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Sunday, September 10, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 15
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Plus - Colombo Landmarks

Old Dutch map sheds light on Kotte's past

By Dr. K. D. Paranavitana

The capital of the kingdom of Kotte, Sri Jayawardhanapura or the 'City of Victory' emerged due to the strenuous efforts of Nissanka Alakeshvara (1340-80). It reached its zenith of prosperity during the reign of King Parakramabahu VI (1411-66) whose rule has been eloquently described by historians and sung by poets of the time.

Kotte as the capital city ceased to exist from 1565 when it was abandoned with the removal of nominal ruler Don Juan Dharmapala to Colombo by the Portuguese. The city was virtually razed to the ground by the Portuguese in the latter part of the 16th century. Hardly any original structure of the city is left standing at present for us to see. The grandeur of the palace and temples which existed in the halcyon days of King Sri Parakramabahu VI could be imagined only from the writings of courtiers and poets.

Elias’s map of Kotte

The citizens of Kotte struck with dismay at the ruthless destruction of their noble edifices and sacred temples escaped to villages in neighbouring districts fearing for their lives. Kotte perished and the neglected lands and heaps of ruins were gradually covered with wilderness. During the Dutch period it became merely a village accounted for revenue purposes.

"It is both strange and unfortunate," writes H.C.P. Bell in his Annual Report of 1909, "that among the fairly numerous plans of the chief towns of Ceylon left by Portuguese and Dutch writers, not one of Kotte has come to light." Researching the subject at the National Archives of the Netherlands in The Hague this writer was, however, able to trace an interesting location map of Kotte which seems to have been copied by land surveyor Pieter Elias circa 1790.

The legend on the map states, "the situation plan of the village Kotte located one and a half hours distance from Colombo. The exact situation of Kotte together with surrounding villages with fruit and wild trees grown in rough and uneven manner. - P. Elias".

Elias in his map indicates the exact situation of the citadel, its surrounding villages like Battaramulla to the east and Nawala to the west and on the north and south west with fortifications and a gateway. A road led right across the village starting from the direction of Colombo and continued towards Galkissa and further to Salpiti Korale. Passing the gateway on the side of Colombo was a toll and rest house.

The village shows only the important buildings such as the site of the palace, warehouse of the company, a school and a dried tank. Close to the entrance on Etul Kotte, a cinnamon plantation is shown. Elias, however, has not indicated the ancient ruins and the places of worship merely because such places were considered of heathen interest and of no economic value. The layout of the citadel that existed during the heyday of the kingdom was preserved at the time Elias made this map.

The places shown on the map are as follows:

1. The Village Battaramulla
2. A section of Pita Kotte
3. Village Kotte
4. Village Navala
5. Paddy fields which ultimately join Kelani River at Nagalagam pass
6. Cinnamon Gardens
7. Seat of Government -King's Palace
8. Dried Tank
9. Warehouse of the Company
10. Gravet and the Rest House
11. The meeting place of two tributaries
12. The road to Galkissa and further towards Salpiti Korale

The descriptions of Kotte embodied in the Nikaya Sangrahaya and in the Diogo de Couto's (1543-1616) The History of Ceylon tally with this map. Elias naturally had paid special attention to taxable lands of Kotte and places of interest to the company. What is lacking in the map is information on Buddhist places of worship and details of ruins.

It may be of some interest to the reader that contents of this map be studied in relation to the Dutch tombos compiled for the purpose of collecting taxes for the company during the period 1755-76. The Portuguese were succeeded by the more ordered administration by the Dutch. At the beginning of Dutch rule in 1656, Kotte was still a ruined city covered with shrubs. Certain early Dutch maps indicated Kotte as 'Ruins of the Palace of Cota'. It was somewhat later the Dutch set about to restore the dues from Etul and Pita Kotte and particulars duly taken into the tax registers called tombos. Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch went into more detailed and exhaustive recording of information on lands and their owners, classified into two categories -- one for the names of the land holders and the other for their gardens and paddy fields called, head and land tombo respectively. The lands in Etul Kotte and Pita Kotte are registered under the Palle Pattuwa of Salpiti Korale distinguishing the two divisions, citadel and their outskirts.

The Dutch tombos reveal some fascinating information in relation to demography and social mobility in the early days of the Dutch administration and even before. Some families abandoned Kotte in Portuguese times and lived in exile in districts such as Walallawiti, Pasdun and Hewagam Korales where tranquillity prevailed. When normalcy was restored, these families returned and occupied their former holdings. The tombo of Etul Kotte compiled in 1765 records 41 families and in its revision made in 1765 the numbers increased to 62 with 34 occupying Pita Kotte. Their land holdings were recorded in tombo after on-the-spot investigations by the tombo commissioners.

The ge-names or wasagamas recorded in the tombo indicate several interesting factors. Ge-names such as Bulatsinhalage, Welmillege, Pelenda Pathirage, Nugegodage, Waduwage, Butgamage, Nawalage, Kalubowila Vidanelage and Wellabaddege have no relevance to Kotte itself. In the presence of tombo commissioners these families identified themselves with the name of the village in which they lived in exile. They returned to Kotte and re-occupied their former family land holdings.

According to the land tombo of Etul Kotte, some resettled householders obtained certificates of letters of authority from the Dutch official in charge of the district long before the compilation of tombo in 1765. These documents have been of immense use for them to substantiate their claims to the land holdings which were usually recorded in nota bene. These ge-names are also acceptable evidence to suggest that these families fled to districts far away from Kotte including Walallawiti and Pasdun korales, Welmillage, Bulatsinhalage and Pelenda Patirages. Most of the families that fled belonged to the govi caste who were either in the military (Hewa/Aratchi) and civil official class (Nilame/Lienege). When they re-established in Kotte, service castes were also reintroduced. They were given less prominence in the list of land holders. Names of those who did not possess lands are recorded with a separate entry Heeft geen bezittingh. (has no land holding).

Another interesting factor is the naming of lands with names of ancient buildings constructed on the particular land. Moehandirange Willem Rodrigo, a schoolmaster of Govi caste owned a land called Pasmalpajewatte (Garden of five-storied palace, a family inherited land). Colombe Tantrige Laurens Perera who lived in the vicinity owned Pasmalpaje Werehe Kongahawatta (Garden of five storied temple, Kongahawatta). This resembles the garden on which the temple residence of the great poet Ven. Sri Rahula who gave us a fascinating record of the glory of Kotte in his poem Salalihini Sandesaya was.

Certain lands were named Parangiawatta (Garden of the Portuguese). Pelenda Patirage Mighiel Dias owned a land in Etul Kotte called Adriaen Ponsoeparangiawatte (Garden of the Portuguese named Ponsoe) and at the time of the tombo registration, the name changed to Telemboeghawatte. Pattijege Christoboe Silva was in possession of a land named Kitoelgodde Parangiawatte (Garden of the Portuguese of Kitulgoda).

Those registered land holders of Etul and Pitakotte never changed the Portuguese ‘cognomen’ given by their ancestors. The Dutch also never issued proclamations prohibiting the use of Portuguese names. Some of the names are as follows: Soeseuw de Almedage Francisco Perera, Gasparoege Siman de Coste, Don Anthonyge Don Joan and Don Constantino Madere de Basto.

One of the most prominent families of Kotte was the Magellege family which inherited paraveni lands situated near the palace and the Dalada Maligava of Etul Kotte. Therefore, this family received a foremost rank in the list of names recorded in the tombo. The Magellege family owned a land holding referred to as Maligawatta or the 'Garden of the palace' with adjacent land called Gabadawatta, or the 'Garden of Treasury'.

It is said, the family escaped Kotte fearing of the wrath the invader, retired to more remote villages situated far away in Walallawiti and Pasdun Korales where the Portuguese terror did not exist and returned when Kotte was brought back to normalcy. At the time of compilation of tombo Magallege family confirmed their right of ownership of their land holdings with documents.

The maps and tombo when combined can extract good results in respect of the social mobility and demographic pattern that existed in colonial Sri Lanka in the 16th and 17th centuries. It also shows a remarkable growth of re-occupation of the village Kotte at the end of the Dutch period.

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