The Nayakkar Domination in Sri Lanka

The Nayakkar Domination

The native Sinhalese dynasty line came to the end with King Narendra Sinha, who was the last local king before the beginning of a new dynasty of south Indian connected to Nayakkar from South India. The Sinhalese kings ruled the country from 1594 and held the through for more than a century and a half. It began in 1594 with Konappu Bandara of Peradeniya and claimed the throne of the Udarata through Dona Catherina, daughter of Karaliyadde of the earlier dynasty of Gampola.

On the extinction of the Kotte dynasty, the children of Dona Catherina claimed also the over-lordship of Ceylon that went with Kotte and the allegiance of the Sinhalese people. The 3 main Sri Lankan kings, who ruled the island from Kandy were Rajasingha, Vimaladhrama 2 and Narendra Sinha. These claims now passed to the Nayakkar of South India by virtue of a novel law of inheritance by the Nayakkar in their own interest.

Indianization of the court

It was Senerat who revived the long-abandoned practice of procuring Indian queens for the Sinhalese kings. Up to his time, kings were content to take their queens from the princely Sinhalese families, but Senarat, who was himself nothing more than the son of an ordinary chieftain, wished his children to be regarded as of the solar race by reason of their descent from Dona Katherina, and to enhance their prestige, he disdained union with the existing princely families and procured the brides from abroad. Vimladharma and Narendra both married Nayakkar bridges, and the court of the Sinhalese kings became gradually Indianized.

Ceremonious court etiquette

The king was hedged round by a most ceremonious code of formalities; abject prostrations, such as the Kotte kings or Vimaladharma 1 or Senerat never thought of, were rigorously exacted not only from the ordinary Sinhalese subjects of the king but also from the highest born Sinhalese nobles and even from the ambassadors of foreign powers.

No man, however high his birth or rank had permission to ride on a horse or travel in a palanquin within the royal city. The Disava and rateralas imitated the court in their turn and entertained such exaggerated esteem of empty honour and ceremonies that they were even ready to wreck the success of state negotiation rather than forego one jot or little of the ceremonious courtesies to which they claimed a right.


The Nayakkars, however, could not well hold administrative or judicial posts, for the king’s subjects, spoke a language different from that of the Nayakkars, followed customs unknown to them, and professed a religion other than theirs. Thus the government of the Disavanis and ratas still remained to the Sinhalese chiefs, whose influence accordingly was with the people of the land.

The Sinhalese continued to be adigars, disavas and rateralas, the customary rulers of provinces and hereditary counsellors of the king, while the Nayakkar confined their activities to the king’s court. Thus there soon arose two distinct classes of courtiers, one Indian by birth, Hindu in religion, Tamil in speech, and foreigners in the land, who were ready to provoke the Dutch Company and arrogant in their dealings; the other country-born, Buddhist, Sinhalese, sons of the soil, bred in the customs of the land and kin with its people and content to pursue the traditional policy of fostering rebellion in the lowlands or of turning to foreign aid against the Dutch. These two conflicting parties were soon destined to destroy the very existence of kings in Ceylon.

Law of succession

The influence of the Nayakkars was not confined to court etiquette but went even so far as to succeed in altering the time-honoured customs of succession to the throne. Hitherto the throng was passed on to the next king based on a combination of inheritance and selection. The nearest kin of the deceased king ascended the throne by right of succession if he were approved by the people whose sentiments were voiced by the ministers and courtiers.

Sometimes a king nominated one of his kin to succeed him with the consent of the ministers and was duly acclaimed by the people. In either case, the crown passed to a blood relative of the king. But now the Nayakkars introduced a custom, in which, on the demise of the king, without legitimate issue, the kingship is transferred to the queen’s brother. The law was first introduced in conformity with the existing customers that the king might nominate his successor.

Sri Vijaya

In this way, Narendra Sinha nominated, not one of his own blood as the custom was, but his queen’s brother, a perfect stranger to the country, a Nayakkar who had come over to this island when his sister was espoused to the king.

At this accession, the new king took the Sinhalese name of Sri Vijaya Rajasingha and married a Nayakara from India. The new queen’s kith and kin came over to them. Her father became the most prominent counsellor of the king, and the court was completely under Nayakkar influence. Nayakakrs held posts of honour and were granted the revenues of royal villages.

The religious policy of Sri Vijaya

After girding on the sword of state, Sri Vijaya with his queen professed Buddhism and strove to please his subjects by building and repairing temples and Viharas, by erecting image houses and by celebrating the religious and social festivals with great splendour, and above all by his efforts to procure priests from Siam to restore the upasampada ordination that had again died out in the island.

The first mission sent in 1741 to Siam to invite priests was wrecked, another sent in 1747 also met with mishaps. To display his new-born zeal for Buddhism, the king, moreover, abandoned the toleration characteristic of the Sinhalese kings and expelled the Catholic priests from Kandy and afterwards even ordered the churches of Puttalam and Chilaw to be destroyed. The Catholics of Veuda and Kalugala eventually found a home at Vahakotte.