Madduma Bandara — The lesser known facts about the brutal assassination

drawing.jpg (21665 bytes)by S. B. Karalliyadda
On May 17th falls the 188th anniversary of the beheading of the child hero — the horrendous crime committed by Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last Malabar Monarch of Senkadagala. It was the day on which the entire Ehelepola clan was routed. This article is an attempt to look into the political back ground that prevailed in the Kandyan kingdom which culminated in the brutal assassination of 73 Kandyan Chiefs with their kith and kin. The folklore still popular in the Kandyan areas narrating this episode is below.

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At the demise of Rajasinghe II in December 1684 his son Wimaladharmasuriya II succeeded him. The successor to the throne after Wimaladharmasuriya was his son Sri Weera Parakrama Narendrasinghe who ascended to the throne after gaining a majority consent consequent to a division of opinion in the Kandyan court. Opinion was divided among the Chiefs of Denuwara and Dedumbara and the majority will of the Dumbara people prevailed. The Nayakkara dynasty surfaced in the Kingdom after this incident. King Narendrasinghe had no issues from his Sinhalese Queens and a princess from India who was the daughter of a Malabar Chief was brought to Kandy as his consort. The accepted custom and tradition of the son succeeding to the throne after the father that prevailed hitherto was changed by Narendrasinghe to enable a brother of the Queen to succeed the king. It was as a result of this stupid decision of the King that the Sinhale kingship which lasted for thousands of years changed into the hands of the Malabar dynasty.

Mampitiye Bandara an issue of the King born to a non-royal (Yakada doli) and the two Epas of Uva and Dumbara who had a claim to the throne due to their connections to the royalty were all deprived of their opportunity to succeed to the throne. This incident occurred exactly seventy five years before the child hero Madduma Bandara paid the supreme sacrifice. Weeraparakrama Narendrasinghe ascended to the throne on the 13th May 1739 and Madduma Bandara was beheaded on the 17th May 1814 after seventy five years of Malabar/Nayakkar rule. This day marks not only the death of the child hero but also the end of the Malabar regime ten months after this incident on the 19th February 1815 for which many a struggle were launched by our forefathers. It was the combination of King Wimaladharmasuriya I and Kusumasane Devi in 1592, that gave a Sinhalese Royalty to the country for nearly a one and half centuries up to Narendrasinghe of Kundasale until 1739. It was a period of constant wars waged against the Kandyan Kingdom by Rajasinghe I of Seethawaka on one side and the Portuguese from Menikkadawara fortress coming up to Balana via Ganetenna. It is an irony of fate that the grandson of Wimaladharmasooriya who helped to continue Sinhala Royalty for thousands of years surrendered the right to the Sinhala throne to Nayakkara dynasty as a gift for supplying concubines.

Malabar dynasty

The Sinhalese resented the Malabar regime so much that Narendrasingha’s successor Sri Wijaya Ragasinghe had to become a Buddhist to succeed to the throne. The accepted custom and tradition was that the King should be a Buddhist to be the custodian of the tooth relic. Hence all the Malabar successors to the throne became Buddhists while they had to provide for the practice of the religion of their consorts. Thus in Senkadagala kingdom and in the immediate neighbourhood of the temple of the

Tooth there were several Devalas built, devoted to the Hindu Gods. The displeasure of the Kandyans however prevailed among all sections of the people in the Kandyan kingdom. The people believed that a non Buddhist had no right to be the King although the Malabars were to become Buddhist by circumstances forced on them. They also had to give patronage to the worship of Hindu Gods and attend to the Devala rituals. The Kings who ascended to the Kandyan throne subsequently Sri Wijaya Rajasinghe, Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, Rajadi Rajasinghe and the last King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe had to face the problem of winning the confidence of their subjects to continue a smooth and a peaceful reign in the Kingdom. During the entire reign of seventy five years the Malabar/Nayakkar Kings had to face various conspiracies and coups planned to oust them from the throne.

Intrigue in the kingdom

An incident is recorded where attempts were made to kill Narendrasingha when he was engaged in water sports. The plan was to plant sharpened iron spikes under the waters where the king usually bathed so that these sharpened iron spikes will pierce the chest when the king performed acrobats on the water. This site is known as Ritigala up to date. King Narendrasingha was succeeded by his brother-in-law who was in-charge of the kings treasury at Hanguranketa — Sri Wijaya Rajasingha. Wijaya Rajasingha who was the first to establish a Nayakkar dynasty died in 1747 after a short reign of eight years. Narendrappa father-in-law of the King, a South Indian who accompanied the Queens and their brothers was a strong headed uppish person who became a law unto himself. He used the powers of the King to ill treat the Kandyans. It was reported that once he got Pilamatalawe Maha Adikaram locked up in a room in the palace and tortured and threatened him with death. The people having come to know of this incident were very angry and were impatiently waiting for an opportunity to take revenge. These were reasons for Manpitiya Disawa and Dumbara Epa to launch a coup to oust Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe from the throne. They were two Kandyan chiefs who detested the Malabar reign from the very beginning. In January 1765 Dutch troops attacked Senkadagala and Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe fled to Hanguranketa and Rev. Welivita Saranankara Thero escaped to Meda Mahanuwara taking the tooth relics with him. It was the Dumbara Epa and Adigar of Meda Mahanuwara, Mediwaka Seneviratna Rajakaruna Abeysinghe Abeykoon who collected troops from Dumbara and Hatara Korale and massacred the Dutch troops and chased the Dutch soldiers who escaped as far as Colombo. The successor to Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe faced an accidental death which incident is another interesting episode in the Kandyan history. The First Adigar Pilimatalawa who later on had to face serious consequences paved the way for Kannasamy a youth of 18 years to ascend the throne as Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe on 17th July 1798.

Rule of Sri Wickrama Rajasingha

The Court of the King included Pilimatalawa Maha Adikaram, Meegastenna (Senior), Ehelepola, Mullegama, Dehigama, Wettewa, Millawa, Galagoda, Palipana, Madugalla, Moladanda, Doranegama, Mattamagoda, Leuke, Ratwatte, Unambuwa, Meegastenna (Junior) the Kandyan Chiefs. Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe harboured a grudge against the first Adigar from the time of his marriage. The King was not impressed with the wedding present given to him by Pilimatalawa since he believed that it was not worth a present from his Prime Minister. The King also gathered intelligence that the first Adigar was having secret diplomatic relations with Governor Fredric North. These relations aroused a suspension in the King. At this time the Adigar had a secret meeting with North at Avissawella on 8th January 1800. An attack was launched by the British troops on the Kandyan Kingdom on 28th January 1805 under the command of Major Macdowell. Under the circumstances the King got Pilimatalawa and his nephew Ratwatte beheaded in 1812 and another nephew of Pilimatalawa-Ehelepola was appointed First Adigar. Ehelepola like his uncle had his own plans for the Kingdom.

The people of the Kandyan Kingdom did not tolerate the alien rule throughout the seventy five years. They were waiting for an opportunity to get rid of the Malabar rulers. The field was set and what was necessary was a back ground to ignite. Two Pilimatalawa Adigars, Ehelepola, Ratwatta, Madugalla were the leading figures in these struggles. Sabaragamuwa where Ehelepola was the Disawa was already in revolt. Ehelepola earned the wrath of the King and fled to Colombo. Molligoda was sent to Sabaragamuwa to contain the rebels. Forty three chiefs from the area were brought to Kandy.

The King was determined to take revenge. The innocent wife and children of Ehelepola were brought before the King. The males were ordered to be beheaded while the female children were put to the rice pounder. The wife of Ehelepola and her cousin sister were drowned in Bogambara lake.

Jhon Doyly officially reported to Governor Brownrig on 23rd May 1814 that 73 rebels and their children and domestic aides were beheaded on this day. Among them were the nephews of Ehelepola, the Disava of Nuwarakalaviya — Pussella his wife and children. It was the innocent children of Ehelepola and Pussella who paid the supreme sacrifice for the struggle of their parents and grand patents. The entire Kingdom wept for weeks and no fire was lit in any house for three days. The curse and prayer of the people for vengeance was answered when the king could not live in peace in his Kingdom for the ten months until he was finally captured on the 19th February 1815 with the assistance of the people.