series by Gaveshaka in association with Studio Times
‘Pitakotuwa’ in Sinhala means ‘outside the fort’.
That is obviously how the Sinhala term for Pettah was coined to
distinguish the area outside Fort. Pettah is an Anglo-Indian word
from the Tamil ‘pettai’ introduced by the British to
the area, which was identified by the Dutch as the ‘oude stad’
or old town.
remains the old town even today. It is the wholesale market of the
city where traders from all over the island come and pick up their
stocks. The picture shows a typical street scene in Pettah taken
some years back. Note the double bullock cart – not a very
familiar scene in the midst of the City. Just as much as lorries
were used to transport goods, the bullock driven cars were very
popular to move goods.
the Portuguese period, the roads in Pettah had been narrow and crooked.
The Dutch had replaced these with straighter and broader thoroughfares.
Main Street had been in existence even during the time of the Portuguese
who had called it ‘Straight’. It had linked Fort with
Pettah as it does today. The Dutch named it ‘King’s
market was always a popular place where traders did business, even
at the time of the Dutch. Here is a typical description of the Pettah
market in Dutch times: “The Dutch churchyard is in the middle
of the city, enclosed with a wall, on which a Malabarian school
stands. On the outside of the churchyard there is sold, all the
week long, silks, stuffs, and linen, by the Moors and Persians;
and all sorts of fruits, dried fish, onions, sugar and rice by the
Malabarians, Maldivians, Cingalyans (Sinhalese) and other inhabitants
of Colombo”. This description indicates that traders were
from various races and communities. Colombo was a cosmopolitan place.
the British started attacking the Dutch, the British soldiers attacked
from the north of Colombo with the support of their ships from the
sea. They crossed the Kelani river on bamboo rafts without opposition,
captured Korteboam and reached the Pettah through Kayman’s
Gate. Colombo was captured by the British in 1796.
today, Pettah was a residential area in the early days. There were
many fine houses, trim gardens and shady walks. What a different
picture from what we see today? The houses were usually coloured
bright yellow with bands of red or orange round the doors or windows.
Most of the wealthy descendants of the Portuguese and Dutch lived
in the Pettah.
was described as “neat, clean, regular, and larger than Fort”
at the beginning of the 19th century”. Five streets, each
half a mile in length, run parallel to one another; and the same
number intersect them at right angles”. This plan is valid
right up to today. There are five cross streets linking Main Street
and Olcott Mawatha. They are all full of shops mainly those of wholesale
description continues: “The outer Pettah is very large, and
branches out into a number of streets which extend some of them
two miles. At the further end of one of them stands the church Wolvendaal
and behind it a large oblong stone building supported in front with
pillars, and intended for Kandyan ambassadors. A number of bazaars
are here kept by the native men and women: they are abundantly supplied
with vegetables, dried fish and fruit”.
this part of Pettah are vast numbers of carpenters, smiths and artificers
of various sorts, particularly workers in gold and silver. Here
are also a large number of black merchants, ‘canolies’
(kanakapullays), or black accountants; as also manufacturers and
traders in the different kinds of precious stones found in Ceylon.”
of the street names date back to the days of the Dutch. Keyzer Street
was named by the Dutch after their emperor whom they called ‘Kaiser’.
Kayman’s Gate has its origin in the Dutch word Kayman, which
means crocodile. In the old days there had been crocodiles in the
Pettah because the Beira lake extended right up to Kayman’s
Gate. Wolvendhal means the dale of wolves and Maliban Street is
derived from the word Maliban, which literally means the fashionable
of the streets have been named after the trades that were carried
out in them. Barber Street is an example. Chetty Street and Moor
Street have been named after the communities that lived in them.
Messenger Street was named after the messenger boys who worked in
colonial firms. The Dutch had called this street ‘Rue de massang’
because masang trees grew in plenty here.