58th Independence Day Celebrations
National Day of Sri Lanka
TODAY we celebrate the 58th ceremony of independence gained after
freedom from colonialism. Our country was subjected to changes
politically, economically, and socially and development programs have
been implemented with the hope of building up stable economy during this
A Westminster Parliamentary System for our country Sri Lanka, then
Ceylon, with certain powers vested in the Government and the British
Parliament acting through its members has been recommended by the
Soulbury Commission Report published in October 1945.
D.S. Senanayake (lately Rt. Hon.), as the leader of the United
National Party, which won the largest number of Parliamentary seats, at
the General Election held in August-September 1947 under the Soulbury
Commission, was elected as the Prime Minister and formed the Government.
He presented to the Parliament, the Independence Motion and it was
passed by 59 to 11 on 03.12.1947. Then requested the British Government
to name it 'The Independence Act'. The British Government responded
favourably and the 'Ceylon Independence Act' was passed in the British
House of Commons.
A formal announcement was made that 04.02.1948 would be the appointed
date under the Independence Act for the attainment of freedom.
H.R.H. Duke of Gloucester opened the Parliament of Free Ceylon on
10.02.1948 at a historic ceremony in a specially constructed Audience
Hall in the Independence Memorial Hall now stands. It is how our nation
and people, gained independence after 133 years as a British Colony.
Now it is quite suitable to state here all the names of Prime
Ministers who ruled the country to date. Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake from
September 24, 1947 to March 22, 1952.
Hon. Dudley Senanayake - March 26, 1952 to October 12, 1953; March
21, 1960 to July 21, 1960; March 25, 1965 to May 28, 1970.
Hon. Sir John Kotalawala - October 12, 1953 to April 11, 1956.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike - April 11, 1956 to September 26, 1959.
Wijayananda Dahanayaka - September 26, 1959 to March 20, 1960.
Mrs. Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike - July 21, 1960 to March 25,
1965; May 29, 1970 to July 23, 1977 November 13, 1994 to August 10,
J.R. Jayewardene - July 23, 1977 to February 03, 1978 Prime Minister;
04.02.1978 to 02.01.1989 President.
Ranasinghe Premadasa - February 06, 1978 to January 01, 1989 Prime
Minister, January 02, 1989 to May 01, 1993 President.
D.B. Wijetunge - March 03, 1989 to May 01, 1993 Prime Minister, May
01, 1993 to January 10, 1994 President.
Ranil Wickremesinghe - May 07, 1993 to August 19, 1994 Prime
Minister, December 09, 2001 to date Prime Minister.
Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga - August 19, 1994 to November
12, 1994 Prime Minister November 12, 1994 to November 19, 2005
Hon. Sirima R. Dias Bandaranaike - November 13, 1994 to August 10,
2000 Prime Minister.
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake - August 10, 2000 to December 07, 2001 Prime
Ranil Wickremasinghe - December 12, 2001 to April 2003 Prime
Mahinda Rajapaksa - April 2003 to November 2005 Prime Minister ; from
November 2005 to date President.
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake - November 2005 to date
The first day of freedom
AFTER more than half a century since gaining independence, the nation
usually wakes up to face February 4 like any other day. Nowadays it is
ushered in silently and quietly, without much fanfare except for the
pageantry organised by the State.
The metal model of the Independence Hall
One does not experience a sense of elation or see excitement or joy
on the faces of the people on this day which is a significant national
But, just imagine how the people of our land would have felt on
February 4, way back in 1948; the great day of freedom, the day of
victory for our little nation, which was under foreign rule for more
than four centuries.
Nothing anyone of us, yes even the most patriotic among us feel on an
independence day nowadays can ever be compared to what the people of
that era would have felt on this great day which was referred to as the
'Appointed Day' under the Independence act.
According to newspaper reports, the first day of freedom which was
declared a public holiday was ushered in with much pomp and pageantry
with islandwide celebrations continuing till the opening of the Dominion
Parliament on February 10.
People had been anxiously watching the clock tick by on the night of
February 3 the way some of us do on New Year's eve or Christmas eve and
at the stroke of midnight, the silence of the night had been shattered
by the thunderous sound of bursting crackers and the peeling of temple
and church bells to welcome independence.
A day of revelry had dawned with islandwide ceremonies. Thousands of
people had gathered into Colombo, which had been 'robed in a mantle of
splendour', to celebrate this historic event and also view the parades,
gaily decorated streets and illuminated buildings.
It had led to a major traffic jam in the city. The Senate building,
floodlit in red, white and green, the Fort Clock Tower, Queen's House,
Temple Trees, Galle Face Green and the Harbour, where a water pageant
had been organised (at 7.45 p.m.) by the Colombo Port Commission had
been the centres of attraction on this day. As is customary various
religious ceremonies and planting of trees too had been a prominent
aspect of celebrations.
H. R. H., the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester represented the king of
England at the first Independence Day ceremony. Hhis arrival in the
island was heralded by a 21 gun salute at Galle Face Green.
The boom of salutary guns, at 7.45 a.m. on the 'Appointed Day',
Wednesday February 4, 1948, had emphasised the constitutional aspect of
the country's new status...the Dominion of Ceylon.
After 15 minutes, when the guns fell silent, Henry Monke Mason Moore
had took Oaths as the Governor General of the New Dominion at the
ballroom of the Queen's House in a simple but dignified ceremony.
The lion flag which had been unfurled when the foreigners invaded our
motherland, had once again fluttered freely, this time alongside the
Union Jack, at the F. R. Senanayake Memorial and many other places. A
pageant to pay homage to the son of Lanka had also been organised.
The all important messages from the Governor-General Sir Henry Moore
and the first Prime Minister of Dominion Ceylon, D. S. Senanayake
stressing the right use of freedom for the good of the common man had
In his message, the Prime Minister appealed to his countrymen to rise
to the opportunity which freedom offered and "strive and toil willingly
to advance the happiness of our people and for the establishment of a
We should all take his appeal to heart, especially today as we
prepare to usher in yet another Independence Day in a few more days. We
certainly need to establish a greater Lanka!
Colonial rule to independence
THE Dutch who ruled the maritime settlements of Sri Lanka for 138
years (1658-1796), finally surrendered Colombo to the British forces on
February 16, 1796, without struggle, without loss of life, without much
expense and without let or hindrance from the King of Kandy.
Army parade at an earlier Independence Day in honour of the
Thereafter, the maritime settlements were first attached to the
Madras Presidency, and were administered through military governors.
Madras civil servants were brought to the island to carry on the
civil government, under the general control of Robert Andrews, the
Resident, who was also the Superintendent of Revenue.
The employment of Madras tax collectors and the imposition of an
extortionate tax, led to a formidable revolt among the people in 1797.
Lord Hobart, the Governor of Madras, who became seriously perturbed
over the uprising, reported the matter to Dundas, the Secretary of State
in England, for appropriate action.
The Secretary Dundas, in order to avert the situation, decided to
place the country under the British Crown. With the result, Sri Lanka
became a Crown Colony on October 12, 1798.
The first British Governor to assume office was Frederick North
(later Earl of Guildford). He displaced Brigadier-General Pierre
Frederick de Meuron, who was the military governor at the time.
The first step taken by Governor North, as authorised, was to
nominate a Council of Advice and to form a civil establishment for the
This Council was known as His Majesty's Council and it was composed
entirely of civil servants, presided over by the Governor. It formed the
legislature of the island.
It was during the governorship of Sir Robert Brownrigg (1812-1820),
under whose command the Kandyan kingdom was reduced by the British
forces, and its territory annexed to the maritime settlements, which
were already under the British. Thus the whole island fell under the
The Home Government in England hailed Sir Brownrigg "as the conqueror
of the Kandyan Kingdom, and King George III allowed him to wear in his
arms, the Crown, sceptre and banner of the King of Kandy."
Kandy was occupied by the British forces on February 14, 1815, and
the King Sri Wickrema Rajasingha, a Nayakkar Malabari from South India,
was himself taken prisoner at Gallehewatta in Dumbara, a few miles away
from Kandy, within the outskirts of Meda Mahanuwara.
The British deported him to Vellore in South India, where he was
interned at the stupendous mansion of Tippo Sahib, the Sultan of Mysore,
which was requisitioned by the Indian Government for exclusive use by
the ex-king, until his death in 1832.
In 1829, the arrival in Sri Lanka, by virtue of the Royal Commission
of January 18, 1823, Lieut. Col. Macbean William Colebrooke and Charles
Hay Cameron, who had been advised by the Home Government in England,
inquire and report, the former in regard to the administration of the
island's government, and the later, in regard to the judicial
establishment and procedure in the country, the Commission recommended a
series of reforms, including the abolition of land tenure by salve
labour and the opening of the public service to all classes of people,
either local or foreign, according to their qualifications.
According to William Digby, author and journalist, the immediate
occasion for the appointment of this Commission (i.e., the Colebrooke
Commission), was the financially disastrous position of the country at
The government was described as arbitrary, unjust and oppressive, and
the administration of justice most defective, the trade depressed by
government monopolies, and the people reduced to destitution and
grounded down by slave labour.
The two reports of Colebrooke and Cameron, made very important and
far-reaching recommendation and majority of them were adopted.
The first and foremost was the amalgamation of the maritime and
Kandyan provinces into our government under a uniform administration.
The Commission was of opinion that maintenance of two separate and
independent establishments was contrary to British policy, and most
unpolitic, and was only conducive to the benefit of few chiefs and to
the detriment of the Kandyan people.
IT recommended the division of the country to five provinces
(Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Trincomalle and Jaffna) as capitals for better
The other recommendations of the Commission were the abolition of the
caste system, establishment of educational reforms, establishment of
educational reforms, freedom of the press, the removal of the
distinction between the Courts of law in the Kandyan and maritime
provinces, the extension of the jurisdiction of all courts to Europeans
and natives alike, without distinction or discrimination, the
establishment of a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and two puisne
justices, and the district courts to supersede all existing courts.
Judging from the sequence of events, the creation of a Legislative
Council was, perhaps, immediately due to the suggestions made in the
Colebrooke Commission Report. During the administration of governor Sir
Robert Wilmot Horton in 1833, the year in which saw the proclamation of
a new charter of Justice and the opening of a new Supreme Court, the old
Council was withdrawn and dissolved and the power of enacting laws and
the appropriation of public revenue was conferred on the Legislative
The demand for an effective participation in the Government of the
colony, and the introduction of the elective principle in filling the
seats of the Legislative Assembly became more insistent.
Chief among the causes that contributed to the desire for a reform in
the existing Council, were the spread of education, the increasing
wealth of the country and general awakening of the people in their duty
towards the State.
The reforms of 1912 had not in any appreciable measure satisfied the
political aspiration of the Sinhalese and Tamils, who formed the
backbone of the reform movement.
The agitation for reforms, therefore, continued unabated and with the
passage of years, political aspirations flamed the idea for responsible
In order to achieve this objective, the Ceylon Reform League was
formed in 1917, under the leadership of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam. The
Ceylon National Association was formed in 1919 later came to be known as
the Ceylon National Congress.
Soon after, in August 1920, the new Order-in-Council appeared. In
fact, it preserved the dominance of the government under
pseudodemocratic forms, and gave no real power to the people.
It further gave extraordinary powers to Governor, Sri William Manning
(1918-1925) and he could stop the discussion of any bill or resolution,
limit the time of any discussion and suspend unofficial members, at his
sole discretion, which was arbitrary and unjust.
It did not take long for it to be realised that the Constitution of
1923, would never work satisfactorily. Hence a new Commission (the
Donoughmore Constitution) was appointed "to visit Ceylon and to report
on the working of the existing Constitution, and on any difficulties of
administration which may have arisen in connection with it, to consider
any proposal for the revision of the Constitution, and what, if any,
amendments to the Order-in-Council now in force should be made".
Governor Sir Herbert Stanley (1927-1931), was able by his tact to
grasp affairs to launch the Donoughmore Constitution, which introduced
adult franchise, abolished communal representation in the legislature
and created local ministers.
The Constitution recommended by the Donoughmore Constitution in 1928,
was revolutionary in certain respects. The State Council was to be
elected by adult franchise.
The Donoughmore period, i.e. the period after 1931, the year in which
the Donoughmore Constitution came into operation and gave internal
self-government, with an elected State Council, was largely
characterized by attempts to introduce amendments to this Constitution,
and further the advance towards full self-government.
In October 1941, His Majesty's Government in England issued a
Declaration, recognising the "urgency and importance of constitutional
reform" and suggesting that the position would be examined after the
Second World War (i.e. after 1945).
There followed a period of rather uncertain exchange of views,
between the Sinhala leaders and the Colonial authorities, culminating in
the appointment of a Commission with Lord Soulbury as Chairman, and
assisted by Sir Frederick Rees and Sir Frederick Burrows, to examine the
ministers' proposals and to "provide full opportunity for consultation
to take place on constitutional reforms".
Shortly after the Soulbury Commissioners had completed their report,
Sri Lanka received her independence, by the Independence Act of 1947,
passed in the House of Commons in England. The Constitution is contained
in two sets of documents, viz: The Ceylon Independence Act, 1947, and
The Orders-in-Council of 1947, known collectively as the Ceylon
(Constitution and Independence) orders-in-Council, 1947.
These documents contain the legal powers for full Dominion Status.
Formal Announcement was made that February 4 would be 'The Appointed
Day' under the Ceylon Independence Act. The final draft of the new
Constitution was prepared by the legal advisors to the Secretary of
State, of whom Sir Kenneth Roberts-Wray was the chief. He was assisted
by two officials from Sri Lanka.
They were Sir Barclay Nihill (the Legal Secretary) and Sir Oliver
Gonnetilleke (the Financial Secretary). The new Constitution was
assented to by His Majesty King George VI on May 15, 1946.
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore was the last Colonial Governor and the
first Governor-General of Sri Lanka. The ceremonial opening of the first
Parliament of the Dominion of Ceylon, on February 10, 1948, was an
occasion of great historical significance.
The opening was performed by His Royal Highness, the Duke of
Gloucester (brother of King George VI) accompanied by the Duchess of
On May 22, 1972, the Soulbury Constitution was abolished and a new
Republic of Sri Lanka was established under a new Constitution. This
Republican Constitution was replaced by another similar Constitution,
drafted by the United National Party (UNP), which came into power in
July 1977, and it still continues as The Democratic Socialist Republic
of Sri Lanka.
SRI LANKA will celebrate 58 years as a free nation this Saturday. The
island gained independence on February 4, 1948 after being under foreign
rule for about 450 years.
The wealth of our country attracted the colonial powers of Europe;
the start of colonial rule started in Ceylon with the arrival, in 1505,
of the first Portuguese fleet headed by Lorenco d' Almeida.
Sri Lanka National Tree
The Dutch outsmarted the Portuguese in 1656, when they captured
Colombo after a six-month siege. The kingdom in Kandy continued to be
Although both colonial powers tried on many occasions to capture the
city, it continued to evade them due to a combination of mountain
landscape and tropical climate.
Although the Portuguese and the Dutch failed to capture the whole
country, the British, who arrived in the country in 1795, succeeded here
on February 18, 1815, ending 2,357 years of local rule.
In 1818, a unified administration for the island was set up. The
first British Governor appointed to Ceylon was Frederick North (later
Earl of Guildford). He displaced Brigadier-General Pierre Frederic de
Meuron, who was the military governor at the time.
The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Wickrema Rajasingha, was taken
prisoner and was deported to Vellore, South India, where he died in
1832. Ceylon continued to be a colony of the British Empire until
independence was finally granted on the Wednesday of February 4.
Independence wasn't handed over to us on a platter however. Ceylonese
of every race and religion had to fight hard for this freedom. One of
the very earliest struggles against the colonial powers was the 1818
This was crushed by British Governor Brownrigg, who was afterwards
recalled to Britain. Keppetipola, Monarawila was beheaded as a result of
this rebellion. Another rebellion took place in Kandy in 1848 where its
leaders Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda were captured and shot.
Some of the more modern leaders in the struggle for independence were
D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake, D.B. Jayatilleke, Ponnambalam
Arunachalam, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, T.B. Jayah, Razik Fareed and D.R.
Wijewardene. People such as Anagarika Dharmapala and Migettuwatte
Gunananda Thera awakened the locals against colonialism and were
supported in their actions by others like Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera.
Events leading up to independence
1931 - Elections held to the State Council through universal
franchise - June 13-20.
1943 - The grant to Ceylon of full responsible government under the
Crown in all matters of internal civil adminstration is stated in a
message from His Majesty's Government to the Board of Ministers to be
the end to which the post-war re-examination of the reform of Ceylon's
Constitution will be directed. The Speaker reads the message to the
State Council - May 26.
1944 - Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, new Governor of Ceylon and Lady
Monck-Mason Moore arrive - December 4.
Reforms Commissioner Lord Soulbury, Chairman and other members arrive
in Ceylon - December 22.
1945 - Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton relinquishes the post of
Commander-of-Chief in Ceylon - January 8.
Dominion Status Bill passed in Parliament - March.
1947 - After the Soulbury Commissioners complete their report, Sri
Lanka's Independence Act of 1947 is passed in the House of Commons in
The first Parliamentary elections in Ceylon began on August 15 and
ended on September 20. D.S. Senanayake was invited to form a Cabinet.
The inaugural meeting of the Parliament took place - November 25.
D.S. Senanayake delivers the Convocation Address at the University of
Ceylon - October 17.
First meeting of the Second Chamber and election of President and
Deputy President - December 1.
Independence Motion passed in the House of Representatives by 59 to
11 votes - December 3. 1948 - Formal announcement that February 4 would
be "Appointed Day" under the Ceylon Independence Act.
Ceylon's new Governor-General Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore G.C.M.G.
sworn in at a solemn ceremony at Queen's House, Colombo - February 4.
HRH the Duke of Gloucester and the Duchess arrive at the Katunayake
Airport to perform the historical ceremony of the opening of the new
Dominion - February 8.
Pageantry marks colourful opening of Parliament in the Assembly Hall
in Torrington Square - February 10.
Ceremonial hoisting of the Lion Flag over the Paththirippuwa
(octagon) of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy - February 11.
1949 - British Parliamentary delegation arrive to present the
Speaker's Chair and Mace to the House of Representatives - January 3.
Four outstanding athletes from the four communities completed the
last lap of the relay at the Independence Square on Independence Day
celebrations with messages from Point Pedro, Dondra, Batticaloa and
HE the Governor-General Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore leaves the island
after a ceremonial farewell - June 29.
Sir Arthur Wijeyewardene, Chief Justice, sworn in as first Ceylonese
Acting Governor-General - June 30.
Lord Soulbury, the new Governor-General arrives and a Swearing-in
Ceremony takes place at the Queen's House - July 27.
1950 -D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister made a Privy Councillor by the
King - January 1.
1951 - Independence Day celebrations were modernised.
1952 - Celebrations were held on a subdued scale due to the death of
King George VI.
1954 - The last colonial Governor-General Viscount Soulbury left the
island and the first local
Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke took oaths - July 17.
History in brief
Those who led the struggle
Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera
Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera
Arthur V. Dias
Alhaj Dr T.B. Jayah
W.A. De Silva
Colvin R. De Silva
Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy
Father of the Nation
* Don Stephen Senanayake was the first Prime Minister of Independent
Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
* He was born on October 20, 1884 in Botale, Meerigama, the youngest
in the family, with an elder sister and three brothers. F.R. Senanayake
was his second, elder brother.
* D.S. studied at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.
* He entered public life by identifying himself with the Temperance
Movement, which wasn't held in favour by the British government.
* Elections for the first government of independent Ceylon were held
in 1947. After independence, D.S. Senanayake took office as the
country's first Prime Minister.
* He was responsible for building many tanks for agriculture and also
contributed to the promotion of national literature.
* He died in an accident in 1952, and was succeeded as Prime Minister
by his son, Dudley Senanayake.
Site of celebrations
* The Independence Square at Torrington Place, Colombo 7 has been the
main venue for Independence Day celebrations for the last few years.
Sri Lanka National Bird
* It was built to commemorate Sri Lanka becoming an independent state
on February 4, 1948.
* The 1948 ceremony was held at an improvised pavilion at the site.
It was attended by the Duke of Gloucester who represented his brother,
England's King George VI. It was here that the national flag was hoisted
for the first time.
* The hall is the modern recreation of a Kandyan audience hall. It
consists of rows of granite pillars and is surrounded by statues of
lions made from granite. The area surrounding the hall is elegantly
landscaped with fountains, ponds and neatly designed gardens.
* The Independence Square is the cremation site of many important
people in the country, including D.S. Senanayake.
The Lion Flag
* The 2,000-year-old lion flag is considered as one of the oldest
national flags in the world. The Sinhala race is said to have begun with
the planting of the lion flag, for the first time on Lankan soil, by
* The lion holding a sword upright by its right paw stands for
justice, righteousness, heroism, strength and the discipline of the
nation (the lion's eye - watches the rulers' performance, tongue -
rulers' statements should be honest and truthful, head and tail -
equality between ruler and citizens, hairy body - strength; sword - is
an indication that the country should be ruled righteously, meting out
justice to all).
* The four bo leaves at the four corners of the flag symbolise Metta
- compassion, Karuna - kindness, Mudita - joy in others' prosperity and
Upeksha - equanimity, called the four Brahma Viyarana or the highest
standards of harmonious living.
Sri Lanka National Flower
* The lion is yellow in colour, denoting righteousness and peaceful
way of life. The red in the background denotes immortality and the
defeating of the evil forces of oppression.
* With the dawn of independence, all communities accepted the lion
flag and decided to retain it as the island's national flag with the
addition of two vertical stripes of saffron and green to represent the
Tamil and Muslim communities.
* The flag is a symbol of unity, harmony and friendship between the
Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people of Sri Lanka.
British Kings who governed Ceylon
George III - 1815-1820
George IV - 1820-1830
William IV - 1830-1837
Queen Victoria - 1837-1901
Edward VII - 1901-1910
George V - 1910-1936
Edward VIII - 1936
George VI - 1936-1952
Queen Elizabeth II - 1952-1972
Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore was the last Governor of pre-independent
Ceylon. His governing period was from 1944 to 1948.
After the island was granted independence, he was sworn in as the
Governor-General, in which position he continued until 1949. He left the
island after a ceremonial farewell on June 29.
The ceremonial opening of the first Parliament of the Dominion of
Ceylon was held at the Assembly Hall in Torrington Square on February
10, 1948. This was an occasion of great historical significance and was
marked by colourful pageants.
The opening was performed by His Royal Highness, the Duke of
Gloucester (brother of King George VI) accompanied by the Duchess of
Gloucester. The Duke and Duchess had arrived in Sri Lanka for the
celebrations to represent the British monarch.
The Duke read the King's address at the opening of the Ceylon
Dominion Parliament was opened.