Portuguese encounter with King of Kotte in 1517
@ The Island / Feb2006
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
The findings in this essay are the results of a personal interest to research into my roots as I had an ancestral double-barrelled tribal name, namely, Kurukulasuriya and a Portuguese surname. In addition, we had family heirlooms of olas and implements of war used by our forefathers. It was these that triggered an interest in Portuguese and local records including the Rajavaliya and field visits both local and abroad.
I was fortunate to attend official conferences including a visit to Lisbon in Portugal in 1964 and Rio De Janeiro in Brazil in 1984. These enabled me to visit museums and archives including the archives including those of King John IV, which took him to Rio de Janero, when he had to leave Portugal long before the severe earthquake in 1755, which virtually destroyed Lisban. His palace records contain some of the most authentic information on Ceilao as Sri Lanka was then known. It is based on these that this short essay is presented to you. It is part of the chapter on The Advent of Colonial Powers (which includes the Portuguese encounter) in my forthcoming book on Sri Lankan Heritage scheduled to be released shortly.
There is a controversy as to the exact date the Portuguese met the King of Kotte and established themselves in Sri Lanka. It is recorded that seven years after the Portuguese established themselves in Cochin in South India, the Viceroy Don Francisco De Almeida dispatched his son Don Lorenzo De Almeida on 15th November 1505 to pursue and intercept some Moorish ships near the Maldives. He faced a violent storm, which drove him to Galle. Here he repaired his damaged ships before sailing back to Cochin. There is no authentic recorded evidence that Lorenzo De Almeia visited the King of Kotte on that occasion in 1505. However, it is recorded that Lopo Soares landed in Cochin on 8th September 1515, and later on 10th September 1517 set sail to Sri Lanka with a fleet of 17 ships. Soares obtained permission from Parakramabahu IX, the King of Kotte to build a factory for purposes of trade. However, on ‘instructions of the King of Portugal Dom Emmanuel, he was ordered to erect a fortress in Colombo. This was apparently the time that the Portuguese Coat of Arms was said to have been etched by Concalo Gondvas. This inscription was discovered only in 1898 near the Colombo Breakwater and subsequently displayed at Gordon Gardens. It is clearly seen that the very crude cross and other etchings including dates have been inscribed by an amateur stone mason probably as a tombstone inscription as it could not have been part of the original etching containing the Portuguese Coat of Arms. It was about this time that King Parakramabahu VIII, also known as Kuda Kumaraya (Ambulugala) took ill and made his sons Dharma Parakramabahu IX and Vijayabahu VII co-regents with him.
Then we have the local version in the Rajavaliya translated by B. Gunasekera and published in 1900 . It records that the Portuguese visited Colombo in 1522 and says:
"At that time in the year 1522 there came a ship to the harbour from the Portuguese settlement in Jambudipa, having by the power of God escaped the perils of the deep. The men who saw it while in the harbour came and thus reported to the King of Kotte, Parakramabahu IX: "There is in our harbour of Colombo a race of people of fair skin and comely withal. They don jackets of iron and hats of iron; they rest not a minute in one place. They walk here and there." And with reference to their use of bread, raisins and arrack they said: "They eat hunks of stone and drink blood; they give two or three pieces of gold and silver for one fish or lime; and the report of their cannon is louder than thunder when it bursts upon the rock Yugandhara. Their cannon balls fly many a gawwa and shatter fortresses of granite".
These and other countless details were brought to the hearing of the King’. King Dharma Parakramabhu IX summoned his four brothers to the city, and having informed them and other leading persons and wise ministers inquired "Shall we live on friendly terms with them or shall we fight?" Thereupon Prince Chakrayudha said: "I will myself go and after seeing with my own eyes what manner of men they be, advice one or two courses". Having said so, he disguised himself and went to the Colombo harbour, watched the actions of the Portuguese and having formed his opinion, returned to the city and addressed the king "To fight these men is useless. It will be well to give them audience". The King accordingly gave audience to one or two of the Portuguese, made them presents, and in turn received presents and curiosities from them; and likewise sending many tokens of respect to the great king of Portugal, lived on friendly terms with him. Let it be noted, that day the Portuguese gained a footing in Colombo’.
Another version which appears as authentic states that in the time of Vijayabahu VII a ship arrived from Portugal. Thereafter a number of men went to attack it. When the Portuguese saw them and fired a cannon from the ship, the ball struck a branch of the jack tree and broke it. The Sinhalese, having seen that, were afraid, and going to the city of Jayawardhana reported it to King Vijayabahu. He caused four or five persons of the Portuguese to be brought to the city and to his presence. After having given them presents he sent them away and during the reign of this king the Portuguese carried on their trade. At this stage it is important to mention the devolution of the kingship of Kotte from the reign of King Parakramabahu VI to that of Vijayabahu VII.
During the reign of Parakramabahu VI he was confronted with the Mukkuvas who had usurped the pearl trade and fishery as well as control of Puttalam. There was also the Ariya Chakravarti described by Ibn Battuta as a sea pirate who controlled the Mannar Straits. The Javanese Chandrabanu occupied Jaffna which was subsequently overrun by the Ariya Chakravarti. To get rid of the foreigners, Parakramabahu VI recruited mercenary forces comprising the Kaurava Suriyavansa clan of warriors with nine generals including Manikka Talavan and 7,740 soldiers together with other supporting staff such as native physicians and surgeons, barbers, washers, carpenters, smiths, tom-tom beaters and kapuralas of the Vishnu and Pattini temples who conducted rituals. These warriors and their entourage arrived in ships and boats before disembarking at the mouth of the Kelani river. The King Parakramabahu VI welcomed them and provided all the requisites for war and sent them to face the first battle with the Mukkuvas in Puttalam where they had a fortress and after a long battle that took three months finally subjugated them. In the ensuing battle, 1,500 warriors fell, including General Manikka Talavan. The King then adopted the natural sons of Manikka Talavan, namely, Sapumal and Kuda Kumaraya (Ambulugala) as his own sons.
These princes subsequently became kings of Kotte, one known as Buvanekabahu VI and the other Parakramabahu VIII (Ambulugala). Thereafter the King sent Sapumal and his troops to Mannar and Jaffna and subjugated the Ariya Chakravarti. Sapumal Kumaraya was appointed Yapa or Governor of Yapapatuna by which name the Jaffna peninsula was thereafter known. Some of the troops were thereafter posted in Yapapatuna and Mannar while others were settled along the western seaboard south of Puttalam along the Alutkurukorale that was named after them (Kuru in this particular place-name referring to the Kaurava warriors). These new settlers also functioned as warriors, coastguards and chiefs southwards of Kotte to Dondra.
This historical, conquest and settlement is indicated by the erudite Buddhist scholar monk Totagamuwe Sri Rahula in his Kokila Sandeshaya or the Cuckoo’s flight from Totagamuwa to Kotte where the avian messenger is made to pass the Pepiliyana and Kelaniya Buddhist temples and thereafter along the western coast along Alutkurukorale to Mannar before proceeding to Yapapatuna to visit Prince Sapumal who was appointed governor by Parakramabahu VI.
Peninsula Jaffna was called post que est borem prom by Ptolemy in 115 A.D. or "The Northernmost Promontory" but indicated no settlements. It was subsequently occupied by Javanese as we have names like Chavakachcheri, where there are numerous Buddhist statues and Kandarode etc., and even ash burials in mini dagabas of Javanese Buddhist monks in Javanese style. It was occupied by Chandrabhanu and was known as "Japane". Sapumal Kumaraya was appointed Yapa (Governor) after he conquered Jaffna Peninsula in the time of Parakramabahu VI and was thereafter known as "Yapapatuna". During this time there were chieftains in Jaffna who considered themselves as kings. After the conquest of Jaffna by Senanayaka, Sapumal had close associations with the Jaffna royalty and cohabited with their princesses resulting in the progeny who called themselves "Singhe" dynasty of Jaffna and considered themselves of the Kaurava Suriyawansa clan. Sapumal became king of Kotte as Buwanakabahu VI and on his death a son of his was to be appointed to the kingship of Kotte but this was opposed and he was killed. However his other progenPortuguese encounter with King of Kotte in 1517y continued in Jaffna who
called themselves as Singhe dynasty of Jaffna. It is said that the Singhe dynasty of Jaffna, were of the Suriyawansa clan of the Kavrava Tribe. They had close relationship with the Kandyan Kingdom. In fact Dona Catherina’s two sons Wijayapala and Kumarasinghe married the daughters of the Singhe dynasty of Jaffna. In 1736 A.D. at the request of Jaan Maccara Dutch Governor of Jaffna commissioned Mylvaganam Pulavar a blind flautist to compose the history of Jaffna as there were a large influx of Vellala immigrants to grow tobacco cultivation and was called "Vaipava Malai" which has now been called "Yalpanam" which has been further mutilated according to the whims and fancies of subsequent writers and is not considered to be of historical value. It was very unfortunate that Sir Paul E. Peiris had misinterpreted the location of Nagadipa of Ptolemy as Peninsular Jaffna, when Nagadipa of Ptolemy was in Eastern Ruhuna that misled subsequent Historians and caused all the confusion, moreover Jambukolapotane was the "Talakori Emporium" of Ptolemy near Tiriyaya in the Eastern Province.
Dharma Parakramabahu IX had two brothers, namely, Sri Rajasinha and Vijayabahu, who lived in Menikkadavara as young men cohabiting with the same woman. These two whilst living together in one house had three princes —born to them. After the death of Sri Rajasinha and the queen mother, Vijayabahu VII took a queen from Kiravala and brought up a prince who had come with the queen from Kiravala. After the demise of King Dharma Parakramabahu IX, the ministers and a great body of people took counsel together, went to the city of Udugampola, brought Sakalakasvalla to the city of Jayawadhanapura and prayed him to be king. Thereupon Sakalakasvalla, informed them that there were several objections to their proposal and installing Vijayabahu in the throne, returned to Udugampola.
Since the Portuguese fortress in Colombo was built without the consent of the King of Kotte, it was, at the behest of Vijayabahu VII, attacked with the help of the Zamorin of Calicut and the Sinhalese forces who besieged the fort for six months. The fort was thereafter demolished on the orders of King Emmanuel of Portugal in 1520 though the factory itself was left in charge of Portuguese interests. After the murder of Vijayabahu VII by one of his sons by an inferior queen, the country was divided between his sons, namely, Mayadunne, who took Sabaragamuwa and Raigam Bandara, who took Wallawiti Pasdun and Raigam Korales in the Galle and Kalutara districts, and Buvanekabahu VII to whose lot the seaports fell. ‘The hill country was under another king, Karaliyadde Bandara, who was from the direct natural line of kings by hereditary right, being the grandson of Parakramabahu VI through his daughter Ulakudadevi and hence the legal heiress to the kingdoms of Kotte and Kandy. During the reign of Buvanekabahu VII, fearing his brother Mayadunne, he wished that Dharmapala to succeed him to the throne under the protection of King of Portugal. 1549 he sent an embassy to Lisbon with the image of Dharmapala indicating his wish for Dharmapala to succeed him.
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.