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Dharmaraja College Kandy: The anniversary gift - a swimming pool

119th anniversary: Dharmaraja College Kandy one of the premier Buddhist Schools in the country celebrated its 119th anniversary on the 30th June 2006. Tracing her roots it may have been the good fortune of Buddhist education and some karmic force that attracted the great Col. Henry Steele Olcott to the island in 1886.

He lost no time in founding Ananda College in 1886 and Dharmaraja in 1887 through the auspices of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Generations of Rajans in particular and the Sinhala Buddhists of this country in general owe him a debt of gratitude, which can never be repaid.

From its modest beginning with only 12 students, the growth of Dharmaraja over these 115 years is phenomenal. Today her student population stands at 5,000 with a tutorial staff of 160. To this end credit is due to many great men of the calibre of M/s De Silva, Banbury, Jayathilake, Rajaratnam, Billimoria, Kularatne, Mettananda, Wijayathilake, Godage, Amaranayake, Gunaratna and Herath who shone as Principals of a by gone era. As a strong yardstick to judge Dharmaraja today, is the fact that she holds the highest pass mark for scholars in all island schools.

However, it was K. F. Billimoria a Parsee gentleman from Bombay with roots in Iran, who blazed the trail for Dharmaraja. Strongly built, handsome, indefatigable and ably assisted by his charming wife set upon the task of developing the college for 3 decades (1902 - 1932). His lofty ideals as a teacher, love for order and beauty would have set new targets for himself. It is on record that he neither made a threat, which he did not carry out nor made a promise, which he did not redeem.

It is with this futuristic vision that he acquired the 37-acre hill top (now 55 acre) presently called "Lake View", to build the infrastructure for a new Dharmaraja. The immaculate planner and an illustrious builder, Billimoria set his priorities thus:-

1. New buildings to accommodate the collegiate section.

2. A swimming pool.

3. Provision of electricity to the complex.

4. Providing hostel for boarders.

5. Play ground.

The magnificent courage he displayed, carried his dreams to reality in that he either achieved the targets or provided some basics by the time he left. Reference is made in a "speech day" presentation in 1929 of the Swimming Bath (as it was called then), constructed by him giving details of dimensions viz. 50' X 30' with a 7' deep and 3 1/2' shallow ends. He even built a smaller pool for kids subsequently. To him, our beloved Billimoria, time stands still in salute! To the reader, this will provide a historical background.

Let me take my mind to some nostalgic memories of my student days in College as a hosteller from 1946 - 1951. Being a 12 year old, while roaming the college campus looking for adventure and the abounding fruit trees which we never spared, the ruins of a swimming pool was observed.

We gazed at the retaining walls of the pool complete with iron railings now corroded, and its basin overgrown with weeds. The spout which provided water from a natural stream in the valley is just a trickle now. Perhaps the reason for abandoning the pool. At this time our Scouter Mr. Wimalachandra used to take us down to Mahaweli river, passing the pool - for swimming practices. With heavy hearts we listened to him when he explained the reasons for abandoning the pool. We boys stood in awe trying to picture the pool in its hey-day, how the swimmers splashed the water, vying against each other in mock battle.

What stands out is the memory that Dharmaraja did have a swimming pool way back in 1929 or earlier. Now how many public schools can boast of such a facility about this time! Perhaps it is this fact that has re-kindled the embers of a past history that the Old Boys Union has pledged an Anniversary gift to the Rajans of today and for those of tomorrow on her 119th birthday.

Plans are already afoot for the construction of a swimming pool to match national standards, compete with a stadium and other amenities. Work will be carried out in stages depending on the financial support expected.

On a show of interest from possible contractors and our own estimates, provisionally a sum of Rs. 20 million will have to be spent. For this purpose, the Colombo branch of OBU has lost no time in inaugurating a fund on 4th August 2001. A sum of nearly Rs. 2 million has been pledged or partly paid since then. Discussions have been held with the Principal and several committees appointed to go into details of the project.

We are also grateful to the magnanimous offer of Rs. 6.0 million made by E. W. Balasuriya, to complete the project. To start the project the OBU has finalized plans to collect Rs. 4 million within 3 months.

Considering the enormity of the project and the need for a swimming pool for the Dharmaraja boys, specially because of the glorious past and a lost facility, we appeal to Old Boys, students, parents, friends, well-wishers, businessmen and others to contribute lavishly "To give till it hurts" (as the phrase goes), to make this project A Great Success.

Palitha Jayasekera

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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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