Exchanging real estate, power and religion for worthless titles Conversion of Prince Vijaya Pala
Posted on August 17th, 2013

ACSLU Essays on Unethical Conversion

The Portuguese were able to bring undue influence on a number of members of the Royal households of Kotte, Sitavaka and Kandy to embrace Christianity. This was done largely by way of missionary education, which was directed by political considerations. >From the early period of Portuguese presence we learn that King Bhuvanakabahu was able to avoid being converted though Franciscan friars applied much pressure on him to do so. But he was unable to prevent missionaries from gaining intimate access to his court. Missionaries tutored his grandson Dharmapala, which finally resulted in him being baptized.Likewise in the Kandyan Kingdom, Vikrama Bahu’s son the feeble minded Jayavira was converted and Jayavira’s daughter Dona Catherina was brought up from her infant days by missionaries. King Senerat who married Dona Catherina after the death of her first husband Wimala Dharma Suriya, was liberal minded but lacking in far sight. He allowed their children, mostly at the request of his wife Queen Dona Catherina, to be instructed by Franciscan priests. It had a denationalizing effect at least on some of the children. The classic example is Prince Vijaya Pala. The conversion of Prince Vijaya Pala to Christianity reveals deep – seated strategies of Portuguese State and Church policy to turn members of Sinhalese Royal families away from Buddhism.

King Senerat chose his youngest son Maha Astana (later known as Rajasinghe II) to succeed him in the Kanda Uda Rata over riding the claims of the latter’s elder brothers, Kumara Sinha and Vijaya Pala. Senarat was aware of the pre-disposition of young Vijaya Pala towards things Portuguese. Vijaya Pala himself acknowledges this inclination in his correspondence to the Viceroy of Goa as follows: ” .. I was born with a strong predilection for the Portuguese nation. In my earliest days greatly to the satisfaction of the Queen my mother, there was assigned to me as Mestre the Padre Frey Francisco Negrao, who taught me to read and write. Under his instructions I learnt very good customs and etiquette and some special habits which Royal persons employ. Though I am a Chingala by blood I am a Portuguese in my ways and affections” (83)

Vijaya Pala then laments bitterly saying ” that this is the chief reason for my losing my Kingdom, treasures, the Queen my wife, my son, and all that I possessed.” (84)

In another letter Vijaya Pala says ” I have no confidence in my own people’ (85) Paul E. Peiris referring to the above statements of Vijaya Pala says ” A more saddening confession it is not easy to imagine; his pride of race and country were destroyed, and in place of the fervid patriotism which alone befitted a Prince of the Royal family in this, the long drawn out death agony of his people, was substituted an ape like imitation of Portuguese habits and ways of thought” (86) Vijaya Pala harbouring a bitter dispute with his brother Rajasinghe crossed over to the Portuguese side seeking military assistance to overthrow his brother and gain the Kingdom of Kandy for himself. The Portuguese instead detained him in Colombo and later took him to Goa where Vijaya Pala came under intense pressure to convert. He was baptized on December 8, 1646 at a ceremony held at the Church of Sao Francisco and given a new name ‘ Dom Theodosio ‘ (87). The Viceroy of Goa ceremoniously crowned him as the new ‘Emperor of Candia'(88). But he was not allowed to leave Goa.(89)

His entourage altogether totaling 94 persons including Generals of his army, four princes of the Royal family, his Ambassador were also baptized on the same day.(90)

The reason why Vijaya Pala was not allowed to return to Matale, his abode, has been based on an order given by the Portuguese King to his officials in the mission fields that ” if by any means or chance any King or Prince, Gentile fall into our power, he should not be allowed to return to his territories to continue in their rites and ceremonies” (91) Instead such Princes should be persuaded to receive the water of Holy Baptism (92).

Vijaya Pala died in 1654 in Goa as a highly disappointed broken man – a victim of crass stupidity and denationalizing missionary education that finally had the effect of pushing him to desert his country, cross over to the enemy, denounce his race, betray his religion and ultimately give up his Sinhala birth name for the sake of an alien Portuguese name.

In fairness to Vijaya Pala he was not alone among the ruling classes of this country during the long colonial period who found resounding honorifics from foreign conquerors as acceptable a compensation for the loss of the reality of power.

Repression of Buddhism in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese (1505 – 1658)By Senaka Weeraratna (June 12, 2005)


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