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Kingdom of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya

The Kingdom of Anuradhapura (Sinhala: අනුරාධපුර රාජධානිය/ යුගය; Tamil: அனுராதபுர இராச்சியம்) was the first kingdom of Sri Lanka that flourished on the island from the 5th century B.C. to the 11th century A.D.


Early period

The discovery of prehistoric tools and monuments such as urn burial grounds has proved that Sri Lanka was inhabited from very early times (Jayasuriya, 2016). Local chronicles reveal that Deva, Yakkhas, Raksasa, Pulinda, Vyadha, Sabara, Milakkha and Nagas were the early tribes who inhabited the country before the Arrival of Aryans including Prince Vijaya of Indian origin (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004).

The arrival of Aryans & the establishment of Anuradhapura

The transition from Prehistory and Protohistory to the Historical Period of Sri Lanka began with the Indo-Aryan settlers headed by the legendary ruler Vijaya from North India. As mentioned in the chronicles, four Aryan groups had settled down in Sri Lanka from the 5th century B.C. (Wikramagamage, 2004). Of them, the leader of the first group, according to Sri Lankan literature, was Vijaya but who is identified by the Mahayana Buddhist literature as Simhala (Wikramagamage, 2004). Vijaya was an exiled prince from Sinhapura in Lata (probably present Gujerat, India) who became the ruler of Sri Lanka with the help of a princess of the Yakkha tribe named Kuvanna (Sinhala: Kuveni) whom Vijaya made his consort (Jayasuriya, 2016).  The second group of Aryans comprised women who arrived in the country to get married to the Vijaya and his ministers of the first group (Wikramagamage, 2004). The third group included Panduwasadeva, the nephew and the successor of Vijaya (Wikramagamage, 2004). Prince Baddakacchayana, the consort of Panduwasadeva, and her brothers of the Sakya clan were the fourth group who arrived in the country (Wikramagamage, 2004). The brothers of Baddakacchayana and the followers of Vijaya finally established dominions all over Sri Lanka, leading to the rise of a new nation called Sinhala (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Anuradha, a minister of  Vijaya founded a village settlement called Anuradhagama in the second half of the 5th century B.C. which later became the City of Anuradhapura (Nicholas, 1963). Later, several other independent migrations formed minor cities at a few locations in the country such as Mahagama in the South, Gokanna (Trincomalee) in the East, Kalyani (Kelaniya) in the West and Nagadipa (Jaffna) in the North.

First Sri Lankan king & his kingdom

Pandukabhaya (4th century B.C.) was the first Sri Lankan-born king who became the ruler of the country after a hard seventeen-year campaign (Jayasuriya, 2016). He made Anuradhapura his capital and laid out the town and its suburbs in a well-planned manner (Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963). His palace was situated within a walled citadel or inner city surrounded by gate villages, water supplies, cemeteries, parks, quarters for foreign traders etc. Mutasiva, the successor of Pandukabhaya and the father of Devanampiyatissa, laid out a pleasure garden named Mahamegha to the south of this city and it later became the domain of the Maha Viharaya.

The arrival of Arhat Mahinda Thera; the beginning of the Historical Period


The historic period of Sri Lanka proper starts circa 236 B.C. with the introduction of Buddhism to the country by the Arahant Mahinda Thera, the son of Indian Emperor Asoka (c.268-232 B.C.), during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa [(247-207 B.C.) Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004]. The arrival of Mahinda Thera in Sri Lanka is confirmed by two rock inscriptions found at Rajagala and Mihintale. The details narrated in local chronicles can be compared with their contemporary archaeological evidence from the time of this incident.

Arahant Mahinda Thera was followed by Arahant Sangamitta Theri, the daughter of Emperor Asoka, who brought the Sacred Bodhi Tree to the island during the reign of Devanampiyatissa (Jayasuriya, 2016). These arrivals resulted in the growth of Buddhism as the state religion and several Buddhist institutions were established by Devanampiyatissa around the country including the Maha Viharaya (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Reign of Dutugemunu

Dutugemunu statue

An invader named Elara (205-161 B.C.) who came from Cola country (India) captured the kingdom and dethroned King Asela [(215-205 B.C.) Jayasuriya, 2016]. Elara governed the country for 44 years until he was expelled by Dutugemunu, the son of the ruler of Magama by the daughter of the ruler at Kelaniya (Jayasuriya, 2016). Dutugemunu reigned for 24 years (161-137 B.C.) and during his reign, he brought Buddhism to the highest glory. Gigantic Buddhist monuments such as Ruwanweliseya, Mirisawetiya, and Lovamahapaya were built during this period.

Invasions, Valagamba & committing the religious texts to writing

In 103 B.C., Valagamba became the king but had to leave the throne in the same year due to a local rebellion followed by an invasion from South India. By killing each other, five South Indian Tamils ruled the country for 14 years and as a result of their corrupted ruling process, a 12-year-long great famine which later came to be known as Beminitiyasaya occurred. During this invasion period compounded by the famine, Buddhist monks realized the importance of transcribing the religious teachings that had come through generations only by word of mouth (Jayasuriya, 2016). Meanwhile, by expelling the last Tamil ruler, Valagamba regained the throne around 89 B.C. and carried out reparation and reconstruction works of the ill-fated irrigation system of the country to finish the famine. After the re-arrival of Valagamba and under his patronage, Buddhist monks gathered at Matale Alu Viharaya and transcribed religious texts on Ola leaves. This act of monks helped the preservation of the Theravada tradition of Buddhism in its pristine purity (Jayasuriya, 2016). The giant Buddhist monastery Abhayagiriya was built during this period.

Destruction of Maha Viaharaya & arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic


Misled by a Buddhist monk, King Mahasena (276-301 A.D.) destroyed some of the buildings of Maha Viharaya and used the materials to build new structures at Abhayagiriya (Jayasuriya, 2016). Ignoring the protests of Maha Vihara monks, he established the Jetavanaramaya within the precincts of the Maha Viharaya. However, persuaded by one of his ministers, the king took necessary measures to rebuild Maha Viharaya (Jayasuriya, 2016). After Mahasena, his son Kitsirimewan (301-328 A.D.) became the king and during his reign, the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka from India (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Buddhaghosha, Fa-hsien & Sigiri Kasyapa


During the reign of King Mahanama (412-434 A.D.), the famous scholar Buddhaghosha visited Sri Lanka to translate the Sinhala commentaries on the doctrine into Pali (Jayasuriya, 2016). The Visuddhimagga is considered a work that shows his competence in writing (Jayasuriya, 2016). During the same period, the Chinese monk Fa-Hsien visited the country (Nicholas, 1963).

After killing his own father, Kassapa became the ruler from 479 to 497 A.D. In fear of his brother Moggallana, the rightful heir, Kassapa sought security in the rock of Sigiriya and transformed it into an impregnable fortress.

Growing Tamil presence & South Indian invasions

After King Aggabodhi II (604-614 A.D.), the Tamils were a specific force in the selection of rulers (Jayasuriya, 2016). King Aggabodhi IV (673-689 A.D.) who died of an incurable disease abandoned Anuradhapura and took residence in Polonnaruwa during his last days while the administration of the kingdom was in the hands of a Tamil general, Potthakuttha (Jayasuriya, 2016). The South Indian Pandya King Srimara Srivallbha (835-862 A.D.) invaded the northern part of the country during the reign of King Sena I [(833-853 A.D.) Jayasuriya, 2016].

Chola conquest & the demise of the kingdom

A military invasion was begun on Anuradhapura in 993 A.D. when a large Chola army was sent to Sri Lanka by King Raja Raja I (c. 985-1014 A.D.). In 1017 A.D., during the reign of Rajendra Chola I (c.1014-1044 A.D.), the Anuradhapura Kingdom completely fell under the rule of the Chola Empire when the invaders took the last king of Anuradhapura, King Mahinda V (982-1017 A.D.) as a captive to India (see: Fort Hammenhiel Inscriptions). The Cholas established their rule in Polonnaruwa through a viceroy and renamed the city Jananatha Mangalam (Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963). They ruled the country for 53 years until King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) defeated them and re-established the Sinhalese lineage in 1070 A.D. 

Although Vijayabahu I celebrated his coronation as king at Anuradhapura he shortly afterwards transferred the capital to Polonnaruwa (Nicholas, 1963). As a result of that, Polonnaruwa became the next and the second kingdom for the Sinhalese kings.

Rulers of the Anuradhapura Kingdom

The Anuradhapura Kingdom lasted over one millennium. A chronological list of kings and queens of this period is given below [(princes who held the sceptre for less than a week have not been included in the list) Ray, 1960];

The Vijayan Dynasty (6 Century B.C.-67 A.D.)
    1) Vijaya (reigned: uncertain)
    3) Panduvasudeva/Panduwasdev (reigned: uncertain)
    5) Pandukabhaya/Pandu-Aba (reigned: uncertain)
    7) Devanampiyatissa/Devanapa Tis (250-210 B.C.)
    9) Mahasiva (reigned: uncertain)
    2) Upatissa/Upatis (reigned: uncertain)
    4) Abhaya/Aba (reigned: uncertain)
    6) Mutasiva (reigned: uncertain)
    8) Uttiya (reigned: uncertain)
    10) Suratissa (reigned: uncertain)

Invader: Asvacari
    1) Sena & Guttaka (reigned: uncertain)

The Vijayan Dynasty (6 Century B.C.-67 A.D.)
    1) Asela (reigned: uncertain)

Invader: Elara
    1) Elara/Elala (reigned: uncertain)

The Vijayan Dynasty (6 Century B.C.-67 A.D.)
    1) Dutthagamani/Dutugemunu (161-137 B.C.)
    3) Thulatthana/Tulna (119 B.C.)
    5) Khallata Naga/Kalun-na (109-103 B.C.)
    2) Saddhatissa/Sadatis (137-119 B.C.)
    4) Lanjatissa/Lamani Tis (119-109 B.C.)
    6) Vattagamani Abhaya/Valagam Aba (103 B.C.)

Invader: Panca Dravida/Five Dravidians (103-89 B.C.)
    1) Pulahatta (reigned between: 103-89 B.C.)
    3) Panayamara (reigned between: 103-89 B.C.)
    5) Dathika (reigned between: 103-89 B.C.)
    2) Bahiya (reigned between: 103-89 B.C.)
    4) Pilayamara (reigned between: 103-89 B.C.)

The Vijayan Dynasty (6 Century B.C.-67 A.D.)
    1) Vattagamani Abhaya/Valagam Aba (89-77 B.C.)
    3) Coranaga (63-51 B.C.)
    5) Siva/Balat Sivu
    7) Darubhatika Tissa
    9) Queen Anula (48-44 B.C.)
    11) Bhatika Abhaya/Bhatikatissa (22 B.C.-7 A.D.)
    13) Amanda-gamani Abhaya/Ada-gemunu (19-29 A.D.)
    15) Culabhaya/Kuda Abha (32-33 A.D.)
    17) Ilanaga/Elunna (33-43 A.D.)
    19) Yasalalakatissa/Yasasilu (52-60 A.D.)
    2) Mahaculi Mahatissa/Mahasilu Mahatis (77-63 B.C.)
    4) Tissa/Kuda Tissa (51-48 B.C.)
    6) Vatuka
    8) Niliya/Purohita Bamuna, Vasukhi
    10) Kutakannatissa/Kalakannitissa (44-22 B.C.)
    12) Mahadathika Mahanaga/Mahadaliya Mana (7-19 A.D.)
    14) Kanirajanutissa/Kinihiridala (29-32 A.D.)
    16) Queen Sivali/Revati (33 A.D.)
    18) Candamukha Siva/Sandamuhunu (43-52 A.D.)
    20) Sabha/Subha (60-67 A.D.)

The First Lambakanna Dynasty (67-429 A.D.)
    1) Vasabha/Vahap (67-111 A.D.)
    3) Gajabahuka-gamani/Gajabahu I (114-136 A.D.)
    5) Bhatikatissa/Batiya (143-167 A.D.)
    7) Khujjanaga/Kuhunna (186-187 A.D.)
    9) Sirinaga I/Sirina (189-209 A.D.)
    11) Abhayanaga/Abha Sen (231-240 A.D.)
    13) Vijaya Kumara/Vijayindu (242-243 A.D.)
    15) Sirisamghabodhi/Dahami Sirisangabo (247-249 A.D.)
    17) Jetthatissa I/Kalakan Detatis (263-273 A.D.)
    19) Sirimeghavanna/Kit Sirimevan (301-328 A.D.)
    21) Buddhadasa/Bujas (337-365 A.D.)
    23) Mahanama (406-428 A.D.)
    25) Mittasena/Mitsen (428-429 A.D.)
    2) Vankanasikatissa/Vaknaha Tis (111-114 A.D.)
    4) Mahallaka Naga/Mahaluna (136-143 A.D.)
    6) Kanitthatissa/Culatissa (167-186 A.D.)
    8) Kuncanaga/Kudana (187-189 A.D.)
    10) Voharikatissa/Veratissa (209-231 A.D.)
    12) Sirinaga II/Sirina (240-242 A.D.)
    14) Samghatissa I (243-247 A.D.)
    16) Gothabhaya/Meghavanna Abhaya (249-262 A.D.)
    18) Mahasena/Mahasen (274-301 A.D.)
    20) Jetthatissa II/Detatis (328-337 A.D.)
    22) Upatissa I (365-406 A.D.)
    24) Chattagahaka Jantu (428 A.D.)

Invader: Sad Dravida/Six Dravidians (429-455 A.D.) 
    1) Pandu (429-434 A.D.)
    3) Khudda Parinda (437-452 A.D.)
    5) Dathiya (452-455 A.D.)
    2) Parinda (434-437 A.D.)
    4) Tiritara (452 A.D.)
    6) Pithiya (455 A.D.)

The First & Second Moriya Dynasty (455-684 A.D.)
    1) Dhatusena/Dasen Kaliya (455-473 A.D.)
    3) Moggallana I/Mugalan (491-508 A.D.)
    5) Kittisena/Kirtisena (516-517 A.D.)
    7) Upatissa II/Lamani Upatissa (517-518 A.D.)
    9) Dathapabhuti/Dapulu-Sen (531 A.D.)
    11) Kittisirimegha/Kuda Kitsirimevan (551-569 A.D.)
    13) Aggabodhi I/Akbo (571-604 A.D.)
    15) Samghatissa II (614 A.D.)
    17) Silameghavanna/Asiggahaka (619-628 A.D.)
    19) Jetthatissa III/Lamani Katusara Detatis (628 A.D.)
    21) Dathopatissa I/Lamani Dalupatis (639-650 A.D.)
    23) Dappula I/Dapulu (659 A.D.)
    25) Aggabodhi IV/Sirisanghabodhi (667-683 A.D.)
    27) Hatthadatha II/Hunannaru Riyandala (684 A.D.)
    2) Kassapa I/Sigiri Kasubu (473-491 A.D.)
    4) Kumara Dhatusena/Kumaradasa (508-516 A.D.)
    6) Siva/Mandi Siva (517 A.D.)
    8) Silakala, Ambasamanera (518-531 A.D.)
    10) Moggallana II/Dala Mugalan (531-551 A.D.)
    12) Mahanaga/Senevu Mahana (569-571 A.D.)
    14) Aggabodhi II/Kuda Akbo (604-614 A.D.)
    16) Moggallana III/Lamini Bona Mugalan (614-619 A.D.)
    18) Aggabodhi III/Sirisanghabodhi (628 A.D.)
    20) Aggabodhi III/Sirisanghabodhi (629-639 A.D.)
    22) Kassapa II/Pasulu Kasubu (650-659 A.D.)
    24) Hatthadatha/Dathopatissa II (659-667 A.D.)
    26) Datta/Valpiti-vasi Datta (683-684 A.D.)

The Second Lambakanna Dynasty (684-1029 A.D.)
    1) Manavamma/Mahalapano (684-718 A.D.)
    3) Kassapa III/Sulu Kasubu (724-730 A.D.)
    5) Aggabodhi VI/Silamegha (733-772 A.D.)
    7) Mahinda II/Salamevan Mihindu (777-797 A.D.)
    9) Mahinda III/Dhammika Silamegha (801-804 A.D.)
    11) Dappula II (815-831 A.D.)
    13) Sena I/Matvala Sen (833-853 A.D.)
    15) Udaya II (887-898 A.D.)
    17) Kassapa V/Pasulu Kasubu (914-923 A.D.)
    19) Dappula IV (924-935 A.D.)
    21) Sena III (938-946 A.D.)
    23) Sena IV/Madi Sen (954-956 A.D.)
    25) Sena V/Salamevan (972-982 A.D.)
    2) Aggabodhi V/Akbo (718-724 A.D.)
    4) Mahinda I/Mihindel (730-733 A.D.)
    6) Aggabodhi VII/Kuda Akbo (772-777 A.D.)
    8) Udaya I (797-801 A.D.)
    10) Aggabodhi VIII/Madi Akbo (804-815 A.D.)
    12) Aggabodhi IX/Pasulu Akbo (831-833 A.D.)
    14) Sena II/Mungayin-vasi Sen (853-887 A.D.)
    16) Kassapa IV (898-914 A.D.)
    18) Dappula III (923-924 A.D.)
    20) Udaya III (935-938 A.D.)
    22) Udaya IV (946-954 A.D.)
    24) Mahinda IV/Kuda Mihindel (956-972 A.D.)
    26) Mahinda V/Mihindu (982-1029 A.D.)

Chola-occupied Anuradhapura (1029–1055 A.D.)
    1) Kassapa VI/Vikkamabahu (1029-1040 A.D.)
    3) Vikkama-Pandu/Vikrama-Pandi (1042-1043 A.D.)
    5) Kassapa VII (1054-1055 A.D.)
    2) Mahalana-Kitti/Mahale (1040-1042 A.D.)
    4) Loka/Lokissara (1048-1054 A.D.)




Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 B.C.) as a result of the missionary activities of Empire Asoka (268-232 B.C.) in India. Arhat Mahinda Thera, the son of Asoka was responsible for the establishment of the monastic organization (the Sangha) in the country. The number of monks following Theravada Buddhism increased to thousands within a few centuries with the support of kings and royals.

The monks of the original Theravada Buddhism consisted of two sections; the Forest dwellers (Vanavasi) and the City (Gamavasi) dwellers. Gamavasi dwellers lived near cities and suburbs and they came into contact with the royalty receiving great munificence from the kings and the laity. The Maha ViharayaAbhayagiri Viharaya and Jetavanaramaya were the three main monasteries during the Anuradhapura period. Kelaniya Viharaya, Tissamaharama, Gokanna Viharaya and Nagadipa were the other sites in coastal areas where important monasteries were founded. The bringing of the Sacred Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Sri Meghavanna (301-328 A.D.) led to the development of ritual worship and resulted in Buddhism becoming a form of popular religion.


Mahayana Buddhism which gradually developed in India since the 2nd Great Council held in the 4th century B.C. found its way to Sri Lanka at a later time. The Abhayagiri Viharaya and Jetavanaramaya played an important role in embracing the Mahayana teachings such as Vaitulyavada from about the 4th century A.D. The worship of the relics of Dhamma (Dhammadatu), as against the bodily relics of the Buddha (Saririkadatu) became popular with the increase in the number of monks following Mahayanism and the spread of it enhanced by the visits of great Mahayana propagators such as Gunavarman, Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra. The Bodhisattva statues and inscriptions found along the eastern and southern coasts such as KuchchaveliMuhudu Maha Viharaya, Buduruwagala, Budupatunna, Tissamaharama, Dambegoda and Weligama as well as the many bronzes unearthed around the country show the spread of Mahayana worship in Sri Lanka.


Koneswaram Temple

The presence of Tamil invaders in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith, yet in a subservient tone due to the pre-eminent position held by Buddhism. Reference is made to the existence of Hindu shrines during the reign of King Mahasena (276-303 A.D.). More shrines were built later for the purpose of worship by the South Indian soldiers who were stationed at seaports such as Mahatittha (Mantai, Mannar) and Gokanna (Trincomalee). Tirugnanasambandar, a 7th-century Shaiva poet-saint from Tamil Nadu praised the prosperity of the Hindu shrine at Tiruketiswaram in Mantai.

The discoveries of Hindu bronzes from Abhayagiri Viharaya and Jetavanaramaya provide significant evidence of the prevalence of Hinduism during the 10th century A.D. Apparently, it was with the Cola rule from the 10th century onwards that Hinduism found permanent stability as a major religion in Sri Lanka.

Language and Literature

A unique script called Sinhala evolved in Sri Lanka from the Brahmi Script Found in the Inscriptions dating from the 3rd century B.C. The formation of different letters of the Sinhala alphabet, which was influenced by Pallava scripts in the 7th century A.D. as well, continuously happened until the 15th century, the time it assumed the characters of the modern Sinhala alphabet.

Considerable literature in Old Sinhala grew around the Pali Canon which consisted of exegetical works, jataka stories, and chronicles. Visuddhimagga of scholarly monk Buddhaghosa gave a flip to the development of Pali literature and Helatuva (Old Sinhala exegetical works) supplied material for Pali commentaries made by him. With the advent of Mahayanists, Sanskrit also became a popular language as evidenced by the Sanskrit Inscriptions found in various parts of the country. King Buddhadasa's (340-369 A.D.) medical compendium named Sarartha Sangrahaya and Janakiharana, the great classical poem by King Kumaradasa (6th century A.D.) are several Sanskrit works of the Anuradhapura period.

Many poets flourished during the reign of King Aggabodhi I (564-598 A.D.) and the poems remain on the mirror wall of Sigiriya, written from about the 6th century onwards, provide evidence of the poetic styles of the Sinhala language at the time (Jayasuriya, 2016). The 10th-century Siyabaslakara is considered the only Sinhala text preserved from the time of Anuradhapura. The numerous Sinhala inscriptions on stones and metal display the continuous evolvement of the script as well as the language throughout the period.

There was no bout that the Tamil language was also in use during the Anuradhapura period as there were Tamil rulers and soldiers in the country from the beginning. The use of the Tamil language increased from the 10th century onwards with the commencement of the Cola rule.

Agriculture and irrigation

King Datusena built Kala Wewa

The dry cultivation (slash and burn cultivation) practiced by primitive man changed to wet cultivation introduced by the Indo-Aryan immigrants who brought with them the knowledge of irrigation. The use of the iron plough along with other metal equipment commenced the age of paddy cultivation in the wet fields. From a basic understanding of water storage for rice cultivation, a vast methodology of water engineering was developed within a short period and this led the Anuradhapura people to build numerous amount of reservoirs, dams, canals, and anicuts across the country.

King Vasabha (67-111 A.D.) is recognized as the first large-scale tank and canal builder in the country. King Mahasena (276-303 A.D.) was the greatest tank builder of colossal size. King Datusena (477-495 A.D.) built Kala Wewa carrying the water to Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura through the 54-mile-long stream called Jaya Ganga.

Health and sanitation

The chronicles and epigraphical records reveal the measurements adopted by Anuradhapura rulers to maintain a proper healthcare system around Buddhist monasteries as well as the city. Since the reign of King Pandukabhaya (4th century B.C.), many scavengers were employed in keeping the city clean and a cemetery was established on the outskirts of the city. Various structures and methods were used for the construction of toilets and urinals and underground clay pipes were laid for the conduction of water to ponds and baths. Jantaghara (steam baths) were a common facility provided in large Buddhist monasteries to keep the health of monks.

Mihintale Ancient Hospital Complex

The hospitals founded by the Anuradhapura kings have gained the reputation of being the first such institution in the world and many literary and epigraphical sources coupled with archaeological discoveries have thrown light on how Sri Lankan Hospitals in Ancient Times were working in a well-organized manner. The 8th-century monastic Hospital at Mihintale is considered the best example of a hospital established during the Anuradhapura period.


Several Sri Lankan commodities such as pearls, gems and various spices were well-known to the outside world since the early time of the Anuradhapura period. Ancient ports such as Mahatittha (in the west), Gokanna (in the east), Godavaya (in the south) and Jambukolapattna (in the north) attracted many traders from both East and West. During the time of King Bhatika Abhaya (22 B.C,-7 A.D.) envoys were sent to the Roman Empire and trading communities were living in Anuradhapura in the 5th century A.D. as is revealed in the records of the Chinese monk Fa-Hsien. Collection of customs dues was functioning in the main seaports even in the 1st century (see: Godavaya Inscription) and the existence of bank procedures was known by the 4th century (see: Thonigala Inscription).

India, Sri Lanka and Sri Vijaya Kingdoms acted as intermediaries in the Indian Ocean Sea and Sri Lanka is mentioned by classical writers as a great resort of ships by the 6th century. The vessels from Sri Lanka were said to be the largest among the fleets of ships in the Chinese ports. Many items of trade including local and foreign coins, Chinese Ceramics,  glazed ceramics and glass vessels from Iraq and Italy, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, carnelian from Gujarat and Amaravati marble from South India have been unearthed at many locations around the country.

Coins of the Period

Sri Lankan coins

Punch-marked coins

The earliest type of coin used in Sri Lanka was Punch-marked coins which are also known as Kahapana, Purana and Dharana. Used in the 6th-5th centuries A.D., these are thought to have been introduced to Sri Lanka through foreign trade relations. Evidence is there to show that these coins were produced in Sri Lanka as well in later times.

Elephant and Svastika coins

These are the first type of coins minted in Sri Lanka between the period 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. Influenced by the Pandyan and Cola coins, these have been discovered from localities such as Anuradhapura, Abhayagiri, Jetavana, Tissamaharama, Mannar, Mihintale, Jaffna and Tiruketiswaram.

Single die-struck coins

These were produced in silver or copper. The obverse consists of a single die struck with a mould which includes several symbols found in Punch-marked coins. 

Lakshmi and Svastika coins

Among the other coins, Lakshmi and Svastika coins acquire the majority portion. The obverse side contains the Gaja-Lakshmi figure while the reverse side has the Svastika symbol. Used between the period 2nd century B.C. - 7th century A.D., these coins have been reported from Tissamaharama, Akurugoda, Godavaya, Ambalantota, Chilaw, Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Abhayagiri and Jetavana.

Lion and Svastika coins

There is a figure of a lion on the obverse side of the coin and on the reverse of it is the Svastika symbol. These coins belong to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D.

Tree and Svastika coins and Horse and Svastika coins were also among the coins used in the Anuradhapura Period.

Tissamaharama inscribed coins

A special type of inscribed coin has been discovered at Tissamaharama. These coins have legends datable to very early times probably to the 1st century B.C.

Gold Kahavanu

These coins were used between the 7th and 10th century A.D. The special features of these were the use of legends for the first time and of almost the same weight. Belonged to the same moulded type, these coins primarily consisted of four types; viz: Full Kahapana, 1/2 Kahapana, 1/4 Kahapana and 1/8 Kahapana. On the obverse of the coin is a human figure (king or divinity) while on the reverse is a similar figure seated with the left hand bent upwards in front. The space below the left hand contains the legends "Sri Lanka Vibhu", "Sri Lanka Vehe" or "Sri Lanka Viha" in Nagari letters.

Lion coins

These were used in the period between the 2nd - 4th centuries A.D. A figure of a lion appears on the obverse side of the coin while the reverse contains four dots in the centre of a circle. Have been discovered in Anuradhapura, Kadurugoda, Jaffna, Tiruketiswaram, and several localities in the Southern Province.

Foreign coins

South Indian coins

Buddhist Chakram, a type of Tamil coins (Cola and Pandya) of the Sangam Age has been found in several localities in Sri Lanka such as Jaffna, Kadurugoda, Tiruketiswaram, Mannar, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. Belonging to the period between the 3rd century B.C. - 4th century A.D., these coins have been used in Sri Lanka due to trade relations. An elephant turned to the right or left, triangle, hill, railed tree, lamp, bull, taurine, nandipada, fish, and tiger are several symbols found on these coins.

Bull type coins

These are coins having a standing bull facing left or right on the obverse. Symbols such as Svastika, lamp, and Purnaghata are found over the bull. On the reverse are three dots within a rectangular frame or sometimes the reverse is completely empty. The origin of this type of coin remains a question. Have been found in Anuradhapura, Jetavana, Kiribath Vehera, Vallipuram, Jaffna, Tiruketiswaram, Mannar, and Tissamaharama.

Pallava coins

Mainly two types of coins issued by the Pallavasa have been found in Sri Lanka. One of the two types has a lion figure on the observe and an auspicious jar on the reverse. The other type has a tree on the obverse and an auspicious jar on the reverse.

Roman coins

Over 200,000 Roman coins have been found in almost all the provinces of Sri Lanka. Of them, large quantities have been reported from localities such as Tissamaharama, Galle, Matara, Wattala, Kuliyapitiya, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Mannar, Jaffna and Sigiriya. These coins have mainly been divided into five categories; namely, (1) Republican coins, (2) Early-imperial coins, (3) Late-imperial coins, (4) Indo-Roman coins, and (5) Roman imitation coins.

See Also

#) Kingdom of Polonnaruwa (11th-13th century A.D.)
#) Kingdom of Dambadeniya (13th-14th century A.D.)
#) Kingdom of Gampola (14th-15th century A.D.)
#) Kingdom of Kotte (15th-16th century A.D.)
#) Kingdom of Kandy (15th-19th century A.D.)


1) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.1-12.
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.127-128,175.
3) Ray, H.C. (Editor in chief), 1960. History of Ceylon: Vol. I: Part II. Ceylon University Press. Colombo. pp.843-847.
4) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.1-5.

This page was last updated on 5 December 2023

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