13 May 2017

If you are from Ellagaava, say it with pride!


In October 1985, a fresher at Dumbara Campus was quizzed by his seniors.  It was what might be called mild ragging.  The conversation took place in Sinhala and this is a rough English translation. 

‘Where are you from?’

‘Colombo.’

‘Where in Colombo?’

‘Horana.’

‘Where in Horana?’

‘Bulathsinhala.’

‘Where in Bulathsinhala?’

‘Yatigampitiya.’

‘Ah…..that would be Colombo 60!’

The fresher was probably trying to make things easy.  Sunil Udukala, now a senior officer at the Central Environmental Authority, is in fact quite proud of his roots. It was for him a convenience to answer this way.  Sometimes it is more than a convenience, for in these matters there’s also the play of shame and pride.  Here’s a proud story. 

It was during the reign of King Rajasinha the First, also known as Sitawaka Rajasinha since he ruled the Kingdom of Sitawaka and had won the name after a fierce battle against Portuguese forces.  

The Portuguese were from the get-go determined to ‘save the heathens’ (to put it mildly) and long before annexing territory were making ideological inroads.  It was known that they were making their way inland along the Kalu Ganga.  They had to be stopped.  

Now the narrowest spot on the river was actually a waterfall called ‘Penigala Ella’.  This was at one end of what is now demarcated as the Sabaragamuwa Province.  Apparently traders in juggery and treacle from upstream would meet potential consumers from downstream at this spot.  One day a flood had taken all their wares down the river.  That’s how the name ‘Penigala Ella’ was coined.  

There’s another coinage.  ‘Ellagaava’ or ‘By the Waterfall,’ by the waterfall Penigala Ella, that is.  Rajasinha I did not just want the invader stopped, he wanted to destroy the Portuguese.  It was decided that the best strategic point for this purpose was Ellagava.  A fort had been set up at the point.  The enemy advancement was duly destroyed by Manamperi Disawe, who had been tasked to lead the battle.

Now around this time, one of his favored concubines had died.  Rajasinha wanted a temple built in memory of the lady.  It was built at Ellagaava and dedicated to the Goddess Pattini.  A priest was needed to handle the affairs of the temple and a man from the Lewella Korale was duly picked, trained and sent to Ellagaava.  He came to be known as Elle Kapurala.  The title and the name was passed down from generation to generation and that’s how more than 450 years later there came to this earth a child who was named Elle Kapuralalage Jagath Kumara Wijesiri.  

That was in the year 1959.  Twenty years later, Jagath Kumara Wijesiri was recruited as an Army Officer Cadet.  When he was asked where he was from, this boy who had been educated at both Ellegaava Vidyalaya and Taxila Maha Vidyalaya, said ‘Horana’ since he thought no one would know ‘Ellagaava’.  During their training in Diyatalawa, a fellow officer cadet by the name of Geetha Atapattu, better known as ‘Geeth,’ had died. Geeth had been Head Prefect at Sripalee Maha Vidyalaya, Horana. 

Since people thought he was from Horana, he had been warned not to say anything ‘unnecessary’ regarding Geeth’s unfortunate death.  Young Wijesiri apparently didn’t even know where Geeth lived.  Anyway, word had got out, and it was suspected that Wijesiri had something to do with it.  He was a victim of circumstances.  

Wijesiri would retire as Major General and the first one from the Sabaragamuwa Province.  Today he is proud of his name and his history.  If someone asks him, he would say ‘I am Elle Kapuralalage Jagath Kumara Wijesiri’.  There’s pride when he recounts his family history.

“My father joined the Army and he went on to become a Commissioned Officer.  From our early days he inculcated in us a sense of history and love for our country.  My grandfather was adamant that the family should put in at least 100 years of service for the country.  In 1991 my youngest brother joined the Army.  Father retired, was recalled and served until 1994.  Together, we have  completed 100 years of military service.”

Names have histories.  People too.  Some want to forget histories, some do not.  Some are pressurized not just to forget but to ridicule their past.  Then there are people like Alle Kapuralalage Jagath Kumara Wijesiri.  He’s not from ‘Kolamba Heta’.  He’s from Ellagaava Eka, so to speak.  And he’s proud of the fact.  

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