Portuguese encounter with King of Kotte in 1517
by A. Denis N. Fernando

Fellow, National Academy of Sciences; Past President, Engineering Section & Chairman, Popularisation of Science Committee, SLAAS; Past President, Institute of Survey Engineers; Past President, Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka.

Continued from Saturday

Buvanekabahu VII and later Dharmapala was opposed by Mayadunne and Rajasinha I. It was a time there was religious strife when Rajasinha, as he could not get solace through Buddhism, was converted to Saivism and came under the influence of a Saiva Hindu priest of the Benderi Kovil who advised him to destroy the sacred ola books and kill all Buddhist monks.

It is very unfortunate that King Rajasinha I, a great warrior, succumbed to the Hindu priest’s advice.

In the meantime Rajasinha I proclaimed himself king of Sri Lanka and though a Buddhist, became a diehard Saiva Hindu. He was one of the greatest rulers though a cruel one. At the Ganetenna massacre of Buddhist monks he is said to have killed 59 Buddhist monks by ploughing their heads off.

He thereafter ordered his governor in Kandy, Virasundara (the father of Vimaladharmasuriya) to kill all Buddhist monks and destroy all sacred ola books in Kandy. Virasundara defied the King’s order and sent his son Konnappu Bandara (who later became King Vimadharmasuriya I) to Mannar. The King having summoned him and had him stoned to death. The Buddhist monks residing in the temples in the territory of the king, fearing that they too would be murdered, deserted the temples and fled to other areas over which the king had no control or jurisdiction. This was the unfortunate plight of the Buddhist monks then. His cruelty to Buddhists, Buddhist monks and, burning of Ola books drove the subjects of the Kotte Kingdom in their thousands to the Catholic faith when Don Juan Dharmapala was converted in 1556.

In the meantime, Virasurendra’s son, Konappu Bandara was transferred to Goa where he was trained in the finer techniques of warfare, diplomacy and statecraft. He became a Christian under the name of Don John of Austria, returned to Sri Lanka and for a short time participated with the Portuguese forces before defecting to Kandy.

There he built his fortress with the help of Portuguese captives, which is depicted by Philp Baldaeus in his book which is reproduced titled Portuguese captives build fortress for Vimaladharmasuriya.

Buvanekabahu VII is said to have been accidently shot through his heart at Mulleriyawa by a Portuguese (which appeared more like a deliberate act). Dharmapala was then raised to the throne as Don Juan Dharmapala.

With the conversion of Don Juan Dharmapala to Catholicism in 1556, a large number of his bodyguards and trusted troops comprising the Kaurava warriors, 70,000 in number, together with their captains, were also converted to the Catholic faith. Other communities in the Kotte Kingdom too were converted and took the Portuguese names of their sponsors, hence names like Almedia, Andrew, Alwis, Cooray, Dias, De Soysa, De Zoysa, de Silva Fernando, De Mel, Mello, Nonis, Perera, Peiris, Pigera, Pinto, Rodrigo, Suwaris, Salgado and Sigera, etc.

Rajasinha I also harassed Don Juan Dharmapala as a result of which Kotte was abandoned in favour of Colombo in 1565. Even thereafter in 1579 Rajasinha I besieged Colombo; but was defeated by the Portuguese after which he fled to Sitawaka. He even besieged Kandy but the forces of the Portuguese defeated him. He then returned to Sitawaka, on his way trampling a thorn which caused his death.

The Portuguese captured Kandy temporarily and installed Yamasinha Bandara (who was baptized as Don Phillip) to the throne of Kandy. He was however shortly murdered and the kingdom devolved on his cousin Princess Kusumasana Devi (Dona Catherina) who being the daughter of Karaliyadde Bandara, was the legal heiress.

The Portuguese wished to install Dona Catherina as empress of Kandy, but failed in their objective as Konappu Bandara (Don John of Austria) soundly defeated them. He captured Dona Catherina, the rightful heiress to the kingdom of Sri Lanka and installed himself as king under the name of Vimaladharmasuriya I. He also married Dona Catherina, the legitimate heiress to the throne, thus vesting himself with regal power.

It must be remembered that it was Vimaladharmasuriya I who revived Buddhism and as a true Buddhist tolerated all religions and even allowed a cloister to be built in Kandy as is noted in the map of Spilbergen of Kandy in 1602.

In 1765 the Dutch however, under Van Eck invaded Kandy and destroyed the King’s Palace and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy which was located beside the present Castle Street which place-name in fact recalls the old castle built by the king.

Thus in 1765, during the reign of the Vaduga King Kirthi Sri Rajasinha a new King’s Place and a Dalada Maligawa was constructed beyond the eastern end of the outer fortress where they stand today. These are by no means the buildings built by King Vimaladharmasuriya I.

I was fortunate to map the ancient location of the inner fortress of King Vimaladharmasuriya based on Spilbergens Map and field archaeological research done in 1994 where the location of the King’s Place and the Dalada Maligawa.

The Audience Hall and the Kataragama devale, was located within the Inner Fortress which is indicated in the Map. The present King’s Palace and Dalada Maligawa were thereafter located elsware at the present site after the Dutch Governor Van Eck destroyed Vimaldarmasiriya I’s palace in 1765 and a new ones built by King, the Vaduge King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe at the Eastern end of the Outer Fortress where it stands today and is not the Palace and Dalada Maligawa built by King Vimaladhramasuriya I.

With the Dutch takeover and the persecution of Catholics, many Catholics were converted to the Dutch Reformed Church or Calvinism, while most of the earlier Buddhist converts reverted back to the faith of their forefathers, namely Buddhism and the Vishnu and Pattini cults. There were however many Catholics who did not give up their faith. There still exists no memorial to Parakramabahu VI in Kotte, Vimaladharmasuriya I in Kandy or Dona Catherina in Welimantota in Kegalla where she was buried despite the fact that they contributed to the heritage of Sri Lanka in no small measure. It is time these memorials are built in their honour.



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