WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Gajaman Nona : The legendary poetess

by Walter Wijenayaka

Gajaman Nona, a legendary figure having the ability in writing and reciting impromptu vibrant Sinhala poetry was born in 1758 and was baptised Dona Isabella Koraneliya Perumal according to historians.

Don Francisco Senaratne Kumara Perumal, who became the Gajaman Arachchi of Matara District and who had much to do with the capture and taming of elephants, was her father. He lived somewhere in Hakmana.

Pandit Koratota 'hamuduruwo' was her teacher in Sinhala language, Elapatha Mudaliyar of Ratnapura District who had been earlier a Buddhist monk in the name Elapatha Dhammaratne Thera too was a pupil of the same Koratota 'Hamuduruwo'. This Mudaliyar was very efficient in poetry.

History records that Gajaman Nona (after her husband's demise) and Mudaliyar Elapatha wrote to each other in lovely verse using warm language.

Once Mudaliyar Elapatha wrote to her the following verse to attract her.

Chanda sooriya meni elandage uvana
Inda neela deka meni lamada ena thana
Andakarayata avulu pana mena
Kinda thani yahane nidiyanne nona

In response to this verse, Gajaman Nona wrote the following verse in an angry mood.

Banda mage himi paralowa giya bavina
Ninda apata puruduya thaniyama yahana
Vinda rathi sapatha mathaka nathi vina
Kinda thamuseta vimasanna karana

When Sir John D'Oyley was serving as the Government Agent and Fiscal Collector in the Matara and Hambantota Districts between 1802 and 1806, Gajaman Nona had been much impoverished and she with her children had no proper way of earning her living, wrote to the former in verse seeking an audience and relief to end her poverty and spend a normal life.

Kind-hearted D'Oyley considering her poverty and her literary ability and having much sympathy, granted her a Nindagama, a strectch of land to her to earn a living. It is this particular land in which her statue stands at Nonagama Junction on the main road between Hambantota and Tangalle. However, some historians have stated that D'Oyley had not been authorised to grant lands to natives.

As it had been laid down by some historians Gajaman Nona had been married to 'Thalpe Merenchegei Garadiya Arachchi'. After his death she had been married to Mudliyar 'Hendrick Siriwardena Vijayawimalasekera'. He also died unexpectedly.

Since these sorrowful occurrences, she and her children were looked after by her father. After some time he was killed by an elephant at Kahagala/Kasagala village, a few miles away from Hungama while on duty. This woman with a fair complexion is a great person worthy of commemoration each year today (December 15) as a poetess who has left a permanent mark for her endeavour to spend a decent life amids the male dominant walks of life, inclusive of high dignitaries who pushed her from pillar to post.

She died on 15 December 1814 at the age of 56.

Poetess of fame played the game well : Mrs. Dona Isabella Cornelia Gardiarachchi's

Gajaman Nona, a poetess of fame,
Was said to be a ravishing beauty, with grace.
Her love for poetry was immensely great,
To learn under a monk, she posed as a male.

* * *

This was done, as in olden days,
Monks were forbidden to associate,
Either to teach or work with females.
Cunningly, this obstacle she overcame.

* * *

Many a man, for her hand, craved and raved,
She consented to marriage, when twenty two of age.
And wedded a Chieftain, Gardiarachchi by name,
who died a few years later, destiny she had to face.

* * *

There are romantic tales of her escapades,
Her friendship with D'Oyly, Elapatha for solace.
One should understand her bereaved state,
Struck by poverty, she had been desperate.

* * *

She died in 1814, December, on 15th day,
Leaving her literary works with her illustrious name.
As descendants of Gardiarachchi, we profusely payTo our ancestor, Gajaman Nona a tribute this day.

* * *

In the heaven above, she has found a place,
Singing to Devas, in a melodious way,
Enticing and keeping them happy and gay,
As done on this earth, a game, she well played.

Don Sirimal Gardiarachchi

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