Radala refers to an small minority caste in the Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Lanka. They were the aristocracy of the Kandyan Kingdom. The word "Radala" is believed to be a combination of Raja, meaning royal, and Le, meaning blood. the Radala came into existence after the throne of the Kandyan kingdom went to the Nayak Dynasty. Higher officials in the court of Vira Narendra Sinha were offered this state and a Nayakkara prince was selected as king over king's son by a local queen. After capturing the Kandyan provinces in 1815 with the aid of locals from both maritime and Kandyan provinces, the British created an extensive class of loyal 'New Radalas' in the Kandyan territory to assist them in the administration of that province.
Traditionally, Radala was not a common term used for all officials of the state. In the Sinhala version of the Kandyan Convention of 1815, only the Adigars, Dissavas and a few others were called Radalas. The nineteenth century, British rulers who created an extensive class of 'New Radalas' in the Kandyan territory preferred to call them an Aristocracy to assist them with its administration. However, Sri Lankan history shows that many Kandyan Radalas were civil and military officials of the court and considered aristocratic but not as direct heirs to the Kandyan throne.
The offspring of Kandyan Kings from aristocratic concubines (yakadadoli) were those that were originally considered as Radalas. In addition to a chief queen and one or two secondary queens, Kandyan kings also had a Harem. Harem ladies from royal stock were called Randoli. Hindu princesses were brought over from Madurai in South India as Randolis, after the royal families of the maritime region in Sri Lanka converted to Christianity and were therefore no longer eligible. Ladies of the Radala and Govigama castes were taken into the harem as Yakadadoli and sometimes as Randolis. Favourite concubines frequently received land grants and their offspring were appointed as high officials of the royal court and in a few cases inherited the kingdom. As a result of this, Mampitiya Bandara and Unamboowe Bandara, born to Radala yakadadolis and fathered by Kandyan kings, could have ascended the Kandyan throne.
The status disparity between royalty and the Radalas was small and the Radalas only had to call themselves 'serviles' (gettás) in the presence of the king and prostrated only at ritual ceremonies to demonstrate their lower status vis a vis the king. This practice continued into the British period and was abhorred as a degrading form of ancient tyranny and abolished by the British in 1818 under the proclamation of November 21, 1818 by Governor Robert Brownrigg. Apart from having to continuously dress in full in the presence of the King, the Radalas didn't have to rise from their seats like other commoners when the king's dirty linen was taken past them (A Historical Relation of Ceylon, Robert Knox, Part II, Chapter2). They were permitted to use their own ancestral and military insignia, swords, umbrellas, jewellery and wear shoes. Some Chiefs were merely personal attendants of the King. The Diyawadana Nilame was the King's personal Valet responsible for bathing and dressing of the King.
The traditional Kandyan Radala of the past had considered themselves to be an exclusive caste and not part of the Govigama caste. Bryce Ryan observed as recent as 1953 that Radalas repudiated Govi connections and that the status of the Govi caste still remains relatively low in villages where the Radala existed (Caste in Modern Ceylon, page 99). The demand by the Kandyan Radala elite for a separate federal state in independent Ceylon, the representations made to the Donoughmore Commission and the formation of the Kandyan National Assembly (KNA) as recently as in 1924 demonstrates the reluctance of the Kandyan elite to be governed by arriviste low country Govigama families of dubious ancestry, which was to be the inevitable outcome of the British departure.
The Radala's as a community had had significant power over the throne of Kandy. This was the case as the last Nayakar King of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinha lost his throne soon after losing the military and administrative support of the Radalas for his cruelty towards his subjects, and for his licentious forced affairs with their wives and daughters.
The British Radalas
After capturing the Kandyan provinces in 1815, the British soon created an extensive class of 'New Radalas' in the Kandyan territory to assist them with its administration. As much as the British created class of Sri Lankan Mudaliyars in the low-country, this class too was composed of natives who were most likely to serve the British masters with utmost loyalty, Govigama (farmers) families that had either cooperated with the British to capture Kandy or from other miscellaneous lower caste families that had joined the British cause later for financial purposes.
They were all from anglicized families and were considered pillars of the Anglican church. They had English first names and their children too were similarly named. In addition they had a string of high sounding Sinhala names taken on when receiving their appointment from the British. Some of these names were from Kandyan families that had ceased to exist or were severely reduced, and from purported ancestors with dubious connections. The new British-made Radala class were immediately rejected by the original Kandyan Radalas. The new British-made Radalas tried unsuccessfully to rename themselves with the names of famous Kandyan Radalas such as the Keppitipolas, Mampitiyas, and Ranarajas. All these attempts were rejected by the British for fear of further dissent by the original Kandyan Radalas.
Many of these 'New Radala' families had low-country origins and many intermarried with the anglicized low country Mudaliyar class, and in many cases several times with one family in an apparent bid to create some exclusivity. Most were from the Sabaragamuwa province and not from interior parts of the Kandyan provinces that were less susceptible to British influence. These New Radals too resembled English country squires and most of them had received large land grants from the British for their servitude. Their residences were of unprecedented scale, built in the 19th century in the British colonial style and were referred to by the Tamil word Walauu or Walvoo.
They generally held 'Rate Mahattaya' or local administrator positions and had studied under leading Anglican Priests at the Anglican missionary schools S.Thomas' College, Trinity College (Kandy) and High school Ratnapura, which were institutions set up by the British specifically for producing a class of loyal, local, second level administrators. With each successive batch of British Civil Servants and Governors arriving in Sri Lanka, this propped up pseudo-aristocratic group tried harder and harder to generate a greater and higher appearance of nobility and Kandyan lineage.
However the descendants of the original Kandyan Radalas rarely marry the descendants of British-made Radalas or any other Govigamas for that matter. If any of them do, those people and all their descendants are classified as lower-caste outcastes by the descendants of the original Radala community.
The marriage in 1910 to Kandyan 'New Radala' Mollie Dunuwila, newspaper magnate D. R. Wijewardena's marriage in 1916 to a Meedeniya and finally S. W. R. D. Bandaranayake's marriage in 1940 to Sirimávo Ratwatte appear to have muted some of the antipathy and created the common political power block that has ruled the country since independence from the British in 1948. The Radalas however are still relatively endogamous and even as at date would only rarely marry an average Govigama in an arranged marriage. Nevertheless a few writers sometimes refer to the Radala as the upper crust of the Govigama caste.
- Wright Arnold 1907 Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon
- Van Sandan J C The Chieftains of Ceylon