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Wasala walawwa by the Tangalle Bay : A bangasala of history

by Padma Edirisinghe

History slumbers in myriad nooks and corners of our island storing within these Bangasalas (store houses) fascinating snippets of past history and sagas of families and persons bejewelling these sagas with their own endevours.

Barricaded gates

On a recent visit to Tangalla I came across such a store house almost accidentally. To mitigate the tedium of the long journey I carried with me a copy of How to see Ceylon by Bella Woolf, sister of the famous Leonard Wolf and sister - in - law of Virginia Woolf. This writer cum indefatigable traveller has not left a single important place in the island untrodden, a feat many of us, its own denizens, have not accomplished.

She comes into Tangalla by motor car (still in its infancy stage in the island - year 1914) from Haputale through Tissamaharama and Harmbantota and waxes poetic on this startlingly beautiful seaside town in this strain. "Beyond the brilliant moon path the waves break on the rocks, tossing up spray in strange contrast to the placid ripples on the shore. Fireflies gleam in the trees - a medley of emerald spark. Such a scene might have inspired:

"Magic casements opening on the foam

Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn"

Almost a 100 years later the bustling town and its beaches held out the same magical fascination for me (though a daughter of the soil) as I lodged in an abode by the Tangalla Bay and gazed at the dancing Indian ocean beyond, sun - dappled by day and moon - dappled by night. Just by my lodge however roosted a lonely giant of a building, swathed in almost solitary silence. Massive chains girdled the gate columns of gigantic proportions coming down the hidden recesses of Time, while ruins of what could be dubbed as "accoutrements" to a feudal chieftain's castle sprawled around in an utterly dilapidated state. Becoming curious I indulged in some independent labour to trace its roots and the story of its now vanished inhabitants in the course of which to my amazement discovered that I had stumbled some coincidence onto familiar ground.

Judiciary centres of Giruwa Pattuwa

Bastian Jayawardena was a recurring character of a piece I wrote 13 years back to this same newspaper titled An encounter with the custodian of Ehelapola. He was the person selected by the Britishers to escort Eheleapola Maha Adikaram to Mauritius to where he was banished on charges of complicity. In addition to other qualifications BJ would have been selected as he could effectively act as a Tolka (translator) due to his proficiency in English. But he had left Maritius early on a pretext of sickness and his co - passenger on his return had been one Mr. Holman who in his traveller's tales expresses surprise that an Asian was reading "Vicar of Wakefield "on the ship.

Actually this poses rather a conundrum for the British had begun to administer our island only a few years back and how Bastian Jayawardena became so proficient in English is simply a mystery. However this linguistic ability elevated him into a position of a Tolka Mudaliyar.

It was actually a coincidence that many years later I was to view the mansion that housed the descendents of this erudite gentleman who posed that riddle to me. Those in the vicinity still call it the Wasala Walawwa despite a glaringly yellow board carrying the pompous title "Nava Jeevana" (New Life) adoring or cheapening garishly the imposing entrance.

According to details in the board the desolate mansion now caters to or to put it more pompously gives new life to disabled children, a worthy cause no doubt if not for the fact that not a single injector of this new life was to be seen on the particular Wednesday I discovered it. Between 10 am and 12 noon several parents arrived there, armed with letters from politicians to admit their disabled kids, hope aglow in their eyes and the kids' eyes but not even a guard sat or stood in the guard house to get any information even as to where the bureaucrats are. I saw the disappointed parents and the children retreat, their misery intensified with the plummeting of raised hopes.

Wasala walawwa looming in ponderous silence

I was informed by neighbours that the mansion had been earlier taken over by the Govt. to house the Paddy Marketing Board. Later the PMB having flopped (according to the informants) it had been given over to this project. Once I had gazed at the massive water jug in Justin Jayawardena's Kataluwa Walauwa that familiarized the Ratmalana Jayawardena's to me leading to the above mentioned article. Peering into its depths I had fantasized events of the past and now this mansion too just intrigued me. I had to find its roots and the story of its builder. And I found him in the form of Harry Jayawardena, grandson of Bastian Jayawardena and son of Arthur Jayawerdena, a Mudaliyar of West Giruwa Pattu.

This remarkable person is ample testimony to the fact that this Jayawardena family of Ratmalana that later got linked to the Obeysekera and Bandaranaike families by marriage ties had never looked back ever since Bastian Jayawardena had escorted Ehelapola Maha Adikaram to Mauritius. He is the builder of this Wasala Walauwa during the first decade of the 20th Century. His father Arthur Jayawardena earns mention in the book "Chieftains of Ceylon by J.C. Van Gander indicating the family's rise to fame and fortune.

He held so many myriad posts in his life time that seems almost incredible. He began his state career as Muhandiram of Magam Pattu, a Southern stronghold and is later conferred the post of Acting President, Village Tribunals, West Giruwa Pattu again in the South. In the same year ie. 1893 he was appointed acting Mudaliyar of Magama Pattu and later Muhadiram of Aluthkuru Korala North.

He made his mark here by cleverly solving a crisis caused by the fishermen of Negombo. In 1903 he is appointed acting President of Village Tribulas in Salpiti Korale (Colombo district) and in 1904 made Mudaliyar of Pasdun Korale. (Kalutara district). In 1906 he was made Mudaliyar of Giruwa Pattu, his home station and it is probably after this that he puts up this massive edifice as a dwelling for his family.

Houses of administrators of his calibre doubly served as centers of jurisdiction in the area too and as I wandered outside the barbed wire fence on a second visit I saw the ruined rooms circling the Walauwva and visualized the room of the Dandu Kanda (that chained offenders) and the stores of ammunition for defence purposes.

The vicissitudes, the Wasala Walouwa by the Tangalle Bay have undergone are myriad. Governments seem to have found umpteen uses for its space. But today it looms like a forlorn architectural giant. It is indeed a sad fact that historical edifices like this of educational value to our kids are misused and left to the whims and vagaries of the elements and frisky nature. The foaming waves frolic around the stage of the Walauwa, tossing up spray in strange contrast to the ripples on the shore while significant monuments of history lie desolate and neglected.

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