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The Kingdoms of Sri Lanka

The Mahawansa, Dipawansha, Chulawansha and the Rajaveliya all have to the ancient history of Sri Lanka Inscribed within them. Dazzling decorated temples, Magnificent Man-made stone structures, Marvelous feats of irrigation are just some of the timeless treasures left to the world by the Proud civilization who inhabited the ancient cities of Sri Lanka. This small island’s Cultural heritage covers more than 2000 years.There are so many myths and legends, so many poems and stories written throughout the ages; yet despite all of this, there are still so many questions left unanswered about this mystical island in the Indian Ocean.

The Beginning of Sri Lanka

Whatever the legends tell, the reality is that the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka were the Veddhas or the Yakshas. Though their origins are unknown it is strongly believed that they descended from people who migrated from south India. These People were Hunters who lived in forests.According to legends about 2500 years ago, In a land in North India, there was a King named Sinhabahu. He had many children the eldest of whom was named Vijaya. Vijaya had many violent and mischievous friends and his actions caused the people of the kingdom to go and complain to the King. Theses complain forced the king to banish his son. Vijaya and his 700 hundred friends were given a ship and asked to leave. His ship sailed for many days and finally reached Sri Lanka. The Beach that they landed on became known as “Thambapani” (Bronze) because when they touched the beach, their hands became bronze in color. There are many stories about how Vijaya met his Queen Kuveni in Sri Lanka. Some even bold enough to claim that she was a “Yaksha” (demon) who captivated his 700 friends and tried to eat him alive. But the main gist of all the stories is Vijaya comes across an inhabitant of Sri Lanka named Kuveni. Though She tries to kill him at the beginning they end up becoming friends and she helps Vijaya overthrow the tribes, The Yakkas, and the Nagas, who were inhabiting Sri Lanka at the time. Kuveni then convinced Vijaya to accept her as his queen and gave birth to 2 children. Eventually, Vijaya abandoned Kuveni and their two children and married a beautiful princess From Madura (India). It is said that the two children of Kuveni and Vijaya escaped into the forest and they gave rise to the “Veddha” community in Sri Lanka. Vijaya declared himself king and then made “Thambapanni” the capital of Sri Lanka and reigned for 38 years.

The Main Capitals of Sri Lanka

Over the Years there have been many Capitals the Kings use to rule Sri Lanka.

Anuradhapura 

Located 205 Km (128m) to the north of Colombo lies Sri Lanka’s Oldest and Largest ancient capital, Anuradhapura. According to Legend, it was first made into a city by Anura a follower of Prince Vijaya, the first King of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is classed a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It is not only an ancient city but also a great center of Buddhism with thousands of visiting Pilgrims and Tourists. The Mawatha Oya river forms a boundary between the sacred ancient city and the modern town of Anuradhapura. The city is blessed with many ancient temples and relics. A Famous tourist and pilgrim attraction found in this city is the gigantic unfinished temple Jetvanaramaya. Anuradhapura was the Royal seat to many Buddhist and Hindu Kings, but some Kings have left they're named etched in history for the deeds they did for the country and city.

King Pandukabhaya - The First king to make the city his capital, he is responsible for the constructions of “tanks”, artificial reservoirs. He ensured a constant water supply for his people.

King Devanampiya Tissa – During his reign, Buddhism spread through the whole country. It was also during his reign that Arahat Mahinda, son of the Buddhist emperor Asoka, led a group of missionaries from North India to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism. Many temples and monasteries were built during this period.

For a more in depth view of Anuradhapura , click here 

Polonnaruwa

Located 217 Km (135m) to the north of Colombo is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s Kingdoms. After the invasion by the Cholas from south India; Sri Lanka lost its capital Anuradhapura; The Cholas then made Polonnaruwa their main Capital. A significant factor which stands out in the Polonnaruwa era is that the Irrigation systems built during this time were far more advanced than during the Anuradhapura period. These advanced systems still to this day supply the water necessary for paddy fields during the dry season. It is important to mention the “Parakrama Samudraya” which was a man-made reservoir often mistaken for an ocean, the width is so massive that it is impossible to stand upon one shore and view the other side. Today the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa stands one of the best Archeological relic sites in the country. The city of Polonnaruwa too is named a world heritage site by UNESCO.

 King Aggabodi the fourth- He was the first King to live in Polonnaruwa, but when The Kingdom of Anuradhapura fell to the Chola invasion, The Cholas overthrew him and made Polonnaruwa their capital.

 King Vijayabahu the first- He is definitely the most recognized King during the Polonnaruwa Era. He was solely responsible for overthrowing the Cholas and reclaiming Sri Lanka from the Indians.

 King Parakramabahu the First- It was during his era that Polonnaruwa reached the height of its Glory, he repaired the damage caused by the Indians and he built many beautiful parks, Wild Life Sanctuaries and even built monuments. He is also responsible for building the aforementioned “Parakrama Samudraya” or the “Sea of Parakrama”. King Parakramabahu is revered by many as the “last Great King” of Sri Lanka.

For a more in depth view of Polonnaruwa, click here

Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa

 The Third Ancient Capital of Sri Lanka was Dambadeniya. When the south Indians invaded again and overthrew Polonnaruwa, the King at the time, King Vijayabahu decided to withdraw from Polonnaruwa to protect the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha from the invaders. He chose the Kingdom of Dambadeniya and ruled from it. The Kingdom of Dambadeniya really flourished during the reign of King Vijayabahu’s son, King Parakramabahu the second. He successfully recovered the kingdom of Polonnaruwa from the Indian Invaders but chose to keep Dambadeniya as his Capital. After his death, the Kingdom was Succeed by King Vijayabahu the fourth who unfortunately could only keep the Kingdom for 2 years as he was assassinated by one of his Generals. The throne was succeeded by his Brother, King Buwanaka Bahu.Who moved the capital From Dambadeniya to Yapahuwa to repel the south India invasion. Though the point of moving the capital to Yapahuwa was to safeguard the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha from the south Indians, after the death of King Buwaneka Bahu the South Indian invaders pillaged the Kingdom of Yapahuwa and carried the Tooth relic back to India. But The Successor to King Buwanaka Bahu, King Parakkramabahu the third, successfully secured the Sacred Tooth relic having visited the Pandayan court in southern India in 1288.

For a more in depth view on Dambadeniya, click here

For a more in depth view on Yapahuwa, click here

Sigiriya

Sigiriya, another ancient capital of Sri Lanka, is known as the best-preserved city center in Asia. The Legend behind the Rock Fortress starts during the reign of King Dhatusena. King Dhatusena had two sons, Mogallana and Kassapa. The story plays out with Dhatusena choosing Mogallana as his heir, which makes Kassapa rebel. He over throws his father and drives Mogallana into exile in India. He imprisons his father and threatens him with death if he didn't tell him where the state treasure was. King Dhatusena agrees and takes Kassapa to the Kalawewa tank, of which the construction he had overseen. Standing in the middle of the tank he tells Kassapa that this alone was his treasure. Kassapa not too impressed imprisons his father; meanwhile, Mogallana vows to return from India and reclaim his throne. Kassapa prepared for the expected invasion and constructed his palace on top of the 200 meters high Sigiriya Rock. While on top of the rock was an indestructible fortress at the base he established a new city. When the day came when Moggalana returned to reclaim his throne, Kassapa rode out on an elephant to battle him, but it ended with his elephant panicking and bolting leaving him at the mercy of his brother; facing defeat and capture Kassapa killed himself. Sigiriya is a popular tourist attraction with many well-preserved ruins to admire.

For a more in-depth view on Sigiriya, click here

Dambulla

The Last Capital of the Sinhalese Kings, on the Main road to Anuradhapura. The caves of Dambulla in early times were occupied by Buddhist hermits. King Walagamba, when he was in exile took refuge in these caves. When he returned to the throne in Anuradhapura, he built a magnificent rock temple at Dambulla.

For more, a more in-depth view on Dambulla, click here

Kandy

Located 116 Km (72m) from Colombo lies the ancient city of Kandy. It is Sri Lanka’s second most renowned city. Though Colombo is the center of commerce and communication, Kandy has always been the center of Sri Lanka rich Culture. Kandy was the perfect location for ancient Kings as it was the perfect fortress from invasions being in the center of the island. The Kings of Kandy ensured the freedom of the hill capital from the foreign invaders till the British finally captured the city in 1815. The Royal Palace in Kandy was built by King Vikramabahu the Third.

For more, a more in-depth view on Dambulla, click here

Sri Lanka is a country with a long lineage of great Kings.Check out our itinerary to enjoy all the above mentioned Ancient cities; it is guranteed to be an adventure you will never forget.