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Mudaliyars of the Association of Ceylon Chiefs met to celebrate the King's birthday in June 1923

Mudali (or Mudaliyar) was a colonial title and office in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The Portuguese colonials created the Mudaliyar class in the 17th century by enlisting natives of different castes from the coastal areas.[1]

The Dutch continued the practice of the Portuguese. This class used the Mudali as a hereditary title, however the British re-established a Mudaliyar class, with appointments that had the title of Mudali, this process was stopped in the 1930s when the Native Department of the British government of Ceylon was closed down.[2]

All Official and Titular appointments of Mudaliyars were made by the Governor of Ceylon. Appointments were non-transferable and usually hereditary, made to locals from wealthy influential families loyal to the British Crown.[3]

At present the post of Court Mudliar remain in function in Sri Lankan Courts.



Mudaliyar is a Tamil title, derived from the word mudhal, meaning "first", and the honorific suffix yar, meaning "The first" as in the person of the first rank.[4][5] The position was created in the 17th century by the Portuguese to function as a link between the colonial administration and the local populace, as they had done in South India. Incumbents received payment in form of land grants and use of tenured service (Rajakariya) of the local population which they extracted for their own estates.[6]

The 4th Maha Mudaliyar, Christofel de Saram (assumed name Wanigasekera Ekanayake), and his son Johannes Hendrick. Johannes was one of two de Sarams sent to England for education at the expense of the British government. On 15 March 1811, he sailed to England as a 14-year-old boy with the retiring Governor Sir Thomas Maitland.

De Saram familyEdit

A De Saram family of Dutch and Malay ancestry had Sinhalised itself in the late 18th century by posing as the representatives of the masses and subsequently convincing the British rulers that they were from the numerous Govigama caste. This was a strategic move as it gave the British masters the impression that the De Saram family had the backing of a large body of natives. It was also the easiest route to Sinhalisation as the peasant community was widely dispersed, still unstructured and without inter-community networks or leaders.

Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake, son of Don Bartholomew who assumed the name Senanayake, with son-in-law F. H. Dias-Bandaranaike, sons Don Stephen Senanayake, Don Charles and Fredrick Richard, daughter Maria Frances and wife Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera.

The first notable ancestor of the De Saram family was an interpreter who accompanied the Dutch Embassy to Kandy 1731–1732. Despite his advanced age of 71 years, this early De Saram had to make the entire journey by foot as his social status did not warrant travel in a palanquin.[7] From there, the De Saram family progressively gained power and position by loyalty, switching religions from Dutch Protestantism to British Anglicanism and benefitting from the preference of British rulers to appoint individuals of unknown ancestry to high positions. By respectively collaborating with the Dutch and British rulers, the De Sarams succeeded in marginalizing the traditional ruling class. Governors Maitland (1805–1811), Gordon (1883–1890) and others effectively used divide and rule policies and created caste animosity among the native elite.[8] The De Saram family eventually had a strong and exclusive network of relatives as Mudaliyars by the late 19th century. Later, through marriage alliances the network extended to the Obeyesekere, Dias-Bandaranaike, Ilangakoon, de Alwis, de Livera, Pieris, Siriwardena and Senanayake families.

Ponnambalam-Coomaraswamy familyEdit

As much as the De Saram family was responsible for the rise of the Govigama caste, the Ponnambalam-Coomaraswamy Family was responsible for the 20th century, rise of the Tamil Vellalar caste. The ascendance of the Ponnambalam-Coomaraswamy family commences with a Coomaraswamy (1783–1836) from Point Pedro joining the seminary that Governor North started for producing interpreters. Coomaraswamy passed out and served as an interpreter from 1805. He was appointed by the Governor to a Mudaliyar position at the age of 26 and became the Jaffna Tamil with the highest government appointment. He played a critical role as the Tamil-English interpreter when the Kandyan king Sri Vikrama Rajasinha of Kandy was captured in 1815. He was rewarded by Governor Brownrigg in 1819 for loyal service to the British crown. There were allegations that he was not from the Vellala caste. James Rutnam's research[full citation needed] has shown that Coomaraswamy's Father was Arumugampillai, a South Indian, who had migrated to Gurudavil in Jaffna. (Tribune 1957).

Ponnanbalam Ramanathan in 1906 with his future wife Ms. Harrison (right). Several members of the family were married to western women.
James Edward Corea, a wealthy landowner from Chilaw was appointed Gate Mudaliyar by the Governor of Ceylon. He was placed in charge of the rural police of Pitigal Korale North. Gate Mudaliyar J.E.Corea came from an Anglican Christian background.

Ponnambalam was appointed cashier of the Colombo Kachcheri in 1845 and deputy Coroner for Colombo in 1847. Many leading Englishmen were his friends and it transpired in the 1849 Parliamentary Commission that he used to lend money to government officials.[9] His three sons P. Coomaraswamy (1849–1905), P. Ramanathan (1851–1930) and P. Arunachalam (1853–1926) became national figures. This closely related and endogamous clan emerged as the pre-eminent Tamil family of the country and rose to national elite status.[10] Despite their Anglicized background which propelled their rise, the family presented a staunch Hindu appearance and assumed the role of ‘Patrons of the Vellalas in Colombo. However many of its members; Muttu Coomaraswamy, P. Coomaraswamy, P. Ramanathan married western women. Ananda Coomaraswamy was married four times to western women. They helped many young Tamils to secure employment in English Banks and Mercantile establishments. On the death of Mudaliyar Coomaraswamy’s wife in 1897, the leading daily, ‘The Ceylon Independent’ wrote “to her and her husband, almost every important Hindu family in the city owes its rise”.

Titular MudaliyarsEdit

In 1853, the British Governor George William Anderson appointed Jeronis de Soysa, a successful merchant who had undertaken a great deal of philanthropy as a Gate Mudaliyar as an honour in recognition of his philanthropic en-devours. From this point the Governors made Mudaliyar appointments as titular honours to individuals outside the government service. This practice continued past the discontinuation of the native headman system in 1937 and into the post independence era until S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike suspended state honours in 1956.

Ranks of British MudaliyarsEdit

Mudaliyars had several classes, of which the official and ex-offico were government servants, whilst the titular was awarded as an honour.

The order of precedence[11]
  • Maha Mudaliyar
  • Gate Mudaliyar (Wasala Mudaliyar)
  • Atapattu Mudaliyar
  • Kachcheri Mudaliyar
  • Korale Mudaliyar
  • Maha Mudaliar (Head Mudaliyar) - head of the native headmen of the low country and native aide-de-camp of the governor.
  • Mudaliar of the Atapattu - in charge of jurisdiction of a District or Area
  • Mudaliar of the Korale - in charge of jurisdiction of a korale
Awarded as an honour (Titular)
  • Mudaliar of the Governor's Gate (Gate Mudaliar) (Titular) - awarded as an honour
  • Mudaliar (Titular) - awarded as an honour
  • Mudaliar of the Kachcheri - head of the native staff of a Kachcheri
  • Court Mudaliar
  • Heads of minor departments of public service held the rank of Mudaliar by virtue of their office.

List of prominent MudaliyarsEdit


Maha Mudaliyar (Chief Mudaliyar)Edit

Awarded as an honour (Titular)Edit

Gate MudaliyarEdit


  • Mudaliyar Deraniyagala Louis Pieris Samarasinghe Siriwardena (1680-1746)
  • Mudaliyar Deogo Kurukulasuriya Arasunilayitta of Karaiyur, Jaffna (1790s) .[23]
  • Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake (1848-1907) of Botale [24]
  • Mudaliyar J. De S. W. Rajapakshe, J.P. (d 1906) of Negombo
  • Mudaliyar Ahamath Ibrahim Jainu-Deen (1864-1924) of Badulla [25]
  • Mudaliyar Sinathamby Somasundara Aiyer (1881-1953) of Punnalaikkadduvan
  • Mudliyar Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena (1889-1947) of Richmond Castle, Kalutara
  • Mudaliyar Aboobucker of Galle [26]
  • Mudaliyar Ahamed Lebbe Sinne Lebbe (b 1902) of Batticaloa[27]
  • Mudaliyar Don Peiris Weerasinghe - of Nugegoda
  • Mudaliyar Shanmugam Tambyah Mudaliyar of Manipay
  • Mudaliyar Jayasena Madanayake of Peliyagoda
  • Mudaliyar Baba Junoor Haji Bahar [28]
  • Mudaliyar Thenahandi David Mendis of Negombo (1904-1977)

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • De Silva, K. M. (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520043206.
  • Peebles, Patrick (1995). Social change in nineteenth century Ceylon. Colombo: Navrang in collaboration with Lake House Bookshop. ISBN 9788170131410.


  1. ^ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Cambridge University Press for the Royal Asiatic Society. 1876. p. 302.
  2. ^ Peebles, Patrick (1995). Social change in nineteenth century Ceylon. Navrang in collaboration with Lake House Bookshop, Colombo. p. 256. ISBN 9788170131410.
  3. ^ Silva, R. Rajpal Kumar De (1988). Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602-1796: A Comprehensive Work of Pictorial Reference With Selected Eye-Witness Accounts. Brill Archive. p. 367. ISBN 9004089799.
  4. ^ "முதலியார் | அகராதி | Tamil Dictionary". Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  5. ^ "::paragaramuthali::". Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  6. ^ Ceylon Under British Rule, 1795-1932 By Lennox A. Mills
  7. ^ "Unknown". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon Branch. XXI (62): 197. 1909.
  8. ^ D. S. Senanayake
  9. ^ Vythilingam, M. (1971). The life of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. 1. Ramanathan Commemoration Society. p. 58.
  10. ^ Jayawardena, Kumari (2000). Nobodies to somebodies: the rise of the colonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka. Zed Books. pp. 210–212. ISBN 9781842772287.
  11. ^ Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon: The Native Headman System
  12. ^ Silva, K. M. De (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. University of California Press. p. 575. ISBN 9780520043206.
  13. ^ "Family # 3126 De Saram".
  14. ^ "Family # 090 Sultan Albdin Koniya, Turkey".
  15. ^ "Family # 1001 Nilaperumal aka Kalukapuge".
  16. ^ "Family # 3051 Obeyesekere".
  17. ^ "Gate Mudaliyar Baba Hakim Muthaliph".
  18. ^ "Family # 5013 Coomaraswamy".
  19. ^ "Gate Mudliyar Baba Thajul Arifin Doole".
  20. ^ "Family # 219 AhmeduLebbe Kariapper Family".
  21. ^ Martyn, John H. (1923). Notes on Jaffna. Asian Educational Services. p. 129. ISBN 9788120616707.
  22. ^ Committee, Tamber Commemoration (1972). A.E. Tamber, 26-10-1904-18-2-1971: a memorial volume. Eelanadu.
  23. ^ Colombo, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Ceylon Branch (1938). Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Colombo Apothecaries Company. p. 110.
  24. ^ "Family # 3002 Senanayake".
  25. ^ "Mudliyar A.I Jainu-Deen".
  26. ^ "Family # 099 Aboobucker Mudaliyar".
  27. ^ "The proposer of the lion flag: Mudlr. Sinnalebbe".
  28. ^ "Family # 153 Bahar".