PRINCE MOGGALLANA - BEHIND THE MASK [ Part 1 ]
In the aftermath of the dramatic events which rent the fabric of the island's political stability following the death of King Kasyappa, the heart yearned for a period of calm and serendipity so that life could resume some form of normalcy and all would be well with the world. Enter Prince Moggallana - now King Moggallana, successor to his step brother, the late King Kasyappa. One of the great problems of history is that all too often we can only measure men by their deeds. We will never know their innermost feelings. We see their faces, carved out of marble or stone, and sometimes on a painted canvas. They thus remain an enigma. I will peel back the layers of time, myth and history, in an attempt to reveal some characteristics of the real King Moggallana , who with his late father King Dhatusena and step brother the late King Kasyappa, was destined to feature so prominently in one of the most dramatic periods of the islands rich historical tapestry.
The year is 496 AD. From a political point of view, it was a year of turbulence and upheaval. The God King Kasyappa committed suicide on the field of battle, thus ending a peaceful reign of eighteen years. Moggallana decided to abandon Sigiriya, and shift the capital to Anuradhapura. When the monks of the Jetavanarama and Abhayagiri temples heard that the new King was returning to the ancient capital, they made arrangements to welcome him and accord him all honour due to a king. With all the flair and pageantry befitting royalty, Moggallana entered the capital at the head of his army. Anuradhapura, capital of Sri Lanka was a many splendoured city which in the first century AD rivalled ancient Babylon and Nineveh. One of the most important buildings in the city was the Mahavira which lay in the beautiful Mahameghavanna park in the south of the city. Here King Moggallana dismounted from the royal elephant and went alone to greet the Bhikkus assembled to meet him. Paying obeisance to the monks he ascended the throne to commence his reign - the 75th King to rule the island.
This was a King who thought one step ahead. Aware that there were now Tamil mercenaries in his service, the island's security featured high on his list of priorities. These mercenaries were those he had brought with him from South India and employed in his army to defeat his late brother King Kasyappa. Powerful kingdoms in South India were always a threat, and political fortunes tend to fluctuate. These mercenaries in the event of any invasion could always form a fifth column. He met this perceived threat by strengthening the navy, and instituting a coastguard service to bolster the island's defences. And so life went on in the island after the political storms of the recent past. The farmers tilled their fields, ambassadors presented their credentials at the royal court, diplomatic and trade missions were despatched to foreign lands, specially China resulting in much trade, and wealth flowed into the royal coffers. King Moggallana actively and wisely pursued the foreign policy initiated by his father the late King Dhatusena, (and also followed by King Kasyappa) a decision which yielded rich dividends. There was a very important event which occurred during King Moggallana's reign, for which I have to go back to Sigiriya.
When King Kasyappa ruled the island there was a nobleman named Silakala who fell out of favour with the King and had to flee through fear of losing his life. Silakala made his way to Bodh Gaya in India and entered a religious order. History records that there he acquired a very precious relic - the "Kesadhatu" or Hair relic of the Buddha.
Silakala bided his time, and after King Kasyappa's death returned to the island where he presented this relic to King Moggallana. The King accepted this relic with great honour and records state that he preserved it "in a precious casket of crystal" and housed it in a beautiful building. He also inaugurated a religious festival to pay hommage to this relic. So far so good. But however, benign his rule may appear so far, King Moggallana made what one could rightly perceive to be a fatal mistake in selecting the personnel he employed in his service. Enter the evil Migara.
It is beyond belief how someone like Moggallana would select a nefarious character like Migara to be in his service. This was the general who commanded the army during King Dhatusena's reign. More than that, he was the kings son-in-law and was partly responsible for the turmoil and discord which followed at the time, resulting in the palace coup d'etat which saw Prince Kasyappa usurp the throne. To set the record straight, behind this veneer of diplomacy, statesmanship, and rule by law in court, there was an aura of evil waiting to manifest itself in acts of cruelty which would take barbarism to its extremes. When it was finally unleashed, what followed was humanity at its worst. The country witnessed a sordid display of cruelty, villainy, treachery, betrayal , perfidy, and murder, which would shame some of history's worst despots. Migara was not the only evil one. The records indicate that his wife (King Dhatusena's daughter) once complained to the King that Migara had brutally assaulted her, and as proof showed the King the bruises she had sustained. The King flew into a rage, and so consumed was he by his anger that he ordered Migara's mother to be burnt alive. This action by a man of King Dhatusena's calibre - a man who was such a devout Buddhist and a King who was a role model to his surbodinates - is baffling and has confounded historians. This barbaric deed only acted as a spur for Migara to hunger for revenge. Unable to take revenge against the King personally, he used the young Prince Kasyappa as 'a means to an end'. He sowed the seeds of doubt in the fertile mind of the young Prince. When the seeds sprouted, Kasyappa was convinced that on Dhatusena's death, his half-brother Prince Moggallana would ascend the throne, and what's more he would inherit the King's vast treasure. One barbaric deed followed another and on Migara's insistence, the great King Dhatusena met a horrible death on the orders of his son Kasyappa who was now King. History records that he was walled alive somewhere in the vicinity of his famous legacy - the mighty Kalavewa tank. Politics and diplomacy it seems are never short of evil geniuses. I spent an entire day once near the Avukana Buddha statue, and by the waters of this tank trying to relive in my mind the gruesome events as depicted in the Culavamsa. A passer by told me of an ancient legend in this area which some swear to be true. He said that the eyes of the Avukana Buddha statue are directly in line with the bund of the Kalaweva tank. King Dhatusena was supposed to have met his gruesome end at a spot close to the bund of the tank. I can neither confirm or deny the veracity of this statement. All I can add is that in my peregrinations to some of the world's archaeological sites , there are instances when I have found truth to be stranger than fiction.
Upto this time King Moggallana was a benign ruler and for awhile peace pervaded the land. But little did the people and the royal court know that there was an ill wind blowing, and a raging political tsunami and storm of catastrophic proportions would hit the land with a destructive force sweeping many in its path.
[ To be continued. Part 2 to follow ]
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg