The trouser under the cloth
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The trouser under the cloth book
In 1870, when Queen Victoria’s son Alfred visited Colombo, Charles Henry de Soysa, philanthropist and entrepreneur, hosted the royal banquet. 1 It was held at his mansion, Bagatelle House, in the elite suburb of Colombo – Kollupitiya. The name of the house was later changed to ‘Alfred House’ in honor of the royal visitor, while the gold plate, cup and jeweled cutlery used by the prince were handed down in that family for generations. The event was controversial because the British had picked an individual from the less signiﬁ cant Karave , and offered him the greatest honor possible under their administration. It was most disturbing to the Goyigama , who, being the established feudal elite, represented and took part in the administration of the indigenous population. Although the Goyigama clans were invited to the banquet, they were not offered places at the prince’s table. The description of the banquet, the decoration of the streets, and the entertainment provided in the house and garden were detailed in a family history, the De Soysa Charitaya by Don Bastion (who was commissioned to write it in 1904). It was an effort by the Karave caste to assert its social position among the Sinhalese by extolling the virtues of its leaders and illustrating their prowess. The tale, retold, gathered apocryphal data and attempted to assert Karave authority by exploiting themes familiar to the Sinhalese caste system. Who was this ‘Charles de Soysa’ and how had he gained such enviable social status?