According to A Concise History of Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana and C.W. Nicholas, based on archaeological and literary evidence, the creators of a Megalithic South India can be identified as those who were speaking Dravidian languages (This does not necessarily mean they are of the modern Tamil ethnicity because the Dravidian language family is a large language family that consists of about 80 language varieties, both languages and dialects. Tamil is only one of these many Dravidian languages). Also, they further say that these Dravidians migrated to South India from Western Asia. At first, they settled in the area westwards towards the river Indus and thus creating a megalithic material culture that is similar to South India’s megalithic culture in Karachi, situated close to the banks of the river Indus and also, explains why a Dravidian language is spoken in Baluchistan.

Dravidian invasions of Sri Lanka

In our last segment, we discussed the invasions of Sena – Guttika and Elara, which are reported as the first two Dravida/Damela or foreign invasions in the history of the Sinhala kingdom.

Seven Damilas during King Wattagamini Abaya

The third recorded Dravidian or a foreign invasion of Sri Lanka occurred during the time of King Wattagamini or Walagamba (103 BCE/ 89 – 77 BCE). During the fifth year of the king’s reign, he faced two challenges. One was a local uprising and the other was a foreign invasion.

The local uprising was led by a young Brahmin known as Theeya in the city of Nakula in Ruhuna. At the same time, Damela troops led by seven leaders landed at Mahathiththa (Mannar).

King Wattagamani at this point, realising that he was not powerful enough to face both challenges at once, planned to crush one challenge with the other; hence the king sent a message to Theeya Brahmin saying that, if he could crush the foreign invasion of the seven Damelas, the king would give Theeya the kingship. Therefore, Theeya waged war against the seven Damelas and was defeated. 

Victorious Damela troops advanced toward Anuradhapura. Meanwhile, the Sinhala king with his family was leaving the city. It was during this time that the king’s wife Queen Soma Devi sacrificed her life to save the king and his family.

This invasion during the time of King Walagamba is also referred to as the Seven Damilas in the chronicles. Some scholars suggest they were of Pallava origin. The Pallavas and Cholas were enemies in South India and the Pallavas were finally defeated by the Cholas in the 9th century CE.

However, we do not see a powerful rise of the Pallava dynasty during the time between the 2nd century BCE and an invasion of the Pallavas to the Sinhala kingdom is not recorded in the history of South India. This missing information is confusing and contradicting when it comes to reconstructing the past.

Although the Mahavamsa says that Theeya Brahmin was defeated by the Seven Damelas, it does not say that Theeya was killed by the Seven Damelas. Further examining this incidence, Prof. Paranavitana and Nicholas write that according to Pali commentaries or Attakatha (Atuwa) which are older than the Mahavamsa, Theeya was in rule before Wattagamani became king and during that time there was a devastating famine in the Sinhala kingdom. Theeya Brahmin was following an anti-Buddhist policy. Due to his anti-Buddhist policies and the devastating famine, a large number of Buddhist monks fled the island and sailed to the land of modern-day Andra Pradesh, where Buddhism flourished. Great Buddhist monasteries such as Thuparama and Mahavihara were abandoned.

As explained by the two eminent scholars, Prof. Paranavithana and Nicholas, these ancient Pali commentaries do not mention a Damela invasion during the time of King Wattagamani. Therefore, they assume that time when the Damela invaders gained the ruling power of Anuradhapura was after defeating Theeya in a war and coming to an agreement with him, and the Damelas ruled under the namesake authority of Theeya.

However, according to the Mahavamsa King Wattagamini defeated the Damelas who were in power in Anuradhapura after the uprising of Theeya, and returned to the throne. King Wattagamini Abaya had followed in the footsteps of his uncle, King Duttagamini or Dutugamunu in defeating the Damela invaders and establishing the Sinhala monarchy back in Anuradhapura.

King Ilanaga and South India

During the time of King Ilanaga (35 – 44 CE), we see a different alliance between the Sinhalese and South Indian kingdoms. Due to internal conflict, King Ilanaga fled to India. The chronicles and other ancient texts do not say to which part he went to; thus, we cannot be sure if it was a kingdom in South India or North India. The chronicles only say that he sailed from the Mahathiththa (Mannar) harbour and returned to the island with a foreign army at a harbour named Sakkharasobbha on the Eastern coast of the island.

King Chandramukha Siva and his Damila Devi

Ilanaga’s son Chandramukha Siva or Sandamuhunu Siva became king in 44 CE and ruled till 52 CE. According to the Mahavamsa, his queen was a Damila princess known as Damila Devi. As it is explained in A Concise History of Ceylon the king must have married the Damila Devi or the Damila queen as a result of his father (King Ilanaga) taking political and military support from probably a South Indian kingdom during his time.

King Vankanasika Thissa and South India

According to the 13th-century text Poojawaliya, during the reign of King Vankanasika Thissa, a king of South India had invaded the Sinhala kingdom and had taken a large number of Sinhalese as prisoners to South India to engage in irrigation work in the banks of the river Kaveri. King Gajabahu, the son of King Vankanasika Thissa, went to South India, surrendered the Chola king, and brought back the imprisoned Sinhalese people to the island.

King Gajabahu I and South India

Talking about South Indian invasions and alliances with the Sinhala kingdom, the next important incident recorded in ancient texts and inscriptions is during the reign of King Gajabahu I (112 – 134 CE). He was the son of King Wankanasika Thissa and the grandson of King Vasabha.

The interesting fact is that a Tamil epic composed during the 6th century CE mentions that King Gajabahu of the Sinhala country participated in a religious festival held in the Chera country, in the capital city of the Chera. The religious festival was the offering of a newly built kovil to the goddess Pattini. As it is explained in this Tamil epic King Gajabahu built a kovil for Goddess Pattini in the Sinhala kingdom and held an annual festival in honour of the goddess.

The most important fact is that a Tamil epic, composed five centuries after King Gajabahu, admires and honours the Sinhala king which makes us understand that the king’s glory and pride were admired in South India even centuries after the king’s death.

According to Tamil epics, King Gajabahu visited the kingdom of King Chenkuttuwan. According to Prof. Paranavitana, this king was a contemporary of the Chola king named Karikala. According to Dravian history traditions, King Karikala made the captured and surrendered kings construct channels and dams along the river Kaveri. King Karikala and King Chenkuttuwan were opponent kings. If the Sinhala king Gajabahu invaded the Chola Kingdom as their enemy, then the Chera king Chenkuttuwan would have been an ally of the Sinhala king.

Also, according to the Poojawaliya King Gajabahu strengthened the security of the coastal areas of the island as he suspected a South Indian invasion. Thus, he strengthened the security of the Sinhala kingdom by strengthening Sinhala naval powers.

As Prof. Paranavitana and Nicholas further examine this, the name Gajabahu means ‘he who has powerful arms like a Tusker’.  This name is unusual and new among the names of the Sinhala kings of that time. He is the first king to bare this name. It must be due to his great powers, glory, and pride that he was named so.

Therefore, prof. Paranavitana and Nicholas concludes that the Sinhala kingdom must have been subjected to a Chola invasion during the time of King Vankanasika Thissa, and during the time of King Gajabahu he counter-attacked and returned victoriously to the Sinhala kingdom.

However, they further state that it is only in Sangam poems of Dravidian literature that the Chera king and King Gajabahu appear to be contemporary kings.

Abayanaga and his Damila army  

King Abayanaga (236 – 244 CE) was the younger brother of King Voharikathissa (214 – 236 CE). Abayanaga conspired to throw his brother king out of the throne and became the king. He had an illicit affair with the queen of King Voharikathissa. After an ugly and bloody conspiracy, Abayanaga was able to seize and murder King Voharikathissa (his brother) and become the king. Abayanaga attacked the capital with his Damila army. Abayanaga, while he handed over his trusted spies to enact the conspiracy he planned, fled to South India. He returned with a Damila army once the conspiracy was successfully enacted by his spies.

While we examine the political allies and animosities between the Sinhala kingdom and the South Indian kingdoms we must also study the situation of Buddhism in South India. As historical and archaeological records reveal, Buddhism flourished in South India for centuries.

In our next segment, we shall examine the situation of Buddhism in South India and the religious link between South Indian Buddhism and Sinhala Buddhism.

To be continued…

(Information courtesy; The Mahavamsa, The Arya Kingdom in North Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, A Concise History of Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana and C.W. Nicholas, and Demala Wansayata Purwikawak by Kolat Senanayaka and Narada Karunathilake)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy