Category Archives: Kandyan kingdom

Rendering Kandy into a Cosmic Force — Sri Vikrama Rajasinha

  PK Balachandran, in Daily Mirror 9 September 2021, with this title  “Recreating King Rajasinha’s cosmic city”

Sri Lanka’s last king, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha of Kandy, was vilified as a cruel despot and was overthrown by the British in 1815, acting in cahoots with disgruntled local chieftains. But King Rajasinha was a creative builder, town-planner and an executor of irrigation projects for the benefit of the common man. In the latter part of his politically troubled reign (1798-1815), King Rajasinha had turned all his energies towards making his capital city, Kandy, a “cosmic city” fit for God Sakra, the Sinhala version of the Hindu God Indra.

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A Battle Map of the Dutch Invasion of Kandy in 1765

Presented by Brig Hiran Halangode, retd] GW SLA

Chamikara Pilapitiya, author of book titled Maha Nuwara Yugaye Apprakata Viththi* has gifted a copy of a rare Battle Map of the Dutch invasion of Kandy in 1765 to Trinity College Kandy. An image of the gifted copy of the map is given below. It shows a detailed description of the trench lines and the gun batteries in and around the town of Kandy, which was used by the Kandyan army to attack the invading Dutch army in 1765.

 Mr. Chamikara Pilapitiya presenting a copy of his book to then Principal of Trinity College in 2019.

The original map is available in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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From Empiricist Conflation to Distortion: Caste in South Asia

Michael Roberts, responding in 1985 to a Review Essay by Susan Bayly of Cambridge University  on his book on Caste Conflcist and Elite Formation, CUP 1982

Susan Bayly** has done me the honour of reviewing the book on Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 at considerable length.’ Her essay is appropriately entitled ‘The History of Caste in South Asia’. This title provides a clue to the interpretative pathways which have led her systematically to misunderstand the arguments within the book. No less problematical is her implicit belief in the possibility of constructing a composite picture of the caste system qua system on the basis of empirical data drawn from different regions, regions as widely different as Sri Lanka, southern India and western India. Let me elaborate this charge, and in doing so reiterate the arguments which I presented.

Susan Bayly

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Sinhalaness in Pre-British Ceylon: Issues and Pathways

A Review Essay by Alan Strathern** dissecting a Book by Michael Roberts published in 2004

This item was located by Thuppahi in the web-site Colombo Telegraph on 26 December 2012 (see https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-royal-we-sinhala-identity-in-the-dynastic-state/). However, it appeared initially in 2005 in the prestigious journal Modern Asian Studies,  39: 1013–1026.

AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE by Michael Roberts, 7 August 2021

This item is a review essay not a standard review. Alan Strathern is an accomplished historian who happens to be the son of a leading social anthropologist, viz., Marilyn Strathern of ANU and Cambridge University. You will find that his prose is as refined and clear-cut as demanding. After some hesitation, I decided to adhere to my normal policy of highlighting some parts of the text with blue colourfor the benefit of readers facing the difficulties posed by complex issues in historical sociology. On occasions I have also imposed a break in extra-long paragraphs. The illustrations too are my impositions intended to promote reader interest.

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Introducing Alan Strathern’s Work to Sri Lankan Aficianados

Alan Strathern’s first major work was Kingship and Conversion in Sixteenth-Century Sri Lanka: Portuguese Imperialism in a Buddhist Land. …. published in 2008 and since then he has extended his reach. Though in far too belated manner, Thuppahi here introduces his work to a Sri Lankan audience …. Begiining with a citation leading to CR De Silva’s review of his book on Sri Lanka….. and ending with his own introduction of self to the world in the Oxford University web site.

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The Skeins of Class bearing on the Threads of Sinhala Cultural Revival under the British

Uditha Devapriya, in The Island, 24 July 2021, where the title reads “Colonial Bourgeoisie and Sinhala Cultural Revival”

The colonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka did not form a monolithic class. They were divided horizontally as well as vertically: horizontally on the basis of income and inheritance, and vertically on the basis of primordial attachments, such as caste ideology. Various factors, mainly economic, conspired as much to unify the bourgeoisie as they did to divide them, distinguishing them by their homogeneity as much as by their heterogeneity.

Panadura Vaadaya

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Ethnicity after Edward Said: Post-Orientalist Failures in Comprehending the Kandyan Period of Lankan history

Michael Roberts ... presenting a refereed journal article from the year 2001** as a foundation for reflection and fresh pursuits because it addresses the work of Edward Said, a renowned social theorist-cum-political scientist.

Edward Said  Leslie Gunawardena

Abstract: Disenchantment with the excesses of nationalist and ethnic claims in recent decades has directed the analysis of ethnicity presented in academic writings in recent decades.  Ethnicity is seen as pernicious, “primordialist” and “essentialist.”  Other scholars as well as nationalist spokespersons are castigated for reading the present into the past.  This line of criticism has entered the scholarship on the Indian subcontinent and been extended to surveys of the literature on the pre-British and British periods of Sri Lankan history.   Yet these critics themselves are governed by the either/or epistemology of 20th century rationalism.  They are unable to decipher the worldview and the political ideology that organised the socio-political order of the Kingdom of Sihale, better known as the Kingdom of Kandy.  Their bias is “presentist” and “modernist.”  With little patience for historical puzzles, their readings of the pre-British period are simple-mindedFor the most part they rely on the severely flawed interpretation presented in Leslie Gunawardana’s “People of the Lion.”  This dependence marks their ignorance.

** presented in Ethnic Studies Report, Vol XIX/1, 2001 … ICES and kindly supplied by Iranga Silva

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Origins of Sri Lankan Nationalism

Upali C Wickremeratne, presenting a critical review of  Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period: 1590s to 1815, by Michael Roberts, (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2003)…. originally presented in Ethnic Studies Review, vol. XXI,  No. 2, July 2003, pp. 207-20…. with pictorials imposed by Roberts against the grain of this article. NOTE: the title is that chosen by Wickremeratne … and is in fact a misnomer.

It is hard to think of a book, amongst those written by those affecting to be scholarly, which is based more on conjecture than this. The criteria for evidence should be considered. It is not a question of whether the sources are oral or documentary.  After all the evidence in a law court is mainly oral.  It is a question of considering the arguments for and against any particular point of view.  It is a question of weighing the evidence. A civil case is decided on a balance of probabilities and a criminal case on whether there is a reasonable doubt.  It is not a question of facts or the truth. Law draws a distinction between hearsay, opinion and evidence based on cross-examination.  Collingwood wanted an army of questions led into the sources. They would enable one’s own biases and predilections to be questioned.  It would supply the place of cross-examination.

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An Exploration: Discerning How a Sinhalayā in Kandyan Times BECAME Sinhala

Michael Roberts, reproducing here an old draft that is entitled “Becoming Sinhala” ***

Preamble

The scene is somewhere early in 1984 and the location is the building housing the Social Scientists’ Association on the road to Nawala off Narahenpitiya in Colombo. The late Charlie Abeysekera and the late Newton Gunasinghe are reflecting gloomily on the pogrom of July 1983 that had victimised Tamils living in the capital and elsewhere in the south. Charlie is one of the founder members of MERGE and both are among the few personnel in Colombo who had taken an active stand in public forums against the atrocities that had occurred.* Now, in the gathering dusk, Charlie looks at Newton and asks: “what makes you think that you are a Sinhalese?” Newton immediately grasps the serious import and analytical purpose behind this question. He considers the issue gravely before venturing upon an answer.

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In Search of Archaic Practices & Features in Ancient and Medieval Lanka

Two foreign personnel, one a British man and the other a Taiwanese Chinese lady, have developed a deep interest in Sri Lanka and a considerable  äcquaintance”, so to speak. with the land and its peAnswer: perhaps Sigiriya?oples, and have recently sent me these fascinating inquiries on arcane topics. Michael Roberts

ONE:  A NOTE from Lewis Bower [i], late February 2021

 Have you heard the term “Argyra” before? It was mentioned in Stephanus of Byzantium’s contribution to the geographical dictionary Ethnica to describe a “thriving metropolis” that he came across on his travels of Sri Lanka… Typing that made me feel like I’m on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.

We’re talking 5th/6th Century AD so I’d be really interested to find out where he was talking about,”

… Answer: perhaps Sigiriya? … Michael Roberts

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