Hail Chilaw

Hail Chilaw, my home town!

by Dr. Granville Fernando


One afternoon I was waiting near Chilaw's main roundabout. The town's

four faced clock tower looked scenic and spectacular.


As I waited I could count no less than six lanes of traffic spilling

long lines of vehicles on to the town. Some remained, while others

whisked off and were soon gone out of sight.


As there was nothing much to do I just kept on waiting. Soon I was

musing about this ancient town of Chilaw. Chilaw has a romantic

history. Carrying with it a remarkable heritage it is also wrapped up

in a colourful culture. The second most important capital of the

North Western Province, the seat of a Bishop it lies in the hub of a

prosperous planting district.


Situated in no less an important province - the Wayamba or North

Western Province which is a veritable 'Garden of Eden' for the

historian and the archaeologist. For in this region lies the place

where Prince Vijaya landed and the ancient kingdoms of Panduwasnuara,

Yapahuwa, Dambadeniya and Kurunegala or Hasthisailapura.


Chilaw is known as 'Halawatha' in Sinhala. Denham's Census Report of

1911 throws some interesting light on the origin of Chilaw.


It is said that King Kavan Tissa sent a number of persons to convey

honey from Negombo 'Meegomuwa' in Sinhala to Anuradhapura. It was at

this spot 'Halawatha' that the bees were shaken off their combs.


Chilaw in early times was not only a reputed sea port it was also

famous for its pearl fisheries. According to some writers like Donald

Ferguson, Chilaw is connected with the Tamil term 'Salapam' which

means diving.


The original inhabitants of Chilaw were descendants of a group of

people who came from India on military service. Originally from

Northern India from such towns like Kanchipuram, Kaveripattannam and

Killakarai they subsequently made their homes in the south.


According to the 'Mukkara Hatana' it happened during the reign of

King Parakrama Bahu VI (1412-1467) the ruling monarch of Kotte. The

Mukkuvars from India had landed off the Puttalam coast and were

preparing to capture the land. King Parakrama Bahu summoned help from

neighbouring India. A battalion of fighting men were sent across to

Sri Lanka. They belonged to the Suriya clans. Those that settled in

Chilaw belonged to the Mihindukulasuriya clan. It may be interesting

to note that there are five sub clans in Chilaw. They are the

Fernando, Perera, Peiris, Pinto and Costa. (The Karave of Ceylon by

M. D. Raghavan).


A good percentage of the Chilawfolk still bear these identical

surnames. They settled down not only in Chilaw but even at its twin

sister Negombo especially at Duwa and Pitipana. Chilaw being in the

maritime region came under European influence. Portuguese influence

is well marked by the hundred per cent Roman Catholic indigenous



It may be interesting to note that the King of Kotte in recognition

of the services of the Suriya clans also granted them a number of

flags. Among these was a separate Karava Kodiya for Chilaw. (Sinhala

Banners and Standards by E. W. Perera).


Culturally the people of Chilaw have been always active and in the

forefront. Chilaw has been the home of the Sinhala Nadagama - the

first form of Sinhala drama in Sri Lanka.


The first Sinhala Nadagama the 'Rajathun-kattuwa' or the Visit of the

Magi was written by Mihindukulasuriya Gabriel Fernando according to

that eminent historian the late Dr. Edmund Peiris Bishop Emeritus of



And the sea board town of Chilaw has kept on forging ahead. The

Chilaw people are fortunate to have a beautiful statue of Mother

Mary 'Protectress of the town' who stands sentinel warding off all

disasters and calamities at the main entrance to the town.