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Gannoruwa battle

by S. B. Karaliyadda

March 28 marks another memorable day in the annals of the history of the Kandyan kingdom. It was on March 28th 1638, three hundred and thirty-seven years ago, that the Portuguese were routed out in Gannoruwa, close to where the present Law Courts Complex stands.

Though this land, houses the complex that dispense justice today, it was the battlefield where more than thirty-five thousand shed their blood for the independence of the motherland. It may be recalled that Constantine de Saa Noronha who led the battle of the Randeniwela on the 2nd August 1630, paid his supreme sacrifice for leading the Portuguese army against Rajasinghe II of Senkadagala.

The king of Portugal found it difficult to find a suitable replacement for Saa for over one year. Don Phillip Maskaranho, who was the Captain in Cochin, was temporarily sent to Colombo in October 1631. Don Jorgo de Almaida was sent to Colombo as Captain General. Almaida was unable to hold this post for long as he became unpopular not only among his Portuguese soldiers but also the Sinhalese.

By 1633, Diogo de Mello who was later to lead the Gannoruwa battle assumed duties as Captain General in Colombo. By the end of 1633, De Mello with captain San Thome provoked Rajasinghe who was at Gannetenna by this time. They got the assistance of a Kaffir Regiment for this, on confrontation.

Mello took into his custody a caravan of six-hundred bulls and the men who looked after them. But later, they were release in a bid to win the goodwill of the monarch. Mello also discussed with the king some issues arising out of a peace accord signed with the Portuguese by king Senarath, his father. It was the second time that the Portuguese General discussed these issues. He was only marking time to prepare for a war. Discreetly, Mello arranged for seven-hundred Portuguese soldiers, five hundred lascarins, Kaffirs and Canaris troops of one-thousand.

Damio Bartado mustered these troops with the help of Calisto Machado who was in-charge of the Portuguese battalions of Hath Korale. These troops encamped at Attapitiya in a show of strength to the Sihalese. The Sinhalese summoned their fighters from Matale and Uva and fortified their troops.

When a confrontation was imminent, Rajasinghe in order to honour a treaty signed with his father Senarath released two-hundred Portuguese who were prisoner under him. The chief of Goa, Conde de Linharex, was highly appreciative of this gesture and wrote to the king on 29.11.1634 and inquired "How can I wage war on your Kingdom when our soldiers are held captive as prisoners in your domain".

As the Portuguese historian Queiroz mentions that the intention was to approach Wijayapala, the king's cousin in Matale, and give him an undertaking to declare Wijayapala as king having expelled Rajasinghe. De Mello sent several communications to Wijayapala to accept this proposal, but they were all turned down by the Prince of Matale.

Wijayapala was later in the Gannoruwa battle field with Rajasinghe directing operations. Mello took into his custody a tusker belonging to the king. Rajasinghe took into his custody two Arabian horses belonging to Mello.

When Mello challenged the king to release his horses, Rajasinghe said "bring my tusker to Senkadagala and remove your horses". The king was furious when the Portuguese killed his Disawa of Batticaloa, the son of Uva Maharala, Rambukwelle Janawallaba.

Battle commences

De Mello ordered the Disawa of Hatara Korale to muster all the lascarin troops to Menikkadawara. Mello himself came to Menikkadawara on March 19th with troops from Colombo and Malacca, specially brought down for the battle.

Troops were brought from Malwana Portuguese camp. Now, the strength was nine-hindred Portuguese, five-thousand lascarins (Riberio estimates this figure as twenty-eight thousand) Sepoy, Canrasi, Kaffir, troops. The battle is to be commanded by a young warrior, Pernao de Mendeuuro Fertado, nephew of Mello. Captain Morr who was in charge of Menikkadawara camp was in the battle field.

History records that Kabari Kannadi Jawaka troops were after Kansa (Canibus / opium) and liquor. History further mentions that shameless Sinhalese and graceless Bangali and Parava sailors also joined the Portuguese in this battle. Now, all troop in their thousands were marching towards Balana, passing Ganetenna. Rajasinghe who was at Uda Palatha at the time, sent an ola to Mello to stop this unnecessary war and massacre of the innocents.

Rajasinghe was able to read, write and speak Portuguese language. Mello's reply was "this black brat is shivering, we will pull him by the ear" (Rajasinghe was a youth in his early 30s). This disparaging remark was enough provocation for Rajasinghe to ignite the battle.

The king mobilised his troops from Uva, Tunkinda, Matale, Harispattuwa, Balavita, Dumbara Pansiyapattu, Udagama Pasrata, Hewaheta, Baluthgama, Dolosbage, Wellassa, Maturata, Badulla, Thiruwanagama, Gampaha, Matota, Tirukovil Vedipattu, Kottiyar, Vanniya Trincomalee, Kalaweva, Huruluweva, Hiriyala, Ganthale, Anuradhapura, Panampattu and all other places throughout the country. Rajasinghe and Wijayapala fought with the only ambition of driving away the Portuguese. Those who clamour for separate units can see that this country was one unitary state, the king having his writ all over the country.

There were thousands of heads heaped in Gannoruwa paddy field. Even the head of De Mello could not be identified. His nephew, who commanded the troops, Fernando de Mendoka, at last ran to rescue Prince Wijayapala of Matale. Only thirty-three Portuguese remained alive after the battle, Rajasinghe consolidated his victory by making the following appointments as a token of appreciation.

Siyanekorale Disawa was posted to Nuwara Kalaviya, Walagama Chandrasekara was put incharge of Hath Korale, Wickremasinghe was posted as Disawa of Puttalam, Illankone posted to be incharge of Matara, Moladanda who was the Saluwadana Nilame, was promoted as Atapattu Mudali, Kuruppu Mudali of Koratota was posted as Sabaragamuwa Disawa, Kapthota was put incharge of Hatara Korale.

All were amply rewarded with positions, lands etc. The king offered his sword and crown to Dodanwela Devala and dedicated Dodanwela Devala to five kings and sixty-five Bandaras.

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