Friday, 13 August 2004  
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The Saravanamuttu Prize at S. Thomas' College

It is no exaggeration to claim for S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia that during its 153 years of history the College has fulfilled the Founder's vision of moulding character and sending out into the world many who have made a difference to the nation's life.

A number of 'Thomian' families of all ethnic and religious communities have contributed to the life of both the school and the nation, but with the exception of perhaps the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes, the family that has demonstratively achieved most, both in school and in public life and contributed to both spheres, must surely be the Saravanamuttus.

At S. Thomas' this family, spanning three generations excelled in both curricular and extra curricular activities. Five members won the F. L. Goonewardene Batting Shield 7 times between them, four won the Pieris Siriwardene Gold Medal, three won the Miller Mathematical Prize, two won the Arndt Memorial Prize, one won the Rajapakse Classical Prize and one won the prestigious English University Scholarship.

Five of them were Head Prefects and two Captained the Cricket 1st XI. Seven have played in the Royal - Thomian Cricket matches while one Captained Soccer and Boxing.

The six brothers, Ratnajoti, N. T. V., Pakiasothy (P), Manickam and S. (Thambirajah) were the first Thomian generation of the family to have a significant impact in their respective fields beyond the portals of S. Thomas'.

They bore testimony not merely to the spirit of public service that they inherited from their grand father Vetharniam, the founder of the village of Chunnakam in Jaffna and their father Dr. V. Saravanamuttu, but also to the education they received at their alma mater.

The eldest, Ratnajoti was a scholar of eminence at the College bagging a number of prizes during his school career. He followed in his father's footsteps, took to medicine and established a successful medical practice.

He was the second of three generations of Doctors (four, counting his grand daughter Dr. Mrs. Sarawathy Balasingam) and ran his own hospital being especially skilled in treating fevers for which he was named 'the fever specialist.'

In addition to his successful general practise he was a philanthropist and a conscientious servant of society, particulary the poor of North Colombo.

At a time when local government was the only area of political activity open to 'native' Ceylonese he was repeatedly elected to the Colombo Municipal Council from North Colombo and was elected first Mayor of Colombo, an achievement that bears testimony to his popularity and the respect he commanded in a predominantly Sinhalese constituency.

As Mayor he rendered yeoman service during the Second World War particularly when the Japanese attacked in 1942. His sense of duty was rewarded with a Knighthood after the War. In 1951 S. Thomas' honoured him by hanging a portrait of him in the College Hall and in the 1960s Wolfendhall Road was named after him in recognition of his many contributions to society.

The second brother N. Saravanamuttu after a distinguished school career became a successful Proctor and proved that 'Law and Justice have a fascination for old Thomians, which is perhaps the outcome of the love for order and discipline that is so prominent a feature of the Institution' as stated in the 1901 Jubilee Number of the College Magazine.

During the Second World War he served as Chief ARP Warden for Colombo and was later elected a member of the colombo Municipal Council.

S. Thomas' College has a rich Thespian tradition and the third brother T. V. Saravanamuttu was part of this tradition. He went on to produce highly acclaimed Plays himself alongside a distinguished career in the Excise Department where he became the first Sri Lankan Excise commissioner.

His most significant contribution is said to have been organising the Independence Day Pageant staged for the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1948. T. V. founded 'The Thespians of Ceylon' along with P. C. Thampugalla, Cox Sproule, Arthur Van Langenberg and a few fellow old Thomians.

His last undertaking was the planning of the 'Colombo Plan Exhibition' at the invitation of the Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke and ironically it proved to be his swan song as he succumbed to a fatal heart attack on the eye of the event. E. C. B. Wijesinghe has written that 'T. V.'s contribution to the performing arts is as valuable as those made by his five distinguished brothers in other fields'.

The fourth brother, Pakiasothy was better known as P. Sara. After a very distinguished career at S. Thomas' during which he won almost every prize that was awarded, he entered Fitzwilliam Hall, cambridge to prepare for the Indian Civil Service, but was forced by unfortunate family circumstances to return to Ceylon without receiving a degree.

On his return he passed first in the Ceylon Civil Service and served for a number of years as Government Agent of a number of provinces in the island. His friend D. S. Senanayake appointed him as Tea Controller.

Tea Commissioner, Rubber Controller and Rubber Commissioner, four posts he held concurrently with distinction E. C. B. Wijesinghe records that 'The annual turn-over from P. Sara's departments was said to be twice the average revenue of the Ceylon Government.' He was one of the few who accompanied D. S. Senanayake to Whitehall for consultations during the War.

Although his remuneration was second only to that of the British Governor P. Sara did not accept any Imperial honours and he politely declined the CMG conferred on him in 1945 for his many services rendered to the war effort. P. Sara was a loyal Thomian who never forgot his alma mater.

He was a strong support to Warden R. S. de Saram during the war years in particular when the College was expanded to Gurutelawa. He provided a Fire Engine for use at Gurutelawa and since the school was 8 miles from the closest railway station in Welimada he donated a 26-seater bus for the use of staff and students.

He served concurrently as Secretary of the Old Boys' Association from 1940 to 1945 and as a respected member of the College Board of Governors.

After the War and the subsequent return to Mount Lavinia P. Sara's contribution to the school was recognised when a portrait of him was hung in the College Hall. Apart from his services to the nation and to his alma mater P. Sara contributed to one more sphere of Ceylonese life and culture - Cricket, a game in which he had enjoyed a distinguished career at S. Thomas'.

Introduced to S. Thomas' by the Founder, cricket was, as it is now, an integral part of the Thomian ethos and this must certainly have influenced P. Sara whose contribution to the game was phenomenal. He was uncontested Head of the Ceylon Cricket Association and became the first President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon, a post he held for a consecutive period of thirteen years.

The Colombo Oval built at the height of the Second World War is the lasting testimony to his contribution to the development of the game. In 1943 the Royal - Thomian Cricket Match was played for the first time at the Oval and he was responsible for having the Grounds ready for the event.

In tribute to him the Oval was renamed the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium after his death in 1950 and until recently the most prestigious domestic Club Cricket tournament in Sri Lanka was played for the P. Saravanamuttu Trophy inaugurated in 1951.

P. Sara took to politics in independent Ceylon on his retirement from Public Service. Yet he was not successful in two elections to obtain a seat in Parliament, perhaps due to his unwillingness to play the political game.

The next brother Manickam too enjoyed a distinguished career at S. Thomas' where he won a number of the most prestigious prizes on offer getting his name on total of 11 panels in the College Hall. He played for the Cricket XI for four years and captained in 1914. He was also Football Captain, Head Prefect, Senior Cadet NCO and Secretary of the Debating Society.

All these achievements and his later career earned him the distinction of being named 'the best all round Thomian boy of the century' in 1951. He won the English University scholarship in 1915 and proceeded to St. John's College, Oxford. M. Sara was a journalist of repute having been recruited on his return from Oxford by fellow Old Thomians D. R. Wijewardene.

He served as Sport Editor of the Ceylon Observer and later as Managing Editor of the 'Straits Times' and the 'Straits Echo' in Malaya. He played a notable role when Japan invaded Penang. While in the Archipelago he founded the Ceylon Sports Club in Singapore and in Ceylon was a founder member of the CR and FC in Colombo. He also served as Ceylon's High Commissioner in Malaya and her Commissioner in Indonesia.

The last of the six brothers was S. Thambirajah) who like his elder brothers excelled at S. Thomas' and captained nearly all the major sports at the College.

He created history in 1918, the first year of the College at Mount Lavinia, when he scored the fastest school boy century in the history of schools cricket in Sri Lanka, 122 runs in 38 minutes for S. Thomas' against St. Anthony's College in an outstanding display of batting. He played for the Thomian XI for five years and captained the side in 1917 and 1918.

He played his first Royal - Thomian at the age of 13, perhaps the youngest to do so to date, He was also the first Thomian to make 2000 runs in a schools Cricket year. When he left the College in 1919 after having also been Head Prefect and Boxing champion, Warden W. A. Stone described S. Sara as 'the most outstanding all-round Athlete in the history of the school.'

Following his illustrious school career he went on to St. Catherine's College, Cambridge to read engineering and although he achieved distinction by scoring 132 runs at Lords against the M.C.C. he narrowly misled obtaining a Cambridge Crickting Blue.

In the 1930s he represented the All Ceylon Cricket Team with distinction. During the Second World War he served in the Ceylon Light Infantry and rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel of the 4th Battalion. When the war was over he read Law and began a successful criminal practice.

Like Sir Ratnajoti before him be too was repeatedly elected from the Colombo North constituency to the Colombo Municipal Council and received an Imperial honours, the MBE. In 1950 on the death of P. Sara he was elected President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.

Succeeding generation of Sarvanamuttus has carried on the family tradition with distinction. In all, the family has produced eight doctors of medicine, eight lawyers, journalists and entrepreneurs of repute over four generations. Not all of them were Thomians.

There was for example, Mrs. Jehanara Singh (daughter of Mrs. T. C. S. Jayaratnam, the younger sister among the eight children of Dr. V. saravanamuttu) who served as a member of the Lok Sabha and Junior Minister of Tourism in successive Indira Gandhi Governments.

In the next generation two outstanding members are Ms. T. Mylvaganam, (grand daughter of T. V. Saravanamuttu and one of four siblings, three of whom are Barristers and one a Solicitor) who recently became the first Asian woman non QC Barrister to lead the defence in a case at the Old Bailey in London; and the demonstratively brilliant, academic and surgeon Prof. Shervanthi Homer- Vanniasinkam (grand daughter of Mrs. R. A. M. Thuraiappa, Dr. V. Saravanamuttu's other daughter) who holds numerous Fellowships and Chairs and whose achievements in the field of clinical and vascular medicine and surgery in the United Kingdom are too numerous to mention.

The contributions to Sri Lanka by the journalist, thespian and human rights activist the late Richard de Zoysa (only son of Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu (grandson of P. Sara) must also be recorded.

It is this 'Thomian' family that will be immortalised in THE SARAVANAMUTTU PRIZE to be awarded at St. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia from this year.

The objective of this prize is: "to reward students who show early promise of exhibiting human excellence and virtue in adult life by the award of an annual prize to any student of the College Forms in S. Thomas' College...' When awarded it will become the most valuable Prize at S. Thomas', valued at approximately Rs. 200,000 per year.

The sole donor of the Prize is Mr. Arjuna Saravanamuttu better known as Ajit, third son of P. Sara who wishes it known that future donations to this Prize Fund either from members of the family or the public will be accepted subject to the approval of the Trustees.

The Saravanamuttu Trust has been inaugurated to administer the Prize and it is hoped that the Prize will not only honour this outstanding family but will also help to inspire future generations of Thomians to maintain the high standards of excellence that the College has been famous for.

It is also fervently hoped that the winners of this prize at S. Thomas' will fulfil the vision of Bishop James Chapman and 'be good as well as wise' when they pass out of the College.

Esto Perpetua!

Marc Billimoria

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