Sri Lanka: True Heroes — Long-buried, yet unforgotten

Monarawila Keppetipola had donated a land with a temple. Even today this temple stands well maintained with the deteriorated dingy shrine room where most paintings are invisible. The best is the old large attic on the verge of falling down at any moment leaving behind only its stone stands.

by Nalini Chitra Keppetipola

( February 27, 2017, Knady, Sri Lanka Guardian) Monerawila Keppetipola Disawa’s name, fame and skull remain etched to this day. The skull in the memorial was erected to his memory in the outer courtyard of the Kandy esplanade on November 26, 1954.

On November 26, 1818, the people of Kandy witnessed the saddest scene, the execution of this great hero at Kandy Bogambara grounds. This punishment was the gift he was blessed with, for the first liberation he took part against the British which was held in 1818. This episode is known as the Uva Rebellion.

In 1818 Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe the last king of Sinhalay broke faith with the people and chieftains. This was the opportune time for the British, who had been waging an unsuccessful war to capture this land. Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe was arrested and sent to India where he passed off in 1832.

The Kandyan Convention was enacted on March 2, 1825, in the Magul Maduwa, Kandy. In terms of this convention, King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha was disposed of and the Sinhala Kingdom was entrusted to the King of England. Most signed the treaty in English and Tamil. Monarawila Keppetipola Disawa signed in Sinhala in a bid to prove that he was a good Sinhalese though he knew English. Like it or not, we were compelled to accept the King of England as our king.

Sri Wickrama Rajasinha was accompanied by William Granville to India. The Kandyan treaty was signed by Ehelapola Maha Adikaram, Molligoda Adikaram, Pilimatalawa Adikaram, Pilimatalawa Hathkorale Disawa, Monerawille – Uva Disawa, Ratwatta Disawa, Molligoda Thun Korale Disawa, Dullewa Walapane Disawa, Millewa Saman Kaduwe Disawa, Gallagama Disawa and Gallagoda Nuwakolaviya Disawa.

Kandyan Kingdom (Uva Wellassa)

Monarawila Keppetipola in 1818 was under the British service. During this time, the Kandyan Kingdom (Uva Wellassa) was supposed to be underdeveloped with full of fines on them. Discontent with this setup, they had requested to the Governor General Brownrigg to appoint one of their own people to look after their interests. The governor had responded to this request by appointing Haj Marrika as Muhandiram of Wellassa. This provocative and obnoxious new appointment was regarded as an act of insult to the Uda Rata people and chieftains. Discontentment and unrest began to brew within the Uva people.

At this stage in walked a ‘Doraisamy’ a so called decent of the King Wickrama Rajasinha who did not lie low. He too began to form an incautious rebellion against the law of the British government. The Government then sent Haji Marrikkar of Wellassa to suppress the rebellion and more groups of rebels had pushed up, like mushrooms with the firm determination “We will fight and make our country a free ‘Sri Lanka’ once more”.

Omnipotent Monarawila Keppetipola Disawa was sent by the British from Kandy to Uva to crush the rebels with a false picture that it was only a civil riot. Many houses had been burnt. Cattle houses and grain belonging to the Sinhala farmers had been forcibly burnt and destroyed. A reward had been offered for the arrest of Doraisamy. Kokumbare Rate Raja, a brainy leader of the rebellion, used his intelligence and brainwashed Monarawila Keppetipola Disawa and made clear that the latter had been enticed to handle an evil mission to crush his own Sinhala people. The Disawa was enlightened to truth and changed his mind. He returned the British arms. He felt it was nobler not to fight with their arms.

He was then taken to the place of execution to the bank of the Bogambara. Just before he was beheaded, he chanted a verse from the Dhammapada. The participants heard the last word, Thathagatha. Two blows severed his head. He instructed Eriyagama Kankanam where to strike the second blow.

After the beheading, his skull was sent to the London Medical University of Edinburgh for experiments. Different tests had been done in order to find out as to how he had got that inexplicable strength and willpower and fearlessness for death. We all fear death. But Monarawila Keppetipola Disawa did not fear death at all. It was the Duke of Gloucester who brought the skull to Kandy. Up to date we would have never been able to get it down to Ceylon had it not been for the tough fight given by Loku Banda Monarawila Keppetipola, his brother William Monarawila Keppetipola (fourth generation) and Upali M Keppitipola.

The Memorial Pillar is a reminder to us all of this. His skull was entombed on November 26, 1954. It is really a pity, instead of placing the skull at the museum, for the benefit of the public that it was buried deep in the rough sand. Really this should have been placed alongside with his other items, head dress, jacket, flag, which had been donated by one of his nephew Edman M Keppetipola of Unambuwa Wallawa of Gampola.

British camp

Monerawila, a beautiful village at Pallepola inside Matale, is situated just before reaching Wahakotte. This name Monerawille – Monera – (Peacock) Villa – (Water hole) had been named as peacocks had come to bathe, near a large bush where there had been this waterhole. Thus this village name Keppetipola was give to him by his mother along with Monerawila.

Monarawila Keppetipola had donated a land with a temple. Even today this temple stands well maintained with the deteriorated dingy shrine room where most paintings are invisible. The best is the old large attic on the verge of falling down at any moment leaving behind only its stone stands.

Matale has been a glossy historical name in Ceylon. Aluvihare, Keppetipola, Amunugama, Etipola, Galagoda Tibbatuwawa, Yattawatta, Hulangamuwa, Halangoda Weeragama, Giragama, Pussella, Wegodapola Tenne Maningamuwa are all based in Matale. All these families are connected. The most famous of these families was Monarawila Keppetipola.

After the Uwa Rebellion, the British had been after Monarawila Keppetipola and Madugalle. As Madugalle was ill, he had proceeded to Monarawila to Keppetipola’s sister Kiriulla Kumarihamy’s cadjan-thatched house at Parahagama for a holiday. To go to this village you have to go to Kekirawa and proceed across Kalawewa along Galewala road and turn off from Adiyagala and then proceed about three kilometres and then you come to the destination which is Parahagama. Here stands a monument of the Disawa as it was from here that he was captured. As Madugalla was ill, he both spent a few days with Kiriulla Kumarihamy.

As there had been no signs of Madugalla’s recovery, Kiriulla Kumarihamy had arranged a Devil dancing performance by way of a healing ritual. During this period, Muslim traders used to come to dispose their goods and take away items that they do not possess. The traders detected Monarawila Keppetipola and Madugalla and reached the nearest British camp to betray them. Anyone who exposes Keppetipola and Madugalla was to be gifted with 2000 coins. The British camp was close to Kirulla Kumarihamy’s house. News was given to the chief commander Onil who immediately had gone to the place where ritual was held.

Monarawila Keppetipola introduced himself to Onil. He was taken to Bogambara on a dark, cloudy day of November 4, 1818. Here he was at the remand prison till the day of execution.

( The writer is the Vice President of the  Weera Monarawille Keppetipola Organisation in Kandy District )


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