During her time in power, the convent-educated Kumaratunga presided over a tortuous peace process with the rebel Tamil Tigers whose three-decade campaign for a homeland has cost more than 60,000 lives.
In addition, during the final year of her rule, she has had to grapple with the political, economic and human consequences of the tsunami last December that killed 31,000 people along Sri Lanka's palm-fringed coasts.
The daughter of two prime ministers -- her mother Sirima Bandaranaike was the world's first woman prime minister -- Kumaratunga grew up living and breathing politics.
She once told an interviewer that running the country was like a "family business".
But the "family business", not unlike the Nehru-Gandhi family in India and the Kennedy clan in the United States, has been marked by tragedy.
Her prime minister father, Solomon Bandaranaike, was killed by a Buddhist monk in September 1959 while she was widowed with two children after a Marxist gunman assassinated her actor-turned-politician husband, Vijaya Kumaratunga, in February 1988.
She escaped an assassination bid in December 1999 during a presidential election rally here. She lost her right eye, but went on to win the presidency for a second and final term that ended Saturday.
"We have suffered enough as a result of politics," she said after winning the presidency in 1994. "I don't want to pass it down to another generation."
She pledged to abolish the presidency within six months and revert the country to a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy that her parents had supported.
But that promise soon fell by the way side as Kumaratunga settled in to use extensive powers to out manoeuvre her political opponents, but failed to tame the Tiger rebels.
Sri Lanka's minority Tamils had welcomed her as the "daughter of destiny" in 1994 with hopes she could end the separatist war.
But after failing to talk peace with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, she unleashed a "war for peace" policy and in 1995 waged an massive military offensive against the rebels.
The rebels blamed her for causing massive damage to Tamil-dominated areas and called her the "mother of destruction".
Dubbed by loyalists, however, as Sri Lanka's "daughter of destiny," Kumaratunga was criticised during her career for her political somersaults.
She also promised to halt privatisation but presided over the biggest sale of state assets, including telecommunications, the port and a host of other utilities.
Many loyalists believe she will now lose her grip on the family's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse takes over the country as well as the party.
Rajapakse, who had vowed to take a tough stand against Tamil Tiger rebels, was at odds with his mentor over key policy issues -- the handling of the economy as well as the peace process with the guerrillas.
She did not throw her full weight behind Rajapakse's campaign. Observers suggested that she preferred him to lose so she could tighten her hold on the party.
The SLFP had been the Bandaranaike family's since her father launched it in 1951 after breaking away from the right-wing United National Party.
Some political commentators, however, believe they have not seen the last of her.
"She is not ready to bow out of politics," said former advisor Harry Gunatillake. "That is her bread and butter. She is a political animal. She won't fade away and she will control the SLFP."
Her former international relations advisor, Jayanath Rajepakse, echoed the view.
"I don't expect her to fade away," he said.
The dynasty could yet live on -- Kumaratunga's brother, Anura Bandaranaike, has been tipped in some circles to be prime minister under Rajapakse. She also has two adult children but they have shown none of the family appetite for politics. - AFP
-Amal Jayasinghe: email@example.com