- On the trail of a legend -
I had long wanted to experience
country, the place that Sri Lanka’s most infamous bandit made his hideout. Venturing into Utuwankande was like going into Sherwood Forest, the sylvan home of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.
was born on March 25, 1835. His gang of robbers included Hawadiya, Kirihonda, Bawa, Suwanda, Sirimale and Mammalay Marikkar. Together they were a lawless bunch who waylaid carriages and coaches and robbed people of their valuables. Today the way to Utuwankande is along the Edna Corporation road, about 3 km towards Colombo from the Mawanella town. The junction on the main road is aptly named Utuwankande Junction.
To get to the foot of the hill, you have to walk about a kilometre along the road up to the chocolate factory. A footpath behind the factory will take you along typical village scenery through a mixture of rubber, coconut and banana plantations.
A few buffaloes grazing lazily reminded me of a story about
. It is said that at one time when this area was being combed by the police,
had escaped by causing a buffalo stampede and made his getaway by hanging on to the neck of one of the beasts!
Back on the path, I was now making my way up a rubber plantation. The path is made for rubber tapping and trees bleeding rubber acted as guides. The exit from the rubber plantation was sudden and for the first time I could see Utuwankande close up.
It was a magnificent sight. A mass of rocky boulders, clumped together in an awkward fashion, it rose far above the surrounding coconut trees.
The path to the top will take about an hour, but as it was not well marked, the climb was steep and tiring. Full of rock crevices, passes and elevations, it certainly had many places that would have made ambush easy. It was no wonder the bandit king had chosen this rock as his hideout. I knew only a little history but it seemed that of the three well known rocky mountains in this region – Bible Rock, Allagalle and Utuwankande, this was the best for a bandit’s work.
Contrary to popular belief, Saradiel supposedly was not a fearsome-looking, strong man. He was rather small, but such a build would have been ideal for this terrain.
The top was all craggy rocks. At the peak was a rock placed precariously on top of another boulder. It was square on all sides and I was not foolhardy enough to climb up. Nevertheless, there were iron rods bored into the top of the rock. So it must be climbable if you are an expert!
The view was magnificent and you could see for a hundred miles all around. All roads to the rock were visible and all those travelling on them could not hide. One could imagine
plotting the ambush of a caravan from up here. Those days, contractors taking goods to
had to seek armed escorts to escape the marauding band of robbers. Yet even this did not assure safe passage.
Still at the top, there was another danger. Hanging down from a huge stone roof were thousands of wasps. They were going about their business now, but I didn’t want to be around if they were disturbed!
On the way down at a time when I was a bit worried about the vagueness of the trail, I was surprised to spot a rundown barbed wire fence. Although far up the hill I wasn’t sure whether this was private property. Nevertheless, I was relieved to see the path widen out, for I was well aware how a metre off the track at the peak could magnify to several kilometres further down!
The law caught up with Saradiel not up here but in a house at Mawanella. One of his gang was to become a police informant in a classic act of betrayal. At that time, Saradiel was with Mammalay Marikkar. Constable Tuan Shaban of the
Police died while capturing Saradiel on March 21, 1864.
He was the first police officer in our country to die in action, and to this day, every year police heroes are commemorated on this day. Saradiel and Mammalay Marikkar walked to the gallows on May 7, 1864 .
I knew that there was also a cave on the mountainside, but had somehow missed it. A villager, enlightening me said that I would need a torch if I were to explore the cave. So it must be a deep one. However, I was in no mood to go back.
Further down I smelt the sweet scent of chocolate coming through the exhaust fans of the chocolate factory. But chocolate is not appealing to a thirsty traveller, which I had become by now. Besides, the soft drink hoarding on the main road to which I had now come was a most welcome sight. A 400ml bottle of Orange Crush tasted better and disappeared faster than I had ever known. My excursion into Saradiel country was over, but one last legend remains to be retold.
It’s the legend of the “Henaraja thailaya”. Some think that this oil believed to have magical properties was originally a blade “Henaraja Thalaya” or thunderbolt blade. It is said that Saradiel stole this blade from its Malay owner and it was with him when he was captured.
Saradiel was probably a villain, yet he was also a daring man. History loves daring men, and they have a way of becoming legends. And this legend is still remembered well by the people living in what was once his abode.
Who was Saradiel?
A report on Saradiel Appu published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary of Jan.10, 1863 after an escape from prison described him thus:
Birth place: Uttoowankandy. Residence: Uttoowankandy. Trade: Boutique keeper. Caste: Wellala. Religion: Buddhist. Age: 31 years. Height: 5ft 3ins. Hair: Long. Eyes: Hazel. Complexion: Brown. Make [Build]: Well. Read and Write: Both. School: Private school. Family: None. Former convictions: None. Distinguishing marks: Mark of a mole on the right cheek. Escaped: Nov. 29, 1862, from Hulftsdorp Jail.
Sunday Times, February 26, 2006
Created June 26, 2007
June 6, 2010