(Reproduced from Daily News of February 18, 2002)
By Derrick Schokman
On February 18, 1815 Sri Wickrema Raja Sinha, the Last King of Kandy was captured by Eknaligoda one of his chieftains and handed over to the British. The king had been hiding in the house of a subordinate Headman, one mile away from Meda Maha Nuwara, which the kings used as a safe house during foreign invasions.
On the order of Governor Robert Brownrigg, the king and his party were kept under house arrest in Colombo until January 24 of the following year, prior to being banished aboard HMS Cornwallis to Fort Vellore, Madras.
Together with his four wives, mother, brother-in-law, other dependants and attendants, the king lived in exile in the fort for 16 years until his death in 1832 at the age of fifty-two.
What caused the final collapse of 2357 years of royal rule? It is generally agreed that the King’s brutality bordering on lunacy was the major cause.
He was responsible for the execution of First Adigar Pilimatalawa who had sponsored his kingship, and two Buddhist Priests of high order.
He had Adigar Ehelapola’s children butchered and his wife drowned in the Bogambara lake. He had 100 Headmen impaled for refusing on principle to do voluntary service (rajakariya) on the construction of the new lake.
He confiscated much land and property.
Sri Wickrema Raja Sinha also seemed to be obsessed with a sort of god-king mentality. Some historians think that he had plans to convert Kandy into another legendary Alakamandawa with the Udawathakelle hill posing as the Himalayan Mount Meru and the new lake as the Kiri Muhuda. In fact, the 1815 maps of Kandy had the lake labelled as Kiri Muhuda. His other aspiration in this direction, which was foiled, included the building of a magnificent pavilion and pleasure garden in the sacred Devasangkinda or land within the four devales. The British, who were in control of the maritime regions, took advantage of the mounting indignation of the people against the king to infiltrate the Kandyan kingdom and make a deal with the dissident chieftains.
John Doyle played a major role in this ploy. He was a prototype of the later more publicised Lawrence of Arabia and ‘Glub Pasha’.
He came to Sri Lanka in 1801 and devoted himself to mastering the Sinhalese language. After a short spell of training in Colombo he was appointed Revenue Collector and stationed at Matara.
His rapport with the language and culture of the country had an extraordinary influence on the people he came in contact with. It helped him win the cooperation of the Colombo and Matara mudaliyars to meet the disgruntled Kandyan chieftans and plan the surrender of Kandy, which was achieved without a shot being fired or the loss of a single soldier.
For his part in this bloodless victory Doyle was made a knight of the Garter and raised to the rank of Resident Representative of the Governor and First Commissioner of the Board of Commission to administer the Kandyan provinces. He held this office until his early death in 1824 at the age of forty-nine. He was buried in the garrison cemetery - Kandy’s “Little England” where eminent Britishers were interred in the early years of colonial government.
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