Anuradhapura: The city of Anuradha (Part XIX)

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

The war against Elara by Dutugamunu is the first recorded great battle of Sri Lanka that was fought as a nation to protect the sovereignty of the Sinhala Kingdom and the territorial integrity of the island kingdom. One may argue about the war of Pandukabhaya, which is also one of the most significant historical battles of Sri Lanka. However, this was not a war fought against a foreign invader, which makes it different from the great battle of Dutugamunu against Elara. Thus, the chronicles make a great effort to carefully record this battle in detail, highlighting the importance of this historical battle. 

However, before Elara, Sena and Guttika invaded the capital city Anuradhapura dethroned King Surathissa  (247 – 237 BCE)and crowned themselves as king. This could be seen as the first recorded threat and invasion that occurred in Sri Lanka. Yet, the chronicles take very little interest and effort to record this significant event. Sena-Guttika’s invasion is important as we study the security, fortification, military powers, and warfare of ancient Anuradhapura.

The Mahavamsa says Sena-Guttika ruled for 22 years and the Deepavamsa says they ruled for 12 years. Eminent Sri Lankan historian G.C. Mendis is of the view that Sena-Guttika were not foreign invaders, but Dravidas who were in Anuradhapura; however, many historians do not agree with this as there is no evidence to prove such a claim. 

By this time, the Anuradhapura city was in a developed state. King Pandukabhaya introduced a Nagara-Guttika position which is believed to be a night guard position that indicates that the city had a special security system that was alert during the night. Yet, as we have explained in a previous article, the city’s security may not have been high as we witnessed how the general public was allowed to visit the inner city of Anuradhapura during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. Devotees gathered in the inner city near the royal palace, which was in the inner city area. 

Perhaps, by this time, the inner city of Anuradhapura was not a highly secure and fortified area, restricted to the public; as the capital city was only less than two centuries old by this time and such norms and practices were not so strict yet. Ruins of a broad and strong rampart and a deep moat that surrounds and protects the inner city of Anuradhapura have been unearthed. This indicates that the inner city was well fortified. However, it seems that during the time of King Devanampiyatissa, the inner city was not a highly protected area with a rampart and a moat. 

Therefore, as the chronicles say, if Sena-Guttika were horse merchants or horse-trading sailors, it may not have been a challenging task for them to dethrone the Sinhalese king. Still, this account is very doubtful and unclear. If we look at this otherwise, that means, the city was a well-fortified city and previous Sinhalese kings had introduced high-security practices, then we will have to conclude that Sena-Guttika were powerful invaders well-trained and skilled in warfare. Perhaps they arrived in Sri Lanka as merchants or sailors, intending to invade Anuradhapura. 

Some scholars suggest that Sena and Guttika were from the Pandya Kingdom. The language of the Pandya Kingdom was Tamil and Sanskrit. Tamil was the spoken language and thus, the chroniclers refer to them as Tamils or Damilas because the language they spoke was Tamil. 

Nevertheless, we still need more research about Sena and Guttika to understand them further. 

Who was Elara; was he from the Tamil country?

Elara is first described in the Mahavamsa as a Damila and his men are referred to as Damilas. This has led many modern historians, especially Tamil scholars to interpret him as a Tamil king. Now, this statement is problematic. 

The 2nd century BCE did not see the rise of any superior power of a Tamil kingdom in the Tamil country especially of a Chola Dynasty, that had the power to invade neighbouring countries,

Damila; was it a common term for all invaders?

The many invaders who had led political invasions that occurred during the historic times are referred in local chronicles as Damila invaders from South India; which means, generally whoever invaded Sri Lanka during historic times, regardless of their ethnicity and the language they spoke, chroniclers have referred to them as Damilas. 

The first known Damila invasion in Sri Lanka was the invasion of Sena and Guttika during the time of King Suratissa. According to local chronicles, Sena and Guttika were horse merchants. To date, there is no evidence of the existence of Sena-Guttika and or any invasion of Sri Lanka from South India of this time, being recorded in the history of South India. 

The invasion during the time of King Walagamba (103 BCE/ 89 – 77 BCE) is also referred to as the Seven Damilas in the chronicles. Some scholars suggest they were of Pallava origin. The Pallavas and Cholas were enemies in South India and the Pallavas were finally defeated by the Cholas in the 9th century CE. 

The Damila invasion during the time of KIng Mittasena (435 – 436 CE) known as the Six Damilas is from the Pandya Kingdom. Even though they are from the Pandya Kingdom, the chronicle refers to them as Damilas. 

When narrating about many other Pallava and Pandya political invasions and alliances during the Anuradhapura time, the chronicles use the term Damila. 

The four Nayak kings ruled Sri Lanka even though they spoke Telugu and they are not of the Tamil race, are referred in our historical texts as Damila/Demala or Tamil kings and we still prefer to refer to them as such.

This leads to the suggestion that Elara, although referred to as a Damila, does not necessarily mean the modern Tamil race. He could have been someone from any South Indian kingdom or even from some other foreign land, most probably where Buddhism was unknown. No evidence has been found in the Tamil country to say that Elara during the 2nd century BCE invaded Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, we must say that the identity of Elara is not yet figured out. His existence in South India is not proven, nor elsewhere yet, apart from Sri Lanka. Hence, attributing his ethnicity to the modern Tamil race is baseless. There is no doubt that he was a foreigner who most probably spoke a Dravidian language (there are about 80 Dravidian languages), who practiced the eye-to-eye law, who was of noble descent, and who was not familiar with Buddhism. 

He was of course a royal and that is why King Dutugamunu honoured him in a way that reminds us of how Porus asked Alexander to, “Treat me as a king would treat another king”

The rise of Sri Lanka’s military power under Kavantissa and Dutugamunu

According to local chronicles, what we understand is that the warfare and fortification of Anuradhapura reached a great height due to the kings Kavantissa and Dutugamunu’s war strategies. The chronicles give a detailed account of how the King of Magama, King Kavantissa planned and prepared for a war against Elara and how he strengthened the Ruhuna Kingdom by expanding its borders and securing the ports. He also took measures to strengthen the economy of the kingdom by developing agriculture. (Please read our articles titled, Revelation via Excavation Part I to know about the war strategies of King Kavantissa and his preparations for this great battle)

‘Dasa Maha Yodhayo’

We hear about Giants (Yodhayo) for the first time in Sri Lankan history during this time. King Kavantissa started creating an army of Yodhayo for Prince Dutugamunu. According to the Mahavamsa, people around the island informed the king or the prince when they got to know about young men who had extraordinary physical abilities and strengths. This suggests that there was an active spy service (charapurusha) networked around the island. 

King Kavantissa gathered Ten Great Giants (Dasa Maha Yodhayo) and each of them was told to find 10 giants, making it an army of a 100 giants. Those 100 giants were asked to find 10 giants and by this way, a mighty army of 11,110 giants were created. 

Later on, there are more accounts of great giants who had great physical strengths assisting Sinhalese kings during wars. 

War elephants and war horses

War elephants and war horses were used in wars. During the battle of Pandukabhaya, the chronicles say about a powerful mare owned by the king who greatly assisted the king during the battle. King Dutugamunu had a war horse named Deeghathunika and a war elephant (a tusker) named Kadol Etha who played a vital role in the war. 

The king’s army gradually marched north from Magama and started attacking Elara’s forts one by one and demolished them. It is said that King Dutugamunu’s mother, Queen Viharamahadevi also joined her son in war, on the actual battlefield. 

The chronicles also say that the king’s army as well as the enemy’s army were wearing armours during the war. 

Kadol Etha: Sri Lanka’s most celebrated war elephant

Talking about Sri Lanka’s military history and historic battles, the role of Kadol Etha is incomparable. Known for his valour and loyalty, Kadol Etha played a vital role in the victory of King Dutugamunu. 

The main fort of Elara was at Vijithapura. The Vijithapura battle is an iconic historic battle of Sri Lanka. The Mahavamsa says that the Vijathapura fort had three moats, and a great rampart protecting the fort. The doors were made of iron. The chronicles explain this battle in detail. 

KIng Dutugamunu’s main war elephant Kadol attacked the wall of the fort with his great tusks and reached the great iron door. The Dravida soldiers who were on the wall and watchtowers attacked the tusker with various weapons and poured melted hot metal, and a type of adhesive that was burnt (Kakala Maliyam) on the tusker’s back. The tusker, unable to bear the agonising pain of his wounds, submerged himself in a nearby water body. 

Seeing this, Gotaimbara, one of the main giants of the King’s army, called the tusker and ordered it to break the door of the fort. At the same time, the doctor who treated the elephants applied medicine to the tusker’s wounds. The king petted the tusker’s head with love and pacified it with kind words and fed it with delicious food. The wounds were bandaged with soft fabric and on top of them; two leather shields made of buffalo skin were laid. 

The energised and motivated Kadol tusker finally broke the iron gates of the Vijithapura fort. The Mahavamsa says that the wall of the Vijithapura fort was 18 cubits tall and it took six months to take over the power of the Vijithapura fort. 

According to the chronicles, we also understand that Elara’s military power and skill were on great levels. He had strong powerful forts built in many places on the island. His army was powerful, skilled, and well-equipped. Perhaps that was why Kavantissa took years to plan the war along with his queen, Viharamahadevi before he allowed Prince Dutugamunu to wage war against Elara.

An interesting story about Kadol Etha

Before moving on to the next stage of this battle, let me share a little side story of this battle, that I found amusing. 

Before the king’s army attacked Vijithapura, they camped at a place named Kandawurupitiya, close to Vijithapura. To test the giants, Dutugamunu ordered Kadol tusker to attack Nandimithra (one of the king’s Dasa Maha Yodhayo). Nandimithra, who understood that the tusker was approaching to attack him, wrestled with the tusker, held it by the two tusks, and made him sit on his hind legs. The place where Nandimithra wrested with the Tusker (Haththi), was then known as Haththipora. This incident made Kadol hate Nandimithra.

When Kadol demolished the iron gate of Vijithapura, the great iron door, and the iron doorway crashed upon the floor along with the bricks and other heavy materials that were on top of the entrance pandol; these rubble were about to fall upon Kadol and if it did, that would have caused great damage to the tusker. Seeing this, Nandimithra protected Kadol by smashing the falling rubble with his mighty arms. The tusker was pleased and felt grateful; he let go of the grudge he held against Nandimithra and he wished that Nandimithra would ride him to invade the fort. However, Nandimithra’s pride was too much that he decided he would not enter the fort through the path cleared by Kadol, hence he broke the rampart and entered the fort. 

To be continued…

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