CASTE CONFLICTS AND DISCOURSES DURING THE KANDYAN KINGDOM-Gananath Obeyesekere

“We know that loyalty of the Väddas to the king continued until the 1817-1818 rebellion against the British under their chief Kivulegedera Mohottala of Valapane. Eventually this resulted in the decimation of the Vädda communities by the British forces when they reestablished their control. The sad relics of this past is reflected in the loss of population and the general malaise of the Väddas driven to seek refuge in forests and caves and recorded by later ethnographers, unfortunately as being their normal condition. We are indebted to Paul E Pieris for a detailed discussion of the Vädda role in the rebellion, but little or no reference to their decimation during the British conquest of the Kandyan provinces is available in orthodox histories written by later colonial writers such as the Seligmanns in 1911 as well as Sri Lankan scholars………………A servant caste of the Malvatta monastery known as Malvatte Duraya (“servant belonging to the monastery”) was found skinning a buffalo and placing it near in his bellows (for later practical use). This apparently was a heinous act and was seen by a henaya or washerman who while returning from the palace during that night after cleansing that place informed the king about it. The king appraised of the details interrogated Malvatte Duraya in detail and then gave the following order: “For the offence of keeping the buffalo skin on the bellows and for skinning the buffalo body they (his extended family) were ordered to bury cattle henceforth” and they are to be degraded and known as “geri padda,” geri mas or beef being utterly reprehensible, and padda being a contemptuous term for that particular caste that would normally be addressed and referred to in more respectable terms. There is implicit knowledge underlying the reference here because it is the lowest of the low, the roḍiya or canḍāla who generally had to bury dead animals and this family is in effect de-casted in the most drastic fashion by being identified as someone akin to a canḍāla or actually de-casted as canḍāla.”

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