4th May 2003 Volume 9, Issue 42
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
mansion has shrunk over the years. There are only 43 out of the original 121
rooms remaining and seven out
of 21 meda midulas.
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.
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.
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