The execution of Keppetipola Dissawe
by M.D. Saldin
(Sunday Observer, November 25, 2001)
After the British conquest of the Kandyan
Kingdom located in the central hill-country in Ceylon in 1815, discontent with
the British gradually germinated in the minds of the Kandyan nobility.
It is generally believed that the seeds of
revolt were triggered by two major events:
The first occurred sometime in June 1816.
Madugalle Uda Gabada Nilame, without the knowledge of the British Resident in
Kandy, John D'Oyly, secretly proposed to the high priest about the removal of
the sacred tooth relic from Kandy. The second took place in Sept 1816, when he
publicly sent offerings and prayers to the deities at Bintenne and Kataragama,
for the downfall of the British rulers and the re-establishment of a king.
The British rulers considered these actions
as amounting to high treason.
Madugalle was summarily despatched to Colombo
under close arrest without being given the opportunity to bid farewell to his
family. Another event was the anger evoked on the appointment of Haji Mohandiram,
a Moorman of Wellasse, as Chief of the Madigey (Transport) Department, a
position usually held by the families of Bootawe, Kohukumbura, Nanapurowa
Raterala, Allamulle Rala, Baknigahawella Mudiyanse and Nakkala Mudiyanse.
In Sept 1817, Sylvester Wilson, who was the
government agent of Badulla, received intelligence that a Malabari had turned up
in the Uva Wellasse region with a large following, claiming the throne of Kandy.
The British initially mistook him for Doraisamy a relation of the deposed king,
but it later transpired that he was Wilbawe, a former priest.
Government Agent Sylvester Wilson set off
from Badulla on 16.10.1817 with an armed escort of twenty-four soldiers under
the command of Lieut-Newman and made contact with Wilbawe's forces in Wellasse.
He tried to reason with the unruly mob, comprising of people of the Uva/Wellasse
region, to give up their uprising, but they refused to hear him. On his way back
to Badulla, Wilson stopped at a stream to take a wash. It was at this time that
some hundred armed rebels appeared. Wilson defensively removed his coat to
indicate to the rebels he was unarmed, and called them to come closer to
negotiate. Instead, about forty of them advanced within about six yards of him
and shot him with their bows and arrows. Wilson fell dead.
Wilson's head was decapitated on the orders
of Wilbawe and mounted on a stake. An Ola wrapped in a white cloth suspended
from a tree contained a Proclamation from the Pretender Wilbawe, announcing
himself as the king and enjoining his subjects to put every white man to death.
`Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage
Monarawila Keppetipola, the warrior Dissawe of Uva, known as Keppetipola Dissawe
was in the hill capital when Wilson met his premature death.
The British Resident in Kandy John D'Oyly,
thoroughly alarmed by this tragedy, despatched Keppetipola Dissawe to Badulla
with instructions to crush the rebels and restore law and order in his Dissawony.
But it transpired that Keppetipola and his
followers numbering about five hundred men joined the rebels.
Keppetipola's defection to the rebel's cause
made a profound effect on the British administrators as well as on the Kandyan
chiefs and the people.
He was an influential and a highly placed
aristocrat, connected to all the leading families in the kingdom. His late
sister, mother of child hero Madduma Bandara, was the wife of Ehelepola Maha
Nilame, and his uncle was Pilamatalawa Maha Adikaram, or Prime Minister, to the
Wilbawe did not have the legitimacy to the
throne but sought to obtain it by getting himself proclaimed as the king in the
same manner with due pomp and ceremony.
Wilbawe claimed to be a Suriyawansa and a
descendant of King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe. Wilbawe needed Keppetipola's allegiance
so that the Kandyan aristocracy would legitimize his appointment. Accordingly,
Keppetipola was appointed as first adikar.
Governor Brownrigg issued a Proclamation on
01.01.1818 that the following seventeen persons were engaged in promoting
rebellion and war against His Majesty's Forces, and that they were "Rebels,
Outlaws and Enemies to the British." Their lands and properties were to be
confiscated by the Crown.
the former Dissawe of Ouva;
former Adikaram of Ouva;
Mohottala of Ouva;
4. Maha Betmerala
of Kataragama in Ouva;
5. Kuda Betmerala
of Kataragama in Ouva;
Mohottala of Ouva;
Vidane of Ouva;
Mohottala of Walapane;
Mohotalla of Walapane;
Mohottala of Walapane;
Rate Rala of Wellassa;
Walauwe Mohottala of Wellassa;
13. Bootawe Rate
Rala of Wellassa;
Gahawela Rate Rala of Wellassa
Badullegammene Rate Rala of Wellassa
Mohottala of Wellassa;
17. Palle Malheyae
Gametirale of Wellassa.
Keppetipola fled to Anuradhapura but was
captured together with Pilama Talawa the 2nd in a walauwa on 28.10.1818 by
Lieut. O'Neil assisted by Native Lieut-Cader-Boyet of the Ceylon Rifles.
Madugalle made good his escape through the back door.
However, five days later, on 02.11.1818, in a
separate incident, Ensign Shootbraid captured Madugalle hiding behind a rock in
the jungles of Alaherra.
On the same day, the Sacred Tooth Relic fell
into the hands of Ensign Shootbraid. "Its recovery had a manifest effect on
all classes and its having fallen into British hands again by accident,
demonstrated to the superstitious people that it was the destiny of the British
Nation to govern the Kandyan Kingdom," wrote Gov. Brownrigg to Earl
Bathurst in triumph. Some months earlier, Keppetipola Dissawe had the Sacred
Tooth Relic spirited away from under the very noses of the British sentries at
the Dalada Maligawa.
Death sentences were passed on both
Keppetipola and Madugalle.
Both tried to commute their sentences to
banishment, but failed. Dr Henry Marshall's record of the last moments of the
two chiefs is touching as described by MA Durand Appuhamy in his book, The
Rebels, Outlaws and Enemies to the British (Colombo, Author, 1990).
"Early in the morning of 25th of
November, 1818, Keppetipola and Madugalle were in compliance with their own
request, taken to the Dalada Maligawa, or temple of the sacred tooth relic. At
the request of Keppetipola, and by permission of His Excellency Sir Robert
Brownrigg, Mr Sawers met him at the temple. Kneeling before the priest, upon the
threshold of the sanctuary, the repository of the sacred relic, the Chief
detailed the principal meritorious actions of his life, such as benefits he had
conferred on priests, together with the gifts he had bestowed on temples, and
other acts of piety. He then pronounced the Proptannawah, or last wish; namely,
that on his next birth, he might be born on the mountains of the Himalayas, and
finally obtain Nibbana, a state of partial annihilation. Having concluded his
devotions he was addressed by the priest, who in an impressive tone, pronouncing
a benediction, the last words of which were as follows: 'As sure as a stone
thrown up into the air returns to the earth, so certain you will, in
consideration of your religious merits, be present at the next incarnation of
the Buddha, and receive your reward.' The scene between the Chief, and the
priest was most solemn and impressive. The Chief, who had continued kneeling,
rose and turned round to Mr Sawers, addressed in the following words:- 'I give
you a share of the merit of my last religious offering' - and forthwith
unwinding his upper cloth from his waist he presented it to the temple,
jocularly observing, that although it was both foul and ragged, 'the merit of
the offering would not on' those accounts be diminished, it being all he had to
give. He then requested Mr Sawers to accompany him to the place of execution,
which was kindly and respectfully, declined.
"Madugalle's devotions were conducted in
a similar manner, but although he had evinced great bravery in the field, he
lost self possession on this occasion. When the priest had given him his
benediction, he sprang forward, and rushed into the sanctuary, where he loudly
craved mercy for the sake of the relic. He was instantly dragged from behind the
dagoba by Lieut.
Mackenzie, the fort adjutant, with the
assistance of some of the guard.
Keppetipola who conducted himself with great
firmness and self possession, and was greatly surprised at the pusillanimity of
his fellow prisoner, in the most dispassionate manner observed, that Madugalle
acted like a fool.
He then, in a firm and collected manner shook
hands with Mr Sawers, and bade him farewell.
"The prisoners were then taken to the
place of execution which was near to the Bogambara tank about a mile distant
from the temple. Here they requested to be provided with water for the purpose
of ablution, which was brought to them. Keppetipola then begged to be allowed a
short time to perform the ceremonies of his religion. This request being
granted, both the prisoners washed their hands and face. Keppetipola then tied
up his hair in a knot on the top of his head and sat down on the ground, beside
a small bush, grasping it at the same time with his toes.
From the folds of his cloth which encircled
his loins, he took a small Banna potha or prayer book and, after reciting some
prayers or verses, he gave the book to a native official who was present,
requesting him to deliver it to Mr Sawers, as a token of the gratitude he felt
for his friendship and kindness, when they were officially connected at Badulla,
- Mr Sawers as Agent of the government, and Keppetipola as Dissawe of Uva.
"The Chief continued to repeat some Pali
verses; and, while he was so employed the executioner struck him on the back of
his neck with a sharp sword. At that moment he breathed out the word Araahan,
one of the names of the Buddha. A second stroke deprived him of his life and he
fell to the ground a corpse. His head being separated from his body, it was,
according to custom, placed on his breast.
"Madugalle continued to evince great
want of firmness: and being unable to tie up his hair, that operation was
performed by the Heaigha Kangaan, the chief public executioner. The perturbed
state of his mind was evinced by the convulsive action of the muscle of his
face. He earnestly begged to be dispatched by means of one blow, and then
finally pronounced the word Arahaan. In consequence of his not having sufficient
resolution to bend his head forward, it was held by one of the executioners.
After the first blow of the sword he fell backwards; but he was not deprived of
his life until he received the second stroke."
That Madugalle flinched faced with the jaws
of death, is both understandable and pardonable.
Wilbawe escaped into the jungles and lived
with the Veddhas. He was subsequently captured by the British in 1830 and
released without any punishment being imposed on him.
In recent weeks I interviewed a direct
descendant of the famous hero Keppetipola Dissawe, He is the genial Chandrawansa
Chandrasekera Keppetipola Mudiyanse Ralahamylage Manendra Keppetipola of
Dodantale Walauwa, in Mawanella.
Through him I was able to learn that as soon
as the British declared Keppetipola as a rebel, the Keppetipola family converted
their ancestral Walauwa in the village of Keppetipola on the
Mawanella-Rambukkana Road in the Kegalle District into a Viharaya, to ensure
that the British could not touch it. Manendra is presently the Basnayake Nilame
of Dodantale Natha Devale.
Manendra's father, Madduma Bandara
Keppetipola, received the skull of Keppetipola Dissawe, which was returned to
Ceylon by the British after the island gained independence. The skull was
transported on a gun carriage from Colombo port to Kandy and ceremonially buried
with military honours at Bogambara opposite the Dalada Maligawa.
(1) The Rebels, Outlaws & Enemies to the British by M.A. Durand Appuhamy.
(2) The Great Rebellion of 1818 by Tennakoon
Vimalananda, Professor & Head of Dept of History, Vidyalankara University.
(3) The Kandyan Wars by Colonel Geoffrey
Keppetipola Disawa - The matchless hero
by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe
(Daily News, Monday November 26,
After signing the Kandyan Convention on March
2, 1815, between the British Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg, and the Kandyan
chiefs, the sovereign rights of the last politically independent remnant of the
Sinhalese were irrevocably surrendered to the British Crown. The British, after
taking control of the whole island, made drastic changes in their administrative
John D'Oyly was appointed the British
resident in Kandy, Simon Sawers as Judicial cum Revenue Officer, Col.O.Kelly as
Garrison Commander and James Sutherland as Secretary to the Kandyan provinces.
The Maha Adikaram Molligoda was appointed as the civil authority for the
internal administration of the fallen kingdom. From 1815 to 1817, the Kandyan
provinces were peaceful and remained tranquil. However, with the passage of
time, the chiefs found the British to be delusive and their behaviour repulsive.
The depressed and frustrated chiefs were
anxious to overthrow the alien rulers, and it did happen in October 1817.
The Muslims of Wellassa, who supported the
British, now sought the help of Sylvester Douglas Wilson, the Assistant Resident
in Badulla, to have a man of their own appointed as the Village Head man of
Accordingly, Wilson appointed a Muslim named
Haji Muhandiram alias Marikkar to the post, despite objections raised by Millewa
Disawa, who held authority over Wellassa and Bintenne.
Not only the Muslims had their wish fulfilled
but also began to repudiate the authority of the Dissawa, by with holding
payment of dues and taxes, which caused the Disawa much loss by revenue to his
In the meantime, Wilson received information
that a stranger, claimed to be a member of the exiled royal family, had come
with a retinue of Buddhist priests to Wellassa to capture the Muslim Headman.
Wilson, believing it to be a rumour, sent the
Muslim Haji Muhandiram, to investigate and report on the matter, but enroute, he
was captured and killed.
Wilson who went to inquire into the incident
was also killed. On the advice of D'Oyly and as instructed by Simon Sawers,
Keppetipola Disawa of Uva was sent to Wellassa to curb the uprising and arrest
the rioters. However, his patriotism did not encourage him to attack the
The result was that he became the leader of
the rebellion against the British.
Keppetipola Disawa who brooked on the idea of
supporting the Sinhalese, returned the arms and ammunitions supplied to him by
the British, to the armament depot in Badulla, "not wishing to fire a
single bullet to shed the blood of the Sinhalese in action".
Rebellion broke out with serious consequences
and soon began to spread to Bintenne, Ulapane, Walapone, Hewaheta, Kotmale,
Dumbara and other surrounding villages.
The member of the royal family who received
the support of the Sinhalese was Doresamy. Although the British were quick and
took immediate action to apprehend the imposter Doresamy, the pretender to the
throne, it all proved futile. However, notwithstanding all the exertions by the
British to curb the rebellion, the spirit of the insurrection developed in great
magnitude. By March 1818, the whole country was up in arms against the British.
Most of the chiefs fanned the rebellion, while pretending to be loyal to the
In the eyes of the British, it was a partisan
warfare which, from its very nature, was severe and irregular. The traits of
heroism among the Sinhalese, their undaunted courage and patriotism were well
and visibly seen. Keppetipola Disawa was very active, valiant, enterprising and
an ambitious leader praised by the men.
When the position of the country turned from
bad to worse, the governor placed the entire kingdom of the Kandyan provinces
under martial law.
A great offensive and defensive battles raged
between Keppetipola Disawa and Major Macdowall for nine days, and the death
toll, on both sides, rose day by day. The decreasing strength of the British
troops was given a new life by getting down reinforcements from India. "If
not for this move, the Disawa would have wiped out the British quite
easily" was the view of Simon Sawers.
Keppetipola Disawa alias Keppetipola
Rajapakse Wickremasekera Bandaranayake, hailed from the aristocratic Monaravilla
dynasty, well known for heroism. He was born at Galboda in the Four Korales,
whose sister Ehelepola Kumarihamy was married to Ehelepola Adikaram, who was
instrumental in deposing the last king Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe of Kandy, with
the connivance of the British.
Finally, thinking that further attempts to
fight the British, would only result in the death of the Sinhalese troops,
Keppetipola Disawa disbanded his rebellious army, and made his way towards
Anuradhapura, hoping to launch another offensive, at a later date, when the time
would prove favourable. From Anuradhapura, he went to Nuwara Kalaviya to live in
peace, free from political interference. However, When news reached D'Oyly that
Keppetipola Disawa had taken refuge at a place in Nuwarakalaviya, he immediately
despatched Capt. O'Neil to follow the rebel chief and arrest him and produce him
before Col, Kelly to be tried for organising the rebellion to oust the British
from the Kandyan territory.
Keppitipola Disawa soon became aware that
British troops were on trail to arrest him to be dealt with under the law.
Without fear or favour, he impatiently awaited the arrival of the troops under
Capt. O'Neil. When he saw the Captain coming to arrest him, without the least
hesitation, he went to meet him, shook hands with him and identified himself by
saying "I'm Keppetipola". His words were firm and clear and his
vibrant voice showed his courage.
Capt. O'Neil was surprised to have confronted
with the man he was searching for, in a peaceful manner and without the least
resistance, which was unusual for a man who hated the British. Keppetipola was
brought to Kandy under escort, and produced before Col. Kelly to be tried for
high treason. After trial, he was found guilty against the charges framed. On
Nov. 26, 1818, he was taken to be executed followed by two royal executioners,
carrying their lethal weapons over their shoulders. It is said that Keppetipola
Disawa "walked languidly, without any signs of regret or fear, as a brave
man ready to face death for good and valid reasons".
At the execution grounds, "Keppetipola
Disawa rose to his feet, as a brave patriot, and looking at the executioner
Iriyagama Kankanama, said that he should give only one blow at his neck and not
two. So saying the Disawa asked for the sword from the executioner and checked
its sharpness." Thereafter, he had tied his long hair into a knot over his
head, and made his neck clear to receive the sword.
Dr. Henry Marshall, Medical Officer and
Deputy Inspector of the Services Hospital, who knew the Disawa well, as a great
man who was brave, forward and courageous, with qualities not generally found
among men. With due respect to the deceased, Dr. Marshall took his skull to
England to be placed at the Phrenological Society in Edinburgh where skulls of
great men are kept preserved in honour of the dead.
The skull was returned to the island in 1954,
at the request of the Sri Lanka government. It now lies in Kandy for the people
to see. The public opinion was that the Disawa should have faced death for a
better cause than what he had faced.