Although it has lost some of its original grandeur with the passage of time, Maduwanwela Walawwa still stands proudly with many a unique feature, reminding one of a history that runs back to more than 300 years.
This ancient Walawwa, located about 25km from Embilipitiya, was originally built in the 1700s by Maduwanwela Maha Mohottala during the Dutch period. In 1725 under the regime of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, it was laid with country tiles or Sinhala Ulu.
The last owner of the mansion, James William Maduwanwela, completed work on the house in 1905 adding 121 rooms, 21 inner compounds or meda midulas, three security walls, a complete court house and a bo stupa. This grand mansion was converted to a museum in 1974 under the supervision of the Archaeological Department.
Villages say that a ‘huge white stag’ was caught by an ancestor of the Maduwanwela Disawe while he was hunting and gifted to king Sri Wickrama Rajasingha. Later the king had given him 28,000 acres of land as a reward and it is on this land that the Walawwa stands today.
One of the unique features of the Walawwa is the permanent pirith mandapaya. The rich latticework and the imaginative floor designs done with small pieces of floor tiles proves that the mansion is a beautiful blend of western and local architecture.
The present caretaker of the Walawwa appointed by the Archaeological Department, says that the tiles were broken into pieces due to the difficulty in making designs with complete tiles.
The vacant sockets in the floor, in which gold coins and precious gems were once embedded, leaves an unanswered question in every visitor’s mind.
Villagers say that the Walawwa was also called the burutha maligawa or the ‘satinwood castle’ because it consisted of many woodcarvings made of satinwood.
The visitor’s conference room was reserved for meetings with the Dutch officials. It is called the seetha kamaraya or the cool room. The special significance of the room is that it has a totally different climate from the rest of the mansion. “The room has a cool atmosphere throughout the day, even during the dry season,’ a villager said. However, this could be possibly due to the width of the walls being more than 45cm and a layer of graffiti plated on them.
The upper floor comprises of four rooms used as visitors’ rest rooms. The wooden staircase, doorways and windows add a touch of class to the house. Wood carvings are made of tamarind, jack and satinwood.
A dance called the diggehii natuma was performed for the Maduwanwela Disawe by a special dance troupe.
The ‘machine room’ was the room where hand-woven garments were made specially for the punchi kumarihami, the only daughter of Maduwanwela Disawe. Due to lack of protection, only a part of the roof of this room remains today.
Members of the house were not allowed to comb their hair in any part of the Walawwa. Therefore, a separate section of the house was reserved for combing hair. Similarly there is a separate room for women who were not allowed to stay in the usual room during their menstruation period.
A wooden doorframe brought from the Dutch Fort in Katuwana, which has a unique style of woodcarving, still remains in the Walawwa. The jack wood doorframe consists of pasaru katayam or ‘embossed’ woodcarvings.
Another significant feature in this grand mansion is that all the doorframes of the house are low and not higher than five feet.
“Maduwanwela Disawe was a small-made person so he wanted to make the door frames fit his size,” said a villager. It is said most of the foreign officials who frequently visited the Disawe for official work, had to enter the house by bending, which they did not enjoy very much.
The three dimensional picture of the Black Prince of Sabaragamuwa still stands in the Walawwa with a huge wooden frame made out of tamarind and kulumediri wood. It adds grandeur to the Disawe who indeed lived the life of a prince.
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