The spectacular rock-topped peak of Utuwankanda is famous in local legend as the hideout of the Sri Lankan folk hero, Deekirikevage Saradiel (or Sardiel), who terrorized traffic on the main Kandy to Colombo highway throughout the 1850s and early 1860s, and whose exploits in fleecing the rich while succouring the poor have provoked inevitable comparisons with Robin Hood, whose flowing locks and predilection for remote forest hideouts Saradiel shared.

Based in the impenetrable jungle around Utuwankanda, Saradiel’s gang waylaid carriages, regularly disrupting traffic on the Kandy road and forcing the British authorities into a massive manhunt to track down the elusive bandit. Saradiel was eventually lured to Mawanella and captured by a detachment of the Ceylon Rifles following a shoot-out, during which his companion, Mammalay Marikkar, had shot dead a certain Constable Shaban, the first Sri Lankan police officer to die in action – an event still commemorated annually by the island’s police. Saradiel and Marikkar were taken to Kandy, sentenced to death, and hanged on May 7, 1864. Thousands thronged the streets of the city to catch a glimpse of the notorious criminal, but were surprised to see a slim and pleasant-looking figure rather than the ferocious-looking highwayman they had expected – a police statement described him as just 5ft 3in tall, with long hair and hazel eyes.

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