Often referred to as the Dark Prince of Ceylon, the Maduwanwela Disawe was a personality that defined an era. His influence with the colonial administrators of his time were such that they even bestowed on him the title of Sir James William. His ancestral home, the Maduwanwela Walawwa, is a reflection of the Disawe’s personality and an architectural icon of a bygone era.The town of Kolonne lies between Embilipitiya and Suriyawewa. It is an area of tranquil beauty with paddy fields and tall trees that span out across the plains and provide much needed shade. We visited Maduwanwela Walawwa on a bright, sunny day when the workers in the paddy field and the bustle of a farmer’s market made the village come alive in vivid colours and tones.
Built in the 1700s under the aegis of the then Maduwanwela clan, the Walawwa lies upon part of the 82,000 acre estate donated by two Sinhalese kings. The Panamure estate (nindagama) consisted of 54,000 acres and was gifted to Maduwanwela’s great grandfather by Kings Raja Singhe II for having brought him the head of a General who was under the Portuguese service.He was said to have been shot across the swirls of the his after-dinner cigar smoke. The Maduwanwela nindagama consisted of 24,000 acres and was a gift from Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last king of Kandy in return for having presented him with a white Sambhur that had long eluded him.
As legend has it, the site upon which to build the Walawwa itself came about after a strange and unique event. An ancestor of Maduwanwela used to watch for game and one day, he watched amazed, as a hare and a jackal crossed paths and the hare gave chase to the jackal. The story of the hare’s unusual courage greatly influenced him, who considered it a victory ground (jaya bhumiya) and the ideal site for his mansion.
The Maduwanwela Wallauwwa during its heyday had 121 rooms and 21 inner gardens (mada midulas). Today, there are 40 rooms remaining and seven accompanying inner gardens. The building has been recognized as a historical and archaeological site by the government and its preservation has now fallen to the Archaeology Department.
The department is attempting to keep the remaining structure intact although the exterior of the building has suffered extensively due to the force of the elements over the centuries.
One of the most remarkable and awe inspiring facets in the interior of the Walawwa are the paved floors which have been laid out in a mosaic style with chipped tiles bought over from the Netherlands. The colourful and intricate detailing in the mosaic leaves an impressive, lasting impression on any visitor. The tiles were lain in the year 1905 but are still in excellent condition.
The colourful and hypnotic patterns are occasionally broken by images of Queen Victoria and other such quirky colonial images as the sterling pound sign appearing on the tiles. This was just one of the ways in which the Disawe rebelled against his colonial masters. A staunch anti-colonialist throughout his life, the Disawe probably inserted the images of the colonial administrators within the tiles so that all visitors would walk over them – the ultimate insult to the foreign administrators.
The staircase and doorways are all constructed using tamarind, jack and satinwood. Unique architectural features, specialized rooms for storage, rest and recreation and the indoor gardens which bring nature into the home make the Maduwanwela Walawwa a fascinating place to visit.
Many of the archways into the grounds are unusually low and this was apparently done so that visitors on horseback would have to dismount before entering. This also ensured that anyone entering the grounds, especially the taller-than-average foreigner, would be symbolically ‘bowing’ as they entered.
A testament to the Disawe’s religious fervour is a wide-branched bo-tree which stands right beside the entrance to the house. Also at the front of the Wallauwwa is a pirith-mandapaya, a permanent structure for hosting of religious events and almsgivings.The floor of this from section is laid out in a tile mosaic and the top end has an inscription of “good luck, 1905” alongside a shoe horse design. The rich latticework and the imaginative floor designs are a beautiful blend of western and local architecture.
The Maduwanwela Walawwa has been home to six generations of the Maduwanwela realm. The current layout of the house dates back to the time of the last in the line of Maduwanwelas. Born in September 1844 Wickramasinghe Wijesundara Ekanayake Abayakoon Mudiyanse Ralahamilage Sir James William Maduwanwela Maha Disawe, was educated at St. Thomas College, Colombo and then later on returned to the Walawwa to serve his people.His real name was Molamure, name sake of a highly revered clan hailing from Ratnapura. He adopted his maternal family name of Maduwanwela upon inheriting the estate granted to his ancestors. Part of his inheritance was the role of native chief (rate mahattaya) one of 18 such chiefs in the neighboring vicinity.
The Disawe was married to Kalawane Kumarihami and bore a daughter and with her the long line of Maduwanwelas was brought to a close. A grand portrait of the Black Prince of Sabaragamuwa still stands within a huge wooden frame made out of Kulumediri and tamarind wood. It adds grandeur to the the Disawe who indeed lived the life of a prince.Under the supervision of the Archaeological Department, in 1974 the Maduwanwela Walawwa was converted into a museum.