The story of Vijaya, has long been central to the Sinhalese idea of themselves as a distinct ethnic group of Aryan origin with ancient roots in the island of Lanka. The ‘national’ chronicle of the Sinhalese, the Mahāvaṃsa (circa fifth century
) presents Vijaya, an exiled prince from India descended from a lion, as the founder hero of Sinhala civilisation. In a companion article to this, I argued that the narrative of Vijaya and other founder-heroes in the Mahāvaṃsa revolves around the theme of transgression, and that this puzzling fact can only be explained by a consideration of the symbolic logic of the ‘stranger-king’ in origin stories and kingship rituals worldwide. In the present article, I look at other ways of explaining the narrative of Sīhabāhu, Vijaya, and Paṇḍukābhaya. First I break down the narrative into four different origin stories and consider their distribution in a range of texts from South Asia in order to reflect on possible textual inspirations for them (and even consider parallels with the Greek tale of Odysseus and Circe). Second, I consider the possibility that the narrative concerning relations with Pāṇḍu royalty reflects immediate political imperatives of the fifth century
. Do such interpretations negate the assumption that an organic communal process of mythogenesis has been at work? In the final section this methodological dilemma is approached through comparisons with the way in which scholars have looked at the origin myths of ancient Greek and particularly Roman society. Lastly, these reflections add further weight to the global comparative model of the stranger king, for the stories of Romulus and Vijaya share an emphasis on alien and transgressive beginnings.
In 2009 the Sri Lankan government finally destroyed the conventional forces of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) as the civil war that had afflicted the island since 1983 was brought to a violent denouement in the north-east of the Vanni region. From some of the subsequent celebrations by the Sinhalese majority, it seemed that the President Mahinda Rajapaksa was hailed not only for having rid Sri Lanka of a violent menace, but for having, in one sense, re-created the island. The country could now attain the kind of genuine independence and wholeness that had been lacking for much of the period following decolonisation in 1948. After the victory, Rajapaksa was hailed as a ‘great king’ and his admirers were not slow to draw historical analogies with kings and founder-heroes of the past. Such heroes typically have to wade through blood to obtain political mastery; the Lankan chronicles imply that such is the price that must be paid for the re-establishment of society or civilisation itself.