The Bandaranaikes from the House of Nilaperumal
by James T.Rutnam
Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
The powerful Bandaranaike clan of Sri Lanka has a noticeable presence in the internet. There is even a website http://www.lk/swrd/ presenting the palatable details on the Bandaranaikes. But unpalatable facts about the Bandaranaike clan seems to be hidden from the internet audience. As such, I wish to present to the readers a gem of a genealogical research paper authored by one of my beloved mentors James Thevathasan Rutnam (1905-1988) on the origins of Bandaranaike clan in the colonial Ceylon. James Rutnam’s paper originally appeared in the Colombo Tribune weekly of July 19, 1957 – forty five years ago. When James Rutnam’s paper appeared in print, padre Bandaranaike (1899-1959) was the prime minister of Ceylon. The above mentioned website has not included James Rutnam’s paper in its Bibliography section for obvious reasons.
I wonder whether the Tamil name Nilaperumal from Tamil Nadu rings any bell in the ears of the two leading members of the current Bandaranaike generation, Chandrika and Anura. For their benefit, I present the complete article of James Rutnam. Please note that the reference to ‘Prime Minister’ in the article is to S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the father of Chandrika. Rutnam’s subtle pricks on the vainglorious Mudaliyar forefathers of Chandrika and Anura Bandaranaike, who licked the boots of colonial White masters for crumbs of medals and lands - as well as their treachery against the Kandyan kingdom - deserve to pass into the electronic database. Now, to James Rutnam’s description.
The House of Nilaperumal
“Our prime minister’s direct male ancestor, of whose connection some members of this family used to take pride in (see e.g. Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon, edited by Arnold Wright, 1907, p.525) was Nilaperumal, a Tamil from South India who arrived in Ceylon in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. He was described as a ‘High Priest’ of a temple in Ceylon. He was the first Kapurala in his family of the Nawagomuwe Dewale, with the fortunes of which the Bandaranaikes were long associated. Kakapuge was a name which the family used to affect in the past. It is the Sinhalese version of Nilaperumalage, the ge name of the Bandaranayakes.
Don Francisco (Franciscus?) Dias Wijetunga Bandaranayake, Mualiyar of the Hewagam Korale, who was born about 1720, was a direct descendant of the male line of Nilaperumal. He was one of those who supplanted the ‘original Mudaliyars’, when the latter ‘fled to Kandy’ in 1760 to join the Sinhalese in the struggle between the Dutch and the Kandyan kingdom. The reward for this defection was the office of Mudaliyar of the Four Pattus.
Francisco first married Dona Maria Perera. They had six sons and four daughters. Their fourth son was Coenrad Pieter Dias Bandaranayake Snr., a Maha Mudaliyar, who was the grandfather of another Maha Mudaliyar of the same name (except for Pieter being spelled Peter), who served under the British. Francisco’s fifth son was Daniel Bandaranayake, Mohandiram of Siyane Korale. He was the father of Don Solomon Dias Bandaranayake, Mudaliyar of Siyane Korale.
Don Solomon married a granddaughter of Susanna Scharff, who died on the 15th June 1781 and was buried in the Dutch (formerly Portuguese) church in the Fort at the site of the present Gordon Gardens, but whose tombstone now lies in the Wolvendhal Dutch Reformed Church, Colombo. The Coat of Arms of the Scharff family is engraved on this tombstone, the distinguishing mark of which is a ‘right arm holding a sabre’. This is part of the heraldic arms of the Bandaranayakes. Susanna Scharff was a daughter of Lieutenant Jan Christoffel Scharff, who served under the Dutch East India Company. The names of the Scharff family are given in the Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union, volume 8, page 6. J.C.Scharff hailed from Sangerhausen, Upper Saxony, Thuringia, in Germany. He married at Colombo on the 21st March 1731 a lady by the name of Elizabeth de Saram. Susanne was baptized at Colombo on the 8th December 1748, and married in Colombo on 4th November 1759, the Rev.Henricus Philipsz (1733-1790), a Sinhalese Christian Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Ceylon. An account of this Minister appears in Dr.Bruyn’s History of the Reformed Church in the Dutch East Indies, written in Dutch. He died on the 19th May 1790. His tombstone now lies in the Wolvendhal Dutch Reformed Church, but not by the side of hiw wife Susanna Scharff’s tombstone, by which evidently it was originally erected at the Church in the Fort of Colombo.
The Reverend H.Philipsz, who had his education in Holland, was a learned and outstanding Christian scholar. He was a son of a Maha Mudaliyar under the Dutch, and a grandson of a schoolmaster of Cotta by the name of D.Philippe. Rev.Philpsz’s brother Abraham Philipsz too was a Maha Mudaliyar under the Dutch. (It was Abraham’s son Johannes Gottfried Philipsz, one of Chief Justice Sir Alexander Johnston’s protégés and interpreters, who was appointed the first Sinhalese Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon in 1834.) He died on the 4th July 1830.
It is interesting to note that Philipsz’s colleague, A.Coomarasamy, a Tamil interpreter under the British who became the first Tamil member of the same Legislative Council, was a son of Arumugapillai, an immigrant from South India who came to Garudavil in the Jaffna Peninsula. A.Coomarasamy was the father of Sir Muttu Coomarasamy and Sellatchi, the mother of the Ponnambalam brothers, Coomarasamy Ramanathan and Arunachalam.
I have with me a long and somewhat obsequious letter written by Johannes Gottfried Philipsz to Sir Alexander Johnston whom he addresses as ‘My Lord and Protector’. I discovered this letter among the collection of the Johnston Papers which I obtained in England in 1954.
It has been said that Governor Maitland ‘feared’ the Mudaliyars. But the word ‘fear’ in this context, apparently has been used in a special sense and does not connote fear as we ordinarily understand it. For the evidence of contemporary records shows that there was no class of people in Ceylon so addicted to fawning, flattering and sycophantising in its relationship with its masters as that of the Mudaliyars. It must of course be borne in mind that the times in which they lived were different to ours. There was no middle class. There were the exploiters and the exploited, the foreign masters and their native subjects, the rulers and the oppressed. Into this pattern of political and economic society entered the Mudaliyar, using all the craft and cunning, the art and artifice of the adventurer and social climber, with his stock-in-trade of jealousy-ridden hypocritical flattery and sneaky ways. Little wonder then that we find most of the Mudaliyars were ‘professing Christians’ because no one was qualified to hold office unless he was a Christian. And little wonder too if the authorities saw through this hypocrisy, and ‘feared’ the machinations of the enemy within their gates.
In this connection Hugh Cleghorn’s ‘Minute’ or ‘Memorandum on the Administration of Justice and Revenue in the Island of Ceylon under the Dutch Government’ (1799) at a critical period of our history, at the very time when Dutch rule had ended and British rule began, is worthy of note. Cleghorn observed:
‘If the poverty and indolence of the natives of this country were to be traced to their true cause, these would be found to originate in the insecurity of their little property which is at the mercy of the Moodeliar. That few or no appeals have been made against his decisions is to me a stronger proof of the dread of his oppression, than of respect for his justice.’
Governor North too has left for posterity his observations on the Mudaliyars, in his letter to the Marquis Wellesley dated 27th October 1798, the original of which is among the Wellesley Manuscripts in the Additional Manuscripts of the British Museum in London. Governor North states:
‘The Maha Moodliar is always resident near the person of the Governor. He never sits down in my presence, nor appears before me in shoes, but is in fact the Grand Vizier of Ceylon. Every order I give him is immediately executed, and whatever takes place on the island is communicated by him to me. The only pecuniary rewards which he and the inferior Moodliars look to from the Government are small accomodessans. Their great object is to gain marks of distinction, such as sabres, gold chains, medals etc., of which they are highly vain and by which the Dutch governors well knew how to secure their attachment.’ (Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, volume 3, 1953, p.143n: 20)
The above is a faithful contemporary description of things as they were. Although these medal-collecting Mudaliyars went without shoes and bowed times without number before their Governors, the Mudaliyars too, in their own turn, exacted without any compunction or human consideration whatsoever a cringing servility from the inarticulate masses of the people between whom and the rulers they placed themselves as permanent barriers. Indeed they would seem to have donned jackboots when they went out and trampled on the rights of the dumb masses.
The people were forced to approach these recently exalted brown slave-drivers, using the most self-degrading and abject terms of address. A relic of this barbarism could still be detected in certain households, happily fast disappearing, the members of which deluded themselves into believing that they had sprung from a high-born, low-country Sinhalese aristocracy which we now know was neither high born, nor Sinhalese. Some of these misguided souls still insist on being addressed as hamu by their servants. Handsomely well are these servants paid for this performance. Unfortunately, the nouveaux riches and members of the other rival social groups and castes (which the earlier hamus despised) too appear to have entered into this competitive trade of self-laudatory hamu-making, with disastrous results to all contestants. Hence the slow disappearance of the hamu in the present social set-up.
As in other feudal societies the Ceylonese masses of the time had no rights. Generally, they were led, like dumb-driven cattle. When the Madras dubashes made themselves obnoxious during the brief period when the East Indian Company administered Ceylon from Madras, the displaced loyal Mudaliyars seized the opportunity to whip up a feeling among the people that after all the known devil was better than the unknown.
There were, however, Mudaliyars and Mudaliyars. The Philipszes had a tradition of learning inherited from their humble, nonetheless much esteemed, pedagogic origins, and a consequential understanding of true human values. They were also fortified by genuinely religious Christian convictions, unlike most of their fellows who were bogus Christians who sold their consciences for messes of pottage. With these qualities ingrained in their character, the Philipszes contributed not a little to raise the tone of the small coterie of courtiers that danced attendance, albeit barefooted, round the gubernatorial throne. In this tradition of public service, which was born apparently of the best in East and West and which distinguished the Philipszes that has enriched the blood and lent luster to the lineage of our Prime Minister.
The Rev.Henricus Philpsz and Susanna Scharff were the parents of some eight children, the eldest of whom was also a Christian Minister by the name of Rev.Gerardus Philipsz. There is reference to him in Cordiner’s Ceylon, volume 1, page 88. He married Johanna Adriana, the eleventh child of Petrus Van Dort, son of Cornelius Van Dort and his wife Johanna Paulusz. Johanna Adriana Van Dort’s brother, Leonhard Van Dort was the father of Johannes Van Dort, whose son was the well known artist J.L.K.Dort. Some of the sketches done by J.L.K.Van Dort were recently published by Lady Hildas Pieries, wife of Sir Paul Pieris. The sixth child of Susanna Scharff and the Rev.Henricus Philipsz, Johanna Elizabeth Philpsz, was born in 1772 and married on the 15th September 1799, Diederich Wilhelm Spittel, the father of Gerardus Adrian Spittel, whose son Frederick George Spittel was the father of our well-known surgeon and author Richard Lionel Spittel. Diederich Wilhelm Spittel’s father John Lourens Spittel also came like the Scharffs from Germany, from Weimar in Saxony.
Another daughter of Susanna Scharff, her third child, by the name of Cornelia Henrica (Henrietta?) married firstly at Colombo on the 27th July 1789, Adolph Martin Heyman, an Ensign in the Dutch Service, a native of Leuwenstein. A silver tobacco box belonging to this lady, with the name ‘Heyman’ inscribed on it was in the possession of Sir Paul E.Pieris. This lady lost her husband sometime afterwards and married secondly Christoffel de Saram, Fourth Maha Mudaliyar, the holder of a new office then created by the British to exalt their interpreter who worked in the office of the Commissioner of Revenue. A son of this union was Johannes Henricus de Saram, who at the age of fourteen was taken by Governor Maitland to England in 1811, to study for the Christian ministry. He was described in a letter by his companion Balthazar de Saram, a member of a different family of Saram, as one attuned by family upbringing to western ways and habits, ‘having been from his infancy reared up in his own family whose only deviation from the manners, language and costume of the Dutch was his father’s native dress’. I have seen his correspondence in the original at the Public Record Office in London. Cornelia Henrica (Henrietta) de Saram, nee Philipsz, who died on the 9th April 1824, is also commemorated by a tombstone at the Dutch Reformed Church at Wolvendhal.
Before he left England, the young Christian Minister, the Rev.Johannes Henricus de Saram, married a European lady by the name of Frances Treherne. The marriage was solemnized in London in the Church of the parish of St.Martin-in-the-Fields on the 9th June 1820. It was this young man’s sister Cornelia, a grand-daughter of Susanna Scharff, who married Don Solomon Dias Bandaranayake, Mudaliyar of Siyane Korale.
Don Solomon’s branch of the family of Bandaranayake from now onwards appear to spell its name as Bandaranaike. Don Solomon lived to a ripe old age. It should be recorded here that he was a great servant of the British Crown. It was this Solomon Dias Bandaranaike who received a government grant of one hundred and eighty acres of land. He was also the recipient of a medal from Governor Brownrigg with the citation ‘as a reward for eminent service during the Kandian Rebellion A.D. 1818’. A patriot of perfidious Albion, forsooth. Don Solomon’s photograph appeared in volume 2 of Tennent’s Ceylon. He died on 15th September 1859.
Don Solomon’s daughter Susan Elizabeth, a direct descendant of Nilaperumal and Scharff, was married to John Martinus Pieris. Of this union was born the well-known historian and author of several books on Sinhalese families, Sir Paul E.Pieris. Sir Paul’s grandfather Johan Louis Pieris was the mace-bearer at the Supreme Court, when it was presided over by the Great Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Johnston. Johan Louis Pieris was the son of Wilhelmus Pieris, who died on the 24th August 1816. Wilhelmus Pieris’s father was Louis Pieris, a proponent in the Dutch Reformed Church. Louis Pieris had a brother Dernigellege Pauloe Pieris Samarasinghe. Louis Pieris’s father Manuel (?) hailed from Attidiya near Colombo. He was a member of the lascarins (Sinhalese foot-soldiers) under the Dutch, and was the recipient of several parveni lands as a reward for his services. He (Manuel?) had a brother by the name of Dernigellege Joan (John) Fernando, whose grandson Abraham Pieris was also a proponent in the Dutch Reformed Church (see Dutch Hoofd Thombo under village Attidiya of the Pallepattu of the Salpitty Korale, vol.8 fol.177-178, and the Land Thombo, vol.3, fol.198; see also Ambalangoda School Thombo File 7291 p.1a, quoted by E.Reimers in his Dutch Parish Registers of Ceylon, Colombo, 1950).
Don Solomon’s son, Don Christoffel Henricus Dias Bandaranaike, who was born in 1826, succeeded his father. He married a kinswoman, Anna Florentina Philipsz, daughter of Phillipsz Gysbertus Panditaratne, and grand-daughter of Johannes Gottfried Phillipsz, whose family had by then adopted for general use the cognomen Panditaratne. To this couple was begotten an only son who later became famous in the service of successive British governors. He has recorded an account of his intimate associations with Kings, Princes, Dukes and Governors and men and women distinguished in various orders of Chivalry, in his autobiography, Remembered Yesterdays. But unfortunately, his book does not make us any the wiser to his own family story. With remarkable extravagance of language he styled himself Sir Don Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St.Michael and St.George.
To this Christian Knight of St.George, a scion of the House of Nilaperumal and a cadet of the families of Phillipsz and Scharff, was born Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, our present Prime Minister, who has determined for himself a new course in Ceylon history, having divested himself of the habits and habiliments and religion of his own immediate forebears. Well may it be said that he has the blood of all the major communities of this island. Well may we hope for a new Sri Lanka which would breed a race of true Ceylonese – of which he would be our unchallenged leader. Well had the sage Rabindranath Tagore declared in his profound wisdom, ‘Unity lies in the current of blood and not in the torrent of words’.”
Post-script by Sachi Sri Kantha
One of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike’s nieces and academic Yasmine Gooneratne nee Bandaranaike wrote a readable book, Relative Merits: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka (C.Hurst & Co, London, 1986). I quote the following two paragraphs from its foreword, entitled, ‘Ancestors’.
“…an Indian officer ‘of high standing’ who, serving under the Kings of Kandy and bearing the name Neela Perumal, was made high priest of the Temple of the God Saman, and commanded to take the name of Nayaka Pandaram (Chief Record Keeper) in 1454. If this tradition has truth in, we may surmise that the Indian name of Nayaka Pandaram came in time to adopt the form of Pandara Nayaka. By the time it had turned into the Sinhalese Bandaranaike, the Hinduism of its bearers had been replaced by Buddhism; just as we know, from written genealogical records dating back to the early seventeenth century, that Buddhism was itself replaced in the family by Christianity in its Catholic and later in its Protestant forms. However, the occupations of scribe seems to have descended in the family down the centuries, together with a tradition of service to the Court.
The pandaram of India are a Brahman sub-caste of genealogists and keepers of Court and family records, and the retinues of Indian princesses who came to the island in early times, to be married to a King or Prince in Kandy, must have included many such among the ‘nobles as well as commoners duly absorbed in the vast statecraft of the Kingdom and in the hierarchy of the Court and palace personnel’. From very early times Mantai, or Mantota, had been the port of entrance to arrivals in Sri Lanka from South India…” (pages 3-4)
Yasmine Gooneratne had cited the original research of James Rutnam in her bibliography. But unlike Rutnam, she has presented a soothing positive spin on the mind set of her ancestor Mudaliyars who served the colonial Dutch and British masters by converting to Christianity to grab lands from the Sinhalese commoners. I also find her job description of her ancestral Sinhalese Mudaliyar class in the 17th to 19th centuries as far from accurate. In one ornamental paragraph of the same foreword on her ancestors, Yasmine Gooneratne has written:
“The title of Mudaliyar seems to have distinguished leaders of groups of fighting men from a particular district who shared common bonds of caste. Such leaders, by virtue of their place in the social structure of their time and country, were necessarily influential in their ancestral villages. They were able soldiers and resourceful diplomats, accustomed to be first among equals, and would probably have had a long and well-known tradition of family loyalty to their sovereign. The military duties traditionally carried out by them were continued during the intermittent warfare that marked the period of Portuguese rule in the island. At the close of that period, the role of the Mudaliyars was still military in character, but the confidence of their superior officers and the experience they had gained in participating in the administration of what had been, in fact, a military regime, together with their new interests as landlords and cultivators of large tracts of property, are all factors likely to have made them ready for administrative responsibility.” (page 6)
One should note that Yasmine Gooneratne has not identified the caste name in the first sentence of the above paragraph. Politically correct indeed. Paying obeisance to one’s ancestors is a time-honored practice among the Orientals. But, exaggerating and embellishing the roles played by one’s ancestors is hardly acceptable in academic research. The Sinhalese Mudaliyar class was no “able soldiers and resourceful diplomats”. Rather, they were cowardly weather-vanes, political turn-coats and servile fart-catchers to the colonial masters of Ceylon. It is also a puzzle for me, how come the descendants of Nilaperumal, a pandaram Brahman sub-caste, demoted themselves to ‘fighting men’ of military caste (?) in a few centuries.
If I’m not wrong, Yasmine Gooneratne is a specialist in English literature and not in Tamil literature. In the glossary she has provided at the end of her book, she has described the term ‘Mudaliyar, Modeliar’ as a Sinhalese word referring to Sinhalese official of high rank. The origin of the now commonly used Sinhalese terms Mudaliyar and Mudalaali lies in the Tamil root word, Mudal, which means capital in terms of ‘property wealth’ and not ‘the seat of government’. Thus, the word Mudaliyar refers to a person endowed with capital wealth, and Mudalaali (Mudal = capital; Aali = ruler) refers to a person who rules the capital wealth. ‘Number One’ person is another variant of the Tamil root Mudal. Thus, it could have meant ‘Number One’ fart catcher of the ‘sovereign’, and not reflected any of the military merits attributed to the Mudaliyar class by Yasmine Gooneratne.
18 July 2002