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Sunday, 20 July 2014





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Government Gazette

What happened at Danthure 400 years ago

Have you ever heard of Danthure?

Fate and fortune of certain places and people share a strange similarity. Many rise and fall. Yet others fall and rise. A good section of course exhibit the normal curve minus any dramatic somersaulting.

Danture is exempt from the normal curve for today almost plummeted into the debris of history, some 400 - 500 years back it was powerful enough to totally change the course of Lanka’s history. Today you have to turn off at Pilimatalawa junction on the Colombo - Kandy Road and track name-boards as you are driven along steep inclines but some centuries back it was the gateway of the citadel of Kandy.

The Portuguese marched or was about to march through it, carrying the princess Dona Catherina or Kusumasana Devi along with them, to be consecrated in a magnificent ceremony at Kandy. But Danthure made mayhem of all their plans. Never did they proceed further though a good many an invader voyaged to the next world. So in this almost forgotten terrain, was staged an event that changed the tides of Lankan history.

Actually was it not for the battle of Danture where a prince from the highlands secured a triumphant victory over a European race then soared to a world super power, the Kandyan kingdom would have succumbed to alien grips and the whole country like many a South American state that was swallowed by the mighty Spanish power could have ended up a Portuguese colony since the maritime area had already fallen into their hands.

The fortress according to certain historical sources was built by “Portuguese prisoners.” It is webbed into the history of Danthure and is even called the Fortress of Danthure. Source: Old Ceylon Photos of Face Book. Researched by Prasad Edirisinghe.

Victory for the envisaged Portuguese plan just lay ahead a few miles away when this lone town prevented it gallantly. It must be noted here that unlike the other two colonising races the first coloniser was almost ruthless when it came to the area of religion and culture and was all out to make carbon copies of Portugal of the lands they captured a practice that Spain duplicated. So a success of their plan would have meant a total absorption of the hill country into the Portuguese empire, politically, socially and culturally.

National resurgence

In a fresh phase of national resurgence the folk of Danthure have woken up from a long slumber and begun to realise that this event has almost been relegated to the dustbin of history and posed an event to be celebrated despite years of negligence. Today Danthure is a sleepy town and no doubt life there would be much enlivened by such a commemorative function and what is much more important, secure this place its rightful niche in Lankan history.

There are two key figures in this drama well known to many interested in Lankan history, first, Konappu Bandara alias Don Juan of Austria, the latter a title conferred on him by the race that adopted him. A prince from the wombs of the highlands adopted by a strange race may surprise some readers. But these were very complex times when the most unpredictable things were being orchestrated on the canvas of not only Lankan history but on the total fabric of world history.

Following the much hyped renaissance and reformation, there bristled much activity in the continent of Europe that had as its main item what was politely called voyages of discovery but actually ended up as unwarranted land grabbing. Portuguese and Spanish navigators, began to scour mighty oceans and discover new lands mostly due to the enterprises of brilliant scientists as Henry the Navigator. Their super military power led to countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas, fall like packs of cards.

Bull-headed arrogance prevailed with scant attention to ethics and all this mayhem disturbing the hitherto placid scenario was encouraged by a Papal directive that bifurcated the newly found world between the major Roman Catholic powers of Portugal and Spain. Might was right and all non-Christians dubbed pagans were all heading towards hell and had to be saved.

It was in the context that this alien race, accidentally reaching our coasts, soon began intricate diplomacy to establish their power in the island. Luckily for them domestic strife was rife, rulers in different inland areas warring against each other.

Rajasinghe 1 more known as Tikiri Kumaru was the indefatigable fighter against the invading enemy but alas, he had made himself unpopular by conversion to Saivism. He himself was seething with ambition and was at this time disillusioned with the little kingdom of Sitawaka that he inherited from his father, Mayadunne.


Moreover, the Portuguese had already come into the turbulent scene and there was every sign that the Kotte kingdom would become a protectorate of theirs now that they had baptised the heir apparent, prince Dharmapala as Don Juan. Seeking a power extension elsewhere, Tikiri Kumaru, the valiant king set his eyes on the Kandyan kingdom and invaded it. But there was already a prince there, by name Konappu Bandara (seeking revenge for his father’s murder) who decided to give battle to him. Rajasinghe now turned on the young prince who fled to the Portuguese for protection. That was a God-sent for them.

Military training

Realising the potential of the prince, they willingly patronised him and even sent him for military training to Goa the leading city of the Asian empire of theirs. An incident there where he made short shrift of a troublesome character, had led him to be named Don Juan of Austria, perhaps after another valiant figure in Europe.

Coming back, Konappu Bandara decided to play his own role in the chaotic politics of the times. The Portuguese had by this time become the custodians of a princess who was the rightful heir to the throne of Kandy. The circumstances that led this are too long to be narrated here. Suffice to say, that her father, Karaliyadde Bandara, ruler of Kandy at this time was another victim of Tikiri Kumara’s burgeoning ambition and on news of an impeding invasion by him sought Portuguese protection.

Much used to the game of fishing in troubled waters of Asia, they immediately supplied him with a ship to travel to Colombo harbour. But an outbreak of small pox killed the fugitive royal family sparing only the little princess who carried the name Kusumasana Devi. She finally landed in Mannar and baptised as Dona Catherina even earned a Convent education and became an adherent to the new faith.


The royal lass having reached an age about 11 or 12 years ,the Portuguese now planned to make her the queen of Kandy under their protection. Now Kandy, the city of hills will be theirs and their faith would be the prevalent faith.

Don Juan of Austria alias Konappu Bandara, however, had plans of his own. As the procession wended its way to enthrone the little princess, he gave battle at Danthure sited at the gateway of the hilly kingdom and kidnapped her and made her his queen. So Danthure slips into our history in a remarkable way.

Many a powerful speech was made at a recent meeting held at Danthure that outlined schemes to celebrate an event commemorating the two key figures. Almost every speaker,naturally hacked the Portuguese for their imperial arrogance. But I must draw attention here to a rather piquant tale, around an observation made by my son. As the invited crowd dispersed out of the hall, a teenaged boy had run across the compound dressed in a red T-shirt emblazoned with the name Portugal, probably one of the many manufactured to celebrate the contemporary FIFA World cup events just ended in Brazil.

Nobody had taken any notice of the boy who himself was unaware that he was flouting national sentiments by wearing that apparel especially on a day the town was hosting such an event. Further 400 years have lapsed since that fierce fight between the Portuguese and Sinhalese.

So the caravan of time moves on, the caravan of history moves on oblivious of antagonisms bred over the centuries. Let us wish for the same morrow for the animosity that spurted out of our two major communities. Humans are too noble, not to forget and not to heal wounds.

This too needs mention, that it was Konappu Bandara who enthroned as Vimala Dharma Surya 1st, (name taken after his mother, Vimalu of Peradeniya as Thilaka Randunu a dedicated researcher has found out) who was instrumental in bringing over the Sacred Tooth Relic to Mahanuwara from secret locations. He went over to build the first Temple to house the Relic. Hence one of the plans mooted that day was to take steps to induce authorities to build a statue in his honour in the present Dalada Maligawa premises. (The writer was invited to the above function held at Danthure MV).

LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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