Monday, March 16, 2009

Great Sinhalese King of Kandy: Wimala Dharma Suriya I (Konappu Bandara)

By Chandra Edirisuriya
Sunday Standard
November 12, 2006

"The victory won on the 6th October 1594 was a magnificent achievement. The tactical skill which the experienced eye of Raja Sinha I had detected in Wimala Dharma Suriya or Konappu Bandara as he was then known, had now reached its fruition. Many other brilliant achievement was Wimala Dharma Suriya destined to accomplish against the Portuguese, but on this his first he ever looked back with pride. Wimala Dharma Suriya had followed up his great triumph over Pedro Lopes de Sousa by marrying the Princess Dona Catherina and it was realized that he might prove a more formidable opponent than Raja Sinha I had ever been."

Konappu Bandara who later became the King of Kandy as Wimala Dharma Suriya I (1590-1604), immediately on hearing of his father Wirasundara Mudiyanse's death, fled to Colombo. He was there hospitably received by Dharmapala, the puppet King of Kotte. He married the daughter of Tammita Sembap Perumal or Tammita Rala by whom he appears to have had a child.

Konappu Bandara was one of the Sinhalese officers of the Portuguese. Later having been tried for breaking the law, before Dharmapala and his court he was sentenced to be banished to Goa. He was known to the Portuguese as Dom John of Austria, and also as the Apostate of Candea.

Konappu Bandara the brave warrior was at hand to lead the Sinhalese in person on the expedition to Uda Rata against Raja Sinha I. The reputation which he had won at Colombo had been increased by his success in Goa. A swashbuckler of a Captain was at this time the terror of the place; not even the Viceroy it is said, dared to pass his house sword in hand; and this bully the young Sinhalese had challenged and put to death. He volunteered to join the expedition against the king who had killed his father and his offer was gladly accepted.

Don Philip who was invited by Dom Francisco Wijayakon Mudaliyar to assume the rulership of Kandy over which Raja Sinha lost his hold suddenly died after a few days illness. On the following day his son Dom Joao was proclaimed King but the Sinhalese were not prepared to accept a boy at such a time. Konappu Bandara headed the opposition. In 1593 Raja Sinha invaded the Four Korales and Aritta Kivendu Perumal at the head of a large army advanced to Balane, but found the pass occupied by Konappu in considerable strength. Raja Sinha himself now took the command with a larger force and moving by way of Mawela repeated the attack on Balane and Kadugannawa; but the position was strongly held and he had to withdraw unsuccessful. Konappu Bandara followed and in a battle which ensued Raja Sinha was defeated.

The inhabitants of the hill country acting under the advice of Dewanagala Therunnanse proclaimed Konappu Bandara as their king under the name of Wimala Dharma Suriya.

Portuguese Viceroy of India Mathias de Alboquerque (1591-1597) entertained a dream that in Lanka would be established a second Portuguese nation, which could control the whole of India. The Viceroy's Council arrived at the determination to conquer the whole of Lanka and to place Princess Dona Catherina on the throne of Senkadagala, with a Portuguese as her husband. But the council failed to take notice of the temper of the Sinhalese. Had the princess been married to some Sinhalese noble - Christian if the Portuguese so desired - they would probably still have followed her standard. But it was different when a Conquistador came to fight under the Banner of Portugal and to conquer the Kingdom for a Portuguese fidalgo. The intense pride of race which characterised the Sinhalese, rose in sturdy rebellion against the Portuguese proposal. Rather would they throw in their lot with the one man of their nation who was prepared to lead them in the fight, a mere Appuhami though he was. With the death of Buvaneka Bahu the centre of gravity had shifted from Kotte to Sitawaka, and now with the disappearance of Rajasinghe from the scene it sought its final refuge at Senkadagala and little did the Council appreciate the nature of the opponent they had to deal with. Queyroz describes him as: "Tall of body, with sinewy limbs and great strength, brave, proud of keen intellect, prudent and sagacious, fairly learned, of great military skill and recognized by all as excelling the average of the nation in courage he was a man who never lost his self control or evenness of mind." To his natural courage was added the advantage of military experience won among the Portuguese themselves, with an intimate knowledge of their strength and of their weakness, says Sir Paul E. Pieris in Ceylon the Portuguese Era-Volume I.

The Portuguese had arrived at their determination to conquer the whole country for themselves and to place Princess Dona Catherina the youthful daughter of Karawliyadde Bandara on the throne of Senkadagala, with a Portuguese as her husband. It was also resolved to entrust the execution of their plans to Pedro Lopes de Sousa.

Pedro Lopes de Sousa who was within the sight of the mountains waited for the arrival of the Princess and her escort and then all moved towards the narrow pass of Balane where Wimala Dharma Suriya was stationed. There was some brisk fighting, several of the Portuguese fell, but at last the Sinhalese withdrew beyond the mountains and the Portuguese followed rapidly up to the Mahaweli Ganga, while their rear delayed behind to collect the baggage and to bury the dead. This was on July 5th, 1594.

Wimala Dharma Suriya disappeared into the Wedi Pattu, crossing Wellassa. Senkadagala which he had first set on fire was abandoned and was occupied by the Portuguese the following day - a dreary capital where to install the young Queen.

Aritta Kivendu Perumal who had assumed the name of Jayawira now penetrated into Wellassa and Uwa and returned, bringing as his prisoner the ruler of the latter district, who was related as uncle to Wimala Dharma Suriya. As the King had escaped their hands, the Portuguese satisfied themselves with putting this old man to death.

Matters were not going smoothly with the Portuguese. Luis Moro who was sent on an expedition to Uwa, was captured by the inhabitants and sent to Wimala Dharma Suriya, who ordered him to be executed in satisfaction for the death of his uncle.

Meanwhile a ghastly incident took place where Jayawira was stabbed to death with Jayawira's own golden dagger by the heartless Potuguese General. After the death of Jayawira the Portuguese plundered his treasures, according to some, exceeded one and a half million golds. However, before long the Kandyan army of Wimala Dharma Suriya vanquished the Portuguese invaders. Wimala Dharma Suriya's triumph was complete. Dona Catherina the admitted heiress of Kanda Uda Rata had been captured and was brought to be installed as his principal Queen within the palace ruined by the Portuguese marauders.

One stern but just act of reprisal did Wimala Dharma Suriya commit. A ghastly train of fifty Portuguese staggered into Colombo holding each other by the hand. Their ears were dipped to resemble those of the village curs. There was but one eye left to every five of them. They had been so mutilated as to prevent their increasing the population of their country. This was his characteristic hint that their attentions towards the village maidens were not appreciated. The rest of the prisoners were treated with kindness. They were cured of their wounds and were then employed in reconstructing the palace, temples and fortifications of the capital. They were finally distributed among the Paduwo of the various Royal Gabadagam.

The victory won on the 6th October 1594 was a magnificent achievement. The tactical skill which the experienced eye of Raja Sinha I had detected in Wimala Dharma Suriya or Konappu Bandara as he was then known, had now reached its fruition. Many other brilliant achievement was Wimala Dharma Suriya destined to accomplish against the Portuguese, but on this his first he ever looked back with pride.

Wimala Dharma Suriya had followed up his great triumph over Pedro Lopes de Sousa by marrying the Princess Dona Catherina and it was realized that he might prove a more formidable opponent than Raja Sinha I had ever been. He had full knowledge of the circumstances of the Portuguese and was waiting patiently for them to exhaust themselves in their futile endeavours so as to make himself master of the whole Island with the least degree of danger to himself.

By about the year 1596 nothing was left to the Portuguese save Colombo and Galle. Wimala Dharma Suriya gifted to Edirille Rala the kingdoms of Kotte and Sitawaka with the dignity of a King. Little difficulty was experienced in enrolling a fresh army to accompany the new king. Wimala Dharma Suriya himself took the field with a second army and occupied Menikkadawara.

Wimala Dharma Suriya and his successors fashioned the kingdom to which the name Kanda Uda Rata was given. It consisted of the Four Disawam of Harasiya Pattuwa, Pansiya Pattuwa, Udu Nuwara and Yati Nuwara, the Principalities of Uwa, Matale and Gampola, the Vidanes of Bintenna, Wellassa and Maturata, with the divisions of Panawa, Yala, Kosgama, Madakalapuwa and Kottiyarama, which were administered by Wanniyas. Trincomalee had a separate ruler of its own and with the death of the last of these in the time of Wimala Dharma Suriya that district too was absorbed within the kingdom which thus became territorially the largest in the Island.

The death of King Dharmapala, the puppet king of the Portuguese on 27th May 1957 was an additional stimulus to Wimala Dharma Suriya who alone now represented Sinhalese sovereignty. However Portuguese attacks on his kingdom led by the rapacious Jeromino de Azavedo continued.

Even the inhabitants of the Four and Seven Korales, desperate with the oppression of the Portuguese soldiers addressed to Wimala Dharma Suriya the following piteous appeal.

"We the inhabitants on the frontiers of the Portuguese make known to you, our universal King and victorious Lord of the whole of Lanka, how on every side the robbers of cattle, the shedders of blood, the enemies of our lives, the agents of our captivity, have come on us. We are compelled to surrender to them our possessions, or against our wish to serve them. Wherefore you who are the guardian and protector of this orphaned and afflicted people, have compassion on the unhappy ones, who are in this condition, if you do not desire to see entirely extinguished the nation of which you are the Restorer, guardian, support and firm Protection."

It was in the reign of our hero King Wimala Dharma Suriya I that on the 31st May 1602 two of the Hollanders' ships under the command of Admiral Joris Van Spilbergen cast anchor at the roadstead of the district of Mada Kalapuwa, a short distance from the chief town of Samamanthurai. He was received by the king, with all the rigid formality of an Oriental court and after making his obeisance laid the presents which he had brought on the carpet for Royal inspection. These were then removed within the palace to be shown to the Household, while the King who was dressed in full white, stood up and walked about and conversed with Spilbergen and his companions, after which he gave them permission to withdraw, the Dutch musicians performing on their instruments before they did so.

Vice-Admiral Seebald de Weert who first arrived with another flotilla of the Hollanders met the King on 28th November and it was on a later visit of his that a most unfortunate incident occurred. When De Weent who was under the influence of liquor made a coarse remark regarding the Queen, the irritated Monarch hastily turned his back on the drunken sailor bidding the attendant nobles to "Bind that dog". (Mara isto can in Portuguese). Four men laid hands on him, when de Weert caught his gun, and shouting for assistance attempted to run out of the room. One of the nobles seized him by the hair, while another drew his sword and struck off his head. The King was greatly distressed and sent a curt epistle to the remaining Dutchmen in the ship: "He who drinks wine is vile. God has wrought justice. If you desire peace, it is peace. If war, war." (Que bebem vinho, nao he bem. Deos ha faze justicia. Se quisieres pas, pas. Se quries guerra, guerra.).

Continuous exposure had at last wrought its effect on that frame of steel and frequent attacks of fever warned him that he had not much longer to live. The end was close at hand. Not the coldest waters of Salgaran Oya could any longer allay the burning heat of the fever. The weary King set about placing his house in order. Summoning his ministers to his Chamber he presented them Senerat as the Regent of the Kingdom during the minority of his son Astana Bandara and called upon them to promise him their support and allegiance. The aged chiefs stood silent, the tears trickling down their stern, war-worn faces while the Chief Adigar made the required promise in the name of all. The Queen, still so youthful, and her infant children were next called in and solemnly entrusted to the care and protection of the Regent. And then came the end.

A great pyre was raised, heaped with the richest spices of the East. Thither, to the shrill wailing of the fifes and the roll of the dreary funeral drums, the body was borne, followed by the thousands who knew that fair bearded face and tall figure so well, for they loved him for his open handedness and justice to the poor, says patriot Sir Paul E. Pieris in his epic work 'Ceylon the Portuguese Era' Volume One. In a few hours nothing remained but a heap of ash.

And when they came to remove that ash they found the heart untouched by the fire - that brave and unconquerable heart which had ever beaten for their country.

Wimala Dharma Suriya I was too much of a Statesman to fail to realize that with an Oriental people Religion is the strongest bond of union and that the Buddhist Sinhalese must be ruled by a Buddhist Sovereign, whatever his personal feelings might have been towards Buddhism. His early years were signalized by the repairs of the great fanes of Lanka Tilaka, Gadaladeniya and Attanagalla but it was the reappearance of the Danta Datu which obtained for him the strongest hold over his subjects. A temple was commenced for its occupation and a handsome three-storied structure with a finial of gold and gems soon sheltered the palladium of the Sinhalese. He restored the ordination and Higher Ordination of monks (Upasampada) which the long wars had wiped out from Lanka.

The King personally visited the chief shrines in his Kingdom and when the first Hollanders reached Senkadagala it was a centre of great Buddhist activity. The ambalam which were scattered throughout the country for the convenience of wayfarers were restored by him, "and this famous king built-eighteen towers in diverse places around the great city and united them by a high and thick rampart and set guards in them to defend the city from the enemy. And he freed the whole Kingdom of Lanka from danger," concludes patriotic son of Lanka Sir Paul E. Pieris in paying his grateful tribute to the heroic King that was Wimala Dharma Suriya I of Senkadagala Nuwara or Senkanda Shaila Pura.



  1. The 16th century in our island's story was fascinating. This was the time time our ancestors made their first and traumatic contact with the West and the course of those events just goes to show how close our island came to sharing the fate of the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of Peru. The reason we escaped that gruesome fate was because of leaders like Wimaladhramasuriya, Mayadunne, and Rajasinha.


  2. Rajasinghe 1 went on to destroy Buddism, converting even Siri Pada to a Hindu shrine. He blamed the monks (who opposed him) of collaborating with The Portugese. Then again they were intermarried to Sout Indian royalty and were also Hindus.
    Wimaladharmasoorya, though also a Catholic, restored Upasampada.
    If you look closely it was father against son, brother versus brother as much as any anti-foreign campaign.
    Today all of us want to be or are already modernized/westenized, and we really do no want to go back to medival times.
    Some are jealous because others got there before and others discriminate having arrived on an earlier boat, while none of want to go back. That is the truth we hate to admit. It is hypocritical to blame others when we have also been disgusting to our own!