Death anniversary of Chellappah Suntharalingam on
A national figure with an international reputation
Jaffna was blessed during the first half of this century with a
brilliant band of supermen with a vision, mission and mandate who have
by their sublime thoughts, power-packed words and dazzling deeds
To this select group belongs late Chellappah Suntharalingam whose
death anniversary fell on February 11, 2012.
Suntharalingam was a Member of Parliament for Vavuniya, Minister of
Trade and Commerce in the D. S. Senanayake's Cabinet, Professor of
Mathematics, Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), Indian Civil Servant (ICS), and
tutor to the Queen Elizabeth in Mathematics.
If the Ponnambalam Mudaliyar's children, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan
and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam represented the high watermark of Tamil
achievement in the field of politics, culture and statesmanship,
Suntharalingam's brothers namely Panchalingam was a medical doctor,
Nagalingam was an acting Chief Justice, Thiagalingam was an advocate and
(Queen's Counsel) and Amirthalingam (CCS) was Director of Fisheries and
excelled in their respective professions.
Suntharalingam was born on August 19, 1895 and was the son of
Chellappah and Meenachchi from Urumpirai in Jaffna. He was educated at
St John's College, Jaffna and St Joseph's College, Colombo. In 1914, he
entered the University of London from where he graduated with a BSc (Hons)
Degree in Mathematics. He then went on to Balliol College, Oxford, from
where he was awarded a double first in Mathematics Tripos. After
graduation he returned to Ceylon where he joined the Indian Civil
Service, but resigned in 1920.
He was called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in 1920 and became an
advocate and practised in Ceylon. Thereafter he served as Vice Principal
of Ananda College, Colombo and was also Professor of Mathematics at the
Ceylon University College.
As he was very much interested in politics, Suntharalingam retired in
1940 and entered politics. He tried unsuccessfully to enter the State
Council during by-elections in 1943 and 1944.
He stood as an Independent candidate for Vavuniya at the 1947
Parliamentary election. He won the election and entered Parliament.
He was persuaded by D. S. Senanayake to join the United National
Party government and on September 1947, he was sworn-in as Minister of
Trade and Commerce.
He supported the controversial Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 which
deprived citizenship to 11 percent of the Ceylon population, but when
division was called on the second reading of the Indian and Pakistani
Residents’ Citizenship Bill on December 1948, Suntharalingam walked out
of Parliament. Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake asked for an explanation
but Suntharalingam resigned from his ministerial position instead.
He resigned from Parliament in 1951. He was the only candidate in the
ensuing by-election returned to Parliament.
He was re-elected at the May 1952 Parliamentary election.
Suntharalingam boycotted Parliament from August 1955 as a protest
against the attempts to make Sinhala the sole official language of
Ceylon. After three months of absence he forfeited his seat in
Parliament. He won the ensuing by-election and returned to Parliament.
He was re-elected at the April 1956 Parliamentary elections.
At the March 1960 Parliamentary election Suntharalingam contested as
an Independent candidate and was defeated by T. Sivasithamparam, another
Independent candidate. He contested the March 1965 Parliamentary
election as an Independent candidate, but came third. At the May 1970
Parliamentary election he contested in Kankesanturai as an Independent
candidate and again came third.
Blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, enthusiasm,
inspiring leadership and quickness of thoughts, he attained eminence as
a mathematician, lawyer, Indian Civil Servant, Ceylon Civil Servant,
Member of Parliament, Minister in the D. S. Senanayake's Cabinet and
above all these a tutor to Queen Elizabeth.
No field of human endeavour was left untouched by the swaying
amplitude of his imagination, the encompassing sweep of his thought, the
penetrating yet lucid felicity of his words and the indefatigable zeal
of his actions. No wonder he left an indelible impression on most of
what he touched with rare dynamism and exemplary zeal.
It is very often said that “there can be supreme technical skill,
originality, intelligence in a person and yet there can be an absence of
genius.” Initially, the word genius signified an attendant spirit, and
animate power that gives to a very few human beings the secret of
The ordinary man casts a shadow, the man of genius casts light, in a
way we do not quite understand. Instinctively, we flinch from this
We take it for granted that genius must pay a terrible price either
in some twist of personality or through private and public desolation
and dramas of rejection that seem to characterize famous lives. To find
genius and happiness in perfect blend is nearly an impossible task. But
in late Suntharalingam we found a happy blend of both. In fact, he was
an extraordinary combination of scholar of exceptional breadth and
depth, a prolific writer, a historian, professor, politician, Member of
Parliament, Minister, Administrator of extraordinary ability.
Possessed of a sparkling versatile genius he illumined any and every
task which he undertook with extra sense of devotion, dedication,
commitment combined with a unique organizing ability and with a
dedicated harmonizing touch.
Undoutedly Suntharalingam was literally a comet who blazed
momentarily across our skies, leaving in his trail a luminescence which
the passing of time can hardly erase. Indeed, he was a colossus,
multi-faceted, multi-dimensional personality who will be always
remembered by all the communities.
In the words of the poet, Suntharalingam was a statesman, yet friend
to truth, of soul sincere, in action faithful and in honour - clear.
‘He was noble, nobility itself.’