Anuradhapura period sri lanka (543BC-1017AD)
The Pali chronicles, the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Thupavamsa and the Chulavamsa, as well as a large collection of stone inscriptions, the Indian Epigraphical records, the Burmese versions of the chronicles etc., provide an exceptional record for the history of Sri Lanka from about the 6th century B.C.
The Mahavamsa, written around 400 AD by the monk Nagasena, using the Deepavamsa, the Attakatha and other written sources available to him, correlates well with Indian histories of the period. Indeed Emperor Ashoka’s reign is recorded in the Mahavamsa. The Mahavamsa account of the period prior to Asoka’s coronation, 218 years after the Buddha’s death, seems to be part legend. Proper historical records begin with the arrival of Vijaya and his 700 followers. Vijaya was a Vangan (now Bengal, India) prince, the eldest son of King Sinhabahu (“Man with Lion arms”) and his sister Queen Sinhasivali who had their capital at Singhapura (now Singur in West Bengal, India). Both these Sinhala leaders were supposedly born of a mythical union between a lion and a human princess. The Mahavamsa claims that Vijaya landed on the same day as the death of the Buddha. The story of Vijaya and Kuveni (the local reigning queen) is reminiscent of Greek legend and may have a common source in ancient Proto-Indo-European folk tales.
Arrival of Vijaya
According to the Mahavamsa, Vijaya landed on Sri Lanka near Mahathitha (Manthota or Mannar), and named on the island of Thambaparni (“copper-colored palms”). This name is attested to in Ptolemy’s map of the ancient world. The Mahavamsa also describes the Buddha visiting Sri Lanka three times. Firstly, to stop a war between a Naga king and his son in law who were fighting over a ruby chair. It is said that on his last visit he left his foot mark on Siripada (“Adam’s Peak”).
Tamirabharani is the old name for the second longest river in Sri Lanka (known as Malwatu Oya in Sinhala and Aruvi Aru in Tamil). This river was a main supply route connecting the capital, Anuradhapura, to Mahathitha (now Mannar). The waterway was used by Greek and Chinese ships travelling the southern Silk Route.
Mahathitha was an ancient port linking Sri Lanka to India and the Persian gulf.
The present day Sinhalese (and many modern Tamils) are a mixture of the indigenous people and of other peoples who came to the island from various parts of India. The Sinhalese recognize the Vijayan Indo-Aryan culture and Buddhism (already in existence prior to the arrival of Vijaya), as distinct from other groups in neighboring south India.
Archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Iron age in Sri Lanka is found at Anuradhapura, where a large city–settlement was founded before 900 BC. The settlement was about 15 hectares in 900 BC, but by 700 BC it had expanded to 50 hectares. A similar site from the same period has also been discovered near Aligala in Sigiriya.
The hunter-gatherer people known as the Wanniyala-Aetto or Veddas, who still live in the central, Uva and north-eastern parts of the island, are probably direct descendants of the first inhabitants, Balangoda man. They may have migrated to the island from the mainland around the time humans spread from Africa to the Indian subcontinent.
Around 500 BC Sri Lankans developed a unique hydraulic civilization. Achievements include the construction of the largest reservoirs and dams of the ancient world as well as enormous pyramid-like Stupa (Dagoba) architecture. This phase of Sri Lankan culture was profoundly influenced by early Buddhism.
Buddhist scriptures note three visits by the Buddha to the island to see the Naga Kings, who are said to be snakes that can take the form of a human at will. The kings are thought to be symbolic and not based on historical fact.
The earliest surviving chronicles from the island, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa, say that tribes of Yakkhas (demon worshippers), Nagas (cobra worshippers) and Devas (god worshippers) inhabited the island prior to the migration of Vijaya. Pottery has been found at Anuradhapura bearing Brahmi script and non-Brahmi writing and date back to 600 BC – one of the oldest examples of the script
In the early ages of the Anuradhapura Kingdom the Sinhalese economy was based on farming and they made their early settlements mainly near the rivers of the east, north central, and north east areas which had the water necessary for farming the whole year round. The king was the ruler of country and responsible for the law, the army, and being the protector of faith. Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC) was Sinhalese King of the Maurya clan. His links with Emperor Asoka led to the introduction of Buddhism by Mahinda (son of Asoka) around 247 BC. Sangamitta (sister of Mahinda) brought a Bodhi sapling via Jambukola (Sambiliturei). This king’s reign was crucial to Theravada Buddhism and for Sri Lanka.
Elara (205-161 BC) was a Tamil King who ruled “Pihiti Rata” (Sri Lanka north of the mahaweli) after killing King Asela. During Elara’s time Kelani Tissa was a sub-king of Maya Rata (in the south-west) and Kavan Tissa was a regional sub-king of Ruhuna (in the south-east). Kavan Tissa built Tissa Maha Vihara, Dighavapi Tank and many shrines in Seruvila. Dutugemunu (161-137 BC), the eldest son of King Kavan Tissa, at 25 years of age defeated the South Indian Tamil Invader Elara (over 64 years of age) in single combat, described in the Mahavamsa. Dutugemunu is depicted as a Sinhala “Asoka”. The Ruwanwelisaya, built by Dutugemunu, is a dagaba of pyramid-like proportions and was considered an engineering marvel.
Pulahatta (or Pulahatha), the first of the five Dravidians, was deposed by Bahiya. He in turn was deposed by Panaya Mara who was deposed by Pilaya Mara, murdered by Dathika in 88 BC. Mara was deposed by Valagambahu I (89-77 BC) which ended Tamil rule and restored the Dutugamunu dynasty. The Mahavihara Theravada Abhayagiri (“pro-Mahayana”) doctrinal disputes arose at this time. The Tripitaka was written in Pali at Aluvihara, Matale. Chora Naga (63-51 BC), a Mahanagan, was poisoned by his consort Anula who became queen. Queen Anula (48-44 BC), the widow of Chora Naga and of Kuda Tissa, was the first Queen of Lanka. She had many lovers who were poisoned by her and was killed by Kuttakanna Tissa. Vasabha (67-111 AD), named on the Vallipuram gold plate, fortified Anuradhapura and built eleven tanks as well as pronouncing many edicts. Gajabahu I (114-136) invaded the Chola kingdom and brought back captives as well as recovering the relic of the tooth of the Buddha.
There was a huge Roman trade with the ancient Tamil country (present day Southern India) and Sri Lanka, establishing trading settlements which remained long after the fall of the Western Roman empire.
During the reign of Mahasena (274-301) the Theravada (Maha Vihara) was persecuted and the Mahayanan branch of Buddhism surfaced. Later the King returned to the Maha Vihara. Pandu (429) was the first of seven Pandiyan rulers, ending with Pithya in 455. Dhatusena (459-477) “Kalaweva” and his son Kashyapa (477-495), built the famous sigiriya rock palace where some 700 rock graffiti give a glimpse of ancient Sinhala.