The Tamil kings



Robert Egeter van Kuyk


The Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka have had their sovereigns, like the Sinhalese to the south, but the history of their kingship is not widely known. The Kingdom of Yapanapatinam (‘port of the Yapuna’), to use its old name, covered more or less an area from north of Mannar on the west coast, to the east coast. It was related to the Tamil principalities in southern India, but had developed its own particular character. During periods of strong kingship in the south, Jaffna has been under Sinhalese suzerainty, to regain autonomy again when fortunes changed.


The list of Jaffna Kings one of whose titles was Sethu Kaavalar, Lord of the Sethusamudram (today’s Palk Strait).starts in the early 13th century with Kulangai Singai Aryan. In the middle of the 15th century the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kotte overran Jaffna, and its King fled to India. He came back, recaptured Jaffna, and ruled from the town of Nallur, that still exists. About a century later the Portuguese viceroy Dom Constantino de Bragança sent troops to take Jaffna, but he was beaten by King Puviraja Pandaram Pararajasekaram, and only Mannar remained in Portuguese hands. About 20 years, as well as two kings later, old King Puviraja returned to the throne and decided to attack the Portuguese. This was an unfortunate decision, because the Jaffna army was beaten and the King died. With permission of the Portuguese he was succeeded by  the last Kings of the Arya Cakravarti House  – Ethirimanna Cinkam and Cankili. Of these the first one assisted the Kandyan Kings of his day to get South Indian help against the Portuguese. He died peacefully in 1617. Cankili then had himself crowned as Segarasasekaran VIII and made a last ditch attempt to save Jaffna for his dynasty with help from South India and from Malabari corsairs. The latter did keep Portuguese sea forces at bay, but in the end the land forces took Jaffna.  In 1619 the last King of Jaffna was taken in battle against Felipe de Oliveira’s troops, take to Goa to be hanged, and the royal standard with the reclining sacred bull was struck.


With King Sri Vijaya Raja Sinha of Kandy (1739-1747) a Tamil dynasty from the south of India ascended the Kandyan throne; its last King Sri Vikrama Raja Sinha (1798-1815) had to cede sovereignty to the British.


There are at the present moment still several persons who pretend to the throne of the former Jaffna kingdom.