King Rajasingha-through the eyes of a foreigner
Robert Knox's classic masterpiece 'Historical Relation of the island
of Ceylon' is really a graphic representation of an Asian country and a
people though there is at times exaggerated reportings. His attitude
towards the ruler and the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka was an absolute
blend of imperial bias cynical criticism, logic and truth tempered by a
twenty year captivity.
In his rather autobiographic epic record of 'Life and thoughts of Sri
Lankan people and the mechanism of kingship', he has given an
interesting glimpse to king Rajasinghe of Kandy and his character.
Robert knox states,
"His name is Rajasingha. The king is not descended from the genuine
royalty of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) though the literal meaning of his name is
"The King of Lions". The King's queen is said to have a Malabar origin
and surprisingly enough, I have not had the least visual proof which
made me believe that the king lived with her specially within the twenty
years that I spent in Ceylon..."
"The king is short in stature, fat, rather dark with a fully rounded
belly yet his eyes are still penetrative, lively and are implicated in
valiant, uncompromising mood... The copper of his hair and his face
highly embellished by the thickly grown beard bear all the marks of
"But his out-of-the ordinary nature has clear manifestation that he
is ever young, by action and by thinking pattern though he is around
eighty years of age..." However, Robert Knox's account of Sri Lankan
people and the king bears all signs that he had experienced a certain
amount of confusion under the king's captivity and had made first hand
observations throughout twenty years.
However, Knox is comparatively optimistic in his view point over King
Rajasingha when he discusses how the king has maintained diplomatic ties
with other countries. Comments Robert Knox, "The king displays a
penchant to welcome foreign diplomats. When they arrive in the country,
specially arranged troops march in salutation along decorated royal
streets in order to escort them to the palace..."
"The King instructs the guards to provide tight security for the
envoys and take them to the most enchanting sites in the country. As
long as the diplomats are in the palace, they are treated as exclusive
royal guests and are granted every possible privilege, facility and
other comforts on king's order. Thus, a highly amiable atmosphere exists
between the king and the envoys during their short stay in the country."
The King's food practices appear to have attracted knox's attention.
He says "The King customarily takes his meals quite formally with royal
orderliness. The King sits at an elaborate dining table covered with a
white cloth and cats food from an embellished golden bowl placed on a
bluish-green plantain leaf spread on the table."
"Throughout the table are plates and bowls filled with around forty
types of curries and dishes. The "Bath Wadana Nilame"
(rice-serving officer) with his mouth fully covered with a cloth, is
always at work serving what the king desires from the plates into the
king's golden bowl. The fresh greens and fruits growing lushly in the
royal gardens are his favourite and he eats them once a day with extra
"Whatever type of food that is generally meant for the king must be
brought respectfully covered with a white cloth. Even the kitchen of the
palace is very special and maintains an awe-inspiring formality.
Preparation of the king's food was assigned to most beautiful ladies
brought to the palace from all corners of the island. I remember once
there were pretty Portuguese ladies serving in the royal kitchen and
even now there are some of them..."
"The king exploits various methods to punish criminals and miscreants
whenever they were found guilty. The king has evinced his brutality and
dictatorship by imposing punishment on the whole family of a particular
offender. His approach to severe punishment is killing the culprit bit
by bit by subjecting him to different stages of torture. Sometimes the
culprit is made to confess his guilt by having burned his body with a
hot iron or by cutting pieces of flesh off his body."
"The king sometimes orders the criminal to eat his own flesh out of
his limbs and once he ordered a guilty mother to eat flesh out of her
child. After hearing the case, the king orders the executioner to take
the condemned criminal to the place of torture and plant them on sharp
stakes until the stakes pierce through the criminal's body.
This place of torture is situated on a higher elevation so that
everyone could witness the horrible fate of the offender and thereby be
discouraged to commit any crime."
One of the King's favourite places is the moat around the 'Magul
Maduwa' which served as a beautiful pond abundant in fish. Here we can
see some mansions which contain varied exquisite carvings.
The king habitually feeds the fish in the pond by offering them
boiled rice. The fish are so familiar with the king that they even come
to his palms in water in earnestness to find food.
In any case, Robert Knox's 'Portrayal of the king and his practices'
was amply influenced by negativity which resulted from his confusion in
captivity for as long as 20 years in Sri Lanka.
But wherever necessary, the writer describes the king with a balanced
outlook and logical criticism that is truth-oriented.
He admits that the Sri Lankan king is diplomatic, tactful and
efficient in administration and fastidious about everything that
affected state and his subject.
Knox states that the King was an expert swimmer. When he went to
bathe in the river, he swam with his guards and other people for sport.
Apart from that the king derived much pleasure by reviewing his
personal collection of curios and other precious things. In any case, we
must be thankful to Knox for recording the true aspects of the Kandyan
period and his work has not been replaced by any record on this period.