Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)


Kandy’s tol­er­ant cul­ture con­tin­ued un­der King Se­narat (1604-1635), a cousin of Vi­mal­adhra­ma­suriya’s, who was a for­mer Bud­dhist monk

- By P. K. Balachan­dran Religion · Literature · Catholic Church · Arts · Christianity · Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte · Lisbon · India · Austria · Sri Lanka · Myanmar · Society of Jesus · Madurai · Tamil Nadu · Tamil Nadu · Buddhism · Kandy · Trincomalee · Kegalle · Western Province · Gautama Buddha

Un­der the Sin­hala Kings, Kandy showed a re­mark­able de­gree of cosmopolit­anism which should be an in­spi­ra­tion to us in this day and age when na­tions are torn asun­der by eth­nic, lin­guis­tic and re­li­gious di­vi­sions. Peo­ple of all faiths and eth­nic groups, im­mi­grants from the rest of the is­land and overseas were wel­come to set­tle down, trade, work, in­ter-marry and pros­per in Kandy un­der the Kings.

Ac­cord­ing to Prof. Gananath Obeye­sekere’s lat­est book: The Many Faces of the Kandyan King­dom 15911765 (Sail Fish, Colombo, 2020), there was no com­mu­nal­ism or eth­nic con­flict in that era. This ar­ti­cle gives some in­ter­est­ing facts culled out of the above-men­tioned book.

Obeye­sekere says peo­ple (and Kings too) ef­fort­lessly slipped in and out of Bud­dhism and Catholi­cism. It was pos­si­ble to be a Catholic out­wardly and a Bud­dhist deep in­side. Places of wor­ship of dif­fer­ent faiths were con­structed with­out let or hin­drance. Kings and com­mon­ers spoke more than one language. While the hoi pol­loi spoke Sin­halese (the language of the ma­jor­ity) and Tamil (the language of trade), a sec­tion of the elite were fa­mil­iar with Por­tuguese and Dutch as well.

It was dur­ing the reign of Jayavira Bandara (1511

1552) that, for the first time, Euro­pean Catholic priests got a place in the Kandyan court. In or­der to please the Por­tuguese, who were a force in the Kotte King­dom, Jayavira Bandara be­came a “nom­i­nal” Catholic. Jayavira was de­posed by his son Kar­al­liyadde Bandara (1552-1582), who be­came a de­vout Catholic, pub­licly em­brac­ing Chris­tian­ity around 1562-64. But such pub­lic dis­play of the con­ver­sion alien­ated him from his sub­jects, and he had to flee to Trin­co­ma­lee with his daughter Kusumasana Devi. He died of small­pox there but Kusumasana Devi was res­cued by the Por­tuguese, bap­tized and re­named Dona Cathe­rina.

Af­ter Kar­al­liyadde Bandara’s death, Kandy be­came a bone of con­tention be­tween Ra­jas­inha I of Si­tavaka and Vi­ra­sun­dara Bandara of Per­adeni in the Ke­galle district. Ra­jas­inha I killed Vi­ra­sun­dara. Sub­se­quently, Vi­ra­sun­dara’s son Kon­appu Bandara took the help of Dharma­pala of Kotte to cap­ture Kandy. Dharma­pala had con­verted to Catholi­cism, gifted the Kotte King­dom to the Por­tuguese King in Lis­bon and ruled Kotte as a vas­sal. Kon­appu Bandara, mar­ried the daughter of Sem­ba­gape­ru­mal, a Catholic prince and brother of Vidiye Bandara, the father of Dharma­pala. This mar­riage (the first to be re­ferred to by the Por­tuguese term (Kasaada) was per­formed as per Catholic rites in Dharma­pala’s palace.

How­ever, Kon­appu Bandara was sent away to Goa in In­dia by the Por­tuguese fol­low­ing the mur­der of his con­fi­dant Salappu Bandara. Kon­appu was bap­tized and re­named Don Joao of Aus­tria. Kon­appu alias Don Joao, came back to lead a Por­tuguese cam­paign to oust Ra­jas­inha I from Kandy. But af­ter oust­ing Ra­jas­inha I, he ditched the Por­tuguese and took over Kandy and crowned him­self as Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya I.

He then re­verted to Bud­dhism.an­gry with this, the Por­tuguese in­vaded Kandy with an in­ten­tion to place Dona Cathe­rina, the

Catholic princess of the Bandara clan, on the throne. But Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya de­stroyed the en­tire Por­tuguese reg­i­ment, cap­tured Dona Cathe­rina and mar­ried her. While Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya re­mained a strong Bud­dhist af­ter mar­riage, Dona Cathe­rina, his wife, re­mained a staunch Catholic, though she brought up her chil­dren as Bud­dhists.

In the 16th Cen­tury, chang­ing re­li­gion was not un­com­mon in Sri Lanka. Peo­ple also had dual af­fil­i­a­tions. Obeye­sekere says: “Bud­dhists could be­come Chris­tians and some would even go to church. Yet at the same time, they could con­tinue to be Bud­dhists.” Fur­ther, Je­sus could be eas­ily adopted as one of the Hindu gods like Vishnu and Natha and looked upon as benev­o­lent be­ings. Vir­gin Mary could be ab­sorbed as Pat­tini, he points out.

Heav­ily ex­posed to the Por­tuguese, Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya and Dona Cathe­rina led a par­tially Western-style life with the King shak­ing hands with Euro­peans and Don Cathe­rina and the chil­dren wear­ing Western dresses. The King spoke Por­tuguese flu­ently, learnt to speak Dutch and was in­ter­ested in Western in­stru­men­tal mu­sic. But at the same time, he ded­i­cated him­self to the pro­mo­tion of Bud­dhism by hous­ing Bud­dha’s Tooth Relic in a grand tem­ple and send­ing a mis­sion to Arakan in Burma to get monks to come to Sri Lanka and or­dain Lankan monks. But Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya was not dog­matic. Ac­cord­ing to the Dutch chron­i­cler P.A. Bal­daeus, he sin­cerely be­lieved in free­dom of re­li­gion. To ce­ment ties with the Tamil Hin­dus of the East coast, he mar­ried one of their princesses.

Kandy’s tol­er­ant cul­ture con­tin­ued un­der King Se­narat (1604-1635), a cousin of Vi­mal­adhra­ma­suriya’s, who was a for­mer Bud­dhist monk. Se­narat mar­ried Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya’s widow Dona Cathe­rina. When 4,000 Mus­lim were driven out of the Western coast by the fa­natic Por­tuguese, Se­narat set­tled them on the East­ern coast. When the Dutch per­se­cuted the Catholics in their do­min­ions, Se­narat gave them shel­ter in Kandy.


Un­der Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya and his suc­ces­sors, Kandy was a “ver­i­ta­ble dis­play of di­verse hu­man­ity. Obeye­sekere quotes Dutch Ad­mi­ral J.V. Spil­ber­gen as say­ing: “Among the Sin­gales there live many Moors, Turks and other hea­thens, who all have spe­cial laws. Brahmos (Brah­mins) are there in large num­bers, who are su­per­sti­tious and re­spected by the other na­tions. These Brahmos never eat any­thing that has life.” There were also Malays, Ja­vanese, North

In­di­ans, and Hindu as­cetic wan­der­ers such as Andis and Pan­tarams, adds Obeye­sekere. King Ra­jas­inha II (1629-1687) loved to have for­eign­ers in his do­main. The Kandyan Kings some­times “forced” many Euro­pean pris­on­ers to set­tle there.


Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya II (1687–1707), son of Ra­jas­inha II, al­lowed Joseph Vaz, a Je­suit mis­sion­ary from Goa, to set­tle in his King­dom and preach Catholi­cism when the Dutch were per­se­cut­ing the Catholics in ar­eas un­der their con­trol. Vi­mal­ad­har­ma­suriya II and his son Naren­dras­inha (1707-1739), ig­nored the 1638 treaty be­tween Ra­jas­inha II and the Dutch, which had en­joined the Kandyan King to drive Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies out of the King­dom.

Like his pre­de­ces­sor Fran­cis Xavier, Fr. Joseph Vaz was a great suc­cess among the poor be­cause he was sworn to a life of sim­plic­ity, ser­vice and poverty. Like Fran­cis Xavier, Fr. Vaz wore no shoes, wore a tat­tered black gown and slept on the floor like a Sanyasi. His sim­ple ways earned him the ti­tle Ma­haswami. Peo­ple re­spected him also be­cause he was orig­i­nally a Brah­min, a caste much re­spected in Sri Lanka.

King Naren­dras­inha, grew up in the com­pany of Fr. Vaz and his dis­ci­ple and suc­ces­sor Fr. Jacome Goncalvez, also a Konkani Brah­min from Goa. Fr. Goncalvez had con­trib­uted im­mensely to Catholic lit­er­a­ture in both Sin­hala and Tamil. Naren­dras­inha, who was highly ed­u­cated and lib­eral in out­look, sought the com­pany of both Vaz and Goncalvez. But Naren­dras­inha was a de­vout Bud­dhist too. He put up Sa­man­eras (stu­dent monks) in his abode. He con­structed shrines for Vishnu and Natha. Ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Lorna De­waraja, Naren­dras­inha did not do much for the Bud­dhist Sangha and was given to plea­sur­able ac­tiv­i­ties. But Obeye­sekere feels this crit­i­cism to be un­fair, as Naren­dras­inha had ren­o­vated the Tem­ple of the Tooth and had got 32 Jatakas painted on its walls.


No ac­count of the lib­er­al­ism of the Kandyan King­dom will be com­plete with­out a ref­er­ence to the three-king Nayaka dy­nasty from Madu­rai in Tamil Nadu. The Nayakas entered Kandyan roy­alty through mar­riage as Sin­hala Kings mar­ried Nayaka princesses. Sin­halese Kings used South In­dian troops in their mil­i­tary cam­paigns. They took part in the rout of the Por­tuguese at Gan­noruva in 1638 when Ra­jas­inha II de­cided to put the Por­tuguese in their place.

The first Nayaka King of Kandy was Sri Vi­jaya Ra­jas­inha (1739-1747) and the last was Sri Wick­rama Raja Sinha who was de­posed in 1815 by the Bri­tish. Ex­cept for the last King, the ear­lier two were pop­u­lar be­cause they backed Bud­dhism to the hilt. Ac­cord­ing to Obeye­sekere, it is in­cor­rect to say that Naren­dras­inha was the “last Sin­hala King” as for gen­er­a­tions, the Sin­hala kings were re­lated to the Hindu Nayakas of Madu­rai through the fe­male line. The Hindu Nayaka moth­ers must have played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the so­cial­iza­tion of Kandyan roy­alty, he adds.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka