Colonial Period (1505 CE – 1645 CE)
Between 1560 and 1621, the Portuguese Captain Major and Governor
of Ceylon, Filipe de Oliveriya was responsible for the demolition
of over 500 Hindu temples. In 1575, the Chilapam Muneswaram Kovil
in Chillaw was destroyed. This was followed in 1588 by the demolition
of the Vishnu Kovil in Devinuwera, and the Mathoddam Tirukethieswaram
Kovil in Matota. The capture of Jaffna in 1619 changed the nature
of Portuguese control over the Tamil kingdom. No longer did the
Portuguese exert control through a subject but sovereign royal family.
Control was now direct. As a consequence, the spread of Christianity
accelerated, as did the destruction of temples. The Nallur Kandasamy
Kovil was demolished under orders given by de Oliveriya on 2 February
1621, the day he assumed office as the senior Portuguese official
in Jaffna. In 1622, the last great Ariya Chakravarti temple, the
Thirukonamalai Tiru Konesar Kovil in Trincomalee was also torn down.
In both Jaffna and Trincomalee, temple masonry was used to enhance
the fortifications being built by the new colonial masters to withstand
assault by modern weaponry. In Jaffna and in other towns, the destroyed
temples were provided the building blocks for churches.
Perhaps the greatest crime was de Oliveriya's destruction of the
Saraswati Mahal, which held the Ola leaf and copper-plate inscriptions
containing the history of the oldest written language in the world.
This ancient museum and library, the repository of all the lore
and history of the Tamil people, was destroyed without a trace.
The main Portuguese objective in Lanka was the exploitation of
trade. As a consequence, once coastal areas were controlled (and
therefore denied to a rival trade power), the Portuguese were content
to limit their incursions into the interior. No effort was made
to develop any infrastructure or trade in the Jaffna area. Early
evangelism was encouraged however, and many Tamils who had experienced
faith conversions through the proselytising efforts of Christian
missionaries in the century since the Portuguese arrival, were joined
by those converted by the sword, or through commercial expediency.
On 21 June 1658, the Dutch captured Jaffna, bringing to an end
the thirty-seven and a half years of Portuguese occupation.