Veera Keppitipola and Vilbawe: Heroes of the 1818 rebellion
BY TISSA DEVENDRA
(Courtesy of The Island)
Recently The Island carried a very interesting and informative article, on the great hero Keppitipola, by a writer from the Veera Keppitipola Foundation. This attempts to give a more rounded account of the other ‘rebel’ Vilbawe, whom the earlier writer casually dismisses as ‘one Doraisamy’. This name was probably an item of ‘fake news’ spread by the British, to demean the commoner from the village of Vilbawe who dared to foment rebellion against the invader.
I now quote from my earlier article “Men Who Would Be King”:
“Vilbawe’s origins are lost in obscurity – but his incredible achievements are not. He boldly proclaimed himself King of Tri Sinhalay and in 1817, raised the standard of revolt against the foreign oppressors of the Dharmadipa. He undoubtedly possessed great charisma, and convinced the peasantry of his legitimacy and rapidly won over a multitude of supporters with whom he made his way to Kataragama. The devala custodians accepted his claim and declared him King. Vilbawe now proceeded to the forests of Bintenna where he was accepted by the Veddha chieftains, whose bowmen now formed the nucleus of his army of liberation…….
Vilbawe’s guerrilla attacks against the British were initially successful and attracted the attention of the patriotic chieftains who now joined his forces. The chief among them was the legendary Keppitipola. Vilbawe and his advisers now decided it was appropriate for him to be formally anointed as King. Accordingly, a great coronation ceremony was held in Alutwela with great pageantry. He declared himself King Kirthi Sri Rajasinha. All the chieftains pledged fealty and were granted titles and responsibilities. The man of mystery conducted himself with the dignity and solemnity appropriate to his exalted office.
Keppitipola now reorganised the rather rag-tag guerrillas. Brave fighters though they were, the rebellion was doomed to failure. An isolated, and surrounded, territory and an army sadly lacking modern arms had no chance against the British professional army……….(which) broke the back of the Rebellion. The rebel chieftains and Keppitipola were captured and beheaded.
Vilbawe, however, was never found.”
Was Vilbawe the last, and only, King of Tri Sinhalay to be crowned amidst the acclamation of the multitude?