- How rejection from a Sri Lankan king created a conqueror of the sub-continent
By Rajja Sourav Singh Sarmal
Documented Sinhalese history spans 3,000 years, with evidence of pre-historic human settlements dating back at least 125,000 years, and the “Sinhalese Kingdom” refers to the one and/or all of the successive Sinhalese kingdoms that existed in what is today Sri Lanka, whose strategic geographic location and deep harbours made it of great importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road.
To different people, the country is known by different names. Ptolemy called the island Salike, which, as Lassen suggested, would appear to be only a sailor’s corrupt form of Sinhalaka, or Sihalaka, shortened to Silaka. Ammianus called it Serendivus, which is the same as the Sieladiba of Kosmas, both being derived from Sihala-dipa, which is the Pali form of Sinhala-dwipa or Sinhala’s Island. Abu Rihan gave the form of Singal-dib, or Sirindib, which is the Serendib of European sailors.
From the same source came the Arabic Zilan and Ceylon. If we date back to the Mahabharata, even then we find it mentioned as Sinhala. From the above description, it is clear that the Sinhalese nation has a rich historical background. Different nations and people have mentioned this nation in their annals. There are also numerous stories and legends connected to this land.
Durgāradesa and Sāyer celebrations
One such unsung and lesser-known legend stretches between the relationship between the Sinhalese nation and the infamous Jammu and Kashmir, which is also known as Durgāradesa, or “Jamboo Kashmir wa Tibetaadhi Anek Desh” under Dogra rule. This land, which is on the northwestern niche of India – bound on the south by Indian states, on the southwest and west by Pakistan, on the north by Chinese Turkistan and a little of Russian Turkistan, and on the east by Chinese Tibet – is populated by various ethnic groups. But most of them have the Khasa Arya lineage in their base, which connects them in such a way that they all lived in full fraternity.
Dogra is an important ethnic group of this land, and the reason why the country came to be known as Durgāradesa, which means the country of the Dogras. In the same country, there was the ancient kingdom by the name of Jamboo, which was named after its ruler Jambulochan. In the same lineage, Raja Bodh Arjan Dogra was born and was later destined to rise to the appellation of Maharaja. Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra, from his youthful age, was a man of aspirations and ambitions, and thus attacked the various neighbouring kingdoms and became their sovereign. It was on the first day of the month Asuj of the Dogra calendar that he ascended to the throne 3,800 years ago.
Every year, to mark the day of his accession to the throne, Maharaja Bodh Arjan used to hold celebrations and anyone who visited him during this time was required to offer him “nazar” (an eye-shaped amulet to protect against “the evil eye” or a small object worn to protect against bad luck), gifts, and rarities from every place, and in return, the Maharaja used to bestow on them rewards, “khilats” (a ceremonial robe or other gift given to someone by a superior as a mark of honour), and prizes. This celebration was called Sāyer.
The most valuable prize
Once, a merchant from Hindostán arrived in Durgāradesa’s Jammu Kingdom during this celebration and presented the Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra with gifts from various countries. The best part of his gift was an album of paintings, which gave Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra a glimpse of a painting of the most beautiful girl of the time. The Dogra Raja lost himself to her at first sight.
Bodh Arjan inquired from the merchant about the painting of the girl with such unmatchable beauty, and the merchant, desiring a valuable prize, replied with a pleasant smile on his lips that she is from “the country whose inhabitants thereof possessed gentle disposition and handsome faces and whose climate was bracing and terrain picturesque – the country of true pearls which is surrounded by the ocean.”
The country that the merchant was referring to was none other than the Sinhala-dwipa, which the Dogras called Sangaldeep. The merchant explained that it was the daughter of the king of that country and that her name was Chandrānvati, who had an appearance like a shining star and whose lovely countenance threw the sun and the moon into the shade. She resided in the city of Kulabo (most probably Colombo) with her father, which was also the capital of his kingdom. Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra was much delighted after getting information regarding the princess and bestowed valuable gifts and prizes upon the merchant.
Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra ordered one of his close advisors to go to Sangaldeep as his messenger and ask for the hand of that matchless star, but when the messenger reached his destination and conveyed the message of his master to the ruler of Sangaldeep in the capital city of Kulabo, everything was in vain, as the ruler of Sangaldeep made a mockery of Bodh Arjan in the presence of a large assembly and called him a wretched rustic. He pointed out that he had not heard of the tribe of Dogras nor Jammu.
The hills and caves of Durgāradesa were never authorised to be called kingdoms and were instead seen as mere tribal confederations, he charged. The messenger couldn’t bear to listen to this and left the place hurriedly without seeking permission to leave. When he arrived in Jammu, he narrated everything to his master, which made Bodh Arjan furious. He pledged to conquer the whole of Hindostán and subjugate all the raos and rajas and afterwards move towards Sangaldeep, and finally lay hands on that moon-like lovely princess.
On an auspicious occasion, he started his expedition and exhibited his complete supremacy over the Dogra hills and then moved towards the present-day Uttrakhand and following the subjugation of all the rulers of this region, he paid a visit to various pilgrimages and then attacked Gaur-Bangala, whose ruler was Raja Shatrujit, the son of Shankar Sen. He too submitted to Maharaja Bodh Arjan, after which notices were sent to all the rulers of Bharat Khand that the Dogras only had two options for them – either accept his suzerainty or be ready for battle. After this, he moved towards the present-day Odisha, whose ruler personally came to welcome him and rendered his service.
Then the winning forces of Maharaja Bodh Arjan moved towards Awadh, which was then ruled by Raja Baram Mahabar; he too couldn’t stand by the attack of the Dogra ruler and came into friendly relations with him, who then attacked the various kingdoms of Hindostán and succeeded in subjugating them. Almost all the kingdoms of Hindostán came under his suzerainty for a while.
After covering Talingana, Bar, Konkan, and Malhar, Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra encamped at Rameshwaram on the seashore. The rulers of nearby islands were subject to the emperor of Sangaldeep, the father of the princess for whom the Dogra ruler was on conquest. They informed the ruler of Sangaldeep that Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra of the far-flung Dogra Hills, who had succeeded in establishing himself as the emperor of Hindostán, was on their borders, and warned of an attack from his side. When it became known that Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra was the same ruler who once asked for the hand of the emperor’s daughter, his wise ministers advised him that there was no reason to go into battle, as the Dogra Maharaja had proven his chivalry and potential.
They said: “There is no one in the sub-continent who could stand against him, and the whole contribution of his victory goes to your daughter, as it was her beauty that made him a conqueror. All this conquest and show of arms is nothing but an exhibition of personal qualities aimed at achieving a connection with your exacted dynasty. Let arrangements for marriage be therefore set up and a wise messenger be sent to wait upon him.”
A royal marriage
Accepting the words of ministers, Raja sent a wise minister with rare pearls and precious gifts to Dogra Maharaja and he was informed that their raja wanted him to accept his daughter in marriage. Bodh Arjan being delighted, accepted the marriage proposal, and the marriage took place on an auspicious day.
Maharaja Bodh Arjan touched the feet of his father-in-law and told him that he had nothing to worry about as he was now no less than a father to him. Both of them, like father and son, toured the country and other adjoining islands, after which, the father gave in dowry thousands of shining pearls and precious rubies, inlaid vessels and implements, handicrafts of every land, bundles of silk and embroidery, and loads of cloves, cardamoms, pepper, and cinnamon, as well as well-behaved slaves and moon-faced maids.
He embraced his son-in-law Maharaja Bodh Arjan Dogra and his daughter Chandrānvati, and with tearful eyes, bid them farewell.
This is the story of a Dogra Raja who became an emperor because of a Sinhala princess. He is surely less discussed, but he holds a special place in the Dogra annals. The main reason behind there being very little mention in the Indian annals could be that his sovereignty was for a short period, but there is no doubt that the Sinhala-dwipa held a special place in the history of the sub-continent.
(The author is a contributor to the Kaliteric Order, a free-spirited researcher of Jammu Kashmir and its allied territories, a spiritual guide, a proponent of Himalayan Renaissance, a Dogra consciousness advocator, a social thinker, and a mentor)