Funday Times - Our Heritage

King Rajasinghe’s battle of Colombo

This article is part of a continuing series on the ‘Mahavamsa,’ the recorded chronicle of Sri Lankan history
By Halaliye Karunathilake, Edited and translated by Kamala Silva, Illustrated by Saman Kalubowila

The situation in the city of Colombo was such that there were only about 300 Portuguese soldiers including the sick and the old. There were a few mercenaries too, to help them. Arms and ammunition were sufficient only to guard the fort. As such, the captain had to send an urgent appeal to Goa, asking for help. Then he did his best to strengthen the fort.

The forts and barricades erected before 1551 AD, were strong enough to stand earlier attacks. However, due to the onset of the monsoon rains and later attacks, these fortifications had become weak. So Captain Brito started repairing and strengthening the outer walls of St. John, St. Thomas and
St. Stephen.

St. John fort was the first to face any enemy attack. It protected the harbour on one side and the flat land on the other. As such, the wall here had to be raised and made stronger, to withstand any inclement weather pattern. A deep trench was cut up to the sea, as an extra protection. A few small boats were kept here, for the use of the security forces, who were entrusted with the task of guarding the town.

The low-lying area, that stretched for about 313 feet, from the fort to the sea, was surrounded by a wall 6 feet in height. Around the wall were kept other safety measures including even machine guns. To strengthen the entrance at St. John and the stretch that led to the sea, fortifications were erected. Thick walls were built, surrounding the area.

As a result, St. Thomas fort and Galpotta were protected by two barriers on one side and four on the other side. On the St. Stephen fort, stages were put up, with guns fixed here and there. Konappu Bandara, who was baptised as Don Juan of Austria, was the son of Veera Surendra of Peradeniya. The Sinhala chieftains fortified their stations with the guidance of Don Juan.

All these people were carrying on a lot of construction work, as if they were competing against each other. Meanwhile, King Rajasinghe, once again started draining the water of the Beira Lake. First of all, he opened the canal which had been cut.

He got another canal cut. Thereby, he drained the water of the Beira Lake and went as far as the city walls. From there, he started firing shots at the city, very cautiously.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, thought of diverting the attention of the king to another area.

The Portuguese who went by sea, started destroying the coastal cities. The Sinhala forces then began to attack the city fiercely. An army of elephants deployed by King Rajasinghe personally, fought bravely in this battle. Yet, the Portuguese were able to make them retreat. Then King Rajasinghe tried to come by sea. At this point, he had got a few mercenaries from abroad.

These mercenaries took the Sinhala soldiers and launched four sail boats from Modera. The Portuguese succeeded in sinking two of these vessels. The rest of the army fled. However, this siege
continued for a number of days.

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