Infobox monarch
title=King of Heladipa and Tambapanni

reign=c.544 BC – c.505 BC
royal House=
royal Capital=Thammanna Nuwara
date of birth=?
place of birth=Sinhapura
date of death=?
place of death=Tambapanni (Sri Lanka)
place of burial=?|

Vijaya (c. 543 BC-504 BC) was the first king of Sri Lanka mentioned in the ancient Sri Lankan Pali chronicles, but he is also a figure in medieval Sri Lankan Tamil literature. The primary source for his life is the Mahavamsa. It is inevitably difficult, given the dearth of sources, to separate fact from legend in Vijaya's life, and as H. W. Codrington puts it, 'It is possible and even probable that Vijaya (`The Conqueror') himself is a composite character combining in his person...two conquests' of ancient Sri Lanka.

Ancestry and arrival in Lanka

According to the Mahavamsa, Vijaya's ancestors hailed from the kingdom of Kalinga (ancient Orissa) and Vanga in Bangladesh and in eastern part of India (in modern Bengal). At the beginning of the chronicle (see History of Sri Lanka) the king of Vanga is married to the daughter of the king of Kalinga. Their daughter, Suppadevi, was not only 'very fair and very amorous', but was also prophesied to consummate a 'union with the king of beasts' [] - in the Mahavamsa, a lion. When this duly happened, she gave birth to two children - Sinhabahu and Sinhasivali. 'Sinhabahu' means 'lion-armed' and young prince himself is described as having 'hands and feet...formed like a lion's'. [] The family live together in the lion's cave, blocked in by a large rock the lion had placed to prevent their exit. Eventually, however, Suppadevi and her two children flee the cave. Later Sihabahu kills his father with an arrow. Then, marrying his sister, he establishes a kingdom based on a city called Sinhapura. Sinhasivali bears him a series of twins; their eldest child is named Vijaya, and his younger twin brother Sumitta.

Vijaya is described as indulging in 'evil conduct [,] and his followers were...(like himself), and many intolerable deeds of violence were done by them'. So antisocial were his activities that the people of the kingdom eventually demanded that the (now aging) king Sihabahu have him executed. [] Instead Sihabhu has half their heads shaved (a sign of disgrace) and exiled Vijaya with his followers, their wives and children, from the kingdom - traditionally said to 700 souls, though this is not mentioned in the Mahavamsa. After landing in several places they found to be hostile, the wayward prince and his associates eventually 'landed in Lanka, in the region called 'Tambapanni'. []

Naturally there is much debate over what historical truths can be extracted from the legends surrounding this period. The tale of Suppadevi becoming pregnant by a lion had been interpreted as the princess actually becoming pregnant by a rebel with the name 'Sinha'. [] Geography is one of the central issues. Vanga is believed to be roughly in the region of modern Bengal (Bangladesh and West Bengal), and Kalinga in Orissa, indicating an east-subcontinental origin for the Sinhalese. Codrington describes in his 'Short History of Sri Lanka':

:"It is obvious that many of these events assigned to the early reigns are purely mythical. Two points call for comment. In the first place, if there is any truth in the account of Vijaya's ancestry at all, it is difficult to admit the probability of any connection between petty kings of Bengal and Gujarat on opposite sides of the Indian subcontinent: the evidence all points to Vijaya having come from the western coast, and it seems likely that the tale of his mixed ancestry is due to the fact that there were two streams of immigration, one from the western and the other from the eastern side of India.

Later research by Sinhala linguist W.S. Karunatillake supports the hypothesis that the Sinhalese originated in eastern Indian subcontinent. [Historical Phonology of Sinhala: From Old Indo-Aryan to the 14th Century AD. Colombo: S. Godage & Brothers, 2001]

A second geographical issue is the location of Tambapanni, the landing-site of the Vijaya expedition. The Rajaveliya states that the group saw Adam's Peak from their boats and thus landed in southern Sri Lanka, in an area that eventually became part of the Kingdom of Ruhuna. British historian H. Parker narrowed this down to the mouth of Kirindi Oya. This is now thought to be a far too southerly location. The more favoured region currently is between the cities of Mannar and Negombo, and Puttalam, where the copper-coloured beaches may have given rise to the name Tambapanni, which means 'copper-palmed'. []

Origins of the Viyaya Clan

The arena associated with the legend of Vijaya and his followers may be in "Sihapura" (Simhapura), in the Lala Rattha (Lata Rashtra). [Mahavamsa VI.34] The country is identified with the modern Gujarat, the Larika of Ptolemy. [Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, G. P. Malalasekera] [Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature, p. 38, J. W. McCrindle] Lala is referred to as Lata-desa in Sanskrit texts. ["Apara-Malava-Pashcimena Lata-desa"] Al Biruni calls it Lardesh. [Al Biruni's India, p. 205] There is an epic reference to one "Simhapura" kingdom located on the upper Indus which shared borders with Ursa, Abhisara, Bahlika, Darada and Kamboja. [Mahabharata: 2.27.18-22] Seventh century Chinese pilgrim Hiun Tsang also refers to this Simhapura ("Sang-ho-pu-lo") and localises it on upper Indus, in Gandhara (north--west Punjab). [Hiun Tsang, Buddhist Records of the Western World, Vol. I. Trans. Samuel Beal, 1906, pp. 142-150] Scholars have identified it above Salt Range. [History and Culture of Indian People, Struggle of Empire, p. 33; Classical Age, p. 132] Yet another Sinhapura is referred to in Gujarat and has been attested in the Charter of Maitraka king Dhruvasena I (525 AD-545 AD). Its modern name is 'Sihore' (Sinhore?) of Kathiawad. [Epigraphica Indica, XVII, p. 110] There is also an ancient place name 'Hingur' located 40 miles east from the apex of Indus delta which may also be a relic of ancient Sinhapura of the Sinhalese traditions (Hingur < Singur < Singhpur < Sinhapur). [Cunningham mentions 'Hingur' as an ancient place name located 40 miles east from the apex of Indus delta (Ancient Geography of India, map facing p. 248, A Cunningham). The Delta of Indus is still known as "Lar" and the Sinhapura of Sinhalese traditions was also located some where in this region. Scholars say that 'Hingur' could well be a corrupted version of Sinhapura (Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p. 351, Dr J. L. Kamboj). 'S' changing to 'h' is a specialty of north-western languages and it is also noticed in the ancient Sinhalese language] It has been pointed out that the republican Gramaneyas of Sabhaparva of Mahabharata [Mahabharata 2.32.9] may have been the ancestors of Sinhalese. [History of Ceylon, Vol I, Part 1, p. 91, Dr S. Parnavitana; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p. 320, Dr J. L. Kamboj] The original home of the Gramaneyas seems to have been the Sinhapura of Gandhara/Kamboja, but the people shifted to lower Indus and then, after defeat by Pandava Nakula, to Saurashtra Peninsula, centuries prior to common era. There they seem to have founded a principality in Saurashtra Peninsula, centuries prior to common era which they named Sinhapura probably to commemorate their past connections with Sinhapura of Gandhara/Kamboja. [According to Dr Hema Chandra Ray, K. M. De Silva et al. also, there is an evidence that the Kambojas who inhabited a region bordering upper Indus, had at one time established themselves in a country near Sind. The authors have also furnished references to this southwards migration of the Kambojas to a country near Sind (See: History of Ceylon, 1959, p. 93, Hem Chandra Ray, K. M. De Silva, Simon Gregory Perera)] In all probability, Vijaya and his 700 followers, the earliest known Aryan speakers of the island either belonged to the 'Sihore' (Sinhapura) of Kathiawad or else to Hingur (Sinhapura) east off the Indus delta from where they had sailed to Sri Lanka and settled there as colonists. These suggest ancient links of northwest Kambojas with Sri Lanka.For more details, see: Kamboja Colonists of Sri Lanka.

It is also likely that Simhapura was the same as the ancient capital of Kalinga in modern-day Orissa. Nissanka Malla's inscriptions mention Simhapura as the capital of Kalinga. The Yalpanavaipavamalai, a Jaffna Tamil text written in the 18th century by Mayilvakanapulavar mentions a king Ukkirasingan, [The Yalpana-Vaipava-Malai or The History of the Kingdom of Jaffna. Transl. by C. Brito. Asian Educational Services, 1999] whom scholars identify with Kalinga Magha of the Culavamsa as being a descendant of Vijaya's brother who remained in India. Even if we do not accept the Yalpanavaipavamalai as a historical text, the medieval Tamils were clearly familiar with the Vijaya legend and identified the Sinhala king with Kalinga.


Vijaya's arrival in Sri Lanka is said to have coincided with the passing away of the Buddha. Indeed the very first person Vijaya encounters on the island is the 'lord of gods', Vishnu, who is charged by the ailing Buddha with looking after Vijaya and his descendants. []

The second encounter is far less auspicious - a yakkinni, or demoness, who 'appeared in the form of a bitch'. Vijaya's men, surmising that 'Only where there is a village are dogs to be found', followed the creature, only to come upon the queen of the demons, Kuveni (also known as Kuvanna). Though the protection of Vishnu prevented Kuveni from devouring the hapless man, it did not prevent her from hurling him - and all of Vijaya's other companions - into a chasm. []

Vijaya eventually comes upon Kuveni and threatens her with death unless she releases his men. When this is done Kuveni supplies them with food and clothing, and, 'assuming the lovely form of a sixteen year old maiden' seduces Vijaya. [] Then, in a complete reversal of her alliegences, she states that she 'will bestow kingship on my lord (Vijaya)' and thus 'all the yakkhas must be slain, for (else) the yakkhas will slay me, for it was through me that men have taken up their dwelling (in Lanka)'. This Vijaya goes on to do, vanquishing the demons and driving them from the island, all the time with Kuveni at his side.

Though Kuveni bears him two children, a son and a daughter, Vijaya eventually rejects her with the words 'Go now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings'. [] Despite begging Vijaya not to send her away, a broken-hearted Kuveni eventually leaves the palace, taking the two children despite being ordered not to. Arriving in one of the few surviving Yakka cities she is killed by her own people for her betrayal. One of her uncles takes pity on her children and tells them to flee before they, too, are killed. They eventually flee to Malaya where they settle and become the ancestors of the Pulinda. And alternative tale is that Kuveni flung herself from Yakdessa Gala, imploring the gods to curse Vijaya for his cruelty - which they do by preventing any of Vijaya's children from ever sitting on the throne of Rajarata. [] Interestingly 'Vijaya's curse' is held by some to still hold sway over Sri Lanka's troubled politics.

The Kuveni-Vijaya story evokes some similarities with the encounter of Odysseus with Circe. Circe is also an enchantress and a witch. The Kuveni myth is also remarkable for being so violent and tragic. Both the demon queen and Vijaya are portrayed as being deeply trecherous and unfeeling - the former in betraying her entire people, the latter in betraying her so callously. Indeed Vijaya's reason for rejection Kuveni is his desire for a 'a maiden of a noble house' to be consecrated queen with him. This desire could have had a political aspect - in marrying a princess of an established noble house he would essentially have established himself as a legitimate monarch in his own right, on a par with the other rulers of the subcontinent's kingdoms.

Kuveni, on the other hand, is regarded as a descendant of the demons of the Ramayana and of Ravana, who also dwelled in Lanka. A common folk tale was that her children did not, in fact, flee to Malaya, but instead remained in Sri Lanka's jungles and became the Veddas - Sri Lanka's aboriginal population. This may indeed be the explanation for Kuveni and her people, as early Indian settlers would almost certainly have come into contact and conflict with indigenous Sri Lankans. The Yakkas are referred to occasionally as 'invisible', [] and indeed would have appeared so to the newcomers unused to Sri Lanka's jungles, through which the Veddas even today can move in near-silence and with barely a trace.

Interestingly the Dipavamsa, on which the Mahavamsa is based, makes no mention of Kuveni whatsoever. []

Reign and death

Vijaya's ministers in the meanwhile had set about securing a princess for their leader to marry, and found one in the form of the daughter of the Pandu king of Madurai in southern India. Not only did the king despatch his daughter, but he also decreed that 'Those men here who are willing to let a daughter depart for Lanka shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign shall we (know that we may) take them to ourselves'. [] Thus every male in Vijaya's crew received a wife (their original wives had been separated from them on their voyage to Sri Lanka, and according to legend they were sent to the Maldivian islands).

The ministers also appear to have been quite intrepid in founding their own towns and cities around Tambapanni - Ujjeni, Uruvela, Upatissagama, Vijita, and Anuradhagama. [] Anuradhagama ('Anuradha's village') in particular was a significant foundation - under the name Anuradhapura (Anuradha's city) it was to become capital of Rajarata for over a thousand years.

Following the arrival of the princess of Pandu, 'the ministers in full assembly consecrated Vijaya king and appointed a great festival'. Age and marriage appear to have had a profound impact on Vijaya, who changed his way of life and ruled 'in peace and righteousness' for thirty-eight years. []

The Mahavamsa describes the Pandyan ladies as originating from "Dakkhina Madura" or "southern Madura" which most Sinhala scholars have interpreted as modern-day Madurai in Tamil Nadu, "northern Madura" being the city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. However, there had been more than one Madurai in Tamil history. The Tamil literary tradition holds that three academies were held to collate the poetry of the Sangam age. The last of these was held in Madurai and the second was in a city called Kapatapuram, but the first academy was held in "Then Madurai," translating to "southern Madurai." Historians believe that Then Madurai was a real city on the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu near modern Korkai, which would have been very close to the settlement of "Thambapanni" which Vijaya had constructed in Lanka. If "Then Madurai" can be equated with "Dakkhina Madura" of the Mahavamsa, then we would have evidence that the seat of the first Sangam was a historical city, and not a myth.

The events surrounding Vijaya's death provide an interesting insight into the standards of government - or at least the ideals of government - during this time. As seen before it was the ministers of Vijaya who took the initiative in finding a bride for the king and in founding cities, indicating a considerable amount of independence and authority. Similarly when Vijaya dies, 'the ministers ruled, dwelling in Upatissagama...for a year' [] whilst Vijaya's chosen successor, Sumitta, was summoned from Sinhapura. In the event it is not Sumitta but his son Panduvasdeva who arrives and takes up the reins of government, thus ensuring that the direct line of Vijaya's house is broken.


Vijaya's reign is of immense importance to the Sinhalese people as it forms the core of their cultural identity. As the Sinhalese kingdom developed into something of a south Asian anomaly - a Buddhist, Aryan kingdom in a largely Hindu, Dravidian area - the Vijaya legend reiterated that which differentiated the Sinhalese from their neighbors. The clear association of Vijaya with Buddhism, though he is not Buddhist himself, foreshadows the kingdom's conversion in Devanampiyatissa's time. Vijaya's relationship with Kuveni explains the presence of the Veddas, and his marriage to the Pandu princess establishes a precedent for the often cordial relations between the Sinhalese and the various kingdoms of south India.

Vijaya himself, however, is fascinating for being wayward, and on occasion even cruel and callous. Though he is consistently shown deference as leader of the embryonic Sinhalese polity, the Mahavamsa does not shy away from his more immoral acts. As such he is not held in the kind of awe and respect afforded to Devanampiyatissa, Dutugemunu, or Parakramabahu the Great.

The Modern Sri Lankan Navy, for a considerable amount of time, consisted of only one battle ship, named the 'Vijaya'.


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boxstyle_2=background-color: #fb9;
boxstyle_3=background-color: #ffc;
boxstyle_4=background-color: #bfc;
boxstyle_5=background-color: #9fe;
1= 1. Vijaya of Tambapanni
2= 2. Sihabahu
3= 3. Sihasivali
4= 4. The Lion
5= 5. Suppadevi
6= 6.
7= 7.
8= 8. King of Vanga
9= 9. Princess
10= 10.
11= 11.
16= 16. King of Kalinga
17= 17.
18= 18.
19= 19.


ee also

*List of monarchs of Sri Lanka
*History of Sri Lanka
*Place names in Sri Lanka

External links

* [] Codrington's Short History of Ceylon
* [] The Mahavamsa Online
* [ History of Sri Lanka] The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka

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