Sri Lanka Genealogy Website


Federalism & the Kandyans


By Charitha Ratwatte – Colombo


At the time the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya was ceded to the British Crown in 1815, it consisted of, 21 Divisions, of which the 12 principal ones were called Disawani and the rest, Rataval.


The Disawani were (1) The Four Korales, (2) The Seven Korales, (3) Uva, (4) Walapane, (5) Udapalatha, (6) Nuwara Kalaviya, (7)Matale, (8)Sabaragamuwa, (9)The Three Korales (10) Wellassa, (11) Bintenna, (12) Tamankaduwa.


The Rataval were: - (1) Udunuwara, (2) Yatinuwara, (3) Tumpane, (4) Hewaheta, (5) Uda Bulatgama, (6) Kotmale, (7) Harispattu, (8) Dumbara, and (9) Pata Bulatgama.


The colonial administration ruled the island in three distinct parts, three ethnic based administrative structures, Low Country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamil.


In 1829, the British established the Colebrooke-Cameron Commission to review the colonial government of Ceylon, including its administrative structures. The Commission recommended that the existing ethnic based administrations be unified into a single administration, divided into five geographic provinces. On October 1st 1833, five provinces under one administration came into being:-


(1)     Central Province- consisting of the central Kandyan Disawani of Uva (upper part), Walapane, Uda Palatha, Matale, Three Korales, Bintenna, Tamankaduwa and the Rataval of Udunuwara, Yatinuwara, Tumpane, Hewaheta, Uda Bulatgama, Kotmale, Harispattu and  Dumbara

(2)     Eastern Province- composed of the Maritime Districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee and the Kandyan Rataval of Bintenna and Tamankaduwa,

(3)     Northern Province- composed of the Maritime districts of Jaffna, Mannar and Vanni, and the Kandyan Disawani of Nuwara Kalaviya,

(4)     Southern Province- composed of the Maritime Districts of Galle, Hambantota, Matara and Tangalla, and the Kandyan Disawani of Uva ( lower part), and the  Disawani of Sabaragamuwa and Wellassa,

(5)     Western Province- composed of the Maritime Districts of Colombo, Chilaw and Puttalam, and the Kandyan Disawani of Three Korales, Four Korales, Seven Korales and the Rata of Pata Bulatgama.  


The Kanda Uda Rata Rajadhaniya was thus dismembered.

Further dismemberment took place when in 1845 the North Western Province was carved out of the Western Province, the Maritime Districts of Chilaw and Puttalam and the Kandyan Disawani of Seven Korales.


In 1873 the North Central Province was created from the southern Northern Province, the Kandyan Disawani of Nuwara Kalaviya and out of the north western Eastern Province, the Kandyan Rata of Tamankaduwa.


In 1886 The Uva Province was created from parts of the Central Province- the Kandyan Disawani of Uva (upper part) and out of the Southern Province, the Kandyan Disawani of Wellassa.

In 1889 the Sabaragamuwa Province was created by carving out the Kandyan Disawani of Sabaragamuwa from the Southern Province.  


Map from, Robert Knox.


Captain Robert Knox in his book a Historical Relation of Ceylon published in London in 1681, by Richard Chiswell, Printer to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, after escaping from his internment by King Rajasinghe the 2nd of the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya, since 1660, writes extensively about the country he was imprisoned in for 20 years. Captain Knox included a stunningly accurate map of Ceylon in his book which is reproduced here. The Disawani of - Uva (Ouvah), Bintenna (Bintana),  Wellassa (Vellas), Three Korales (Tun Korale), Four Korales (Hottera Korale), Seven Korales (Hot Korale), Nuwara Kalaviya (Noure Calava) Sabaragamuwa (Habaragom), Matale (Mautaly), Udapalatha (Oudapollot), Tamankaduwa (Tammanouad), Walapane (Wallponahoy) and the Rataval of – Udunuwara (Eudanewr), Yatinuwara (Yattanour), Tumpane (Tumpon), Hewheta (Hevoihattay), Harispattu (Horsepot), Dumbara (Domberah),  of the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya are clearly marked, no mean cartographic feat for the time. The Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya is clearly demarcated by dotted lines running East to West.


While administratively the distinct Kandyan identity was disaggregated in this manner, on the aspect of the Kandyan Law there was a similar dilution. The proclamation of the Kandyan Convention of 2nd March, 1815, clause 4, provided that ‘….. Saving ….to all classes of people ……..their civil rights and immunities, according to the laws, institutions, and customs established and in force amongst them.’ In terms of this the Kandyan law applied to all persons living within the Kandyan Provinces. In the case of Mongee v.Siarpaye, in 1820, the Board of Commissioners which adjudicated disputes in the Kandyan Provinces determined that a form of marriage peculiar to Kandyan Law, Binna marriage, applied to the case, although both parties were Muslims. Similarly in Kershaw v. Nicoll the Supreme Court held the Kandyan Law should be applied to all litigation in the Kandyan Provinces. However, this was overruled by the full bench of the Supreme Court in William v. Robertson, in 1886, which held that Kandyan Law was a personal law applicable to Kandyan Sinhalese only.  The outreach of the Kandyan Law to all residents of the former Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya was thereby diluted.


The Waste Lands Ordinance of 1897 declared that in affect all lands for which there was no legal title which could be proved was waste land which vested in the Crown. In the Kandyan Provinces only Buddhist religious institutions and those others who had received Sannasas from the Kandyan King, who owned all lands in the Kingdom, could produce such title documentation. Common village land was held and cultivated in terms of common custom and practice. All such lands were appropriated by the Colonial government and sold for a pittance to British colonial officials, business men, Burghers and Sinhalese from the Maritime Provinces. The opening up of coffee and later tea plantation in the Kandyan hills brought a huge influx of contractors, masons, carpenters, other jobbers to service the demand created. The unique identity of the Kandyan people was thus diluted.


The Moslems living in the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya had also some unique features. Frank Modder in his Principles of Kandyan Law (1914) wrote about the Kandyanized Moors and the fact that they married in terms of Kandyan Law and that Mohammedans perform service as tenant farmers to Buddhist temples.


But in 1852 the Mohammedan Code was extended to Muslims living in the Kandyan Provinces in all matters between themselves.


At one time Federalism was seen as a system of government which would help the Kandyan people and other ethnic groups to preserve their identity, distinct customs and life style, while living in one nation with multiple ethnicities.


S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, speaking in Jaffna, under the auspices of the Students Congress, on the 17th of July 1926, described the countries traditional form of government which existed in the pre colonial says as decentralized and similar to a loose federation. He stated that the British introduced a centralized form of government, which he said was unsuitable for a country like Ceylon. A federal system based on provincial autonomy would be the only solution to the islands political challenges. Prior to this in May and June 1926, Bandaranaike, wrote a series of six articles to the Ceylon Morning Leader articulating his views on a federal system of government.


In 1927 the colonial government appointed a Commission, chaired by Lord Donoughmore, to report on the situation in Ceylon and proposals for the revision of the constitution. The Kandyan National Assembly made submissions before the Donoughmore Commission advocating a federal Ceylon with three provinces, as in the administrative arrangement prior to the Colebrooke-Cameron reforms. The Kandyan Sinhalese viewed themselves as a nation. In a memorandum to the Donoughmore Commission, the Kandyan National Assembly said “Ours is not a communal claim or a claim for the aggrandizement of a few: it is a claim of a nation to live its own life and realize its own destiny…. We suggest the creation of a federal state as in the United States of America… A federal system.. will enable the respective nationals of  the several states to prevent further in roads into their territories and to build up their own nationality.’


The Commissioners responded to what they called the Kandyan Claim in a separate and distinct chapter of their Report. They expressed sympathy for the concerns expressed by the Kandyan Sinhalese but rejected the claim for a federal Ceylon mainly on the basis that the country needed to be united, ethnic and regional identity needed to be transcended and that what was most important at his stage of Ceylon’s constitutional evolution, leading towards independence from Britain, was a philosophy of a united Ceylonese mentality.


In 1938, British colonial civil servant, Leonard Woolf, who had served in Ceylon, in the district administration, in Kandy, Jaffna and Hambantota, and therefore had worked with all communities and in all geographical regions of the country, based on his experience, proposed a Swiss model Cantonal system with  five Cantons, one each for:- the Kandyan provinces,  Low Country Sinhalese, Tamils of the North, Tamils of the East and one for the Tamils of Indian origin.


However none of the proposals to protect the unique and traditional culture and nature of the Kandyan people and other ethnicities  ever saw fruition .

Notwithstanding this dilution of the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya and the resultant alien influences, to this day the Kandyan people have been able, with much difficulty, to maintain a unique identity and in some cases as in marriage, Buddhist and other traditional cultural rituals spread their customs to the Sinhala people living in the former Maritime Provinces.


The difficulties and travails faced by the inhabitants of the Kandyan Provinces, in 1951 led the government of the day to appoint the Kandyan Peasantry Commission to obtain an overall picture of the social and economic life of the Kandyan Peasantry in what can be described as the Kandyan heartland, the Central and Uva Provinces, most affected by the development of the plantation economy, and to ascertain the measures that should be adopted to ameliorate their conditions. The particular matter specifically looked at were: - land holdings, housing, education, communication, medical facilities, employment –both agricultural and non agricultural and benefits under social service schemes. The Commission in its Report published as Sessional Paper XVIII – 1951 laid out a number of detailed proposals, some of which were implemented over time by a permanent Kandyan Peasantry Commission, which in 1968 was converted into a Government Department, now known as the Up Country Peasantry Rehabilitation Department.


Notwithstanding the pious hopes of the Donoughmore Commissioners, the unitary nature of the 1948 Soulbury Constitution, the 1972 Republican Constitution, the 1978 Executive Presidential Constitution, the Provincial Councils  created by 13th Amendment to the Constitution of 1987, this  philosophy of a united Sri Lankan mentality has clearly not yet evolved.


The obvious larger than life evidence of this are the numerous efforts, through Sri Lanka’s political history,  to solve the governance issues arising from a multi ethnic mixture of ethnicities.


 The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi at its first National Convention in April 1951 articulated the desire of the Tamil people for a federal union with the Sinhalese. In 1957 by the Bandaranayke –Chelvanayagam Pact, the Federal Party agreed to accept proposals for establishing Regional Councils as a first step to achieve its political goal of a federal state. The Pact was later unilaterally abrogated.


 Next in 1965 was the Dudley –Chelvanayagam Pact. This was negotiated before the 1965 General Election an entered into soon after the election. Its purpose was to deal with certain problems of the Tamil speaking people and to ensure a stable government after the election. The Pact was abandoned after three years without any progress being made.

In 1970, Parliament acting on a mandate to enact a new constitution received at the general election, functioned separately as a Constituent Assembly to debate and adopts a draft constitution. The Federal Party submitted proposals to the Assembly in the form of a Memorandum and a Model Federal Constitution. The Memorandum proposed five separate units, (1) the Raja Rata, (2) the Kandyan provinces of Uva, Central and Sabaragamuwa, (3) the Southern and Western Provinces, (4) the Northern Province, the Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts, and (5) Ampara. These proposals were rejected in toto by the Constituent Assembly.


 This was followed by the TULF adopting its Vadukkodai Resolution in May 1976, which marked the commencement of the struggle for the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. This Resolution marked the commencement of the struggle for the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. While there have been many demands for Tamil independence before, this Resolution articulates, in the clearest terms for the first time, the demand for an independent state for the Tamil Nation based on their historical habitation of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  The assassination of Alfred Duraiyappah, Mayor of Jaffna by the LTTE in that year, signaled the start of a war which would end only in May 2009.


After 1976 there were several attempts at solving the issue. On was through Decentralization – the District Development Councils Act of 1980, which also failed. Subsequent to the 1983 riots, an Indian diplomat G. Parthasarathy negotiated an arrangement by which this existing District Development Council scheme was to be converted into a Regional Council scheme. There emerged broad agreement on what Parthasarathy negotiated between the GOSL and, TULF and CWC, except on the issue of the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The TULF participated in the All Party Conference in Colombo, on the basis of a document named –“Annexure C’. This provided for Regional Councils, which could combine by a referendum.  However there was no meeting of the minds on this document.


Subsequently, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, there were two meeting between the GOSL, the TUNF and the militant groups at Thimpu, Bhutan in July and August 1985. At Thimpu, the Tamil parties placed four principles before the GOSL- these have now gone down in history as the Thimpu Principles are :-


  1. Recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality.
  2. Recognition of an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity.
  3. Based on the above, recognition of the inalienable right of self determination of the Tamil nation.
  4. Recognition of the right to full citizenship and other fundamental democratic rights of all Tamils, who look upon the island as their country.


These four Thimpu Principles have since been the cardinal principles with regard to a negotiated settlement to satisfy Tamil aspirations.


These principles contain concepts and terms which were ambiguous, vague and had no clear or fixed legal meaning.  They could be interpreted to mean a separate independent state or only substantial autonomy   within an existing nation state.


The government delegation, through its leader, H.W. Jayewardene Q.C. rejected the first three principles on the grounds that they necessarily implied the destruction of a united Sri Lanka.


In 1987 the GOSL took a more aggressive military position and Vadamaratchi in the so called LTTE heartland was captured. The Government of India was alarmed and pressurized the GOSL to stop its military campaign and enter into the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987. This agreement resulted in legislation, the 13th and 16th Amendments to the Constitution and the Provincial Councils Act no.42 of 1987. This step did not settle any issues, and the constitutional conundrum and the on / off war continued. There were sporadic attempts to sort out the problem- a Committee Chaired by Member of Parliament Mangala Moonesinghe (1993), the GOSL’s proposals of 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2000.


After the Parliamentary elections of 2001, and the Cease Fire Agreement, after a conference at Oslo, Norway, there was an Oslo Communiqué of 2002- in which it was said that ‘the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.’  However the complications of Sri Lanka’s domestic politics prevented this agreement being carried forward.


In 2003 the GOSL made a proposal for Provisional Administrative Council, in 2004 the LTTE proposed an Interim Self Governing Authority for the North East.


After the disastrous Tsunami of 2004, the GOSL proposed a Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS). However the Supreme Court, on a petition filed by the JVP MP’s, held that the provisions of the P-TOMS violated the constitution on the aspects of Parliaments control over expenditure.


In 2006 the GOSL summoned an All Party Conference (APC) to design a political settlement to the ethnic conflict.   This APC established an All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The GOSL also appointed a Panel of 17 Experts to assist the APRC. The Experts called for public proposals and over 700 were received. But the Experts were split and in December 2006 released a Majority Report and Minority a Minority Report.


Among the proposals in the Majority Report, an innovative one to establish an Autonomous Zonal Council (AZC) in the Nuwara Eliya District and a ‘non territorial Indian Tamil Cultural Council ‘(ITCC) for the Tamils of Indian origin. However the Minority Report only suggested a Department for the advancement of Tamils of Indian origin.


IN 2007, on January 8th, the chair of the APRC, Dr. Tissa Vitharna, issued a report which he claimed was a synthesis of the Majority and Minority Reports. On Indian Tamil Affairs  he proposed that there should be a Cabinet Minister at the Centre,  a Provincial Minster in the Central, Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces, supported by a non territorial assembly consisting of the MP’s, MPC’s  and some nominated members .


In May 2009 Velupillai Prabhakaran and the top rankers of the LTTE were killed.


On January 26th, 2010 the people of Sri Lanka elected a new President. The people of the Kandyan Provinces voted in large numbers for him.


At this time when our constitutional development is on a threshold of a new era, the Kandyan people are surely entitled to a special arrangement which will help them to nurture, preserve, strengthen and develop their special characteristics, customs, rituals and traditions they have protected over centuries. 


The proposals in the 2007 Tissa Vitharna Report to the APRC, come to mind, where under paragraph 13:- ‘Meeting the Aspirations of the Indian Tamils, under paragraph 13.5:- All members of Parliament and Provincial Councilors from the different Provinces, belonging to the Indian Tamil Community shall be members of the Indian Tamil Cultural Council(ITCC). In addition there shall be five nominated members. All members of the ITCC shall be appointed by the President of Sri Lanka.’   


It is proposed that a similar Council, should be established by the Constitution, called the Kande Uda Rata Sanvidhanaya be created for the Sinhala and Muslim representatives elected to Parliament and the Provincial Councils from the 12 Disawani and 9 Rataval constituting the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya, as at 1815, in addition the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa, the Basnayake Nilames of the Satara Dewales, at Senkadagala Kande Mahanuwara, the Maha Kataragama Devale in Uva and the Saman Devale in Ratnapura, should be ex officio members. The Higher Appointments Commission, proposed by paragraph 6:1 (d) of the Tissa Vitharna Report should appoint five other persons of repute and eminence, three of whom shall be women and three under 30 years of age, on to the Sanvidhanaya, from among voters resident within the limits of the Kande Uda Rata Rajadhaniya as at 1815, to whom the Kandyan Law applies, as defined in s.11 of the Kandyan Scholarship Fund Act no. 25 of 1971.