The return of King Kanakacuriyan

By Peter Schalk

When in December 1995 the Lankan forces captured Yalppanam, President Cantirika celebrated the event as if it was a famous repetition of a historical event - the taking of Yapa Patuna (Yalppanam) by Canpakap Perumal (Sapumal Kumaraya).

Canpakap Perumal was the adopted son of Parakramabahu VI (1411-66), and he was installed in about 1450 as King in Yapa Patuna, at a time when the autonomous Kingdom of Yalppanam under the Tamil King Kanakacuriyan was weakened. The place name Yapa Patuna is connected with the establishment of Lankan rule in Yapa Patuna through Sapumal Kumaraya. Later he became King of Kotte under the name of Bhuvanekabahu VI (1469-77). He chose a political involvement that brought him to the Sinhala side against the interest of Tamilar who were loyal to the separate and independent Kingdom of Yalppanam.

On December 2, 1995, the Lankan armed forces penetrated the Nallurkovil in Yalppanam. Pictures of the uniformed conquerors in the kovil were flashed all over the country and the rest of the world by the press affiliated to the Lankan Government. The conquerors had pierced the “heart” of the Ilavar.

Political Buddhism was also evoked in this process. The state controlled paper The Daily News reported on December 11, 1995, that the President had expressed her gratitude to the Maha Sangha for their advice, support and blessings during the recent military offensive that established the writ of the Government in Jaffna. Visiting the Dalida Maligava, she said that Sri Lankan leaders have always visited the Sri Dalida Maligava to invoke the blessings of the Triple gem on occasions of national importance. “We are following that tradition by paying homage to the Sacred Tooth relic on this occasion when our security forces have liberated Jaffna”, she said.

She did not say that the war to conquer Yalppanam was holy, but her conscious connecting the land taking by war with the veneration in the Dalida Maligava is a very clear expression of a martial form of Buddhism.

Then, the ceremony of conquering Yalppanam took place in Colombo on December 6, 1995, led by Her Excellency Cantirika, who received from the hand of her Defense Minister, General Anuruddha, a message dated 2939 in the Buddhist era, written on a scroll rolled up inside a red velvet container. [The date refers to years from the nirvana of the Buddha]. The message said that in Yapa Patuna her authority and rule was established. She repeated the historical incident by using the political scene as stage where she played the role of Parakiramapaku VI, and Anuruddha the role of Sapumal.

Sapumal was celebrated and remembered in a famous 15th century kavi in Sinhala called Kokila Sandesaya that was used as the literary and ideological basis for Her Excellency Cantirika, when arranging the triumphant ceremony of the victory over Yapa Patuna in December 1995. The kavi describes the city, its prosperity, its crowds of dancing girls, and mentions that the former Tamil King had escaped and gone into exile.

“A valiant prince, the guardian of realm

Shines like the seat where Laksmi sits enthroned

To Him, Sri Lanka’s light, a message bear.

Though long be the way and great the toil.

Great Sapumal is he, our royal scion,

Who made King Arya Cakravarti flee.
He now in strength proud Yapa Patuna holds;
And thither thou art on mission bound”.

Kokila Sandesaya in Sinhala is known to many Lankans and is now easily available in many bookshops. It was written by Irrugalcula Parivenadipati, a Buddhist monk from Mulgirigala, in the 15th century. In the Sandesaya, Sapumal is said to shine like Laksmi’s seat (verse 8) i.e., that fortune is ever present in him, and that Laksmi holds him still in fond embrace (verse 28). Cantirika chose a more formal relation to Anuruddha.

The poem was retrieved from oblivion in 1917, when W F Gunavardhana mudaliyar published it and added a translation into English. He also added comments with a political edge, that for many decades has influenced the minds of the readers. He could of course not foresee the present development, but he used history as an omen for the future.

He introduced the poem by saying that the peninsula of Jaffna had always been a part of the Sinhalese country, except during a time of national weakness it had been seized and colonised by Tamils from Pandya, under a General named Arya Cakravarti, who erected it into an independent kingdom and became its first ruler. Then after some generations Prince Sapumal came, at the head of an army, to reduce the Kingdom of Jaffnapatnam into subjection to the Sinhalese throne.

The points of this comment are that Jaffnapatnam was lost through weakness to a foreign ruler, that the Kingdom of Yalppnam was illegal because it was conquered and that the Tamils are foreign latecomers and colonisers in the 13th century. Jaffnapatnam should be brought back to where it belongs, to the Sinhalese throne.

The Kokila Sandesaya has to be read within this context of warism against Tamilar in the beginning of the 20th century. In another Sandesaya, the Selahini Sandesaya, we learn about the victorious arrival of Sapumal to Kotte. He is described as Indra – like.

This Sandesaya is read in schools. It is therefore not at all far-fetched for the President to make this kavi a charter of her own “royal” performance. She knows how to use symbolic action to convey the message of the establishment of authority in Yalppanam.

She does not deviate for that matter from the former Presidents, from “King” J.R. Jayavardhana who placed himself in an unbroken tradition of rulers, and “King” Ranasinghe Premadasa who each 2nd January repeated the royal coronation ceremony in the Dalida Maligava in Nuvara. Her Excellency has followed this royal pattern by reviving the 15th century court ritual in Kotte. Her “court” also is a royal stage. That gives her appearance a traditional look. Cantirika is de facto not a Queen, but in spite of their bourgeois backgrounds, Presidents have taken up royal roles in state rituals.

It is evident from the “royal” ceremony on 6th December 1995 that Her Excellency Cantirika, takes the role of Parakramabahu VI, and Anuruddha Ratwatte, the role of Sapumal Kumaraya. In propaganda literature, Ratwatte was explicitly referred to as the modern day Prince Sapumal.

The ceremony was enacted with help of some historians who evidently had offered their services to the politicians. We learn on December 6th from the Government paper The Daily News that historians had already looked upon the liberation of “Yapa Patuna of ancient fame”, as a historical parallel to its re-taking by Prince Sapumal in the 15th century by vanquishing the forces of “rebel chief” Arya Cakkaravartti. The names of these “historians” are not given.

The ceremony is a projection of regressive symbolic thinking. The title of “General” was conferred to Ratwatte at the Wickrama Samana (Gallantry Awards) ceremony on Independence Day, 1996.

Tiru Velupppillai Pirapakaran has been given by implication the role of the former conquered Tamil King Kanakacuriyan in exile.

The homology breaks down, however, when we see what Sapumal Kumaraya II (Anuruddha Ratwatte), found in Yapa Patuna. He did not find prosperity and crowds of dancing girls, but ruins and some hundred elderly and sick people who could not escape from the war.

From the point of view of Ilavar, the final military establishment of Lankan authority is an establishment of Lankan hegemony. The other side of authority, is, as we know, hegemony. The “royal” ritual does not express authority to the Ilavar, but haughtiness of power that neglects the aspirations of the Ilavar and shows contempt towards them. Haughtiness of power counteracts confidence building as expressed in the winning-of-heart-and-mind-programme started after the military victory by the Government in Yalppnam.

Furthermore, the implicit connecting of Tiru Velupppillai Pirapakaran with King Kanakacuriyan is explosive: King Kanakacuriyan came back around 1467 from Indian exile with an army and re-established the Kingdom of Yalppanam. The historical advisors of the President were evidently not well versed in history or they withheld this information from Her Excellency. Their historical paradigm to be repeated by the President includes its own destruction.

If history repeats itself, then King Kanakacuriyan has to come back. In April 2000, he already knocks at the door of Yalppanam.

The ceremony of conquering Yalppanam has left a deep scar in the memory of many Ilavar. They discuss and remember the incident again and again, and it has become a part of their state of mind, of a humiliated mind that called for revenge. The ceremony was taken up as a human rights violation in 1997 in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 53rd Session, Geneva (March-April, 1997).

On November 27, 1995, Tiru Veluppillai Pirpakaran made a speech in connection with Great Heroes’ Day. At that time the lion flag had already been hoisted over Yalppanam. He reacted very emotionally as can be expected. The following is an official translation by the LTTE of a part of his speech.

“The Sinhala military devils may hoist victory flags in depopulated Jaffna which has been reduced to rubble. The Sinhala chauvinistic gangs in the South may light crackers in jubilation assuming that they have captured the kingdom of Jaffna. Chandrika may send peace signals believing that military hegemony has been achieved. In these circumstances we wish to make it absolutely clear that as long as the Sinhala army is occupying Jaffna the doors for peace will be firmly closed. The LTTE will not participate in the peace negotiations imposed at the point of a gun subjecting itself to military pressure. This is the message we wish to address to Chandrika regime. It will be nothing other than political stupidity if Chandrika government thinks that it can bring about peace and political settlement by occupying Jaffna and uprooting hundreds of thousands of people. The invasion of Jaffna is a gigantic historical blunder made by Chandrika regime. As a consequence of this act the Colombo government has closed all avenues for peace and plunged the entire island into grave conflictual situation.”

Revenge the Ilavar got, indeed, in a Tamil kuttu, (droll, ludicrous action, or drama) enacted at Mavirar Naal (Great Heroes Day), in Paris in November 1996. A group of actors enacted the solemn ceremony again on the stage, but this time as a farce. The roles of the President and the General were staged by young Ilavar who had gained an intimate knowledge about personal characteristics of the two Sinhala leaders’ public verbal and bodily performance. The kuttu ended by the arrival of the Tamil freedom fighters and their struggle against the brutalised Sinhala army. The freedom fighters were victorious, of course. The young Ilavar on the stage made the President and her General prisoners and ordered them to do heavy labour consisting of carrying tombstones to the graves of the tiyakikkal (martyrs), of the Ilavar. Parts of the public in the theatre got so emotional that it rose from the seats, raising their fists, shouting and scolding the two “prisoners”.

History repeats itself not only for the benefit of Sapumal Kumaraya, but also for the benefit of King Kanakacuriyan. He came back from exile with an army and re-established the Kingdom of Yalppnam.

The Ilavar journal Hot Spring, issued in London, had on its front page a picture from the kuttu showing “the President” in rage, and her “General”. It is evident that this theatrical performance aimed at reversing the process from virtual reality to reality by anticipating the re-capture of Yalppnam by the LTTE. That was in 1996.

In 2000 or later, virtual reality may become reality, because history has to repeat itself. We have to thank Cantirika and her Sinhala Court historians for this deep insight.

Peter Schalk
28 Apr 2000

See also - Tamil Eelam in the last millennium