The fall of the Kandyan Kingdom — treason or cruelty?

The historical significance of 2nd March 1815 is far reaching, yet least remembered. It marks the end of independence and sovereignty of our land, and the dawn of new struggle for freedom under colonial rule. The pain of defeat was unbearably great. There were many patriots who lamented the loss of freedom for the first time in the long history of the nation. However within their pain, the sprouts of courage emerged even before the convention of subjugation was signed. The brave act of Wariyapola Sri Sumangala Thera on 2nd March 1815 was the first signal of the anti-imperialist movement in this country, which has hitherto survived through glorious moments of struggle.

For those who are concerned with the independence of the country and the freedom of the people as a whole, the Kandyan Convention of 1815 has been the saddest and the most ignoble event to occur in the long history of Sri Lanka. For the British who conquered us and their allies who shared the benefits, it was an occasion of joy. Their posterity consider it as a turning point in our history which opened the path for modernisation and civilization. However the revival of this occasion of subjugation in the minds of the native people is a thorn in the flesh of the colonial interests. Hence it is intended to be avoided at all costs. But for a nation struggling to regain it’s lost freedom under the yoke of colonialism, the thought of 1815 is as important as the daily bread.

The intellectual slavery that found inroads through the Kandyan convention still haunts our thoughts after 188 years since its inception.

Historical interpretation of an event rests on it’s causes. A wrong diagnosis would result a wrong verdict. Since nothing comes out of nothing every historical event is the result of preceding acts. Thus to know the event one has to go to the preceding circumstances.

The fall of the Kandyan kingdom was seemingly sudden and short. It was the conclusion of a decline taking place inside the kingdom for many decades. No one would have forestalled the end so soon and in the manner it had happened. The nobility who were carrying out the plot saw the outcome in their favour. Such an idea was not incised in the minds of the British who were holding the reigns of the situation.

History doesn’t predict events. It analyses the preceding acts to understand the forces at play that determine the change. Casual nexus is inherent in all change and even the slightest break can upset the change stopping the entire human activity. As this cannot happen in ever changing phenomenon. The decline of the Kandyan kingdom was a continuous process "downward". The decline apparently hastened during the last three years of Sri Wikrama’s reign.

What caused the sudden downfall? Was it the treason against the king or the cruelty of the kings? Let us take the treason first which stands clear and beyond doubt. Conspirators didn’t accept their involument in treachery, but it is well evident in the annals. Imperialism with it’s greed for wealth at an international scale breeds treason. British employed it everywhere systematically and indifferently and it was a success against the Kandyan kingdom with the native allies who shared the same sinister motives.

Though intrigue was not fundamental in the decline of the kingdom, it made the final destruction short and quick. In his celebrated work ‘Prince’ Machiavelli states " to slaughter fellow citizens, to betray friends, to be devoid of honour,, pity and religion, cannot be counted as merits, for these are means which may lead to power but which confer no glory". Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was quite unaware of the inglorious betrayal until the last phase of the episode. Conspiracy is so shameful, that the conspirators try to hide themselves even in the dark. In Julius Caesar,, Shakespeare writes, "O conspiracy shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night". Sri Wickrama was the unfortunate victim of this shameful joint intrigue of the British and the Kandyan nobility who operated behind the king.


"Et Tu Brute? Then fall Caesar" It was Julius Caesar’s end as depicted by Shakespeare. Blood stained Caesar’s body was still warm when Mark Antony stood to safeguard Caesar’s honour. But there was non to denounce the treachery that operated behind -the desolated monarch of Kandy who stood his ground defending the independent heritage of the country until his capture. Instead, the British historians and their native allies were depicting the king to suit their motives. In his introduction in ‘TRI SINHALA’ of Paul E. Pieris, Dr. Sinharaja Tammita Delgoda illustrates the situation with sufficient clarity. "On his death in 1832, ‘The Ceylon journal described him as a man with no qualification for majesty except a portly figure’, with scarcely a single virtue to make up for a thousand crimes. Ruthless and cruel though he may have been in his pursuit of rebels, there is no evidence to suggest that Sri ‘Wickrama Rajasinghe was particularly unjust or arbitrary in his behaviour" in fact the last king of our country was ‘a man of commanding presence and dignity, strikingly good looking and sharply intelligent’ as revealed by Paul E. Pieris.

‘The decline and fall of the Kandyan kingdom cannot be attributed to the cruelty of the king as his opponents had tried to indicate hideously from the darkness of shame. Historical change doesn’t depend on personal qualities. It’s the other way round.

In the time of peace the king turned the city of Kandy into a scenic spot. The lake he built among the green hills and the Octagon he added to the palace of the Tooth Relic are jewels of supreme beauty. R. L. Brohier’s description on the construction of the Kandy lake sheds light on king’s mind. "The king apparently struck by the idea that he would like to walk from his palace block to Malwatta Vihara, instructed his chief craftsman and architect to have a bund built over the intervening soggy paddy fields. The water which the bund eventually held a beautiful lake which pleased the king immensely. He named it ‘Kiri Muhuda’ which means sea of milk. The living monuments are a better source to read kings mind than the unfounded stories of the colonial masters.

Finally it should be mentioned that the king did not surrender. He was captured in his retreat towards Uva where he anticipated support for a comeback.

On this day of 2nd March patriots of this country are bound to bring the truth to its own feet which lies trampled with the image of the last king.

The conspirators put Sri Wickrama Rajasingha on trial. History has absolved him.

Kandu Rata Sanskruthika Sangamaya