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The history Polonnaruwa Ancient City

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa did not play the role of capital city until 11th century, the adoption of Polonnaruwa as the chief royal capital of Sri Lanka, however, was an immediate result of the Tamil invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries, and these invasions are as much a part of the history of India as they are of Sri Lanka. The existence of a significant number of Tamil populations on the island today, no doubt the descendants of partly of earlier invaders and partly of peaceful immigrants, is attested both from chronicles and inscriptions.

Polonnaruwa Ancient City

Recently I received a mail from one of the readers asking me to write more articles on Sri Lankan history. As the author of this blog, I have to respect the requests of my readers, they find my blog is useful that’s why they come back over and over again and check on my articles. Once I received that email I thought of making another article with historical facts. I already wrote many articles about Sri Lankan history starting from the stone age man, kings time, Colonial-era up to now. However, I had not written much about the history of Polonnaruwa even though I published many blog posts on various attractions in this historical city. Therefore I thought of dedicating this article to the historical facts of Polonnaruwa.

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The city of Polonnaruwa, which is a UNESCO world heritage site is one of the most important tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. And it is tourist hotspots, included in most Sri Lanka tour packages. A large number of visitors that are very enthusiast about the historical attractions of Polonnaruwa write us often and enquire about the interesting places to visit in Polonnaruwa, accommodation in Polonnaruwa and ask us to organize tour packages to visit Polonnaruwa. Since Polonnaruwa is such an important historical attraction, I thought of writing some historical facts about the city and the king who contributed most for the improvement of Polonnaruwa.  

Evolution of human settlements in Polonnaruwa

The city of Polonnaruwa is not among the oldest Aryan settlements in Sri Lanka. The first note on Polonnaruwa is written in Mahawamsa (ancient chronicle) in connection with the King Aggabodhi 3 (626-41), who said to have endowed a monastery in Polonnaruwa. The King of Aggabodhi 4 (658-74) was residing at Polonnaruwa when he died, as was Aggabodhi 7 (766-72). In the reign of Sena 5 (972-81) a rebel general, also called Sena, made the city his headquarter, and Sena 5 himself dwelt thereafter suppressing the revolt.  According to archaeologists, a few epigraphs, inscribed on stones had been providing vital information with regards to the palmy days of Polonnaruwa, and recording royal donations, also indicate the importance of the historical city in the 9th and 10th centuries.

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa did not play the role of capital city until 11th century, the adoption of Polonnaruwa as the chief royal capital of Sri Lanka, however, was an immediate result of the Tamil invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries, and these invasions are as much a part of the history of India as they are of Sri Lanka. The existence of a significant number of Tamil populations on the island today, no doubt the descendants of partly of earlier invaders and partly of peaceful immigrants, is attested both from chronicles and inscriptions.  

Tamil invasions

Despite the south Indian invasions in the 10th century, down to the end of the reign of Mahinda 4, Polonnaruwa had been a prosperous city. Under Sena 5 (972-81) and Mahinda 5 (981-1017), however, conditions changed. Both kings had been quite inefficient. The country was plundered by the Dravidian mercenaries, always a very dubious element in body politics. The power of King Sena 5 was much weakened during his reign by the revolt of General Sena.

Despite the south Indian invasions in the 10th century, down to the end of the reign of Mahinda 4, Polonnaruwa had been a prosperous city. Under Sena 5 (972-81) and Mahinda 5 (981-1017), however, conditions changed. Both kings had been quite inefficient. The country was plundered by the Dravidian mercenaries, always a very dubious element in body politics. Later sometime between 1001 and 1004 Chola King Rajarraja invaded Sri Lanka and ruled the country for some time at the demise of Rajaraja his son Rajendra 1 ruled some parts of Sri Lanka including Rajarata and northern peninsula.

Regaining the control of Polonnaruwa by King of Vijayabahu

However the Sinhalese King from Ruhunu Rata (southern Sri Lanka) Vijayabahu marched to northern Sri Lanka and Rajarata (Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura), by way of the east coast and west coast making it difficult to Chola army to withstands the attack of the native army. The victory of the Sri Lankan army was fairly easy except in Polonnaruwa, where they had to fight six weeks in order to get the capture the city. Immediately after the defeat in Sri Lanka Chola king Kulottunga (1070-1120), decide to abandon the island, thereafter King Vijaybahu rule the island. Consecration of king Vijayabhu as the king of Sri Lanka took place in 1073, in the old religious capital of Anuradhapura. But Polonnaruwa remained the ruling capital of Sri Lanka during his tenure.

King Vijayabahu maintained Polonnaruwa as his chief residence as well as the royal capital of teh island, which had been the same ruling capital of the Chola army.

Why did King Vijayabahu make the Chola city as the ruling capital of sri Lanka?

His reason for retaining the capital of Chola is obvious; Rohana had not yet fully recovered from teh anarchy of the first half of the century and was still probably largely in teh hands of vassal chiefs ready at the least sign of weakness to rise in revolt. Indeed there are several accounts of revolts in the course of Vijayabahu’s long reign, and it is evident that he was not able fully to restore the good government of the prosperous days before the Chola occupation.

One such revolt of the most serious description took place when King Vijayabahu was mustering his troops for an invasion of Chila domain on teh mainland, where Kulottunga Chola had maltreated the envoys sent by Vijayabahu to Vikramaditya VI. The Velakkaras, or picked Dravidian mercenaries, revolted against the prospect of invading the lands of their kings folk, killed the two Generals who were to lead teh expedition and plundered Polonnaruwa and the surrounding country. teh royal palace was burnt to the ground and several members of the royal family were captured. But Vijayabahu escaped, fled to teh south, and returned to wreak summary and cruel vengeance on the leaders of the rebels.

To be continued

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