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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for Important Kandyan Monarchs - A look back at the Sinhalese Kingdom
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Important Kandyan Monarchs - A look back at the Sinhalese Kingdom

Sri Lanka's Kandyan monarchs have all helped shaped the country to what is today. However, some played more important roles than others - here's a few of those noteworthy monarchs.


Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi) - reigned during 1581

The daughter of a king, she was taken hostage and sent to Portuguese controlled Ceylon to be raised, thus adopting the Catholic name, Catherina Dona. After the death of the king, while she was still a teenager, she was installed on the throne by her Portuguese captors in an attempt to gain leeway over the kingdom. This turned out to be a disaster, as the Portuguese forces were soon driven out by a rebellion. Catherina Dona was quickly disposed by the king of Sitawaka, Rajasinha I that same year. She went on to marry two successive kings, and give birth to many princes, one of whom would be crowned as king. An ardent catholic, while her ascendency to the throne was on the condition she converted to Buddhism, she secretly taught Catholicism to many during her lifetime.


Rajasinghe I (Tikiri Bandara) - reigned during 1581 to 1591

Born 'Tikiri Bandara' prince of Sitawaka, he was known for his patriotism and immense bravery, and was given the name Rajasinghe (King of Lions) after fighting a savage battle against the Portuguese. The battle against the Portuguese is considered to be the greatest defeat of a European army in Asia. The king's downfall would be his subsequent conversion to Hinduism, and relocation of Indians to important Buddhist sites, which angered locals. His cruelty towards Buddhists started an uprising which would lead to his death from a wound received in battle.


Vimaladharmasuriya I (Don João da Austria) - reigned during 1590 to 1604

Credited for the second revival of the Kandyan Kingdom, Vimaladharmasuriya I gained fame after he thwarted two Portuguese attacks on Kandy, both of which left the invaders fleeing in humiliation. Known to historians by many names, he was baptised as Don João da Austria, a catholic, but renounced his faith and converted to Buddhism after marrying Dona Catherina to gain the throne. After his conversation, the king built a two-tiered shrine near his palace in order to consecrate the capital and, house the politically vital relic of the tooth, which belonged to Buddha. During this period, Buddhism had declined to the point of nonexistence, and the king, learning that there were no longer any ordained monks left, sent emissaries to Burma to help revive the Buddhism.


Kirti Sri Raja Singha - reigned during 1747 to 1782

A prince from the South Indian Madurai Nayak Dynasty, he succeeded his brother-in-law to the Kandyan throne. Buddhism and literature flourished under his rule, under the tutelage of a venerable monk, he invited several monks from Siam to aid in reviving the ordination of monks. He also added a inner temple to the shrine of the tooth relic shrine.


Vikrama Rajasinha (Rajasimha IV) - reigned during 1798 to 1815

The last king of the Sinhalese monarchy, before his coronation, Vikrama Rajasinha was known as Prince Kannasamy, a member of the Madurai royal family, and nephew to the king. Upon his uncle's death, he ascended the throne at eighteen. From the onset, the king's adviser plotted against him, and manipulated him in an attempt to overthrow him. After the killing of several British merchants, thought to be spies, the city was attacked by British forces. They met little to no resistance, and the Kandyan kingdom was ceded to the British. Whilst not as patriotic as his predecessors, the king beautified the city, ordering the creation of the Kandy Lake, which can still be seen today, in the midst of modern day buildings, most of which were converted to accommodation properties such as Kings Pavilion Kandy, for example, a new hotel in Kandy. The king was captured as a royal prisoner, and lived out the rest of his days with his two queens at the Vellore Fort in South India.

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