THE SITAWAKA KINGDOM (1521- 1594)January 5, 2013, 6:55 pm
The Sitawaka ‘kingdom’ was created in 1521 when the three sons of Vijayabahu VI (1513-1521) divided the Kotte kingdom among themselves. Buveneka bahu VII (1521-51) took the sovereign title and the major portion of the kingdom. Mayadunne (1521-81) next in line to the throne was given Sitawaka, Satara, Denavaka and Hevagama korales, as well as Kuruviti, Atulugam, Panaval, Handapandunu, Beligal and Dehigampal korales. This collection included the areas which were the most difficult to administer. It also controlled the route to Udarata. The powerful Satara korale containing Kinigoda, Galboda, Parankuru and Mayadunu korales was usually administered by the heir to the throne. Satara korale was the most bitterly oppose to Portuguese rule, their hostility increasing with proximity to Colombo. Pararajasinghe got Raigama and Pasdun korale. He later handed these over to Mayadunne and left the scene. When Pararajasinghe died and Raigama reverted to Buvaneka bahu, he formally transferred it to Mayadunne.
Sitawaka was never a ‘kingdom’ but it acquired the status of a kingdom due to the policies of Buvaneka bahu VII. Buvaneka bahu’s chief advisor was a Portuguese, the Catholic pastor, Nuno Freyre de Andrade, who arrived in 1524. This pastor made sure that Buvaneka bahu did as the Portuguese wanted. Buvaneka bahu was also influenced by Antonio Saraiva, who had married in Sri Lanka and spoke Sinhala. The Portuguese also influenced other royals. André de Sousa controlled Buvaneka bahu’s nephew. He converted him, became his godfather and created a link between him and the Portuguese king.
*Mayadunne saw that Buvaneka bahu was on the verge of giving the Sinhala kingdom to the Portuguese. Mayadunne, as the next in line to the throne tried to unseat Buvaneka bahu by repeatedly waging war against him, starting in 1526. In 1527, Mayadunne proclaimed himself king and attacked Kotte with the aid of the Samudri of Calicut. Once he started to fight the Portuguese, Mayadunne never let up though he was repeatedly defeated. He fought the Portuguese in the 1530s, 1540s and 1550s. Pararajasingham supported Mayadunne. There were victories and reversals. Kotte army was confined to the city for most of 1549. In 1552 a missionary noted that the Sinhalese in Portuguese areas had ‘all fled to the jungle, and the houses in Kotte have all been destroyed and burned’. But in 1550, the Portuguese marched on Sitawaka and sacked it. Buvaneka bahu survived because the Portuguese supported him. But Mayadunne succeed in winning over many of the chiefs of Kotte and by 1541 most lands and ports which pledged formal allegiance to Buvaneka bahu were under the control of Mayadunne. The revenue went to Sitawaka.
Buvaneka bahu wanted to make his grandson Dharmapala his heir. In 1540 he sent an embassy to Portugal with a golden statue of little Dharmapala. The party was received with great ceremony and the effigy was crowned in Portugal in 1543. Portuguese king Dom Joao III declared that Dharmapala should succeed Buvaneka bahu as king. Buvaneka bahu promised to pay tribute to the Portuguese and also pay the expenses of the Portuguese army stationed in his kingdom. Buvaneka bahu’s two sons by the yakada doli objected saying they should inherit the throne. They were packed off to Portugal with Buvaneka bahu paying their expenses. They died of small pox at Goa.
When Buvaneka bahu died in 1551, the Portuguese made Dharmapala king, with his father, Vidiye Bandara as regent. Mayadunne as the rightful heir challenged this succession. He proclaimed himself king and advanced on Portuguese held Kotte. He was defeated by the largest Portuguese force ever to land in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese were determined to keep Mayadunne out. But Sitawaka gained in prestige and Mayadunne became the rallying point against the Portuguese.
Mayadunne also engaged in negotiations with the Portuguese .The new Portuguese viceroy to Goa accidentally entered Colombo in 1550, while on his way to Goa. Buvanake bahu did not dance attendance on him, but Maydunne’s emissary met him. Then in 1553, Vidiye Bandera rebelled against the Portuguese and the Portuguese turned to Mayadunne for assistance. A deal was struck Dharmapala’s kingdom would only include Salpiti and Raigam korales and a coastal strip from Colombo to Valitota, the rest of the Kotte kingdom would go to Mayadunne. In return Mayadunne would be a vassal of Portugal and pay tribute in cinnamon. Mayadunne defeated Vidiye Bandara with the assistance of his son, Tikiri Bandara (later Rajasinha I from 1581-93). In 1555 he took over Sath korale and Pitigal korale as agreed and Sitawaka emerged as the largest and strongest kingdom in the island.
Mayadunne gained still more support when Dharmapala became a Catholic in 1557. The sangha urged the public to support Mayadunne and Kotte turned increasingly to him. Its inhabitants declared for Mayadunne. Pieris observed that Dharmapala was left without subjects or revenue and with only the bare title of King. A large Sitawaka army marched on Kotte and besieged it for one year. The Portuguese were so unprepared for the siege that Sitawaka nearly got the fort. Sitawaka constructed two forts, one at Kaduwela, to guard the approach to Sitawaka by land and another at Biyagama to guard the Kelani Ganga approach. The army settled at Hewagama and harassed Colombo and Kotte forts. Rajasinha put up a poster saying that he would reward all those who came over to him and he would kill the rest. Some of the Portuguese army defected to Mayadunne.
In 1560 Sitawaka besieged both Colombo and then Kotte. Communications between Kotte and Colombo were cut off. Rajasinha I personally directed the Kotte siege. It was so successful that the inhabitants around the fort, declared for Mayadunne. Rajasinha called on those inside the fort to do the same. Those living in the fort told the Portuguese to either get rid of Rajasinha or hand the fort over to Mayadunne. The mother of Mayadunne fell in to Portuguese hands but they did not recognise her and let her go. The fighting continued and in 1563 it looked as though Kotte would fall. But Sitawaka for some reason withdrew and the Portuguese were able to regain Kotte. Sitawaka continued to attack Kotte in the two years that followed and in 1565 Portuguese again thought all was lost. But Sitawaka once again ended the siege and went back home. The Portuguese however, got the message. They abandoned Kotte and moved permanently to Colombo.
*Mayadunne and Rajasinha were obsessed with getting the Portuguese out of Sri Lanka. Sitawaka quickly mastered the techniques of modern warfare and military technology and in conventional warfare they proved to be a match and often more than a match for the Portuguese. Sitawaka failed to win mainly because it lacked a navy that could match the Portuguese. Sitawaka did not have the advantage of hills like the Udarata. Also, the Kelani River, unlike the Mahaweli, was navigable almost up to Sitawaka’s capital city and the Portuguese came up along it. But, Sitawaka had forests, and skilled guerilla fighters. The Portuguese found it difficult to get to Sitawaka.
C.R .de Silva notes that by 1565, most of the cinnamon lands were under Mayadunne. Sitawaka took over the trade and sold cinnamon at a profit. De Silva also says that by 1570, Sitawaka was strong enough to defeat the Portuguese or even a combination of Portuguese and Udarata in open battle. And around 1574, Mayadunne seized the Portuguese ships in the ports of Kalutara, Beruwela and Alutgama. In 1578, with the consent of his subjects, Mayadunne handed Sitawaka over to Rajasinha I. Then came the two great sieges of Colombo in 1579 and 1587-88. These sieges left the Portuguese exhausted. Rajasinha inspired terror in the Portuguese. Whenever Rajasinha appeared and took personal charge, the Portuguese fled.
Sitawaka also eyed Udarata, where the Portuguese priest, Nuno Alvares Pereira was influencing the ruler, Jayavira Bandara. There was a successful but temporary Mayadunne- Buvaneka bahu attack on Udarata in 1545. Sitawaka had a punitive raid in 1574, with a bigger attack in 1578, where Sitawaka were compelled to withdraw because the Portuguese were attacking in the south. Sitawaka invaded again in 1582, when Karaliyadde Bandara was ruling as nominee of the Portuguese. Udarata fell to Sitawaka and was under Sitawaka rule for ten years. The Sitawaka kingdom had reached it peak. Rajasinha was ruling over most of the island.
A revolt led by Weerasundara bandara in the Udarata was crushed soon after and his son Konappu bandara, (later Wimaladharmasuriya I) fled to the Portuguese. Thereafter Sitawaka declined. After his failure to capture Colombo in 1588 Rajasinha faced revolts in his own kingdom. In 1590, Sath korale rebelled and the Portuguese moved in and destroyed the stockades at Biyagama and Kaduwela. Rajasinha beheaded the commanders of these two stockades. This antagonized the people some more. Then Udarata revolted. Rajasinha went up and was defeated at Ganetenna. He died on his way back, at the age of 50. Rajasinha had eliminated almost every potential rival and when he died there was no one to continue the attack on the Portuguese. His grandson Rajasuriya (1593-94) was proclaimed king. He was soon killed and the infant grandson of Widiye Bandara., ‘Nikapitiye bandara,’ was proclaimed king.
Arittaki Vendu Perumal, an emigrant from India’s Coromandel Coast, who had been appointed Mannamperuma Mohottiar by Rajasinha, had helped to install Nikapitiye. When his marriage proposal to Nikapitiye’s sister was rejected, he contacted the Portuguese and offered to help them to get back Kotte, with Sitwaka for himself. Without leadership, the army lost morale. A large section of the Sinhalese army went over to the Portuguese deserting Mannamperuma. With their support, the Portuguese annexed Sitawaka and brought almost the whole of the old Kotte kingdom under their rule. Perumal converted to Catholicism and held a high position in the Portuguese army.
K.M. de Silva observed that under Mayadunne and Rajasinha I, Sitawaka emerged as the largest and strongest kingdom in the island. Mayadunne and Rajasinha I were the dominant political figures of their time. . Sitwaka kingdom lasted for 70 years. De Silva says during this period Sitawaka established a record of resistance to foreign rule which has never been matched in the history of western rule in Sri Lanka. . For 40 years Sitwaka confined Portuguese power and Christian conversion to the environs of Colombo. Sitawaka’s greatest legacy was this resistance which was then taken over by Udarata.
The writings of C.R. de Silva, K.M. de Silva, L.S. Dewaraja, J.M. Flores, Philip Gunawardene, P.E. Pieris and G.V.P. Somaratne were used for this essay.
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