Reimagining Buddhist Kingship in a Sinhala Praśasti

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Stephen C. Berkwitz



The fifteenth-century Pärakumbā Sirita (Account of King Parākramabāhu VI) represents an early attempt to wed the praśasti genre to Sinhala court poetry (kavi). Drawing upon Sri Lankan and broader Indic traditions of eulogistic royal inscriptions, this work utilized the Sinhala language to transform a Buddhist king into a praiseworthy ruler who could rival the rulers of other lands. Panegyric writing in Sinhala is shown to have endowed local kings and local literature with qualities deserving of universal renown. Building upon the prosaic descriptions of kings in earlier vaṃsa literature and epigraphy, Pärakumbā Sirita expanded upon the virtues traditionally associated with Buddhist kingship to model its living ruler after the kings celebrated for their power and fame in other lands and in other eulogistic discourse. We will trace the development of praśasti writing in Sri Lanka and examine the specific contributions of Pärakumbā Sirita to the imagination of kingship in late medieval Sri Lanka. Close attention to this Sinhala praśasti will include a consideration of how a new poetic genre enabled Sinhala kings and kavi to supersede the universal models on which both were originally based.

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