19th December 1999

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History of our kings and their kings

Nalini de Lanerolle's A Reign of Ten Kings first appeared in 1985. The fifth reprint is just out. In between many have enjoyed reading it. Sir Arthur C. Clarke called it "an excellent and much needed piece of research". It was also hailed as a welcome departure from the usual studies on Sri Lankan history.

The book gained international recognition when it was featured in the bookshop at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution's Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C during a six month long exhibition of the Golden Age of Sculpture from Sri Lanka.

The book traces the history of Sri Lanka between 500 B.C and 1200 A.D. It is, in fact, not just relating the history but looking at our history in a comparative way which helps us understand our past better. The writer talks about "intriguing parallels in history" which help us to view our history in the world perspective. The founding of the great civilization at Anuradhapura coincided with the Golden Age of Periclean Greece. There was King Arthur and Camelot in Britain at the time King Kasyapa ruled from the splendid palace complex in Sigiriya.

To Nalini, Sri Lanka's history is unique in the sense the great kings of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa left behind a living culture of religious monuments and water systems. They did not leave behind personal records of glory unlike their predecessors in Egypt and Persia and contemporaries in India and Europe. She sees links with ancient Iran through the solar symbol of the lion. The lion emblem of the ancient Sinhalese appears on older versions of Persian heraldry. A flag of ancient Iran depicts a lion carrying a sword.

In its ten chapters, A Reign of Ten Kings. features ten well known kings -Vijaya, Pandukhabhaya, Devanampiyatissa, Dutugemunu, Vattagamani Abhaya, Mahasena, Dhatusena, Kasyapa, Vijayabahu I & Parakramabahu I. Their contemporaries (kings or dynasties) in other countries are indicated at the beginning of each chapter thus making it easy for the reader to identify the parallel rulers.

Nalini's is an in-depth study of the numerous civilizations. Almost parallel to the early Anuradhapura period, the Romans began to build aqueducts as a water supply system to the Italian cities. Greek culture had also reached its Hellenistic period of development. It was also the age of Celtic expansion in Europe- from Ireland in the North to Asia Minor in the East.

The latest reprint is beautifully printed. The photographs and other illustrations are extremely well replicated and the Ajantha murals and Kelaniya temple murals aptly used. Suitable colour and black and white pictures enhance the quality of the writing.

As Sir Arthur wishes, the book should bring to the attention of a large audience some of the most remarkable architectural and cultural achievements in history "unfortunately, still not widely known beyond the shores of Sri Lanka".


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