Dambadeniya Kingdom and Palace Complex (දඹදෙනිය රාජධානිය)

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The reign of Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D) which has been the subject of unreserved eulogy in the Chronicles of Ceylon, is still considered a glorious chapter in the history of the island. Citizens regard Parakramabahu I as one of their greatest national heroes. His achievements in the political, economic and religious spheres are described in the Culavamsa in glowing terms.

After the death of Parakramabahu I in 1186, the kingdom of Polonnaruwa faced a gradual but steady deterioration of the political situation on the island. Parakramabahu was succeeded by Vijayabahu II (1186-1187) who was the son of one of Parakramabahu’s sisters. After his tragic death 1 year after, Nissanka Malla came to power for 9 years. Even though Chronicles doesn’t mention any threats to his kingdom, his epigraphs appealing to his subjects not to enthrone non-Buddhists such as the Chola and Kerala princes seems strange as the country never had Cola and Kerala princes on the throne of their own choice. Nissanka Malla mentions another class of people, namely those of the Govikula, as being unfit to aspire to kingship.

Nissanka Malla was succeeded by his son Virabahu who ruled for only 1 day and was killed who is said to be of ‘unequal birth’ by a general. Virabahu was killed by Wickramabahu II, a younger brother of Nissanka Malla who ruled only for 3 months in 1196. Wickramabahu was killed by Choda Ganga, a nephew of Nissanka Malla and ruled for 3 months.

He was disposed of by General Senevirat and placed Queen Leelavathi, the head wife of Parakramabahu I. She ruled for 3 years and a half-brother of King Nissanga Malla named Sahasa Malla took the throne with the help of a General named Ayasmanta. Whether he was the same Senevirat is debatable.

After 2 years General Ayasmanta dethroned Sahasa Malla and placed Queen Kalyanavathi, the second wife of Parakramabahu I. After 8 years Prince Dharmashoka was made the king at 3 months of age supported by General Ayasmanta who deposed Queen Kalyanavathi. One year later Anikanga Mahadipada invaded the capital with a Chola mercenary army killed the infant king Dharmashoka and General Ayasmanta and ruled for 17 days.

A general named Vikkantacamunakka killed Anikanga Mahadipada and placed Queen Leelavathi back on the throne. A year later Invader named Lokeshwara from the Kalinga Dynasty in India deposed Queen Leelavathi and he ruled only for 9 months according to Culavamsa and 5 months according to Pujavaliya. Lokeshwara was dethroned by a General called Parakrama and Queen Leelavathi was placed on the throne for the 3rd time. She ruled only for 7 months this time.

Parakramabahu Pandu from the Pandyan kingdom in India deposed Queen and General Parakrama and ruled for 3 years. Kalinga Maga deposed Parakramabahu Pandu. His 24,000-strong army looted, plundered and sacked Polonnaruwa kingdom on an unprecedented scale sealing the final nail of the great Polonnaruwa kingdom.

With the capital lost to Maga, history records many chieftains moving to hill country and managing pockets of areas under their control. These areas included the Vanni where many chieftains ruled pockets in the region. king Vijayabahu III who was the first to fortify and make his to kingdom Dambadeniya possibly had his career starting in Vanni as he is called Vanniraja (Vanni King) in Culavamsa and Pujavaliya.

Vijayabahu gradually expanded’ his area of influence and ultimately became the ruler of Maya Rata. To achieve this position he had to struggle for many years, for it was evidently in his old age that he succeeded in becoming the acknowledged ruler of Maya Rata.

In the selection of the site for the foundation of his capital Vijayabahu would have given thought to its suitability as a base of operations in a future attack on the forces of Magha in Raja Rata while, at the same time, it was less vulnerable In case the latter took the offensive. Thus Dambadeniya being a rocky elevation of the type resorted to by the rulers of the period had considerable strategic advantages. Vijayabahu strengthened it further by the addition of fortifications consisting of walls, gate-towers and so forth.

With the invasion of Kalinga Magha, the Maha Sangha removed the Dalada relic and Pathra relic of the Buddha from Polonnaruwa, secretly hid the relics in Kotmale and went to Padi or Soli country in India. Vijayabahu III established his kingdom at Dambadeniya in the year 1232 when Magha’s rule weakened. He later sent ministers to bring back the Maha Sangha who was living in various parts of India. They bowed to the great theros and asked them about the pair of relics and told the king that they knew where the relics were. The King happily went to Kotmale with the Maha Sangha, obtained the pair of relics, performed great rituals and brought the Tooth Relic and the bowl relic to Dambadeniya.

His son, Parakramabahu II, later became king and ruled until 1270, successfully winning a momentous battle against the Indian King Kalinga who wanted to wrest control of the tooth relic. It was during Parakramabahu’s time that Dambadeniya, 30km southwest of Kurunegala, reached the height of its glory, and where the tooth relic was safeguarded.

The ” Dambadeni Asna” which is a historical account of the ancient city, gives the following descriptive particulars:—

Without the walls [of the temple] were built watch-houses [guard-rooms] and the royal stores. Several tanks were also constructed, and a rampart was also built around the city, of which the following are the streets: Agampadi Vidiya, “Mercenaries’ Street;” Parivari Vidiya,” Attendants’ Street ” Setti Vidiya, ” Merchants’ or Chetties’ Street.” The Magistrate, the Military Officers, and other chiefs of the different parts of the city dwelt in it, together with 24,000 Sinhalese soldiers paid by the Royal Treasury; 900 sculptors; 800 potters; the priesthood with the Sangaraja; 900 elephant-keepers, including the keepers of the state-elephant; and 890 horse keepers, who belonged to the city. Exclusive of their houses, there were 75,000 houses of the potters and 75,000 wells within the city wall. Not a vestige of the city remains.

.Though excavations have not been extensive at Dambadeniya, the visitor can see remains of the palace, the temple of the tooth and six ponds (perhaps bathing pools), and climb the the rock to get excellent views. The Vijayasundaramaya, a restored 18th-century temple a little walk from the main palace complex, contains Buddha images and wall paintings.


  • Liyanagamage, A., 1963. The Decline of Polonnaruwa Kingdom and the Rise of Dambadeniya (circa 1180 – 1270 AD) (unpublished). Doctor of Philosophy. •University of London.

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Traveling Directions to Dambadeniya Kingdom and Palace Complex

Route from Colombo to Dambadeniya Kingdom and Palace Complex
Through : Wattala – Minuwangoda – Diwulapitiya – Giriulla – Dambadeniya
distance : 66 km
Travel time : 1.45 hours
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