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Dona Catherina: the last empress of Lanka


(By A. Denis N. Fernando, Former President of the Royal Asciatic Society/The Island)

1. The Kingdom of Kotte was established by Parakrama Bahu Vl (1473-1480) who was also Emperor of Ceylon. The Kingship devolved on King Dharmapala (1557-1597).

2. The Kandyan Kingdom was established as an autonomous Kingdom in 1474 under Vickrama Bahu Vl, King and Emperor of Kotte. Vickrama Bahu broke away and established himself as King of Kandy. Vickrama Bahu gave his daughter in marriage to Kiravilla the brother in Law of the King of Kotte. Kiravilla’s son Karaliedde Bandara was also known as Mahaadasin to the throne of Kandy.

3. The Portuguese first made contact with Ceylon accindentaly when in ISOS Admiral Lorenzo De Almeida landed here by strong monsoonal winds but did not enter into any formal treaty. However, about 5 decades later the Portuguese came here to establish a factory in Colombo in the time of King Dharmapala.

4. With the coming of the Portuguese the King of Kotte, nobles and warriors were converted to the Catholic faith and adoption of Portuguese, titles and names after conversion. Dharmapala was baptised as Don Juan Dharmapala.

5. Mayadunne and Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka raised a rebellion against the Portuguese.

6. Mahasin, Karaliadde Bandara the father of Kusumasena Devi fled Kandy with his wife and child as well as his nephew Yamasinghe Bandara for safety to Trincomalee as there was an attempt to capture his Kingdom by Rajasinghe I. It is said that at Trincomalee he and his wife was affected by smallpox and died. Both Yamasinghe and infant Kusumasena Devi were advised to beseech the aid of Catholic Nuns in Mannar for succour. Yamasinghe was baptised as Don Phillip and Maha (pata) bandige Kusumasena Devi was baptised as Dona Catherina.

7. Rajasinghe I together with his General Wimala Dharmasuriya (Sn) conquers Kandy and appoints his General Wimaladharmasuriya (the father of Konnappubandara) as Governor of Kandy.

8. Subsequently King Rajasinghe I who was a diehard convert to Hinduism had ordered the Governor of Kandy to destroy the Buddhist Monks in Kandy. He did not carry out the orders and he knew what would happen to him, so he sent his wife and son over to the Portuguese in Mannar. And reported to Rajasinghe I Sithawaka, where he was martyored by Rajasinghe I by stoning him to death for not carrying out his orders. (see Pg 669 Baldeus

9. General Wimaladharma Suriya’s son who was known as Konnappubandara’ was baptized as Don John of Austria.

10. Both Don Phillip and Don John were trained in warfare in Goa by the Portuguese while Dona Catherina was named in the niceties of Royal etiquette and court craft.

11. The Portuguese decide to Conquer Kandy with Don Phillip to be installed as King with Don John as his General, who were both expected to marry Portuguese wives, so that they could have a control over them and were taken to Mannar for the expedition.

l2. The Portuguese advanced an expedition to Kandy to conquer it with Portuguese General Pedro Lopenz and conquered Kandy and Don Phillip was installed as King, when after a while he was poisoned by his General Don John of Austria who took over the reigns as King of Kandy better known as Wimaladharma Suriya l uses the Portuguese Captives to reconstruct his Fortress in Kandy and his palace.

13. Rajasinghe I attacks Kandy but is routed by Wimaladharma Suriya 1 (Don John of Austria) and returns to Seethawaka and dies. Jayaweera Banda the Treasurer of Rajasinghe I declares himself King of Seethawaka.

14. Jayaweera Banda conspires with the Portuguese to conquer Kandy, with the hidden intention of marrying Dona Catherina and become undisputed Emperor.

15. Dona Catherina leaves Mannar with the Portuguese General Pedro to be installed as Empress of Ceylon in Kandy. The pole of the Palanquin in which Dona Catherina is carried breaks. This is considered as a bad omen by Donna Catherina, but General Pedro Lopes with her not to be superstitutious and they decide to proceed to Kandy on the Expedition.

16. The joint forces of the Portuguese and Jayaweera Banda takes over Kandy which was tactfully deserted by Wimaladharma Suriya and installs Dona Catherina as Empress.

17. There are strained feelings between General Pedro Lopes and Jayaweera Bandaas Pedro Lopes refuses to give into the intentions of Jayaweera Banda to marry Dona Catherina.

18. Wimaladharmasuriya I adopts Guerrilla Tactics and attacks Kandy, with the support of disgruntled Jayaweera who is promised by Don John to give him the lower Kingdom.

19. The Portuguese are routed and Dona Catherina captured and Wimala Dharma Suriya I marries her and becomes the undisputed Emperor of Ceylon with Empress Dona Catherina as Queen.

20. Jayaweera Banda is murdered by the Portuguese.

21. Dona Catherina begets by King Wimala Dharma Suriya I three children, namely a son Mahaasstane (the legal heir to the throne), two daughters Sunya Mahadasin and Cathan Adsain and lives in the old Palace in the premises of the present Kataragama Devale where the Palace Complex was within inner Fortress as indicated in the old Portuguese Maps as well as the French but copied mirror reversed by Spilbergen in 1602, (see Map)

22. The well known Perahera of the four devales of Kataragama, Vishnu, Natha and Pattini was established at that time.

23. Demise of Wimala Dharma Suriya I and Dona Catherina takes over as regent to her son Mahaastenne who is heir to the Kingdom.

24. Senerath Marries Dona Catherina and begets three sons namely Prince Wijepala. PRINCE Kumarasinghe and Mahadasin.

25. Death of Heraditory Imperial Prince Mahastanne on 23rd August 1612. Dona Catherina suspects Senarath of Murdering him.

26. Cremation Scene of Mahastenne at Mahiyawa (it is said the ashes of Mahastenne was brought by Dona Catherina to Welimantotta (in Kegalle) where the urn was kept within the Palace, which the Archaeology Dept. had found in the excavation of the Palace.

27. During this time she was also carrying another child by Senarath, However during her visits to Kandy she is reputed to have stayed in the Guest House in the Centre of the Present Kandy Lake (in the days of Senarath it was a paddy field)

28. While at Welimantota she fell deliriously ill and summoned Prince of Migonne (Marcellus de Boschhouwer) and the Prince of Ouver (Kuruwitarala) and gave special custody of all her children and died, while incanting Catholic Prayers on 20th July 1613 at the age of 35.

29. Donna Catherina was buried on 21st July 1613 with all Honours due to an Empress with Roman Catholic rites at her Palace Premises at Welimantota. It is believed that she was buried dressed in her Royal Regellia including a Pearl Rosary round her hands and the Bible beside 29. The Moseleum was built by the Prince of Ouva (Kuruwitarala) entombing herein a masolieum and a oil lamp was lit perpetually in her memory till recently.

30. Senarath falls sick and summons the Council to decide on the Succession. Prince of Migonne (Marcellus de Boschhouwer) and the Prince of Ouva (Kuruwitarala) appoints Regents of Cumarasinghe Heriditory Prince during his minority with full authority (pa 694) to govern the relm and chosen for so great a task. In case of his death other princes to follow according to custom.

31. Battle of Randeniya Commanded by Prince Wijepala and others against the Portuguese. Portuguese Governor Constantine de Saa falls in battle, when the Negombo troops under Constantine de Saa went over to the King of Kandy on a prearranged signal and the Portuguese were routed. There is a Memorial to this event. (Incidentally when I gave the road trace for the construction of the Ella Wellawaya Road l made it a point to see that this road passes through this historical site)

32. Senarath Dies in 1632 and left the Empire between his three sons. Ouva to Vijayapala his eldest, Matale to Kumarasinghe and Kandy to Mahastane the youngest who later became King under the imperial name of Rajasinghe II.

33. Vijapala dies and Rajasinghe 11 takes over the entire Kingdom.

34. It is in this background that Fr. Joseph Vaz was allowed by Wimaladharma Suriya II to build a Church in Kandy where Fr. Joseph Vaz was subsequently buried in the tie of Narendrasinghe. Later the Church was destroyed in 1745 but his remains lie there yet as the ground where he was buried was not disturbed.

35. Using old Portuguese Maps and field research I was able to locate the Ancient Fortress of Wimaladharma Suriya I till the time of Narendrasinghe which also indicates the Guest House where Donna Catherina used to occupy when she had strained relations with King Senarath which was in the centre of a paddy field which has now been converted to the Kandy Lake. While during my research visits to Kandy in 1990 I was fortunate to get at the level of the old Bogambara Wewa and with further soil brings I was able to determine its level as l320 ft m.s.1. from which I determined the level of the old Bogambara wewa and was able to determine the site of the old church of Fr. Joseph Vaz.

36. Regarding the Burial Site of DONA CATHERINA. This site of 7 Acres was declared an Archaeological site by H. C. P. Bell the first Archaeological Commissioner and is mentioned in Bells Kegalle Report. Unfortunately the subsequent head of the Archaeological Department has in his ignorance or in their endeavour to please certain influential parties had decided to declare only a small part of it of about half an acre or 80 perches, as an Archaeological Site even at the protests of not only the then Government Agent Mr. L. U. C. Kuruppu and the citizens of Kegalle. Now it appears persons are allowed to encroach and build on this SACRED BURIAL SlTE of our Last Empress of Sri Lanka. This is a National Calamity, sacrilege and desecration and deserves the Condemnation of all Citizens of the Country as it is the heritage of our Country.

Dona Catherina was not an "Empress"

(By B. P. Aryatilake/The Island)

On reading the article by Dr. K. D. V. D. Fernando, a doctor of medicine, on Dona Catherina I get the impression that he is mixing up history and medicine to a lethal dose. Mr. Dennis N. Fernando (a geologist) is admittedly a well-informed amateur on the subject. But he has over skipped his territory.

If you require reliable knowledge on the period in which Dona Catherina lived, read authorities that have done the laborious work of ploughing through the original sources. The researches of the late Prof. Tikiri Abeyasinghe are essential reading for this purpose. The article on Dona Catherina in the Sinhala Encyclopaedia (Vol. VII, Fascicle 3) would provide a quick overview. We have to challenge the two articles referred to above because they are much in the trend of creating a new sociology of knowledge to suit the agendas of the proselytising NGOs.

Dona Catherina cannot be characterised as an "Empress" by any extent of imagination. The term "Emperor" was used by foreign invaders to flatter and exact favours and privileges from local rulers having sway only on a small part of the country and to set up one against the other. Catherina existed only as cover for Portuguese occupation of the Kandyan Kingdom, lasting only for four months with Lopez de Souza, the Portuguese Conquistador on her side. The latter was killed at the battle of Danture (l594). The Portuguese completely routed, Catherina fell into the hands of Konappu Bandara who married her to strengthen his claims to the Kingdom of Kandy.

The first and the foremost qualification for kingship in Sri Lanka was the possession of the Dalada (The Sacred Tooth Relic). Since the time it was brought to Sri Lanka during the reign of Kirti Sri Meghavanna (310 CE), kings guarded it jealously building a special shrine (the Dalada-ge) within an arm’s reach to their palaces. Special guards and monks were appointed to remove it to a place of safety during turbulent times. When the capital shifted from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and thence to Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and Kandy the Tooth Relic went with the royalty. It was the sceptre of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

Konappu Bandara, a Kandyan aristocrat who had mastered Portuguese military skills by feigning to have become a Christian became the king of Senkadagalapura (Kandy) in the year 1592. He deposed, (l592) the Portuguese puppet Don Juan, set up by them. Konappu Bandara assumed the name of Vimaladharmasuriya I, (l592- 16O4) marrying Dona Catherina and thereby strengthening his claim to the throne. He brought the Tooth Relic from the Delgamu Raja Maha Vihara where it had been hidden under a stone grind during the turbulent times of Rajasinha I. The country shed a sigh of relief from the rapacious Portuguese invaders. To become king or Emperor one had to possess the Dalada. Otherwise rebellion quickly and necessarily followed. Don Juan Dharmapala, (l541-l593) Don Philip (1992) and Dona Catherina were either pawns or puppets of the hated foreigner. They did not represent either the people or the heritage and the culture of this country inextricably entwined with the country’s religion Buddhism.

Dona Catherina was for all running through her veins practical purposes a foreign lady with Portuguese culture. From the tender age of three she was brought up by the Portuguese Her childhood conditioning in a Portuguese convent in Mannar couldn’t have produced anything different. Fundamental beliefs and prejudices are implanted in childhood.

She suited ideally the scheming plans of Lopez de Souza, the Conquistador General, chaperoning and protecting her from public view. He planned to marry her off to a Portuguese prince and was marking time in Kandy with his "Empress" he had so even installed, till a suitor of his specifications was brought there from Portugal. He dismissed all young men who made a claim to hold the hand of Catherina as this would be an impediment to the plans of the Portuguese to assume sovereignty over the Whole Island. This they claimed by virtue of the deed granted to the Portuguese by Don Juan Dharmapala of Kotte (l541-l591) as his inheritors to the Island.

If this ever happened Sri Lanka would have been fully Catholic country today by operating cujus regio, ejus religio - the principle that the established religion should be that of the sovereign. What is wrong with that? I could hear someone ask. The answer is; the change would have been a regress in our island civilisation. Sri Lanka produced its own unique civilisation and is as old and as valuable as any other. Who would want a mild, tolerant liberal religion that has a proven record of bringing love, peace and tranquillity to the nations of Asia, be replaced by an authoritarian and a militaristic one. Just take the case of South America. Sixteen million indigenous people died there during the same period in wars the aim of which was to convert "heathens" to Christianity. It was Pope Alexander VI (Borgia) who gave the Spaniards to do so.

Dona Catherina had no interest in kingship and had no political ambitions. She could have hardly spoken the language of the people and was obliging with only the interests of the Portuguese in whose company she found herself secure. In fact some time after her second marriage to Senarat, step brother of Wimaladharmasuriya, she wrote to Azevedo, the Portuguese Captain General (l594-1612) requesting permission to come and settle down in Malvana. This very same Azevedo according to the Culavamsa (Pt. II. 9S) Ch. "broke into the shrines and monasteries, destroyed image houses, Bodhi trees, Buddha statues and so on, and did great harm to the laity and the order". Her desire was to come back to this hated enemy of the Sinhalese. "Empress" Catherina indeed deserves a monument! What about a monument to Rajasinhe I of Sitawaka who kept the Portuguese on the run, confining them virtually to the limits of Colombo?

Dr. K. P. V. D’s agenda to construct a memorial to Catherina is unnecessary and would be a waste of public funds. The erection of statues, monuments and memorials are recent practices to bolster the egos of bloated potentates. Anicca vata samkhara (All component phenomena are transitory). I am quoting the right thing at the right place with the right transcription if Dr. K. P. V. D. wants to understand what it means. Practically all the great Emperors of India, including the greatest of all, Asoka, were Buddhists. No monuments were built in their honour. This rule applies also to the great monarchs of Sri Lanka, who were all Buddhists. A statue to a mortal being is inconsistent with the concept of anatta (no soul). In Myanmar where the Theravada tradition is live and kicking no statues are built to any potentate. A policy of wisdom - pure wisdom.

It is deplorable that a piece of land allotted for the historical commemoration of Dona Catherina has been occupied and encroached. This has been due to the neglect by authorities. But it must be said that the ulterior motive of some is to use the name of Queen Kusumasana Devi as a pretext to impose, inappropriately, Christian iconography and other structures on this nation. What could be conceded is, that a memorial stone be installed without any religious symbols at the place where Catherina died. She after all is a part of the history of this country and the mother of Rajasinha II, a great king who did much to stabilise the social and economic conditions of the country.

Dona Catherina, the tragic character in Sri Lanka’s history, was only a pawn in the true sense of the word. - Not an Empress. We have no reason to erect monuments to persons who voluntarily or involuntarily did a great disservice to the religion and culture of this country allying themselves with our enemies and intruders for their pure egoistic glorification. Dona Catherina was an involuntary player in that game. To designate her as a heroine and as a great Catholic Empress of Sri Lanka would be a gross distortion of our history.

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