by S. B. Karaliyadda - The Island - Saturday Magazine 16 May, 1998
It was exactly 184 years ago today, the May 17th in 1814, that the child hero Madduma Bandara was beheaded on the orders of Sri Wickrama Rajasingha the Nayakkara King of Senkadagala. Ten months after this tragedy the people of the Kandyan Kingdom not only entered into the historical Kandyan Treaty of 2nd March 1815, but also lost their independence and the sovereign rule they enjoyed for a long period of 2357 years in the history of Sri Lanka.
The Kandyans enjoyed an independent and sovereign rule not subjugated to any foreign western domination until this most cruel and hideous tragedy recorded in our history. What led to this unfortunate incident is worth a study for our power hungry leaders whose only aim is to be in power disregarding what may befall on the country and the nation.
King Rajadiraja Singha's demise in 1798 left no successor to the throne of Senkadagala as he had no sons to succeed. His queen's nephew Kannasamy who was just 18 years at the time was enthroned as Sri Wickrama Raja Singha according to the rites and customs that prevailed at the time. The First Adigar Pilimatalawe not only paved the way for this succession but also gave his blessings and cooperation to the new king and thus got the approval and blessings of the entire Kandyan Kingdom.
Pilamatalawe never in his dreams or hindsight thought that this crowning would bring disaster to the long existing monarchy and finally lead to his own annihilation. Governor North secretly connived with Pilimatalawe Adigar to continue same diplomatic relations and the understandings the British had with Rajadiraja Sinha and extended the same gubernatorial courtesies. Documents were secretly exchanged between North and Pilimatalawa. In various official and private meetings with the governor and his secretary. Pilimatalawe made it known about his displeasure with the new king and his desire to get assistance of the British in either deposing or assassinating the king. The British developed such faith in the Adigar that North himself writing to Lord Mornington on 27th October 1799 stated thus 'the person responsible for the death of the late King and the enthronement of the 18-year-old lad as the new king is non but Pilamatalawe who is also a great friend of ours'.
A British troop of 1800 soldiers under the command of General Mac Dowell was sent from Colombo through Sitawaka to Senkadagala in March 1800 on the pretext of guarding the king. Sri Wickrama, however, sensing something sinister in this move took precautions not to allow the entire troops to enter Senkadagala on the same day. It was arranged for some troops to go through a terrain of mountains and hills and thus making the voyage difficult and some troops to leave behind their artillery before entering the city. Only General Mac Dowell with a small contingent was allowed to enter the Senkadagala capital. Pilimatalawe was angry that his plan did not bring the desired results and waged his first salvo against the British in 1801 by attacking the troops stationed in Mannar and Negombo. The adigar let his feelings against the British known to the new king and obtained the monarch's sympathy for his activities. In about 1802, it was arranged to waylay a British and Muslim trade caravans coming to Kandy from Puttalam. This incident was sufficient grounds to provoke the British. Accordingly, a troop of 3000 British soldiers under the command of General Mac Dowell attacked Kandy in February 1803. Pilimatalawe was blowing hot and cold in the same breath with the king and the British. He spied to the British against the King and at the same time solicited the cooperation of the Sinhalese to depose the King. Is it not history repeating when all our present day rulers connive with the LTTE giving them arms to fight the IPKF, and at the same time want IPKF to fight the LTTE.
Discuss in jungles and foreign soils to give the LTTE a spell of fifteen years rule, and at the same time collect a defence tax to fight the LTTE. The king having come to know of this hypocrisy of Pilimatalawe caught him and beheaded him in 1812 and appointed as first Adigar Ehelepola who was nephew of Pilimatalawe.
Ehelepola too was ambitious for power like his uncle and solicited the support of Governor Sir Robert Browrigg to oust the King. The King was furious and in a rage when the conspiracy came to light. Sri Wickrama caught hold of the Kandyan Chief's on whom he could lay his hand on and got them to undergo the most brutal punishments and murdered them. Ehelepola fled to Colombo in May 1814, and seeked refuge under the British. The king who could not get hold of Ehelepola took the revenge from his family who were living in Senkadagala at the time.
He ordered that the wife of Ehelepola, her children and a brother of Ehelepola and his wife be beheaded. They were brought to a place between the present Vishnu Devalaya and Natha Devalaya in the morning on the 17th May 1814. On seeing the executioner 'Gahalaya' who was adorned in red with red garlands round his neck, the eldest son Loku Banda who was about ten years of age ran to the mother and hung on to her saree. The second son the child hero Medduma Bandara who has left an indelible name in the annals of our history, or perhaps the world history jumped forward and roared like a lion 'elder brother don't fear, I will show you how to die'. He called the executioner and said 'I am ready, cut my neck in one attempt' so saying he bled his last to enrich the Kandyan soil with the blood of a hero whose name will be remembered as long as the Sinhala nation survive. The King who watched the incident from the window of his palace ordered the dead bodies to be pounded by Ehelepola Kumarihamy. She lifted the rice pounder and fell down unconscious on the ground. The King ordered the female to be drowned to death in the Bogambara lake. Ehelepola Kumarihamy, her daughters and the sister-in-law were drowned in the lake. Palipana Disawe who was at the scene of the tragedy fell unconscious unable to bear the grief and sorrow. The King removed him from the post of Dissawe saying his heart is too tender to serve the King. It is on record after this horrendous crime the householders of Senkadagala did not light any fires to prepare meals for a week. The citizens rioted against the King and several dead bodies were heaped in the city. The king set fire to his palace and several other places and fled to Hanguranketha, his hideout. The people were waiting for an opportunity to take revenge from the king and were anticipating British troops at any moment.
Simultaneously, a gang of British' traders who were on their way to the hill country were captured and on the orders of the King were mutilated and driven back to Colombo with the mutilated parts tied around their necks. This was sufficient provocation for an onslaught on Senkadagala. The British troops captured Senkadagala in January 1815 and thus ended the soverengnty of the Kandyan people enjoyed for 2357 years.