Prince Vijaya

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King of Tambapanni
The Consecration Of King Sinhala-Prince Vijaya (Detail From The Ajanta Mural Of Cave No 17).jpg
The consecration (coronation) of Prince Vijaya (Detail from the Ajanta Mural of Cave No 17).[1]
Reign 543 BC – 505 BC
Predecessor Kuveni
Successor Upatissa
Spouse Kuveni
Issue Jivahata
House House of Vijaya
Father Sinhabahu
Mother Sinhasivali
Born Singhapur[citation needed], West Bengal, India[citation needed], Sihor, Sinhpur,[citation needed]Gujarat, India[citation needed]
Died Tambapanni, Sri Lanka

Prince Vijaya (Sinhala:විජය කුමරු) was the first recorded King of Sri Lanka mentioned in the ancient Sri Lankan Pali chronicles. His reign is traditionally dated to 543 BC – 505 BC.[2] The primary source for his life-story is the Mahavamsa.

Ancestry and arrival in Sri Lanka[edit]

The Sri Lankan chronicle, the Mahavamsa, written circa 400 CE by the monk Mahanama using the Dipavamsa and Sinhala Attakatha as sources, correlates well with Indian histories of the period. Lanka, before colonization by Indian Prince Vijaya, was earlier inhabited by the ancient tribes known as the Yakkhas and the Nagas. With the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers, [3] the history of the Sinhalese began. Vijaya was the eldest son of King Sinhabahu ("Lion-Arms") and his Queen Sinhasivali of Bhurishrestha Kingdom.

A section of the mural at Ajanta in Cave No. 17, depicts the 'coming of Sinhala'. The prince (Prince Vijaya) is seen in both groups of elephants and riders.[1]

Vijaya married Kuveni [3](local Yaksha princess) like his army marrying off local women. Later this gave rise to the modern Sinhala race. Vijaya landed on Sri Lanka near Mahathitha (Manthota or Mannar), and named the island "Thambaparni" ('copper-colored palms'). This is attested in Ptolemy's map of the ancient world. The Mahavamsa also claims that Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times. In the first instance, it was 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, the Buddha left his foot-print on Sripada (Adam's Peak). Tamirabharani was the old name for the second longest river in Sri Lanka (now known as Malwatu Oya in Sinhala & Aruvi Aru in Tamil). This river was the main supply-route connecting the capital, Anuradhapura, to Mahathitha (Mannar). The waterway was used by Greek and Chinese ships traveling the southern Silk Route. Mahathitha was an ancient port linking Sri Lanka to Bengal and the Persian Gulf.[4]

At the beginning of the chronicle (see History of Sri Lanka), the King of Banga (Bengal) is married to the daughter of the King of Kalinga. Their daughter, Suppadevi, was not only 'very fair and very amorous', but was also prophesied to consummate a 'union with the king of beasts'[5] - in the Mahavamsa, a lion. When this duly happened, she gave birth to two children - Sinhabahu and Sinhasivali. 'Sinhabahu' means 'Lion-Armed', and the young prince himself is described as having "hands and feet...formed like a lion's."[5] The family lived together in the lion's cave, blocked in by a large rock the lion had placed to prevent their exit. Eventually, however, Suppadevi and her two children flee the cave. Later Sinhabahu kills his father with an arrow. Then, marrying his sister, he establishes a kingdom based on a city called Singhapur. Sinhasivali bears him a series of twins; their eldest child is named Vijaya, and his younger twin brother Sumitta. However, a critical twist and serious study by scholars and researchers with further references suggest that the King of Sinhpur/Sinhapura ( Sihor ), region's very ancient telltales and references about Prince Vijaya, his exile, his route, are the ones which connect strongly to the History of Sri Lanka and to the Sinhala/Sinhalese people and culture.

Vijaya is described as indulging in 'evil conduct, and his followers were...(like himself), and many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them'. So antisocial were his activities that the people of the kingdom eventually demanded that the (now aging) King Sinhabahu have him executed.[5] Instead Sinhabhu had half their heads shaved (a sign of disgrace) and exiled Vijaya with his followers, their wives and children, from the kingdom - traditionally said to number a total of 700 souls. After resting in several places they are found to be hostile, and the wayward prince and his associates eventually 'landed in Lanka, in the region called 'Tambapanni.[5]

Later research by Sinhala linguist W.S. Karunatillake supports the hypothesis that the Sinhalese originated in eastern India, partly due to the fact that many of its words (over 50%) resemble words in the Bengali language.[6] At the same time, it is clear that Sinhalese is of Prakrits origin, ultimately stemming from Vedic Sanskrit at a time when a great amount of syntax and lexicon were still common to all the newly emerging Indian Languages. And yet they were few at that time. This is to ask for a serious comparison and conclusion for Prince Vijaya's origin, whether it was from Singhpur, Kalinga or it was from Sihor, Gujarat, despite references weigh more in favor of Vijaya's origin to lower Indus, and Sihor, which was officially known as Sinhapur in Kathiawar peninsula in ancient times. Another critical point of observation is that the last and now the only home to the Asiatic lion (locally referred as 'Sinh' or 'Sinha') is Gir Forest, which is on the Kathiawar Peninsula in Gujarat and the Gir region is just a few miles from Sihor. In fact, up until the year 2011, lions were sighted in rural areas adjoining Sihor.

Some dialects, words and punches between Bengali and Gujarati languages are strikingly common so the researchers and scholars may have to stress more on other viable aspects to while any Indian sub language during Middle India was not prominent and dominant, where Sanskrit was being widely used in most of the Indian sub-continent.

A second geographical issue is the location of Tambapanni, the landing-site of the Vijaya expedition. The Rajaveliya states that the group saw Adam's Peak from their boats and thus landed in Southern Sri Lanka, in an area that eventually became part of the Kingdom of Ruhuna. British historian H. Parker narrowed this down to the mouth of Kirindi Oya. This is now thought to be a far too Southerly location. The more favored region currently is between the cities of Mannar and Negombo, and Puttalam, where the copper-colored beaches may have given rise to the name Tambapanni, which means 'copper-palmed'.[7]

Origins of the Vijaya Clan[edit]

The arena associated with the legend of Vijaya and his followers may be in Singhapur (Simhapura or Singur), in the Lala Rattha (Lata Rashtra).[8] The country is identified with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India still called Lala/Larh or Rarh/Larika of Ptolemy.[9][10] Lala is referred to as Lata-desa in Sanskrit texts.[11] Al Biruni calls it Lardesh[12] to the extreme hilly west of Bengal where Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. There is however an epic reference to one Sinhapura kingdom with little historical proof, located on the upper Indus which shared borders with Ursa, Abhisara, Bahlika, Darada and Kamboja.[13] Seventh century Chinese pilgrim Hiun Tsang also refers to this Simhapura (Sang-ho-pu-lo) and locates it on upper Indus, in Gandhara (north—west Punjab) which might be a namesake like there were many Koshala or Ganga kingdoms in various parts of India.[14] Scholars have identified it above Salt Range.[15] Yet another Sinhapura is referred to in Gujarat and has been attested to in the Charter of the Maitraka King Dhruvasena I (525 AD-545 AD). Its modern name is 'Sihore' (Sinhore)/Sihor of Kathiawad.[16] There is also an ancient place name 'Hingur' located 40 miles east from the apex of Indus Delta but any of these have little evidences to be a relic of the ancient Sinhapura of the Sinhalese traditions (Hingur < Singur < Singhpur < Sinhapur).[17]

It was thought by some early historians that the Republican Gramaneyas of Sabhaparva of Mahabharata[18] may have been the ancestors of the Sinhalese.[19] The original home of the Gramaneyas seems to have been the Sinhapura of Gandhara/Kamboja, but the people shifted to lower Indus and then, after defeat by Pandava Nakula, to Saurashtra Peninsula, centuries prior to common era. There they seem to have founded a principality in Saurashtra Peninsula, centuries prior to common era which they named Sinhapura probably to commemorate their past connections with Sinhapura of Gandhara/Kamboja.[20] In all probability, Vijaya and his 700 followers, the earliest known Aryan speakers of the island either belonged to the 'Sihore' (Sinhapura)/Sihor of Kathiawad (in Bhavnagar district) or else to Hingur (Sinhapura) east off the Indus delta from where they had sailed to Sri Lanka and settled there as colonists suggesting ancient links of Northwest Kambojas with Sri Lanka.

Oriya scholars claimed Simhapura was the same as the ancient capital of Kalinga in modern-day Odisha. Nissanka Malla's inscriptions mention Simhapura as the capital of Kalinga. The Yalpanavaipavamalai, a Jaffna Tamil text written in the 18th century by Mayilvakanapulavar mentions a King Ukkirasingan,[21] whom Oriyas identify with Kalinga Magha of the Culavamsa as being a descendant of Vijaya's brother who remained in India though concrete evidences not found. And major drawbacks of all the hypotheses except east Indian town of Singur was they all lacked ancient developed ports like Tamralipta through which voyages to Sri Lanka would have been possible.


Vijaya's arrival in Sri Lanka [3] is said to have coincided with the passing away of the Buddha. Indeed the very first 'person' that Vijaya supposedly encounters on the island is the 'Lord of the Gods', Lord Vishnu, who is charged by the ailing Buddha with looking after Vijaya and his descendants.[7]

The second encounter is far less auspicious - a Yakkinni, or demoness, who 'appeared in the form of a dog'. Vijaya's men, surmising that 'Only where there is a village are dogs to be found', followed the creature, only to come upon the Queen of the demons, Kuveni (also known as Kuvanna). Though the protection of Vishnu prevented Kuveni from devouring the hapless man, it did not prevent her from hurling him - and all of Vijaya's other companions - into a chasm.[7]

Vijaya eventually comes upon Kuveni and threatens her with death unless she releases his men. When this is done, Kuveni supplies them with food and clothing, and, 'assuming the lovely form of a sixteen year old maiden' seduces Vijaya.[7] Then, in a complete reversal of her allegiances, she states that she 'will bestow Kingship on my Lord (Vijaya)' and thus 'all the Yakkhas must be slain, for (else) the Yakkhas will slay me, for it was through me that men have taken up their dwelling (in Lanka)'. This Vijaya goes on to do, vanquishing the demons and driving them from the island, all the time with Kuveni at his side.

Though Kuveni bears him two children, a son and a daughter, Vijaya eventually rejects her with the words 'Go now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings'.[7] Despite begging Vijaya not to send her away, a broken-hearted Kuveni eventually leaves the palace, taking the two children despite being ordered not to. Arriving in one of the few surviving Yakka cities she is killed by her own people for her betrayal. One of her uncles takes pity on her children and tells them to flee before they, too, are killed. They eventually flee to Malaya rata where they settle and become the ancestors of the Pulindas. And alternative tale is that Kuveni flung herself from Yakdessa Gala, imploring the Gods to curse Vijaya for his cruelty - which they do by preventing any of Vijaya's children from ever sitting on the throne of Rajarata.[22] 'Vijaya's curse' is held by some to still hold sway over Sri Lanka's troubled politics.

The Kuveni-Vijaya story evokes some similarities with the encounter of Odysseus with Circe. Circe is also an enchantress and a witch. The Kuveni myth is also remarkable for being so violent and tragic. Both the demon Queen and Vijaya are portrayed as being deeply treacherous and unfeeling - the former in betraying her entire people, the latter in betraying her in turn so callously. Indeed Vijaya's reason for rejecting Kuveni is his desire for 'a maiden of a noble house' to be consecrated Queen with him. This desire could have had a political aspect - in marrying a princess of an established noble house he would essentially have established himself as a legitimate monarch in his own right, on a par with the other rulers of the subcontinent's kingdoms.

Kuveni, on the other hand, is regarded as a descendant of the demons of the Ramayana and of Ravana, who also dwelled in Lanka. A common folk tale was that her children did not, in fact, flee to Malaysia, but instead remained in Sri Lanka's jungles and became the Veddas - Sri Lanka's aboriginal population. This may indeed be the explanation for Kuveni and her people, as early Indian settlers would almost certainly have come into contact and conflict with indigenous Sri Lankans. The Yakkas are referred to occasionally as 'invisible',[7] and indeed would have appeared so to the newcomers unused to Sri Lanka's jungles, through which the Veddas even today can move in near-silence and with barely a trace.

The Dipavamsa, on which the Mahavamsa is based, makes no mention of Kuveni whatsoever.

Reign and death[edit]

Vijaya's ministers in the meanwhile had set about securing a princess for their leader to marry, and found one in the form of the daughter of the Pandyan King of Madurai in Southern India. Not only did the King dispatch his daughter, but he also decreed that 'Those men here who are willing to let a daughter depart for Lanka shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign shall we (know that we may) take them to ourselves'.[7] Thus every male in Vijaya's crew received a wife (their original wives had been separated from them on their voyage to Sri Lanka, and according to legend they were sent to the Maldivian Islands).

The ministers also appear to have been quite intrepid in founding their own towns and cities around Tambapanni - Ujjeni, Uruvela, Upatissagama (Upatissagama was the 2nd Capital of the kingdom.), Vijita, and Anuradhagama.[7] Anuradhagama ('Anuradha's village') in particular was a significant foundation - under the name Anuradhapura (Anuradha's city) it was to become capital of Rajarata for over a thousand years.

Following the arrival of the princess of the Pandyan Kingdom, 'the ministers in full assembly consecrated Vijaya king and appointed a great festival'. Age and marriage appear to have had a profound impact on Vijaya, who changed his way of life and ruled 'in peace and righteousness' for thirty-eight years.[7]

The Mahavamsa describes the Pandyan ladies as originating from "Dakshina Madura" or "Southern Madura", which most Sinhala scholars have interpreted as modern-day Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, "Northern Madura" being the city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. This is a solid evidence of the relationship that Sri Lanka and South India have shared for long. There are several such recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandyas and the Cheras.

The events surrounding Vijaya's death provide an interesting insight into the standards of government - or at least the ideals of government - during this period. As seen before it was the ministers of Vijaya who took the initiative in finding a bride for the King and in founding cities, indicating a considerable amount of independence and authority. Similarly when Vijaya dies, 'the ministers ruled, dwelling in Upatissagama...for a year' [23] whilst Vijaya's chosen successor, Sumitta, was summoned from Sinhapura. In the event it is not Sumitta but his son Panduvasdeva who arrives and takes up the reins of government, thus ensuring that the direct line of Vijaya's house is broken.


Vijaya's reign is of immense importance to the Sinhalese people as it forms the core of their cultural identity. As the Sinhalese kingdom developed into something of a South Asian anomaly - a Buddhist Kingdom in a largely Hindu belt across the Palk strait- the Vijaya legend reiterated that which differentiated the Sinhalese from their neighbors. The clear association of Vijaya with Buddhism, though he is not Buddhist himself, foreshadows the kingdom's conversion in Devanampiyatissa's time. Vijaya's relationship with Kuveni explains the presence of the Veddas, and his marriage to the Pandyan princess establishes a precedent for the often cordial relations between the Sinhalese and the various kingdoms of South India.

Vijaya himself, however, is fascinating for being wayward, and on occasion even cruel and callous. Though he is consistently shown deference as leader of the embryonic Sinhalese polity, the Mahavamsa does not shy away from his more immoral acts. As such he is not held in the kind of awe and respect afforded to Devanampiyatissa, Dutugemunu, or Parakramabahu the Great.

The Modern Sri Lankan Navy, for a considerable amount of time, consisted of only one battle ship, named the 'Vijaya'.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Simhala Avadana, Cave 17
  2. ^ The Mahavamsa - The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka
  3. ^ a b c The Story of Vijaya and Kuveni
  4. ^ O'Malley, L. S. S.; Chakravarti, Monmohan (1909). Bengal District Gazetteers: Howrah. Bengal Secretariat Book Depot
  5. ^ a b c d [1]
  6. ^ Historical Phonology of Sinhala: From Old Indo-Aryan to the 14th Century AD. Colombo: S. Godage & Brothers, 2001
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i [2]
  8. ^ Mahavamsa VI.34
  9. ^ Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, G. P. Malalasekera
  10. ^ Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature, p. 38, J. W. McCrindle
  11. ^ Apara-Malava-Pashcimena Lata-desa
  12. ^ Al Biruni's India, p. 205
  13. ^ Mahabharata: 2.27.18-22
  14. ^ Hiun Tsang, Buddhist Records of the Western World, Vol. I. Trans. Samuel Beal, 1906, pp. 142-150
  15. ^ History and Culture of Indian People, Struggle of Empire, p. 33; Classical Age, p. 132
  16. ^ Epigraphica Indica, XVII, p. 110
  17. ^ Cunningham mentions 'Hingur' as an ancient place name located 40 miles East from the apex of Indus Delta (Ancient Geography of India, map facing p. 248, A Cunningham). The Delta of Indus is still known as Lar and the Sinhapura of Sinhalese traditions was also located somewhere in this region. Scholars say that 'Hingur' could well be a corrupted version of Sinhapura (Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p. 351, Dr J. L. Kamboj).
  18. ^ Mahabharata 2.32.9
  19. ^ History of Ceylon, Vol I, Part 1, p. 91, Dr S. Parnavitana; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p. 320, Dr J. L. Kamboj
  20. ^ According to Dr Hema Chandra Ray, K. M. De Silva et al. also, there is an evidence that the Kambojas who inhabited a region bordering upper Indus, had at one time established themselves in a country near Sindh. The authors have also furnished references to this Southward migration of the Kambojas to a country near Sind (See: History of Ceylon, 1959, p. 93, Hem Chandra Ray, K. M. De Silva, Simon Gregory Perera)
  21. ^ The Yalpana-Vaipava-Malai or The History of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Transl. by C. Brito. Asian Educational Services, 1999
  22. ^ [3]
  23. ^ [4]


  • Ahmad, Aijazuddin (2009). Geography of the South Asian Subcontinent:A Critical Approach. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. 

External links[edit]

Prince Vijaya
Born:  ? Died: ? 505 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Queen of Heladipa
King of Tambapanni
543 BC – 505 BC
Succeeded by
Regent of the Kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara