Opinion
Badulla – some vignettes from history

The Swarnavahini news bulletin broadcast at 7.00 p.m. on the 19th instant carried a news item and pictures on the television regarding damages done to the building of the public market at Welekade at Badulla. The news reader further stated that the building was constructed by the Dutch as a fortress, and was of great archaeological value.

To butress this claim of its archaeological value and its pedigree, even the name - of the Assistant Director of the Archaeological Survey, stationed in the Uva Regional Office at Diyatalawa, too was mentioned as the authority and the source for the claim to its archaeological value’, and to its pedigree.

The news item that the market building was earlier a fortress and that it had been built by the Dutch is unfortunately factually incorrect. It is saddening to reflect on the news item which are palpably false, and attributing the source of such false information to public officers in the Archaeological Survey.

The territory occupied by the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.) extended from Maha Oya to Walawe Ganga and included the Matara District, portions of Sabaragamuwa, Satara Korale and Sat Korale.

The inland frontiers were marked with forts at Sitawaka, Anguruwatota Mapalagama and Katuwana, all on river banks. The Dutch territory did not in any time include the central hill country of the Kande Uda Pas Rata and Uva.

A Dutch emissary however did make a reconnaissance through Bintenne to the court of the Kandyan King 400 years ago. He disembarked at Samanthurai and travelled via Nilgala, Bibile, Mahiyangana, Pangaragammana and then along the Mahaweliganga to Kandy and then returned along the same route. Joris Van Spilbergen the first Dutch envoy did not venture into the unknown territory of Badulla, in July, 1602 - 400 years ago.

The Dutch would not have been unaware of the fate of Constantine de Saa’s expedition to Uva in the 1630s, the sacking of Badulla, the retreat through the Ella-Wellawaya pass and the death and the destruction of Conquistador General Constantine de Saa and his army at the battle of Randeniwela in 1632, and hastening the departure of the Portuguese in 1658.

The, British government proclaimed Uva as a separate province on February 01st, 1886 and Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor was in Badulla from January 20th to attend to the celebrations. Mr. A. A. King was the new Government Agent of the province. The province so setup was the second largest in the island and the Government Agent noted that the "advantages arising from closer relationship with the Central Government were by no means wanting". Uva had earlier been an Assistant Agency and formed a part of the Central Province under the Government Agent at Kandy, and therefore did not enjoy that direct and closer relationship which Mr. A. A. King, the new Government Agent of Uva, now envisaged.

In 1817 Mr. E. R. Power, Assistant Government Agent, Uva, occupied a modest building of tiles, brick mud and sticks (warichchi) as his Residency at Badulla. Two years later after the conclusion of the Kandyan Rebellion of 1818, the condition of the official residences continued to be the same.

On the 23rd March, 1819 Major Davy, author of An Account of the Interior of Ceylon was at Badulla having come there from Colombo, via Hanwella, Avissawella, Ratnapura. Balangoda, Kalupahana, Idalghinna Pass, Velangahahena and Himbleatwella. His comments on the state of Badulla is most revealing. "Badulla itself is an inconsiderable place; its only fortification is a small star fort, in which the commandant resides, in an old Singhalese house, which was formerly a royal palace. The buildings are few, and confined chiefly to officers’ quarters of a very humble description, a barrack for European troops, a good hospital a native cantonment, and a small bazaar; there are besides a dewale dedicated to Kataragama god, and a vihare attached to which is of a large size.

The chief ornaments of Badulla are its fine trees and its rich and extensive paddy fields: here for the first time since I had been in Ova, I saw the coconut tree; it appeared to flourish, at least in the temple grounds where it was protected, elsewhere it was emblematic of the state of the country, - without fruit, which had been prematurely plucked by the hungry people, and often without leaves, presenting a miserable appearance. The jak fruit tree is abundant, and in many instances it has attained a gigantic size. The paddy fields are the property of the government; very many of them were under cultivation, and being covered with young crop beautifully green, they were a most agreeable sight.

As a station little can be said of Badulla; and, were it not for its rich valley, it would probably be deserted. It is sad hardly to admit of defence, and being so centrically situated amongst the mountains, communication with it is difficult and the transport of supplies to it tedious and expensive".

In 1850 a temporary hospital of thatch, wattle, mud and sticks (warichchi) was built in Badulla for the Malabar coolies who were being brought in to work in the coffee plantations which were being opened up in Uva.

In 1857 a severe fire destroyed more than half the bazaar of the Badulla town, which was mainly along the Muthiyagana road sometime called the lower street and a side road called bazaar street. The first advantage arising from the closer relationship with the central government which the Government Agent A. A. King envisaged was the construction of a new market in 1889, three years after the proclamation of the Province of Uva on 01st February, 1886.

It was built at Welekade boutiques by the paddy fields, at the edge of the yaya stretching upto the Alutela, whose waters, impounded by an anicut across the Badulu Oya, irrigated the government paddy lands whose luxuriance Major saw in 1819. The market design was of four wings at right angle to each other with an octagon shaped open space rising up to a turret in the centre. The market building cost Rs. 5,000/-.

The next advantage gained by the province was the construction of the new hospital again on the government owned paddy land in close proximity to the market. The new hospital was built in 1890 at a cost of Rs, 60,000/- and a further sum of Rs. 26,800/- was spent in the following year.

Another important building constructed in 1891 was the new building for the Kachcheri in the former star fort site, The building consisted of the central main building with two annexes at the two ends of the main building, all forming an ‘H’ shaped ground plan The cost of the kachcheri building was Rs. 19,453.43 in 1891.

The Swarnavahini news item of the 19th instant, had in fact referred to the damages done to the Welekade market building, which was erected during the British Period in the year 1889, as the first public building of the Uva Province. It has a striking architectural design which has not been replicated anywhere in the island, during the Past 114 years. The Welekade market building had been transferred to the Local Authority and is now owned and expected to be maintained by the Badulla Municipal Council. It would appear from the television pictures which Swarnavahini showed on the 19th instant, that the market building is in a thoroughly neglected state. It would be appropriate if this market building is taken over by the Urban Development Authority and repaired and maintained by them.

The Nupe Market building at Matara and the Edinburgh market building in Colombo were restored by the Urban Development Authority, as the respective Local Authorities failed to maintain them. Since the Badulla Municipal Council too has failed in this respect, the Urban Development Authority should step in-to repair, maintain and protect this Welekade Public Market building in view of its historical value as the very FIRST public building erected by the Government Agent of Uva in 1889.
W. Panditaratne


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