The Kandyan Convention and British policy

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe - Daily News, Sat Mar 2, 2002

"Let by the invitation of the chiefs and welcomed by the acclamations of the people, the forces of His Britannic Majesty, have entered the Kandyan territory and penetrated to the capital. Divine Providence has blessed their efforts with uniform success and complete victory. The ruler of the interior provinces has fallen into their hands and the government remains at the disposal of His Majesty's Representative".

Official Bulletin No. 1

On March 2, 1815, a conference was held in the Audience hall of the Palace of Kandy, between the Governor Sir Robert Brownrigg and the Principal chiefs of the Kandyan provinces and other subordinate headmen from different provinces, amidst a great concourse of people.

A public instrument of treaty embodying the Official Declaration of the Settlement of the Kandyan Provinces, known as the Kandyan Convention, was produced and publicly read in both English by Jas Sutherland, the Deputy Secretary to the Governor, and in Sinhala by the Mudliyar Abraham de Saram, and was unanimously assented to.

The British flag (Union Jack) was then, for the first time hosted and the establishment of the British dominion in the interior was announced by a royal salute from the cannon of the city. Attention was drawn of the British garrison, and all troops were under arms on the occasion of this historical and important event. This important document was listened to with profound and respectful attention by the chiefs with marked expression of cordial assent.

The Portuguese ruled the maritime settlements of Sri Lanka for 153 years (1505-1658), the Dutch for 138 years (1658-1796) and the British for 19 years (1796-1815).

Thereafter, with the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom by the Convention, the British became the sole rulers of the island, and administered the country for 133 years, until Independence in 1948.

Since 1739, for 76 years, the Kandyan kingdom was ruled by the Nayakkar kings from Malabar in South India, the last in the line was Sri Wickrema Rajasinha, who in his childhood days was known as Prince Kannasamy, the son of Venkata Perumal, who was the Chief Priest of the Rameshwaram Hindu Temple in the Gulf of Mannar. The antagonism of the Kandyan chiefs towards the Nayakkar kings paved way for their unpopularity. On the other hand, the king and the chiefs struggled for supremacy.

The main reason for the fall of the Kandyan kingdom was the disunity between the king and his chiefs. While the king tried to curb the growing power of the chiefs, the chiefs, in their turn, attempted to work out their plans for the destruction of the king.

The people harassed by the chiefs, put the blame on the king and wished that the British would come to their rescue. The king harassed by the complaints of the people, treated the chiefs with severity which began to increase their hatred towards him. Thus the chiefs, accused by the people and punished by the king, turned to the British.

John D'Oyly, the British agent of revenue, seizing the opportunity, fanned the flames of discontent between the king and the chiefs in order to reduce the Sinhala kingdom and to accept the terms of the British.

The Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawwe Wijeyesundera Rajakaruna Seneviratne Abayakoon Panditha Mudiyanse, who was elevated to the Prestigious position of Maha Adikaram in 1790, by king Rajadhi Rajasinha, when he was under the zenith of power, approached the British to work out his plan to secure the throne.

But, the crown was still beyond his grasp. He, therefore, wishing to secure it for his son, arranged that he should marry the natural grand-daughter of the late king Kirti Sri Rajashinha (1747-1780).

This was more than what the king could stand. He, accordingly, summoned the Maha Adikaram to appear before the 'maha naduwa' (the great case), accused him of being the author of all the cruel and unpopular activities of his reign, and deposed him from his office and imprisoned him. However, he was later set free and allowed to go home.

In kandy, there had never been an ex-Adikaram, for good reason, either died in harness during imprisonment, or was executed when deposed. But, in reality, the king was apprehensive to offend the most gracious family of the Maha Adikaram, and so spared his life.

The fallen chief Pilimatalawwe, in his rage for retributive justice, now planned to assassinate the king. He bribed the Malay Muhandiram and told him to enter the king's bedroom and stab him on a given day.

The plan did not materialise as he was caught while inside the bedroom. After enquiry, those involved in the incident were arrested, along with Pilimatalawwe, his son and son-in-law, and all were condemned to death. Pilimatalawwe and his accomplice Ratwatte Wijeyewardena Seneviratne Pandita Abayakoon Mudiyanse were beheaded, but the son was spared at the intercession of some chiefs who were in the good books of the king.

Having been placed on the throne by the king's professed benefactor Pilimatalawwe, when the prince was 18 years old, the king could not condemn him to death so easily as others. But, the turn of events compelled him to do so for high treason.

Pilimatalawwe was, in reality, an inveterate and an intriguing enemy, a faithless minister, a hostile neighbour and a powerful and an ambitious person, who was always ready to encourage traitors to achieve his own ends. Under these circumstances, the throne was surrounded by the most embarrassing perplexities and complexities, which would have, doubtless, required a person of great talent and patience to surmount.

Terrified by the past and apprehensive of the future, and intent of his own security, regardless of consequences, the king showed himself a perfect tyrant, destitute of religious feelings and without moral principles, either human or divine. The episodes of his womanizing, drinking and debauchery disclosed his way of life caused mostly by mental distractions.

After the transfer of power with the surrender of the Dutch in Colombo, Frederick North (Earl of Guildford), arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1798, as the first British colonial governor of the maritime settlements, displacing Brigadier-General Pierre Frederic de Mauron, who was a military governor.

The Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe, the most powerful chief of the Royal Court, who secretly aspired to wear the crown, by deposing the king, had an interview with the Governor North at Sitawaka (now Avissawella) and requested the British to take possession of the Kandyan kingdom and uphold him in the throne, after deposing the king, in return for liberal trade concessions.

Governor North, sensing what was boiling in the political pot, and not particularly interested in internal warfare, indignantly refused to accept the offer for territorial aggrandizement, broke off dealings with the Maha Adikaram, but in the courses of subsequent interviews with the Governor's Secretary, he understood that the British were ready to undertake and protect the kingdom and uphold him in power, provided that the king's life and dynasty were preserved inviolate and that the British given the effective control of trade and military administration of the provinces.

When the king became aware what was going on between the Maha Adikaram and the British Governor North and the plan to dethrone the king, he began to chafe under restraint and tried to break away from the intriguing chief.

In the meantime it was resolved that Gen. Hay Macdowall should proceed on an embassy to meet the king, ostensibly to congratulate him on his accession to the throne, but in reality, to obtain his consent to the terms suggested in making the Kandyan kingdom a British protectorate. But it turned out to be a flop.

On March 11, 1812, Lieut-Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg assumed duties as the Governor, and his regime was noted specially for the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom to the British Crown and making the whole country a crown colony.

The confusion and disorder in the city of Kandy seemed to Brownrigg and D'Oyly a suitable opportunity to carry out their policy of territorial expansion. Accordingly, the Governor Brownrigg received Ehelepola Wijayasundera Wickremasinghe Chandrasekera Amarakoon Wasala Mudiyanse (who succeeded Pilimatalawe) alias Ehelepola Maha Adikaram at the Governor's residence in Mount Lavinia.

On this ex-parte representation of Ehelepola who rebelled against the king, the Governor promised him his favour and protection. The idea of sending an expedition to Kandy now seemed feasible.

The Maha Adikaram worked out the plan of operation and the Governor hastened to prepare and equip the forces in readiness to warfare. War was declared against the king of Kandy on January 10, 1815.

On February 14, 1815, a British division entered Kandy and took possession of the city and Ehelepola as sent to capture the king who had by then fled the city for safety. His hiding place was soon discovered at a place closer to Meda Mahanuwara in Kandy.

The party consisted of John D'Oyly, Capt. Hardy, Major Lionel C. Hooke, Ehelepola Nilame, Pilimatalawe Dissawa, Don Andryas Wijesinha Jayawardena Tamby Mudaly, Mudaliyar Dias Abeysingha, Ekneligoda Nilame, the Mohottalas Kawdumune, Kurandumune, Torawature, Delwala, Mahawalatenna and others.

Four days later, the unfortunate king was bound, plundered of his valuable as well as those of his consorts, and as dragged away with the greatest indignity by the supporters of Ehelepola, and was brought to Colombo for deportation to Vellore in South India, where his consorts and other kith and kin of the Malabar dynasty were interned in the beautiful mansion of Tippu Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore, acquired by the Indian government.

The Official Declaration of the Settlement of the Kandyan provinces expressly declared the principles of which the future government of the island under the British Crown would be based.

It consisted 12 clauses,

1. Sri Wickrema Rajasinha, the Malabari king to forfeit all claims to the throne of Kandy.

2. The king is declared fallen and deposed and the hereditary claim of his dynasty, abolished and extinguished.

3. All his male relatives are banished from the island.

4. The dominion is vested in the sovereign of the British Empire, to be exercised through colonial governors, except in the case of the Adikarams, Disavas, Mohottalas, Korales, Vidanes and other subordinate officers reserving the rights, privileges and powers within their respective ranks.

5. The religion of the Buddha is declared inviolable and its rights to be maintained and protected.

6. All forms of physical torture and mutilations are abolished.

7. The Governor alone can sentence a person to death and all capital publishments to take place in the presence of accredited agents of the government.

8. All civil and criminal justice over Kandyan to be administered according to the established norms and customs of the country, the government reserving to itself the rights of interposition when and where necessary.

9. Over non-Kandyans the position to remain according to British law.

10. The proclamation annexing the Three and Four Korales and Sabaragamuwa is repealed.

11. The dues and revenues to be collected for the King of England as well as for the maintenance of internal establishments in the island.

12. The Governor alone would facilitate trade and commerce."

The Kandyan Convention was forthwith proclaimed with an eye to the public outside Kandy. The British government had to justify to the world that they had no intention for territorial aggrandizement in seizing a neighbouring kingdom.

For this justification, it was necessary to show to the public that the British had only acted on the pressing needs of the public, who wished a change in the government to overcome the oppressive behaviour of the tyrant king.

Accordingly, the king's enormities were recounted with emphasis and the unanimous invitation of the British by the people and the chiefs was expressed in no exaggerated language, reminding one of the letters in which Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), the French General, Consul and Emperor, announced to King George III (1738-1820) of Great Britain and Ireland, his assumption of the throne of France after the Battle of Waterloo.

The news of annexation of Kandy to the maritime provinces of the island reached England on the same day as the news of the Battle of Waterloo and as a consequence passed unnoticed.

The British, as a matter of policy, did not carry out proselytising campaigns to convert Buddhists to Christianity, as their Portuguese and Dutch predecessors had done.

The laying of the railway, the opening of coffee and tea plantations, road development schemes, establishment of hospitals and maternity homes throughout the island, were some of the major works undertaken by the British who ruled Sri Lanka.


A kingdom is born, a kingdom is lost

Sunday Times Mar 4 2007:

As the country remembers the Kandyan Convention of March 2, 1815, Ananda Pilimatalavuva traces the rise and fall of the Kandyan kingdom

The story of the emergence of Senkadagala Mahanuvara or Kandy and the chief institutions therein are wrapped in legend and history. Its beginnings, according to ancient tradition recorded in the 'Asgiri Upatha' and ancient lore are, that, during the reign of King Gajabahu of Anuradhapura, a Brahmin ascetic named Senkhanda (Senkada) was practising asceticism in a cave in Mayarata, which in fact lies in Ruhunu Rata in the central region of the island.

One day, a man who had lost his way in the jungle had come across this ascetic. The ascetic having hosted the man in the traditional manner, had related some strange occurrences he had witnessed on this land.

Firstly, he had said, that one day he had seen a jackal chasing a hare, when suddenly it turned around and started chasing the bewildered jackal! This was not all. On another day he had seen a rat snake chasing a frog and lo and behold, suddenly the frog turned around and chased the rat snake.

Sri Wickrama Rajasimha

These were unusual occurrences which he had witnessed, and hence he concluded that this could happen only on a jaya bhoomi - an auspicious land. In addition he also observed that cattle frequently used this ground to rest after feeding, which according to his interpretation, was indicative of a lucky site.

When this man finally found his way back to his village in Rajarata, he related his experiences and thereafter, on the instructions of King Gajabahu who was reigning at that time, men cleared the land, planted a bodhi tree and established a village which, thereafter, came to be known as Senkadagala after the Brahmin Senkhanda (Senkada) who lived there in the rock cave, which is extant even to this day.

According to another legend, the Brahmin had witnessed a fight between a mongoose and a cobra. After a few vicious snaps at the raised hood of the cobra, the mongoose is reported to have turned tail and scurried off to burrow a little distance away never to return. Again, as superstition was the main arbiter of human decisions, destiny and undertakings during that era, the Brahmin concluded that this was a propitious sign.

The author of these stories does not clearly state which Gajabahu was ruling at Anuradhapura when these incidents were recorded. As King Gajabahu I's reign appears to be too far in the distant past if there is any truth it is likely the reference is to King Gajabahu II who ruled from Circa 1132-1153 AC.

Senkhanda and the Jaya bhoomi

There is another charming story about the origin of this Kingdom according to which the King of the Gampola Kingdom, who was looking for a safer capital city than Gampola, was once out hunting and strayed away from his usual path to the vicinity of the Brahmin Senkhanda's (Senkada's) rock cave. There, he was introduced to, and received by the old Brahmin. The King acknowledging him for his wisdom and sanctity told him the purpose of his mission.

The old Brahmin went into his cave and came out with a leather pouch containing some pebbles and along with the King and party proceeded to the area which was then in thick jungle and threw a pebble towards it. From the thick shrub, a hare sprang up and started running. Then Senkhanda threw another pebble at which, a jackal sprang up and gave chase to the hare. After a little distance, the jackal gave up the chase and turned around at which point, the hare began to give chase to the jackal and both vanished from sight.

The King and his party were curious and invited the sage to give an explanation for this strange happening. The sage replied, O King, this is the jaya bhoomi or auspicious land the devas have ordained for the establishment of your kingdom where you will be protected by the mountains and forests and face and fight your enemies and put them to flight. The King was very impressed by what old Senkhanda said.

The King of this story is believed to have been Vikramabahu who reigned sometime between circa 1473-1511 AC.

The King brought to an end the power of the great Bandaras who ruled the present area of the Kandy District, and thereafter, established himself at Peradenip-ura, where he is even reported to have had a royal palace at the present Royal Botanic Gardens, finally settling down at the site of the jaya bhoomi or the territory of the Brahmin Senkhanda.

Vickramabahu built himself a palace which came to be known as the Sirivardhana Palace and ordered a city to be built there. He named it Senkadagalapura after the Brahmin Senkada who lived in the rock cave as stated earlier.

He bequeathed this city to his son Jayaveera I, the heir to the throne. History therefore records this Senasammata Vickramabahu as the founder of the Senkadagala Kingdom. This occurred during the last phase of the 15th Century or, the early part of the 16th Century when the Kingdoms of Kotte and Sitavaka were being absorbed by the Portuguese who had arrived in Sri Lanka.

The legend regarding the construction of the Dalada Maligava is another interesting story. The King had come personally with his astrologer Hulangamuve Mulachariya to view the jaya bhoomi. Viewing the marshes and hills around, the King was reluctant to settle there and had instructed the astrologer to consult the oracle for 48 hours.

After further consulting the oracle, the astrologer had predicted what would be found on digging the jaya bhoomi. First he said white clay would be found: it was found. Next he said, would come sand, and next he said, there would be water. The astrologer then asked for a white cloth, and the king got excited and asked anxiously whether he expected to find gem stones, but the astrologer said, a white tortoise would be found and it was found.

Dalada Maligawa in the 19th century

The King was delighted with the accuracy of the predictions and decided to build the city at the site with his palace there. But, to his disappointment, the astrologer said it was too good a site for his palace and should be the site of a temple. Hence, the King decided to make it a place of Buddhist worship and erected the Dalada Maligava there, later enshrining the Tooth Relic as well.

A small pool near the east end of what is now the lake was made for the Kiri ibba (small white tortoise) and it was called the Kiri Muhuda. Later this land was asweddumised as paddy land for the King, and finally the last King converted it into the present lake which also came to be known as the Kiri Muhuda.

Founder Senasammata Vikrambahu

In later history, we have two Kings bearing the name Vikramabahu. One had his seat at Gampola. The Ampitiya Rock inscription speaks of him as Siri Sangabo Sri Vikramabahu, who had reigned between circa 1357-1374 AC. The other is, Senasammata Vikramabahu, who is popularly identified in tradition as the founder of the Kandyan Dynasty, and Senkadagalapura (Kandy) the capital of the kingdom. He reigned between circa 1473-1511 AC, that is nearly a century later than the Gampola King.

Therefore, although some historians concede that Gampola Vikramabahu is the same as the other, this is untenable: they are two different kings. This error had been detected and corrected by both Codrington and Hettiarachchi. Also in the last part of Mahavamsa, which was appended much later, the King who is mistakenly referred to as Viravikrama, is also in fact, Senasammata Vikramabahu.

Art work of the Kandyan convention (English translation)

As far as evidence is traceable, for all scientific purposes, leaving apart legendary material and other conflicting claims, it is Senasammata Vikramabahu who appears to be the founder of the Kandyan Kingdom, and has been accepted as such by serious historians.

This city of Senkadagalapura established sometime between circa 1473-1511, was a very beautiful city in fairly close proximity to the Mahaveli ganga which encircles it and in fact, could be described as having been a typical feudal township. The population of the city comprised mainly of the chieftains, mudliyars, arachchis and other courtiers and their families along with the traders and merchants.

There were also many places of Buddhist worship with the Sangha playing a prominent role. The King built a cetiya for the relics of Lord Buddha at a site close to the palace and also erected a two storied building for the meetings of the Sangha. The Upasampada ceremony was held on the banks of the river where the Grand Thero Dhammakitti conducted the ceremonies and inducted 350 males of good family chosen personally by the King for the priesthood.

Kandyan dynasty and Vimaladharmasuriya I

King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte, circa 1411-1467 AC, staked the first claims on this mountain nucleus of Kande by appointing a prince of the royal house as administrator of the Kande Uda territories. His successors had nominal control. This central mountain kingdom at the beginning of the 16th Century or last decade of the 15th Century, was a semi-independent kingdom owning tribute to the Kings of Kotte.

Thereafter the continuance of Senkadagala as the seat of the Kandyan kingdom, according to latest research can be traced through Kings Senasammata Vikramabahu, circa 1473-1511 its founder, the grandson of Parakramabahu VI; Jayaveera I, circa 1511-1521 AC; Jayaveera II (Vikramabahu) circa 1521 to 1551 AC; Karalliadde Kumara Bandara, circa 1551 to 1582 AC; (Rajasinha I, of Sitavaka circa 1582 to 1592 AC to Konnappu Bandara, baptized under the name of Don Joan (Juan) of Austria who captured the throne, married Princess Kusmasana Devi (Dona Catharina) in 1594, the rightful heir to the throne, embraced the Buddhist faith and established himself on the throne as Vimaladharmasuriya I (circa 1592-1604 AC). He is regarded by some historians as the second founder, or more correctly the reviver of the Kandyan Kingdom.

After renouncing the Catholic religion and embracing Buddhism, King Wimaladharmasuriya I constructed a magnificent two-tiered shrine close to his palace to sanctify his capital by honouring and accommodating the Sacred Tooth Relic, the palladium of the Sinhala Royalty.

During this early period when the Portuguese were attempting to gain a foot hold on the island, they called the central highlands Cande, Candihure, Quande, Camdia and Candea. The four main provinces or Disavanies of Kande Uda, at that time were Harasiya-Pattuva, Pansiya-Pattuva, Udunuvara and Yatinuvara.

Its ruler also exercised suzerainty over Uva and the chieftaincies of Batticalo, Trincomalee, Panama, Kotiar, and Yala and the Vidanas of Bintenna, Vellassa and Maturata as well. This city in the central highlands was hemmed in by mountains and forests which made it inaccessible even to the rulers of Kotte and Sitavaka, and the foreigners who tried to occupy it. The approaches were from Jaffna, Yala, Negombo, Kotte and Colombo, the most popular routes being the last two via Sitavaka.

The route through Sitavaka was similar to the Great Road used from the late 16th Century up to the early 19th Century.

The Tooth Relic which was kept in hiding at Delgamuva Vihare in Sabaragamuva was finally brought in procession and deposited in the newly constructed shrine in Kandy the Dalada Maligava by Vimaladharmasuriya I. The golden age of the Kandyan Kingdom now began under this monarch, and lasted through the reign of Senarat, 1604-1635 AC; Rajasimha II, 1635-1687 AC; Vimaladharmasuriya II, 1687-1707 AC; and Sri Veera Parakrama Narendrasimha 1707-1739 AC, the last Sinhala King.

Vaduga Nayakkar dynasty and the end of the Kingdom

As King Sri Veera Parakrama Narendra Simha who succeeded Vimaradharmasuriya II married Nayakkar princesses from South India and was childless by them, on his death bed he nominated his Vaduga Nayakkar brother-in-laws of South Indian origin to succeed him, even rashly overlooking the right of Unambuwe Bandara, his own son by a Sinhalese concubine.

This led to the first South Indian Vaduga Nayakkar to ascend the Throne of Kandy under the Sinhalese name Sri Vijaya Rajasimha in 1739 AC, violating all ancient traditions of kingship. After him two of his brothers-in-laws at on the throne as Kirti Sri Rajasimha (1747-1781 AC) and Rajadhi Rajasimha (1781-1798 AC). The latter Rajadhi Rajasimha being enthroned at the insistance of Pilmatalavuva Maha Adikaram II in 1781 AC. They too died without issues, and finally were succeeded by Sri Wickrama Rajasimha (1798-1815 AC), the son of the dowager queen's sister enthroned at the instance of Pilimatalavuva III, the Maha Adikaram at the time.

The Vaduga Nayakkars embraced Buddhism, learnt the Sinhalese language and made every effort to naturalise themselves, but cunningly avoided marrying into the local Radala families, the aristocracy. They went on to rule the Kandyan Kingdom for another seventy six years until the last of them, Sri Wickrama Rajasimha was dethroned in 1815 AC with the assistance of the British. It was Sri Wickrama Rajasimha though notorious for his alcoholism and cruelty, who completed the Dalada Maligava complex by constructing the beautiful octagonal Pattirippuva, and thereafter the picturesque lake.

During his reign two of his Maha Adikarams, Pilimatalavuva III and Ehelapola III in turn planned to re-establish a Sinhala dynasty to rule Sinhale (Sri Lanka). Sensing the situation, it led to constant friction between the King and his Maha Adikarams and finally resulted in the beheading in 1811 of Pilimatalavuva Maha Adikaram, his greatest benefactor who elevated him to the throne, and the severe punishment meted out to the innocent family of Ehelepola Maha Adikaram involving the beheading of his three children and the drowning of the ladies of the family in the Bogambara lake, to avenge Ehelepola Nilame's escape to Colombo and joining the British.

In retaliation to this crime, Ehelepola helped the British to enter Sinhale (Kandyan Kingdom) and capture the King. After the capture of the King by the joint operations of the oppressed Kandyans and the British forces on February 18, 1815 at Gallehevatte near Bomure in Medamahanuvara, the King was taken prisoner and sent to Colombo under escort on March 6, 1815 and from thence to Madras on January 24, 1816 by the ship Cornwallis. He died an open prisoner in Vellore on January 30, 1832, aged 52 years.

After his capture, a Convention was proclaimed on March 2, 1815 between the British King's representatives and the Kandyan Chieftains acting on behalf of the people, and the Kingdom was ceded to King George III of England. Thus ended one of the oldest indigenous monarchies of the world after 2358 years of continuous existence!

The last phase

The Kandyan chieftains really exchanged the Nayakkar dynasty with the Windsor dynasty of England who were of Aryan stock replacing the wholly alien Dravidian power. The country now began to be ruled by a government representing the King of England who was never physically present in the kingdom.

The convention of 1815 soon became restricted to a piece of paper and the chieftains found their powers, ancient customs and above all Buddhism gradually restricted unlike under the native Kings. This disillusionment had to burst at some point and finally manifested itself in what came to be known as the Great Uva Rebellion of Freedom 1817-1818 where nearly every section of the common peasantry along with the bhikkhus and the dissatisfied nobility made one last glorious attempt to rid the country of its foreign rulers.

Alas, this last attempt in spite of all the valiant fighting by the peasantry under their chieftains, finally succumbed to the might of superior British fire power as they were able to bring in reinforcements from India who annihilated several thousands of Kandyan Sinhalese people, including children, the sick and the old.

The struggle therefore was bound to fail, and fail it did, due to the military might of the English and in some measure due to the bickering and failure of the Sinhalese to decide on a single strong leader. Invariably the family jealousies surfaced breeding traitors who were prepared to carry tales and curry favour with the British for office and position.