United effort of all gained freedom for us
We celebrate sixty one years of Independence
today with honour and glory. This is the most wonderful event in the
lives of all Sri Lankans who will share equally the soil of this land.
Those who were fortunate to have been alive at that time would recall
the joy, the relief and the celebrations that accompanied the dawn of
The Lion flag believed to have been used by King Dutugemunu as
depicted in Dambulla frescoes.
For years, brave men and women of our country protested against grave
injustices, and exploitation.
In a way we can be proud and be happy that we obtained independence
without shedding one drop of blood.
However the most important reason and the secret behind is the united
effort of all in the country to shake off the shackles of foreign
In every territory of our small island courageous men and women
pleaded passionately for the freedom of the people. We must never forget
the fact that independence was not given to us on a platter.
It was after a continuous and sustained democratic struggle that we
earned our reward. Many ancestors paid a high price for our freedom.
Our neighbour India patiently but with a lot of determination and
character launched a bitter battle against all forms of segregation.
They demanded complete self rule asking the British to quit India once
and for all.
For more than twenty years Mahatma Gandhi unrelentingly urged British
viceroys, governors, prime ministers, generals and kings to lay hands
off India. The British leaders turned deaf ears to these agonizing
Even the great Winston Churchill responded to Gandhi’s cry for
independence by saying “I have not become the king of England to preside
over the liquidation of the British Empire.” But in spite of resistance
of the British powers the victory of the forces of justice and human
dignity was gradually achieved.
Till 1815 the Kandyan Kingdom was independent and there were clear
differences between the upcountry and the low country. The upcountry
safeguarded our heritage and culture while the coastal areas were
On the 10th of January 1815, Sir Robert Brownrigg, the British
Governor declared war against the last Sinhala King. The British troops
marched from Colombo the next day. It took only 34 days and on the 14th
February, they entered Kandy in triumph.
They met with scarcely any resistance, for the king was unpopular and
hated by his subjects, and only a few would fight on his behalf. It was
our disunity that gave the invaders easy access epitomizing the fact
“united we stand, divided we fall.” The king had to rush to Dumbara for
Here, in a cave near the village of Medamahanuwara, he was captured
by Ekneligoda Disava and some of Ehelapola’s men from Sabaragamuwa. The
captive king was handed over to John D’oyly.
A convention was held in the audience Hall of Kandy on 2nd March
1815, Sir Robert Brownrigg occupied the principal seat, and the Kandyan
chiefs came in according to their ranks.
First entered Ehelapola, who was received with special honour and
given a seat at the Governor’s right hand; for it was he who had begun
the revolt against the last king. After him came Molligoda, who was also
accepted warmly, and then the Disavas and other chiefs. A treaty was
signed and read both in English and in Sinhalese and agreed by all
By this treaty
a) Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha was deposed and the Kandyan Kingdom was
declared to belong to the British Crown.
b) Buddhism was to be given high recognition and its temples and
priests were to be protected and maintained as in the past.
c) The laws of the country, were to remain unaltered and the king’s
revenues were to be levied as before.
The British flag was then hoisted, England national anthem sung and
the firing of cannon announced the establishment of British rule in
Ceylon. The Sinhala kings and their rule which lasted for over 2300
years now gave place to foreign sway.
The Kandyan people were sullenly indifferent to the change of rulers.
They were glad to be rid of the Malabar tyrant, but they were not
altogether pleased to be governed by foreigners. The chiefs, on the
other hand, were grievously discontented, because under British rule
they found that the greater part of their power was taken away.
The real struggle for freedom started with the hauling down of the
Union Jack, the flag of the British under the leadership of the
Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Nayaka Hamuduruvo.
This was way back in 1816 just after signing the Kandyan convention
in March 1815. People from Uva, Wellassa, Kandy, Matale, Dumbara and
Kurunegala rallied round in the thousands and the famous Kandyan
Rebellion was launched in 1817. Robert Brownrigg the Governor proclaimed
Martial Law to curb the freedom fighters. The magnitude of the rebellion
was so great that the British army was forced to hire soldiers from
The Disaves Keppetipola and Madugalle who pioneered the Wellassa
freedom fight were beheaded. The rebellion was suppressed in 1818 and
British military power was re-imposed.
The Imperialists went on a relentless campaign of extortion, rape,
arson and murder. The Sinhala leaders submitted petitions to the King
and Brownrigg was replaced by Barnes. In 1827, within 3 years, Ceylon
exported 500 tons of coffee. Sir Robert Wilmot Horton became the
Governor in 1831, and progress continued to be made in Ceylon.
In February 1832, a company was formed to start a mail coach, the
first of its kind in entire Asia, between Colombo and Kandy. This was a
sign of prosperity, because it showed that frequent and regular
communication between the hills and the low country was now established,
other signs of prosperity appeared in the opening of a Savings Bank
(1832) in the abolition of the Rajakariya or compulsory labour for
The cinnamon monopoly was stopped and all persons were now allowed to
cultivate or trade in cinnamon (1833). A great stride forward in
development was made when the Colombo Observer was started in 1834.
This was a sign that freedom of speech is now granted to the Sri
Lankans. In the same year, a Commission was appointed to supervise the
schools of the Island and to promote education generally.
Two years later, the Colombo Academy (now the Royal College) was
established. By this time the missionaries have taken to education
seriously and started establishing schools throughout the country. Two
more important changes that happened in 1838 should be noted
i) The island was divided into five Provinces - the Western,
Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central - with a government Agent over
each. The two councils known as Executive Council and Legislative
Council were formed.
ii) District courts were opened in various parts of the country. In
these courts, ordinary cases were tried; but the more important cases
were tried before the Supreme Court, which also had the right to alter
or confirm the decisions of any District Court.
Lord Torrington, who came to Ceylon in 1847 imposed several new
taxes. Taxes on dogs, guns, boats, stamp and road. These were strongly
and angrily resented by the people. Another major rebellion flared up in
protest against heavy taxes, despicable administration and increasing
People from Sat Korale, Matale, Kandy, Kurunegala and Dumbara rose up
against the ruthless Governor Torrington. The 1848 revolt was led by
Gongalegoda Banda who hailed from Vanavasala, fearless Puran Appu from
Dingirala a true leader from Hanguranketa and Kudapola Hamuduruvo a
highly educated Buddhist prelate in the Sat Korale. Governor Torrington
panicked, imposed martial law, and in severe reprisals executed a number
of innocent men and women. His action was highly condemned by a British
parliamentary inquiry. He was advised to leave Lanka immediately and was
replaced by Sir Henry Ward.
With an energy and spirit that took everyone to admiration, Sir Henry
Ward studied the needs of the country and supplied its most urgent
wants. Bridges at Gampola, Kelaniya and Katugastota were made; repairs
to the dams in the Southern Province; the useful irrigation works at
Batticaloa, opening telegraph communication between Colombo, Galle and
Kandy were the principal benefits gained by Ceylon from Sir Henry Ward’s
During the time of Lord Harcoles Rosmead, attention was again paid to
the material improvements of the country. The people rallied round and
demanded a freer legislative council. The railway to Kandy was opened in
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 largely increased the trade of
Ceylon. The Colombo Port that was constructed and opened in 1880
provided the trading world with a good harbour. The Government
established two new Provinces Uva and Sabaragamuwa in 1889. Irrigation
works were vigorously attended to.
The most important being the repairs to the Kalawewa and Yoda Ela. By
1890, the railway was extended to most parts of the country. The latest
being Bandarawela, Matara and Anuradhapura. In 1893, a Technical School
in Colombo was opened where the students were trained for the Mechanical
Branches of the Public Service. By 1899, the total population of Ceylon
was 3,167,789. Tea was not firmly established, as the main plantation
crop after the failure of coffee. The extension of the railway to
Bandarawela provided good transport for the main tea growing area.
Ceylon established good trade relations with neighbouring countries
and that also helped to launch our struggle for independence. The
freedom march was slow, but steady and continued without a break. A lot
of thinking and planning had to be done. Not only political freedom, but
economic and social independence was the goal. The success was the unity
Every leader of yesteryear considered unity as the most ethical and
moral responsibility. They united together and motivated the masses who
rallied round them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, a new class of
people engineered the struggle. The educated men and women of all
communities presented reports, petitions to the English government
Sir Henry McCallum arrived in 1907 and a number of important
engineering works were then begun. The extension of railways was a
noteworthy feature. Motor cars were imported and roads had to be
A railway line from Madawachchi to Mannar was begun. The line was
intended to connect the railways of Ceylon and India. Other extensions
which got underway were those from Bandarawela to Badulla and from
Ratnapura to Palmadulla.
Colonel Henry Olcott visited Ceylon and embraced Buddhism. He was
instrumental in setting up of Buddha Dhamma Schools to teach the Dhamma
to the young. The schools have spread to all parts of the country
enlightening millions of young people.
The Donoughmore commission brought about unique reforms to escape
from the bondage, and come closer towards reaching the goal of
a) Universal Franchise, where men and women over 21 were given the
privilege of voting.
b) A State council consisting of 61 members
c) Opening of more State schools and universities
d) Setting up of hospitals in rural areas and campaigns to control
diseases such as Cholera, Dysentery and Malaria.
Sri Lankan leaders protested against some of the proposals in the
Donoughmore commission and soon Lord Soulbury led a delegation to bring
about certain changes. They included -
a) Appointment of a Governor General to be the representative of the
b) Establishing a Parliament with Senate and House of Representatives
c) Forming a Cabinet of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head
d) Establishing a Public Service Commission and a Judicial Service
It was after the Sinhala - Muslim revolt that made our leaders
realise the repressive nature of the Colonial administration. Secondly
the spread of the Indian nationalist movement under the leadership of
the Indian National Congress made them aware of the importance of an
Ceylon Reform League was formed in 1917 and Sir Ponnambalam
Arunachalam made a great contribution not only to inaugurate it but to
get the protest march moving. In 1944 India got its independence after a
bloody battle. Sri Lanka felt the need more than ever the value of
Sir James Peiris, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, F.R. and D.S. Senanayake,
Sir D. B. Jayathilake and A. E. Goonesinghe were the important leaders
who formed the Ceylon National Congress and Chilaw Congress. The leftist
movement led by S. A. Wickramasingha, Philip Robert and Leslie
Gunawardena, N. M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva was also active
fighting for freedom. The contribution made by Sir Oliver Goonethilaka
was truly great.
There was also a religious movement to revive the religions and
cultural customs which by now had deteriorated due to the influence of
English culture. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera and Ratmalane Sri
Dharmarama Thera contributed greatly to the revival of Buddhism.
There was enthusiasm and Nationalist movements were active in the
North and East also. Sir Arumuga Navalar and P. Ramanathan gave the
leadership for National feeling. There was also a revival of Islam led
by Siddi Lebbe and in Colombo T. B. Jayah took the initiative.
We have come over sixty years along the road of Independence. Let
this noble conviction that all men are brothers and all women are
sisters etches on the heart of everyone. Let us all remember that peace
and love are the most potent weapons that bind everyone. They are the
driving forces necessary for personal and social transformation.
Let us dedicate ourselves to build a disciplined, honest and a
patriotic society. Let us go forward as Sri Lankans together.