Visiting the Udarata Kingdom


by Kamalika Pieris

Robert Knox (1659-1679) stated that the Udarata Kingdom was strongly fortified by nature. Whichever way you enter the Udarata Kingdom, you must ascend vast and high mountains, covered with thick jungle and great rocks, he said. The Mahaveli Ganga was not navigable, has no bridges, and is too strong during rain to cross. ‘The King careth not to make his country easy to travel but desires to keep it intricate.’ ‘There are many ways of entering the Udarata, but all very narrow, so that no one can go abreast. You can only travel along paths, in all which there are gates made of thorns, and two or three men always set to watch, who are to examine all who come and go,’ Knox continued, speaking of the guarded entrances to Udarata (kadavat).

There were several routes from Udarata to Colombo during Dutch and British occupation. The first was the Great Road used for formal occasions, such as the annual Dutch embassy to Udarata. This was the easiest and most direct route. It went from Kandy, Ganetenna, Attapitiya, Arandara, Ruvanvelle, Avissawella (then Sitavaka), Hanvella (then Gurubevila), Kaduvela to Kelaniya. This road went through the Satara Korale. Satara korale lay between the Balana Pass in the east and Menikkadavara on the west and was of strategic and economic importance. There was a tussle between the Dutch and Udarata over this korale. Udarata would not give it up.

The second route was through Galagedara (then Girihagama) Vauda, Kurunegala, Teliyangoma, Visanaya, Katugampola, Gonavila, Tambavila to Colombo. A third route, in the time of Knox, went through Balangoda, Opanayake, Pelmadulla, Idangoda to Ratnapura ( then Saffragam) Nambapana, Horana and Panadura. There was also a route from Hambantota passing through Wellavaya, Ettapitiya, Welimada (then Dambavinne) Paranagama, Maturata, Hanguranketa, Talatuoya and Ampitiya.

The route to Kandy from Matale was through Balakaduwa pass. One route, starting from Kandy, went through Lewella to Amunugama, Gunnepana, Napana, Madawela, Wattegama, Yatawara and Weligala. The other went from Watapoluwa, to Polgolla, Doragamuwa and Udurawana. This road came into existence during the time of king Narendrasinha and was used by the Upsampada delegation from Siam. There was a road from Kandy to Anuradhapura and another to Sri Pada along Nawalapitiya. There were secret paths all over the Udarata which only the inhabitants knew. Two spies from Mahara, Kelaniya had entered Udarata through one of these secret paths in 1814. In 1765, the retreating Dutch army was taken through a secret route to Negombo. Sri Wickreme was brought down to Colombo as a prisoner, through another. There were secret paths to Uva too.

‘Kandy’ is the name given to the Udarata capital city by the British .The Portuguese started this by referring to the kingdom as ‘Candea’ taken from the Sinhala ‘Cande’ meaning hill. They used the word both for the kingdom and the capital. The correct name was ‘Senkadagala’. ‘Siriwardenepura’ was added as an honorific on formal occasions. Entrance into the capital was through four ferries over Mahaweli Ganga at Getambe, Katugastota, Watapuluwa and Lewella. These catered to the various directions from which people came to Kandy, Katugastota ferry for Puttalam and Lewella for Batticaloa.

‘Every way you come into the city of Kandy, about 2 or 3 miles off from it are thorn gates and watches,’ said Knox. There were thick hedges of thorn, set round the city of Kandy ‘like a line.’ Entry was only through gates of this same thorny material, which were drawn up and down by ropes. Clay seals functioning as passports were needed when leaving through the watches. The soldier’s seal had a bayonet (pike) on it. British army officer Willerman was in Kandy on February 15, 1815. He said the ‘broad and good road’ between Gannoruwa and the palace was lined with houses.

The main entrance to Kandy was at the north gate, with its massive arch and side walls of stone. There were two main streets, each a mile in length running north and south and connected by cross streets. The streets had names such as At vidiya, Astavanka, Borawe, Kotugodelle, Komutti, Kumara, Kumaruppe, Palladeniya, Swarna Kalyana, Udunuwara and Yatinuwara. There was also Ridi ( silversmiths,) Hetti (Chetties) and Kavikara vidiya (royal musicians). Ehelepola, Molligoda, Dullewe, Meegastenne and Ratwatte disawas resided at Hetti vidya, Mampitiya at Swarna Kalyana vidiya. Pilimatalawe’s walauwa is today President’s Lodge. A kurullan maduwa in Daskara veediya had native birds who spoke ‘all languages ‘said D’Oyly.

The Dutch noted that the streets were wide and straight. They were unpaved, spacious and clean with large trees. Along the streets were single storey houses, raised ten or twelve feet from street level with brick or stone steps. , they were built of mud and had thatched roofs. By royal decree, no one was allowed build a two storied house, whitewash walls or use tiles for roofs. An exception seems to have been made however, for the high ranking chiefs. Their houses, in the elite area of the town, were tiled and white washed. Every night at about 8 p.m. a bell was rung and nobody could thereafter appear in the street without a light. Willerman observed that though some houses were ‘extensive’, most had small doors you had to creep through, the windows were small holes. ‘Houses outside the city were better built’. There is a plan of Kandy town made by Heydt who went up with the Dutch army in 1736. Heydt also made a plan of the ‘royal palace of Kandia’ (1765) Udawattekele which occupied one flank of the main town was a prohibited forest where people could not even gather firewood. The Dalada Maligawa and the royal palace were situated beside it. Wimaladharmasuriya II had a three story Dalada Maligawa at Kandy. Narendrasinha had replaced this with a two storied building. British soldiers, arriving in Kandy in 1815, admired the Dalada Maligawa with its beautiful painted ceiling and brass railing.

The Dalada Maligawa architecture was magnificent said D.D.A.Dassenaike to W.M. Harvard in 1815. There was a solidly built archway about 20 feet in length at the Pahalagaha Maluwa, behind the Dalada Maligawa, big enough for an elephant with its rider to enter. It had massive wooden doors used by the temple authorities. This arch was demolished in 1933. The Maligawa was roofed with copper, silver and gold. There were golden turrets at both ends of the roof. The walls were profusely covered with inscriptions and paintings. There was a moat around the palace and Dalada Maligawa, with a drawbridge. Littleton observed that on festive nights, lights were put inside the apertures of diyareli bemma round the lake and these were reflected in the lake.

Davy’s drawing of the Dalada Maligawa and royal palace as it was at his time, 1816-1820, shows a much more elaborate palace complex than what is there today. Those who saw the palace in the 1800s said that the area was crowded with houses. The palace was an immense complex of great extent, forming three sides of a square with numerous large courts and many gates which were entered in sequence. There were three entrances, official, private and the Dalada Maligawa entrance. The great terrace round the palace was eight feet high and nine feet broad. The palace frontage visible today is actually an audience hall built by Sri Wickreme to meet the chiefs for discussions. It has sun and moon symbols on either side of the doorway, sacred goose and lion inside.

Willerman said the palace was ‘stupendous’. The palace was roofed with copper, silver and gold. The doors and walls were plated with silver. The pillars and door frames were carved, and handles embossed with gold and silver. Locks and hinges were of steel, beautifully inlaid with gold. The ceiling was ornamented with ‘curious paintings.’ Dutch Governor Van Eck (1762-5) was amazed by the scale of the riches they found in the royal palace, wondering how it was possible for a black king to have such a palace.

The throne room was approached through two other rooms which had walls profusely covered with inscriptions and paintings and doors covered with brass and ivory, all calculated to make a very dazzling appearance at night, when the king held audience. The walls of the palace rooms had a white plaster ‘which is superior to anything in our country,'observed the British . ‘They apply a paste rubbing of unslaked lime, milk, gum and sugar and apply this with ‘well designed trowels’ until it is smooth, then polish it with agate for a whole day till it shines like alabaster and can even be used as a mirror.’

The Interior of the palace was divided into different sets of apartments with offices attached. The rooms were generally ‘small and of a gloomy appearance’. One room in the palace had immense quantities of bows, darts, spears, arrows beautifully painted. Another room had immense brass lamps of all kind of shapes. A third room had Dutch paintings and mirrors and globe lamps and yet another had cases that appear never to a have been opened since they were received from the Dutch.

The original audience hall built by Rajadhi had a throne room attached to it. A stone subterranean passage was recently discovered to its west. The hall was an open one, with rows of wooden pillars and a pitched roof projecting over the pillars. The Dutch were not impressed with the audience hall with its high roof, which was thatched. They said it was like a barn. The British group hated the stuffiness and smell of the audience hall. Historian Delgoda said that what remains of the royal palace today is little more than a shadow of the magnificence which must once have been.

The writings of T.B.H. Abeyasinghe, H.A.P.Abeyawardana, A.K.Coomaraswamy, J. Davy, R.K. de Silva, Nimal de Silva ,S.T. Delgoda L.S. Dewaraja, J. D’Oyly ,Nihal Karunaratne, S. Kiribamune, D.A. Kotelawele, R. Knox, P.E. Pieris, G. Powell, R. Percival R. Raven-Hart ,Anuradha Seneviratne and T. Vimalananda were used for this essay.

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