If you happened to travel to Digana in Kandy via Pallekelle, you would come across a small town known as Kengalla and at the bus halt on your left, you will not miss a small building without doors.
It is an ambalama built in 1907, exactly 100 years ago by a Tamil planter from Tanjur, Tamil Nadu and member of Nayak dynasty who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom from 1739 to 1815. This 100-year-old ambalama has an interesting story combined with historical facts.
This ambalama distinguish itself from others in Kandy because it is built with a stone floor and stone pillars and is roofed with country tiles. It consists of two rooms probably one for men and another for female travellers.
Maheswaran M.A. senior assistant librarian of the University of Peradeniya says that these rooms may have been built on a caste basis, one for higher and another for lower.
Vythilingam Pillai, who came from Tanjur, Tamil Nadu, via Gampola to Pallekelle to reside, built this ambalama and also constructed a similar ambalama at Anjukade (five shops), Theldeniya. This ambalama and the Anjukade area went under water when the Victoria dam was built across the Mahaweli.
The Tanjur connection with the Kandyan kingdom begins in 1604 with the Tamil speaking Nayak soldiers and the traders slowly moving into Kandy and beginning to settle in the Dumbara valley.
When King Narendrasingha who accented to throne in 1707, handed over the throne to his Nayak queen’s brother Vijayarajasinghe and it was the time the Kingdom finally fell on the hands of Nayak dynasty.
During this period Dumbara valley was an arable land where rice was produced and the Chetty traders form Tanjur built up a farming industry using the grass land of Pallekelle, Kengalle, Theldeniya and the farming activities went up to Hanguranketa. Maheswaran points out that the original name of Kengalla was known as Gongalla where cattle were reared and the Milk business was flourishing.
The Chetty traders who owned shops and go-downs at Chetty street later known as Trincomalee street in Kandy had their residences back at Pallekelle and the Kengalla areas which would have been more suited for farming and quiet family life, he further said.
“When the last King of Kandy was expelled from the throne, the King, his family members and the Nayak relatives were deported to Vellore, South India.
The Chettiars and the milk traders were allowed to go on with their life because the British needed flesh and milk as their stable food. During this period, around 1840, Vythilingam Pillai emerges from Tanjur and settles in Kengalla where his grandfather reared cattle.
It was the time where coffee was introduced and began to earn money for the British which also called for more South Indian labourers into the Island and they were moving in to Kandy hills in thousands on feet or by carts.
When disease began to spread to the coffee industry, these Chettiars got involved in multi crop cultivation. Then came the tea industry which once again called for thousands of Indian labourers. These labourers brought to Kandy under Kangany system, were distributed among the tea estates in
and around Kandy. Around this period (1907) Vythilingam who owned acres of mixed crop land in and around Kengalla built two ambalamas one in Kengalla and other in Theldeniya.” Maheswaran explains.
As Pallekelle and Kengalla area were filled with multi crops and grass land with plenty of water, and also was a main route to many tea estates, it was natural for the road going across Kengalla to be busy with labourers, traders and passing passengers, this man Vythilingam Pillai who had a royal connection, may have decided on building an ambalama at Kengalla where carters and passengers and the bulls could take an overnight rest.
If you travel further up the pansala road beginning at the ambalama which lead up to Manikinna, you would be able to witness large old houses built on acres of land with mixed crops still belonging to descendents of Vythilingam and Chettiars.
“If you happen to buy a plot of land in this area you would notice the title deed of the land reveals that it was originally owned by some chettiars or Pillais, traders or farmers of that Nayak period” elaborates Maheswaran.
“Before submerging of the Theldeniya ambalama under Mahaweli, the pillars of ambalamawere removed and relocated at Balagolla Kali temple where they can be seen today,” Rewathi, a descendent of Vythilingama explained.
This ambalama at Kengalla which has a colourful history is totallyneglected today. It has become an ideal residence for stray dogs and cattle. Vythilingam Pillai’s portrait still hangs from descendant’s pooja rooms but these families show even less willingness to keep the ambalama clean and safe.
by Arul Sathya
Created June 24, 2007