article is part of a continuing series on the Mahavamsa, the recorded
chronicle of Sri Lankan history
1. King Vasabha was engaged in renovating all the temples
and dagobas that were in a dilapidated condition. At that time,
the monks of ‘Valli-Sera’ temple were very good preachers.
King Vasabha used to listen to their sermons very often. Highly
taken up with their sermons, he built another beautiful temple and
offered it to the monks there. He proclaimed that the income derived
from the waters of the ‘Elahera’ tank, should go to
the maintenance of the temples in the area.
Many are the religious buildings constructed by King Vasabha. He
had built a number of ‘Aramas’ for the Maha Vihara,
a dining hall for Thuparama and a chamber to keep statues at the
Bodhi. The statues of the Buddhas –Kakusanda, Konagama and
Gautama were deposited there. Queen Metta too got a stupa built
near the Bodhi and offered it to the Sangha.
King Vasabha patronized the monks who were engaged in literary work.
He offered alms to monks who were clever at preaching the Dhamma.
At the four entrances to the city he had organized the distribution
of meals and clothing to the needy. He saw to it that the sick priests
were well taken care of. He maintained dispensaries at government
expense and hired attendants to look after the sick monks.
King Vasabha saw to it that the people lived in plenty. For this
purpose agriculture was developed. He encouraged the subjects to
farm their land. He is said to have built 11 tanks, some of which
are Rajupul, Kolamba-gamaka, Kolivasa, Kohala and Vatamangara tank.
Scholars are of the opinion that Vasabha was the first king who
built large tanks.
Out of the tanks that he built, only four have been identified.
They are the tanks at Mahavilachchi, Manakatiya, Niochchipotana
and Hiriwadunne tanks. Though there is mention of 12 canals he constructed
only ‘Ele-hera’ has been identified. A dam was built
across Ambanganga at Ele-hera to build this canal. It flows to a
distance of 48 km and ends at Kirindi Oya.
All this is evidence to prove that ancient Lanka had skilled people
who were able to build huge tanks and canals. There had been people
gifted with such engineering skills to maintain even underground
water systems. It is discovered now that the Ran-Masu park at Anuradhapura
was watered by the waters of Tisa-Weva through an underground tunnel.
The inscriptions at Tammanna and Habassa bear testimony to this.
King Vasabha’s birth place has been in the north of the country.
As such, he had close ties with ‘Nag-dipa’, which meant
the entire Jaffna peninsula then. The people of Lambakarna caste,
who lived there, were related to King Vasabha. There is mention
of a minister named Isigira who ruled Jaffna under King Vasabha’s
supremacy. A gold ‘Sannasa’ (plate) which was discovered
in a land close to the Vishnu Devale of Vadamarachchi refers to
There had been a number of Buddhist shrines in Jaffna. Many ruins
of temples and even some gold coins have been excavated here. The
Naga-dipa then was not the little island we mean today. It referred
to the entire Northern Province. The Greeks who came here in the
2nd century AD, have referred to the Northern part of the country
King Vasabha managed to rule the country to the satisfaction of
all his subjects. He died in 111 AD.
By Halaliye Karunathilake
Edited and translated by Kamala Silva