Posted by: lrrp | September 27, 2004

Konappu Bandara Ashes: What use for a people who have no respect for past heroes? by D. G. B. de Silva

Past heroes? No. They are not the people who matter but the tin god politicians of today. Isn’t that the present day scenario in the country when one looks at the annual garlanding or wreath laying ceremonies which take place under television cameras. That was not this country’s ethos even around the time we lost our independence. It is on record that Pilimatalave running away from pursuing British troops after the Kandyan rebellion was crushed, got off from his litter when passing what was believed to be Elara’s tomb until the bearers told him he was well past the place. That was at the beginning of the 19th century. Almost two millennia earlier, King Dutugemunu after defeating his rival, the Tamil king Elara in single combat decreed not only that the fallen hero should be given a funeral befitting a king and summoned people within several leagues to assemble at the funeral site and held a grand funeral; but also decreed that kings and princes to come in the future should honour the monument erected at the place where the catafalque was placed by stopping the beat of drums in their honour and by getting off from their chariots. It was the decree by that chivalrous king that Pilimatalava observed nearly two millennia later. Such was the Sri Lankan tradition of honouring the heroes and foes.

Have we lived up to that tradition? Not if one realizes the way the place of cremation King Rajasimha II in the old city of Hanguranketa has been desecrated by a government authority responsible for town development “during the last decade of the 20th century. That is what Assistant Commissioner of Archaeology, Senarath Bandara Dissanaike, describes in his book ‘Diyatilaka Nuvara’ (Archaeological Dept Publication) Not only have the four stone pillars which supported a stone slab on which a recumbent lion’s figure was placed been removed but the stone lion itself has been turned into smithereens! What respect for national heroes who fought valiantly to rid the country of more powerful Western invaders?

Against this background, the proposal to return what has been called ‘Konappu Bandara’s ashes” referred to by Gaston Perera in his recent article in The Island quoting a Daily News report, to say the least, is just meaningless. It is far better to let the remains lie where they are as a symbol of a historical phase or historical event rather than brought here and then forgotten or desecrated.

Gaston Perera has raised some interesting points about this proposal to return the “ashes of Konappu Bandara” which he has extracted from the report in the Daly News which attributes the authorship to the Ministry of Culture and Antiquities and in the final analysis, to the Portuguese Ambassador for Sri Lanka resident in India. He quite rightly expressed amazement at this news report as anyone who knows a little a bit about history would do. With his research an the subject for his book fresh in his memory, he pointed out that Konappu Bandara known to us in history was crowned king of this land after his successful expedition to Kandy accompanying Dona Catherina (Kusumasana Devi). The latter was of royal blood as the daughter of Karalliyadde Bandara and had a claim to the Kandyan throne. Konappu Bandara who had, like Dona Catherina, keen brought up under the tutelage of Catholic missionaries did a volte face on successfully reaching Kandy by seizing the throne and crowning himself king after marrying Dona Catherina to fortify his legitimacy. That was an unexpected reversal of fortunes for the Portuguese who could have never thought of forgiving him.

The question is, as Gaston Perera asks, how did the Portuguese be in possession of the ashes of Konappu Bandara? As a ruler who received the admiration and affection of his countrymen, he would have received a fitting cremation in the hands of the chiefs and the populace. How did the ashes pass on then to Portuguese hands? This is a mystery. Was a serious error committed in interpreting what the Ambassador has said? Did he speak of ‘ashes’ or ‘mortal remains’? If it was the latter one can think of an error having being made in the process of communication or in the reporting by the Daily News. In that case, the reference could have been to the remains of some other personage with royal connection who could have passed away in Portugal or in Portuguese hands. We have such a record of two personages. One was Nikapitiye Bandara (Nicapety P(B)andar / Nicapita Adacin of Queyroz and Rieiro respectively) or D. Joao as he was called under his baptized name in the tradition of Portuguese monarchs. He was a grand son of Sitawaka Rajasimha. The other was D. Filpe, who was the son of Yamasinghe Bandara of Kandy. Both are from royal blood. The two princes were sent to Coimbra to pursue higher studies.

D. Filipe followed higher studies at Coliegio S. Pedro of the Coimbra University. Dr. M. H. Goonetileke who has done research on these two princes observes that he was the first Sinhalese to follow course in higher education at a European University. He has translated Soledade’s reference to the princes death as follows; “D. Filipe, the prince of the kingdom of Sitwaka in the island of Ceylon, on whom our Fathers administered holy baptism lies buried in the new Franciscan convent constructed in 1609.”

The problem about locating his remains is because the place where he was probably buried in Coimbra University had been completely washed away by floods. Have the Portuguese authorities made further progress in locating his remains?

Dr. Goonetileke refers to the other prince, D. Joao, son of Yamasi
nghe Bandara of Kandy (Trindade) and cousin of D. Filipe who accompanied the latter to Coimbra but preferred an easy life in luxury in Lisbon and adored by many a lady. (Viterbo quoted by Goonetileke). He died in 1642. Goonetileke quotes the following inscription on his tombstone.

“Qui Sacram Hanc Maraie Aedem Fundauiti Hic Candaie Principis Ossa Sepeliuntur”

Obviously, the remains of prince D. Joao lies at this place. (I tried to locate this place but missed it.)

Against this background of information available about two Sri Lankan princes who died in Coimbra and Lisbon respectively, one may ask if one has mixed up the Nikapitiye Bandara, (D. Filipe) or Prince Dloao with Konappu Bandara, who ascended the throne as Vimaladharmasuriya I? To accept that line of argument one has to concede that an error has occurred in communication between the Ambassador and the Minister or an error has been made by the Ministry spokesman in interpreting the dialogue. On the other hand, it is also possible that due to an error in translation by the newspaper there has been a mix up in terminology. That is ’mortal remains’ being translated as ‘ashes.’ There could not be ashes as the two princes were buried in Portugal according to Christian custom.

On the other hand, the return of ‘ashes’ could arise only in respect of a person who was cremated. In that case, as Gaston Perera asked, did the Portuguese somehow take away the ashes of their arch enemy Konappu Bandara for ‘special treatment’?

As a further alternative, could there have been a second Konappu Bandara who was in the hands of the Portuguese? Even then the confusion about ‘ashes’ arises. Such a suggestion is not altogether out of place considering that there were imposters from time to time during the Portuguese era and later. For example, a ‘second‘ Nikapitie Bandara appeared in the Anuradhapura jungles with matted hair and sporting a long beard and successfully collected a great following after claiming that he returned from Portugal. He really gave a tough time to the Portuguese by defeating them in several battles in Sath Korale and Satara Korale until he was defeated by another Sinhalese leader who fought on the Portuguese side succeeded in winning over the former’s followers by proclaiming himself to be a royal prince.

Whoever this Bandara whose ’ashes’ or ’mortal remains’ are offered to us one must be satisfied wiffl proof about the real Bandara to whom they relate.

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