Notes on Jaffna 7A – Poothatamby’s Treason




The Nadagam or Drama of which Poothatamby is made the hero was composed about the year 1830 by Pareemalam, a Tamil poet of Chundicully, several of whose decendants are living there as well as at Ponaryn. If those – and there are many – who have read the drama themselves and heard it sung by others – would compare it with certain incidents related by the Rev. Philip Baldaeus, the Dutch Chaplain, in connection with the early Dutch rule in Jaffna, they would presume, reasonably enough, only source of information open to the poet was tradition, which  represents Poothatamby as having been executed for treason brought to light by Andrado (with all the zeal and promptitude of a loyal servant and citizen.) Such was the slender foundation upon which the poet had to construct the drama. He drew largely from his own fertile imagination, keeping steadily in view the class of Tamil readers and hearers whose sympathies he had to enlist and whose tastes he had to gratify. Briefly told, the tragedy transmitted by tradition, and transformed by the poet was this, that Andrado being struck with the beauty of Poothatamby’s wife made advances to her, but as these advances were rejected in a haughty spirit by the woman, Andrado became so enraged as to procure the execution of her husband.

The fact however was that Poothatamby was executed and rightly so, for high treason clearly proved against him, and not because Andrado failed in his amorous advances to Poothatamby’s wife. The circumstance which Pareemalam puts forward as the cause of Poothatamby’s execution is a pure fabrication calculated to glorify one section and to vilify another section of the community. No serious notice however was taken of this huge fabbrication for the simple reason that it was confined to the lips of Pandarams or Mendicants roving about the peninsula on festtive occasions and singing portions of the drama to the accompaniment of their small drums as a means of securing small presents. What was hitherto confined to the realms of pure fiction has now taken its station as a historical fact in a Hand-Book to the Jaffna peninsula compiled by a young Proctor of the District Court, who professes to furnish trustworthy information to all new comers concerning the hitherto isolated country now opened up by the Northern Railway. This is how Pareemalam’s fiction is put before the visitor to Jaffna, seeking correct infor­mation about the place and the people.

(Here follows the story as given in the Hand-Book)

The latitude or licence which the poet exercised in attribut­ing to amorous intrigue what was really the outcome of the gros­sest disloyalty and perfidy has been exceeded by the compiler of the recent Hand-Book in presenting to the inquiring visitor a po­etical fiction as a historical fact.

The compiler’s information about the Mudaliyars under the Dutch rule in Jaffna, is of the meagrest description possible. He makes mention of only two Mudaliyars in a place where under the whole period of European occupation, the securing of Muda­liarships has been the great ambition of the people.

It seems to be for a very definite purpose that the compiler has given prominence in his Hand-Book to the two Mudaliyars, Andra­do and Poothatamby viz, to hold up the one to public execration as a treacherous villain, and the other to public sympathy as the confiding and innocent victim of a false friend and collea­gue. And this is brought about by the most impudent misrepre­sentation imaginable. Pareemalam in his drama does not make Andrado half so infamous as the compiler in his professedly historical sketch. Pareemalam’s drama differs materially from Ka­tiresu’s Hand-Book in the narration of the principal incident. The drama says that Andrado being taken with the beauty of Poothatamby’s wife sent two of his trusty messengers to her, of­fering her a box containing money and jewels and telling her, that if she would accept the present, he would come to her that evening. The Hand-Book says that Andrado being taken with the beauty of Poothatamby’s wife sent word to her to pay him a private visit, but that she sent him a broomstick and an old pair of slippers. In the dramatic account, Andrado is made to ob­serve the etiquette still obtaining in India in the matter of court­ship, whereas, in the would be historical account, Andrado is re­presented as a barbarian, offering a rude shock to a woman’s modesty. Again the Hand-Book says that Andrado having got Poothatamby in a weak moment to sign a blank paper wrote out on it a letter offering help to the Portuguese. The drama, on the other hand, is silent as to the blank paper, Poothatamby’s signature and the letter offering help to the Portuguese. What the drama says is that Andrado intercepted a letter addressed to Poothatamby in which it was found that Poothatamby had offered his help to the Portuguese. Finally, the Hand-Book says that in just punishment for their crimes on their way to Colombo, Andrado was killed by an elephant and the Governor threw himself overboard. The drama, it is worthy of note, makes no mention of the suicide of the Governor or of the fate of Andrado.

There is not to be found in the whole range of historical writing a grosser or bolder pièce of historical misrepresentation or perversion than is found within the compass of the small paragraph quoted above from the Hand Book. Artfully and at astutely enough are the broomstick, the old pair of slippers an above all the blank paper made to play a very plausible an prominent part in the tragedy which culminated in the execution of Poothatamby. From his very housetop does the compiler of the Hand-Book now proclaim the innocence of his great hero, Poothathamby, whom he would perhaps fain call the great the good. What is the compiler’s authority for what he says He has given none, simply because he has none to give. H cannot derive much support even from the poetical exaggeration of Pareemalam. His historical summary compiled for the special information of the unsuspecting inquirer and stringer is worst than the worst piece of fiction and rests on no better foundation than for the purpose of blackening the character of the loyal Andrado and exalting that of the treacherous Poothathamby.

There is excellent, disinterested, unimpeachable testimony t oppose to Katiresu’s version of the story regarding Andrado and Poothatamby. It is furnished by the Rev. Philippus Baldaeus, Dutch chaplain, in his account of the surrender of Jaffnapatam, June 21, 1658,

(Here follows the extract from Baldaeus)

Whom are we to believe? Baldaeus, the contemporary historian and the eyewitness to the shocking incidents of which he has left a full and circumstantial record, or Katiresu, the youthful Proctor, who from his reckless version shows that he has much to learn and unlearn before he can be accepted as a safe guide by travellers and visitors seeking information about Jaffna and its people. We must under the circumstances reject Katiresu’s version and we feel sure that no man in his senses will give any credence to Katiresu’s extravaganza.

Andrado and Poothatamby were the representatives of two rival sections of the community. Don Manuel Andrado is described by Baldaeus as a Singhalese, a Mudaliyar and a Captain in the service of the noble Dutch Company. Don Lewis Poothatamby was a native of Jaffna; but there is no better or higher authority available than that of Katiresu for dubbing him a Mudaliyar. He certainly held no position similar or equal to that of Andrado. He was evidently a man, who, as the fitting sample and repre­sentative of his class, was playing a double part in his day, just in the same fashion as the bat in Aesop’s fable of the battle be­tween the birds and the beasts. His sole aim seems to have been to curry favour with the Portuguese as well as with the Dutch, unmindful of the fact of their being belligerents and enemies, as the means of finding his way to some object of self-aggrandisement. He however stood neither by the Dutch nor by the Portuguese as the firm friend of either and his treachery which finally revealed his dangerous and despicable character met with the awful punishment it fully deserved, serving as a warning to all his descendants and admirers. But have his descendants and admirers profited by the warning?

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.