ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36
59 years of Independence 1948 - 2007

The first battle for freedom

  • The ancient Sri Lankans were known to be 'Yakkas' as there lived a group of people with no discipline or ethics whatsoever. The Aryans from North India invaded the island and the war between the 'Yakkas' and Aryans was won by the latter, thus began the development and civilization of the people of Sri Lanka who conducted themselves in a moral manner

By Anura Manathunga Senior Lecturer - Archeological Unit, University of Kelaniya

We possess centuries of history on record filled with agitation and riots, lost and won contributing to our independence and known as the first fight for freedom.

The ancient Ceylonese were known to be 'Yakkas' as there lived a group of people with no discipline or ethics whatsoever. The Aryans from North India invaded the island and the war between the 'Yakkas' and Aryans was won by the latter, thus began the development and civilization of the people of Ceylon who conducted themselves in a moral manner.

The 'yakkas' though by name were not a fierce tribe; according to the Mahawamsa they were ordinary humans, not developed in any technology when compared to the Aryans but neither were they undeveloped or violent. They were a set of greedy, boisterous, hot-tempered, cannibals. They were rid of the island by the Aryans. This too has been recorded from the known century as superstitious myths but if deeply assessed it is far from it. The war by the Aryans can be segregated into into three sections. The first was during the period of Lord Buddha, the second was the period when King Vijaya came to the island and the third during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. During these wars, the Aryans cannot boast of complete victory over the 'yakkas' and neither can their prowess be ignored, as they reformed themselves to an extent that they are today a disciplined race and cannot be identified as those who belonged to this tribe.

The first chapter of the Mahavamsa describes the first war as one that took place nine months after Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and he came to Mahiyangana in the hope of banishing the 'yakkas' who were at a meeting with all their leaders at that time. The 'Yakkas' lived in the banks of the Mahaveli River in Mahiyangana in the gardens of Mahanaga and the objective of Lord Buddha's visit was to destroy them. He raised thunder storms and frightened them away and the place Lord Buddha visited in Mahiyangana is symbolized by a stupa. God Saman enshrined a lock of hair of Lord Buddha in the Mahiyangana stupa. The 'yakkas' are believed to have moved to the island of Giri and the central mountainous range. The 'yakkas' though defeated were not completely destroyed but controlled. The production of rain, storm and darkness by Lord Buddha was to chase the 'yakkas' away from civilization.

The seventh chapter of the Mahavamsa relates the advent of King Vijeya and his men who landed at Thambapanni, met Kuveni of the 'yakka' tribe disguised as a beautiful woman but was really a 'yakkini' named Sesapathi. Vijeya was on the lookout for a kingdom to call his own when he met Kuveni and he assumed that the area was unpopulated. As Vijeya's men disappeared mysteriously and Vijeya was faced with the same fate, he was able to frighten Kuveni into submission. His first sight of Kuveni was at a spinning wheel which showed that cloth technology was developed. Kuveni's name depicted a dark person. The name Vijeya meant victory. He came to the island with a group of 700 and was searching for food at Thambapanni. Kuveni treated them with food that she had plundered from foreign traders showed her prowess as a sea pirate and a queen who led the 'yakkas'. Vijeya and Kuveni spent the first night of their marriage under a screened off tree. That night he heard the sounds of a percussion band. When questioned, Kuveni said that it was the wedding of a 'yakka' leader to a princess from afar. He realized that this was the best opportunity to kill the 'yakkas' and with the help of Kuveni, he destroyed many of the 'yakka' tribe. The wedding was between Mahakalasena, the leader of the 'yakka's' of Lankapura and Polmitha, the daughter of Konda. This proves the existence of 'yakka' leaders around the island in small groups. Vijeya killed them and wore the jewelry he looted. It also proved that their was some form of developed craftsmen among the tribe. Vijeya waged war with these groups and returned victorious and the 'yakkas' were chased away. Vijeya's ministers conquered the Uruwila, Udeni and Anuradha area and developed them into villages.

The third war between the Aryans and the 'yakkas' was during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. According to the tenth chapter of the Mahawamsa, Prince Pandukhabaya waged war against his uncles at Dimbulagala where previously King Vijeya had invaded and killed, Chethiya who lived in a rock fortress named Chinnapasse, wife of the yakka, Juthindra and captured the village. Chethiya took the form of a horse and was difficult to be captured. But Pandukhabya was able to destroy her and was helped by the 'yakkas' in this battle. Diga Gamini, Pandukhabaya's father and the two 'yakkas' Kalawela and Gopakachiththa who were his childhood friends helped him achieve victory. In 4 A.D. Prince Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura his capital and for the first time a boundary was formed to establish his kingdom. Yet he cared for the 'yakkas' and he constructed a devale in the west for Kalawela and a devale for Chiththaraja near the Abhaya wewa. Thus he put up many devales and during the fetivities, King Pandukhabaya participated in the ceremonies with Chiththtaraja by his side on horseback.

The tenth chapter of the Mahavamsa in section 104 - 105 states that rulers though were at war with the 'yakkas' there are instances where they had close relationship with them. The Aryans and 'yakkas' have lived together down the realm of history.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.