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All about Walavvas

Padma EDIRISINGHE - DN Mon Jan 21 2008

“Trying to tidy” my library on the eve of 2007, I came across a booklet titled “Sri Lankave Walav namavaliya” (the litany of Sri Lankan Walavvas) authored by the well-known researcher from Matale hills, Dr. Mirando Obseysekera.

Probably it had been sent to me for review years back but its small size made its disappearance easy. I must say the author has committed the sin of encapsulating a whole heap of very significant and copious matter into a mere 70 pages, Perhaps a larger book has come out later.

The architectural value of Walavvas cannot be forgotten and preservation would add to their sense of historical continuum

Some salient and general facts on Walavvas, which were more or less abodes of our aristocratic class or Radalas, gathered from this book are presented here as a start.

* That they were almost parallel to the Manor Houses of England again inhabited by aristocratic families.

* Their phase of development was swiftly staged during the reigns of the Nayakkar kings of Kandy

The word Walavva itself has South Indian, more specifically Telegu antecedents. The author quotes Sri Lanka Deepa Varnanawa and Kande Uda Rata Samaja Sanvidanaya in his explanation of the origin of this word.

Valavum, a Tamil or Telegu word means a centre of jurisdiction where the law is laid and offenders punished. This piece of information is substantiated by the presence of the famous Dadu Kanda by which offenders are imprisoned, in many a now ruined Walavva.

* To come back, most of these Walavvas being habitats of the powerful chieftains in the area, coming down a traditional (parampara) line, acted as centre of judiciary and the South Indian name” valavum” got stuck on to it by way of a Sinhalised appellation,” Walavva”.

* Walavvas show a great deal of variance as regards their size and opulence yet contain some basic architectural components as the Meda Midula and the portico where cars of vintage and horse drown cerrieges rested.

The writer’s own observation is that these Walavvas confined themselves to the Goigama caste in the highlands at the beginning, a natural sequel to the fact that the king and his chieftains resided in this terrain.

Later especially with the amassing of wealth by certain entrepreneurs of the South and also due to the social factor of those of castes other than the Goiyas being given recognition by the Dutch government, Walavvas began to crop up in the South, and these were not necessarily those of the Goigama caste except for a few like Atadahage watte of Kataluwa - Ahangama.

To the other group belong Walavvas of Mah Kappinna and the Rajapakse Walavva of Maradana, the latter now completely defunct in the bustling area.

The Rajapakse Walavva of Maradana where Ananda College area spreads now, according to G. H. de Zoysa of Mount Lavinia was once the venue of intrigue between Brownrigg and Ehelapola...

Near it was a ferry spot of the Beira from which a young woman (a niece of Rajapakse Mudali herself hailing from Balapitiya and temporarily putting up at Maradana) once set out with dresses for the harem of Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, imprisoned in houses by the lake after their ignominious expulsion from the highlands.

Dr. Obeysekera though he states that the proliferation of Walavvas took place during the Nayakkar regime gives exceptions as the Brahmana watte Walavva of Welithota inhabited by Don Cosmo Wijesekera a well-known figure of Portuguese times.

If one rules out the position that even prior to the rule of Nayakkar kings that Tamil words were in vogue, one is left over with the theory that the word Walavva got stuck on to the residence later.

Even Atadage Watte Walavva according to its present owner had been built at the tail end of the Portuguese period. And since it still goes on can be reckoned as the earliest manor house in the island.

A legend is that it was a Spaniard by the name Ferdinands who married a Sinhala woman from Moonamalpe who bought the Ata Dage watte fascinated by its ocean fringed pastoral beauty and got himself admitted to the Sinhala race by a change of name (Obeysekera) conferred by the village priest.

That into was supplied to me not by Dr. Mirando but by Justin Jayawardena, present head of Atadahage watte Walavva.

Obeysekera gives the names of 18 Walavvas built during the Nayakkar period which are Ahelapola Walawwa, Nugawela Walavva, Mullegama Walavva, Kapuwatte Walavva, Wegodapola Walvva, Pilimatalawa Walavva, Eramudu Liyadde Walavva, Dehigama Walavva, Meegastenne Walavva, Mampitiya Walavva, Arawwavala Walavva, Arapola Walavva, Ellepola Walavva Molligoda Wallavva, Dullewa Walavva and Ratwatte Walavva.

But the Walavvas of Atadahe watte, Welithota, Brahmana watte, Getahatte Marambe, Modera off Colombo, Kolonne Maduwanwela, Balangoda Mahawelatenna, Amitiyagoda and Pangam Rassagala Nilgala had already begun looming in their respective areas in the pre - Nayakkar period. Satara Korale had boasted of 30 Walavvas according to Viththi Grantha.

Folk verses mentioning the 30 are re-produced in the book., some very familiar to us by the prominent figures who mastered them as Lewke, Edanduwava, Molligoda, Keppetipola, Beminiwatte and Asmadale.

Histories of some Walavvas make interesting reading as that of Maduwanwela walavva, one of the more goregeous and spacious Walavvas.

The genesis of that vast acreage of this Walavva is ascribed to two massive land gifts to Maduwanwela Rala, an acreage of 16,500 for capturing a white sambhur and gifting it to the king and next capture of a famous highway robber (Kolonne Atalawela) earning him the village of Panamure.

Eight Walavvas of the Eastern province and five of Northern Province are listed, most of them headed by Tamil Mudaliyars.

Madukande walavva of Madukande Disawa stands out in the list. Sited in Vavuniya one is led to wonder whether it still exists in the mayhem orchestrated in the area. North Central boasts 28 Walavvas inclusive of those headed by Vanni Mudiyanselas.

North West - 24, Western province - 42 (inclusive of famous Walavvas as Horagolla Walavva and Sedawatte Walavva). Southern province - 43, Sabaragamuwa province - 141 walavvas, Uva - 26 and Central province topping the list with 174. In many instances the original dweller’s name who made his mark in Lanka’s annals is given along with the name of the Walavva.

One can imagine the vast labour that has been expended in compiling this book for which we have to be immensely grateful to the author.It is sure to end up a best seller in these times when roots are being searched perhaps due to threats of imminent danger to a 2,500 + year long saga.

Walavvas are valuable not only for their architectural value and the interesting tales about their origins but as nuclei of national resurgence.

In many of them ancient flags and banners along with historical chronicles and manuscripts are stored. Many a man and woman who walked about under the vaults of a bygone era have left their footprints on our history entwining their saga with the country’s saga.

Countries of the West like England, Germany and North European countries are noted for the lavish attention paid to abodes of one time power wielders. We should follow them not with the motive of paying pooja to the powerful families but because it ensures us a sense of continuity.

Anyway Dr. Obeysekera has not omitted to have a jibe at some of these lords of the walavvas whose denizens were always not of the exemplary and civic minded mould but just roosted in them enjoying all the comforts having had the luck to get born into the affluent family.

Here is a rough translation he quotes from “Sinhala Kele pattara” (scurrilous literatures) where Robert Hamu of a low country Walavva about to contest the VC elections earns his “ode” from an outspoken villager.

Robert Hamu of Ilaw walavva (Walavva of Death) has

Suddenly become aware of our existence

And today roams along the rustic paths of the village

For the first time

We, the Karawas, the Durawas, the Hinnas

Never were aided by that Walavva

So give your vote and lick the feet of the Walavva dwellers with more relish

Not only these “Kele pattaras” but many are the novels, the tele dramas and films that have spawned out of literary minds of Lanka to heap spite on these Walav dwellers and their doings. But one should not throw away the baby along with the bath water.

Many a Walavva has been in the forefront of social and political activity in the area and their architectural value too cannot be forgotten. Hence literature on them is most welcome. And preservation of them too would add to their sense of historical continuum.