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Monarawila Keppetipola Mahanilame : A true rebellion

2015-12-11 18:30:02
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and one of it’s kind

The marketing phrase that independence for Sri Lanka had been won without shedding a drop of blood is a fallacy. People over the years, since the advent of foreigners to our shores from around 1505 have fought to regain independence of the territory they had forsook.  Among them comes Keppetipola Maha Adikaram born at Matale.  But unfortunately he is still a “Traitor” to the country he was born and sacrificed his life for, fighting the ruthless British of that era. It is recorded that officers like Lieutenant J. Mclaine of the 73rd Regiment used to hang captured prisoners in front of him while taking his breakfast.  So did  Lieutenant Colonel Hook.

 We are commemorating the 197th death Anniversary of Weera Keppetipola who gave his life for the country.  Keppetipola Maha Nilame was a heroic fighter who fought the British in the 1818 rebellion. Governments after independence have come and gone, which promised that the name of Keppetipola would be de-gazetted from the gazette of the British which had declared that Maha Nilame was a traitor to the Imperial Government of Britain.  The blood and toil of the people of the country went to force the colonial powers to restore independence to the people

 It was not the first, but the valiant fighter Monarawila Keppetipola was one outstanding man who did not seek pardon from the British, even though they were very willing to give, if he did ask for it. Instead, he gave his life for the people of Sri Lanka, by stretching his neck to the “Executioner” on the banks of Bogambara Wewa which area is now within the Memorial Keppetipola Hall.

 Keppetipola’s cranium lies buried at the sacred Mahamaluwa in Kandy over which there is a monument. The cranium is within a glass case, which was deposited after it was exposed for public viewing at the Kandyan audience hall, which is behind the Sri Dalada Maligawa.   There are many who are connected to his ancestry.  But, in the recent past there are a number of people who are trying to claim relationship to this noble man;  the only man who could ever be thought of, Upali Kepetipola, was instrumental in getting down the cranium which had been removed to the Edinburgh Phenomenological Society. There was a time, when Upali Keppetipola alone paid homage to the monument at Maha Maluwa,Kandy, by placing a wreath of flowers.

 The background of Monarawila Keppetipola begins with Governor Robert Brownrigg who avoided the issue of placing a Kandyan on the Throne of Kandy or even allowing to administer the Kandyan Provinces.

 It was an unwritten promise that the British would place one of the Kandyan Chief’s on the Throne.  But, Brownrigg did not act like a Britisher and was at one time questioned in the British Parliament for his acts. 

 Kandyan families were completely wiped out and the best of Kandyan gentry went into hiding in the villages, while some earned the favour of the British and also converted themselves into the faith of Christ.  It is recorded that pandemonium reigned in the House of Commons so much so that it was debated by British parliamentarians even to the extent of condemning their own King for having a representative who knew no decency - that was Robert Brownrigg.

 Most of the people, who after the British - Kandyan Treaty thought it fit to enter into the service of the British, had plums of office, others were stripped of their positions and reduced to beggary.  That blow in 1817 - 1818, have had a raw deal for people who fought the British which even goes to this date. 
 When the Kandyan Treaty was signed, Keppetipola Maha Dissawa was the Dissawa of Matale and subsequently the British appointed him to Uva.  While he was at Uva, a chance utterance to the Translator David de Alwis, cost him his future and his life.  He had one day told the translator during a conversation, that it was time for the British to bid good-bye to the country and place a Sinhalese on the Throne of Kandy, even Dissawa Ehelepola.

 There was also a time when Keppetipola punished officers under him who were trying to ‘curry-favour ‘ with the Government Agent of Badulla. The Governor became so vexed that he told the Kandy Commissioner and the resident representative Doy’ly that these people are rising against the representative of the British King.

 The arrest led to the sacrifice of his wealth and ultimately stretching  his neck to  be severed by a “ Wadakaya “ or an executioner. 

 The beginning of this rebellion can be pinned down as the result of an appointment of a Muslim Muhandiram Haji to a position in Wellassa, during the same period when Dissawa Millewa was the chief of the area.

 These led to a rebellion. A relation of Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe was roaming the area named ‘Doraiswamy’, whom the British suspected as a claimant to the Kandyan Throne.


Unfortunately he is still a “Traitor” to the country he was born and  sacrificed his life for, fighting the ruthless British of that era


 The Assistant Government Agent Sylvester Wilson sent Hadji to capture Doraiswamy, followed by the people working for the British. The people of Welassa did not take a liking over the appointment of Hadji. When he went to Wellassa, he had to face an armed gang, where he was taken into custody and his brother who accompanied him was hurt. Wilson who heard about these incidents, made an attempt to arrest the armed gang with a band of Java soldiers.

 But, he could do nothing and he succumbed to a fatal shot of the gang with a bow and arrow.  Not content with these incidents, Brownrigg offered to pay 2000 pagodas to anyone leading to the arrest of or anyone who killed Wilson.

 It is recorded that the British who recruited the ‘scum ‘ of their country for adventure, had people like Lieutenant O’ Neil and others of their kind, who used to hang prisoners of the rebellion before their breakfast table and eat in front of them.  That was the scum that entered the British Army at that time.


It was an unwritten promise that the British would place one of the  Kandyan Chief’s on the Throne.  But, Brownrigg did not act like a  Britisher and was at one time questioned in the British Parliament for  his acts. 



 So by First January 1818, entire Kandyan Provinces were at war with the British. A quick discussion was held at the Audience Hall of Kandy by Robert Brownrigg and it had been stated that under no condition, would the Kandyan Provinces be handed over to the Sinhala People. At this meeting it was also stated that Sir Robert Brownrigg declared that if anyone brought the Head of Keppetipola, he would be offered 2000 Pagodas (the type of currency at that time)

 By February 18th, the British moved, declaring that anyone who should bring the head of Madugalle or Pilamatalawa would also be offered 1000 Pagodas . But although more troops of the British were being brought to quell the rebellion it became a failure.  So by August the rebellion was a miserable failure. 
 Bu 28th October, Lieutenant O’Neil captured Keppetipola, because of a ‘sneaking’ Muslim who had gone to barter for goods to the village where Keppetipola stayed overnight. Three days later Madugalle was arrested, and by 4th November, under a heavy guard, they were both  brought to Kandy. By 13th November they were brought before  a ‘Court Martial’ by name , but in reality it was only a ‘Kangaroo Court. ‘  Both were executed on November 25th 1818 with several other Kandyan chiefs.

Ellepola Nilame was executed on October 27.

His friend Dr. Henry Marshall, whose friendship he cultivated while in Badulla was there to see him for the last time and Keppetipola invited  him to come with him to the execution site, which he refused.  But, after he was executed his Cranium was filled with ‘ Salt ‘ and sent   to the Phrenology Society of Edinburgh, from where it went further to the Anatomy Department of the University of Edinburgh for examination.   The real move for the freedom of the country were people like Keppetipola and other Chieftains. They tried to right their wrong but, did not realize that by requesting one who conquests power to come to their assistance, to get rid of a usurper to the Kandyan Throne, they were inviting shrewd businessman to stay for many decades.  The lands and properties of those who were in the rebellion were confiscated by a proclamation  on 1st. January 1818 as “ Rebels, outlaws  and enemies of the British “.  The list of eighteen whose lands were confiscated to the Crown was headed by Keppetipola , the former Dissawe  of Uva. “





The presentation of a book for Children on Adikaram Keppetipola

A children’s book on “Maha Adikaram Keppetipola “ the freedom fighter was launched at the “Keppetipola Anniversary”, held at Maha Maluwa recently.  The book perhaps is a first of its kind  regarding the life and times of Keppetipola written for children, by senior  journalist L.B.  Senaratne. Mr. Senaratne is also one of the long standing correspondents for Daily Mirror covering Dalada Maligawa and the historical Kandy region.  

The book was presented to the Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela, the Anunayake of Asgiri Maha Vihare Sasrapathi Wenduruwe Upul, the Anunayake of Malwatta  Maha Vihare Venerable Diulkumbure Dhamadassi Thera, the Maha Upadya of Malwatta Maha Vihare Aluthgama Dhammananda Thera and the Historic Bambawe Nayake Thera Venerable Gomagoda Ratnasara Thera of Asgiri Maha Vihare. Mr. Senaratne has written three other books, one on “Sri Dalada “ in Sinhala , English and now a print in Tamil, another on Maha Maluwa both in Sinhala and English and a photographic presentation of the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera.  All these are targeted to children.


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