Kandy in 1940s and 50s
This is an attempt to portray Kandy, the last
capital of Sinhale and the most beautiful heritage city in Sri Lanka
through anecdotes connected with the end of British colonial rule and
the regaining of political independence and national resurgence that
World War II
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, I was 11-years-old. When
the Japanese bombed Colombo on April 5, 1942, I was sitting the J.S.C.
Examination at the primary school hall of Dharmaraja College, Kandy. The
air raid sirens went on ringing for about 10 minutes. We were made to
creep under our desks; pencils kept between teeth and fingers stuffed
into ears. Our hearts began to pound.
A view of Sri Dalada Maligawa fifty years ago. File photo
I was alive to the dangerous situation. Lord Mountbatten who headed
the South East Asia High Command of the British Imperial Armed Forces,
was staying in the King’s Pavilion which was just about 100 yards away
from the examination hall.
Lord Mountbatten had his war campaign office at the Peradeniya
Botanical Garden and his Headquarters at Kundasale. In Polgolla and
Kundasale Camps, there could have been over 10,000 military personnel -
black and white, men and women - engaged in war time pursuits.
From 1939 to 1945, in the nights, Kandy remained a dead city as there
was street black out. Every night two huge search lights coming from the
directions of Colombo and Trincomalee, used to meet in the skies over
the city of Kandy. This happened at regular intervals.
Roads in and around Kandy were full of various kinds of military
vehicles. As the war was in progress, there were many low-flying
aero-planes creating gushing winds. For the first time, I saw 10 aero
planes flying in a row and people started shouting and hooting in joy;
some running into the houses and some running out of their houses.
Some people were embarrassed by the ‘uncivilized behaviour’ of some
military men and women. To many villagers even ballroom dancing seemed
uncivilised. In the present Madduma Bandara Uyana facing Queen’s Hotel,
there was a huge restaurant - Phoenic Tea Garden - meant exclusively for
military personnel where ballroom dancing was a regular feature at
Sangha at house-arrest
In 1942, the War Council met in Colombo. In it there were men like
Lord Mountbatten, Gaeoffry Layton, Sir D.B. Jayatilake and Sir John
Kotelawala. After the Japanese bombing of Colombo, the British war
officials began to suspect that Asgiriya and the Malwatte temples would
Therefore, a decision was taken by the British High Command to keep
the Maha Sangha of Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters under house arrest and
some were to be executed. Sir D.B. and Sir John rushed to Kandy and got
the leading monks to sign a document expressing their allegiance to the
This act averted the dangerous situation. For the first time, this
war time secret was revealed in an article written to Silumina by this
writer in 1954. This became world news. It was Most Ven. Welivita
Saranankara Maha Nayaka Thera of Malwatta Chapter in a casual
conversation, who revealed this war time secret.
A revolutionary movement
A Dutch Catholic Priest Henry Van Zeyst came to Sri Lanka, embraced
Buddhism, studied Buddha, Dhamma and became a Buddhist monk named
Bhikkhu Dhammapala. Later on, he came to Udawattakele Pansala and
resided there. His inspiring weekly sermons appealed to the young minds.
Some lawyers, teachers and students of Dharmaraja, Mahamaya and Trinity
Colleges came to listen to him at week ends.
These young people formed a Buddhist Students Union for studying
Buddha Dhamma and engage in social service.
By 1945, this Buddhist students movement spread far and wide having
Buddhist students unions at leading schools in the island and also at
the University College, Colombo. Finally a revolutionary Buddhist
Students Movement was born by forming the All Ceylon Buddhist Students
Union (ACBSU) having a manifesto based on the “Kalama Sutta Chintanaya”.
This writer became an active member of it since 1947.
During the British Colonial days, higher education was limited to the
privileged few who could afford the fee-levying schools in the main
In the mid 40s, the then Education Minister C.W.W. Kannangara
supported by A. Ratnayaka, established the Central School System which
provided education in English medium.
Cry for English
The cry for English medium education, resulted from Kannangara
reforms was further intensified. A few Buddhist leaders such as Dr.
Gunapala Malalasekara, Dr. E.W. Adikaram and lawyer Ananda Mivanapalana
went round the country campaigning for free education. In 1945, their
first public meeting was held at Sri Pushpadana Hall in Kandy. This
writer, while a student, listened to all the lecturers and also signed
the petition addressed to D.S. Senanayake asking for his support of the
proposal for free education in Sri Lanka.
In the late 40s the Kandyan provinces saw the dawn of political
A few Kandyan leaders such as Wijeratna Rambukwella and Albert
Godamunne were campaigning for a separate state for the Kandyans, formed
an organisation called “Three Sinhala Peramuna.” This movement did not
gain ground even in Kandyan provinces.
Kandy witnessed the formation of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in
1950 at the auditorium of Sri Dalada Maligawa. Credit should go mainly
to Prof. G.P. Malalasekara of the Ceylon University at Peradeniya for
organising it. The members of the ACBSU were requested by the organizing
committee to usher the foreign delegates from the East and West.
A Buddhist Commission
In 1954, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress appointed a fact-finding
commission to collect information on the plight of Buddhists in Sri
This Buddhist Commission (as it became known) visited Kandy first and
they were accorded a warm welcome by various Buddhist organisations in
For three days the commission had its sessions in Kandy.
After having hearings from the big cities in Sri Lanka, the final
report with recommendations was ceremonially out at Ananda College,
Colombo in March 1956. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and promised to implement
the recommendations by the Buddhist Commission in the event that the
coalition party called Mahajana Eksath Peramuna under his leadership,
came to power. The MEP had a landslide victory at the General Election
To be continued