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Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Monarawila Keppetipola, more widely known as Keppetipola Disawe was a Disawe, a high ranking official under the rule of King Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe and later under the British Administration in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon).
He was a prominent leader of the Uva rebellion of 1818 after he joined the rebels whom he was sent to suppress by the British. The rebellion was defeated by the British, and Keppetipola Disawe along with several other leaders of the rebellion were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death.
He is well known for the exceptional courage that he showed at the moment of his execution, and is now a national hero of Sri Lanka.
The Family of Keppetipola Disawe
Keppetipola was born to an aristocratic family in Monarawila of the Matale area. Keppetipola Disawe’s father Golahela Disawe was the Diyawadana Nilame of Temple of the Tooth and Disawe of Tamankaduwa during the reign of King Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe. After his death, Keppetipola acquired his position.
Capture and Execution of Keppetipola
On 28 October 1818, Keppetipola along with Pilimathalawe, another rebel leader were captured by Captain O’Neil of the British army, with the assistance of Native Lieutenant Cader-Boyet of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment.
As the troops surrounded the house he was in, Keppitipola Disawe boldly came out and greeted Capt. O’Neil, identified himself to them and gave himself in. After his capture, Keppetipola was taken to Kandy where he was tried for high treason and sentenced to death by beheading.
On 25 November 1818, Keppetipola and Madugalle, another rebel leader, were taken to the Temple of the Tooth, where they performed their religious rituals. Here Keppetipola made his final wish as to be born in the Himalayas on his next birth and attain Nirvana.
He offered a cloth he wore to the temple, and presented his Dhammapada to his friend Marshall Sawers. He requested Sawers to come to the execution grounds with him and witness his death, but was refused as Sawers did not wish to see his friend’s death.
Keppetipola and Madugalle were taken to the execution grounds at Bogambara, where Keppetipola requested the executioner to behead him with a single stroke of the sword. Keppetipola tied up his hair over his head to avoid it falling onto his neck and bent to receive the sword stroke, uttering some Pali verses from the Dhammapada. However the executioner failed to behead him with one stroke as requested and Keppetipola was killed on the second stroke.
After his death his skull was taken to Britain and placed in the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh. When Ceylon gained independence from the British in 1948, Keppetipola was declared a national hero, because he'd fought to free the country from foreign rule. In 1954 at the request of the Government of Ceylon his skull was returned home, and entombed in the Keppetipola Memorial in Kandy.