Culture in Kandy (2) – SL#40.

Greetings to everyone once again whether you are one of my very valued regular readers or have just come upon this page by some other means. If you fall into the latter category I should tell you that this is, unbelievable as it seems to me, the 40th post in a series about my first trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014. If you would like to read the whole story from the beginning, you can do it here.

If you have read the previous post you will know that I left you in a bookshop in central Kandy and had broken the narrative to avoid the post becoming too long. There is still lots more to see on this wonderful day’s walk so if you’d like to hear about it then please read on.

Kateragama Devalaya.

Only a short way along the road from the bookshop I came upon another temple and another bit of a mystery regarding religious practices in Sri Lanka. As soon as I entered the compound I saw the Buddha image you can see but not twenty feet away was the beautiful tiled image of Lord Ganesh, a Hindu deity that I have a certain attachment to.

It was the same throughout, with Hindu and Buddhist immages metaphorically rubbing shoulders with each other, and it intrigued me at the time but you know what I am like, I couldn’t let it lie and I have now got a bit of an explanation for you. This is the Kateragama Devalaya where develaya merely means shrine and Kateragama is the deity principally worshipped here, so who exactly was / is Kateragama?

I had stayed in a town back on the South coast called Kateragama (see previous posts for full details), which is also named for the god so I did a bit of sleuthing and it appears he is one of the most popular deities in Sri Lanka but his history is, like the religious practices were to me then, something of a mystery.

Some authorities contend that he was King Mahasena who ruled the area that is now named for him during the third visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka in 580 BC when he converted the King from his older beliefs to Buddhism. Other scholars believe his name was Kadira, the spymaster of a Tamil invader called Elara and I can see how that name might have been corrupted to Katera with gama, which means village, suffixed.

That is my little bit of toponymy for the day and regular readers will know that to be one of my favourite words, I have lost track of how often I have used it in my blogs, pathetic showoff that I am. Of course, if you have read this series from the beginning you will know all about Kateragama and how important it is religiously to four different belief systems.

The devalaya here, which has long been associated with the nearby Royal Palace, is the only one of the four in Kandy to be administered by Hindu Brahmin priests. This is presumably in deference to the Royal connection as Brahmins are extremely high-caste in that somewhat disagreeable system. I hope that has cleared up the theological confusion but the religion wasn’t over for the day yet.

St. Paul’s Church.

Another religion noticeable in Kandy is Christianity, brought here initially by the Portuguese and then continued by the Dutch and British in their turn. In yet another instance of various religions existing in Sri Lanka, if not always peacefully, St. Paul’s Church which sits not 200 yards from the very sacred Buddhist Temple of the Tooth.

Plans for a church in Kandy were first discussed in 1825 following a visit by the Bishop of Calcutta (that was some journey then) but a public subscription was not opened until 1843 with the land granted by the British government. After that things went rather slowly as the work dragged on and on. The foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Madras (a lot closer than Calcutta) on 16th March, 1843, the church was first used on 10th August when it was still effectively a building site and it was not completed until 1852.

They actually waited until 25th January, 1853 to consecrate the church on the day of the Feast of the conversion of St. Paul although how they worked out the exact date is, like so much else in Judeo-Christian thinking, a mystery to me. At least Bishop Chapman, who performed the ceremony, did not have to sail from India as the bishopric of Colombo had been founded in 1845 with him as the first incumbent. It would still have been quite a journey as the railway was some years in the future but a lot easier than travelling from Madras or Calcutta.

For some inexplicable reason the Church was shut and I cannot believe it was due to worry about theft or vandalism as that is not a major problem here and the security apparatus for the Temple of the Tooth is mere yards away. It saddens me that a temple needs airport style security arches and armed guards but after Tamil terrorists detonated a massive truck bomb in 1998 killing 17, maiming many more and causing appalling damage, it seems like a sensible precaution.

As another of my little asides, did you know that the use of suicide bombers, whilst it had originated in the post-war era (I am not including kamikaze pilots) in Lebanon in 1981, was perfected as an instrument of terror by the LTTE (Tamil terrorists) from 1983 onwards?

Perhaps the most famous instance of it’s use by them was the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, in 1991 near (then) Madras in Tamil Nadu, Southern India by a female suicide bomber. A sad digression but one of the many things I have learned whilst writing this series.

Back to Kandy, St. Paul’s and a great day sightseeing. I was a little saddened by the Church being locked as I l love looking round places of worship, especially old churches and I am sure this one would have been a treasure trove of social history of the British period. It is sometimes known as the Garrison Church as it performed that function and obviously another of my interests is military history which made it’s inaccessibility doubly disappointing.

The church is in the neo-Gothic style so beloved of the Victorians in their ecclesiastical architecture and is constructed of terracotta bricks made in the Government brickyards which gave off a lovely glow in the lowering, late afternoon sun. What I also like about the image above is the shadow of the huge palm tree rising absolutely vertically up the tower, it almost looks as if it had been stencilled on the building itself. It is the juxtaposition of the typically tropical tree and the building , which would not look out of place in the English Home Counties, that appeals to me.

Let’s keep walking as we are still not done, it was quite a day out. Three quick images here, two of which make a general point about Kandy and indeed much of Sri Lanka and the other which is just a bit of fun.

On the left at the top you can see a colonial style building so typical of the country and what would probably be termed “shophouses” especially elsewhere in Asia. They are commercial premises on the ground floor and either offices or dwellings above. Whilst it looks structurally sound you cannot help but think that a quick lick of paint would make it a spectacular sight. I had noticed this particularly in Matara round the Fort area which I wrote about what seems like such a long time ago now. If you compare it with the image of the Queen’s Hotel just round the corner, you will see what I mean.

I didn’t walk right round the lake on this day but I did see the milepost informing me that if I wished to do so the distance was two miles and 46 feet. I do not know who measured this so precisely as the marker is obviously old so GPS etc. is not an option but I can only conclude that the 46 feet is important although the reason this should be so eludes me. Don’t worry, I shall take you for a walk round the beautiful lake in another post but I couldn’t resist yet another couple of images before I left the shoreline.

My next point of interest was inevitable as soon as I saw the signs you can see above. A military garrison cemetery is my idea of an interesting place to visit given my various interests so I strode up the hill into a fairly sizeable and well-tended area.

I know that graveyards are sad places by their very nature but this one somehow seemed particularly so and I’d like you to consider now the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. No I have not lost my mind. They are conquest on a white horse; war on a red horse; famine astride a black horse and plague riding a pale horse. Consider now the position of the British colonials here and elsewhere around the globe.

The colonials were the conquerors so that is irrelevant and they would never starve, so famine is out which leaves war and plague, also called pestilence but effectively disease in more modern parlance or possibly pandemic virus in extremely current terminology. To utilise another modern term these two were a very “clear and present danger” in the 19th century.

War was certainly still a very real threat form the bellicose Kandyans who could certainly fight and did not appreciate the “conquerors” whether on white horses or not, and it was disease that caused the appalling death tolls suffered in the Empire on which the sun never set.

Consider one of the headstones here commemorating the three infant daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Thwaites who all died in a three year period and none of whom saw their second birthday, indeed two of them never even had a first. Can you imagine the suffering?

War did not see off Sir John D’Oyly, 1st Baronet of Kandy, but rather a remittent fever, whatever that is. D’Oyly is an interesting character, son of an Archdeacon and well-educated at Westminster School and Cambridge University before sailing to Ceylon to take a position in a relatively minor Government post.

Whilst living initially at Matara he became fluent in Sinhalese, having been taught by a Buddhist monk and this was to stand him in good stead as he rose rapidly through the civil service ranks to his final high position. His skill in the local language meant that he was prominent in negotiating the settlement following the Kandyan War of 1815.

D’Oyly appears to have “gone native” as the current term was with a British visitor commenting that he “lived like a Cingelese (sic) hermit” and there was also speculation about his relationship with the Sinhalese female poet Gajaman Nona (Lady Gajaman). Although I have no evidence for this I’ll bet he preferred curry and rice to kippers and roast beef and good for him say I as one who goes fairly native when I travel.

QM Sgt. Gunn, appropriate name for a soldier I thought, lies here. He served in the 78th Highland Regiment Regiment also known as the Ross-shire Buffs and I cannot help but think it is a long way from their home barracks in Inverness to Kandy. When he died in 1829 they were in the middle of a 12 year tour in Ceylon. Imagine posting a Regiment for 12 years nowadays. Every stone here tells a story.

The 78th spent most of their existence in the Far East to the extent that their mascot is an elephant which must have been difficult to keep back at base in Inverness!

Speaking of elephants, I am not sure which one of the Four Horsemen would be responsible for such a means of death but that is what happened to poor John Spottiswoode Robertson in 1856. I had not ever considered people being killed by elephants prior to visiting Sri Lanka but it appears to have been quite a common occurrence and this was not the only such memorial I saw.

Disease, specifically cholera, also accounted for 24 year old Lt. Anthony Deane of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment in 1846. Wouldn’t you just know it, the CRR are an interesting bunch as well? They were raised in 1795 from Malay prisoners languishing on the island of St. Helena (where Napolen ended up 20 years later) where they had been sent after being captured fighting for the Dutch in what was then the Dutch East Indies.

Such was the nature of soldiering in those days I suppose. Malays, effectively mercenaries previously in Dutch employ, serving under British officers in the Ceylonese Rifle Regiment which was actually an artillery unit (don’t ask me where the Rifles name originated). To use a phrase I am fond of, “You could not make it up”.

I noticed the small structure you see above and which I am still not sure about as I have never seen anything like it anywhere else. I am guessing it is a tomb of some sort but it is the only one of this design in the cemetery and research has yielded nothing so, as always, any assistance would be most gratefully received.

Bath House.

I walked back down from the hill where the cemetery was as I wanted another look at the lake and, let’s be honest, it is easy on the eye. I saw the building you can see in the image above and had no idea what it was about until I researched it later. I discovered that it was a bath house, built by one of the Kings so that the Queen could bathe privately in the lake away from the prying eyes of the local populace.

I believe it has been renovated since I was there although it was fairly impressive then even if it had fallen a little on hard times and was being used as a police post. The two boats you see are what I suppose would have to be called the Kandy Police Marine Division and the friendly officer on duty was more than happy for me to explore inside.

Again it was time to let the mind wander, which seems to be the natural way of things for mine, and imagine a courtly procession coming down here in centuries past with the Queen, presumably in a sedan chair or similar, ladies-in-waiting, guards and who knows who else? That is one of the things I love about travelling solo, you can just walk, think and imagine without the interruption of conversation, much as I do love to talk!

The Pub.

Time to go back into town now for my last stop of the day – The Pub, and the capitals are entirely intended. I refer to the establishment I mentioned so much earlier in this day’s walk. If you have forgotten or have not read the previous post, it is the drinking establishment above the Bake House where I had enjoyed my morning coffee and delicious patisserie offerings.

There are two bars inside The Pub but my tip is to get a seat out on the verandah as it affords wonderful views along Sri Delada Veediya, one of the busiest roads in Kandy which makes it perfect for people watching, one of my favourite pastimes. The large Kandy Shopping Centre almost opposite means that there is never any shortage of people to watch whilst engaged in that eponymous activity and sipping a nice cold beer or six.

I was lucky to have got a seat as I had arrived just before the evening rush and when that happened it was crowded for the rest of the evening and a bit of internal rather than external observation provided an interesting phenomenon. I have mentioned in various other posts that it is rare to see women in bars in Sri Lanka but this was not the case here. As well as the foreigners there were a number of obviously local couples and mixed sex groups in the bar and I would say there was about a 50 / 50 split between visitors and Kandyans.

I know this is a fairly upmarket establishment as bars go in Sri Lanka and the local couples / groups all seemed to be young, well dressed and affluent so perhaps things are changing. The only other place I saw this was in the Dutch Hospital area of Colombo which is similarly moneyed and fashionable.

I had passed any amount of interesting restaurants on my day’s walk but I was loath to give up my privileged position which I was rather enjoying and so I decided to dine right where I was. From the typically extensive Western / Sri Lankan menu I decided on a taste of home rather than something curried / devilled, much as I love both.

Perhaps inspired by my wonderful experience at Jonee’s in Weligama a few weeks prior I went for fish fingers and chips (fries) and they were, as the image vaguely indicates, utterly gorgeous. I actually wonder if frozen fish fingers are sold in Sri Lanka as every restaurant seems to make such good home-made versions of this supposedly humble foodstuff.

I contented myself with a few more beers, a lot more surveillance of the passing world, or at least the small part of it visible from my vantage point, and I suspect I made a start on one of my newly purchased books. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend an evening although I did not make it one of my more lunatic nights out and grabbed a tuk-tuk back to my hotel at a reasonable hour for a nightcap and a fairly early bed.

Well, that was a bit of a day out, wasn’t it? I had really enjoyed myself and bearing in mind that I had set out with no plan at all and only a rudimentary knowledge of the city, I think I managed to see quite a lot. I hope you have enjoyed reading about it even half as much as I enjoyed walking it and all this in less than five hours. Just think what I could have done if I had got up at a reasonable hour!

Believe it or not, this has only scratched the surface of things to see and do in and around Kandy and the next post concerns a really interesting place to visit, If you want to find out what that might be, you will have to stay tuned and spread the word.

Author: Fergy.

Hello there. I am a child of the 50's, now retired and had been enjoying travelling pre-virus. Now I am effectively under house arrest. Apart from travelling, I love playing music (guitar, vocals and a bit of percussion) as the profile pic suggests and watching sport, my playing days are long over. I read voraciously, both fiction and nonfiction I'll read just about anything although I do have a particular interest in military history of all periods. I live alone in fairly central London where I have been for over 30 years since leaving Northern Ireland which was the place of my birth. I adore cooking and I can and do read recipe books and watch food programmes on TV / online all day given half a chance.

4 thoughts on “Culture in Kandy (2) – SL#40.”

  1. I like the look of The Pub, and it’s good to see an establishment with a bit of a buzz after all the empty ones earlier in this series


    1. There certainly was a buzz, I think this is the “happening” place in Kandy, it was full of young trendies but at least it was full. It needs a bit of seeking out as it is out of town but it’s worth it.

      Interestingly, it was one of the few boozers I went in SL where there were young women present and obviously comfortable. Public drinking in SL seems to be an exclusively male preserve so this place was refreshing, in every sense of the word. Do try and drop in if you are up that way and the driver is not herding you into wherever he gets the best back-hander.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I am flattered but bear in mind that this was seven years ago and things will undoubtedly have changed, especially in light of the current situation.

          I am still in regular touch with Treshi and she tells me things are pretty grim there at present with the tourist trade effectively cut off. Still, take my suggestions by all means and I do hope they will prove to be of use.

          Whilst this is meant to be a travel blog, I just can’t stop myself writing as if I was still doing VT “tips”! I miss that place so much.

          Liked by 1 person

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