The Mythical Birth of The Lion People

The Sinhalese people are native to Sri Lanka, speak Sinhala, are majority Theravada Buddhists, and today make up about 75% of the island’s population. They also have a pretty cool origin myth. The Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan epic from the 400s CE, tells how the Indian prince Vijaya was the grandson of a lion. (No mention of whether Vijaya had a mane or ate really, really raw meat.)

According to the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya traveled to the island of Sri Lanka and married Princess Kuveni, a lady of Sri Lanka’s previous inhabitants the Yakkhas. Vijaya eventually overcame the Yakkhas, and with his followers took control of Sri Lanka, becoming the first of the Sinhalese people.

The Mahavamsa says the Sinhala never forgot their origins: Sinhala literally means “of lions.” In the Sinhalese tradition the lion is the mythical ancestor of kings and a symbol of royal authority. Because, you know, the first king was a quarter lion and people tend to remember that.