Pre-Anuradhapura period

The Pre-Anuradhapura period of Sri Lankan history begins with the gradual onset of historical records in the final centuries of the prehistoric period and ending in 437 BC. According to the Mahavamsa, the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka are the Yakshas and northern Naga tribes. Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BC at the arrival of Prince Vijaya, a semi-legendary king who was banished from the Indian subcontinent with his 700 followers, and is recorded in the Mahavamsa chronicle. This period was succeeded by the Anuradhapura period.

Pre Anuradhapura period
543 BC  437 BC
A section of the mural from Ajanta Caves 17, depicting the "coming of Sinhala".
Monarch(s)House of Vijaya
 Preceded by
Prehistory of Sri Lanka
Followed by 
Anuradhapura period


Periodization of Sri Lanka history:

DatesPeriodPeriodSpan (years)SubperiodSpan (years)Main government
300,000 BP–~1000 BC Prehistoric Sri Lanka Stone Age   300,000 Unknown
Bronze Age  
~1000 BC–543 BC Iron Age 457
543 BC–437 BC Ancient Sri Lanka Pre Anuradhapura   106 Monarchy
437 BC–463 AD Anuradhapura 1454 Early Anuradhapura 900
463–691 Middle Anuradhapura 228
691–1017 Post-classical Sri Lanka Late Anuradhapura 326
1017–1070 Polonnaruwa 215 Chola conquest 53
1055–1232   177
1232–1341 Transitional 365 Dambadeniya 109
1341–1412 Gampola 71
1412–1597 Early Modern Sri Lanka Kotte 185
1597–1815 Kandyan   218
1815–1948 Modern Sri Lanka British Ceylon 133 Colonial Government
1948–1972 Contemporary Sri Lanka Sri Lanka since 1948 74 years ago Dominion 24 Constitutional monarchy
1972–Present Republic 50 years ago Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic


According to folklore, the Naga people were one of the groups of original inhabitants of Lanka. They were said to have ruled Nagadeepa, or Jaffna Peninsula and Kelaniya. Naga people were snake-worshipers. The word Naga was sometimes written in early inscriptions as Nāya, as in Nāganika – this occurs in the Nanaghat inscription of 150 BC. Until the third century BC they appear as a distinct group in the early Sri Lankan chronicles as well as the early Tamil literary works.[1] In the third century BC they started to assimilate to Tamil language and culture, and lost their separate identity.[2]

Political History

The Kingdom of Tambapanni existed from 543 BC to 505 BC. According to Mahavamsa, the legendary Prince Vijaya and seven hundreds of his followers came to Sri Lanka after being expelled from Sinhapura in India. Vijaya is said to have landed on the island on the day of Gautama Buddha's death, and after reaching the heaven, the Buddha asked the deities to protect him so that he could spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Prince Vijaya established the Kingdom of Tambapanni. He married a local Yakkhini named Kuveni, and their children gave rise to the Pulinda race (identified with the Vedda people). Vijaya also married a princess of the Pandu kingdom (identified with Pandyan kingdom), but did not have any children with her. His followers also married maidens sent by the Pandu king, and their descendants gave rise to the Sinhalese race.[3][4]


The Pali chronicles, the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Thupavamsa[5] and the Culavamsa as well as a large collection of stone inscriptions,[6] the Indian Epigraphical records, the Burmese versions of the chronicles etc., provide an exceptional record for the history of Sri Lanka from about the sixth century BC.

The Mahavamsa, written around 400 AD, using the Dipavamsa, the Attakatha and other written sources available, it correlates well with Indian histories of the period. Emperor Asoka's reign is recorded in the Mahavamsa. The Mahavamsa account of the period prior to Asoka's coronation, (218 years after the Buddha's death) seems to be part legend. The account of the Mahavamsa, a Pali text written largely from the Sinhalese perspective, has mythological beginnings but becomes historical from the third century BC, with the arrival of Buddhism under Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka. Epigraphic sources also appear with the presence of Buddhism, from about the third century BC. The earliest historiographic literature, such as the Mahavamsa, dates to the sixth century AD. The entire ancient period of history written in the Mahavamsa, is dominated by the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The medieval period in Sri Lanka is taken to begin with the fall of the Anuradhapura Kingdom in AD 1017.


Within Sri Lanka, the legend of Vijaya is often treated as a factual account of a historical event. However, multiple scholars consider the legend of dubious historicity. Satchi Ponnambalam called it a "pure flight of fantasy".[7] According to Gavin Thomas, the narration of historical events in Mahavamsa and its continuation Culavamsa is "at best questionably-biased, and at worst totally imaginary", aimed at establishing the royal lineage of the Sinhalese and the Buddhist credentials of the island.[8] According to H.W. Codrington, Vijaya is probably a composite character, and the legend is aimed at connecting the early history of Sri Lanka with that of Buddha.[9]


Prince Vijaya
(543 BC–505 BC)

The House of Vijaya produced four monarchs and two regents who ruled during this period.

# Name Era House Reign Duration
From To (years, months, days)
1 Vijaya Tambapanni Vijaya 543 BC 505 BC 38 Years
- Upatissa 505 BC 504 BC 1 Year
2 Panduvasdeva 504 BC 474 BC 30 Years
3 Abhaya 474 BC 454 BC 20 Years
- Tissa 454 BC 437 BC 17 Years


553 BC
543 BC
533 BC
523 BC
513 BC
503 BC
493 BC
483 BC
473 BC
463 BC
453 BC
443 BC
Pre Anuradhapura period


  • Vijaya Kuweni, 2012 Sinhala epic biographical history film.

See also


  1. Holt, John (2011), The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Duke University Press, p. 73
  2. Holt, John (2011), The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics, Duke University Press, p. 73–74.
  3. John M. Senaveratna (1997). The story of the Sinhalese from the most ancient times up to the end of "the Mahavansa" or Great dynasty. Asian Educational Services. pp. 7–22. ISBN 978-81-206-1271-6.
  4. Mudaliyar C. Rasanayagam (1984). Ancient Jaffna. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120602106.
  5. Geiger-Bode translation of the Mahavamsa.
  6. Paranavithana Epigraphics Zeylanica
  7. Bruce Kapferer, ed. (2012). Legends of People, Myths of State. Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia. Berghahn. pp. 34–37. ISBN 978-0-85745-436-2.
  8. Gavin Thomas (2009). The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. Penguin. p. 415. ISBN 9781405385169.
  9. Humphry William Codrington (1926). "The beginnings; and the Conversion to Buddhism". A short history of Lanka. Macmillan. Retrieved 20 October 2015.


  • Kāmboja, Jiyālāla (1981). Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country. Isṭarana Buka Liṅkarsa. OCLC 14053560.

Further reading

  • Mittal, J. P. (2006). "Other dynasties". History of Ancient India: From 4250 BC to 637 AD. Vol. 2 of History of Ancient India: A New Version. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 81-269-0616-2.
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