Kandyan Convention of 1815
Posted on March 2nd, 2015

Dr. K.D.G. Wimalaratne Retd Director, National Archives Courtesy :  Daily News

The Kandyan Convention was held on March 2, 1815 two hundred years ago. This convention or the Kandyan Treaty, was the instrument which ceded the Kingdom of Kandy to the British government thus ending the independence of that kingdom preserved for over a period of three hundred years, withstanding the onslaught of two colonial powers. The discovery of one of its original copies sheds new light in respect of the signatures appearing therein and the events leading to the signing of the Treaty.

When Governor Brownrigg declared war against the King of Kandy on January 10, 1815 the king disposed his personal and state treasures. His regalia, the royal jewels, throne and footstool were carried away from Kandy. Eye witness accounts of John D’Oyly, Capt. De Bussche, Henry Marshall, William Tolfrey and Major Willerman reveal that when the British armies entered Kandy, the city was in flames and there was no trace of a human being; all had fled for safety into the interior.

The royal flag or the standard was captured by the British troops and it was dispatched on February 25, 1815 through the Governor’s son Major Brownrigg to be placed at the feet Prince Regent in Britain what happened on March 2, 1815? According to the contemporary sources available, the Kandyan Convention was only read and explained to the Sinhalese Chiefs and people who assembled at the Audience Hall. When it was read in public and unanimously adopted by the chiefs, the British flag was hoisted for the first time in Kandy to mark the establishment of the British Dominiom in the Kandyan provinces.

British bulletin

When was the Kandy convention or the Treaty signed? Could the Sinhalese Chiefs sign it on March 2, 1815? It should be noted that the chiefs who signed the convention were formerly appointed to their respective posts by the Governor, only on March 3, 1815. If we examine the contemporary British sources carefully, it could be clearly and definitely seen that the Kandyan convention was not signed on the 2nd of March 1815.

The Bulletin issued by the British government on 10.3.1815 which appeared on 15.3.1815 states that the convention was signed on March 10, in duplicate by the Adigars and Dissawes present. If we are to rely on D’Oyly for the events of these crucial days, he also corroborates the date given in the bulletin. As there are no Sinhalese sources in order to gather any reliable information of the events leading to the signing of the convention, we are compelled to rely on the contemporary sources available on the British side. These British sources would amply justify that what took place on March 2, was only the reading out and explaining the 12 clauses of the convention.

Governor Brownrigg gave another audience on the 10th to the priests of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters. Here he assured that Buddhism and its properties and places of worship will be protected. On this day, the Governor, Molligoda, Pilimatalawe (second Adigar and Dissawe of Sabaragamuwa), Monarawila Keppetipola, Dulewe Ratwatte, Molligoda (Dissawe of three Korales) signed the convention on March 18, 1815. Ehelepola, Pilimatalawe, Galagoda and Galagama signed the convention. It is interesting to note that the signature of Ehelepola seen in the original copy of the convention discovered, differs from all the other signatures found in letters written by him until his death in 1829. How could one explain this difference? It is interesting to note that Ehelepola affirmed his signature to the convention not because he was officially found that he did not hold any post under the British government but was respected by the British as the most influential Sinhala Chief at that time. Is it possible that Ehelepola purposely signed the Convention in a different style to avoid himself being called a betrayer of the Sinhala nation? Did he sign because the Governor compelled him to sign? Or is possible that he never signed the Convention and someone else copped his signature erroneously? One could also come to a conclusion that the variation of his signature is due to writing on paper for the first time with a goose quill dipped in ink which would have been a difficult task for a person who habitually wrote on palm leaf with an iron styus for a long time. The signature of Molligoda Dullewe and Galagoda appearing in a petition of December 8, 1832 would also show that they also differ from what appear in the original copy of the convention.

Religious clauses

The Kandyan Chiefs and bhikkus agreed to the Kandyan Convention as it included clauses protecting their religion, customs and privileges. The fifth clause relating to Buddhism read that ‘The religion of Buddhoo, professed by the chiefs and inhabitants of these provinces is declared inviolable and its rites and ministers and places of worship are to be maintained and protected’. The Sinhala version of this clause is slightly different. It says not only the protection and maintenance of Buddhist temples but also Devagama (Hinduism) Devales or Hindu temples should be protected. However, it must be pointed out that the fifth clause of the Kandyan Convention extended protection to Hinduism also.

The Kandyan Convention was a great victory for the British and marked further expansion and consolidation of the British colonial empire in South Asia. For the Kandyan chiefs and Bhikkus, it appeared as an inviolable guarantee of their privileges and religion. The convention became a part of law of the Kandyan provinces only by a proclamation of the Governor. In accordance with the colonial constitutional law, it was regarded and accepted that the articles of peace which a colony is ceded are sacred and inviolable according to the true intent and meaning. Nevertheless, in practice, this was never honored by the British. In clause eight of the Kandyan Convention, the British Crown reserved the prerogative right to make amendments and laws not contrary to the clauses in the treaty of cession. The Kandyans erred in thinking that the clauses of the Kandyan Convention could never be abrogated and the provisions could never be broken.

The British thought otherwise. While the Kandyan chiefs and bhikkus were citing the clauses of the convention to protect their religion and privileges, the British thought that the concessionary clauses were included in the treaty to win over the Kandyans until their position was well established in the Kandyan kingdom. This was quite evident when on November 21, 1818 they unilaterally modified the clauses of the convention by dropping the word ‘inviolable’ in the clauses therein.

The history of the nineteenth century Sri Lanka is a sad story of the abrogation by the British of the clauses which preserved the religion, customs and rights of the people which culminated in the dissociation of government with Buddhism in 1853.

Accordingly, the Kandyan Convention not only marked the end of the independence of the Sinhalese but also displayed the treacherous intellects of the British rulers at that time.

Courtesy :  Daily News


2 Responses to “Kandyan Convention of 1815”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    The British ruled their Colonies & Empire with the ‘Divide & Rule’ principle. Brit sympathisers find internal cracks in various outside societies and widen these cracks, to allow take overs. Similar things happening now in Lanka with the new illegal govt.

    Re 1815 :
    Taking the Flag of a country does not mean anything. If the Hearts of the Leaders & the People are not won, nothing has been ‘won’.

  2. Nimal Says:

    Best thing that ever happened to us. We want the likes of colonials to sort the mess in out country. No wonder our pseudo patriots and Colombians like us live in the West. We want the good and stable life of the western world brought back to our people.
    We lost all that in 1948,bring it back I say.

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