Maduwanwela Walawwa: home of rebellious Black Prince | Sunday Observer

Maduwanwela Walawwa: home of rebellious Black Prince

11 December, 2016
A front view of magnificent Maduwanwela Walawwa.

My memory goes back to late 70th when I was a schoolboy, when I read a serialized story of Maduwanwela Maha Disawa in our sister paper ‘Silumina’ each week for a couple of months. Since the printing was not so good those days, the story accompanied several black and white pictures which were fascinating for the readers. Almost four decades later, recalling the past memories, we visited Maduwanwela Walawwa. The grandeur bears testimony to the man who made it his home, Maduwanwela Maha Disawe. It speaks volumes of the man’s spirit, his heroism and how he used his unique mansion to display his resentment for and protest against colonial administrators. It is his spirit that gives this building its unique character.

Maduwanwela Walawwa is accessible via Embilipitiya along the Panamura-Kolonna highway (27 kilometres). Since we are travelling from Ratnapura, we took a quite adventures and arduous journey through harsher terrain, turning off at Madampe junction deviation to Rakwana- Kolonna across Bulutota pass, climbing upward ten hairpin bends from Rakwana that presents a magical change of view. The distance to Maduwanwela Walawwa is about 30kilometres this way, but the road from Suriyakanda to Kolonna is in bad condition full of potholes.

Nestling in the lap of the awe-inspiring mountain frontier of the Kolonna valley, which is an area of tranquil beauty with terraced paddy fields and a canopy of greenery, the Maduwanwela Walawwa spreading across some 20 acres of land has a picture postcard setting. A canopy of flamboyant trees gives it a coolness that is rare in humid Kolonna. Silence reigns, barring the chirping of birds.

Original building

The history of Maduwanwela Walawwa dates back to the Kandyan period of King Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707 AD). The village of Maduwanwela was known a roaming herd of water buffalos in the area and the King bestowed over 82,000 acres of land, Nindagama (land gift) to Maduwanwela Maha Mohottala, great grandfather of Maha Disawe who had constructed the original building in 1700. During 1877-1905, the Walawwa had 121 rooms, 21 Meda Midul (Quadrangles) and three security walls, a courtroom, and magnificent Bo tree.

The Maduwanwela Walawwa has been home to six generations of the Maduwanwela realm. The current layout of the Walawwa dates back to the time of the last line of the illustrious Maduwanwela clan. Born in 1844, Wickramasinghe Wijesundara Ekanayake Abayakoon Mudiyanse Ralahamilage Sir James William Maduwanwela Maha Disawa was also known as Kalu Kumaraya (Black Prince) by British colonists. He was educated at St. Thomas College, Colombo and later returned to the Walawwa to serve his people.

We first came across an imposing main granite entrance, which has two stone pillars with beautiful floral carvings on either side. The Thorana has the engraving of the words ‘Maduwanwela Walawwa’ on the top portion which leads to the Walawwa and the vehicles cannot drive through this entrance. There is another car park at the site.

Many of the archways in the Walawwa are unusually low and this was apparently done so that visitors on horseback would have to dismount before entering. This also ensured that anyone entering the grounds, especially the taller than average foreigner, would be symbolically ‘bowing’ as they entered.

Walking under the huge shady trees for about 50 metres we then came across another entrance with the narrow decorative arch constructed in 1877 that allowed entry only to aristocrats. It has been built in the locality close to the Walawwa premises. Adjoining this entrance, an old magnificent Bo tree stands in a corner of the compound. Three walls had originally protected the Walawwa. The inner wall was known as the ‘Pahan Pavura’ where lamps were lit at night.

Entering to the Walawwa compound a green painted old lattice wooden structure greeted us. As we stepped inside the Walawwa, we weren’t aware of the direction, actually we felt a bit lost, until we wound up in the Pirith Mandapaya where the Maha Dissawe received guests at front of the entrance with its floor set in vibrant mosaic of crushed ceramic design of floral patterned and elephants.

From here we followed the directional instincts and opening some closed doors found a few dark rooms full of bats that were for storage purposes. Then, we came across highly ventilated a few small inner courtyards (Meda Midula) with the sunshine filtering the dimmed interior. There were 121 rooms here, some of the large rooms were used for storing large volumes of various grains and other foods that came from the Walawwa’s hard working farming communities from 18 villages. Forty two of such rooms including a few bed rooms, a bathroom and rooms set apart for special occasions are the only remnants of what was.

Mosaic style

One of the most remarkable features in the interior of the Walawwa are the paved floors which have been laid out in a mosaic style with crushed ceramics bought over from the Netherlands and England. The colourful and intricate detailing in the mosaic leaves an impressive, lasting impression on any visitor. The designs were laid in 1905, but the designs have empty spaces where precious stones and gold coins have been removed by plunderers. However, the mosaic designs are still in excellent condition.

The colourful and hypnotic patterns are occasionally broken by images of Queen Victoria and other such colonial images as the sterling pounds sign appears on the ceramics. This was just one of the ways in which the Maha Disawe rebelled against the colonial administrators. A staunch anti-colonialist throughout his life, the Maha Disawe probably inserted the images of the colonial administrators within the tiles so that all visitors would walk over them; the ultimate insult to the colonial administrators. Further, the Maha Disawe had used the British Insignia and sterling pounds to decorate the floor denoting his acute dislike for the British.

The upper story of the Walawwa is spacious and airy. A narrow wooden stairway leads to this floor, known as the Burutha Maligawa (Satinwood palace). Little wonder that Maha Disawe received his colonial superiors and special guests here.

Two cannons

The Maha Disawe, his wife and daughter had separate chambers for their own and the doorways in general were small in frames; both short in height and narrow in width, which may have meant that they were petite. However, the other reason for the door frame to be short was to demand respect from those who entered, with the bowing of their heads. It is said that two of the doorways and weapons including two cannons seized during an attack on a Dutch fortress in Katuwana had been brought to the Walawwa and kept close to the Maha Disawe’s room.

Our next stop in the mansion was a spacious oval shaped room. A grand portrait of the Maha Disawe still stands within a huge wooden frame made out of tamarind wood. It added grandeur to the Maha Disawe who indeed lived the life of a prince. On the left side stands a painting of his wife, Kalawane Kumarihamy. Several remnants of torso of Buddha and lotus buds made in stones are kept in this room.

Walking on the narrow corridor, we entered the Walawwa’s own courthouse where the Maha Disawe was sometimes seen administering his judicial power to pass death sentences. Inside the court room, on the rear wall is a fading motto of the then British administration.

Another fascinating feature of this mansion is the extensive compound which holds a pond with a fountain. Most probably it had added a majestic sight to the mansion in its heyday. Today the fountain lies broken and needs restoration.

Under the supervision of the Archaeological Department in 1974, the Maduwanwela Walawwa was converted into an archaeological reserve and since then efforts have been taken to restore the mansion to its former glory.