King Gajabahu II (AD 1131 - 1153 )
King Gajabahu II was one of the greatest Karava kings of Sri Lanka. He was a strong ruler who even waged war with India and brought back captives. He was a cousin of Parakramabahu I . His queen Bhaddavati was Parakramabahu's sister (Cv LX.6-17) The latter exploited the trust and kindness of King Gajabahu to deceive him. Chapters 63 to 67 of the Mahavamsa (this part is also called the Chulavamsa) describes the trickery of Parakramabahu, albeit in very complimentary terms as the authors were not popular with king Gajabahu.
The Mahavamsa authors try to make us believe that Parakramabahu defeated king Gajabahu and took over his Polonnaruwa kingdom (Mv 70) However in the Samgamu vihara rock inscription, we have the alliance (sandhana) entered into by the two cousins - where Gajabahu takes precedence. Although the Mahavamsa says that King Gajabahu was humbled and handed over his kingdom, this inscriptions shows us that the agreement was for the survivor to inherit the kingdom of the other. And historical facts too confirm the version given in the inscription. King Gajabahu ruled Polonnaruwa for many years after this and Parakramabahu inherited Polonnaruwa and conducted a coronation there only after the natural death of king Gajabahu. (EZ II pgs 3 -6)
Left: The 12th century truce between Kings Gajabahu and Parakramabahu in which they agree not to wage war against each other and bequeathing their respective kingdoms to the other on their death
The monk authors of the period appear to have applied a news blackout on Karava King Gajabahu II and his Father, king Vikramabahu (Wickramasuriya). Some chronicles don't even mention their names. The great exploits of king Gajabahu are not even mentioned in the Mahavamsa and are found only in other sources such as Sri Lankadvipaye Kadaimpotha, Tri Sinhale Kadaimpotha, Matale Kadaimpotha, Perakumba Sirita, Pujavaliya, Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya.
This is probably because King Gajabahu was a devotee of goddess Pattini rather than a Buddhist. The monk authors are also critical of the large number of non- Buddhists who settled in the country during the reign of Gajabahu and his Father Vikramabahu. (Mv 62.58-59) A Tamil inscription of King Vikramabahu found in Kurunegala confirms that he patronized the Saiva shrine Vikkirama Salamegha Isvara in Vickkirama Salamegha pura - both probably named after him (EZ III pg 310). The chroniclers appear to have justified Parakramabahu's battles with Gajabahu by saying that King Gajabahu brought in royal princes with dangerous views. As such king Gajabahu and his Father, king Vikramabahu have been left out by the monk authors of the Mahavamsa.
The lamp illustrated right was one of a pair found in the upper relic chamber of the Kotavehera at Dedigama. The figure on the elephant appears to be Indra, the God of the Kshatriyas, although for some strange reason no one has attempted to identify the figure.
According to folklore Dedigama was where the Iron mace of king Gajabahu was buried. And according to the Kurunegala Vistaraya, king Gajabahu abandoned Dedigama after he built a city at Beligala. This further confirms the period and territory of Gajabahu’s rule. Parakramabahu I who tricked and betrayed King Gajabahu, built a stupa here claiming it was the site of his birth. As he and king Gajabahu were cousins it's quite possible for both kings to have ben born here. However the stupa could also be a homage to King Gajabahu and his miraculous mace.
Later Dedigama was the seat of the Karava Keerawella family founded by Rajput Thakura (Godakumbura 1969 pages 5, 24, 28)
Knowingly or unknowingly however,all Sri Lankan pageants that conclude with a water cutting ceremony are in effect reenacting the Indian conquest of King Gajabahu by the very act of the 'water cutting', (the chronicles say that the king parted the Palk straight by striking the water with his royal mace) Therefore these annual pageants are in fact unwittingly continuing the age old tradition of commemorating the victory of the great Karava king Gajabahu II.
The internationally renowned Sri Lankan dance which is now callously called the 'kandyan dance' was formerly the sacred 'inner sanctum only' Digge Netuma - an integral part of the Goddess Pattini ritual introduced to Sri Lanka by king Gajabahu.
As noted in Timeline of the Karava royal succession of Sri Lanka passed on to Karava kings after the 11th century. This point in history also marks the beginning of a long line of kings with the ‘Bahu’ suffix – Bahu as in Banu meaning ‘Sun’, denoting the descent of these Kings from the Solar dynasty Surya clans of the Karavas.
It is also very significant that these kings called themselves Siri-Sanghabodhi, meaning 'sacred Bodhi tree' and that one of the ancient migration traditions is that early Karavas migrated with the bringing over of the Bodhi Tree.(see migrations from India) . Although now removed from history books, this Karava ‘Sri Sangha Bodhi’ dynasty appears to have been recognized as the rightful heirs to the Sri Lankan throne right up to the time of the kandyan kingdom.
Left : A coin from the ancient Anuradhapura kingdom displaying the royal tree symbo.
Left: The ancestral flag of the Karava Arasakularatne clan from Maggona. Note the central Tree and Ship symbolism. Click imasge to zoom
The Asgiri Thalpatha, an ola book from the kandyan period says that “ a prince from the Sri Sanghabodi family went to Colombo and then to Goa during the reign of King Rajasinghe and returned with a large army; defeated the king of Kotte and king rajasinghe and became as the king of Sri Lanka in BE 2135( Rohanadeera 1997 pg 15 n).
It is even more significant that the earliest kings to rule Polonnaruwa, the capital of King Gajabahu II and his father Vickramabahu, were kings who styled themselves as Aggabodhi which translates as 'the principal Bodhi tree'. The kings were Aggabodhi III (AD 626 -41 in Mv. 44.122 & ), Aggabodhi IV (AD 658 -74 in Mv. 46.34), Aggabodhi VII (AD 766 - 72 in Mv. 48.79)
This change in status from sub-kings, king-makers, Generals, warriors and mercenaries, to inheritors of the kingdom, led to the migration of large numbers of Karavas from the Kuru Mandala (Kuru kingdom) region to Sri Lanka. Old literary works of Sri Lanka such as the Sri Lankadvipaye Kadaimpotha, Tri Sinhale Kadaimpotha, Matale Kadaimpotha, Perakumba Sirita, Pujavaliya, Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya attempt to explain these changes and the existence of large Karava communities in the country. (Abeyawardana 1978 p 140)
Indeed many such historical records have disappeared or been altered and distorted during the British period by interested individuals. Hugh Neville the respected British historian has noted on the Janawamsaya " I have a rare version which contains an authentic passage referring to the Karava caste, suppressed now from most copies. ...and doubtless comes from the same source as the other traditions regarding Vijaya, found in the Jaffna chronicles, but now unknown to the Sinhalese" (reproduced in Ariyapala 1969 Appendix V) And the few records that have survived too are subjected to attacks and attempts to discredit their reliability. The story of Karava king Gajabahu falls into the latter category.
The territory where the events took place and in which the Dambadeniya, Kurunegala and Panduvasnuvara Kingdoms were also located. Tammana, the putative place of landing of prince Vijaya is also in this region.
This region was called the Aluth Kuru Rata meaning 'New Kuru Country' and is to date known as Aluth Kuru Korale
The Hatara Korale Kadaimpotha ola book says that King Gajabahu was a Karava King: “ In olden times after the Ravana war, from Kuru Rata there came to this island a queen, a royal prime, a rich nobleman and a learned prime minister with their retinue and by order of King Rama dwelt in a place called on that account 'Kuru Rata'. In the (…..) year of our great lord Gautama Buddha, Gajabahu who came from (the second mentioned) 'Kuru Rata' settled more people in Kuru Rata and called it ‘Parana Kuru Rata’. In another place he sent 1,000 persons and gave it to them calling it Aluth Kuru rata. (Bell 1904, Abeywardene 1978 p 33)
It is clear that the above Gajabahu story is a very old tradition of Sri Lanka because versions of the same story are also found in the 13th century Pujavaliya, 16th century Rajaratnakaraya and the 17th century Rajavaliya. However by the time the two 16th and 17th century sources were written - during the period of decline and retreat - many centuries had lapsed since the real event, and the Gajabahu episode appears to have been no more than a legend. The actual events of 400 years ago had by then begun to disappear from the collective memory of chroniclers. As such the writers of the Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya have embellished the ancient and simple Gajabahu story with miraculous descriptions of a similar event found in the Gajaba Kathava – a ritual text sung at the Pattini rites of the Gammaduwa ritual. This interpolation either by the original authors or subsequent copyists has created a hybridized Gajabahu story with anachronisms and incredible miracles..
The Rajaratnakaraya and the Rajavaliya hybridization changes the original story’s king Gajabahu - the Karava king, from the Kuru country in western Sri Lanka - and makes him the son of king Vankanasikatissa from many centuries before. This drags the story far back into the 2nd century to the reign of an obscure king Gajaba who ruled from AD 113 to 135 and creates an anachronism.
These later corruptions of the Gajabahu tradition have been gleefully seized by historians seeking to discredit and dismiss the Gajabahu historical tradition of Sri Lanka. Professor Gananath Obeyesekere seizes the phrase “In the year of our great lord Gautama Buddha…” in the Kadaimpotha and goes on to say that the Kadaimpotha has made king Gajabahu a contemporary of the Buddha. The professor doesn't seem to understand that a copyist over the centuries has omitted to mention the number of years. Obeyesekere also fails to understand that the text is about a king Gajabhu from the 'Kuru Rata' in Sri Lanka referred to in the earlier sentence and says that this Gajabahu was born in a Kuru Rata in India.
Incidentally, Professor Obeysekere is another Govigama writer who never seems to miss an opportunity to falsely brand all Karavas as fishers. Wherever this learned Professor uses the word ‘Karava’, one invariably finds the word fisher within brackets. Next time you see something written by him watch out for this practice and see for yourself whether his “fisher” within brackets is relevant in that context or inserted with malicious motives.
However, if we are to give Professor Obeyesekere the benefit of the doubt, his misinterpretation of the Janavamsa account could have arisen from his limited knowledge of the ways of Sinhala prose. If the writer of the Kadaimpotha wanted to say that king Gajabahu was a contemporary of the Buddha this is definitely not the usual way to write it. The structure of the sentence shows that this is obviously a copyist error and the ‘number of years after the Buddha’ has been omitted by a copyist of the past.. Professor Obeyesekere also says that the Kadaimpotha has made Gajabahu a Karava hero.
Bereft of the above academic befuddling, it is clear that the Karava king Gajabahu in the original story is Gajabahu II (AD 1131 - 1153 ) and definitely not the insignificant Gajaba I of the 2nd century. There are many stone inscriptions of king Gajabahu I and none of them refer to an Indian invasion by him. All his inscriptions refer to minor grants made to Buddhist temples. Neither does the Mahavamsa ascribe anything more to him. Clearly, it is king Gajabahu II who patronized Hindu deities including Pattini and Shiva.
Moreover when king Gajabahu of the story is taken as Gajabahu II (AD 1131 - 1153 ) the story fits in perfectly in the context of the period and the influx of thousands of Indians. Since the Pandyan crown jewels were kept with Sri Lankan king Dappula V (923 -34) by the Pandyan king Rajasimha II , Sri Lanka had been invaded many times by south Indian kings to recover the jewels (Mv. 53.5-9). Finally they were captured in 1017 and taken away to south India together with king Mahinda V. As such there were many invasions during this period, and it was one of them that king Gajabahu avenged.
Although the Mahavamsa leaves out King Gajabahu's Indian invasion, the Dalada Pujavaliya, from the Gampola period narrates the story perfectly. The Dalada Pujavaliya, also uses King Gajabahu's Karava appellation Sirisangabo, and says that he invaded the Chola kingdom and brought back the Tooth relic. (DPV pg 59)
Both Gajabahu and his father Wikramabahu seem to have been Hindus because the Mahavamsa blames them for bringing troops from India and settling them on temple lands- Mv 61:48-62, 66.133. This is the Gajabahu against whom Parakramabahu I waged a long and well planned war. He was a cousin of Parakramabahu I, and this war is described at length in Mahavamsa (Mv 70.53 to 72).
The essence of the Gajabahu story is that there were large numbers of Karava Kshatriyas living with their service castes in Sri Lanka prior to the time of King Gajabahu. During his time many more Karavas settled in Sri Lanka, particularly in the Aluth and Parana Kuruva districts. The sources clearly say that the captives brought were from service castes and as eveident even now at predominantly Karava settlements such as Negombo, Udappu, Moratuwa, Kalutara, Weligama, Tangalle, Beliatta etc. the agricultural and other service castes would have been settled around the Karava villages. Another Tamil inscription from the same period found in Kurunegala shows us how the king settled a dispute between the Blacksmith and Washermen castes (EZ III pg. 304)
The region bordered by Kurunegala , Colombo and Puttalam still has a high concentration of Karavas. It was the region usually administered by the Prince regent and was the base region of the Navies that protected Sri Lanka's coasts.
The annual water cutting rituals performed at the end of all Sri Lankan pageants - although now not mentioned much- is a commemoration of Karava king Gajabahu's Indian invasion. According to legend king Gajabahu struck the ocean with his royal mace and parted the ocean for his warriors to crossover. As such many Sri Lankan pageants and even the Kandy Perehera which is now preceded by 4 other religious icons, appears to have initially been a pageant in honour of Goddess Pattini.
Further proof that the Kandy perehera was a celebration of king Gajabahu's victory at war is the fact that all four howdahs (holy shrines carried on the backs of elephants) house a sword. The origin was a pageant for Goddess Patini with king Gajabahu’s sword - the miraculous weapon that parted the ocean at the Palk Strait. The pageants of 3 other deities have been added to this subsequently. The Tooth relic pageant has been added on even later, about 300 years ago, and now it goes as a pageant for the tooth relic.
The Kandy perahera is held during the month of Adi on the Tamil calendar just as all the Pattini festivals in south India. In modern times the pageant has been associated with the Sinhalese month of Esala and the pageant itself is sometimes called the Esela perehera. The modern Sinhala word Perahara itself has originated from the Tamil word ‘pirahara’ which means ‘the path around the temple’. The feeble attempt to derive the word Perehera from Pelahara the Sinhalese word for miraculous - (derived from Sanskrit Praathihara) makes no sense.
The Gajabahu story also explains how the Sun & Moon flag of the Karavas came to be associated with that part of the island. The Sun and Moon Flag of the Kaurava is now mistaken as the district flag of this region. The Sun and Moon flag was the vanguard flag in Sri Lankan royal battles.
It appears that the Pattini cult was very popular in and around the feudal cities of Sri Lanka. It is an indication of the influence of the karava community of the past. “The ritual drama of goddess Pattini were universally practiced in the villages of the western, southern and Sabaragamuva provinces” (Obeyesekere p 470)
The form of dance now known as Kandyan dancing was originally called the Kohomba Kankariya and in royal times it was part of Pattini worship. Goddess Pattini’s husband Palanga had been executed and resurrected under a Kohomba tree and hence the name Kohomba Kankariya. This dance was called the Digge Netumaduring the time of Sri Lankan kings and it a sacred dance strictly performed inside the Pattini Devale only. The costume is a artistic rendition of the chainmail war armor (Note the breast plate (avulhera), shoulder guards, helmet etc) of the warriors who invaded south India to bring the golden anklets (pattini salamba) from a temple there. The dance is a stylized war dance of this invasion and victory. This history is being covered up by antagonists to efface the Karava connection.
This dance was degraded in the 20th century by British appointed Kandyan Nilames who threw the dance out onto the streets to entertain their British masters. The poor dancers forced to comply.Now stripped of it’s former sanctity, this previously holy dance is performed on the streets, over elephant droppings, puddles, in hotels.
King Gajabahu II (AD 1131 - 1153 ) has been sidelined by the authors of the Mahavamsa and anti-karava historians. However, knowingly or unknowingly all Sri Lankan pageants that conclude with a water cutting ceremony commemorate his memory by re-enacting his Indian conquest - the parting of the sea at the Palk straight by striking the water with his royal mace. Therefore these annual pageants unwittingly continue the age old tradition of commemorating the victory of the great Karava king Gajabahu II and honouring him.
Rohanadeera Mendis 1997 Asgiri Talpata – a palm leaf manuscript from the Asgiri Viharaya
Above: The formerly sacred Digge Netuma of the Kohomba Kankariya of the Goddess Pattini ritual. It was callously called Kandyan dancing and degraded in the 20th century by British appointed Kandyan Nilames who threw the dance out onto the streets to please their British masters. In royal times this dance was a sacred dance and was only performed in the inner sanctum of the Pattini shrine in honour of the Goddess.
The costume is a artistic rendition of the chainmail war armor (Note the breast plate (avulhera), shoulder guards, helmet etc) of the warriors who invaded south India to bring the golden anklets (pattini salamba) from a temple there. The dance is a stylized war dance of this invasion and victory. This history is being covered up by antagonists to efface the Karava connection.
Pattini worship is closely connected to the Karavas and Karava king Gajabahu - See migrations from India. The annual water cutting rituals performed at the end of all Sri Lankan pageants - although now not mentioned much- is a commemoration of Karava king Gajabahu's Indian invasion. According to legend king Gajabahu struck the ocean with his royal mace and parted the ocean for his warriors to crossover.
As such many Sri Lankan pageants and even the Kandy Perehera which is now preceded by 4 other religious icons, appears to have initially been a pageant in honour of King Gajaba and Goddess Pattini.
Sokari too is a dance performed in honour of godess Pattini
Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka