Kalinga Magha

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Kalinga Magha
Prince of Kalinga
Reign 1215–1236
Predecessor Parakrama Pandyan II
Successor Chandrabhanu
ethnic Kalinga origin
House Eastern Ganga dynasty[1][2]
Dynasty Aryacakravarti dynasty
Religion Hinduism
Jetavanaramaya, one of the many massive stupas raided during Magha's reign.

Kalinga Magha (reigned 1215–1236), (Odia: କଳିଙ୍ଗ ମଘା ,Tamil: கலிங்க மாகன்,Sinhalese: කාලිංග මාඝ) also known as Magha the Tyrant, is an invader who is remembered primarily for his aggressive conquest and Hindu fanaticism. He is identified as the founder of the Jaffna kingdom and first king of the Aryacakravarti dynasty. According to the Segarāsasekara-Mālai belong the first Aryacakravarti king of Jaffna to Eastern Ganga dynasty of Kalinga, who where descendants of Western Gangas and Cholas.[3] His family was connected to the rulers of Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. Kalinga Magha’s relatives of Ramanathapuram administered the famous temple of Rameswaram.[4] He usurped the throne from Parakrama Pandyan II of Polonnaruwa, in 1215. His reign saw the massive migration of native Sinhalese to the south and west of Sri Lanka, and into the mountainous interior, in a bid to escape his power.[5] Magha was the last ruler to have his seat in the traditional northern seat of native power on the island, known as Rajarata; so comprehensive was his destruction of Sinhalese power in the north that all of the successor kingdoms to Rajarata existed primarily in the south of the island.

Invasion and Reign[edit]

Kalinga Magha landed in Karainagar in 1215 AD with a large army of 24,000 soldiers mostly recruited from Chola and Pandyan territories. He camped his soldiers in Karainagar and Vallipuram and brought the Jaffna principality under his control. Kalinga Magha then marched to Polonnaruwa, defeated Parakrama Pandyan II and ruled it for 21 years. He was expelled from Polonnaruwa in 1236 and withdrew to Jaffna which he ruled till 1255.[6]

Mention of Kalinga Magha in Culavamsa[edit]

The Culavamsa provides Magha with an impressive and detailed introduction, something which the normally laconic text very rarely does. In Chapter LXXX, we are told that:in consequence of the enormously accumulated, various evil deeds of the dwellers in Lanka, the devatas who were everywhere entrusted with the protection of Lanka, failed to carry out this protection, [so] there landed a man who held to a false creed, whose heart rejoiced in bad statesmanship, who was a forest fire for the burning down of bushes in the forest of the good...who was a sun whose action closed the rows of night lotus flowers [that represent] good doctrine...and [was] a moon for destroying the grace of the...day lotuses that...[represent]peace...(a man) by [the] name [of] Magha, an unjust king sprung from the Kalinga line...'.[7]

Nothing is known of Magha before his arrival in Rajarata with an army of 24,000 from Kalinga, nor on what basis he claimed the throne of Lanka. Certainly in the years before his arrival the Sinhalese kingdom had progressed into an advanced state of political decay, making its way through more than nine monarchs in twenty years and suffering at least three invasions. It has been speculated that Magha may have had a claim through the Kalingan dynasty established by Nissanka Malla in 1187.[8] Whatever his pretext however he swiftly lost any potential support amongst the populace by the sheer violence of his invasion.

Rajarata and the Sinhalese had a long history of cultural, religious, and indeed genetic exchange with the kingdoms of southern India; the royal families of the island had, for example, consistently married into the royal families of the Pandyas and Cheras. Invaders such as Anikanga (in 1209) and Parakrama Pandu (in 1212) were often welcomed and accepted. Perhaps the most famous invader had been Elara, around a thousand years previously, who despite conquering the island by force had earned the title of 'dharmaraja' ('Just King') even amongst monks and was regarded as one of the best examples of governance in the history of the country. All these monarchs had incorporated the local nobilities into their rule and shown respect and deference towards the native faith, Buddhism. Thus one of the chief reasons for the particular loathing held by the Culavamsa for Magha was his utter refusal to accommodate either the faith or the culture of the native Sinhalese population.

The Culavamsa notes that during the invasion Magha's troops engaged in theft on a massive scale, wanton destruction of property, kidnapping and torture (the Culavamsa particularly mentions the flogging of children), mutilation and amputation, and took many of Rajarata's nobility as slaves. The voracity of the invaders is particularly apparent in the fate of the incumbent king Parakrama Pandya, who was blinded and executed. Beyond this the army proceeded to systematically desecrate and destroy many of Rajarata's most sacred sites. Dagobas were destroyed and sacred relics lost, books were ripped apart and 'strewn hither and tither', monks were beaten and the treasure of the temples was ransacked.[9] Of particular note were his desecrations of Thuparama, the oldest dagoba in Rajarata, and Dutugemunu's beloved Ruwanveliseya.[10]

Having executed Parakrama Pandya and ransacked the temples of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Magha was crowned king by his own soldiers and settled in the capital of Pulatthinagara. His priorities in ruling appear to have been to extract as much as possible from the land and overturn as many of the traditions of Rajarata as possible. The Culavamsa again describes how religious places and temples were awarded to his followers as abodes, whatever wealth he could seize was also taken from the hands of the natives, and how much of the populace was forced to work as slaves.

The Rise of Dambadeniya[edit]

It was during this time that the centre of native power on Ceylon began to shift to the south. During Magha's reign the chief priests of Pulatthinagara took two of Rajarata's most sacred relics - the Buddha's alms bowl and the sacred Tooth Relic - and 'on the mountain Kotthumala in a safe region...buried both the relics carefully in the earth and so preserved them'.[11] This was not the first time this had happened; it was, however, to be the last, as neither was ever returned to the north.

Resistance to the invaders began to coalesce around a series of inaccessible towns and fortresses constructed in the mountainous interior of Ceylon. The fortress of Yapahuwa was one of the first of these, founded by the Senapathi (General) Subha;[12] another was Gangadoni, founded by the general Sankha, barely 15 miles ('two yojanas') from Magha's capital. From these places the various nobles 'gave as little heed to the infamous army of the Ruler Magha, though...as to a blade of grass and protected without fear that district and the Order [of Buddhist monks]'.[13]

The man who eventually emerged as the leader of the resistance was Vijayabahu III, who the chronicles identify as a descendant of Sirisamghabodhi (242-244 or 251-253),[14] a king of Rajarata, though it is possible that the relationship was through marriage.[15] He appears to have spent an extended period of time in 'inaccessible forest' avoiding the forces of Magha. Sometime in the 1220s however he drove the Tamil and Kalinga forces from Mayarata (Dhakkinadesa) and established his capital at Jambudhoni (Dambadeniya).[16] Vijayabahu's most emphatic statement of authority however was the recovery of the two sacred relics (around 1222), which he paraded through the lands he controlled and invested in a freshly constructed temple.

Vijayabahu's reign was largely spent reconstructing the shattered Buddhist infrastructure of the Sinhalese in Mayarata, and indeed many of the religious traditions he established were to last into modern times.[17] Occasionally raids into Kalinga-controlled territory were mounted, but it was not until the reign of is son, Parakramabahu II(1234-1267) that a concerted effort was made to drive the invaders out.

Soon after his accession the Culavamsa describes how the King 'set about subjugating by the power of his majesty and by the might of his loving spirit...the forces of the foe in Lanka'.[18] It would appear however that Magha had by this point either died or been deposed, as the chronicles make no mention of him taking part in the wars between Parakramabahu and the Kalinga. Instead it names two Damila kings, Mahinda and Jayabahu, as having established fortifications in Polonnaruwa;[19] both are, in due course, defeated by the resurgent forces of Dambadeniya. Magha does not re-appear in the historical record; his fate remains a mystery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ K. M. De Silva,History of Ceylon: From the earliest times to 1505. 2v, Ceylon University Press, 1960, p.691
  2. ^ Rasanayagam, M., Ancient Jaffna, p303-304
  3. ^ K. M. De Silva,History of Ceylon: From the earliest times to 1505. 2v, Ceylon University Press, 1960, p.691
  4. ^ T. Sabaratnam,Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle, A journalist who reported the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years, Chapter 4
  5. ^ Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad. Ethnic unrest in modern Sri Lanka: an account of Tamil-Sinhalese race relations. M.D. Publications Pvt. Ltd. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  6. ^ T. Sabaratnam,Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle, A journalist who reported the Sri Lankan ethnic crisis for over 50 years , Chapter 4
  7. ^ Culavamsa, Chapter LXXX, 54-58
  8. ^ A Short History of Ceylon, H. W. Codrington, 1926, London, ch
  9. ^ Culavamsa LXXXI 74-79
  10. ^ Ancient Ceylon: An Account of the Aboriginies and of Part of the Early History by H. Parker, London 2009, pp263 [1]
  11. ^ Culavamsa, LXXXI, 17-19
  12. ^ The Culavamsa, LXXXI, 2-3
  13. ^ Culavamsa, LXXXI 9-11
  14. ^ Culavamsa LXXXI 10
  15. ^ Codrington, A Short History, ch.V
  16. ^ Culavamsa LXXXI 15-16
  17. ^ Chapter
  18. ^ Culvamsa, LXXXIII, 8-11
  19. ^ Culavamsa LXXXIII 14

External links[edit]

  • [2] Resources on Sri Lankan history.
  • [3] An account of the shift of Sinhalese power to the south of Sri Lanka.
Preceded by
Parakrama Pandyan II
(Polonaruwa Kingdom)
Jaffna Kingdom
Succeeded by