A mural from Dambulla rock paintings A mural from Dambulla rock paintings
Jun 15, 2017

Dutu Gemunu's dilemma in present day politics

Historical essays on ancient Lanka say, prefix "Dushta" was given to Prince Gamini Abhaya when he disobeyed and insulted his father, King Kakavanna Tissa of Rohanapura.

"Dushta" in Sinhala means "extremely bad" and "wicked" or "incorrigible". History written to raise the sanctity of Sinhala Buddhist heritage turned "Dushta" into "Dutu". Meaning of the original word is thus lost. "Dutu" is now prefixed to "Gemunu" and not to "Gamini". We thus now have in Sinhala history, a highly respected, never challenged Sinhala hero by the name King Dutu Gemunu. Almost venerated for his role in bringing the whole country under the rule of his single Sinhala throne. For "unification" and saving Buddhism.

Gamini in Kotmale

Interestingly, everything about King Dutu Gemunu written by Bikkhu Mahanama who chronicled the history of ancient Lanka as Mahavamsa, is not only about crowing Dutu Gemunu as the great warrior king, but is also about defining and designing a Sinhala saviour of Buddhism that none would surpass in history, thereafter. Unfortunately this chronicling of Dutu Gemunu's history as the Sinhala warrior king who saved Buddhism on this soil, has left him in a dilemma. His biography is left with gaping holes.

Prince Gamini having insulted and angered his father who ordered the arrest of son Gamini, fled to Kotmale and lived in disguise with a peasant family. It is said he married a young woman 'Ran Ethana' while in Kotmale. The village where Prince Gemunu lived in Kotmale recorded as "Kada dora" was one of the 04 entry points (Kadadora, Watadora, Niyangandora and Galdora) to Kotmale. The village where he lived is the present "Navangamuwa", a village of gold and blacksmiths, in the vicinity of Kada Dora. The name 'Ran Ethana' also confirms that.

Yet there is no mention in any historical document that he had a son from that marriage. Therefore Prince Saliya who historical documents confirm as Dutu Gemunu's son, cannot be from that marriage. That relationship with Ran Ethana is not mentioned during and after his arrival to capture the throne in Magampura where he had to battle his own brother Tissa after the demise of King Kavan Tissa.

Son and the Mother

So is mention of the much respected and venerated Queen Vihara Maha Devi. She is quietly obliterated from history, after Prince Dutu Gemunu captures the throne from brother Tissa and sets off to capture the Anuradhapura kingdom from King Elara.

Although records say King Dutu Gemunu had the blessings of his mother, queen Vihara Maha Devi in his war against the Tamil king Elara, she is completely absent in history during the reign of Dutu Gemunu in Anuradhapura. The mention of Vihara Maha Devi during Dutu Gemunu's foray into Anuradhapura is in a single note that says, capturing of the "Damila Titthamba" in Ambhatitthaka, was "….fighting the crafty and powerful foe, for four months, he (finally) overcame him by cunning, since he placed his mother in his view". (Mahavamsa Chapter XXV; pages 170/171)

This to have been so written by Bikkhu Mahanama into Mahavamsa as a historical fact, is a very poor and lame attempt at portraying King Dutu Gemunu as a great warrior and strategist. What is implied without much ambiguity is that after four months of waging war and exhausted without result, Dutu Gemunu offered his own mother to Elara's Dravidian General, in exchange of territorial authority. The image of a very brave princess who sets off to sea in a boat in a sacrificial mission to contain a 'Tsunami' type disaster is thus left completely devalued.

It is therefore clear and the slip of Bikkhu Mahanama is seen visibly in his feeble attempt in hoisting Dutu Gemunu as a serene and committed Sinhala warrior king. With what is written about his mother Vihara Maha Devi, king Dutu Gemunu had negotiated and compromised with Tamil warriors along his way to Anuradhapura, in the most unprincipled, immoral manner ever, and begs questions about him being called a "saviour" of the Sinhala Buddhist heritage.

Son without a Mother

The most fascinating fact is that after Dutu Gemunu's conquer of Anuradhapura, while he is mentioned as the father of Prince Saliya, there is no mention of who Saliya's mother is. That also bares the fact, there is no mention of King Dutu Gemunu's queen, during his reign as king of Anuradhapura. In fact, except the village lass Ran Ethana mentioned as his wife during self exile, there is no mention of a queen, wife or concubine in the life of king Dutu Gemunu, but only about a son.

Prince Saliya is mentioned in different historical documentation as one who was "freewheeling" enjoying life and not trained to take over the reign as king after the father. He is mostly written into history as the Romeo of Lankan history, who decided on his romantic affair with an outcaste 'girl' Asokamala, and opted to give up a royal life. Therefore Dutu Gemunu's brother Tissa ascends the throne after Dutu Gemunu's demise.

Yet ancient Lankan history is full of stories with queen mothers conspiring to have their sons succeed to the throne after the father. Of stories where the sons wage wars to gain the throne after the father. But according to Mahavamsa and all other historical essays, there is no queen mother who wants her son Saliya to succeed her husband. There is no mention of son Saliya wanting to succeed the father, although the father decides he is not qualified as he had married a very low caste woman. He is written as one who simply leaves royal privileges to enjoy the love life of a beautiful woman, as destined by fate.

Hypothesis on this dilemma

Can this be? Can it be, Dutu Gemunu ruled as an Anagarika*? It cannot be, for he had a son and there had to be a mother to give birth to that son. Who could that be? Well, I am here constructing a hypothesis.

Mahavamsa has 11 chapters out of 37, on Dutu Gemunu with great details. There are other essays too, with later archaeologists and historians providing though briefly, historical mentions that Mahavamsa prefers to omit. Mahavamsa has all ten giant warriors of Dutu Gemunu as "Sinhala giants". Yet Velu Sumana is said to be of Tamil descent in some essays. There is also very brief reference elsewhere that he also had Tamil foot soldiers in his army. Mahavamsa itself records Dutu Gemunu's readiness to compromise with Tamil warriors to gain control of the Anuradhapura kingdom, even at the expense of his most respected mother.

Dutu Gemunu takes over Anuradhapaura, after his battle with the aged king Elara. Even Mahavamsa records king Elara had been one of the most peaceful, just and fair kings in Lankan history and had ruled Anuradhapura for over 04 decades.

Obviously, Elara was a ruler, loved and respected by the nobility. Or else as a warrior from South India with roots in the Chola dynasty who captured Anuradhapura defeating the Sinhala king Asela, he would not have been able to rule for 40 plus years as king. Thus the loyalty of the nobles had to be won over, for Dutu Gemunu to rule the kingdom captured through war.

It is thus assumed, king Dutu Gemunu brought to his palace, the only daughter of Elara as his queen. Prince Saliya is perhaps her son and was named Saliya Rajakumar. He is not very much mentioned as Saliya Rajakumar for that sounds "Tamilish".

Everything Tamil had to be erased as much as possible from Dutu Gemunu's history to project him as the Sinhala warrior king who saved Buddhism on this land. Tamil linkages ran counter to Bikkhu Mahanama's project of writing the Sinhala history of Dutu Gemunu as the blessed Sinhala king in all history.

Mahavamsa therefore says, queen mother was placed "in his view" and not that she went over to the "Damila warrior Titthamba". It is Vihara Maha Devi going over to him that had her erased from history thereafter. So was Dutu Gemunu's Tamil queen, the daughter of slain king Elara and Saliya Rajakumara's mother erased from history. And Saliya Rajakumara also remains as mere "Saliya" in history and out of royalty for being "half Tamil".

This for sure will not be a hypothesis, Sinhala politics of today would want to dialogue on. So this is for the more moderate and rational minds to ponder on.

Kusal Perera
14 June, 2017