Do we thank the Portuguese and Catholicism for saving Sri Lanka from Islamisation? – a response to Daily News article 3 Dec 2012
Posted on January 6th, 2016

by  Shenali D. Waduge ( published in 2012)

The article titled Heritage Catholic Churches of the Kalpitiya peninsula” written by Wiruma based on Sagara Jayasinghe’s book Santhanadeepaya” may include a collection of historical and architectural heritage of Catholic Churches in the Kalpitiya peninsula, but it also attempts to promote the theory that if not for the Portuguese and in particular Catholicism Sri Lanka would have been turned into an Islamic state. If the book attempts to suggest that allegations against the Church have been as a result of private agenda, it behoves a response in that very few historical accounts have praised the Portuguese or any European ruler for invading nations out of goodwill.

While this response does not in any way attempt to question the architecture of the Churches in Kalpitiya what is important is that the present and future generations do not forget the manner that the Europeans invaded Asian and African nations and the brutality with which they treated the natives.

The nations that Europeans invaded were already civilized, natives had their own agricultural systems, they followed their own cultures and customs but the vandalism, murder, destruction and crimes that these natives were subject to by European rulers is not worthy of being termed glorious”. How can vandalism, murder, destruction  profess to offer the gratitude of Sri Lankans on the grounds of architectural designs of its Churches which stand erect having destroyed Buddhist temples and by building Churches over these same sites?

There is little to the imagination when a Pope (Alexander VI) declares the Christian conquest of the world and gives Catholic rulers permission to invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans…to take their possessions and… reduce their persons to perpetual slavery” – 4 May 1493. If we accept Sagara Jayasinghe’s version that the arrival of the Portuguese was a remarkable event” – why is there thousands of local and international studies, research and findings that cover European colonial rule as those of brutality and human crimes! Colonial treacheries are far too many to brand them as Saints or Angels when they did not spare even infants!

Therefore, Sagara Jayasinghe, Wiruma or any other espousing the theory that Sri Lanka should be grateful to the colonialists needs to first negate the accounts of brutality attributed to their rule in not just Sri Lanka but all other nations they invaded!

 It was in 1542 that Father Bartoleme de Las Casas estimated 15m natives had been killed in Caribbean and Mexico, when Vasco de Gama landed in India in 1498 he forced Indian Christians to pay allegiance to Rome or die, 40,000 Jews in India were destroyed and the Pope apologized to Israel in 2000. The crimes are far too many to list.

The simple fact is that Europeans arrived in Asia not to shake any Asian hands. They came with 2 intentions – to explore trade and exploit natural resources and to convert natives to Christianity/Catholicism. This was a State objective not just the desires of the explorer traders.  To Christianize non-Christian Asia, European rulers had to suppress and destroy the religions being practiced so Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam became targets.

Sir James Emerson Tennent describes the conduct of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka as gloomy and repulsive………….. we are ill-prepared to hear of the rapacity, bigotry and cruelty which characterised every stage of their progress in the East. They appeared in the Indian seas in the three-fold character of merchants, missionaries and pirates. Their ostensible motto was amity, commerce and religion. Their expeditions consisted of soldiers as well as adventurers, and included friars and chaplain majors. Their instructions were to begin by preaching, but, that failing, to proceed to the decision of the sword.” Are these the people we have to be grateful for?

Historian Paul E Peiris says that the Portuguese succeeded in producing nothing but chaos” while G P Malalasekera says that Portuguese rule was marked by a rapacity, bigotry, cruelty and inhumanity unparalleled in the annals of any other European colonial power…..their inhuman barbarities were accompanied by callousness which knew no distinction between man, woman and child….…people were … mashed to pulp between millstones, while their mothers were compelled to witness the pitiful sight before they themselves were tortured to death. Men were thrown over bridges for the amusement of the troops to feed the crocodiles in the river”. Is this what the Sinhalese need to now be grateful for?

It was at the behest of the Roman Catholic Emperor of Portugal, his Viceroy at Goa and the Roman Catholic priests in Sri Lanka that resulted in the systematic campaign to burn and destroy all Buddhist temples, kovils and mosques. Natives were forced into converting. In 1567 it was declared that all religions other than orthodox Roman Catholicism were wrong and that converting to Christianity must be by force. The Portuguese declared that all non-Christian clergy, teachers and holy men had to be expelled, their sacred texts seized and destroyed. Buddhists and Hindus were prohibited from visiting their respective temples and even non-Christian weddings and events were forbidden. When present day Europeans promote equality, respect and tolerance of other religions – did the Portuguese show such to the natives of nations they invaded?

Buddhist temples, hindu kovils, mosques were all systematically destroyed by the Portuguese and in its place Roman Catholic churches were built – that was how the architectural structures of the Churches in Sri Lanka and elsewhere emerged using the income from the lands belonging to non-Catholics! They introduced the principle that Ruler and the Ruled must belong to the same faith which meant the need to convert the Kings to force their subjects to follow them. The result of this was the grandson of King Bhuvanekabahu renouncing Buddhism and adopting Roman Catholicism and baptized as Don Juan Periya Bandara while his Queen became Dona Catherina in 1557.

While Buddhism propagates reverence for all forms of life, Christianity and Islam are of the view that animals are created by God for human consumption. This is why along the coastal belts where fishing is a livelihood many Sinhalese were quick to fall prey to Christian missionary conversion tactics.

The Church used deceitful methods to convert Hindus – Catholic priests pretended to be of superior caste and took Hindu names, they wore orange colored robes to resemble the Saniasses, they put a spot of sandalwood powder on their foreheads and began doing poojas, fasts, prayers for the dead – all with the final objective to enlist non-Catholics to convert.

While Santhanadeepaya boasts of the cultural and architectural heritage of the Portuguese, it was because of the Portuguese that we cannot find Buddhist temples over 150 years old in the areas Portuguese ruled! The author may like to offer an explanation as to why the Portuguese would destroy and plunder temples and kovils in Devundara, Trincomalee, Saman Devale, Sunethra Devi Pirivena (kotte), Vidagama Pirivena (Raigama), Wijebahu privena (Totagamuwe), Nawagamuwa, Kelaniya, Mapitigama and Wattala. The Kelaniya temple was destroyed in 1575. The author may also like to explain why we should be grateful to the Portuguese who not only destroyed temples and kovils but used the materials from these sites to build churches on the same sites (ex:Roman Catholic churches in Kalutara, Keragala, Wattala, Totagamuwa etc) something even the South Indian invaders did not opt to do? Some 500 such temples are said to have been destroyed by the Portuguese.

So here were invaders completely taking over a nation, humiliating the natives who had been practicing their religion, customs and traditions peacefully and thereafter forcing natives to convert and completely turning their pious living to that of slaughtering animals, consuming liquor and instilling a totally abhorrent new culture. So what is there to be grateful to the Portuguese given these facts? Are we to presume that slaughtering and eating meat, consuming liquor is to belong to a high class or refined class of people? There are many who believe that it was because of the European invaders that natives became refined” totally ignoring the manner in which these Europeans destroyed life, carried out mass murder, sexual abuse of women, cultural genocide, slavery, religious and ethnic cleansing, mass expulsions all of which would by virtue of modern definition rule crimes against humanity.

So if Pope John Paul can apologize to China, Ukraine and Greece in 2001 for colonial misadventures and ask forgiveness in 2000 from Israel for the wrongs done to the Jews – it is time the Roman Catholic Church apologize to both India and Sri Lanka for these same crimes. Had it not been for the Sinhalese Buddhists who braved the massacres and killings and stood against the European invaders using their stones and sticks, Sri Lanka would have been turned into Philippines where the indigenous peoples traditional religion and culture were annihilated. It may be interesting to observe that while Christian missionaries converted non-Christians all over the world by persuasion, Muslim conquerors converted people of other faiths to Islam, at the point of the sword.

Arabs came to Ceylon in the 15th century not as conquerors or missionaries but as traders and they did not come to Ceylon in their thousands and therefore the Arab factor would not have altered the ethnic or demographic pattern of the Tamil Muslims from Tamil Nadu in the 14th century to warrant the fear of Islamization of Sri Lanka. If this were so India would have been the first victim.

Having said that it is important to again reiterate that one of the two objectives of European colonial rulers was to convert natives to Christianity. Ironically, in China where there are 12m Catholics whilst conversions do take place no person is allowed to have allegiance above its State Government – even the Catholics in China whose Vatican is the only religion to have a State must at all times show allegiance to China and only China –  can this be said of Catholics in other nations and if not may we know why China’s case is different?

While this response is not to question anyone’s faith, it goes without saying that the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British arrived and conquered nations not for any love for these nations but to plunder their wealth, to convert the natives and to use them as slaves in order to systematically tap into every resource that would fill their coffers while in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese Buddhists offered whatever opposition thereby accounting for hundreds of thousands of their deaths as a result of the desire to save their nation from colonial treacheries – has the situation changed since, one wonders!

Those that quote the handful of instances like how the colonists developed road infrastructure may like to note that these were built not to facilitate the natives but to facilitate the transport of what the colonials were plundering out of these nations including Sri Lanka!

It is left for the readers to decide if Sri Lanka should be grateful to the Portuguese or any other European ruler given their history and the manner our ancestors suffered and the sacrifices they made.

Shenali Waduge

Refer Article :


8 Responses to “Do we thank the Portuguese and Catholicism for saving Sri Lanka from Islamisation? – a response to Daily News article 3 Dec 2012”

  1. mario_perera Says:

    It was the Portuguese who overran the Jaffna Kingdom in 1619.

    Portuguese historian Father Fernao de Queiroz, wrote about the Tamil Kingdom as follows:

    ” This modest kingdom is not confined to the little district of Jafnapatoa, because to it are also added the neighboring lands and those of Vanni, which is said to be the name of the Lordship, which they held before we obtain possession of them. and outside it there stretch the lands of Vanni crosswise from the side of Mannar to that of Triquilemale (Trincomalee) and – beyond.”

    The Portuguese conquest of the Kingdom became possible, when the Tamil chiefs revolted against the traditional monarchs, due to their shift in allegiance, after conversion to Christianity. Portuguese managed to create a strong loyal group of Catholics, who provided them with the intelligence reports and reconnaissance to counter the moves of the kings.

    When the kingdom came under the Portuguese possession, Christian Mudaliyars and the Christian Tamil chieftains, without hesitation, gave their allegiance by oath, subjugating the kingdom to the Portuguese overloadship.

    The subjugation of the Jaffna Kingdom is what gave the UNITARY STATUS to Ceylon under Dutch and British administration, a status that continued up to Independence and after.

    The remembrance of their one time kingdom is what incites the Tamils to lay claim to a ‘traditional homeland’. Hence its annexation by the Portuguese and their Catholic allies should be remembered at least with a minimal semblance of gratitude.

    Mario Perera

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    This is one of the most absurd claims ever made. Since the invasion by the Portuguese, Buddhism has been
    in the decline in Sri Lanka. The reason being the Sinhalese who converted to this religion to obtain gains from
    the invaders have worked to undermine Buddhism, Sinhalese race and Sri Lanka. Their descendants have been carrying
    out the treacherous job to date.

    There are ample evidence amongst even in the politicos of today. Pol pot ponil is a die hard catholic and he
    has the final say in everything in Sri Lanka. Nobody dares to cross his path. If anybody does, he got means to
    put terror into them and surrender. That has been the pattern since thambi mudiyanselage junius time. They always
    have pathalayin to silence any opposition. While the mussies openly campaign for their brotherhood, catholics have
    a different approach. They do it very quietly. On the surface nobody sees anything. But underneath, they all networked.
    It is everwhere in the society. To top that they get the help from catholic west who prefers a catholic Sri Lanka. They run most successful businesses, holds government posts, have the control of tv, newspapers etc. But make no noise about it and everthing is done so quietly. Like a duck in the waters. On the surface
    just very calm and quiet. But underneath, it is paddling frantically.

    Unfortunately for Sinhalese Buddhists, there are a lot of them support the catholic-run Unpatriotic party. You can see their
    agenda all the time. Already Buddhism gone from school curriculum. Now the place of Buddishm in the constitution going.
    Unitary state is also going in the new constitution. It is party time for the foreigners tamils and mussies. In no time they
    can have their own countries. What a sad state of affairs. While all this happening, so called in charge, with no teeth,
    lose sleep whether to wear sarong or trousers in the next foreign tour. Party time for toothless Buddhist cabinet ministers, malwatte asigiryes chiefs etc. etc. Portuguese invasion put the foundation to erode Buddhism in Sri Lanka and it is eroding
    to this day unabated. This is an absolute absurd claim to say the invaders help to survive Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    When I read Mario’s comment I thought WTF. Did Cassendra twist Mario’s head?

    But after thinking about it and reading about it, I AGREE.

    Singhala kings (3 brothers) were fighting each other!! That was why Portuguese became so powerful. Jaffna had its own TAMIL kingdom like it or not. MOGULS were rampaging throughout the region. They turned MALDIVES Islamic, Indonesia, Malaya Islamic. SL was next.

    Of course Portuguese did a lot of BAD things. But that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING they did was BAD for SL.

    POPE gave the order to SPAIN and PORTUGAL to get rid of ALL Muslims from its colonies. They were determined to do that in SL. Guess which IDIOT saved them in SL? RUN-NIL’s great great great grand father KING SENARATH. A Singhala king who resettled them in AMPAREI to save them from Paranki. Now what has happened!! Singhalese are driven out and Buddhist shrines (DIGAWAPI) destroyed by them in Amparei!!

    Had the modaya allowed Portuguese to do it, SL would be much safer today and Singhala population would be 85%.

    Can SL Buddhists EVER do the things Portuguese did to their enemies? NO! As a BY PRODUCT, SL was saved.

    Similarly LTTE also had GOOD things despite being bad.

    e.g. GHANDHI (had he lived, he would definitely have turned entire SL into part of Endia)
    e.g. Amirthalingam – the father of modern Tamil Elam
    e.g. Thiruchelvam – father of the federal PACKAGE
    e.g. Premadasa – the BIGGEST killer of Singhala people since 1848
    e.g. Busting RUN-NIL in 2005 election. IF LTTE did NOT disrupt the election, RUN-NIL would have become the president!!
    e.g. Kept ENDIAN FISHEMEN out of SL. Look what our JOKERS are doing. Including MR. Everyday RELEASING Endian fishermen!! They are not scared to fish in SL waters anymore.

    The problem with SOME SL people is they are ATTACHED to “GOOD” and “BAD” personalities. After they label someone as BAD, everything about him is BAD. After they label someone as GOOD, even his excreta is GOOD. Because of this, they CANNOT see the GOOD coming from a BAD label and BAD coming from a GOOD label. Thankfully the YOUNGER generation is different.

  4. Lorenzo Says:


    Portuguese and Catholicism saved Sri Lanka from Islamisation. UNINTENTIONALLY.

    LTTE saved SL from RUN-NIL in 2005. UNINTENTIONALLY.

    (S)Hitler forced Britain to give independence to SL, etc.. UNINTENTIONALLY.

    9/11 helped SL get Tamil funds in USA, EU BANNED. UNINTENTIONALLY.

    LTTE saved Singhalese from mass murderer, tyre pyre king Premadasa in 1993.

    It was Christian missionary schools that produced MOST patriots during British times including Dharmapala. UNINTENTIONAL but it happened.

    We need NOT thank them for these things but we must ACKNOWLEDGE that it was these INCIDENTS that saved SL. It was NOT karma. It was NOT guardian gods. It was men doing their mission. From our side, it was unintended.

  5. mario_perera Says:

    Thank you Lorenzo.

    A very happy 2016 to you, and hoping to see your continued enlightened presence on this forum.


  6. Lorenzo Says:

    Happy New Year Mario.

    “enlightened”. LOL!

    Actually I will be taking leave for sometime this year. I have a LONG expedition and relocating to the states for full time studies and part time jobs to juggle.

  7. mario_perera Says:

    Good luck in all your ventures Lorenzo

    I shall be very glad to keep in touch with you

    I wonder whether Lankaweb would permit me to give you my email address;

    Thank you again

  8. samurai Says:

    The Website ‘ Wings of Time – Footsteps through History of Sri Lanka’ provides a series of web links giving fascinating accounts and insights into the Portuguese Inquisition in Sri Lanka following the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa (1560-1812).
    It was Francis Xavier, the infamous catholic missionary who demanded the setting up of the Goa Inquisition, a religious tribunal for suppression of heresy and punishment of heretics. The Inquisition was set up in 1560. It committed crimes against humanity and was notorious for using brutal torture and lasted till 1812 and this was supposedly the golden age where the power of life and death of ordinary people was held by a Christian priest. If people were unable to pass the ‘act of faith’ (autos – da – Fe), they were stretched on the rack or burnt on the stake in a barbaric manner.
    For centuries Goa was considered the Rome of the Orient. It was the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the Orient. The tomb of Francis Xavier, who died in 1552, lies in the Igreja do Bom Jesus in the old City of Goa ( Velha Goa).
    The authenticity of the corpse of Francis Xavier has been challenged by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka who claim with substantial evidence that it is actually the corpse of the highly venerated Sinhala Buddhist monk Ven. Thotagamuwe Rahula.

    The Portuguese Inquisition in Goa, became one of the most severe and cruel in the Portuguese conquered territories. Alfredo De Mello, who was born and educated in British India and Portugal, reveals many dramatic facts of the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa.

    Jerónimo de Azevedo (1540 – Lisbon, 1625) was a Portuguese fidalgo, Governor of Portuguese Ceylon and Viceroy ofPortuguese India.He was a key figure in the late 16th-century Portuguese takeover in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). According to author and historian A. R. Disney, the touchstone of Portuguese ambitions in Sri Lanka by the end of the 16th century was the bequest by King Don Juan Dharmapala of Kotte in 1580 of his entire realm to the king of Portugal.

    Dharmapala was a Christian convert and his bequest was unacceptable to the Sinhala Buddhist inhabitants and to the rulers of the neighbouring Kingdoms of Sitavaka and Kandy. The takeover was therefore heavily resisted by the Sinhala Buddhists, and the Portuguese had to subjugate Kotte by force, using methods of the Portuguese Inquisition then being heavily implemented in Goa, formally completing the process during Dom Jerónimo de Azevedo’s captaincy of Colombo from 1594 to 1612. A Portuguese administrative superstructure headed by a captain-general was then imposed on the kingdom following the demise of Don Juan Dharmapala (1541 – 1597) who stands out in the history of Sri Lanka as the country’s greatest villain among a long list of 180 Kings that ruled what was then called ‘ Sinhale ‘ the original name of Sri Lanka.

    Azevedo was nominated the 20th viceroy of Portuguese India in 1611, and left Colombo for Goa in 1612. In 1615 he backed an audacious expedition to Pegu in Burma to loot the Moon imperial treasures in Mrauk-U, an enterprise that ultimately did not succeed. However, the fact that it was supported at such a high official level showed how plunder and looting the treasures of other nations was considered a legitimate policy objective of the Portuguese in their colonies and rest of Asia.

    Don Juan Dharmapala was so despised by the people of Sri Lanka for his conversion to Christianity and Betrayal of Buddhism and the Sinhale nation that his grave which was located in Gordon Gardens adjoining the Queen’s House ( the seat of the British Governors ) in Colombo, was totally ransacked and the remnants of the dead corpse was thrown into the sea when Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike ( 1956 – 1959) allowed public entry to the Gordon Gardens.
    See also the following articles in ‘ Wings of Time ‘ on the Portuguese Inquisition in Sri Lanka:

    1) The terrible atrocities committed by the Portuguese

    2) Probing repercussions of Portuguese era by Janaka Perera

    3)Things They Don’t Tell You About Christianity in Sri Lanka

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