Saturday, March 07, 2015

Names in Colombo

The origin of Names in Colombo

The best residential town in Colombo during the Dutch era was 'Grandpass' :  (from Grande Passo). Some old Dutch houses and even a Dispensary are still there?

Other interesting names that still survive from those days:

Main Street: (Roa Direto)

The Dutch remembered one of their governors – Hulft who died during the siege of Colombo, with Hulftsdorp and recalled some of their native place names like Leyden and Delft.

The Dutch named Maliban Street to identify the fashionable promenade in Pettah – Maliban meaning the MMall.

Kayman's Gate refers to 'kayman' – crocodiles that were found in the area where the rivulet entered the sea.

Wolvendaal meant the dale of wolves.

Bloemendahl is a vale of flowers.

Korteboam means short trees.

Beira (mythology), the mother to all the gods and goddesses in the Celtic mythology of Scotland.

There was a time when Kollupitiya was known as Baradeniya. It was a beautiful rustic village with coconut gardens and cinnamon trees that grew wild and narrow cart-tracks which connected the few villas and homes here with the rest of the country.  For the purpose of postal services `Colombo 03’ consists of Kollupitiya. 

How Baradeniya became Kollupitiya - The year was 1664 and the king was Rajasinghe II whose cruel acts embittered his subjects. Three Kandyan chiefs sought to slay the king and place his 12-year-old son on the throne. One of the conspirators was Udanuwara Ambanwela Appuhamy. When the plot failed, the king had two of the rebel leaders beheaded. However, instead of executing Abanwela Appuhamy, the most feared of the rebels, he handed him over to the Dutch to undergo what he thought would be a more brutal torture. Instead, the Dutch set him free.   Ambanwela Appuhamy took the Dutch name of Van Ry-cloff and built up a good relationship with the Dutch who gave him a large plot of land by the sea where he grew a coconut plantation which soon expanded over the ancestral farms of the natives who dared not complain. They could only retaliate by calling the plantation Kolla-ke-pitiya meaning 'Plundered land'. Today, there is still an area in Kollupitiya that is called Polwatte.

The footprints of Galle Face (Colombo 03) begins with Galle face south of Colombo Fort (Colombo 01).  Originally a vast swamp, thePortugueseand Dutch used this piece of land as a strategic defense. It was the British who developed the Green into a leisure ground.  

The 19th century paintings of John Deschamps, show the Galle-Face esplanade with a high road running through the centre of it.  Added later was a promenade by the sea and a driveway bordering the lake where the Dutch Military cemetery was.  Deschamps describes it as forming not only the principal exercising ground of the garrison, but also the general promenade of the inhabitants of Colombo and its vicinity. On foot, on horseback, or in carriages, people flocked to this salubrious setting to inhale the delicious breeze which is almost always to be found by the sea side of this part of the Island. The Galle Face esplanadeor Green was established by Governor Ward in 1859. An inscription reads "in the interest of the ladies and children of Colombo".

Cricketfootball and polo were played on the Green. In 1829, horse racing was established under the auspices of Sir Edward Barnes.  Everyone enjoyed a day at the races: the vendors poured in from early, servants on leave spent their day there, as well as schoolboys who didn’t make it to school, palanquin carriages with shutters down and curtain drawn conveying Mohammedan ladies and of course the European community. A circular race stand was built by subscription. Initially it was a building of brick, coated with a plaster of chunam. Its conical roof was covered with an excellent thatch of kehjan (woven coconut leaves). From here a view of the whole course could be obtained. 

The race-balls were held here, the upper room being cool and airy for dancing; card-tables were placed in the verandahs, whilst the lower portion formed a good supper-room. Subsequently the roof was tiled. By the 1870s it had become a more substantial building and was known as the Colombo Club. This building still stands, even though maybe not in its original modest form, and is now the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj SamudraHotel Colombo.

At one end of the green was the Galle Face Boarding House, forerunner of the present Galle Face Hotel, which was constructed in 1887.

Today the green has lost much in its extent; but after a long period of neglect has recently been restored back to the chief leisure ground of modern Colombo for people of all walks of life.

temple, a church, a school, Kollupitiya Walukarama Buddhist Templeis said to be the oldest temple in Colombo. It was founded in the 1800s by Ven. Panditha Valane Sri Siddhahatta Maha Nayake Thera, who was also the founder member of the Maha Sangha Saba of theSiyam Nikaya of the Kotte Chapter. 

The land for the construction of the temple was donated by a famous indigenous medicine physician of Kollupitiya, Arnolis Silva.

St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk founded in 1842 as a Church of Scotland by Scots living in Ceylon, has today become the International Church in Colombo welcoming into its fellowship people of all nations and denominations of the Christian faith.

Jinaraja Kanista Vidyalaya down Dharmakirthi Ramya Road dates back to 1898. Then named "Jinaraja Buddhist English School" this was the oldest Buddhist English mixed school in Colombo. This school was established for boys and girls of Colombo managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society, Colombo, under the guidance of Col. Henry Steele Olcott.

jeweller, a textile dealer, a baker, a grocer, an optician and a private hospital in Galle Face Court 1 was the first multi storey block of flats in Sri Lanka and the domed addition which followed as Galle Face Court 2 were both buildings that were initiated by the Macan Markar family as residential, business and real estate ventures. The dome housed an observatory. The road here was renamed Sir Macan Markar Mawatha on account of the contribution of the Macan Markar family towards industrybusinesstrading and politics


Ten Places In Colombo And The Origins Of Their Names
5 APRIL 2018

Vinod Moonesinghe –
As Sri Lankan towns go, Colombo is relatively young—a mere five centuries from when the Portuguese established a fort and expelled the Muslim inhabitants. With the exception of Galle and Negombo, it is surely the city with the most colonial influence. The names of its streets and districts reflected its colonial heritage; at least until the authorities changed the names to more indigenous ones. Several of the surviving names have obscure origins. Here are some of them:
Maligakanda And Maligawatta
In May 1587, King Rajasinghe of Sitawaka, having conquered the Kandyan Kingdom, laid siege to the Portuguese fort of Colombo, with 60,000 men, 150 guns, 11,600 muskets and firelocks and 120 war elephants. The siege lasted nine months, but the 350 Portuguese soldiers in Colombo held out.
Under the Portuguese, the city walls encompassed the Pettah, and the Beira was much bigger than it is now. The fort could only be approached from the south and east, and a moat defended the eastern approaches. Rajasinghe ordered a deep ditch to be dug, thereby draining the eastern approaches. He located his headquarters on a hill further back, which came to be known as Maligakanda (palace hill), since he held court there. The fields adjacent became Maligawatte (palace gardens).
In October 1655, a 10,000-strong army belonging to the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-indische Compagnie  or V.O.C.), aided by 16,000 troops of King Rajasinghe II, laid siege to the Portuguese-held fort of Colombo.The Dutch commander, Gerard Pieterszoon Hulft, located his command post on a hill close to, and overlooking, the western rampart of the fort. During the course of the siege, Hulft went down to the front lines and received a bullet in his chest, expiring on the spot. A month later, in May 1656, the last 73 Portuguese troops, the only survivors of a bustling city of many thousands, surrendered. The Dutch hill on which Hulft had his headquarters became “Hulfts Dorp”, or “Hulft’s village”. Today, the name is often mis-spelt, as for example, Hultsdorf.
Gerard Pieterszoon Hulft meets Rajasinghe II on 8 April, 1656. Print attributed to Gonsales Appelmans, courtesy: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
During the Dutch siege of Colombo, John van der Laan, Hulft’s second-in-command, quartered himself in a Portuguese church named for Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Dutch misconstrued (and mis-spelled) the name as “Agoa de Loepo” or “Quia de Lobo”, which they mistranslated as “Vale of Wolves”, Wolven Daal. It gained in importance after the Dutch built a church there, 375 years ago.
Our Lady of Guadelupe is a statue of the Virgin Mary, originally from Guadalupe in Spain, around which a cult formed. Interestingly, the place name actually derived from the Arabic “wadd al lubb”, meaning either “hidden river” or “river of wolves” (Arabic-speaking Muslims occupied much of Spain for seven centuries). “Guadalupe”, pronounced “waa da loope”, provided the Sinhala and Tamil term still used for the area, Aadilippu.


The Anglican Church of St Thomas lies about 500 metres from Wolvendaal Church. The Portuguese reportedly found a Nestorian cross on the site(meaning that Persian Christians may have worshipped there) and therefore built a shrine there to St Thomas (São Tomé). During the siege of Colombo, the Dutch stationed several batteries here. After the Dutch took over, they demolished the shrine. In front of the shrine lay a large open space, which the Sinhalese called San Thome Pitiya, the field of St Thomas. The Dutch turned the field into a cemetery, part of which they turned over to graves of non-believers or “gentiles”, gentio in Portuguese (which was the lingua franca of Colombo until the mid-19th century). Hence, “the Field of St Thomas” became the “Field of Gentiles”, Gentio Pitiya, pronounced Jinthu Pitiya.

Dutch Governor Petrus Vuyst, on landing in Colombo to take office in 1726, said he would rule “with the wisdom of Solomon and the boldness of Vuyst”. He suffered from a paranoid personality disorder, which manifested itself when he arrested several people on false charges, exiling some and executing 19 others by beheading, disemboweling and quartering them. After three years of his reign of terror, the V.O.C. recalled him to Batavia and had him beheaded whilst sitting in a chair (due to his status), disemboweled and quartered.
While still Governor, he fixated upon getting a good view of the Colombo harbour from a hill in Mutwal, called “Buona Vista” on account of the view. In order to get there faster and more comfortably, he had a new road built from the Pettah. Because carts could not get there, paving stones were passed from hand to hand. The new road came to be called Aluth Mawatha, “New Avenue”. Today it bears the repetitive moniker “Aluth Mawatha Road”.

Vystwyke Road
Vuyst’s residence at the Mutwal end of Aluth Mawatha came to be known as Vuyst Wyk (Vuyst’s village), commemorated today in Vystwyke Road. In this area, Vuyst’s bloodthirsty reputation received a further boost. A legend arose that Vuyst and his Malay cook developed a cannibal appetite, and that villagers travelling alone in the night near Vuyst Wyk would disappear. After Vuyst’s removal, a buried pile of bones came to light, or so rumour had it. A century later, residents claimed that Vuyst’s cries could be heard emanating from an abandoned well, as he did penance for his misdeeds in a burning iron chair.
Captain’s Garden
During the Dutch occupation, the Beira Lake extended as far as Hulftsdorp, much of what is now the railway yard between the Maradana and Fort stations being under water, with a peninsula sticking out into the eastern branch of the lake from Suduwella. Subsequent reclamation between this promontory and Lake House created D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha. In the 18th century, in order to regulate the activities of South Indian Chetties involved in the spice trade, the V.O.C. installed a Captain on this promontory. Accordingly, the peninsula came to be known as “Captain’s Garden”.
The Chetties worshipped a Shiva Lingam (sacred stone phallus) on the site, and the Captain, being a devout Christian, cast it into the Beira. The next day, it reappeared miraculously in the garden. Thereafter, the Captain allowed a Hindu temple, the modern Sri Kailasanatha Swami Devasthanam, to be built; the neighbourhood’s main claim to fame.
Bagatale And Alfred House
Charles Edward Layard, a member of the Ceylon Civil Service, purchased a bungalow in Kollupitiya,together with a large cinnamon plantation, stretching from the Galle Road to what is now Thurstan Road. He demolished the bungalow and built a mansion, and called the estate “Bagatelle”, most probably after the French game. The estate later passed into the hands of Arbuthnot and Co, agents for the Government of Ceylon in India. Jeronis de Soyza, a wealthy arrack rentier and planter, bought the house and estate. His son, Charles Henry de Soyza, an ardent monarchist, once entertained Queen Victoria’s son, Alfred Duke of Edinburgh (later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) at the house, and thereafter renamed the mansion “Alfred House”. He also named after Alfred the model farm on the site of the present Royal Colombo Golf Club links. C. H. de Soyza’s heirs split up the estate, with the result that it sprouted a number of roads named after Alfred: Alfred House Gardens, Alfred House Road, Alfred House Avenue, and Alfred Place; also after the Queen: Queen’s Road and Queen’s Avenue; and after C. H. de Soyza himself: Charles Circus, Charles Avenue, Charles Way, Charles Place and Charles Drive. The original name of the estate remains in Bagatelle Road. Unfortunately, the Colombo Municipal Council in its wisdom decided that the correct spelling should be “Bagatale”, presumably meaning “plain of the gods”.
Bagatalle House, courtesy Lankapura
Layard’s Road/Broadway
Charles Edward Layard married Barbara Bridgetina Mooyaart, the daughter of Gualterus Mooyaart, an administrator in the V.O.C., and they had 20 children and over 200 grandchildren (I. G. P. Herbert Dowbiggin was a great-grandchild). One of their sons, Charles Peter Layard, joined the Ceylon Civil Service and went on to be acting Colonial Secretary and also the first Mayor of Colombo. He became a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (K.C.M.G.) in 1876. In 1900, he represented the Governor at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia.Layard’s Road in Bambalapitiya and Layard’s Broadway in Grandpass are named for him. Another, although unofficial, claim to fame is the Wellawatte Canal, built while Layard was Government Agent for the Western Province. Intended to drain flood waters, the level of the canal turned out to be too high, so the required flow did not take place. For this reason, it became known as “Layard’s Folly”.
Pennyquick Road
Pennyquick Road in Wellawatte is probably named for Charles Edward Ducat Pennycuick. Born in India in 1844, he lost his father Brigadier John Pennycuick at the Battle of Chillianwalla in the Punjab in 1849. He joined the Ceylon Civil Service and became Mayor of Colombo in 1893. Subsequently appointed Postmaster General, he finished his career as Treasurer of Ceylon, receiving a K.C.M.G. in retirement.
His elder brother, Colonel John Pennycuick, became quite famous in India. As an engineer in the Public Works Department, he built the Mullaiperiyar dam across the Periyar River in Kerala, and is worshipped as a god by farmers in the districts of the Madurai zone of Tamil Nadu, who irrigate their fields with waters from the reservoir. On the other hand, C. E. D. Pennecuick’s main claim to fame appears to be that, as Mayor, he considered objectionable the killing of stray dogs by drowning them in the Beira, so in 1894 he ordered the construction of a gas chamber for the purpose.

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