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 Post subject: Parawagamma: The apogee of British treachery
 Post Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 3:36 am 
Parawagamma: The apogee of British treachery

By Durand Appuhamy

The Convention of 1815 was a bona fide Treaty between the British colonial power in Sri Lanka and the Chiefs of the Kingdom of Kandy. By this Treaty the Kandyan Kingdom was ceded to the British. It was not conquered by the British. Therefore conditions and obligations were imposed on the British, which the British readily accepted and solemnly undertook to fulfil to the best of their endeavour. Today, we know, that the British had acted duplicitous, and had no intention of fulfilling their Treaty obligations and solemn promises, when they signed the Treaty.

Soon it became apparent to the Kandyan Chiefs also that the British were reneging on their Treaty obligations. Their powers, privileges and property rights were being gradually eroded, and the British Missionaries in the island and their Godfathers in London, began in earnest, to spearhead the thrust to violate the "inviolability" of Buddhist religion (cl. 5 of the Treaty). Finally in 1817, in an address to the Chiefs in the Audience Hall in Kandy, Governor Brownrigg announced his intension to frame new regulations to reform the administration of Kandyan provinces. This power he arrogated to himself, because the Treaty itself, did not give the Governor any such freedom to effect a wholesale reorganization.

The Kandyans protested in vain. The British had by now established some military strength in Kandy, and had won over some of the Kandyan Chiefs (especially Molligoda Adikar) to their strategy of subjugating the Kandyans. The British were therefore in a position to simply ignore all representations by the Kandyans. It was no surprise, therefore, that the Kandyans, in their frustration, sought to evict the British from the Kandyan provinces. The Kandyans took up whatever arms they could lay their hands on, including bows and arrows, to fight the British.

The first to engage in this dangerous yet patriotic exercise was Madugalle Uda Gabada Nileme, Polwatte Unnanse and Maha Eliya Vidaan. They were convicted in 1816 of treasonable practices, and for "sending offerings to the temples of Bintenna and Kataragama, with prayers for the removal of the English, and the establishment of a king". Even to pray to the Gods against the British was a capital offence! This was the depth of the severity of the oppression practised by the British. The sentence on Madugalla was intentionally made an exemplary one, in order to deter others, from further concocting any conspiratorial plots against the British. He was removed forthwith to Jaffna prison, he was given no opportunity to see his dear ones, his residence was ceremoniously and publicly burnt down. His other property were confiscated and sold. Madugalla’s resolve, however, remained indomitable.

The armed struggle to eject the British from the Kandyan kingdom began in earnest in Oct. 1817 after the death of Mr. Wilson, the British Government Agent at Badulla. He was killed in a melee, when he attempted to arrest Wibawe, the Pretender to the vacant throne of Kandy.

All the supporters of Wibawe, i.e. virtually all the Kandyans, were condemned as "rebels, outlaws and traitors" by the British. This perverse contemptuous reference was totally misplaced. The Treaty of 1815 was signed between equals. It guaranteed ‘`to the people in general, their property and other rights and liberty in accordance with ancient customary law and legal procedure which have continued unbroken among them" ( c 1.4 of the Treaty). Therefore the Kandyans could not be traitors, so long as they abided by their customary law and legal procedure. The British were totally guilty of breaking all the Treaty promises, and were secretly engaged in reducing the Kandyans to vassalage. In short, they had illegally usurped the kingdom, and therefore’ it was a contradiction to condemn the legitimate citizens of the country as "rebels, outlaws and traitors", when they attempted to overthrow the cunning illegitimate trespasser. They were, therefore, legitimate freedom fighters. This would have been precisely how the British would have referred to their heroes, if Napoleon or Hitler had obtained control of Britain by deception or by conquest.

This unequal mortal combat lasted for nearly a year. Britain was an imperial power. It had a trained professional army equipped with the latest military weapons. It also had the vast manpower resources available to the British Raj in India. Nevertheless, the Kandyans with their bows and arrows and outdated weapons, came within a whisker of defeating the British. Mr. Anstruther was a Colonial Secretary. He admitted to the Parliamentary Committee in London that "it was a most serious and dangerous war. The British Government was as nearly beat as possible". Even Governor Brownrigg, when he appealed to British India for help, admitted the disgrace that would ensue "to a great military nation in being expelled by a horde of semi-barbarians and the bad example such an expulsion would give to the Indian subjects". With the help he got from India, he was soon able to subdue the Kandyans.

The British resorted to most atrocious measures during their campaigns. They declared Martial Law. They shot the Kandyans on sight and massacred them. They burnt their houses and their paddy fields. They cut down the fruit bearing trees. They slaughtered all the cattle and other domestic animals. They broke down all the water conserving embankments to prevent all future cultivation. This caused destitution and famine for a long time, and many perished from starvation. In short, the British shamelessly practised a scorched earth policy. The Kandyans were starved into submission. The death toll from random execution and from starvation was inestimable. One partisan British observer put it down to 10,000. Given the absence of any proper communication, the isolation and the remoteness of most Kandyan villages, 10,000 could be considered a gross under-estimate. This episode of marauding British army, which engaged in atrocious depredation on even non-combatant civilians, demand an unconditional apology to the Kandyan Sinhala Buddhists from the British Crown. Until this is done, the British remain condemned and disgraced. One cannot tire of repeating this demand at every opportunity.

Besides Wilbawe the Pretender, the three prominent leaders of this revolt, were Pilima Talawe (Jr.), Monaravila (Keppitipola) and Madugalla. The first two were signatories to the Treaty of 1815. They galvanized the Kandyans to fight the British for a long while even without a properly trained army and appropriate weapons. They had no answer to the scorched earth policy of the British. Besides, they had neither a strategy, a campaign plan, nor were they able to give proper leadership and direction. They had disagreements among themselves. Governor’s proclamation of Aug. 1818 promised pardon to all those who surrendered, death and condign punishment to others, and rewards to squealers. This had the effect of isolating the three chiefs. Thus by Oct. 1818, they were fugitives from British law, and took refuge in Kahalla Walawa in Parawagamma in the wilds of Nuwara Kalavaya.

There, a Muslim trader/spy had identified them, and conveyed the news to the British. Lieut. William O’Neill captured the two chiefs on the 28th Oct. 1818. Madugalla with some of the followers escaped to Elahera. He was captured by Ensign Shoot braid on the 2nd of Nov. 1818.

When the soldiers entered the Walawa, Keppitipola had surrendered without a fight and had identified himself to prevent the trigger-happy soldiers from shooting him willy-nilly. Pilima Talawa "was lame from disease and was found lying in bed". This was the end of the 1817/18 revolt against the British. Both Keppitipola and Madugalla were executed by decapitation at Bogambara on the 26th Nov. 1818. Pilima Talawe was exiled to Mauritius.

Parawagarnma marks the zenith of British treachery. Even in ordinary civil law, if a party to a contract breaks his contractual obligation, that person will be prevented from exercising his rights under the contract. This should have been the position of the British. But it was the age when might was right, and British imperialism had no equal. The British usurped the kingdom of Kandy, and proceeded to subvert it. They shed much Kandyan blood to impose their own brand of law and order. They had neither a moral nor a legal right to arrest the Kandyan chiefs and brand them as traitors, let alone execute them. This was why the Kandyans always maintained that the "infringement of the promises and engagements, amicably made and entered into between them, and by, the said Articles of the Convention, is contrary to British law, is in opposition to Equity, Justice and Impartiality of the British Government, and discreditable to its good faith" (l846 Petition to Queen Victoria).

Kahalla Walawa is no more. In the alleged place where it stood, there is now a statue of Keppitipola erected by the Tourist Authority of the North Central Province. It should be on the route of all British tourists in our country. As our history is also under attack, I hope, this article will catch the eyes of my countrymen, and they will make it a point to pay a visit while on their way to Dambulla.

[How to get there:- Proceed on Kurunegala /Dambulla road to Galewela. There turn left to Andiyagala. There turn left again, go past the temple (4km) and take the first left turn. This is dirt road and leads to a dead end (400yds). At this place you will find the statue. None of the roads are marked.]

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