The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Portuguese: Religious conversion and ending Tamils’ Sovereignty IV

By: K. T. Rajasingham
Date : 2005-07-06
Asian Tribune

- Chapter 04 -

Death of Cankli

Details of how Cankli died were not found in any available records, but according to a few historians, it is said that he died in 1565, whilst a others write that his demise occurred in 1564. According to available records, in 1565, Cankli sent a battalion of Vadagar (Northerners) to fight along with king Mayadunne of Sitawaka (1521-1581) against the Portuguese. From this record, some historians conclude that he lived up to 1565 and after his death, king Puvirajapandaram, the natural son of Cankli succeeded in the royal name of Pararajasekaran.

Available records of those period points that the Kingdom was in the midst of severe political turmoil and uncertainty. In the same year, a usurper named Kasi Nainar or Kunchi Nainar drove away Puvirajapandaram and assumed the kingship in the name of Pararajasekaran. Kasi Nainar was unpopular, therefore the people contacted Jorge de Mello de Castro, the Portuguese Captain in Mannar to overthrow him and replace the rightful heir to thrown. De Mello took the opportunity to interfere in the politics of the Tamil kingdom, came to Jaffna, arrested Kasi Nainar, and jailed him. He arbitrated over the disputed succession of the Tamil kingdom, and found in favor Kasi Nainar’s rival, whose name is not recorded.

Once de Mello left Jaffna; Kasi Nainar’s loyalist got him released from the prison. He killed the new king and again ascended the kingship. Kasi Nainar’s sway was short lived, when Jorge de Mello hurried to Jaffna and had Kasi Nainar killed by a hired assassin and set his nominee Periya Pulle on the throne, under the royal name of Chekarajasekaran (1570-1582).

After a decade of exile, Puvirajapandaram (1582-1591) ousted Perriyapulle and regained the throne. He was forceful and deformed and carried plans to oust the Portuguese. He was character-wise a cast in the same mold of Cankli. Portuguese historians gave him the sobriquet of "Crooked King." In 1591, he decided to attack the Portuguese fort at Mannar, which was an eyesore and to chase the Portuguese out of the Tamil kingdom. He formed an alliance with one of the naval opponents of the Portuguese, Cortimusa Marikar, a member of the famous Muslim Kunjali family, the hereditary admirals of the Zamorins (rulers) of Calicut. This alliance was formed to counter the Portuguese’s sea power.

Puvirajapandaram arrived in Mannar with Tamils and Telugu Vadakar warriors armed with cannon, muskets, firebombs and roquerios, but the fort withstood the day and night onslaught of the Tamil army. When the king retreated to Jaffna, the Portuguese commander Andre Furtado de Mendonca followed the king to Jaffna in 43 rowing vessels and 250 Thoneys (small wooden boats), with a company of 1,200 Portuguese and 3000 lascarins. Along with Wickremasinghe, the Lascarins chief, the Sinhalese Karava Mudaliyars, Manoel Pereyra, Pero Francisco and Diogo de Silva too went along in the company to fight the Tamil king. On 28 October 1591, fierce battle broke out and the Portuguese army advanced towards Nallur, destroying stockades on the way with a high mortality. Meanwhile Edirmannasinghan, Perriyapulle’s youngest son was spared by the Portuguese warrior Saimon Pinho and the incident is now found sculptured on a slab on the Maha Saman Devalaya at Ratnapura.

Puvirajapandaram tried to escape, but was captured and beheaded. The vengeful Portuguese army commander Andre Furtado de Mendonco ordered to put the decapitated head of Puvirajapandaram on a pike and plant in a public place for a few days to terrorize those who thought of opposing the Portuguese. When the king was beheaded, Medonco issued a proclamation calling upon the people in the Kingdom to resume their day-to-day business, stating that law, order and peace have already been restored in the kingdom. The same incident has been misinterpreted in the Yarlpana Vaipava Malai as follows:

"The Panankis next brought Sangkli to trial. Sangkli was placed before the seat of justice and charged first with having exercised regal powers without having been duly crowned: secondly, with having usurped the throne from his father: thirdly, with having murdered the princes of the realm: and fourthly, with having oppressed the people and massacred many of them. He was convicted of all the charges and sentence to be decapitated. The sentence was immediately carried into effect at the threshold of the nearest temple." –Translated by C.Brito.

It was unfortunate that the poet laureate Maylvagana Pulavar was confused with the incident of Puvirajapandaram with that of Cankli. It should be remembered that the heroic King Cankli was never captured or even killed. In addition, it should be remembered that though Puvirajapandaram was captured and killed, his martyrdom is the best and highly laudable one. He died foe valiant cause to safeguard the Tamil kingdom from the ruthless colonial invaders.

Nallur Convention

Mendoca also summoned the Tamil chiefs and the Mudaliyars for a convention at Nallur. He then asked the assembled chiefs to submit to the King of Portugal’s suzerainty. He declared that he would maintain the distinct laws and customs of the Tamil kingdom. This offer was accepted and the two parties took oath of allegiance to the king of Portugal and the Portuguese commander on the advice of the Council consisting of the chiefs of the Kingdom, agreed to place on the throne Edirmannasinghan, the youngest son of PeriyaPulle.

Edirmannasinghan took the royal name of Pararajasekaran (1591-1617), according to the tradition. The new king had a very difficult task in his hand to accomplish, because he pledged to favor the spread of Christianity in his kingdom. He was to bear the full blast of the arrogant breed of officials, whose torturously insulting and patronizing behavior, it appeared almost to the point of servility. The young king developed a dual personality, one pro-Portuguese and another anti-Portuguese. The Viceroy in Goa was not happy with the attitude adopted by the king and was to go in person to wrest the control of the kingdom. Meantime the king had a natural death in April 1617.

His death resulted in a crisis about the succession. His eldest brother Asrasa Kesari was nominated as the regent for his 3-year-old son, which is said to have lasted until the end of 1617. But, this arrangement was short lived, when Arasa Kesari’s nephew Cankli Kumaran (Cankli II) hatched a conspiracy, assassinated his uncle and his supporters. The boy king’s life was spared with the idea of using him while usurping the reign of the kingdom from the Portuguese. Captain of Mannar was unable to intervene, but was satisfied by exacting a promise from Cankli Kumaran favoring the spread if Christianity and not to aid the rebels against the Portuguese rule.

However, Cankli’s future became very bleak, when Portuguese began to view Jaffna, a place of great strategic importance to their hegemony over the Sinhalese, because of their irresistible interest in capturing the Kandyan kingdom. The sudden appearance of the Hollanders in Batticaloa, contributed to the change in their dimension.

Cankli Kumaran – the last royal line of resistance

Furthermore, when Cankli Kumaran sought and obtained assistance from Ragunatha Nayakar (1604-1634) of Tanjore, to suppress the uprising by the Tamil Mudaliyars, he was also suspected of having established links with the Dutch. These factors compelled Constantino de Sa Noronha, the Portuguese Captain General in Ceylon, to dispatch a sentry to Jaffna, under Filipe de Oliveriya, to punish Cankli Kumaran, for his treachery.

The first contingent left from Colombo left in April 1919, in a fleet of eight, sailed under captains - Joao Madeira, Joao da Silva and Vitorio de Abreu, with 100 Portuguese and large number of Lascrins. Oliveriya was the overall command of the forces sent overland and after reaching Pooneryn (Poonagiri), he made a delayed and difficult crossing of the Jaffna lagoon, before arriving in the peninsula. Oliveriya initially sent three demands to Cankli Kumaran –

* To surrender the Vadakar troops of the Tanjore Nayakar,

* To surrender Varuna Kulattan, the Karava chief,

* To pay all moneys, he owed to the Portuguese sovereign.

When diplomatic wrangling failed, Oliveriya proceeded to combat the stiff resistance put up by Cankli Kumaran. At Wannarponnai, Cankli Kumaran’s forces were decisively defeated. He with his family set to sail to Tanjore to seek assistance from Ragunatha Nayakar.

Unfortunately, adverse wind blew his boat towards Point Pedro, where he was accosted and captured. With him were his queen, children and his retinue. The Portuguese who entered the fleeing boat to arrest Cankli Kumaran; forcefully confiscated the 8,000 milreis (Portuguese currency) found in the boat and ran amok with the royalties in the boat.

They pulled out the jewels worn by the queen and the children. They pulled the earrings from their ear lobes by tearing the lobes, which left the women and children wailing with anguish and pain. When Cankli Kumaran saw the ruthless behavior of the Portuguese soldiers and their contumacy, he voluntarily took off his jewels and handed them to the Portuguese soldiers.

The Tamil kingdom fell in the hands of the Portuguese in June 1619, when Cankli Kumaran and his family were arrested and taken prisoners by the Portuguese. They were first taken to Nallur; from there, he was sent to Colombo with Oliveriya’s son-in-law Antonio da Mota Galvo. According to the Portuguese administrative arrangements, the jurisdiction of Jaffna came directly under the Viceroy at Goa. Therefore, Cankli Kumaran was transferred to Goa and imprisoned.

In Goa, he was tried for high treason by the Portuguese High Court (Relaco), found him guilty of all charges leveled against him and sentenced him to death. Ultimately, the last Tamil king was hanged in the year 1621.

Last Resistance

In 1620, Filipe de Oliveriya, the Captain Major of the Portuguese army was installed as the Governor of the kingdom. In the same year a Tamil Karava chief invaded the Portuguese and was beaten back.

Again an influential Karava chieftain called, Sinna Meegampillai Arachie, who was earlier an opponent of Cankli Kumaran, became Christian and baptized and named Dom Luis. He became disillusioned with the Portuguese take over of the Kingdom, crossed over to Tanjore with the two Tamil royal princesses and sought military assistance from Ragunatha Naik.

In March 1620, he returned by landing at Thondaminaru, with a big contingent of forces from Tanjore and laid siege of Nallur. Portuguese Governor in Colombo dispatched armed forces under the command of Luis de Teyxeyra de Machedo to support Oliveriya’s forces to break the siege and drive back Meegampillai. Tamil rebels in the Kingdom joined forces with Meegampillai, anyhow the Tamil rebels were defeated.

In November 1620, Meegampillai returned with another army of Tamilian soldiers with renewed vigor and vengeance to drive away the Portuguese. Portuguese who received advanced recce about the movements of the invading Tamil forces from Tanjore were prepared to meet them. Oliveriya and the Portuguese forces entered the sea and prevented Meegampillai’s forces from landing. When fierce fighting ensued, Oliveriya was seriously wounded when a Tamil soldier charged him with his spear. However, the Tamils have to retreat again. Finally, 2000 of the Tanjore soldiers landed on 5 December 1620, at Thondaminaru, under the command of Varuna Kulatan, but the war drag on until 11 February 1621, and finally the Kingdom had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese.

The bloody war saw to the end of the Tamil aristocracy and the sovereignty of the Tamils. Up to now, the Tamils have yet to recover from the loss of their sovereignty. Postscript:

According to the Portuguese historians, Cankli Kumaran was converted to Christianity along with his wife. He was baptized as Don Phillipe and his wife as Margrette. Ultimately, the last Tamil King was hanged in the year 1621.

The conversion of Cankli Kumaran and his wife to Christianity was a propaganda ploy of the Portuguese. In 1818, the Council of the Jesuit Society resolved that those converts to Christianity would be spared of their death penalty. Therefore, when Cankli Kumaran was hanged, it clearly shows that he steadfastly remained as Tamil and died as a Tamil without betraying the faith the Tami professed.

In the meantime, the wife and three daughters of Edirmannasinghan were converted to Christianity. Amongst the three children, the eldest daughter, the heir to the throne of the Tamil Kingdom was baptized and given the Christian name Dona Constantina, along with her two sisters. They had their education, at first in Goa and later sent to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal for higher education.

The fate of the Tamils were sealed, however when Dona Constantina and her two sisters, Dona Marie and Dona Isabelle signed the Royal Instrument of Transfer of their right to rule the Tamil Kingdom, to the King of Portugal. This act effectively ended the sovereignty of the Tamils in toto.

- Concluded -

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