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King Rajasinghe II - A case of historical revision

Dr. K.D.G. Wimalaratne, Former Director, National Archives Daily News Tue Jun 10 2008

 

An interesting article which appeared in the DN of May16 by Padma Edirisinghe on Rajasinghe II, encouraged me to delve into the case of Rajasinghe II, where erroneous and misinterpretations are given by some historians and others.

Padma Edirisinghe says that Rajasinghe II was born in a palace at Bintenne, somewhere between the years 1609 and 1612. This seems to be a vague indication without proper verification of facts.

Bintenna during the olden days covered a large area. Rajasinghe II was born at Mahiyangana (Aluth Nuwara), specific place given in the sources. Then we come across his date of birth, where some historians undecidedly give the years 1609 and 1612? The late Prof. T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, writing in the University of Ceylon, history vol. II, says that...." By 1628 Senarath's children were grown up, the youngest "Maha Asthana" being then sixteen. (Ibid, pg. 156).

This would lead us to fix his year of birth as 1612 not 1609. The exact date of the death of Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi), mother of Rajasinghe II is given by P.E. Pieris, as July 20, 1613. Then Rajasinghe II was only one year in age when his mother died. She died of fever at Welmantota at the age of 35 years.

Complicated

Then comes the complicated problem of Rajasinghe's brothers. How many children Vimaladharmasuriya I and how many Senarath had? Historians are not in complete agreement in this context. Many believe that, children of Vimaladharmasuriya I were, one son and two daughters, viz; Maha Asthana Bandara, (son), Soriya and Hatan respectively.

This was Baldeou's assumption. At the time of the arrival of Joris van Spilbergen, on November 28, 1602 his journal gives Vimaladharmasuriya I, one daughter, 8 years and probably Maha Asthana Bandara 3 years.

They were met by Spilbergen in Kandy at the King's palace. In 1604, Vijepala was born to Dona Catherina, after the death of Vimaladharmasuriya I. Rebeiro, who was a Portuguese soldier in Sri Lanka, says that, Rajasuriya and Kumarasinghe were the sons of Vimaladharmasuriya I. He also says that, Senarath had three children, viz; Kumarasinghe, Vijepala and Rajasinghe II.

According to Chulavamsa, Kumarasinghe and Wijepala were the sons of Vimaladharmasooriya I. Meanwhile, Syam Upasampadawatha, specifically states that, Kumarasinghe and Vijepala were sons of Vimaladharmasuriya I.

However, Rajavaliya, a 17th century source, mentions that, Vimaladharmasuriya I, had one daughter and four sons, viz; Rajasuriya, Udumale, Kumarasinghe and Vijepala. It is believed that, Vimaladharmasuriya I, had a son by the tammita Princess, who was with the Portuguese, in Goa and Vimaladharmasuriya I, requested the Portuguese to bring him back, and this was not adhered to.

Poisoned

It is recorded that King Senarath poisoned the eldest son of Dona Catherina, on 22nd August 1613, viz Asthana Bandara, to make way for his son to become the king.

Who was the father of Wijayapala? References to Wijeyapala suggest that he was a half-brother of Rajasinghe II.

It indicates that, Senerath had one son, viz Rajasinghe II (Maha Asthana) and one daughter, viz Udumala, who died in December 1673, Wijepala, who was given the principality of Matale, was loyal to Senarath earlier, but deserted to the Portuguese in October 1641, thus betraying his step-father, Kumarasinghe, another son of Vimaladharmasuriya I, who was given the principality of Uva, died in 1637.

This would lead us to accept that Senerath had only one son and others mentioned above were the sons of Vimaladharmasuriya I. This led Prof. K.W. Goonerwardene to believe that Senarath was blessed with one son, Maha Asthana (Rajasinghe II).

Nilambe or Ambanwela Rala's rebellion of 21.12.1664, has been viewed by some historians as a national rebellion of the Kandyan people. Basing on Robert Knox's account and Dutch records, one would interpret this uprising as a great mass movement, against Rajasinghe II.

It was a propaganda stunt by Knox and the Dutch to achieve their aims. It was also rumoured that Rajasinghe II killed his son by poisoning. Robert Knox who was a prejudiced observer, due to him being a prisoner under Rajasinghe II, records this incident and later says he made a mistake.

Relying on Robert Knox to describe the eating habits of Rajasinghe II is rather trickey. Knox seems to be an authority in describing Rajasinghe II, whom he had never seen at close quarters. The descriptions are gathered by Knox, related to him by the lower strata of the Kandyan society at that time, which he associated, as a prisoner of the Kandyan king.

Inserted

Padma Edirisinghe writes that "In the last stages he began to eat fruits, since no poison, could be inserted in them.

This statement cannot be believed as poison could be administered into a fruit, as seen from the attempt of poisoning the third brother of Devanampiyatissa, viz, Mahanaga, by the queen to secure the throne to her son, introducing poison into a mango. This poisoned mango was mistakenly taken by her son and died.

Robert Knox had never seen the behaviour of Rajasinghe II, keeping awake at night, changing beds for the fear of being assassinated. Rajasinghe II was never in fear, even at a time when the Nilambe Rebellion took place in 1664. Otherwise, he would not have sent the leader of the Rebellion, Ambanvela Rala over to the Dutch in order to punish him.

Although it was a diplomatic move, Rajasinghe would have very well known that the Dutch will never kill him, but use him as a tool to conspire against the king. He was a strong character, and was never shaken or feared, even when his able dissawe and army commander, Tennekoon, in Feb. 1676, deserted him and went over to the Dutch.

Robert Knox describing Rajasinghe II as a cruel and a tyrannical ruler, was a prejudicial observer, who tried to compare the oriental despotism with the so called "Enlightened despotism", in Europe, and even in his own country. In Europe, they were enlightened only in name, but some kings lost their heads owing to their tyrannical rule.

Tolerant

Rajasinghe II, was a tolerant ruler, who won the confidence of the Dutch, English, French and the Portuguese, and served him in his court. In 1686, when he liberated the Dutch prisoners, they refused to leave Kandy and decided to settle down there.

The king practised religious toleration by inviting the Roman Catholics who were prosecuted by the Dutch, to come over to his Kingdom. He treated the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims alike, when Europe witnessed religious prosecution.