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Advocate S.R. Kanaganayagam : 

A legal luminary well-known for sound interpretation, wit and humour

by K.M. Tharmarajah


Advocate S.R. Kanaganayagam

The Tamils are ever indebted to the two great personalities, Sir P. Ramanathan and Hindu Board Rajaratnam for the invaluable services rendered by them to the Tamils and Saivite religion.

It is a well known fact that it was the late Advocate S.R. Kanaganayagam who dedicated himself to promoting the aforesaid services by ensuring the protection and proper use of the properties and organizations left behind by these great men, through practical and legal representations. He is known for his eminence in the legal field and his ready wit and humour.

As an outcome of this service, his son, Mr. Kanag-iswaran, President's Counsel, is shining in the field of law and his son (S.R. Aiya's grandson), namely, Shivaan is maintaining the family's glory in the third generation as a young lawyer practising in Colombo having obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Law from the University of London

On account of the birth centenary (which falls on 16/5/2004) of the late Advocate S.R. Kanaganayagam, I take pleasure in quoting below excerpts from the appreciations and tributes to him by judges, eminent lawyers, leading politicians and educationists as contained in the souvenir published in 1989 at the ceremony of the thirty first day of his demise:

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A landmark has disappeared

by S. Sharvananda

former Chief Justice and Governor Western Province

Though I did not belong to the generation of Mr. Kanaganayagam, I have appeared sufficiently in the Jaffna Courts when he was a reputed Senior, to know what a sought-after Counsel he was.

A half century of civil practice, one need hardly say, had provided an unmatched legal armoury to a mind which inherently was exceptionally agile and receptive. But long before he reached this half century he had reached the top of his profession; the rest of his legal life matured his talents, as age matures wine in the cask.

Years never aged him. Both in appearance and outlook on life, he remained youthful. He rarely lost his composure and calm.

His personal knowledge of the people in Jaffna was extra-ordinary. You name anyone and in a flash he would give his pedigree and a thumb-nail sketch of his family history. With his death not only a legal luminary but a landmark has disappeared from the Jaffna scene.

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From the Bishop's House

by Rt. Rev. Dr. B. Deogupillai Bishop of Jaffna

Advocate, late Mr. S.R. Kanaganayagam, was a leading legal luminary in Jaffna. He was always willing to help anyone who sought his assistance. As lawyer, he was formidable and witty in his arguments and much sought after by litigants.

He was a statesman, social and religious worker. In these fields he achieved much. Hence, his presence was much cherished in all forms. His contribution to the public life and the betterment of the people of Jaffna was very great and was much appreciated by the people. His demise is a great loss to our people.

All those who had known him will cherish his memory. May his soul rest in peace.

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A tribute to S.R.

by G.P.S. De Silva Judge of the Supreme Court

Mr. S.R. Kanaganayagam called to the Bar on 10th April 1933 as a junior, he had the opportunity of working in the Chambers of Sir Vaithilingam Duraisamy and Homer Vannyasingam who were the legal luminaries of the Northern Province at that time.

In 1953 he was awarded the Smith Mundt Scholarship and he proceeded to the United States of America to study at first hand the working of the American democracy. He was appointed a Senator in 1949 and served two terms till 1957.

He was an excellent speaker both in English and Tamil and the proceedings of the Senate bear eloquent testimony to the invaluable contribution he made to the debates in the Upper House.

As the leading civil lawyer of the Northern Province, he will be remembered most by the people of Sri Lanka. In the latter half of the 1960s, I used to go to the District Court of Jaffna almost every week.

I had the good fortune of being opposed to 'SR' (as he was known at the Jaffna Bar) fairly often. His complete mastery of the facts of the case, his firm grasp of the basic principles of the law and his skilful cross-examination were some aspects of his advocacy which remain fresh in my memory even to this day.

But what endeared him to most people was his simple and unassuming ways, his amiable disposition, his warm humanity and his perennially cheerful spirits.

His interests were by no means confined to the law. He had a deep and abiding interest in his religion and took great pleasure in engaging himself in Hindu cultural activities. He set up the Ramanathan Music Academy in Chunnakam and was its first President.

This academy was perhaps the premier institution in Jaffna training many students in music. He was also the President of the Ramanathan Trust. His sense of humanity was evident once again in the interest he took in the Hindu Orphanage at Tinnavely of which he was the Manager for over two decades, maintaining it often with his own funds.

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Good lawyer for bad case

by M.M. Abdul Cader Retired Judge, Supreme Court

Mr. S.R. Kanaganayagam had been our family lawyer and so it was natural that I should go to him the day before I decided to commence my legal practice in Jaffna. I was dressed in the then traditional Jaffna Muslim dress of sarong, shirt, shawl and fez cap. When I told him of my intention, he exclaimed, 'aday, tomorrow is an auspicious day with a lot of wedding. You should start your practice tomorrow itself.'

I asked him how that can happen when I had not received a brief. He said, 'there is no problem; you just wait'. a short while later some clients came to prepare a case for the next day. He pointed to me in my non-lawyer costume and said, 'he is a new advocate; you will be privileged to give him his first brief'.

They gave him a currency note for my fee which he put in his drawer and pulled out a ten rupee note (this was in 1946) and gave it to me. I presume that he had substituted the ten rupee note for a smaller denomination. He was a great believer in astrology had foreseen my future.

Mr. Kanaganayagam had a reputation for winning bad cases. He will never the judge any indication of the weakness in his case and he will fight his case to the last unless he could effect a satisfactory settlement.

I met Mr. Kanaganaygam last in Colombo at the residence of his son, Kanageswaran who has now revised his name to Kanag-iswaran, on the occasion the latter became a President's Counsel. It was a proud moment for K who would have himself achieved the same distinction had he practised in Colombo.

Mr. Kanaganayagam was in his usual jovial mood. The sad events in Jaffna, even the total demolition of his beautiful house by rockets had not flawed his natural self.

I spoke to him for 2 hours and he betrayed any rancour or distress, though there was always the underlying grief for what had happened to his (and mine) native Jaffna which he had helped to build as a politician and more as an educationist and social worker.

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Master in his Profession

by Siva Selliah Retired Judge, Court of Appeal

S.R. Kanaganayagam was one of the colourful personalities of the Jaffna Bar. A mine who observed a simple life-style unencumbered by ostentatious trappings despite his success in the profession, always wore a mischievous smile which kept one guessing. His ready wit and humour helped to maintain much conviviality at the Bar.

Although he was a very busy practitioner in the civil courts and commanded a successful and lucrative practice, he never felt over-burdened by the volume or responsibility of his work all of which sat lightly on him. He had a keen intellect and a good grasp of men and matters which assisted him considerably in the cross-examination of witnesses.

During the two years in which I was the District Judge of Jaffna in 1974 and 1975 it was evident that he was equally at home in any case he took up - whether it related to land or partition, rent or ejectment, trust or partnership, the law of Thesavalamai or to any intricate matter relating to the succession of trusteeship of an ancient temple involving much probing into antiquity.

His ready wit and humour often enlivened court proceedings and he was by reason of seniority, mature experience and daily involvement in the conduct of cases before the court very much a part and parcel of an administration of law and justice in the Jaffna Peninsula.

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A great loss to Sri Lanka

by Jutice P. Ramanathan President, Court of Appeal (retired Judge, Supreme Court)

I was privileged to meet S. R. Kanaganayagam when I was a Crown Counsel prosecuting at the Jaffna Assizes.

He created a deep impression in my mind for his unpretentious and simple ways. He had an excellent legal mind and was able to get the better of any Colombo Counsel who was opposed to him.

He had a sense of public responsibility and worked tirelessly for the betterment of the less fortunate. He was President of the Board of Directors of Parameswara College founded by Sir P. ramanathan which was subsequently taken over by the Jaffna Campus. His work then turned to the promotion of Tamil culture and Saivite education for which he worked with great enthusiasm and made the trust a resounding trust. His death is a great loss to Sri Lanka.

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Man of simplicity

by K. Palakidnar President, Court of Appeal

S. R. left his mortal frame and passed into immortality as unobtrusively as he lived. His lifestyle was one of the elegant simplicity. He walked the corridors of power but never chose to tarry among them. He was an uncompromising nationalist and never sought the narrow communal path to popularity. He adorned the second chamber and made that body worthy of its existence.

Social problems like matrimonial laws and the inequalities of a caste ridden society engaged his mind and were aired in the senate in depth and thoroughness. He held his own in that august body of chosen intellectual elite.

In the Bar, he was a vast banyan tree with roots deep in the social problems of the Tamils and branches extending all over the Northern Courts, with his astuteness and acumen. Many a silk chose to sail with him rather than be pitted against him in the Jaffna courts.

Thesavalamai and Temple Trusts were his forte. He devilled under Sir Duraisamy and Homer Vanniasingham but had men of the ilk of Kulasingham and Soorasangaran to do daily battle with him in the civil courts.

It would have given him a great measure of satisfaction to his son take oaths as President's Counsel a hall mark of a noble soul in the concept Valluvar. He sought peace away from the turmoil in the land of his birth and achieved eternal peace he was far from his beloved friends of a lifetime.

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Tribute to a Friend

by P. Navaratnarjah Q.C.

I came to know S. R. in the year 1926 when I joined the University College. He was then a year or two my senior. At that time the freshers dreaded the seniors. But S. R. made the freshers comfortable and at ease. S. R. and I both took to law.

S. R. was called to the Bar in the year 1933 and I was called to the Bar a year later in 1934. S.R. could have very well remained in Colombo at that time and acquired a lucrative practice. 60% of the litigants in the District Court of Colombo then and thereafter for a long time were South Indian Tamils, and S. R. could have very well had a lucrative practice.

But S. R. decided to go to Jaffna, the land of his birth and do what he could to help the people here. S.R's ability quickly pushed him to the forefront and in a few years he was recognized as one of the leaders of the Jaffna Bar.

I had the good fortune to appear in a few cases in which S. R. appeared on the opposite side. I was tremendously impressed by his ability as an advocate and by his honest outlook in a case.

He loved his legal profession even when the situation in Jaffna was bad. He would go to courts daily. But unfortunately with the passage of time the situation in Jaffna became bitter and bitter, particularly for persons who were old.

S. R. had no alternative but go to Australia and join his children. But I was told that he loved to come back to Sri Lanka and he was looking forward to the days he could walk to courts from his home.

However, God decided otherwise. He did not even struggle for a few minutes before he joined his Creator.

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