Lepakshi is a small village in the Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is about 9 miles (15 km) east of Hindupur and about 75 miles (120 km) north of Bangalore.
This village is historically and archaeologically significant. It has three shrines dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra built during the period of Vijayanagara Kings (1336–1646).
The famous 16th-century Veerabhadra stone temple constructed in Vijayanagar style has about 70 pillars, but only one of these pillars is best known as the Aakaasa Sthambha (Hanging Column). It is a tribute to the engineering genius of the temple builders of medieval India. The pillar does not rest on the ground fully.
A cloth can slide smoothly underneath this Hanging pillar.
During the British era, a British engineer tried to move it to uncover the secret of its support. His attempt was unsuccessful and the pillar got slightly dislodged from its original position.
It has a lot to do with the juxtaposition of opposites: the sense of being underground with the light streaming in; the intimacy of being in a cave, yet the columns end up very large, sometimes thirty to forty feet high. – Ra Paulette in an interview, 2014
For the past 25 years, 67-year-old Ra Paulette, an American cave sculptor based in New Mexico has been carving out caves from the sandstone hills of New Mexico. He digs, shovels, scrapes, and bores into hillsides. He then sculpts elaborate artistic spaces inside these caves. He turns the underground sculpted spaces into works of art. And, his caves attract visitors worldwide.
Ra Paulette grew up in La Porte, LaPorte County, Indiana, United States, along the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1985, he moved to the small town of Dixon in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, near the Rio Grande about 35 miles north of Santa Fe.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Ra Paulette began creating underground art. When he roamed the rugged terrain of the remote backcountry and found a promising spot on the side of a sandstone cliff he would start digging with his pickaxe. He works with rudimentary hand tools such as shovels, pick axes, and scrapers. Paulette never studied architecture, sculpting or structural engineering in a formal school. He is self-taught.
In 1987 Paulette finished his first cave using a shovel and buckets and a wheelbarrow. He called the “Heart Chamber.” Later on, he described it to a historian as “a secret place for me, a private place, a hermitage.” The Heart Chamber had many visitors and it almost developed into a public shrine. The cave was on public land and he had dug it without permission from the authorities. Fearing it might collapse on a visitor, he buried the chamber and sealed it off.
The Jemez Mountains are a volcanic group of mountains in New Mexico, United States. Located in the rural Ojo Caliente River Valley, approximately halfway between is the Rancho de San Juan, the 225-acre Relais & Chateaux Country Inn and Restaurant. David Heath and John H. Johnson II, the owners of the ranch had moved to the area from California to open the elegant Resort.
In June 1994, Ra Paulette approached the owners of Rancho de San Juan. He showed them pictures of the Heart Chamber and asked them if they would like to commission him to dig a shrine on their property. At first the owners were reluctant. After several months 0f persistence by Paulette, they relented. They wanted their guests to have a view of the surrounding impressive landscape from their ranch. They commissioned Ra Paulette to open the interior of the natural butte. Heath and Johnson paid him between $10 and $16 per hour for his work.
It took two and a half years for Ra Paulette to create the “Windows in the Earth Shrine.” It is a chamber with lofty arched ceilings and imposing columns. Long windows fill the chambers with light. The windows provide a spectacular panorama of the magnificent Jemez Mountains. Inside the sandstone cave, one can enjoy the art created by Ra Paulette. He has carved all sorts of shapes on the interior sandstone walls: scallops, molded curves, smooth ledges, inlaid stones, narrow pods and crusty ledges. There is space to meditate and write. Even high desert weddings take place there.
Later on, Ra Paulette created more than a dozen caves. He spent months and in some cases he toiled for years on each of them.
Needless to say, the work of Ra Paulette was backbreaking. He carved out rooms, connected tunnels, created alcoves and arches, benches, steps, pillars, etc. He decorated the surfaces with sculpted shapes and chiseled ornamental patterns. He broke through walls and ceilings to create windows and skylights to bring in sunlight to the dark underground spaces.
Martha Mendoza, a reviewer in the Los Angeles Times described the caves of Ra Paulette as hallowed places and as a sanctuary for prayer and meditation. Many connoisseurs of art describe the caves of Ra Paulette as works of art.
Does the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande haunt Taprobane Island?
Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933), a Sri Lankan born Canadian-English businessman, philanthropist, adventurer, and writer thinks so.
Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a Burgher family of Dutch and Indian origin. His name comes from an Indian ancestor called Ondaatchi from Thanjavur, South India.
In the early 18th Century, Adrian Van der Meyden, the Governor-General of the Dutch East-India Company, summoned a physician to the King of Tanjore from the clan of Ondaatchi to Ceylon to treat his ailing wife. The physician arrived in Ceylon on June 9, 1659, from Tanjore. He treated the sick woman with a bath of water in which 23 jungle herbs were boiled. She recovered fully. The physician’s success in curing the lady led to the Governor to become his friend. In appreciation, the Governor appointed him as the First Doctor of the Town of Colombo.
In 1660, the physician got converted to Christianity. He adopted the name ‘Michael Jurgen Ondaatch’. He married a Portuguese woman named Magdalene de Cruz (1640-1688). Michael Jurgen Ondaatch died in 1714.
After Christopher Ondaatje’s alcoholic father lost the family fortune, Christopher had to leave school a year from graduation. In 1956, at the age of 33, he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto with almost no money. He quickly became a wealthy stockbroker and was one of the three founding members of Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon. He became a multi-millionaire in the publishing industry by founding the Pagurian Press, which he later sold to the Bronfman family.
Christopher Ondaatje represented Canada in the four-man bobsled at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He is the author of 11 books including The Man-Eater of Punanai and Woolf in Ceylon.
I have reproduced below an article, wherein Sir Christopher Ondaatje gives an account of his tryst with the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at about three o’clock in the afternoon on November 27, 1946.
The Count haunts Taprobane By Sir Christopher Ondaatje
I first heard the scream in 1946. Actually, it was more like a repeated plaintive gasp than a scream, and this was followed by a long low hissing noise, somewhat like air being released through someone’s teeth. I was only twelve years old and holidaying with my parents, two sisters and my brother Michael on Taprobane Island off the coast of Weligama, a fishing village on the south coast of what was then Ceylon.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and we children had been sent to our rooms for an afternoon nap – quite a normal thing to do in the tropics. It was a very hot November afternoon. We had been playing and swimming most of the morning on the long crescent shaped Weligama beach only a few yards from the tiny Taprobane Island on which Count de Mauny Talvande had built a unique and magnificent house on the red granite rock covered with palms and jungle scrub. He bought the Island in 1925 and it remained in his possession until he died.
I didn’t know it then, but the Count had died in 1941, only five years before we rented the Island from the subsequent owners who had bought the extraordinary island for Rs.12,000 at an auction in 1942. It really is a magical island, only about two acres in area, and the Count christened it Taprobane because its original pear shape looked a little like a miniature Ceylon. He ignored its local name which had always been Galduwa. The first stones were laid out in 1927 and despite the fact that the island had been used by locals as a cobra dump (he eventually got rid of them) he set about building an enormous octagonal central hall which was thirty feet high and twenty feet at its widest point. The so-called Hall of the Lotus was lined with eight panels of inlaid wood which were dyed a dull gold and eau de nil, and bore a design of lotus buds and flowers.
The dome is supported by eight square pillars of Wedgwood blue, 24 feet in height, and on either side of these two light columns, 12 feet in height making sixteen in all – terra-cotta with gilded capitals support a white stone traverse which join the pillars with an arch of 10-feet span. This is hung with curtains of soft eau de nil silk, a deep brocaded border of art nouveau design at the bottom, black and gold on a cream ground. These curtains are kept open during the day, drawn only at night.
All the rooms converge into the hall through eight arches; nothing interferes with the full view of the interior, nor with that of the terraces and gardens which are seen through the carved mullions of doors and windows. A frieze inspired by the Sigiriya frescoes runs along the white stone walls. After Count de Mauny had finished building and decorating his building one could look from the centre of the hall through wrought iron and brass gates northwards to the entrance through towering palms and a vast array of tropical foliage. To the east one could see the Italian gardens the Count had created. The land sloped down to a well fed by a spring below sea level. East, and overlooking this garden, was the Count’s own bedroom.
He loved the sunrise and, looking southwards, there was nothing between the small triangular lawn outside his bedroom window and the South Pole. Every morning the Count would lie in bed and listen to the gardener raking the leaves off the gravel path with an ekel broom. Everything, the house, the garden, and furniture of his own design and making, was in perfect harmony. There was a marvellous view up the palm-fringed Weligama bay to the north-east, and at low tide one could easily walk the few yards to and from the shore. However, at high tide the water was chest high and women and children used to be carried by servants to the small pier that led to the entrance steps. After a restless and turbulent life in France and England the Count spent many happy years in his unique island home – less a fortress than a pavilion.
As I said, I first heard the scream in 1946. It was late in November and I was having a nap in the room next to the Count’s old bedroom. In those days there were no doors to the bedrooms – only the thin silk curtains which we pushed open and shut along solid brass curtain rings. I knew no one was in the Count’s bedroom because my mother and father, who had been sleeping there, had driven to Galle with a tea-planter friend of theirs, H.L. ‘Tank’ Roche who was also staying on the island. We were left in the charge of our ayah or nanny. The others were still asleep, and I heard the gasping cry very clearly so I got up and looked into the Count’s bedroom, only to see his large empty ebony bed. And then I heard it again – a long plaintive repeated gasp. A sudden queer sensation passed over me and I felt a little faint. But this disappeared quickly. Far from being terrified I entered the room and looked on either side of the bed for something or someone who could have made the anguished sound. I saw nothing so returned to my room next door to wait for the others to wake up.
I told no one anything about the scream until two evenings later when we waded across the water to the Weligama Rest House for an early evening dinner of fried prawns and fish curry – my father’s favourite. In those days the main road ran behind the Weligama Rest House and not in front of it. At low tide, one could run down the front steps of Taprobane and literally run across the shallow surf in bare feet, over the wide sandy beach and across a little bit of scrub grass to the Rest House. The food was marvellous and the Rest Housekeeper, Jayakody, was very kind to all of us. While we were having dinner – in fact, we had almost finished and were having a second helping of buffalo curd and kitulpanni or honey, that Jayakody jokingly said to me, “Did you hear it?“
“What?” I said, not even remembering the scream.
“You heard nothing? Nothing at all? What bedroom are you in?“
I told him. And then I remembered my experience and told him that I had indeed heard rather a horrible scream or groan a couple of days earlier. My father was actually quite annoyed that I hadn’t told him anything about it.
“Ah yes,” Jayakody said. “That’s the Count. He died two days ago, you know, on November 27, 1941, of a heart attack. Angina pectoris. He was visiting a friend in Jaffna on the Chelvarayan Estate in Nawatkuli. And then they buried him up there in St. Mary’s Burial Ground which is a Catholic cemetery. It was a real shame. He always wanted to be buried on his island. He came here with practically nothing, but he built this fabulous house. It was the only place he was really happy. He was deeply in debt, which is why his island was sold. But he wrote a remarkable book about it, “The Gardens of Taprobane” which is very difficult to get. None of his family went to the funeral which was organised by an English solicitor whom he didn’t even know. He often comes back but usually at this time of the year. And his awful gasping for breath and his last sounds are usually heard by the gardener outside his open bedroom windows. It is quite a usual occurrence and no one pays any attention anymore. He was seventy-five years old and died a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”
During the early part of the night, we made our way back to Taprobane Island with flares and torches. We children were still in high spirits and enjoyed being carried over the high tide by the servants who made several trips to and from the Weligama beach to collect us. My father and mother were unusually quiet. Not surprisingly they didn’t sleep in the Count’s bed and bedroom that night or on any subsequent night. They simply collected their bags and clothes from the Count’s bedroom and moved to the spare guest room over the servants’ quarters facing the Weligama beach.
Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada.
On November 27, 1941, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande died of a sudden heart attack at 3 o’clock in the afternoon while visiting a friend at the Chelvarayan Estate, Navatkuli, 3.73 miles (6 km) south of Jaffna in Ceylon.
John Lambert, an English solicitor at the Chelvarayan Estate, is registered as the person who buried the body of Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at St Mary’s Burial Grounds in Jaffna, Ceylon, with none of his family members present.
The Ceylon Daily News, in its edition of Friday, November 28, 1941, printed the following in its obituary column:
“The death has occurred in Jaffna yesterday of the Count de Mauny, who had resided in Ceylon for over twenty years, making his island home, Taprobane, off Weligama, one of the most attractive showpieces of the kind. A French Catholic, the count became a naturalized Englishman.
He was married to a daughter of the 4th Earl of Strafford and had one son, Mr V A de Mauny, who served with the British Navy in the last Great War and rejoined when the present hostilities broke out.
The late Count de Mauny’s principal hobbies, in which he was himself an adept, were the laying out of beautiful gardens and furniture craftsmanship, which he turned into an art. Besides his own at Taprobane, many of Colombo’s most pleasing gardens owe their inspiration to him. His book The Gardens of Taprobane published in London some years ago met with good reception.
Count de Mauny who was nominated to the Weligama Urban Council, took a keen interest in public affairs and there was a time when he was a prolific writer to the newspapers. At one period he was even a member of the Labour Union.
The funeral takes place this morning.”
While the above obituary states that Maurice “… had one son, Mr V A de Mauny, … “, it does not mention anywhere anything about his daughter Alexandra.
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s son, Victor Alexander, passed away in 1978, and his daughter Alexandra died in 1989. They were both childless. Seweryn Chomet mentions a rumour that Victor Alexander had an illegitimate son in Ceylon who eventually emigrated to New Zealand.
Even after the Count died, Taprobane Island continued to draw new generations of romantics.
Taprobane Island remained in Victor Alexander’s ownership until it was sold by public auction in 1942 for Rupees 12,000.
In 1946, when Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933) was 12 years old his father had rented the island from the owners who had bought it at the auction.
The island changed hands to various people, and none of them lived there long as the Count did.
Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999), an American expatriate composer, author, and translator was a child prodigy. He could read by the time he was three, and within the year he was writing stories. Soon, he started writing surrealistic poetry and music. In 1922, at age seventeen one of his poems, “Spire Song“, was accepted for publication in the twelfth volume of Transition, a literary journal based in Paris that served as a forum for some of the greatest proponents of modernism – Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and others.
In 1947, Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed him in 1948.
Bowles visited Ceylon for the first time in 1949. He wrote:
Like most people, I have always been certain there was a place somewhere on this planet that could provide the necessary respite from all reminders of present-day chaos and noise, a place to which one could escape and, having escaped, shut the figurative door, there to breathe pure air and hear only the sounds provided by natural forces. So it was with tremulous excitement that I first saw the little island of Taprobane, in Weligama Bay off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Here was a site that seemed to have all the requisite qualities: It was scarcely more than a hummock of black basalt rising above the waves of the Indian Ocean, yet was heavily covered with high trees that left visible only a glimpse of the house at its summit. I had never seen a place that looked so obviously like what I was searching for. And I felt that it was aware of me, that it silently beckoned, sending forth a wordless message that meant: Come. You’ll like it here.
Three years later, I signed the necessary documents and became the owner of this tiny parcel of paradise. The erstwhile proprietor, a rubber planter named Mr Jinadasa, also bred racehorses and bet on them. When a horse in which he has great confidence failed to justify his hopes, he found himself in immediate need of cash. My informant in Sri Lanka wired me in Madrid, and as soon as the news arrived I rushed out to cable the money.
I inherited a couple who were resident gardener and maid, and who continued their work as if they were still in the employ of Mr Jinadasa. In aspects they had worked for several owners, scarcely knowing them apart, and were aware only that their employer must be addressed as Master. The island had belonged to various people in the recent past, and none of them had kept in very long. It was a pleasure dome, a place they used for weekend parties. The only person who had actually lived there was the Comte de Mauny Talvande, who had built the house and furnished it after reclaiming the island from its former status as the local cobra-dump. (All cobras found in the region were put into sacks, carried across to the island and left there since in Sri Lanka one doesn’t kill snakes). In order to settle in, I needed to buy only new mattresses for the beds, and lamps and kitchenware. The furniture, made of the heaviest kinds of tropical wood, was well-nigh immovable.
In 1951, Bowles purchased the island from its owner, Mr Jinadasa, for English Pounds 5,000. He lived there for many years, alternating seasonally with his better-known home in Morocco.
In 1952, during a three-year self-internment on the island, Bowles wrote his most successful novel, “The Spider’s House.” He incorporated the villa as one of the principal settings in the book. In his diary, he wrote of early-morning tours of the garden:
“the sun, although scarcely risen above the headlands to the east, is already giving off an intimate, powerful heat, and the distant flotillas of fishing boats later slip past the white line of the reefs into the open sea, their furled sails like the dorsal fins of giant sharks”.
The American art collector, bohemian and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, the Moroccan artist Ahmed Yakoubi, and British science fiction writer, science writer, and undersea explorer, Arthur C. Clarke were among those who visited Taprobane Island during Paul Bowles’ tenure.
In 1956, at his wife’s insistence, Bowles sold the island to the Irish writer Shaun Mandy and moved back to Morocco.
Frederick Lorensz de Silva
Shaun Mandy sold Taprobane Island in the late 1950s to Sri Lankan lawyer and politician Edmund Frederick Lorensz de Silva, MBE, who was once the Mayor of Kandy, Member of Parliament and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France and Switzerland, and a former Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya from 1990 to 1993.
Frederick de Silva known to the residents of Kandy and outside as ‘Fred’, was the second son of veteran politician and statesman late Mr George E. de Silva who fought to achieve Independence and Adult Franchise for his country along with national leaders like late D. S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E. W. Perera, A. E. Goonesinghe and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.
Like his father who dominated the Criminal Bar for well over 30 years, Fred dominated the Criminal Bar for 58 years with a lucrative practice and his colleagues and litigants called him the ‘Lion of the Kandy Bar‘.
Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ
Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ (born December 31, 1939), a prominent British lawyer, and former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone inherited Taprobane Island from his father Frederick Lorensz de Silva.
Sir Desmond married Princess Katharina of Yugoslavia, cousin of Queen Elizabeth and one of Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughters. They divorced on May 6, 2010.
The island became neglected for many years until a brief period in the 1970s when writer Thadée Klossowski de Rola, the younger son of the Polish-French modern artist Balthus, held court there and captivated many a young visitor!
In the 1970s, the Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Geoffrey Dobbs, a very successful Anglo-Australian hotelier, first saw the Taprobane Island in an airline magazine. Struck by the beauty of the place he fell in love with it. He patiently negotiated with the de Silva family and obtained it on a long lease. Eventually, he bought the Island from them. In 1995, Geoffrey Dobbs moved in and restored the island to its heyday.
A resident of Sri Lanka for the last 18 years, Geoffrey Dobbs is one of the key players in the tourism renaissance of Sri Lanka. He opened the first boutique hotels in Sri Lanka’s south-west, restoring two colonial mansions in Galle: the Sun House and the Dutch House. He has another beach retreat at Tangalla and more recently restored Lunuganga, the jungle retreat near Bentota.
Dobbs was one of the key figures in raising money and awareness for the tsunami relief for Sri Lanka and founded the charity “Adopt Sri Lanka” in 2001 with the objective to assist rebuilding and rehabilitating local communities on the coastline of Sri Lanka and to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. Having originally worked with other NGOs, Adopt Sri Lanka is now principally operating in the Weligama and Tangalle areas on long-term projects, rebuilding the fishing industry, restoring small businesses for widows and helping with education and housing.
He runs a “twinning” program which connects Sri Lankan schools with schools around the world.
He is the founder and president of the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association, Hong Kong. Every February he plays host to the world’s only beach elephant polo tournament held in front of his idyllic island of Taprobane on Sri Lanka’s south coast.
In 2007, he set up the Galle Literary Festival, which has now become a well recognised annual event.
Dobbs has a natural love for water and spends as much time as he can in or near the sea. He is a keen enthusiast for traditional boats and said:
“I have had a Chinese Junk in Hong Kong for over 25 years and was a member of the 1995 expedition sailing a bamboo raft across the Pacific Ocean to prove the Chinese reached America before Columbus.”
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande named his son born on April 19, 1899, as Victor Alexander Christian Henry George de Mauny.
In 1912, Victor Alexander joined the British Royal Navy as a cadet. When First World War broke out in August 1914, he was appointed to the battleship HMS London, a Formidable-class battleship in the Royal Navy.
He assisted in landing the Australians at Anzac Cove as part of the amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey by predominantly Australian and New Zealand forces on April 25, 1915, and himself spent several days at Anzac Cove.
In 1919, he resigned his commission. He was placed on the Emergency List on March 8, 1919. He went back to Ceylon to work for the Rosehough Tea Company, first as an Assistant and then as an under-manager.
While his father, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande, was residing at Weligama in 1931, Victor Alexander resided at “Boxmead”, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo – 7.
On September 8, 1939, mobilised by the Royal Navy, he was appointed to Ramsgate’s naval shore base HMS Fervent as a midshipman.
Victor Alexander was engaged in the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, France, between May 27 and June 4, 1940. He served on this ship up to June 21, 1940.
He was mentioned in dispatches (The London Gazette of Friday, August 16, 1940). The recommendation states:
“Between Noon on 30 May and 0815 Hours on 4 June 1940, Lieutenant De Mauny was continuously engaged under way on evacuation duties without any intermission. He commanded in succession Ocean Breeze, Haig and then as Navigator in a group of Skoots, in Pascholl. He brought back more than 300 troops from Dunkirk beach in surf conditions on two separate occasions and was notably more successful than other small craft working in the same areas. On 31 May, when he was eight hours off the coast, his ship was subjected to continuous air attack. He displayed great devotion to duty under fire, and marked initiative, and was favourably reported upon by his Senior Officers on more than one occasion.”
He served as a navigator in Pascholl, for a group of Dutch schuyts (flat-bottomed sailboat, broad in the beam, with a square stern; usually equipped with leeboards to serve for a keel) used to ferry combat soldiers from the shore to the ships.
Promoted Lieutenant Commander on October 1, 1940, Victor Alexander served in HMS Brighton from October 1940 to August 1941.
He then commanded HMS Saltburn, a Hunt-class minesweeper built for the Royal Navy during First World War, but deployed as Royal Navy Signal School’s tender, for training.
At the end of March 1943, he commanded the patrol sloop, HMS Mallard, deployed in the North Sea. While serving in this vessel, The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 11th of December, 1945 mentioned that he received the Distinguished Service Cross award, the Royal Victorian Medal, G.VI.R., “For distinguished service during the War in Europe.”
Later in the war, he served in the battlecruiser HMS Renown, and then the destroyer HMS Midge. He took command of HMS Impulsive in July 1945.
WARSHIP COMMANDS LISTED FOR VICTOR ALEXANDER CHRISTIAN HENRY GEORGE DE MAUNY, RN
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande travelled several times between Hampshire and Colombo during and after the Great War.
When the First World War ended, he came to Ceylon on a mission to find the spot which, by its sublime beauty, would fulfil his dreams and hold him there for life.
His skills as an expert furniture maker and a gardener in Ceylon, and, later on, his writings, may have provided him with the necessary finances to supplement his travel and living. There are accounts from people who knew him in Ceylon that he also used to receive remittances from overseas, probably sent by his wife, Lady Mary, from time to time for his upkeep and living.
Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory for 1920-21 listed him as residing with his 21-year-old son Victor Alexander at ‘Ascot‘, Albert Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7; the very élite and high-society area of Colombo.
Maurice had a furniture factory and workshop in Colombo. The furniture crafted most admirably had the designs of French styles of that period. A number of deMauny-Talvande furniture pieces that survived in the hands of private owners are now highly valued and cherished in Sri Lanka.
In 1925, Maurice launched the “Weligama Local Industries” in Weligama. He claimed that he gave employment to over 200 carpenters, carvers and inlayers. By 1930, the enterprise succumbed to depression. However, Maurice restarted it in 1936.
Though Maurice had first visited Ceylon in 1912 it was in September 1927 that he saw for the first time and by chance, the rocky outcrop covered with lush foliage rising out of the sea, just beyond a broad sandy beach, at the centre of the arc of the Weligama Bay. It was the Galduwa islet. Ten years later, he recalled: “a red granite rock, covered with palms and jungle shrub, rising from the Indian Ocean – an emerald in a setting of pink coral.”
Entranced by the site, he waded across the sparkling clear waters to the islet. Ten years later, he recalled:
“There was nothing between me and the South Pole … I sat for a long while on a boulder overlooking the sea wishing that this island lost in the Indian Ocean were mine; picturing and planning what I should do with it. … I felt my heart beating with the overwhelming desire to find peace in it, the nearest thing to happiness. Yes, it must be the home which I had dreamt of so many years past.“
Having found his own island paradise, he chose to build his house on the islet and live his dream of peace and tranquillity, close to nature.
Local records show that Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande purchased the island in 1925 for a sum of Rupees 250 in the name of his son, Victor Alexander. It remained in Victor’s ownership until sold by public auction, in 1942, for Rupees 12,000.
Maurice named his private island “Taprobane” based on the ancient name for Ceylon given by the Greeks and because of his island’s similarity in shape to Ceylon.
The foundation stone was laid on February 1, 1927, for an octagonal fantasy stone mansion in pseudo-Pompeian style with five en-suite bedrooms, and verandahs in every direction. Small gardens extending through the foliage to the overhanging edges, fully occupied the crest of the island.
The spilling out verandahs that embrace the landscaped garden, stepped terraces hovering over the ocean, and a stunningly clear ‘infinity pool’, create a sensation of living on a landscaped cruise boat.
Maurice encouraged people to visit his islet. He received a constant stream of visitors. He has hosted heads of state, famous authors, and many business elites. His historical visitor’s book brimmed with names of Kings, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, aristocrats, Prime Ministers, and other famous personalities who visited Taprobane Island.
In the 1930s, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande served as a member of the Weligama Urban Council. Though he possessed a natural skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous, his penchant for grandiose, as well as his conscience-free disposition to marshal the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise surfaced very often. Writer Joe Duncan wrote about the count’s negative traits:
During a visit to Sri Lanka last year (2002), I came across a reference to ‘Count de Mauny’ in an as-yet-unpublished family memoir. The late writer, a prominent Ceylon civil servant during the 1930s and 1940s, mentions encountering the 73-year-old Maurice in his bathing shorts at Weligama early in 1940 and recalls having ‘fallen out’ with him on an earlier occasion. The memoirist had refused permission to the local Government Headman to decorate the Weligama beach with lighted coconut shells and to hold a procession of dancers and fireworks, all at government expense, to entertain Governor Caldecott on a private visit to ‘Taprobane’. If Count de Mauny had himself offered to pay the villagers to put on such a display, comments the memoirist, there could have been no objection, but instead, he had expected the local taxpayers (in effect) to cover the cost of what was strictly a private visit.
The above anecdote certainly ties in with certain less attractive characteristics mentioned in Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty, by Seweryn Chomet.
In 1931, the Count was residing at Weligama, and his son, Victor Alexander, was residing at “Boxmead“, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo.
The book, “The Gardens of Taprobane” by Count de Mauny, edited by Bernard Miall, and published in London in 1937 by Williams and Norgate is all about his Taprobane Island home. It includes several black and white photos of the villa and the gardens. He has also authored two other books titled “The Peace of Suffering 1914-1918” and “Gardening in Ceylon.”
Many renowned writers such as Paul Bowles, Robin Maugham, Shaun Mandy and Norah Burke have also given graphical accounts of the Taprobane Island.
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande, whose real name was Maurice Maria, was born on March 21, 1866, in Le Mans, France. His father Felix Talvande worked as a banker at Portet-Lavigierie et Talvande which became the Banque Talvande in 1882. The bank and Talvande himself went bankrupt in 1889. The following year, his mother Margeruite de Mauny applied for legal separation from her husband, and thereafter she resided with her mother at Domaine du Bourg in Pontvallain, their family home, which had been in the possession and ownership of the de Mauny family since 1859.
On the death of his mother, Maurice inherited the family home. He then sold it and shared the proceeds of 17,000 francs with his brother Roger and sister Suzanne-Marie.
He self-styled himself as a Count and went by the name of “Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande“. He adopted the prefix of “de Mauny” from his mother, Mme Marguerite de Mauny, and the suffix from his father, Felix Talvande. Later he anglicized his name to “Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande.”
On June 24, 1898, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande married Lady Mary Elizabeth Agnes Bynge, daughter of the fourth Earl of Strafford, Henry William John Byng. Seweryn Chomet suggests that Maurice may have met Lady Mary through his friendship with her brother, George Byng, with whom Maurice briefly attended the same fashionable Jesuit-run school in Canterbury in the early 1880s. Lady Mary was 33 years old, and Maurice was 32.
It was a glamorous ‘high society’ wedding in London, attended by the Princess of Wales, Princess Christian and Prince and Princess Saxe-Weimer followed by a dazzling reception at Wrotham Park, in Hertfordshire, the bride’s family’s 18th-century mansion.
After their wedding, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.
After their marriage, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.
Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau built on an island on the foundations of a medieval fortress in the heart of Touraine, in the Indre is a part of the current region of Centre (Val de Loire). Created by Gilles de Berthelot, a wealthy financier liked by Louis XII, the Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau stands in the centre of a romantic park. This 16th-century architectural masterpiece preserved with the passing years with all the refinement, elegance and grace of an exceptional Renaissance château is now on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Maurice turned the château into a kind of academy or “university” for young Englishmen (teenage boys) from “good” English families.
In late 1898, a leading New York newspaper published a vituperative article criticising Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau for being “not a university, but a mere boarding house” where the main subjects taught were “cricket, polo and football”. The locals resented the “English take-over” of the historic castle.
In his book, Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty, Seweryn Chomet, a Physicist and Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London, reveals that there were rumours of homosexuality and sexual advances made by Maurice to some of the aristocratic adolescents entrusted into his care. Eventually, Maurice had ‘owned up that it is so‘.
By late 1898, the owners of the château, alarmed by mounting local dissent and the dark rumours of (then considered) criminal activities, precipitously cancelled the lease.
The de Maunys moved on to Cannes where on April 19, 1899, their first child, Victor Alexander was born. Later they moved to San Remo and finally landed in England.
Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande possessed charm, intelligence, natural style and an uncanny skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous people. His aspiration to mingle with the élite of the society; his fondness for grandiose, wining and dining; as well as his conscience-free disposition to deploy the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise, surfaced in the early stages in his marriage and drove him into financial difficulties. But it seems that he never mended his ways even after his downfall and bankruptcy.
Author William Warren has suggested in his book “Tropical Asian Style,” which showcases contemporary residences throughout Southeast Asia, that Count Maurice de Mauny Talvande’s dwindling financial status, along with the many marital problems he was facing, must have forced him to move to Ceylon.
It was Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate, who first invited the Count to Ceylon in 1912. During that visit, Maurice was deeply impressed by his first experience of the tropics and the serenity and beauty of the country. He vowed to return to the Island nation.
The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-coloured sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.
As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.
Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.
The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.
The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.
Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.
Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.
The Taprobane Island
A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.
A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.
While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.
There are so many wonderful stories and legends associated with the churches we photograph in France, but none is more pleasing than that of Saint Menulphe and his friend, the Simpleton of Mailly-sur-Rose, a town in the Allier.
Menulphe was the son of an Irish king and very devout. He traveled to England, Brittany and France and was recognized for his sanctity. When the Pope heard of this and asked him to come to Rome, Menulphe walked the route in poverty, a mendicant with no possessions. On his return, he stopped in Mailly-sur-Rose, exhausted with his journey. During that time, Menulphe took pity on an innocent named Blaise who was the scapegoat for local children. One day he intervened as the young urchins threw stones at Blaise. He chided the boys and took the young man under his protection. Blaise was described as a simpleton, one who could barely speak, and never left Menulphe’s side. He couldn’t pronounce his protector’s name and “Menulfe” became “Menoux”.
When Menoux died, Blaise thought that the holy man was asleep. He spent his days and nights at the grave, conversing with his friend. One day visitors to the cemetery saw that the coffin had been dug up and that there was a hole in the side. They discovered Blaise laying on his stomach, with his head in the hole, talking to someone. The local people were scandalized but the curé said, “Poor Blaise, he is a better and more faithful friend than we are. Perhaps he is the least crazy of all.”
The Curé placed Menoux’s remains in a sandstone sarcophagus and had an opening cut into one side. Blaise spent the rest of his life conversing with his friend, and miraculously, the troubles of his mind faded to the point that he was able to serve mass. At the time of his death, Blaise had the reputation of being a simple, faithful man, as sensible as anyone.
Thereafter, in memory of the miraculous healing of Blaise, parents led the bredins, the simple-minded, before the tomb of Menoux and placed their heads carefully into the sarcophagus – the débredinoire – hoping for the same healing that Blaise experienced. Eventually the site received such a number of pilgrims that the Benedictines built an abbey on the site under the direction of the Abbess Adalgasie and placed the sarcophagus with Menoux’s relics in the choir. They also changed the name of the village from Mailly-sur-Rose to Saint Menoux. The fairs held by the abbesses attracted vendors and buyers which led to the expansion of the village.
The church gives an idea of the importance of this abbey and the monastics who resided there. It was built in the classic Cluny style in the early part of the twelfth century. The nave has three tall, narrow bays with ogive arches covered with groin vaults.
The side aisles are, as usual, visually stunning. We see the long, uninterrupted flow to the ambulatory in the distance.
The north side aisle, however, has a unique feature. Just to the west of the transept arch is a rather clumsily executed structure that contains a stairway leading to a defensive tower on the exterior. Poking up through the roof, that tower looks almost like a minaret.
The raised apse is perhaps the finest element of the church. The choir has two elegant high bays topped with clerestory windows while the chancel features a seven bay hemicycle with an arcade of windows leading to the oven vault.
The débredinoire of Saint Menoux is found centered behind the altar in the chancel. These reliquaries have been placed between the pillars of the central hemicycle arch and the tomb can be seen just behind.
The oldest part of the church, built in the eleventh century, is the narthex on the west end of the church. This antechamber has beautiful arcades supporting a short barrel vault. Some of the pillars are topped with capitals, but it is clear that the restoration was not complete. Fragments of some of the original statuary are rather casually displayed in the arcades.
Today, the abbey is gone – only the church remains after the destruction of the French Revolution. The town of Saint Menoux is quiet and peaceful for its 1,009 residents. The church is not well tended; there are rat droppings and cobwebs throughout. Dust cakes the benches and the chairs, but pilgrims still frequent the Église Saint Menoux in order to use the débredinoire for relief from feeble-mindedness or headaches.
Lest we think that credulous in the Middle Ages were alone in these workings, look at this passage in “The Invisible Architecture” by George Prat (2000).
“For more than forty years I made fun of the débredinoire which I considered an example of public credulity … My surprise was great to see that the débredinoire works and is not a gimmick. Thedébredinoire is placed at the geometric center of the apse …. and is located at the junction point of thetelluric current and four streams of water. … When one realizes that this is a machine from another age and can be activated by an ‘acupuncture point’ located nearby, we are amazed at the electrical energy released … The débredinoire is actually an instrument of care-giving; when used correctly, the equivalent a high intensity shock is given to the user. This is certainly very effective in the case of some nervous breakdowns.” People will always find a reason to believe if the need is great enough.
Our daughter Sarah suffers from debilitating migraines and PJ placed her own head in the sarcophagus in hopes of helping. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try! But you must be careful not to touch the tomb while inserting your head. You run the risk of absorbing the feeble-mindedness and headaches of all who preceded you!
If you are interested in seeing some other churches in this region, follow this link.