Very little has been written about an intriguing queen of the Kandyan Era, Queen Antanadassin, who was also the daughter of the more famous. By Prof. J. Sarath Edirisinghe Most Sri Lankans are not familiar with the names of the queens of the Kanda Uda Rata and they are certainly not ordinary household names. The [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The other Queen of Kanda Uda Rata


Very little has been written about an intriguing queen of the Kandyan Era, Queen Antanadassin, who was also the daughter of the more famous.

By Prof. J. Sarath Edirisinghe

Most Sri Lankans are not familiar with the names of the queens of the Kanda Uda Rata and they are certainly not ordinary household names. The kings were the ones who governed the country and were the sole custodian of lands and of course the Sacred Tooth Relic. Not much had been written about the Kandyan queens or on their role in the affairs of state. In some instances they have been complete aliens in the sense that they spoke a different language, followed different religions, customs and traditions.
One of the Nayakkar kings – Keerthi Sri Rajasimha had six wives from South India at different times and also a Sinhala ‘yakada doliya’. The kings and their people including the Buddhist clergy expected them to give the king a suitable successor to the throne. However, there had been instances where a few of them had been powerful enough to influence the reigning monarch in the affairs of state and in the selection of successors to the throne even before the demise of a reigning monarch.

The book that contains the document “Kandy in the 1630s-Through the eyes of a Soldier Poet and a Soldier Ethnographer”, that gives a glimpse of a little known queen

The names of the Kandyan queens are unfamiliar to most of us and only a few present day Sri Lankans could name at least a few. Some of the names that are familiar to us are Kusumasa Devi or Dona Catherina, Queen of two Kings, Upendramma, Queen of Rajadhi Rajasimha who proposed a stronger claim for the throne on behalf of her brother Muttusamy following the death of the king but lost to the intrigues of Pilimatalauve who placed Kannasamy, a nephew of the dead King on the Kandyan throne and Venkata Rangammal, the Queen of the last Kandyan king whose portrait is familiar to at least a few of Sri Lankans.

Much has been written about Dona Catherina by Portuguese historians as well as other writers. There have been books written about her and there were stage plays based on her life. Some hailed this unfortunate lady, daughter of Karaliadde Bandara and Gallegama Maha Adasin as an Empress while some placed her as a puppet in the hands of the Portuguese, just like her relative, Dom Juan Dharmapala of Kotte. She was wife to Vimaladh-armasuriya I, formerly known as Konappu Bandara and later by the baptismal name of Dom Joao of Austria and to his cousin King Senerat. She is also the mother of the great patriot of the Kanda Uda Rata – Rajasimha II. Whether an empress or a Portuguese puppet she alone stands out as the ‘Queen of the Kandyan Kingdom’.

This narration on the ‘Other Queen of the Kande Uda Rata Kingdom’ is based on an article published recently in the Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture and Politics edited by John Clifford Holt (2011). The volume contains a few original documents hitherto unpublished. One such document is by an anonymous author and is entitled, “Kandy in the 1630s-Through the eyes of a Soldier Poet and a Soldier Ethnographer”. The text is a reproduction of a dialogue, purported to have taken place between two Portuguese soldiers in the Royal courts of Senerat at Senkadagalapura, the successor of Vimaladharmasuriya I and the father of Rajasimha II.

The dialogue is between two Portuguese soldiers leisurely discussing the ‘Queen’ at the Senkadagala royal palace. The narrator assumes the name Cardenio, a well known character of Miguel de Cervantes’ and gives the impression of a cultured and educated person who is well versed in writing poetry. The listener who asks the questions is Fabricio who is employed in the royal palace. Cardenio had been with Constantino de Sa Noronha, fighting the Sinhalese forces at the siege of Uva in 1630. When the Sinhalese forces took the Portuguese led by Captain General Noronha at Randeniwala, the converted Catholic Modeliars led by Dom Cosme, defected to Senarat’s and Rajasimha’s side finally ‘yielding’ Noronha to his creator. It appears that Cardenio was taken prisoner and brought to the palace of Kandy where he was working as a domestic who was also close to the Queen because of a mutual interest in poetry.

The dialogue begins when Fabricio asks about the features of the Queen. Cardenio replies stating that her features are ‘tolerably beautiful and pleasant’ although she had a squint. Then he goes on to say that the Queen did not wear any jewelry like other ladies of the court and implies that it was because she was mourning the death of Captain General Noronha. The narrator further says that there had been some ‘dealings’ between them (the Queen and Noronha). It is almost certain that the ‘Queen’ had never met the Captain General before although she would have heard about him from numerous Portuguese retainers of the Kandyan Court and from the Jesuit and Franciscan friars who were resident in the royal palace.

They continue the dialogue in a sarcastic note when Fabricio asks Cardenio about the Queen’s age. It transpires that she was thirty years of age. This line gives a clue to the identification of the Queen. Cardenio goes on to say that her highness was most unhappy at the Senkadagala palace and that she had plans to leave it because her husband was also the husband of her mother (Dona Catherina).

The Queen had also divulged to Cardenio that the King took her by force and was responsible for killing a prince, a relative of hers, who was espoused to her for four years. Cardenio goes on to say,…’ either because of these reasons or because she disdained the ornaments of this triumph, she was without any kind of gala attire, yet so comely and so modest that she attracted the eyes of all of us who were there’. He explains to Fabricio that he became acquainted with the Queen because of their mutual interest in poetry and elaborates that the Queen writes poetry to forget her grief of losing her espoused prince.

This information takes Fabricio by surprise. He cannot believe that a Kandyan lady could write such classic poetry in Portuguese. Fabricio says that his stomach cannot digest that a Kandyan lady who had never met Portuguese people other than those captured at Balane and Randenivala could write such verses of wonderful purity and also when the culture and climate of Kandy are so different to Greece, Italy and Spain.

In the final part of the dialogue Cardenio discloses the identity of the Queen and her education under Franciscan friars – ‘…Father Friar Francisco Negrao, Religious of the Observance and Chronicler of the same Order, was nine years in Kandy teaching her and the princes Latin and Italian, and she was moreover a daughter of King Dom Joao and Queen Dona Catherina’.

Now we know the identity of the ‘Other Queen’, of the Kandyan Kingdom. Both Joris von Spilbergen and Sebald de Weert, Dutch ambassadors, visited the palace at Senkadagala in 1602. Both were introduced by Wimaladharmasuriya I to Dona Catherina and the six-year-old princess Surya Maha Adassin, the eldest child of the king and then to Prince Maha Astana, who was, according to de Weert about three years old at that time. The King and the Queen had only two children at the time of de Weert’s visit and both were introduced to him by the King himself when de Weert expressed his desire to see the princess and the young prince. Wimaladharmasuriya’s third child, princess Antanadassin’s (also known as Hatan) birth therefore would have occurred within the next two years because the King died in 1604.

Following the demise of Wimaladharmasuriya in 1604, his cousin, Senerat from Matale who was a Buddhist monk succeeded to the Kandyan throne. The new King realising that his claim to the Kandyan throne was almost nonexistent married the widowed Queen Dona Catherina, the rightful heir to the Kandyan Kingdom. This marriage resulted in three children – Kumarasimha, Viyayapala and Rajasimha. Prince Maha Astana, the crown prince and son of Wimaladharmasuriya, suddenly died under mysterious circumstances and it was rumoured that Senerat was responsible. It is known that he was determined to pass on the Kandyan throne to his own youngest son.

Dona Catherina never recovered from the grief of losing her first-born son and died a year after giving birth to the future Rajasimha II in 1613. Knowing his fragile claim to the Kandyan throne, Senerat married Surya Maha Adassin, first-born of Wimaladharmasuriya and Dona Catherina. It is recorded that the royal children were educated by the Franciscan friars in the Kandyan court, particularly by Friar Francisco Negrao. The children were taught Latin, Italian, music, statecraft and royal etiquette followed by the royal houses of Europe at the time. They also would have got lessons in popular music from Hans Rempel and Erasmus Matsberger, the two musicians left in the Kandyan court by Joris Spilbergen.

Queen Surya Maha Adassin died in 1617 and the desperate Senerat determined to hang on to his claim to the Kandyan throne married Antanadassin, the third child of Wimaladharmasuriya and Dona Catherina. All kings after Wimaladharmasuriya I based their claims to the Kandyan throne through the royal line established by Kusumasana Devi (Dona Catherina).

The new queen, ‘The other Queen of Kanda Uda Rata’, the subject of the dialogue between Cardenio and Fabricio – Antanadassin is known to have been an accomplished poet. Senerat married Surya Maha Adassin immediately following the demise of Dona Catharina. It is not known whether there were any issues out of this marriage. This queen died in 1617 and Senerat married her younger sister Antanadassin. According to Cardenio the Queen was about thirty years of age and it indicates that Antanadassin had been ‘The Queen’ of the Kande Uda Rata for nearly 13 years.

The dialogue between the two Portuguese soldiers implies that the ‘Queen’ was unhappy to be married to Senerat. This may be true because he was also the husband of her mother. The dialogue between the two Portuguese also says that the Queen was unhappy because Senerat was instrumental in murdering a prince who was espoused to her. Nothing seems to be known about this prince, not even whether he was a Sinhalese or a Portuguese.

By this time Rajasimha II was about 17 and was fully involved with the affairs of the state. Senerat too was still living. We have no information on the life of the royal house at Senkadagala. Antanadassin was Rajasimha’s stepsister as well as stepmother. There is considerable confusing information regarding the children of Wimaladharmasuriya I and of Senerat. However one fact appear to be correct and this is that both Surya Maha Adassin and Antanadassin were daughters of Wimaladharmasuriya, for Senerath, a former Buddhist monk, would never have committed incest by marrying his own daughters.

It is not known how long Antanadassin lived. Historical records so far have not unearthed information about Antanadassin and her relations with Rajasimha II and his siblings. According to Robert Knox, it was Rajasimha’s favourite sister who resided in the Mahanuwara palace who spirited away the young successor to the throne to Hanguranketa following the assassination attempt by a group of disgruntled officers and the Buddhist clergy while the king was in Nilambe. Knox also says that when this sister died, the king and the people of Mahanuwara mourned her death for a whole week.

Although there is considerable confusion regarding the children of Wimaladharmasuriya I and those of Senerat, the lady referred to by Knox is Udumala, Rajasimha’s own sister. There are no records to indicate whether Surya Maha Adassin or Antanadassin (daughters of Dona Catharina and Wimaladharmasuriya) had children from their marriages to Senerat. It is also not known whether Antanadassin retired to Welimantota, to the palace of Dona Catharina close to Kegalle after Senarat’s demise. In the eyes of the Portuguese at least Antanadassin was the ‘Other Queen of Kande Uda Rata’ in the 1630s. Silva, reviewing ‘The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture and Politics’ in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka, New Series – No LVII, 2012 has this to say regarding the article entitled ‘Kandy in the 1630s – Through the eyes of a Soldier Poet and a Soldier Ethnographer’. ‘…….It should be a feather in the cap of Portuguese soldiery if any of them could rise to the state of composing literary works. That reminds one of how the troops in the British garrison in Trincomalee around 1803 surrendered their arrack quotas to two of their colleagues on the days the mail came from London because these two were the only ones who could read and write. The anonymous writer of this dialogue is most likely to be Father Francisco Negrao himself. That is what the reference to Negrao’s role in tutoring the princess and the moral of the story points to’.

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