Tales from the hills of Uva
Etched into the landscape of this beautiful up-country province are fascinating stories of kings, philanthropists and tea planters
By Upali Salgado

Every year, the picturesque Uva Province attracts hundreds of visitors, who head to the scenic holiday resorts of Haputale, Diyatalawa and Bandarawela.

My boyhood memories of the province are of a landscape of rolling patana downs with pine and eucalyptus forests planted to serve as wind breaks. The mind travels through Erabodde, Gurutalawa, Boralanda, down Rahangala ridge up to Wilson’s Palugama, with green carpets of tea bushes on higher elevations.

These memories are filled with rose gardens surrounding planters’ bungalows, Hindu kovils for Indian estate labourers, mist-covered ancient temples, and the two waterfalls at Dunhinda and Diyaluma. This is truly another Garden of Eden.

Uva Province was the scene of an important historical event, the great battle at Randeniya, where Portuguese colonialists, despite their superior cannon power, were routed. Unable to bear the ignominy of defeat, the Portuguese general Don Constantine De Saa committed suicide. Subsequently, the general’s head was presented to the King of Kandy to demonstrate the valour of his subjects.

The Badulla market from Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon

Uva is mentioned in the great chronicle, The Mahavanasa, written by Bhikkhu Mahanama. To quote from Wilhelm Geiger’s English translation: “For Lanka was known to the Conqueror as a place where His doctrine should (thereafter) shine in glory … And He knew also that in the midst of Lanka, on the fair river bank, in the delightful Maha Naga Garden, three yonas wide, the customary meeting place of the Yakkas (a tribe) there was a great gathering. To this great gathering went the Blessed One, and there in this midst of that assembly, hovering in the air, in the (future) place of the Mahiyangana stupa, He struck terror and the Yakkas were overhelmed with fear.”

The book mentions the visit of Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha to Mahiyangana, in Uva. This stupa remained in a dilapidated condition for hundreds of years, after the ravages of successive Chola invasions, until Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, assisted by Sir Bennet Soysa (the then Kandy mayor) and devout Buddhist, D. B. Welegedera of Kurunegala, worked together to restore the stupa, back in 1947.

According to legend, the crystal-white Mahiyangana stupa is ancient Lanka’s first stupa, built before the arrival of Arahat Maha Mahinda and the construction of the Thuparama Stupa at Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa.


Some thirty miles south of Mahiyangana is another historic Buddhist site – the Mutiyangana Vihare, in Badulla. This site is believed to have been visited by the Buddha on one of his visits to Lanka. Built by King Devanampiya Tissa, this historic temple lay neglected for years. A stone tablet declares that the great benefactor D. C. Kotelawela (who hailed from Bandaragama and migrated to Badulla) gifted a large Dharma Salawa for Poya Day use. D. C. Kotelawela married a Kandyan lady, Sudu Menike Taldena Wijekoon of Badulla. Mr. Kotelawala was an entrepreneur and a pioneer, the founder of a successful transport business. He owned a fleet of bullock carts and coaches to transport goods and passengers between Colombo and Badulla.

As a philanthropist, he promoted Buddhist education in the Uva Province and established Dharmadutha College, a leading boys’ school. On his demise his son, Sri Henry Kotelawela, who served in the Legislative and State Councils for an uninterrupted 27 years, starting in 1921, continued the community development work begun by his father. He established the first girls’ school, Sujatha Vidyalaya, and supported pirivena (temple) education.

When speaking of education in the Uva Province, there are benefactors whose names cannot be overlooked. During the years of the Second World War, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley de Saram gifted their 42-acre Gurutalawa farm and farm house (near Welimada) to the Church of Ceylon, and the property later became the premises of a residential school, St. Thomas’s, Gurutalawa. Some of the prominent educationists of Uva over the past 60 years include Dr. R. L. Hayman, Canon A. J. Foster, W. T. Keble, R. Chapman, Gerald de Alwis, and D. L. Jayasinghe.

Another historic Uva site is found at Dowe, a few miles from Bandarawela. This small cave temple gave refuge to King Valagamba, when he fled the Chola invasions from India.

At Hali Ela, the visitor will be impressed by a civil engineering feat done entirely in wood: a long bridge made of ebony, with not a single metal nail used in its construction. The bridge is believed to have been built in the Dambadeniya period, making it more than 500 years old. Two waterfalls, the Diyaluma and the Dunhinda, give extra majesty to the landscape.

The story of the Uva Province would be incomplete without a reference to Jack Kotelawala, the LSSP Member of Parliament (and State Council), and later ambassador to Russia. A son of James Kotelawala and brother of Sir Henry Kotelawala, Jack served Parliament for 17 years.

Sir Henry's daughter Christobel married Oliver Weerasinghe, one of our first UK-qualified architects. Mr. Weerasinghe set up the Town and Country Planning Department, and was responsible, during the premiership of S. W. R. D. Bandaranake, for demarcating the Sacred City as distinct from the new town of Anuradhapura. Oliver Weerasinghe later served with distinction as Ceylon’s ambassador at the UN for many years. Gladwin Kotelawala, another son of Sir Henry’s, also served Uva as a member of Parliament.

Tea talk

Uva is what it is today because of the contribution of people like the above-mentioned patriotic personalities. We must also acknowledge the contribution of the many English, Welsh and Scottish nationals who, as hard-working pioneer tea planters, helped to establish Sri Lanka as the producer of the world’s finest teas.

Among the dozens of legendary tea industry names are Thomas Lipton; Crabbe of Diyatalawa, the first owner of “Arcadia” Bungalow (later the home of D. Jayawardene); Leslie Meakle, and Mark Bostock. A couple of generations of planters were responsible for such sprawling tea gardens as Dambatenne Estate, Glennenore and Roehampton at Haputale; Spring Valley, Tonacoombe and the Ury Group at Passara; the Demodara Group at Ella, and Aislaby at Bandarawela. The beautiful English-style country house “Adisham”, with its citrus and rose gardens, was the property of the well-known English businessman. Today the house is a monastery for Benedictine monks.

Before Uva was transformed into a landscape of tea plantations, the area was one vast spread of virgin jungle, where thousands of wild elephants, elk and leopard roamed freely.

Major Thomas William Rodgers, who was Assistant Government Agent at the Badulla Kachcheri, took great pride in the fact that he had shot and killed more than 1,400 wild elephants. Major Williams met with an untimely death at the age of 42, in June 1845, at Haputale, when he was struck by lightning. It is said that the steel stirrup of his riding gear had attracted the killing bolt. He is buried in a church cemetery in Badulla, and the epitaph on his tombstone declares that he was a great sportsman, while quoting from a text in the Christian burial service: “In the midst of life we are in Death”. Many locals believe that Major Rodgers’ death was brought about by the wrath of the gods and the curses of the villagers.

The very English-looking landscape of Diyatalawa suggests the Midlands. Special features in the area are the old (now neglected) Boer Cemetery, the Surveyor Training Centre, the Sri Lanka Army Training Camp and Fox Hill, overlooking the rolling patanas. This hill was so named after a visit by sailors from the Royal Navy’s HMS Fox, in the early 1920s.

In Queen Victoria’s time, after the Boer War in South Africa was over, some 150 German prisoners of war were brought to Diyatalawa. Many of them died of smallpox, and one of them, Engelbrecht, was appointed a game warden at the Yala sanctuary, with a princely daily salary of one rupee and 25 cents. His wife was a Sinhalese. As a German national he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British Queen, causing much aggravation to the then Government Agent of Hambantota. Engelbrecht’s grave is found close to the Hambantota resthouse.

Today, Uva Province is rich in citrus farms, especially around Bibile. There is a new university at Badulla, and a large well-equipped hospital, under the care of Nimal Siripala de Silva, Badulla member of Parliament, Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition, and now chairman of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The giant Maligawila sandstone statue near Buttala and the giant granite statues of Buduruwagala, reflecting Mahayana Buddhist influence, attract thousands of pilgrims throughout the year.

No story of the Uva Province would be complete without a brief tribute to Dr. R. L. Brohier, OBE, who ventured into uncharted territory to set up trigonometrical (survey) stations in the area and record for posterity the beauty of the Uva landscape.

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