarkable era, that impacted the flourishment of Sinhala literature, as well as the continuity of the Sinhalese monarchy.