King Seethawaka Rajasinghe the Monarch who suffered fromPTSD

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge –

According to the Western chronological records the first patients of PTSD were recorded in 1666. These records were based on Samuel Pepy’s diary which describes the bizarre behavior pattern of the survivors of the Great Fire of London. Samuel Pepy vividly portrayed the nightmares, intrusions and flashbacks experienced by these survivors. In 1876 American Civil War doctor Mandez Da Costa published a paper diagnosing Civil War veterans with PTSD like symptoms which he called Irritable Heart. During the World War 1 military psychologist explained a combat related stress feature called Shell Shock. In 1980 the word PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was delineated by the American Psychiatric Association after series of research work with the Vietnam veterans.

Although the Western World recorded PTSD in 1666 the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe the 16th century monarch of Sri Lanka believed to be suffered from combat related PTSD. King Seethawaka Rajasinghe (born in 1580 AD) was a great warrior who came to the battle field at the age of 16. He fought against the Portuguese invaders and witnessed many deaths and destructions. He was a fearless fighter who used effectual war tactics and overpowered the fully equipped and fully trained Portuguese war machine. Following the long years of combat he was exhausted and definitely suffered from battle fatigue.

In the later years the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe showed outburst of anger, irritability, deep mistrust, alienation, emotional numbing and various other PTSD related symptoms. There were clear personality changes in him. With these changes the great liberator launched a chain of terror against his own people creating a deep void in the hearts and minds. Hence the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe lost his due respect in the history. But no one can argue his courage and tactics which he demonstrated in the battle field. The invincible 16th century super power was in the verge of a defeat in front of his sward.
But what went wrong? Was he affected by the combat related PTSD?

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder which can follow psychologically distressing events like military combat. PTSD denotes intense prolonged and sometimes delayed reaction .The typical symptoms of PTSD occur after a traumatic event and the sufferers have persistent avoidance of any reminders of the event, numbing of general responsiveness and increased arousal. PTSD associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social and private life.

The history shows that the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe experienced a number of PTSD symptoms. On one occasion he gathered 100,000 soldiers and attacked the Portuguese Fort in Colombo. The Portuguese were desperate. Fear and famine fell upon them. Despite the attacks the Portuguese were able to get external naval support from Goa. The battle was a fiasco and the King became furious. He suspected most of his Generals and assassinated them one by one. King Seethawaka Rajasinghe poisoned his right wing man Wicramasinghe Maha Senevi then Weerasundara Bandara. These Generals helped him in numerous battles. He was under a deep suspicion and believed in a conspiracy theory.

He acted as a tyrant and used brutal methods to punish people. He never felt any remorse or compassion. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe even killed his own father Mayadunne which can be interpreted as a reaction following emotional anesthesia. Emotional anesthesia or emotional numbing is a distinctive feature of PTSD. In the later years he turned against the religion (which can be interpreted as avoidance also a cardinal symptom in PTSD). He embraced Hinduism and murdered thousands of his subjects who refused to follow Hinduism. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe destroyed Buddhist temples and killed Buddhist monks by drowning.

His emotions were unstable. Very often he acted with sudden rage. Gradually he made him self alienated. He had no close associates and the King became an isolated and a broken man. After many battles he was physically and mentally worn out. Many aristocrats had left him because they could not stand his false accusations and outrageous behavior. The Great warrior had become another victim of combat stress.

His final battle took place in Kandy. He had to face Konappu Bandara ails the King Wimaladharmasurya the son of Weerasundara Bandara. One time Weerasundara Bandara was King Seethawaka Rajasinghe s faithful supporter. Weerasundara Bandara helped King Seethawaka Rajasinghe to fight Portuguese. But King Seethawaka Rajasinghe unreasonably suspected Weerasundara Bandara and killed him. The battle was atrocious. The King Wimaladharmasurya proclaimed that he would take the revenge for killing his father.

King Seethawaka Rajasinghe lost the battle. While retreating he fell down from the horse and sustained an injury. A bamboo prick pierced his leg and after a few days he died may be due to tetanus or septicemia. Thus a legend came to an end. He was called the Lion of Seethawaka who brought fear to the Portuguese invaders. He was a liberator but later became an enigma. May be PTSD ruined his inspirations and the goals in life. If these personality changes did not occur he would have been one of the great heroes in the Sri Lankan history.

3 thoughts to “King Seethawaka Rajasinghe the Monarch who suffered fromPTSD”

  1. Ceylon Med J. 2002 Jun;47(2):65-7.
    Analysis of the reported symptoms that preceded the death of King Rajasinghe of Sithawake (1592 AD).

    Veerasingam PG.

    A copy of an ola leaf manuscript, the original of which was written around the late 1590s, was published recently. It describes the sequence of events leading to the death of the warrior King Rajasinghe of the Sithawake Kingdom (1521-1593). A study of the contents of this letter is presented. The dressing applied to a wound on the foot of the King is described in that letter. It is likely that this dressing would have been an ideal medium to produce the highly potent tetanus exotoxin. The toxin would have diffused into the open wound and produced the sequence of symptoms and signs mentioned in the letter. An analysis of the symptoms and signs noted during the King’s last illness as described in the letter is presented. Laryngospasm, and tonic and clonic spasms are easily identified. In addition, a group of symptoms attributed in the 1960s to sympathetic over-activity in tetanus are also recognisable. The conclusion is drawn that the King died of tetanus. The intriguing possibility of the wilful use of a lethal dressing on an open wound as a biological contact poison is left open for discussion.

    PMID: 12140883 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  2. How very perspicacious of Dr.Philip G Veerasingam!
    Anyway, I believe that we are inclined to treat anxiety disorders and depression as modern day illnesses and not believe they could have occured in the distant past too. However I don’t see why not.

  3. Sorry to dissapoint you but Seethavaka Rajasinghe definitely died from tetanus after stepping on a rusted nail.

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