Vijayabahu the Great
by Husna Inayathullah
Vijayabahu I was a medieval King of Sri Lanka. He ruled from
1055-1110. He was born to a royal family. He grew up at the time when a
part of the country was occupied by invaders from the Chola Kingdom. He
assumed rulership of the Ruhuna in the southern part of the country in
1055.He successfully drove the Chola out of the island in 1070.
He led a17-year-long campaign to do it and reunited the country for
the first time in over a century. He re-established Buddhism in Sri
Lanka and repaired much of the damage caused to the infrastructure
during the wars.
Vijayabahu was born around 1039 by the name of Kitti (Keethi) in
Ruhuna principality. He was the son of King Moggallana, a ruler of
Ruhuna and Queen Lokitha. Sri Lanka was then under the control of Chola
invaders from South India but Ruhuna was controlled by Sinhala kings
resisting the Chola rule.
When he was 15 years Kitti defeated the last of such rulers,
Lokissara with the aim of becoming the king of Ruhuna. Subsequently in
1055, he became king of Ruhuna and used the name 'Vijayabahu.' The Chola
army frequently attacked Vijayabahu's troops in Ruhuna. However, he
managed to free Ruhuna from the Cholas by 1058 and take it under his
Vijayabahu's intention was to capture Polonnaruwa, the capital of the
country. He launched the first attack on Polonnaruwa in 1066. He
captured and held the city for a brief time. However, after receiving
reinforcements from South India, the Chola army attacked again, forcing
Vijayabahu to flee.
He established himself in Wakirigala after this and concentrated on
organizing his army for a fresh attempt to capture Polonnaruwa.During
this time, he also had to face rebellions from other Sinhala leaders
fighting for the throne. Overcoming these rebellions,Vijayabahu
continued to muster his armies to retake the capital but he was not
strong enough to attempt another attack against the Chola army. He made
kataragama in Ruhuna as his capital and also started too rganise an army
to defeat the Cholas.
Civil war broke out during 1069-1070in the Chola empire in South
India throwing the country into turmoil.The concerns within India
prevented the empire from focusing on SriLanka. It provided an
opportunity for Vijayabahu to attack againwhile the Chola forces in
Polonnaruwa were more or less isolated.
Starting from Mahanagakula on the south of the Walawe river
Vijayabahu dispatched three armies to attack Polonnaruwa from threef
ronts. A battalion was sent along the western shore of the country to
Mahathittha port to deal with any reinforcements arriving fromSouth
India. Afterwards, part of this army moved towards Polonnaruwa and
attacked from the North-west while the other part held the ports to
prevent reinforcements from arriving.
A second battalion was sent from the east across Magama to attack
Polonnaruwa from the East. The third and main force advanced across the
country, led by the king. Surrounded by the three armies, Polonnaruwa
was besieged for seven months before king Vijayabahu's forces entered
the city. In 1070, Vijayabahu became the ruler of Polonnaruwa.
Vijayabahu had to face more rebellions after the victory at
Polonnaruwa. This caused him to delay his coronation which took place in
1072 or 1073, 18 years after being crowned as Vijayabahu in Ruhuna and
after a military campaign that lasted 17 years. Polonnaruwa was renamed
"Vijayarajapura" and chosen as the capital, making Vijayabahu the first
Sinhala king of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. Vijayabahu took Lilavati, the
daughter of Jagatipala of Kanauj as his queen. He also married
Tilokasundari, a princess from Kalinga with the view to strengthening
ties with the Kalingas. During the Chola rule and the wars, Buddhism in
the country suffered and Bhikkhus were very few. Five Bhikkhus were sent
to Burma for higher ordination.With renewed ties with Burma Bhikkhus
helped to re-establish Buddhism in the country. Vijayabahu repaired
several Buddhist temples that were abandoned or destroyed. A new temple
was also constructed in Polonnaruwa for the Sacred Tooth Relic of the
Vijayabahu also reconstructed a number of irrigation tanks in
Rajarata destroyed during the wars. He also constructed several new
tanks. The reconstruction of the irrigation system in the Rajarata area
was important to the development of the country. Vijayabahu is also
credited with constructing roads to Sri Pada and building resting places
called Ambalamas for the benefit of pilgrims.
He also granted villages and cultivations for the service of the
pilgrims and the shrine.Vijayabahu died in 1110, having reigned as king
of Sri Lanka for 55 years.
He was known as Mahalu Vijayabahu (Vijayabahu the old) due to his age
and long rule of the country. He is also commonly referred to as Maha
Vijayabahu (Vijayabahu the Great). The Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment of
the Sri Lankan Army is named after him.