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DateLine Sunday, 20 July 2008

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Government Gazette

395th death anniversary today:

Dona Catherina - the last empress of Senkadagala

The 395th death anniversary of Kusumasana Devi, last monarch of Sinhale falls today. She died on 20th July 1613 at Welimannatota Royal Palace in the present Kegalle District after a brief illness associated with pregnancy.

Her health condition deteriorated and was taken to the Royal physician at Meedeniya but she did not gain her conscientiousness and was in a feeble state of mind.


 Dona Catherina welcomed in Kandy

Kusumasana Devi was the only daughter of Galagama Adasin and Karalliyadde Kumara Bandara Alias Jayaweera III who ruled in Senkadagala (1579 to 1581), the second son of Senasammatha Wickrama Bahu (1463-1483) founder of the Senkadagala Kingdom.

Jayaweera was expelled from Senkadagala throne by Rajasinghe of Seethawaka who placed Virasundara Bandara of Peradeniya dynasty annexing the Senkadagala kingdom to Kotte.

When Rajasinghe I annexed the Kandyan Kingdom in 1582 the dispossessed King Karalliyadde Kumara Bandara fled to the Portuguese at Mannar. Shortly after before his death of small pox, he entrusted to them his nephew and heir Yamasinghe and his infant daughter.

These two children were baptized by the Portuguese and renamed Don Phillip and Dona Catherina. (A True and Exact Description of the great island of Ceylon - Phillips Baldaeus page 8) This princess of destiny was brought up by the nuns in a monastery at Mannar with the hope that when the appropriate hour comes she will be brought to Senkadagala and installed in the throne and given in marriage to a Portuguese prince thus winning over the kingdom by diplomatic manipulation when the Portuguese efforts at war fails.

Kusumasana Devi now baptized Dona Catherina learnt all the arts and strategies of state craft from the Portuguese and Languages, dance, music, culinary, embroidery and gained all other necessary skills of diplomacy and other relevant matters of governance.

Mannar empress

Baldaeus in page 17 of this book describes now the Princess was accepted as their Empress. “The Portuguese having now these lands in their power determined that the inhabitants should swear allegiance to the king of Portugal, whereupon the nation earnestly solicited that Dona Catherina who was then at Mannar may be made their Empress she being the legitimate daughter of their lawful king Mahadasaya (Karalliyadde Bandara) Jayaweera who was in charge of Kotte at the time agreed to this request provided he was permitted to take Dona Catherina as his wife.

Jayaweera Bandara who made this claim was none other than Arittaki Wendu Perumal, the Prime Minister of Seethawaka Rajasinghe who was also known as Manamperi Mudliyar later. Thus Dona Catherina was brought to Kandy from Mannar and crowned the Empress.

This is how father Fernado De Queorose in page 17 of his book describes the incident. “As the procession moved on, gold and silver coins were scattered on the roads which the inhabitants scrambled for in great numbers.

The expense incurred on this occasion is estimated at 19 1/2 tons of gold being the treasure of the deceased king Rajasinghe Adaseyn. Dona Catherina after an interval of three days’ rest, was crowned Empress of Kandy with great pomp and all due solemnity. General Pedro Lopez who was in Senkadagala at the time planned to take Dona Catherina as this consort but she rejected this idea with contempt.

The Portuguese troops started plundering properties of the Sinhalese, burring their houses and killing their children and others who opposed their will and also setting fire to several villages. Konappu Bandara who was baptized as Don Jon was hiding in the jungles closeby until an opportunity for massacre of Portuguese troops arise.

On a Sunday in 1590 the battle between the Portuguese and the Sinahalese ensured at Danture and Konappu emerged victorious. He took as his queen Kusumasana Devi who was then 10 or 12 years old and became Wimaladharmasuriya I. By this combination they had three sons and two daughters.

The eldest son Maha Astana is supposed to have been drowned by Senarath to make way for his own son Rajasingha II to be the heir to the Senkadagala throne. Wijepala or Godapola Prince was in Matale and Kumarasinghe was Prince of Uva. The daughter Suriya was born during the period of turmoil and Sama in the period of peace in the country. The people rejoiced this combination for 110 days at an expense of 5005 pagodas.

Beholden

E. A. V. Naganathan writing to the Daily News of 07.09.1998 states thus. “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.

Wimaladharmasuriya I (1594-1604) and Senarath I (1604-1635) whom she wed, who inaugurated that line of seven rulers to whose zealous defence of the Sinhalese state and protection of the Buddhist religion as fundamental principles of State policy.

The Sinhalese people are for ever beholden for their present persecution of statehood and nationhood and conception of the right of self determination and sovereignty, the vital advantages that the 20th century 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 an setting down in either Goa or Portugal itself”.

Today on her 395th death anniversary day 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 at the Malwana convention.

For the information of those interested in history may I add that this Dharmapala was the son of Dona Margarita alias Santana Devi daughter of Kusumasana Devi’s grand father Jayaweera II alias Karalliyadde Bandara, ruler of Senkadagala (1514-1542).

Kusumasana Devi’s palace site in Welimannatota was declared a cultural heritage and it had a mausoleum built in her memory. This land was later sold to European planters and named Rock Hill Estate and finally vested with the Land Reform Commission.

An influential politician from Kegalle bought this land blocked out and sold for a housing scheme and today there are several houses built here and the seven-acre block of this cultural heritage site is encroached by the people and about fifteen perches is reserved.

My several attempts to get this site protected by the Cultural Ministry was not successful due to official lethargy and lack of political support. The politicians in power will not handle this problem as they fear that they will lose the manapa votes of the encroachers if they interfere on this matter.

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