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
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.
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
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.
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