A Wall Painting of a Sri Lankan King
A Wall Painting of one of the Kings of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a country that has a spectacular past and it is full of promise and fragility. Besides, its history, culture, and religious diversity make it a rich, compelling, and surprising land. However, the pre-history of Sri Lanka is an engrossing story of man and his adaptations to the natural environment in order to survive. The prehistory of Sri Lanka covers the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Early Iron Age of the country until the Pre-Anuradhapura period in 543 BC. From that point onwards, Sri Lanka had a rich monarchy. Hence, there are a number of kings with immense contributions to the betterment of Sri Lanka. There are many interesting facts about them. So, continue reading to know about the past, as well as the most significant kings of Sri Lanka!

Early Historic Period of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s early historical period begins in the 5th century BC with the island’s colonization by immigrants from North India. They were a community speaking an Aryan language. However, the historic period of Sri Lanka, in which the written records are available is from the 3rd century BC. Nevertheless, when we seek into our country’s past, we speak of the 2500 years of written history. Yet, hardly do we realize that man had been on this island even long before that.

As per the records, Sri Lanka’s prehistory dates back to 125,000 years. In fact, there is evidence of human settlement in almost every part of the country. Then, we have the great chronicle Mahavamsa, which shows the presence of various tribes on the island during the arrival of Prince Vijaya. However, history considers Vijaya the first-ever king of Sri Lanka.

The monarchy that started twenty-three centuries ago lasted until 1972. Tambapanni, Upatissa Nuwara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Gampola, Kotte, Seethawaka, and Kandy are the kingdoms that emerged in Sri Lanka with the leadership of various kings. So, throughout this article, you can find so many exciting facts about these kings, as well as their connections with the mentioned kingdoms.

Who are the Most Famous Kings of Sri Lanka?

After Vijaya’s arrival in the 6th century BC, down to Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, 295 kings reigned over the whole or parts of Sri Lanka. Then, after activating the 1815 Kandyan Convention, the Sinhala chiefs signed over the Kandyan Kingdom to George III of Great Britain. Accordingly, the great monarchy of Sri Lanka ended.

However, among these kings of Sri Lanka, the following are the most significant.

  1. King Vijaya
  2. King Abhaya
  3. King Pandukabhaya
  4. King Devanampiyatissa
  5. King Kavantissa
  6. King Dutugemunu
  7. King Walagamba
  8. King Mahasen
  9. King Dhathusena
  10. King Parakramabahu
  11. King Nishshankamalla
  12. King Mayadunne
  13. King Rajasinghe I
  14. King Wimaladharmasuriya I
  15. King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe

Scroll down to learn more about these kings!

1. King Vijaya

According to the Mahāvaṃsa chronicle, Prince Vijaya was the first among the Sinhalese kings of Sri Lanka. Yet, how he arrived in Sri Lanka is an interesting story.

How did Prince Vijaya Arrive in Sri Lanka?

Vijaya was the eldest son of King Sinhabahu and his Queen Sinhasivali of the Lata Kingdom in India. In 543 BC, King Sinhabahu banished Prince Vijaya and his followers from his homeland, Singapura in India. As a result, Prince Vijaya, and his seven hundred followers came to Sri Lanka.

They landed on the west coast near Puttalam. When the prince made his first step on the island he saw golden color sand. Thus, he called this land “Thamabapani” which means golden sand. Next, he met the Princess Kuveni of the Yaksha clan on this island. She was weaving when she met Prince Vijaya. Eventually, they became lovers, and then, they got married.

During the early centuries, three types of tribes lived in Sri Lanka. They were “Yaksha (Devil), Naga (Snake), and Dewa (God)”. As you already know, Kuweni belonged to the Yaksha clan. Yet, after this marriage with Vijaya, her clan expelled Kuveni. However, with the support of Kuveni, Prince Vijaya became the first among the kings of Sri Lanka.

Later Life of King Vijaya

As time passed they had two kids, named “Jiwahaththa” and “Disaala”. Later, King Vijaya’s parents suggested that he should be the legitimate king of the country. In order to have a legitimate coronation, the king must marry a legitimate princess. Hence, Vijaya decided to marry an Indian princess. So, he chased the children away from the palace including Kuveni. Afterward, Vijaya brought a queen from India and married her. Meanwhile, King Vijaya also brought people from India who are talented in different fields and assigned them various tasks to complete in Sri Lanka in order to support agriculture and irrigation systems. This was the beginning of the era of the kings of Sri Lanka.

2. King Abhaya

Abhaya was the King of Upatissa Nuwara (modern-day Sri Lanka) from 474 BC to 454 BC. He was the son of King Panduwasdeva and Queen Baddhakachchayana. He was the oldest son of the family with 9 other brothers and one sister. With time he was chosen as the King of Upatissa Nuwara as he is the eldest son.

Later his nephew, King Pandukabhaya defeated his uncles and ascended the throne. That was after fighting for 17 years with his uncles. He killed all his other nine uncles, saving only Abhaya. That was because Abhaya had always supported him and his mother, Ummada Chithra.

King Abhaya was the one who prevented Unmada Chithra from being killed by her other brothers. So, as a matter of showing gratitude, Pandukahaya made his uncle Abhaya the Nagaraguttika after becoming the king. His role was to act as the protector of the city. He administered the government at night. Even though there are not many contributions of King Abhaya among the historical records, many believe him one of the important kings of Sri Lanka, owing to the protection he provided to Princess Chithra.

3. King Pandukabhaya

Prince Panduvasdeva became the King of Sri Lanka after King Vijaya. He married the immigrant Kshatriya princess Baddakacchana. They had 10 sons and 1 daughter, who got the name Princess Chitra. She was the very person who became famous as Unmada Chitra. However, the wise men stated that if Princess Chithra was to have a son, he would kill all his ten maternal uncles and ascend the throne.

To avoid this tragedy, they locked her in an apartment at the top of a tower. Their aim was to prevent the princess from having acquaintance with any male. However, his cousin, prince Deega Gamini befriended her. Accordingly, she gave birth to a son. To protect her son from being killed by his uncles, she sent her son away to a forest called Doramadalawa. She did not reveal that she gave birth to a son. Hence, she adopted a girl to show that she had given birth to a daughter.

With time, the officials were suspicious about this daughter who is growing up as the daughter of Princess Chitra. Hence, there were several attempts by the uncles to find and kill the little prince. Yet, this small prince managed to survive with the help of the Brahmin named Pandula. This Brahmin gave him all the guidance and training required for a King. Accordingly, Prince was able to defeat his uncles and become the king, after fighting for 17 years with his uncles. Later, this prince was famous as King Pandukabhaya.

Contributions of King Pandukabhaya

King Pandukabhaya is well-known as an intelligent king. He was the pointer of creating an organized system of governance. He established a post called “Nagara Guttika” to govern the city and appointed his uncle Abhaya to that post. In his tenth regnal year, he ordered the demarcation of all the villages. He was the first king to do so.

Further, he built Abhaya Wewa (tank). This logs the earliest irrigation works in ancient eras of Sri Lanka. Owing to all these contributions, he became one of the significant kings of Sri Lanka.

4. King Devanampiyatissa

King Devanampiyatissa was the second son of King Mutasiva who was also one of the rulers of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. King Devanampiyathissa was earlier known as Tissa. Mahanaga, Asela, Uttiya, and Mahasiva were his brothers. The Mahavamsa shows that Tissa was the most intelligent one among his brothers. So, Prince Tissa regained the Kingdom of Anuradhapura from 247 B.C. to 207 B.C. He is famous as one of the greatest kings in Sri Lanka’s history owing to his contributions to the country, as well as to Buddhism.

Emperor Ashoka in India and King Devanampiyatissa were great friends for many years but had never seen each other. King Devanampiyatissa was sharing gifts like jewels, and pearls with his friend for a long time. However, Emperor Ashoka, in return, sent his son Mahinda Thero and Buddhist missionaries to Lanka with the message of Buddhism.

Four monks, including Mahinda Thero, arrived on the Missaka Pawwa, also famous as the Mihintale rock in Anuradhapura through their powers. At this time, King Devanampiyatissa was going for his daily hunt near Mihintale. There is a belief that the god of the mountain took the form of a deer, in order to lead the king to the Mahinda Thero. As per history, Mahinda Thero, also well-known as Mihindu thero, asked a few questions from the king to determine whether the king was intelligent enough to understand Buddhist philosophy. However, the king successfully answered Mahinda Thero’s questions. So, following this conversation, the king was impressed and embraced Buddhism.

Contributions of King Devanampiyatissa

 Thuparama Stupa was the first stupa built in Sri Lanka after Buddhism was accepted as the state religion. King Devanampiyatissa built this, at the request of Mahinda Thero. Apart from building the Thuparama stupa, he built many other important religious places in Sri Lanka. They are as follows.

  • Vessagiri Viharaya
  • Isinbassagala Ruwangiri Rajamaha Viharaya
  • Isurumuniya Viharaya

Moreover, King Devanampiyatissa’s creation of Tissa Wewa (Tank) was one of his greatest works, as it helped to get an adequate supply of water to his kingdom. This reservoir covers an area of 550 acres, and it still remains serving the people of the ancient city of Anuradhapura. So, King Devanampiyatissa ranks top among the greatest kings of Sri Lanka.

 5. King Kavantissa

Kavan Tissa was the great-grandson of King Devanampiyatissa’s younger brother Mahanaga. Further, he was the father of the great Sri Lankan warrior and Sinhalese King Dutugemunu.

King Kavantissa was the king of the Ruhunu kingdom in the southern part of Sri Lanka. While he was governing the Ruhuna Kingdom, King Kelani Tissa was ruling Maya Rata. At the same time, a Tamil King of South India named Elara was projecting power from Rajarata across the island of Sri Lanka. Hence, King Kavantissa simply had a lot to deal with.

However, myths reveal that during his reign, Kelani Tissa angered the gods and caused the sea to overflow and flood the land. The court intellectuals informed the king that a young princess should sacrifice her life to the ocean to appease the gods and stop the waves and the flood. The king’s daughter bravely volunteered to repay her father’s misdeeds. Hence, she boarded an ornately decorated boat and drifted into the ocean.

History says that the sea immediately calmed and the water diminished, as she came into the sea, saving the people of the kingdom. However, the boat that carried the princess sailed and finally reached the shores of Kirinda in the kingdom of Ruhuna. The villagers told about this to King Kavan Tissa. The king immediately became smitten with the princess after hearing about her bravery. Accordingly, they both married, and the princess got the name ‘Viharamahadevi’ because she came ashore near a vihara (temple).

Contributions of King Kavan Tissa

One of the greatest gifts of Kavan Tissa’s dedication to Buddhism is the Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Vihara. He built it in the 2nd century BC. Perched on a 400-foot cliff deep in Yala National Park, this rock temple functioned as a monastery, a shrine for Buddhist devotees, and a Buddhist training center for novice monks.

6. King Dutugamunu

King Dutugamunu ruled Sri Lanka for more than 24 years. He was the eldest son of King Kawanthissa and Queen Viharamahadevi. His childhood name was Gamini Abaya.

In his childhood, Prince Gamini always argued with his father about King Elara, the Chola king who was trying to invade Sri Lanka, little by little. Even at that moment, he was ruling some parts of Sri Lanka. Yet, King Kawanthissa didn’t try to start attacks on King Elara.

Prince Gamini was furious about his father’s action. So, he sent women’s clothes to his father. The king got angry about this deed of the prince and wanted to arrest his son. Owing to this incident, people started to call this Prince as “Dutta Gamini”, meaning ‘cruel Gamini’, instead of his name ‘Gamini’. However, since his father was angry with him, the Prince left the palace and hid in Kotmale. Without mentioning his real name and family, he behaved like a farmer for his safety.

After the death of King Kavanthissa, the kingdom wanted to find Duttagamini to appoint him as their next king. Accordingly, he came back into the scene, and became the King, with the name, Dutugamunu.

King Dutugemunu’s Rule

Later, King Dutugemunu started attacking King Elara and the battle lasted for years. One day he lost the war and went to a small house in Mahiyangana for his safety. There was an old woman there. She offered him hot rice. Owing to the temperature of the rice, he ate it without any proper order. Without recognizing the king, the old lady told him “Son, you are eating rice like King Dutugamunu fighting with Elara. You both don’t have a proper order or a plan ”. Because of this incident, King Dutugamunu understood his mistake. So, he used her advice to win the war with King Elara.

 The final war was held in Vijithapura in Anuradhapura. King Dutugamunu beat Elara and became the first king to unite the country. He brought a golden age of Buddhism during his rule. So, he is one of the important kings of Sri Lankan history, as well as Buddhist history.

Contributions of King Dutugemunu

He constructed many stupas, repaired the lakes, and extended trade between Sri Lanka and the West as well. Among them, the Ruwanweli Maha Seya (Maha Stupa), as well as the Mirisawetiya stupa, are indeed highlighted. Besides, King Dutugemunu is famous as a person with a good heart, since he respected King Elara even though he was his enemy. In fact, King Dutugemunu buried the ashes of King Elara and built a tombstone. Moreover, he ordered anyone who passed that tombstone to get down off the horses, remove their head covers and walk silently in respect of a righteous leader.

 7. King Valagamba

Valagamba was the fourth son of King Saddha Tissa. Accordingly, he was the brother of King Dutugemunu and he had three elder brothers, Thulatthana, Lanja Tissa, and Khallata Naga. They ruled the country before him.

A military general named Kammaharattaka (Maharattaka) killed the Khallata Naga and grasped power. In 103 BC, Valagamba killed Kammaharattaka and ascended the throne. He adopted Khallata Naga’s son Mahachulika and made Mahachulika’s mother Anuladevi his queen. Somadevi was his second queen.

A Brahmin named Tissa and an invading army from South India led by seven Tamil leaders fought against King Valagamba.  Tamil leaders defeated Valagamba and he was running away. Somadevi sacrificed herself to protect the king while they were on the run. However, King Valagamba regained the throne by defeating the invaders fourteen years later. 

Contributions of King Walagamba

He ruled the country for twelve years until his death in 77 BC. He brought Somadevi and reinstated her as queen. He also built a temple named Somarama in her honor. The king also built Abhayagiri Stupa and Dagaba. It is one of the most extensive ruins in the world and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities in the nation.

Moreover, he turned the cave in which he hid into a temple. This temple is known as Dambulla Gal Vihara. During his reign, the Tripitaka, which came down orally from the Bhikshu Sasana, was recorded on the palm leaves at the Aluvihara Temple in Matale. Furthermore, the king built several more temples. 

8. King Mahasen

According to history, King Mahasen ruled Anuradhapura from 276 to 305 AD. Mahasen was the youngest son of King Gotabhaya who ruled the country from 253 to 266. His elder brother, the predecessor to the throne was King Jettatissa who reigned from 266 to 275. Both his brothers were educated by a Bhikkhu named Sanghamitta who was a follower of the Vaitulya doctrine. At that time Theravada Buddhism was traditionally the official religion of the country. Yet, King Mahasen was a follower of the Vaitulya doctrine which was about Mahayana Buddhism.

After King Mahasen regained his kingship, he ordered the monks of Mahavihara, the largest Theravada temple in the country, to accept Mahayana teachings. When they refused, Mahasen forbade his countrymen to feed Theravada monks, and imposed a penalty for violation. As a result, Theravada Buddhist monks left Anuradhapura and went to Ruhunu Municipality in the south of the country.

As things didn’t go as planned, King Mahasen destroyed the Mahavihara. After this tragedy, Meghavannabaya, who was the king’s chief minister and friend, rebelled against him and raised an army in Ruhuna. Before starting the battle, Meghavannabaya managed to convince him to stop the violence against Theravada Buddhists. Mahasen agreed to stop the violence and reconciled with Meghavannabhaya and later restored the Mahavihara. 

Contributions of King Mahasen

Mahavamsa reveals that King Mahasen constructed 16 large tanks and two irrigation canals. The largest of them is the Minneriya lake with an area of ​​around 4,670 acres (18.9 km). The circumference of the tank is approximately 21 miles (34 km) and its 44-foot (13 m) high embankment is 1.25 miles (2.01 km) long.

The Minneriya tank supplies water for a large area and the Elahera canal supplies water for it. The 16 tanks of Minneriya are:

  • Mahagama
  • Challura
  • Khanu
  • Mahamani
  • Kokavata
  • Dhammarama
  • Kumbalaka
  • Vahana
  • Rathmalkanda (Padaviya)
  • Tissavadamanaka (Kawudulla)
  • Velangavitthi
  • Mahagallaka
  • Cira
  • Mahadaragallaka (Nachchaduwa)
  • Kalapasanawere

Moreover, King Mahasen built the Pabbathanta Canal and completed the Elahera Canal which was started by King Wasaba. After the construction of the Minneriya reservoir, Mahasen was regarded as a god or deity and was called Minneri Deviyo (God of Minneriya). The people respected him that much because his contributions to the irrigation systems were immense for the field of agriculture.

9. King Dhatusena

Dhatusena was the King of Sri Lanka from 455 to 473 AD. To be specific, he was the first king of the Mauryan dynasty. Dhatusena was brought up by his uncle Mahanama, a Buddhist monk, in his childhood. However, Pandyan invaders were looking for Dhatusena. So, his uncle ordained him as a Buddhist monk in disguise. Dhatusena later organized a resistance movement against the Tamil invaders and led a rebellion against them. When Dhatusena started the rebellion, three of the six Pandain invaders were already dead, and two more were killed in the fighting during the rebellion. The last battle took place in 459, where Pithiya, the last king, died. After defeating the Pandya invaders, Dhatusena was crowned the king of Sri Lanka. He reunited the country back under his rule after twenty-six years.

Contributions of King Dhathusena

King Dhatusena built eighteen irrigation tanks to develop agriculture in the country. Among these lakes, Kala Wewa and Balaluwewa are interconnected with an area of ​​6,380 acres. He also built the Yodha Ela which is famous as Jayaganga, an irrigation canal that carries water from the Kala Wewa to the Tissawewa tank in Anuradhapura. The giant canal descends 95 mm every kilometer. This is considered a considerable technological achievement.

Further, the standing Avukana statue of the Buddha is also a work of King Dhatusena. Standing over 46 feet tall, the statue was carved from a large granite rock in the 5th century. It depicts a variant of the Abhaya Mudra and how the statue shows the robe is indeed impressive. Besides, the Chulavamsa describes that he built 18 temple complexes. Moreover, during his reign, the Pali Tipitaka was redacted.

Death of King Dhathusena

Kashyapa, the son of King Dhatusena wanted his father’s hidden treasure. When he demanded that, King Dhatusena asked his son to come near the Kala Wewa. Then, he took the water from the tank to his hands and said that this was the only treasure he had. Angered Kashyapa threw Dhatusena against the lake wall and murdered him. Later, Prince Kashyapa had to stay in hiding owing to the disputes that arose against him. And yes, he is the very Prince Kashyapa, the creator of the world-famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

 10. King Parakramabahu

Parakramabahu I, also known as Maha Parakramabahu, is one of the great Sinhalese kings of Ceylon (1153-86). He united the island under one rule and reformed Buddhist practices. He was the son of Prince Mahabharana and Princess Ratnavali. Prince Manabharana, who controlled the south (Dakkinadesa) died while Parakrama was still a boy. In 1140, Parakramabahu following the death of his uncle, Kitti Sri Megha ascended the throne as the prince of Dakkinadeshaya.

Contributions of King Parakramabahu

Parakramabahu created a government of 12 provincial governors, princes, army generals, and leading merchants. He reformed the Buddhist establishment by expelling lax monks and building new temples. He gave Hindus freedom of worship and also he encouraged art and launched military operations in South India and Burma. King Parakramabahu supervised the expansion and embellishment of his capital and built sustainable irrigation systems too. 

After defeating Queen Sugala, 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 built a temple for the Tooth Relic in Polonnaruwa. He constructed hospitals and also expanded Polonnaruwa’s defensive walls, constructing an elaborate three-walled complex featuring turrets for archers and fourteen gates. The Royal Palace, called Vijayanta Prasada, is a majestic seven-story palace that he built.

Parakrama Samudra is a reservoir (wewa), consisting of five separate reservoirs. In fact, it connects thopa, dumbutulu, erabadu, bhu, and kalahagala tanks together by narrow channels. “Not even a little water that comes from the rain must not flow into the ocean without being made useful to man” is one of the most famous utterances of King Parakramabahu, and he did his best to make his words a reality. So, undoubtedly, he is one of the greatest kings of Sri Lanka.

11. King Nishshankamalla

King Nishshankamalla was the King of Polonnaruwa. He ruled the country from 1187 to 1196. Further, he was famous by the names, Keerti Nissanka and Kalinga Lokesvara too.

According to historians, King Parakramabahu I had invited King Nissankamalla, from Sinhapura in Kalinga to Sri Lanka. Prince Nishankamalla belonged to the Kalinga clan. King Nissankamalla’s parents were Sri Jayagopa Maharaja and Parvati Devi of Sinha Pura in the state of Kalinga. A rock inscription stoned at Golpota by King Nishanka Malla states these facts.

Moreover, a rock inscription made by Nissanka Malla at Dambulla mentions that he is of the Kalinga Dynasty and a descendant of the race of King Vijaya. Another inscription at Ruwanwelisaya describes him as being a member of a royal family of Kalinga, born at Sinhapura. However, he had two wives named Kalinga Subadradevi and Gangavamsa Kalyanamahadevi.

Contributions of King Nishshankamalla

During his time period, King Nishshankamalla declared that only a Buddhist has the right to rule the country. He reduced heavy taxes imposed by King Parakramabahu I. He gave money, gold, cattle, land, and other valuables to the people. He called this an act of “suppression of robbery” because he had a belief that oppression and heavy taxation led them to robbery.

Nishshanka Malla had cordial relations with Buruma, after the end of the Polonnaru-Pagan War. Furthermore, he had good relationships with many other countries like the Khmer Empire. He sent missionaries to Cambodia and was responsible for converting Cambodia to Theravada. The Pali script found in Southeast Asia may be from the missionaries he sent. Besides, he also spent a lot of money on various constructions and repairs.

The King built Nishanka Latha Mandapam which is a distinctive building. It contains 8 granite pillars which were used to fix a roof. The pillars are carved out of granite in the shape of lotus stems, with open lotus buds at the top positioned on a platform.

The Hetadage is another construction of Nishanka Malla. This building enshrined the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha for some time. The Rankot Vihara, the fourth largest stupa in Sri Lanka, also came up during King Nishshankamalla’s reign.  Likewise, there are many contributions of this King Nishshankamalla. Hence, many respect him as one of the greatest kings of Sri Lanka.

12. King Mayadunne 

Mayadunne was a king of the Kingdom of Sitawaka, who ruled for 60 years between 1521 and 1581. He was born in 1501 in Kotte Kingdom.

Mayadunne was the youngest child born to Vijayabahu VII and his main queen. He had two brothers, namely, Bhuvanekabahu and Raigama Bandara. In 1521, along with his two brothers, he rebelled against his father, suspecting that his father, Vijayabahu VII planned to transfer the throne of Kotte to another queen’s son (Devaraja), after his death. Although Mayadunne was the youngest of the three brothers, he was the mastermind of this rebellion which divided the kingdom of Kotte between the three brothers after murdering their father Vijaya bahu VII. This incident is famous as “Vijayaba Kollaya” (Spoiling of Vijayabahu). 

Since Mayadunne was the mastermind in the rebellion against their father, Bhuvanekabahu VII suspected him. Further, he developed close relations with the Portuguese. Mayadunne soon gained support from the local chiefs and population who were unwilling to cooperate with the VII Buwanekabahu. 

The Portuguese wanted to kill Mayadunne, fearing that one day he would become a major threat to their mission. Yet, VII Bhuvanekabahu did not allow them to launch a full-scale invasion against Seethawaka. He plundered the lands that belonged to his other brother, Raigam Bandara. The king had foreign relations too. He got the help of the Zamorin of Calicut in India. It was through this foreign ally that whenever he was weak he brought down the Malabar armies.

Some Malabar generals had to sacrifice themselves for the Mayadunne king. He assisted the Portuguese who destroyed the lives of generals. Until his death, he did not give up his hopes of conquering the entire Kotte kingdom. King Mayadunne even tried to capture the Kingdom of Kandy.

13. King Rajasinghe I

King Rajasinghe was born as Tikiri Bandara to King Mayadunne of the kingdom of Seethawaka. His mother was Queen Consort Leelawathi. He is well-known for his fortitude, bravery, and his devotedness to his country. In fact, he was only 12 years old when he led the first battle against his brother-in-law Veediya Bandara. Yet, he defeated Veediya Bandara.

Moreover, he led the battle of Mulleriya against the Portuguese army, who were more armed with firepower. The Sinhalese army had only swords. Yet, they defeated the entire Portuguese army with their ancient style of fighting.

Records show that the vast paddy fields of Mulleriya were red with the blood of dead Portuguese soldiers. In fact, the Mulleriyawa Battle was one of the most decisive battles in Sri Lankan history. Moreover, this is the biggest defeat that a European Army suffered in an Asian country. Hence, he received the name “Rajasinha” after the fierce fighting against the Portuguese invasion.

As instructed by Mannamperuma Mohottala, he razed many Buddhist religious places to the ground. Dissatisfaction between the Buddhist people and the prelates was a major reason for the decline of the kingdom. On his return from the defeat at Balana which was his last battle, he died in March 1592. The reason for his death was a wound caused by a pointed bamboo-segment at Pethangoda while returning to Seethawaka.

14. King Wimaladharmasuriya I

The first Wimaladharmasuriya is also famous as Konappu Banḍara or Galagoda Wimaladharmasurya Bandara in history. He was the son of a famous nobleman of the Hathara Korale. Rajasinghe I killed Wimaladharmasuriya’s father. As a result, Bandara had to run away to Portuguese Goa, where he converted to Catholicism as Dom Joao de Austria. 

Meanwhile, Rajasinghe l, with the help of Veerasundara Bandara, invaded the Kandyan Kingdom in 1582 and deposed the Kandyan ruler Karalliadde Bandara. During the invasion, Karaliyedde Bandara was able to escape from Kandy with his wife, younger daughter (Kusumasana Devi), and nephew (Yamasinghe Bandara). But while his nephew and daughter were able to reach the Portuguese fort at Mannar, he and his wife died on the way. Rajasinghe I made Veerasundara Bandara the ruler of the Kandyan Kingdom. Yet, soon there were doubts about him. Rajasinghe tricked and killed Veerasundara Bandara later.

In 1594, Konappu Bandara married Princess Kusmasana Devi. The Portuguese presented her as the rightful owner of the throne.

Contributions of King Wimaladharmasuriya I

After embracing Buddhism, Wimaladharmasuriya built a two-tiered shrine close to his palace. He accommodated the politically-important relic of the tooth of the Buddha which was hidden in Delgamuwa Raja Maha Vihara. By doing so he ensured his kingship. 

By the time of Wimaladharmasuriya’s coronation, Buddhism had almost disappeared from the island. The king sent one of his ministers to Lower Burma and re-established Buddhism in Kandy. He repaired many dilapidated Buddhist temples throughout his kingdom. Owing to all these reasons, Sri Lanka’s history features him as one of the most important kings of Sri Lanka.

15. King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe

Lady Subbramma Nayak, who became Rajadhi Rajasinghe’s mistress after her husband died, was the mother of Prince Kannasami. He was a member of the Madurai Nayak  Dynasty and the nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe.  He succeeded his uncle as the King of Kandy in 1798. That was at the age of eighteen. According to the plan of the Maha Adikaram (Adigar) of Pilmatalawa, they throned Kannasami on the day King Rajadhi Rajasingha died. Yet, they kept it a secret. Instead, they spread the news that the king’s condition is not good. Later Pilimathalawa announced prince Kannasami as the new King and named him Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe.

During his time, the British, who came to power in the maritime provinces after the Dutch, did not interfere in the politics of the Kandy kingdom. But Pirimathalawa, the King’s first officer, secretly worked with the British administration in anticipation of British control of the island to induce the King. However, the King started a military conflict with the British, on March 22, 1803. The British entered Kandy with no resistance. Sri Vikrama Rajasinha had fled by that time. Later the  Adigar massacred the British garrison in Kandy in June and restored the King to the throne. 

Pilimatalawa conspired to overthrow the king and usurp the crown. Yet, his plot was discovered and later executed. Then Ehelepola became the Chief Adigar. And his opponent, Molligoda became the 2nd Adigar.  Molligoda wanted to make clashes between the king and Ehelepola. So, they played tricks and got Ehelepola fired from his position. Based on this mistrust, the king ordered the brutal massacre of the Ehelepola family. Due to the king’s blood thirst, people lost their loyalty to the king. 

The End of the Sri Lankan Ancient Kingdoms

In November 1814, lowland traders were arrested in Kandy on suspicion of being spies. Their limbs were amputated and sent back. Thus, on January 10, 1815, the British declared war on the Kandy Kingdom. On February 14, 1815, a British army arrived at Kandy and the king fled to Medamahanuwara. On March 2, 1815, the kingdom completely went into the hands of Britain. Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was deposed and taken as a royal prisoner to Vellore Fort in South India.

The British colony, known as Ceylon gained independence in 1948. The newly independent nation retained the name Ceylon until the 1972 constitution renamed it, Sri Lanka. Up to the Kandyan Kingdom, 181 monarchs ruled Sri Lanka. These kings have good and bad, yet they are significant in shaping Sri Lanka’s past.

The Bottom Line

Our country’s history shows that the past kings of Sri Lanka have created the legacy of Sri Lanka. Hence, the historical studies, and research focus mainly on these kings, as they explore various factors of the past. Besides, it is these kings who led Sri Lanka this far. Hence, we should appreciate their contributions.