MYTHS & LEGENDS ON THE SILK ROADS
Have you ever heard about the story of Vihara Maha Devi, one of the legendry heroines in the history of Sri Lanka? Indeed, she is not only a legendry heroine in Sri Lanka but also in the history of Silk Roads. In an article published in the SILKROADIA VOL.1 NO.1 writer Zhao Xu has shared her story in an amusing way.
By Zhao Xu
In the history of Sri Lanka, few female characters are as reverently aspired to as Queen Vihara Maha Devi. Not only because she gave birth to and rose up the greatest Sinhalese king Duttugenumu, but also because of her own morality and maternity. In the 13th century Pali text, Vihara Maha Devi was described as “a woman without blemish”:firm in the faith, pious and beautiful, self- controlled, keen-witted and virtuous.
Born to a privileged royal family, Vihara Maha Devi first demonstrated her extraordinary patriotism and moral strength when she was only 12. Her father, King Kelanitissa of Kelaniya, unjustly killed a Buddhist monk because of his suspect about his wife’s adultery. This act of sacrilege incurred the wrath of the god, who rose up the waters in the Indian Ocean to flood his kingdom. Young as she was, Vihara Maha Devi willingly sacrificed herself for the sake of her people. She was placed into a beautiful but fragile boat and set adrift to the angry waves.
However, the god receded and decided to spare her life, carrying her boat ashore to Dovera in Kirinda, the territory of King Kavantissa. The powerful yet pacifist king fell in love with the little princess asleep in the boat, and together they had two sons: Dutugemunu and Saddhatissa.
The most famous anecdote of Vihara Maha Devi took place between her and her eldest son Dutugemunu. When Dutugemunu was a child, his father King Kavantissa summoned the two princes and laid down three principles: first, respect the three jewels of Buddhism and promote the spirit of Dharma; second, love your brother and your family; third, pay allegiance to the Tamil King Elara, who was occupying the northern and north- central regions of the island. Dutugemunu agreed with the first two principles, but was determined to take back their entitled land from Elara. He returned to his bedroom and curled up in his bed, and when his mother Vihara Maha Devi asked him why he slept with his limbs curled, Dutugemunu answered: “To the north there is Elara, to the south there is the vast sea, how can I sleep like a spread-eagle?” The Queen understood his son’s ambition and patriotism, but taught him to hide his light under a bushel and wait for the right time. Later, after his father’s death, Dutugemunu succeeded the throne and launched the battle against the Tamils. Vihara Maha Devi accompanied her son in his battle, proving to be his shrewdest military adviser.
To this day, Vihara Maha Devi was held highly in Sri Lankan people’s heart. The most famous park in the capital city of Colombo was named after her, and statues of her can be found all over the island, including the aforementioned Vihara Maha Devi Park. The former first lady of Sri Lanka, Hema Premadasa, extolled Vihara Maha Devi as “noble and exemplary in all her roles as daughter, wife and mother,”, and that her life “was a great source of inspiration to the women today.”
Zhao Xu is belonging to the Department of International Politics and International Relations, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China.