Janaka Goonetileke’s Atapattu Walawwa

Hemantha Situge, courtesy of The Nation, 28 October 2012, where the title is “Enthusiasts’ Guide to unique Sri Lankan Real Estate

Atapattu Walawwa, the residence of the Gooneratne and Dias Abeysinghe families, is a richly illustrated antiquarian miscellany on one of Sri Lanka’s well preserved treasure trove walauwwas – an ancient manor house – found in Galle – the capital of the Southern province of Sri Lanka.

A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist in Britain, Janaka Goonetileke, with his marriage to Dharshani Dias Abeysinghe, the sole heir to the Atapattu Walauwwa, which has survived in the family for well nigh 23 decades, has gone in search of his wife’s roots and has documented the same for posterity. The book states that the other contributors of this work are Senaka Bandaranayake and Susil Sirivardana.

I read and re-read this fascinating book and what amazes me as a Gallean is the designing part accredited to Albert Dharmasiri, the magnificent photographs of Malaka Weligodapola, special portfolio of drawings executed by Thushara Illeperuma and the two drawings of Barbara Sansoni from her Vihara and Verandahs. Atapattu Walawwa contains 172 pages of pure bliss, each page evoking the contributors’ affection for this unique manor house.

You cannot read much of the book without longing to go there. After the book launch at the Barefoot Gallery, Bambalapitiya on Friday July 3, the following Saturday morning it whetted my curiosity to such an extent to have been at Atapattu Walauwwa to find out the indecipherable date inscription bearing 1742 at the entrance of this edifice which was embedded in my memory. Apparently, it is a later inscribed inscription. There are several salient features found in the contents of the book under the sub titles i.e A Protected Monument, The Setting, Architecture, Stage of Construction, Technology, Garden and Courtyards, Furniture, Daily life, Social Background, Edmund Rowland Gooneratne, A Biographical Sketch, The Gooneratne Mudalindarama, The Cemetery and the Selected Writings of E.R. Gooneratne.

The most remarkable salutary feature is the Biographical Sketch (page 136 to 161 ) of that foremost erudite oriental scholar Edmund Rowland Gooneratne the 19-20 century diarist of par excellence, who bestrode like a mighty colossus in the Sri Lankan nationalist Buddhist renaissance and carved niche in the annals of national resurgence in the country. The book contains a rare photograph dated 1917 of the Anuradhapura Sri Maha Bodhi. The word Atapattu, a term used in feudal administration as the title of the book – appears a misnomer. Even though there is family name called Atapattu, it has no connection with the Sinhala word ata (eight). There are no eight pattus in Galle. This is the holder of the post ‘chieftain’ or ‘Mudliyar’ in the officialdom or Mudliyardom who was in close proximity to the Governor. The other part of the title of the book is ‘Walawwa’. According to the Sinhala dictionary it is derived from the Tamil word “walauw” which denotes ‘Residence of an aristocrat’.

According to what I have learnt that there were de facto waluwwas and de jure  walauwwas. The Atapattu Walauwwa is a de jure walauwwa. The family has held it by virtue of their office for several generations. Page 8-9 of this book refers to China Koratuwa (Chinese Quarter), more commonly known as China Gardens or Cheena Koratuwa. This is the place where in 1810 the British got down the Chinese to cultivate vegetables. The Sinhalese word Koratuwa denotes ‘a piece of land with vegetable cultivation’. The other shortcoming found in the book is at page nine is ‘China Koratuwa’, the Chinese quarter, probably recalling a time before the Dutch intervention that disrupted the intra-Asian trading networks. Also refer to pages 18 to 20 of Gaalu Ithihasaya (History of Galle) by E.V.G. William 1967 which also supports this position. Somasiri Devendra has erred in his article titled ‘Trilingual Inscription of Galle’ describing that Cheng Ho’s visit in 1409 is connected with China Gardens or Cheena Koratuwa of Galle.

At page nine in paragraph two parenthetically the book states that: “(Waluvatta – the land of Walawwas today a municipal ward of that name.)” The municipal ward system was repealed in 1976. Walauwwatta was never a municipal ward of the 15 municipal wards that prevailed in the Galle Municipal Council. The Ward No. 2 was China Gardens and the Ward No. 3 was Bazaar (Kadaveediya) to which the area of Walauwwatta belonged. According to old deeds and plans “Kekiribokkawatta” in China Gardens where the Mahagala Walauwwa (vide page 11 of the book) is situated is the place where the Chinese grew the Sinhalese vegetable kekiri. This book Atapattu Walawwa (vide: page 11) bears ample testimony to the fact that there had been seven walauwwas in the vicinity of the walauwwa, that the List of Walauwwas in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankave Walauw Namawaliya) written by Dr. Mirando Obeysekera is a haphazard incomplete work not only pertaining to Galle but also on the other waluwwas of Sri Lanka. Once E.V.G. William told me that the Atapattu Walauwwa originally owned a large extent of land that went up to Minuwangoda junction where the tortoise shell shops in this junction drew income to the walauwwa. It would have been a worthwhile study to go into the adjacent regional Survey General’s maps and plans on the area for the study to the extent of land originally owned by the Atapattu Walauwwa.

My indefatigable, passionately curious study on Galle has found the least references on Atapattu Walauwwa – the ancient manor house – in books on Galle. The details abound on Goonaratne and Dias Abeysinghe families in the All Saint’s Church records (Church minutes, baptism registers, marriage registers and the burial registers) which substantiate their allegiance to the Anglican Church and the British rulers. All Saint’s Church Fort Galle has had a vicar named Felix Dias Abeysinghe (1965 to 1975), Vernon Dias Abeysinghe (vide page 124) was also a warden of the Church. The rebel of the family of Mudliyar Edmund Rowland Gooneratne “Gentleman- Scholar of the Sri Lankan Renaissance”-  his fight against the system –it appears that the British rulers have shown a sense of antipathy towards the family by not appointing any one thereafter for the said appointment.

Furthermore, the History of Methodist Church in Ceylon edited by Rev. W.J.T. Small 1964 records the First Methodist School was found at the upper storey of the Atapattu Walauwwa. This is another point to the fact that the walauwwa had a pride of place for liberal thinking. It was the family Gooneratne who was instrumental in establishing the Batemulla Sinhalese mixed school in Imaduwa which was later taken over by the Government in 1957.

However, the remains interred in the vault of the Dutch Reformed Church of Fort Galle of “Don David De Alvis Attepattoe Modiliar of Galle” whose tombstone is paved on the floor of the Church ‘who departed this life October 5, 1817 aged 43 years, three months and 17 days’ is cogent evidence to the fact that the post of Atapattu Mudliyar did not remain with Gooneratne and Dias Abeysinghe families. J.P. Lewis in his monumental work, ‘List of Tombstones and Memorials’ does not record this tombstone. Furthermore, E.R. Gooneratne’s genealogy does not establish that Atapattu Mudliyar De Alvis belongs to their family. His tenure of office, it appears only for five years after Don Bastian. All these evidence establish beyond doubt that the name Atapattu Walauwwa emerged as a manor house after the Atapattu Mudliyar title was invested in Don Bastian Jayatilleke Gooneratne (1758 to 1812). This provides some credence to the legend that is recorded by Janaka Goonetileke on the origin of the Atapattu Walauwwa.

The chapter that deals on furniture found from pages 109 to 116 should have been written with the perusal of two authoritative works on the subject. viz: Dutch Furniture – R.L. Brohier and European Furniture – Joseph Pearson J.R.A.S. (CB) article. None of the photographs depict furniture in a bedroom of the era. The timber should have been identified with the botanical names.

The contributors have extensively used Sinhalese words in the book. Had these Sinhalese words were identified with diacritical marks, it would have been convenient in the interest of the readers. The editor of the Lloyd’s Press, Arnold Wright in his prestigious monumental record “Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon” published by the Lloyd’s Great Britain company in 1907, sheds more light on the Atapattu Walauwwa.

Mudliyar E.R. Gooneratne in this account (page 754 to 755) recounts that the Atapattu Walauwwa was built by his grandfather which substantiates the position maintained by Janaka Goonetileke. The photographs of the facade of the walauwwa in the era depicts that it still remains in its pristine glory (figure 1)  The others that portray in the book from this manor house are Arthur Alfred Dias Abeysinghe (at page 764) Eugene Godfred Dias Abeysinghe (at page 758-759) together with a photograph of Maha Mudliyar Nicholas Dias Abeysinghe (figure 2) and Abraham Dias Abeysinghe (at page 768), whose wedding photograph with Eva Tagora Gooneratne is amongst the few rare Sinhala Govigama elitists prominent ceremonies celebrated in 1903 in Galle is published in the rare opus with Janaka Goonetileke’s Atapattu Walawwa.

The other only known elitist Karawa wedding ceremony recorded from Galle is provided by Norah Roberts in her compendium entitled Galle as quiet asleep. (page 404) where that affluent aristocrat Charles Henry Soysa’s son, Arthur Soysa’s betrothal to Regina Perera Abeywardena of Closenberg fame held at the All Saint’s Church Galle which was reported in “London Daily Graphic” on March 2, 1899. They were indeed landmarks in the heydays of Galle.

The Atapattu Walauwwa has withstood the vagaries of time. It is a unique architectural legacy gifted to posterity. The families of Gooneratne and Dias Abeysinghe should be commended for their unremitting perseverance and the exemplary conduct to preserve this manor house for the future generation. Janaka and his wife Dharshani who continues the family tradition deserves from the Sri Lankans and the Galleans a special word of appreciation for bestowing  this monumental saga to the posterity, undoubtedly a veritable mine of information on Galle. Goonetileke’s Atapattu Walawwa is a kind of ‘enthusiast’s guide’ to the unique Sri Lankan real estate in the by-gone era.


Filed under cultural transmission, heritage, historical interpretation, sri lankan society, unusual people

7 responses to “Janaka Goonetileke’s Atapattu Walawwa

  1. Wonderful Page Beautifully Researched And Told as it really Is..
    Kindest Regards
    Gary Ellis

  2. I chanced upon this page and was amused to find a reference to me by Hemantha Situge who, good lawyer as he is, has misled himself!

    The only time I wrote about “The Galle Tri-Lingual Inscription” was an editorial note introducing the translations of the three inscriptions indited on the slab. It appeared in “Sri Lanka and the Silk Road of the Sea” in 1990. Here is what I said:

    “In a study of shipping routes around Sri Lanka, the ancient port city of Galle plays an important role. Evidence of the antiquity of this, and other settlements, in the South of the island is available from chronological and literary sources and it is safe to assume that, while it was in existence for at least two thousand years, its importance as a port of call grew with the development of the Southern sea route by the Arabs after the 7th.century ………..
    “Against this backdrop, the Galle tri-lingual inscription comes into focus as an artifact of great importance. This inscribed slab, now in the Colombo Museum, was discovered in 1911, by Mr.H.F.Tomalin, Provincial Engineer, Galle, in a culvert near Cripps Road. Even today, Galle has a Municipal ward, and a sub-post office (not far from Cripps Road) named ‘Cheena Koratuwa’ in Sinhala and ‘China Fort’ in translation. The slab is described is described by Paranavitana…etc”

    I was certainly NOT ” describing that Cheng Ho’s visit in 1409 is connected with China Gardens or Cheena Koratuwa of Galle”. But I certainly indicated that the place where E.W.Perera says in Spolia Zeylanica it was discovered (as opposed to where it may originally have been erected) was, coincidentally, close to the Sub-post office with that name. I do concede, however, that some minds may make a connection.

    It’s of little interest, though – a throw-away remark is not a scholarly assertion!

    • Kalinga Tudor Silva

      Cheena Koratuwa should be translated as Chinese farm or Chinese plot not Chinese Fort.

  3. Manel Fonseka

    It was a great pity the editor’s plan and deadline for the book did not allow him time to record more of the furniture as you say. One sad omission is a superb ebony fourposter bed that is currently in the Galle estate house of one of the book’s contributors.
    Also, the use of the term ‘Sinhala’ or ‘Sinhalese’ is used where at least one of the contributors would have used ‘Sri Lankan’.

    • Manel Fonseka

      Unfortunately some part of the Walawwa China and furniture is with various family members. Thanks to the untiring efforts of Dr Janaka Goonetilleke all this – inherited by present owners – is coming back to its stately home.

  4. Pingback: Burgher Tennis Club in Galle, circa 1928 | Thuppahi's Blog

  5. Nihal de Alwis

    Arising from the Publication on “Atapattu Walauwa” by Dr Janaka Goonatilaka, it certainly has revealed many historical features which we did not know though My Great Grand Father too lived in Galle as the first Ceylonese to be a judge: he was Dynosious Samarawickrema who lived at Kaluwella and his country residence “Rockhill” at Kalahe Galle where he built a METHODIST CHURCH IN MEMORY OF HIS WIFE. I only knew about the Walauwa when my Mother’s First Cousin RAY Wickremanayaka (lawyer) lived with his family in an annex. Thanks to Dr Janaka for delving into this historical background of the Walauwa..

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