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Government Gazette

Kandy in 1940s and 50s...

Continued from yesterday

In 1951, Kandy witnessed the birth of Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Bandaranaike who left the UNP Government on the July 12, 1951, contacted T.B.S. Godamunne of Kandy over the phone same day evening; explained the reasons for his crossover to the Opposition together with some MPs such as A.P. Jayasooriya and H. Sri Nissanka.

They came to Kandy on the July 15, 1951 to meet Godamunne for the purpose of forming a new political party.

The following met at Situmina Hall at Bowela, Kandy; S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, A.P. Jayasooriya, H. Sri Nissanka, Darrel Peiris, T.B.S. Godamune, Thamara Kumari Ilangaratne, T.B. Tennakoon, F.R. Jayasooriya and T.B. Dissanayake.

They discussed various matters concerning the development of a new political party. The name “Sri Lanka Freedom Party” was proposed by H. Sri Nissanka and the rest accepted it.

The Bowela meeting agreed on 10 principles that the new party should follow. These became the basis of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that was officially formed on September 2, 1951 at the Colombo Town Hall.

Kandy perehara, the annual cultural pageant fifty years ago Picture ANCL library

S.W.R.D. began the 1956 General Election campaign with an alms-giving to 100 monks at Dharmaraja Primary School Hall. Traditionally this place was known as “Jayabima”, the land of victory. S.W.R.D’s coalition party got a landslide victory.

George E. de Silva

While several socio-political activities were going on in and around Kandy, Minister George E. de Silva fought very hard and got the Ceylon University established at Peradeniya, which is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. This new university was established in 1950.

Sir Ivor Jennings who epitomised British values and traditions came as the first Vice Chancellor of this new university modeled after leading British universities.

Accordingly academic staff and students should come to classes in full dress and should eat at the dining halls with spoons and forks. Some students who had come from villages developed or pretended to have stomach upset, avoided eating at the dining halls!.

Sir Ivor Jennings

Some of the students mocked Sir Ivor’s rules by wearing ties flowing down their backs and coats back to front. Within a few years time, Sir Ivor Jennings may have got fed up with Peradeniya and left Sri Lanka by a ship with none from the campus to see him off! Sir Nicholas Attygalle succeeded Sir Ivor and proved to be a strict disciplinarian.

British administrators who held high positions in the Government also began leave Sri Lanka. This development was very conspicuous in Kandy.

When Sir Richard Aluvihara was appointed the IGP, the Kandyans in particular were very happy. This writer remembers several receptions to the new IGP. Some came to such receptions wearing Nilame Costumes!

In April 1954 Queen Elizabeth II came to Sri Lanka on invitation by Sir John Kotelawala, the Prime Minister. Kandy authorities accorded warm public reception to the Queen at Trinity College and a ‘Raja Perahera’ was staged. The Queen was to view the ‘Perahera’ from the Octogen (Pattirippuwa) at Sri Dalada Maligawa.

Queen’s visit

Whether the Queen should remove her shoes before step into the Maligawa became a subject of public debate. Disave C.B. Nugawela the Diyawadana Nilame, was firm that the Queen should remove her shoes. Sir John sent the IGP Sir Richard to meet the Diyawadane Nilame and settle the issue.

Three members of Kandy press (including this writer) got the wind of it and we were there in time. Sir Richard and Nilame greeted each other at the ground floor.

Sir Richard said, “Nilame, the Sacred Tooth Relic is up there (Uda Male). The Queen should be allowed to come in wearing shoes”. Nugawela, the Diyawadana Nilame slapped hard on the face of Sir Richard the IGP and said, ‘Richard you can even arrest me when I am outside.

But neither you nor even the Queen has the power to give me orders while I am inside the Maligawa”. Sir Richard the IGP had the grace to accept this and went away.

We in the press kept this incident a secret for more than 50 years!. The Queen removed her shoes and went to Pattirippuwa to view the Raja-Perahera showing her royal deference to the traditions.

School takeover

Up to 1960, in Sri Lanka, there were two kinds of schools, the schools run by the State free of charge and the schools managed by denominational authorities, but those schools too were provided with money by the State.

These second lot were called assisted schools. The Buddhist Commission recommended that the assisted schools be taken over by the State for a unified system of education.

Dr. E. W. Adikaram, the Manager of Schools run by the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society too supported the assisted schools takeover for establishing a unified system school administration.

In 1957, three teachers of Dharmaraja College, having taken leave, visited Sri Rahula, Vidyartha and Mahamaya Colleges and invited the principals, senior teachers and some prominent Buddhist leaders to come for a meeting at Dharmaraja Primary School hall to discuss the school takeover issue.

Four principals of the four leading colleges and large number of teachers came for the meeting. “Kandy Education Front” with Sir Bennet Soyza as its Chairman, was established.

Until the assisted schools take over Bill was passed in the Parliament in Dec. 1960, Kandy Education Front remained very active force in the island.

Kandy Education Front

In 1957, for a public meeting in support of the school takeover, held at the Kandy Town Hall, the people went in a procession with Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Nayaka Thera and L.H. Mettananda and some more members of the Buddhist Commission and senior academics including Prof. D.E. Hettiarachchi and K.N. Jayatilleka led the procession. Thus the Kandy crowds and the academics joined hands.

When some people opposing the school takeover campaign were holding a public meeting at Kandy Town Hall, about 500 university students led by Ananda Singaravelu and Nandasena Ratnapala (President and Secretary of the Buddhist Brotherhood) rushed to Kandy and joined the market crowds and disrupted the meeting at Kandy Town Hall.


On October 22, 1960, there was a massive procession led by Disave C.B. Nugawela and Sir Bennet Soyza from the Maha Maluwa upto Pushpadana Balika Maha Vidyalaya hall where the meeting in support of school takeover was held.

This public meeting was addressed by leading citizens of Kandy and academics such as Dorric de Suza, W.S. Karunaratne, Harischandra Wijetunga and leading citizens such as T.B.S. Godamunne, Dr. S.D. de Silva and H.A.C. Wickremaratne.

In November 1960, this writer heard of a four-year old girl in Kotmale who was alleged to recall her previous life.

A group of people including Ven. Piyadassi Thera of Vajiraramaya and Dr. K.N. Jayatilake investigated this case. This became a thrilling newspaper story too. The previous life child died on November 9, 1954 and reborn on February 14, 1956.

This case study in rebirth attracted scholars such as Prof. Ian Stevenson of Virginia University, USA. The child claimed that she saw the Queen Elizabeth II when she passed trough Talawakele Town.

In 1961, the Peradeniya University had several weekly debates on rebirth at residential halls. Prof. K.N. Jayatilleke, Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Dr. Doric de Suza and Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe and several academics took part in the debates.

In 1957, a public meeting to oppose Minister Philip Gunawardhana’s “Paddy land Act” took place at the Town Hall of Kandy attended by leading Kandyans such as Barns Ratwatte (Sirima Bandaranaike’s brother), C.B. Nugawela and P.B. Ranaraja. The meeting was chaired by Dr. Wimalananda Tennakoon of the Peradeniya University.

The meeting came to an abrupt end because of disturbance created unobtrusively by some newspaper men. Dr. Wimalananda Tennakoon realized who was behind the disturbances and not wishing to cross swords with the press, abruptly declared that the meeting is at an end!

Cultural centre

In the mid 50s, Kandy was the center of much cultural activity. Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s timeless creations - “Maname” in 1957 and “Sinhabahu” in 1960 gave new life to the Peradeniya University. He had the support of a group of creative musicians and dancers such as Vasanthakumar, Charles de Silva Gunasingha Gurunnanse, Somaratne Attanayake, H.H. Bandara and P.D. Ratnapala.

Kandy was fortunate to have men like Premakumara Epitawela who produced Thitta Bata, Bandula Jayawardhana who produced Berahanda and Swarnahansa, Vasantha Kumara who produced Kumburupanata and Vishvavimukthi. We in Kandy town witnessed a golden era of cultural resurgence in Sri Lanka.

Kandy was blessed by the presence of several distinguished foreign personalities. For instance, the Ven. Gnanatiloka Maha Thera who was the Vice President of the German Scientists’ Association was residing at the Udawattakele monastery along with his fellowGerman, the Ven. Gnaponika Thera. Both were famous as writers who introduced Buddhism to the West.

Another world famous thinker and philosopher - J. Krishnamoorthi spent several days in Kandy at Dharmaraja Principal’s bungalow.

A few years earlier in the late 30s Rabindranath Tagore and Mahathma Gandhi, in their visits to Kandy had given public lectures at the Dharmaraja Primary School Hall.

In 50s, Kandy was adorned with the presence of literary figures such as Charles Silva, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Harischandra Wijetunge, Wimalananda Tennakoon, H.M. Somaratne, Ariya Rajakaruna, Wimalaratne Kumaragama and Kularatne Bulathgama.

This portrait of Kandy would be incomplete without at least a few lines of Raja, the tusker who carried the golden casket of the Sacred Tooth Relic over a period of 50 years annually during the perahera days.

Raja runs amok

Raja ran amok once in 1951 and rushed down Mahaiyawa road, passing Katugastota Town turned into Matale road.

People began to run away screaming in panic. A beggar nick named Gandhi used to wear a piece of cloth reaching his knees and carried a walking stick.

As enraged tusker came charging, the appalled people shouted at the beggar and asked him to get away from the Raja’s path.

The beggar realizing that he could not get away in time, put down the walking stick, knelt down with folded hands, made an appeal to spare his life.

Then something truly wonderful happened. Raja came to an abrupt stop in front of the helpless beggar and placed the tip of his trunk on the beggar’s fore-head for a moment and turned away leaving him unharmed!

Two Great Radalayas

In 1958, while the grand last Perahera was in progress, another elephant in front part of the procession ran amok. Thousands of people started screaming and there was a stampede killing 14 people.

The Diyawadana Nilame Nugawela was at the time walking in the Perahera in his traditional place little behind Raja, the Maligawa tusker.

Realizing that the casket has to be protected he rushed forward and stood between two tusks, began to stroke the trunk of Raja gently and said, “putha, come with me! come with me!” and moved Raja and kept him between the two tall pillars at the entrance to the Lake House (Present Bank of Ceylon) building in the Dalada Veediya.

Never for a moment did he think of running away to save his life, but kept Raja quiet till the commotion was subsided.

The writer a Fulbright scholar is the author of 30 published books - 24 in Sinhala and 6 in English was the Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Sir John Kotelawala Defense University. Courtesy: the Souvenir, the Kandy Society of Medicine



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