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.
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.
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.
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)