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Historical review

Forensic aspect of the death of King Seethawaka Rajasinghe


N. D. N. A. Mendis ,

Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, LK
About N. D. N. A.
Department of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology
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R. A. R. P. Susantha

Nugegoda Ayurvedic Medical Clinic, LK
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Seethawaka kingdom existed for a relatively short period of 72 years, 1521-1593 AD. Mayadunne was the first king of Seethawaka and King Rajasinghe succeeded him in 1581. His sudden demise in 1592 is shrouded in mystery and speculations with some considering it to be a result of intentional poisoning. In this research, we investigate the information with regard to intentional harm, circumstances and cause of death.


Many primary sources of information including ola leaves dating back to the late 16th century were reviewed while many other secondary sources were also referred.


According to many sources King Rajasinghe sustained a bamboo thorn prick at Pethangoda on his return after a losing battle with King Vimaladharmasuriya I. Many historical accounts and a particular ola leaf letter indicate that a poisonous substance was applied on the king’s wound. Recently a few researchers have put forward a theory that the king died of tetanus.


However, it is our view that tetanus is an unlikely condition in this situation. Presence of cyanide in the bamboo stem could have been the lethal substance.


It is also noted that constituents of the wound dressing are known to possess antimicrobial, antiseptic and many other medicinal properties.


The recent discovery of potent antibiotic in horse dung raises a question as to whether physicians in that era knew about the presence of such antimicrobial substance.


In conclusion it is our view that the king probably died of cyanide poisoning and alleged poisonous substances in fact may have been used as treatment in good faith.

How to Cite: Mendis, N.D.N.A. and Susantha, R.A.R.P., 2020. Forensic aspect of the death of King Seethawaka Rajasinghe. Sri Lanka Journal of Forensic Medicine, Science & Law, 11(2), pp.50–57. DOI:
Published on 17 Dec 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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