Kusumasana Devi : Dona Catherina – The Last Queen of Sinhale (කුසුමාසන දේවි : දෝන කතරිනා)

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Queen  Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi) being welcomed by the General Conquistador Pedro Lopez de Souza
Queen Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi) being welcomed by the General Conquistador Pedro Lopez de Souza

Kusumasana Devi’s life is unique in the annals of the history of Sinhala and her achievements in her short life span of nearly 32 years is unparalleled in our history. She became an orphan at a very early age of her childhood and was brought up in a Catholic orphanage in Mannar after being baptizd as Dona Catherina. How did she go to the distant place Mannar having been born in the salubrious Kandyan hills. This is the story of the last Queen of Senkadagala kingdom.

The Senkadagala kingdom was established in 1436 by Senasammatha Wickramabahu, according to “Asgiri Thalpatha”. Senasammatha was succeeded by his son Jayaweera (1483-97). Jayaweera died leaving no heir to the throne. Hence king Thunayama succeeded to the throne (1497-1514). Jayaweera II alias Karalliyadda Bandara expelled Thunayama who ruled in Pallepitiya and Poddalgoda in present Uda Dumbara area and succeeded to the throne to rule from Senkadagala (1514-1542).

It is from this period that the Dutch historian Phillip Bauldius and the Portuguese historian Father Queorose records our history. Asgiri Thalpatha is the most authentic record of Senkadagala history. Jayaweera II gave his daughter in marriage to Dharmapala of Kotte (1592-l597) the grandson of VII Buwanekabahu who was ruling from Kotte from 1521-1597. Buwanekabahu had married a princess from Keeravella for the first time and a sister of Mayadunne his second marriage.

This led to a matrimonial alliance between Kotte and Senkadagala as Jayaweera II too had married a princess from Keeravella. This may be why Karalliyadde Bandara gave his daughter Shantana Devi in marriage to Dharmapala who was baptized as Don Juan. This alliance was not in favour of the Buddhist Priests in Kandy and lay leaders like Giddawa Bandara, Dumbara Satan Bandara, Kandure Bandara, Pattiya Bandara and others who revolted against the king and expelled him. The king went to Goa where he died in 1589

The rebels placed on the throne Weera Wickrama Bahu alias Rankodipathirannehe, son of Thunayama who ruled for 36 years from 1543-1579. The deposed king II Jayaweera’s son murdered Wickrama Bahu and ascended to the Senkadagala throne as Jayaweera III alias Karalliyadde Kumara Bandara (1579-1581).

His daughter is Kusumasana Devi about whom this commemorative article is written. Rajasinghe I of Seethawaka came to Senkadagala in 1582 and placed Weerasundera Bandara in the throne. Jayaweera III now deposed with his teenage daughter queen and nephew Yamasinghe Bandara fled to Mannar where the queen and the king died of small-pox.

The Portugese Nuns in Mannar undertook the custody of the little princess, baptized her as Dona Catherina and gave her an education befitting a queen. She learnt under the Portuguese the languages, religions, music, state craft and diplomacy, etiquettes and all other intricate details befitting a would be queen. The Portuguese had at the back of their mind a plan to give her in marriage to a Portuguese General at the appropriate time and place her in the Senkadagala throne so that they achieve what they failed by might by sheer diplomatic manoeuvres.

Kusumasana Devi was also known as Kamalasana Devie or Lokanatha Maha Biso Bandara in the Senkadagala kingdom was finally brought to Senkadagala from Mannar when she was about 12 years with the hope of getting her married to a Portuguese General and keeping her in the Senkadagala throne. But however, the Portuguese plans were thwarted and I quote Mr. E. V. A. Naganathan from the Daily News of 7th September 1998. “There remained however, the newly revived Sinhala state of Kandy under that woman of destiny, the greatest of Sinhala female rulers, the Mannar and Goa-bred, Tamil, Konkani and Portuguese speaking, Catholic, convent-educated and be-gowned beauty, Queen Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi) (1593-1613) and the two men of genius, the brothers Wimala Dharma Suriya I alias Don John of Austria (after his god-father, the Victory of Lepanto) (1594-1604) and Senarath. (1604-1635) whom she wed, who inaugurated that line of 7 rulers, to whose zealous defense of the Sinhala state and protection of the Buddhist religion as the fundamental principles of state policy the Sinhala people are forever beholden for their present perception of state-hood and nation-hood and conception of the right of self-determination and sovereignity, which were the vital advantages that the 20th century Sinhala leadership had over their Tamil counterparts in their negotiations with the Donoughmore and Soulbury commissions.”

“It would be no exaggeration to say that if there had been no Dona Catherina there would be no Dalada today, for Wimaladharmasuriya’s legitimacy derived from his marriage to her, as the single, extant member of the Kalinga line of Sinhala rulers who had not reneged to the Portuguese, embraced Catholicism and surrendered Sinhala claims to independence, before emigrating to and settling down in either Goa or Portugal itself. It is relevant to speculate on the level of national consciousness that would have survived among the Sinhala people if the Sinhala state had ended with the Donation of Dharmapala I in 1598.”

The children

By her marriage to Wimala Dharmasuriya she had four sons and two daughters. Rajasuriya was drowned in Mahaweli and Udumale Asthana died when young. Kumarasinghe was sub king of Uva (1631-34) and Wijeyapala sub king Matale (1631-1640). They both took as their queens the two daughters of Pararajasekeran Jaffna sub king. According to “Historic Matale”. Wijayapala fled to Goa for fear of Rajasinghe II. He embraced Christianity under the name of Don Thiogosdo. His three sons fled to the forest of Asgiriya and two sons were killed by Rajasinghe’s troops and only one “Konara” survived and lived in disguise. Kumarasinghe too fled to Goa and died as a Christian. The two daughters Suriya and Sama became the queens of Mayadunne of Sitawake, the father of lion King I Rajasinghe. Kusumasana Devi had connections to Kotte kingdom as her grandfather’s daughter married Dharmapala of Kotte Kusumasana’s second marriage to Senerath bore her two sons. The worrier king II Rajasinghe of Senkadagala (1635-87) and Deva Rajasinghe. She had matrimonial connections to Jaffna through the marriage of her two sons. At the death of Samudra Devi her husband Veediya Bandara’s second marriage was to Maha Tikiri daughter of Mayadunne and Kusumasana thus became the grandmother of another warrior of Sinhale Veediya Bandara.

Last days

This queen breath her last at Welimannatota palace in Kegalle on the 21st July 1613 and her last rites performed on the following day. Mr. A.D.N. Fernando in his article in ‘The Island’ of 10/04/2002 states that a “Mausoleum was built and a lamp lit in perpertuity by grateful people. A seven and a half acre site was declared as an Archeological reserve by H.C.P. Bell”. This archeological site has been reduced to mere 20 perches and I have drawn the attention of the authorities by my articles in the Daily News of 05/08/98 and ‘The Island’ of 24/07/98 and followed with several visits to the Archeological Departments and the then Ministry of Cultural Affairs but all these have fallen on the deaf ears, of those concerned perhaps because successive governments fear that they lose the votes of people who are occupying these lands. The Meda Dumbara Pradeshiya Sabha has taken steps to name a road in her memory. The government should at least take action to issue a postal stamp in honour of the last queen of Senkadagala.

by S. B. Karalliyadde
The Island

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