Queen Anula

Queen Anula

Queen Anula (reigned 47 BC - 42 BC), was the first queen in Sri Lankan history to have wielded meaningful power and authority. Anula initially rose to power as consort of king Chore Naga (also known as 'Coranaga' and 'Mahanaga'), son of king Valagambahu of Anuradhapura; however in her five-year reign she poisoned her way through at least four other husbands and consorts and eventually governed Rajarata on her own. She should not be confused with the other famous Anula in Sri Lankan history, king Devanampiyatissa's consort. The primary source for her reign is the Mahavamsa, chapters XXXIV and XXXV.

Rise to power

The situation in Sri Lanka immediately before the reign of Anula was extremely unstable. When king Khallata Naga had been deposed in a palace coup in 104BC, his younger brother Vatta Gamani Abhaya (Valagambahu) had overthrown the usurpers and taken his dead brother's wife, also called Anula, as his own. He had also adopted his nephew Mahaculika as his own son.

Valagambahu had been on the throne little more than a year when 'the Damilas made war upon [him] ... in a battle near Kolambalaka the king was vanquished.' [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap033.html] . It was sixteen years before Valagambahu could re-take the throne, by which time Mahaculika had superseded Coranaga as Valagambahu's preferred heir [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap033.html] [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html] .

Mahacula (who reigned as Mahakuli Mahatissa)went on to inherit Valagambahu's throne in 76BC. Coranaga on the other hand 'lived as a rebel' [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html] ; whether this constituted a struggle for the throne is unknown. If it were, then Coranaga's succession to the throne in 62BC may well have represented an overthrowing of Mahakuli Mahatissa. The Mahavamsa does mention that one of Coranaga's first acts was to destroy eighteen temples that had refused him shelter during his time as an outlaw; whether or not these were the activities of a new regime establishing itself in power remains unclear. Whatever the situation Coranaga is recorded as having reigned for twelve years before being poisoned by his consort, 'the infamous Anula' [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html] .

Anula's motives behind killing her husband are not elaborated on. Coranaga's successor, king Kuda Tissa, is the son of the man who ruled before him, Mahakuli. 'Kuda' means 'little', and thus it is possible that the new king was only a child, and thus effectively under Anula's control. Whether or not he would have developed into an independent king remains unknown as Anula, 'because she was enamoured of one of the palace-guards...now killed Tissa also by poison and gave the government into the hands of that other' [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html] . From this point onwards the queen eclipsed her titular consorts and became the real power in Rajarata.

Reign and deposition

Anula now embarked on a series of poisoning and replacements that saw her marrying four times in the course of five years and eventually doing away with consorts altogether and ruling in her own right. The palace guard for whom she had poisoned Tissa ruled as Siva I for 'a year and two months' from 47BC. During this time a Tamil 'city-carpenter' called Vatuka caught the queen's interest; Siva I was poisoned and Anula married Vatuka, who too reigned for a year and two months.

Anula's affections then went to a wood-carrier called Dharubhatika. Vatuka unsurprisingly died soon afterwards and Anula married her new paramour - perhaps her most shocking marriage yet as the new king was of a decidedly lower caste. Dharubhatika adopted the regal moniker 'Tissa' but lasted only one year and one month before being poisoned too. His successor was a Tamil brahmin called Niliya; he was to be Anula's final consort, reigning for only six months. For the final four months of her life, Anula reigned as sovereign, taking her pleasure with 'thirty-two of the palace guards'.

The entirety of the above account is taken from chapter XXXIV of the Mahavamsa. In her behaviour Anula breaks every single one of the Rajarata elite's conventions. Her partners are all commoners, lower-caste men, or non-aristocratic Tamils. The one man of high rank whom she marries - Niliya - is rejected in favour of independent rule, something which no woman before her had ever held. In this sense she is very much the opposite of the standard of the pious queen. It is important to note however that nothing is mentioned of children or political instability in the country at the time, the standard by which male rulers are usually measured.

Having reigned for four months on her own, Anula was deposed by Mahakuli Mahatissa's second son Kutakanna Tissa. The Mahavamsa states that Kutakanna Tissa had Anula burned on a funeral pyre [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html] . Other sources indicate that Anula was burned alive in the palace within which she had committed her murders [http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2002/01/20/fea11.html] [http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/2867]


In terms of the accomplishments of her reign Queen Anula is regarded as something of a nonentity, and typifies the decline which the kingdom of Rajarata went into following the victories of Dutugemunu. Her story is more of a moral warning concerning the putative "licentiousness" of women and the danger of affording them power, a common theme in many pre-modern societies. Anula fails on almost every count as a noblewoman by the standards of the day. She does not make a suitable marriage - her husbands are all either cruel rebels, low-caste labourers, or unsuitable Tamils. There is no mention of her producing any children. She is manipulative, immoral, licentious, and indulgent, and her death by fire is presented as a suitably agonising end. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that in its entire history, Sri Lanka only produced a handful of women who ruled as monarchs in their own right.


* [http://search.eb.com/women/timeline?tocId=9404138 EB Female rulers of the world]
* [http://www.kuviyam.com/scr/index.asp?pLang=E&pHead=90&pMenu=1&pIssue=32 Queen Anula]
* [http://www.budsas.org/ebud/mahavamsa/chap034.html Mahavamsa]
* [http://www.metta.lk/temples/historical-temples/Historical-details.htm Buddhist history of Sri Lanka]
* [http://www.crazylanka.com/history.htm Sri Lankan history in amusing bullet-points]

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