Gajabahu I of Anuradhapura

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Gajabahu I
King of Anuradhapura
Reign 113–135
Predecessor Vankanasika Tissa
Successor Mahallaka Naga
Dynasty House of Vijaya

Gajabahu I (lit. 'Elephant-Arm'), also known as Gajabahuka Gamani (c. 114 – 136 CE) was a Sinhalese king of Rajarata in Sri Lanka. He is renowned for his religious benefactions, extensive involvement in south Indian politics, and for possibly introducing the cult of the goddess Pattini to Sri Lanka. The primary source for his reign is the Mahavamsa, though he is also the only early Sri Lankan king (along with Elara) to be extensively mentioned in the Chera Cilappatikaram (also spelled Silapathikaram).[1][2]

Life and Religion[edit]

Next to nothing is known about Gajabahu's youth, except that he was son of Vankanasika Tissa (reigned 110-113), king of Rajarata from Anuradhapura, and his consort Mahamatta. As such he must have witnessed the most dramatic event of Tissa's reign, the invasion of Rajarata by the Chola king Karikalan [3] (it should be noted though that Karikalan's reign is dated by some historians as having occurred about 100 years after Gajabahu's). 12,000 Sinhalese people were seized to work as slaves on the banks of the Kaveri river [4][5] and taken to India.

The Mahavamsa mentions Gajabahu's accession and reign of twenty-two years, and mentions neither Karikalan's invasion, nor the military campaigns to south India that Gajabahu became famous for.[6] Instead he is presented as a great patron of religion; the chronicle credits him with the construction of two viharas - Matuvihara and Rumika - and a stupa called Abhayuttara. He is also credited with making a mantle for Dutugemunu's Mirisavetiya, and for building a reservoir to provide the Abhayagiri monastery with food. He also made improvements to the four entranceways of the Abhayagiri stupa.[7]

Gajabahu is also credited with the introduction of the cult of the goddess Pattini to Sri Lanka. The Silapathikaram mentions Gajabahu's presence at the consecration of a temple to Kannagi (identified as Pattini in this case) by the Chera king Senguvuttan.[1] Returning from India he brought back not only the begging bowl of the Buddha but Pattini's sacred anklet, and constructed a temple to the goddess 'at a place called Vattapalli near Mullaitivu'.[4] However there is an alternative view that the cult actually arrived in Sri Lanka in the 13th century, and the legend of Gajabahu's patronage was retrospectively created to generate legitimacy for the goddess [8]

The annual Perahara held in Kandy is also thought to have its roots in Gajabahu's reign. Following the successful completion of a campaign into Chola territories the temple of Vishnu in Anuradhapura is said to have staged a procession in thanks, which eventually developed into today's festival.[9]

Gajabahu was succeeded by his father-in-law Mahallaka Naga.

Invader or Guest?[edit]

The main event for which Gajabahu is remembered is his invasion of Chola territory and liberation of the 12,000 Sinhalese prisoners seized in his father's reign. However the sources contrast deeply on the actual events of his reign and the reality of the situation remains somewhat obscure.

The Mahavamsa, as seen above, does not mention any mission to India by Gajabahu. On the other hand the 17th century Rajaveliya, composed in the kingdom of Kandy, gives the basic details. Gajabahu crossed over into India with an army, assisted by the giant Neela who lit the sea, allowing them to safely cross the Palk Strait. Once in India Gajabahu liberated the 12,000 Sinhalese prisoners, and further forced the Chola king to hand over 12,000 Tamils as compensation. These Tamil prisoners were then allowed to settle and live in Sri Lanka, some of them possibly near the modern city of Matale[10] and Alutkuru Korale (modern North-Western Province).[5][11] The Rajaveliya describes the events thus:

Taking the giant Nila with him he went and struck the sea with an iron mace,. divided the waters in twain, and going quietly on arrived at the Soli capital, struck terror into the king of Soli, and seated himself on the throne like King Sak; whilst the giant Nila seized the elephants. in the city and killed them by striking one against another.
The ministers informed the king of Soli of the devastation of the city thus being made. Thereupon he inquired of Gajaba, "Is the Sinhala host come to destroy this city?" Gajaba replied, " I have a little boy who accompanied me; there is no army," and caused the giant Nila to be brought and made to stand by his side. Thereupon the king of Soli asked, "Why has your Majesty come along without an army?" Gajaba replied, " I have come to take back the 12,000 persons whom your royal father brought here as prisoners in the time of my father." To this the king of Soli saying, "A king of our family it was who, in time past, went to the city of the gods and gained victory in the war with the Asuras," refused to send for and deliver the men. Then Gajaba grew `wroth and said, "Forthwith restore my 12,000 people, giving 12,000 more besides them; else will I destroy this city and reduce it to ashes." Having said this, he squeezed out water from sand and showed it; squeezed water from his iron mace and showed that. Having in this way intimidated the king of Soli he received the original number supplemented by an equal number of men as interest, making 24,000 persons in all. He also took away the jewelled anklets of the goddess Pattini, and the insignia of the gods of the four devala, and also the bowl-relic which had been carried off in the time of king Valagamba; and admonishing the king not to act thus in future, departed.[12]

In contrast the mentions of Gajabahu in the Tamil sources represent a much more cordial visit by the Sri Lankan king. The Silapathikaram mentions him twice. On the first occasion he is with the Chera king Senguvuttan, offering sacrifices to the goddess Kannagi in an introductory passage. Later he is in the Chera king's company again, and on very good terms.

It has been suggested that this mention does not necessarily preclude a military campaign;[3] after all it is entirely possible that Gajabahu and Senguvuttan offered joint sacrifices as a way of securing a freshly concluded peace. On the other hand the versions presented in the Mahavamsa and Silapathikaran do not mention any violence at all, despite being the major sources for this period. Furthermore the reliability of the entires in the Silapathikaran has been questioned, and it has been suggested that the meeting between Gajabahu and Senguvttan is the result of a certain amounth of 'poetic licence' on the part of the compiler [13][14]

Significance[edit]

Sources notwithstanding, Gajabahu is regarded in modern Sri Lanka as an archetype of the mighty Sinhalese monarch, who avenged humiliation by the Cholas and took the sporadically-fought wars between Rajarata and Chola to Indian soil. Furthermore two important religious institutions - the cult of the goddess Pattini and the Perahara - also trace their origins to his reign. The Sri Lanka Army as an infantry regiment, Gajaba Regiment named after the warrior King and the Sri Lanka Navy had named a ship named after the King, the SLNS Gajabahu.

To students of south Indian history his reign is important as it provides the 'Gajabahu syncretism' which is used to date many rulers of the ancient Chola and Chera.[13]

It is also possible to argue that Cheran Senkuttuvan's father Cheran Kutako Nedum Cheral Athan and uncle Cholan Karikal Valavan jointly attacked the northern part of Lanka from Vedaranyam in Tamil Nadu, India and in the process Cheran Nedum Cheral Athan managed to cut down the protector tree of Sinhaleese king of the time, which has the name 'Kadampu' as stated in Sangam literature (Pathittupathu 2.10). The Sinhaleese king (probably the father of Gajabahu) was ruling from Anuradhapura, which was washed by the River Kadamba, the present Malwatu Oya. The protector tree was replanted by the mother of Gajabahu in their palace garden. Probably there was a truce between Gajabahu and the Cheras and the hostages were exchanged as a mark of friendship. If this was not the case Gajabahu would not have visited Cheran Senkuttuvan, for a ceremony highly objected to by the Pandian King, since Pandian kingdom was an immediate neighbour of Gajabahu's kingdom.

Trade[edit]

There have been a series of archaeological excavations in recent years at the ancient port Godavaya (= Godawaya, Gothapabbata), situated around a huge rock overlooking the Indian Ocean, close to the gem mining area of the Lower Sitracala Wewa and the inland shipping route of the Walawe Ganga. The archaeologists have found that Godavaya's was an important stop on the maritime Silk Route, in the early centuries of the Common era with excavations and research revealing connections from China to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.[15] A stone inscription in Brahmi, dating to Gajabahu I's reign, orders that part of the customs collections at the Godavaya Port at Ambalanthota be donated to the nearby Godapawath Temple.[16][17][18] There have been three inscriptions and some 75,000 late Roman coins found in earthen vessels in the region.[19]

Popular culture[edit]

Gajabuja is a common Tamil slang used to denote the superlative. Bhuja and Bahu are both Sankskrit for Arm, and it is suspected that this word evolved from the corruption of Gajabahu over time.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "LANKALIBRARY FORUM • View topic - Lankan saga of war and peace". Lankalibrary.com. 2006-05-20. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  2. ^ "Dr.Gift Siromoney's Home Page". Cmi.ac.in. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  3. ^ a b http://encyclopedia.vestigatio.com/Sri_Lankan_Army
  4. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  5. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  6. ^ "Chapter XXXV". Lakdiva.org. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  7. ^ [3][dead link]
  8. ^ [4][dead link]
  9. ^ "Kandy Esala Perahara rituals and their significance". Daladamaligawa.org. 2002-07-23. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  10. ^ http://www.mcmatale.org/HISTORY.htm
  11. ^ [5][dead link]
  12. ^ "Chapter II". Lakdiva.org. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  13. ^ a b "LISTSERV 16.0". Listserv.linguistlist.org. 1997-02-13. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  14. ^ "Dr.Gift Siromoney's Home Page". Cmi.ac.in. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  15. ^ Kessler (1998): 31-34
  16. ^ Bopearachchi (1996), p. 64.
  17. ^ http://sundaytimes.lk/020414/plus/2.html
  18. ^ "Features | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers". Dailynews.lk. 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  19. ^ Ray (2003), p. 202.

References[edit]

  • Bopearachchi, Osmund (1996). "Seafaring in the Indian Ocean: Archaeological Evidence from Sri Lanka" In: Tradition and Archaeological: Early Maritime Contacts in the Indian Ocean. Eds Himanshu Prabha Ray, Jean-François Salles. Reprint 1998. Manohar, New Delhi, pp. 59–77. ISBN 81-7304-145-8.
  • Kessler, Oliver (1998). "The Discovery of an Ancient Sea Port at the Silk Road of the Sea. Archaeological Relics of the Godavaya Harbaour". In M. Domroes/H. Roth (eds.):

Sri Lanka, Past and Present. Weikersheim: Margraf Verlag, 12-37. ISBN 3-8236-1289-1.

External links[edit]

Gajabahu I of Anuradhapura
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Vankanasika Tissa
Kings of Rajarata
114–136
Succeeded by
Mahallaka Naga