In search of the hidden kingdom | Sunday Observer

In search of the hidden kingdom

13 October, 2019
HEROIC FIGURE: The view of majestic looking statue of Prince Veediya Bandara and his horse at the temple ground
HEROIC FIGURE: The view of majestic looking statue of Prince Veediya Bandara and his horse at the temple ground

I thought there was nothing to see in Palindanuwara. But this small wooded village pushed into obscurity sits on the edge of a story brimming with historical significance – one that dates back to the period of Prince Veediya Bandara.

Our destination is the historic Pelada Raja MahaViharaya in Palindanuwara in the Palindanuwara Divisional Secretariat area. This wooded village of Pelanda is located by the picturesque meandering Magura Ganga which flows from the Sinharaja Forest, in the Agalawatta electorate in the Kalutara district.

The Pelada ancient temple lies 6.5 kilometres away, on the Molkava road near Bulathsinhala commencing at Latpadura junction on the Baduraliya road linked to the Agalawatta town. We are on this road intrigued by the history the village holds and its over 600-year-old ruined palace and fort.

The warrior Prince Veediya Bandara and his queen Sooriyadevi who had fled to Palindanuwara from Sitawaka mustered an army and weapons at this temple ground and led the war against the Portuguese during the latter part of the 16th century.

According to the historical notes, it is said that Prince Veediya Bandara led a battle against King Mayadunne, the ruler of Sitawaka and the Portuguese and attacked them from time to time, camped at Pelade in Palindanuwara. Later, Prince Veediya Bandara married the sister of Tikiri Kumaru (King Mayadunne’s daughter) after the death of Princess Sooriyadevi. King Mayadunne also led a battle against Prince Veediya Bandara due to his cruelty to his daughter. The battle between Prince Veediya Bandara and Prince Tikiri Kumaru is believed to have taken place at Diwalakada near Bulathsinhala.

I last came to this area in 2004. After a lapse of 15 years, we drove past farmers working in paddy fields and patches of wet farmland. On the narrow carpeted roads along the gushing water of streams lined by tall trees and creepers is the temple calling out from a distant past.

We walked towards the temple and met the chief incumbent, Ven. Devamulle Kalyanawansa Thera, 74, who was eager to take us round. Like any other monument of yore, this too has some beauty even though it is in ruins. A life-size statue of the warrior Prince Veediya Bandara and his horse has been erected on the temple ground that catches the first glimpse of the visitor to the temple. Most of the monuments in the palace and the fort are damaged and some have disappeared. But what cannot be denied is the character and the rustic charm that more than makes up for the losses.

At the entrance to the temple, modern buildings are seen along with the old ones. There is also a small museum which recalls the entire history of the life of Prince Veediya Bandara and his weaponry of the battle, a repository of history. There are numerous artifacts in the village dating back to the era of Prince Veediya Bandara. These include swords of different shapes and sizes, stone cannon balls used in cannons, stone ornaments found in gem pits and details of ancient gun making expertise of the blacksmiths in the area.

“Most of these exhibits here which I bought from villagers show our faded past,” said Ven. Devamulle Kalyanawansa Thera adding that the villagers are ignorant about historical monuments. “A few yards away there were the ruins of the ancient palace with carved stone door frames and pillars. It is sad that some of the stone monuments are being pilfered by the locals,” he added.

The chief incumbent showed me the picture of a unique gun made by the craftsmen of Pelada who had excellent expertise in making guns and ammunition.

The particular caste of people in Pelada were blacksmiths for generations. They made iron weaponry and guns in the past that were used against the enemies of Prince Veediya Bandara.

The Pelada blacksmiths swiftly learnt gun and ammunition technology and made guns which were better than those used by the Portuguese. A 74-inch long gun had been found by a farmer in his paddy field on the banks of the Pelada river near Baduraliya in 1950. It was an unusual gun weighing 80 pounds and the ammunition cabby’s diameter was 13 inches. This gun was given to the National Museum Department- Colombo Museum.

A few yards away, amid the Palada river, is a mystical place where a rock formation comes out from the water with a drench like creation marked on the rock surface which depicts the form of a gun. The villagers called it ‘Thuwakku gala’ (gun rock). The village on the other side of the river is called ‘Aachariwatta’ (Garden of blacksmiths).

In the past, a generation of blacksmiths had lived in this village but are now confined to a few families. They too are now turning towards new lucrative businesses in the area.

The blacksmiths had made “Sinhala guns” using various techniques such as ‘Kodithuwakku’ and ‘Dig thuwakku’ to use in different situations. At the Maha Saman Devalaya in Ratnapura we could observe a Sinhala gun which has been preserved. I have seen this gun in good condition which is used even today to inform the public the auspicious time of commencing the Perahera.

The people of Peladanuwara venerate Prince Veediya Bandara. Folk tradition records that Prince Veediya Bandara was reborn as a deity by the name of ‘Ma Keli’.

Makeli Ella is another historic and picturesque spot near Palindanuwara. The 70-foot waterfall cascades from a branch of the Kukule Ganga which flows down to Kuda Ganga. This waterfall lies 14.2 Km along the Agalawatta-Baduraliya road via the Lathpadura junction. The waterfall is seen in a forest setting with rare foliage and creepers. There are many rare species of fishes in the rivulets.

The origin of the waterfall is in the Kukule Ganga, a tributary of Kalu Ganga which flows along a rock base about 200 ft. long and falls to a depth of 70 ft. creating the beautiful waterfall.

Even though the place and its historical monuments have fallen into disrepair, Pelada’s tryst with valour continued. Palindanuwara and adjoining villages are interwoven with many folk tales of Prince Veediya Bandara. Pelada apparently derives its name from the Pali word ‘Pilanda’ which means Pabalu, according to Ven. Kalyanawansa Thera. Surrounded by mountains and the meandering Maguru and Kukule Gangas, Pelada remained difficult to access. The thick foliage that encircled the village in ancient times became a hideout for the warrior Prince Veediya Bandara.