Anula of Anuradhapura

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Anula
Queen of Anuradhapura
Reign 47 BC – 42 BC
Predecessor Niliya
Successor Kutakanna Tissa
Consort Chora Naga
Kuda Tissa

Queen Anula (reigned 47 BC – 42 BC) was the first queen in Sri Lankan history to have wielded meaningful power and authority. As well as the first female head of state in Asia. Anula initially rose to power as consort of king Chore Naga (also known as 'Coranaga' and 'Mahanaga'), son of king Valagambahu of Anuradhapura; however in her five-year reign she poisoned her way through at least four other husbands and consorts and eventually governed Rajarata on her own. She should not be confused with the other famous Anula in Sri Lankan history, king Devanampiyatissa's consort. The primary source for her reign is the Mahavamsa, chapters XXXIV and XXXV.

Rise to power[edit]

The situation in Sri Lanka immediately before the reign of Anula was extremely unstable. When king Khallata Naga had been deposed in a palace coup in 104 BC, his younger brother Vatta Gamani Abhaya (Valagambahu) had overthrown the usurpers and taken his dead brother's wife, also called Anula, as his own. He had also adopted his nephew Mahaculika as his own son.

Valagambahu had been on the throne little more than a year when 'the Damilas made war upon [him]... in a battle near Kolambalaka the king was vanquished.'[1]. It was sixteen years before Valagambahu could re-take the throne, by which time Mahaculika had superseded Coranaga as Valagambahu's preferred heir [2][3].

Mahacula (who reigned as Mahakuli Mahatissa)went on to inherit Valagambahu's throne in 76BC. Coranaga on the other hand 'lived as a rebel'[4]; whether this constituted a struggle for the throne is unknown. If it were, then Coranaga's succession to the throne in 62 BC may well have represented an overthrowing of Mahakuli Mahatissa. The Mahavamsa does mention that one of Coranaga's first acts was to destroy eighteen temples that had refused him shelter during his time as an outlaw; whether or not these were the activities of a new regime establishing itself in power remains unclear. Whatever the situation Coranaga is recorded as having reigned for twelve years before being poisoned by his consort, 'the infamous Anula'[5].

Anula's motives behind killing her husband are not elaborated on. Coranaga's successor, king Kuda Tissa, is the son of the man who ruled before him, Mahakuli. 'Kuda' means 'little', and thus it is possible that the new king was only a child, and thus effectively under Anula's control. Whether or not he would have developed into an independent king remains unknown as Anula, 'because she was enamoured of one of the palace-guards...now killed Tissa also by poison and gave the government into the hands of that other' [6]. From this point onwards the queen eclipsed her titular consorts and became the real power in Rajarata.

Reign and deposition[edit]

Having reigned for four months on her own, Anula was deposed by Mahakuli Mahatissa's second son Kutakanna Tissa. The Mahavamsa states that Kutakanna Tissa had Anula burned on a funeral pyre [7]. Other sources indicate that Anula was burned alive in the palace within which she had committed her murders [8][9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Anula of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura monarchs
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Niliya
Queen of Sri Lanka
47 BC – 42 BC
Succeeded by
Kutakanna Tissa