A story of treachery from Colonial Ceylon
It is not clear as to who trapped whom - whether it was the British
officer who made rounds on horseback to the South often, or the
Viharadhipathy. Time period was the governorship of Brownrigg circling
round the 1815 decade. The story has defied many a year, even centuries,
and come down to us mocking all high principles if ever there were as
against a mountain heap of dirty lucre and top posts and tithes, a
smelly scourge that the know-alls say attract and distract many a human
The two players in the game are or were a top British officer (some
even conjecture that it was the governor himself) and a head of a
renowned temple near Galle. One is bewildered as to how their friendship
began, perhaps the White man got exhausted by the constant rides on
horseback and welcomed some rest in the invitingly large and cosy
temple. Perhaps it was the other way round, the high priest getting
drawn to the gallant rider fast disappearing into the dust of the
untarred dusty roads going on to nowhere.
However, one fine day they sat for tea and a chat in the portals of
the huge Vihara in the unfolding of the dirty drama. Now an offer was
made to the robed one, that is to translate the Bible into Sinhala.
Excuse me, this story is what I have heard not read exactly, except in a
RAS journal article penned by the versatile Dr. K D Paranavithana, if I
General Sir Robert Brownrigg, 1st Baronet GCB (1759 – 27
April 1833) was a British statesman and soldier. Picture
Translating non-Buddhist, especially X tian literature into Sinhala
was nothing new nor novel, in the context of the sizzling religious
fervor of the missionaries. The Dutch friars had even produced a press
with local letters and many a X tian tract and pamphlet were being
distributed so that finally the local misguided heathen would end up in
heaven! In the Parish schools religion was the main subject and the
Bible the main book. It is a wonder that any Buddhists were left along
the coast, the fishermen themselves welcoming it as they were officially
absolved of one of the five precepts now, Thou shalt not kill. However
killing for the poor fish frisking in the ocean was assured.
But here was a new phenomenon, a Monk and a head of a large temple,
further known for his erudition taking on the translation of the Bible.
The writer however has never come across this particular translation.
Perhaps it was never finished for the times were turbulent. Simmerings
of unrest were everywhere ever since the conquest of Kandy followed by
the famous or infamous Kandyan convention. Promises were already being
broken. The first upheaval against British rule had got going and
reached new heights naturally during the governorship of Brownrigg who
considered Buddhism as nothing but a whole heap of superstitions and
It was his attitude that probably encouraged his top henchmen to rest
in temples and indulge in translations conducive to the spread of
Xtianity. The British were certainly less evangelical that their two
predecessors, especially the Ferenghis who came to the East with the
Bible in one hand and the bayonet in the other. Further, the later
policies of the home govt. were yet to start, as those of encouraging
its officers to study the religion and culture and history of the
conquered lands which made a few like Rhys David even cross over. But
Brownrigg and his henchmen were of a far different breed. Fidelity was
forgotten when it came to promise of riches and land and high posts.
At what juncture the Dadella high priest changed from Bible
translator to a bitter foe of the rebelling Sinhalas, his own countrymen
is not recorded but soon he appeared in Sath Korale blazoning his sword
or gun and beheading many a rebel. His prowess in battle is said to be
equal to whatever prowess he owned in delivering Buddhist sermons to the
village folk back home. He became one of the fiercest fighters not in
the freedom fight but in the anti freedom fight, the governor
encouraging him to the hilt.
Some try to defend the Dadella monk that he just could not say "No"
to the governor once when requested to translate the bible. It could
have even ended up in an execution. Further, being a literary person, he
may have enjoyed the work rationalising that it was going to enrich
local literature. Anyway finally he disrobed and converted, either the
bible entrancing him or the prospects of many a material and mundane
His name was naturally changed which I will not disclose here for the
family still runs.
A huge mansion was gifted to him in the precincts of Aluthkade, the
judiciary complex adjoining Hulftsdorp even then. The mansion is no
more. Riches just poured on him and his sons were duly promoted.
Brownrigg was so proud of this chameleon that all his acts were
publicized as examples to the other natives. It is said that news of his
disrobing and taking on lay clothes found pride of place in Govt.
Brownrigg himself became very unpopular later with Ceylon's "Freedom
fighters" as demonstrated by the removal of the board, Brownrigg road
from the metropolis's road posts. He is one of the two to be so
expunged, the other being Torrington who shot down a monk along with
Puran appu and Gongallegoda Banda in his fierce battle against the
Mathale and Dambulla valley insurrection. As to the Dadella high priest
there seems to have been no visible punishment except for his own
mortification at shooting down heroic rebels fighting for the lost
sovereignty of the uplands.