As a sequel to my article, ‘What’s in a name? – Place names in the precincts of Wattala’ which appeared as part 1 and 2 in Ceylon Today on 31 October and 7 November 2022, after further research, I found some more place names which would be of interest to our readers.
The name Mabole, which is a village bordering the main Negombo road in Wattala is associated with four countries; Sri Lanka, Portugal, Holland, and Britain. According to Historian Fredrick Medis, King Rajasinha II who used the aid of the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese had a small section of the army – amounting up to about 100 men – who were Lankan nationals. These people were all recruited by one man. So, as a mark of gratitude to him, the king gifted him a large tract of land in Wattala. This area came to be called ‘Maha Budale’. (‘Boedel’ means ‘inheritance’ or ‘estate’ in Dutch. This word is now part of the Sinhala vocabulary). The ‘d’ sound in Budale is pronounced as a cerebral ‘d’, making a strong ‘th’ sound. However, the Portuguese were only able to pronounce it as an ‘r’. Hence, it became ‘Maha Borale’ which the British later shortened to ‘Mabole’.
According to an academic who wishes to remain anonymous and who quoted from publications from the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) on the Gampaha District, the name ‘Wattala’ is said to be a corruption of the word ‘Wastrala’ which means clothing in both Sinhala and Sanskrit. Apparently, the warrior King Dutugemunu who reigned from 161 BCE to 137 BCE and who is renowned for reuniting the whole island of Sri Lanka by defeating and overthrowing Elara, the usurping Tamil king from the Indian Chola Kingdom who had invaded Anuradhapura, is said to have hidden his royal clothing here and hence the name Wattala. This is possible since King Dutugemunu’s mother was Vihara Maha Devi, whose father was King Kelani Tissa of Kelaniya which is close to Wattala. Even though Dutugemunu was from the Kingdom of Ruhuna (Down South) ruled by his father King Kavan Tissa, he may have had interactions with his grandfather’s kingdom from time to time.
St. Sebastian Mawatha
St. Sebastian (256 – 288 CE) was an early Christian saint and martyr. He was a Captain of the Praetorian Guard, Roman soldier and healer. According to traditional belief, he was killed during the Diocletian persecution of Christians. He was initially tied to a tree and shot with arrows, though this did not kill him. He was, according to tradition, rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome, which became a popular subject in 17th-century paintings. In all versions of the story, shortly after his recovery he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins, and as a result was clubbed to death. He is venerated in the both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
The oldest record of the details of Sebastian’s martyrdom is found in the Chronograph of 354, which mentions him as a martyr, venerated on 20 January.
He is also mentioned in a sermon on Psalm 118 by 4th-century bishop Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose). In his sermon, Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan, Italy and that he was already venerated there at that time.
St. Sebastian is a popular male saint, especially today among athletes and was regarded as a saint with a special ability to intercede to protect from plagues and pestilences.
In Sri Lanka especially along the coastal areas, St. Sebastian is venerated as a patron saint amongst the Roman Catholics, and in every year in a certain month the statue of St. Sebastian is taken in procession along the streets. In the Wattala area alone there must be more than 10 St. Sebastian Lane’s or Mawatha’s to honour this saint, and the many statues erected at intersections is an indication of the popularity of this saint amongst the Catholics of the area.
I interviewed Rajapakse Pathiranalage Alfred fondly referred to as ‘Alfred Mudali’ from Pokuna Junction, Kerawalapitiya, who is a long-time resident of Wattala. He earlier ran a grocery store, and is now retired. In his mid-80’s Alfred Mudalali is a knowledgeable guy on the folklore of the area and gave me some insights into the place names of the following roads;
Sri Wickrama Mawatha
This road which is opposite Averiyawatte Road is in the popular Market Junction of Wattala, is bordering Thilakawardena Cellular Centre/HSBC on the Negombo Road. This area is also identified as the Gemunu Palace bus stand because of the Gemunu Cinema.
King Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe (born in 1780 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India and died on 30 January 1832 at the age of 52 at the Vellore Fort in India) was born as Kannasamy Nayaka and was the last of the four Nayakkar (Wadige) kings to rule the Kingdom of Kandy in Sri Lanka. Even though the Nayakkar kings were of Telugu origin who practiced Shaivite Hinduism, they were patrons of Theravada Buddhism, and played a significant role in reviving Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Nayakkar rulers spoke Telugu or Tamil which was the court language of the Kandyan Kingdom, alongside Sinhala.
King Sri Wickrama is primarily known for constructing the picturesque Kandy Lake (Kiri Muhuda), and building the Walakulu Bemma or parapet wall around it. The land adjoining the palace was previously a vast stretch of paddy fields and marsh before it was converted into a lake. The reason for naming this water body as Kiri Muhuda was due to the profuse number of turtles (Sinhala – Kiri Ibbo) in the lake. The Paththiripuwa or Octagon of the sacred Temple of the Tooth, which is an architectural marvel, was commissioned by King Sri Wickrama and was built in 1802 by Devendra Mulachariya, the Master Craftsman and Royal Architect who was instrumental in designing and building both the lake and the parapet wall. The king and the Master Craftsman were very close and this made many of the Nilames jealous. Gradually the Nilames were able to poison the mind of the King by carrying false tales, so much so that in a moment of rage the King threatened to cut-off the fingers of the Royal Architect. These words saddened the Mualchariya so much that he is said to have committed suicide by drowning in the very lake he built.
King Sri Wickrama was subsequently captured and deposed by the British under the terms of the Kandyan Convention in 1815, ending over 2,300 years of domination by the Sinhalese Crown. Ceylon was then incorporated as a part of the British Empire, and Sri Wickrama was succeeded by King George III of Great Britain.
When the captured king, his two queens and the queen mother were brought by horse-drawn carriage from Kandy under heavily armed escort to Colombo, to be banished to the Vellore Fort in Southern India, the route taken was from Market Junction in Wattala to the ferry (Thotupola) on the Kelani River. They were then ferried across to the opposite bank which was Mattakkuliya and thence to Colombo by carriage.
Earlier, this roadway was known as Galwetiya Road due to the presence of the Galwetiya Buddhist temple. However, after the late Kandyan King used this road to be transported to Colombo, this road came to be known as Sri Wickrama Mawatha.
According to Alfred Mudalali, the original location of the ferry crossing was at this point down Sri Wickrama Mawatha, and not at Grandpass on the site of the former Victoria Bridge. Prior to the construction of the Victoria Bridge, that site was the location of the Bridge of boats constructed by the British colonialists.
The present bridge which replaced the old iron Victoria Bridge is known as the Lanka Japan Friendship Bridge. This was a gift from the people of Japan to the people of Sri Lanka.
Weliamuna Road, Hendala
This road used to get inundated with water after heavy rains. Since this was an undulating road, pockets of river sand used to get collected in the paddy fields and low-lying areas of this road and subsequently the villages named this road as Weliamuna Road. Weli means sandin Sinhala and Amuna, the gap in the bund to allow water to flow. Mattakkuliya
The neighbouring village to Elakanda, once you cross the bridge over the Kelani River is Mattakkuliya. In days gone by during the time of the British Raj, a well-built thug used to rape numerous women of the area. According to folklore, he was caught on an occasion by the Police and produced before the Magistrate who was an Englishman. When the Magistrate asked the wronged woman kindly as to, “Where she lived,” in English, she presumed that the Magistrate was asking about the incident and pointing her finger at the rapist said, “Mu mata keliya”. Accordingly, the Magistrate wrote ‘Matakeliya’ as her place of residence. In the space of time according to legend, Matakeliya became Mattakkuliya.
Jambure Kumubura Mawatha
This road is in a by-lane of Kerawalapitiya Road near the entrance to the Outer Circular Highway. Originally this lane ended in a particular area of the Muthurajawela marsh which was a flooded low-lying land waterlogged at all times. This particular area had a very deep peat bog with floating vegetation on top and was a dangerous place for humans and animals especially cattle which would ‘disappear’ if they ventured into this place.
This entire area has now been reclaimed by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) when they gave a contract to a Scandinavian company to reclaim thousands of acres of the Muthurajawela marsh for development into an industrial zone, by pumping sea sand.
Elakanda is a sleepy fishing village on the banks of the Hamilton Canal. This canal also commonly known as the Dutch Canal is a 14.5-kilometre long canal connecting Puttalam to Colombo, passing through Negombo, built by the British. Fishing boats can be seen moored on both sides of the canal at all times of the day.
When excavations to construct the canal which is connected to the Kelani River began in 1802, the excavated earth was thrown on to the sides which created a mound, which also became a roadway. This area close to the Kelani River mouth then came to be known as Elakanda. (Ela in Sinhala means canal and Kanda means mound or hill).
There are also many roads and byways with interesting names and associated folklore, but unfortunately, I am reluctant to highlight them due to its association with people of various castes which primarily include occupations such as Kumbal (Potters), Radaa/Dhoby (washerman), Nakethiya/Berava (drummers) and so on. According to the caste system in Sri Lanka, there are about 15 hierarchical main castes and several sub castes from the ruling Radala (nobility) to the lowest which is the Rodi (scavenger) caste. However, the caste system in Sri Lanka is not so rigid when compared to India. Caste is still a somewhat sensitive subject amongst the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, especially when it comes to marriage.
By M.D. (Tony) Saldin