Ancient History of Sri Lanka – Landing of Vijaya

The Pali chronicles, the Dipavansa, Mahavansa, Thupavansa and the Chulavansa, a large collection of stone inscriptions, the Indian Epigraphical records, the Burmese versions of the chronicles etc., provide an exceptional record for the history of Sri Lankan from about the 6th century BC.


The Mahavansa, written around 400 AD by the monk Nagasena, using the Deepavansa, the Attakatha and other written sources available to him, correlates well with Indian histories of the period. Indeed Emperor Ashoka’s reign is recorded in the Mahavansa. The Mahavansa account of the period prior to Asoka’s coronation, 218years after Buddha’s death, seems to be part legend. Proper historical records begin with the arrival of Vijaya and his 700 followers. Vijaya was a Vangan (now Bengal, India) prince, the eldest son of King Sinhabahu (“Man with Lion arms”) and his sister Queen Sinhasivali who had their capital at Singhapura (now Singur in West Bengal, India). Both these Sinhala leaders were supposedly born of a mythical union between a lion and a human princess. The Mahavansa claims that Vijaya landed on the same day as the death of Lord Buddha. The story of Vijaya and Kuweni (the local reigning queen) is reminiscent of Greek legend and may have a common source in ancient Proto-Indo-European folk tales.

Adams Peak

According to the Mahavansa, Vijaya landed in Sri Lanka near Mahathitha (Manthota or Mannar), and named the island Thambapani (“copper-colored sand”). This name is attested to in Ptolemy’s map of the ancient world. The Mahavansa also describes the Buddha visiting Sri Lanka three times. Firstly, to stop a war between a Naga king and his son in law who were fighting over a ruby chair. It is said that on his last visit he left his foot mark on Siripada (“Adam’s Peak”).

Tamirabharani is the old name for the second longest river in Sri Lanka (known as Malwatu Oya in Sinhala and Aruvi Aru in Tamil). This river was a main supply route connecting the capital, Anuradhapura, to Mahathitha (now Mannar). The waterway was used by Greek and Chinese ships travelling the southern Silk Route.


Mahathitha was an ancient port linking Sri Lanka to India and the Persian Gulf. The present day Sinhalese are a mixture of the indigenous people and of other people who came to the island from various parts of India. The Sinhalese recognize the Vijayan Indo-Aryan culture and Buddhism, as distinct from other groups in neighboring south India.


media WMV RealPlayer Winamp Quicktime