Mayadunne and Rajasinha IMay 20, 2011, 5:41 pm
By Kamalika Pieris
K. M. de Silva observed that Mayadunne (1521-81) and Rajasinha I (1581-93) were the dominant political figures of their time. Under them Sitawaka emerged as the largest and strongest kingdom in the island. Mayadunne was the second son of Vijayabahu VI (1513- 1521). On Vijayabahu’s death, Mayadunne, Buvanekabahu and Pararajasingham amicably divided up the Kotte kingdom. Buvanekabahu VII (1521-1551) became king but Mayadunne got the difficult areas. He ruled Sitawaka, Denavaka korale, Hewagama korale, Satara korale and six other korales. Satara korale usually went to the heir to the throne. Pararajasingham got Raigama and Pasdun korale. He later handed these over to Mayadunne.
Mayadunne saw that Buvanekabahu was on the verge of giving the Sinhala kingdom to the Portuguese. To prevent this, in 1527, Mayadunne proclaimed himself king and attacked Kotte with the aid of the Samudri of Calicut. He attacked Kotte again and again in the 1530s. The Portuguese defeated him, but he did not give up. Pararajasingham supported Mayadunne. When Buvanekabahu died in 1551, Mayadunne challenged the accession of Dharmapala, proclaimed himself king and again advanced on Kotte. He was defeated by the largest Portuguese force ever to land in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese were determined to keep Mayadunne out.
However, Mayadunne stayed firmly in the picture. He enlarged the territory under his control. By 1541, most lands and ports which owed allegiance to Kotte were under him. The revenue went to Sitavaka. In 1555, Sitavaka got Sath korale and Pitigal korale and emerged as the largest and strongest kingdom in the island. Mayadunne won over many of the provincial chiefs of Kotte. His position strengthened when Dharmapala converted to Christianity. The sangha urged the public to support Mayadunne and Kotte turned increasingly to him. Its inhabitants declared for Mayadunne and Dharmapala was left without subjects or revenue and with only the bare title of King.
In the 1550s, Mayadunne was joined by his son Tikiri Bandara, (later Rajasinha I) in opposing the Portuguese. Both knew to wage war. Mayadunne had
taken two stockades before losing to the Portuguese in 1539. He had kept the Portuguese forces cooped up in Kotte for most of 1549. He knew about fire bombs and night attacks. Tikiri Bandara had been trained in warfare by experienced commanders. He was only 16 years old when in 1555, he led the campaign which ousted Dharmapala’s father Vidiye Bandara from his refuge in Pelenda. Pelenda was his first big victory.
Father and son jointly waged war against the Portuguese. Their siege of Kotte in 1557-58 was so successful that Rajasinha put up a poster saying that he would reward all those who came over to Mayadunne and would kill the rest. In 1562, Rajasinha annihilated the Portuguese army in a notable victory at Mulleriyawa. This battle brought great prestige to Rajasinha. After that, Rajasinha was regarded as de facto ruler of Sitawaka. In 1578 with the consent of his subjects, Mayadunne placed Sitawaka under Rajasinha I. Rajasinha I was also known as ‘Sitawaka Rajasinha’ and ‘Rasin deviyo.’
Rajasinha I was a powerful opponent of the Portuguese. Pieris says he inspired terror in the Portuguese. Rajasinha attacked Kotte so successfully that the Portuguese abandoned Kotte and went to Colombo. Then Rajasinha turned on Colombo and besieged it twice, in 1579-81 and 1587-88. These sieges left the Portuguese exhausted.
Rajasinha was outstanding in war. At Mulleriyawa, he attacked in a three wing formation, with elephants and swordsmen on right and left wings. He commanded the centre wing. He is the one Sinhala king who tried to challenge the Portuguese at sea. According to the ‘Rajavaliya,’ he took tunnel builders from Uva to Colombo, to get into the Portuguese fort.
After the first siege of Kotte, Rajasinha anticipated that the Portuguese would counter attack along the Kelani River. He constructed a fort at Biyagama where Rakgahawatta Oya fell into the river. This fort had cannon mounted on the river bank. When the Portuguese came up the river, he unleashed the cannon and defeated the Portuguese.
This fort had strong earthworks which connected the fort to Ganegala at Mabima. Pieris says that in 1913, on the Hewagam Korale bank could still be seen, the Kanwidagala perforate which received the great cable which was taken down the stream past a pillar in its base and secured to a column of stone on Galahitiyawewatta. He noted that ‘villagers still point with awe to the tunnel where the concealed guns of Rajasinha swept the river from bank to bank.’
Rajasinha was an able commander. He led from the front. Pieris recorded that Rajasinha ‘could be seen in the thickest of the fight, on his horse, commanding, exhorting and encouraging his men by word and deed... He never ordered his men where he was not prepared to lead. That is the secret of their devotion to him.’ Rajasinha rewarded the army after successful battles. He granted the Davunde flag to Senerat Mudali of the Satara korale, who helped to quell an uprising in the Udarata. The arachchies of Koratota and Hewagama were richly rewarded for their prowess in war in 1559 and the name of the korale was changed to Hewagama.
By 1570, Sitavaka forces under Rajasinha were capable of defeating Udarata or the Portuguese or even a combination of the two in open battle. Rajasinha invaded and conquered the Udarata in 1582. He had support within the Udarata. Udarata stayed under Rajasinha for the next ten years. C. R. de Silva points out that Rajasinha controlled a greater extent of territory than any king after Parakramabahu VI. In 1587, Rajasinha had 1,900 gabadagam villages under him. K. M. de Silva observed that if not for the Portuguese, Rajasinha may have taken over the whole island.
The Portuguese hated Rajasinha and left a very negative account of him. They pointed out that Rajasinha put several commanders to death when the commanders lost wars. However, ‘Sevul Sandesaya’ by Alagiyawanna Mukaweti is written in praise of Rajasinha I. It speaks of his skill in swordsmanship, and his ability in managing horses and elephants in war. It also says the 18 vanniyars paid him homage.
Rajasinha was the first Sinhala ruler to exploit the revenue potential of cinnamon. He sold cinnamon from royal warehouses at market prices. The result was a spectacular rise in cinnamon prices. Rajasinha converted to Hinduism. Barandi Kovila at Sitavaka flourished during Rajasinha’s rule. C. R. de Silva points out that we know nothing about this conversion. Sinhala writings of the time state that Rajasinha persecuted the sangha. However, the Saman Devala perahera and the Dalada perahera were held in his time and the Tooth relic was kept safe at Delgamuwa in Kuruwiti korale. Rajasinha lost the Udarata in 1590. He tried to retake it in 1592 and was defeated by Wimaladharmasuriya. Rajasinha died in 1593 on his return journey from Udarata.
The writings of T. B. H. Abeyasinghe, C. R. de Silva and K. M. de Silva, S. Gunasekera, H. B. M. Illangasinha, C. Gaston Perera, Edmund Peiris and P. E. Pieris were used for this essay.
Last Updated Dec 10 2016 | 05:39 pm