King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha (1747-1782)

| by Kamalika Pieris

( April 21, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) King Kirthi Sri Rajasinha (1747-82) was barely sixteen when he took over the Udarata throne from his brother in law, Sri Vijaya Rajasinha. Sri Vijaya had married the daughter of Narenappa Nayakkar of Madura, South India. The bride was distantly connected to the Madura royal family through both father and mother. Narenappa, who had been living in Ramnad as a landless exile with no prospects, came over with his daughter and settled in Kandy, with his wife, children, two brothers and brother in law. Narenappa was a trader with contacts in Madura. Kirti Sri was then about five or six years old. He and his brother, later king Rajadhirajasinha, were treated as uparaja in Kandy and shown every kind of distinction. Kirthi Sri married four times, all from south India. Three were Nayakkars from Madura. Their families also came and settled in Kandy. Culawamsa says Kirthi Sri was very good looking. Pieris says he liked horses and was skilled in managing them.
Kirthi Sri Rajasinha was the first king after Rajasinha II to invade Dutch territory. He invaded Matara and Colombo disvanis in 1761, asking the inhabitants to rise up and rid the country of the Dutch. Buddhism was used as a rallying cry. Kirthi Sri relied heavily on Sinhala support from within Dutch territory. The invasion only lasted four months. Initially, Udarata captured the entire Matara disavani, also Hanvella. They obtained artillery from passing English ships, got training from captured Dutch soldiers and attacked the Matara fort. A Dutch observer remarked that ‘the fascines and other contrivances of the Sinhalese rivalled in quality the best work of that kind produced in Europe.’ The Dutch abandoned Matara fort, the Sinhalese occupied it and it stayed under their hands till 1762. During this time the Portuguese and Dutch tombos of Matara disappeared. The king rewarded his chiefs, Dumbara and Palingupana with valuable gifts and lands.
Kirthi Sri defeated the Tangalle garrison, who were invited to take service under the Sinhala king. Colombo was as good as blockaded. Galle was unprepared. It had neither ammunition nor provision in the warehouses. The Dutch got reinforcements from India, but the mercenaries from Tanjore and Madura expected by Udarata did not arrive and the war failed. By 1763, Udarata had retreated. The Dutch took back Matara fort, the salterns of Hambantota, Chilaw and Puttalam.
Kirthi Sri thereafter looked around for allies against the Dutch. He found that the French and English were entrenching themselves in India. He sent an envoy to Madras in 1762 asking for English assistance to get rid of the Dutch. The English sent Pybus on a fact finding mission. This was the first visit of an English envoy to Sri Lanka .Nothing happened, so Kirthi Sri contacted the French at Pondicherry in 1777. His letter to the French king was forwarded to France. Kirthi Sri said he was prepared to give Batticaloa and Trincomalee to the French.
Kirthi Sri’s discussions with French and English scared the Dutch. They obtained reinforcements from abroad, and invaded Udarata in 1764 in six separate divisions. All six divisions were attacked and defeated at various points on the way up. In 1765 they went up again, entered Kandy and called on Udarata to accept the Dutch as their rulers. Udarata did not give in. Letters to the king were returned unread. Kirti Sri vanished to Hanguranketa. The Dutch pursued him, burned his palace at Kundasala, and got to Hanguranketa, to see the king’s retinue vanishing over the hills to Badulla. Historians note that both Dutch expeditions to Kandy were failures. The Dutch were never able to conquer Udarata.
However, Udarata was feeling the strain of continuously opposing the Dutch Kirthi Sri gave in to the Dutch demand for a treaty. The 1766 treaty gave the Dutch legal right to the lands they had occupied for so long, and also one mile of land all along the coast. Kirti Sri was recognized as king of Udarata, not the whole island. Immediately after signing it, Kirthi Sri condemned the treaty as unequal. He sent a delegation of disavas to Batavia (Jakarta) to complain but nothing happened. He asked back the coastal lands and asserted his authority over them. The Sinhalese in Dutch territory continued to respect him and his status remained unchanged. The Dutch complained that their subjects would rebel against the Dutch at the slightest wish of the king… The mere mention of Kirthi Sri‘s name was sufficient. No reason was needed. The Dutch were going down fast, both in Europe and Asia, so they tolerated this.
It was Kirthi Sri who first set up a royal garden, at Peradniya. Today it is the Peradeniya Botanical Garden. One of Kirti Sri Rajasinha’s greatest achievements was his restoration of the valid ordination of the Sangha. All previous efforts had failed. Kirti Sri sent to Thailand and in 1753, got down a retinue of monks, led by Upali thera. In the presence of Kirthi Sri, six samaneras were admitted to the order. Three years later another group of erudite monks came. The arrival of these Siamese monks is an event of great importance in the Buddhist history of Sri Lanka. They established the ‘Siam nikaya’ which claimed unbroken succession from the Mahavihara at Anuradhapura. Kirti Sri gave the Malwatte and Asgiriya temples to the Siam Nikaya and placed all temples and monasteries in the island under these two temples. Velivita Saranankara was made sangharaja with Tibbotuve Buddharakhita as head of Malwatte.
Kirthi Sri also renovated the existing temples in the Udarata and re-endowed them with lavish grants of land. Dewaraja says there is hardly a vihara of importance in the Udarata which did not benefit by the generosity of Kirti Sri. He also helped temples in Dutch territory. He renovated and re-endowed Kelani vihara. He also gave land to Mulgirigala vihara. Dewaraja notes that Kirthi Sri has received the unanimous applause of all contemporary writers as the greatest ever patron of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. It was Kirti Sri who added on the Dalada perahera to the perahera of the four devalas, which took place annually in Kandy.
Ven. Saranankara sent monks into the Dutch occupied territory of Matara disavani, and began a literary and religious revival there. Since the monasteries of the south were affiliated to Malwatte, there was close contact between the temples and Malwatte. This religious revival brought the Buddhists of the lowlands and the Udarata together. This led to greater attachment to the king as well.
In 1760 there was a plot to assassinate Kirthi Sri and replace him with a Siamese prince, whom the Dutch called Krumpy Pippit. His real name was Krom Muen Tep Pipet. The plot was hatched by second adigar Samanakkodi, who had lost his position at court. Saranankara and Buddharakhita supported him. They sent a letter to the king of Siam, asking for a prince to replace Kirthi Sri, telling Kirti Sri that the letter was only a request for some rare religious books. Krumpy came to Sri Lanka in the guise of a monk, together with other monks. Krumpy was the son of king Boromkot of Siam, by a secondary wife. Krumpy had previously tried to depose king Boromkot and was expelled from Thailand to Sri Lanka.
The unsuspecting Kirti Sri accommodated Krumpy at Malwatte. The plan was to kill the king, by inviting him to a festival at Malwatte and making him sit over a pit fitted with sharp spikes, into which he would fall and be killed. The king, informed earlier, by Malwatte monks and others, sat elsewhere and the plot was exposed. The four conspirators, an adigar, disava and two rateralas were executed. Kirti Sri wanted to kill Saranankara and Buddharakhita also. They were eventually deprived of office and imprisoned. By 1768 they were back in their prestigious positions. The Dutch also wanted to make Krumpy king of Udarata. But the Sinhalese packed him off to Thailand.

The writings of S. Arasaratnam, L.S. Dewaraja, D.A. Kotelawele and P.E. Pieris were used for this essay.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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