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Sunday, 16 February 2014

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Wijeyratne Walauwa, Emetiyagoda:

Impressions of a heritage site

Wijeyratne Walauwa in the village of Emetiyagoda in Sabaragamuwa was built around 1870s and remains well maintained as the most elegant house of the then aristocracy of Sabaragamuwa.

Wijeyratne siblings of the seventh generation maintains it in pristine condition. Their ancestry is traceable to Wijeyratne Attanayake Mohottala of Alakola-ella of Kadawath Korale of Sabaragamuwa, serving the King of Kandy. The Wijeyratne family has a long history dating back to the period of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy. This walauwa had been built according to traditional walauwa architecture displaying all the characteristics then in vogue in Kandy- Sabaragamuwa Region.

Wijeyratne Walauwa at Emetiyagoda certainly shows off the highly skilled craftsmanship of the Sinhalese in architectural layout planning, masonry, and carpentry and the ability to use available local material to the best advantage of long lasting house construction. According to the family history known to the family of the Wijeyratnes, 25 craftsmen brought from Kandy/Matale districts worked on the site for nearly 10 years to complete the residence. It stands so elegant today in the village as a pride by its own right. According to the information available all the material used in the construction such as the granite, very special soil mixtures for floor and roof tiles, and the timber were obtained from the immediate locality of extensive lands that Wijeyratnes then had possessed in the village. One such land in front of the walauwa is called Gama-athigewatta which illustrates that they had been in the village for a long period.

Planning

Any careful observer visiting Wijeyratne walauwa , even today can clearly see the evidence of the ideal selection of the site for the house, carefully layout planning, and the source of material obtained for making special soil mixtures for motar, roof and floor tiles. A special plaster found in that vicinity has been used and there is no evidence of cement originally been used in the building. The walauwa faces the East and is located very close to the hilly section of the village, facing the hill known as the Suwandakekunakanda. The site for the house had been carefully selected close to the stream coming down from the hill and close to a narrow valley which had been turned to a paddy growing area for the family. The surrounding land therefore appear to have provided ample supplies of building material for the construction of the house. The deep trough opposite the front compound of the house bears evidence of extracting the choice soils for making the mixture for wall construction and floor and roof tiles.

A visitor to this walauwa sitting in the large front verandah facing the front compound would indeed be treated with a rare sight of greenery of flowering trees and fruit trees. A soft breeze and singing of birds in the garden would reach the ears of the visitors beholding the scene. Seeing is believing: the sheer admirable quality of this house can not only be seen but also to be felt by the visitor in real terms both from outside and inside the house. One can immediately feel the cool and tranquil atmosphere while walking in the sprawling gardens all round the house as well as well as indoors. The house has been built on raised ground with a large front compound facing the East, overlooking the family owned paddy land in the narrow valley and the high lands.

Wijeyratne Walauwa in Emetiyagoda displays some unique architectural features which impress the visitor any day. The entry to the front garden is by a large granite staircase large enough for then family owned elephants to walk up to the compound. The front verandah, 42ft by 14ft is composed of single span using jak and kela-del beams and rafters is 25ft high at the outer end of the verandah and raised to a 34ft. at the inner end where the core of the house begins. The house has an up-stair section running right through the centre part of the house at an elevation of some 25ft. providing ample sense of space for each section of the house inside.

Reception

The centre part of the house contains the reception area ( Meda-saley ) and a long banquet hall ( Diga- saley ) measuring 42ft by 14ft. and bedrooms with large doors and windows getting ample ventilation and light from front garden in the East as well as Medamidula in the West central position. The Medamidula, 43 ft by 20ft is the pride of the walauwa . It occupies the central position of the entire complex which can be confronted after crossing about two third of the house interior.

There is a verandah running right round the Medamidula occupying the central part of the house with two large verandahs at both ends. Beyond the Medamidula are two kitchens on either side and a large store room in the centre with atuwa for storing paddy and other grains, and finally the servants quarters. The most elegant feature of this walauwa is both the Medamidula and its positioning in relation to other functional units for quality life.

Besides providing ample ventilation and light to living quarters including dining area of the house, the Medamidula gives out a range of multifunctional benefits to its residents.

It provides a drying yard and rainwater harvesting when it rains and space for rare plants and a feeding area for various birds living in the gardens of the walauwa . Today a circular fish tank is built to adorn this massive Medamidula of this walauwa . Perhaps the most outstanding feature of this walauwa is the ancient bo-maluwa in the North-East corner of the main house on a specially prepared platform for family religious ceremony.

It is still being used for poojas twice a day. Behind this sacred area is a very special patch of old trees one of which (atomba dating back to about 300 years) is considered to be the oldest tree in the village. The Bodhi- tree is a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi brought and planted by the ancestors of the Wijeyratnes sometime in the past century.

It is most gratifying to note that this old walauwa with such heritage value is maintained at tremendous private cost providing employment directly and indirectly to the village folk in Emitiyagoda.

The writer appreciates the hospitality of the Wijeyratnes who maintain the house in prime condition for giving me the opportunity to visit the walauwa and for providing the valuable information as a visitor.

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