Veera Puran Appu | Daily News


Veera Puran Appu

He chose country, not life

The 172nd death anniversary of Veera Puran Appu falls this year (2020). Veerahennadige Francisco Fernando alias Puran Appu is one of the many heroes in Sri Lanka’s history who fought for the country’s Independence.

Puran Appu was executed at the age of 35 by the British, ending the 1848 Rebellion, the only people’s revolution in Sri Lanka. He fought against a world empire and sacrificed his life for the freedom of Mother Lanka and our nation. There is a school as well as a road named after him. Sinhala movies were made about his bravery and many statues were erected countrywide for this real hero.

He was born in November 1812 in Moratuwa. He left Moratuwa at the age of 13 and stayed in Ratnapura with his uncle, who was the first Sinhala proctor, and moved to the Uva Province, where he became famous for his opposition to British rule in Sri Lanka. In early 1847, he married Bandara Menike, the daughter of Gunnepana Arachchi in Kandy, and had one daughter.

Viscount Torrington, the Governor of Ceylon from 1847 to 1850 stated in a letter dated October 9, 1849, to Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary in London that, “I remind you of the last words of Puran Appu, the hour before he was shot and he was a brave man. He held up his hand and said, ‘If there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead (the 1948 rebellion), there would not have been a white man living in the Kandyan provinces,’ and this is true and we would have lost the country even for a short while.” Puran Appu in his last words points his finger to the problem faced by Sri Lankans over generations.

Puran Appu was executed by a firing squad on August 8, 1848.
Veera Puran Appu Vidyalaya in Moratuwa

Puran Appu acted with strong determination against British rule. Long before the rebellion, he broke into the magistrate’s house in Badulla, since the magistrate was unjust. Puran Appu was imprisoned, but he broke out of prison and escaped. The gazette notification by the Governor on January 1, 1847, offering 10 pounds for his arrest provides probably the best biodata of Puran Appu available today. It says “Puran Appu, originally of Moratuwa, lately of Kandy, trade - unknown, caste - fisher, height - 5ft 7 1/2 inches, hair - long and black, eyes - light hazel, complexion - light, well-looking, make - well made, stout, marks of punishment on the back and four vaccination marks.”

Governor Torrington was not successful in hiding his fear of the national leadership symbolised by Puran Appu. He wrote in one of his letters to the Colonial Secretary that “several prisoners who had been captured since the proclamation of martial law were tied and shot; and amongst them, one of the most desperate robbers in the island, who had, on more than one occasion, broken the prison, and for whose apprehension, a reward has long previously been offered ..... he (Puran Appu) died exclaiming, ‘If the king had three men about him as bold and determined as himself he would have been master of Kandy’.”

A statue of Puran Appu 

Puran Appu further teaches national leaders, the inevitability of being bold and determined to achieve success. Puran Appu was not only a political revolutionary but also a social revolutionary. He marks the history of Sri Lanka in a very peculiar way. Being a boy from a low country town, Moratuwa, he was able to marry a daughter of a Kandyan chieftain and led the Kandyan masses in a rebellion against the might of the British Empire. The story of Puran Appu goes against the common belief still prevailing in our society that caste and class are barriers to success.

He proved that the people of this land are not reluctant to rally around a person if he demonstrates genuine leadership qualities and is honestly determined to serve the common man. He was also an economic revolutionary. He led the common man against the British Empire. The 1848 Rebellion demonstrated a special character that its intention was not merely political. By the time Puran Appu came to Kandy, the Kandyan Provinces were in a state of turmoil. The British had been ruling the country for 32 years. The depression the British economy was experiencing during this period had affected coffee and cinnamon prices, and the planters and merchants clamoured for a reduction in export duties. In response, the British decided to abolish export duties and to meet the resulting reduction in the government revenue, by imposing direct taxes which weighed heavily on the Kandyan peasant.

The memorial 
built  on the 
Kandy - Matale road in 
of the Matale 

Sir Henry Charles in his writing titled “Ceylon and the Cingalese - 1850” cites a notice circulated throughout villages prior to the rebellion, which said “His Excellency the Governor has, for the present, enacted several taxes to be levied from the inhabitants of the island viz. upon firearms, dogs, men, boats, and boutiques, and in addition to this, it is also enacted to levy, in a few months more, a tax upon trees, land, cattle, and all useful quadrupeds.”

Professor K.M. de Silva in his book, The Rebellion in 1848 says that “the political objective may have been less important to them (the Kandyan peasants led by Puran Appu) than the more important need to compel the Government to make some concession in the matter of taxation.” Governor Torrington wrote to the Colonial Secretary on August 11, 1848, after the execution of Puran Appu on August 8, 1848, that, “I believe there is no spot on the Earth where less poverty exists than in Ceylon.”

Thus, Veera Puran Appu fought to protect us from one of the richest economies that prevailed in the world during his time, one and a half centuries ago. He was a hero in the real sense of the word. He was probably the most prominent political, social and economic revolutionary in the history of Sri Lanka.

(Courtesy: Daily News Archives, Wikipedia and other Internet resources)

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