5th century BC, Kapilvastu

It was chaos after chaos for the Shakyans. Being the clan of the Gautama Buddha, the Shakyans of Kapilvastu faced a terrible fate. Although a small kingdom, the Shakya Kingdom always was concerned about its independence, dignity, and territorial integrity. They were proud of their birth and of being Shakyans. This is why the Buddha also visited them to teach them a lesson about the delusion of their pride.

King Vidudabha was once insulted by the Shakyans. At this point, he vowed to take revenge on the proud Shakyans by massacring them all. He did so and most of the Shakyans died. A remaining few, escaped to faraway lands, including Sri Lanka.

5th century BC, a small Shakya village on the banks of the Ganges

On a day somewhere between 504 – 474 BCE, a beautiful Shakyan princess was sent far away from her home in West India. She was the daughter of King Pandu Shakya, a first cousin of the Gautama Buddha. Sensing king Vidudabha’s Shakya massacre beforehand, King Pandu Shakya fled from the Shakya Kingdom to some unknown destination beyond the Ganges in West India and settled there.

His daughter, Bhaddakachchana was a gorgeous beauty. Seven kings sent messages to her father asking for her hand. Fearing a war, the father, sent the young princess away from her homeland.

At Gokannatittha, Thambapanni

She, along with 32 young maidens, was sent on a ship. This ship, sailing the Indian Ocean for two days, landed on the shores of a little island known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. This island then was called Thambapanni (land that has copper beaches) or Sihaladeepa (island of Sinhala).

Princess Bhaddhakachchana and the 32 maidens were dressed in robes, not as princesses or noble women. They landed at the Gokanna Port on the North East coast of Thambapanni. After landing there as priests, the women found their way to the then-capital Upathissa-gama (village of Upathissa).

King Panduwasudeva married Princess Bhaddhakachchana and his ministers married the 32 maidens. She bore ten sons and one daughter, the youngest. She was Princess Chithra. Princess Chithra gave birth to prince Pandukabhaya, who is the founder of the greatest city built by the Sinhalese, Anuradhapura. This great city lasted as the country’s capital for almost 1000 years and also is the foundation of the country’s 2,500-year-old legacy.

Panduwasdeva 504 – 474 BCE; from Sinhapura to Upatissagama

A few years before Princess Bhaddakachchana arrived in Thambapanni, Prince Panduwasudeva with his 32 men, arrived at the Gokanna Port from Sinhapura (City of the Lion). He was the grandson of Sinhabahu. Prince Panduwasudeva and his men were also in disguise as priests. He too found his way to Upathissa-gama and there he was crowned as the king of Lanka.

He arrived here upon the invitation of the previous king, Vijaya. Vijaya had no children and therefore, he requested his brother Sumittha, to come and be his successor. However, as Sumittha was already king in Sinhapura, he sent his youngest son Panduwasudeva.

The port where Princess Bhaddhakachchana landed, Gokanna is today known as Trincomalee. Trincomalee is historically, politically, geographically, and geologically greatly significant.

Trincomalee is situated in the Eastern Province. As we explore the vulnerable and threatened heritage places in Sri Lanka’s North and East, today, we shall start our journey to explore the modern-day Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.

The Eastern Province; part of the ancient Ruhuna Kingdom and Rajarata Kingdom

If you have noticed, most of the earliest historical events of Sri Lanka and of its islanders, and most of the historically, culturally, and religiously significant events, all took place in the Northern and Eastern provinces. These two historical provinces are the foundation of our civilisation, legacy, and our identity. This area is the cradle of our country’s civilisation. Also, the fertile lands of the Northern and Eastern provinces are where our civilisation was rooted and flourished for centuries.

Therefore, we cannot ignore or neglect these two provinces for any reason; we cannot give up on this land.

We shall first explore the historical background of the area today known as the Eastern Province and then visit the many archaeological places in the province. Our first visit is to the Trincomalee District.

The Rohana Kingdom

As the Northern part of Sri Lanka was the land of Rajarata or the land of the kings, the Southern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka were the land of the Ruhunu Rata.

While the Rajarata royal family was established basically around Anuradhapura, the Rohana royal family was established around Magama, the capital of the Rohana Kingdom.

Its history runs parallel to the Anuradhapura Kingdom. From time to time, when Anuradhapura was invaded by usurpers, Ruhuna rose to power and always produced a saviour of the nation. Also, the Rohana Kingdom never surrendered to any foreign power.

Dawn of a civilisation on the banks of rivers

Prof. Sirimal Ranawella in his scholarly work Rohana Rajadhaniye Ithihasaya writes that during King Kavanthissa’s time there had been three areas of the Ruhunu Rata and they are; Soma Nuwara, Seru Nuwara, and Lona Nuwara. The Trincomalee District belongs to the ancient Seru Nuwara of the Ruhunu Rata.

He further writes that according to the Dhathuwamsa, during the time of King Gotabaya of Magama or sometimes even before, these three areas were under the authority of the Magama Kingdom.

Mahavamsa gives us information about how the earliest settlers established settlements in the Eastern province of the island. According to these ancient chronicles, Shakya princes who were brothers of Princess Bhaddakachchana established the early settlements such as Vijithagama, Ramagona, Deeghayu, and Rohana Janapada.

The waters of the River Mahavali were used by them for agriculture. Thiriyaya, Nachchiyarmaleyi, Seruwila, Ilankeithurei, and Ichchilampaththu are some places on the East coast closer to the Mahaweli River, where early Brahmi inscriptions are found.

Pali chronicles further narrates that one of Bhaddhakachchana’s brothers, a prince named Rohana, established the Rohana Janapada.

Therefore, historians say that Bhaddhakachchana’s brothers and the princes landed at Gokanna (Trincomalee) and sailed toward the south along the Mahaweli River.

In our previous heritage segment, we said that Vijaya arrived at Thambapanni. His queen, a Pandya princess arrived at Mahatitta at Mannar. Vijaya or Sinhala (according to other sources Sinhala was the name of a merchant who arrived at Thambapanni and established civilisation on the island), represents the largest and the most influential Indo-Arya group that arrived at the Mannar coast and sailed along the Malwatu Oya and the Kala Oya and established settlements.

After the arrival of this large Indo-Arya group, a few years later, on the other side of the country, more Indo-Aryan settlers arrived at Gokanna and sailed along the Mahaweli River, and established settlements.

Gokanna Port and Gokanna Vihara

The ancient port on the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka named Gokanna or Gokarna is identified as the modern-day Trincomalee.

 Gokarna or Gokanna means, the shape of a cow’s ear. As the bay has a shape that resembles a cow’s ear, our ancestors named it Gokarna Tiththa.

The village or the settlement in the vicinity was Gonagama.

According to Pali chronicles, King Mahasen (276 – 303 CE) built the Gokanna Vihara. King Aggaodhi V (718 – 724) CE built a Padhanaghara at Gokanna Vihara.

Prince Manavamma, later King Manawamma (684 – 718 CE) recited religious poems at a place close to Gokanna.

 King Parakramabahu (1153 – 1186 CE) during his wars had strengthened the security of the coastal area including and along the Mahaveli River.

Also, King Parakaramabhu II (1236 – 1270 CE) defeated the foreign armies that were camping at Gokanna.

These are only a few examples of the importance of the ancient Gokanna Port and the ancient Gokanna Vihara.

Sena Sammatha Wickramabahu (1469 – 1511 CE)’s Gadaladeniya inscription says that Trincomalee, Baticoala, and Mahatota (Mannar) provinces were under the king’s rule.

During the 18th century, when King Kirti Sri Rajasinhe was ruling (1747 – 1782 CE), a group of Siyam (Thai) monks, headed by Ven. Upali Thera arrived at the Trincomalee harbour.

What happened to the Gokanna Vihara built by king Mahasen in the 3rd century?

It is said that this ancient temple was raided and demolished by the Portuguese during the 16th century.

Afterward, a fort was built by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, further destroying the ruins of the historical period temple and harbour.

As Dr. Somapala Jayawardhene writes in Sinhale Deshika Wishwakoshaya, the Thirukoneshwaram Kovil was built in 1956 or after and not before that.

Kuchchaveli Vihara

Kuchchaveli Vihara or the Pichchamal Vihara is one of the most well-known temples in the Trincomalee District. This beautiful little temple is located on a small rocky outcrop on the coast, close to the Yan Oya estuary.

Samudragiri or muhudu viharas are types of Buddhist temples built on rocky outcrops in the coastal areas, especially close to ports, at estuaries. Most of the samudragiri temples are closely associated with the port and the majority of the visitors and pilgrims were sailors and foreigners.

At Kuchchaveli Pichchamal Vihara, the most striking feature is the carving of 16 small stupas on the face of a rock. A similar carving cannot be seen elsewhere in Sri Lanka. A panel has been carved on the surface and it has been divided into 16 squares, four squares on each side. Puravidya Chakrawarti, Puravidya Paryeshanashuri Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera writes that this carving shows Mahayana influence. He further writes that in 1966 the carvings were well preserved but in 1978 some of them were damaged. He also writes that the ruins of an ancient stupa can be seen but it is not been excavated and conserved.

Excavations carried out at this place have revealed the foundation of an image house and ruins of a Buddhist monastery. Excavations at the image house have unearthed ruins of a Buddha statue as well as two heads of Buddha statues. Ven. Medhanandha Thera dates the statues, based on their styles as belonging to the 2nd century CE.

The inscription next to the stupa carvings is in Sanskrit language and it has been read, interpreted, and published. As Ven. Medhanandha Thera says this is about prayer and the wish of a devotee. He or she has carved the 16 stupas and wished for Buddhahood. This once again hints about a Mahayana practice of the place. The Thera has dated this inscription to the 6th century CE.

Writing further, the Thera says the ancient name of this place is Kanikarawelli Vihara, which is often mentioned in Atta-katha (commentaries).

Ven. Medhanandha Thera reveals something very interesting and important. He says that according to historical documents, during 1870, the area belonged to the Udarata Kingdom (which was under the rule of the Sinhala monarch, the king of Kandy). This means that, when Sinhale (the name of Sri Lanka when it was surrendered to the British), was taken over by the British, this area was under the rule of the Sinhala Kingdom, and even after (in 1870) the area was considered to belong to the Udarara area.

Thus, how can it ever be a part of a mythical Tamil homeland?

The extremists haven’t spared Kuchchaweli. In 1981 there had been an attempt to destroy the Sanskrit inscription by applying tar over it. Most of the ruins are damaged. A kovil has been built on the place in the hope of forever erasing the place’s Buddhist identity.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

The post UNVEILING EASTERN TREASURES appeared first on Ceylon Today.