by Chandra Edirisuriya (2002/11/01)

The news of the famed Panadura Vadaya of 1873, where the Venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda Maha Thera proved the relevance of Buddhism in the modern world, spread far and wide. It was this singular event that led Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, an American to come to this country and launch a Buddhist revivalist movement and pioneer Buddhist education.

Colonel Olcott first founded the Galle Theosophical Society in May 1880 followed by the Colombo Theosophical Society in June 1880.

One of the most significant results of these far-reaching developments in British colonial Ceylon was the founding of Ananda College, Colombo on 18th November 1886. Although this institution came into being with a modest beginning as the Buddhist English school at No. 61, Maliban Street, Pettah, Colombo, under the principalship of C. W. Leadbeater, a fellow Theosophist of Colonel Olcott, with 31 students, it is today one of the largest and most complete educational institutions in Asia.

This was made possible by the undaunted courage and determination amidst various odds, of the pioneers most of whom were foreigners directly inspired by the Panadura controversy which displayed the debating skills of Venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda Maha Thera.

The first principal Leadbeater held classes on Sundays in the school to teach Buddhism to the teachers. The school was registered in March 1889 and Madras University graduates Hearth and Oliver James joined its staff.

In 1890 A. E. Bultjens assumed duties as principal, in succession to the first Sinhalese acting principal D. A. Vittachchi. At this time the manager of the school was Bowles Dalley. C. A. Jayatissa of the school becoming the only student in Ceylon to pass the Cambridge Junior Examination in German Language was indeed a feather in the cap of this budding centre of learning.

Venerable Sumangala Thera was the manager of the school from 1892 to 1895. The first step in shifting Ananda College to its present location was made possible by Mudliyar Tudor Rajapaksa donating three and a half acres of valuable land at Paranawadiya in Maradana on 8th January 1894.

Thereafter there was no turning back for the Buddhist English school now named Ananda College, the first permanent building measuring 180 feet by 34 feet having been opened by Mudliyar Tudor Rajapaksa on the 23rd of August 1895.

One of the greatest sons of Mother Lanka Sir D. B. Jayatilake assumed duties as the first Sinhalese principal of Ananda College on the 15th December 1898. By this time R. A. Mirando had become its manager. A number of foreigners, namely J. T. Davies, M. U. Moore, Fritz Kuntz headed Ananda thereafter.

The hostel of the college originated at "Swarna", Jail Road, Campbell Park in July 1914 and its first warden was P. M. Menon.

In August 1915 the American national H. Gazulick became the vice principal and Mrs. H. Gazulick commenced kindergarten classes.

The first science laboratory named after Wilson Dias was opened by the then Director of Education E.B. Denham on 24th November 1916. The Government Scholarship for 5th standard students and the hostel at the Government Teacher Training College located at the present Thurstan College premises where my father, Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayaka and his twin brother Kalyanapriya, W.S. Wanasinghe and Jayasuriya, the father-in-law of Brevet Colonel G.W. Rajapaksa stayed as trainees, were named after Denham.
Colonel Olcott passed away on 17th February 1907. After W.A. de Silva became the manager of Ananda in 1916, from Olcott memorial day on 17th February of that year the American flag was also hoisted at the college premises along with the Buddhist flag designed by Olcott himself and the Union Jack.

The Kularatne era, the most significant period of the development of Ananda College commenced on 1st January 1918 with the assumption of duties as principal by P. de S. Kularatne. The Dutugemunu fund was inaugurated in 1919 and the first building of the Kularatne era, a nine (9) classroom structure was built with the money collected in the fund. In the same year eight classes commenced for Buddhist monks.

On 19th November 1920 Miss Hilda Muriel Westbrook came from England and joined the college staff and in December the same year her marriage to principal Kularatne took place. In the same month a four acre block of land was made available for the college playground at Campbell Place.

On 31st March 1922 British Governor Sir Graeme Thompson laid the foundation stone for a sixteen classroom building at the same venue. In August the same year the first stage of the two storeyed hostel building was opened.

One of the most memorable events in the annals of the college was the visit of the colossus of Indian letters, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore on November 10, 1922, as chief guest at the annual prize giving. He declared on that occasion: "I acknowledge that the life of Ananda is its humility and unassuming nature." No less significant was the assumption of duties as principal in July 1923 of Professor and Ambassador G.P. Malalasekera, a giant in the field of education in this country. The same month the middle school of the college with 330 students was shifted to the new building at Campbell Place under its head master L.H. Mettananda.

One of the greatest men ever born Mahathma Gandhi visited Ananda in 1927. Two singular achievements of the college in 1928 were the winning of the coveted Herman Loos cup for the best cadet platoon and the Stubs challenge shield for boxing.
A unique feature of this premier Buddhist seat of learning in the island was that it was not restricted to Sinhala Buddhists. Sinhala students were taught Tamil and Tamil students Sinhalese. A Sittampalam conducted Tamil classes.

In 1929 Ananda won the CVRA shield for rifle shooting. On November 1, 1932 L.H. Mettananda became principal and in 1934 the Ananda College rifle shooting team won the prestigious Governor's cup defeating eight formidable teams.

Ananda also won the Herman Loos cup again and platoon 5A won the Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) challenge cup.

The golden jubilee of the college was held on November 1, 1936 by holding a carnival and giving alms to five hundred beggars. The following year a student of the school became the best marksman in service rifle shooting. In 1938 a railway engine of the Ceylon Government Railway was named after Ananda College. In the following year a workshop for woodwork and metalwork was opened.

In 1943 classes commenced for graduate studies and in 1945 a higher education section for girls commenced. In the academic year 1946 - 1947 Ananda was in the forefront in the island in the university entrance results. Ananda was awarded as many as six scholarships and fellowships. In 1949 a past student of the college Sir Arthur Wijewardane became the first Sinhala chief justice. Ananda won the Herman Loos cup in 1949 and 1950 consecutively. In 1951 an Anandian became public schools athletic champion.
In 1952 the college set up a record in rifle shooting. The same year the inter school boxing championship was won and the top heavyweight champion H.P. Jayasuriya and his brother C.P. Jayasuriya later represented the country at the Olympic games. Ananda has earned a name in almost every sport including cricket, basketball, soccer, rugger, hockey, athletics etc and in chess.

Among the cricketers produced by Ananda are Arjuna Ranatunga, Anuruddha Polonnowita, Bonnie Wijesinghe, Sarath Wijesinghe, Sonny Yatawara, Sidath Wettimuni and Marvan Atapattu. Brevet Colonel G.W. Rajapaksa as the prefect of games was largely responsible for the blossoming of sports at Ananda. S.A. Wijayatillake an English and Classics scholar became principal in December 1955. Ananda was taken over by the government in 1961.

Brevet Colonel G. W. Rajapaksa was at the helm of affairs at Ananda from May 3, 1969 for around a decade. During his time as Principal remarkable progress was made as during the time of his mentor P. de S. Kularatne. I was very closely associated with him from 1950 to 1999. He passed away on October 3, 1999. He was among those who stood out, as his predecessors like the Westerners who headed this premier Buddhist institution during its formative years, P. de S. Kularatne, G. P. Malalasekera and L. H. Mettananda did. Although Brevet Colonel G. W. Rajapaksa did not take to politics like Sir D. B. Jayatillake and P. de S. Kularatne, he was one of the greatest humanists this country has ever seen.

Not only was he a leading educationist but also a profound thinker, deeply concerned about the welfare of the people of this country as manifest by his message titled "a just society" to the special number of the magazine "Ananda" published to commemorate the opening of Kularatne hall on December 6, 1978.

He had an individual relationship with every student he came across, for well over four decades, as a teacher, vice principal and principal. He could be considered the most important person in the history of Ananda even if the fact that he was there from the day he entered the nursery class to the day he retired as principal alone is taken into consideration. It could well be said that Ananda was Rajapaksa and Rajapaksa was Ananda.

Brevet Colonel Rajapaksa's interview with students recorded in the special number of "Ananda" brings out the greatness of both him and Kularatne. Rajapaksa mentions that Kularatne said that he was really proud of the re-building program of the school, including Kularatne hall, that he (Rajapaksa) undertook.

"He told me sincerely that he himself had handled affairs of the school alone in a similar fashion. It was his wish that I should attempt something better than he had done" says Rajapaksa.

I feel proud of the fact that although Ananda was the jewel in the crown of Buddhist Education, Americans, Europeans, Indian Tamils, Jaffna Tamils et al were associated with its and were instrumental in building it up to its present status.

I also reminisce with nostalgia to have been under the tutelage of Tamil masters, V. Thanabalasingham who taught me English language, a gentleman in spotless white national costume with a blue bordered verti and shawl who taught me English literature in standard eight whom we nicknamed Kabulivallah after he did Tagore's 'Kabulivallah' with us and Sivapadasunderam whom we called Churchill because he resembled Sir Winston Churchill, teaching Tamil from the book 'Bala Bodhini' and to have received my University preliminary class Sinhala prize from former primary school headmaster V. T. S. Sivagarunathan from Jaffna. There were also Tamil and Malay students with us who rose to high positions in this country.

I vividly recollect the girl schoolmates among whom was a Tamil girl wearing a 'pottu'. My Tamil classmates were Vasanthanathan, Nitkanan and Thyagarajah. Among the other non Sinhala schoolmates were Somasunderam, Burah, Ratnam and Boris Marks. I cheerish the memory of associating with them especially at the Tamil student's Annual social held at the Olcott Hall where sweets, vadai, anamalu and orange barley was served. Among the other Tamil masters at College were young and stylish Manivasagam, be spectacled Selvaratnam, Govinda Pillai and Arulambalam.

Then, of course, I never can forget U Chan Htoon son of the Chief Justice of Burma (now Myanmar) who was my classmate. He was a very fair handsome pleasant young boy who wore glasses and is now a leading lawyer in his country.

One afternoon in 1954 when I was 15 years, I was passing a Saiva hotel at Maradana, after shopping and my Tamil master Sivapada Sunderam eating some sweets seated at a table there beckoned me to join him but being too shy to do so quickened my pace and hurried back to the hostel.

Anandians of my time were privileged to have the best of principals, the best of teachers and schoolmates of the two main communities in this country.
On the teaching staff were Buddhist monks of the calibre of Most Venerable Aggamaha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maitreya, Venerable Professor Kotagama Vacissara and Venerable Diviyagaha Yasassi who became a deputy principal. They were guiding lights to generations of Anandians who rose to the top in various fields of activity, here and abroad.
There have been eminent politicians in this country who were principals, teachers and past students of the school. The principal of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya when I was in the third standard there in 1947, G.C. Edirisinghe who was later to become my lecture in modern history at Vidyodaya University in 1959/1960 had this to say of one of the distinguished products of Ananda at one of his lectures. "Dr. N.M. Perera was my pupil at Ananda but he later went astray, you know". He fell out of his teacher's favour because he became a marxist Trotskyte in spite of very high academic distinction.

However, whatever their convictions or field of activity Anandians have excelled in the various tasks entrusted to and taken on by them. They have always been faithful to their country and tolerant of and treasure the company of all irrespective of clime, race, creed or clan.

I shall be failing in my duty to my Alma mater and this article would be like the description of a bountiful tree without mentioning its fruits, not mention some non-controversial figures who have been giants in their respective fields. Among such men and women are eminent educationist Dr. (Mrs.) Tilokasundari Kariyawasam, (daughter of W.S. Wanasinghe), D.J. Wimalasurendra pioneer of hydro-electricity in this country, D.G. Dayaratne of the Ceylon Civil Service, Former Chairman of the Ceylon Tourist Board Chandra de Soyza, former President of the Senate Thomas Amarasuriya, Professor D.A. Ranasinghe, Dr. Herath Gunaratne of the World Health Organization and Ranapala Bodhinagoda et al.

The country has certainly benefited from generations of such Anandians who have been and are in various positions of responsibility in this beloved land of ours.

Source - Daily News - Friday 1st November 2002

Copyright © 2001 OAAV. All rights reserved.