By Senaka Weeraratna
|We have lost our King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last King of the Kingdom of Kandy in Ceylon because the British captured and exiled him to India, ending a long line of predominantly Sinhalese kings and queens that had lasted around 2 400 years.
I wish the British were as kind to the kings of other countries they conquered in South Asia as they are to their current monarch today.
We have lost our King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last King of the Kingdom of Kandy in Ceylon because the British captured and exiled him to India, ending a long line of predominantly Sinhalese kings and queens that had lasted around 2 400 years. .
The British Empire did the same in India. They captured the last king of the Mughal Empire Bahadur Shah II after the so-called Indian mutiny in 1857 and sent the old king to a British prison in Burma where he died in exile. But he did not die unrecognized. He left a thought-provoking verse that still resonates today. His sadness conveyed in this verse that upon his death he will not be buried in his own beloved country, India, can still move people to tears. The British scored another triumph in expanding the empire when they successfully invaded Burma using sepoys and Indian coolies as soldiers. The British captured Upper Burma in 1826 and Lower Burma in 1886. The proud Burmese dynasty that had given leadership to Southeast Asia and beyond in the form of the line of Bagan kings and civilization heathen, was overthrown. The last Burmese King Thibaw was expelled from Burma by British officers in 1886 and exiled to India. He would never see Burma again.
A Buddhist monk left a moving verse lamenting the downfall of the King of Kandy in 1815, saying after observing a procession of ants as he swept the garden of his Malwatte temple in Kandy, as follows: “O ants, even you have a King; alas we do not, that is why we lament.
Groaning in agony, the proud Sinhalese people of Kandyan who had fiercely fought and defended the Kingdom of Kandy against invasion and conquest by European conquistadors (1693-1815), lost their farmland when British colonists seized their land to plant coffee and tea. The Kandyans found themselves without land and without resources overnight. Some families starved due to lack of food as they were denied land to grow food by the Chena culture.
What the people of Sri Lanka urgently need now are not preposterous sermons on human rights, but a sincere commitment to accountability for colonial crimes and to reparations. Evildoers must also engage in catharsis.
The British killed over 10,000 wild elephants to clear the mountainous region for planting coffee and tea. It was really a holocaust of elephants and other animals. These animals in the desert had become so accustomed to centuries of peaceful coexistence between humans and animals in ancient Sri Lanka under the rule of benevolent Buddhist kings, that they were shocked when they saw humans, i.e. European trophy hunters, professional reward hunters, and European settlers popping up out of nowhere to shoot them and claim a bounty on the corpses of these poor animals from a colonial authority. An unprecedented practice in pre-colonial Sri Lanka.
What do King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (Sri Lanka), King Bahadur Shah II (India) and King Thibaw (Burma) have in common?
They were all overthrown by the British colonial government and exiled to foreign lands, thus depriving the people of those lands of having their own kings. The British, however, had no qualms about retaining their king from the House of Windsor.
Finally, I wish the British Empire had left the kings of South Asia alive so that today we can join the good people of Britain and sing together “God Save the King” on a universal basis.