“Olcott Buddhists” is a term used by some. Though I am not sure exactly what this means I believe this is a term that is used to categorize the more Westernized Buddhists or more specifically Buddhists who have attended BTS (Buddhist Theosophical Society) established and managed schools. Obviously boys’ schools like Ananda, Dharmaraja, Dharmasoka, Mahinda, Maliyadeva, Nalanda fall into this category. These schools were established primarily to enable Sinhala Buddhist children to obtain an “English education” in order that they too could be on par with students from the English missionary schools to get “better” jobs in Government Service, and be competitive in the prevailing society at that time.
Prior to the establishment of BTS schools, most rural Sinhala Buddhist children especially of poorer backgrounds had access only to the Temple or Perivena schools. In all other schools a subtle "brain-washing" process was carried out implying everything British (or Western) was good and everything indigenous was bad. Even apples and grapes imported from Briton were considered superior to local fruits! To emulate the British in language, dress and decorum was considered the “done thing”. Some of these were considered essential in the so called upper strata of society, and embedded and instilled so deeply in us that even after independence we have found it difficult to shake some of these off. I suppose it is exactly for that same reason, why we as Anandians and practically every other Sri Lankan Schools Alumni Associations have our annual Dinner Dances!
In 1886 when Ananda College (named Buddhist English School then) was founded it faced an uphill task. It was a constant struggle to overcome seen and unseen forces even up to the late 1950's. Ananda was formed on the same lines as the English missionary schools of that era but with emphasis on Buddhist and National values. While the missionary schools gave pride of place to Christianity, Ananda had Buddhism at the helm. In addition to teaching Latin - which was considered an essential subject at that time - at Ananda, Pali and Sanskrit were also taught. It must also be emphasized that in the formative years there were many English and European Principals and Sri Lankans educated in missionary schools who were the driving forces of Ananda. Past Principals like Sir D B Jayathilake, Dr P de S Kularatne and AE Bultjens were educated at Wesley, Richmond Wesley and St. Thomas' College respectively. These schools also produced and continue to produce very patriotic and national minded and well balanced citizens.
All the so called "English Schools" in Sri Lanka including Ananda were formed on the lines of the English Public Schools. A Cricket team was a must for every school. Most schools had other games such as Rugby (introduced to Ananda only in the mid-sixties) Hockey, Athletics, Soccer etc. and of course Cadetting. A couple of schools like Royal and St Thomas’ had rowing. Ananda re-started rowing after a lapse of many years in 2002 and today are second to none. Strangely none of these schools seemed to have Volleyball which was considered as the national sport. All schools had a school song or an anthem, a blazer and of course the College tie. Even today in the sweltering tropical heat, students wear their blazers and school ties at most functions. For some unknown reason even in the most remote schools, girls wear a tie as a part of their school uniform while boys could wear the more practical blue shorts or white slacks and a white shirt.
There is absolutely no doubt that Ananda College fulfilled an important facet of the Buddhist renesonce in Sri Lanka. It was a school giving a much needed impetus to Buddhist and Sinhala pride. However Ananda did not produce racist bigots in the past or at any time in the present as suggested by former President Mrs Kumaranatunga and some others. Ananda was blessed with exceptional Teachers belonging to all communities of Sri Lanka. These Teachers were embraced with love, respect and reverence. A few names that come to mind are Principal EA Bultjens, TB Jaya, Sivagurunathan, Thanabalasingham, Arunambalam, and Panikkar. There were many students belonging to other religious goups as well. No discrimination was shown by anyone be they teachers or students to any student at anytime. During my days at Ananda my friend and class-mate Muslim student Yusuf Ismail (now Dr) used to carry the Buddha Dharma Prize year after year at the Prize-giving to the rousing applause of everyone present. Non Buddhist students have held school leadership positions including being Head Prefects and Deputy Head Prefects. Special classes have been organised for non-Buddhist students to study their respective religions at Ananda. Today all of them are loyal Old Boys of Ananda. Recently, Old Anandian Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Barker emphasised this even in Parliament.
While Ananda fulfilled a significant need prior to, during and post-independence era, and during the over 25 years of war on LTTE terror, we have to admit that even Ananda was a school founded on the English or British system with a Sinhala Buddhist veneer. The core British educational system was also embodied in the educational structure of Ananda. This is something that is not peculiar only to Ananda. All other BTS managed schools as well as the Central Colleges established much later under the system of Free Education follow the same pattern. With the then prevailing traditions even most games where played in English- so to say. What I mean is the language in the sports field was English. Even up to the mid-sixties, when I left school, most of the cheering was in English. Of course the Sinhala versions too were coming on by then. This is the environment in which we were brought up during that era.
Along with these came the "blind loyalty" for your school. We in Sri Lanka seem to have the old school tie syndrome even more than the British themselves. We seem to carry it around our necks for life! My most humble opinion is that today the old school tie is as detrimental to the country as much as the cast system was some decades ago. To get certain jobs and may be even Cabinet appointments the old school tie seems to carry more weight than ability or integrity. How often do we proudly proclaim someone is from our old school, even though he may be an absolute rotter, if he has been appointed to high office by fair means or foul. Most of the alumnae of so called "elite schools" including Ananda are guilty of this today. Is it not time we shed this mentality and think more in terms of the country than school.
It is an accepted and known fact - though most will not admit to it openly - there was a time when certain jobs were reserved for alumnae of certain schools. For example, well into the late sixties and even the early seventies the vast majority of the Planters came from Trinity, St. Anthony’s, St Thomas' and Royal and also from St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s. Of course most of the Planters sent their sons to boarding schools at Trinity, St. Anthony’s or St. Thomas’ Guruthalawa. I must also add that a vast majority of Planters from these schools did an excellent job helping the national economy. It was the same in the mercantile sector. It was very rarely that an Anandian or any other candidate from a BTS school could get into the mercantile sector as a Junior Executive or Management Trainee unless you were from an influential family.
There were many other opportunities of decent employment which were generally "kept under cover" from the general public. Job opportunities in the Merchant Navy, was one such area. Until the Ceylon Shipping Corporation was formed, and the mv Lanka Kalyani was made into a Cadet Training Ship, only a very few Anandians were able to join the Merchant Navy as Navigating or Engineering Officers. It took over 50 years since independence for a Sinhala Officer to ascend to the top job of Harbour Master in the Port of Colombo. It was the same with the Armed Forces and the Police. Majority of the Officer appointments were reserved for alumnae of certain schools and religious groups.
This trend slowly started to change, since 1956 and it has now changed in a very significant manner. The concern today is whether the pendulum has now swang too much in the opposite direction. As Anandians or Old Anandians are we guilty of the same "crimes" that were committed against us. We have overcome all obstacles and proved ourselves worthy citizens in every way. Every single school in Sri Lanka from the very remote to the most sought after Colombo schools have produced eminent and useful citizens. Is it not the time for us to shed this "my school is the best" mentality. The Old Boys netwrok of so called "name brand" schools have been instrumental in securing and safegurding jobs and opportunuties to their old school buddies. This gives rise to resentment and justified frustration to our brothers from other schools. This is also one of the main causes that evoke coruption during school admisions. Is not the "Old School Tie" syndrome as antiquated and out dated as the "Redda Asse Mahathayas" of the era when Ananda was founded. As much as those gentlemen discarded their attire let us also discard the Old School Tie syndrome.
Let us all be proud of our Old School Ties, but first and foremost let us be Sri Lankans and worthy citizens of the World, up-holding the true values of Ananda.
(The thoughts expressed here are of my own and are not of the OAAV)
By Prasanna De Silva (1955 to 1966)
Copyright © 2001 OAAV. All rights reserved.