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King Vasabha of Anuradhapura

Vallipuram Gold Plate
Vasabha (Sinhala: වසභ රජ; Tamil: வசபன்) was the King of Anuradhapura Kingdom, Sri Lanka from 67 A.D. to 111 A.D. (Ray, 1959) Belonging to the First Dynasty of Lambakanna, he ruled the country from his capital at Anuradhapura until he was succeeded by Vankanasika Tissa (Ray, 1959).

The king of Anuradhapura
Vasabha became the ruler of the country after dethroning Sabha (Subha in chronicles) who reigned for six years (Ray, 1959). Although there are no proper details in the chronicles about Vasabha's right to be the king of the island, there are some traditional stories about him.

According to these stories, King Sabha, the predecessor of Vasabha, was informed by soothsayers that one named Vasabha would kill him and become king of the country (Ray, 1959). Therefore, to avoid this, Sabha declared an order to execute everybody bearing that name (Ray, 1959). At the time Vasabha who belonged to the Lambakanna clan was working under his uncle, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sabha's army (Ray, 1959). The Commander-in-Chief who had no great love for his nephew arranged to take Vasabha to be delivered to Sabha. However, Pottha, the Commander-in-Chief's wife, did not agree with her husband's decision and was determined to save Vasabha (Ray, 1959). On the morning that the Commander-in-Chief was to go to the palace with Vasabha, she prepared his betal bag without one necessary ingredient (Ray, 1959). At the palace, the Commander-in-Chief saw that one ingredient is missing in his bag and therefore sent his nephew back home to bring what he lacked for a chew betal (Ray, 1959). When Vasabha arrived home back, Pottha explained the situation and gave him a thousand pieces of money to flee the area (Ray, 1959). Vasabha fled to Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya and the Buddhist monks there provided him with the necessities of life (Ray, 1959). A leper is said to have assured Vasabha that he would become the king of the country one day and this finally led Vasabha to decide to begin a rebellion against Sabha (Ray, 1959).
Vasabha went to Rohana and within a period of about two years, he secured many followers and eventually raised an army against Sabha (Ray, 1959). In around 67 A.D., he dethroned Sabha and became the ruler of the country marking the beginning of a new dynasty of rulers, known as the First Lambakanna Dynasty after the name of his clan (Ray, 1959).

During the battle between Vasabha and Sabha, the Commander-in-Chief lost his life and Vasabha, after ascending the throne, married his widow Pottha probably as an act of gratitude or a customary deed (Ray, 1959). This is the only recorded instance of such a marriage in ancient Sri Lanka (Ray, 1959). His son Vankanasika Tissa married Mahamatta, the daughter of Sabha (Ray, 1959). As revealed by a few inscriptions in Tammannava in Kurunegala District and in Habessa in Monaragala District, Vasabha may have had two more sons named Dutaga and Uttara (Paranavitana, 1983; Ray, 1959).
Vasabha ruled the country for 44 years. He was succeeded by his son Vankanasika Tissa in 111 A.D. (Ray, 1959).

Services & monuments
As mentioned in chronicles such as Mahavamsa, King Vasabha contributed to the development of Buddhist monasteries in the country as follows (Davis, 2013; Nicholas, 1963); 
1) Kalambatitta Viharaya: Improved the temple (Nicholas, 1963). 
2) Kumbhigallaka Viharaya: Built an Uposatha House (Nicholas, 1963).   
3) Maha Valligotta Viharaya: Built this Vihara for the chief monk of Valliyera Viharaya (Nicholas, 1963).  
4) Maha Vihara Alms-Hall: Restored the building (Davis, 2013; Nicholas, 1963). 
5) Mihintale: Built 10 Stupas (Nicholas, 1963). 
6) Maha Viharaya: Built a row of cells facing west (Nicholas, 1963).
7) Mucela Viharaya: Built the temple (Nicholas, 1963).
8) Sandagiri Viharaya: Gave a Karisa of a field on account of the price of oil for lamps in the Uposatha-house (Paranavitana, 1983).
9) Sithulpawwa Viharaya: Built 10 Stupas (Davis, 2013; Nicholas, 1963). 
10) Sri Maha Bodhiya: Built a Bodhi Tree temple which contained 4 images (Davis, 2013; Nicholas, 1963). A Stupa and a Vatadage were built by the Queen of Vasabha (Nicholas, 1963). 
11) Thuparamaya: Built the Vatadage (Nicholas, 1963).  
12) Tissavaddhamanaka: Built the monastery and provided a share of water from a canal (Davis, 2013). 
13) Vessagiriya: Built an Uposatha House (Nicholas, 1963).
King Vasabha was the first of the great-tank building Sinhalese kings (Ray, 1959). As mentioned in the chronicles, he had built 11 named tanks but only 6 are identifiable today (Ray, 1959). He also constructed 12 canals of which only the Alisara canal (present Alahera Yodha-ela) is mentioned by name (Ray, 1959). This canal, two centuries later became the feeder canal for the Minneriya Reservoir built by King Mahasena [(276-303 A.D.) Ray, 1959]. Vasabha donated the shares of the revenue of this canal to a monastery in Tissavaddhamanaka (Ray, 1959). 
Some of the works carried out by King Vasabha are given below (Nicholas, 1963); 
1) Chathamangana Wewa: Built by Vasabha, this tank is also called Manguna Ela (Nicholas, 1963). The present tank at Nochchipotana is identified as this tank.
2) Nitupatpana Wewa: Built by Vasabha, this tank is believed to be the one that bears the same name near Girihanduseya (Nicholas, 1963). 
3) Kohala Wewa: This tank is said to have been built by Vasabha. It is not now identifiable (Nicholas, 1963).  
4) Cayanti Wewa: Also called Mayanti or Mayetti, this could be one of the two tanks in the present Vilachchiya (Nicholas, 1963). 
5) Vaha-vapi: Built by Vasabha, this could be the breached tank presently known as Panikkamkulam (Nicholas, 1963).   
6) Kolomgalureru Wewa: Built by Vasabha (Nicholas, 1963).  
7) Manankattiya Wewa: Built by Vasabha (Nicholas, 1963). 
8) Hiriwadunna Wewa: Built by Vasabha (Nicholas, 1963).   
About nine Later Brahmi Inscriptions dated in the reign of King Vasabha have been found in places around Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1983; Ray, 1959). 
1) Perimiyankulama rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription registers two donations made to a meditation hall called Sudassana by King Vasabha and an individual named Naga (Paranavitana, 1983).
2) Sinadiyagla rock inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription records a building of Uposatha-house in Dakkhina Vihara by Vasabha and the endowment made for the maintenance of Buddhist monks entrusted with the duty of Jinapatisatarana in connection with that building (Paranavitana, 1983).
3) Madavala rock inscription (from Kurunegala District)
This states that a person named Havara(Ti)sa of Mayi(lavi) founded the Viharaya at the site and granted the water revenue of the Amaragalaka tank to the Buddhist monks in the time of Vasabha (Paranavitana, 1983).
4) Kasimottai rock inscription (from Batticaloa District)
The purpose of engraving this inscription was to register the grant of certain fields of which the income was to be utilized in providing for the maintenance of a Stupa built at a Vihara (the name is not preserved) by a minister named Naga whose father Honaya was a high dignitary of Vasabha (Paranavitana, 1983). 
5) Sandagiri pillar inscriptions (from Hambantota District)
On the octagonal pillar near the Sandagiri Stupa are a few donative inscriptions containing the name of Vasabha (Paranavitana, 1983).
6) Andarawewa slab inscription (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription registers a grant made by Vasabha of the water revenue of the Badamaraviya tank to the Buddhist monks of Matagopa monastery (Paranavitana, 1983).
7) Alut-halmillewa inscription on stone step (from Anuradhapura District)
This inscription records a donation made by Vasabha to the Vihara (the name is not mentioned) established by Uparaja Tisa [(Vankanasika Tissa, the son of Vasabha) Paranavitana, 1983].
8) Situlpawwa fragmentary rock inscription (from Hambantota District)
A fragmentary rock inscription of Vasabha has been found on the rock to the left of the steps leading on south to the Maha Stupa of Situlpawwa Viharaya (Paranavitana, 1983).
9) Vallipuram Gold Sheet Inscription (from Jaffna District)
This records the construction of a Vihara at a place called Badakara Atana by a person named Piyaguka Tissa, when the minister Isigiraya was the Governor of Nagadipa, during the reign of Vasabha (Paranavitana, 1983).
1) Davis, C.E., 2013. Early Buddhist Monasteries in Sri Lanka: A Landscape Approach (Doctoral dissertation, Durham University). pp.532-533.
2) 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). pp.43,45,60,66,80,131,148,153,154,158,164,171,173,182.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Late Brahmi Inscriptions, Volume II (Part I). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka. pp.63-81.
4) Ray, H.C. (Editor in chief), 1959. History of Ceylon: Vol. I: Part I. Ceylon University Press. Colombo. pp.179-182,222.

This page was last updated on 27 May 2023

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