E W Perera, Lion of Kotte
All nations, including our country were engulfed in fear and
uncertainty during the First World War which left a trail of decay and
destruction from 1914 to 1918. The sky was dotted with military aircraft
and gunfire, deafening sounds of bombs and blasts became the order of
the day. German submarines roamed the seas around the globe and no
person in his right mind would have ventured to undertake either a
seaborne or an airborne journey.
E W Perera
During this period, the people in Sri Lanka faced untold suffering
and misery under the yoke of the white colonial masters who administered
the colony in an autocratic, high-handed and manipulative manner. People
and their leaders, especially the Sinhala leaders had no means of
breaking free from the ruthless and oppressive hold and petitioning to
the British Monarch against the local Governor and his administration
appeared to be the only alternative for emancipation and extrication.
Passing of the ‘shoot on sight’ order worsened the situation and the
necessity for petitioning grew stronger. Petitioning had a stumbling
block against it, ie how the petition could be safely delivered to the
British Monarch? Posting the petition was a sure impossibility. Journey
abroad by sea or air was a frightening endeavour.
Son of the soil
In spite of the hurdles to be overcome and perils to be faced a
daring, a determined son of the soil came forward to board a ship and
carry the petition to England. He was none other than Edward Walter
Perera, who later earned name and fame as EW the ‘Lion of Kotte’
He hailed from a very respectable family. His father was Edward
Francis Perera of Kotte, a judge of the Supreme Court and his mother was
Johana Matilda, the fifth daughter of Mudliyar William David Perera
Jayawickrema Seneviratne of Thalpaththuwa, Galle. He was the eldest in
the family and born on December 12, 1875.
He grew up at his ancestral home of ‘Kotte Walawwa’ under the
watchful eyes of his parents and he did his schooling at home. L J Walt,
an Irish lady was his English tutor. Later he entered the ‘Colombo
Academy’, the present day ‘Royal College’ (Colombo) and exhibited his
innate talents by mastering English in an excellent manner. He won prize
after prize for English and became the editor of the English magazine,
published at the academy.
EW’s father E F Perera was a practising, faithful Anglican Christian
and he was an active member of the Church of England. (now Church of
Ceylon). He joined forces with Pandit Batuwan Thudawa and carried out a
relentless campaign of petitioning and protesting to the British
Government which resulted in ‘Vesak Poya’ day, the most venerable day
for the Buddhists being declared as a holiday. Questions arise as to the
number of people who are aware of this singular contribution made by a
Christian to uphold a Buddhist right.
EW, a son of a noble father of such calibre, grew as a Christian and
he attended the ‘Sunday School’ conducted by the Anglican Church at
Polwatta, right in front of Galle Face, Colombo. He mastered Sinhala
under the guidance of the scholar monk Most Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala,
who served as the head of the Maligakanda (Colombo) Vidyodaya Pirivena.
Thereafter, he entered the high hall villas of the Law College and
emerged out as an accomplished advocate in 1900. Then he took wings to
England where he continued his studies in law at ‘Middle Temple Law
College’ and soon donned his cap as a barrister. During this sojourn, he
had the opportunity to associate with advocate H J C Perera and work
with a group, deliberating over constitutional and administrative
reforms in Ceylon.
This resulted in the election of an intelligent and educated person
to the constitutional council in 1910.
During the Sinhala-Muslim riots which erupted in 1915, EW had an
opportunity to contribute in good measure in the cause of the Sinhalese,
upholding justice and righteousness. Stoning of a ‘Bakthi Geetha’
program at Kandy on a Vesak Poya Day, the most important day in the
Buddhist calendar was at the root of the riots which took a violent turn
as the days progressed.
Governor Robert Chalmers, Commandant Malcolm and Government Agent -
Colombo Fraser in league with the white planters resorted to most
inhuman and cruel methods in the guise of controlling the riots. The
cruelty and ferocity of the methods adopted by the white rulers gave lie
to the civil rights and good governance of which they preached
The duplicity of the white rulers was exposed and they stood stark
naked in the eyes of the civil-minded people. The governor acted like a
tyrant and went to the extent of declaring Martial Law in all parts of
the country excluding Northern and Eastern provinces. Battalions of
Punjabi and Marathi soldiers were brought down from India to enforce the
draconian Martial Law to the consternation of the people.
The Sinhalese had no alternative against the assault launched by the
local imperialist white agents against their freedom and livelihood
other than presenting their misery to the rulers in England, the
so-called citadel of freedom and democracy.
Leaders of the Sinhalese assembled in secret and formulated a plan of
which preparation of a petition to the British Monarch, providing a
detailed account of the cruel and inhuman treatment meted out to the
local population in a convincing and comprehensive manner. EW was the
hero who came forward to carry this petition in person to England in
spite of the pains and perils involved. A special shoe with a false
bottom was made to hide the petition to avoid confiscation on body
A sense of patriotism energized EW to place the nation before self
and he boarded the ship, carrying that precious cargo - the petition.
His life was at stake, but EW cared the least.
On reaching England EW met Boner Low, the Parliamentary Secretary for
External Affairs at the chamber of the parliament and presented the
petition along with a descriptive account of the inhuman, cruel and
autocratic rule unleashed by the Governor and his accomplices in Ceylon.
EW’s mission ended in success, repressive laws including Martial Law
were withdrawn. EW’s accomplishment was great indeed in that it brought
immediate relief to the nation which suffered immensely under the
jackboot of autocratic rulers. EW, through his matchless endeavour
carved a name for himself in the historical annals of the country as a
true patriot. In fact, Sri Lanka and its people owe a debt of gratitude
to EW for his self sacrificing contribution.
During the heydays of the cruelties unleashed by the local colonial
masters a number of patriots had to pay by their lives on behalf of the
country. Notable among them are Edward Hendry Pedris, a rich young
Buddhist, aged 26 who was shot to death after a bogus trial, Don Francis
Alahakoon, his nephew Don James Amarakoon and W Peter De Seram - all
from Biyagama who were hanged at the Welikada prison.
EW’s mission brought an end to the miscarriage of justice carried out
by the white colonists and as a result a number of individuals who
awaited the hangman’s noose and counted bars in the cells were
unconditionally released. Presentations made by EW was so convincing and
forceful that the governor Charmers and the commandant Faser who behaved
liked mad dogs in uniform had to relinquish their offices and pack home
back to England unceremoniously.
EW returned to the island in 1919 and threw himself into politics and
he became a founder leader of a political party. EW carried out
scathing, thunderbolt like attacks against the colonial rulers on a
continued basis. He conducted himself as a fearless and forthright
political leader and boldly presented a no-confidence motion against the
Governor Manning at the constitutional council in 1920.
EW by his exemplary conduct and erudite exploits impressed upon the
colonists the elegance and grandeur of our rich civilization which is
replete with the exploits of noble and benevolent kings and queens of
the ancient past when the so-called white Europeans would have wandered
around, as half naked nomads.
EW indeed was a great patriot, a national hero in view of the yeomen
service rendered by him to the nation. Today, we hear hosannas being
sung in praise of even those whose contribution towards the independence
movement of the country pales into insignificance when compared with
that of EW. It is sad indeed that memory of EW is gradually fading away
in spite of his great contribution.
In 1921, EW contested the election conducted to select members for
the constitutional council. He represented the Colombo division from the
Western Province and Donald Obeysekera, a man of wealth and power
opposed him. EW roamed home with a majority of 3528, polling 5998 out of
9526 valid votes. Thus EW became a member of the first ever
constitutional council established in the country.
Incidentally, he had to serve in the council as the leader of the
opposition. At the council, EW often took to task the three white
officials who served as the general secretary, secretary for finance and
secretary for law and named them as the ‘committee of three police
In 1924, the election for the second constitutional council saw EW
entering the polls as a representative from Kalutara division of the
Western Province. During the period 1926-27, EW served as the president
of the Ceylon National Council. He never compromised his stand on
national issues with the colonist masters and he conduced his affairs
with pomp and majesty in the fashion of a true patriot.
EW, the ‘Lion of Kotte’, a true patriot of a rare kind, a political
leader worthy of being emulated, an erudite scholar, a well-read
historian and a persuasive advocate breathed his last and joined his
creator on Feb 16, 1953.
The initiative taken by the President Rajapaksa to perpetuate the
memory of EW and rekindle the fires of patriotism in the young
generations of the nation is highly commendable. Mother Lanka needs
people in the calibre of EW now, more than any other time.
Lions of Kotte, Boralugoda and Ruhuna should continue to live in the
hearts and minds of the people of Sri Lanka as an inspiration and
invitation to put the nation before self.