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Sunday, 31 March 2013





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

The strange world of Thota Aatha

It needs a devoted sociologist to unravel all the human dramas that began to develop around Colombo’s main ferry across the Kelani delta. Novelists who have a partiality to women who earn their butter, sorry, Bathmaalu, via their body, have developed that aspect of life in Thotalanga. Others have glorified Thotalanga Jema or Sima, providing sensational characters for films. It is rather a dilemma, that, when somebody produces a film on a saintly man or woman, the censor board come down hard in a few days. But if somebody produces film on a notorious character such as Mariakka or Mineemaru, Jima or Sima, it is difficult to control the swarming crowds. But everybody cries, “See what is happening to our morals?’and let the matter rest there.

Now extricating myself from the vice tentacles of Thotalanga let us move a distance away where the living standards are much better.

The Dutch almost made the area the living quarters of the more affluent. In fact, the Governor himself lived there.

Hulftsdorp or the Village of Hulft (Governor) metamorphosed in the area. For the new devout, there emerged on a hill, Wolfendahl church, a church built in a dale of wolves. Of course, it was a forested area but the animals that ran around were jackals that were mistaken for wolves.

Wolfendahl church itself has a strange history in that in its vaults, according to city gossip, lie the birth certificates and Baptism certificates of the members of the Sinhala elite families of the time. Famous names the babes owned later. It was they who even began to monitor the political arena. You cannot blame the parents much for getting the babes baptised in the church for otherwise the best schools and the best professions were closed to them. Those were the miraculous devices of colonialism.


Many conveniences for good living sprouted in the area where the Governor lived. There were gas lamps and clean water that arrived in carts. Water projects had been superseded by the gas project due to lack of funds. The Colombo population opted to feast their eyes on an illuminated city rather than drink clean water.

Shops selling myriad goods were coming up mostly run by trained foreign merchants such as the Borahs and the Cochchis. And the Moors. (note Moor Street). So, naturally elite families from distant areas migrated there, some taking abode in comfy houses deserted when the Dutch left, some building their own mansions.

The Bandaranaike family with links to the rural areas of Kataluwa and Navagamuwa earlier was one such that put up their mansion along Silversmith Street.

As this name, translated Badal veediya, reflects that many a street got named by professions freshly booming where the population itself began to boom. Along Barber Street lived the Barbers. Streets with historical names such as the Prince of Wales Mawatha were a new phenomenon. The Kandy mail began its journey from here. The hoi polloi, the fishermen and women and many a menial worker sought solace on the very banks making it an amazing urban sprawl of humans.

Gas lamps were first experimented in the area due to the growing violence and the moral decadence. Soon the law abiding citizens were very grateful to the uniformed clad police officers who began to do the rounds. Sorry, they had initially worn cloth and coat according to legend which was soon given up to facilitate chasing behind criminals.

Thick jungle

And now on to Kotahena, that was a thick jungle once. A raging forest fire reduced its trees to stumps or Kota and hence Chena of stumps or Kotahena. According to records it was the first area in the island not only to acquire a police station but to have its police force (the first in the island) to face the camera though what came out first had been rows of dots. All this happened in the 1880 decade.

Vice was rampant but religious riots too had sprung necessitating a police force.

That leads to an area too long to tackle here. This part of the city was getting “baptised” when a prelate from the South decided to turn around things. Defying a law forbidding Buddhist temples, he developed a Buduge into a renowned temple. Next, to provoke the Government he paraded a Buddhist procession replete with tom—tom beating, anathema to “civilised ears” just past St. Lucia’s Cathedral that loomed over the area attracting converts by the very glamour of it. It is said that the police station was established to quell the riots that resulted. So in another way, the area became the nucleus of Buddhist renaissance too.

The Buduge that developed into the famous Deepaduttamarama actually was in the Walauwa of a Sinhala officer from the South, who unlike many of his tribe had refused to change his religion in return for titles, yet was employed by the Dutch for his efficiency.

Nerve centre

Called Ihala Walauwa this abode was the nerve centre of collecting revenue from the port of Colombo. The Mudaliyar need not walk to the port for overseeing, the location of the Walauwa on high ground made it possible to work from homes!

These were indeed strange areas then,a cross—way between the local culture and the alien culture. A film now being shown on TV titled Saki Sanda Suwaris provides a very good peep into the life then in these suburbs of Colombo. Such films should be encouraged. The names then used, the dresses worn as the Kambaya clothes of the women, the fallen morals are all depicted.

Names such as Katharina, Sophie, Karline and Joakeenu abound. They are a hotch potch of adapted Portuguese, Dutch and English names. Suwaris itself is a foreign name though today considered a typical village name as much as Odiris, Porolis, Karolis, Haramanis, Girigoris and Coranelis.

Today many famous entrepeneurs carry these names. Most of their grandchilden have now migrated utilising the dough accumulated by the grandfathers. I met one such descendant in Kingsbury Temple in London who cannot even speak Sinhala properly.

The Gaathas or the Buddhist stanzas are so foreign to him. Anyway, he still goes as Mr. Porolis from Sri Lanka.

Stranger was the topography of Colombo North then, a medley of forests, groves, hills and pastures where buffaloes, jackals and pachyderm roamed. Soon things were changing and the area was growing in social and economic importance. I end this by beseeching the makers of the film Saki Sanda Suwaris to go on to make more period films of this nature which capture on the lens, forgotten periods of our historical saga.

The majority of the population of these areas today sport a medley of strange human characters, eager to make a successful living. They send their children to schools and await a better morrow. They want to ensure that the world of pickpockets, notorious thugs, criminals and red light females besotted with disease is never for their children.


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