FORTS & SHIPS by Bhadraji jayatilaka (බලකොටු සහ නව්කා) – Book Review by Ananda Markalanda

Dom Lourenço, son of the Portuguese viceroy in India, was sailing his galleon off the island’s southwest coast when storms forced him to seek shelter. These strange foreigners, who in reality were dressed in armor, ate bread, drank red wine and brandished firearms, had arrived at the settlement later known as Galle.


By 1500 trade in the Indian Ocean was dominated by Arab, Indian, Malay, and Chinese merchants, who together used various seafaring craft to transport a spectrum of cargo, from spices to elephants. In the early 16th century this new European force, in the form of sailing ships with mounted cannons, arrived in the Indian Ocean. Their vessels, with their firepower and capacity for high speeds, helped implement a policy of control that began to undermine the region’s long-standing, relatively open trade competition. By establishing the sea route round the Cape, Portugal undercut the Venetian over land trade with its profusion of middlemen. The new route is firmly secured for Portugal by the activities to secure their ability to trade, the Portuguese seized ports and built fortifications on shores along their route to the East chasing Moors from the trade. Portugal had men with a sense of ardor and aggression and an attraction to military escapades. In 1521 three sons of Vijayabahu, the reigning king of Kotte, put their father to death and partitioned the kingdom among them. The oldest of the brothers, Bhuvanaika Bahu, ruled at Kotte, and the two others set up independent kingdoms at Sitawake and Rayigama. Mayadunne, the king of Sitawake, was an ambitious and able ruler who sought to expand his frontiers at the expense of his brother at Kotte. Bhuvanaika Bahu could not resist the temptation of seeking Portuguese assistance, and the Portuguese were eager to help him.

Award winning writer Bhadraji Jayatilaka’s book (බලකොටු සහ නව්කා ) Forts & Ships explores the Portuguese influence in Sri Lanka in this period with an emphasis on connections, interactions and adaptations and conversions. Throughout the book, Jayatilaka brings Ceylon to life. Its people, their customs, the land itself. The author allows the people of Ceylon to speak. Women, men, lords, ladies and courtesans. And there are a smattering of Moor traders who fear the arrival of Portuguese and what it means for their trade and future and economic monopoly on the island. බලකොටු සහ නව්කා is an eye-opening window into the world of Buddhist dominated Ceylon during the Kotte period encompassing the level of intrigue and plots among rulers. It capturers reader’s imagination as Bhadraji describes scenes in a very detailed and engaging way thru characters and history. His writing style is so captivating.

Ananda Markalanda .
Jan 2017