The Elusive Maddak Kalappu (Batticaloa)
by K.S. Sivakumaran
Maddak Kalappu is the Thamil name for what is known as Batticaloa in English. And
in Sinhala it is called Madakalappuwa. The Dutch that ruled the maritime provinces of
Sri Lanka after defeating the Portuguese called the eastern capital town Batticaloa. In
Dutch then the English letter"M" was used as "B". In the Thamil newscasts over the
Radio and TV and also in the print media in India, they call Maddak Kalappu as
"Batticalowa" Strange these spellings and pronunciations!
One of our senior editors (who edited the 'Daily News 'and 'Sunday Island') in this
country is Mr S.Pathiravitana. I had worked for him while I was working for 'The Island'
in the middle of 1980s. I had also worked with him, the late Peramunatilaka and Ranjit
Senaratna in a translation assignment. SP is an elegant writer in English and a
He wrote in the "Daily News" on October 15, 2005 about strange sounding names. In
view of the relevance to this week's column, I quote excerpts from his article on
"K. S. Sivakumaran, who covers the literary scene for both the "Daily News" and the
daily Island, often proudly writes Mattakalappu for Batticaloa imagining it, presumably,
to be a pure Tamil word. Writing to the Ceylon Antiquary years ago, probably in the
last century, a British Civil Servant by the name of B. Horsburg, who was a Tamil
scholar, made a study of the place names in Tamil and found that meanings to some
of the Tamil names could not be found in Tamil. They could be understood only by
restoring the meaning in the original Sinhala. 'Mattakalappu' is the name he picks to
demonstrate this. The word for mud in Tamil he says is 'cheru' and for lagoons, which
he says are plentiful in Jaffna, is 'kali'. So he says that 'cherukali' should be the Tamil
name. "Mattakalappu, which he says is meaningless in Tamil, is only an adaptation of
a Sinhala name."
I leave it to the scholars to fathom on this proposition.
I don't consider "Mattakalappu" a 'pure Thamil' word. But I have sentimental reasons
to be proud of calling place names as they are pronounced in Thamil. Further I was
born in Puliyanthivu in the Maddak Kalupu town in a region called 'Sinhala Wadi' and
lived there for 11 years from 1942 to 1953. It should be recalled that the eastern
region was under the Kandyan kingdom centuries ago and had had a strong influence
of the Malabars (Keralites). I do not know Malayalam spoken in Kerala. Malayalam is a
Dravidian language and has close affinity to Thamil and Sanskrit. Some of the pure
Thamil words in ancient times are preserved in Malayalam. For instance take this I
heard spoken in a Malayalm film:
'Molae Uragailliyo?'(Meaning daughter haven't you slept?). We must also note that the
spoken rhythm of speech in Yaalpaanam is somewhat like the rhythms enunciated in
Malayalm. I can expect extreme and rabid patriots protesting when I say that the
Thamilians and the Sinalese are from the same Dravidian ethnic stock. But it is nearer
to the truth as seen from many customs amongst the two communities drawn from
Dravidian culture. So, it is stupid to quarrel on these points.
Talking about Malayalam and Keralites in relation to the east coast of Sri Lanka, let us
refer to an address given by scholar Gananath Obeysekere last year. He titled his
speech: The Matrilineal East Coast, Circa 1968: Nostalgia and Post- Nostalgia in our
Emeritus Professor Gananath Obeysekere said: 'It is almost certain that our East
Coast immigrants from Kerala occupied a large territory that was forested and thinly
populated. They could maintain their linguistic and cultural identity, unlike in the
Sinhala areas where Kerala merchants and their followers were assimilated into the
existing and political structures...
The Batticaloa district I think was exempt from this historical scenario because as I
said earlier these groups, like their Sinhala counterparts in the South, came from the
matrilineal areas of Kerala long before the establishment of the kingdoms of Kotte and
Kandy, and perhaps even of Dadigama and Gampola, that is, before the 14th century.
They were immune to linguistic and cultural incorporation into the later established
kingdoms of Jaffna, Kotte and Kandy...
With all this is there a book in either Thamil or English on the origin of Maddak
Kalappu? Yes, there is one in Thamil titled "Maddak Kalppu Poorva Charithram" (The
Ancient History of Batticaloa) written by Vidwan S. E. Kamalanathan and Kamala
Kamalanathan and published by Kumaran Book House of 201 Dam Street, Colombo
12 with a note by the late D.Sivaram.
This book has 138 pages consisting mainly verses pertaining to Maddak Kalappu. It's
an edited version. But what is interesting is the commentary written by the
assassinated military journalist internationally recognized, Dharmaratnam Sivaram,
who hailed from the east.
The husband and wife, Kamalanathans in their foreword say that earlier there was a
publication called "Maddak Kalappu Maanmiyam" (The Greatness of Batticaloa)
written by the late Vidwan F. X. C. Nadarajah. Evidently the couple had struggled hard
to produce textual criticism and selecting and editing various 'olai's (manuscripts
written on the dried palm leaves) to provide an acceptable compendium that is subject
to further research.
Let's see what 'Taraki' (Dharmaratnam Sivaram) has got to say in his Introductory
Note on the historical aspects:
He refers to a few books in English written on Maddak Kalappu: 'The Monograph of
Batticaloa' written by S. O. Kanagaratnam in 1923, a book by Dennis B. Mc Gilvray in
the 1960s and Mark Whitaker's study on Mandoor Temple.
Sivaram dismissed those written by S. O. Kanagaratnam and Kadirgamar as
secondary sources books. It was therefore essential to identify the primary sources.
He said that though there are enough documents on Maddak Kalappu between the
16th century and early part of the 20th century none of them had been studied.
The Portuguese built a fortress in 1622 in Maddak Kalappu... In 1922 some letters
pertaining to Maddak Kalappu written from Sri Lanka by Franciscan fathers was
compiled and published According to those letters Maddak Kalappu was a separate
kingdom. Going by this letter, the Portuguese were aware of the existence of Maddak
Kalappu even before 1539.
Sivaram said that the present Maddak Kalappu town was not the original Maddak
Kalappu. It was situated 30 miles away in south of Maddak Kalappu near Sammanturai.
In this background we should congratulate the effort taken by respected teachers in
Maddak Kalappu - the Kamalanathans. Kamalanathan was the principal of St.
Michael's College between 1973 and 1988. He is an independent researcher and his
interests extend to drama and theatre. I haven't had the opportunity to meet him.
He must be in his 80s. His wife Kamala was also Principal of St. Michael's College
between 1987 and 1996. Her brothers Aasaipillai and Jeevanandam were my
schoolmates in the early 1950s.
She might not know me, but I remember her as a school girl. They were living in a
house on Lake Road No. 1 in which my parental house was.