Posted on July 23rd, 2014

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane


 saved his motherland from the shackles of foreign invasion and his nation from extinction, besides rescuing Buddhism – that forms the foundation of the national culture  of this great nation, from an untimely end.


Konappu Bandara was crowned as Wimaladharmasuriya-I, in 1591 CE in the Kingdom of Senkadagala or Kande Uda Rata, the bastion of Sinhala Buddhist culture. King Wimaladharmasuriya (1591–1604) was the timely savior of Buddhism and the Sinhala nation at a time when they were under severe threat. He saved his motherland from the ravages of alien invasion and his nation from extinction. He rescued Buddhism, the religion that inspired a great culture and civilization in this country, from an untimely end. The Sinhala people of today, would not have a Buddhist religion or culture worth talking about had it not been for this outstanding Sinhala king. It was his vision, strategy, courage, vigor and his sacrifices that prevented this country from falling into the hands of the ruthless Portuguese Catholic invaders, in the early 16th century. Had it not been for him, this country would have become another Goa or an Asian aberration like the Philippines where the Catholic Spaniards almost totally wiped out the native culture.


The ‘Treaty of Tordesillas’, 1494 CE, drawn up by Pope Alexander VI,  had authorized  Portugal and Spain, the two most militarily powerful countries of all Roman Catholic Europe at the time, to send their armies headed by Conquistadors, around the world, to bring the fear of God to the godless Heathens” and in addition, to colonize, plunder and exploit as they desired. The whole of Europe was shuddering at the continuing news of the wholesale slaughter of the native peoples of the Caribbean and the total extermination of the Incas of Peru, the Aztecs of Mexico and the Mayan civilizations and many more. Spanish Conquistadors pursued a similar brutal policy on South America’s native population. Similarly, Portuguese Captain Lorenzu de Almeida – caught in a dramatic storm at the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ in the Indian Ocean was accidentally brought to the Sri Lankan shores in the year 1505 CE. This paved the way to the founding of unprecedented doom to the Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

The atrocities committed by the Portuguese and their ruthless venture to execute the ideology administered by ‘The Treaty of Tordesillas’ throughout the Asian region was clearly most repulsive. In the case of South Asia, in Goa India, many years of  Portuguese aggression and violence, followed by centuries of interbreeding with the native population made the Goanese totally lose their Indian identity. The case of Philippines commonly referred to as the Asian aberration” is most ghastly and horrific. Here, the Catholic Spaniards almost totally wiped out the indigenous culture and values, making the country 83% Roman Catholic. They went to the extent of giving virtually every Filipino a Spanish first name and surname, extinguishing their own traditions, beliefs, including their  matrimonial and other inherent life-styles.  Similar aberration was resorted to by the Portuguese in the Maritime Provinces and parts of the Sitawaka Kingdom of Sri Lanka and evidenced by the inter-mingling of such first names and surnames through out the country to-date.


With the pact entered to by King Don Juan Dharmapala of Kotte who bequeathed the Kingdom to the Portuguese Monarch in 1579 CE, and consequently when the Kingdom of Sitawaka fell during the rule of Portuguese puppet Buvanekabahu–VII, the Portuguese went on rampage with maximum brutality to destroy Buddhist and Hindu Temples, monuments and places of worship. They forced the people to convert from Buddhism to Christianity. Those who refused to be converted and baptized were mercilessly eliminated. They killed men, women and children in an exhilarated effort in their vow to annihilate the Buddhist existence from the face of the earth.  It is said that it was a matter of sport” for Portuguese troops to throw up babies of Sinhala-Buddhists and receive them back on sword-point or bayonet-spike. Such was the brutality of the Portuguese invaders. In this direction, indoctrination of the Catholic Church invariably influenced the militarily powerful Spain and Portugal of the time, to grab the Biblical Deuteronomy: Chapter 2 – Vs. 30, 34 and other relative psalms as their guidelines in the process of forcible Christianization, and expand their authority, especially in the South Asian region – the birth place of other religious philosophies.


In 1505 when the Portuguese arrived in the country, Kotte was the royal capital. In 1521, owing to several reasons including rivalries among Sinhala royalty, the traditional Sinhala kingdom was fragmented with the separation of the Sitawaka kingdom under king Mayadunne. In 1581, his son Rajasinghe-I, became the king of Sitawaka. In 1590 the Kotte kingdom was further divided with the emergence of the Kande Udarata or Senkadapura kingdom. King Rajasinghe-I,  wished to expand his kingdom by annexing the Kanda-udarata kingdom and in the battles that ensured, he put to death Virasundara Bandara, a popular and prominent Sinhala Chief of Kande Udarata.

Konappu Bandara, who was the son of Virasundara Bandara escaped King Rajasinghe’s rage, and sought Portuguese protection. The Portuguese knew that he could be a useful person to have with, especially because he knew the war tactics of the Sinhala people. He was consequently baptized  and received his first names as Don Juan”. Konappu Bandara. He spoke fluent Portuguese and had the opportunity to know the intentions,  machinations and tactics of the Portuguese as far as his country was concerned. He was given the opportunity to study and to be trained in Goa and Portugal where he also learned all the Portuguese tactics. He realized that the Portuguese were planning to capture the entire country and carry out a forcible Christianizing of his country and using him to achieve these devious intentions.


The Kande udarata or Senkadapura kingdom emerged in 1590. The Portuguese chose Konappu Bandara as the commander of the army to attack Kande Udara or Senkadapura.  Konappu Bandara led the army to Kande Udarata to place Yamasingha Bandara on the throne. When the Portuguese army was approaching Kadugannawa,  Konappu Bandara was approached by several important Kande Udarata Chiefs and convinced him to rise against Portuguese capture of Kande Udarata Sinhala kingdom. In 1592, Don Juan Konappu Bandara, the Portuguese commander  turned against the Portuguese, destroyed their army and placed himself on the throne as Wimaladharmasuriya–I. As could be expected the Portuguese hated King Wimaladharmasuriya, who was trained by them in everything, and to see that he had turned against them at this very crucial moment. The Jesuit historian De Queyroz always refers to Wimaladharmasuriya as the traitor”. To the Sinhala people, he was a great savior. With Wimaladhramasuriya –I,  on the throne, Senkadagalapura or Mahanuwara, the last remnant of Sinhala political power emerged as the custodian of Sinhala nationalism and Buddhism. The rest of the country was under Portuguese rule – under a Catholic government.


The Portuguese – after their 1591 defeat at Danture, planned to use Princess Kusumasana Devi a Sinhala of royal blood from Kandeudarata, to consolidate their power in the Kande Udarata Kingdom. They claimed that she was the rightful heir to the Throne of Senkadagala. The Portuguese baptized her as Dona Catherina in the name of the then Queen of Portugal,  in a subtle plan for a Portuguese to wed her. He was the nephew of Portuguese Governor designate and Portugal’s first Conquistador in Sri Lanka, Captain-General Pedro Lopez de Souza. The aim of the scheme was to make Sri Lanka a vassal state of Portugal.

This time too, King Wimaladharmasuriya vanquished the Portuguese attempts by himself marrying Dona Catherina, and further consolidating his royal stand, after smashing Portuguese forces for the second time in Gannoruwa in 1594. This battle also, stands tall in the country’s history, in its defense against invaders. The location of the war has been named Gannoruwa Ranabima” today, meaning – Gannoruwa Battlefield” – to mark this remarkable second victory of Wimaladharmasuriya, against the brutal Portuguese forces. This battle ended the Portuguese’ dream of claiming the ‘Kande Udarata’ Kingdom.

Only KandeUdarata alone faced the brunt of three European powers the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.  KandeUdarata survived for two and a half-centuries and survived with dignity maintaining its own independence.

According to historian Lorna Devaraja, The battle of Danture, in which Vimaladharmasuriya annihilated Lopez De Souza’s troops, was one of the most decisive battles in Sri Lankan history.  If ‘Kandy’ had fallen into Portuguese hands in 1594, the whole of Sri Lanka would have been a Portuguese possession at least till 1815 when the British took over.  All traces of Sinhala civilization would have been lost. There is no doubt about that. Because wherever the Portuguese went they completely exterminated all indigenous cultures and indigenous religions.  And we would have then been like the Philippines if we had three or four hundred years of Portuguese rule, with all traces of indigenous culture wiped out.”


The reign of King Wimaladharmasuriya saw an upsurge of Buddhist activity that included, most significant of all, the construction of the Sri Dalada Maligawa  and the re-introduction of the higher ordination (Upasampada) to the clan of Buddhist Monks through Bhikkus invited from Myanmar. The King held this important Upasampada ceremony at Getembe in 1603, where the temple hails unto this date as a great shrine of worship by thousands of passers-by Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists who travel on the Colombo – ‘Kandy’  road.

Though Wimaladharmasuriya reverted to Buddhism and upheld the age-old Sri Lankan tradition of royal protection for the Buddhist establishment, he was never a religious fanatic.  He did not force his Queen Dona Catherina to give up her Catholic faith.  He gave religious freedom to all his subjects.  It was this policy that in later years helped low-country Catholics to seek refuge in the ‘Kande Udarata’  provinces when the Dutch rulers began persecuting them.  If not for the Sinhala Kings’ liberal religious policy, there would have been no Wahakotte Catholic festival.  Religious freedom enabled Goanese Catholic Missionary Fr. Joseph Vaz to settle in Senkadagala during the reign of Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1706).  This noble religious tradition continued until the fall of the ‘Kandyan’ Kingdom in 1815 – after which the crafty British did everything possible to undermine Buddhist influence in the country, though they did not fully succeed in it.


King Wimaladharmasuriya saw to it that Senkadagala would become a bastion of Buddhist culture in the face of Portuguese plots to seize the whole country by installing their Sinhala Catholic puppets on the ‘Kande Udarata ‘ throne. His coup d’ e-tat (while ostensibly serving the enemy as a `Christian convert’) in 1591 not only paved the way for the eventual expulsion of the Portuguese from the island in 1656, but also made it impossible for other European colonizers and white Christian missionaries to totally subvert the Sinhala Buddhist society – even after 1815.

Wimaladharmasuriya was the Sinhala patriot of his century. He had saved his motherland from the horrors of alien invasion and his nation from extinction. He had rescued the religion that inspired a great civilization from an untimely end in his country. Commenting on his rule – the First in the Daily News, 49 years ago, Sumitta Kuruppu wrote thus –   Few men of stature occupied the throne of Lanka. Among them still fewer have rendered a service so distinct and significant to the life of their country.” King Wimaladharmasuriya stands high amidst those distinct few sons of Sri Lanka – the country of the Hela Nation:  ‘Sinhalay’.

King Wimaladharmasuriya –  An appropriate source of inspiration for the leaders of today, faced with threats to the founding principles of their nation’s culture.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane                                                                                    July 18, 2014


  1. wfernando Says:

    The atrocities committed by Portuguese in every country they invaded are horrendous. People are now talking that Christianity, Catholism included, as civilized religion. What they have done in those countries make Arabs, Genghis Khan and the likes were Saints(don’t know whether the Saint a appropriate word, being originated in relation to Catholism).
    I have heard that the Kelaniya Temple which was described in Selalihini Sandesaya as so beautiful and majestic was razed to the ground and the stones of the wall existed around temple was used to build the Colombo Fort. This is just one example. There may be hundreds of places of worship of Buddhists and Hindus must have been destroyed like this. I have no doubt the Madu church must be one of those,
    I would like somebody who is knowledgeable and has access these literature to give a good account of these destructions done to religious places in Sri Lanka by Portuguese. What they have done to people is well discussed but what’s done places of worship and other structures I have not come across.

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    This article is a classical illustration of the use of power and religion. Outside of the Catholic world only some articles bring up the barbarism inherent with power. The rest of the world especially the western nations simply “chalk it off” as history.
    Similar acts of wanton vandalism has been done on other cultures and civilizations by Christians and earlier by the Romans. It is horrible, vile, and ugly. But it is the use of power to gain one’s objective. The 30 year long war by the Tamil Tigers was only brought to an end by the use of equal if not superior power used in the most brutal manner in order to end the Tamil tigers’ reign of terror.
    Sinhalese Buddhism has by and large survived by the use of power as a defensive method. From ancient invasions to the present war Sinhalese Buddhists have taken a defensive stand in using whatever power they had to vanquish the foreign invader and preserve the culture.
    If so one has to look at the article in a pragmatic manner and understand that the Catholic world does not fully share the contents of this article. If I simply went by my own life experience in St. Peters college and Catechism the Catholics Christians genuinely believe all other faiths are heretical in nature. False to be precise.
    If Sinhalese Buddhism is to thrive in Sri Lanka and eventually become a world wide movement along the lines of Tibetan Buddhism then the deft use of power is needed.

  3. wfernando Says:

    Sinhalese history is mainly about protecting Buddhism, King Dutugamunu had to accompany Buddhist monks along army to persuade the Buddhist public to join the war against Elara. Any Sinhalese can be galvanised into action to carry out any task in the name of Buddhism.
    Christianity and Islam are major causes on the unrest in the world today. You can see how dangerous is the Islam by the fact that Mohamed lives early 7th century and half of the world converted to Islam by the end of that century. Do you think that’s done by conviction? It is the Buddhism that suffered most under this expansion. Read how Bangladesh subdued. All wars since the arrival these two religions are due to their rivalry.
    It is Catholics the purveyor of this culture. Both of these religions have never stopped this Jihad.
    I myself was discriminated at St Peters and they nearly ruined my future.

  4. Leela Says:

    In his book, ‘Portuguese in Ceylon’ Sir James Emerson Tennent wrote that “there is no page in the story of European colonization more gloomy and repulsive than that which recounts the proceedings of the Portuguese in Ceylon.” And that statement is enough for anyone to understand the brutality of the Portuguese sojourn in Sinhale.

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