Fifty years ago - assassination of SWRD:
The shots that shook the world
It was on the morning of Friday September 25, 1959-50 years ago -
that the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Solomon West Ridgeway Dias
Bandaranaike, was brutally gunned down at his Rosmead Place residence in
Colombo, by a fanatic, saffron-robed Buddhist monk.
In his younger days. Pictures courtesy ANCL
Having resigned my permanent, pensionable and secure job in the Posts
and Telecommunications Department after 7 1/2 years of service, in
August 1959, I became a "Stringer" reporter for the now defunct "Times
of Ceylon" group of newspapers. Earlier, I was freelancing for the
"Times", since 1953.
On that fateful Friday morning, I was carrying one-year old Lakshan
Amarasinghe, my next door neighbour, to show him the two pups littered
by my Alsatian dog. As I was showing him the pups in the back verandah
of my Moor Road house at Wellawatte, the telephone rang. Donovan
Moldrich, News Editor of the "Times of Ceylon" was on line and he asked
me to "Come to office right away as something tragic has happened."
Mr. and Mrs. Bandaranaike
He did not spell out what it was, but I noticed the time was 10.20
a.m. I went next door and left Lakshan and I got dressed up and as I was
about to step out of my house, I heard Lakshan's father Alfred
Amarasinghe returning home in his car, shouting to my father, (reading
the morning "Ceylon Daily News" seated in an easy chair on the front
verandah) that "the Prime Minister has been shot and wounded."
When I reached the gate, the phone rang again and I returned to
answer it. It was Felix Gunawardena Editor of the "Sunday Times" asking
me to proceed direct to the General Hospital, Colombo where the Prime
Minister had been brought, after an assassination attempt.
I went direct to the hospital and I saw a truck-load of Police
getting off and positioning themselves at various strategic points in
the vicinity. I moved around and saw two of my colleagues veteran
reporters K. Nadarajah who was also working for the "Indian Express" and
M. K. Pillai also correspondent for the "Times of India" there. I also
spotted E. C. B. Wijesinghe working for the Reuters news agency there. I
reached there at 11.10 a.m. and was with them until 2.30 p.m. when
another veteran journalist/colleague Shelton Liyanage (Fernando) also
working for the "Statesman" Calcutta, came to relieve me.
At the time I left, the Prime Minister was still in the operating
theatre. The Emergency operation was performed by Dr. M. V. P. Peries,
Dr. P. R. Anthonis and Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz and lasted a little over
Earlier, the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke who was
swearing-in the Italian Ambassador Count Paolo di Michelis di
Sloughhello, stopped the ceremony and rushed to Rosmead place.
Taking his dog for the Dog Show
Dr. N. M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena who were in the House of
Representatives (Parliament) went to the PMs residence on hearing about
the shooting. A message had also been sent from Queen's House (Governor
General's official residence) to Parliament to continue with its
meeting. W. Dahanayake had suggested that Parliament be adjourned but
Dr. Perera said that "there was no need to panic."
At the time of the shooting incident, there were many people as
usual, waiting to meet the Prime Minister in the verandah of his house.
Among them were two saffron-robed men.
After meeting one of them and bowing to him in reverence, Mr.
Bandaranaike turned towards the second monk. While bowing, the second
monk suddenly pulled out a .45 revolver from under his yellow robes and
shot at the PM at pointblank range.
Mr. Bandaranaike turned and ran into the house and in the process,
three shots hit him in the hand and abdomen, whilst two hit the glass
pane of a nearby door and a flower pot in the verandah.
The people who were waiting to meet the PM, immediately set upon the
man in saffron robe and mauled him mercilessly. A Policeman on sentry
duty there, also shot at the Buddhist monk and wounded him on the thigh
and arrested him. The Governor - General declared a State of Emergency
throughout the island at 11 a.m. and the Army, Navy and Air Force units
including volunteers were mobilized to suppress any civil commotion.
When I reached office the "Times" which had already put out two
editions about the shooting incident, put out its third edition giving
more details of that day's assassination attempt.
Around 5 p.m., I left in a taxi with "Sunday Times" feature writer
Samson Abeygunawardena to meet Dr. Gamini Corea at his Horton Place,
Colombo, residence. The entrances to Rosmead place as well as the
adjoining Barnes Place and Horton Place which were guarded by armed
Police, were closed to all vehicular traffic. We got off the taxi and
walked about 200 yards and met Dr. Corea and collected an article on
"Ceylon's Population problem" for the "Sunday Times" National Forum
After that, we proceeded to 5th Lane, Kollupitiya and met Dr. L. O.
de Silva at his clinic, where there was a large number of patients.
The doctor was biting into a sandwich which he told us was his late
lunch. He said he was in the operating theatre and the surgery "lasted a
little over five hours".
He also told us "The first 24 hours after the operation was very
When I returned to office at about 7.15 p.m., many of my colleagues
were also there. I was then directed by Mr. Moldrich to be at the
General Hospital the following (Saturday 26th September 1959) day at 6
a.m. When I reached the hospital at 5.40 a.m., my colleagues Nadarajah,
Liyanage and Pillai were already there keeping vigil, for any new
developments about the PM.
Shortly after that Saturday morning, Shelton came hurriedly down the
hospital corridor and signalled me to grab the telephone in the solitary
booth in the hospital vicinity, before anyone else gets hold of it. As
he approached me he grimaced indicating that it was all finished.
Shelton took the receiver from me and phoned through to Moldrich that
the PM has passed away.
When I reached the Times news room at 9.25 a.m., the first edition of
the Saturday "Times of Ceylon" was already out. The headline read "The
Prime Minister is dead."
A few hours after the operation the previous day, the PM had joked
with the doctors and nurses around his bedside.
He had asked one of the Nurses "How am I doing?" She replied "You are
doing fine, Sir". "Yes I am an old man and have undergone a five hour
stomach operation but I still have guts," the PM declared.
The Buddhist monk who carried out the assassination was Talduwe
Somarama Thera, an Eye specialist and a visiting lecturer at the College
of Indigenous Medicine Borella and also of the Amaravihare, Obeysekere
The official Bulletin on his death stated "The condition of the Prime
Minister suddenly took a turn for the worse about 7 a.m. There was a
sudden alteration of the action of the heart and his condition
deteriorated very rapidly. He passed off peacefully about 8 'O' clock."
Sgd. Dr. P. R. Anthonis, Dr. T. D. H. Perera and Dr. M. J. A.
A verdict of homicide was recorded by the City Coroner J. N. C.
Tiruchelvam, J. P. U. M. at the inquest. He said "death was due to shock
and haemorrhage resulting from multiple injuries to the thoracic and
The Prime Minister's funeral was held on Wednesday 30th September
1959, where his body was entombed into a vault at his ancestral
SWRD BANDARANAIKE - The assassination aspect
Saturday, September 26 2009, marks the 50th death anniversary of
Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, who died at the General Hospital on a
Saturday morning at about 07.45-Hrs.
The six shots fired by the Ven. Talduwa Somarama Thera of the College
of Ayurvedic Medicine with a .455 Webly Mark VI revolver at the prime
minister in his unofficial residence, Tintagel at No. 65 Rosmead Place
in Colombo-7, on Fri.-Sep.-25, 1959, about
The clothes he was wearing at the time of his death
09.45Hrs, fatally injured the PM and seriously injured a teacher
called Gunaratne in the neck amongst a throng of about forty persons.
It was later established that the murder weapon came from an
unlicensed armoury of five firearms, which belonged to Ossie Corea, a
tavern renter at Dagonna in the Negombo District, and who was also the
personal security officer to the Minister of Finance Stanley de Zoysa,
The deep-seated conspiracy finally blew sky-high, when it was
established at the subsequent Supreme Court trial that the 1st and 2nd
accused, the Ven. Buddharakkitha thera, High priest of the Kelaniya Raja
Maha Vihare, and HP Jayewardena, conspired to assassinate the prime
minister in view of their disappointment, inter alia, in not being able
to push through their business ventures with the assistance of the
Notable was their failure in May-1958, to secure the bid, at great
financial loss to them, for the carriage of rice from Burma (now
Myanmar) to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), on behalf of the Food Department,
through their new company, the Colombo Shipping Lines Ltd, which had
been floated with the expert guidance of Major JR Baptis, a former
director of the Government-sponsored Ceylon Shipping Lines Ltd.
Also, the prime minister had not taken seriously the scurrilous
pamphlet relating to Buddharakkiktha and Mrs Vimala Wijewardene, his
minister of Health.
Ossie & Lionel:
The hatchet man, Somarama, harboured no grudge with the prime
Suspicion fell on Ossie Corea as the enforcer, since he was
bald-headed during the time of the assassination.
However, Corea, who was a former temporary Excise inspector, and his
protégé former ASP-CID Lionel (Gompa) Goonetilleke, who lived
opposite to Tintagel, appeared as strong prosecution witnesses at the
Amongst the crack team of police officers investigating the
Bandaranaike murder, were included DIG-CID DCT Pate, SP Rajasooriya, ASP
SSIK Iyer, IP Abeywardena, IP AM Seneviratne and IP Tyrell Goonetilleke,
who later on rose to the rank of DIG.
The Bandaranaike Assassination trial commenced on 22-Feb.-1961
presided by Justice TS Fernando, QC, CBE, with a seven member jury whose
foreman was DWL Lieversz, Snr.
The trial concluded almost three months later on 12-May. To be