Sri Lanka, the tear-drop island settled amidst the Indian Ocean, was also popular as ‘Thambapanni’ in ancient times. Besides, it holds a majestical history that runs back for a thousand hundreds of years. To be specific, with evidence of prehistoric human settlements the great Sri Lankan civilization is at least 125,000 old. Still, Sri Lanka’s documented history spans only for 3,000 years. According to this documented history, Sri Lanka had nine major Sinhalese kingdoms. Among them, the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa secures its place as the second major Sinhalese kingdom which lasted from 1056 A.D. – 1236 A.D. Hence, when exploring the delight of the graceful Sri Lankan history, the grandeur of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa can never be ignored. Thus, we thought of sharing with you the significance of this kingdom, offering you a better overview of Sri Lanka’s journey so far.
What is the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa?
As mentioned earlier it is the second major Sinhalese kingdom in the history of Sri Lanka where the capital city of the Kingdom was Polonnaruwa. At that time, Polonnaruwa was also known as Pulatthinagara, Vijayarajapura, and Jana Natha Puram. In addition, it was the second administrative center of Rajarata after Anuradhapura. Even though it is so, according to archaeological evidence and accounts in chronicles, the city of Polonnaruwa is as old as Anuradhapura.
Who Built Polonnaruwa?
It is the Chola rulers who built the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. Also, the story behind this establishment is as follows!
In 1017 A.D Anuradhapura kingdom fell due to a successful invasion from the Chola King Rajaraja and his son Rajendra. Further, they took the last king of Anuradhapura kingdom, Mahinda(V) as a captive to India where he died in 1029 A.D. Even though the downfall of the Anuradhapura kingdom was mainly due to the Chola invasion, it was already very close to a downfall on its own. That was due to the weak rulers who took over the rule, towards the end of the Anuradhapura Era. In brief, the city was not in a good state. Also, the irrigation systems of the city had been down when the invasion occurred.
Owing to these reasons, Cholas abandoned the Anuradhapura kingdom. Next, they chose Polonnaruwa as their capital. Later on, they named this city, ‘Jana Natha Puram’ (Jana Natha Mangalam). Yes, they started giving the kingdom shades of the Chola culture through its name itself.
Kings of Polonnaruwa Kingdom
Cholas reign came to an end with the successful attack from the Sinhalese King Vijayabahu(I). This happened in 1070 A.D. And with this attack, Vijayabahu(I) was able to unify the country. Also, he was crowned as the first Sinhalese king of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Thereafter, a number of kings ruled the country, having Polonnaruwa as their capital. Besides, you can find below a list of the kings of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, who reigned it sequentially.
|Name of the King||From (A.D)||To (A.D)|
|3||Vickramabahu the (I)||1110||1131|
|6||Vijayabahu the (II)||1186||1187|
|10||King Vira Bahu(I)||1196||1196|
|21||King Parakrama Pandya||1212||1215|
|22||King Kalinga Magha||1215||1236|
Out of those who ruled the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, a few kings emerged significantly due to their contributions in making Polonnaruwa, a great kingdom. They are worth getting to know about. So, why not? Let us get to know about them in the sections below.
The Greatest Kings Who Made Polonnaruwa A Remarkable Kingdom in the History
For a better overview, we have picked some of the greatest kings, who did their best in making Polonnaruwa a remarkable kingdom in the history of Sri Lanka. Moreover, we have briefed below their noteworthy contributions, along with a few interesting incidents that took place during their eras. Continue reading, and you will surely be delighted at what happened in the past.
King Vijayabahu ruled Polonnaruwa from 1070 A.D – 1110 A.D. He grew up while a part of the country was occupied by Cholas. So, he had a very strong desire to liberate the country from Cholas. And in the year 1070 A.D, he was able to accomplish it. Finally, he unified the country for the first time in over a century. Thus, he became the first Sinhalese king of the Polonnaruwa kingdom.
King Vijayabahu (I)’s Unflinching Attempt of Concurring Polonnaruwa
While Cholas were ruling out in Polonnaruwa, King Vijayabahu (I) was ruling Ruhunu subkingdom. After becoming the king of Ruhuna, the sole ambition of Vijayabahu(I) was to chase the Cholas out of the country and to establish his power. In addition, liberating Sri Lanka from foreign domination was also among his main ambitions. Therefore, he set plans accordingly and worked in a way in achieving his dreams.
The First Attack From Chola
While King Vijayabahu grew his power around him, Cholas were afraid of his growing power and mounted a quick attack on Ruhuna. At that time King Vijayabahu was not ready for a battle and had no option, but to flee. The Chola army entered Kataragama and plundered the area, but they were unsuccessful at establishing their power on Ruhuna. So, they withdrew.
The Second Attack from Chola
In 1065 A.D Cholas mounted a second attack on Ruhuna with two of the most powerful commanders named Ravideva and Chala. But this time the king’s army was ready for a battle and stayed in a rock fortress of palutthagiri (Palatupana) in Rohana. And in the battle that broke out there, Sinhalese army was able to severely defeat the Chola army, and Chola commanders were killed in the battle. Also, the king’s army was able to conquer Polonnaruwa.
The Third Attack from Chola
Enraged Chola Empire mounted a third attack on King Vijayabahu, and was able to completely defeat the Sinhalese army and as a result, the king fled to Vakirigala and began to reorganize his army. At this time a rebellion arose in Ruhuna against King Vijayabahu. But King Vijayabahu was able to completely resolve the rebellion and he started his attack on Cholas. He mounted his attack on Polonnaruwa with three army squads.
The Squad 01
This squad went across the Dhakkina Desha (Southern) with the intention of reaching Anuradhapura from the west. Even if any Indian army arrived, the forces were all set to approach the port of Mahatittha and attack them. So, a part of this squad attacked Polonnaruwa from North-West, while the other part of the squad stayed near Mahatiththa to deal with any reinforcements from India.
The Squad 02
They sent this army from the east side of the country along the eastern coastal road. The intention was to attack Polonnaruwa from the east.
The Squad 03
This squad was led by King Vijayabahu himself. This force advanced across the country to Polonnaruwa. After the other squads arrived at Polonnaruwa, from east and west, and the rest, all three squads attacked Cholas and successfully liberated Polonnaruwa from Cholas.
Liberating the Polonnaruwa and Establishing A Kingdom
Finally, in 1070 A.D., King Vijayabahu(I) was able to secure his power on Polonnaruwa. At the time, Polonnaruwa was named Jana Natha Puram as per the Cholas’ naming conventions. So, King Vijayabahu renamed it as “Vijayarajapura” and chose it as his capital city. Finally, he ruled the country for nearly 40 years, and he is still respected as the first king of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
King Parakramabahu the Great
Parakramabahu(I) ruled the Polonnaruwa kingdom from 1153 A.D -1186 A.D. He was the grandson of the king Vijayabahu(I). During his era, he was able to unify the three lesser kingdoms of Sri Lanka. After that, he became one of the last monarchs to accomplish it. In addition, during his era, he reformed the distorted Buddhist practices back then, reorganized the army, and constructed irrigation systems. Other than that, he undertook military campaigns in South India and Burma.
During the era of King Parakramahu the Great, many international deals had occurred among many countries. Also, during the era of Parakramabahu, Sri Lanka was self-sufficient from paddy. They exported the excess harvest to foreign countries as well. When considering the irrigational technology he used, it says that his irrigational technology was far more superior to those of the Anuradhapura age. Indeed, systems that are even capable of distributing water to paddy fields in the scorching dry season in the east of the country even to this day. Owing to these reasons, we can consider that the reign of King Parakramabahu was a golden era of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
King Nissanka Malla
King Nissanka Malla Ruled Polonnaruwa from 1187 D.A. – 1196 D.A. In 1187, Mahinda(VI) killed King Vijayabahu(II). But Mahinda(VI) ruled the country only for five days. Nissanka Malla killed him and captured the throne. Also, Nissanka Malla crowned himself as the king in 1187 and justified the right to the throne by claiming to be descended from Vijaya. Moreover, he secured his position by saying that only a Buddhist had the right to rule the country.
An interesting thing about him is that he distributed money, gold, land, and other goods to the public, with the intention of minimizing looting and stealing among people. He believed that people only turned to robbery due to severe financial troubles. However, Nissanka Malla had an urge to outdo the accomplishments done by Parakramabahu(I), and as a result, the kingdom almost went bankrupt.
The Irrigation System in the Kingdom
As you might already know, the Sri Lankans irrigation systems are very complex and highly technological, when compared with the other creations in the ancient world. To be specific, the earliest irrigation systems in Sri Lanka dates back to 300 BC. As per the documented history, the first reservoirs on this island were built during the era of King Pandukabhaya in the Anuradhapura kingdom. When considering the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, King Parakramabahu (I) gave the utmost contribution to the uplifting of irrigation systems. He was the founder of a great reservoir named “Maha Parakrama Reservoir” which is one of the biggest tanks in Sri Lanka. Hence, if any of the Sri Lankans hears about Polonnaruwa, the name of King Parakramabahu the Great automatically comes to their mind.
The Religious Background in the Kingdom
Buddhism was the main religion. Yet, owing to the fact that the Polonnaruwa Kingdom was first ruled by Cholas, there was a strong influence of Hinduism too. There are many factors that prove this influence. And, the presence of Shiva temples in Polonnaruwa, which still exists, is one of the main evidence with regard. In addition, the removal of the figure of cows, the sacred animal of Hinduism, in the Polonnaruwa Era moonstones proves this factor furthermore. Also, it is said that there were corruptions among Sangha, during this period as well. However, King Parakramabahu(I) was able to reform Buddhist practices and revive Buddhist policies within the kingdom again.
The Education System in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom
Education in Polonnaruwa was mainly centered around Pirivena, which is a college for the education of monks in Sri Lanka. Still, in ancient times Pirivenas were responsible for the education of both the monks and laypeople. Sanskrit and Pali were the official languages.
The Capital City Plan of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa
If you study the plan of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, you will be able to identify a set of remarkable features in it. Besides, all components were well planned and served a purpose.
The Inner City
This is the place where the Royal Family and highest officials lived. This is the most protected part of the city. There was a high brick wall all around it. You can still see it until present. And this part had a Royal palace and a council hall.
The Outer City
Sri Lanka possesses the left tooth relic of Lord Buddha, and there was a belief in the past that the ruler of the country should possess this sacred relic with them, in order to become the ruler of the island. Accordingly, this is the place where the kings sheltered the tooth relic during their reign in Polonnaruwa. Also, this part of the city is well known as the Quadrangle.
The Outermost City or Northern City
This is the part of the city where the monks and the public lived.
How Long did the Polonnaruwa Period Last?
To be specific, the Polonnaruwa Kingdom lasted for almost 180 years. Yet, the downfall of Polonnaruwa Kingdom took place, owing to several reasons. Of course, it happened step by step. The following sections will let you know the real story of this kingdom’s downfall.
Out of all the rulers who ruled the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, only three rulers were able to successfully secure their power in the kingdom. They are King Vijayabahu (I), King Parakramabahu (I), and King Nissanka Malla. Apart from them, the other rulers of the Polonnaruwa kingdom were not able to secure their power. Therefore, during their eras, the Polonnaruwa kingdom suffered severe problems. In those times, rulers who came to power were only interested in holding onto their throne. This weak leadership led to internal power struggles between weak heirs and the growth of the immense power of generals. Due to these power struggles, the other aspects of the city such as defence systems, irrigation systems, etc. came to a weakened stage. As a result, the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa started to decline slowly.
The Invasion of Kalinga Magha
Even though the Polonnaruwa Kingdom was slowly weakening due to poor leadership, the immediate cause for the downfall of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom was the invasion of Kalinga Magha (Magha the tyrant) in 1215 A.D. According to Mahavamsa (the meticulously kept historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, written in the style of an epic poem by using the Pali language), this invasion was more cruel and destructive than any other invasion that happened in the history of Sri Lanka.
This invasion led to the destruction of every aspect of the kingdom such as social, economic, religious, and cultural to an extent that it is no longer possible to recover. Magha mainly disrespected the religion of Buddhism, the Buddhist culture, and its traditions. Hence, he started destroying Buddhist temples and harming Buddhist monks. This paved the way for a great destruction.
Establishment of the New Kingdom at Dambadeniya
During the Magha’s reign, the chief priests of Polonnaruwa moved two of the sacred relics of Sri Lankans, the Buddha’s alms-bowl and the sacred Tooth Relic to a safe region in Kotmale. After that, they buried them carefully in the ground. King Vijayabahu (III) recovered these two relics and established a new kingdom in Dambadeniya. Finally, Dambadeniya became the next major kingdom of Sri Lanka after Polonnaruwa. In brief, this was because of the tradition among Sri Lankans to believe that whoever possessed the Tooth Relic had a divine right to rule the land.
Is Polonnaruwa Worth Visiting?
Of course, yes! A number of ancient wonders that happen to be ruins of the marvelous creations that belonged to the Polonnaruwa kingdom, still exist within the city of Polonnaruwa. Although they hold value as interesting artifacts and places to visit, they hold much more value than that. They are evident for the great and complex construction skills that people in that era possessed. They exhibit the grandeur and the heritage of ancient Sri Lanka. Thus, visiting them, and witnessing their delight, is simply worth beyond words.
Places to visit in Polonnaruwa
You can find below some of the most significant attractions in the city of Polonnaruwa, that are indeed worth visiting. Moreover, we have mentioned their significance for your information.
|Royal palace||Palace of King Parakramabahu 1 in the past.|
|Shiva Devala No 2||A Hindu Shrine of the Polonnaruwa Era|
|Nissanka Latha Mandapaya||The ruins of a unique pillar structure built by King Nishshankamalla.|
|Pabulu Vehara in Polonnaruwa||A Buddhist Shrine built by Queen Rupavati|
|Ran Kot Vehara||The Golden Pinnacle Dagaba done by King Nissanka Malla|
|Lankathilakaya||The largest clay brick image house built in Sri Lanka|
|Kiri Vehara||The second-largest Stupa in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, and is done by Queen Subadra|
|Gal Viharaya||A Buddhist rock temple from the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.|
Above all, the best thing is that the Polonnaruwa city was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, owing to the cultural and archaeological value these places hold. Now, you might surely feel excited to know about these significant attractions furthermore. Why not? Simply check our article on ‘An Exciting Exploration on the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa‘, to get to know about their charm and majesty in detail.
Apart from that, when considering the wonderful creations of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, the moonstone during that period takes a prominent place. So, why miss it? Let us have a look at its significance as well.
Polonnaruwa Moonstone (Sandakada Pahana /Samanthapasadikawa)
Sandaka Pahana, also known as Samanthapasadikawa is a unique feature of Sinhalese architecture. It represents the cycle of Sansara in Buddhism. According to the available evidence, the inception of Sandakada Pahana belongs to the Anuradhapura kingdom. The name ‘Sadakda Pahana’ is given to it because of its shape and design.
However, in the era of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, the Sandakada Pahana has gone through some significant changes. The processions of the elephant, lion, and horse were shown in separate bands, and the single band that was used to show the four animals was removed. Further, the most symbolic change is the disappearance of the figure of the bull from the animal band of the Sandakada Pahana. Of course, this change happened because of the reign of Cholas at the earlier stages of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. In Hinduism, they consider the bull as a sacred animal. So, they took its figure out from this creation, since they never liked the idea of getting it trampled.
The places where it appears also differ from Anuradhapura kingdom. In Anuradhapura Kingdom placing Sandakada Pahanas took place only at entrances to Buddhist temples. But, in Polonnaruwa they were present at the entrances of many other buildings as well.
The Importance of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa as a Tourist Destination
The Polonnaruwa Kingdom possesses a large collection of architectural and archaeological places. The gigantic brick towers, temples, stupas, and archaic pools are some of them. At present, most of the sites in Polonnaruwa remain in use only as temples and holy places. However, the places and artifacts here are very interesting. Moreover, their presence has undoubtedly become one of the main reasons that made Sri Lanka, a famous destination of tourism in Sri Lanka.
The Bottom Line
Even though the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa fell after being the center of power in the country for a long time, the contribution the kingdom made to the culture and tradition of Sri Lanka is much significant. In brief, the irrigation system developed during Polonnaruwa’s reign still provides water for paddy cultivation contributing to the development of the country in a great way. Its artistic values are still appreciated and valued. Its ruins and monuments remain significant cultural and religious attractions, making Polonnaruwa a significant sight for the tourism industry in Sri Lanka. So, all these together still prove the world, the grandeur of this wonderful Kingdom, that marked a golden era in the history of Sri Lanka. Thus, if you are planning to visit Sri Lanka during your next vacation, we suggest that visiting this city of Polonnaruwa is simply a must.
Happy and Safe Travelling!