WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Gongale Goda Banda (1809-1849) : The leader of the 1848 rebellion

by Dr. K. D. G. Wimalaratne, Director, National Archives

With the invasion of Ceylon, by three western powers, namely, Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, the lifestyle of Sri Lankans were changed drastically. Invaders imposed their religion, language, customs, dress, food and their culture on the peoples in the island. They adopted the divide and rule policy to gain supremacy in the country.

From 1505 to 1815, these invaders used their authority to make this country a safe haven for their ideals to flourish. However, in certain ways, they failed to convince or convert the whole community of islanders to satisfy their wants.

Gongalegoda Banda was the leader and pretender of the 1848 Rebellion, which aimed at liberating the country from the British. He was born on 13th March 1809 as the second son of Wansapurna Dewage Sinchia Fernando. His name was Peliyagoda David alias Aludeniya Banda, Gongalegoda Tikiri Banda. He married the daughter of Gongalegoda Menik Rala, he was 5 feet 6 inches in height, and 35 years of age.

Gongalegoda Banda who was engaged in transport work on the Kandy road, came to reside at Gongalegoda, Udunuwara and became a popular figure among the Kandyans. He was seen at the Dalada Maligawa just before the 1848 Rebellion broke out. Gongalegoda Banda led the protest march regarding unjustifiable taxes which was held on 6th July 1848 near the Kandy Kachchery.

The movement for the liberation of the island in 1848 was led by leaders such as Gongalegoda Banda, Puran Appu, Dines, Dingi Rala who were supported by the people and the village headman. On 26th July 1848, the leaders and the supporters entered the historic Dambulla Vihara and at 11.30 a.m., Gongalegoda Banda was consecrated by the head pries of Dambulla, Ven. Giranegama Thera. According to the head priest of Dambulla, Gongalegoda Banda was called "Sri Wickrama Siddapi" and spoke fluently in Sinhala. He asked the people, whether you are on the side of the Buddhist? or British? On this historic day Dines, his brother was declared the sub-king and Dingirala as the uncrowned king of Sat Korale. Puranappu was appointed as the prime minister or the sword bearer to Gongalegoda Banda. Puran Appu attended the consecration ceremony of Gongalegoda Banda with 400 others.

After the proclamation of the king, he with his army left Dambulla via Matale to capture Kandy from the British.

They attacked government buildings specially the Matale Kachcheri and destroyed some of the tax records. Simultaneously, Dingirirala instigated attacks in Kurunegala, where eight people were shot dead by the British army. The British Governor, Torrington immediately declared Martial Law on 29th July 1848 and 31st July in Kandy and Kurunegala respectively.

When Puran Appu was taken prisoner by the British troops, Gongalegoda Banda and his elder brother Dines escaped and went into hiding. Gongalegoda Banda lived in a cave at Elkaduwa, 8 miles from Matale. The Governor issued a warrant on Gongalegoda Banda for his arrest. According to this proclamation, he has worked under Dalzil in the Police service in 1845, and a Dewa Wansa. An award of 150 pounds to be given for anyone who gave information of his whereabouts. This is an indication that he was the leader of the independence movement.

On 21st Sept. 1848, Gongalegoda Banda was arrested by the Malay soldiers at Elkaduwa. He offered resistance before his arrest. Gongalegoda Banda was brought from Matale to Kandy and was kept as a prisoner in Kandy.

The trial of Gongalegoda Banda commenced on 27th November at the Supreme Court sessions in Kandy. He was charged for high treason viz., claiming he was the King of Kandy, declaring as a descendent of the Kandy Kings, ongoing and waging war against the British. He bravely declared that he was guilty of all the above charges. The Judgement of the Supreme Court was that he to be hanged on 1st January 1849, between 9-11 a.m.

Subsequently, on an appeal made by Gongalegoda Banda to the Governor a proclamation was issued on 29th December 1848 to amend the death sentence to flogging 100 times and deportation.

On 1st January 1849, Gongalegoda Banda was flogged 100 times in Kandy before a large gathering of people and deported to Malacca (Malaysia). Governor Torrington writing a despatch to the Secretary of State informed that deportation for life was more severe than death penalty. By deporting Gongalegoda Banda, Governor instilled a permanent fear among the inhabitants for future rebellion against the British rule. Gongalegoda Banda who was deported to Malacca arrived there on 3rd May 1849. He died on 1st December 1849 in Malacca, which was reported by Tikiri Banda Dunuwila who was also deported there.

His death marked the last attempt to liberate the country from the foreign yoke. Gongalegoda Banda should be remembered by the Sri Lankans who fought against unjustifiable taxes and oppression of the innocent subjects of an alien colonial government.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka