Kandy Road, Sri Lanka
Kandy, the natural fortress
Kandy had no roads leading to it from Colombo. Kandy (altitude: 489 meters), the gateway to the Central Highlands (altitude: 489-1800 meters) of Sri Lanka, was a natural fortress of wooded mountains and as if that wouldn’t do, it was devoid of roads from the surrounding plains. In the early 1800s roads in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka were not very different from the Colonial Dutch tracks along the coasts. The roads were merely rough clearings cut through forests. There were no permanent bridges or culverts.
Since the establishment of the royal city of Kandy in 1592, the succession of kings reigning in Kandy, refrained from cutting pathways to the plains surrounding the central highlands of Sri Lanka leaving the Sinhalese inhabitants of the coastal areas to the sword and fire of the invading Europeans. With the exception of battles fought at Tricomalee and Jaffna by King Senarath (1604-1634 AD) and his son King Rajasinghe the second (1634-1684) at Colombo, kings reigning in Kandy had no pricks of conscience in leaving the lowlanders at the mercy of the European invaders., i.e. Portuguese (1505- 1656), Dutch (1656-1796) and English (1796-1948).
Highlanders rebelled against the king when the Portuguese were at the brink of total annihilation in the lowlands.
Furthermore, we mustn’t forget the opportunity to defeat the Portuguese and thereby preventing their successor Dutch and British from occupying the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, was deliberately squashed by the Sinhalese in Kandy. That was during the relentless siege of impregnable Portuguese fort in Colombo by the great warrior King Sitawake Rajansinghe (1581-1592 AD) reigning at Sitawake, Awissawlla in the lowlands. Sinhalese in the highland stronghold of Kandy revolted against the king, resulting in withdrawal of the Sinhalese forces, who had brought down the Portuguese to the brink of total annihilation. Portuguese had already suffered the worst ever defeat of an European power in an Asian region: Mulleriyawa battle in the year 1562 at the hands of the Sinhalese forces of King Sitawake Rajansinghe, the most ferocious warrior king ever lived in Sri Lanka. Medieval Sinhalese chronicle “Rajavaliya” records that the waters Mulleiryawa marshy land overflowed with the blood of Portuguese. Reinforcement from Goa, the Portuguese maritime stronghold in India, couldn’t be prevented from another defeat on the banks of River Kelang ganga close to Colombo.
The last refuge of the Portuguese was at the great fort of Colombo: Portuguese, already reduced to slaughter rats, cats and dogs for meat, were thrown a lifeline with the revolt by the Sinhalese in Kandy against King Sitawake Rajasinghe.
Sinhalese must stay united in all fronts and close ranks against all foreign enemies and local traitors.
Lowlanders had been put to the sword and the fire by the Portuguese.
The Portuguese with free reign given, held sway in the coastal area to toss up the Sinhalese infants high into the air and then hold their long spears high up to have them impaled. Following the death of the King Sitawake Rajasinghe, unable to bear the utter brutality of the Portuguese, a significant proportion of the Sinhalese inhabitants in the coastal areas found embracing Roman Catholism was the only means of preventing their children killed. Portuguese wouldn’t massacre baptized infants and their parents.
The Lowlanders continue to suffer at the hands of European invaders., i.e. Portuguese (1505- 1656), Dutch (1656-1796) and English (1796-1948). The highlanders sat tight in the refuge city of Kandy.
The ultimate betrayal of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation at Kandy
The kings in Kandy had been saving the provinces of Kandy from the colonialists since 1505 only to be served in subjugation on a platter by the Sinhalese in Kandy themselves to the British on 2nd March 1815. And that was amidst “magul bera” traditional Sinhalese ceremonial explosive drum beatings at the Great Hall of Audience of Kandy. The Kandyan ministers in Kandy betrayed Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, the last king of Sri Lanka. It was the ultimate betrayal of the Sinhalese nation and island of Sri Lanka.
Sinhalese must never allow division among themselves to dish out advantage to the foreign enemies and local traitors.
The downfall of the kingdom of Sri Lanka was the result of the shameless treachery and treason by the most powerful minister at the Royal Court of Kandy, Adigar Pilima Talawwa. The capture of the king Sri Wickrama Rajasingha was effected by the rebel chief Ekneligoda Dissawa, one of the henchman of Ehelapola, a Minister at the Royal Court of Kandy.
On the night of 13th February 1815, while General Brownrigg was at dinner with a small party of officers, intelligence of the capture of the king reached him. “He stood at table,” says an eye-witness, “and while the tears rolled down the cheeks, shook hands with every one present and thanked them for their assistance in furtherance of an object which seemed to be nearly accomplished, and which had been vainly attempted for nearly three centuries by three European powers in succession-the conquest of the kingdom of Kandy.” ‘From this day,’ says William Kinghton (History of Ceylon from the Earliest Period to the Present Time), “we may date the extinction of Sinhalese independence, an independence which had continued without any interruption for 2357 years.”
The island that couldn’t be conquered, in its glorious history running as far back to 543 BC, in spite of the succession of waves of invasions by the marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India in the ancient times and then by the Europeans in the medieval times, was served on a platter to the British by those who lived in a natural fortress city surrounded by rings of hills and the largest river of the island.
The jungle track to Kandy that witnessed the massacres of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British
The one and only access to Kandy made use by the Portuguese and the Dutch to attack Kandy was a jungle track via Hanwella. Then came the British. Once again the main access road to Kandy and the interior of the country was via Hanwella, a small town in Sri Lanka, situated about 30 km from Colombo, that lies on the Colombo-Ratnapura main road, on the banks of the Kelani River. Hanwella was part of the medieval Seethawaka kingdom in the lowlands.
Hanwella, the battleground
Hanwella witnessed a many a ferocious battles between the Portuguese and the Sinhalese. From Hanwella a jungle track, along most of which men had to walk in single file, led through Ruanwella, Hettimulla to Attapitiya (Fort King), and so up what was then known as Balana Pass to Gannoruwa 15km East of Kandy. Gannarowa saw the massacre of Portuguese on their return to Colombo from Kandy. Indeed, the invaders would cut their pathway with great effort and reach Kandy to find the city is deserted. On each occasion the invaders were routed in their return journey; Kandyans were masters of jungle guerilla warfare.
Portuguese and other colonial influences are still visible in the town. Several Christian churches scattered in and around Hanwella is testimony to these influences. Hanwella lies on both Colombo-Ratnapura roads of Sri Lanka Holidays, namely the High-level and Low-level roads. The Kelani River, one of Sri Lanka’s major rivers, runs alongside the town.The nearest towns are Padukka (8 km), Pugoda (8 km), Kosgama (8 km) and Nawagamuwa (8 km).
Avissawella, the British outpost
Till the Kandy Road was built the British military outpost was at Avissawella, 15 km furthermore to the interior of the island from Hanwella, on the River Kelani Ganga. From Avissawella, a jungle track, along most of which men had to walk in single file, led through Ruanwella, Hettimulla to Attapitiya (Fort King), and so up what was then known as Balana Pass to Gannoruwa.
Balana Mountain Pass twice witnessed utter defeats of Portuguese forces in Sri Lanka. In 1594, a Portuguese army led by Lopez de Zosa escorting Sinhalese Princess Dona Catherina was totally destroyed. Commander Lopez de Souza gambled that escorting the Princess Catherina, the daughter of Kandy’s King Weerabahu who died while in exile at Mannar with Portuguese would lessen the resistance of the Sinhalese. Princess Dona Catherina fell into the hands of King Wimaladharma Suriya (Konappu Bandara) who married her in the victorious battlefield itself to consolidate his right to the crown of Sri Lanka. Following the demolition of the Portuguese forces, another army was sent to Ceylon by the Portuguese governor in Goa, India with Commander Don Geronimo De Azavedo. Once again the Portuguese force was defeated at Balana on their return from Kandy and for five days Sinhalese has chased the defeated army retreating to Colombo .In 1638 Diego de Mello got through but on the return, the whole army was slaughtered. The Dutch, in the year 1765, found their way into Kandy by another route followed by the British in 1803. But the classic ascent to Balana was made by the British in 1815 though no Sinhalese force encountered them there following the betrayal of the last king of Sri Lanka.
Major Skinner, then a second lieutenant had marched a detachment down the Kandy Road in 1819, narrates:
“The second day’s march was down the old Ballany Pass, over which, four years before, my father had brought up his battery of heavy guns, one of them a 42-pounder, for the taking of Kandy. It was a marvel to me how he could have accomplished it; I subsequently learned that he had parbuckled the guns from tree to tree. I can scarcely imagine anything better calculate to expunge from a son’s vocabulary the word ‘impossible’ than this feat; the mountain path was so narrow, broken, steep and rocky, that it was quite impassable for any horse and rider.
Thanks to Captain Dawson and Major Skinner, the near insurmountable mountain passes at Kadugannawa and Balana pass are made accessible for the Sri Lanka Holidays tourists.
Bridge of boats” over the Kelani river near Colombo
When then governor (1820-1822; 1824-1831) of Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) Sir Edward Barnes planned to construct a road from colonial seaport and capital of Colombo to the medieval royal city of Kandy, there was no bridge across the River Kelani Ganga at Colombo. In the year 1822 “bridge of boats” pontoon was thrown over the Kelani River near Colombo Grandpass on the South bank to Peliyagoda on the opposite bank by Lieutenant General John Sheaffer. This boat bridge, which was 500 feet long, was built over the Kelani River at Grand Pass in 1822 by Lieutenant General John Sheaffer. Bridge making use of 21 boats tied together, made entirely out of timber. It served passengers and goods crossing the Kelani River until the building of the Victoria Bridge in 1895.
[In the year 1995, Sir John Kotelawa, then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) commenced construction of another bridge over the River Kelani Ganga. On 3rd February 1959, the supreme leader of modern Ceylon, S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake, then Prime Minister, had the new bridge opened by the bridge builders themselves. In 1998 colonial Victoria Bridge was dismantled. A new bridge called Japanese Friendship Bridge was built with aid from the Japanese Government. Another bridge named New Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Bridge was built in the year 2002. The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway is planned to connect to the new Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Bridge]
Quote Henry Charles Sirr
On every side Kandy is approached by mountain passes; and through one of these ran the celebrated Kurunagala tunnel, which was 537 feet in length. The road through the tunnel united at the base of the mountain, with principal route to Colombo, thus enabling troops advancing on Kandy, to turn the heights near the Kadugannawa pass. This tunnel was constructed by order of Sir Edward Barnes, to consolidate, so to speak, the British power after Kandy came into our possession; for a legend has been extant, from time immemorial, that no foreign power could retain the Kandian dominions, until a path was bored through the mountain. And a chief told us, that when his countrymen beheld this task commenced, their hearts failed them, but, when they saw it completed, and men walking through the bowels of the earth, they then knew it was their destiny to be ruled by a nation who could pierce rock, and undermine mountains. The tunnel was completed on the 8th of December, 1823, but we regret to say this has now collapsed.
Unquote Henry Charles Sirr (Late Deputy Queen’s Advocate for the Southern Circuit in the Island of Ceylon): Ceylon and the Cingalese, 1850, London.
The Kuruangala tunnel (year 1823), which was a result of an enormous endeavor in road construction engineering, in no way, ought to be mistaken for the piercing of a small rock at the hair-pin bend of Kadugannawa (please see the image in the cluster above) on Colombo-Kandy road. Unfortunately, that is precisely, what has been done erroneously by numerous websites on Sri Lanka Holidays. Bunpeiris
The British fulfill the near-ultimate prophecy on Sri Lanka
The prophecy was not confined to a legend or tradition of drilling a hill, which the British had already done with the 537 feet Kurunagala tunnel in 1823. The prophesy encompassed still more: bridging the River Mahaweli Ganga; taking possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha.
The British was to build a bridge over distance of 215 ft across the Peradeniya gorge in the year 1832. And the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha fell into their hands by accident on 2nd November 1818. “Its recovery had a manifest effect on all classes and its having fallen into British hands again by accident, demonstrated to the superstitious people that it was the destiny of the British Nation to govern the Kandyan Kingdom,” wrote Gov. Brownrigg to Earl Bathurst in triumph. Some months earlier, Keppetipola Dissawe had the Sacred Tooth Relic spirited away from under the very noses of the British sentries at the Dalada Maligawa.
The fortune favors the brave. They had the Golden Pearl of the orient in their hands to rip its wealth off and fatten the coffers of Empire or rather the market of Great Britain.
Quote Ali Foad Toulba Ceylon, the land of eternal charm
Barnes had, according to the Major Skinner (the chief engineer of Kandy road), who was one of his trusted lieutenants, the rare faculty of gaining the affections of those who served under him, and inspiring them with his own enthusiasm. The result was that within an incredibly short period the capital, first by way of Kurunegla and Galagedara, and finally by the Grand Kadugannawa Pass, by means of roads. These were marvels of then engineering skill, and were valuable in military sense, as they broke for ever the power of highland chieftains. But their chief use was in opening up the country to industrial enterprises.
No article on Colombo-Kandy road would be complete without paying tribute to Captain William Francis Dawson of Royal Engineers of Ceylon, who made the road via Kadugannawa pass possible. Dawson died in Colombo on the 28th of March, 1829. prior to the completion of Colombo-Kandy road. In his memory is erected light house like Dawson tower on the summit of the Kadugannawa hill.
“We believe the road that winds round Kaduganawa Pass can be compared to nothing of the same construction in modern time, save the Simplon”. Henry Charles Sirr: Ceylon and the Cingalese, 1850, London
[Simplon Pass (Italian: Passo del Sempione) (2,008 m) is a high mountain pass between the Pennine Alps and the Lepontine Alps in Switzerland. It connects Brig in the canton of Valais with Domodossola in Piedmont (Italy). The pass itself and the villages on each side of it, such as Gondo, are in Switzerland. The Simplon Tunnel was built beneath the vicinity of the pass in the early 20th century to carry rail traffic between the two countries.]
Satin-wood Bridge of a single span across the Mahaveligamga (the largest river in Ceylon) at Peradeniya
The road to Kandy was completed by constructing graceful single-arch Satinwood Bridge spanning a distance of 215 ft across the Peradeniya gorge, over the Sri Lanka Holidays Mahaweli River in the year 1832. Designed and constructed by Lt. Colonel John Fraser (1790-1863), a proficient road-builder and cartographer with technical assistance from Captain Brown the satinwood bridge was not only spectacular but had an innovative, sophisticated structure. The bridge’s ribs were also of 4ft long satin wood. The wood was neatly wedged and jointed. Surprisingly no metal nails or screws had been used for this purpose, only wood.
[The spectacular and unique wooden bridge had been in us for long years from 1832 to1904 till it was dismantled and replaced by a stone bridge which too, in turn, was replaced by a modern concrete bridge]
Completion of the Colombo-Kandy Road
On this road (115 km in length) on the 1st February, 1832, the Colombo and Kandy mail-coach-the first mail-coach-the first mail-coach in Asia-was started; and it continued to run successfully till the road superseded by the railway in 1867. Sir George Barrow (Ceylon: Past and Present, 1857, London) narrated that the road from Colombo to Kandy was the only metaled road in the island, and is considered to be equal to any road in the world.
Barnes on the completion of the Colombo-Kandy Road
Sir Edward Barnes was hell bent to establish the total British domination of the by means of breaking off the isolation of newly acquired highlands from the lowlands. ‘It was of utmost importance’, Barnes narrated later, ‘to destroy the confidence which the Kandyan people had in the intricate and difficult nature of their country’. He added that with the opening of the road to Kandy, a first-class macadamized road, one of the great military barriers on which the Kandyans greatly relied was broken.
[ A plan for an alternative road to Kandy was brought into the drawing room only in the year 2000, after nearly 175 years since the British Governor of Ceylon Edward Barnes directed the construction of a military road between Colombo and Kandy in 1831.
This proposed alternative road would be constructed as an expressway from Kadawatha via Ambepussa to Katugastota. For the first time in Sri Lanka a stretch of over 6.6 kilometers of this expressway from Gampaha to Veyangoda would be built on concrete pillars leaving the flood prone areas of Gampaha district undisturbed and the banks of River Kelani Ganga intact. Colombo-Kandy expressway is expected to be completed in 2016.]
Barnes was right
Sinhalese miserably failed to mount a successful revolt against the British colonial occupation during the long years of subjugation that spanned from year 1815 to year 1948. Inexplicably, Sinhalese failed to rise, taking the advantage of the occasions even in which the Military garrison of Ceylon sank from 6000 troops to 1000 troops.
Two unsuccessful revolts in the year 1818 (Uva rebellion) and year 1848 (Matale rebellion) ended with British capturing and killing the leaders.
The last wish of Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Monarawila Keppetipola, the warrior Dissawe of Uva of the Kandyan dominions, uttered in the temple of the Sacred Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of Tooth Relic, where he was taken for his religious rights, before being led to be beheaded for his part in the Uva Rebellion in the year 1818, speaks the voice of the that patriotism which is the pure flame of an impassioned & selfless idealism. “May I be reborn in Lanka to continue the struggle for freedom” (of Sinhalese from the British)
Weerahennadige Francisco Fernando alias Puran Appu of Moratuwa (that’s my hometown-bunpeiris) of western coastal belt to the south of Colombo, in Colombo district faced the British colonial firing squad saying “if there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead there would not be a white man living in the Kandyan Provinces”. Fernando was betrayed by the Sinhalese rebels in Sri Lanka Holidays Kandy themselves.
Sinhalese must never allow dissent and division among themselves to pave the way to the foreign elements to destroy our nation. Sinhalese must always stand united against all foreign invaders and local traitors at all times. bunpeiris. Sri Lanka will protect Buddhism till the ascent of Maithree Buddha.
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