Chapter 16 - 1869 - The Beginning of the Coffee Blight

Richard and Mary’s youngest son Richard William was born on 1st September 1869.
In 1869, there first appeared in a remote part of the country an enemy of the coffee plant, which was destined to sap the prosperity of the local planting enterprise.

Orange coloured spots first appeared in the coffee leaves on an estate in Madulsima. This was the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, which finally destroyed the great coffee industry. In a short time it had spread to practically every coffee district in the island. Although the disease waxed and waned in subsequent years, the coffee tree was doomed.

Exports of plantation coffee reached their peak in 1870 at 885,728 cwts, when total exports including small-holders coffee, were 1,054,030 cwts.

Lt-Col Henry.C.Bryde founded one of the first Agency Houses in Kandy and his company, H.C.Bryde & Son owned a large number of coffee estates in the older districts. The coffee blight had caused the cost of cultivation to increase to a level that the margin for profit was greatly reduced. The failure of the crops on estates belonging to H.C.Bryde & Son resulted in them being purchased by Price Boustead & Co who were connected with the firm J.M.Robertson

On 15 April 1870 Mary Rowlands died and the baby Richard William Rowlands died in September 1870. Richard was heart broken, with two children to raise.
Mary Rowlands (nee Bracken)

It was noted by Capper that the monotony of the job once the exciting phase of clearing the jungle was over and the fact that coffee harvest lasted only two or three months of the year gave planters plenty of time to indulge in other recreational activities, including the consumption of vast quantities of alcohol.

Richard to a large extent had resisted the temptation to drink.

The coffee blight together with the death of his wife was too much to bear and he took to drink to overcome his grief.

The Europeans Only - Kraal Club

Mary’s parents had returned to England and he was now a sole parent with no immediate family support. During this period, the families of his employer Mrs Cavendish, Mr William Sabondiere, Lt-Col Henry McBryde and his good friend Charles Henry de Soysa helped with counselling him and providing assistance to bring up the children.

Richard soon realized that all was not lost and his friends would stand by him. He soon re-habilitated himself. With the permission of Mrs Cavendish, Mr William Sabondiere transferred Richard and the children from the estate bungalow to a house in Kandy where they could hire servants to look after the children, a cook to prepare their meals and a gardener to look after the garden. Richard then started training to become a trader in the trading division of Lt-Col Bryde’s business, H.C.Bryde & Company.

Kandy Street Scene in the 1850’s (Picture)

The change in employment could not have come at a better time for Richard and his family. He used his experience on a coffee plantation to help value coffee growing properties that were being sold and learnt about the various methods of financing of crops and the process of arranging the sale of coffee to importers in Britain and Europe. His family circumstance meant that he could only visit Estates in the Kandy district.

During his stay in Kandy Richard and his family would have had the opportunity of witnessing the Kandy Esala Perahera.

In April 1815, after signing of the Kandyan Convention the Tooth Relic was brought to Kandy in pomp and glory and the British Resident in Kandy, John D’Oyly once again commenced the procession carrying the Tooth Relic.

On 3rd May 1815, Governor Brownrigg held a procession in Kandy which excelled the processions of the Kandyan Monarchs. In this long procession the place of the King was taken by the deposed Chief Adigar Ehelepola who rode on horseback in the procession.

The British knew that the possession of the Tooth Relic had the authority to govern the country.

The Tooth relic is held to be the palladium of regal authority.
After the capture of Kandy the Tooth Relic was in the custody of the British, until 1828 when the Tooth Relic was transferred to the kandyan Chiefs.

The Kandy Perahera in its present form is the Dalada Perahera followed by four processions devoted to the four Gods Natha, Pattini, Kataragama and Vishnu carrying their insignia had its origin in 1775 under the reign of King Kirthisri Rajasinghe. The Perahera he inaugurated in his reign was confined at first to the four Hindu Dewales, because then Hindu practices and rituals had crept into Theravada Buddhism owing to the influence of Mahayanism as well as that of the King’s consorts who were Hindu Princesses from South India. During this time a body of Siamese priests who came to Ceylon for the restoration of the Upasampadha ordination were surprised to find a purely Hindu ceremony in the Capital of a pre-eminent Buddhist country.

To remove their scruples the King ordered a procession with the Sacred Tooth Relic to head the four Dewale Perahera and the decree has been faithfully carried out ever since. Today, he Sacred Tooth Relic itself is not carried in the Perahera, only a duplicate of the Casket in which the Relic is kept together with a few Seevali Relics is carried on the back of the gorgeously caparisoned Maligawa Tusker. This is because it is considered inauspicious to remove the Tooth Relic from its sacred precincts.

On the first new moon in July an Esala tree (Cassia Fistula) or at the present time, usually a Jak tree (Artocarpus Integrifolia) or Rukkattana tree (Alstonia Scholaris) is cut and the ‘Kap’ planted in each Dewale as a vow that the Perahera will be held.

Kandy Perahara

For five nights processions are conducted within the Dewale precincts round the Esala tree (or its substitute) with flag, drums and torches. The Kapurala (lay official of the Temple) walks in these processions carrying a golden weapon called “Ran Ayudhaya” said to belong to the Diety of the Temple and supposedly used by him in battle. These processions are held in all the four dewales.

On the sixth night starts what is know as the KUMBAL PERAHERA. It’s called by that name because the Esala tree is placed in a clay structure resembling a ‘Humbaha’ or ant-hill, round which the procession goes. It is on the sixth night that the Perahera is seen for the first time outside the Dewales and is joined by the Dalada Maligawa Perahera. The Temple chiefs wear their traditional white Kandyan court dress to walk the procession. Each night the number of elephants in the Perahera is increased, making the Perahera bigger, grander and more colourful.

After five such nights is held the RANDOLI PERAHERA. Randoli literally means “Queens Planquin”. Up to 1775 the palanquins carried alongside the elephants in the Perahera.

Once the Dalada Maligawa was brought into the procession, King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe decreed that the palanquins should be put at the end of the Perahera, presumably because females could not be permitted to travel alongside the Sacred Tooth Relic. There were different kinds of palanquins. The King’s palanquin was called “Koonama”, the Queen’s “Randoli”, the priests’ “Pallakkiya”, the Chieftains “Dolawa” and the Concubines “Yakada Dilawa”. The more important the user of the palanquin, the richer was its ornamentation.

Flag Bearers

During the reign of the Sinhalese Kings, the king himself walked in the Randoli Perahera with his retinue, consisting of two Adigars, the Dissawas and other officials of the Court and that this section of the Perahera followed the last Dewale Perahera, the idea being that the King could not take precedence over the Dalada Maligawa or the Dewales.

The Randoli Perahera goes on for five nights and the last night is the grandest of all.

After returning to the Dalada Maligawa that night the Perahera goes out again, joined by the Dewala processions and passes along Dalada Weediya (Ward Street) and through Tricomalee Street to the ADHANAMALUWA VIHARA, where the golden casket is temporarily placed and is guarded by the Basnayake Nilames of the Four Dewales. This visit to the Adhanamaluwa Vihara (Cremation Temple) is by Royal decree of King Krthisiri Rajasinghe as a ark of respect to the Queen Mother who was cremated there.


The Dewale processions return to their respective Dewales and go out again in the early hours of the morning for the DIYAKAPANA MANGALLAYA (Water-cutting ceremony). The ceremony is that each of the Kapurales of the four Dewales fill goblets of river water (purified by the sword of God). These four goblets are kept in the Dewales till the next year, when they will be freshly filled again at the next year’s Diyakapana Mangallaya. After the water-cutting ceremony the dewale Peraheras return along the Katukelle Road up to the Ganadevi (Elephant God) Kovila where certain ceremonies are performed.

The whole festival is brought to an end the following afternoon when the Maligawa procession returns to the Temple of the Tooth from Adahanamaluwa Vihara bringing back the golden casket, when the Dewale Peraheras join it at the junction of Kande Weediya (Hill Street), after which it proceeds three times around the Dalada Maluwa (Temple Square). The Perahera then breaks up and each Dewale procession goes back to its Dewale. In the days of the Sinhalese kings the Chiefs were then received by the King, to whom they did obeisance and reported that the Perahera had been held with due ceremony.

After the advent of the British the custom was carried on, and the Government agent of the Central Province, as a representative of the Government received the Chiefs. At the end of the Day Perahera Pirith is chanted in the Dewales and alms given so that the Gods might acuire merit; in addition, the mala Vishnu Dewale holds a “Wallli Yakum” ceremony to counteract the effects of the “evil eye”.

The main Perahera procession consists of five separate Peraheras.

The Dalada Maligawa Perahera
The Natha Dewale Perahera
The Maha Vishnu Dewale Perahera
The Kataragama Dewale Perahera
The Pattini Dewale Perahera.

The Maligawa Perahera is comprised of the following:-

The Whip Crackers who announce the approach of the Perahera, - the Flag Bearers who walk in single file on each side of the road and carry the standards of the different Provinces and the Temples,
- the Peramunerala – the official who rides on the first elephant carrying an Ola manuscript called the Lekam Mitiya, which is a register of the Maligawa lands as well as the tenants and the services due by them, - the drummers playing Hevisi or martial music on variety of drums,


- the Gajanayake Nilame who rides an elephant and carries a silver goad (ankusa) which is the symbol of his authority,
- the Kariyakorale who is responsible for all the ceremonies connected with the Maligawa, walks next to the Perahera and is attended by minor temple functionaries, drummers and dancers, -the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Perahera Karanduwa (golden casket) containing the sacred relics. A canopy is held over the tusker and pavada (white cloth) is spread in its path (as a mark of respect) for it to walk on.

The Kariyakorale and minor functionaries
The tusker is followed by two lines of dancers facing each other on either side of the road with drummers in the centre and at the end of the retinue walks the Diyawadana Nilame in all the Oriental splendor. He is attended by lance (murawadu) bearers, sunshade bearers and umbrella bearers as well as minor temple headmen.

In order of precedence the Natha Dewale Perahera comes next , followed by the Maha Vishnu Dewale Perahera, followed by the Kataragama Dewale Perahera and the Pattini Dewale Perahera.

The long procession ends with the Randolis (palanquins) borne by the tenants of the Dalada Maligawa.

No comments: