Even the Hills Wept

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 4 2021
Echo Even the Hills Wept

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

“Real love is always chaotic. You lose control; you lose perspective. You lose the ability to protect yourself. The greater the love, the greater the chaos. It’s a given and that’s the secret.”

– Jonathan Carroll, 

White Apples

Love could be chaotic if it loses control. It could burn the soul of the lovers and burn the lives of many when it turns chaotic. Our history has witnessed such chaotic love stories; love that has burned and destroyed people and shaken entire kingdoms. The historic love story we bring to you today is one such love story that actually shook the kingdom of Kandy during the 18th century. This is a tragic story of two lovers, whose fate betrayed them very badly. Born as foreigners, both of them had tragic consequences in a foreign land, among foreigners, most of them being vicious conspirators. Before we start, we must apologise to you if this breaks your heart and makes you lose faith in love. 

This is the tragic tale of Dascon and Pramila. Pramila was the queen consort of Sri Lanka’s last Sinhalese king, King Sri Veera Parakrama Narendrasingha (1707-1739) and Dascon was his best friend and the king’s most trusted man in court as well as the second Adigar. Therefore, this is also a tale of love, friendship, betrayal, and political conspiracies. 

Among the few historic love stories we know, the story of Dascon and Pramila could be the most celebrated story in arts and literature. The story is so captivating for the fact that the fate of the two lovers was unfairly wretched. However, there is very little historical and archaeological evidence to explore this story; hence we have to largely rely on folklore. 

The last Sinhalese king

King Narendrasingha is known as the last Sinhalese king. He was the son of King Vimaladharmasuriya II and a Yakada Doli (non-royal wife of the king) known as Muthukuda Devi. King Narendrasingha was also known as the Prince of Kundasale (Kundasale kumaraya) and the playful king (Sellam nirindu) for two reasons. He earned the first name as he built a beautiful wooden palace in Kundasale and lived there as the king and he spent most of his life in Kundasale. The latter he earned for his playful nature; folklore says that he had many affairs when he was a prince and then many concubines after he became the king. It is also said that he used to consume a notable amount of alcohol. 

No Sinhalese prince ascended to the throne after the death of King Narendrasingha in 1739. Although he had many concubines, known as Yakada Dolis, his Ran Doli or Queen consort was a princess of the Madurai Nayak dynasty. Marrying princesses of neighbouring foreign royal dynasties was nothing new for the Sinhalese royals and it had been happening for many centuries. 

King Narendrasingha had other wives including a daughter of the Monarawila family of Matale and a noblewoman of the Muthukude family (the king’s mother was from this family). The Yakada Doli of the Monarawila family bore two sons to the king. 

There is also folklore that another noblewoman of the Palle Walawwa, Kurukohogama who was forced to marry the king, committed suicide.

According to some historical sources and folklore, King Narendrasingha was a ruler who did not fulfil his duties and responsibilities as a king and would spend most of his time dedicated to arts, literature, his many women, and drinking.

Pramila: from Madurai to Kandy

Pramila was a Madurai princess of the Madurai Nayak dynasty. The Madurai Nayak dynasty was a royal dynasty with a long and rich history in South India. The Kandy Nayaks were descendants of them. 

According to some historical sources she was also known as the Udumalai Devi. Udumalai is a town in South India, Tiruppur District, of Tamil Nadu. Pramila was the daughter of Pitti Nayakkar and Abhirami Devi. Hailing from a powerful royal dynasty, their relatives settled in Malabar Street in Kandy. Little is known about the early life of this queen. However, we know that her brother, later known as King Vijaya Rajasingha was born and brought up here in Kandy. He was educated by monks and learned the Sinhala language and Buddhism. 

Pramila, as folklore says, was new to the Kandyan Kingdom. She was in the prime of her youth when she married the young king and was extremely beautiful, delicate, and naive. The entire royal court was a foreign place to the new queen. Although she was the Queen Consort or the Ran Doli, there were many other wives and concubines of the King. She spoke Telugu and was a Hindu by practice. 

Dascon: from Gascogne to Kandy

Pedro Dascon or Pierre de Gascogne was the son of a French father and Portuguese mother. According to village folklore, Dascon’s father arrived in Sri Lanka on a French ship during the early 17th century and settled here. The family lived in Kandy and little Dascon was educated by Buddhist monks and therefore, he was fluent in the Sinhala language. It is also said that he was a gifted poet and writer. (Gascogne is a province in Southern France).

According to village folklore Dascon and King Narendrasingha’s friendship started during their childhood. They were both educated at the Sooriyagoda Rajamaha Vihara in Kandy.

Young and educated Dason was the closest friend of the crown prince, Narendrasinghe. After becoming king, he appointed his most trusted friend as the Adigar which made the Sinhalese chieftains jealous and conspire against Dascon.

When two lonely hearts meet

Queen Pramila and Dascon both had many things in common. They both were new to the Kandyan kingdom. We could assume that the beautiful Madurai queen was subjected to the jealousy of the many concubines of the king. According to some local tales she had spent most of her time alone at her own palace, while the king spent most of his time at the main palace with his many concubines and drinking.

On the other hand, Dascon, who was powerful and talented had won the trust of the king and held a powerful position in the court. It is said that many chieftains of the king were conspiring against Dascon.

Love blossoms in the Sakman Maluwa

The king would send Dascon to visit the queen and to see how she was doing. Gradually the two developed a deep friendship. The sensitive, talented, and kind-hearted Dascon was a perfect companion for the lonely young queen. It is said that Dascon would compose poems for the queen and spend hours together at her palace.

According to folklore, their love blossomed at the Sakman Maluwa or the walking path of the queen’s palace where they would meet often and share poems and thoughts.

When love loses control

The queen had no children. King Narendrasinghe had sons from his Yakada Dolis. Therefore, pressure and discrimination were on the queen. The King arranged for a religious ceremony to evoke blessings for the queen. This was a local belief known as a baliya. To perform this, a life-size and lifelike sculpture of the person to be blessed had to be created. Artisans were called and preparations for the grand royal religious event were made. 

A life-size clay sculpture of the queen was made. Dascon arrived at the place to inspect the preparations and noticed that something was missing on the sculpture. It was a birthmark of the queen on the upper part of her thigh. Noticing that it was missing, Dascon, without realising the dire consequences of this, made a mark on the sculpture of the thigh.

After some time, the King arrived at the place. Noticing the secret birthmark on the sculpture, the King was furious. He was the only person supposed to know this secret birthmark of the Queen. First, thinking it was the fault of the artisan, the King almost killed him out of rage. Fearing for his life, the poor artisan had to shed the secret. 

King Narendrasingha was betrayed by his best friend and his queen. Furious and losing his mind, he ordered Dascon to be imprisoned and beheaded. He did not spare time to find out the truth or to question the guilty parties. Dascon was beheaded at Bogambara.

According to some tales, Dascon while in prison composed poems to be sent to the king. The queen was under house arrest for some time. Nothing is known about her after this tragic incident. 

After the turbulence

Nevertheless, King Narendrasingha ruled for 32 long years and died in 1739. He named Queen Pramila’s brother Vijaya Rajasingha as the next king. Perhaps the queen continued to live after the death of Dascon as she hailed from a powerful royal dynasty. Her parents and her family were in Kandy and her brother became the next king of Kandy. He was the first Nayak king of Sri Lanka. 

No one knows why Dascon acted so lame and dug his own grave. According to some historians, this was all part of a political conspiracy. This tragedy leaves us with many questions in our minds. Did Dascon actually mark the secret birthmark on the clay sculpture? If he did so, how did he know that the queen had a secret birthmark? Or was it just a vicious rumour spread by some jealous chieftains that led to the death of Dascon? Or, did Dasconactually fall in love with the queen?

We might never find out the truth. We might never know what happened to the beautiful Pramila after the death of her beloved Dascon. 

“Love is blind

And lovers cannot see

The pretty follies

That themselves commit”

– William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy | Published: 2:00 AM Dec 4 2021

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