History repeats, only when lessons are not learned Share

23 May, 2012

People say that history repeats. However knowing the history, one can challenge to prevent ill-fated incidents in the history being repeated. Unfortunate reality here is that bulk of Sri Lankans does not know their history and for some others it is just a tale than a lesson. We should learn and understand that history does not write every ruler as a hero. The rulers are positioned in the history as a hero, feeble, traitor or mere clown based on their conduct and not mere based on the birth or length of the rule. History shows where the things had gone wrong, political pit falls, affect of political hatred, power politics and how the petty vicious goons were manipulated by external invaders for their benefit.
Following is a brief history of Portuguese invasion period (1505-1634) in Sri Lanka. It is as interesting as a good story, but importantly it is full of lesions that every Sri Lankan must remember and compare in the contemporary context.

Arrival of Portuguese
In 1505, the first fleet of Portuguese merchants came to Sri Lanka and they convinced King Darma Parakramabahu of Kotte to let them build a church in an 'area of cow hide' in Colombo and, given this opportunity, the Portuguese gradually managed to extend it to a castle. This has written in the history as the first deception by Westerners and King Darma Parakramabahu as weak ruler who gave in to both Moor and Portuguese power.

King Vijayabahu and break away of Kotte kingdom
With the death of Darma Parakramabahu, the Vijayabahu became the next king of Kotte and he was able to keep the Portuguese in check though he was not able to fully defeat them.

After the death of King Vijayabahu, Buwanekabahu became the ruler of Kotte, (main kingdom), Raygam Bandara became the ruler of Raygama and Mayadunne became the ruler of Seethawaka. Soon after establishments of three Kingdoms, hostilities started to begin between Buwanekabahu and Mayadunne.

Divided rulers looking for external support
Unable to contain Mayadunne, King Buwanekabahu obtained the support of Portuguese. Combined forces of Buwanekabahu and Portuguese waged war against Mayadunne for many years. In order to stay in power, King Buwanekabahu seek more and more help from Portuguese. Portuguese in turn demanded tribute and conversion of the people to Christianity. King Buwanekabahu was totally dependent on Portuguese to stay in power.

King Buwanekabahu , the biggest traitor in the history
Prince Dharmapala was the son of King Buwanekabahu’s daughter (Samudradevi) and Vidiya Bandara. King Buwanekabahu made a gold statue of the Prince and sent to the King of Portugal. King of Portugal and King Buwanekabahu came to an alliance where Portuguese would provide protection in return of trade access to cinnamon and other spices.

King Don Juan Dharmapala (Puppet King of Kotte)
After the death of King Buwanekabahu, Portuguese raised Don Juan Dharmapala to the throne. Don Juan Dharmapala was a Catholic, since he converted to Catholicism. On the other hand, King Buwanekabahu never converted or changed his name.

Mayadunne continued to claim to the kingdom of Kotte, based on the logic that only a Buddhist can be the King of Kotte.

Vidiya Bandara stood up against Portuguese
Vidiya Bandara was married to the daughter of King Buwanekabahu. His son, Don Juan Dharmapala was the puppet King of Kotte. Vidiya Bandara stood up against the Portuguese, who were pursuing a vicious campaign to destroy the culture of Sinhalese and Buddhism.

Since he was not approval of their actions, Portuguese arrested Vidiya Bandara and locked him in an underground cell. Vidiya Bandara’s followers built a very long tunnel and rescued him.

Vidiya Bandara Escapes Prison and Joins Mayadunne
After escaping the Portuguese prison, Vidiya Bandara joined Mayadunne. King Mayadunne proposed his daughter to Vidiya Bandara for marriage. (Vidiya Bandara’s first wife was dead at this time). Vidiya Bandara accepted the offer and married Mayadunne’s daughter. By now, he had married daughters of two Kings.

Vidiya Bandara Attacks Portuguese
Vidiya Bandara was a very powerful man with a great following. He gathered an army and started to march towards Kotte. On his way, he destroyed many churches that were erected by Portuguese on previous temple lands.

Kotte Siege by Vidiya Bandara
After destroying all defenses, Vidiya Bandara marched to Kotte. There he placed a siege on the city of Kotte. Portuguese were confined to the city of Kotte.

Sinhalese divided and missed opportunity in the history
While the siege was on Kotte by Vidiya Bandara, Portuguese sent messengers to Mayadunne asking for his help. Mayadunne was concerned of rising power of Vidiya Bandara and took the side of the weaker power that was Portuguese. It was clear to Mayadunne that if Vidiya Bandara was able to crush the Portuguese, he would be the indisputable King of Lanka. Mayadunne, for his own selfish reasons decided to support the Portuguese against Vidiya Bandara and sent his teenage son Tikiri Bandara (or Rajasinha Bandara) with an army to help the Portuguese.

In this war, combined forces of Portuguese and Mayadunne were able to defeat Vidiya Bandara.

Trying to get help from Jaffna, the unreliable ally in the history
Vidiya Bandara fled to various places in the country and finally ended up in Jaffna. The King of Jaffna agreed to give him an army to go back and fight with Portuguese and Mayadunne. During one of the meetings, there was a misunderstanding and a struggle broke out between Vidiya Bandara’s men and men of the Jaffna King. Vidiya Bandara was killed during the fight that ended life of a great worrier and leader and it was another lost opportunity for Sinhalese to chase away the western invaders.

The faith of nation with divided leaders and puppets
Conversion of people to Christianity was important to Portuguese as conquering the country. Portuguese conducted a relentless policy of conversion. Some were converted under a bayonet while others were given money to be converted.

Portuguese attacked Seethawaka

Portuguese with the puppet King Don Juan Dharmapala in the throne attacked Seethawaka and
destroyed the city.

Rajasiha came to power
After killing Mayadunne, his son Rajasiha came to power. Hearing the death of King Mayadunne, Portuguese made the decision to attack Seethawaka. Seethawaka Rajasinha sent one of his battle tested generals, Wikramasinghe Mudali to the front. Wikramasinghe Mudali’s army met the Portuguese at Mulleriyawa. The Mulleriyawa battle is considered to be one of the fierce battles between Sinhala army and Portuguese.

Rajasiha’s Siege on Kotte (1563)
Suppressing all Portuguese resistance Rajasiha reached Kotte. Portuguese were confined to the Kotte fort. Rajasiha put a siege on the Kotte fort. He ordered neither men nor beasts would come out or go into the fort. Sometime between 1563 and 1579 Rajasinha captured Kotte. Now Portuguese were isolated to Colombo.

Rajasiha Stops the Siege on Colombo and Attacks Kandy (1582)
When Rajasiha was so close to eliminating Portuguese from the country, there was a separate insurgent in the up country. There, the King of Kandy, Karaliyaddhe Bandara gave him battle with 60,000 men. After many deaths on both sides Rajasiha continued with many victories and ended by subjecting kingdom of Kandy.

Why did Rajasiha go to Kandy when he was so close to eliminating Portuguese from the country? There are various explanations by different academics.

Queyroz, says that Rajasinha went to Kandy since King of Kandy gave his daughter to Don Juan Dharmapala in marriage refusing her to Rajasinha.

Geiger believes there was a plot by Mahatheras in Kandy against Rajasiha. When it was revealed, King Rajasiha became a Siva worshipper and turned against Buddhism. Then he came to Kandy as a devil and beheaded all bhikkus he could get hold of.

According to Mahavansa, Rajasiha had killed his father and after learning it is unforgivable according to Buddhism, had converted to Hindu and there was resistance from Kandy.

In any case, Sinhalese lost another golden opportunity to defeat Portuguese and liberate the country.

Rebellion in Kandy against Rajasiha and political pitfalls
Veerasundhara Bandara (Father of Konappu Bandara or later King Vimaladharma Suriya) raised a rebellion against Rajasiha. King Rajasiha sent messengers to Veerasundara Bandara promising him Valagama. Veerasundara Bandara came to meet Rajasiha. On his way, a pit was dug and covered with leaves. Veerasundara Bandara fell in the pit and died. Rajasiha kept his promise since Veerasundara Bandara got his Valagama. (“Vala” in Sinhalese means pit).

Konappu Bandara
Konappu Bandara was his original name. His father, Virasundara Bandara was killed by King Rajasiha. Young Konappu Bandara joined Portuguese, went to Goa, and became a Christian. There he was given a Portuguese name, Don John of Austria.

Portuguese Plan to Marry Dona Catherina to a Portuguese
Dona Catherina was the daughter of previous King of Kandy. When Seethawaka Rajasiha captured Kandy, this King joined the Portuguese. His daughter, Dona Catherina (Sinhalese name – Kusumasana Devi) grew up with the Portuguese. The plan was to marry her to a Portuguese named Francisco Silva and claim the kingdom of Kandy.

Portuguese Sent Konappu Bandara to Kandy
Portuguese plotted and sent Konappu Bandara with a Portuguese force to Kandy to start a rebellion. As expected Konappu Bandara captured the Kandy kingdom. After wrestling out Kandy from Seethawaka Rajasiha, instead of giving it to the Portuguese, he turned against the Portuguese. The battle between Konappu Bandara and Portuguese at Gannoruwa was won by Konappu Bandara. After this, Portuguese started to call him “Apostate of Candea” or traitor of Kandy.

Konappu Bandara become King Wimala Dharmasuriya of Kandy
After defeating Portuguese, Konappu Bandara consecrated as King Wimala Dharmasuriya of Kandy and married Kusumasana Devi. (Dona Catherina).

Portuguese Capture Seethawaka
Portuguese who were confined to the barracks in Colombo could move freely after the death of Rajasiha. In no time they were able to capture Kotte and Seethawaka. Now they were the masters of low country, while King Wimala Dharmasuriya was the ruler of Kandy.

King Wimala Dharmasuriya
King Wimala Dharmasuriya was able to rescue Buddhism from Seethawaka Rajasiha and the Portuguese. If not for this valiant man who came to power during the early part of the sixteenth century, Buddhism and Sinhalese culture probably could have been destroyed permanently by the Portuguese.

After King Wimala Dharmasuriya, his cousin Senaratne ascended to the throne. King Senaratne married Dona Katarina, the widow of King Wimala Dharmnasuriya in order to legitimize his throne.

Division of Kanda Uda Rata (up country)
At the time of King Senaratne, there were two Princes who were sons of previous King Great Wimala Dharmasuriya. They were Prince Kumarasiha and Prince Vijayapala. King Senaratne had his own son Prince Rajasiha.
King took all three Princes to Dalada Maligawa and divided the kingdom into three. Then he drew a lottery and divided the Kandy kingdom among the three princes. Prince Kumarasiha was given the Uva province and Prince Vijayapala was given the Matale province. The rest was given to his own son Prince Rajasiha.

With the death of King Senaratne (1634), up country was divided and non of the kings were able to challenge the Portuguese and these weak leaders had only one option that is to get the support of another foreign entity named Dutch and famous proverb “inguru dee miris gattha wage” (Getting Chili in lieu of ginger) itself shows the subsequent faith of the nation.

Still the grand sons and daughters of Don Juan Dharmapala, Dona Catherina, Veerasundara Bandara, etc. are with us and they comes in to the political arena with different attire and faces. Now they no longer get the power by ancestry, but they will try to regain their power by manipulating their new weapon called mass media and marketing funded by former colonial masters in the west.

Now, we have the democracy and the people of this country no longer need to be just a viewer of the current episodes, but they should decide the faith of these characters by actively using their ballot intelligently!

- Concise Mahavamsa, History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka by Ruwan Rajapakse (Sinhalanet.com)
- Mahavamsa (Sinhala) 2nd edition, published by Buddhist Cultural Centre.

The above article is not for academic interest but to educate the readers on politico-social behavior and their effect in Portuguese period. The bulk of the content is directly taken from Concise Mahavamsa, History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka by Ruwan Rajapakse and edited for brevity and context. Original copy rights reserved with Ruwan Rajapakse and for any doubts please refer to the original text.
(If there are mistakes and misinterpretations in this post, kindly comment on that so that it can be reviewed)

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