Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Living in a Country within a Country…..?

Those of us who went to school before 1972 would recall when many specimen applications for government employment [self made Bio-Data’s was not the order then] had a question asking if you belonged in the “Up-Country or Low-Country”.

This confused me ever since a schoolboy; I was born in Kandy in the so called Up-Country and my father too was born in Kothmale again a locality in the Up-Country, but I was listed as a Low-Countryman as my grandfather was born in Wadduwa a township in the Low-Country.

It becomes funnier when my son  born in Galle the main city in the Low-Country is listed as a Up-Countryman for his grandfather was born in Kotmale  in the hills.

This stupidity in living in a different country within Ceylon was done away with, once Sri Lanka became a Republic on May 22, 1972. [Sri Lanka was officially Ceylon before 1972]

History records that Sri Lanka has been invaded by foreign forces from time to time. It was under Parakramabahu VI of Kotte that it was last united under one flag. 

In 1505 Don Lourenço de Almeida, son of the Portuguese viceroy in India, had to find refuge in Galle, [Southern Port City] when his fleet looking for Moorish ships to attack and plunder are forced to dock at Galle to overcome rough weather. 

It is this incident that sends news to the throne in Kotte  Parakramabahu VIII (1484-1508), of strangers who "eat hunks of white stone [white bread] and drink blood [presumably wine]. . . and have guns with a noise louder than thunder. . ."  The king suspecting danger of another invasion, offers  gifts of cinnamon and elephants while permiting the building of a residence in Colombo for trading purposes. With the building of this heavily fortified "trading post" in Colombo their militaristic intentions became apparent. 

Ever since 1505 we have records of the Dutch outdoing  the Portuguese in 1658 and the British takeover from the Dutch in 1798 and subsequently the whole country under the British throne in 1815.

With the maritime regions of  the South-West coming under the rule of the Europeans the life style and the social structure of the Low-Country peasantry was to change both economically and politically. Many even converted religiously. The economy controlled by the King  was now  in the hands of the Dutch East India Company later the British East India Company. With the British takeover from the Dutch all the maritime provinces around the country is lost to the Kandian Kingdom. 

Map showing Kandian Territory with the Maritime provinces under the British

The impact of the loss of territory is noted  when the ship commandeered by the  Knox’s is impounded in the eastern shores and sixteen of the crew, including the Knoxes, are taken captive by the troops of Rajasinghe II. There is historic evidence of attacks on the Galle Port and the Matara Fort by the armies of  Rajasinghe II to take them over as the intended taxes were not honoured. 

Later the British fought many a battle in the hills at Gannoruwa and Lewella [so named to symbolise the bloodletting on the shores of river Mahaveli ]  against  Ragasinhe II to gain control of the Kandian kingdom. Unsuccessful on the difficult terrain they looked for other means and wait until Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe is installed.

Finally they take control in 1815 through cunning. They set the Adigars of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe,  [Adikarm in Sinhala, was a feudal title associated with high office in the Kandian Kingdom]   against the King who revolt to their advantage to capture the fleeing King and Queen;… finally fooling the Adigas as well. 

From hereon the division of the Up-Country and the Low-Country……. The Low-Countryman who had adopted much of European culture was used as the middlemen in affairs with the interior. 

In Kandyan times, all those living in the Kandyan territories were subject to the Kandyan law. Some of these legal factors in marriage and land use the British also continued with. The Kandyan attitude of aristocratic superiority toward the Low-Country Sinhalese precluded marriage between them. But with the increase in wealth and sophistication of the latter with other outside contacts, these barriers are no more.   

The extent of the Kandian Kingdom comprised of the Central Province, Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, North-Central Province and the greater part of the North Western Province roughly up to the Sandalankawa. 

The landmarks dividing these boundaries would have been many, that may have vanished with development. 

Danowitha Warakapola copy
The Marker Rock on the 55th km on the Kandy Road at Danowita

There is but one such landmark on the 55th Kilometre on the Kandy Road at Danowita.,,,,,,,,,,,  known as the “Danowita Rock” ………….still sacred to the older Kandian. One notable signature is the women's dress code of the “Kandian Osariya” taking dominance to the “Indian Saree” of the Low-Country beyond this point to this day.   


 Danowita Rock [Pics by Author]

However there lingers much pun in social gatherings of the Kandian attitude to this day…..they say the Kandian's would  still be stuck in the hills, if not for the ‘Suddha’ [white man]  tunnelling the rock at Kadugannawa on the Kandy road. [ No Malice Intended ]

Kadugannawa Tunnel [Sudha Gala Viddha]


  1. Interesting posting.I think it depends on which side you are if you are Kandyan you kind of have a pride in it and if you are not you have disdain for those who call themselves Kandyan and wear the Kandyan dress etc.I understand both sides of the story because my parents are Kandyan and I lived in the Kandy area while I was growing up but now live overseas.

  2. Danowita Rock.......
    It is named as "Helagala Gala-හැලගල ගල" these days by people. I am seeing the statement of Anagarika Dharmapala; "Budu bana danno gawamas nokanno-බුදුබණ දන්නෝ ගවමස් නොකන්නෝ" which is written on that rock since my childhood.