THE KING THE CHARIOTEER AND THE GATEKEEPER [ Part 1 ]
"Not to know what happened before we were born " wrote the Roman poet Cicero, (106 - 43 BC.) "is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history ?" Thus in my writings I have endeavoured to peel back the layers of time to give an honoured place to ancient Lanka which emphasises so greatly the importance of her history and tradition which have left a deep footprint on the worlds stage.
An alternate title I had in mind for this article was A DAY IN THE YEAR 478 AD. It was a day which saw tremendous political upheaval and instability in the land, and the end of a dynasty. Before I get into the detail of this article, a flashback to the year 478 AD in other parts of the world, may provide an interesting timeline to events of the time, although they have no direct impact on the drama being enacted in ancient Lanka that year. In the far east, this year signalled the end of the Song dynasty in China and heralded the ascendancy of the Qi dynasty. In neighbouring India just one year before, the Gupta Empire held sway and King Budhagupta ruled the land. Two years before, in 476 AD the mighty Roman empire collapsed , with the last Roman emperor Romulus Augustus suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of Odovacar the Goth. Distant England was ruled by the Anglo-Saxons except for Cornwall and Cumberland. In the Vatican in Rome, Pope Simplicius sat on the throne of St.Peter. And in Lanka that year, one of the greatest kings that ever sat on a throne was usurped in a palace coup and was to endure a sudden fall from grace and suffer the most barbaric death ever conceived by the human mind. History is replete with numerous examples of kings and rulers being put to death by the most gruesome means even before Emperor Julius Caesar, and right down the ages. In keeping with the subject of this story, I wish to cite three examples which come to mind.
One was the the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury cathedral in the year 1170. The English chronicles record this horrible deed in all its gruesome detail. Quote "....The Archbishop received four strokes all to the head and the whole crown of his head was cut off. Then one of the knights planted his foot on Becket's neck and with the point of his sword drew out the blood and brains from the gash of the severed crown scattering them on the floor....." The other murder was that of King Edward 2nd in Berkely castle in the county of Gloucestershire England , in the year 1327. Here again, the English chronicles record this murder in graphic detail stating that "a heated iron was thrust into his innards...." adding that his death cry was so horrible, it shattered the silence of that dark night and was heard in the village close by. A different type of torture was used to "murder" the Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan better known for his monument to love, the beautiful Taj Mahal. He was taken prisoner by his son Prince Aurangzeb in 1658. Upto the year 1666 the year of his death, he was subject to the worst forms of "Psychological torture" to break his mind and spirit. He was given a room in the Red Fort in Delhi where on rising each day he could see the Taj Mahal in the distance across the Jamuna river where his beloved Mumtaz Mahal was buried. He would stand at the window of his room everyday gazing at the Taj Mahal pining for his Queen, and was refused permission by Prince Aurangzeb (now Emperor) to visit the tomb. As a Moghul scribe wrote at the time, "He could neither see it or flee it......" This psychological torture went on for eight years, apart from other humiliations he was forced to endure. The Moghul records state that his hair went completely gray in three months. I stood at this same window and on looking at the Taj Mahal as he saw it across the river, could never begin to imagine the pain that tore away at his heart. This once mighty Emperor shattered in spirit , died a broken man, his psyche and dignity ground to the dust.
King Dhatusena's murder had to be conceived by some devilish mind in the darkest pit of hell when man's inhumanity and cruelty were taken to new heights of bestiality. Having been kept a prisoner by Prince Kasyappa after he was overthrown, he was repeatedly asked to reveal where his treasure lay. These were no polite "Question and Answer sessions", and were undoubtedly conducted with vehemence, maximum rudeness and insults, compounding the vitriolic language used. The Culavamsa infers that the evil Migara used to parade before the ex- King hurling insults and flaunting his power in his lust for revenge. This form of torture by word went on for weeks, and Dhatusena to his credit always maintained his decency grace and decorum, behaving with great dignity in the face of the jibes, sarcasm, and humiliation hurled at him. It says much for the calibre of the man. Although now a prisoner his inner strength and qualities of heart and mind steeled him for this ordeal and true to character he
- reading in between the lines of the chronicle - behaved with all propriety, exhibiting tenacity of purpose. Not once did he yield, and this only infuriated his captors including King Kasyappa. Finally, when it was apparent that he would not confess, orders were issued that the ex-king be brought by chariot to a spot somewhere near the bund of the Kalawewa tank for the final confrontation. This time they thought he would break under the threat of death and finally reveal where his treasure lay. A treasure to which King Kasyappa believed he had a legal and legitimate right.
The humble charioteer entrusted with the task of conveying the ex-king to the designated spot accepted his task with an element of fear and reverence. His charge was no ordinary " prisoner " but the great King Dhatusena. He treated the ex-king with all respect and reverence and to be in his presence simply over awed him. Thus began the fateful journey which the ex-king never knew would be his last. The charioteer (his name has obviously not been recorded for posterity because the chronicler did not give it a second thought) had two cobs of corn with him which his wife had probably packed for him as a snack. Not wanting to enjoy this by himself he offered one to his "prisoner" to enjoy. This act of kindness touched the ex-king deeply. Let the chronicler take over here. He wrote " As the chariot drove thither, the driver who guided it ate roasted corn and gave him some of it. Dhatusena ate it and had great joy over the man". In other words, he was deeply moved by the compassion and thoughtfulness of the charioteer. He felt that this simple man should be rewarded in some way for his kindness, and wrote a message on an Ola leaf , gave it to the charioteer requesting him to give it to Prince Moggallana, if ever he became King ..........
[ To be continued ]
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg