A growing population of Tamil soldiers in the Anuradhapura Kingdom

In our previous episode, we explained how, by this time, it had become a practice that Sinhalese princes and kings would form large Tamil armies that they would bring from South India to seize power in Anuradhapura. These soldiers and army generals enjoyed great power and wealth as they were settled in Anuradhapura during the decades that followed; and eventually, they would were involved in politics of the Sinhala kingdom and came to possess a great influence on the monarchy of the Sinhala kingdom. At one point, their political influence and power grew so much that they were even able to appoint the king of Anuradhapura, meaning their interference in politics had the potential to create great chaos in the Sinhala kingdom. Also, in this way, the demography of the island gradually changed with a slowly growing Tamil population in the Raja Rata area.

Datasiva who was in South India returned with a Tamil army to seize the throne. He fought with Aggabodhi who was the king in Anuradhapura at the time. The king was defeated and made to flee to South India as a refugee. Datasiva ascended to the throne as King Datopathissa I. Aggabodhi who was defeated returned later on with a larger Tamil army and battled with the now king. These conflicts between kings continued for decades and as the chronicles report, citizens were tired of these wars. Buddhism was neglected, agriculture and the economy started to collapse, people were exhausted, and also, these kings looted temples when they needed more money for their wars and to pay wages for their armies. King Datopathissa was one of them. He allowed his Tamil armies to freely loot the wealthy temples. He and his Yuvaraja (second in command) together had looted temples such as Thuparamaya.

Once again, Aggabodhi’s son, Kassapa returned with an army and waged war against King Datopathissa and during this time, Datopathissa left the crown and once again fled to South India. This seems to be the pattern which continued for many years.

As Prof. Senarath Paranavitana explains, this has been the pattern for about four decades. Kings and princes would bring Tamil armies and fight for the throne. It is fair to assume that a notable large number of Tamils, who arrived here and settled, were residing in the capital for about four decades. They were not just ordinary citizens. They had power and wealth. They served the king. During war times, they were compelled to loot temples and steal wealth. Kings such as Datopathissa and Aggabodhi III did not act against these armies looting temples because they relied heavily on these Tamil armies to retain power and gain war victories. Prof. Paranavitana further explains that by this time, these large armies of the Sinhala kings were consisting of paid Tamil soldiers and nominal Sinhalese generals. These Tamil soldiers were guided by senior officers in the army who were Tamils. These powerful Tamil generals and senior officers were greatly influential in the royal council too. To have the support or not to have their support was a crucial deciding factor in internal conflicts in the Sinhala kingdom during these years. Therefore, Prince Mana wanted to crush the power of the Tamil generals and he was working toward this. Hence, the Tamil generals and their armies were rising up against Prince Mana. Once, when Prince Mana was not in Anuradhapura, the Tamil Generals seized Anuradhapura. Further, they deceived Mana and his father, King Dappula I, and the Tamil generals signed a treaty with them.

Worsening the situation further, Haththadata (nephew of Datopathissa) returned to the island with a Tamil army around the same time. The Tamil army in Sri Lanka had sent messages to Haththadata and was sharing information about the political situation in Anuradhapura with him. Upon his arrival, a large number of Tamils who lived in Raja Rata joined his army and arrived at Anuradhapura. Prince Mana and King Dappula left Anuradhapura, allowing Haththadata to gain the throne.

Thus, Haththadata became king as King Datopathissa II and during his time, the power of the Tamils was like it was never before. Meanwhile, during a second war, Prince Mana died and his father, the former King Dappula, also died of a broken heart.

The next king was King Aggabodhi IV. During his time, peace and order were restored and Buddhism was greatly supported. During his time, Tamil army generals were similar to the second layer who ruled the Sinhala kingdom. The king’s power greatly depended on these Tamil armies. The chief army general, the chief minister, and the second minister; all were Tamils. However, during King Aggabodhi IV’s time, these three positions and the king and other powerful and wealthy Tamils were greatly supporting the growth and stability of Buddhism.

After this king’s death, a Tamil chief minister named Poththakuta gained power. He prisoned the Yuvaraja and coroneted the rightful ruler, Datta who was a mere child at the time, as the king so that Poththakutta could rule the kingdom in secret. After two years, young Datta dies and Poththakuta decides to again appoint a puppet king. As a result, someone named Haththadata was made king and Piththakuta continued to rule the kingdom by controlling all the strings of the puppet king. However, after six months into his rule, he dies on the battlefield.

Manavamma; the dawn of a great Sinhala – Pallava alliance

The new king was Manawamma. King Manavamma was a great king and during his time, the Sinhala kingdom once again was able to enjoy a golden era. He was powerful, wise, and skilled. He led the country towards a great period. Most importantly, he was able to end the rising powers of these Tamil generals who would create puppet kings, interfere in the country’s politics, and create internal conflicts and chaos. His period also marks a great Sinhala – Pallava alliance which had a great influence on Sinhalese art and architecture.

King Manavamma’s story is extremely interesting. His Sinhalese name was Mana and his second name Vamma suggests his closeness with the Pallava kingdom. Varman was a Pallava name. Varman was Sinhalaised and pronounced as Vamma locally.

The Pallavas

The Pallavas were in power in South India for about six centuries starting from the 3rd century to the 9th century. Indian scholarly research reveals that there are similarities between the language of the Pallavas the Satavahanas and the Mauryans. Also, based on numismatic evidence, scholars suggest that the Pallavas were living in the Andra country while the Satavahanas were in power. Scholars such as Nilakanta Sastri and S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar assume that Pallavas became independent after the decline of Satavahana power. Also, they say that the Pallavas would have been, “Strangers to the Tamil country, unrelated to the ancient lines of the Cheras, Pandyas, and Cholas.” Many other scholars believe that the Pallavas are of a northern Indian lineage while scholars such as C.V. Vaidya say that the Pallavas were Maharashtrian Aryans and that they spoke Maharashti Prakrit for many years and continued with Prakrit, even amidst the Dravidian languages in South India. Some scholars link the Pallavas to the Parthinas of ancient Bactria.

Sinhalese and Pallava alliance

The fusion of Buddhist and Hindu cultural monuments among ancient Sinhalese arts is not uncommon. The Pallavas have always been in alliance with the Sinhala kingdom during the time from the 4th to 9th centuries. What is interesting is how these two kingdoms fought against neighbouring kingdoms, battling hard to protect their sovereignty with the help of each other from time to time. This political alliance was shown in ancient arts and architecture. Another interesting fact is the striking similarities between the Sinhala script and the Pallava Granta script.

It was the policy of the Sinhalese monarchs of Anuradhapura, as Prof. Indrakeerthi Siriweera says, to maintain a political and military alliance with the Pallavas against the rising south Indian powers. This benefited both kingdoms. Sometimes Sinhalese princes would flee to the Pallava Kingdom and return to the island with an army to battle against the ruling monarch. Or sometimes a Pallava king or a prince would come to Sri Lanka and would ask for help from the Sinhalese monarch to regain power in his own country.

Manavamma and Narasimhavarman

The peak of such alliances was the union of King Manavamma and King Narasimhavarman I. King Narasimhavarman I was known as one of the greatest Indian rulers. Although Prince Mana was of royalty and had the right to become king, the situation was not in his favour. He was living in exile for some time with his queen in the northern part of the island and then fled to the Pallava country. He met King Narasimhavarman I and served for the king in his army. Mana’s name, Vamma or Varman is a Pallava name. In Indian sources, he is referred to as ‘Manavarman’. Manavamma was an extremely skilled warrior and with his aid, King Narasimhavarman I defeated an invasion and secured the Pallava country. This impressed the Pallava ruler. He in return aided Manavamma to gain power in Sri Lanka. Given a powerful army by the Pallava king, Manavamma returned to the island. However, due to some unforeseen unfortunate incidents Manavamma failed the first time and was forced to return to Pallava Kingdom. He returned to the Pallava country and served the king once again. Historians suggest that King Narasimhavarman I died during this time.

Manavamma was in India for almost two decades after his first defeat. During the reign of King Narasimhavarman II, a second Pallava army was prepared by the king. Chronicles record how the king took a personal interest to help his friend Manavamma and how he tricked his own army to sail to Sri Lanka with Manavamma. After a great battle, Manavamma succeeds. It was in the year 691 CE that he was crowned as the king of Anuradhapura.

The Sinhalese – Pallava political alliances do not end here. It continues till the Pallavas were finally defeated by the Cholas in the 9th century. A century later, the Sinhalese monarch of Anuradhapura was defeated by the Cholas.

According to the political history, it is clear that the Sinhalese – Pallava alliance was at its peak during the 8th and 9th centuries.

To be continued…

(Information courtesy; The Mahavamsa, A Concise History of Ceylon by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana and C.W. Nicholas, Buddhist Remains of South India by Dr. D. Dayalan, and The Great Tamil Buddhists; The History of Buddhism in the Tamil Kingdoms of South India By T. N.Ramachandran)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy