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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 period.

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, 2000.

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 President.

Hon. Sirima R. Dias Bandaranaike - November 13, 1994 to August 10, 2000 Prime Minister.

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake - August 10, 2000 to December 07, 2001 Prime Minister.

Ranil Wickremasinghe - December 12, 2001 to April 2003 Prime Minister.

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 day.

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 been broadcast.

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 greater Lanka".

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 Nation.

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 island.

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 British yoke.

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 time.

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 administration.

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 Council.

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 government.

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 Gloucester.

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.


Looking back...

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 independent.

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 Uva-Wellassa rebellion.

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 England.

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 Colombo.

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

D.S. Senanayake

F.R. Senanayake

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

Anagarika Dharmapala

Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera

Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Arthur V. Dias

D.B. Jayatilleke

Ponnambalam Arunachalam

Ponnambalam Ramanathan

G.G. Ponnambalam

D.R. Wijewardene

E.W. Perera

James Pieris

Alhaj Dr T.B. Jayah

W.A. De Silva

Razik Fareed

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 Prince Vijaya.

* 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

Last Governor

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.

First Parliament

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.

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