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Battaramulla then and some unforgettable characters



(Excerpted from the memoirs of Rtd. Senior DIG Police Edward Gunawardena)

Ganahena is perhaps the highest area; and St. Mathew’s Anglican Church built in 1850 is located here. Sri Sudassanaramaya the oldest temple in the village is also located on a high location close to Ganahena. These were the only places of worship. There were no Mosques or Kovils. However on the site on which St. Mathew’s Church stands there had existed a Hindu place of worship called the Gane Kovil. I have myself seen large granite columns strewn about in the churchyard. These are no more to be seen. A remarkable feature was the unity in which the Christians and Buddhists lived. In fact no family was wholly Buddhist or wholly Christian. My grandfather once told me that when a Revd. Welikala was the Parish Priest of St. Mathew’s Church, his brother had been the Chief Incumbent of the Sri Sudassanarama temple!

The sub-village place names mentioned above served a very useful purpose particularly because the systematic numbering of houses had not commenced. Persons and places were identified with reference to these places. eg. ‘Ganahena Kanda Uda’, ‘Udumulla lindalanga’, ‘Deniye Simon’, ‘Minuwanvila Carolis’ or Averiwatta Romlas’.

Ownership of land was mainly in small-holdings. But certainly not small by today’s standards. It was not unusual for a family to own an acre or more. Most of these plots were planted with coconut, arecanut and ground crops such as manioc, batala, pepper and even coffee. It is indeed a matter for regret that with the demand for land in Battaramulla in the 80s and 90s and the prices rocketing many of the less affluent decided to sell their lands and move further away from Colombo to places such as Pore, Habarakada and Aturugiriya. The massive influx of the affluent, urban middle class who have built palatial homes has certainly transformed the tranquil, traditional, unspoilt village that I have lived from birth to a crude mix of Cinnamon Gardens and Maligawatta of Colombo. Indeed the face of the village which I have known so intimately from the forties of the last century has changed beyond recognition. Only the name ‘Battaramulla’ remains. The story of Battaramulla over the past five decades is the story of a ‘vanished village’.

Large extents of land were rare; and the few that existed were owned by non-villagers. The present Jayanthipura which originated as a housing project during the premiership of Sir John Kotelawela was a coconut land belonging to the de Livera family. The large extent of land that forms the residential complex of Subuthipura was a rubber plantation belonging to a lawyer by the name of Ebert from Kalutara. The area bordering Lily Avenue off the Robert Gunawardena Mawatha was a rubber land belonging to a Vanlangenberg. During the rubber boom of the late forties and early fifties my father was the lessee of this land. As children we were able to closely observe how the latex was collected and sheet rubber turned out. My parental house and the house in which I live today are on a land that once belonged to the Lady Obeysekera Trust which had been purchased by my father and his two younger brothers in 1931. A substantial part of this eight-acre land is to-date retained by the family.

The land on which the Battaramulla Maha Vidyalaya stands today belonged to the Dassanayake family of Mirigama. Until the time of its acquisition by the Education Department my father was its leaseholder. This was the land on which the four Gunawardena brothers started playing football. Soon other children as well as adults were to join, ultimately leading to the birth of the Wingers’ Football Club. More about football later.


Roads and other utilities

The two main roads that traversed the village were the Colombo – Kaduwela Road, and the Pannipitiya Road commencing from the Battaramulla bazaar. The former was better known as the Colombo – Godagama Road. The village stood between the sixth and seventh mileposts on this road. These were the only macadamized roads. The present Parliament roundabout and the road to Parliament and beyond to Pelawatta and to Koswatta did not exist. The present Parliament was built in the eighties. The by-roads of note the Averiwatta Road, the Udumulla Road. and the Korambe Road. were all Village Council (VC) roads and they were all single lane gravel paths.

My father’s residence where I lived with my grandfather, grandmother, my father and my brothers was on the large extent of land that my father had purchased abutting the Korambe Road. From the Ganahena turn off up to the village boundary, was the present Parliament Rd. The others who lived on this road were the Jansens and the Vanlangenbergs on the eastern side and the Wijewickremas, Jamis baas and Obiyas baas on the Western side. James and Obiyas were much sought after village carpenters. The Wijewickrema property which was adjoining our land was occupied later by Roy Perera and his wife who were from Badulla. They were a very amiable couple who were very fond of children. Hema de Silva a nephew of Roy was a regular visitor who became friendly with us and would even take us regularly to see Hindi films. He had just returned after graduating from the London School of Economics and joined the newly created Central Bank of Ceylon.

This road was generally deserted except for the few people from the village of Korambe who travelled to work on foot or to take bus from the Battaramulla bazaar. Most casual labourers came from Korambe. I remember Lewis Aiya, Burampi and Thomis Appu as extremely honest and hardworking. The last mentioned drove our buggy cart. In the nights these people returning home carried chulu lights (hulu athu) and sang loud to scare away serpents from the road. Snakebites were common on these unlit by-roads; and the snake bite specialist (Sarpa vedamahattaya) who lived in Korambe was a much wanted man. He was the brother of the best known Vedamahattaya of Battaramulla, Simon Vedamahattaya.

It was from the Averiwatta (Rajamalwatta) Road that we approached the paddy fields and threshing floors that belonged to my grandfather. Ambalangodella was a substantial extent of paddy land together with a well tended fodder grass land. Cartloads of harvested fodder grass were delivered daily to Elephant House that used bullock carts for the transport of aerated waters.

As children my brothers and I enjoyed working in these paddy fields during the school holidays. Harvesting time was particularly pleasant I still remember even the Kamath language eg. Batha, maduwan, ambaruwa etc. My brother Irwin showed a special liking for the paddy fields and did not shy away from the mud. Fittingly in later life he joined the Agriculture Department and eventually rose to be the Director General of Agriculture.

The Udumulla road which was quite narrow, led through footpaths to the northern fringes of the village, the scanty settlement of Hakurugoda and an extensive patch of thick shrub jungle called Bogahahena. Hakurugoda was characterized by three or four small families of the Jaggery caste. These people integrated well with the rest of the villagers. Being traditionally cooks by profession the men were much sought after at village weddings and other social functions. The women carrying baskets on their heads were a welcome sight. They went house to house with breakfast preparations of string hoppers, pittu and hoppers together with delicious vegetable curries and sambols. During the New Year time everybody looked forward to their Kevum, Kokis, Aasmi, Helapa etc.

Two landmarks that I distinctly remember on the Udumulla road were the public bathing well and an elevated garden of mangosteen trees with a fashionable house. The occupant of these premises was an elderly English gentleman by the name of Meaden. He had been a former civil servant in the colonial administration.

Another important footpath that I often used as a short cut, connected the Pannipitiya road from near the present Indrajothi Vidyalaya with the Sri Sudassanarama Temple. On this narrow by-way was located a coconut land where the Hamers lived. Opposite this land was a home for destitute dogs which was very caringly and efficiently run by an energetic English lady by the name of Mrs. Bartlam. I remember visiting this place that was well known as the ‘Balu Madama’ with a parcel of buns for the dogs. There were several others too from the village who had brought food for the dogs.

In the late forties there was no electricity in the village. Some shops and a few affluent households used Petromax lamps. Most people used kerosene lamps with chimneys. Bottle lamps were widely used. Hurricane lanterns were used for outdoor activities while cyclists used carbide lamps. We as children were not allowed by our father to study by kerosene light. He saw to it that the four brothers used candies. Even today whenever lights fail I make do with a candle.

There was no refrigerator or any other electrical appliance in our home. It was common to preserve fish or pork in salt. Delicious preparations were made of salted fish or salted pork. T

The butter, bacon and sausages that my father brought were salted and did not need refrigeration. It is no exaggeration to say that the bacon or sausages sold today are insipid compared to what we ate then. Whenever my father brought ice cream, the container was packed in dry ice. Although rare, whenever an Elephant House van had to pass the village, apart from two or three crates of aerated waters a few chunks of ice were delivered to our home. Making our own ice cream with milk, eggs and mango juice in a manually operated churner was great fun.

There was no water service or drainage. All households had wells and well kept pit latrines. Water for household use was kept in earthenware pots. Boiled drinking water was also stored in earthen decanters. It was a practice for most households by the road to have a large pot of water covered with a coconut shell for the use of thirsty wayfarers.



In the forties and the fifties there were only three schools in the village. The Christian Missionary School situated in the premises of St. Mathew’s Church which to-date remains a popular institution for juniors is perhaps the oldest. Even a century ago this school had been well known for discipline. My grandfather used to relate many stories about the headmaster of the time by the name of Hendrick Gurunanse. Children feared him so much that the mischievous ones wore gunny sacks under their sarongs. He had been a firm believer in the dictum “Spare the rod and spoil the Child”. His son H.D.L. Perera better known as Lennet Ralahamy was the Headman of Battaramulla until the Grama Sevaka system replaced the headman system.

The Indrajothi Vidyalaya on the Pannipitiya road had about four class rooms and three or four teachers. Today this is a popular school catering mainly to the expanding population on the Pannipitiya road to Pelawatta and beyond. This school and the Christian Missionary School which are government schools today, being on limited space have no land for any further expansion. At Mampewatta on the land of Henry Boteju a prominent local politician was situated a small school that was known as the YMBA School. The land adjoining my father’s property which was held by the latter on lease was acquired by the Education Department to accommodate the YMBA School. Fortunately for Battaramulla and the entire locality this school developed rapidly to become the present Sri Subhuthi Madya Maha Vidyalaya catering even to children from Colombo. The role played by the late M.D.H. Jayawardena when he represented the Kaduwela electorate and was a senior minister in the Dudley Senanayake government of 1965 in the development of this school will never be forgotten by the people of Battaramulla.

The English language was not taught in any of these schools. As a result before the Maha Vidyalaya took shape children wanting to learn English attended the Kotte Bangalawa School which subsequently became the Kotte Christian College.

My grandfather had come to know Rev. Dowbiggin, the head of the Christian Mission in Kotte. In fact the latter had succeeded in converting him to Christianity. My father and his two younger brothers had attended this school and been successful in the English School Leaving Certificate Examination (ESLC). Incidentally it was the son of Rev. Dowbiggin, Herbert Dowbiggin, who after his education at Trinity College Kandy and Cambridge became the Inspector-General of Police.


Transport & Retail Facilities

Travel to work or to school or places away from the village, particularly to Borella and Fort was by bus. Buses were few in number and belonged to the Colombo Omnibus Company. It was also called the B.J. Fernando Bus Company. The bus crews were extremely polite and even knew the regular travelers personally.

Travelling in the open bodied buses was fun. The Battaramulla terminus for the Borella buses was at the present turn off to the Battaramulla cemetery. As school children we were particularly fond of the bus that was driven by Yahonis Aiya. He was a very kind driver who was caring and helpful to the children. ‘Checker’ Patrick Aiya who usually travelled in this bus was also a friendly and amiable sort. Not long ago, in the mid eighties I often met Yahonis on my walks. He was old but strong enough to ride a bicycle. He never failed to get off the bicycle; and I made it a point to have a brief chat with him. He took great pride in the fact that the DIG Metropolitan traveled in his bus as a child. His funeral in the village of Korambe was well attended.

Fish and vegetable vendors who were mainly womenfolk also brought their goods from the Pettah market in these passenger buses. Baskets of fish and vegetables were accommodated on the hoods of buses and the loading and unloading was done by the conductor. He considered this as a part of his duty. Most passengers returning from Colombo after work also brought their vegetables, fish and meat in bags made of reeds as polythene bags were not even known at that time. Restrictions on this free and easy manner of transport of consumables commenced with the introduction of buses with fully enclosed bodies which were known as ‘Nelson body’ buses at the time.


Use of Bicycles

Cycling was a popular means of transport. Most people used bicycles to travel to their workplaces in Colombo. So did the children particularly boys in their teens to travel to schools such as Christian College Kotte, Wesley, St. Joseph’s and Ananda. The bicycles were all imported brands —Raleigh, Humber and Hercules. They were quite costly. As a result the theft of bicycles was a common occurrence. It was such a nuisance that bicycle theft was considered a ‘grave crime’ by the police. It was necessary for the OIC of the police station to visit the scene of theft and also report such theft to Police Headquarters. Every office, school and even shops had bicycles stands for parking bikes. At almost all the places reserved for the parking of bicycles there were warning boards in red, ‘Beware of Cycle Thieves’.

During the war because motor vehicles were not allowed to drive with their head lights on when the ‘black out’ regulation came into force it was difficult to spot cyclists ahead. As a result all bicycles apart from a rear reflector were compelled to paint the lower section of the rear mudguard white.

Much police time on the roads was spent on taking up offenses of cyclists. Riding without lights was considered a serious offense. Most cyclists used carbide or oil lamps until the dynamo became popular. Carrying a passenger on the bar or doubling and riding abreast were the other offenses that were detected by police. Most culprits were schoolboys. I remember having being detected ‘doubling’ on at least three occasions. However on all these occasions I was to plead with the sergeant or constable and escape being charged. One reason was because I made it a point to address the detecting officer as ‘Sir.’

I was once ‘doubling’ a friend, who in later life became a member of the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) and was detected at Maradana. The sergeant let us go. But he deflated the tyres and asked us to push the bicycle home!

There was another friend of mine who adopted a unique ruse. Whenever he was detected he gave his name as ‘Abraham Lincoln’. In his carrier basket the three exercise books on top carried this name. He also gave a false address. Often he made it a point to be at the Maligawatta Courts on days that these cases were usually heard to enjoy the fun when the name Abraham Lincoln was called loud by the court Mudaliyar. This exceptional prankster in later life became a President’s Counsel and an Ambassador. That was at least 25 years before the National Identity Card was introduced.


Goods Transport

There were no vans, double cabs, tractors or landmasters in the village. It was rarely that a lorry was seen. Transport of all types of goods was by bullock carts which were in plenty. It was a common sight to see handcarts being pushed along with vegetables, young coconuts (Kurumba) etc.

My grandfather had two bullock carts in addition to a passenger carrying tirikkale which he enjoyed driving. The bullock carts that were kept in our premises were used mainly for the transport of paddy, coconuts and rubber. Occasionally these carts were hired to cover the expenses of the carters and the cost of fodder for the cart bulls.

Even large business establishments such as Elephant House and the Colombo Commercial Company used bullock carts. The former used bullock carts extensively for the transport of aerated waters whilst the latter transported building materials to their work sites in bullock carts.

In the late forties and early fifties Uncle Sam, my fathers younger brother had a licensed tea cider manufactory in Battaramulla. This became a popular alcoholic drink particularly in the estate areas upcountry. It was a common sight to see hundreds of bullock carts lined up to load tea cider crates to be transported to destinations in the Kandy, Ratnapura and Kalutara districts.

It was a highly profitable business, but Uncle Sam gave up this business as his wife, Auntie Florence, was not very happy with the production of an alcoholic beverage. She was the daughter of a leading Baptist minister and Principal of Carey College, Revd. W.M.P. Jayatunga. Subsequently Uncle Sam began the manufacture of mirrors which turned out to be a successful venture. His son, the late Herschel Gunawardena, became a well known astronomer.


Retail Trade

There was only one grocery store of note in the Battaramulla bazaar. This belonged to an Indian by the name of Abraham. Vegetables and fish were mainly sold by women seated on the roadside. There were so many such roadside vendors that the bazaar resembled a fair. Women carrying baskets of vegetables, dry fish etc. also visited homes regularly.

My father purchased provisions for our home monthly from a wholesale grocery in Welikada, W.D. Paulin Appuhamy & Sons. The bulk of the goods that came in a bullock cart from Welikada consisted of poonac and kollu, a seed akin to cowpea, as fodder for our cart bulls and the large herd of cattle that roamed our land. The cows in this herd yielded adequate milk for our home consumption. The breakfast of each of the four brothers, before leaving for school was a large mugfull of hot milk mixed with two eggs and sugar. Even the eggs were from the free run poultry in the garden.

The only shop that sold clothing and other personal goods like shoes, slippers etc. was Rajamoney’s also in the Battaramulla bazaar. However cloth as well as numerous other personal requirements ranging from shoes, sarongs, banians & socks to items such as mirrors, combs and soaps were brought by Chinese and Moor traders to the door step.

The ‘China man’ who pushed his bicycle along with a large bundle of cloth on the luggage carrier and the Moor man wearing a fez with several coloured umbrellas hung on the handlebars were regularly seen on our road. They were both good humoured men who happily tolerated the annoyance caused to them by mischievous children. I still remember how the China man pretended to be angry and threatening when children shouted, “Cheena booku, booku, chinare” and ran away.

The man carrying a bread basket was a welcome visitor to our home. The black barrel shaped basket with a pyramidal cover kept the bread and buns fresh and warm. Apart from bread and buns he brought popcorn sugar coated balls and fresh thala ‘gull’. During the week-ends, when we did not have to rush to school, we looked forward to the visit of the ammes’ who brought breakfast preparations of string hoppers, hoppers, pittu etc. Curries made of kebella leaves and gotukola with maldive fish were delicious indeed.

Electricians and plumbers were unheard of in the village. Of course there was no electricity or water service. Obiyas Bass and Jamis Bass were excellent carpenters. Appuhamy from the village of Korambe was a much sought after mason and Coranelis who was partially deaf was the painter that my father always employed for the colour washing of our walls. The village blacksmith was also a busy man. He was well known in the village as Mattha. Our ‘dhoby’ or laundryman who was addressed as ‘Hene Mama’ was an elderly man from Korambe who visited our home every week. I remember him contacting leprosy and ending up at the Leprosy Hospital, Hendala.

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Dudley Senanayake: some personal anecdotes



Excerpted from the Memoirs of Snr. DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardena

Dudley Senanayake was a truly charismatic leader. By his exemplary behavior he enjoyed the respect of both sides of the House. He always entered the chamber from the main doorway and walked majestically down the aisle to his seat. Almost all Members rose from their seats to show their respect.

He was an excellent debater. If he had to make a speech it was a studied contribution. He never spent his time in Parliament without making use of every minute. If he was not in the chamber he would be in discussion with his colleagues and members of the opposition as well; or he would be in the library or even learning different aspects of Parliamentary procedure from the Clerk of the House.

A remarkable characteristic of Dudley was his ability to concentrate and focus his mind on what had to be done. If he had to attend a function where he had to make a speech, he would prepare his speech in the car with his eyes closed, seemingly but not asleep. When parliamentary sessions were due he would closet himself in his room either at Woodlands or the annexe at Temple Trees for hours, sometimes smoking the pipe as well as cigarettes, concentrating on the agenda for the morrow.

This desire for solitude even led to unpredictable situations. One day during the time of the 1965 budget debate, when I visited Woodlands at about 8 pm. the PM was not in. Carolis, his man Friday, and the sergeant on duty told me that he had walked across to his brother Robert’s for dinner. When I went there I was told by William, the driver, that ‘Hamu’ had driven away alone in a friend’s car that had been parked there. Asked for the description of the car I was told that it was a black Riley, a fairly large vehicle.

Nobody knew where he had gone. It was a tricky situation. But I did not panic because I knew he was a good driver. I put up Robert who was resting. He had seen Dudley driving off. “Dudley likes to walk up and down by the beach. That’s the way he prepares his speeches, Eddie,” were Robert’s words. He also added that Dudley was sure to be in the Kinross area.

I immediately called the Colombo Traffic Branch on my walkie-talkie, got down a patrol car and traveled to St. Peter’s Place. There were no vehicles to be seen down the lane. However turning to Kinross Avenue, a black vehicle was spotted at the end of the road. To my utter relief it was the Riley. Having instructed the patrol leader to call for an unmarked car to be close to the Riley and position the marked car at the top of the lane on the Galle Road, I walked across the railway line to the beach.

In the hazy moonlight I saw the Prime Minister’s figure in the distance. I got close and kept a reasonable distance behind him. He was bare-footed and the bottoms of his trousers were rolled up.

I kept on following him. It was amazing indeed, no one appeared to have recognized him. Approaching Kinross Avenue he stopped by the railway line until a train passed. When he was opening the door of the Riley, I surprised him by saying “Good evening Sir”.


“Ha, How did you know that I was here?”

“That’s my job Sir,” was my reply. With a guffaw he invited me into the car. The drive to Woodlands was smooth. We were talking of many things all the way. When he asked me why I followed him I explained to him that ensuring his safety was my responsibility. I also told him that if he had a flat and had to change a wheel as the Prime Minister, it would be headline news. “There is something in what you say”, was his response.

It was also on this drive to Woodlands from the Kinross beach that Dudley asked me a question the answer to which probably had serious consequences in the UNP. “Gunawardena, what do you think of this man Menikdiwela?” he asked me. Before I could ask him the reason, he said that he thought Joe Karunaratne (his private secretary) needed some assistance.

I knew Menikdiwela as a DRO in the Warakapola area when I was the ASP Kegalle. He was a very down to earth, rustic, betel chewing public servant recruited as a ‘Kandyan’ under the quota system that once prevailed. Backward and taciturn he kept a distance from even the GA and other Kachcheri officers such as the DLO, AFC and even officials of his own rank, the RDO and SSO. But he was a man of the times, with excellent rapport with the ordinary rural folk. Dudley probably wanted my opinion because I was the ASP Kegalle.

I knew Joe Karunaratne also very well. As such I was able to give a full and comprehensive answer to the Prime Minister’s question. I told him that I knew Joe well. Honourable and accepted in the highest circles, his Colombo 7 upbringing was an impediment to empathizing with people that mattered politically, particularly ordinary village folks and the Buddhist clergy. I still vividly remember the words that I used in my reply to the Prime Minister’s question. “Good to have a man like that, Sir. I know Joe well He is not comfortable meeting Buddhist priests and villagers. Menikdiwela is a ‘bulath hapaya’ sort who can handle them. Good fellow to meet the people coming from the electorate”.

The Prime Minister got the reply that he probably liked to have. Menikdiwela was able to thus became close to the top echelons of the UNP. The rest is history.

As a parliamentarian, Dudley not only enriched the quality of debate and deliberation, he epitomized dignity and decorum. His voice was that of a leader. When he spoke there was rapt attention. Seldom was he heckled. He never got angry. He sometimes pretended to be angry in the course of arguments, aggressively walking across the floor of the House was not in anger but for effect. That was his style.

Devastating wit was one of his strong assets. During the debate on the Dudley- Chelvanayakam pact I was seated in the speaker’s gallery following the proceedings. When he was speaking he was interrupted by none other than a respected parliamentarian Maithripala Senanayake. Pretending to be annoyed he stopped speaking, prompting Sir Albert Pieris the Speaker to say “Carry on Prime Minister”.

Dudley laughed and turning to the Speaker said, “Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member for Medawachiya (Maithripala Senanayake) is Sinhala Only by day and believes in the reasonable use of Tamil by night!” There entire House roared with loud laughter. Maithripala Senanayake was then courting his wife-to- be, Lake House journalist Ranji Handy from Jaffna!


His habits, likes, dislikes and simple ways

Simplicity was the hallmark of Dudley’s life. He was a typical bachelor least concerned about the neatness of the place where he lived. At Woodlands there were only a few basic pieces of furniture. These were generally in disarray. In the drawing room was a dust laden glass cupboard with memorabilia consisting mainly of garlands of artificial flowers and empty gift boxes. The items of value had apparently been spirited away.

After his days work, in the evenings, either at Woodlands or at Temple Trees he liked to be in the bedroom dressed in sarong and bare bodied or in a banian. on numerous occasions he had got me to sit beside him on his bed and go through petitions particularly against the police, a file prepared by Joe Karunaratne. In fact once there was an anonymous petition which said that Edward Gunawardena was a Trotskyite in the University. When I read this out, he laughed and commented, “Who is the undergrad who is not a leftist?”

Dresswise, to office, Parliament and all other formal functions he wore English tussore or drill suits. To have his laundered suit ready was one of Carolis’ main tasks. He was very particular to see that his slightly graying hair was well groomed. As already mentioned Yardley Brilliantine was his hair cream. It was Robert who saw to all these needs. Once a month he took a haircut at the saloon that had been patronized even by his father, Gabriel’s Hair Dressing Saloon, Colpetty. I am not certain whether this saloon exists today. Perhaps the Bally’s Casino building has swallowed up this modest place!

He had a fair collection of Tootal ties. However, he used only one or two of these regularly. These had more of green or brown. Carolis had neatly arranged all his clothes in two wardrobes. His formal wear including socks, underwear and handkerchiefs were in one large nedun almirah. In another large almirah of teak were his bed linen, towels and sarongs. Stacked neatly in one shelf were about 10 — 15 casual shirts he was fond of wearing in the evenings, when he went out for a drive or for golf. He wore only tan leather shoes custom made by the Majestic Boot Works. Carolis was the man who polished these shoes.

As a rule he was up by 6 a.m. Sipping from a large mug of tea prepared by Carolis he would skim the newspapers before going to the washroom. He would take only about 10 minutes for his ablutions, shave and a shower, which he liked cold. Robert once told me that Dudley had been taking cold showers even when he was at Cambridge; and this was probably the reason for his bouts of catarrh.

As a rule he took his lunch and dinner at Robert’s or ate meals sent to Woodlands from his btother’s home. His favourite dishes were curried or baked seer fish and roast chicken, particularly for dinner. He did not take any alcoholic drinks, but was a heavy smoker, mainly a pipe, but smoked cigarettes too. His collection of pipes consisted mainly of Dunhill’s and Peterson’s and although he received from his friends tobacco brands such as Dunhill, Three Nuns and Balkan Sobrani, his preferred brand was the locally made Island Pride. Ardath and Markovich Black and White were his favourite brands of cigarettes.

He was generally healthy and fit but for a chronic stomach problem and occasional bouts of bleeding catarrh. Both Dudley and Robert believed in a body massage about twice a month. Don Thomas the well known masseur whose nick name was ‘pocket Apollo’ regularly visited Woodlands. Don Thomas had been the masseur attached to the Ceylon team that took part in the 1948 London Olympics at which Duncan White won a silver. The physician who attended on the Prime Minister was Dr. Lucian Gunasekera the son of Sir Frank Gunasekera who was physician to D.S. Senanayake.

Dudley was very fond of photography. On all his field trips to see him with a camera slung on his shoulder was a familiar sight. He had several expensive Canons and Nikons. The exposed reels were sent to Lake House for processing. He merely looked at the prints and put them aside. He did not care to preserve the photographs that he took in albums. Nobody really knows what has happened to the thousands of photographs that he took.

He spent quite some time dusting and cleaning the lenses of his cameras which were in almirahs and drawers here and there. Likewise, he spent much time cleaning his smoking pipes too. Sometimes he would get so engrossed in these that he lost sight of even official engagements. One day when he was operating from the annexe of Temple Trees, there were several people seated, apparently to see him. The time was 9 a.m. When I walked in Shantun Abeygoonwardena was on duty as security officer. He told me that the Prime Minister was in his room upstairs doing some work. But I was surprised when I saw that one of the persons waiting to see the Prime Minister was Hector Kobbekaduwa, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission.

I knew Hector well. He was the brother in law of Sydney Ellawala. The latter was a first cousin of Robert Gunasekera, my father-in-law to be. When I was stationed at Ratnapura I used to drop in regularly at Sydney’s on my visits to Balangoda. Hector too was a regular visitor there and it was here that I befriended him, even enjoying bathing together in the cold waters of the Belihuloya. He told me that he had come to hand over his resignation from the Chair of the PSC to the Prime Minster. The time given to him had been 9 a.m.

As it was already past 9 a.m. I hurried upstairs to the Prime Minister’s room. He was standing outside on the corridor looking skywards holding a camera lens to one eye. He had been cleaning his cameras. He was surprised when I told him that the Chairman of the PSC was seated in the lobby waiting to hand over his resignation He did not care to dress up. He asked me to bring him up immediately.

Hector was greeted very cordially and they had a long chat seated close to each other. Apparently he knew Hector well, with Sydney Ellawala being a friend and a staunch UNP supporter.

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Dangerous and meticulous work copying Sigiriya frescoes in Bell era (1896)



(Excerpted from Sigiriya Paintings by Raja de Silva, retired Commissioner of Archaeology)


The village of Sigiriya is mentioned in the 16th century book of Sinhala verse titled Mandarampura-puvata. From then on, the site seems to have disappeared from the public record until its rediscovery in the 19th century. Major Forbes of the 78th Highlanders and two companions rode from Polonnaruva through Minneriya and Peikkulam in search of Sigiriya, and reached the site early in the morning of a day in April 1831 (Forbes 1841).

They returned to the site two years later and Forbes explored further the cavernous walled gallery on the western side of the great rock, which led towards the summit. Forbes was surprised to observe a durable plaster on the brickwork of the wall, while above the gallery, especially in places protected from the elements, the plaster was seen to be painted over in bright colours. However, he was disappointed and puzzled in not recognizing any representations of the lion, which, according to local lore, gave the name of Sigiri, i.e., Sinhagiri to the rock.

The lion that eluded Forbes was tracked down by the next visitor, who remained anonymous in recording his impressions in 1851 under the title “From the notebook of a traveller” in a magazine known as Young Ceylon. This early visitor described the gallery as a long cavernous fissure, the outer edges of which were deeply grooved and a brick wall raised there, nearly to the roof. The inner surface of the “cave” was described as “covered with a coating of white and polished chunam gleaming as if it were a month old”.

Some of the plaster from the ceiling and the rock side of the gallery had fallen off, but it was noted by the visitor that “there was a profusion of paintings, chiefly of lions, which is said to have given the name of Singaghery, Sihagiri or Seegiry to the ancient site”. No other visitor had reported on these lions.

Twenty four years later, Sigiriya and the paintings were brought to public notice by TW Rhys Davids (1875), formerly of the Ceylon Civil Service, in a lecture given before the Royal Asiatic Society, London. Rhys Davids described his observation, through a telescope, of the “hollow” halfway up the western side of the rock, with its surface covered with a fine hard “chunam” plaster on which were painted figures. He mentioned that the northern (i.e., further) area of the gallery was covered with ornamental paintings (again, to be lost not long after) and thought that a large number of these may have been erased with the passage of time. By the close of the century, when the Archaeological Survey Department (ASD) commenced work at Sigiriya, these paintings had all disappeared.

TH Blakesley (1976) Public Works Department, viewed the paintings from afar in 1875, and reported for the first time on their subject, which he recognized to be female figures “repeated again and again”, showing only the upper parts of their bodies, and richly ornamented with jewellery. The figures (he said) had a Mongolian cast of features. Blakesley also examined the plaster layer adhering to the accessible parts of the main rock, and remarked on the existence of paddy husks in the ground.

Reports of the existence of paintings at Sigiriya had attracted the attention of connoisseurs of art in Sri Lanka and in England, and Sir William Gregory, the former Governor, requested Alick Murray (1891), Provincial Engineer, to attempt to reach the paintings and make reproductions of them. This proposal was sanctioned by Sir Arthur Gordon, the Governor, who gave every encouragement to the project. Murray went to Sigiriya, fired with enthusiasm for this pioneering venture, but was disappointed to discover that the local villagers would have no part of his plans for disturbing the rock chamber which, they imagined, was inhabited by demons. The populace, however, was, persuaded to clear the jungle at the base of the rock in the required direction, while Murray awaited the arrival of Tamil labourers who were urgently requested from South India.

The Tamil stone-cutters (who had no fear of Sinhala demons) bored holes in the rock face, one above the other, into which were fixed with cement, iron jumpers. As they went higher up the rock towards the cavern containing the paintings, the man of the lightest weight had to be selected to bore the holes. After a while, even this labourer found it difficult to ascend higher. He supplicated that if he were allowed three days of fasting and prayer, he might succeed in finishing the task. Murray answered his prayer in the affirmative, thinking that it might lighten the man’s weight and thereby help him to reach the pocket containing the paintings. Once this goal was reached, it was found that the rock floor was at too steep an angle to permit one to stand or even sit on it. A strong trestle or framework of sticks was made and secured to iron stanchions let into the rock floor. A platform was made and placed on the framework to enable one to lie on his back and view the paintings.

On June 18, 1889, Murray made his historic climb into the fresco pocket, and he worked for a whole week lying on his back on makeshift scaffolding to make tracings of six paintings in coloured chalk on tissue paper. The work was done, climbing up and down each day, (as he said) “from sunrise to sunset”, the only inmates of the cavern being swallows who used to “peck at him resentfully”. When his work was reaching conclusion, a few of his friends including SM Burrows, Government Agent, Matale, hazarded the climb to the pocket to visit him, and it was suggested that a memento be left behind. A bottle was obtained and in it were deposited a newspaper of the day, a few coins, and a list of names of friends who had visited him at work. Murray’s party was astonished when a Buddhist monk and a Saivite priest sought permission to enter the chamber, and they were accommodated by Murray. They prayed for the preservation of the bottle, thereby adding solemnity to the occasion of its sealing into the floor with cement – a ceremony that was accompanied by Murray and Burrows singing “God Save the Queen”.

An unfortunate result of Murray’s excellent efforts at tracing the paintings under the windiest of conditions was that, on detaching the tracing papers that had been pasted with gum on the periphery of each figure, an egg-shell thin layer of painted plaster (i.e., the intonaco) also came away revealing a white framework of the layer of ground underneath. Another deplorable result was that a few Tamil labourers had scribbled their names on the painted plaster. The copies made by Murray were stated by Bell to have been exhibited above the staircase of the Colombo Museum.

Murray described the paintings as having been done on the roof and upper sections of the sides of the chamber; that they represent 15 female figures in all, but no doubt many more had existed originally, as traces of them were to be seen. The freshness of the colours (he observed) was wonderful, curiously, green predominating. Each figure was stated to have been life-size and many were naked to the waist, the rest of the form being hidden by representations of clouds. They were arranged either singly or in sets of two, each couple representing (he said) a mistress and a maid.


Access to Fresco Pockets

In 1896, Bell made regular access to the fresco pockets possible by the construction of a vertical ladder of jungle timber from the gallery to the cemented floor that was spread on the sloping -round of the rock cavern 40′ above. The shorter and narrower pocket A was made accessible from pocket B by a floor of iron planks set on iron rods as supports let into the surface of the rock horizontally and grouted in.

The early timber ladder was replaced by an iron wire vertical ladder with safety measures of hoops of cane and wire netting around it in 1896. A spiral staircase of iron steps was constructed in 1938. Another similar staircase was recently constructed by the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) cheek-by-jowl with the earlier construction, and is used as the method of access to the fresco pocket at a point to the south of the original doorway. Visitors now use the old stairway as the exit from the pocket.

Eighty five years ago entry to the fresco pockets was restricted to those who had obtained permits from the Archaeological Commissioner. (AC).

The public has the opportunity of taking their cameras into the fresco pockets, on permits issued by the ASD, and photographing the paintings. No persons are allowed to have their photographs taken in front of the paintings, and at least two guards are stationed inside the fresco pockets as a security measure. No electronic or other flash-lights are permitted in photographing the paintings.


Documentation and Copying of the Paintings

Bell decided to photograph the pockets from a distance at the same elevation, and record the disposition of the paintings within. For this purpose a four inch hawser was let down from the summit to the ground with an iron block tied to the end. Through the block a two inch rope was passed and an improvised chair firmly tied to it, whereon the photographer took his seat. The hawser was then hauled up from the summit, 150 feet up until the chair was level with the pocket and 50 feet clear of the cliff, but due to the force of the wind that caused it to sway in the air, the photographs taken were not clear.

It took DAL Perera, Chief Draughtsman and Bell’s “Native Assistant”, a week to do an oil painting to scale, while perilously suspended in mid-air like the man on the flying trapeze. The painting was later photographed and lithographed to make a plate. From the top of the iron ladder the rock curved inwards for four feet or so to an upward rising floor of pocket B where it was not possible to safely stand or even sit on the smooth surface. As a safeguard at the head of the ladder and along the entire edge of both pockets B and A to the north of it and the ledge between them, iron standards three foot three inches in height, with a single top rail, were driven into the rock Bell stated: “Without such a handrail, a slip on the smooth inclined floor of the pocket would have meant instant death on the rocks fifty yards below.”

In the last week of March 1896, Perera made copies of six paintings in pocket B while being dangerously seated on the sloping floor. In the following year with additional safeguards and working platforms, Perera continued copying the remaining paintings in the two pockets. Bell reported that 13 of the paintings in pocket B could be easily reached from the floor, being painted on the rock wall and the lower part of the oblique roof of the cave, but they were not at one level. It was these paintings that Perera copied in 1896 and 1897 while being uncomfortably perched on the sloping floor of the fresco pocket, which had in 1897 been cemented towards the outer edge.

The painting at the extreme south, i.e., No. 14 and the fragments No. 15, 16, 17, were out of reach and well up on the roof of the pocket. To get at these paintings, it was necessary to construct a “cantilever” of jungle timber, firmly lashed to a stout iron cramp let into the rock floor. To the end of this projection was tied a rough “cage” of sticks, from which uncomfortable and perilous perch Perera made copies of the last and highest figures in pocket B.

It was even more difficult and dangerous to fix a hurdle platform outside the narrow and slippery ledge separating pocket B from pocket A and onwards to the end of this pocket. It took 10 days to construct this stick-shelf (massa). In addition to P iron bars supporting the woodwork, the whole braced strongly to thick iron cramped into the rock, the platform had to be further held up by a central hawser and side ropes, hauled taut round trees on the summit 300 feet up. When finished this improvised platform stood out 15 feet from the cliff.

It took Perera 19 weeks to complete copying the 22 paintings – 5 in pocket A and 17 in pocket B.

The constructional details and measurements given above are intended to serve several purposes: to enable the reader to appreciate the labour and expertise in 1896 exercised by the authorities in setting up the elaborate apparatus for Perera to copy and photograph the paintings – all for the love of preserving our ancient artwork; to appreciate the great care taken by Perera under perilous conditions to make such excellent copies of 22 paintings, now exhibited in the Colombo Museum, which Bell extolled in superlative terms:

“It is hardly going too far to assert that the copies represent the original frescoes as they may still be seen at Sigiriya, with a faithfulness almost perfect. Not a line, not a flaw or abrasion, not a shade of colour, but has been reproduced with the minutest accuracy”. (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon Branch (1897).

The details and measurements are also intended to impress upon readers the magnitude of the feats of our craftsman in ancient times, who constructed broad, long scaffoldings rising to a height of around 400 feet using jungle timber and creepers; and to marvel that the artists painted their subject so well, during a very long period upon multi-layered plaster on the wind-blown exposed rock.

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“… And death will have its day” Shakespeare



Hearing of the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on Saturday April 10 was like losing a family member. I acknowledged to myself that was strange for who are we to the Royal Family – the House of Windsor – not even their Commonwealth subjects now. But there was that transitory sorrow and the desire to listen to the details of his life as presented on BBC, and read about him. I found later that a young Lankan man, now domiciled in the US, felt the same. “I felt sad on hearing he had died, though he lived long enough.”

This direct descendant of Queen Victoria, a Greek Prince, gave up his citizenship and his name and became British. Much of it, as also the proposed marriage to Princess Elizabeth, was maneuvered by his ambitious uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Princess Elizabeth conveniently fell in love with the dashingly handsome Naval Officer, Philip, when on a visit to the British fleet with her father King George VI, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. She was 13 when first attracted, and he a mature 19, already in the Royal Navy.


The Netflix film series of the House of Windsor/Mountbatten

I also ascribe his death being like the goodbye of a person known, as I had watched the Netflix film series The Crown which traces the life of the Queen from childhood up with Clair Foy playing the Princess and young Queen and Olivia Coleman playing the aging sovereign, brilliantly. Incidentally Tobias Menzies who played the role of the Duke in series three and four resembled the Prince more than the younger Matt Smith. The Crown is claimed to be true to life and therefore warts being shown, plus of course the incidents that prove the Queen’s regality, constancy, dedication and dealing tactfully with her stubbornly rash sister, five Prime Ministers including Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, when personalities clashed just a wee bit.

And then the annus horribilis – year of disaster and misfortune of family divorces and fire at Windsor Castle. In all these personal and national travails, Prince Philip stood steadily by her side; in public one step behind, and she leaned on him though steely strong herself. She acknowledged this fact and her gratitude to him on many occasions. It is accepted that Philip steered the Royal Family through troublous times. I include here Tobias Menzies’ tribute to the Duke on hearing of his death:

“If I know anything about the Duke of Edinburgh I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t want an actor who portrayed him on TV giving his opinion on his life, so I’ll leave it to Shakespeare. ‘O good old man! How well on thee appears the constant service of the antique world. When service sweat for duty, not for need. Thou art not for the fashion of these times where none will sweat but for promotion, and having that do choke their service up even with the having. It is not so with thee;’” (As You Like It – Orlando in Act 2, Sc 3)

When the Navy Officer Philip was questioned by King George VI, who with his wife did not quite approve of this seeker of their daughter’s hand in marriage due to his penury and family connections to Germany, he promised he would always stand by Elizabeth, care for her and protect her. Which he did. It was no easy task for a strong man to be consort and play second fiddle to the Queen of Great Britain, and far flung Commonwealth countries which accepted her sovereignty. She told her parents she would marry Philip and no other and the love story unsentimentally yet sincerely continued for 70 years.


Poignant and revealing

I remember well the narrative in the series of The Crown of one of his rumoured major discretions. His physio invited him for a weekend party convincing him he was under mental stress and needed relaxation and diversion. Thus while the Queen had to travel alone to Sandringham, he went off with a couple of men for a weekend of golf and drinking. It was on this occasion that Christine Keeler who rocked the political stability of Britain with her ‘charms’, was present. Photographs had been surreptitiously taken and in one, the Prince’s rear view was seen.

Princess Margaret stormed into Queen Elizabeth’s solitary breakfast with the newspaper published picture and said there was no mistaking her husband having been partying. What followed was so revealing. The Queen was devastated emotionally but was completely stoic. She was seated on a window sill in Buckingham Palace when Philip came in. She was aloof. He knelt by her and apologized. Then he sat on the window sill himself. Slowly she moved her hand to his extended arm. And he said: “I promised your father I would care for you? Haven’t I done that all these years?”


Early Life

He was born in Corfu in 1921. The following year, his father, Prince Andrew of Greece, was banished from the country. The family was taken to Italy on board a British naval destroyer. The baby Philip slept in a cradle made from a box that had been used to store oranges. For the next ten years or so, he lived a peripatetic existence, with no fixed home. His mother, Princess Alice, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and consigned to a sanatorium. (Later, she sheltered Jews in Athens during the German occupation and was honored, in 1994, as Righteous Among the Nations).

Prince Andrew, the father, exited to Monte Carlo to live with a mistress. He left nothing to his children. Netflix’s BBC-approved The Crown showed that his mother, now a nun, was invited to stay with their family in Buckingham Palace, the move being more Queen Elizabeth’s. He somewhat ignored his mother, who was befriended by Princess Anne. Later, the film shows Philip walking with her to the garden beside her quarters. She died December 5, 1964 aged 84 in Buckingham Palace and was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and in 1988 in the Church of Mary Magdalene, Gethsemane, Jerusalem.

All four of Philip’s sisters married Germans. One of the sisters died in 1937 with her entire family in a plane crash. He attended her funeral amid throngs of Germans giving the Nazi salute. None of them was invited for his wedding, though his mother was present, later at the coronation of the Queen, dressed in a sort of nun’s habit designed by her.

When the Duke was asked whether he had been traumatized by his fractured upbringing, with so much turmoil, he replied: “My family broke up. My mother was ill. My sisters were married, my father was in the South of France, I just had to get on with it. You do, One does.” However,the Mountbattens in Britain took him over and then his uncle Dickie, Lord Louise Mountbatten, his wife and two female cousins, welcomed him. Lord Mountbatten continued the role of mentor and advisor and later shifted to Prince Charles who was completely devastated when Lord Louis died at the hands of the IRA while sailing.


Gaffes and quotes and doing good

Of course Prince Philip had his quirks, mostly through being frank verbally. Many are the undiplomatic comments of his. “I would very much like to go to Russia,” he said at the height of the Cold War, “although the bastards murdered half my family.” I distinctly heard on TV Prince Philip give vent to annoyance at one of his final public appearances of meeting a special group of soldiers. He and others were seated while all else stood behind. The cameraman was fussing.

Then came Prince Philip loud and clear: “Take that f….. picture!” (The f-word pronounced full).

“That fierce and funny view of the world was at once a boon and a curse. It both stood Philip in good stead and, notoriously landed him in trouble which made headlines and drew accusations of racism. …. There is no denying the pressure was there from the start, long before he was forced to become a liege.” Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “He consistently put the interest of others ahead of his own.”

In the New Yorker of April 9, Anthony Lane titled his article – ‘Prince Philip‘s death is the last embers of British Stoicism.” Lane wrote: “That is indisputably true and was demonstrated for decades by the sight of Philip patrolling in the slipstream of the Queen, like a frigate in the wake of an aircraft carrier – a step or two behind her, to one side with his hands diplomatically clasped behind his back. To maintain that secondary position without tiring requires a formidable level of self control, especially in a man who had once as a naval officer enjoyed command of a ship. Renouncing his own career in 1951, he was required to kneel before Her Majesty, at her coronation, two years later, and swear to be ‘liege man of life and limb.’”

He was also, considering Prince Charles’ life, too strict in his upbringing of the heir to the throne. By any measure sending him to the Spartan boarding life at Gordonstone, which he had enjoyed but was near traumatic to the sensitive Charles, was a mistake. However, to compensate, as seen in The Crown, he tried to sort things out between Charles and Diana when cracks appeared in their marriage. He spoke to her as a father saying they were both strangers and aliens in the royal family that was so different to other families, but tradition and duty called for restraint, sacrifice and dignity. He had overcome strains and restraints by taking an interest in matters global (wild life), service (his help to young people) and for recreation to polo, after being a good cricketer.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was much more than that. He was an outstanding global figure with peculiarities tempering a stoic, strong personality.

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