A few months ago I visited the Tomb of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe, the last king of the Kandyan Kingdom was laid to rest, a victim of political intrigue among the Kandyan chieftains, from which the British took advantage, deposed Sri Wickrema and deported him to Vellore. Many a Sri Lankan has visited this historic site, which is now called Muthu Mandapam
When the sun was going down in Vellore, we entered the inner sanctum of Muthu Mandapam and stayed there until dusk enveloped the environs; the place was not lit and the caretaker lady showed us around with a candle light. We stayed there for a considerable length of time and returned to Chennai. I returned with a feeling of sadness but with a better insight into the doctrine of the Buddha on impermanence. More of this will follow later in this essay. I read and referred to some relevant writings on the Kandyan Kingdom but the history, legend and (mukha paramparagatha katha) stories based on generational mouth to mouth stories, are all so mixed that I selected some which are thought to be relevant.
I felt that the Kandyan Kings, whether they belonged to the Nayakkars or Sinhalas were our rulers, and they were deposed by a foreign power that came as conquerers. The Nayakkars assimilated themselves into our culture and were ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ for all intents and purposes. Supposedly, in an extremely changed geo-political context if they were able usurp power in Sri Lanka after being deposed, they would have been our Royalty, who knows!
The British themselves had acknowledged that the Nayakkars belonged to the same Sinhala Royal line. For example, it is said that, Governor Brownrigg, on 19th February 1815 received the news of Sri Wickrema’s capture, when he was dining with his officers, and he was so overcome with emotion that he burst into tears. “After a forty day campaign, two thousand three hundred and fifty seven years Sinhala independence was at an end” (Kandyan Wars by George Powell), he is supposed to have said. It is significant that Governor Brownrigg uses the word ‘Sinhala independence’ as they considered that the Nayakkars were also Sinhala kings.
There were four Nayakkar kings, Sri Vijaya Rajasimha (1739-47), Kirthi Sri Rajasimha (1747-82), Rajadhi Rajasimha (1782-98) and Sri Vikrama Rajasimha (1798-1815). They had little or no conflict with the populace, except that the nobility at times was resentful of the foreign royal line. The people felt that the Nayakkars due to their matrimonial links, assimilation into Sinhala culture and adherence to Buddhism were their royalty. Perhaps, this phenomenon is and was common to other monarchical systems.
Legends on royals and Adigars
Many are the legends prevalent in the Kanda Udarata even today, about the paternity of some of these princes and kings. For example, Adigar Pilimatalawwe had wanted to become king after Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe, but the kingship did not pass traditionally to chieftains, and he made other plans to come to the throne. He was thought to have had a relationship with Randoli, the favoured queen of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe. Konnasamy’s (later Sri Wickrema) mother was this Randoli; according to written historical sources, Konnasamy was the son of the sister of one of the Queens-dowager. There are other sources which say that it was the king who was Konnasamy’s father who had succumbed to a palace intrigue. Written history states that in 1798 the king died of malignant fever and it was Pilimatalawwe who made Konnasamy, who was 18 years old with no formal education, the king. Pilimatalawwe had other plans of becoming king by deposing Sri Wickrema with British help thereafter. These did not come to fruition due to similar plans by Ehelopola and the other chiefs.
The legend has it that by a murky design of Pilimatalawwe, the king was killed by Konnasamy himself. The palace of the dowager was being visited by Pilimatalawwe and the king was suspicious when he saw a walking stick in Konnasamy’s possession given by Pilimatalawwe to him. The king had prohibited Pilimatalawwe from visiting the palace and handed over a sword to Konnasamy to strike anybody who visited without adequate notice. The king himself arrived in the night one day without notice and Konnasamy struck the king unaware that it was the king himself. Through some “kattandiya” Pilimatalawwe had made a “mukha-bandhana,” disabling of speech on the king to identify himself. Pilimatalawwe attended to all the royal funeral formalities and Konnasamy was made king by design.
This story is told and retold by some villagers in the Kanda Uda Rata with all the details. But the crux of the story is that Pilimatalawwe was a master strategist who utilised even black magic to retain his supremacy in the kingdom. However, Konnasamy became a hot potato to handle when he became king by the name of Sri Wickrema.
Subsequent incidents in the kingdom since the enthronement of Sri Wickrema are in written history and I hope I will have time to collect more little known material on this era in the future.
An anonymous poet has written some poetry on the deportation of Sri Wickrema in which the profound sadness of the king is expressed on loosing the kingship, kingdom and nation to the British. The capture of Sri Wickrema would not have been possible if the British were not supported by the Kandyan chieftains, some Kandyans themselves, Malay soldiers under Lieutenant Mylius, and African, British and Indian soldiers.
Don William Dias who was the interpreter recorded that on February 18 Ehalepola, Ekneligoda, and Dias’s party saw a young lad running away in fear when they were climbing a mound in Medamahanuwara searching for the king’s hideout. The boy was caught and it was his confession that gave the clue as to where the king was hiding in a straw thatched house belonging to the headman. Ekneligoda broke open the door of the house and demanded that the king opens the door.
The king surrendered but he and his two queens were meted out ignominious treatment. Dias asked D’Oyly to arrive and after Major Hook and a body of 150 soldiers came on the scene, sanity prevailed and the king and his family were taken to Teldeniya in palanquins. Sri Wickrema’s mother and his two other wives joined the party at Teldeniya. The following day the king was assured that his life will be spared and would be treated with respect and attention. It was on the following day that Governor Brownrigg received the news of the capture. He gave orders to Major Hook to escort King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe to Colombo with the least possible delay, and was lodged in a house especially made for him. In Colombo he seemed to have pondered on his failings. He was quoted as saying:
“The English Governors have one advantage over us kings of Kandy: They have counselors about them, who never allow them to do anything in a passion, and that is the reason you have so few punishments, but unfortunately the offender is dead before our resentment has subsided.”
Voyage to Vellore
He stayed in Colombo from 6th March 1815 to 24th January 1816 in a special house made for him, and was driven to the Colombo harbour to board the ship Cornwallis for Madras with his wives and family. He was escorted by a young civil servant William Granville. It is said that the ship sailed for four weeks. There are copious writings on the physique and mannerisms of the king as recollected by Granville, Major Macpherson, Willerman and others who came in contact with him. As this essay becomes too lengthy I will reserve them for another day.
King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe lived in Vellore in exile in reasonable comfort till the age of fifty two. He died in 1832. He had only one son born in exile to his youngest wife and he too passed away after eleven years in 1843. King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe’s adversary Ehelepola, who was in exile, died in Mauritius in 1829; Pilimathalawwe died in Sri Lanka and Molligoda too died in 1823 in Sri Lanka. Thus the major players left the scene keeping it open for the next generations to “fight it out”, starting from the hero Keppitipola to Gongalegoda Banda.
The Ceylon Journal of 18th February 1832 commented when King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe died: “he did not have qualifications for Majesty except a portly figure, and scarcely a single virtue to palliate a thousand crimes.”
Vellore Mutu Mandapam
King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe’s descendents lived in Vellore and its environs. A document in English handed over to me by the caretaker during our visit last year, says the following:
“The King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe and his family members and few relatives were deported to India on 8.3.1816 where the British was too strong. The King and his wives were sent to Vellore and others to Tanjavur. The King was imprisoned in Vellore Fort. There he spent sorrowful 16 years and died in prison on 30.1.1832. His body was buried on the Southern banks of river Palar in Vellore, and built a tomb with an epitaph in English followed by Tamil Version.”
The memorial is called Muthu Mandapam (Pearl Hall). From Vellore one has to drive towards the Palar river one kilometre north or walk towards the bank. It is marked as a tourist site by the Chennai State Government. From Chennai one has to drive along motorway number 4 and turn off at Ranipet on to motorway 27 to Vellore. The total mileage is around 150 km.
Vellore is now a vibrant commercial, administrative, educational and medical centre. Historically, it was the seat of the Pallava, Chola, Nayak, Maratha, Arcot Nawab and Bijapur Sultan Kingdoms. It grew into an important city gradually since the 6th century.
The tomb of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe was renovated by his great grandson Wickrama Rajasinhe on 27.7.1932, a hundred years after his death. It was on 12.7.1990 that the then Chief Minister Thiru M. Karunanidhi declared open the Muthu Mandapam Memorial as a tribute to the Nayakkar family of the last king of Kandy.
The memorial is looked after by the Vellore District Department of Tourism. A lady is in charge whose photograph appears in this essay in front of a plaque dedicated to the family members. The memorial mentions Sri Wickrema as the last Tamil King of Kandy, may be to highlight the origin of the king.
In the memorial are six tombs belonging to King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe and the queens and other family members. The last king of Kandy and also of Sri Lanka, thus lies in State in Muthu Mandapam after an eventful reign in Kandy marred with intrigue, jealousy, murder, mayhem, in-fighting among aristocrats who were all caught in the web of domestic power hunger and world power play in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
How beautifully written were the poems by that versatile Sinhala poet whose name is unknown. We had our historical links with South India and they still remain intact. While developing the overall relations with India we too should concentrate more on links with South India as it helps us vis-à-vis tiger terrorism.
by Satharathilaka Banda Atugoda
- Rediscovering the tomb of our last king
- Place where King Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe was Captured
- Kandy – The Last Kingdom of Sinhale
- List of Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka
- Other Places of Interest Within Close Proximity
Map of Vellore – India
The Vellore Fort where the King was imprisoned for 16 years and the location of the tomb is marked below. A circular building has been built surrounding this tomb and it is known as “Muthu Mandapam”
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Driving Directions to Vellore Fort
Route from Bangalore to Vellore Fort
Route from Chennai to Vellore Fort
|distance : 210 km|
Travel time : 4-4.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|distance : 140 km|
Travel time : 3-4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map