Notes on Jaffna 7 – —”A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula” (S. Katiresu)

No. 7—”A Hand Book to the Jaffna Peninsula” by S. Katiresu, Proctor, District Court, Jaffna (P. 10) 1905.

No. 7. This work was compiled by Mr. S. Katiresu, a popu­lar Proctor of the District Court of Jaffna, as a Souvenir of the open­ing of the Railway to the North, and published in 1905. The Northern Railway – probably the longest line in Ceylon – is a great work. Indeed no greater work was ever undertaken, in or for Jaffna by any government, Native or European. The Introduc­tion of this great civilising agent of modern times, bridging the wilderness that separates our isolated country from the metro­polis, marks a new era in the history of the peninsula. The event is surely worthy of being commemorated – Mr. Katiresu is therefore to be cordially congratulated on the happy idea sug­gested to him by his esteemed friend, Mr. Drieberg, of preparing a little hand book and issuing it to the public on the occasion of the opening of the Railway to through traffic.

It is a pity that the compiler had not had the like luck of being assisted by a friend in Jaffna, whose suggestions would have rendered the contents of the work equally happy. Mr. Katiresu’s Hand-book professes to be a souvenir of the Jaffna Railway. But it is sadly disappointing that not a single word is said of this railway. Even the date of its opening -an event so important and unique in the annals of the North -is passed over in silence. This is a serious omission. It will, I think, be gene­rally admitted, that a rapid but spirited account,

(a). of the efforts of the people of Jaffna to secure railway extension to the North, from the first meeting held for the pur­pose in the District Court house of Jaffna on the 14th Novem­ber 1885, when Father Lytton in a lucid speech bristling with facts and figures brought the scheme from the field of vision­ary speculation into the region of practical politics, till its final sanction in 1889, when work commenced at both ends, or better still, till the 11th March, 1902, when Sir West Ridgeway opened the section of 21 miles from Kangasanturai through Jaffna to Chavakachcherri.

(b). of the stern and influential opposition it had to face, both here and in England, during the whole period of preliminary inquiry and discussion,

(c). of those eminent and disinterested men of Jaffna and Colombo who had laboured zealously and strenuously to promote the good cause, but the majority of whom have since been gathered to their fathers,

(d.) of the movement that was set on foot in 1902 by a grateful people for collecting funds for the purpose of erecting a permanent memorial as a tangible and graceful recognition of the invaluable boon conferred on them by the distinguished governor, who has given them this great railway,

       should have found a prominent place in the Hand-Book.

Such an account would have been more in keeping with the object with which the compiler had issued the work, and would have been of more interest than the dull paragraphs devoted to the description of the antiquated and obsolete games of Padyod­dam, Kiddyadi, Kenthy, Chinky, Pasuvum Pulium,, &c; or many of the items of commonplace information, which are given in the Hand-Book, to wit:-

  • Bats live in the roofs of bungalows and in the ruins of every building.
  • There are no wild buffaloes in Jaffna.
  • Cows are very small in size, ‘Crows are glossy black.
  • Fleas are a pest
  • Frogs frequent wells.
  • Hawks and kites carry away chickens.
  • Monkeys are becoming rare.
  • Ticks annoy cattle and dogs.
  • Wasps build their nests on the rafters of houses and on trees.

The above quotations lead me naturally to make a few re­marks on the fauna of Jaffna to which the compiler devotes a whole chapter, but of which the enumeration and description are neither full nor satisfactory. A list is given, alphabetically arran­ged, of the animals, birds and insects, that are found here. Each kind of most of the species of these fauna is described in a small paragraph. The ant, that busy, interesting little creature, which moralists and philosophers hold up as an example against sloth and indolence, receives the second longest. But of several species common here, the compiler names that neuropterous kind com­monly called white ants and confines his description of them to their destructive propensities only. These insects possess certain peculiarities which are well worth noticing. At certain seasons they acquire wings, and possibly, to the dismay of the inmates, fill every nook and corner of the house. Pavunanthy, the great Tamil grammarian, says in his Nannul that ants are endowed with only the three senses of touch, taste and smell. Consequently they have no eyes or ears. A difference of opinion exists. writes H. C. Sirr, the writer whom I have elsewhere quoted, as to whether white ants sting or bite; we know not what means they employ but we do know they can draw blood in one instant, and cause extreme pain when inflicting the wound. The same writer con­tinues :- The Cingalese call their nests heaps of old boiled rice, and they are composed of various substances, so amalgamated as to bear a strong resemblance to a fine white honey-comb and grains of rice. These nests are eagerly sought out by those who rear poultry; they say that chickens when fed with them thrive and fatten well. It is needless to tell the local reader that the Tamil name is Putaam Palam Choru.

Of several animals enumerated in his list, the compiler does not say a word beyond merely giving their names. Of these I may instance in particular rats and mongooses. The former are the greatest domestic pests not only here but the world over. Innumerable legions of rats abound in every part of Jaffna and infest every building; ‘and the audacious boldness of these destructive vermin can hardly be credited’. They are considered the agents of dissemination of the plague and other pestilential dis­eases and the Government offered rewards for their destruction. As a result large numbers of rats were caught and killed. But the race cannot be wholly annihilated or extirpated; so great is the fecundity with which it multiplies.

The beautiful little creature the ichneumon or mongoose is found in every part of Jaffna. Its antipathy to snakes is well-known. But it is the declared foe to the cobra-de-capello, and is invariably the assailant: the animal springs upon the back of the snake and seizes the nape of the neck and never uncloses its teeth until the snake is lifeless. It is also stated that be­fore commencing to fight, the ichneumon runs to a particular plant and eats a portion and this serves as an antidote to the reptile’s poison. The mongoose is destructive to poultry. Some people bring it up in houses, but it is dangerous. The following anecdote related by Ribeiro should serve as a warning:- The soldiers used to bring up mongoose as a protection against snakes, but they are dangerous; I knew a man who brought up one from its infancy and used to sleep with it, but one midnight he com­menced shouting lustily, whereon every one hastened to see what was the matter and they found that the mongoose was attacking a portion of his body in such a fashion as almost qualified him for entering a seraglio to serve the Sultanas, and though assist­ance was given him at once he was compelled to trust himself to the hands of a surgeon for some time.It is un-understandable why the compiler has excluded from his list the following specimens of the Animal Kingdom of Jaffna: Ass, cat, civet, goat, mole, pig, pole-cat, sheep, shrew-mouse, squirrel, duck, goose, mama, raven, snipe, teal, turkey, bug, centipede, guana, scolopen­dra, tadpole, tarantula, caterpillar, cockroach, cricket, earthworm, glow-worm, gnat, grasshopper, snail, spider, stag, beetle& c. &c.,

The historical sketch of Jaffna, which the compiler provides for the information and delectation of the stranger and visitor to the North, is dry and jejune. The early portion appears to have been summarised from Mr. Brito’s translation of the Vaipava-Malai, passages of which have been garbled. Of the three European Governments who have successively subjugated and ruled Jaffna, the Portuguese period was the shortest. To this shortest period, the compiler allots the longest account. The Portuguese Govern­ment of Jaffna lasted nearly forty years, (1617-1658). To describing the Government of this period, the compiler devotes a little over two pages. The Dutch rule in Jaffna extended from 1658 to 1795 a period ‘of 137 years, nearly three times as long as that of the Portuguese. But the events of this period the compiler compresses and condenses into a little over a single page. In speaking of the policy of the Portuguese Government, the com­piler says that it was governed by religious proselytism. The Roman Catholic form of Christianity was forced on the people. This is opposed to what is stated in the work, ‘Christianity in Ceylon, by Sir Emerson Tennent, who says: There is no proof that compulsion was resorted to by the Portuguese for the ex­tension cf their own faith, or violence employed for the extinc­tion of national superstitions. It was the Dutch Government that inaugurated religious persecution in Ceylon. Catholic priests were expelled. Proclamation was issued forbidding the harbouring and concealing of Roman Catholic priests. Even a law was enacted prohibiting Llimdu ceremonies. As a lawyer and notary, Mr. Kati­resu cannot be unaware of the following regulation in Thesawalame:

“If either the inhabitants of this country within the limit of the Government, or those who are detained for some days or permanently, or Christians, shall practise any worship of gods or ceremonies of devils, such ceremonies of whatever kind in what­ever place, and do honour to any idol by such ceremonies, or any Hindu ceremonies shall be discovered, they shall without mercy and regard to persons, be put in fetters. If any of those who are registered as true Christians having received true teaching shall be present, where any of their relatives, friends, acquaintan­ces, or neighbours, practised such rites of the gods and wor­ship of devils, and have thus done wrong associating with them, and if they shall practise such things by way of ornament and arrangement, as serve to enhance the splendor of temples, and honor false gods and devils in their houses or out, in any place through others, they shall receive as the matter may be ascertained and have happened, severe corporal punishment. The priests and all those who perform the religious ceremonies of the temples as soon as they hear this our order read, shall no longer remain but leave the limits of the Government, and never again appear in these parts. Those who disregard this, and are discovered, shall be publicly whipped, put in fetters, and committed to labour for the space of one year. If this happen a second time, they shall be subject to severe corporal punishment.”

If the compiler will take pains to study the history of the Dutch Government a little more closely, I am sure, he shall be come convinced that their policy was harsher and more violent than that of Christianising through a Staff of Dutch Chaplains and of employing only Protestant Christians to Government offices.

In the version of the Andrado-Puthathamby story which the compiler gives and in the abrupt manner in which he inducts it, he show a want of felicity and discreetness. I shall first quote the story as given in the Hand Book. It runs as follows:

“The Governor in Jaffna had two Mudaliyars by the names of Anthirasy and Poothatamby. An untoward incident in their families has been the subject of a drama. Anthirasy being taken by the beauty of Poothatambys wife sent word to her to pay him a private visit. In reply the lady sent a broom-stick and an old pair of slippers which made Anthirasy very indignant. He waited for an Opportunity to revenge this in­sult. He, as co-Mudaliyar, asked Poothatamby to sign a blank paper which he did in a weak moment. Then Anthirasy wrote out a letter on this blank paper offering help to the Portuguese. Anthirasy was in high favour with the Governor and brought about a trial by night (which was against the rule) and hail Poothatamby sentenced to death. Before any appeal could be made against the hasty sentence to the au­thorities in Colombo, poor Poothathamby was put to death. The Governor and Anthirasy however were at length summoned to Colombo. Anthirasy who went by land was killed by an elephant and the Governor who went by sea threw himself overboard.”

The incidents of the story took place at the commencement of the Dutch occupation of Jaffna but the compiler regardless of the order of chronology relates it at the close of his review of the Dutch regime. It would appear that the compiler attaches great importance to this story from the amount of the space which he devotes to it. I have just said above that the history of the Dutch rule in Jaffna extending to 137 years is told in little over a single page of the Hand-book. The story in question is included in it and occupies more than one-third of the space. To be more precise I shall say that the compiler’s review of the Dutch Government of Jaffna including this story occupies exactly 50 lines. Of these 50 lines the story takes up 22 lines. So that only 28 lines remain as the record of the history of the Dutch regime of 137 years. This is on an average an allotment of a single line for the events of every quinquennial period – an unparalled example of condensation and laconism.

On examining the version of the story as given by Mr. Katiresu, the reader will easily observe that he omits what preceding writers have mentioned, and mentions what no preceding writer has said. In the versions I have quoted, the building of the Kadatkoddai at Kayts by the supposed brother of the Dutch Governor of Jaffnapatam, forms a material part of the story. This part Mr. Katiresu carefully eschews. It is not without reason that he has done so. In the Hand-Book on the very same page in which this story begins, the compiler makes mention of the historical fact that Fort Hammenheil, (the Kadatkoddai of the story) at the entrance to the Kayts harbour had fallen to the Dutch on the 10th April 1658.” Being a cute lawyer, the compiler could not but be aware that by inserting this statement, he would lay himself open to the charge of inconsistency and historical inaccuracy. For the Dutch cannot be said to build a fort which had already been built and which they had taken in fair fight. Suppressing this part of the Story therefore, and by way of adding variety and novelty to his version, the compiler smuggles in the “broomstick and an old pair of slippers getting that Puthathamby’s wife lived at a time, when the use of slippers by Hindu ladies of Jaffna, had not come into vogue, and consequently would have possessed no old pair “to be sent in reply to the man who had the temerity to presume to be her paramour.

What is the compiler’s object in presenting this story to the intelligent and educated visitor to the North? In the first place the story is nothing more than a miserable fabrication. Even if it were true, what interest could it afford to the foreign traveller, who is aware of many cases of treason and treachery among people of all lands, races and creeds. Carefully examined the version of the story as given by the compiler, concerns two men, one of whom, in order to pay off his grudge for some suppos­ed insult, seeks to bring about the ruin and destruction of the other. The inevitable result of such a story on the educated foreigner is generally a scornful smile or a passing word of slight­ing comment on the author or compiler. If the compiler’s object was to hold up the one to public execration and enlist public sympathy for the other, were there not true examples of treason and treachery, which he could have easily cited. In preparing the historical summary for the hand book intended to cater to the new-corner to Jaffna, Mr. Katiresu could not have failed to have come across many such authenticated instances. Why had he not put forward one of these? Was it not to his interest to have done so? or did the actors and personages happen to be men whom he regarded as his prototypes? The Vaipava-Malai records the case, of one Ulaguhavala Muthali, who fled from his country because of being implicated in treasonable transactions. Let the reader see how Mr. Katiresu glosses over such foul conduct. I give below in parallel columns what the Vaipava Malai and the Hand-Book say about this Muthali. 



About the end of that month, one Ulaku-kavala Muthali of Karathivu came to their (Dutch) aid. He was a considerable Velalan of Chola-nadu, and, hav­ing been implicated in his own country in treasonable transac­tions against his king, he had been obliged to save his life by flight. He founded a settlement which he named Kalapumi in the Island of Karathivu.


A certain Ulagunata-Muthaiy from the Chola country also came to Kala-poomy in Karativu.






Details from the book Notes on Jaffna, American Ceylon Mission Press, Tellippalai, Ceylon 1923. The entire appendix has been used to discuss the Andrado – Poothathamby story.