Old Polonnaruwa city

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa did not play the role of the capital city until the 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, 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 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, king’s time, and 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.

Kingdom of Polonnaruwa

The city of Polonnaruwa, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is one of the most important tourist places in Sri Lanka. And it is a tourist hotspot and is included in most Sri Lanka tour packages.

Anuradhapura is the most ancient city in Sri Lanka from the 3rd century BC to the 11th century AD. The role of the capital city of Sri Lanka was transferred from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, due to the unceasing south Indian invasions.

If you like to learn more about the places in Polonnaruwa such as Gal Viharaya, Please check my article on, the 14 best places to visit in Polonnaruwa.

A large number of visitors that are very enthusiastic 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 the most to the improvement of Polonnaruwa.  

Evolution of human settlements in old Polonnaruwa City

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 King Aggabodhi 3 (626-41), who is 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 headquarters, 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, which 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 the capital city until the 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, 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 of old Polonnaruwa city

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 the northern peninsula.

Regaining the control of Polonnaruwa by the 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 for the 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 for six weeks in order to get 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 the island, which had been the same ruling capital of the Chola army.

Why did King Vijayabahu make Chola City the ruling capital of Sri Lanka?

His reason for retaining the capital of Chola is obvious; Rohana had not yet fully recovered from the anarchy of the first half of the century and was still probably largely in the 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 Chola domain on the 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 the expedition and plundered Polonnaruwa and the surrounding country. The royal palace was burnt to the ground and several members of the royal family were captured. But Vijayabahu escaped, fled to the south, and returned to wreak summary and cruel vengeance on the leaders of the rebels.

Polonnaruwa under the rule of King Parakrambahu

Parakramabahu is the best legend of the Culavamsa, and under his support, the city of Polonnaruwa developed to an equal grandeur of Anuradhapura in architectural diversity and as a repository of Buddhist arts and crafts. Parakramabahu was an incredible supporter of Buddhism and a reformer too. He reorganized the sangha (Buddhist monks) and settle a longstanding schism between Mahavihara – – the Theravada Buddhist cloister – – and Abhayagiri – – the Mahayana Buddhist religious monks. Parakramabahu’s rule harmonized with the last great period of Sinhalese hydraulic engineering achievements; numerous advanced irrigation systems were built during his rule, including his highest accomplishment, the huge Parakrama Samudra (Ocean of Parakrama or Parakrama Tank).

Polonnaruwa became one of the grand capitals of the old world, and nineteenth-century English history specialist Sir Emerson Tenant even assessed that during Parakramabahu’s standard, the number of inhabitants in Polonnaruwa arrived at 3 million – – a figure, nonetheless, that is viewed as unreasonably high by 20th-century students of history.

Developemnt of Polonnaruwa under King Parakramabahu

Parakramabahu’s rule was a period of Buddhist Renaissance as well as a time of expansion of Buddhism to foreign countries. Parakramabahu was very strong to send a corrective mission against the Burmese for their abuse of a Sri Lankan mission in 1164. The Sinhalese ruler likewise intruded widely into Indian legislative issues and attacked southern India in a few fruitless campaigns to help a Pandyan claimant to the throne.

Albeit a worshipped figure in Sinhalese records, Parakramabahu is accepted to have enormously strained the royal depository and added to the fall of the Sinhalese kingdom. The post-Parakramabahu history of Polonnaruwa depicts the obliteration of the city 29 years after his demise and fifteen rulers later.

Political unrest in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom

For the decade following Parakramabahu’s demise, however, a time of peace, harmony and country stability resulted during the rule of Lord Nissankamalla (Promotion 1187-97). During Nissankamalla’s regime, the Brahmanic laws came into effect in order to control the Sinhalese caste system. Hence, the most elevated position layer became related to the cultivator rank, and land possession gave high status. Occupational caste became inherited and managed dietary and marriage codes. At the lower part of the caste layers was the Chandala, who compared generally to the Indian unapproachable. It was during this short period that it became required for the Sinhalese King to be Buddhist.

After Nissankamalla’s demise, a progression of dynastic dispute increased the separation of the kingdom of Polonnaruwa. Homegrown instability described the following period, and attacks by Chola and Pandyan trespassers made more prominent turbulence, finishing in an overwhelming effort by the Kalinga, an eastern Indian tradition. At the point when Magha, the Kalinga King died in 1255, one more time of instability started, denoting the start of the deserting of Polonnaruwa and the Sinhalese movement toward the southwest from the northern dry zone. The following three Kings after Magha managed from rock forts toward the west of Polonnaruwa. The last King to control Polonnaruwa was Parakramabahu III (1278-93).

Foreign rulers exploited the disturbed political condition of the Sinhalese kingdom, and in the thirteenth century Chandrabhanu, a Buddhist King from Malaya, attacked the island two times. He endeavoured to hold onto the two most sacred relics of the Buddha in Sinhalese guardianship, the Tooth relic and the alms Bowl.

Some of the rules, that reign the country from Polonnaruwa

King Vijayabahu – 1055 AD – 1110 AD

King Vijayabahu is a mighty ruler who crushed the Cholas and united the country once again. He was the main King of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. He renovate the irrigation system, encouraged trading and did numerous things to make the nation prosperous. The next lord was his sibling “Jayabahu” (1110 AD – 1111 AD) and afterwards ruler Vijayabahu’s child “Vickramabahu II” (1111 AD – 1132 AD) turned into the ruler. After him, the high position goes to his child “Gajabahu II” (1132 Promotion – 1153 Advertisement).

King Veera Parakramabahu – 1153 AD – 1186 AD


The next King of the nation was the child of a certain ruler relative named Manabharana and King Parakramabahu is supposed to be the best King of Polonnaruwa. During his rule, he developed a huge water management system, encouraged arts and crafts, reorganized the military and embraced military missions in southern India and in Myanmar.

Among his development projects, the best is Parakrama Samudraya tank. It is an enormous water storage tank and it was by his renowned expression “not so much as a drop of water that comes from the downpour should stream into the sea without being made helpful to humans”.

During his rule, he sent off a punitive mission against the Kings of Ramanna and supported the Pandyas against the Chola in south India. He was able to trade food sources to different nations for nothing as the nation was much more prosperous. Another significant truth is architectonic. This King has developed numerous dagobas, monasteries and castles a few structures are as yet remaining as they were. The following King was above all else Gajabahu’s child “Vijayabahu II” (1186 AD – 1187 AD) and he was killed by the ruler “Mahinda” (05 days).

King Nissanka Malla – 1187 AD to 1196 AD

Then, the chief minister of King Vijayabahu, Nissanka Malla had the opportunity to overcome King Mahinda and get the Kingship. He is likewise a popular ruler due to his development projects, for example, “Nissanka Latha Mandapaya” and “Hetadage” which was utilized as a tooth relic temple. After him, his child “Weerabahu” (3 months) turned into the King yet he was killed by clergymen. Then King Nissanka Malla’s sibling “Wikramabahu” (90 days) turned into the ruler. Then King Nissanka Malla’s nephew “Chodaganga” (09 months) claimed the lofty position.

Queen Lilavati – 1197 AD to 1200 AD

Ministers killed King Chodaganga and ruler Veera Parakramabahu’s wife Lilavati turned into the sovereign of the country. Then, at that point, a King from Okkaka Vansa named “Sahassa Malla” (1200 AD – 1202 AD) took the crown from sovereign Lilavati and turned into the ruler.

Queen Kalyanavati – From 1202 AD to 1208 AD

King Sahassa Malla was killed by ministers and afterwards, the wife of King Nissanka Malla called Kalyanavati took the throne. Then, at that point, her child “Dharmashoka” (1208 AD – 1209 AD) turned into the King. Ruler Dharmashoka was killed by a Tamil minister called “Anikanga” (07 days) and he turned into the King.

Then Queen Lilavati (1209 AD – 1210 AD) was re-established by overcoming Anikanga. Then a minister called “Lokissara” (1210 AD – 1211 AD) dethroned queen Lilavati with the assistance of Tamils and queen Lilavati (1211 AD – 1212 AD) reestablished again by overcoming King Lokissara. At last Queen Lilavati was dethroned by her brother “Parakrama Pandya” (1212 AD – 1215 AD). Then a Kalinga King called “Magha” known as Kalinga Magha (1215 AD – 1236 AD), from India, robbed the Sri Lankan throne and started to destroy numerous dagobas, temples, cities and numerous other constructions. Magha the intruder destroyed the Kingdom and the royal city. It isn’t possible that Polonnarua at any point recovered anything of its previous greatness after this.

During this time span, the force of local Sinhalese started to move toward the south. They carried the tooth relic with them to safeguard it from Magha. In this manner next Sinhala King ascends from the south, Dambadeniya not from Polonnaruwa. In this manner, Polonnaruwa lost its glory as the capital further.

How to visit Polonnaruwa ancient city?

Venturing on a Sri Lanka trip is the best way to explore this fascinating archaeological city. Here are a few Sri Lanka tours that include Polonnaruwa,

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