The last King of  Jaffna was a Sinhala-Buddhist
Posted on December 30th, 2016

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Part of the crisis we are facing today was caused by either deliberately hiding the realities of history, or by political activists  distorting  it  to suit expedient politics  and partisan ideologies.  Distorted  history indeed  played a central  role in dividing the Sinhala-Tamil communities on ethnic lines. One of the main thrusts of peninsular  politics was to distort Sri Lankan history and polarise the two communities to keep them apart on ethnic lines. It began  with G. G. Ponnambalam  who launched  his political campaign in the  thirties by targeting the Sinhalese and their  history. He became the champion of the Tamils by  delivering a nine-hour lecture  to  the Soulbury Commissioners in which he blamed  the Sinhala government” for discriminating” against the Tamils. Neither  he  nor  any of  his successors who held the leadership of Jaffna stood for any progressive, liberal, socialist, or pluralistic political programmes for peaceful co-existence. They survived in politics by rousing communal  passions  in  Jaffna against the Sinhalese. The  usual litany of complaints against the Sinhalese, which began with Ponnambalam, was dismissed by the Soulbury Commissioners as stuff and nonsense, unsubstantiated by the available  evidence.

But this  did  not  stop him  from attacking the Mahavamsa and Sinhala  history. It  is  his distortions  of  history that caused the first Tamil-Sinhala riots  in Nawalapitiya in 1939. His Sinhala rival, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, thanked  him for giving a boost to  the newly formed Sinhala Maha Sabha which was established  to counter anti-Sinhala racism. Since then  the anti-Sinhala racism of Jaffna politics has been the regular diet fed to the people  of Jaffna. It the scapegoat  on which Jaffna  politicians  have been riding, partly to cover up their political sins of treating  their  own people as pariahs unfit for  human society and partly to demonise  the Sinhala-Buddhists – the indispensable political tool  used consistently to gain  political  mileage both  domestically and internationally.

A common feature of  Jaffna  politics is the refusal to assess Sri  Lankan  history objectively without looking at  it through the coloured lenses of either Ponnambalam, or S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. The ultimate  expression  of  anti-Sinhala racism  was enshrined as the official  history of Tamils in the Vadukoddai Resolution  of 1976. Subsequently, it became the standard reference  point  for academics, NGOs pundits, researchers, social scientist and the whole caboodle of pro-separatist, or pro-devolution ideologues. Any factual or objective analysis  of history that goes counter to the authorised version of Tamil politics throws the Jaffna Tamils off balance. Schooled essentially in the locally manufactured history they are utterly confused when  confronted with any critical / scientific / objective history that questions the hand-woven history that were rolled out like home-made beedi for popular consumption.

Scholars, however, are not unanimous about the Vadukoddian version  of mono-causal history, its geography, or its anti-Sinhala-Buddhist  ideology that led the Tamils all the way to Nandikadal. The post-Vadukoddai image  of Jaffna does  not conform  to the recorded facts in history. Besides, claims and counter-claims  have obfuscated the history misleading the followers into  paths of suicidal violence. For instance, the first known settlement of migrants of S. India which began in the thirteenth century in Jaffna is labelled by scholars under different classifications. Some  say its a kingdom and others  refer to it as a principality or as a feudatory. The combined geographical boundaries of the north and the east, which they claim to be their exclusive  domain, have no historical basis nor  demographic  justification (there are more Tamils living with the Sinhalese than in their so-called homeland”), except that they were drawn by the British who centralised the administration by dividing  it into regional provinces. The Sinhala kings in the south, however, considered themselves to be the overlords of the entire island. It is  in keeping  with this doctrine that the King  of Kotte ruled Jaffna with Sapumal Kumaraya (aka, Sembaperumal),  his general, as the resident ruler of Jaffna.

King  Senerat of  Kandy, an ex-Buddhist monk, too considered Jaffna to be a part of his kingdom and when the Portuguese defeated Sankili II in 1619, he bided  his time and sent Mudliyar Atapattu, one of his  kinsman, with an army of five thousand soldiers, to capture Jaffna. There were, of course, strategic and economic  reasons also for invading  Jaffna. The advancing Sinhala forces  swept into Jaffna with the people of Jaffna rallying behind the victorious Sinhala  forces who captured Jaffna by driving out the Portuguese from the land. They were  holed  up in the confines  of their fortress in Jaffna which was under siege by the forces of Atapattu. Fr. Queroz, the leading authority of the time wrote …. the enemy (i.e, the Sinhalese) made himself master of the Kingdom unopposed.”

So supreme seemed to be their success that the Kandyans even tried to collect taxes”. This was the highpoint of the invasion. The Kandyans had advanced  right up to the Jaffna Fort, the enemy’s innermost defences and encamped before it on the Pachellpallai plain.” – p.276, Kandy Fights the Portuguese, The Military History of Kandyan Resistance, C. Gaston Perera’s, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2007.) Senarat’s claim to the Jaffna kingdom  was strengthened by the  marriage of his two sons to the Jaffna princesses in Tanjore against the wishes of the Portuguese who feared that a marriage alliance between the two kingdoms would be a certain threat to their security and stakes.

After Jaffna was handed over to  the Portuguese un der the terms  of the Nallur Convention, the people of Jaffna were  oppressed  cruelly by the occupation army of the  Portuguese. Naturally, they rallied behind the invading Kandyan forces and went on the rampage, burning the hated symbols of Portuguese Churches. The  triumphant Kandyan  forces were  emboldened by the mass support of  the  population. After the  defeat  of Sankilli II in 1619 the  people  of  Jaffna were happy to accept the Sinhala forces (in 1629) as liberators. Fr. Bruno wrote that the Kandyan army was joined by the whole kingdom.” (Fr. V. Perniola, The Catholic Church  in Sri Lanka, Portuguese Period. )  So technically, legally, politically and  militarily Senerat established himself  as the last king of Jaffna by taking  over power from  the Portuguese in the last  battle  for Jaffna. His invasion of Jaffna, his  conquest of  Jaffna, grabbing power from  the Portuguese, his  being in total command of  the territory, his imposition of  taxes and, above all, the mass support  he  got  from  the people of  Jaffna makes  him  the legitimate and acknowledged king  of Jaffna.

The capture of Jaffna by King Senarat in 1629 is also recorded by Captain Ribeiro who wrote : But  while  our (Portuguese) army was laying  waste to the whole of that (Kandyan) kingdom, the General (Constantine de Saa) was advised that the King had sent  five thousand chosen men to Jafanapatao under the command of Modeliar of his Atapata, the Captain of his  personal bodyguard; he knew that that kingdom  and  fortress were feebly garrisoned, and that Felippe de Oliviera, who had brought it  under the dominion of  the Portuguese, was dead.” – (p. 87, The Historic Tragedy of the Island  of Ceilao, Captain Joao Ribeiro, translated by Paul E. Peiris, Asian  Educational  Services,  New Delhi. 1999). Clearly, this indicates that King  Senerat, after calculating the political situation in Jaffna , had picked the right moment to strike. It was, as indicated by Ribeiro,  the weakest moment  of Portuguese rule in Jaffna. Fr. Queroz too had devoted a chunk  of his history to the conquest of Jaffna. Referring  to  Modliyar Atapattu’s expedition to Jaffna he  wrote : This was the last battle in the conquest of Jaffna.”

The invasion and capture of Jaffna by Senerat blasts the politico-legal myth that the sovereignty of Jaffna was passed on to the Portuguese by the last king Sankilli II of Jaffna and, therefore, the British should  have  handed back sovereignty to his  descendants, the Tamils. But history records that the last king of Jaffna was Senerat, a Sinhala-Buddhist King of Kandy, and not Sankilli II, though he was last king of Aryachakravarti dynasty. As Senerat was the last king  to fight the  last battle over Jaffna there could  be no doubt that sovereignty passed over finally from the Sinhala  king  to the Portuguese. The conquest of Jaffna by Senerat’s forces in 1629 negated the validity of the Nallur Convention in which Jaffna handed over power to the Portuguese in 1619. The fate of Jaffna was settled  finally in last battle” fought by Senerat and not at the Nallur Convention.

When Mudliyar  Attapattu was  holding Jaffna the Portuguese general Constantine de Saa had to send two columns from the south to challenge him and regain Jaffna for the Portuguese King. Even though Mudliyar  Atapattu held Jaffna for a  brief  while, history records that sovereignty finally passed  over to the Portuguese only after the defeat of Mudliyar  Attapattu on Jaffna  soil. The victory of Mudliyar Attapatu makes Senarat the last king  of Jaffna. And the defeat  of Mudliyar Atapattu establishes  that sovereignty was regained by the Portuguese only after defeating him. There  is serio-comic irony in this historical event : the last King  of Jaffna was a Sinhalese and the last king of the Sinhalese was a Tamil. Such are the twists and turns of history which mock the pompous racial assumptions of extremists.

Accepting  the  historical truths as recorded  by reliable eye-witnesses is indispensable to  draw accurate  conclusions  from history. The pro-Tamil lobby had laboured indefatigably to comb every nook and corner of history to extract evidence to prove that Jaffna  belongs to them exclusively.  One of the main arguments is  based on the Nallur Convention in which they claim that power  was handed  over by the Tamils to the Portuguese. From this  point they trace a line of power flowing from Tamils to the Portuguese and from Portuguese to the Dutch and from the Dutch to the British. From  this chain of events they conclude that the British should have handed  over power to them instead  of  handing  it over to the Sinhalese because it was the Tamils who handed over  power  to  the Portuguese. But the historical events, as  recorded by the Portuguese historians, confirm  that the  Sinhala King  recaptured Jaffna and the decisive and final transfer power took place only after the Portuguese reclaimed Jaffna by defeating the Sinhala forces. So the ultimate  transfer  of  power took place when  the Sinhalese lost Jaffna to the  Portuguese in the last battle  for Jaffna in 1629 and not  when the Tamils lost  it to them in 1619.

The Nallur agreement signed  with the Portuguese has no relevance to the transfer  of power because after the conquest of Jaffna by Senarat the Nallur Agreement had no validity under the new  political dispensation  of the  Kandyan  King. The conquest of Jaffna by Senerat superseded the previous arrangements with the Tamil kings. As the last king  of Jaffna  it was his word that reigned supreme in the destiny of Jaffna. This emphasizes the prime necessity of  establishing  historical truths to  prevent falsifications  of  history and, more  importantly, to  trace the proper sequence of  events  without hiding relevant historical facts for political gain. The validity of the Tamil claim to a separate state  based on  their argument  that sovereignty of Jaffna was passed over  to the Portuguese by the Tamil king loses legitimacy and  credibility when tested against the eye-witness records of the  Portuguese  historians. A nation does not deserve to be divided on fictitious history.

One  other  point that is  noteworthy is that in the officials records  of the Portuguese, Dutch and the early 19th century British there wasn’t a community known as the Tamils. The Jaffna Tamils were consistently branded as Malabaris. There were no Tamils, per se, in the known records until late in the 19th century. Here  is an example from  the British records : There is no part of the world where so  many languages are spoken or which contains such mixture of nations, manners and religions. Besides Europeans and Cingalese, the proper native of the  island, you meet scattered all over the town almost every race of Asiatic : Moors of every class, Malabars, Travancorins, Malays, Hindoos, Gentoos, Chinese, Persians, Arabians, Turks, Maldivians, Javians and Natives of all the Asiatic isles. Parsees or worshippers of fire, who would  sooner have their houses burnt and themselves perish  in the flames than employ any means to extinguish it. There are  also a number of Africans, Cafrees, Buganese, mixed race of Africans and Asiatic; beside the half-castes, people of colour and other races which proceed from a mixture of  the  original ones. Each  of  these different class of people has its own manners, customs and language.”

This was  written in 1803 by R. Perceival in  his  book, An Account of the Island of Ceylon, (London 1803, pp. 114-115).  What is striking in Perceival’s report is  the absence of Tamils in this account. The absence  of a racial group established as Tamils from  the early colonial records is puzzling. However, it  is wrong  to conclude  that the Tamils were not there. Even the Mahavamsa  records the prevalence of the Tamils (Demalas). The reference to Tamils comes into prominence mainly in the British records of the late 19th century, particularly after the censuses which classified the  people according to  races. The Portuguese and the Dutch classified them  essentially as Malabaris.

In the early colonial periods, however, the  influx  of S, Indian migrants from Malabar and Travancore must  have  overshadowed the native Tamils. Besides, the Tamil consciousness” which rides high, overdetermining current politics, could not  have been  in existence in the early colonial periods. As  shown  earlier, the records do not even recognise Tamils as a communal  entity. The  rise of Tamils as a political force, driven by the Saivite-casteist forces forged  in its insular past,  is clearly a post-British phenomenon. This  development has a  history of  its own which has to be explored more thoroughly to disentangle the interweaving threads of north-south  relations that worsened inter-ethnic relations. The  rise of Tamil consciousness”, in its most  virulent form, emerging from nowhere, as it were, has been a decisive factor in the 20th century  and, oddly enough, our  social scientists have ignored this aspect in analysing the Tamil past  that went awry.

5 Responses to “The last King of  Jaffna was a Sinhala-Buddhist”

  1. S.Gonsal Says:

    “the last King of Jaffna was a Sinhalese and the last king of the Sinhalese was a Tamil.

    -Lucky we had British, then, to capture the cruel Tamil king, otherwise, by now the whole of the country would be under Nadu.
    Do we have to handover the country to some other world power in order to save it for future Sinhalas ?

    The very Tamil behaviour of 225 odd Mudliars of present time emphasises exactly that.

    Let us give 150,000 acres (not 15,000) to Chinese. Give the whole of Jaffna for a start.

  2. SA Kumar Says:

    The last King of Jaffna was a Sinhala-Buddhist- agreed also last King of Nuvera was a Saivite-Demala !

  3. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Muslims in Ceylon may have been subject to a genocide or annihilation by the Portuguese given what the Portuguese did to the Muslims in Goa. All Muslim males above 16 years of age were killed and all the Muslim women were captured and enslaved as mistresses or concubines of Portuguese soldiers. When Muslims who were treated as aliens and non – citizen traders and were being hounded and killed by the Portuguese almost at every turn, it was the King Senerath who again came to their rescue in 1626. The King not only gave them shelter but even provided means of livelihood. The King of Kandy settled some 4000 Muslims in Batticaloa because the East of Sri Lanka was an integral part of the Kandyan Kingdom.

    It was only in 1815 that the Muslims in Sri Lanka were first officially allowed to own land and property in Sri Lanka. Muslims as part of the Sri Lankan polity officially began to be counted from 1815 onwards only because prior to that they were designated as aliens and treated like foreigners, intruders or persona non grata. Neither the Portuguese nor the Dutch gave them any recognition given the historical enmity of Christians towards Muslims that developed during the Crusades.

    Portuguese & Dutch records referred to then residents of Jaffna as Malabar (coming from India’s Malabar coast) and this changed only in 1911 when the British introduced for the first time the term ‘Ceylon Tamils’ under the influence of Ponnambalam Arunachchalam then Registrar General who compiled the National Census Report in 1911.

  4. Christie Says:

    Indian colonial parasites in the island are not different to other Indian colonial parasites in the former British-Indian Empire and now the Indian Empire.

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    Re the Last King of Kandy – the story :

    P. Dolapihilla in his book “Sri Wickrema Rajasingha : The Last King of Kandy” talks of the Mathaka Katha tradition where the truth of what went on in the Kingdom of Kandy was told.
    Re Sri Wickrema, it is said that he was the offspring of King Rajasingha II, but the child’s mother was a Tamil ‘courtesan’ who was living in the Peradeniya area. The Chief Adigar Pilimatallawe, who had set his eyes on the Throne of Kandy, at that time also visited the same ‘courtesan’, and there is some doubt who the real father of the child was. Either way, the child’s father is believed to be a Sinhala person, and the mother definitely a Tamil ‘courtesan’. The child grew up with the mother and took to the Tamil culture. Thus the belief he was a Tamil person.

    When King Rajasingha II met an untimely death on ‘falling from his horse’, the Chief Adigar Pilimatallawe (the Kingmaker) quickly brought in the child claiming him to the King’s offspring. The child called him ‘aththa’.

    As the child king grew up, there were frequent quarrels between the King and the Kingmaker, his ‘aththa’. The British sensed the lack of empathy in the royal household and sent in whiskey to the now grown up King, Sri Wickrema. The King was drunk from time to time, and in his drunken rages gave cruel and unjust orders against his Adigars, the most notable order was the killing of the Ehelepola family. Benumbed and cornered, the Adigars handed over their drunken King to the British.
    Thus the sad ending of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Kandy, and the end of the Kingdom of Kandy, with the start of British Rule over Sri Lanka.

    I would welcome comments on this recap of what really happened in Kandy in the years prior to 1815.

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