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Saradiel: the making of a bandit


z_p29-saradiel.jpg (18651 bytes)Nestling in the outskirts of Chilaw, there lies a sleepy little hamlet called Haldaduwana. There also one time lived a typical villager - a gamaya - by the name of Dikiri Kege Adissi Appu. In search of greener pastures, he migrated to Uthumankanda lying along the Colombo-Kandy highway, close to Mawanella.

This young Dikiri Kege Adissi Appu took to pedalling his jewellery ware kept in a box which he carried on his head. It contained a variety of jewellery curios ranging from necklaces, bangles, earrings, and chains to other enticing curios ornaments for the fair sex and children, as well.

So this pedlar carrying his jewellery box from house to house. Village urchins in merriment ran behind him cheering and clapping all the way in joy as village boys always did. Village belles like the old saying, "What female heart could gold despise, what cat could averse to fish,", were his demanding but glamorous customers. The village maids fair by far would flock around him, holding the fascinating items they chose in their tender hands would bargain and even teased Adissi Appu for reasonable prices.

Among those beautiful damsels in Molligoda close to Uthumanakanda), there was a vivacious belle of the highlands. She was Pichohamy. While Adissi Appu was selling his delicate but alluring goods, Pichohamy would always give him her bashful side-long looks of love. Their eyes met. It was love at first sight! And they fell head over heels in love. So they got married and lived thereafter blissfully in Molligoda with her aged father. Pichohamy's mother had died about ten years ago.

The popular village gossip about Pichohamy's mother was that she was a concubine of the King of Kandy, Sri Wickremasinghe. But Pichohamy's father dismissed such scandalous gossip and had sworn that Pichohamy was his own legitimate daughter. In their newly wedded bliss, Adissi Appu used to tease her recalling this scurrilous story, but she never got angry over it with her beloved husband whom she trusted and adored. He used to tease her of this wild gossip, saying wryly: "You might be having royal blood"!

Birth of Saradiel

In their blissful wedlock, they bore five children - three daughters and two sons. The eldest of whom was a son, he was named Saradiel, while his younger brother was called Harmanis. Saradiel was born in 1832 in the village of Molligoda. This Saradiel the bravado son was destined to be a brave Sinhalese in whose blood ran his dire hatred for the British rulers as they had robbed their legitimate lands and converted them into coffee and tea plantations. Saradiel from his childhood could not stick the white man and grew a venomous vendetta against him which in the end cost his own life. Adissi Appu after his marriage gave up his pedalling jewellery ware, but took up to selling coffee which quite became lucrative to him.

The villagers around Uthumankanda and Molligoda comprised both Sinhalese and Muslim families. They all lived in all harmony. Saradiel's best friend and his trusted accomplice in his banditry exploits was also a Muslim named Mammalay Marikkar. In such gallant episodes, of highway robberies, robbing the wealth of the white sahibs and also of the people who were their mere stooges like the korale mahathmayas, arachchis and gam muladanies and then distributing such loot among the poor villagers. Mammalay Marikkar too had to pay the death penalty along with his friend Saradiel under the hangman's noose.Saradiel's childhood sweetheart up to his death was also a raving Muslim beauty called Menaka. Though she later got married to Cader, she still became Saradiel's paramour up to his death.

Steeped in legend

Uthumankanda is steeped in a hoary legend. In Sinhalese, this lofty hill overlooking the Colombo-Kandy highway lying close to Mawanella, it is named as Otuwankanda (meaning camel's back). As from a distance, it appears to have the very profile of a camel's hump. as the British rulers of the time were fond of naming such fascinating places and rolling hills with captivating names, they baptised this Uthumankanda as Castle Rock.

In the collection of material in writing this article, I have been able to glean a wealth of such information about the life and times of Uthumankande Saradiel from the village patriarchs whom I had in my past sojourns around Uthumankanda and Molligoda enroute Kandy-Mahiyangane (when I was attached to the Mahaweli Centre, Colombo, as a Media Officer from 1986-91). But the most authenticate material in black and white which I was able to get on Saradiel's life story was from the book in Sinhala, titled 'Saradiel', authored by Gunasena Vithana (1981).

Growing hatred and vengeance

Saradiel from his childhood to boyhood was a quiet but unmoved type of village boy. He with his brother Harmanis was admitted to the Idangoda Vihara Dahampasala in Molligoda. It must be recalled bitterly with a sense of aversion how the British rulers of the time had even banned the holding of Dahampasals in these villages around its environs. But the valiant Buddhist monks undeterred carried them on, on the sly.

Saradiel as a growing boy sensed unpalatably in silence the gross discrimination meted out to the schoolchildren of this Idangoda Dahampasal. The poor children wearing a sarong and a banian or in some torn attire, while the so-called affluent class of village boys wearing the shirt and sarong or even a pair of shorts was given a different form of treatment.

The poorer children had to sit in the back row benches, those children of the village hierarchy (the stooges of the white rulers) were accommodated in the front rows of the benches. Even while at play, in the playground this same bitter distinction was well marked. On this rash but in different cold treatment shown to the poor children of the village, there grow in Saradiel slowly but steadily an inherent hatred towards those arachchis, gam muladanis, korales and the white sahibs and the like who were mere puppets of the white rulers and the white sahibs - the planters of the coffee and tea estates.

The seeds of such vendetta against the white rulers were sown in Saradiel even in his puerile age. as time grew on, this malice germinated in him a seething vengeance igniting against them. The children of the korales, gamarchchis, and the like openly branded and hurled insults at them. They were not allowed to mingle with the others who were supposed to be of higher levels in the village. Once over these offending insults, a scuffle brewed up between the two sections of the feuding boys. A hand to hand fight erupted, where Saradiel was the gallant victor. In this bodily fight, when Saradiel hit his opponent, a son of a Korale Mahatmaya, he fell down on the ground severely injured. In this state of the melee, a son of a village headman took a huge stone aiming it at Saradiel. But the 'flying missile' which Saradiel ducked, unfortunately it struck the head of a son of an Arachchi Mahatmaya. Then pandemonium struck the whole playground. The injured boy was bleeding profusely from his head injury caused to him by the hitting of the stone.

Fearing the awful repercussions that would follow over this malefic incident, Saradiel then a boy of 16-17 years old vanished into the oblivion from the precincts of Molligoda-Uthumankanda. From there onwards to his untimely death, he was firmly determined to seek vengeance from the British rulers and their stooges. The turning point of Saradiel, the Veera boy's life started in turning himself a notorious bandit, highway robber and murderer to take revenge from these white ruthless masters. His sole motive by these highway robberies in robbing the money of the state carried in stage coaches and from the white sahibs-the planters, then distributing the loot among his humble but poor villagers.

A poor wandering boy

Saradiel the bravado boy, was now desperate. But he never gave up his hopes. His first resolution was to get some suitable job. Saradiel had heard of such fairly tale like tales about the fascinations of colombo from his father, that like Dickwittington's fables of London, roads there were paved with silver and gold. On and on Saradiel wandered, and wandered through the length and breadth of the Colombo-Kandy highway as he had never wandered before in reaching Colombo-his city of dreams. He went on foot and later got hikes in bullock carts rumbling towards Colombo carrying coffee and other commodities.

At long last, Saradiel the iron fisted lad, fulfilled his life long ambition in reaching the suburbs of the great city of Colombo, his dream city !Saradiel was lucky, as he found some menial job as a labourer in a hotel in Colombo, lying close to the army Barracks.

Saradiel did his duties as a labourer well to the satisfaction of his mudalali. But he was vigilant about his surroundings, especially the army barracks. He became friendly with a clerk working in the army barracks. He was clever enough to get a bottle of whisky at adnominal fee smuggled by someone and he bribed the clerk with it. So through this illegal gratification to the clerk, he secured a job in the army barracks.

Now started his crafty observations and watched the movements of the sentry parading up and down and also where the armoury stores, where its locations and so forth. It was a grand day for the army barracks' soldiers, as that was the gala night that they were celebrating the occasion of the birthday of governor of Ceylon. It was a gala night for Saradiel not for purpose of enjoying the birthday party celebrations, as it was one glorious night in his boyhood career, to snatch the opportunity of breaking the armoury and getting away with its haul of armaments.

Watching the movements of the soldiers dancing and singing away in an orgy of drunkenness, he stole the right occasion for his assault! The sentry men and the barracks' men all were drunk in making themselves merry and dancing away with all the Dutch courage! Saradiel then was a lad of about 18-20 years old, but still his blood hotting up to seek vengeance from the ruthless white rulers.

All the men of the barracks in their utter drunkenness were now dozing off while most of the others had fallen asleep. Saradiel now stealthily snatched the keys of the armoury stores which were in the hands of the drunkard sentry. Having snatched the bunch of keys, he opened the armoury with the keys he had in his hands and made easy access to the armament stores. Now he hauled up the armoury stores and removed the guns, rifles, pistols and cartridges which he packed into a gunny bag and ran away with its big haul of armaments. Through the roof of the lavatory, he made good his escape carrying with him, the mighty haul of armaments. He sought refuge in Uthumankanda, never to be apprehended by the police.

By now after ransacking the armoury stores, and getting away with them, all were agog in Colombo and Kegalle, where Saradiel was proclaimed as a dangerous man wanted by the Police and a handsome reward was in the offing for his head, dead or alive or for his arrest. In June July-1862, over some brawl, Saradiel had with a boutique keeper in Polwatta in Negombo, whom he stabbed to death. That was the time when Saradiel was visiting the Hospital in Chilaw where his father was warded. Saradiel was apprehended by the Police in late 1862. After a court trial, he was sentenced to imprisonment. He broke jail in December, 1862, and took safe asylum atop Uthumankanda-his impregnable hide out!Now things were hotting fast against Saradiel by law. He was captured again in December 1862. Saradiel was taken a prisoner in a bullock cart with his brother Harmanis to the Minuwangoda Police station along the Colombo-Kandy highway in the company of constable Baba Sara. Saradiel the desperado wrenched himself from the hands of this police constable and made good his escape, once again to nowhere but his home in Uthumankanda hill top. Constable Baba Sara for his dereliction of his duties was said to have been dismissed from the Police Service. Saradiel's brother Harmanis too escaped with his brother.

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