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Maduwanwala Rate Mahatmaya

(@Andrew Scott/Sunday Observer)



In this article I propose to deal on the life and activities of a unique Kandyan Chieftain, Maduwanwela Rate Mahatmaya (R.M.) of Kolonne in the Ratnapura District, whose real name was Molamure. There are many popular tales about this unique personality and his heroic deeds during the British Raj.

One of the earliest writers who admired his friendship and wrote about him was Dr. R. L. Spittel, the well known doctor and writer of yesteryear who immortalised this rare personality in his wildly read jungle book "Far Off Things" first published in 1933, more than half a century ago. Dr. R. L. Spittel had been a distinguished visitor and the family doctor of the Maduwanwela household in its heyday.

Introducing this majestic personality Dr. R. L. Spittel says: "The old Sinhala chieftain, whose home lay in the roadless forests of Kolonne, had long intrigued me:

many were the tales I had been told of his hospitality and proud independence.....I longed to see him before he died, since he was now very old and decrepit and had not left his forest home, as he was periodically wont to do, for years."

Who was this Maduwanwela Rate Mahatmaya? Maduwanwela R.M. received his education at St. Thomas' College, then in Mutwal. His real name was Molamure, the name of highly respected clan in Ratnapura. He adopted his mother's name Maduwanwela on coming into possession of a vast ancestral wealth. He inherited an incredible eighty two thousand acres in two 'nindagamas' granted to his ancestors by the Sinhala kings.

The Panamure nindagama consisted of 54,000 acres and the Maduwanwela nindagama consisted of 28,000 acres. Maduwanwela R.M. ruled this forest covered primitive area (at that time) with glamour and dignity in the same fashion as an ancient king.

When Maduwanwela R.M. was seriously ill his family members graciously called upon Dr. R. L. Spittel to attend on him. It was really then that he was able get more intimate details about Maduwanwela R.M. When Dr. R. L. Spittel met him Maduwanwela R.M. had been 87 years old and had been a resident of Kolonne all his life and was a hard drinker of champagne.

Describing the Maduwanwela Walauwe the writer says: "We entered the garden through a carved stone gateway now janitorless. Proceeding along a neglected drive, flanked at short intervals by broken lamps that toppled on their pedestals, we reached the house which stood in a clearing at the foot of a wooded hill.

From here came even as we entered, the startled bell of a sambhur followed by the hungry roar of a leopard....We entered the house by a narrow door-way and came to a small square courtyard open to the sky with a marble statue in this centre.

Bonding the court-yard was a square verandah, on to which gave the doors of dark rooms.

In a recess of the verandah, all huddled up on the antique wooden bed on which he had been born, lay the wizened old chief. Cobwebbed bottles of champagne stood on the ground by the wall. He was in high fever and his leg was swollen."

Describing the Walauwe in great detail Dr. Spittel wrote: "It was rather a rambling structure of no set design. The original part of it was very old and considerably obscured by later renovation.

A satin-wood door three inches thick, showing the dents of Dutch bullets, and a wooden pillar with scorched base were evidence of siege and arson the old house had sustained in the days of the Dutch, whose outposts the chiefs of Maduwanwela continually harassed."......Ancient swords, spears, daggers, ornaments and china, lay side buy side with crude clay figures and modern garish stuff.

Rare prints of autographed photos of distinguished personages hung on the same walls......There were massive and elaborately carved pieces of furniture of ebony, tamarind, calamander and satin-wood. The top of one great table was fashioned from the disc of a vast jak tree; it was inlaid around its edge with ebony."

Dr. Spittel mentioning about the large and expensive collection of antiques at the Maduwanwela Walauwe writes: "There were heirlooms there that would have made the eyes of the collector sparkle with envy; the most valuable part of it being loot from the last king of Kandy, the Tamil tyrant Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe whom Maduwanwela's maternal great uncle, Ekneligoda, helped the British to capture. There were the king's silver plates, cups and saucers and gold betel box.

An Alexandrite pendent, the size of a halved hen egg and the staff of Ehelepola Adigar, whose children's decapitated heads the cruel king had made their mother pound in a mortar." One can only wonder where these valuable heirlooms are lying today!

Maduwanwela R.M. was easily the richest Sinhala chieftain during his time and he owned very large extent of land in the Sabaragamuwa Province. Describing how he amassed such a great wealth Dr. Spittel says: "The manner in which a single person came by such a vast acreage is of interest. The nindagama of Panamure consisting of 54,000 acres was gifted to Maduwanwela's great grandfather by king Sri Wicrema Rajasinghe....

The nindagama of Maduwanwela, 28,000 acres in extent, was a gift to his ancestor from Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe.

Maduwanwela R.M.'s hospitality had captured the attention of Dr. R. L. Spittel who says: "He was a perfect host and always fond of good company. When coffee was in its glory, every week-end the planters would ride down to his place for tennis, racing and bibulous merriment. A great friend of the old planters, he helped them many a time to open their lands, buy drafting to their service at sudden notice a labour force of even five hundred men."


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