4th May  2003  Volume 9, Issue 42














Maduwanwela Walauwa, the first walauwa to be conserved

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A long arduous journey through the harsher terrain of the otherwise lush Sabaragamuwa Province, brought us to the Embilipitiya-Suriyakanda road. The rugged road to Kolonne near the 14th mile post took a right turn, leading us to the famous Panamure road (remember the famous private elephant kraal?) and we reach a place steeped in history. There is no mistaking the grand granite entrance, an imposing decorative thorana that demands to be noticed. 

The grandeur bears testimony to the man who made it his home, Maduwanwela Maha Disawe. It speaks volumes of a man's spirit, his heroism and how he used his unique mansion to display his resentment for and  protest against the colonial masters. It is his spirit that gives this building its unique character.

Stately mansion

Maduwanwela Walauwa, a sprawling stately old mansion spreading across some 20 acres of land has a picture-book setting. A canopy of flamboyant trees gives it a coolness that is rare in humid Kolonne. Silence reigns, barring the chirping of birds.

Closer to the building, an Archeological Department board states that the walauwa area is a declared archaeological site. Taken over by the Department in 1974, little has been done to restore the mansion to its former glory, except some ongoing restoration work on the adhikarana salawa, the courthouse.

Maduwanwela Maha Mohottala had constructed the original building during the reign of  Wimladharm- asuriya II in 1700 A.D. During 1877- 1905, the walauwa boasted of 121 rooms, 21meda midul (quadrangles) and three  security walls, a courtroom, and a magnificent bodhi tree. The mansion had been later improved by the last of the illustrious clan, Sir James William Maduwanwela Maha Disawa.

The latter Maduwanwela by reconstructing his home has ensured that distinguishing between the man and the building would be difficult. The mansion demonstrates his sense of style, attention to detail,practical compartme- ntalisation of the building and even his anti British sentiments!

'Aristocrats only'

Three walls had originally protected the mansion. The inner one was known as the "Pahan Pavura" where lamps were lit at night. The entrance with the decorative arch constructed in 1877 allowed entry only to aristocrats. The main entrance, known as "Gal Thorana" has the engraving of the words ' Maduwanwala Walauwa'. The entrances are seven feet high, but are narrow so that riders are compelled to dismount from their horses and walk through the gate as a mark of respect for the aristocratic dwellers.

Gal Uluwassa has two stone pillars with beautiful floral carvings on either side. The three punkalas atop the arch, with two lotuses on either side, have been removed by treasure hunters in 2000.

The compound holds a pond that is badly in need of restroration. To the left is the famous bodhi tree, bearing testimony to the Disawe's religious fervour.

Peeling green paint and old wooden structures greet you. But there is unmistakable majesty, a certain air of mystery.  The mansion has been skillfully raised upon a three foot high stone foundation to bear the weight of over 120 rooms. The tiny rooms have been compartmentalised skillfully. Many have no windows but light wafts in  through the quadrangles.

  The tiled European-style bathhouse situated close to the old well is testimony to the fact that the Disawe was not completely immune to British influence.

Near the main room is a footprint  made of  blue tiles, an indication that shoes should be removed. The entrances to rooms have been deliberately kept low so that entrants are compelled to bow down.

A significant symbol is  the placement of tiles bearing Queen Victoria's visage near the Disawe's chamber and living room floor  ensuring that many feet would walk on them! Further, the Disawe had used the British Insignia and sterling pounds to decorate the floor denoting his acute dislike for the British.

Outside, there is an impressive pirith mandapa where the Disawe received guests. One is awestruck by the attention paid to detail. The floor is beautifuly set in blue elephants and floral patterned tiles. It also has blue windowpanes imported from Germany.

Inside the main hall, stands the  life sized portrait of the aristocratic.  The  frame is made out of tamarind and adorned with designs of an eagle, two sambhur, two elephants and a peacock. The photograph is indeed a majestic one. It is believed that an artist named AndreŠ had added the jewellery on to the image. This frame is believed to be an invaluable piece of art. On to the right is the  portrait of his second wife, Kalawane Kumarihamy in her aristocratic regalia.

There are some items from the household that are kept in the room - broken tiles, square and narrow tiles, pillar rests carved out of stone, a spartan urinal stone and a concrete washbasin.

You are taken inside through an impressive doorway made of pure jak wood, heavy and imposing. The frame was seized after successfully attacking the Katuwana Dutch Fortress and placed as a symbol of  Maduwanwela's heroism.

As you enter a  meda midula  can be seen. Sunshine filters in. We then step into what is known as the Maha Bangalawa (main sitting room). The floor is a wonderful mosaic of tiles. Horseshoe designs and floral patterns give a romantic aura to the area where the occupants of the house had their separate chambers. But the designs have empty spaces where precious stones and gold coins have been removed by plunderers.

It is said that Maduwanwela after a visit to India had brought fresh ideas on how to improve his mansion and was much influenced by a maharaja's mandir. Indian artists have specially designed most of the tiles. The floor area is tiled in specific designs. There are  lotuses, whisky bottle and glass signs, feet, birds and floral patterns.

Punchi Banglawa, or the smaller sitting room  according to records, was the meeting point for  aristocrats. Non-aristocrats  had been  allocated another room. There are dining rooms for aristocrats and a special kitchen to cook their food, a betel store and and one room with high level windows possibly used as speedy escape routes.

Confinement room

Beyond all this lies the tiny confinement room. One  shudders to think how any woman couldgive birth inside the restrictive room with a beam to pull on during labour pains. Close by is the sewing room with faded green painted windows in an octagonal shape and rows of storerooms.

The ladies' section also has Dingiri Appo's room, the Disawe's crippled daughter's chamber and another for the ladies to stay in during menstruation. A dressing station is next, bearing mirror marks close to a room where foreign liquor was stored. Disawe is said to have occasionally consumed spirits and invited dancers to perform in the evenings.

A storeroom, a dance ritual room, the Dik Gey Netum Kamaraya ( the Disawe bore a reputation as a lover of the performing arts) where the chief occupant watched performances and next to that a billiard room, a game Maduwanwela enjoyed . 

The Disawe's chamber is very special. It has four entrances that could be locked. Kumarihamy's room has a single entrance facing that of the Disawe's room.The bedroom holds a safe which contained Maduwanwela's rifle, sword and walking stick. The next room is where he stored all his weapons, kept under lock and key. In his accounts, Dr. R.L. Spittle who had been a frequent visitor to the walauwa and even performed surgery on the Disawe,says  the weapons  included two cannons seized during an attack on a Dutch fortress.

The mansion has shrunk over the years. There are only 43 out of the original 121 rooms  remaining and seven out of 21 meda midulas.

The upper story of the mansion is  spacious and airy. The narrow stairway leading to this floor, known as the Burutha Maligawa (satinwood palace) is  famous.  The railings are made out of satinwood and decorated with ebony and ivory . The room is bathed in sunlight during  the day and there is little wonder that the Disawe received his colonial superiors and special guests here.

Another famous section is the courthouse where the Disawe adjudicated.  He wielded tremendous judicial powers barring the power to pass death sentences. There are two entrances, a special room where cases were heard and even a cell. The common punishment had been to set fire to the offender's house, but the Disawe had repeatedly reconstructed them and made generous gifts to the offenders later.

Sadly, the mansion that forms part of our forgotten heritage has been neglected. Though declared an archaeological site in 1974, little has been done to give it a facelift. The Cultural Ministry has finally given a pledge that the Maduwanwela Walauwa would be restored to its former glory  as a symbol of the nation's  heritage.

    Maduwanwela clan                                                                    

Maduwanwela village is steeped in folklore,and built on the  tank - village - temple concept.  The mansion was built close to lush paddy fields and a temple on a hillock.

It is said that the original Maduwanwela had been drinking water from a spout and had left his labu ketaya (pitcher) on the ground. When he returned, the pitcher was full again. He had been pleased about the  quality  of the soil and built  a mansion of rare beauty  there. This was in 1700.

The last of the clan was Sir James William Maduwanwela Maha Disawe. His colonial names were conferred by the British in recognition of his eloquent use of the Queen' language. The Disawe irrigated the land and built Buddhist schools to improve education in the area. He died in 1930. His daughter did not inherit the property and died in 1963.

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Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, has directed the authorities to expedite conservation of the walauwa. He believes that the crumbling mansion symbolises an  era and forms a part of the country's heritage that needs to be preserved for posterity.

" It is sad to see it in such a dilapidated state. It is a rich source for anyone seeking to understand the administrative and social structures that existed 300 years ago. Believed to be the oldest walauwa here, Maduwanwela Walauwa needs protection," he said.

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    Royal grants                                                                                

There are five sannasas signifying  grants made to the Maduwanwela clan. Out of them, the Maduwanwela Sannasa is the first, granted by King Wimaladharmasuriya II to Maduwanwela Wijeyasundare Ekanayake Abhayakooon Mudiyanse for gifting a white sambhur to the king. The original nindagama included 16,500 acres. 

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