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Sri Lanka-Portuguese, Arrival Of Portuguese In Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka-Portuguese, Arrival Of Portuguese In Sri Lanka

In 1505 eight years after Vasco da Gama had doubled the Cape of Good Hope when Vira Parakrama Bahu 8 was king of Kottw, Vikrama Bahu, king of the Hill Country, and Pararasa Sekaran, king of Jaffna, a Portuguese fleet was forced by winds and waves to the island of Ceylon. The captain-major of the fleet was a young nobleman named Don Lourenco de Almeida, son of the first Portuguese viceroy of India. He had set out from Cochin to intercept the richly laden Muslim ships which, bound from China to the Persian Gulf, were avoiding the usual route, now infested by the Portuguese and were passing by the Maldives Island. Being caught in a storm, Don Lourenco was tossed to the southern coast of Ceylon unawares and put into the harbour of Galle (about Galle). When he learned that this unknown country was the far-famed island of Ceylon, he coasted on to Colombo which he was told was the port to the capital of the island.

10 days Sri Lanka itinerary with Colombo


Colombo, then called Kolamba or Kolomtota, was the chief anchorage for ships and the mart of the island’s trade. This trade, chiefly in cinnamon, coconut, and elephants was in the hands of Muslim traders, the descendant of the seafaring Arabs. They had many storehouses of bangasalas in which they stocked their merchandise. The population of the town was largely Muslim, and there was a mosque together with a Muslim cemetery and a court of justice to settle disputes according to Muslim law. The township lay on the bank of a rivulet, an outlet of the Kelani River, which entered the sea near the modern Pettah. Over the rivulet was a bridge, and large and broad streets intersected the town. At the mouth of this rivulet, there was a fairly safe anchorage for ships.


The Muslims were an object of hatred to the Portuguese. The latter was Christians, the former Mohammedans, and between the two for many centuries past had raged the wars known as the Crusades. Moreover, the object of the Portuguese explorations was to wrest the trade of India and its profit from the Muslims who had been masters of Indian seas for many centuries. Nowadays rival traders oust each other by peaceful competition, but in those rough times, they did so by sheer might and open piracy. The Portuguese and the Muslims, therefore, fought each other wherever they met, and merchantmen always carried guns and generally sailed together for common help.

Trade rivals

When Don Lourenco appeared off Colombo, there were Muslims ships engaged in lading or Landing cargo, and all took alarm at the unexpected appearance of the hated rival. The captain-major, however, who had so recently been storm-tossed and had come to hold communication with the king of the country, did not wish to be hostile and assured the Muslims of his peaceful intentions. He had heard of Ceylon, of its spices and elephants and pearls and his king had even directed his father, the viceroy, to explore Ceylon. Glad, therefore, to have come unexpectedly upon the island, he desired to send an embassy to the king, and sought information from the Muslim captains. They were not disposed to let their rivals know how fruitful and fair this island was, and tried to dissuade the Portuguese commander from entering into negotiations with the Sinhalese king. At their instigation, the townspeople of Colombo set upon a party of the sailor who had gone on shore for wood and water, but a volley from the ship’s cannon soon cleared the shores.

Vasco Da Gama arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 and the King of Sri Lanka was Vira Parakrama Bahu. The king was informed upon the arrival of strangers to the port of Colombo. According to a Sinhalese chronicle, the Rajavaliya, the message was counched in this form. “There is in our harbour of Colombo a race of people, fair of skin and comely withal. They don jackets and hats of iron; rest not a minute in one place but walk here and there. They eat hunks of stone and drink blood. They give two or three pieces of gold and silver for one fish or one lime. The report of their cannon is louder than thunder when it burst upon the rock of Yugandhara.

The king promptly summoned his council and on its advice decided to receive the newcomer. Messengers were accordingly sent with the fruit of the country to bid the visitors welcome in the name of the king. Don Lourenco was so pleased with the message that he dispatched Fernao Custrim, one of the captains of the fleet, as an envoy to Kotte. The royal councillors, however, had thought it unsafe to let the foreigner see that Kotte was so near Colombo, and the Portuguese envoy was led by a circuitous route, uphill and down dale, for three days. The people of Ceylon who heard about the ruse thought that the Portuguese were misled and to this day a circuitous route is called in Sinhalese  “ as the Portuguese went to Kotte”, But a ship’s captain who had found his way over the wide ocean from Lisbon to India could not be easily deceived in his bearings.

Don Lourenco, moreover, had taken the precaution of retaining hostage for the safe return of his envoy and had agreed to fire a gun at every turn of the hour-glass. From the report of the gun, Cutrim saw quite clearly that he was being led in a roundabout way but took no notice, as no harm seemed to be intended. He was commissioned to pay the commander’s compliments and inquire whether the king would enter into a treaty with Portuguese.  Though he did not see the king or converse with him he was assured that the king would be pleased to form an alliance. With this message, Curtrim returned along with some of the king’s people and elephants to conduct an ambassador.

Payo de Souza was thereupon chosen by Don Lourenco to wait upon the king to negotiate a treaty. To understand the object of this treaty one must know the purpose of the Portuguese was the trade, and that trade, and that trade a monopoly. The kings and princes of India were invited to give this monopoly to the king of Portugal, in return for the protection of their shores. If they accepted, a treaty was drawn up expressing this bargain in terms of feudal vassalage. Such a treaty Payo de Souza proposed to the king of Kotte at an audience. Of, this the first European embassy to a Sinhalese king, there exists a classic description given by the king of Portugal to the Pope of Rome when he announced to the pointiff the discovery of Taprobane.

Portuguese intervention of Sri Lanka affairs

Buwaneka Bahu’s the king of Kotte was dissatisfied with the Portuguese. Buwaneka Bahu’s main grievance was the lawless behaviours of thaws e Portuguese living in his kingdom, for it increased his unpopularity with the people. To add to this the king of Portugal the friars, and the viceroy were urging him to become a Christianity, a thing which he had no mind to do; and on that account they now appeared to be disposed to go back on their solemn promise to uphold him and his heir on the throne, as the promise was made on the supposition that they intended to be Christians, Buwaneka Bahu was therefore quite prepared to join hands with Mayadunne against the Portuguese.

Mayadunne who was more powerful, more popular, and more ambitious, seeing that he was bereft of Malabar aid and that it was only his brother’s alliance with the Portuguese that prevented him from seizing the throne of Kotte, determined to embroil Buwaneka Bahu with the Portuguese, and to this end he feigned friendship. He now aspired to be the sole king of Ceylon and therefore wished to add the kingdom of Kandy to his domain. Accordingly, he and Buwanekabahu prepared to make war on Vikarama Bahu.

Wikrama Bahu had been watching with alarm the growing ambition of Mayadunne. It was he who had helped Buwaneka Bahu and Mayadunne to sack Kotte and divide the empire between them. The dismemberment of the empire had made his kingdom the largest in size: for though originally only a small principality consisting of the five ratas, he had now profited by the turmoil in the lowlands to add the Vanni district and to bring the Vanniyars of Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Vellassa, Yala, and Panava, as well as the prince of the seven Koralesunder his sway. But hearing of the ambitious plans of Mayadunne, he secretly summoned a Portuguese to Senkadagala to sound the disposition of the Portuguese, and on his advice, he asked the viceroy of India to build a factory at Trincomalee for trade with his kingdom and offered to pay tribute to Portugal. The reply of the Portuguese, however, fell into the hands of Buwaneka Bahu and nothing came of the proposal. Buwaneka Bahu and Mayadunne now seized the passes to Kandy and prepared for war, whereupon Vikarama bahu with the prince of the Seven Korales and the Vanniyars of Trincomalee and Batticaloa appealed to the Portuguese for aid, saying that they wished to become Christians.

Embassy of Kotte

Meanwhile, on the death of Martin Afonso de Souze, there succeeded as viceroy of India, Don Joao de Castro, a man of great ability and wisdom. He did not think it right to support the Christian princess who was in Goa, without first ascertaining the intention of Buwaneka Bahu. Accordingly, he dispatched an ambassador to Kotte to discuss the matter with Buwaneka Bahu, instructing the envoy not to break with the king unless he refused to allow the friars to preach Christianity in his realm. Buwaneka Bahu declared very firmly that he did not intend to become a Christian and denied that the Pandita was ever authorized to promise it. He maintained that it was not from hostility to Christianity that he seized the lands of converts but for other reasons, and professed himself ready to give the friars liberty to preach and build churches.

The ambassador, however, soon discovered that the king’s attitude towards the Portuguese had changed. He received also secret communications from Vikrama Bahu who represented to the Portuguese how earnestly he had sought the alliance of the Portuguese without success, how Buwanekabahu and Mayadunne were leagued against him, and that he wished to become a Christian and give his daughter, who was being solicited as bride of Buwaneka Bahu’s heir, to one of the Christian princess in Goa. As the ambassador fell ill at Kotte, a friar set out Goa with the letters of Vikrama Bahu.

Portuguese intervention in Jaffna

In response to this appeal, Castro determined to send troops and friars to Kandy. He abandoned the idea of enthroning a prince in Kotte but decided to enthrone one in Jaffna.


The throne of Jaffna was occupied by Chekarasa Sekaran or Sankili who had murdered the lawful king in 1519 and had ascended the throne from which he had expelled the legal heir. He had put to death the supporters of the lawful king. The lawful heir had fled to India to seek for Portuguese aid. The king of Jaffna claimed the right to all ships stranded off that shallow coast, and Sankili had many a shipwrecked off his coast. Accordingly, Martin Afonso de Souze in 1543 came with a large fleet and the exiled heir and forced the raja to become a tributary to Portugal and pay vassalage.

The massacre of the Christians

Notwithstanding the treaty, in 1544 Sankili put to death some six or seven hundred people of Mannar who had become Christians. They had invited St. Francis Xavier to Mannar, but as he was too busily engaged elsewhere, he sent another priest who instructed and baptized a large number of the people of Mannar. Thereupon the king of Jaffna sent troops to put them to the sword unless they abandoned the new faith. Some escaped to the mainland and the rest were killed. The Portuguese, at the earnest request of St. Francis Xavier, half-heartedly got up an expedition to punish the king for the massacre, but it only served to recover the cargo of a richly laden Portuguese ship which had run aground off Jaffna.

The people of Jaffna turn to the Portuguese

Soon, however, the people of Jaffna sent an embassy to Goa to beg the viceroy to place one of the Sinhalese princesses on the throne, as the kingdom formerly belonged to Kotte, the governor was anxious to do this as he feared to be taken to task for not inflicting condign punishment on the king for the massacre of the Christians.

Death of the convert princes

But meanwhile, smallpox broke out in Goa and carried off the two Sinhalese princes in January 1546. Thereupon the plans were changed. An expedition was got ready to enthrone the lawful heir of Jaffna and Andre de Souza was sent to aid the king of Kandy.

In February 1546 Souze set out with a friar and 50 men for Kandy. At Kayalapatanam he met the heir of Jaffna and heard that the king of Kandy had made peace with Mayadunne and Buwaneka Bahu by paying a heavy peace offering. But as the news was not quite certain he came to Colombo where Buwaneka Bahu tried to dissuade him from going to Kandy. Souze then tried to make his way to Kandy by rounding the island but was forced to land at Yala. Sending a part of his men to Trincomalee where a messenger of the king of Kandy was awaiting them, Souze made his way to Kandy. After a dreary march of many days, he arrived with 38 men to find the news he had heard was quite true. As the successor delayed, a Portuguese who was at Senkadagala advised the king to become a Christian at once, saying that if he did so, the Portuguese would speedily come to his assistance. Thereupon a friar was summoned from Kotte and the king was baptized in secret, and news of it sent to Goa. But as the reinforcement still delayed, the king was forced to pay Mayadunne the ransom demanded, namely 2,400,000 fanams, nine gems, two elephants, his own state elephant and other jewels, and promise his daughter as the bride to Dharmapala.

The disappointment of Vikrama Bahu

Vikarama Bahu was disappointed when he saw the paltry force and the covetousness of the commander and said that he would not let his household become Christian unless the governor of India or his son arrived with larger forces. The friar, therefore, set out for Goa with letters from the king, the prince and Souze. Souze stated that the king was quite sincere; the friar, on the other hand, maintained that his Christianity was all a sham. But war broke out in India, and the governor was not in a position to act Vikarama Bahu, however, was importunate in demanding help and sent further messages. The bishop of Cochin and the friars also interceded for the king, whereupon Castro decided to send reinforcements.

The expedition to Jaffna abandoned

The proposed expedition to Jaffna was postponed. In fact the king of Portugal was in great perplexity over it; St.Francis Xavier urged him to punish Sankili and place the lawful heir on the throne: the Christian princess had asked for it: Buwaneka Bahu, on the other hand, claimed it for himself and promised to forego the debt due to him and to pay a larger tribute. The king of Portugal, therefore, referred the matter to a council which declared that the reigning king should not be deposed unless, after due admonition, he refused to let the gospel be preached in his realm.

Portuguese opinion on the succession

About the succession to Kotte, the council advised the king to make further inquiries about the customary laws of succession. If the grandson was the rightful heir according to the custom of the country, he should be upheld; if the nephew was found to be the rightful heir, the letters patent granted to Dharmapala should be considered surreptitious.

King of Kotte and Portuguese grip on Sri Lanka

The nominal emperor of Ceylon at the arrival of Portuguese in Sri Lanka was Vira Parakrama Bahu (1484-1509) who was an old man and had entrusted the government of his realm to his sons. The eldest afterwards Dharma Parakrama Bahu, ruled at Kotte; Vijaya Bahu was at Dondra in the south, Rajasinghe was at Menikkadavara in the Four Korales, and another whose name is not known at Raigama. Two of the king’s nephews, Sakalakala Valla and Taniya Valla, ruled at Udugampola and Madampe. The two elder sons were rival claimants to the empire and both assert in their grants that they were the Chakravarti of Ceylon in the year 1509, which is apparently the year of their father’s death.

Vira Parkarama Bahu’s reign was disturbed in various ways. A Malabar pirate from Kayalpatanam invaded the north-west coast and fished for the Gulf of Mannar. The princes of Madampe and Udugampola marched against him with a large force of man and elephants and utterly defeated the Malabars. Vikrama Bahu, the king of the hill-country, began to assert his independence by withholding the usual tribute, but the prince of the Four Korale invaded his kingdom and demanded the payment of two lacks of fanams and elephants and the king’s daughter to wife, subsequently he made an attempt to invade the Four Korales, but was again subdued by the prince of Udugampola and forced to send a pearl umbrella, a counch, a shield, and a necklace.

On the death of the aged king, the two elder sons disputed the succession. Dharma Parakrama Bahu, who had been ruling at Kotte in his father’s lifetime and had received the Portuguese ambassador, had many supporters in Kotte. Wishing to obtain Portuguese troops to intimidate his brother, he sent a message to the viceroy fro troops and offered to give a site for a fortress in Colombo. As the Portuguese were too busy at the time, nothing came of the offer.

The Portuguese were then engaged in trying to oust the Muslim rival from the Indian waters by erecting fortresses at Malacca, Ormuz, and Aden. Malacca, situated between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, commanded the Indian trade with China. Ormuz commanded the sea route to Basra through the Persian Gulf and the caravan traffic from Basra to Aleppo, Trebizond, and Damascus, whence Venetian ships fetched the Indian products for distribution in Europe. Aden, in like manner, guarded the sea route to Suez whence merchandise was carried by camels to Cairo and down the Nile to Alexandria and finally to Venice. Thus Malacca, Ormuz, and Aden were the keys to the Indian trade.

Alfonso de Albuquerque, who had succeeded Almeida as viceroy, made Goa the headquarters of the Portuguese state in India and fortified Malacca and Ormuz. His successor, Lopo Soarz, de Albergaria, endeavoured to take Aden, but failing in this he hastened to carry out the orders he had received from his to erect a fortress in Ceylon which lay on the trade route to the Far East and was the well-known landmark of Eastern navigation.

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