‘Obeysekera’ dynasty and Atadahe Walawwa | Sunday Observer

‘Obeysekera’ dynasty and Atadahe Walawwa

12 June, 2021

The ‘Obeysekera’ dynasty is one of the much talked about lineages in Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was known then. At one time they were powerful figures in Ceylonese politics. The Obeysekera dynasty also became relatives of other prestigious families, especially due to the marriages between aristocratic families such as Bandaranaikes.

The Bandaranaikes, in addition to the traditional aristocracy, played huge roles in Sri Lankan politics. If we go down in history, the relationship between the Bandaranaike family and the Gampaha District, which is also known as ‘Siyane Korale’ goes back seven or eight centuries.

However, although the Obeysekera family later came to the Western Province, they were originally coming from Kataluwa in Galle.

Accordingly, Obeysekeras’ hometown was Kataluwa. In this background, this article is about ‘Atadagewatta Walawwa’ which is also known as ‘Atadahewatta Walawwa’ in Kataluwa which was the ancestral home for this family.

Portuguese rule

Portuguese rule of Ceylon (1505-1656) was always in the maritime areas and the people whom they converted were the coastal folk. The Dutch were then used by the Sinhala king to take revenge on the Portuguese who wanted to consolidate their power in Ceylon. Slowly, the Dutch became the rulers of coastal and outer areas of Ceylon and the Portuguese were left with smaller pieces of territory than those of the Dutch.

The Obeyesekera family dynasty is believed to have hailed from the Royal Portuguese family. One Owen Ferdinandez, who belonged to the Portuguese Royal Family in Europe, had come to Ceylon around 1630, after which he served as a Captain of the Royal Portuguese Navy to Galle Harbour to inspect the activities of the Portuguese administrators in Maritime Provinces of the Southern Province.

He had then fallen in love with the island following his inspection visits and decided to stay.

He is said to have looked out for a large fertile land in Kataluwa in the Ahangama area of the Galle District. Ferdinandez then constructed a Walawwa, which was known as ‘Atadahe Walawwa’, since he grew 8,000 coconut plants there. ‘Atadahe Watte Walawwa’ is believed to have been been built at the end of the Portuguese period.

After some time, Ferdinandez wanted to change his name to a Sinhala name. To make arrangements for that purpose, he met a Buddhist priest known as Koratota Dhammarama, who was the then Chief Prelate of Down South and wanted to change his name to ‘Your Leader.’

The priest, considering his status, named him ‘Obeyesekera,’ which stands for ‘Your Leader.’ Another legend is there that it was one Ferdinandez who got married to a Sinhala lady, and bought the ‘Atadahe Watte Walawwa’ fascinated by its location by the sea and got his name changed as ‘Obeysekera’ conferred by the village prelate.

Aristocratic families

The Obeysekera family became one of the leading aristocratic families in the country over time and thus established marriages with other aristocratic families in the country.

Maha Mudaliyar James Peter Obeysekera (1) of this family married Cornelia Henrietta Bandaranaike, daughter of Don Christoffel Henricus Dias Bandaranaike of the Batadola Walawwa, Nittambuwa, and she was the sister of Maha Mudaliyar Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, and the aunt of slain Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike of the Bandaranaike Walawwa in Horagolla.

James Peter Obeysekera (2), son of James Peter Obeysekera (1) and Henrietta was the last Maha Mudaliyar of Ceylon and his only son Deshamanya, James Peter Obeysekara (3) was a founding member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The Obeysekera family was one of the main figures in Ceylonese politics in the last century, and Sir Christopher Obeysekera, who lived in the ‘Atadagewatta Walawwa’, was the representative of the Sinhalese people to the Legislative Council in 1900 and held that position until 1917.

The father of his wife, Eslin de Maria Alwis, was Sir James de Alwis, a well - known scholar at the time.

Born in 1879 as the daughter of the couple, Daisy Ezlin Obeysekera married Maha Mudaliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike and she was a prominent social activist at the time.

She was elected as the Chairperson of the Women’s Electoral Society, which was established on 7 December, 1927, at a hall located at Victoria Park, Colombo. When certain leaders at that time opposed the right of women to vote, it was under her leadership that the right was granted.

Undoubtedly, her role as a social activist motivated her son, the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, as well as her daughter-in-law, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike.

Lillian Augusta Obeysekera, the sister of Daisy Azlin, was married to Simon William Illangakoon, a wealthy man from the Weligama Korale.

Prominent politician

Their son, Pani Illangakoon also became a prominent politician and supported his cousin, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1959.

The ‘Atadahewatta Walawwa’ is said to be about 385 years old, built in the year 1630. The Walawwa at one time was used as a Court House in Talpe Pattu.

It was partially damaged due to the Tsunami disaster in 2004 and was declared a historical archaeological monument by the Department of Archaeology. The Walawwa was later owned by Don Justin Arthur Jayawardene and it was sold in the year 2016, following which it was turned into a tourist hotel.