Posted by: lrrp | May 31, 2008

The Sadismof Azevedo

Crocodiles were whistled for to feed on humans

In 1505 Lorenzo de Almeida, son of the Vice Roy of Goa set foot in Galle accidentally when his fleet of ships got caught in a great storm at sea on the way to the Maldive Islands and was compelled to take refuge at Galle Harbour. Though they wrested Galle from the Sinhalese they were the first Europeans to settle down in Colombo. The news of the arrival of a strange fleet reached the ears of the King of Kotte Vira Parakramabahu VIII. The message was that there was a race of people of fair skin donning jackets and hats of iron, eating hunks of stone and drinking blood. They were lavish with their silver and gold coins, so that they gave two or three of them for one fish or lime. The report of their cannon was louder then thunder striking on the rock of Yugandaraa.

The King although willing to entertain the newcomers was reluctant to reveal the closeness of Kotte to Colombo. Therefore an envoy of Portuguese were led by a circuitous route for three days through hill and dale and thorny jungle crossing the same river many times at different points. The Sinhalese saying “Parangiya Kotte giyaa wage” even now is aptly quoted in similar circumstances in gay ridicule after nearly five centuries.

The ultimate result was that the Portuguese gained a permanent foothold in this country. Within a few decades several changes took place as one after another Royal descendants ascended the Throne of Kotte. Vijayabahu VII succeeded Vira Parakramabahu VIII, Vijayabahu’s son Buwanekabahu followed him. As Buwanekabahu had no sons his grandson Prince Dharmapala, the son of his daughter ascended the Throne of Kotte.

It is recorded history that Sri Lanka had never been devoid of traitors. Qveni was the first of its breed. She handed over the country to a foreigner. Moggalana brought an alien army to defeat his brother Kasyapa who was the reigning King. Dharmapala gifted the country on a deed to the King of Portugal on 12th, August 1580. He signed a document virtually bequeathing his kingdom, his subjects, his country and all his people to a foreign foe. The consequences were disastrous. Above all, his most foolhardy and treacherous act was embracing Christianity, under the name Don Juan Dharmapala. He became the first and the last Sri Lankan Monarch to become a Christian.

The Sri Lankan Monarchs were absolute and all powerful. They could dispose of their kingdom as they pleased. They allotted Nindagam, extent of land and villages to their favourites. Devalagam and Viharagam were given to Devalas and Temples. The King of Kotte ruled over the South-Western lowlands of the country and had Imperial Rights in the other two kingdoms Kandy and Jaffna. With the Christian King on the Throne, the Franciscan friars acted aggressively to stamp out Buddhism and Buddhists including the Bikkhus were treated brutally by the Portuguese. As a result, most people moved over to Seethawaka, the kingdom of Mayadunne. The ruthless hand of the foreign foe descended heavily on Kotte. Dharmapala divested the income from temple lands to the Franciscan Order, while temples were converted to churches by demolishing the sacred shrines. This angered the Buddhists, so that Mayadunne waged war against Dharmapala who being unable to resist the onslaught moved his council to Colombo where Portuguese held sway. Mayadunne’s son Rajasinghe attacked Colombo and a greater part of Colombo fell into Rajasinghe’s hands.

The Portuguese had no regard for Dharmapala and he was king only in name. Besides Dharmapala had no issues to inherit the Throne. Rajasinghe of Seetawaka died in 1592 following an accident where a bamboo splinter pierced his foot, which in turn led to blood poisoning. Whatever be the manner of his death, his personality looms large in the history of Sri Lanka both for courage and warfare. He defected to Hinduism and wantomly killed Buddhist Monks and burnt their temples and books. He transferred the custody of Adam’s Peak to the Hindus. His death brought about a complete change in the affairs of the Island. The Portuguese succeeded in recovering the lost territory. All uprisings were crushed by them and all lowlands were brought under their control. The Portuguese were masters there and Dharmapala was King only nominally.

Dharmapala died in 1597 and the Portuguese gained formal possession of his kingdom by virtue of his deed of gift and Philip II of Spain became Kotte’s king. Dharmapala was one of the most pathetic figures among Sri Lanka’s Royalty.

While Wimala Dharmasuriya was ruling in Kandy there appeared in Kotte in 1594 Don Jeronimo de Azevedo as Captain General to recover the lost territory and retrieve the lost reputation and avenge indignities endured at the hands of Wimala Dharma of Kandy. He was a soldier less distinguished for his military prowess than his cruelty. The Portuguese resorted to violent measures of retaliation unsurpassed in atrocity and blood shed. Those outrageous brutalities lasted as long as Azevedo, the arch imperialist who ruled the country. The Portuguese got all their wants in territory acquired by violence and brutal force. They dehumanized the population subjugating them, the effects of terror too revolting to relate. Wherever any hostility was reported troops were let loose on measures of repression: to harass, intimidate and manhandle all opponents in brutish manner.

The trigger happy soldiers simply shot at sight in wantom manslaughter. The Portuguese apportioned to themselves, an altogether disproportionate share of wealth. Trade was their main concern. Azevedo maintained his Headquarters at Malvana, established a judicial court and large elephant stables. While resident at Malvana, de Azevedo practised most appalling cruelties. One such wily act was that of throwing people from Raxapana Rock at Malvana into the Kelani River, where crocodiles had become so accustomed to their regular food that they raised their heads at the blowing of a whistle. This was one form of entertaining his sadistic soldiers who watched how the crocodiles devoured the unfortunate victims.

In his heyday he beheaded mothers after forcing them to cast their babes betwixt mill stones. The autocratic power-drunk top runger ruler Azevedo caused his soldiers to take up children on the points of their spears and get them to cry out to see “how the young cocks crow”. The Portuguese branded the people of Lanka as Gallos or cock birds, consequent to the sound of the crowing of a cock bird they heard while they were anchored at the Galle harbour in their first encounter. Reparation has got to be made not only for his brutality but for the numerous massacres committed on innocent people for their pleasure. It is said that de Azevedo ended his days in a dungeon in Lisbon.

Dharmapala gifting his kingdom was tantamount to a betrayal of his Kingship. Sri Lanka which has a history of over two thousand five hundred years valued its traditional religion, culture and independence. The spirit of the nation based on its culture cannot be bartered away in anticipation of largess from foreigners. Gone are the days when Sri Lanka succumbed to any form of foreign rule. People have a better right to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned Independence which one cannot allow to be undermined.

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