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The reign of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815)

The Udarata kingdom did not collapse because of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. Sri Vikrama and Udarata tumbled down together. Sri Vikrama was popular at the start. When the British invaded Udarata in 1803, they found ‘a great reserve of popular support’ for the king. When the British installed Muttusami on the Udarata throne, no one joined him. Udarata enthusiastically defeated the British and then felt strong enough to invade the British provinces in 1803, 1804, and 1805. Sri Wickrema had personally led the attack on Hanwella.

K.M. de Silva observes that Udarata usually rebelled to indicate dissatisfaction with the ruler. But Sri Vikrama’s rule was free of any such demonstration of popular dissatisfaction. Ehalepola’s rebellion (1814) got no support. Sri Vikrama crushed it easily. Ehalepola could not get many recruits for his army either. Colvin R de Silva says it is doubtful whether the general public wanted to get rid of Sri Vikrama. He thinks the upland provinces would have stayed loyal to the last. As late as 1814, the British observed that Udarata would not rise against their king.

Sri Vikrama when young would have had informal access to the royal court, his mother was a sister of Rajadhi’s queen, and he would therefore have seen from inside how things were done at court. Wickremeratne says that Sri Wickrema took control of the administration right from the beginning. He made it clear that he would not be taking direction from the chiefs, the chiefs would take direction from him.

Davy said Sri Wickrema had devoted most of his time to royal business. ‘His leisure he spent listening to music or supervising his artist and workmen, who were employed beautifying his grounds and enlarge and decorating his palace and city.’ Sri Wickrema’s central administration must have been efficient. The British never could find out whether Captain Davie, held hostage after the 1803 war, was dead or alive, despite their extensive spy system. .Sri Wickrema decided foreign policy. He was kept fully informed of the discussions his chiefs Pilimatalawe and Migastenne had with the British. Wickremeratne says Pilimatalawe was loyal to Sri Wickrema in these discussions and that the evidence used by the British to demonize Pilimatalawe is unreliable.

Sri Vikrama had encouraged local councils and attempted to curb corruption among the officials. He took steps to prevent profiteering and extortion. He entertained complaints from the public. These actions would have pleased the people. The kingdom was not run by his ‘Malabar’ relatives as alleged in British records. Sri Wickrema’s Malabar retinue, when rounded up in 1815 for deportation, was small in number. The majority were servants.

Sri Vikrama was firmly anti British. When he saw that Tun Korale, Satara Korale, Sat Korale and Sabaragamuwa were moving towards the British, he split up the administration of Sat Korale and in 1812, blocked communications between the suspected provinces and the loyal upland provinces of Hewaheta, Dumbara, Uva, Kotmale and Walapane. Recent immigrants into the upland provinces were ordered out. Officers of the royal household who came from the suspected provinces were transferred to distant places. Only those who came from the loyal provinces were allowed near the king.

Sri Vikrama took strong action when Sabaragamuwa rebelled in 1814. The south western frontier was closed, low country traders sent away, and their trading places shut. When a village in Sabaragamuwa refused to pay the King’s dues, and the king’s agent was maltreated. Sri Vikrama ordered Ehalepola to come to court with the villagers. Instead Ehalepola fled to the British. Ehalepola was deprived of his offices. His wife and children were taken hostage and Sri Vikrama again got ready for war. He got down Malabar mercenaries from India and started to mobilize. He evacuated people from the borders of Tun Korale, Satara Korale, Sat Korale and stationed troops there. Colvin R de Silva states that Sri Vikrama was justified in taking action to protect the kingdom. He was not ‘guilty’ as represented in the British dispatches.

Sri Vikrama never completely lost authority. The palace documents, regalia and the dhanta dhatu were packed and sent to safety in 1815, on his orders and under his supervision. He was not disliked by his people. Udunuwara inhabitants refused to seize the king when asked to do so during the British invasion. And when Sri Vikrama was captured, one official was moved to comment ‘this king has been revered up to this hour.’ The British did not dare execute Sri Vikrama and his capture was not made public. He was taken to Colombo by a secret route by-passing Kandy.

Pieris observes that it is the British who started a campaign of vilification depicting Sri Wickrema as a monster of cruelty and wickedness. They carried out propaganda, to make the Udarata people angry and dissatisfied with Sri Vikrama . Sri Vikrama was depicted as a sadist and alcoholic and this came to be reflected in the oral histories of the time. Kotelawele says "Sasanavathirna varnanava" (1830s or 1840s) shows the sort of propaganda which would have been used against Sri Vikrama.

This negative image of Sri Vikrama can be found today in the British dispatches to London. These contain a running account of Sri Vikrama’s misdeeds, based on the complaints of the Udarata chiefs. The chiefs complained, inter alia, that Sri Vikrama had taken over two villages which belonged to the Dalada Maligawa, he had reactivated the marala (death) duty, imposed a new tax on land another on paddy, and appointed persons of inferior birth to high offices. Areca nut was to be sent to the palace from the disavani and not the gabadagam. The payment chiefs had to make when they took office was increased. Historians point out that these ‘complaints’ are not sufficient to condemn a king.

The British also alleged that Sri Vickrema was executing persons left and right without reason. He had, for instance, put to death 73 chiefs and their families, relations, friends and servants, all in one go. Wickremeratne, having examined the historical records from a legal perspective, states that these charges of arbitrary executions have no validity. There is absolutely no evidence to support any of the killings attributed to Sri Vickrema and these statements cannot be accepted as fact, he says. He points out further that D’Oyly does not present Sri Wickrema as a’ blood letting murderer’ in his Diary.

Wickremeratne states that there is no evidence to indicate that Sri Vickrema killed off Gampola Nayakkar, Arawwawala, Damagamuwe, Leuke, Palipane, Pusvelle and the rest. He did not impale 17 persons at Gannoruwa, nor did he kill 70 headmen at one go. He did not summon whole families to Kandy to kill them. He did not oppose Buddhism and he did not kill bhikkhus either. Wickremeratne also adds that there was nothing to show that the rajakariya extracted for constructing the Kandy Lake and improving the palace was wrong. He says most of these are hearsay statements, unsupported by hard evidence.

Historians agree that Sri Vikrama’s downfall was due to the fact that he completely alienated the Kandyan chiefs. The Udarata chiefs were related to each other and connected by marriage and Sri Vikrama was unable to retain the support of at least a section of this aristocracy. In 1814 ten chiefs including Ekneligoda and Dolsvalle defected to the British with Ehalepola. They were joined by Delgoda Atapattu nilame, Wellange Waluwwa mohottala and Demodara mohottala.

Sri Vikrama had looked to the public for support since he had tried to protect them from the chiefs. He warned them, ‘Beware of the British, they will charge new rents, they have already done many wrongs to the people of the Maritime Provinces. ‘But in the Udarata, the king’s power was not felt directly, it percolated to the people through the chiefs and therefore in January 1815, when the British started to invade the Udarata, the people listened to the chiefs, not to Sri Vikrama.

The writings of J. Davy, Colvin R de Silva, K.M. de Silva, P.B. Dolapihilla, D.A. Kotelawele, P.E .Pieris, G. Powell, T. Vimalananda and Upali C Wickremeratne were used for this essay.

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