History of Anuradhapura

In 543 BC, prince Vijaya (543–505 BC) arrived in Sri Lanka, having been banished from his homeland in India. He eventually brought the island under his control and established himself as king. After this, his retinue established villages and colonies throughout the country. One of these was established by Anuradha, a minister of King Vijaya, on the banks of a stream called Kolon and was named Anuradhagama.

In 377 BC, King Pandukabhaya (437–367 BC) made it his capital and developed it into a prosperous city. Anuradhapura (Anurapura) was named after the minister who first established the village and after a grandfather of Pandukabhaya who lived there. The name was also derived from the city's establishment on the auspicious asterism called Anura. Anuradhapura was the capital of all the monarchs who ruled the country during in the Anuradhapura Kingdom, with the exception of Kashyapa I (473–491), who chose Sigiriya to be his capital. The city is also marked on Ptolemy's world map.

King Pandukabhaya, the founder and first ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, fixed village boundaries in the country and established an administration system by appointing village headmen. He constructed hermitages, houses for the poor, cemeteries, and irrigation tanks. He brought a large portion of the country under the control of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. However, it was not until the reign of Dutthagamani (161–137 BC) that the whole country was unified under the Anuradhapura Kingdom. He defeated 32 rulers in different parts of the country before he killed Elara, the South Indian ruler who was occupying Anuradhapura, and ascended to the throne. The chronicle Mahavamsa describes his reign with much praise, and devotes 11 chapters out of 37 for his reign. He is described as both a warrior king and a devout Buddhist. After unifying the country, he helped establish Buddhism on a firm and secure base, and built several monasteries and shrines including the Ruwanweli Seya and Lovamahapaya.

Another notable king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom is Valagamba (103, 89–77 BC), also known as Vatthagamani Abhaya, who was overthrown by five invaders from South India. He regained his throne after defeating these invaders one by one and unified the country again under his rule. Saddha Tissa (137–119 BC), Mahaculi Mahatissa (77–63 BC), Vasabha (67–111), Gajabahu I (114–136), Dhatusena (455–473), Aggabodhi I (571–604) and Aggabodhi II (604–614) were among the rulers who held sway over the entire country after Dutthagamani and Valagamba. Rulers from Kutakanna Tissa (44–22 BC) to Amandagamani (29–19 BC) also managed to keep the whole country under the rule of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Other rulers could not maintain their rule over the whole island, and independent regions often existed in Ruhuna and Malayarata (hill country) for limited periods. During the final years of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, rebellions sprang up and the authority of the kings gradually declined. By the time of Mahinda V (982–1017), the last king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, the rule of the king had become so weak that he could not even properly organize the collection of taxes.

During the times of Vasabha, Mahasena (274–301) and Dhatusena, the construction of large irrigation tanks and canals was given priority. Vasabha constructed 11 tanks and 12 canals, Mahasen constructed 16 tanks and a large canal, and Dhatusena built 18 tanks. Most of the other kings have also built irrigation tanks throughout Rajarata, the area around Anuradhapura. By the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, a large and intricate irrigation network was available throughout Rajarata to support the agriculture of the country.

Arrival of Buddhism 
One of the most notable events during the Anuradhapura Kingdom was the introduction of Buddhism to the country. A strong alliance existed between Devanampiya Tissa (250–210 BC) and Ashoka of India, who sent Arahat Mahinda, four monks, and a novice being sent to Sri Lanka. They encountered Devanampiya Tissa at Mihintale. After this meeting, Devanampiya Tissa embraced Buddhism the order of monks was established in the country. Devanampiya Tissa, guided by Arahat Mahinda, took steps to firmly establish Buddhism in the country.

Soon afterwards, the bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arrived from India in order to establish the Bhikkhuni sasana (order of nuns) in the country. She brought along with her a sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhi, the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, which was then planted in Anuradhapura. Devanampiya Tissa bestowed on his kingdom the newly planted Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Thus this is the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka


Several invasions have been made against the Anuradhapura Kingdom, all of which were launched from South India. The first invasion recorded in the history of the country is during the reign of Suratissa (247–237 BC), where he was overthrown by two horse dealers from South India named Sena and Guththika. After ruling the country for 22 years, they were defeated by Asela (215–205 BC), who was in turn overthrown by another invasion led by a Chola prince named Elara (205–161 BC). Elara ruled for 44 years before being defeated by Dutthagamani. However, the Mahavamsa records that these foreign kings ruled the country fairly and lawfully.

The country was invaded again in 103 BC by five Dravidian chiefs, Pulahatta, Bahiya, Panya Mara, Pilaya Mara and Dathika, who ruled until 89 BC when they were defeated by Valagamba. Another invasion occurred in 433, and the country fell under the control of six rulers from South India. These were Pandu, Parinda, Khudda Parinda, Tiritara, Dathiya and Pithiya, who were defeated by Dhathusena who regained power in 459. More invasions and raids from South India occurred during the reigns of Sena I (833–853) and Udaya III (935–938). The final invasion during the Anuradhapura Kingdom, which ended the kingdom and left the country under the rule of the Cholas, took place during the reign of Mahinda V.

However, none of these invaders could extend their rule to Ruhuna, the southern part of the country, and Sri Lankan rulers and their heirs always organized their armies from this area and managed to regain their throne. Throughout the history of Sri Lanka, Ruhuna served as a base for resistance movements.
End of the kingdom

In 993, the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I invaded Sri Lanka, forcing the then Sri Lankan ruler Mahinda V to flee to the southern part of the country. The Mahavamsa describes the rule of Mahinda V as weak, and the country was suffering from poverty by this time. It further mentions that his army rose against him due to lack of wages. Taking advantage of this situation, Rajendra I son of Rajaraja I, launched a large invasion in 1017. Mahinda V was captured and taken to India, and the Cholas sacked the city of Anuradhapura. They moved the capital to Polonnaruwa and subsequent Sri Lankan rulers who came into power after the Chola reign continued to use Polonnaruwa as the capital, thus ending the Anuradhapura Kingdom.

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