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Two significant rebellions in Sri Lankan freedom struggle from British rule

Keppetipola Disawa

After signing the Kandyan Convention on March 2, 1815, between the British Governor, Sir Robert Brownrigg, and the Kandyan chiefs, the sovereign rights of the last politically independent remnant of the Sinhalese were irrevocably surrendered to the British Crown.

The British really never did conquer the kingdom but seized it through craft and deceit exploiting advantage of the public opposition to Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe's tyrannical rule and the divisions among the Sinhala aristocracy. None of the English soldiers were killed or wounded in the process. But they had suffered many casualties at an earlier unsuccessful attempt in 1803 to capture the kingdom by armed force.

1818 Uva Rebellion

John D'Oyly was appointed the British resident in Kandy, Simon Sawers as Judicial cum Revenue Officer. The Kandyan provinces were peaceful and remained tranquil until 1817.

However, with the passage of time, the chiefs found the British to be delusive and their behavior repulsive. The depressed and frustrated chiefs were anxious to overthrow the foreign rulers and the rebellion erupted in October 1817.

The Muslims of Wellassa, who supported the British wanted a Village Headman of their own and Sylvester Douglas Wilson, the Assistant Resident in Badulla appointed a Muslim named Haji Muhandiram alias Marikkar to the post, despite objections raised by Millewa Disawa, who held authority over Wellassa and Bintenne. The Muslims having their wish fulfilled began to refuse the authority of the Dissawa, by withholding payment of dues and taxes causing the Disawa much loss by income and causing him to indignation.

Meanwhile Wilson who received information that a stranger, claimed to be a member of the exiled royal family, had come with an entourage of Buddhist priests to Wellassa to capture the Muslim Headman sent Haji Muhandiram, to investigate on the matter, but he was captured and killed. Wilson who went to inquire into the incident was also killed.

On the instruction of D'Oyly, Simon Sawers sent Keppetipola Disawa of Uva to Wellassa to control the riot and rioters. Somehow the patriotism of Keppetipola did not encourage him to attack the Sinhalese in action.

Keppetipola Disawa who brooded on the idea of supporting the Sinhalese, returned the guns and ammunitions supplied to him by the British to the armament depot in Badulla. In doing so he declared that it was unbecoming of the Sinhala nation to use the enemy's weapons against the enemy.

Thereafter he became the leader of the rebellion against the British. Rebellion broke out with serious consequences and soon spread to Bintenne, Ulapane, Walapone, Hewaheta, Kotmale, Dumbara and other surrounding villages.

The heroism among the Sinhalese, their undaunted courage and patriotism were well and visibly seen. Keppetipola Disawa was praised by his men for his quality of being very active, valiant, enterprising. When the position of the country turned from bad to worse, the governor placed the entire kingdom of the Kandyan provinces under martial law.

A great battle raged between Keppetipola Disawa and Major Macdowall for nine days causing heavy damages for both sides. The decreasing strength of the British troops was supported by reinforcements from India. "If not for this move, the Disawa would have wiped out the British quite easily" Simon Sawers viewed.

At the end Keppetipola thinking that further attempts to fight would only result in the death of the Sinhalese troops disbanded his rebellious army, and went to Anuradhapura, hoping to launch another struggle at a later favorable date.

Thereafter he went to Nuwara Kalaviya to live in peace. D'Oyly immediately dispatched Capt. O'Neil to follow Keppetipola when the news reached him that Keppetipola found the refuge in Nuwara Kalaviya to arrest him and produce him before Col, Kelly to be tried for organizing the rebellion to oust the British from the Kandyan territory.

Keppetipola Disawa became aware of that British troops were on trail to arrest him impatiently awaited without fear the arrival of Capt. O'Neil. On Neil's arrival Keppetipola introduced himself without the least resistance to the surprise of captain.

Keppetipola and his lieutenant Madugalle were arrested and brought to Kandy under escort, and was tried for high treason. He was found guilty against the charges framed. On Nov. 26, 1818, he was taken to be executed followed by two royal executioners, carrying their lethal weapons over their shoulders. It is said that Keppetipola Disawa "walked languidly, without any signs of regret or fear, as a brave man ready to face death for good and valid reasons".

At the execution grounds Keppetipola Disawa as a brave patriot told the executioner to behead him with just one blow but not by two. He who also checked the sharpness of the sword of the executioner tied his long hair into a knot over his head, and made his neck clear to receive the sword.

His skull was placed at the Phrenological Society in Edinburgh where skulls of great men are kept preserved in honor of the dead. The skull was returned to the island in 1954, at the request of the Sri Lanka government. It now lies in Kandy esplanade.

For 57 years after independence no government until the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government came to power had made an attempt to revoke the gazette notification that the British Colonial regime issued on January 1, 1818 after Keppetipola Disawe (Provincial Chief ) of Uva and Kandian Chieftains turned against the English Rulers and joined the freedom struggle keeping them officially on the traitors list.

1848 Matale Rebellion

Wansapurna Dewage David alias Gongale Goda Banda was the leader of the 1848 Rebellion, pretender to the throne of Kandy. Born on 13 March 1809 he had been employed by the police and was engaged in transport work on the Kandy road and came to reside at Gongalegoda, Udunuwara where he became a popular figure among the Kandyans.

He married the daughter of Gongalegoda Menik Rala. Gongalegoda Banda led a protest march on July 6, 1848 near the Kandy Kachchery regarding unjustifiable taxes imposed by the British.

The rebellion was the first major uprising against the British since the Uva Rebellion in 1818. Gongale Godabanda was supported by Puran Appu and Dingi Rala who had the say of the Sinhala people at the movement for the liberation of the island in 1848.

On 26 July 1848, the leaders and the supporters entered the historic Dambulla Vihara and there Gongalegoda Banda was crowned by the head priest of Dambulla, Ven. Giranegama Thera. On this historic day Dines, his brother was declared the sub-king and Dingirala as the prince of Sath Korale. Puran Appu was appointed as the prime minister or the sword bearer to Gongalegoda Banda.

After the proclamation of the king, he with his army left for Dambulla via Matale to capture Kandy from the British. In Matale they raided the Mackdowel Fort in Matale on 28 July 1848 causing much loss to the British amidst well fortified resistance. They attacked government buildings specially the Matale Kachcheri and destroyed the tax records. Simultaneously, Dingirirala instigated attacks in Kurunegala. Then British Governor, Lord Torrington declared Martial Law on 29 July 1848 and 31 July in Kandy and Kurunegala respectively.

Unfortunately the rebellion was aborted after several Korale Mahattayas betrayed the rebels for rewards from the British, this resulted in the arrest of Puran Appu 29 July 1848 at Wariyapola. Gongalegoda Banda and his elder brother Dines escaped and went into hiding. The Governor issued a warrant on Gongalegoda Banda for his arrest and a reward of 150 pounds to be given to anyone who gave information of his whereabouts.

Gongalegoda Banda was arrested by the Malay soldiers on September 21 1848 at Elkaduwa and was brought to Kandy. The trial of Gongalegoda Banda commenced on 27 November at the Supreme Court sessions in Kandy. He was charged of high treason for claiming himself as the King of Kandy, declaring as a descendant of the Kandy Kings, ongoing and waging war against the British. He bravely declared that he was guilty of all the above charges.

The Supreme Court ordered to hang him on January 1, 1849. However, on an appeal made by Gongalegoda Banda to the Governor, a proclamation was issued on December 29, 1848 to amend the death sentence to flogging 100 times and be exiled.

On January 01, 1849 Gongalegoda Banda was flogged 100 times in Kandy and sent in to exile in Malacca (now Malaysia). By deporting Gongalegoda Banda, the Governor instilled a permanent fear among the inhabitants for future rebellion against the British rule. Gongalegoda Banda who was exiled to Malacca arrived there on 3 May 1849. He died on 1 December 1849 in Malacca.

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