THE KING THE CHARIOTEER - NOW THE GATEKEEPER [ Part III ]
It was the year 497 AD, the second year of King Moggallana's reign. The political instability of the previous year when he began a persecution of officials who had served under his father, and whom he believed had colloborated with his step brother in staging the coup d 'etat which resulted in the late King's brutal murder, was a distant nightmarish memory. Scion of a royal dynasty, son of a famous father, he was also a soldier who had lived in exile for eighteen years, raising an army to avenge his father's death - no easy task for a young prince in a foreign land. The school of life had taught him valuable lessons and here he was, an ex-soldier now a King in his own right. A statesman, intellectual, philanthropist and a staunch defender of the faith, King Moggallana soon endeared himself to his subjects. He ruled a land whose culture artistic and engineering achievements rivalled - even far superseded - her contemporaries in the ancient world. In hydraulic engineering, the engineers of Lanka had no equal. Even today, one is filled with profound admiration seeing these monuments and gigantic irrigation works which have stood the ravages of time and are archaeological wonders of the world - a dazzling testimony to the architectural and engineering skill of the ancient Sinhalese which made Lanka a land of surpassing splendour.
By day the royal court was a hive of activity. The King liaised with officials of the various ministries regarding all matters pertaining to government. He also appointed administrative officials in various provinces who had been given full authority and jurisdiction to carry out their duties. Since these officials could not be present at meetings in court, often a rider on horseback , a deputy of the officials concerned, would be seen dismounting at the palace gates requesting an audience with the King. The royal guard were given strict instructions to clear these deputies to see him immediately. In the fields golden stalks of paddy swayed to a gentle breeze. Farmers anticipated a bumper harvest. Agriculture thrived , and Moggallana had his finger on the pulse ensuring that his minister and officials responsibe for agriculture and trade, briefed him with facts and figures at regular meetings in the palace when all matters pertaining to government were discussed and steps taken to rectify any shortcomings.The islands harbours were full of foreign ships and the islands trade - thanks to a vibrant foreign policy begun by his father the late King Dhatusena and also followed by his late step brother King Kasyappa - was on the increase resulting in valuable currency pouring into the treasury coffers. In the evenings life at court took on a fairy tale atmosphere. The King betook himself to the great hall to receive guests and hand out gifts. At times a foreign ambassador at the Kings discretion would receive an invitation to be present on such occasions. Handsome courtiers with their wives and lovers were entertained by musicians and dancers - lovely women, youthful and full of grace. And King Moggallana with his Queen revelled in the splendour of the evenings entertainment, but more in the thought that he had a grip on ruling the country. His extraordinary talent for administration was paying rich dividends and better still, people thought of him as a benevolent monarch..
In a distant hamlet far from the capital Anuradhapura, one man dared to dream. Twenty one years had passed since the tragic death of King Dhatusena and the charioteer could not erase the horrendous events of that dark day from his mind. The King's last moments haunted him and had left an indelible mark on the countrys psyche. The passage of time had only embedded it deeper in the collective memory of the nation. The fact that he had the ola leaf with a message inscribed by the late King for Moggallana , intensified his recollections of that nightmarish day. It must be clarified here that the ola leaf is taken from the Talipot tree, and then made into a kind of parchment. What the charioteer had was this parchment with the late King's inscribed message. Over the years he had treasured this priceless gift looking after it with meticulous care. It was the second year of King Moggallana's reign, and he decided that the time had come to act. He had to make his way to the royal capital and seek an audience with the King - a daunting task for a humble charioteer. Since the capital had shifted to Anuradhapura after Sigiriya was abandoned, work was scarce except for a few assignments he received from the Kings representatives in the district. Having worshipped at the small temple close to his home and obtaining the blessings of the venerable monk, he set out one day on what would be his journey of destiny.
The royal capital of Anuradhapura lay dreaming in the sun. This was the city that King Pandhukabhaya chose for his capital in the 5th century B.C. It was no ordinary city. By the first century A.D. it ranked with Babylon and Nineveh as one of the great cities of the world. The vast irrigation tanks, the massive dagobas , the courts, the beautiful Mahamega gardens and the numerous temples and parks were only some its attractions which lent it an air of enchantment. Here every prospect pleased the traveller. The city was filled with the usual throng of people - local and foreign going about their business. During the reign of King Bathika Abhaya 38 - 66 A.D. and the Kings that succeeded him, there were special residential quarters in the city for the Greeks, ( known as the "Yavanas") the Romans and Indian merchants. After King Moggallana ascended the throne there were also special quarters for Persian merchants. And of course the Chinese were there for as long as one cared to remember. The royal palace was set amidst its own landscaped gardens which the skill of some unknown botanists had turned into gardens of paradise. From a distance the tired charioteer having made the long journey from his home far away, took in this intoxicating scene his senses reeling. He had heard of the capital, but nothing had prepared him for this sight which was almost extra terrestrial. He did not know it then but in this capital were three dagobas which were the second largest and highest in the world - they were only outranked by the Great Pyramid of Cheops in distant Egypt. And the Ruvanwelisaya Dagoba built during the reign of that legendary King Dutugemunu, was the largest monument of its kind anywhere in the world It was now dusk and he decided to seek shelter for the night in one of the alms halls in the city where the weary traveller could find a nights repose.
The veteran soldiers on guard duty eyed the shabby figure before them with some amusement which turned to raucous laughter when he requested an audience with the King. Nobody, they told him, could walk up to the royal palace willy nilly and demand to see the King ! There were protocols to be followed, and such audiences had to be arranged through the proper channels. An application had to be made through the secretary of the court and an interview sought. This took time and audiences if granted , were scheduled in order of priority and importance because his majesty had vital matters of state requiring his attention - a time consuming process. All this was beyond the charioteer. Weary in soul and body, he decided to play his trump card. Very calmly he told them he had a message from the late and great King Dhatusena for his son the King.
If ever there was a deafening silence and time stood still, it was at this precise moment. The very mention of King Dhatusena's name rendered the soldiers speechless. All they were capable of was staring wide eyed at the charioteer, stupefied ! Regaining their senses they summoned their commander and briefed him on what had ensued. Things moved at a frantic pace after that. The commander went direct to the Kings secretary and the very name "Dhatusena" seemed to open all doors. One moment the charioteer was remonstrating with the guards outside the royal palace. The next he was taken into the palace accompanied by two courtiers, and led through a series of corridors. It was his turn to be rendered speechless now because never before had he seen such elegant furnishings and decor. Finally, his heart racing he was ushered into a magnificient hall and at the far end he saw the stately figure of King Moggallana on his throne surrounded by some nobles and palace personnel. The King asked him to step forward in a kindly voice to put him at ease, since he perceived this man was almost a nervous wreck . With some gentle prodding the charioteer approached the throne and flung himself on the floor paying obeisance to his King. To the amazement of all present, Moggallana arose, bent down and gently lifted the charioteer to his feet, asking him what his business was. With tears streaming down his face he told the King that he had a message for him from his late father, King Dhatusena. It was now King Moggallana's turn to be rendered speechless - almost comatose. The charioteer with trembling hands still weeping , handed over the parchment to the King. On reading the message the King seemed to hear his fathers voice from another world nineteen years after his death. By now the emotion filled drama of this meeting had touched everyone present, and silent tears were shed. Let the chronicler take over here. This is what the Culavamsa recorded "When the charioteer who had given his father roasted corn showed his letter to King Moggallana, the King wept and praised him for the love he had borne his father....."
What is implied here is that King Moggallana shed all self control and freely gave vent to his emotions, so affected was he at seeing his father's writing on the parchment. Nobody dared move or speak as King and commoner in a meeting of hearts and minds, wept in unison at the recollection of a man they had both loved. The long silence was broken only when the King finally regained his composure. His hand on the charioteers shoulder, he summoned his secretary and some other court officials and told them that as a reward, he was appointing the charioteer as 'Gatekeeper' to the royal court. Due procedure was dispensed with, and the appointment came from the highest authority in the land. It would become effective immediately. The word today sounds very menial. But at that time it was a position of great responsibility which included among other aspects of the job, responsibility for egress and ingress of all transport in and out of the palace - carts, chariots, handcarts and also anybody entering the royal precincts on horseback or on foot. It was also a position of authority. On hearing this, overwhelmed with gratitude the charioteer was about to go on his hands and knees in a gesture of gratitude and obeisance to his Lord and Master, but the King restrained him and drew him to his side. He further let it be known that the charioteer and his family would take up residence in the quarters adjoining the palace, and orders were issued that the necessary transport be provided for bringing them from their hamlet in the rural hinterland in far off Kalaweva to Anuradhapura. And with a happy ending in the life of this humble man, the charioteer disappears from history's pages.....King Moggallana died in 513 A.D. the eighteenth year of his reign.
Is there something sinister about the number 18, or any superstition about this number in the lives of King Dhatusena, King Kasyappa , and King Moggallana ? King Dhatusena ruled from 460 - 478 A.D. King Kasyappa ruled from 478 - 496 A.D. followed by King Moggallana who was King from 496 - 513 A.D. Strange but true.....
Out of the mists of time from another dimension in a distant past we have a message from the charioteer who tells us.... "You must have a dream - and dare to dream. If you lose your dreams you lose hope. And when you lose hope you die......" The unknown Charioteer - 497 A.D -
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg