This article is part of a continuing series on the ‘Mahavamsa’, the recorded chronicle of Sri Lankan history
The sacrifice of Somadevi

  1. King Valagamba retreated and fled to Anuradhapura. Those days, there was a huge arame (temple) near the northern gate of the city, which was meant for the ‘Niganthas’. It had been built during the time of King Pandukabhaya. There lived various Hindu priests who followed different faiths. No one ever tried to shift this temple from its original place of location. This is just one instance, to prove that the Sinhala kings who were Buddhists, respected all other religions.
  2. The priests who lived in this ‘arame’, did not possess good qualities. Some of them were engaged in spy service for the South Indian invaders. Whenever there was some weakness in the administration of the country, they were quite alert. They encouraged the South Indians to invade the country. As there were friends of the ‘Niganthas’, even in the king’s council, royal secrets were leaked.
  3. During King Valagamba’s time, the chief of this temple was a person named Giri. He ruled the place and all who resided there respected him. He was a friend of the Tamil invaders. When King Valagamba tried to enter the city through the northern gate, Giri saw him and looked inquiringly. He realized that the king was fleeing, after being defeated in battle. He was happy to note this.
  4. Giri forgot himself and shouted, “The great black lion is fleeing”. With this cry, the temple bells were rung. The king halted his horse for a while and looked at the temple of the Niganthas. The Niganthas did not notice the king. They were cheering at the defeat of the king. The great king got furious and felt like setting fire to the entire temple. But the king thought, “this is not the proper time to punish them”.
  5. The king thought to himself. “Once my ambition is fulfilled, I shall teach them a good lesson”. He rode fast to the city and entered the palace. He instructed his men to get a coach ready immediately. He collected a bundle of valuable gems and jewels. The queens Anula and Soma and the two princes, Maha-tissa and Mahanaga were asked to get into the carriage. The king too got in and ordered the charioteer to ride as fast as he could. They went towards the Vessagiri forest, which was to the south of the city.
  6. 6. The chariot did not go fast enough. The king got angry and ordered the charioteer to go faster. Though he tried his best to go faster, the chariot wouldn’t move. The king inquired what was really wrong. He was told that they could not speed up because of the heavy load. The king realized the truth of it.
  7. King Valagamba was in deep thought. By this time, the victorious Tamil armies were marching towards Anuradhapura. Even the blowing of their bugles could be heard. The king glanced at Somadevi. She understood him. She said, “O’ King do not feel sad. I’ll get off the coach”. The king then replied, “Yes, dear Queen. My country and my kingdom are in danger. I have to save the situation somehow. If we go at this speed, we’ll all get caught. That will be the end of everything”.
  8. “O great king, I know it. Queen Anula is pregnant, bearing a child. The two other children are small. I’m the only one who could afford to get off. If you were caught by the enemy, the Sinhala people will be left helpless. That has to be prevented. Even if the enemy seizes me, the country, our people and our religion will not be affected. Only I may die”. So saying, she got off and asked the king to go as fast as he could. The king’s eyes swelled with tears.

By Halaliye Karunathilake
Edited and translated by Kamala Silva
Illustrated by Saman Kalubowila

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