In 1815, in completing their conquest of Ceylon, the British deposed, captured and exiled the last king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, banishing the king, members of his family and servants to Vellore, India, where he spent the remainder of his life. I am currently doing research on the circumstances of the king’s deposition and exile, the fate of the former sovereign and his entourage in exile, and the place of the king and the Kandyan dynasty in Sri Lankan memory, history-writing and commemoration. Of interest, too, is the exile of leaders of the 1817-1818 resistance movement against the British to Mauritius.
When Darshanie Ratnawalli penned a blog comment on one of the articles reproduced in the thuppahi site, I jumped to the erroneous conclusion that it was a response to one of my articles on myth and history. In fact it was a critical note directed at an essay in Shanie’s Notebook of a Nobody series in the Island, one entitled “Writing history and myth,” which I had borrowed for my own web site.
Let me quote an extract from Darshanie’s note, with colours distinguishing Darshanie from Shanie:
“Isn’t Shani, the writer of this article) actually displaying mediocre scholarship and a lamentable lack of intellectual rigor when she says: “Scholars like HL Seneviratne and Michael Roberts have in recent contributions to the Island pointed out that there is no evidence of any distinctiveness in our ethnic identities. HL Seneviratne pointed out that many of the Kandyan chieftains signed the 1915 [sic —1815]Convention in Tamil.”
By placing the second sentence after the first hasn’t Shani made out the second assertion to be some kind proof of the first assertion? But signing the Convention in Tamil is not indicative of any lack of distinctiveness of ethnic identity no? it is actually more an elitist thing isn’t it? Tamil was made the current language of the ‘inner circle’ by the Royal family and their powerful contingent of Royal relations present at court no? It’s rather like the pre revolutionary Russian nobility speaking French isn’t it or the way people speak and write in English in Sri Lanka even when they are among their own with no need of a lingua franca?”
I am entirely in agreement with Darshanie’s reasoning in her second paragraph. Let me add that as far as I know the signatures deemed Tamil in the Kandyan Convention are in fact written in Grantha which is a script not a language. I leave it to scholars versed in that field to engage that issue.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.