After Polonnaruwa collapsed, the major power centers shifted south. Between the mid 13th century and the early 16th century there were five Sinhalese kingdoms. and attacks came from south India, China and Malaysia. At the time of the arrival of Europeans — the Portuguese — in 1505 there were two Sinhalese kingdoms — one at Kandy in the central highlands and another in Kotte along the southwest coast near Colombo — and a Tamil kingdom in Jaffna.

The kingdom at Kotte was the strongest at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese. It had grown prosperous in part through trade with Arab mariners. Kandy was based in the mountains and was protected by natural barriers. It didn’t have much the Europeans wanted or were willing to expend resources to get and thus Kandy maintained some semblance of independence and was able to fend of their attacks and survive for two centuries while European occupied large parts of the island.

Kotte was a fortified city built by chieftain Alagakkonara and maintained by his successors. The establishment of a city close to Kolom Thota, the port of Colombo was a farsighted decision, helping to move the Sri Lanka’s economy towards trade and away from a dependence on agriculture. Kotte reached its peak under King Parakramabahu IV (1412-67) when it served as a center of learning and contributed immensely to the development of Sinhala literature. Vijayaba Pirivena of Pepiliyana were some of these erudite seats of learning. Kotte was renamed Sri Jayawardanepura when it was declared the official capital of Sri Lanka in 1982. Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte translates as "Resplendent City of Growing Victory" in Sinhala. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

The city of Kandy lies at an altitude of 488.6 meters (1629 feet) above sea level in the center of the island and is surrounded by the ranges of mountains. It is still very much a focal point of Sri Lankan culture. It was the capitol of last generation of Sri Lanka`s kings until it fell in to the hands of British in 1815. There is no royalty anymore. But links to the royal family and aristocrats is still associated with high status in Sri Lanka.

Jaffna is a northern city in Sri Lanka regarded as the Tamil cultural capital. It is situated on a peninsula in the northernmost part of Sri Lanka. Separated from India by the Palk Strait, Jaffna and the peninsula are connected to the rest of Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of land. By about the year 1350 the King of Jaffna was the unrivalled chief of Sri Lanka.

Trade in Sri Lanka in 15th and 16th Century Sri Lanka

James L. A. Webb Jr. Wrote in History of World Trade Since 1450": “The Singhalese and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka had long participated in the wide currents of Indian Ocean maritime trade. Before 1450 the three principal regional trades were to the eastern and western coasts of India, to southwest Asia, and to Malacca. These regional trades were complex in that a number of ethnic groups participated and employed a wide variety of currencies. Indian and Sri Lankan merchants, principally financed by Indian banking firms, handled the trade to India. Arab Muslim merchants carried on the commerce between Sri Lanka and West Asia. Malaccan merchants traded with Sri Lanka, on the edge of their Southeast Asian and Chinese nexus of commerce. [Source: James L. A. Webb Jr. “History of World Trade Since 1450", Thomson Gale, 2006]

“The Sri Lankan goods traded into these regional networks were areca nuts (a stimulant chewed with betel leaves), elephants, precious gems, pearls, chanks (a sea-shell), and cinnamon. The principal imports were rice and cloth. These patterns continued in the midst of political change throughout the period 1506 to 1796, during which the Portuguese and then the Dutch attempted to impose their administrative control over certain export goods. During the nineteenth century the British substantially altered these regional trades through the extension of their commercial control over India, parts of southwest Asia, and Malaysia, and through the creation of extensive export-oriented plantations in the Sri Lankan highlands.

Buddhist Militarism During the Sri Lankan Colonial Period

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic: “Buddhism can be, under the right circumstances, a blood-and-soil faith. Kandy may be the Buddhist world’s best example of this. From the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, the kingdom of Kandy sturdily held out against European invaders: the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British in their turn. “Like many other armies in peasant and tribal societies,” writes Channa Wickremesekera in Kandy at War: Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka 1594 to 1818 (2004), “the Kandyan army fought in loosely organized and highly mobile units depending on a flimsy logistical base,” making optimum use of its rugged, jungly terrain. It was very much like a 21st-century guerrilla insurgency, in other words — inspired, in this case, by the need to defend faith and homeland against heathen Europeans. The dense forest through which I had passed on my train ride constituted the graveyard of European attempts to reach Kandy, with many a Portuguese, Hollander, and Briton dying or giving up, exhausted and demoralized, afflicted by disease amid the cruel jungle so well described by Leonard Woolf in his 1913 novel, The Village in the Jungle: [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, September 2009]

“For the rule of the jungle is first fear, and then hunger and thirst. There is fear everywhere: in the silence and in the shrill calls and the wild cries, in the stir of the leaves and the grating of branches, in the gloom, in the startled, slinking, peering beasts.

“Eventually, the improved muskets and light artillery developed in Europe proved too much for the Kandyans. The British, explains Wickremesekera, unlike the Portuguese and Dutch, had the added advantages of “mastery over the neighboring Indian subcontinent and an army of over 100,000 soldiers when they clashed with Kandy.” They toppled King Wickrama of Kandy in 1815. He may have dug the lake, but he had been a tyrant and torturer. At least that was how the British rationalized their actions.

“Thus the redoubtable kingdom of Kandy, for centuries such a rebuke to European attempts at conquest in Asia, became a trope in the warrior imagination of the Buddhist Sinhalese. To be sure, the quest to recover Kandy’s lost honor and glory played a role in the bloody and morally unclean victory that the Buddhist Sinhalese won over an ethnic Tamil insurgency in May, after 26 years of fighting. More broadly, the history of Kandy — a cultural and artistic repository of 2,300 years of Buddhist worship that the Europeans rarely left in peace — has imbued Sinhalese with the sense of being repeatedly under siege.

Kotte: Capital of Sri Lanka 1400-1565

Kotte was the capital of Sri Lanka from 1400 to 1565. Its name indicates it was originally a fortified city. the word Kotte, is derived from the Malayalam word Kottei (fortress). Jayawardhanapura meaning victory enhancing city in Sinhala, was the name assigned to the place by its founder Nissanka Alagakkonara (Prahhuraja) (1340-1380). The city was at its height during the long reign of Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467), the last Sinhala king who ruled a unified Lanka. [Source: G. P. V. Somaratne]

This fortified city was constructed with a view to facing a possible attack from the King of Jaffna who had declared himself to be the supreme ruler of Sri Lanka and thought that by collecting tribute from the rulers and chieftains of the South; and with the help of a large naval force he could exercise his authority forcefully . His forces and agents were stationed at various ports of the island in order to collect revenue and to take part in the lucrative inter―national trade

The place where Jayawardhanapura was built was previously a village known as Darugama. Although demographic statistics are not available it is possible that the entire village was populated by one extended family numbering about one hundred people.This village was surrounded by marshy land and bordered by two rivers on three sides. The Diyawanna Oya and the Kolonna Oya joined into one river at Darugama. On the South there was a narrow stretch of land connecting the village to the mainland. Thus Darugama was protected by nature because of its inaccessibility. The contemporaries called it Panka Durga. The location was also important. It was in proximity to the busy port of Colombo and was within a reasonable distance from Rayigama where the Alagakkonara family resided. It was also possible to control, from this place, the trade route from Colombo to the hinterland where most of the trading commodities were produced 14.

Nissanka Alagakkonara

By about the year 1350 the King of Jaffna was the unrivalled chief of Sri Lanka. Nissanka Alagakkonara who was the chieftain at Rayigama, launched an ambitious plan, with the blessings of Vickramabahu III (1444-54), the Sinhala King of Gampola, to challenge the authority of the King of Jaffna. [Source: G. P. V. Somaratne]

Nissanka Alagakkonara spent the first twenty years of his rule building the fort. He followed the traditionally accepted principles in fort building known to him. Contemporary writers have compared the fort of Jayawardhanapura with Miyulunuwara which is described in the Ummagga Jataka. The Nikayasangrahaya and the Saddharmaratnakaraya while describing the fortification arrangements made by Alagakkonara, bring to memory the shrewdness and cunning of Mahausada, found in the Ummagga Jataka story of the fortification of Miyulunuwara. Mahausada has been regarded by the Sinhala monarchs and rulers as a successful ruler.

Nissanka Alagakkonara did his very best to imitate this well-known Bodhisatva. This is reflected in his arrangements regarding the building of Jayawardhanapura Kotte. Nissanka utilized local labour as well as foreign expertise, which he probably received from South India.

Defenses at Fortified Kotte

The tradition embodied in the Ummagga Jataka with regard to the building of Miylunuwara the new capital of King Brahmadatta refers to the moats around the city . They were moats one filled with water, another filled with mud and the other a deep empty ditch. The moat with water was the one that was closest to the city wall. Nikayasangrahaya, however, while referring to the fortification arrangements does not mention anything other than a canal filled with water. The width of the moat varied according to the landscape. Crocodiles were put into it thus making it difficult for the enemy to cross the waters. [Source: G. P. V. Somaratne]

Defensive arrangements were made on the wall that was constructed at the end of the moat. At the outside edge of the top arrows were planted so that the enemy would find it hard to tread on it. There were also, what is known as pulimukam (tiger’s face) i. e. a sort of a trap built on the top of the wall. It was a deep pit, the mouth of which was covered so the enemy could not know there was a barrier. A catapult like weapon known as idangani was set up on the wall in order to aim at targets on the other side of the moat. On the wall there were watch towers called attala at reasonable intervals. .A soldier inside it, could keep a watch over the enemy outside. There was also a kind of cavalier called vatta vettam built on the wall for the soldiers to hide so that they may not be seen by the enemy. Four devales were built on the four corners of the rampart and were dedicated to the four guardian gods’ of the Island of Sri Lanka. The names of these gods are mentioned as Kihirali, Saman Boksal, Vibhisana and Skandha Kumara. These names, however, are different from the names tradi―tionally assigned to them Drutarashtra, Virudha, Virupaksa and Vaisharavana. The devales were large enough to accommodate a crowd of about two hundred people. Drummers, singers, players of musical instruments and dancers were assigned places in these buildings. The Brahmins who were appointed to look after the devales were provided accommodation, within the fort.

The rampart had four gates facing the four directions. These gates were referred to as vasal. The main gate and the one, which was mostly in use, was the one that faced the south. This gate and the street that led from there to the palace were called Magul veediya and magul doratuwa. The entrances were decorated with pandals with makara designs on it. Large wooden gates covered the visibility of the interior of the fort. The moat had to be crossed by way of the bridges placed at the gates. The bridges were raised when not in use. They were nevertheless; strong enough to bear the weight of royal elephants, carts, horses and armies. A sharp look was kept over the people who crossed the bridges.

The four gates were blind gates made of iron and wood. They were opened only for authorized vehicles or a person with royal permission. The outer gates formed a bridge. When they were opened it was possible to cross the city moat. The members of the royal family, the courtiers and the workers in the city were allowed entry to the inner city (antahpura) under normal circumstances.

The gates of the fort were heavily guarded by armed soldiers. The royal palace also had guards. In addition the gates of the fort and the doors of the palace could be locked so that it was impossible for an enemy to enter without breaking open the doors and gates.

Buildings and Facilities and at Kotte

The people who lived within the fort were mostly service personnel. They were connected with the armed forces in some way. They had sufficient food to sustain long sieges by the enemy. The storage for food was provided in the fort. There were separate buildings for the storage of rice, coconut, salt and chillies. Firewood was collected in a separate building. Some large wells were also dug so that the city would be self-sufficient in its water supply. The fort was used in Alagakkonara’s war against the King of Jaffna. The ability of Alagakkonara to repel the repeated attacks of the enemy proved that Kotte was up to the standards of traditional fort building [Source: G. P. V. Somaratne]

Jayawardhanapura became the metropolis in the political, cultural and economic fields of Sri Lanka after 1414 when Parakramabahu VI made it the capital of his kingdom. He took three years to prepare the fort and to upgrade the city to the standard of the capital of the kingdom. During that period he lived at Rayigama and supervised the building work.

The symbols of kingship at that time were the throne and the sacred tooth relic. In order to house them; he built two separate three storied palaces. Apartments for the royal family and the household servants of the king were also constructed. The king’s palace was the largest building. It was also, the central place in the capital. It also consisted of three stories. The royal chambers were at the top most floor of the palace. The sleeping apartments of the royal family were in it. The queen and her children lived with the king in this floor. The royal treasury where precious metal, gems and ivory were stored was in the first floor of the palace. The gold silver and copper coins were also stored in it. The ground floor was set aside for the king’s court and the throne.

The temple of tile tooth relic was built adjoining the royal palace. There was direct access from the royal palace to the temple. The tooth relic was placed on the topmost floor. The contemporary poets have often mentioned the golden casket placed at the top of this building. The incumbent priest of the temple and his assistants also were able to reside in the living quarters built for them inside the fort.

There was a system of roads built within the fort. They were wide enough for two horse drawn carriages to travel. The roads were cart tracks and became muddy during the rainy season and dusty during the drought. Palanquin-bearers, horse riders and pedestrians also used these roads. The roads connected the king’s palace with’ the four main gates of the fort. The popular road was the one that led to Pita Kotte (outer city) through the southern gate of the city.

Describing the old city, one of Kotte s greatest poets, Sri Rahula Himi wrote in “Selalihini Sandesha”:
See, friend, proud city Jayawardene
Whose name renowned by victories achieved
Was won, which far in luxury outlives
The devas city and whose mighty host
With faith and love adores the Triple Gem
The basin there, like Diyawanna called
Aye represent the fair silk robe, that wraps
The Lady city and its heavy folds
Of waves with its long shaking girdle cloth
Of splashing foam with rows of lilies red
In wrought and golden likeness of the swan.
The city s wall with strong broad gates and bars
The jewelled breast-band represent, assumed
By the fair proud dame Lanka in her youth.
Her crest Samantha and the sea her zone.
[Translation Paul Peiris and included in his book “Ceylon: the Portuguese Era”)

Decline and Fall of Kotte

Jayawardhanapura, being the capital of the chief kingdom of Sri Lanka had a vast amount of treasure stored in it. The tributory kings brought precious metal and other valuable items when they came annually, to Kotte to pay homage to the King. The pearl fishers at Chilaw, elephant catchers in the Vanni and gem cutters in Sabaragamuwa had to send the king’s dues to Jayawardhanapura. They were collected in the coffers and boxes in the royal treasury. [Source: G. P. V. Somaratne]

Most of these treasures were lost, however, in 1521 when the famous looting incident referred to as Vijayaba Kollaya (looting of Vijayaba) took place. The king’s treasury was looted by the people who gathered into the city when Mayadunne entered the city with his followers to kill Vijayabahu VI. (1513-1521). When the looting turned out to be a menace, orders were dispatched to stop it. But it was too late. Most of the valuable treasures were already lost and were never replaced afterwards.

Another such event took place in 1551, when Bhuvanekabahu VII (1521-1551) died. The Portuguese Viceroy in Goa, Affonso da Noronna, who was well known for greedy plunder, arrived in Kotte on hearing, the news of Bhuvanekabahu’s death. He took away whatever he could lay his hands on. One writer cynically says that even the gold spittoon of the late king was stolen by him.

One could argue that Jayawardhanapura ceased to be the metropolis in Sri Lanka after 1521 when the kingdom of Kotte was partitioned into three rival kingdoms. The territorial limits of the kingdom shrank. So did the revenue. The latter deteriorated further on account of unending war with the king of Sitavaka. The Portuguese guardians of the kings of Kotte also took a large share of income from Kotte as tribute.

The situation further deteriorated after the death of Bhuvanekabahu VII in 1551.His successor, Dharmapala was a weak king. He depended on the Portuguese for his security. The Catholic Church became the custodian of and adviser to the king. At this juncture the political and religious balance maintained by Bhuvanekabahu VII collapsed. The Buddhist monks had to seek refuge elsewhere. Most of them migrated to the Sitavaka and the Kandyan kingdoms. One important symbol of the Sinhala Kingdom, the Sacred tooth relic, was smuggled out of Jayawardhanapura and taken to Sitavaka.

The final blow, however, came from the formidable army of the Sitavaka kingdom led by Rajasinha I. In 1565 he besieged Kotte and Colombo. The Portuguese found it difficult to offer resistance in two places. Thus they abandoned Kotte and concentrated their attention only on Colombo, which was also on the verge of collapse. The Sitavaka army leveled the city of Jayawardhanapura to the ground. The city walls, moat, and the palaces were demolished and burnt. Within a short time after this event, jungle took over the ruined city.

Remains of Kotte

The remains of Kotte lie just Past the junction of Rajagiriya, now the gate-way to the administrative hub of the parliament building in the Sri Lankan capital of Sri Jayawardene Kotte, outside Colombo. Little remains of medieval Kotte. The attacks on the kingdom both by external aggressors as the Portuguese and internal dissidents were so ferocious that only meagre visible remnants testify to the existence of a once magnificent city. Just past the junction of Rajagiriya or Welikada (the more authentic name) along the Battaramulla road, one comes to a bridge over the Diyawanna Oya (river) that once snaked around the city. It was in the proximity of this bridge that the resplendent gateway to the old city had stood. It had been a stone-hewn gigantic entrance and no trace of it now remains. The city had been circumscribed by a mighty rampart and moat built by Nissanka Alagakkonara, a minister. Very few traces of this moat and rampart are now visible here and there as seen in the boundaries of the Perakumba Pirivena. According to existing ruins it is concluded that the rampart had been 8 feet high and 30 feet wide. The Dalada Perahara is said to have paraded along the rampart replete with elephants and flambeau-carrying dancers not to mention the king himself riding behind the richly caparisoned elephant carrying the sacred relic casket followed by thousands of devotees.

There is a road in modern Kotte city named Rampart Road , the only tribute to this mighty rampart built to ward off attacks. Along parts of the moat, encroachers have put up shacks and coconut trees flourish here and there. Medieval Kotte is main a victim of its proximity to Colombo and its inability to escape suburban development. It was also severely damaged by the Portuguese and by King Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka. Rajasinghe attacked the city to drive away the Portuguese while the Portuguese themselves destroyed it before moving onto the fort of Colombo with King Dharmapala.

The Royal Palace eulogized in the Sandeshas (message poetry of Kotte) as the most magnificent edifice, a five-storied building constructed out of luminous blue stone, in whose exotic courts kings of old received embassies, had been transformed into a heap of rubble and the Dutch are said to have carried away the bricks and other materials to build their churches in Colombo. Later the rubble and the bricks had been carried away during the British government to build the brakewater at Galle Face. Contractors assigned with the removal of these had carried away the more worthy artifacts as the moonstones to decorate their own homes. That is how a moonstone (sandakada pahana) of the Royal Palace adorns a house at Veyangoda now. The cruel fate that befell the Royal Palace, befell the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic) said to be a three-storied edifice crowned by a chaitya with a golden pinnacle.

Today a Maligawa Road (Palace Ro) runs along in Kotte by an area surmised to be where the Palace was. The Royal Pond of the Palace had been intact till about the 30s according to some sources but somebody now has built a house above it too. The Portuguese had destroyed the Dalada Maligawa and built a church in the precincts and the church too has now disappeared leaving behind only the karakoppuwa or the cemetery. The Alakeswara Road leads to the ruins of the Palace where Minister Alagakkonara who built the Kotte fortress lived and within its proximity are two large Tombs (according to some, chaityas) known as the Baddegana Tombs. They had been buried inside a mini-mountain for years and years, foliage having grown above it till it is reported in a folk legend that one moonlit night a devotee in sil clothes walking by it had heard the sound of hewisi (drums) emanating from it. Later excavations had revealed the twin tombs or chaityas. And here is an unbelievable and almost repugnant piece. A part of the Chitra Kuta Mandapaya where the Kotte kings had their consecration ceremonies now lies miserably in ignoble negligence and a gaping hole in it is said to be used as a lavatory pit! When the writer last visited it, parts of vehicles from a nearby garage were dumped on it and beggars and stray dogs were surveying these and other heaps of rubbish on it for possible marketable and edible stuff!

Place names in Kotte reveal many edifices as the name Angampitiya. This had been the sports venue of the capital, where many games of skill (angam) were played. Today it is just a humdrum site of human dwellers. In the site where Vibhishana Devale stood, where many a bird messenger paid homage in their aerial flights had been put up a house, however, now it stands as the Archaeological Museum. The museum just now seems to be more in a dormant stage than in an active stage. The Ranga Hala (dancing hall) and Saraswathi Mandapaya, where the learned and the high-born gathered for discourses had been sited beyond this, but there are no visible extents of any of these.

More words need not be wasted on the misfortune that befell the mighty city of Kotte. Most of it lies buried under modern concrete, a part of it has been taken away to put up other buildings while human ablutions are performed on the very consecration stone of the kings, now become a resting place of the area s stray dogs. One can take solace only in Buddha s teachings of impermanence of all things to reconcile one s mind with this state of things.


Kandy (115 kilometers inland from Colombo) is Sri Lanka's holiest Buddhist city, the home of the country's most sacred object (the eye-tooth of Buddha) and was the last capital of the Sinhalese kings. Established by the Sinhalese kings in 1390 on a site where a mongoose lost a fight to a cobra, the kingdom prospered for two centuries, despite the presence of Europeans on the coastal areas, until the British consolidated their rule of the entire island in 1815.

The Sacred City of Kandy was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. According to UNESCO: “This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site. [Source: UNESCO]

The city of Kandy lies at an altitude of 488.6 meters (1629 feet) above sea level in the center of the island and is surrounded by ranges of mountains. Regarded as the center of Sri Lanka’s hill country, it is still very much a focal point of Sri Lankan culture. It was the capitol of last generation of Sri Lanka`s kings until it fell in to the hands of British. There is no royalty anymore. But links to the royal family and aristocrats is still associated with high status in Sri Lanka.

History of Kandy

Kandy was originally known as Senkadagala pura after a hermit named Senkada who lived there. Many of Sinhalese people call it “Mahanuwara” meaning the "Great City”. The name Kandy was derived from the word “Kanda,” which means mountain. Due to it’s geographical location Kandy was not an easy target for the foreign invaders who gained control of coastal area of the island. Thus Kandyan culture was able to develop and maintain its own social structures, mode of living, art and Architecture. The kings of Kandy ensured the safety and sovereignty of the hill capitol and it’s great culture until the British finally captured the city in 1815.

The royal palace in Senkadagala was built by King Vikramabahu III of Gampola on the advice of a Brahmin who selected the site as a lucky ground for a capital city. The first king to ascend the throne of Senkadagala was Sena Sammata Wickramabahu.

When Wimaladharmasuriya the I ascended the throne in the city in 1592 he surrounded the whole of the vast city with a massive wall to fend off enemies. He defeated the Portuguese at Danture and returned to the city with the captive princess Dona Catherina as his queen. He improved the city and his palace using the skills of the captured Portuguese and made city of Senkadagala the “capital of the hills.” The Sacred Tooth relic was brought to the city from Delgamuwa Vihara in the Sabaragamuwa Province. The king built a two storied temple near his royal palace for the tooth. This became the most sacred and venerated temple for Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

There were 12 rulers who ruled the city of Senkadagala from 1469 to 1815. During the period of Vimaladharmasuriya I Sri Lanka was prosperous and peaceful, but many problems arose during the succession of King Senarath. He was not a skilled ruler but was a pious Buddhist who has been a monk before ascending the throne. The king retired to Meda Maha Nuwara “Central Great City “ as Portuguese under General Azevado attacked the city and destroyed it.

Kandy During the Portuguese and Dutch Periods

Senarath’s successor Rajasingha II was a strong warrior and during his time there were two Portuguese invasions: once in 1630 led by Constantine de Sa and in 1638 led by General Diogo de Melo de Castro. The Portuguese were completely defeated in the famous Randeniwela battle in 1630 and in the remarkable Gannoruwa battle in 1638 but the Capital was set fire by the enemy. Even Rajasingha II had to face the internal revolt in 1664 led by Ambanwelle Rala.

Rajasingha II was supported by the Dutch who had arrived to trade cinnamon trade and extended the Kandyan Kingdom over a large territory in 1658. Although he joined the Dutch in the hope of driving away the Portuguese, his plans and hopes were in vain as Dutch were mainly interested in cinnamon and so was the king who thought it was a source of income. [Source: Dr. Mirando Abeysekere]

The Dutch began their Kandyan invasion in 1659.The territories won by the king over a period of 20 years were lost to the Dutch in three years. Battles took place in 1665 and again in 1675 and the Dutch were held back. Rajasingha II’s successor was his son Vimaladharmasuriya II. He ruled much of Sri Lanka and made peace with the Dutch and as a result people were able to live without fear.

The kings of Kandyan kingdom sought assistance from Vadugas (Nanayakkars of India who spoke Telugu as their language) from time to time against the invading Portuguese. Vimaladharmasuriya I and King Senarath brought down Vadugas from Tanjore and Madura to fight the Portuguese. When King Rajasingha II fought the battle at Gannoruwa against Portuguese a thousand Vadugas participated. With them came their families too who later inter mixed with the Sinhalese population in the hills. Common people, rulers and aristocracy intermarried with the Vadugas, many of them from Madura, and this is said to have brought an end to the pure Sri Lanka leadership..

Last Sinhalese King of Kandy and a Buddhist Reivival

Sri Vira Parakrama Narendra Singha, the last pure Sinhalese king of Kandyan Kingdom, took the throne in 1707. His marriage to a Vaduga princess from Madura meant that the Kandyan Kingdom fell in to the hands of Nanayakkars. Narendrasinha ascended to the throne when he was 17 years old and ruled until 1739.

According to the law of succession in ancient Sri Lanka, leadership was passed from farther to son born of his queen or from brother to brother or sometimes to his sister’s son. However the royal status of both parents were considered important. But Narendrasingha selected the brother of his chief Madura Queen to succeed him as Sri Vijaya Rajasingha following the rule of succession common in southern India at that time. With this came the end of Sinhalese dynasty and king Narendrasingha was the last Sinhalese king to rule the country.

Sri Vijaya Rajasingha was never religious or courageous but led the life of a playboy. He was known to Sinhalese as the “Sellan Nirindu” meaning playful king. He spent much of his life in his palace at Kundasale and at Hanguranketha; The villages close to the city. He had only a few close associates and many of Kandyan aristocrats were against with him. But many foreigners were among his close associates. They never encouraged the development of the Buddhism but was very close to the catholic missionaries in Kandy. That led to criticizing of him and there were several uprising against his rule. During all this a great Buddhist revival took place. The venerable Velivita Saranankara, who became a great scholar and a guardian of Buddhism.The king was not hostile towards him and later encouraged him in his religious work a little and He died in 1739.

As there was no children from his queen of Madura his wish was to hand over the throne to his brother in law. This was not fully accepted by the community because king left a son named Unambuwe Bandara with a queen of unequal rank. claim of the brother in law was unsuccessful. The child was educated by the venerable Valivita Saranankara and ascended the throne of Kandy in 1739 as Sri Vijaya Rajasingha.As a result the royal court was divided in to two. The king embraced the Buddhism and helped his teacher Ven. Valvita Saranakara to promote his Buddhist activities. Sri Vijaya Rajasinha too married another Nanayakkar prince from Madura and again got married to another from Madura seven years after the first. But he had no any children from either of them.

After the death of king the brother of his Madura queen ascended the throne in 1747 as Kirti Sri Rajasingha. He got married in 1749 to queen of Madura and He strictly believed that only a Buddhist could be the King of the Sinhalese and helped to develop the education which has been suffered due to the influence of Portuguese and King Rajasingha I and renovated and built few religious monuments under the guidance of Ven. Valivita Saranankara .Dalada Perahera was once again conducted with great fashion along with the four Devala Peraheras and with the king himself taking part in the procession.It is said that he tried to follow the work of King Parakramabahu the great of Polonnaruwa Period. So his period of rule is considered a golden period of the history of Buddhism in the Kandyan period.

Decline of the Kandyan Kingdom

In 1760 there was a series of battles between the Dutch and the Kandyans and it went on for about six years. Dutch attempted twice to capture the Kandyan Kingdom and failed. Even a peace treaty was forwarded to the king but he refused it. When the Dutch could reach the city and destroyed the city, The King took the tooth relic and vanished from the capital. In 1766 the both parties entered in to an agreement as it was necessary to seek assistance of the Dutch to drive away the Portuguese.Again the rulers of Kandy felt the necessity of some foreign assistance to drive away the Dutch and sought the assistance of first British were not that interested in the Kandyan Kingdom but later on having felt the importance of the Trincomalee harbour they thought of getting assistance from the Kandyan kingdom for their war against the French.

Kirti Sri Rajasingha died in 1781 and his brother ascended the throne of Kandy as Rajadhi Rajasingha.The new king did not trust the British and sought the support of the French.British captured the Trincomalee from Dutch in1798 and defeated them in maritime provinces too in 1798.Then the British realized that it would not be difficult to establish their power over the island.

King Rajadhi Rajasingha died in 1798 and during his period again the Kandyan Kingdom was collapsing in everything. Rajadhi Rajasingha had no children and the prime minister at the time called “Pilimatalawe” nominated an eighteen years old “kannasami” who was a distant relation of the deceased king as the successor to the throne thinking to capture the throne once the opportunity offered. The brother of three queens of the King disliked the decision and sought refuge with the British.So Kannasami ascended the throne in 1798 as Sri Vickrama Rajasingha.The king later disliked the activities of Pilimatalawe and in the mean time British tried to capture Kandy in 1803 and was a failiure. Then the British thought of getting the support of Kandyan chieftains who were against the King.Pilimatalawe infact approached the British for help. British thought of a tricky way of capturing Kandy and “John D’oyly” went on to learn the native language, associated with scholars, Composed poetry and studied the culture and belief of the people. That helped them to build up friendship with all the notable Kandyan chiefs of the time and learn the inside political story of Kandyan Kings

Sri Vickrama Rajasingha was a crafty ruler and did everything possible to make his ideas and plans true. He even divided chieftain on rule and drew his Nanayakkar relatives closer and appointed new chiefs like Molligoda in to high positions. The old chiefs like Ehalepola were made to feel angry and jealous on these acts of the King. He also appointed two chiefs where there had been one to administer certain provinces, so they would quarrel with each other. He punished those chiefs whom caused suffering to the poor people thus won the heart of many. The prices of essential goods were controlled and liquor was prohibited. He built a beautiful octagon in the Temple of the tooth relic for his use and the lake in front was prepared with forced labour.

His decision to move out the four shrines dedicated to God Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini was disliked by the Buddhist population. King was shown with an uncontrollable temper and once ordered to execute his son born to one of the sub queens. In the mean time the enmity between Pilimatalawe and the King risen day by day and he was dismissed from the office in 1810.Then Pilimatalawe tried to assassinate the king through a Malay man and failed. As a result of his act king ordered to execute him with 7 others. Then the king appointed Chief Ehelepola as the Prime Minister (Maha Adikaram) but never trusted him and moved out to take charge of Sabaragamuwa province and in the mean time he appointed another person to the same province as Ehelepola’s rival. Ehelepola kept in touch with the “De Oyle “ and raised a rebellion against the throne.”Moolligoda was sent to destroy it and Ehalepola had to take the shelter of British.

Ehelepola the Great

Ehelepola Maha Adigar (1793-1829) or Ehelepola the Great was the leader of the successful coup against the cuel, despot King Sri Wickrema Rajasingha (1798 - 1815). Although the people hated the king they were powerless as the king was well guarded by foreign mercenaries. Ehelepola, was a pure bred Brahmin and a very devout Buddhist. In addition to that he was a very loyal, efficient, leader who served the country and the people faithfully.

Ehelepola the Great was a very versatile person having a sound knowledge of English, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil. He was educated at a Buddhist Pirivena and he became a Rate Mahatmaya in his youth. At the King's Palace he had a militant look. According to some historians Haggard, D'Oyly and Donold James the young and handsome Ehelepola had many clandestine affairs with the concubines in the King's harem. One day he was caught red handed by the King at the residence of Alutgama Biso Menike, a woman of the King's harem and the King ordered six strokes to be delivered with a whip on the back side of the accused. But when the King's henchmen came to execute the order they were mercilessly assaulted by Ehelepola.

Ehelepola Kumari-hamy was his cousin and he began to love her when she visited her uncle's Walawwa . The view of the astrologers was that anyone who married her would be king as her horoscope was very good and powerful. Her uncle Chandrasekera Mudiyanse used his good offices and saw to it that she married the daughty warrior Ehelepola. True to the astrologers' predications Ehelepola got promotion after promotion and after the demise of Pilima Talauwa, Ehelepola was promoted to the highest rank of Maha Adigar.

The King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha being a Waduga by birth always suspected the noble families and began to eliminate them either by killing them or by forcing them to flee the Kandyan Kingdom. Many were all killed on the orders of the despot King. However Ehelepola remained loyal to the King. But the king lived in fear of Ehelepola as he was a talented warrior and he feared that one day he might usurp the Kingship. During this period the killing of excessive children especially female children was very common in the Kandyan Kingdom. Ehelepola issued an order that no child should be killed on that account and that if any family felt that they could not bear the burden of these excess children that he would help. The King was not only a despot and cruel tyrant but he was also a highly lecherous sex maniac. He was popularly known as 'Wal Raja'. No pretty woman was safe from his lecherous advances. Through fear of reprisals by the King many women gave in to his advances.

Ehelepola the Great and the Takeover of Sri Lanka by the British

When the King's cruelties increased Ehelepola planned a liberation struggle against the despot. At the preliminary stages he had discreet discussions with his relations in the maritime provinces those living in Kalutara and Balapitiya. He knew that through the good offices of his relatives he could obtain the support of fiery Brahmin warriors of the southern province. His chief aim was to liberate the country against Nayakkar rule. Unfortunately for Ehelepola the King's spies came to learn of this conspiracy and they secretly informed the King.

The King now made an order for the arrest of Ehelepola. He was in a frenzy but he knew that it was a very difficult task as Ehelepola was also influential and powerful. The Maha Adigar went from place to place incognito and finally he sought refuge in the low country. Gradually the British too came to know of the presence of the Maha Adigar in their territory and Ehelepola was introduced to them. When the king found that he could not have Ehelepola arrested, he arrested his wife, children and sister. He told the wife and sister that unless both of them agreed to have sex with him they would be killed. They refused and they were killed.

Under these circumstances the Kandyan Convention was conceived at the discussion between Ehelepola, the British and others. According to the reports of J. Campbell and A. C. Lawrie the British Governor had promised to appoint Ehelepola Maha Adigar, as Sub King of Kandy, but the British who were experts at the policy of 'divide and rule' reneged on their promise. After the deportation of King Sri Wickrema Rajasingha and the signing of the Kandyan Convention the entire island came under the rule of the British.

Although Ehelepola helped the British to oust the despot king the British were always suspicious of him because he was very clever. They thought that after ousting the king he might try to oust the British from Kandy and become King. Ehelepola had all the qualifications and the intellect to be the king but the British were not even willing to make him the Sub King.

Ehelepola was promised several honours and titles but he only wanted the Sub Kingship of Kandy. The Uva rebellion of 1818 which was a spontaneous rebellion erupted as a result of the cruelties inflicted by the British rulers on the people. Elelepola appointed his brother-in-law Mona-ravila Keppitipola to be in charge of the area under rebellion but as history reveals he joined the rebels and became their leader. The rebellion was doomed to fail as it was badly organized and was no match for the modern arms of the British. Ehelepola was banished to Mauritius and passed away at Pampla Mousasou in 1829.

Other Heros of the Kandyan Kingdom

Madduma Bandara, the child hero of Sri Lanka in Kandyan period, lived during the period of King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha, the last king of Sri Lanka. Ehelepola was his farther and was a minister in the court of King Rajasingha. Due to the bad activities of King Rajasingha, Ehelepola did not obey his orders and fled The king was very angry on him and ordered whole Ehelepola family to be executed. The family was brought near to the lake of Bogambara and king ordered Madduma Bandara’s elder brother to be executed first, by cutting off his head. The elder brother hesitated. Madduma Bandara was a brave boy and came forward like a hero and said "Fear not brother, I will show you how to face the death" and let the executor to do it.thus the name of Madduma Bandara was written in the history of Sri Lanka.

Don Cosmo Wijesekera-Mudaliyar of the Portuguese army is regarded as a illustrious and brave leader for Sri Lanka. He was the son of Mudaliyar Nandiris Wijesekera of Brahmana Watte Walawwa - Welitota, a key figure in the Portuguese Army. Don Cosmo’s step sister was a Dissawa under king Rajasingha II.

During a key battle between the Sinhalese and Portuguese, the Sinhala King Senerath sent a secret message to Don Cosmo through the step sister, asking him to help the Sinhala forces. Don Cosmo acted on the king's request and did his duty as promised. When the battle started at Randenigala all the regiments under Don Cosmo fought against the Portuguese. Constantine de Zaa, the leader of the Portuguese army was beheaded by Don Cosmo himself and his head was sent to king Senerath as proof of loyalty to the King. The chief reason for the victory of the Sinhala army was the brave and gallant leadership given to the Sinhala forces by Don Cosmo. King Senerath was so overjoyed with the victory that he hosted the leaders of the Sinhala army to a grand reception. Don Cosmo was of course greeted as a hero by the entire Sinhala population of the country.

Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Tooth (on the side of the lake in the center of Kandy) is the sacred temple, known locally as Dalada Maligawa, that houses Buddha's tooth, which is said to be an upper left incisor snatched from Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 B.C. The tooth was reportedly brought to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century. hidden in the hair of an Indian princess and given to the Sri Lankan king, Kithsiri Megawanna, who in turn placed in an edifice built by King Devanampriyatissa.

The Sinhalese kings considered themselves the guardian of the sacred tooth, which was considered the source of their power and venerated to invoke the blessings of the king and his people. The sacred tooth was kept in Anuradhapura for a while and moved around Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese kings changed the location of the Sri Lankan capital until it finally came to rest in the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy during the Kandyan period.

Placed on a site, where an auspicious white tortoise was found, the temple is a white crenelated temple structure with a moat and towers that look like swirls of soft ice cream. The closet that visitors get to the tooth is a view of the golden reliquary that holds the tooth through a glass portal.

A two-story shrine was built next to a lake to house the relic by Sinhalese king, Wimala Dharma Suriya I in 1590, when the relic was taken to Kandy. The current two-story pink structure was built under King Narenda Sinhala in 1687 to 1707 and expanded from 1747 to 1782. The tooth is kept in an inner chamber. The temple is surrounded by a moat. The octagonal tower in the moat was built to house palm-leaf manuscripts. The gilded roof was deed by President Premadasa.

The entrance to the temple features moonstone steps, two stone elephants and five intertwined damsels. Pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka converge on the temple during the lunar month of Esala (July or August) for the massive Perahara festival that honors the tooth. At 6:00am and 4:00pm daily the tooth is venerated with a special ceremony that involves drumming. and sacred chanting.

The Dalada Maligawa was badly damaged by a bomb attack in January, 1998 that killed 16 people and was believed to have been set by the Tamil Tigers. The relic was not damaged but the octagonal tower was. The building was not badly damaged because the walls are made of wattle and daub and shock waves from the explosion passed right through them. The damage was fixed in time for the next festival. The tile roof was repaired, painting and teak carvings were retouched. The blast was a sort blessing on an archeological and art level in that paintings covered by plaster over the years were revealed. When visiting, shorts are not acceptable. Sometimes tourists with are given a sarong to wear over their shorts. There is an extra fee for a camera and even more for a video camera.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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