Little known facets of Sri Lankan history:A Chola princess, and the old name for Jaffna



by Raja de Silva, D Phil

Alan Bullock, the Oxford historian who is well known for his studies on Hitler and Nazism once said the job of the historian was to find out and, if possible, to explain what actually happened. In the spirit of Bullock’s words, I propose to write here about two facets of Sri Lankan history that are unknown to the general public. In both cases, this enquiry is based on old inscriptions.

An unknown princess

The first facet is a little known but important story from mediaeval Sri Lanka concerning a princess. We learn about the existence of this princess through the work of Senarat Paranavitana (SP), who published a paper in 1933 titled ‘Two Tamil inscriptions from Budumuttava’. (Epigraphia Zeylanica III 1933, 302-312). SP writes that in Budumuttava, about a mile northwest of Nikavaratiya in the old territory of Dakkhinadesa (Southern country, south of Rajarata), lies the site of a Tamil pillar inscription dated to around AC 1122. It records that a princess called Cundhamalliyalvar made a donation to maintain one perpetual lamp in Magala aka Vikkirama-Calamega-pura, to confer merit on the reigning Sinhala king Vikramabahu (SP 1933, 311-312). SP highlights this inscription as being ‘of considerable historical interest’, since this is the only record of such a princess, who is unknown from South Indian sources (1933, 308) and the Mahavamsa, Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicle.

So, who was this princess and what do we know about her?

The inscription mentions that the princess Cundhamalliyalvar was the daughter of the Chola king Kolottunga-Coladevar (Kulottunga I, AC 1070-1118) and the wife of Virapperumal (a Pandyan). This is curious because the inscription provides the only evidence of a marriage between the Sinhala and Chola royal families, who were constantly at war and were popularly known as traditional enemies.

At the dawn of the 11th century, there was no peace among the states of South India, viz. the Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Kalingas, Chalukyas and Vengis. A.L. Basham, known for his authorship of the book titled The wonder that was India, describes the period as ‘…a century and a half of invasion, tyranny and anarchy’ (2006, p. 21). The common enemy were the Cholas who had also dominated Lanka in this period. Vijayabahu I, popularly known as The Great, liberated Lanka from under the Chola yoke in AC 1070.

Vijayabahu I is shown in the Mahavamsa to be related to Virapperumal (the princess’ husband). First, it shows that Vijayabahu I’s younger sister Mitta was married to a Pandyan prince, Panduraja and had a son Manabharana (Mhv. ch. 59, v. 41-42). SP also notes that according to the Mahavamsa, the ruler of Dakkhinadesa was ‘Manabharana’, also known as ‘Virabahu’ (Mhv. ch. 61, v. 26 and ch. 62, v. 4). Virabahu can be considered to be a variant form of Virapperumal (1933, 303-5, 309). Finally, the Mahvamsa shows that Manabharana’s wife was Ratanavali, the daughter of Vijayabahu I and the Kalinga princess Tilokasundari (Mhv. ch. 59, v. 29, 44). Thus, Vijayabahu I was both the uncle and the father-in-law of Manabharana aka Virapperumal. Although no mention is made in the Mahavamsa of Manabharana’s marriage to the Chola princess, it is likely that he had another wife, as many kings of that time had more than one wife.

Only a few other scholars have referred to this inscription and of the characters therein.

C. Nagalingam of the Department of National Museums has published this inscription as a part of the proceedings of The fourth international conference seminar of Tamil studies held in Jaffna in 1974, a copy of which is in the library of the Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka. He supports SP’s identification of Cundhamalliyalvar as the daughter of Kulottunga I, but he does not agree that Virapperumal refers to Manabharana, and gives his reasons (1974, 5-20).

W.M.K. Wijetunga, whose doctoral thesis is based on the Chola period in Sri Lanka, did not spend time on the historical characters mentioned in the inscription (2003, 137-38). What he did say regarding them was,

i. “The contents … have been interpreted as evidence of a marriage between the daughter of Kulottunga and a Sri Lankan prince, referred to here as a Paṇḍyan”.

ii. “The identification of this prince is by no means certain”.

iii. “Sri Lankan literary sources also do not record such an alliance between the two royal families”.

What were Wijetunga’s reasons for dismissing an alliance between the Sinhala and Chola royal families? He does not provide them in his thesis.

Overall, there has been insufficient investigation into this Tamil pillar inscription and its authorship by the daughter of the powerful Chola king in AC 1122 in commemoration of the ruling Sinhala king. Princess Cundhamalliyalvar was evidently of strong character to have publicly donated a perpetual lamp to a shrine in Dakkhinadesa. More investigation is warranted about her and her motivations.

The old name for Jaffna

The second little known facet refers to the nomenclature of the Jaffna Peninsula and its implications for the origins of a famous king of Lanka, Nissamka Malla (AC 1187-1196). The work of Mudaliyar Rasanayagam (1926) and C. Nagalingam (1974) contain material of immense historical interest that appears to have escaped the attention of the educated public in this country. In the text of their papers they have both noted the old name for Jaffna Peninsula and the city of Jaffna as being Kalingadesa or Kalingarata, and Singainagar or Simhapura, respectively. As late as the mid-15th century after the Arya-Chakravartis had defeated Sapumal Kumaraya (Bhuvanekabahu VI), Jaffna was still known as Singainagar, which is Simhapura in Sinhala as noted by H.W. Codrington (1932: 214).

These same names—Kalingarata and Simhapura—have been mentioned in the numerous inscriptions of Nissamka Malla as his birthplace. The question that arises in my mind is: why was Nissamka Malla not said to have come from Jaffna?

These are matters of importance that require further study by our present-day historians.


Codrington, H.W. 1932. The problem of the Kotagama inscription. JRAS(CB) Vol. 32: 214.

Nagalingam, C. 1974. Budumuttava Tamil inscription No. II. Fourth International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies. Jaffna.

Paranavitana, S. 1933. Two Tamil pillar inscriptions from Budumuttava. EZ III: 302-312. ASD: OUP.

Pathmanathan, S. 1994. The Tamil slab inscription of the Virakkoti at Budumuttava, Nikaweratiya urbanization at Magala. The SLJHumanities. Peradeniya: 15-30.

Rasanayagam, M. 1926. Ancient Jaffna. Madras: Everyman Publishers


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