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Culavamsa Being the More Recent Part of the Mahavamsa

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Item Code: NAH020
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre For The Arts, MOTILAL BANARSIDASS PUBLISHERS PVT. LTD.
Author: Wilhelm Geiger
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 9788120813007
Pages: 412
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 1 kg
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Book Description
About The Book

Culavamsa or ‘The Little Chronicle’, a thirteenth century work composed by Bhikkhu Dhammakitti in Pali, is a supplement to a much earlier work named Mahavamsa. These are the main sources of the political and religious history of Sri Lanka, the history of king Parakkamabahu being the real kernel. The main subject of the Culavamsa, especially of the first part, Parakkamabahu was the son of the eldest of the three brothers Manabharana, Kittisirimegha and Sirivallabha who ruled over Dakkhinadesa and Rohana in opposition to Vikkamabahu.

The present volume is a reprint of the English translation from the German rendering of the work by Wilhelm Geiger in two parts bound in one.



On completing the first volume of my translation of the Culavamsa, I feel it to be my duty above all to tender my most hearty thanks to the Government of Ceylon for the opportunity it gave me of visiting the Island before beginning my work. In Colombo Mr. M. A. Young, at that time First Assistant Colonial Secretary, arranged matters for me in the kindest manner.

My thanks are no less due to my esteemed colleagues in England whose friendly advocacy and recommendation did so much towards furthering affairs.

Without the journey which took me into all parts of the Island, I should have been without that vivid idea of the country and the people which is necessary for the understanding of their history. Without it too, I should have lost that mass of information and the stimulating intercourse which met me in Ceylon from the most varied quarters.

I mention in the first place with special pleasure and sincere gratitude the present Archaeological Commissioner, Mr. A. M. Hocart, whose lively and intelligent interest in my aims and tasks I shall always remember, as well as that of his temporary representative, Mr. Sudbury. In their company I was able to visit a series of important ruins partly in very out of the way places, and so familiarize myself with some of the most pressing questions connected with ancient Sinhalese architecture.

In the same way I owe warm thanks to Mr. H. W. Codrington. Himself the greatest authority on the history and mediaeval topography of Ceylon, he gave me much help and ready encouragement, as a glance at the notes to my translation will show.

Mr. P. E. Pieris also smoothed many a path for me and to his good offices I owe many a valuable connection. Of my old friends I may mention lastly in this place the indefatigable Mudaliyar A. M. Gunasekara. I must add however, that wherever I came, new Sinhalese friends-amongst others I may mention Ratemahatmaya Bibile –gave me willing and active support.

My principle in working has been to make my translation approach as closely as possible to the original. We must as far as is practicable, know exactly what the chroniclers say. The aesthetic valute of the Culavamsa as a literary work is small. The carrying out of this principle has been made more difficult by the fact that the German text has had to be re-translated into English. I am however greatly indebted to my co-worker, Mrs. C. Mabel Rickmers, for most kindly making my principle her own, in doing which I believe her to have achieved full success.

One difficulty met with by every translator of an Indian text lies in the multitude of the synonyms. It is impossible for us to imitate them. Consider for a moment the many terms for “King”. In order to be as fair as possible to the conditions of the original, we have reserved, though with occasional exceptions, the translation “King” for rajan. Combinations with pati (like dharanipati etc.) we have rendered by “ruler”, those with pa or pala (like bhumipa etc.) by “monarch”, other terms by “sovereign”. That proper names with variants such as Parakkamabahu and bhuja have been unified will probably meet with approval.

The second volume will contain a detailed chronological introduction with a list of the kings, as well as a full index. As the German text is almost finished and the English rendering already in progress, we should not now have to wait long for the completion of the whole work.

The last ten chapters it is true, are not an unmixed joy for the translator. The language is faulty, the style clumsy,

Often very stilted. Instead of the long-winded, stereotyped descriptions of festivals and bounties, one would like to hear more of those outward events which just in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries shook the old Sinhalese kingdom to its foundations. To make good the omissions of the Chronicle here would mean writing a new history of Ceylon. This has already been done by more competent scholars and where it seemed desirable, I have referred to their works in my notes.

Lastly I would ask the reader before using the book, to be kind enough to consult the appendices and to take note of corrections and also of emendations in the original text.



The question of the credibility of the Culavamsa cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. it is somewhat more complicated than that of the more ancient Mahavamsa whose author kept more closely and I might say, more naively to his source. One thing is certain: the compiler of the first part of the Culavamsa (chaps. 37-39) with which I am at present dealing, did not consciously relate what was false. What he tells us is drawn from his own knowledge, as derived from his sources and his personal conviction. That much valuable material is contained therein is shown by the way in which various statements are confirmed by inscriptions. In the notes to my translation I have repeatedly referred to these corroborations of the Culavamsa. Moreover statements in one part of the work are frequently confirmed by passages in another part. How remarkably for instance, do the geographical data in chaps. 65-67 regarding the flight of Prince Parakkamabahu from Sankhatthali in Dakkhinadesa correspond with those in chaps. 70 and 72 in the description of the campaign against Rajarattha. Codrington has shown that plainly enough.

But two points must be borne in mind. The compiler let us call him Dhammakitti –was after all a bhikkhu and the sources of which, he made use were written by bhikkhus, the records forming the foundation were written down in the spirit and in the interests of the Buddhist Church. They were in the main apparently punnapotthakani (cf. Mhvs. 32. 25) that is registers of meritorious works by which the prince had. Furthered the Church (sasana) and the laity (loka). About such things therefore we are particularly well informed. We hear of the viharas built by the king, of the repairs he had undertaken on the more ancient buildings, of his bounty to the needy, the poor and the sick and above all to the priesthood. Of much however, equally interesting if not more interesting to the historian we hear nothing at all. It is these gaps of which one has a growing consciousness without being able to lay one’s finger with certainly on them, which constitute the chief lack in the narrative of the Culavamsa. Not what is said but what is left unsaid is the besetting difficulty of Sinhalese history.

To take but one example – how explain the fact that of so mighty a work as the fortress of Sigiri not a single detail is described? Even the name is only mentioned in four places. And yet this is perhaps the most magnificent building of which Ceylon can boast. It is not impossible that the personality of Kassapa I. might appear in a different light if a layman and not a priest and been the author of the chronicle.

I must repeat here that not the least doubt is thrown on Dhammakitti’s good faith by such criticisms. They merely point out the range of ideas by which his work was conditioned and restricted.

It is of course clear that it was not solely of such punnani that Dhammakitti’s sources and tradition had to tell. We hear also of secular proceedings with which often enough the “meritorious works” of the princes were connected. But it is indisputable that what the Culavamsa had above all in mind was the relation of the king to the church. This relation fills so large a space in the narrative that if we follow it alone the history of Ceylon takes on a hue not quite in keeping with fact. Unfortunately we are not in a position to fill up satisfactorily the gaps in the historical tradition. Later Sinhalese writings are not essentially different in character and the inscriptions which would undoubtedly be our best source, are unfortunately occupied almost entirely with ecclesiastical matters. Nevertheless certain of these give much desired confirmation of purely secular events mentioned in the Culavamsa. Their importance for its chronology will be dealt with later.

A further point. Already Mahanama the author of the older Mahavamsa, was fain to create a kavya, an artificial poem, and he was no stranger to the rules of alamkara. But this is true in a still higher degree of Dhammakitti. He was a man of literary culture. I believe I have proved in the notes to my translation of 66. 129 ff. that he must have been acquainted with Indian Niti literature, perhaps with its chief work, the Arthasastra of Kautalya. These literary reminiscences were of course not without influence on his attitude towards historical events and persons.

Above all is this true of the personality of Parakkamabahu. I should like to elaborate this point further. For Bishop Copleston is perfectly right in regarding the history of Parakkama as the real kernel, the main subject of the Culavamsa, especially of the first part which was the work of Dhammakitti, and in speaking of a Parakkama epic.

Now if we look closely at the figure of Parakkamabahu as it meets us in the Culavamsa, especially at the period before he achieved universal sovereignty, we find ourselves faced by a series of contradictions and improbabilities. We are convinced that things did not happen historically in that way. Nor is it possible to form a harmonious and credible picture of the single acts attributed to the youthful Parakkama.

The explanation lies in Dhammakitti’s conception of the way in which his task was to be achieved. From literary sources, from what he had read he drew an ideal picture of an Indian king. The man whose glorification was his aim must correspond to this picture. He must have all the qualities belonging to an Indian king and employ all the methods of statecraft which political science prescribes or recommends. All these individual traits the compiler combines with the data furnished by tradition, without question as to probability or improbability of these.

According to the Culavamsa the youth of Parakkama was passed somewhat as follows:

Parakkamabahu is the son of the eldest of the three brothers Manabharana, Kittisirimegha and Sirivallabha who rule over Dakkhinadesa and Rohana in opposition to Vikkamabahu who holds the royal dignity in virtue of his possession of Rajarattha with its capital Pulatthinagara. Parakkama’s father Manabharana has retained as his share the important province of Dakkhinadesa, Rohana is divided between the two younger brothers.

The birth of the prince is accompanied by all kinds of miraculous phenomena. Vikkamabahu is informed of it and wishes to bring the boy up at his court in order to make him his heir instead of his own son. Manabharana, however, refuses and dies soon after of a disease. Thereupon his next brother, Kittisirimegha takes over Dakkhinadesa and leaves the whole of Rohana to the youngest, Sirivallabha who brings Manabharana’s widow Ratanavali, her two daughters Mitta and Pabhavati and the youthful Parakkama to take up their abode in his capital of Mahanagahula. Meanwhile Vikkamabahu also dies and is succeeded in Rajarattha by his son Gajabahu who maintains himself against Kittisirimegha and Sirivallabha.

The youthful Parakkama finds no scope in Rohana, so he betakes himself to his uncle in Dakkhinadesa who receives him joyfully. He lives with him in the chief locality of the country Sankhatthali. He finishes his education and his coming of age is celebrated with festivities. The Senapati Sankha who was stationed in Badalatthali, is entrusted with the preparations for the festival. Sirivallabha dies in Rohana and is succeeded by his son, the younger Mauabharana.

Parakkama’s ambition finds no satisfaction in Dakkhinadesa. He hankers after the royal dignity in Rajarattha and determines to go thither and discover conditions for himself. Of dissensions between the prince and his uncle there is never any word. On the contrary, the fiction is constantly upheld that Kittisirimegha is tenderly attached to his nephew, and that it is only fear of the dangers involved which makes him discourage the visit to Rajarattha.

So the prince leaves Sankhatthali secretly and comes first to Badalatthali where he has the Senapati Sankha killed because he had informed the king of Parakkama’s flight. He then goes northwards to Buddhagama not far from the borders of Rajarattha. The inhabitants of the country make repeated efforts to check the prince’s advance but he repulses all such attempts by force of arms.

Parakkama’s uncle meanwhile, alarmed at his nephew’s disappearance, consults with his ministers (66. 57 ff.) and sends a strong force to fetch him back. But it is ambushed by the prince and completely routed. He even pursues the pursuers (66. 82 ff.) and surprises them by a night assault in Khiravapi. After repulsing a countre attack he proceeds to cross the frontiers of Rajarattha.

Gajabahu is apparently greatly alarmed but puts a good face on the matter and greets the guest through messengers with gifts, marches to meet him in person and fetch him to the capital.

During his sojourn in Pulatthinagara Parakkamabahu enmeshes the town and its surroundings in a net of espionage (66. 129 ff.). He goes the length of wedding his sister Bhaddavati to King Gajabahu in order to lull his suspicions. He himself keeps her dowry, or at least the greater part of it, in his own hands.



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