WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Exploits of Utuwankande Saradiel - The Robinhood of Lanka
 

by Gamini G. Punchihewa

If one were to travel along the Colombo-Kandy highway, going past Mawanella, near the bridge over Maha Oya there lies a stone monument by the roadside reminiscent of the daring highway man called Utuwankande Saradiel. This monument carries the following words etched on it "Near this spot on March 1864, P.C. Sabhan of the Ceylon Police lost his life in an act of gallantry which was immediately responsible for the arrest by Mr. F. R. Saunders, Asst. Government Agent, Kegalla, of Saradiel. Five days previously George Van Haght and Christian Appu were killed and four others wounded in an attempt to effect Saradielís capture".

Though over 125 years have passed away since the death of Saradiel caused by execution, still his name not only around the Kandyan kingdom but in the rest of the country lingers as a legend Saradiel was a daredevil highway robber. He waylaid stage coaches and plundered the money and distributed them among the poor villagers who were in need of money. Saradiel was romantically called as the Robin Hood of Ceylon then. Even cine films were produced of his notorious exploits and his romantic episodes with the village lasses around his village in Utuwankanda. Utuwankanda is called in Sinhalese more appropriately as Otuwan-kanda ó meaning its profile has the shape of a camelís hump. Around his rustic village of Utuwankanda/Otuwankanda, old folk still reminisce about his daredevil life and times as a highwayman who robbed the coaches carrying money. Recently when I past Utuwankanda old timers gave me wealth of information about his biography. The British well-noted for naming romantic and fascinating spots on its natural beauty, called this rocky mountain as Camelís hump.

Saradiel was born in 1835 to a family in Otumankanda. His fatherís name was Dikiri Kaga Adasi Appu, a carter by profession, while his motherís name was Pichche Hami. He was the eldest of five children. Saradielís earliest schooling to learn to read and write was at Etulgoda Vihara. Saradiel by nature was a mischievous and an incorrigible chap as he was stubborn and wanted to do things on his own in a somewhat notorious way. He often quarrelled with his master which made him to leave the place and was bent on more miscreant sprees on his own. Once as a first job in his life, as a young man he came to be employed as a domestic servant attached to an army officer in the Army barracks, Colombo. As banditry was running high in his veins, Saradiel robbed his masterís silver spoons, and bolted away, never to be apprehended.

In July 1862, in his manhood at the age of 27 years, he stabbed a man at Polwatta lying close to Negombo. He was arrested and after trial he was sentenced to jail at Hultsdorf. From his boyhood to manhood he had been a ruffian. While Saradiel was serving a prison sentence, in November 1862, he made good his escape and sought asylum in his home in Utumankanda where he took refuge and was haunted by the hands of the law. Thereafter he gained notoriety for robbery and was labelled as a wanted man by law. Then things turned against him when he was captured alive in December 1862.

His arrest and its aftermath

The person who arrested Saradiel was Abdul Cader who incidentally happened to be the brother-in-law of Baba Sara, the village constable of Utumankanda. Saradiel was taken as a prisoner in a bullock-cart in the company of his step-father Harmanis and the village constable Baba Sara. Saradiel wrenched himself from the clutches of that constable. Saradiel made good his escape into the jungle wilderness of the Kegalla district.

In the meantime after his escape, constable Baba Sara for his dereliction of his duties, was said to have been dismissed from the police service. The hands of the law were on hot pursuit of Saradiel. To escape from their pursuing hands, Saradiel sought the refuge of the hill top of Utumankanda. While in his hill top hideout, Saradiel continued his banditry and highway robberies from the lofty heights of his mountain hideout. There is a ledge on this mountain top across which he leapt into his unseen cave.

Commanding view and banditry acts

From the summit of Utumankanda, Saradiel, had a commanding view of the stage coaches carrying bags of money that rumbled down that mountain roadway. He held them up, and robbed of its valuables, coins, and even arms, as well. Those daring holdup and robberies that he committed on horse carriages was by tying ropes across the road. Many are the spellbound and dare-devil exploits that tell of his dauntless banditry. Once he had rambled around the the town of Mawanella, in a womanís clothing and brushed past even police constables. Later, it is said in such thrilling stories spun about Saradielís dare devil banditry acts, that he had sent a parcel containing a female attire with a note to the police station saying with compliments from Saradiel!

Ravishing village belles loved and adored Saradiel ó the highwayman. He was aptly nicknamed as Romeo as he had a harem of concubines ó all for his joy and sensual pleasures. He was a great gambler and a heavy drinker of toddy. Though the police made many attempts to comb the mountain top hideout of Saradiel, they failed to get him alive or even dead. Another amusing piece of tale was that. One day after plundering the spoils of the stage coach, he came upon an old woman carrying a bag of 500 coins which was part of the dowry meant to be given away for her daughter in marriage. Saradiel took away the money (with the consent of its owner ó the old woman), on the promise to return the money after his gambling winnings. True to his promise, that Saradiel the honest highway robber, on the following day he returned the money to the woman with another reward of 500 more coins as his present for her daughterís dowry and wedding expenses, as he had enough money he had amassed by his gambling sprees.

The elders of Utuwankanda and even the present generations still pay accolades to Saradiel saying Saradiel was a friend of the poor and lovable companion of women and children. Out of all his desperado notoriety, he had possessed good qualities, as well. His sympathy was towards the poor, elders and the children of the forest. The village lasses not only loved him but even adored him with ardent love and affection. Because of his affable qualities, he carried with him the romantic but chivalrous name as ĎRobinhood of Ceyloní.

Folklore around Utumankanda says that Saradiel had a talisman containing some powerful but miraculous oil tied around his waist to prevent anybody capturing him. But unfortunately it is said that on this dismal day he was captured, he was not wearing that amulet containing the powerful oil.
(@The Island)


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