Saturday, 28 March 2015 00:02
From a painting by Capt. O’Brien 1864
April seems to be a significant month for Kandy. It was in April 1815 that the British took over the Kandyan kingdom, thereby bringing the entire country under their rule. Fifty-one years later, in April 1866 Kandy became a Municipal Council under the Municipal Council Ordinance of 1865. This means that the Council has just stepped into the 150th year as a Municipal Council in Sri Lanka – a milestone in its history.
Kandy was the second municipal council to be established in the country. The first was Colombo. It was set up on 22 November 1865. While Kandy MC was set up on 20 April 1866, it was followed up by Galle – on 20 December the same year.
The Municipal Council Ordinance No. 17 of 1865 was enacted following the recommendations of the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission (1829-32) which was sent by the British Government to examine and report on administrative, economic and judicial reforms. One of the main recommendations was the establishment of the Executive and Legislative Councils.
The Municipal Council Ordinance transferred responsibility for a part of local administration to local residents. The municipal councils comprised elected and appointed members. From 1931 all members were elected.
Kandy is ‘Maha Nuvara’ (big city) to Sri Lankans. Also referred to as ‘Kanda Uda Pasrata’ (hill country or up country), the Portuguese had used a shorter version by calling it ‘Candea’ or ‘Candia’ later being used as Kandy. Senkadagala Pura and Sirivardhana Pura are two official names used around the 18th century.
Kandy as a capital city dates back to the 14th century when from time to time Sinhalese kings had been resident. Attempts by the Portuguese to keep Dona Catherina, a Sinhalese princess who became a Catholic and took a Portuguese name, as queen of the hill country were thwarted by Rajasinghe I, King of Sitawaka. He in turn was defeated in battle by a nephew of a former king with Portuguese assistance.
A son of Weerasundara Mudali of Peradeniya by the name of Konappu Bandara defeated the Portuguese in a battle at Danture, ousted Yamasinha Bandara and ascended the throne as Vimaladharmasuriya in 1592. He married Dona Catherina, thus securing his right to the throne. Thereafter Kandy continued to be the capital until 1815.
Just as much as Kandy was the last capital of Sri Lanka, it was also the last stronghold of Sinhala culture. Kandy continued to preserve most of the traditional arts and crafts, religious practices and time-honoured customs and values even after the British occupation.
The presence of the sacred Tooth Relic, venerated by Buddhists the world over, has made Kandy the centre of Buddhism.
Kandy has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is one of six major sites in the Cultural Triangle selected for conservation by UNESCO.
Describing Kandy as “a city floating in the heavens”, Professor Nimal de Silva writes in the UNESCO publication, ‘The Cultural Triangle’: “The character of a typical medieval city was preserved when Kandy was established as the capital of the hill country. The hierarchy was emphasised by the privileged location of the royal palace and the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic high up on the terraces of the eastern hill, overlooking the residential area with its roads laid out on a regular grid orientated to the cardinal points. The palace was physically separated from the sanctuary area by a moat, an open esplanade and a group of religious buildings. The temples dedicated to Natha, Vishnu and the Goddess Pattini were planned as sacred precincts surrounded by stone walls with entrance gateways. The temple of the God Kataragama was located within the residential area, but close to the palace.”