End of King Parākramabāhu VI’s Reign

Parākramabāhu ascended the throne of Kotte, a Sinhalese kingdom forming part of Sri Lanka, in an age of political instability, yet by the end of his reign the kingdom thrived culturally and intellectually, had been stabilized politically, and had re-embraced Buddhism.

Summary of Event

Sri Lanka, an island nation just off the southern tip of India, was without a king after Vīra Alakeṣvara, who had opposed Buddhism in Kotte Kotte , was captured by Chinese trader and admiral Zheng He (c. 1371-1435) and taken to China. The political instability that had been brewing since the late thirteenth century increased. Parākramabāhu VI was offered the throne in 1412 and would remedy the instability beyond all expectations. His reign was a landmark period in Sinhalese cultural and political history, as his reign marked the last time that the entire island of Sri Lanka was unified under one Sinhalese sovereign power until modern times. Sri Lanka
Parākramabāhu VI
Sapumal Kumaraya
Sapumal Kumaraya
Jayabahu II
Parākramabāhu VI

By the end of his reign in 1467, Parākramabāhu not only had regained control over Kotte but also had brought under his control rival areas of the island, notably Sinhalese Kandy and Tamil Jaffna. Contemporary sources are largely silent about how Parākramabāhu consolidated his power. There is sufficient information, however, to make some assumptions about the directions in which his power traveled. In 1419 and 1420, inscriptions were issued in parts of the island other than Kotte, which referred to Parākramabāhu’s sovereignty, including his sovereignty over the Sinhalese kingdom of Kandy. Around the same time, he had repair work done in the Kotte and Kandyan areas, demonstrating that he was responsible for the administration and upkeep of both kingdoms. How he attained power over Kandy is uncertain, and historians do not know if he annexed Kandy peacefully. It is fairly clear, however, that by his fifth regnal year, Parākramabāhu controlled both Kotte and Kandy. While there was a short rebellion by Jotiya Situ in the Kandyan areas, there were no internal disturbances.

After a difficult struggle, Parākramabāhu forced the Vanni chiefs to submit to his rule. Because they controlled the areas between Kotte and Kandy and the Jaffna Kingdom, it is likely that Parākramabāhu found it necessary to control them to eventually conquer Jaffna. After the Vanni were subjugated, Parākramabāhu dispatched an expedition under the command of Sapumal Kumaraya against Aryachakravarti, the Tamil king of Jaffna Jaffna . Before attempting to control Jaffna and its ruler, Sapumal pillaged some villages in the Jaffna region, captured prisoners, and brought them to Kotte. It is fairly certain that the Tamil ruler of Jaffna managed to escape to South India. The one source (the seventeenth century chronicle Rājāvaliya) that suggests he was killed most likely did so to depict Sapumal as a national hero. The conquest of Jaffna led to the total unification of Sri Lanka under one Sinhalese ruler, Parākramabāhu VI. After the areas were conquered, the record appears to show that they had been largely free from internal disturbance and rebellion, which was a relatively unique situation in South Asian history of this period.

Politically unifying and stabilizing Jaffna allowed for a flowering of culture in the age of Parākramabāhu. He was determined, especially in the final years of his reign, to support Buddhism Buddhism;Sri Lanka . Even in the early years, chronicles mention that he assembled his viceroys and advisers to discuss how to restore or rebuild the Buddhist monasteries Monasticism;Buddhist , which had degenerated both tangibly and spiritually. Also, Parākramabāhu kept a number of priests and monks in his specific household employ, built a hall for the monks to perform their ceremonies and rituals, and built an immense shrine for the Tooth Relic called Dalada Maligava, which formed the center of many of the rituals he prescribed. Parākramabāhu also repaired a number of fourteenth century shrines—including Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya—and temples, such as the Kelaniya temple. He restored places of pilgrimage, such as Samantakuta, where people would worship the footprint of the Buddha. Samantakuta, located on a mountain, received new railings to help pilgrims with the difficult ascent, and a rest house, where pilgrims were offered food and drink.

Parākramabāhu also supported Buddhism as an intellectual enterprise by establishing two educational institutions affiliated with monasteries. Parākramabāhu also patronized existing institutions. The monastery and school at Karagala, Padmavati Pirivena, which was built well before his reign, developed into an outstanding place of learning under Parākramabāhu’s patronage. In addition to making land grants and repairing and constructing buildings, Education;Sri Lanka Parākramabāhu knew how important books were to the dissemination and retention of Buddhist knowledge. He provided for scribes to copy existing books and assigned officers to make arrangements for the writing of books, largely transcripts of the teachings of contemporary monks.

Also, Parākramabāhu reorganized the Buddhist sangha, the monastic order, which had become corrupt and chaotic prior to his reign. For example, monks who had not been receiving financial support from their monasteries had to make a living somehow, so they took jobs outside the monasteries, a practice believed to have sullied the sangha. Parākramabāhu allocated resources to check the sangha’s decline, restore its purity, and ensure its protection. Once it had been stabilized to some degree, Parākramabāhu arranged for annual upasampada festivals, during which novices are ordained as monks.

The political stability and financial support created during Parākramabāhu’s reign opened the door for the flowering of many forms of art and literature. Poems paid tribute to Parākramabāhu’s patronage of the arts, culture, and religious life. A freedom of expression that was not possible earlier because poetry was bound to strict religious themes allowed for the creation of the sandesha form of poetry Poetry;Sri Lanka in Sinhalese literature. Sandesha (which means message) allowed poets to describe contemporary, everyday life, including the beauties of nature, popular forms of worship, teachers and others of eminence, and similar worldly things. Messages are conveyed in the poems through a living being, often a bird.

The Hansa-Sandeshaya (goose’s message) gives an account of the court of Parākramabāhu VI, demonstrating the emphasis on learning and religion that characterized his later reign. The Gira-Sandeshaya is a message sent through a parrot, asking for blessings and protection for Parākramabāhu and for the continued prosperity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It serves as an excellent source for the political career of Parākramabāhu, describing, also, his support of monasteries.


At the end of Parākramabāhu VI’s reign, Sri Lanka became racked with internal turmoil. Instead of political stability and cultural creativity and scholarship, Sri Lanka saw, first, the short-lived reign of Parākramabāhu’s grandson Jayabāhu II (r. 1467-1469/1470). Second, two years after Jayabāhu’s accession, Sapumal Kumaraya, who had brought victory to Parākramabāhu at Jaffna, marched to Kotte, killed Jayabāhu, and had himself consecrated as Bhuvanekabāhu VI, the new king. Jayabāhu’s murder caused the Sri Lankan people to resent the new king, leading to rebellions throughout the once-united, thriving Sinhalese kingdom.

Further Reading

  • Ilanghasinha, H. B. M. Buddhism in Medieval Sri Lanka. Delhi, India: Sri Satguru, Indian Books Centre, 1992. A superb study of the Sinhala Buddhist culture of Sri Lanka, which played an absolutely central role in Parākramabāhu’s reign. The religious history of Sri Lanka is supported by a great number of sources, including this text.
  • Enriquez, C. M. Ceylon: Past and Present. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1999. A good overview of Sri Lankan history. Reprint of an earlier edition.
  • Geiger, Wilhelm, trans. Cūlavamsa: Being the More Recent Part of the Mahāvamsa. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996. A Buddhist chronicle that, along with the Mahāvamsa, is a main source for the political and religious history of Sri Lanka, including Parākramabāhu’s reign.

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