Political Turmoil & Palace Coup

An ancient kingdom lies on the brink of peril. A first-born prince is denied the right to rule because of his mother’s low birth; a younger prince of noble birth lays a legitimate claim to the throne; a beloved daughter is betrayed by a trusted aide; a mighty warrior and benevolent leader is torn between his familial love and his role as king.

The tale of King Kashyapa I (473–495 AD), the great visionary who built a monumental palace in the sky, is one of succession, betrayal and vengeance. A tale of epic proportions, almost Shakespearean in nature, unfolding in the city of Anuradhapura, on the resplendent isle of Sri Lanka.

King Datusena (455 to 473 AD) was revered as a compassionate king, a brave warrior and a great leader who not only managed to expel the South Indian Pandyan usurpers from Anuradhapura and reunite the country, but also contributed to the country’s complex irrigation network by building many water tanks (Kala Weva, Yoda Weva, Maa Eliya Weva), resulting in the growth of agriculture in the Rajarata area.
He further cemented his place as one of the country’s great kings by supporting the progress of the Buddha Sasana (teachings of the Buddha), constructing and renovating dagobas (hemispherical structure containing Buddhist relics) and viharas (monasteries for Buddhist monks) and commissioning the impressive 42-foot standing Avukana Buddha statue during his reign. His contribution to the Buddha Sasana is likened to the works of the great King Asoka in neighbouring India.

However, King Datusena’s humble nature and meritorious deeds didn’t spare him suffering and misery in the autumn years of his life. Little did the great king know that the day his concubine birthed his first son also marked the beginning of his own downfall. Ambitious Kashyapa may have been the first-born prince, but his mother’s status as a non-royal concubine stripped him of any legitimate claim to the throne. His younger half-brother, Prince Moggallana, however, was born to the royal consort, legitimizing his position as rightful heir to the throne of the great Kingdom of Anuradhapura.

The Ambitious Prince

The age-old tale of jealousy and hunger for power has coloured history books red with the blood of fallen kings and armies throughout the world. The tropical isle of Lanka was no different, with the ambitious young Kashyapa adamant to have his chance to rule the land. Dissension crept into the court of King Datusena, spurred on by a single horrifying incident that involved his much loved and only daughter.

The king gave the princess away in marriage to Migara, the son of his own sister, who was a trusted royal aide. Datusena held his nephew Migara in high esteem and even appointed him Senapati (Commander in Chief of the Royal Army). Migara was a hot-headed man who is believed to have been abusive towards his wife, on one occasion beating her with a whip until it drew blood. Unsurprisingly, the king was furious when he heard of the horror inflicted on his precious daughter. After further investigation, he came to the conclusion that the trouble in his daughter’s marriage was spurred on by Migara’s mother. As punishment, he ordered her to be burned alive, creating a lifelong enemy in Migara, who vowed to destroy the king to avenge his mother’s death.

Migara found a willing co-conspirator in Kashyapa, who was seething with jealousy at being denied a claim to the throne. Together they schemed and succeeded in turning the court against the old king, imprisoning Datusena within his own palace. Prince Moggallana realized he would be the next in line to be neutralized and fled to India in order to raise an army to fight for his birthright. Kashyapa ascended the throne uncontested and began his reign as king.

Vengeance Takes Control

Migara, however, was displeased with merely dethroning Datusena. He wanted a life for a life. He continued to conspire against the former king and used the trust of his cousin and now king, Kashyapa, to fulfill his desire for vengeance. Migara led Kashyapa to believe that Datusena had amassed a great treasure to be bestowed on Moggallana upon his coronation and that this treasure was now hidden away. Kashyapa’s greed for wealth and power was further fueled by this tale and he sent many messengers to his imprisoned father to demand the treasure be handed over to him.

Datusena denied all claims of a hidden treasure, but failed to convince his son of the fact. Migara continued to pressure Kashyapa to take more drastic action against the former king, who by now was miserable and suffering greatly. In a final bid to escape his prison even momentarily, Datusena sent a message to his older son saying he was ready to show him the treasure, but only if he was taken to Kala Weva, Datusena’s great irrigation masterpiece, which still nourishes the soil of the land.
Kashyapa grew hopeful, and ordered his men to take his father to Kala Weva and retrieve the elusive treasure. Extolling the humble and compassionate nature of the old king, it is believed that having shared a meal of roasted corn offered to him by the charioteer, he wrote a message to his son Moggallana to reward the man with a job once the prince returned for the throne.
On his way to Kala Weva, Datusena was permitted to stop at a nearby temple which had benefited from the benevolence of the king during his reign. The chief priest of the temple sympathized with the plight of the once brave warrior and counseled him on the impermanence of the world, uplifting his spirits. A renewed Datusena continued his journey and arrived at the tank, his labour of love for his subjects. It is believed that he then pointed to the waters of the tank and told the eagerly waiting king’s men “this here, my friends, is my whole wealth”, further emphasizing the value of irrigation for an agriculture-based society.

The unexpected news was conveyed to King Kashyapa who was further enraged, believing that his father was saving the treasure for the return of Moggallana. This threatened Kashyapa’s already tenuous position as king. If the old king had hope for the return of Moggallana, it meant the old king’s loyalists would too. In a fit of rage, Kashyapa ordered his own father to be killed.


Migara revelled in this decision, delighted to finally have the opportunity to avenge his mother’s death. Datusena, knowing the end was near, is purported to have told Migara, “I have the same feelings for thee as for Moggallana”, forgiving his nephew for the role he played in the betrayal – the benevolent king right to the end. Unmoved by this, Migara merely laughed in his face and proceeded to strip the former king naked, bind him in chains into a niche in a wall and then close the wall with clay while the old man watched each mound of earth approaching to suffocate him. Hated by his nephew, betrayed and abandoned by his sons, humiliated in front of his subjects, the once mighty Datusena breathed his last a broken and grieving old man.

Interestingly, the Culavamsa states that Datusena’s end was shaped by an action carried out during his lifetime. When he was building the famed Kala Weva, he is supposed to have seen a bhikku sunk in deep meditation. Unable to rouse him, Datusena is supposed to have flung a clod of earth at the bhikku’s head – cementing the manner of his own death.
After his father’s gruesome death, Kashyapa became evermore paranoid. He had given his brother Moggallana even more reason to return and seize the kingdom from the man who caused the death of his father. Fearing for his life and his reign, Kashyapa abandoned the capital city of Anuradhapura and proceeded to build his palace and court on a giant rock, believing that it would fortify his kingdom against the enemies who were bound to arrive sooner or later.

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