The Beginning of the End
With the invasions from the Portuguese, Dutch and British between the 1500s to 1700s; the royal line of Ceylon grew quite muddy. The kings were unable leave heir or the heirs were lost in wars; and then other relatives had to take over.
The last Sinhalese king of Kandy, Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha, married two princesses from Madurai as was the custom amongst royals. During this time the foreign invasions from India had caused the Madurai Royals to lose their kingdom. It was while they had no place to stay and were fearing for their lives that the Ceylon king requested marriage of their princesses. As a result the royal family of Madurai moved to Ceylon along with the new brides and started living there.
But then the King Vira Parakrama Narendra Singha, who had no heirs, died of natural causes. There was no male left of the line to take over the crown. With no other option and the country in disarray from the foreign invasions; the brother-in-law of the king from the Madurai royals was enthroned. The new king Sri Vijaya Rajasingha was a Tamil speaking Hindu; but was a staunch defender of Buddhism. He protected the country, as best he was able, from the foreign invasions. But he too died soon and the crown passed on to his own brother-in-law Kirti Sri Rajasingha; who in turn passed the power over to his brother Rajadhi Rajasinha.
The Last King of Ceylon
Rajadhi Rajasingha made an unfortunate error of judgement and did not designate a successor before he died. The scheming Prime Minister Pilimatalawa took advantage of this and suggested the late king’s nephew, who was both too young and untrained. And so Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was crowned in 1798, at the tender age of 18. He was to be the last of the Nayak line of kings who ruled in Kandy; and the very last King of Ceylon.
Pilimatalawa expected to be able to pull the strings behind the throne as the king was young. He believed the new king would be easily influenced. He was so very wrong. Despite the harsh threats faced by the British invasions externally, and the insidious intrigue that was widespread amongst his court; Sri Wickrama Rajasingha proved to be quite capable at ruling and the Prime Minister’s schemes for power were soon revealed. Pilimatalawa was then executed, and his nephew Ehelepola took his place as the Prime Minister.
King Wickrama Rajasinghe made several lasting contributions to Kandyan architecture; including building the moat and the octagonal structure (Paththiripuwa) of the Temple of the Tooth. But his most memorable achievement was the construction of the artificial Kandy Lake. The king ruled for 17 years before tragedy struck.
The new Prime Minister Ehelepola awaited his chance to avenge his uncle and when the opportunity came; rebelled against his king and joined the British. The stress from these actions caused the usually mellow King Wickrama Rajasingha to go slightly mad. He brutally murdered his own family causing a loss of support amongst the public and the court. As a result when the British made their next attempt to invade Kandy; they succeeded unchallenged. The last king of Ceylon was captured and imprisoned in 1815.
The Prison Cell
The captured king was transported to the Colombo; which was then the capital used by the British. He was imprisoned in a separate jail cell; both to prevent rebellion and to serve as am example for the public. The jail cell was a tiny square space with just barely enough space to lie full length while sleeping. After being briefly held at this place, the king was transported to the Vellore Prison in India; where he died in 1932.
Finding the Prison of the Last King
The prison of the last king is strangely enough located literally within the parking lot of Ceylinco Insurance. This tiny pale orange cube with its curving scaled pink roof is quite easy to miss at the juncture of Janadhipadhi Mawatha and the Dutch Hospital. Located in the shade of the World Trade Center; the monument always has parked three-wheelers surrounding it.
You will find portraits of the King along with his queen inside; which you can view through bars. Some of his accomplishments are mentioned along with a painting of his royal standard. This standard now forms the core of Sri Lanka’s national flag. The back of the prison cell bears a hollowed out section with a bust of king standing within it.