Jun 11, 2015 (LBT) - Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte was the capital of Sri Lanka during the 14-15th centuries. This is a very significant period in the history of Sri Lanka. When president J R Jayawardene decided in 1977 to shift the administrative capital of Sri Lanka back to Sri Jayawardanepura Kotte, he would have never thought that after about 30 years, Sri Lanka's history is likely to repeat.
On 18th May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa ended the 30 year long war on terrorism and united the entire country under one flag. The last local ruler to achieve that before President Rajapaksa was the King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte era. President Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained strong diplomatic relationships with the Chinese government during his tenure and so did King Parakramabahu VI. After King Parakramabahu VI, the Sri Lankan rulers didn't pay much attention to China and there were several reasons for that which I will explain later. To overcome their own internal power struggles, many local leaders started seeking the support of western powers such as Portuguese, Dutch and English whose long term objective was to colonize the country and exploit its resources. The most pathetic one among our leaders was King Don Juan Dharmapala (1551-1557) who went to the extent of writing a deed, handing over the country to King of Portugal. But fortunately for Sri Lanka Dharmapala was king only in the name and had no powers with him to transfer. The result of all these betrayals and infighting amongst Sinhalese was that we gradually lost our sovereignty and became a western colony and lost our independence for more than 500 years. Today with Mahinda Rajapaksa gone, country's new leaders have undermined the relationships that Rajapaksa built with China. Currently they are fast drifting towards the West. It is with the hope that western powers will protect them and help them stay in power against a possible Rajapaksa resurgence. While our leaders are fighting each other, the country is heading towards anarchy. Economy is crashing and people are demoralised. Signs are that we will lose the northern part of the country once again and it looks like a matter of time now. History seems to be repeating.
I thought of writing this article highlighting some historical incidents related to the Kotte era which I am sure most of you have read or heard about at one point in time, but may not remember in detail. Once you go through this, you will understand the impact of these historical events to our country and will be concerned of the future as much as I do.
Sri Lanka has a colourful-recorded history. We can identify most of the rulers of our country since the arrival of prince Vijaya in 543 BC. However there are a few gray areas as well. One such example is the period between 1397-1402. During this period there were several regional leaders such as Vira Bahu and Veera Alakeshvara, but it is difficult to identify one powerful king. Then begins the reign of king Parakramabahu VI , who ascended to power in 1412 and ruled the country until 1467. The reign of Parakramabahu VI, which spans over 50 years, was the last glorious period of Sri Lanka’s history with notable achievements in peace as well as in war. This period is known for the unification of the country, economic and cultural revival and also for some of the best diplomatic relationships in the history of Sri Lanka. One such important relationship was the one with with China.
The greatest navigator to visit Sri Lanka from China perhaps was Admiral Zheng He, who visited the country first time in 1405. Zheng He was believed to have been the first sailor to establish a direct sea route between the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans as an alternate to the famous Silk Road by land. Many scholars now argue that Zhen He was the first person to sail around world. His voyages predated Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America by 87 years and were 114 years before Ferdinand de Magellan’s round-the-world voyage. ‘Zheng He’ came to Sri Lanka 6 times and 5 of these visits were during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI. According to historical records King Parakramabahu VI him self visited China twice and send emissaries to China on several other occasions.
Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiary of King Parakramabahu VI's relationship with China would have been his powerful naval force. When King Parakramabahu sent Sapumal Kumaraya to capture Jaffna from Arya Chakrawarthi; the ruler of the Northern kingdom, he could block military assistance from India to Arya Chakrawarthi using his own ships which patrolled the Pork Strait. Those days China commanded the mightiest navy in the world and they were well advanced in marine technology. It is most likely that King Parakramabahu VI got technical assistance from the Chinese to strengthen his own Navy.
What began after Parakrabahu VI was a period of uncertainty. Every leader who became king in Kotte was insecure as he was always threatened by another seeking power. Most kings ruled only for a very short period as they were defeated and killed by others. Within a few years since Parakrabahu VI passed away, Arya Chakravarthi returned and captured Jaffna. Soon the North became a separate administration. Country got divided soon in to several kingdoms. Until English took control of the entire island in 1815, no local king could unite the country ever again.
Each and every king who came into power after Parakramabahu VI did the same mistake. They all sort support from Europeans to defeat their local enemies. Starting with Portuguese followed by Dutch and finally the English, all capitalized on this weakness of Sinhala leaders. Having understood the hunger for power among Sinhala leaders, the Europeans always offered help in return for some thing else that they wanted. To understand this lets go back to Portuguese era. When a few Portuguese vessels under the command of Dom Lourenço de Almeida came ashore in 1505, Sri Lanka was divided in to 3 kingdoms; Kotte, Jaffna and Kandy. Having seen the strategic value of the country, Portugese returned in 1518 and King Vira Parakrama Bahu who was ruling kotte at that time thought he could make use of Portuguese to control his enemies. So he permitted them to build a small fort at Colombo. The first Sinhala king to ask military support from Portuguese to face his enemies was Vira Parakramabahu’s son Dharma Parakramabahu VIII. Portuguese offered help but in return wanted permission to expand their fort and also to build a church. Still this didn’t help Dharma Parakramabahu VIII. He was killed by Vijabahu VI who became the next king of Kotte. Vijabahu who became insecure from his own three sons, also sought support from Portuguese. The result was more powers being given to Portuguese and the expansion of their bases across the coastal areas. That didn’t help Vijayabahu too as his three sons killed him anyway. Vijaybahu VI was succeeded by the eldest of his three sons who became King Buvanekabahu VII. This king always lived in fear of an attack from his two younger brothers Raigam Bandara and Mayadunne who ruled Raigam Korale and Seethavaka respectively. Following same pattern as his predecessors, king Buvanekabahu VII relied on Portugese help. He even appointed portugese soldiers as his bodyguards. Buvanekabahu VII was finally shot dead by a Portuguese soldier. The Portuguese claimed this to be an accident but some historians say it was a contract killing assigned by King Mayadunne. During latter part of his reign Buvanekabahu VII asked favour from Portugese to make his grand son Dharmapala the next king against the wishes of his brothers. He sent a golden replica of prince Dharmapala to Portugal to conduct a coronation ceremony for the future king. The prince also accepted catholism and was baptized as Jon Juan Dharmapala. However in reality, King Jon Juan Dharmapala could never rule the country in peace. His uncles constantly tried to attack him and he had to live inside Colombo Fort under the protection of the Portuguese. Jon Juan Dharmapala was one of the weakest kings we ever had and considered by many as the biggest traitor of the Kotte era. He was so depended on the foreigners for his survival that he went to the extent of writing a deed handing over Sri Lankan kingdom to the king of Portuguese.
One can see the similarities in what happened in Sri Lanka during the Kotte era and what is happening in Sri Lanka now. Just like the country got divided and went to anarchy immediately following a powerful leader who united the country in the 14th century, we are currently showing all signs of returning to chaos due to lack of a strong leader who is determined to keep the country united and develop it. Today the main focus of our national leaders seems to retaining power at any cost. Whom do they run to seeking support? Very interestingly, to the Europeans and to the USA. They tend to forget that the western world never helps another country unless there is something in return for them. Our present leaders forget the fact that China is much better equipped than the West to support our development needs. Unfortunately the interests of our leaders are politically motivated and not development oriented. Historically China does not get involve in internal politics of friendly countries.This is why our current leaders are not interested in China.On the other hand, the West would thrive on any opportunity to interfere with our internal affairs. Naturally, our leaders who are only interested in their own political survival, consider Europe and USA to be their friends.. Bending backwards to please the West may definitely help these modern Don Juan Dharmapala’s individual and collective goals. But it will never help the country as a whole.
To highlight that China does not usually get involve in internal politics of a country let me bring an example from the Kotte era it self.
Admiral Zheng He came to Sri Lanka 100 years before the Portuguese who arrived in 1505, 233 years before the Dutch who arrived in 1638 and 397 years before the British who arrived in 1802. He came in a fleet of 317 ships with 27,800 sailors, which would have been the largest naval fleet world had ever seen. Despite the size of this army when Zheng He landed in Sri Lanka Zheng He was confronted by a local ruler who some historians believe to be Veera Alakeshawara. Instead of treating the visitors kindly he attacked the visitors. The history books say aout of 100s of countries visited By Zheng He it was only in Sri Lanka he was attacked and that was a serious miscalculation on the part of our king. Chinese responded and it took only 6 days of battle for Zheng He to defeat the local armies and capture the Kingdom and also to arrest the king. Remember three western colonial powers who wanted to colonise the country had to wait more than 300 years from 1505 -1815 to achieve this feat. But what did the Chinese do after capturing the king ? They didn’t colonies the country as that was never their intention of visting Sri Lanka. So they took the captured and his family to China and presented them to the Chinese Emperor who pardoned the Sinhala King. But the emperor asked him to appoint someone else more suitable in his family to rule the country. Accordingly a prince was selected from among the group and he was brought back safely to Sri Lanka by the Chinese. Some historians think Parakaramabahu VI was this chosen successor. Others argue that Parakaramabahu VI killed Veera Alakeshawara’s successor and ascended to the throne. Immaterial of what happened in local politics after this historical battle between the Chinese and the locals where China showed its military might, they never interfered in Sri Lankan politics thereafter. Instead they maintained very good diplomatic relationships Sri Lanka for the next half a century.
Not many Sri Lankans know about this important event in the history only because of the ‘let go’ approach adapted by the Chinese after capturing the kingdom. I feel it is important that our generation and future generations know this history and appreciate the implications.
So after 7 centuries we can now see history repeating. The modern day Don Juan Dharmapalas are doing the same damage, the Kings of Kotte Era did to this country.
Courtesy - http://lbt.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9249:history-is-repeating-the-kotte-era-and-the-forgotten-chinese-connection-&catid=65:expert-advice&Itemid=98