The Deception

August 31, 2009

By Ananda Liyanage

AD 491`

AD 491

He sat at the throne made from solid rock facing east on top of the rock that was his citadel. In front of him was the pond hewn from solid rock. The water level in the pond was low since water had to be carried all the way from the ground below to fill it in the dry season. He preferred to use the pond at the top of the rock even in the dry season although there was a palace and ponds on the ground below for the express use during the dry season. There had been no rain now for the last two months. It had cost several years of hard labour for this artificial pond to be constructed. The workers who had perished in the construction of this citadel were many. These thoughts passed fleetingly through his mind as he stared in to the distance.

He kept on seeing the same vision that had haunted him for the entity of his reign which had now lasted for eighteen years. It was the image of the shrunken and broken body of his father whom he had imprisoned. He recalled that it was the night he had ordered his father’s death that he was called to the cell. The messenger had said that his father wished to speak to him about a matter that he had been asking him about. It was with a sense of achievement that he had hurried to his fathers’ cell that night. He remembered his question with trepidation now.

His father dressed only in a loincloth chained to the wall of his cell had raised his tired head from his chest as he approached. With sunken and bloodshot eyes that also conveyed a look of sympathy he had whispered,

“You ask me for my fortune which you thought I was hiding from you to give to your half brother and rightful heir to the throne”

He had been angered then by his fathers’ reference to Moggalana his half brother as the rightful heir. He had struck out at his father. His father had shaken his head to clear it after the blow and said,

“Please be seated. I have something important to tell you”

Angered but still inquisitive he had remained standing and asked his father to continue. When his father had spoken with haltering words he had been angered beyond control. He had immediately called the guards and ordered that his father be put to death by cementing him in the bund of a water tank that was being constructed by first light. He was not to know then that such an act of patricide was not to be repeated for another one thousand years in the kingdom.

What his father had told him had caused him concern as the years went by. It now caused him so much concern that he found sleep eluded him and his decisions and actions were not rational at times. It was a message that his father had given him.

“The last king who reigned before me King Mittasena passed on a message when I defeated the Dravidian rulers who had seized the throne of Lanka.  It was a message which told me how the right to rule this kingdom is passed down the ages. However to benefit by this divine intervention the rulers should be guardians of the faith and concentrate on the internal development of the people. I was required to pass on the same message by word of mouth to my successor”

His father then told him the origin of this force and how it had worked in the past. He cautioned about the important proviso to be complied with in order to benefit by this force. He had paused in his narration to catch his breath and concluded,

“I am now nearing the end of my life. I find that I cannot wait for the rightful heir to come forth to pass on the same message and I have therefore decided to pass it on to you. That is my fortune which you seek so hard. Pass this message to whomever your successor is if he is a Buddhist. From the time of King Sirimeghavanna it has been so”

He had been angered to the extreme because his father had not disclosed his wealth to him. Disappointment had made him lose his head and he had ordered his fathers death in the morning. While he was leaving his father had whispered,

“Do your duty as a Buddhist and all your akusalakamma will be negated by that kusalakamma

It was this uncertainty that was causing him the restlessness the past few weeks. He knew that his half brother Moggalana had returned from India where he had gone after he seized the throne to raise an army against him. His spies had informed him that they had landed several days ago at Mannaramtota3  and was camping there waiting for orders to march. He knew that the small army of mercenary soldiers that had accompanied his brother back was insufficient to attack him on his newly constructed citadel.

 *                      *                       *                       *

A council of war was in progress at the camp of the mercenary army that had landed two days ago at Mannaramtota. Heading the council was Moggalana, who was speaking,

“The shifting of the capital away from Anuradhapura causes us concern in waging a campaign against the king”

“Why should a mere change of location a short distance away become a problem as long as there are no forced marches for the troops?” asked the commander of the foot soldiers.

“Because the present citadel of the king is atop a monolithic rock on the central plains of the land” replied Moggalana. “Besides it is inaccessible other than through a single staircase”

At the request of the gathering, maps were produced of the general location of the Sinhagiri in relation to Anuradhapura and Mannaramtota and details of the citadel itself. Moggalana was the first to raise his head and speak,

“Our information is correct. Sinhagiri is truly inaccessible to any army with traditional fighting methods. The path to the top is narrow and has to be climbed in single file. That does not facilitate the charging of it by foot soldiers. We can probably fight our way up to the lion platform but from there the soldiers are exposed and can be picked one by one from archers on top”

He looked expectantly around the gathering waiting for any ideas. The men gathered around were the best mercenary soldiers available in the market and he expected them to do the impossible.

“There are two alternatives” replied the commander of the foot soldiers who had spoken before. “We can use non military techniques to gain access to the citadel or lay siege to the citadel” he smile and added. “If we cannot charge the citadel the defenders would also be unable to leave it to obtain essential provisions”

They discussed at length the two alternatives. The prospect of infiltration and the dependency on the infiltrators to provide access to the attackers was discussed and discarded. It would require a long time to implement such a plan and they did not have the time. They would have to attack before the rains due in just over a month and besides the mercenary soldiers were impatient to return home after the work. That left the second option as the only available one.

“Will not a siege also be long?” asked the commander of the cavalry who had so far been silent in view of his possible inactivity in the campaign.

“That is true but it will only need a few soldiers to lay a siege at this location. We can withdraw the cavalry first who will guard the perimeter of the operation and thereafter the foot soldiers. They will be replaced with our small contingent of local soldiers whom we expect will expand due to the unpopularity of the king” replied Moggalana.

The discussion went on for a long time and plans were made to move the troops to Sinhagiri the next day at dawn and commence the siege after two days of rest. The movement of the foot soldiers, the cavalry and the supply wagons were planned. Their arrival on the plain to the west of the rock fortress and order of encampment were decided. The solider would receive their battle orders the night before the siege was to commence.  The commanders of Moggalana’s army of south Indian mercenaries hurried away to attend to their various tasks.

*                       *                       *                       *

The King was seated again on the same spot as before at dawn two days later. He was waiting for his ministers to join him for a council of war. News had reached him that Moggalana with a small band of foreign mercenary soldiers were camped on the plains to the west of the citadel half a days march away. It was to discuss this matter that the king was awaiting his ministers having arrived earlier than the appointed hour.

A pretty handmaiden wiped his body after he had taken his early morning bath in the royal pond. She applied perfumes and robed him in royal regalia. Finally she placed his royal crown on his forehead and stepping back awaited instructions. The king dismissed her when these ministrations were over. He had other things on his mind.

The first to arrive was Migara the commander of his army. He now knew that Migara had manipulated him. It was Migara who had initially convinced him that his father would name Moggalana as his rightful heir. Migara had worked on his anger and hatred that he nourished for his half brother. Migara wanted to avenge the death of his mother who was condemned by her own brother the King’s father. It was Migara, who spoke now,

“I understand that Moggalana intends to lay siege to the fortress using his army of mercenaries and hope to replace them with local soldiers when they leave. He is of the view that the people will turn against you when he commences his siege”

“How did you come to find out these matters?” asked the king who had received similar information from his spies.

“How but through loyal subjects” answered Migara.

Further discussions between them were interrupted as one by one the minister’s entered the pavilion and after making obeisances to the king took their respective seats. When all of them had thus seated themselves the king spoke,

“We have to issue orders in a short while for the order of battle to our army. As you may be aware by now our half brother Moggalana is camped on the western plane with an army of mercenary soldiers from the Indian mainland. The question before us is are we to confront him for a conventional battle on the plains below as his army is small and does not give us any cause for concern or await his arrival at the citadel and attempt to capture it which is considered impossible by our commander”

The king paused in his narration turning to Migara for confirmation. The latter nodded his head in agreement. It was an invitation for the ministers to voice their thoughts. The minister of defence spoke first,

“We have always expected the arrival of Moggalana to do battle with us with the help of foreign forces. That is why the capital was shifted to this inaccessible location in the first place. Why should we think of giving up the security that the location gives us?”

It was the minister of public affairs, who answered him with a question,

“If we stay in our present location what alternative does the enemy have other than to storm it?”

 The minister of defence answered,

“He may lay siege to the citadel with a minimum of forces and with the minimum of losses”

“Are we prepared for such an event?” the minister of public affairs now addressed his question to the minister of agriculture.

“If it is food and water that you are concerned with our stocks will last for the next two months. It can be even extended to three months with rationing” replied the minister of agriculture.

The minister of defence turned towards the king and said,

“Sire, I urge you to let Moggalana lay siege to the citadel and when it has lasted for a month and when his mercenary soldiers have returned home and when the remaining local soldiers are weak of mind and body let us counter attack and defeat him. You will then have a glorious victory and revenge for the treason he has committed by inviting foreign troops to set foot on Lanka”

It was indeed a good strategy and all the ministers agreed. The King however had a far away look in his eyes as he stood up. The council of ministers also stood up as one and followed him as he walked to the further side of the pond. He stood there staring earnestly at the distance. The early morning sun low on the horizon caused a long shadow to fall behind him which seemed to make him look a small figure as he stood there with his hands folded behind his back. Finally he turned back and spoke,

“We will march out to meet him at dawn tomorrow on the western plane. Issue battle instructions to the troops immediately. We will only leave a small contingent of troops to guard the citadel”

All the ministers filed our immediately thereafter to carryout the king’s decision. After he had dismissed his ministers the king continued his solitude, staring into the distance. He was in deep contemplation. He had repented the imprisonment and later ordering the death of his father for the last several years. He desperately sought atonement for the akusalakamma that he had accumulated. It was during the last few months that his father’s last words had begun to have an effect on his action. He now remembered them.

“Do your duty as a Buddhist and all your akusalakamma will be negated by that kusalakamma”

Finally his mind made up the king stood up and walked away. He knew that what he had to do would not be acceptable to his ministers but was committed to carry it out because he saw no other way to find inner peace.

*                       *                       *                       *

Another war council was held in Moggalana’s camp.  Present were the same member as earlier. The commander of the cavalry was speaking,

“If the information of enemy troop movements is correct it appears that they were getting ready for a conventional battle on the plains outside the citadel”

“That is my thinking too” added the commander of the foot soldiers. “We must first ascertain that it is not a trick. However I am unable to imagine how it could be of any use to them. Although we are few in numbers the superior quality of our cavalry will give us an advantage”

Moggalana was also confused. True to the opinions that were expressed their main strength was the cavalry which was designed to offset their weakness in the infantry. All this time it appeared that the cavalry on which they had banked would be out of contention. Now all of a sudden they were allowed to play the decisive role intended for them. 

“Let us now change our battle orders for the troops to prepare for a conventional war on the western plains tomorrow at dawn” summed up Moggalana breaking off the meeting.

*                       *                       *                       *

Prior to daybreak the next day the plains to the west of the citadel was a hive of activity. Two lines of men could be seen forming at the extreme ends. The army to the west was bare bodied and wore dhotis from waist downwards. First stood a few lines of foot soldiers armed with spears and shields. They carried swords hung on to their belts. Next stood several lines of foot soldiers armed with swords and shields. They did not carry spears. Further back partly hidden by the trees stood the archers. Of the cavalry on which Moggalana banked so much was no where in sight. He was riding a black stallion that was restless, trotting up and down the line of archers.

Moggalana had armed the first few lines of foot soldiers with spears in anticipation of a cavalry charge by the enemy at the onset of the battle. These lines would be decimated on the field of battle except for a few. The main bulk of his foot soldiers that made up the second layer would then advance. The archers would next come in to action and fire above their heads at the approaching line of enemy foot soldiers. They would be able to fire at least five arrows maximum before the two armies met and the battle proper commenced.

He was keeping his cavalry in the rear in reserve which he would put into action when the foot soldiers retreated due to heavy opposition. The enemy foot soldiers would be caught in the open by this manoeuvre and the cavalry would decimate them. His main concern was the evidence of elephants that the enemy possessed. He was unable to transport elephants with the army of mercenaries from south India and was without elephants in his army. As there was no evidence of elephants in the enemy army other than the kings escort the cavalry would win the day for him. That was the plan and with a little bit of luck it would work.

On the other side of the meadow that by the end of the day would be drenched in blood stood the lines of the king’s forces. The commander of the army Migara was organising his troops. Just as Moggalana had assumed he was planning to charge the enemy lines with his cavalry at the very onset of battle. His theory was that he could decimate the opposing army foot soldiers with his cavalry. The enemy cavalry which he too assumed correctly they would throw against him at the end of the battle would be countered by fresh reserves of cavalry that he had at the rear. He was correct in assuming that the enemy was unaware of these reserves which he had built up during the past few years.

On the whole the plans of both opposing armies on that day were to secure victory at the final stages of the battle. It was to be a battle of will power as the army that did not lose its resolve would win the day. This plan was to result in dire consequences to the future of the kingdom. The foot soldiers would be sacrificed and the battle would be decided by the cavalry. There would be a few foot soldiers who would survive but the day would belong to the cavalry.

Before long hakgedi 4 was sounded on both camps giving instructions to the troops and indicating that the battle was about to commence. It was observed immediately thereafter that the front lines of foot soldiers of both armies began to advance. However a little while later it was observed that the soldiers of the king’s army stooped well short of the other. They allowed a passage between them for their cavalry to ride ahead.

It was a testing day for both armies. The commanders were consumed with anxiety as the battle progressed. The troops were subject to moments of indecision as to how the overall battle was progressing. True to the plans envisaged by the opposing commanders the first cavalry charge of the king’s army was beaten back by the spear born soldiers while they themselves were sacrificed in battle. Overall this phrase was a victory for the mercenaries. Although only a few lucky soldiers made it back to their lines they had succeeded in effectively beating back the enemy cavalry. The foot soldiers of both armies then clashed in a mighty battle. It was a resounding victory for the king’s army. The superior numbers of foot soldiers were able to decimate the enemy and even fewer mercenaries survived.

The shifting of the fortunes of battle added to the confusion of the soldiers. The field drenched in the blood of those killed in battle was slowly taking a pink hue. From the view of many the battle was over several hours after it started. The king’s army were the victors. It was then that a pounding of thousands of hooves which sounded like thunder from a clear blue sky was heard. It was disturbing and distressing for the tired survivors of the battle. The enemy cavalry, three thousand strong broke in to the plains from the north side upon the victorious but tired foot soldiers of the king’s army.

Migara waited. He knew that the foot soldiers were being massacred in the plains below but did not want to commit his reserves till the enemy cavalry was tired. He now smiled to himself. He knew that his strategy was superior and they would win the day. He had not even told the king about his battle plan. Today his revenge from King Dhatusena would be complete when Moggalana was captured and punished with death for treason.

 *                       *                       *                       *

Atop the royal elephant the King swayed in the mild breeze that was blowing across the plain. He had watched the unfolding of the battle from the small hillock to the rear of the battlefield. He had seen the shifting of fortunes in the progress of the battle. At one time it appeared that his forces were defeated. At another moment they appeared victorious. He was not renowned as a warrior king but more as an artistic king. He could not understand the strategies of his commander and came to the conclusion that the battle was lost when he saw his foot soldiers massacred in the field.

He urged his elephant to move. He wanted to convey what his father had said to his half brother who he thought was victorious. His attendants raised a cry when his elephant started to move but did not interfere. The elephant gathered speed as he urged the animal faster and then broke on to a run which soon became a full charge.

Migara saw the elephant break the line from behind where his mount was and immediately realised that it was the king’s elephant. The battle field was in the hands of the enemy. He could not ask his reserves to move in to action as he had already given instruction about the timing of their charge. He watched helplessly as the king’s elephant charged in to the battle field. The enemy cavalry was equally surprised to see the charging elephant. They quickly moved away from its path. However for some horsemen it was too late. The elephant trampled them as it charged.

That was when the cavalry commander reached to the side of his mount and extracted a bow. He reached behind his neck and took an arrow from the pouch hung behind his neck. He fitted the arrow and unhurriedly drew the bow taking aim at the approaching animal. He released the arrow high above the animal to the air. The arrow arched in to the sky and true to the aim of the bowmen pierced the chest of the king and came out through his back. The cavalry commander was unable to get away from the charging animal after releasing the arrow. The elephant crashed in to his mount and trampled his body in its passage. The elephant losing the urging of the rider slowed down and after a while came to a complete stop in the middle of the battle field. The lifeless body of the king toppled from the back of the elephant.

At that moment thunder was heard for the second time that day and a little while later the reserve cavalry that Migara had ordered broke in to the battle field. They were three thousand strong. The riders and their mounts were fresh. They fell upon the enemy who was scattered by the charge of the elephant and tired after battle, with a vengeance. Of the mercenary force of thirty thousand who had landed with Moggalana a week before only a handful lived to see their homeland again.

It was a resounding victory for the king’s army but unfortunately the king was not alive to see it. Moggalana had however survived the day. The mercenary army which he had brought to Lanka was no more. The kingdom required a king and in a single voice the people hoisted Moggalana the rightful heir of King Dhatusena as their new king.

He was to rule for the next seventeen years and rule wisely and justly. He made immediate plans to move his capital back to Anuradhapura. Sinhagiri was handed to the order of the bikkhus. He did not want to stay a single day at the capital that his brother created. To his dying day he was to wonder why his brother had charged the battle field and died in the effort when in a few hours the battle could have been won. If that had happened it would have been he who would be condemned to death and his brother would have continued to rule.

It was never to be known that a message that had passed down the ages was lost in that mad rush of his brother.

1. Sigiriya as it was called in the 5th Century AD
2. Sri Lanka as it was called in ancient times
3. Mannar as the port was called in ancient times
4. Sea shells used to blow a horn like noise

© Ananda Liyanage
Foremost Books
ISBN 978-955-1509-02-6


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