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