The political violence that turned into a culture of its own in Sri Lanka devoured another victim. It was not a person, but a landmark in the countryside, once the beloved residence of a prominent family in Hurulu Palatha in the North Central Province.
Recently on the way to Trincomalee, we drove by this house, rather, the place where the Walawwa once stood. What we found shocked us. Instead of the luxury and grandeur it once held, today a burnt-out shell of cracked walls stands amidst a grove of century-old coconut and orchard of fruit trees, caught in the breeze blowing over the Morakewa reservoir. Rain the previous night had obfuscated it with a doleful and elegiac look. The ruins of the Hurulle Walawwa stand as the contemporary witness to the rise and fall of a feudal system it once represented and the permuting practice of the politics of vendetta in this island.
Representing the last of the line of provincial rulers called Ratemahattayas or Dissawa (feudal lord of the province) the Hurulle family assumed its name from the main irrigation reservoir Hurulu Wewa (in Galenbindunuwewa) where the ancestral Walawwe stood and was subsequently moved to Morakewa area (in Horowpothana). The Walawwe at Morakewa was initially built above the bed of the irrigation reservoir at Morakewa and thereafter they built their manor house (Walawwa) below the Morakewa reservoir about 50 km. east of Anuradhapura on the Trincomalee road. A tile recovered from the premises is marked ‘1865’ but the house may have been expanded during the turn of the century.
With or without a Walawwa, the Morakewa area represents the bucolic beauty and quiet dignity characteristic of Rajarata. The late patriarch of the family, E.L.B. Hurulle, fondly known in the area as ‘Hurulle Unnahe’, served as a Member of Parliament for Horowpothana (from 1956) and Cabinet Minister for a long time and was very generously attached to his native province and well-loved by its people.
Themiya Hurulle who also was an MP and Project Minister and heir to the property believes that forces, perhaps locally influenced, may have been at work resulting in the destruction of the Walawwa. Popular belief in the area is that this tragedy is a result of the thunder of terror unleashed allegedly by both the government and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Peoples’ Liberation Front).
In 1988, a gang of thugs used the cover of local terrorism to settle old scores and petty jealousies. They poured kerosene oil and set the house on fire desecrating an architectural treasure of Rajarata. The house was completely destroyed, leaving only the scorched walls which now reach up to the empty sky looking for reasons and rational for this wrong.
The house was a fine representation of architecture in the mid to late 19th century. The classic arched entryway, and an all-embracing wide corridor supported by 18-inch columns with square capitals, and 20-foot tall ceiling of the living room are examples of a lifestyle lived in luxury and power. These walls and columns must have witnessed children playing hide and seek, whisperings of private moments at twilight hours and growling orders thrown by feudal masters to obsequious villagers.
Although the house and the culture of politics it belonged to were different from today’s more egalitarian social basics, we should not forget that it was once the house and the much loved home of a family and link to their storied ancestry. Driving by this landmark in 1971, I was awed. In its devastated state today, its beauty and majesty still did not fail to electrify me. Themiya Hurulle shared with me a photo of the house before it was destroyed. Trust me, you haven’t seen a better picture on the cover of Architectural Digest.
I walked about and stepped over piles of rubble and darkened timber of the roof fallen all over. A few burnt cross-bars stuck out aslant from the square holes where they once supported the wood floor of the second floor. A carefully piled up heap of tiles gives a hint of the attention this house still demands. The caretaker had declared war on a large Nuga tree which had taken foothold on one wall. It’s in check as he had chopped off branches in an attempt to control its growth. Twenty-two years later, the ruined walls stand there with timeless grace. Under the porte-cochere rest pieces dislodged from its cracked arches, giving us hints of the grandeur it once gave shade to.
Then I found the legend of the small shrine room in the house. After the fire, people found it was unscathed while everything else around it burnt to the ground!
By burning Hurulle Walawwa, the criminals not only wiped out a landmark and the home of a family, they denied the later generations a piece of history of this remote part of the country.
At the end of my visit, we were treated with the most remarkable hospitality of the Rajarata people, which I was told ‘Hurulle Unnahe’ was also known for in the area. As we went to our van, a woman, later found to be the wife of the caretaker, slowly walked behind us, carrying something wrapped in an old newspaper. As we settled in our seats, she extended it to my wife Niranjala with a smile. When Niranjala opened it, what we saw was a humbling experience. We found steaming manioc (tapioca) with a few green chillles wrapped in banana leaves, their breakfast which we interrupted when we walked in uninvited.
We may never meet again, but this kind family magnanimously displayed the warmth Rajarata villagers value above and beyond anything. In a simple gesture of thoughtfulness, they proved the greatness of a people and a place.
It was the best breakfast of boiled manioc we had ever enjoyed. Courtesy www.go2lanka.com.