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During his and his son's reign Ceylon appears to have been rapidly advancing in improvement and civilization-the capital city, Anuradhapura, was embellished with works of art and architecture, the remains of which may still be seen, 2270 years after their erection ; villages and towns were starting up in districts which the tide of population had probably never reached before; the country was divided into districts over each of which civil and judicial magistrates presided; tanks and canals were constructed to facilitate cultivation, and in fact the island was advancing with rapid strides to prosperity and eminence.
We shall now pass on to a remarkable fact in the history before us
—that of the introduction of Buddhism in a systematic form. This happened in the reign of Tisso the first, about 300 years before
Tisso being about to enter into alliance with a king of India, noted for his enthusiastic love of Buddhism, sent him a present borne by the chief of his nobles, in return for which the religious Dhammasoko, sent, along with presents, advice to Tisso“ to take refuge in Buddha, his religion and his priesthood.” Not content with sending advice alone however, Dhammasoko, persuaded his son Mahindo, a high priest of the Buddhist faith, to accompany Tisso’s ambassadors to Ceylon, and his reception by that monarch was such as to leave him little ground for regret at his determination. Mahindo entered upon his proselytizing career with zeal and
Multitudes flocked to hear his discourses, numerous priests were ordained, colleges were established, temples reared, and Buddhism finally installed as the religion of Ceylon. The females were not to be outdone in the career of piety. They requested a priestess to raise some of them to the priestly office and in accordance with their request a sister of Mahindo was sent for and obtained, who should establish sisterhoods of nung and thus put Buddhism on its proper footing in the island. These communities although essentially a part of the faith have been long suppressed in Ceylon, although we believe they are still to be seen in Burmah. With Sanghamittra came also a branch of that holy tree under which Gotamo had attained his Buddhaship, (the bo-tree or ficus religiosa,) which was planted in Anuradhapura on the spot where, at the present day, the wandering tourist may observe the spreading branches of “the great bo-tree at the Maha wiharo,” amidst whose branches safe in that sacred retreat, may be seen thousands of monkeys and other animals disporting. Tisso was not backward in exhibiting his faith in Buddhism by the erection of many splendid buildings devoted to its service-the remains of some
of them, especially those of the Thoparamaya dagobah, may even now excite our admiration. Ten years after the death of Tisso (B. C. 256) we, for the first time, hear of the Malabar race interfering in the Government of Ceylon, and the event is an important one, inasmuch as it was but the prelude to numerous instances of incursions and rapine committed by the same race. Suratisso, the reigning prince, took into his service, during a period of profound peace, a large body of mercenary cavalry commanded by two Malabar chieftains called Sena and Gutika. These generals so well ingratiated themselves into the favor of the whole army that on their raising the standard of insurrection, Suratisso found himself completely deserted, and ended his life and reign together. Sena and Gutika, now supreme, divided the island between themselves, and reigned with an iron rule for upwards of thirty years, when a counter revolution replaced the united sceptre in the hand of Asela a prince of the royal family. Asela, however, was not allowed to reign in peace. Elala, a Malabar leader, landed at the mouth of the Maha Vella Ganga with a large army, marched directly towards the capital, was met there by Asela, and gained a victory which gave him the crown of Ceylon. This he enjoyed for a lengthened period, and it was not till old age had weakened his intellect and unnerved his arm, that he found a claimant for the throne in every way worthy of him as an enemy.
The royal family had fled to Rohona, and a descendant of 'İ'isso's brother who held that, the south-eastern, district of the Island as his province, alone dared to oppose the usurper. Youth, lofty hopes, and a vigorous intellect were in favor of Gaimono; a settled Government, full treasury, and former renown the supporters of Elala. But Gaimono was no ordinary opponent-his measures were full of boldness and vigour without rashness. Fort after fort fell beneath his arms, and in a decisive engagement with Elala, he killed the latter with his own hand, and then occupied his throne. A relation of Elala's who came to his assistance with an army of thirty thousand men was equally unsuccessful, and on defeating him Gaimono found no opponent able or willing to dispute his sovereignty. His piety now became as conspicuous as his military renown, and of his religious exertions sufficient remains still exist to satisfy us that the Ceylonese of that period were considerably advanced in architecture, sculpture and refined taste, whilst the size of some of these monuments, and the vastness of the tanks which he excavated may convince us that the city at that period must have been populous and magnificent.
The particular account which the native histories afford us
of the construction of one of these buildings is such that most students have doubted its correctness whilst those who have not examined the evidence have positively pronounced it an exaggeration As in all other instances where truth is concerned an extended investigation has in this case but confirmed those accounts. We are told that it was erected on sixteen hundred stone pillars, and of these the greater number are still standing, whilst fragments of the rest lie near their original situation. We are also informed that the interior was decorated in a way which leads us to believe that the fancy of the writers heightened the description, but this has also been confirmed by the narrative of the Chinese Buddhist Fa Hian, who in the fifth century visited Ceylon, and whose narrative has been translated and published in Paris. Him we can scarcely suspect of any motive for exaggeration, or if we did, we must still account for his description tallying with that of the Mahawanso and Ratnakari. Besides the temples and other religious erections attributed to Gaimono we read of hospitals for the sick established throughout the island, roads formed, and officers for the preservation of order appointed by his directions and exertions. The reign of Gaimono is one of the best evidences we possess of the state of the country at this early period, a subject on which we shall dilate somewhat hereafter.
We shall pass over a few succeeding reigns in which there occurred apparently no event of material consequence till we come to that of Walagambahu who ascended the throne about 100 years B. C. By an invasion of the Malabars, who were now fatally for Ceylon, too well acquainted with its riches, he was driven from his throne and obliged to conceal himself in a remote district of the island—for fourteen years this exile continued-chief after chief of the invaders having, during that period, been ruler and usually falling by the hand of their successors. These disturbances, we might imagine, would have afforded some opportunities to the dethroned monarch to expel the invaders, but this does not appear to have been the case, and for that long period the island was a prey to anarchy and confusion. On reascending his throne a scheme of the monarch's formed in exile was put into execution, and that was to have the discourses of Buddha, then but orally transmitted from one generation to another, committed to writing. For this purpose a meeting of the oldest and ablest priests was called. Different versions of the sermons of the prophet were collated and compared, and after a lengthened investigation the voluminous Pitakattaya and their commentaries the Atthakatha were committed to writing. The first of these are divided into what are called the three Pitakas—the Winiya, Sutra and Abhidharma, each of which contains numerous sub-divi
The Sutra consists entirely of discourses, the Abhidharma consists of doctrines and terms with explanations-and the Winiya of the laws of the priesthood. We cannot at present enter into their contents more particularly.
Two of the dagobahs whose remains at the present day most prominently attract the visitor's attention owe their erection to the piety of Walagambahu, and one of these (the Abhayagiri) was originally upwards of four hundred feet in height equal to the elevation of the topmost pinnacle of St. Peter's at Rome. The next remarkable feature which the History of Ceylon presents to us is the reign of a monster of wickedness in the person of a Queen Anula. She was the wife of Walagambahu's son, and put a period to the life of her husband in order to reign alone. One victim after another was raised to the dangerous seat vacated by his predecessor, and these appear to have been chosen on account of their personal appearance to gratify the appetites of the insatiable Anula. In this way five victims were dispatched in the course of as many years until the world at length becoming weary of her, she was dethroned and executed. Her successor had no easy task in bringing order and regularity out of the confusion worse confounded caused by the irregularities of Anula, and it was not till three or four peaceful reigns had passed, that the kingdom attained its former prosperity. Happy is that people whose annals are tiresome !" was the exclamation of a philosophic and thinking mind, and if we were asked to point out the period of Ceylonese history when the country appears to have been most flourishing and contented, we should point out the first five centuries of our era. During that period order and peace for the most part prevailed. Tanks and roads were formed-Buddhism was in its glory—the royal family established and every thing promised a long career of prosperity.
Nor are we drawn to this conclusion merely from the fact of the fifth Chapter of the work before us being the dullest of the whole--we have positive evidence as to the flourishing state of the Kingdom at this period both in a material and intellectual point of view. The first is confirmed in a curious way both in the far East and the far West-by a Buddhist priest of China, and a Christian priest of Rome. The Buddhist Fa Hian formerly referred to, visited Anuradhapura the capital in the fourth century and tells us that nothing could equal its magnificence and extent. Numerous magistrates, nobles and mer
chanıs, he informs us dwelt in it. The houses were spacious and handsome, the public buildings magnificent and highly ornamented. The streets and roads were broad and straight, whilst at the corners, numerous lecture rooms were erected in which the doctrines of Buddha were daily expounded. The very fact of a distinguished Chinese Buddhist proceeding to Ceylon in search of the authentic writings of his prophet shews the importance of the Island at this period—so much for Eastern evidence. The Western is to be found in the writings of St. Ambrose. A Theban he informs us, visited Ceylon and the Malabar Coast of India in the fourth century.
There he was detained by a Malabar prince subject to the king of Ceylon for six years, and he only regained his liberty on a rebellion of the tributary which was furnished by an army sent from the Island, who delivered him. In speaking of this event he describes the King of Ceylon as “the great King who lived in the Island of Taprobane.'
From the writings of Cosmas Indicoplenstes it also appears that at this period a very extensive trade was being carried on between China and Ceylon on the one side, as well as between Ceylon and the Persian Gulph on the other. From these facts as well as from that of the buildings whose remains now exist having chiefly owed their origin to this period we conclude that for two centuries preceding and five centuries succeeding the Christian era the Island was populous, powerful and flourishing. Nor does literature appear to have been neglected; in as much as, to the period under review, Ceylon owes its best historical, scientific and poetical compositions-of which however, the first only can be appreciated by the English reader, none of the others having yet been translated.
Some romantic stories of the various kings who reigned from the fifth to the eighth century compose the chief part of the history of these periods—we shall neither stop to relate them nor to investigate their truth; suffice it to say that from the violent deaths, the numerous insurrections and invasions which followed we naturally conclude that the prosperity of previous periods was being gradually merged in the turbulence of the succeeding, and that a gradual decline in the arts of civilization and refinement was contemporarious with a more scientific mode of warfare, and more attention given to that science itself than to the arts of good Government or the wants of the people.
The period of the transference of the seat of Government from Anuradhapura, the ancient capital, to Pollonaruwa appears to have been coeval with the decline of the former town.