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Kingdom of Kandy - 1476-1818

Kandy is incomparably beautiful; but let it be at once Scenery understod that in thus describing it we are not limiting the epithet to the town and its immediate surroundings. It is rather the Kandyan country as a whole that is thus distinguished, and this must be seen from the hill-tops which command the far-reaching valleys where the Mahaweliganga rolls over rocky channels and through scenes of almost majestic beauty.

The City of Senkadagala was founded in 1476 (in English named Kandy, after Kanda = hill). The Tamil kings of the Nayakkar line (1739-1815) did the most to restore the Sinhalese Buddhist priesthood and promote Buddhist art and architecture. It was for the first time adopted as the capital in the year 1592 by Wimala Dharma, the one hundred and sixty-fourth monarch who had reigned in Ceylon since the year B.C. 543, the earliest period of which any events are recorded. For more than a thousand years Anuradhapura was the capital, and the residence of the kings, till in A.d. 729 this once mighty city, the stupendous ruins of which we shall describe later, was forsaken, and henceforth for some five hundred years Polonnaruwa became the capital. With the downfall of Polonnaruwa, consequent upon Malabar invasion, the prestige of the Sinhalese monarchy dwindled. From the year 1235 various places were selected for the capital, including Dambadeniya, Kurunegala, Gampola, Cotta and Sitawaka, until the final adoption of Kandy, which continued to be a place of royal residence until the reign of the last monarch, Sri Wikrama Rajah Sinha, 1798-1815.

From the time of the first contact with Europeans, which took place in the early part of the sixteenth century, Kandy was for three hundred years the chosen ground where the Sinhalese made their stand against the aggressions of European intruders. The Portuguese first carried on a desultory struggle with the Kandyans for one hundred and fifty years, during which time they repeatedly gained possession and destroyed the city, but never succeeded in holding it to their own advantage, or for any considerable length of time.

How entirely ignorant of Western civilisation the Sinhalese were at this time, is evident from the following quaint extract from a native chronicle referring to the arrival of a Portuguese ship. It narrates: "In the month of April of the year 1522 a ship from Portugal arrived at Colombo, and information was brought to the King. They are a very white and beautiful people, who wear hats, and boots of iron, and never stop in one place; " and having seen them eating bread and drinking wine, and not knowing what it was, they added, "They eat a sort of white stone and drink blood, give a gold coin for a fish, or a lime, and have a kind of instrument that produces thunder and lightning, and a ball put into it would fly many miles, and then break a castle of marble or iron."

Kandy was held through many desperate encounters in which victory inclined to either combatant accompanied by the practice of every species of atrocity on both sides. The enterprise, always difficult and dangerous for the besiegers, both on account of the deadly malaria of the jungle and the narrow and treacherous defiles, which were the only means of approach, demonstrates the great courage of the Portuguese as pioneers in colonisation. It must, however, be admitted that, judging by their own. accounts of their battles, they were barbarously cruel, and equalled, if they did not excel, the Kandyans in the invention of fiendish methods of dealing with their captives.

A characteristic of the Kandyans had always been their patriotism, a virtue wanting amongst the people of the lowlands, whose policy in dealing with the invader was too often tame and pusillanimous. Organised resistance by the whole of the native peoples was thus out of the question, and the brave mountaineers were left without support in their struggle with the invader. Their methods of warfare were at first primitive; their weapons consisted merely of lances, bows and arrows, and sword-blades attached to the tusks of elephants. They accomplished more by craft and stratagem than by open combat, but they were not slow to understand the methods of their aggressors.

At the beginning of the struggle guns and gunpowder were unknown to them; they possessed, however, among their citizens workers in metal more skilled than the Portuguese, who soon produced excellent fowling pieces, which were described by their foes as "the fairest barrels for pieces that may be seen in any place, and which shine as bright as silver." Long before the war ended they were as well equipped in respect of weapons as their European adversaries. The Kandy manufacture of guns, thus begun by the Kandyans under the impulse of necessity, continued in the villages around Kandy to modern days.

Throughout the whole period during which the Portuguese were in possession of the coast, the Kandyans never swerving in their patriotism and their courage, and aided by the great advantage of their position in the mountains, the passes of which were naturally fortified on all sides, were a constant menace to their security, harassing them by forays into the plains, and taxing to the utmost their powers of defence.

The Dutch dislodged the Portuguese by forging an alliance with the Kingdom of Kandy. In 1638, they built a ‘trading post,’ and by 1640 took control of most of the factories. The Portuguese were expelled within a few decades, and the Dutch East India Company had their turn at the monopoly of the cinnamon trade. With the arrival of the The Dutch Dutch a policy which involved less fighting was adopted, but the attitude of proud defiance on the part of the mountaineers was not one whit changed in consequence.

Although they had invited the Dutch to assist them in getting rid of the Portuguese, their new allies were soon treated with contempt, and treaties and compacts were entered into only to be violated with every mark of contempt and indignity. From the very beginning the Dutch, recognising the futility of trying to gain and hold possession of the Kandyan kingdom, adopted a policy of subservience—peace with dishonour—and endured all manner of insults for the sake of such commercial advantages as could be realised in exchange for ignoble adulation and cringing servility. Whether they could have conquered and held Kandy, if they had cared to go to the expense, is doubtful; but their rapacity and meanness effectually prevented them from making any adequate and sustained efforts.

It remained for the British to accomplish the task; nor was it by any means an easy one for them. For twenty years after their first arrival in the year 1795, Kandy remained unsubdued. After three centuries of guerilla warfare with the Portuguese and the Dutch, and their bitter experiences of the policy of brigandage which these nations pursued, it was not likely that they would welcome any further European incursion. It was now the irony of their fate to live in constant dread of being conquered by the nation that had in store for them the blessings of good government and future prosperity.

Their monarchy with its ancient prestige had been degraded from its estate. The king was a foreigner and a despot of the most cruel type, to resist whose will was to court immediate destruction. The highest officer of the state was the Adigar, who alone possessed the royal ear. His power of administering justice, or injustice, was practically unlimited. He could issue what mandates he pleased, and Kandy prevent any complaints from reaching the throne. He thus had Tyranny of every opportunity for intrigue, of which he fully availed himself, disquieting the monarchy with jealousy and apprehension, and striking terror into the populace. The inferior officers of state were mere tools of oppression, extracting every atom of wealth out of the lower orders. Extortion was recognised as a system of government. The lowest ranks were those who most felt the burden of supplying the royal treasury, for they had no class from which they could in turn extort.

The proper administration of justice was unknown. Such trials as were held before the officers of the state were summary, and barbarous punishments the immediate result. Imprisonment was never inflicted, but heavy fines and torture for minor offences; and in case of capital sentences, some barbarous cruelty in addition was always introduced. This was the price of their independence, and it is reasonable to suppose that they would have been more ready to exchange it for the justice, humanity and happiness which they now enjoy had they had any experience other than that of the methods of the Dutch, which were not of a kind to inspire them with hope of any amelioration in their lot at the hands of a European master.

The British first tried to gain control of the Kandyan kingdom by diplomatic means; but in these they were unfortunate; and the attractive mountain stronghold was destined to give much trouble to its new assailants, and to be the scene of bloodshed, treachery and barbarity, too awful for description, before it was won.

At the time when the British ousted the Dutch from the maritime provinces the Kandyan throne was occupied by the old Tamil King Rajadhi Raja Sinha, whose Adigar was Pilima Talawa. Pilima, who boasted descent from the ancient line of pure Sinhalese kings, conceived the idea of restoring the native dynasty in his own person. To this end he formed a crafty and somewhat intricate project which involved first of all the deposition of the old king, the placing upon the throne Sri Wikrama, another Tamil, who should in turn be deposed with the aid of the British on the ground of his being a Malabar. His intention was to encourage the young Sri Wikrama to commit such acts of atrocity as should make him hateful to his own subjects, and at the same time provoke war with the English. By these means he hoped to raise himself to the supreme power. He succeeded in deposing the old king and placing Sri Wikrama on the throne. His designs were then disclosed to the British Governor, Mr. North, who saw in them a possible opportunity of establishing a military protectorate at Kandy.

In 1798 the British made all the island, except the kingdom of Kandy, a crown colony. Kandy was finnally annexed into the Crown Colony of Ceylon in 1818.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2012 19:19:29 ZULU