The Beginning of Sri Lankan Literature

According to historical evidence, the history of Sri Lankan literature is going back to the pre-Christian era. The beginning local literature is the chronicle that written in the 5th century B.C. it was in 4th century A.D that Indian monk Buddhagosha lived in Sri Lanka for a short period of time.

During his stay in the island, the monk had translated important texts of Buddhism into Pali from Sanskrit. Translated texts were written for the time in the history and same time monk Buddhagosha compiled a book of the teaching of Buddha which is called Visuddhimagga.

One of the most important and well-known class of ancient literary works are Sannasa. They are royal grants, usually inscribed on copper plates, but occasionally on gold, silver and stone and sometimes written on palm leaves.

Such grants were given by kings to monks or to high-ranking noblemen, usually to obtain merit or in recognition of particular services rendered to the king. The granting of a Sannasa was considered as a special reward for exceptional loyalty, since it conferred on the done and sometimes on his descendants, social and economic privileges of the highest nature.

The Sannasa frequently bore the royal sign Sri and sometimes other emblems like the sun and the moon signifying perpetuity. These were engraved at the king.

Sometime later about 5th and 6th century A.D appeared few literary works of novels and stories and they were written in Sanskrit.  Until the 12th century A.D there are no records of literary works that were written in the Sinhala language. It was during the 12th century while King Parakramabahu (1153-1186) in the throne, showed a remarkable achievement of Sinhalese literature.

King Parakramabahu patronage many literary works and the king had constructed the first library in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. It is said during the period there had been a large number of learned monks in the country and they have taken steps to write Ola manuscripts. Ola manuscripts written on various subjects but most of them were dedicated to Buddhism. Buddhism, economic, medicine and various other stories had been the subject of the books.

After the demise of Parakramabahu, the great King Nissankamalla took the throne and ruled the country from 1187 to 1196. King Nissankamalla is the creator of the biggest stone inscription of the island. The Galpotha or stone book is still to be found in Polonnaruwa. Galgotha is a granite monolith which is eight meters long and four and a half meters in width. King had engraved all his achievements into the stone slab such as construction that carried out under his supervision.

Another noteworthy period for the Sinhalese literature was the 14th century (1302-1326), the reign of King Parakramabahu 4. The grammar pattern of the Sinhalese language supposes to be started during that period. The origin of Jataka katha (stories of the life of Buddha’s) is another milestone of Sinhalese literature which also took place during the same period. Pansiya Panas Jathaka book of five hundred fifty stories contains five hundred fifty stories of Buddha.

Dipawamsa an important chronicle which contains some of the most important facts about ancient Sri Lanka was written in 320 A.D.  It considered being the first large-scale literature work of ancient Sri Lanka. Dipawamsa covers the important facts of the island from the pre-Christian era to the last year of the reign of King Mahasena (303 A.D). Dipawamsa contains most important facts about the country and the people such as the arrival of Arians, the introduction of Buddhism, arrival sapling of Bo-tree, the arrival of tooth relic etc. 

Dipawamsa also records the three visits of Buddha to the island of Sri Lanka. Dipawamsa produces some very important facts about the ruling pattern of the different kings, their trading activities with the outside world, social and cultural life of people during the corresponding period.