When Benjamin Franklin one of the foremost founding fathers of the American nation and also one of the leading signatories to the original constitution of the United States of America signed on the 17th September, 1987 returned to the USA from France where he had gone to discuss and strengthen the relationship between the two countries as Britain was opposed to the creation of the new nation, Benjamin Franklin was keen to known and ascertain whether there was any sign or symbol which would herald the success and prosperity of the new country which has just been established.
It was to Franklin’s great delight and happiness when he was told by his colleagues that at the time of the constitutional convention a wooden plaque depicting the picture of the rising Sun was attached to the Parchment paper on which the Constitution was inscribed which fact being indicative of the rise and prosperity of the new nation.
A hundred years later, on 01st November, 1986 when the Pettah Buddhist, English School was inaugurated at Maliban Street the roll of the original thirty seven students included C A Hewavitharana, a member of the illustrious Hewavitharana family which in itself was an auspicious beginning for the new school which needed such circumstances for its forward march. The schoolboy C A Hewavitharana later grew to be Dr C A Hewavitharana one of the country’s early patriots. The school was later renamed Ananda College to honour the memory of the Buddha’s great and learned disciple Ven Ananda Thera.
When the school was shifted to Maradana in 1895 the original school that began with the blessings and support of the country’s learned and erudite monks also had the support of a few courageous and influential Buddhist leaders and always had the backing and encouragement of the Buddhist/Theosophists such as Colonel H S Olcott from New York in USA and Madam Blavatsky of Russia.
Leading Buddhist Educational Institution
The school that began with such goodwill and backing has to develop and progress and reach its goal to be not only a leading Buddhist Educational Institution but more importantly to be a National Institution which level it undoubtedly reached at least from the post independence period. The writer of this short piece had the good fortune and privilege to be a student from the time of the principalship of A B Perera (1944) and L H Mettananda 1945/1946 onwards till he entered the University of Ceylon in 1952.
During the middle of the 20th Century 1949/1950 some senior school teachers particularly V Keerthisinghe – Science and C M Weeraratne – Maths for some good reason were keen on obtaining a consensus of opinion as to who were the five most distinguished old Anandians and there was that consensus of opinion in respect of E A L Wijeswardena (Edwin Arthur Lewis) later being the Knighted as Sir Arthur Wijewardena as the most distinguished Old Anandians.
Sir Arthur Wijewardena was Attorney General of Ceylon 1937 and appointed as a Supreme Court Judge in January, 1938 and thus became the first Buddhist to be appointed a Supreme Court Judge and while the first Sinhalese to be appointed a Supreme Court Justice was Sir Harry Dias in the 1980’s and Wijewardena who was appointed as Chief Justice in January, 1949 became the 1st Ceylonese to hold that much coveted office when Sir John Howard (a Britisher) who retired in December, 1948.
It is to the credit of Ananda College that Wijewardena of its star products created an unbeatable record when he was called upon to act for the Governor General, Lord Soulbury when he was on leave and thereby Wijewardena became the only Ceylonese to be the officer administering the Government.
It was left to G K W Perera who was a contemporary of Wijewardena at Ananda College and both of whom were pupils of the then Principal D B Jayathilake (1898 to 1909) later Sir Baron Jayatillake to be the first Anandian to win the Government scholarship which was annually granted by the Government to the two best students in Arts and Science which enable them to study abroad in England on a Government scholarship.
G K W Perera after he completed his studies in England was considered to be one of the most erudite and intelligent scholars produced by Ceylon.
British Colonial Government
In the 1930’s in view of his overall standing and intellectual abilities he was elected to the Ceylon State Council. And as there was no diplomatic and/or foreign service for talented and able Ceylonese either to aspire to or be appointed as Ambassadors as Ceylon being only a crown colony of the British Empire at the time G K W Perera’s great talents were recognized and was chosen as the first Trade Commissioner of Ceylon to Britain which was the highest appointment available to represent the country abroad in the same way D B Jayatillake (Sir Baron) the Minister of Home Affairs, Leader of the State Council and the Chairman of the Board of Ministers was appointed in 1943 as Ceylon’s first Trade Commissioner in India.
If G K W Perera is to be considered (and that there was the necessary consensus among the teachers and the senior students) as the second most distinguished old Anandian next to Sir Arthur Wijewardena the third place in the list of most distinguished old Anandians by general agreement was reserved for D J Wimalasurendra the father of Hydro Electricity in Ceylon and who by his own inventive genius studied how to meet the future needs of electric power long before even the British Colonial Government or the politicians in power or wanting to be in power had any concrete plans on the subject. Creative Engineer Wimalasurendra had made great plans including the future possibility to harness the natural resources in Luxapana and Norton Bridge area. Wimalasurendra championed the great cause to develop the need to obtain the maximum power supply by harnessing the available resources and he carried on his campaign even in the State Council as the member for Ratnapura.
It was not merely Ceylon/Sri Lanka but Ananda College itself had a great affinity toward Burma so much so that in the 1930’s about half the players in the College Football team were students to who had come from Burma apart from many other students studying in the school and at one time two members of the Burmese Cabinet were old Anandians. It is in this context that one of Ananda’s most distinguished old boys happened to be U Chan Toon who became the Attorney General of Burma and later elevated to the rank of Chief Justice of Burma and subsequently ending up his carrier as Burma’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
It is matter of great significance that in 1949 Chan Toon visited the school and in his short address at the invitation of the Principal Mettananda he recalled his days as a student and said that he had come to pay his debt to his old school and the distinguished at Jurist added that he was discharging his debt by admitting his own son to the school.
All concerned were unanimous that Chan Toon be named as the fourth most distinguished product of Ananda and as there was no consensus among those who mattered at the relevant time it is neither proper nor fair to mention who figured for the fifth place.
When the school’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years) Prize Giving was held on 01st November, 1946 in the then College Hall, Dutugemunu Building, the school honoured its distinguished product Wijewardena who was then the senior puisne judge by inviting him to be the Chief Guest on which occasion the writer had the opportunity to attend to the prize giving not as a prize winner but as one of the half a dozen middle school boys selected to help in the days proceedings and the Jubilee Carnival held on 1st to 4th November, the elaborate arrangements for the success of which were in the capable hands of the two senior organisers – Senior Civil Servant M Chandrasoma who retired as the principal Collector of Customs and Ranjit Hewagama Senior Product of Colombo every loyal old Anandian. Wijewardena in his prize day speech recalled with gratitude the great benefits he has got by being an Anandian together with G K W Perera who competed for honours with him.
Another significant fact in the life of Wijewardena was that after completing his studies on the basis of the government scholarship which he himself had won he sat the written examination for the recruitment of the candidates for the Ceylon Civil Service and at which written examination he topped the list by scoring a record number of marks and at the final Oral Interview for the selection the board of selectors wished Wijewardena “Good Luck” and advised him to look for another avenue for employment as his application was rejected on medical grounds and years later when the Ceylon press announced the appointment of Wijewardena in January 1949 as the first Ceylonese to be Chief Justice the press did not fail to mention how he fared at the oral examination and added further that what happened at the oral interview was a blessing in disguise.
The writer wishes to mention that the aforementioned four distinguished old Anandians were selected in that order on the basis of a criteria decided upon by some senior school teachers over sixty years ago taking into consideration (a) their learning and high academic and professional attainments; (b) the great honour and fame brought by them to the old school, (c) finally the contributions made by them to the social and national development of the country.
It is not unlikely that different persons may have different views as to what should be the criteria to be adopted in the first quarter of the 21st century when remarkable achievements in sports – cricket, athletics, swimming etc, even heroism in military activity very often take the centre stage.
What has been said in this article has been made with malice to none and is based on facts as transpired in the mid 19th century. Therefore there is no need for anyone to feel injured.
Source – Daily News 2017/5/6