King Gajabahu I of Anuradhapura

Ruwanveliseya Dagoba Slab Inscription of Gajabahu I
Gajabahu I (Sinhala: පළමුවන ගජබාහු රජ; Tamil: முதலாம் கஜபாகு) was the King of Anuradhapura Kingdom, Sri Lanka from 114 A.D. to 136 A.D. Belonging to the First Dynasty of Lambakanna, he ruled the country from his capital at Anuradhapura until he was succeeded by Mahallaka Naga (Ray, 1959).

The king of Anuradhapura
Gajabahu (personal name Gamani Abhaya) or Gajabahuka Gamani ascended the throne in 114 after his father Vankanasika Tissa (Ray, 1959). He married a daughter of Uttara, one of the brothers of Vankanasika Tissa and sister of Uparaja Naga who later ascended the throne as Mahallaka Naga (Ray, 1959).

Gajabahu's appearance in India and the Pattini cult
As mentioned in Pujavaliya and Rajavaliya, there was an invasion of an unnamed Cola king during the reign of Vankanasika Tissa (Ray, 1959). According to the details given in them, the Cola forces had captured 12,000 Sinhalese and taken them to Kaveri in South India where they were employed as labourers in some works (Ray, 1959).

Sinhalese popular stories mention that Gajabahu I invaded South India and brought back to the island the Sinhalese who had been taken there as prisoners in the reign of his predecessor (Ray, 1959). As a reprisal, he brought 12,000 men from the Cola kingdom (Ray, 1959). These stories are full of miraculous things but can not be dismissed totally as there is a reference to King Gajabahu in the Silappatikaram, an Indian Tamil epic poem composed in the 2nd century A.D. or in the 6th or 7th century A.D. (Ray, 1959).

Silappatikaram is an epic narrating the tragic love story of an ordinary couple, Kannaki (also known as Pattini) and her husband Kovalan. Gajabahu I is mentioned in this epic on the occasion when the Chera king Cenkuttuvan (2nd century A.D.) consecrated a shrine in honour of Pattini ((Paranavitana, 1983; Ray, 1959). The Sri Lankan chronicle Rajavaliya reveals that the anklet of Goddess Pattini was brought to the island by Gajabau I on his return from the Cola country (Ray, 1959).

As per the opinion of scholars, Gajabahu I went to South India as a rival of the Cola ruler (Ray, 1959). At the time the Cheras were also the rivals of the Colas and therefore, Gajabahu I may have considered the Chera ruler as an ally (Ray, 1959). His presence at the Pattini shrine in the Cheras' country and bringing the cult of Goddess Pattini to Sri Lanka may have been favoured by the Chera ruler (Ray, 1959). The introduction of the Pattini cult to Sri Lanka is confirmed by the local chronicle Rajavaliya.

Gajabahu I ruled the country for 22 years and after his death, the throne was ascended by his brother-in-law Mahallaka Naga in around 136 A.D. (Nicholas, 1963; Ray, 1959).

Services & monuments
As mentioned in chronicles, King Gajabahu I contributed to the development of Buddhist monasteries in the country as follows; 
1) Abhayagiriya: Enlarged the Stupa and granted Pilagamaka tank to it (Paranavitana, 1983; Ray, 1959). 
2) Mirisawetiya: Made a mantling for the Stupa (Nicholas, 1963). 
Fifteen (or more) Later Brahmi Inscriptions belonging to King Gajabahu I have been found in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1983).
1) Ruvanweli Dagoba slab inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
The purpose of engraving this inscription was to record the foundation of Dakkhina Abhaya monastery by him and the endowments made to the Uposatha House of that establishment and to the monks (Paranavitana, 1983).
2) Ratnaprasada slab inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
The purpose of engraving this inscription was to register the grant of the Pilagamaka tank to the Abaya Gamini Uttara Maha Ceta or Abhayagiri Stupa (Paranavitana, 1983).
3) Thuparama slab inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription registers the donation of the revenue of the Giriutavi tank to the monks of Ratanarama Viharaya (Paranavitana, 1983).
4) Palu Mekichchawa rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
The purpose of this inscription was to record the donation of the Vadamanaka tank by the king for providing four requisites to the monks of Thuparama Viharaya (Paranavitana, 1983). This inscription was damaged by the Department of Irrigation which put concrete on it in 2017.

5) Viharaegala rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This record registers the re-grant of the Uppaladonika tank to the monks of Ekadvara monastery (Paranavitana, 1983). 
6) Tamaragala rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
The purpose of engraving this inscription was to record certain donations made to a Buddhist monastery named Gutta Pabbata (Paranavitana, 1983).  

7) Situlpawwa rock inscription (from Hambantota District)
Records a donation for providing medicine to the monks of the Citalapavata monastery [(Situlpawwa Viharaya) Paranavitana, 1983].
8) Vilewewa rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription registers the purchase and grant of the Kubaragama tank by the mother of Gajabahu I to her own monastery (Paranavitana, 1983).
9) Periyakadu Viharaya rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This record reveals that a minister (the name is not preserved) purchased the share of the fish in the channels of the Tulahaka tank and granted it to the Caitya and the monks of Ekadorika Viharaya, the present Periyakadu Viharaya (Paranavitana, 1983). 
10) Godavaya rock inscription (from Hambantota District)
This inscription probably belongs to Gajabahu I. It records the donation of customs duties of Godapavata Port to the Godavaya Viharaya by the king (Paranavitana, 1983). This inscription is historically important as it is the only concrete evidence that confirms the existence of the ancient port in the Godavaya area (Paranavitana, 1983).  

11) Iratperiyakulam rock inscription (from Vavuniya District)
This inscription which was buried in an earthwork done later, recorded about a grant made to an ancient monastery that existed at the site (Paranavitana, 1983).
12) Minvila rock inscription no. 4 (from Polonnaruwa District)
Records a donation made by a king probably Gajabahu I (Paranavitana, 1983). 

13) Tennakongama rock inscription (from Kurunegala District)
Consists of two parts, this inscription records some details about boundaries (Paranavitana, 1983).
14) Tambalagollewa rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
A short inscription of this place mentions the name Gamani Aba which is probably the denotation for King Gajabahu I (Paranavitana, 1983).
15) Torava Mayileva rock inscription
Dated in the 4th regnal year of the king, this inscription registers certain grants made to an ancient monastery named Tissa Pabbata (Paranavitana, 2001).
1) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.136.
2) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Late Brahmi Inscriptions, Volume II (Part I). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka. pp.86-103.
3) Paranavitana, S., 2001 (Edited by Dias, M.). Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part II. Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka. p.210.
4) Ray, H.C. (Editor in chief), 1959. History of Ceylon: Vol. I: Part I. Ceylon University Press. Colombo. pp.182-185,206,259.

This page was last updated on 2 January 2023

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