Introduction: The Dipavamsa

A comparative study

The Dipavamsa, the earliest extant chronicle of Sri Lanka, of unknown authorship, deals with the history of the island from earliest times up to the reign of Mahasena (325-352).

Erudite opinion holds that it is not the work of a single author but of several authors. Considering the nature of ancient chronicle of the island, we can believe that there is a certain element of truth in it, particularly calculated to be the vehicle of history in early times, when literary facilities were scanty. There is also the opinion that Dipavamsa was the work of two nuns Sivala and Maharuha from India. As the title indicates, the Dipavamsa contains the history of the island. The preamble to the chronicle, (as translated into English by B. C. Law) reads: “Listen to me! I shall relate the chronicle of the Buddha’s visits to the island, the arrival of the Tooth Relic and the Bodhi tree, the advent of the Buddha’s doctrine, the rise of the teachers, the spread of Buddhism in the island and the coming of (Vijaya) the Chief of Men”. According to B. C. Law, “Dipavamsa contains many stages of development concluding at different important historical events. There is an apparent lack of uniformity, an unevenness of style, incorrectness of language and metre and numerous repetitions, apart from many other imperfections which indicate it to be the outcome of a series of traditions collected together as a first attempt to record a connected history of the island”. The chronicle embodies the oral tradition of the country handed down from the time of the advent of Buddhism to the island. With all its drawbacks, both literary and grammatical, it is a very useful source of information dealing with the ancient times, and written in Pali.

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