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Surnames in Kandyan Kingdom




This is an afterword to Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi’s article, “Sinhala Surnames” published in The Island Sat Mag of 3 July 2021. The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes surname as “a hereditary name common to all members of a family, as distinct from a (Christian name or) first name (forename)”; “an additional descriptive or allusive name, (title or epithet) attached to a person (added to a person’s name), sometimes becoming hereditary” (Eighth Edition and Tenth Edition Revised).

In my study of Dumbara (ready for publication) I have devoted four chapters to describe village names, Gedera nam (name of the homestead: usually the name of the highland plot or the name of a paddy field), Vasagam (family names) including Mudiyanse names and Walawwa names, titles, surnames, personal names and nicknames which were prevalent in Dumbara, one of the five Ratas (territory) around the capital of the ancient Kandyan Kingdom.

One should not attempt to trace the history of Sinhala surnames associating them with the advent of Western colonialists, although in the maritime provinces some people were compelled to borrow Portuguese names, a sign of foreign domination, servitude and cultural aggression. To trace the history of surnames in the ancient Kandyan Kingdom one has to consult our literary sources, kada-im poth (Boundary books) which go back to the fourteenth century, lekam miti (Land Rolls) of various categories, many types of ancient documents related to land grants such as sannas and thalpath, and the deeds made after legislating registration of land mandatory.

“Mandaran Pura Puwatha”,

a poetry book consisting of 866 verses, helps us to identify many surnames of office holders and military leaders from the days of King Rajasinghe I. This list is too comprehensive to quote in a newspaper article. A.C. Lawrie’s “Gazetteer of the Central Province of Ceylon” (1898) is a veritable source to identify all types of names found in the Kandyan countryside, which also includes names of highland plots and paddy fields. The Electoral List prepared for the first election of the State Council conducted under universal suffrage in 1931, provides lists of unembellished and uncorrupted surnames in their natural form, which later suffered with upward mobility.

In the Kandyan countryside there is a closely identifiable affinity between village names and surnames of the officeholders in ancient times. Office holders derived their surnames either from the village names of their fathers, sometimes of their mothers or from the village they chose to reside. Again this list is too exhaustive. Dugganna Unnnases or Mahatmayos or Yakadadolis (King’s concubines) were also identified with the village names. Mahabandihami and the beautiful name Chandra Rekhavo (of Alutgama of Patha Dumbara) were two personal names of such Yakadadolis found in historical sources. Kandyan chieftains who signed the so-called Kandyan Convention in 1815, all used their village names. One of these signatories was Millawa, Dissawa of Wellassa. By some strange circumstances his son, a faithful servant of the British Empire, adopted his mother’s name Dunuvila, a village in Harispattuwa bordering Patha Dumbara. John Davy in his “An Account of the Interior of Ceylon” (1821) says Millawa was “the most learned of all the Kandyan chiefs”, although the present-day writers have ruthlessly castigated Davy’s method of collecting information to write “Sketch of the History of Ceylon”, a chapter in his “Account”.

In the British period many families adopted their Gedera names, Vasagam and also the names of their hamlets as their surnames; for example, in the former case, Ambagahawela Gedera people dropped Gedera and used the surname Ambagahawela, while some retained it as in the case of Pihillegedera. Some others adopted their Mudiyanse names as surnames such as Herath Mudiyanselage Kiri Banda becoming Herath Mudiyanselage Kiri Banda Herath. Tillakaratna Banda became Banda Tillakaratna retaining Tillakaratna as his surname; but without giving his children his adopted surname, he resorted to his ancestral roots in picking a surname for his children. Most of these changes occurred from the beginning of the twentieth century. Minor titles in the ancient palace, military and provincial administration such as Korala, Mudiyanse, Mohottala, Duggannarala, Mahalekam, Wedikkara, Atapattu, Palihawadana, Vannaku were later adopted as surnames. But honorifics of the chiefs of the so-called depressed castes, which were in abundance, were not accepted as surnames by their communities. An interesting development is Gama Gedera and Dugganna Gedera becoming Gama Walawwa and Dugganna Walawwa respectively.

In the ancient times Gedara names, family names and personal names mirrored or gave an accurate reflection of the rigid caste system, as all Gedara names and family names in general and personal names in particular were caste-based. Members of the so-called depressed castes had only a personal name; these names were very beautiful, rhythmic and resonate like a melodious note denoting many virtues of the name holder, something lacking in the personal names of the members of the so-called privileged castes. I have collected hundreds of such beautiful personal names of males and females respectively. But nobody had the courage and inclination to name their progeny by their village names or Gedera names until recent times, which was the preserve of the so-called upper castes. In my writings I have elaborated that changing the caste-based names and some adopting names of the privileged lot, resembles a struggle in defiance of age-old discrimination. But simply adopting a name which was a taboo in one generation does not signify complete emancipation. Upward mobility that took place as a result of opening of more and more educational and employment opportunities, and migration to big cities, gave a new dimension to the development of surnames.

Now, for the query of Dr. Rohan H. Wickremasighe: “Mandaran Pura Puwatha” was authored by the poet “Wikum Aduru Pandiwara”, Haluwadana Nilame (Chief of Royal Wardrobe) of King Rajasinghe II. It also mentions of a “Wikumsiha Pandi” of Bogamuwa (Kurunegala District) and “Wickramasingh Kotalawala Tennakone Methi” of Saparagamuwa.

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One of best development administrators SL ever had



Mr. K. Thayaparan (KT), who retired from the government service after serving as a development administrator for more than thirty years passed away on Jan 05 at the age of 86. He was born in 1937 in Malaya, which was then under the British rule; his father had migrated there in 1916 for employment. His father was employed in the Malayan Railways, and the family was living a happy life. In the late 1940s, there erupted a terrorist movement launched by Communists of Chinese origin. To fight with the terrorists the British Government had issued a conscription order for all school leavers above the age of 17 years to join the military. Many families with male children over 17 years fled to Ceylon to avoid conscription. Since KT’s family also had a male child who had been noticed to report for military duty, his family members too other than his father left Malaya in 1951 and came to live in Ceylon. In Jaffna, KT resumed and completed his school education. In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya to undertake studies in geography, economics and history.

During the university days, KT had won university colours in badminton. He graduated in 1961, and served as a school teacher in the Matara district. In 1962, after sitting a competitive examination, KT joined the Government Divisional Revenue Officers’ service. In 1963, together with the other officers of the DROs’ service and comparable services, KT was absorbed into the Ceylon Administrative Service that had been created in place of the Ceylon Civil Service, which had simultaneously been abolished.

Till 1975 KT served in the district administration in the northern districts, first as DRO, then as Asst. Government Agent and as Addl. Government Agent. From 1976 to 1979 he worked in the Ministry of Fisheries as Deputy Director Planning, and contributed to the development of the National Fisheries Development Plan 1979 – 1983. The Fisheries Development Plan, among other activities had concentrated on exploitation of the fish resources in the Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, which was proclaimed in 1977, and utilisation of irrigation reservoirs and village tanks for development of inland fisheries. The Government made a policy decision to implement an accelerated programme to develop inland fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, a new Division called the Inland Fisheries Division was set up in the Ministry, and KT was appointed its director.

The accelerated development programme had a number of activities to perform. Establishment of fish breeding stations in different parts of the country, recruitment and training of scientific and technical officers to serve at fish breeding centres, import of exotic fish species suitable for culture in Sri Lankan inland waterbodies, training of youth in inland fishing and aquaculture, promotion of investments in shrimp farming, etc. Funding agencies like UNDP, ADB and individual countries on bilateral basis came forward to support the accelerated inland fisheries development programme by providing funds for development of infrastructure, providing technical assistance, providing foreign training for the scientific and technical staff who were mostly young people without experience, and providing advisory services. It was heavy work for KT, but he managed the Division and its work smoothly.

KT was a firm believer in team work. He knew workers in all outstation inland fisheries or aquaculture establishments by name. He distributed foreign training slots offered by donor countries or agencies to every scientific or technical officer on an equitable basis. He listened to everybody, and was quite loved by his staff. KT was quite neutral in politics. However, in spite of his hard work to develop the inland fisheries sector, he was transferred out of the Ministry in 1985 to the SLAS Pool.

In 1979 when KT took over the responsibility of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture in the country, the total national inland fish production in Sri Lanka was 17,400 tons. During his tenure of nearly six years, the national inland fish production steadily increased and in 1985, the year he was transferred it had increased to 32,700 tons, showing an increase of nearly 90%. Also, there were 4,500 inland fishing craft operating in reservoirs, and the number employed as fishers, fish collectors, fish traders, etc. was over 10,000.

After leaving the Ministry of Fisheries he served different assignments such as Director Regional Development, National Consultant or the World Bank funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and Secretary to the State Ministry Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Addl. Secretary Development of the Ministry of Fisheries, but his stay in this post was brief since the then Minister replaced him with one of his political supporters. His last government assignment was as Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, National Integration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1997, he retired from the government service, but continued in a few foreign funded projects as institutional development consultant. He once told that his most productive period in the government service was as Director Inland Fisheries. After retirement he authored several books, Reminiscences of Malaya 1937 – 1951, Stories of Some Brave Men and High Achievers, and Introduction to Some Known High Achievers.

Although he was quite suitable to be appointed the Secretary to a Ministry, he was never considered for such a post. In the final years of his career, he was compelled to serve under his juniors. But he carried on regardless and did the best in whatever the capacity he served.


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It was not Central Bank bond scam



I was surprised and sorry to read a journalist attached to The Island writing about a central bank bond scam: surprised because, the editor of The Island, in his inimitable editorials, consistently refers to a treasury bond scam; sorry, because it is simply factually wrong. I have driven home that point several times in The Island and assumed that that canard was dead. Would you permit me to flog a not-so-dead horse?

There never was a central bank bond scam; there could not have been, because there was no market in central bank bonds. The central bank has not issued its own liabilities at least since 1967. The currency notes issued by the Central Bank are liabilities of the government (aanduva/state?) of Sri Lanka. (Should you not clear up that mess confusing ‘state’ with the ‘government’?  It is one thing to have faith in the state of Sri Laska and quite another to have faith in the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.)  The Central Bank issues those bills (it does currency) on behalf of the state/government of Sri Lanka and they are not the liabilities of the Central Bank or the Monetary Board. There was a scam in government bonds in 2015 as well as in 2016.

As became clearer in the course of the Chitrasiri Commission, the then-governor of the Central Bank and a few other officers of the Central Bank were parties to that financial fraud involving government bonds. The Central Bank is simply the agent of the government/state who markets government liabilities. Those liabilities do not become the Bank’s liabilities. When you carry Sri Lanka currency, you carry liabilities, much like government bonds, of an entity whose credit is low. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka is not in the picture.


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Ampitiya That I Knew



Ampitiya is a village just two miles from Kandy. The road to Talatuoya, Marassana, Galaha and turning left from Talatuoya to Tennekumbura and Hanguranketha and beyond goes through Ampitiya.My family moved there in 1949 when our paternal grandfather bequeathed the ancestral home to our father to be effective after our grandfather’s demise. Until then the eldest sister of our father’s family with her family and the two bachelor brothers lived in the house. After living in various places our father was transferred to on duty, we had come to our final abode there.

The house was situated about 100 yards before the second mile post. There were paddy fields both in front of the house and behind it with a mountain further away. These were salubrious surroundings to live in. There was no hustle and bustle as in a town and the only noise would have been the occasional tooting of horns and the call of vendors selling various household needs.

The Ampitiya village extended from near the entrance to the Seminary and the school situated a short climb away along Rajapihilla Mawatha (now Deveni Rajasinghe Mawatha) on the road from Kandy ending at the gate to the Seminary, and running up to the Diurum Bodiya temple.

Ampitiya was well known thanks to the Seminary of our Lady of Lanka located there. Newly ordained Catholic priests took theology classes here. The Seminary with its majestic building commanded a fine view of the Dumbara valley. The student priests lived in the hostel called Montefano St. Sylvester’s Monastery situated just above the sloping rice fields coming down to the Kandy-Talatuoya Road. There was a volleyball court within the Montefano premises and we used to see the young priests enjoying themselves playing a game in the evenings as the court was quite visible from our house.

We, as schoolboys of the neighbourhood, used to get together during many weekends and play cricket on the roadway to the Montefano which was just past the second milepost as there was no vehicular traffic then on that road.

Ampitiya had a school started by the Catholic Church and known as Berrewaerts College which later became the Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya. At the time our family became residents of Ampitiya this was the only school. Later the Catholic Church established a girls’ school named Carmel Hill Convent. This school enabled most girls who had to go all the way to Kandy or Talatuoya by bus to walk to school.

People who follow sports, especially athletics, would have heard the names of Linus Dias, Sellappuliyage Lucien Benedict Rosa (best known in Sri Lanka as SLB Rosa) and Ranatunga Karunananda, all Ampitiya products who participated in the Olympics as long distance runners competing in the 10,000 metres event. Linus Dias captained the Sri Lankan contingent in the Rome Olympics in 1960.Though they were not able to emulate Duncan White they took part.

Karunananda became a hero in Sri Lanka as well as in Japan when at the Tokyo Olympics of October 1964 he completed the 10,000 metre course running the last four laps all alone. The crowd cheered him all the way to the finish appreciating his courage in not abandoning the already completed race. Later he said he was living up to the Olympic motto which said the main thing is to take part and not to win.

Rosa captained the Sri Lankan team in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He switched to long distance running while still a student thanks to the Principal of Ampitiya Maha Vidyalaya, Mr. Tissa Weerasinghe (a hall mate of mine one year senior to me at Peradeniya) who had noted his stamina and asked him to switch to long distance events. I must mention that Tissa was responsible for bringing this school to a high standard from where it was when he took over.

Coincidentally, during our Ampitiya days, all the houses from Uduwela junction for about half a mile towards Talatuoya were occupied by our relatives! They included the Warakaulles, Koswattes, Pussegodas, Sangakkaras, Godamunnes, Thalgodapitiyas and Wijekoons. Now most of these houses are occupied by others.

Ampitiya area had two Buddhist temples. One was the Dalukgolla Rajamaha Viharaya on the Ratemulla Road and the other, Ampitiya Diurum Bodiya, near the third mile post. From the latter temple a famous Buddhist monk, Ven. Ampitye Rahula Thero later joined the Vajirarama temple in Colombo and was highly recognized by Buddhists just like Ven. Narada and Ven.Piyadassi Theros.

The Uduwela temple had a water spout emerging out of a granite rock where the temple priests and neighbours used to bathe and wash their clothes. This spout never ran dry.

At present the landscape of Ampitiya has changed hugely. Most of the sloping paddy fields have been filled and dwelling houses have come up. The majestic view, except for faraway mountains, is no longer present. A five-star hotel has been built just beyond the second mile post and the area has lost its previous tranquility. A person of my vintage who once lived there visiting Ampitiya now wouldn’t be able to recognize the place given the changes.



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