The Portuguese encounter – a reign of terror – 1505 to 1658
Posted on April 5th, 2016

by Mallika Wanigasundara

It was a scholarly odyssey into the past of Portuguese where destruction of non-Catholic places of worship was carried out by the Portuguese conquerors of Ceylon between 1505 and 1658 in the name of the service of God and the love of Christ.

The year 2005 marks the 500th year after the arrival of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims look on this date [1505] as the beginning of the darkest era of Sri Lankan history.

The Portuguese record of violence,bloodshed, and use of force is catholic in magnitude and was spurred on by the reigning pontiffs of Rome, the Catholic church, the Inquisition, the kings of Portugal and state power.

For two years fifty professionals of many disciplines, eminent academicians, scientists and scholars, historians and researchers and around 150 others delved into past records to unearth Portuguese depradations.

Meticulous keepers of records, Portuguese writers like Queyroz, Trinidade, Perniola, Barros, do Couto provided much information.

Sandesaya poems, Sinhala literature such as the Rajavaliya were researched for other details.

Tomes of record

It took researchers to some of the sites of destruction of places of worship resulting in a illuminating book of photographs. The team would need several tomes to adequately record their findings. On December 10 and 11, 2005 a conference was held in Colombo to reveal the findings to the public.

It was called The Portuguese Encounter and was sponsored by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Asiatic Society and the Archaeological Society. Credit must be given to Dr. Susantha Goonatilake, scholar, researcher and writer and Dr Hema Goonatilake for the indefatigable effort put in by them to make this conference a success.

Core of assault

The core of the assault was to subjugate and reduce to slavery the so-called non-believers by appropriating their lands in perpetuity for the church.

Orders went out from Portugal and Goa that all idols, images, pictures and even trees be reduced to fragments and this was done with gusto. Even children who had lost one parent were forcibly taken and given to Catholic organizations. Humans were put to the sword, children bayoneted, women raped and hacked, and 100s of temples and monasteries, Hindu kovils and mosques were pounded to the ground.

Churches were built on those lands.

The investigating team has done an invaluable job for future generations to know and remember, and avoid the mistakes their ancestors made. The names of the presenters of papers and the places of worship are too many to record here, but a few can be mentioned.

A huge mass of evidence and information was presented by scholars such as D.G.B. de Silva, former ambassador, Gaston Perera writer, Prof. M.U. de Silva, Dr. Susantha Goonatilake, Padma Edirisinghe, Pro. Mendis Rohanadeera, Senake Weeraratne, K.D.G. Wimalaratne, Dr. Hema Goonatilake, Ashley de Vos and two speakers from Goa Vigyananand Swami and Shrikant Y. Raman and many others.

Museums and memoirs

A few of the places of worship were:the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, Kotte, the Vehera Kande Vihare, the Kotte Raja Maha Vihare, the Attanagalle vihare, the Nawagamuwe temple and vihare, monasteries of learning such as the Totagamuwe temple and pirivena, the Sunethradevi temple and pirivena, the Kelani vihare, the Devinuwara temple and devale, the Maha Saman devale, Ratnapura, the Munneswaram kovil, the Madampe Thanivelle devale, the Naga vihare Kotte, the Kali kovil, Kalutara, the Tondamannar kovil, the Mannar kovil, the Beruwala, Kalutara, Weligama and many other mosques.

It is recorded that as many as 500 kovils were destroyed in Jaffna alone.

All the ports from Colombo to Chilaw were burnt and all places of worship from Colombo to Kosgoda were destroyed. Churches were built on these lands and temple lands expropriated for the Catholic church by the Fransiscan monks.

No non-believer or pagan was entitled to own land.

Thousands of idols, images, pictures religious items were smashed to powder and temples and devales plundered of their gold, ornaments, jewellery, clothes before they were destroyed. In Goa the speakers said that what was left was only in museums and memoirs.

Fear of death

Forced conversions took place on the fear of death. Rites, rituals, processions were banned. There were no yellow robed bhikkus, only white-clad militant ganninnanses [observers of the ten precepts] who kept the lamp of the Dhamma burning in secret.

There was no chanting of pirith, no Hindu prayers, no call to prayer from mosques or reciting of Holy Quran. But criminals who converted were given plenary remissions by Papal bulls and many who committed transgressions and crimes escaped by conversion.

Scholars and historians recalled the grim record of temple lands seized by the Catholic church even before the benighted King Dharmapala stupidly bequeathed the kingdom of Kotte, the palace, the temple of the Sacred Tooth and all temple lands to the king of Portugal and the Catholic church.

Ethnic cleansing

But the people kept on resisting. As many as seven rebellions created heavy disruption in Portuguese power and on one occasion they were driven to their fort in Colombo. Thousands were killed including thirty bhikkus who were shot in one go. With the annexation of the Kotte in 1594 the Muslims were ordered out of Portuguese territory, perhaps a first instance of ethnic cleansing.

By 1594 there was no royalty and no leaders. Leadership came from Lascoreen mudaliyars and minor headmen.

These gruesome events were recalled dispassionately and without venom by several speakers.It was Gaston Perera who said that their aim was not to target or condemn anybody but to expose these events dispassionately and not sweep them under the carpet.

The question of an apology,restitution of our assets and whether Sri Lanka has a claim for compensation was discussed by speakers such as Senake Weeraratne and KDG Wimalaratne. These matters would be based on crimes against humanity, cultural piracy, destruction of life and property, mass genocide, plunder of temples, forced conversions, channelling of revenue to the church, slavery, abuse of women.

Senake Weeraratne said: There is a Jewish proverb which says: A child that does not cry dies in the cradle. We are not appealing for voluntary charity, but for simple justice. Restitution must be made of unjust gains, and repentence must lead to such restitution.

It was necessary for present and future generations to learn from past mistakes.

The Portuguese became advisers of kings such as Bhuveneka Bahu V11 and he gave official sanction for missionary work and passed on the responsibility of making his grandson Dharmapala king of Kotte to Portugal.

Here then was the beginning of a religious conflict, where the population turned angrily against the Portuguese and continued their resistence.

The populace living in a country where there was religious freedom, tolerance and co-existence was unable to stomach the religious oppression and the suppression of intellectual and spiritual learning.

Courtesy:  Daily News

One Response to “The Portuguese encounter – a reign of terror – 1505 to 1658”


    Mallika, please tell the readers what relevance is there to what is happening in SL now. Is this to hide the Kolkata bridge collapses? Srisena President and Ranil gave Daily News not to publish deaths of 200 people because this is the same company that is building the bridge across from Tamil Nadu and Jaffna. What about the Mangala Samaraweera money laundering in Cayman Islands and PANAMA. The law firm “Fonseka” published it. Get a copy of it.

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