The ‘Kandyan pensioners’ of Tanjore


By Tissa Devendra


Some months ago I wrote a brief piece titled, ‘Who were these Nayakkars?’, seeking information on this little known Telugu clan who had been invited by Kandyan nobility to become the last royal family of the kingdom of Tri Sinhale. Sadly, no such information came my way – till a few weeks ago I received a package from Agricultural Scientist Dr.S.T.W Kirinde in Kandy [brother of my friend Stanley K, the artist ] . This fascinating document , though it casts little light on Nayakkar origins, is an official record of the Nayakkar clan exiled to Madras accompanying the deposed King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha.

This document is Sessional Paper XXIII- 1929 [of the Legislative Council] and titled "Report of the Kandyan Pensioners’ Committee". It is important to note that Ceylon was yet a British Colony and the Legislative Council was a body partly elected by a limited electorate. The Members appointed to the Committee ,which produced this Sessional Paper, were a distinguished panel who, later, went on to play important roles in Ceylon’s political history .Its Chairman was British Civil Servant C. V. Brayne and its Members were Edward W. Perera, C. W. W. Kannangara, E. R. Tambimuttu,P. B. Rambukwelle, D. B. Jayatilaka and K. Natesa Aiyet.

Strangely enough, the term ‘Kandyan Pensioners’ referred to no full-blooded Kandyans, but to the descendants of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha’ s Nayakkar entourage who were banished to India along with the King. It is now clear that the British, in their tradition of sportsmanship (?), decided to pay pensions to the exiled King and his ‘Royal Family’. However, for no logical reason, it had also been decided to extend pension rights to the host of Nayakkars who had been enjoying the King’s largesse while living in Kandy’s Malabar Street.

After over a century of this inexplicable generosity to this motley crew, housed in Tanjore at British expense, the Colonial Government felt that it was time to take a long, hard look at this practice and resultant expenditure. Accordingly, the Legislative Council appointed this Committee whose remit was "to investigate the existing system of payment of pensions to the descendants of the former royal family of Kandy and to make recommendations thereon."

This interesting document paints a picture of a group of once important families in terminal decline, and dependent on British largesse. Although they seemed to have been in dire financial straits they yet had delusions of grandeur. Most of them lived in a ‘Palace’ built by a Queen of the former King – but only as tenants of the man who had acquired it in settlement of unpaid debts. They never ceased importuning the Ceylon Government to increase their pensions. The Government considered various options to wipe out this "running sore" – but to little effect. Commutation was one possibility, but found little favour. Another was to grant them land which could, hopefully, earn them an income equivalent to their pensions. But India’s land laws regarding the alienation of ‘zemindari’ and ‘ryotwari’ lands made this impossible. A few, hopefully, floated the claim for ‘sthri-dana’ lands arguing these were the free-hold properties , in the Kandyan kingdom, of Sri Vikrama’s Queens. This claim was dismissed as the ladies in question could only enjoy the produce of these lands only as long as they enjoyed the King’s pleasure and occupied the throne. However, provision was made for the educational expenses of the pensioners’ children and grandchildren "to secure for them every chance of a successful start in life". [Interestingly one of these beneficiaries graduated from University and was recruited as an executive in our Central

Bank – but was tragically drowned]. The funds for education were paid direct to the schools. "Were these funds once allowed to pass through the pensioner’s own hands it is not unlikely that the education of many of the children would be neglected and the money diverted elsewhere." In other words ,to these improvident "Rajas" [as they styled themselves].

It is curious to note that in addition to the customary allowances for weddings and funerals, the British had approved Police Guards of Honour for their funerals and even paid for the construction of their tombs!.

The Committee reported that "It is obviously unsatisfactory that the present position should be continued indefinitely. It is eminently desirable that the pensioners should in time equip themselves to take their rightful position as independent members of the community". It then goes on to make some scathing comments "One of the chief obstacles is the tenacity with which the pensioners cling to their traditions of a royal status .... Most members of the family still bear the name of Rajah. They consider agriculture, industry, trade …. definitely beneath them. One of their requests is that they be provided without competition with other candidates with posts under the Indian or Ceylon Governments irrespective of their qualifications to fill such posts." Given their impecunious circumstances, the arrogance exhibited by these demands is incredible.

The Committee’s recommendations were based on reducing government’s financial liability by rationalizing pensions, rights of heirs etc while retaining educational subsidies. Police guards for funerals were no longer allowed, nor subsidized tombs. Finally, it was recommended that these ‘Kandyan Pensions’ should be transferred to the Madras Government.

The Appendices to the Sessional Paper give detailed genealogical tables of the Nayakkar ‘Royal’ families compiled by Mr. S. H. Wadia after painstaking research


As I am only an amateur, I leave it to a research oriented scholar, to discover whether the Recommendations of this Committee, whether wholly or partly, were ever implemented.

Fascinating, though this document is, my original query yet awaits an answer – how, and why, did the Kandyan nobility pick on this obscure Telugu clan to be their Royal Family?

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