Kingdom of Kandy | Last Kingdom of Sri Lanka

Temple of the Tooth Relic Kandy
The Kingdom of Kandy (Sinhala: මහනුවර රාජධානිය/ යුගය; Tamil: கண்டி இராச்சியம்) was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka that flourished on the island from the late 15th century to the early 19th century A.D.

Early period
Kandy is located in the area that belonged in ancient times to the Malaya Mandala in the central hilly region. Pre-Christian Early Brahmi Inscriptions along the banks of the Mahaweli Ganga indicate that the area had been inhabited by forest-dwelling Buddhist monks (Paranavitana, 1970). The chronicles reveal that Prince Dutugemunu (reigned: 161-137 B.C.) spent his time at Kotmale in the hill country.

In the subsequent periods, several Sinhalese kings continued to maintain sub-kingdoms in the present Kandyan region administered through a trusted prince appointed by them. Sometimes, kings used hill country as a safe place during times of local unrest or as a fortress against invaders. With the decline of the civilizations of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Rohana, the royal capital shifted to DambadeniyaGampola, Kotte, Sitawaka and finally to Kandy (Abeywardana, 2004).

Establishment of the kingdom
Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
The kingdom was established by King Vikramabahu III (1357-1374 A.D.) of Gampola and it remained as an autonomous state concurrently with the Kingdom of Kotte [(1412-1597 A.D.) Jayasuriya, 2016]. The city of the kingdom was formerly called Katupulle Nuwara and it started to be known as Senkadagala, Srivardhanapura or Senkadagalapura after it was named after the ascetic Senkanda who lived in a cave in Udawatta Kele Forest located just behind the Kandy Palace Complex. Vikramabahu III was followed by King Senasammata Vikramabahu (1469-1511 A.D.) who made Senkadagalapura the capital of the Udarata or the central hill region. Senasammata Vikramabahu is considered the first king of Kandy as he along with Veera Vikrama tried to maintain a customary Sinhala kingdom in Kandy while there were hostile activities in both Kotte and Sitawaka kingdoms (Jayasuriya, 2016).

King Rajasinhe I
Senasammata Vikramabahu was followed by two rulers Jayaweera Asthana (1511-1552 A.D.) and Karaliyadde  Bandara (1552-1581 A.D.). King Rajasinha I (1581-1591 A.D.), the ruler of the Sitawaka Kingdom who had already scored a major victory over the Portuguese at Mulleriyawa in 1559 succeeded in annexing the Kandyan Kingdom. He ruled Kandy through his capital of Sitawaka while the Portuguese played a role in Sri Lankan politics.

Role of the Portuguese
Arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505, during the reign of King Vira Parakramabahu VIII (1490-1509 A.D.) of Kotte, the Portuguese had managed to take the control of several coastal areas in the country within several years. Due to their hostile activities, the Buddhists living in maritime provinces sought Kandy as a place of refuge (Jayasuriya, 2016). Also, when Christianity in Kotte and Hinduism in Sitawaka held sway, the majority of people sought refuge in the Kandyan territory (Jayasuriya, 2016). The Kandyan Kingdom became further stronger when Prince Dharmapala (1550-1597 A.D.) gifted the Kotte Kingdom to the Portuguese in 1597.

After King Rajasinha I annexed the Kandyan Kingdom to Sitawaka, the dethroned king Karaliyadde Bandara fled to Jaffna with his daughter, Kusumasana Devi where she was baptised by the Portuguese and named Dona Catherina. 

Konappu Bandara became King Wimaladharmasuriya
Delgamuwa Viharaya
Meanwhile, Konappu Bandara of the Peradeni Nuwara successfully established himself as the ruler of Kandy in 1592 by the name King Wimaladharmasuriya [(1591-1604 A.D.) Abeywardana, 2004]. He made his political stability by marrying Kusumasana Devi and building the first Temple for the Tooth Relic within the Kandy palace complex where he enshrined the Tooth Relic that was hidden in a maize grinding stone at Delgamuwa Viharaya in Ratnapura. The ascension to the throne of Wimaladharmasuriya made Kandy the capital of the country and it rose as a regional power as the Kotte Kingdom was at the behest of the Portuguese and the Sitawaka Kingdom became disintegrated after the death of Rajasinha I (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Rajasinhe II, departure of the Portuguese and the arrival of the Dutch
Wars were there between the Portuguese and Kandyan rulers as the Portuguese attempted to capture the Kandyan Kingdom several times, to bring the entire island under their rule. King Senarath (1604-1635 A.D.) repelled Portuguese attacks led by Jeronimo De Azaveda and Constantino de Sa Noronha and King Rajasinha II (1635-1687 A.D.) fought the Portuguese face-to-face at Randenigala and Gannoruwa in 1638 gaining himself a major military victory (Abeywardana, 2004; Jayasuriya, 2016). In the hopes of expelling the Portuguese out of the country, Rajasinha II started negotiations with the Dutch and signed a treaty on 23 May 1638 in which the two nations agreed in defending the Kandyan Kingdom from the Portuguese.

Negombo fort
The Dutch gradually reduced the power of the Portuguese and occupied their forts at Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Negombo, Galle and finally Colombo (Jayasuriya, 2016). Incapable of facing further damages, the Portuguese surrendered Colombo to the Dutch and left the country in 1656 (Jayasuriya, 2016). Although the Portuguese left the country, the Dutch didn't hand over the Portuguese assets to the Kandyan king but continued to retain their hold on the occupied areas (Jayasuriya, 2016).  This finally made Kandyans realize that the Dutch not only intended to expel the Portuguese but to replace them as the major colonial power on the island.

The last Sinhala king and the appearance of Nayakkars
After the death of Rajasinha II, the Kandyan Kingdom began to decline (Jayasuriya, 2016). Rajasinha II's son Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707 A.D.) and his follower Sri Viraparakrama Narendrasinha (1707-1739 A.D.) were peaceful rulers. Sri Viraparakrama Narendrasinha was also the last Sinhala ruler and after his death, the South Indian Nayakkara relatives of his queen's side took over the rule (Abeywardana, 2004; Dewaraja, 1985; Jayasuriya, 2016). As a result, the last four kings of Kandy who ruled from 1739 to 1815 were of South Indian origin and all of them imported their spouses in turn from South India (Dewaraja, 1985). 

Power transfer from the Dutch to the British
The period of Dutch rule over Sri Lanka came to an end by 1796 due to changing events in Europe. In the late 18th century the Dutch were weakened by their wars against Great Britain. Finally, they were conquered by Napoleonic France, and their leaders became refugees in London. As the Dutch were no longer able to govern their parts of Sri Lanka effectively they transferred the rule to the British.

The demise of the Kingdom
The internal struggles between Sinhala chieftains such as Pilimatalawe, Ehelepola and Keppetipola and the weak rule of the South Indian Nayakkar kings were responsible for the quick destruction of the long line of Sinhalese rule. Kings like Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781 A.D.) Rajadhi Rajasinha (1781-1798), and Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815 A.D.) were able to maintain law and order to some extent, gaining the support of people by fostering Buddhism. However, their Indian origin stood against their ruling strength.

Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, the last King of Kandy, became unpopular among the majority of the population owing to his hostile attitude towards the prime minister and other aristocrats and the cruelty of his punishments (Abeywardana, 2004). This led to intrigues by the affected ministers who welcomed the takeover of the kingdom by the British (Abeywardana, 2004). Finally, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha was arrested and deported to Vellore in India meanwhile the Kingdom of Kandy transferred to British rule under the terms of a treaty known as the Kandyan Convention in 1815 (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Kandyan Convention (2 March 1815)
Magul Maduwa
After deposing King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha from his throne, to bestow the administrative power of the Kandyan Kingdom to King George III (1760-1820 A.D.), the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, a treaty was signed on 2 March 1815 at the Magul Maduwa of the Temple of the Tooth Relic premises between the Kandyan chiefs including Molligoda, and Pilimatalawe Adhikaram and the Governor of British Ceylon Sir Robert Brownrigg (1812-1820 A.D.) on behalf of King George III (Abeywardana, 2004). The treaty was in English and Sinhala and was drafted by John D'Oyly who was proficient in both languages (Abeywardana, 2004). 

Rulers of the Kandyan Kingdom
The Kandyan Kingdom lasted nearly three and half centuries and 13 kings ruled the country during this period.
    1) Senasammata Vikramabahu (1469-1511 A.D.)
    3) Karaliyadde Bandara (1552-1581 A.D.)
    5) Wimaladharmasuriya I (1591-1604 A.D.)
    7) Rajasinha II (1635-1687 A.D.)
    9) Sri Vira Parakrama Narendrasinha (1707-1739 A.D.)
    11) Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781 A.D.)
    13) Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815 A.D.)
    2) Jayaweera Asthana (1511-1552 A.D.)
    4) Rajasinha I (1581-1591 A.D.) of Sitawaka
    6) Senarath (1604-1635 A.D.)
    8) Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707 A.D.)
    10) Sri Vijaya Rajasinha (1739-1747 A.D.)
    12) Rajadhi Rajasinha (1781-1798)

Inscriptions and Sannasas
A number of inscriptions (including Sannasas) belonging to the Kandyan period have been recorded by scholars (Ranawella, 2015).

King Senasammata Vikramabahu (1469-1511 A.D.)
Devanagala inscriptions # Aluthnuwara Inscription
# Vannipola Sannasa
# Galagane Sannasa
# Gadaladeniya Rock Inscription
# Kobbekaduwa Vihara Sannasa

King Jayaweera Asthana (1511-1552 A.D.)
# Natha Devalaya Wall Inscriptions

King Wimaladharmasuriya I (1591-1604 A.D.)
# Devanagala Rock Inscription

King Rajasinha II (1635-1687 A.D.)
# Mangalagama Sannasa

King Vijaya Rajasinha (1739-1747 A.D.)
Kelaniya Vihara Slab Inscription # Ahelepola Sannasa

King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781 A.D.)
# Galagoda Sannasa No. 1
# Arave Sannasa
# Gangarama Rock Inscription
# Kundasale Vihara Sannasa
# Medawala Thamba Sannasa
# Getaberiya Thamba Sannasa
# Pondape Slab Inscription
# Dodamvala Sannasa
# Galagoda Sannasa No. 2
# Kelaniya Vihara Slab Inscription & Sannasa

King Rajadhi Rajasinha (1781-1798 A.D.)
# Agrabodhi Vihara Slab Inscription

King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815 A.D.)
# Hurulle Thamba Sannasa
# Molligoda Thamba Sannasa
# Selava Vihara Rock Inscription
# Totaha Rock Inscription

At the time of the British occupation of Kandy in 1815, the Kandyan territory had been administered through 21 units (Abeywardana, 2004). They included the four Maha Disawas (Satara Korale, Sat Korale, Uva and Matale), eight Disawas (Sabaragamuwa, Tun Korale, Walapane, Uda Palata, Nuwarakalaviya, Wellassa, Bintenna, Tamankaduwa) and nine Ratas [(Udunuwara, Yatinuwara, Tumpane, Harispattuwa, Dumbara, Hewaheta, Kotmale, Udu Bulatgama, Pata Bulatgama) Abeywardana, 2004]. Of them, Udunuwara, Yatinuwara, Tumpane, Harispattuwa, Dumbara and several adjacent areas were known as Kandauda Pasrata (the five countries atop the mountains) and this name had been simplified to read as "Kande" by the foreign invaders (Abeywardana, 2004). The present name Kandy is thought to be the outcome of this usage (Abeywardana, 2004).

Agriculture and irrigation
Agriculture was the main occupation among the Kandyan common folk. It was further divided into three types, viz: paddy cultivation, garden crop cultivation and Chena cultivation. Unlike in the low country or in the northcentral regions, the paddy fields in the Kandyan region were prepared in tiers (Helmala) to adapt to its natural hilly landscape. Waters were diverted towards the fields through dammed water courses nearby. Although this period is considered a declining period of traditional irrigation, the Kandyan rulers contributed much to the improvement of water supply facilities by building new tanks and anicuts. The text Mandarampura Puvata reveals that King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592-1604 A.D.) built 27 tanks, and Rajasinha II (1629-1687 A.D.) built 32 tanks and 13 canals. Locally manufactured tools such as ploughs, billhooks and mamoties were used by farmers in their agricultural activities.

Language and literature
In comparison to the classical traditions of the past, literary activities during the Kandyan period are less notable. However, the religious revival caused by Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thera (1698-1778 A.D.) was able to improve to some extent the decline of literary activity in the mid-17th and 18th centuries. Significant works of this period include the Mandaram Puvata and Rajavaliya. Also, the Kadaim Poth and Vitti Poth of this period reveal factual details of the royalty and leading families as well as territorial boundaries.

Coins of the Kandyan period
Coins of particular rulers were not struck during the Kandyan period and people seem to have used the coins of the Transitional Period. However, an early type of coin used in this period was Fanam or Panama minted either in gold or silver. In the beginning, they were minted in South India and as a result of the growing relations between South India and Sri Lanka, these coins were minted locally during the latter part of the Kandyan period. Besides this coin, Pagodas, Larins (conical coins), and Portuguese, Dutch and British coins were also in circulation. 

Dutch coins (1660-1796 A.D.)
During the early period of the Dutch occupation, Portuguese coins were in circulation but due to the availability of a large number of forgeries, Dutch had to counter-mark them with the monogram V.O.C. and re-issue them under the name of the Dutch East India Company. Between 1726-1806, large numbers of copper coins minted in Holland and other provinces with the monogram V.O.C. and the provincial crest were in circulation in Sri Lanka. In the first half of the 18th century, the Dutch introduced issues of stivers of the "Wreath and Crest" series were started to mint in Colombo, Jaffna, Galle and Trincomalee.

British coins (from 1796 A.D.)
Gold Star Pagodas and two species of coins with the value of 1/96 Rupee and 1/48 Rupee were minted in England and circulated in Sri Lanka by the British. Thereafter, three varieties of copper coins with the value Stuiver, 1/2 Stuiver and 1/4 Stuiver were minted several times during the period 1801-1804. Silver coins with the value of 2 Pataga, 1 Pataga and 1/2 Pataga were minted from 1803 to 1816 with the legend "Ceylon Government". Along with this, three other types of copper coins with the value of Fanams and 2 Stuivers, 1 Stuiver were in circulation during this period.

Ancient city of the Kandyan Kingdom
Presently, UNESCO has declared Ancient Kandy City as one of the World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.

Read the main article: Sacred City of Kandy

1) SL Kandy asv2020-01 img33 Sacred Tooth Temple by A.Savin is licensed under the Free Art License 1.3
1) SL Negombo asv2020-01 img06 Dutch Fort by A.Savin is under the Free Art License 1.3

1) Abeywardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Kandurata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.xxv-xxvii.
2) Dewaraja, L., 1985. The Kandyan Kingdom: The secret of its survival. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka Branch, 30, pp.120-135.
3) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.17-19.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Volume I: Early Brahmi Inscriptions. Department of Archaeology Ceylon. pp.62-63.
5) Ranawella, S., 2015. Inscriptions of Ceylon. Vol. IX. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-9159-98-8. pp.1-79.

This page was last updated on 1 January 2023

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