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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.