Reviving Kalinga-Lanka Brotherhood


Few years ago, one of the senior diplomat of Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, a close friend of mine, visited Odisha for first time with his family.  He was awe-struck with what he experienced there. After returning he told me, “I am surprised to see a place in India which reminds my homeland Sri Lanka, so much of resemblance in food, climate, culture, physical appearance and many more.”

He was true, there indeed exist a similarity in Odisha and Sri Lanka which we need to explore. The reason for the diplomat’s unique experience is the economic, spiritual, cultural and marital linkages between ancient Kalinga ( i.e. present day Odisha and parts of Andhra & West Bengal) and Sri Lanka which blossomed for more than 2000 years. The relationship tapered off around the 17th century A.D. due to political developments and the advent of foreign rulers in both the countries. The ancient Ceylonese religious scriptures, the Mahavamsa, Dipavamsa, Dathavamsa and others, have detailed illustration of the extensive travelling between Kalinga and Lanka to establish socio-economic linkages between the two regions of the Indian sub-continent.

According to Ceylonese Pali chronicles Dipavamsa (Island chronicles) and Mahavamsa (Great Dynasty) - it was Vijaya, a prince from Kalinga who founded the Sinhala race in Sri Lanka.  Around 600 B.C. during the time of the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha, Prince Vijaya sailed to Ceylon for the first time through the eastern sea-route along with his 700 followers and established a new civilization in the island. He belonged to the Kalingan royal lineage. The very name “Sinhala” was the title bestowed to Vijaya’s father Simhabahu (in Kalinga) which he inherited. Having founded the kingdom in the name of Sinhala, Vijaya ruled for 32 years. Around 2,500 families of Kalingan origin migrated to Sri Lanka during his rule from the Eastern coast of India.

Relationship between Odisha and Sri Lanka entered its golden epoch when the scared Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha was transferred from Kalinga to Lanka for the safe custody. According to Dathavamsa, in the beginning of 400 B.C. when the mortal remains of Lord Buddha was distributed then Kalinga got its share as the Tooth Relic which was presented to King Brahmadutta of Kalinga by Bhikshu Kshema. The Tooth Relic was kept safely in a Chaitya at Dantapura, the capital of Kalinga and was worshipped for 700 years. It was a popular belief that whoever possesses the Tooth Relic attains prosperity, so there happened to be several conflicts between various political powers to have possession of the Relic. In the year 300 A.D., King Guhasiva of Kalinga got to know that King Pandu of Magadha was conspiring to invade Kalinga to take away the Tooth Relic. Guhasiva secretly sent the Relic to Sri Lanka through his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Dantakumara from his capital city “Dantapura” , to be delivered to his friend Mahasena, the ruler of the Buddhist kingdom of Lanka. Princess Hemamala hid the Relic in her hairdo and reached Annuradhapura in 310 A.D. in disguise with her husband Dantakumara and handed over the Tooth Relic to King Meghavanna, the son of Mahasena. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Dalada Maligawa, situated in the city of Kandy, is one of the most sacred places of worship in Sri Lanka.

In the succeeding centuries, Kalinga and Lanka continued their close ties through political, commercial and religious exchanges. It was common practice for the rulers of Lanka to form dynastic alliances with the Kings of Kalinga. One of the greatest monarchs of Sri Lanka, King Vijayabahu-I (1055-1110 A.D.) was married to the Kalinga princess Triloka Sundari (Beauty of the Three Worlds).

It was also not uncommon for Kalinga princes to be anointed as King of Lanka. Nissanka Malla, known as Kirti Nissanka and Kalinga Lokesvara was the son of King Jayagopa of Kalinga who married the daughter of King Parakrambahu. He was said to have established a Kalinga Udyana (Park) and Kalinga Vana (Forest) to commemorate his birth place. A rock inscription of Nissanka Malla at Dambulla mentions that he was of the Kalinga dynasty and a descendant from the race of King Vijaya. Another inscription at Ruwanwelisaya describes him as a member of a royal family of Kalinga. By claiming to be descended from Vijaya, the first king of Sri Lanka, Nissanka Malla justified his right to the throne. He consolidated his position further by declaring that the rulers of Sri Lanka should adhere to Buddhism.

It is an irony that despite having such a strong socio-cultural relationship which flourished for more than 2000 years, people of both Odisha and Sri Lanka are ignorant about the connection as modern days historians have never been vocal about Odisha’s contribution globally. Ancient Odisha not only established connection with Lanka but also its glorious Kalingan legacy has strongly influenced the socio-economic and political sphere of several countries of South East Asia. Because of the changing power equations due to Globalization and the rise of nationalist forces in country’s political backdrop, it becomes inevitable to explore every historical aspect so that we can re-establish India’s ancient connection with the world thereby strengthening its “Cultural Diplomacy.” The historical legacy of ancient Kalinga possesses immense potential to enrich India’s bilateral relation with Sri Lanka and South East Asia.

To exploit these possibilities of reviving ancient linkages and explore new opportunities India’s Former Foreign Secretary Ambassador Lalit Mansingh established KALINGA LANKA FOUNDATION on 29th May 2014 at New Delhi in association with  Ambassador Prasad Karyawasam, the then High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India and eminent people from Odisha and Sri Lanka. The objective of the foundation is to celebrate the common Kalingan legacy and foster bilateral relationship between India and Sri Lanka through multi-lateral engagements in the field of education, culture, commerce, tourism and Buddhist heritage.



To establish people-to-people contact between Odisha and Sri Lanka the Buddhist heritage can play key role because after the horrific killings of millions at Kalinga War, Chandasoka renounced violence and became Dharmasoka by seeking refuge in the tenets of Lord Buddha. Thereafter Emperor Ashoka gave royal patronage for Buddhism. He used the maritime trade route of Kalinga to promote Buddhism in Sri Lanka and worldwide with the help of his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra.



Apart from propagation of Buddhism across the world, the Kalingan coast in Eastern India witnessed the evolution of Mahayana and Vajrayana school of Buddhist philosophy at ancient monasteries of Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri which being custodians of more than 2000 years of historical legacy is attracting millions of visitors through its marvellous architecture, enchanting beauty and mystical tranquillity.

-Sameer Kumar Das

(The author is the co-founder and secretary of KALINGA LANKA FOUNDATION. The Hindi version of the article was published in the Jan-Feb 2015 issue of Gagananchal, the official journal of Indian Council for Cultural Relations(ICCR))

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