Raigampura Heritage II – Alakeshvara (Alagakkonar) dynasty begins

This note will be the second of a series where I intend to go deep into the history of Raigampura kingdom. Alakeshvara dynasty, unalienable from the history of Raigama, would be an ideal starting point. The exercise is worthwhile because rarely anything on the subject is online.

Raigama, according to some historians, was the seventh capital of ancient Lanka, after Anuradhapura (4th Century BC – 10th Century AD), Polonnaruwa (10th Century  – mid 13th Century AD), Dambadeniya (1232-72 AD), Yapahuwa (1272-93 AD), Kurunegala (1293-1341) and Gampola (1341-47). They say it remained the Capital for 68 years, till Parakramabahu VI moved to the comforts of Sri Jayawardenepura-Kotte in 1415 AD.

These dates, let alone the claim, are matters of controversy. Given the fact that the period between the fall of Pollonnaruwa and the rise of Kotte kingdom was a one was a turbulent one, where civil wars were not uncommon, finding authentic records is not easy. Chroniclers, as well as poets of Sandesha kavyas have either intentionally or not recorded their own versions, which often provide contradictory information. So everything we know today might not be accurate, but the fact remains that Raigama was a key political power center of the island somewhere from early to mid 14th century to early 15th century.

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Image: An early map of Lanka showing the three power centers of the times. (circa 1340 AD)

Alakeshvaras were the supreme rulers of Raigampura kingdom. Their sovereignty varied from time to time. So were the limits of the kingdom.

Current Raigam Korale is an area of 350 sq km that covers the electorates Bandaragama, Horana and part of Bulathsinhala, but this should not be taken as the limits of ancient Raigampura kingdom in its heyday. The kingdom has spread over large sections of the provinces, Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa from time to time.

The centre, of course, was at Bandaragama. The fictitious peacock that carries a message to Devinuwara, in ‘Mayura Sandesha’ spends the second night of his travel in the palace of ‘Prabhuraja Alakeshvara’. This place has been clearly identified as the current Pathahawatte Sri Pushkararama Raja Maha Viharaya, in Bandaragama.

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Image: Pathahawatte Pushkararama Rajamaha Viharaya today stands at the same land once was the palace of Prabhuraja Alakeshvara. A three meter wide wall surrounding the temple land can still be seen.

But who were Alakeshvaras (aka Alagakkonars)?

Early history of Alakeshvara family remains largely a grey area. If we overlook what Prof. Paranavitana has written later (which is extremely controversial and still not accepted by any other historians) the earliest evidence of an Alakeshvara appears in a rock inscription from ‘Kithsirimevan Kelani Vihara’ supposed to be done in 1344 AD. It mentions about the 10th predecessor of Alakeshvara lineage, who has renovated the temple under the guidance of Vigammula Sangaraja Thero. It does not mention anything about Buvanekabahu IV, parallel king in the Gampola kingdom, supposed to be then official capital of Lanka. This, point out historians as an evidence of an independent Raigam kingdom towards the South-west of the Kelani river.

The name points to a South Indian origin. ‘Alaga’ in Tamil stands for god Kuvera, the celestial controller of wealth, and ‘Konar’ indicates a chieftain. Alaga+Konar=Alagakkonar. This could have been transformed to Sanskrit as Alakeshvara.

 The rock inscription at Niyamgampaya and Attanagalu Vamsaya trace Alakeshvara family to Vanchipuram in India. This was the capital of ancient ‘Chera’ kingdom (present state of Kerala in South India) and a famous port for international trade. Most probably Alakeshvara family too could have been involved in international trade and travelled other countries for business purposes. It is not known exactly when this family moved to Sri Lanka. Most probably they won power during the Polonnaruwa kingdom days, where the influence of South India on local politics was prominent. According to Prof. Paranavitana, the first Alakeshvara was a mercenary leader from Malabar, who later became an agent for Burmese Lanka international trade, but this is not a widely accepted fact.

Ibn Batutta, the Arab explorer who supposedly visited Lanka in 1344 AD provides some important information about Raigampura kingdom and Alakeshvaras. These are his words:

Then we came to Konakar, the capital of Sultan’s kingdom.  It was built on a valley between two mountains, and famous for gems…The Sultan of Konakar is called ‘Al-Konar’. He has a white elephant. I have never seen such a white elephant in any other place I have visited. Sultan rides on this elephant decorated with emeralds, on festive occasions. The aristocrats of the land rebelled against the Sultan, made him blind and offered the kingdom to his son.

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Images: A modern version of Batutta’s travelogue and an early painting depicting Batutta’s meeting with the emperor in Delhi.

Prof. Paranavitana was of the opinion that this place is Ratanapura (note the two mountains and gems) but there is no evidence on such  kingdom in Ratnapura in 14th century. If the references to two mountains and gems are treated as a mistake by Batutta, (which is possible as his travelogues  were reportedly penned by another scholar long after) the Konakar he mentions can be Raigampura and ‘Al-Konar’ is obviously an Alagakkonar (Alakeshvara). However, it is not certain it refers to the same individual the Kithsirimevan Kelani inscription does.

Another opinion is that ‘Konakar’ is Kurunegala kingdom, but that would be taking the clock few years forward and also assuming Alakeshvaras ruled from Kurunegala, a fact not supported by any other evidence.

Does this mean that there was an independent kingdom in Raigama, even before the fall of Gampola kingdom? Was it possible that Ibn Batutta landed at the port of Colombo (or alternatively Panadura) and travelled along the same Panadura – Horana Road to reach Sripada? We will never know, but the possibilities cannot be neglected.

In my next post on this series I plan to discuss about other Alakeshvaras, though some of them were not known by the very name.

(Note: I thank Mr. Gunasena Gamage of Bandaragama, who provided most of the information above. His latest book ‘Raigampura Rajadhaniya’, Sarasvathi publications, Divulapitiya was released recently)

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Tribute to the men who gave us the National Flag

The verge of the 60th independence celebrations brings an ideal occasion to pay tribute to those who gave us the national flag that we flaunt so proudly now.

The story of E.W. Perera, the ‘Lion of Kotte’, tracing the national flag of Lanka to the Chelsea Royal Military Hospital in London is well known. The flag was taken by British at the collapse of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 February. Controversy remains whether it was the national flag or the flag of the Kandyan kings. A proto type of the lion flag appears in a mural in Dambulla caves, depicted as held by the troops of king Dutugemunu in 2nd Century BC, but the paintings were made during the Kandyan period and it is also possible that the painter transposed a contemporary symbol to the past. Still that does not negate the fact that lion had been used to symbolize the nation in ancient times, as seen clearly from the ruins of, among other places, Yapahuva.

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Photos: Evolution of the National flag: First Row: ‘Lion Flag’ found in Dambulla murals and original ‘Lion Flag’ of the Kandyan kingdom; Second Row: Flag of Ceylon from 1875-1948 and Flag from 1948-50; Third Row: Flag 1950-72 and modern version we use since 1972

It is unfortunate that the contribution made by another patriot in not only finding but establishing the lion flag has gone unnoticed. D. R. Wijewardene, the press baron, grandfarther of opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, not only encouraged E.W. Perera in this task, but also provided much needed financial support.

Original Lion flag became a centre piece of attraction and the public became aware of the actual design after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom was when the Dinamina, leading local language newspaper of the day published by D. R. Wijewardene’s Lake House, issued a special edition of the paper on March 2, 1915 to mark the centenary of the end of independence, with the intention of re-kindling the desire of the people to win back the freedom they had lost to the British. On the front page were portraits of the last King and Queen of Kandy surmounted by the royal insignia Crown and the Lion flag in colour.

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Photos: Men behind the National Flag saga: E. W. Perera, D. S. Senanayake and D. R. Wijewardene

In the Independence ceremony in 1948, held at the land later known to be the ‘Independence Square’ Rt Hon. D. S. Senanayake, first Prime Minister of independent Lanka, hoisted the original lion flag while the girls from Musaeus College sang “Sri Lanka Matha, Paala yasa Mahima” – the national anthem of the day. Later, “Namo Namo Matha” – popular gramophone song then, written by Ananda Samarakoon replaced it.

It was Mudaliyar A. L. Sinnelebbe, the Member of Parliament for Batticaloa moved the motion in parliament stating that, “This house is of the opinion that the Royal Standard of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe depicting a yellow lion passant holding a sword in its right paw on a red background, which was removed to England after the convention of 1815, be once again adopted as the official flag of free Lanka.” , just nineteen days prior to the historic occasion.

On March 6, 1948, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake appointed a seven member National flag Committee headed by the leader of the House Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to advise him on the question of the National flag of independent Ceylon. After two years and several controversies, the committee gave its final recommendations on February 13, 1950. Two vertical stripes of equal size in saffron and green represent the minority communities; the Muslims and the Tamils. The stripes in relation to the entire flag are in proportion 1:1:5.

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Photo: Opposition leader with the National Flag, his grandfather has been instrumental in finding and popularising

Lion Flag today stands as a symbol of national unity.  It represents all communities in Sri Lanka.