The Kingdom of Sitavaka 1521-1594
A page from history


map.jpg (13348 bytes) Sitavaka came into being on the failure of a conspiracy to deprive the throne to the legitimate heirs of Vijayabahu VI of Kotte (1513- 1521).

A century earlier, Kotte had Parakramabahu the VI (1411-1466), the last great ruler of the island. He was king emperor not in its just de jure concept, but as a most powerful de Facto ruler.

As it often happens after the reign of a powerful ruler, the period after Parakramabahu, saw the commencement of the gradual decline of the kingdom. It began with the ascent of Parakramabahu’s grandson to the throne, as Jayavira Parakramabahu (1466-1469). That accession was contested by Sapumal Kumaraya, Parakramabahu’s brother, who marched from Yapapatuna - which he had subdued and was ruling there-dethroned Jayavira, did him to death, and ascended the throne as Buvanekabahu the VI (1469-1477).

The dethronement of Jayavira, accentuated the factions within the kingdom, and led to an uprising known as the Sinhala Sange or Sinhala Peraliya. It is thought that one cause for the uprising would have been the influx of many Tamils who would have come with Sapumal from Yapapatuna, and occupied responsible positions in Kotte. The Sinhala Sange was put down by Ambulugala, Buvanekabahu’s brother, and thereafter the king diplomatically placated the rebels, as a means of keeping his kingdom secure.

The succession after Buvanekabahu too created problems. The ascent to the throne of his son, or as said, his adopted son, known by the throne name of Pandita Parakramabahu (1477), was immediately contested by Ambulugala Raja, the then Yuvaraja, or heir apparent. That contest led to the death of Pandita, and the ascent of Ambulugala Raja, as Vira Parakramabahu VIII (1477-1489).

As fFar as succession contests were concerned, it ended for the time being with Vira Parakramabahu’s accession. He had 5 sons from 2 queens, namely, Buvanekabahu, Sri Rajasinha and Vijayabahu from the chief queen and Sakakalavalla and Taniyavalla from the second queen.

Thus, after Vira Parakramabahu, his eldest son Buvanekabahu ascended the throne as Dharma Parakramabahu IX (1489-1513) After him, Vijayabahu ascended the throne as Vijayabahu VI (1513-1521), as his elder brother, Rajasinha, had died, and Sakalkalavalla had refused the honour.

Brothers, Rajasinha and Vijayabahu, when at Manikkadavara, had cohabited with Anula Kahatuda, later, known as Kiravalle Maha Biso Bandara. She had begotten them four sons, namely, Maha Rayigam Bandara, Bovanekabahu, Pararajasinha and Mayadunne.

After the death of Maha Biso Bandara, Vijayabahu, new king of Kotte, had contracted a second marriage from the same Kiravalle family; she was known as Kiravalle Biso Bandara. With her, had come a little boy -her son- named Deva Rajasinha, who, unknown to him, would be the cause of a major calamity in the kingdom.

With the death of Sakalakalavalla, Vijayabahu’s half-brother, who was the Yuvaraja at Udugampola, the second queen desired to make Deva Rajasinha, still seven years, the Yuvaraja i.e. heir apparent.

A delicate situation

With that request arose a delicate situation. The sons from the first queen -Kiravalle Maha Biso Bandara- were now of age, and were the natural successors to that position. But, Vijayabahu, apparently under pressure, acquiesced to make Deva Rajasinha, the Yuvaraja.

To that end, there was only one way out. The legitimate heirs to that position had to be eliminated. The matter was highly explosive, and had to be carefully worked out. The king and queen conspired with two officials, Kandure Bandara and Ekanayake Mudaliya to plan the strategy.

Going against custom, and hatching a diabolical plot in secrecy, was not a sure recipe for success. The three brothers, having come to know of the plot, first fled to the Kelaniya temple, and then through Boralessa to Migomuva or Negombo. From there, Mayadunne, the youngest, went to Uda Rata, and sought the help of Jayavira (1511-1552) to foil the plot of their father, the king, to gain their rightful place.

Jayavira, who had succeeded Senasammata Vikramabahu (1474 — 1511), had married Mayadonne’s cousin, i.e. Kiravalle Maha Biso Bandara’s brother, Kiravalle Maha Palahamy’s daughter. Further, Jayavira too, surreptitiously, and as and when opportunity arose, was carving out his power base in the Uda Rata. Thus, with blood relationships on the one side, and sensing an opportunity to weaken Kotte, on the other side, he readily obliged, and provided an army from the Four Korales.

With that support, Mayadunne, on his way to Kotte, camped at Kelaniya until the arrival of his brothers. There at messengers were received from Kotte seeking peace and direct talks with the king. The brothers agreed to negotiate, but on condition that Kandure Bandara and Ekanayake Mudaliya, the accomplices to the plot are surrendered. There being no alternative, the demand was acceeded to.

The brothers, after seeing that Kandure Bandara paid the highest penalty for his crime - Ekanayake Mudaliya having escaped and fled to safety - went to the palace, as per agreement for negotiations with the king, their father.

In the meantime, the king had placed guards in hiding at the palace, with instructions to bar the doers after the entry of the princes - his own sons- to ensure their final disposal. But, as fate would have it, the 7 year old Deva Rajasinha, in his innocence, informed Mayadunne, of the soldiers in hiding.

On hearing what the young prince had said, the three brothers stormed out of the inner city ‘Etul Kotte’, and immediately thereafter, ordered the army to invade the palace and loot it. The king’s forces too, not with the king, joined the rest in the ransacking. The king and queen who were upstairs in the palace, were held prisoners there.

The decision was taken: the king had to die. It is said, that no Sinhalese would execute the deed, and thus, it was a man named Selamba, of unknown identity, or a Salman, a Moslim trader, who had come forward to see the end of Vijayabahu. The conspiracy having failed, the king paid for it with his life. It is that event which has come to be known as the ‘Vijayaba Kollaya’.

After the death of Vijayabahu, people acclaimed, the eldest, Buvanekabahu [VII], as king at Kotte (1521-1557). Pararajasinha, was assigned Rayigama, Walallawiti and Pasyodun Korales, and Mayadunne was given Sitavaka, Denavaka and the four Korales. Nothing is known of the fate of Prince Deva Rajasinha, or of Kiravalle Biso Bandara.

Thus, in 1521, came into existence the princedom of Sitavaka destined to write a brief and inconclusive, but a proud chapter in the long annals of Sri Lankan history.

Mayadunne (1521-1581), now of Sitavaka, was the ablest of the three brothers. He soon aspired to the overlordship of the island: i.e. to be king of Kotte.

The political scenario at the time had seen three other centres wielding power. They were, the nascent power base of Senkadagalapura in the Uda Rata, Yapapatuna in the North, exercising a limited jurisdiction in the peninsula since about the 13th century, and the Portuguese in the just established (1518) fortelessa in Colombo.

Buvanekabahu’s main concern on his accession, was to watch the Portuguese, the new and dangerous arrival in the scene, and to see that Senkadagalapura was kept in check. That would be the concern of Mayadunne as well.

In pursuing his ambition, Mayadunne, not only started harassing Kotte but also threw his attention on the Portuguese at Colombo. But, the Portuguese, were different from the inland rivals. They not only had their gun-power and trained soldiers in warfare, but also could draw support from their possessions in the south of India. Additionally, they were the naval power of repute at the time.

Within the immediate confines of the Kotte kingdom, Sitavaka made use of an early opportunity to enlarge its territory. That happened when it unilaterally annexed the territory of Rayigam Bandara, on his untimely death in 1538. Buvanekabahu, acknowledging a fait accompli, formally assigned that princedom to him, and averted a conflict.

On Sitavaka harassing Kotte, Buvanekabahu allied himself with the Portuguese. That was the beginning of its later alienation with the populace, and the prelude to foregoing its legitimacy as the acknowledged sovereign of the island. The beneficiary of it would be Sitavaka.

In the alienation of Kotte, the role of the missionaries was significant. They spared no pains or means in seeking converts to their faith, for the greater glory of their God. The adverse repercussions of such conversions in the country was not seen only by those who benefited by such action. The constant pressure they brought on Buvanekabahu himself to adopt Christianity, was only adding fuel to the fire.

All this made Sitavaka the centre de resistance, not only for the political salvation of the country, but for the survival of its culture and civilization as well.

As the picture unfolds, the energies of Sitavaka were at first directed against Buvanekabahu, and then against the Portuguese. Sometime around 1526, on the seizure of two Mocrish vessels by the Portuguese, and the killing of some Moors with the assistance of a Salappu Arachchi, the Moors on land sought and received refuge at Sitavaka. Thus he befriended an ally, who would be useful to him in the future.

Accordingly, in 1536, Mayadunne, together with the assistance received from the Samorin of Calicut, directed his first attack on Colombo. The inconclusive result of that attack, would be repeated many a time during Sitavaka’s existence.

Inter-domain, Sitavaka’s relations with Kotte deteriorated further, when Buvanekabahu gave his daughter, Samudra Devi, in marriage to Vidiye Bandara of Madampe, a man of repute and ability, and a grandson of Sakalakalawalla. As far as Mayadunne was concerned, the consequences of that marriage became further aggravated, when Buvanekabahu nominated Dharmapala, the elder son from the union between Vidiye Bandara and Samudra Devi, as his successor.

Buvanekabahu, fully aware that his nominee will be contested on accession, sought the help of the Portuguese, to provide him with the necessary military support. To that end, he got a golden effigy of the prince sent to Portugal, to be crowned as his successor, thus assuring that military support would not fail in time of need.

The image of Dharmapala sent to Portugal, was crowned in 1541, in Lisbon, with great pomp and pageantry. With that the chance of Mayadunne, legally succeeding Buvanekabahu was sealed. To all concerned, it would have been apparent, if not certain, that, Dharmapala would be a puppet in the hands of the Portuguese.

Now, matters turned in a devious way. The activities of the ambitious Vidiye Bandara led to a curious alliance between Mayadunne and the Portuguese. And, their combined forces, i.e. Mayadunnes’s and that of the Portuguese, battled Vidiye Bandara on two occasions, namely in 1548 and in 1555. Such alliances between the Sinhalese and the Portuguese, were hastily made and hastily abandoned.

Even in the midst of animosity, Vidiye Bandara, had been a desirable son-in-law to any king. Thus, on the death of Samudra Devi, Mayadunne, gave in marriage his widowed daughter Maha Tikiri Bandara, to Vidiye Bandara. But the cordiality thus established, was short lived. Although in 1550 Buvanekabahu and the Portuguese had razed the capital city of Sitavaka, Mayadunne, allied with the Portuguese in 1555 to attack his stronghold at Pelenda, which he had established after his union with Maha Tikiri Bandara.

It was at that battle, that the young ‘son’ of Mayadunne, called Tikiri Bandara or Tikiri Kumaraya, had first distinguished himself in the battlefield, and was called ‘Rajasinha’.

It is said, that Tikiri Kumaraya or Rajasinha, was fathered by Petiyagoda Patta Mestri Sinhala Kirti Rajapakse Bhatirajja Vanniyar Mudiyanse Disava, residing in the palace, and was begotten by Sumana Devi, the Chief Queen of Rajasinha. It is also said that it had been a known fact, as much as his physique, ability, military prowess, intellect and bravery.

Thus, at Pelenda, Vidiye Bandara, had met his match. In the face of defeat at the hands of young Tikiri, he withdrew - from the battlefield, and taking a circuitous route reached Udarata, where he was ‘politically’ welcome by Karalliyadde Bandara (1552-1582), who had succeeded Jayavira (1511-1552).

From there, he twice attacked Sitavaka, but at the last engagement at Mudukondapela he once again deserted the army, and fled the battlefield. Soon after he ended up at Yapapatuna, and it is said, that at the Nallur kovil where, some gun-powder had been accidentally set alight, being mistaken for gun-shots, or as Trindade says, due to the riches he had, a fight ensued, and, both he and his younger son Wijayapala, was killed at that place.

In the meantime, the Portuguese had successfully converted Jayavira, the first among the Sinhala kings to succumb to politico- missionary pressure. Thereafter, in 1557 they succeeded with Dharmapala (1551-1597). Thus, what they failed with Buvanekabahu, they achieved with his grandson. On baptism, Dharmapala, not only took the name of Don Joao, but also confiscated all temple land and gave them to the Franciskans; that included the Daladage at Kotte and the Maha Vihare at Kelaniya. The alienation of the reigning Sinhala king with his people, was complete. In popular acceptance, Mayadunne became the King of the land.

Between 1557 and 1565, Mayadunne and his son Rajasinha besieged Kotte several times. The Portuguese, unable to depend, both Kotte and Colombo, abandoned Kotte in 1565, and Dharmapala, moved with all his valuables and retinue to Colombo. For all practical purposes the suzerainity of Kotte had come to an end. Sitavaka became the acknowledged capital of the people.

Now, Sitavaka concentrated on two fronts: one on Colombo, and the other on Senkadagalapura. With that, diplomacy and treachery, came to work at its optimum against Sitavaka, in concert with Kandy and Colombo.

Queyroz, as well as Sinhala records state that Mayadunne abdicated in May 1578/1580 in favour of Rajasinha (1580/1593), and thereby, the latter became the de facto successor, to the Kotte kingdom. But, the de jure position remained with Dharmapala in Colombo, by virtue of the nomination of the latter by Buvanekabahu, and supported by the alien Portuguese power in the island.

The Chulavamsa statement that Rajasinha was a parricide is contradicted by Queyroz, and other contemporary Sinhala works, and has also been effectively disproved by all scholars of this period.

On Rajasinha’s accession to Sitavaka, he continued to lay siege on Kandy. If Dharmapala had alienated his position of being the rightful ruler of the land, by his conversion to Catholicism, Karalliyadde, a grandson of Senasammata Vikramabahu, was in the same plight after his conversion, which is dated to sometime between 1562 and 1564. Thus, when Rajasinha invaded Kandy in 1582, Karalliyadde fled his kingdom.

Sitavaka was now at the apex of its power. It had taken over the territory of Kotte, and now of Senkadagalapura. Only Colombo, the seat of the Portuguese, and of Dharmapala, lay between his virtual possession of the Kotte kingdom and his aspiration for the overlordship of the island.

Thus, Rajasinha, after his expedition against Colombo in 1579- 1581, once again mounted an attack between 1587 and 1588. Brilliant as these campaigns were, yet they failed to achieve their objectives. Portuguese succour from its Indian possessions, and Rajasinha’s inability to control the seas, and perhaps the better trained soldiery of the Portuguese against that of his, led to his disappointment. In both occasions he nearly succeeded, but unfortunately, success eluded him.

If the Kandyans were piqued by Karalliyadde’s embracing of Catholicism, Rajasinha’s acceptance of Hinduism and his ravage of Buddhist temples and its clergy, together with his latter day intemperate behaviour led the Kandyans to seek another ruler for themselves. That desire of their’s was strangely enough, fulfilled with the aid of the Portuguese. They, with Kanappu Bandara as Commander-in-Chief of their force sent another Catholic prince, Don Philip Yamasinghe Bandara, a nephew of Karalliyadde, and placed him on the throne.

Due to that Portuguese intervention in Kandy, which received support from some sections of its people, Rajasinha, in 1593, once again invaded Kandy. If Vidiye Bandara had met his match in Rajasinha, Rajasinha met his match in Konappu Bandara, at the Balana pass. The latter successfully defended the entry to Kandy, and Rajasinha retired.

Konappu Bandara or Dom John of Austria, who turned tables on the Portuguese and became Vimaladharmasuriya, was a son of Virasundara Bandara, who had been done to death by Rajasinha. To his innate ability, he had added the experience in war and strategy under the Portuguese. In time, he will be another name to reckon with in the lineage of Sinhala kings.

Thus, Rajasinha’s attempted invasion of Kandy was to be his last military expedition. As disunity among the Sinhalese would have it, his last battle was against another Sinhala centre of power. And, Rajasinha failed. On his retreat, it is said that he had the misfortune of a bamboo splinter pricking his foot at Petangeda, and shortly after, he breathed his last.

If Rajasinha’s birth is seen to have had a fault, his end is certainly seem to be tragic. According to the Sitavaka Rajasinha Rajakalaya (1599) Rajasinha’s daughter Menik Biso Bandara from his chief queen Dedampegei Malvati, had a son named Rajasuriya, by a Cola prince.

According to the above source, the wound in the king’s foot was caused by a blow from the followers of Rajasurya, and in the guise of treating the wound, Dodamvela Ganitaya, through his accomplice named Peduru, had poisoned it. The background to it, is said to be that Rajasurya was having an affair with Dodamvela Ganitaya’s daughter, and hastening the death of Rajasinha, would benefit both Rajasurya and the Ganitaya.

Whether the wound was caused by a blow, or as is better and popularly known by the pricking of a bamboo, its poisoning is seen to be the cause of death.

The incident has been immortalised in the ever popular four lined verse:

reisre fm;kaf.dv Whkg jeŠhd h
kmqre WKlgqj ll=f,a weKqkd h
tkaj is‡ iefjdu jglr u;=,d h
rdcisxy foœ kdfu;a uel=Kd h

If Sitavaka had commenced on a note of conspiracy and tragedy, its end is seen to be in defeat and remorse, and the repetition of conspiracy and tragedy.

During its brief existence of a little over a three quarters of a century, it forcefully stamped its presence in the island, due to the brilliance of its two rulers. The dominating factor seen during the period was the machinations of the Portuguese in the affairs of the three centres of power, i.e. Kotte, Kandy and Sitavaka. With sword and bible in either hand, they were willing accomplices in the internal power struggle among the Sinhalese. Supporting one or the other, as it would suit them best, the Portuguese fulfilled the wishes of their king and Church with territorial acquisitions, and conversions in both Kotte and Kandy! they failed only in Sitavaka.

Only if the fractured parts of the Kotte kingdom, could have acted in concert with the one purpose of getting the Portuguese intruder out, the country would have been saved of all the diabolical things that Queyroz, their own historian, had to record of their misdoings in this island. But that was not to be. Disunity amongst the Sinhalese, and the dominant ambitions of its rulers, with self before country, is seen as a recurring factor in the history of this island.

History of its two kings

The history of Sitavaka is the history of its two kings, Mayadunne and Rajasinha I. They were the only two rulers, who fought with grim determination to expel the Portuguese from the island, but personal glory, internecine warfare, inter and intra domain intrigue, vacillation and love of lucre among its fighting forces, the lack of better artillery for siege warfare, the lack of a naval power, and the latter day intemperance of Rajasinha, prevented them from achieving their objectives. Yet, in their hey-day, they were looked upon with awe and admiration by the Sinhalese, and even by their bitter enemies, the Portuguese.

With the death of Rajiasinha, the final obsequies of Sitavaka, was done in quick succession by Rajasurya and Nikapitiye Bandara, and was concluded by Don Joao at Colombo alias Dharmapala of Kotte. And, with that, Sitavaka passed into history: glorious, it could have been, but it was not to be.

[Some sources and publications: Chulavamsa, Rajavaliya, Mandarampura Puvata, Alkesvara Yuddhaya, Documents published in Aitihasika Sitavaka by Risiman Amarasinghe, Ceylon: The Portuguese Era by P E Pieris, The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon by Queyroz, A Short History of Ceylon by Cordrington, Political History of Kotte by G P V Somaratne, Ceylon and her People by N. E. Weerasooria, The Kandyan Kingdom by L S Devaraja, Fidalogs in the Kingdom of Kotte by O. M. da Silva Cosme, Mahanuvara Rajadhaniya by Abhaysinghe, Devaraja and Somaratne, and University of Peradeniya History of Sri Lanka Vol. II, ed K M de Silva.]