Nayaks of Kandy

Kandy Nayak Dynasty
Country Sri Lanka
Parent house Madurai Nayak Kingdom
Founded 1739
Founder Sri Vijaya Raja Singha
Final ruler Sri Vikrama Rajasinha
Current head None
Dissolution 1815 under the terms of the Kandyan Convention
Ethnicity Telugu people
Cadet branches None
Part of a series on the
History of Kandy
Kingdom of Kandy (14691815)
Colonial Kandy (18151948)
Kandy (1948present)
See also
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The Nayaks of Kandy (a.k.a. Kandy Nayak Dynasty) were the rulers of Sri Lanka with Kandy as their capital from 1739 to 1815. They were also the last dynasty to rule Sri Lanka. They were related to the Madurai Nayak dynasty[1] and to the Tanjore Nayak dynasty.[2] There were four kings of this lineage and the last king, Vikrama Rajasinha, was captured by the British and exiled to Vellore Fort in India[3]

Much earlier to the establishment of the Kandy Nayak dynasty, it was not unknown for the Sinhalese to take wives from ruling clans across Southern India.[4] The first to do so was King Vijaya who procured his royal consort from the city of Madurai.[4] Later kings followed suit.

Because the Kandy kings received military support from the Nayaks of Madurai and the Tanjore Nayak dynasty[5] to fight off the Portuguese, alliances between Kandy, Madurai and Tanjore were already established. In the 17th and 18th centuries, marital alliances between Kandyan kings and Nayak princesses were a matter of policy.[4] When a Sinhalese Kandyan king, Narendra Sinha, died without an offspring, the brother of his Madurai Nayak queen succeeded the throne in 1739 under the crown name of Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha.[2] Thus in 1739 the Nayaks came to rule the Kandy kingdom.[4]

These Nayak kings continued to marry with their Tanjore and Madurai counterparts. The Nayak kings were Hindus. They later converted to Buddhism and were responsible for renaissance of Buddhist culture in the Island.


The Nayaks of South India started as governors of Vijayanagara Empire ruling parts of Tamil Nadu during the 14th and 15th centuries. After the Vijayanagara Empire collapsed in the mid-16th century some of these governors declared independence and established their own kingdoms in Gingee, Tanjore, Madurai and Chandragiri. They are Telugu speaking community.[6] According to a Telugu work called Sinhaladvipa Katha, the Nayak king Kumara Krishnappa, who reigned at Madurai (1562–1572), is said to have conquered Kandy. Kumara Krishnappa killed the then reigning Kandy king, sent the late king's wife and children to Anuradhapura and placed his own brother-in-law Vijaya Gopala Naidu as his viceroy in Kandy.[7]

There was a continuous interaction between the Madurai, Tanjore and Ceylonese kingdoms. As with Kandy, military assistance and interaction also existed with the Jaffna Kingdom. When the Jaffna ruler Sankili II wanted to suppress a revolt by the growing Christian minority in Jaffna led by two Christian Mudaliyars, Dom Pedro and Dom Luis in 1618, he requested the support of the Tanjore king, Raghunatha Nayaka. Raghunatha Nayaka thence sent 5000 troops under the leadership of Varuna Kullatan.[5] However, later attempts by Raghunatha Nayak to recover the Jaffna kingdom from the Portuguese for his proteage, the prince of Rameshwaram, met with failure.[8] Raghunatha Nayak had made a number of attempts to recover the Jaffna Kingdom for the Prince of Rameshwaram with the help of Moors, Vadugas/Badagas and Maravas and the renegade King of Kandy, Dom Joas Wimaladharma.[9] The former princesses of Jaffna had been married to the Kandy King Senarat's stepsons, Kumarasingha and Vijayapala.[10] However, all their attempts to recover the Jaffna Kingdom from the Portuguese met with failure.

Earlier, during the reign of Achyutappa Nayaka of Tanjore, a Prince of Jaffna, Cankili II (Sankili Kumara) had murdered the regent Arasakesari and had been dispossessed of his kingdom by the Portuguese. The Jaffna King then went to the Tanjore court with his family and attendants and begged the assistance of the Tanjore King in regaining his kingdom. With troops under Kheen Naick of Tanjore, Sankili II went back to Jaffna and defeated the Portuguese. Soon later however the Portuguese dethroned him and repossessed Jaffna.[11] Thus it is seen that the Nayaks were linked with Ceylonese history, and with the Kandy and Jaffna kingdoms, prior to the formation of the Kandy Nayak line.

The last king of the Kandy Mahanuwara dynasty, Narendra Sinha, died in 1739 without an offspring from his queen. His queen was a Madurai Nayak princess. Narendra Sinha's had nominated a brother of his Madura queen to succeed him;[12] and he was crowned under the assumed title of Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha.[12] Thus, Sri Vijaya Rajasinha succeeded the throne and established the Kandy Nayak line.

The preceding dynasty

Main article: Kingdom of Kandy

The last king of the Kandy Mahanuwara dynasty was Vira Narendra Sinha who ruled from 1707 to 1739. This king ascended the throne in 1707 when he was seventeen and was considered to be a very pious and scholarly. In 1708 the king married a bride from Madurai Royal family, the daughter of Pitti Nayakkar. Again, in 1710, he married another bride from Madurai. He had no children by either of the queens. He also had a secondary Kandyan wife from noble family of Matale. She bore him a son. However, the children of the secondary wife were not considered heirs to the throne.[4] The king also had a concubine from a high caste, who bore him a son named Unambuwe, and did survive. The bar to his succession was the lack of royal status in the mother.

Thus, the king nominated, as his successor, the brother of his first queen who had remained at the court ever since his sister married him. According to the law of succession that prevailed in Ceylon, the throne passed almost always from father to son, born of a mahesi or from brother to brother. However, when Narendra Sinha's brother-in-law succeeded the throne, the Sinhalese Kandyan aristocracy had no problem with this new form of succession.[4] The practice of marrying princesses from Madurai is said to have come into occurrence as the Kandy kings insisted on consorts from the Suryavamsa lineage to grace their coronation and to produce heirs acceptable to the people.[13]


Sri Vijaya Rajasinha 1739–1747

The Brother-in-law of King Vira Narendra Sinha, Narendra Singha's first wife's brother, from the Madurai Nayak house, ascended the throne of Kandy, as Sri Vijaya Rajasinha.

The new king, considered to be a man of considerable culture, devoted his entire attention to the furtherance of the national religion Buddhism despite being a Hindu. He is said to have commissioned life sized images of Buddha in recumbent, standing and sitting postures to be cut in the rock caves in various parts of the country. His reign also marked several conflicts with the Dutch who were ruling the coastal provinces, based on trading issues. Sri Vijaya Rajasinha destroyed the churches and initiated a persecution against the Portuguese and Dutch, which was continued under Kirti Sri Rajasinha. It ceased only because the king considered that certain calamities which fell upon the country were due to his action.

He married a bride from the Royal family of Madurai. But by 1736 the 200-year-old Nayaka dynasty of Madurai came to an end with Muslims taking control of the whole country.

Marriage alliance with Madurai royal family

When the king ascended the throne he sought a wife from South India. For this purpose he sent messengers to Madurai in 1739. Since the Madurai Nayaks had now lost the power and prestige they enjoyed in the days of Vijayaranga Chokkanatha, the family members thought it advisable and even desirable to accept the offer from the king of Kandy. Hence the family of Bangaru Thirumala, who was now residing in Vellaikuruchi Fort near Thirupachetiram in Sivaganga Zamin responded. Two brothers Rama Krishnappa Nayaka and Narenappa Nayaka, kinsmen of Bangaru Tirumala Nayaka meet the Kandyan envoys at Ramnad. Narenappa Nayaka had a daughter of marriageable age and agreed to the Kandyan request. The brothers with their families and some kins accompanied the envoys to Ceylon for the daughter's nuptial; settled in Kandy with their kith and kin. Narenappa Nayaka was destined to be not only the father-in-law of one king, but the father of the next two kings of Kandy; for his two sons, the one five or six years old in 1740, and the other still an infant were successively to succeed Sri Vijaya Rajasinha.

Sri Vijaya Rajasinha married another Madurai princess in 1747. Each bride brought a contingent of relatives with royal lineage ultimately making Kandy their permanent home.

The king, however, died childless soon after, having nominated as his successor, his eldest brother in-law who had been living in the court ever since his sister had married the king. Thus by this peculiar mode of succession the son of Narenappa Nayaka who claimed kingship with the ruling Madurai Nayak family now ascended the throne of Kandy as Kirti Sri Rajasinha.

Kirti Sri Rajasinha 1747–1782

Kirti Sri Rajasinha was a prince from the Nayaks of Madurai royal family and brother-in-law to Sri Vijaya Raja Singha. He succeeded his brother-in-law to the throne in 1751.

He devoted the first few years of his reign to the advancement of literature and religion. The king, later with the Dutch assistance got down to learning Bhikkus from Siam (Thailand) for the purpose of advancing Buddhism in Sri Lanka, also building the Raja Maha Vihara (Gangarama) was built at Kandy. Kirti built the existing inner temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and caused the Mahavansa chronicle to be continued from the time of Parâkkamabâhu IV down to his own reign.

Attack on Dutch forts

In 1761 King Kirti Sri Rajasinha attacked the Dutch garrisons and forts at Matara, Katuwana, Tangalle, Marakade and Urubokke, completely destroying them, and killing Dutch while some surrendered and ended as prisoners.

In order to revenge the humiliation, the new Dutch governor Van Eck had immediate plans to attack Kandy, but the weakness in fortification and garrison forbade the Dutch. Later they did attach in 1764 and in 1765. Hence, in the early part of 1763 the Dutch were only consolidating their positions and gradually expelling Kandyans from the territories taken over from Dutch. Throughout 1763 the King continually sought peace and sent his envoys to discuss terms. The Governor wished the King to cede the three four and seven Korales and Puttlam and hand over the entire coastline of island to the Dutch. The king was not agreeable to any demand that diminished his sovereignty and was deliberately delaying a settlement hoping for help from the English in Madras after his discussion and negotiations with John Pybus 1762.

Meeting with the British

The King in mid-1762 sought help from George Pigot, Governor of Fort St George Madras for assistance. The British eager to obtain the monopoly of trading in cinnamon, pepper, betel nut (puwak) from the Kandyan Kings also wanted to expel the Dutch from the coasts. A reason to call on the British for assistance by the Kandyan King in 1762 was that after the treaty of Paris, the Dutch poured troops into Sri Lanka. They were bent on capturing Kandy from six directions (1764). Anticipating such a scenario the King sent an envoy to the English Governor of Madras to assist him in expelling the Dutch. This envoy, a junior Kandyan Official in the military made a clandestine trip to Madras Fort, and the English responded by sending their councillor Mr Pybus.

John Pybus, a writer of the British East India Company, sailed to Kandy with a backup of five ships and about 200 armed men. A British vessel brought Pybus to Trincomalee on 5 May 1762. The Dutch knew of the arrival of Pybus through their spies and they were kept informed of his movements. Pybus took an exhausting covert trip to meet the King on 24 May 1762. After several talks without any conclusive decisions Pybus left after a month. The King gave him a ring, sword, a gold chain with breast jewels and left the country crossing the river at Puttalam pass while the Dissawa who accompanied Pybus presented the ships commander Samuel Cornish a gold chain and a ring in the name of King "Kirti Sri Rajasinha".

John Pybus in his notes described the King as a man of tolerable stature, reddish in complexion and very brisk in his movements. Pybus was amazed as to how the kandyans had managed to fight a war with Dutch and had captured Matara Dutch Fort. He wrote that "They had put every European to the sword except two officers who are now prisoners of the country."


The Kandy King, Kirti Sri Rajasinha (Kirti Sri Maha Raja), married two daughters of Vijaya Manan Naicker, the grandson of Vijaya Raghava Nayaka of Tanjore[14] and also brought some dispossessed Nayaks of Tanjore to live in Kandy.[15] He also married the daughter of one Nadukattu Sami Nayakkar in 1749. He further married three more Nayakkar queens from Madurai, but had no children from them. He had six daughters and two sons by his favourite Sinhala lady (Yakada Doli), daughter of the late Dissave (Headman) of Bintenna and granddaughter of the blind and aged Mampitiya Dissave. Both his sons survived the king and his daughters' married Nayakkar relatives of the king. Mampitiya's sons claim for the throne was overlooked and the choice fell on the king's brother who was living in court.

The king died on 2 January 1782, of the injuries caused two months before by a fall from his horse after a reign of 35 years which the people saw as a great religious revival, and had a sentimental attachment to the King.

Sri Rajadhi Raja Singha 1782–1798

Brother of Kirti Sri Rajasinha, the new king who ascended the throne as Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha. He came from Madurai as a child along with his brother. Hence he was raised as a Kandyan and a Sinhala; emerging as a brilliant pupil of the Malwatte Temple's chief Prelate at that time. He was quite a sophisticated person and learned many languages amongst which were Pali and Sanskrit. A lavish patron of Buddhism, he was a great aficionado of poetry and he himself was a poet.

He died childless in 1798 without nominating a successor. The burden fell on Pilimatalava, the first Adigar (Prime Minister) Pilimatalawe, an able, ambitious and intriguing chief, to select a successor to the vacant throne. The controversial Adigar was also seen as one of the main reason for the demise of the dynasty.

Sri Vikrama Rajasinha 1798–1815

His Majesty Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, Last King of Ceylon

The next king who ascended the throne was Prince Kannasamy, the former kings' nephew, barely 18 years old. He was crowned under the title of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. He would also be the last king of the Kandy Nayakar dynasty and the last of Sri Lanka. During his time the British colony was fully established on other parts of Sri Lanka.

There was a rival claimant to succeed King Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha, the brother of Queen Upendramma, who had a stronger claim. However, Pilimatalawe, the first Adigar (prime Minister) choose the South Indian Prince to the Kandyan Throne, with reportedly deep seated plans to usurp the throne to set a new dynasty of his own. The young king, upon ascending the throne, faced many conspiracies and reigned through one of the most turbulent periods in Sri Lanka's history.

Internal conflict

During his time, the British who had succeeded the Dutch in the Maritime Provinces had not interfered in the politics of the Kandy. But Pilimatalava, the first Adigar of the king, started covert operations with the British to provoke the King into acts of aggression, which would give the British an excuse to seize the Kingdom. The Adigar manipulated the king into beginning a military conflict with the British, who had gained a strong position in the coastal provinces. War was declared and on 22 March 1803 the British entered Kandy with no resistance, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha having fled. The adigar massacred the British garrison in Kandy in June and restored the king to the throne. Pilimitalava plotted to overthrow the king and seize the crown for himself, but his plot was discovered, and, having been pardoned on two previous occasions, he was executed.

The disgraced adigar was replaced by his nephew, Ehelepola, who soon came under suspicion of following his uncle in plotting the overthrow of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. A rebellion instigated by Ehalepola was suppressed, after which he then fled to Colombo and joined the British. After failing to surrender (after 3 weeks of notice), the exasperated king dismissed Ehelepola, confiscated his lands, and ordered the imprisonment and execution of his wife and children. A propagandised account of the execution was widely circulated by sympathisers.

Ehelepola fled to British-controlled territory, where he persuaded the British that Sri Vikrama Rajasinha's tyranny deserved a military intervention. The pretext was provided by the seizure of a number of British merchants, who were detained on suspicion of spying and were tortured, killing several of them. An invasion was duly mounted and advanced to Kandy without resistance, reaching the city on 10 February 1815. On 2 March, the kingdom was ceded to the British under a treaty called the Kandyan Convention.

Exile and death

Sri Wikrama Rajasinha is said to have governed the Kandy Kingdom as per the laws of Manusmṛti.[16] On 2 March, the kingdom was ceded to the British under a treaty called the Kandyan Convention. Sri Vikrama Rajasinha was captured and sent along with his family and attendants as a royal prisoner by the British to Vellore Fort in southern India. A son was born to him while he was in exile but he died without an issue. The king then adopted the son of his daughter as his own son who was titled Alagia Manawala Sinhala Raja.[17] During Sri Vikrama Rajasinha's time as a royal prisoner in Vellore Fort the erstwhile king received a privy purse, which his descendants continued to receive from the Government of Sri Lanka until it was abolished in 1965. Sri Wikrama Rajasinha died of dropsy on 30 January 1832 aged 52 years.

Public works

For centuries Kandy, originally known as Senkadagala, has been the bastion of Sri Lanka's culture and its spiritual centre. The palace complex at Kandy includes Sri Lanka's most venerated shrine, the Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Raja Maha Vihara (Gangarama) was built at Kandy by the second Nayak king Kirti Sri Rajasinha while his successor Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha was a lavish patron of Buddhism. The first Nayak king Sri Vijaya Rajasinha is noted for various erection of Buddhist statues throughout the Kingdom. The Kandy Lake overlooking Kandy was commissioned by Sri Vikrama Rajasinha.

See also


  1. Enemy lines: childhood, warfare, and play in Batticaloa, By Margaret Trawick, p.40-41.
  2. 1 2 University of Ceylon review, Volumes 14–16, p.129.
  3. The Nayaks of Sri Lanka, 1739–1815: political relations with the British in South India, by Subramanian Gopalakrishnan, p.11-15.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Enemy lines: childhood, warfare, and play in Batticaloa, By Margaret Trawick, p.40.
  5. 1 2 Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands, By Chandra Richard De Silva, p.111, p.137.
  6. Llc, Books (2010-05-01). Madurai Nayak Dynasty: Puli Thevar, Palaiyakkarar, Nayaks of Kandy, Srivilliputhur, Thirumalai Nayak, Mangammal, Chokkanatha Nayak. General Books LLC. ISBN 9781155798967.
  7. Ancient Jaffna: being a research into the history of Jaffna from very early times to the Portug[u]ese period, by C. Rasanayagam, p.385.
  8. Nayaks of Tanjore, By V. Vriddhagirisan, pp.79–92.
  9. Nayaks of Tanjore, By V. Vriddhagirisan, p.79.
  10. An historical relation of the island Ceylon, Volume 1, by Robert Knox and JHO Paulusz, p.43.
  11. Ancient Jaffna: being a research into the history of Jaffna from very early times to the Portug[u]ese period, p.386-387
  12. 1 2 Census of Ceylon, 1946, Volume 1, Part 1, p.20
  13. Contacts Between Cultures: South Asia, by K. I. Koppedrayer, Amir Harrak, p.376
  14. University of Ceylon review, Volumes 14–16, p.129
  15. University of Ceylon review, Volumes 14–16, p.127
  16. Ceylon: a general description of the island and its inhabitants, By Henry Marshall, p.132
  17. Twentieth century impressions of Ceylon: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources, by Arnold Wright, p.65


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