by Prof. Savitri Goonesekere
Coming to the University of Peradeniya is always a special experience. It brings back memories of carefree student days in a perfect environment for friendship and learning. Who can forget the glorious “yellow showers,” the winding Galaha Road, the lawn mowers on fresh grass, “sunset and evening star” and the flute music? The memory is also tinged with sadness, for the troubled times experienced on this beautiful campus, the changes in that familiar environment that have taken place, over threescore years and ten. The changes themselves reflect my own experience, and that of all of us as citizens, on the governance of this country and our universities. I thank the Law Department for inviting me, an alumnus of the first Department of Law in our public university system, to deliver the inaugural Sir Ivor Jennings memorial lecture. Sir Ivor Jennings, the founding Vice Chancellor of the first national University of Ceylon and its twin successor the University of Peradeniya can also be described as one of the founders of Constitutionalism and governance in both the country and the national university system of Sri Lanka.
The inauguration of a lecture series in Sir Ivor Jennings’ memory by the Law Department can also be an occasion to reflect on his life and times in this country, and the changes we have witnessed in these areas. The topic I have chosen for this evening’s lecture is a tribute to a scholar and administrator of a colonial era, whose ideas are an important resource, as we respond to contemporary realities of governance in our country and the university system.
Let me clarify at the outset especially to students, that I am not one of the oldest living students of Sir Ivor Jennings. I was not a student of Sir Ivor, when he lectured in the Law Department, and was Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya. Indeed, I discovered I was a prize winner in my secondary school, Ladies’ College, when Sir Ivor gave the keynote speech at our annual prize giving. I am sure that I was much less impressed with him, than I was with senior student Kumari Jayawardene, speaking passionately on a school platform on worker’s rights. I read through his classic works “The Law and the Constitution,” and “Cabinet Government,” and Jennings and Tambiah on “The Legal System of Ceylon,” very much in the spirit of plodding through “recommended readings.” Constitutional law paled in comparison with other law courses that inspired my interest. However, there were anecdotes that we heard about Sir Ivor. We heard that he was a “student friendly” former Vice Chancellor, quite the contrast of fearsome Sir Nicholas Attygalle. I recall my first examiners’ meeting in his room (the Vice Chancellor chaired the Board Meeting for the award of degrees.) Sir Nicholas looked at me with a steely eye and said “who may I ask are you?” Quite a contrast to Sir Ivor, who sent out a staff circular, which said, “My address is now 18, Aloe Avenue, Colpetty. A drink is always available for members of the staff who feel thirsty or otherwise sociable.”
Besides, we were the beneficiaries, the “nidahas adhyapanaya labee,” the early students to enjoy the beautiful learning environment that we knew Sir Ivor had struggled to create for us all, despite his implacable objections to the Kannangara policies of free education.1 We enjoyed a peaceful conflict-free learning environment that had been created according to Sir Ivor Jennings’ vision of what university life should be.
When we were undergraduate, some of us women students who refused to boycott classes were met with hoots and whistles when we went for lectures. Yet our “black leg” voices were heard at a huge meeting held under the glorious tree in front of the Senate building, and the strike was over. This meeting was presided by senior politician Dr Sarath Amunugama. Barely a decade later when I was on the staff of the Law Department which had by then moved to Colombo, a student in one of the halls of residence in Peradeniya leapt from an upper floor during ragging, and was crippled for life. My students in Colombo told me they would be assaulted if they followed my advice and expressed their objections to boycotting classes “in sympathy” with the students suspended over the incident. The beautiful and conflict free learning environment that Sir Ivor Jennings, the founding Vice Chancellor had strived to create was already beginning to crumble, a decade later.
Sir Ivor’s commitment to academic excellence meant that high academic standards were maintained in the years that followed his term in office. Products of the University of Peradeniya at the time, and not just the top tier, achieved success and eminence in diverse fields. The equality of access that Sir Ivor feared would result in a “levelling down” of academic quality with free education, in fact gave equal access to a good education for those who entered through the portals of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya.
Institutional memory in this country is very short. It is only the University of Peradeniya that has sustained our memories of Sir Ivor Jennings’ contribution to our university system and the governance of this country. When I served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo there was no photograph of Sir Ivor Jennings in College House, which he had occupied for many years, or any other building. I obtained a faded copy of a black and white photograph from Prof. Kapila Goonesekere, former Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya University; nothing like the imposing painting of Sir Ivor by David Paynter that adorns the walls of your Senate room.
Sir Ivor Jennings and the Road to Peradeniya
The life and times of Sir Ivor Jennings are documented in his own autobiography, published with an introduction of great professional skill, and with admiration, by the distinguished librarian, late Ian Goonetilleke. This is a rich resource. Professor Lakshman Marasinghe’s essay in a book on legal personalities supplements the autobiography with interesting insights on his work as a legal scholar and jurist. Sir Ivor was a controversial figure during the time he spent in the island, then Ceylon, where he had an important impact on public life and the education sector. His views and his engagement in the political life of the country, attracted criticism, but also admiration.
Sir Ivor began his tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon in the University of Colombo of today. He recalls in his autobiography how the law creating the University of Ceylon was passed on April 2, 1942, three days before the Japanese air raid on Colombo. He unfurled the university’s flag on June 12 on the grounds of College House. He remarks wryly, “being a little sentimental, [seeing] the flag sagging at one end [he] climbed the tower and adjusted it with a safety pin.” No Kandyan dancers, drummers and fanfare at this event.
An educationist of colonial times like Rev. W S Senior of Trinity College Kandy, when he left the island, could record in poetry, “my soul you will break with longing – it can never be goodbye.” Sir Ivor, the legal scholar, jurist, educationist, and administrator, could say with somewhat clinical objectivity, “I am in no way tied to Ceylon and can leave when the spirit moves.” Yet he had a vision and commitment to laying the foundation for a national university, which he believed could become “one of the finest small universities in the world.
Sir Ivor believed that a residential University in an attractive environment was one of the essential attributes of a great university. He was, as he describes himself, “a Cambridge [university] man.” His appreciation of the physical environs of that University created a desire to build a university campus on a site in Peradeniya, which he thought was one of “the most beautiful environments in the world for a university.”
The architecture and landscaping of this university continues to be a model for well-planned and attractive landscaped surroundings, creating a near perfect environment for scholarship and learning. His contribution in this regard has outlived Sir Ivor, even if the values on governance and university education that inspired him have been challenged in the realities of our nation’s post independence experience. However, if Sir Ivor’s surprising inclination to “pull down” College House and construct a women’s hostel had been realised, Colombo University would not have even that colonial heritage of great beauty on its campus surrounded by a wilderness of concrete box like structures.
Sir Ivor had a spectacular student career, receiving first class honours at every level. His approach to study is perhaps relevant to all law students who want to achieve academic honours in their law schools. He was a disciplined workaholic, even as a student. He saved his lunch money to buy books, and “study took precedence over everything.” He studied with “regularity and consistency,” developed a timetable for this, studied the “technique of examinations,” striving to obtain “not only a first, but a brilliant first.” Yet he did not believe only in examination success and paper qualifications. He believed that a residential University could create an environment for extra curricular activities providing an education that was interdisciplinary, stimulating interest in poetry, philosophy, and the arts. His own scholarship crossed the boundaries of law, politics, and political science. He gave up mathematics to study law. He thought “the boundaries between academic subjects very artificial, for knowledge … knows no boundaries.”
The Law Department of Peradeniya is the first to integrate an interdisciplinary perspective, an initiative very much in harmony with Sir Ivor’s concept of a good legal education. Law schools, have, in general adopted what legal theory in the Anglo American tradition describes as “Austinian positivism” that teaches students how to learn and analyse the content of laws. However, in the early years the focus on reference and reading meant that students read widely and understood the core norms and concepts that linked law and administration of justice. This approach produced lawyers of great professional skill and eminence at a time when legal education was exclusively in English. It has had serious drawbacks for teaching and research in a challenging environment where very little literature is available in local languages, and most lawyers obtain a monolingual legal education with lecture notes in Sinhala or Tamil. Sir Ivor was uncompromising in his commitment to excellence in teaching and research. When my husband, as one of the young lecturers in the Law Department, was to go to Oxford for post-graduate studies, Sir Ivor advised him to read for a taught post-graduate degree in Civil law, (the BCL). Undertaking research he said, was the post qualification obligation of all University teachers, and a law teacher could then apply for a higher doctorate! This advice was clearly based on his personal experience as a scholar and jurist.
Though Sir Ivor’s scholarship and vision span law, politics and an interdisciplinary perspective, he was cynical about all “isms” – Marxism, nationalism, communalism, considering them political rhetoric. He had a poor and mistaken impression of the country’s cultural heritage. He thought that transferring the University to Peradeniya could help “a cultural desert in Ceylon to blossom like a rose.” Yet he established a Faculty of Oriental Studies in the University of Ceylon, encouraged the development of these disciplines, and stressed the importance of scholarship and learning that was sensitive to local social and economic realities. He supported the creation of a university endowment fund, and a museum for sculpture, paintings and objects of art. He thought “pious benefactors” from the private sector would contribute to such a fund, and wanted the sales of his autobiography used for such an initiative. I believe that late Ian Goonetilleke who treasured his own stunning collection of artworks by George Keyt and many other reputed Sri Lankan artists, was inspired by Sir Ivor’s vision to donate this priceless collection to the University of Peradeniya. An Ivor Jennings memorial lecture is surely an occasion to also pay tribute to that joint vision. Universities are receiving substantial funds from Government to improve their infrastructure. Is it not possible to give a museum project maximum priority in university planning, supplementing this with support from “pious benefactor” alumni in business and the professions?
Values on university autonomy free from political interference were very much the foundation for Sir Ivor’s vision of university education. The 1942 University Ordinance, which he drafted, also incorporated the concept. This law established Councils, Senates and Faculty Boards, modelled on the institutional arrangements of British universities. For Sir Ivor, the institutions, (still embedded in our university system, in 1978/1985 legislation), could provide academics with the tools to resist abuse of political and official authority and interference in university administration. When the University of Ceylon Bill was being debated in the legislature, Sir Ivor who sat behind the Minister C.W.W. Kannangara, drafted quick amendments that prevented clauses being introduced that could erode university autonomy. Though he and the Minister opposed each other in the Committee on Education on the proposals for free education, they shared the same perspective on the importance of maintaining the autonomy of universities in the area of higher education.
Academics from the university community in Peradeniya gave leadership when university autonomy was under attack in the late 1960s and 1970s. The current Universities Act with strong provisions on this principle, was adopted once again in 1978 with the contribution of senior academics from Peradeniya University. It was intended to restore the autonomy of universities. It was unfortunately amended in 1985, creating new provisions on the appointment and dismissal of Vice Chancellors with an expanded regulatory role for the University Grants Commission. These changes undermined the authority of the highest university bodies (Councils and Senates) and has encouraged political interference.
Two university Vice Chancellors have been recently removed without, it is alleged, following even the required procedures. A few academics have publicly challenged these actions. But we have, in general, become accustomed to erosion of university autonomy by political authorities, even though the institutional arrangements introduced in 1942 by Sir Ivor continue to be part of our university system. State universities are being blamed for not sustaining excellence in education and contributing to human resource development. No link is made to the toxic impact of politicization of university education.
Constitutionalism and the Sri Lankan People
Constitutionalism, as law students know, refers to the theoretical underpinnings of Constitutional law. The theories in turn impact on the institutional arrangements for governance, and the concepts incorporated in Constitutions. Constitutions and their theoretical concepts are often dismissed as irrelevant for the People. Yet, governance impacts on peoples’ lives. Constitutions and the people are therefore all connected.
Nelson Mandela referring to Constitution making in South Africa in 1996, said that a Constitution is “a law that embodies the nation’s aspirations.” Sir Ivor Jennings wrote an Article published in the Ceylon Daily News three decades earlier in 1962 commenting that, “any lawyer can draft a Constitution for anywhere. The difficulty is to persuade a people to make it work.” The “aspirations” justification for Constitution making in Mandela’s words, places the concept of the “Sovereignty of the People” at the centre of Constitution making. Sir Ivor’s comment focuses on the responsibility of both rulers and the governed to make Constitutions work.
The weeks and months prior to the Presidential elections 2019 witnessed an outpouring of public anger against politicians and our legislators. A constant refrain is the failure and defects of democracy, and Constitutionalism as lawyers know it, and a desire to replace it with new institutions and “strong individual leadership.” Another discourse calls for rejection of any links to Constitutional norms and standards derived from what are described as implanted and alien “colonial” or “Western elitist” norms and standards of governance. The idea of governance based on “jathika chinthanaya” or national conscience advocated the need to link political ideology with a local, rural, traditional culture. This has now been reinvented in a new discourse on the need to reject for all time “Suddha law.” This is a phrase used by the monk Gnanasara when he disrupted Court proceedings and was convicted of contempt of court. The public display of abuse of power, arrogant, irresponsible and corrupt governance, selfish political leadership and waste of national resources despite regime changes, has created a demand by some for a complete rejection of Constitutional theories and the institutions of governance.
Such trends are visible in other countries too. The furore over Brexit in the United Kingdom and the conflict between Parliament and the Prime Minister is sometimes traced to the absence of a written Constitution with specific provisions on how to cope with challenging problems of governance. Sir Ivor Jennings, the British constitutional lawyer and jurist, drafted written Constitutions for many countries, and wrote his seminal work on “The Law and the Constitution.” He would have contested the suggestion that Constitutional law and Constitutionalism could only be embedded in a written Constitution. From his perspective, governance that limited State power, and based on written or unwritten Constitutions was the responsibility of the rulers and the governed.
(Excerpted from “Inaugural Sir Ivor Jennings lecture of the Department of Law University of Peradeniya,” included as part of the new book “Perspectives of Constitutional Reforms in Sri Lanka” edited by Dr. Hiran W. Jayewardene and Sharya Scharenguivel. Published by International and Contemporary Law Society).
South’s development debacle compounded by SAARC’s inner paralysis
From a development point of view, it’s ‘the worst of times’ for the global South. The view of some of the most renowned development organizations is that the woes brought upon the hemisphere by the Covid-19 pandemic have probably stalled its development by decades. The inference is inescapable that the South would need to start from scratch as it were in its efforts to ease its material burdens, once the present health crisis shows signs of lifting.
A recent Jakarta Post/ANN news feature published in this newspaper on January 14th, detailing some of the dire economic fallout from the pandemic on the South said: ‘Between March and December 2020, the equivalent of 147 million full time jobs were lost in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that between 140 million people in Asia were pushed into poverty and in 2021 another 8 million became poor…..Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers were worst affected. Across Asia, informal and migrant workers suffered an estimated 21.6 percent fall in their income in the first four months of the pandemic.’
Needless to say, being one of the least developed regions of the South and its most populous one, it is South Asia that is likely to be worst affected in the current global crunch. A phenomenon that should not go unnoticed in this connection, is the rising number of the ‘new poor’ in the South. This refers in the main to those sections of the middle class that are sliding into the lower middle class and the ranks of the poverty-stricken as a result of the ill-effects of the present crisis. Job loss and decreasing income are some of the causes behind this rising tide of pauperization.
Referring to this and connected processes the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka states in its ‘Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021’report: ‘Estimates at the USD 3.20 poverty line are forecasted to be at least 228 million, with a larger share of the population emerging from South Asia yet again. Initial projections for 2021 estimate the number of individuals in extreme poverty to be between 143 and 163 million.’ The stark and widespread poverty emerging in Afghanistan since mid-August 2021, ought to push up these figures quite a bit.
Considering that the South is way behind the North in developmental terms, the unfolding global economic crisis could be expected to widen the chasm in material wellbeing between the hemispheres in the days ahead. However, ‘the overwhelming question’ for the South would be how it could fend for itself in the absence of those Southern-centred organizations that could take up its cause in the forums of the world and bring the region together in an effort to work towards its collective wellbeing. The importance of this question is strongly underscored by the fact that SAARC is more or less dysfunctional or paralyzed at present.
The immense magnitude of the poverty question is yet to be realized by the ruling elites of the South. It is as if the chimerical growth spurt in some sections of the South over the past 30 or so years has rendered them numb and insensitive to poverty-related issues, including the ever-yawning gulf within their countries between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor. As is known, while the so-called ordinary people of the South have been wilting in dire want over the past two years, the hemisphere has been producing billionaires in disconcertingly high numbers. This could be true of Sri Lanka as well and the Pandora Papers gave us the cue a few months back.
By burying their heads in the sands as it were in this manner, Southern political elites could very well be setting the stage for bloody upheavals within their states. The need for substantial ‘bread’ has always been a driver of socio-political change over the centuries. They are bound to find their problems compounded by the accentuation of ethnicity and religion related questions, considering that such issues are taking a turn for the worse amid the current economic debacle. Vulnerable groups would need to be cared for and looked after by rulers and these include women and ethnic minorities. An aggravation of their lot could compound the worries of Southern rulers.
The phenomenal increase of billionaires ought to be researched more intently and thoroughly by Southern think tanks, R and D organizations and the like. Among other things, does not this disquieting emergence of billionaires prove that classical economics was wrong in assuming that wealth would easily ‘trickle-down’ to the masses from wealth creators, such as businessmen and other owners of capital? After all, we now have clear evidence that mountainous wealth could exist amid vast wastes of poverty and powerlessness.
However, the view of some commentators that ‘neoliberal policies of privatization’ and connected issues should now be reassessed and even eschewed ought to strike the observer as worthy of consideration. These policies that enthrone free market economics should be viewed as badly in need of revision and correction in view of the inherently unstable economic systems that they have given rise to over the past three decades. Their serious flaws are thrown into strong relief by the present Southern economic crisis which has resulted in some isolated, formidable towers of wealth and opulence sprouting in a sea of hardship and economic want.
Hopefully, we would see a renewed wide-ranging discussion on development models from now on. Ideally, growth needs to go hand-in-hand with equity if development is to be achieved to a degree. There is no getting away from the need for central planning to some extent in our efforts to reach these ends. Capital and Labour would need to come together in a meeting of minds in these endeavours. Development thrusts would need to be launched on pragmatic considerations as well.
However, a regional approach to resolving these issues facing South Asia needs to be renewed and persisted with as well. As long as SAARC remains paralyzed such efforts are unlikely to bear full fruit. Accordingly, India and Pakistan, the regional heavyweights, need to negotiate an end to their differences and help rejuvenate SAARC; South Asia’s key collective body that could usher in a measure of regional development.
History of St. Sebastian’s Shrine, Kandana
By Godfrey Cooray
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Norway, Finland and Iceland
According to legend, St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne in Gaul. He became a soldier in Rome and encouraged Marcellian and Marcus who were sentenced to death to remain firm in their faith. St. Sebastian made several converts; among them were master of the rolls Nicostratus, who was in charge of prisoners and his wife, Zoe, a deaf mute whom he cured.
Sebastian was named captain in the Roman Army by Emperor Diocletian, as Emperor Maximian went to the east. Neither knew that Sebastian was a Christian. When it was discovered that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered to be executed. He was shot with arrows and left to die but when the widow of St. Castulas went to recover his body, she found out that he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after his recovery, St. Sebastian intercepted the Emperor; denounced him for his cruelty to Christians and was beaten to death on the Emperor’s order.
St. Sebastian was venerated in Milan as early as the time of St. Ambrose. St. Sebastian is the patron of archers, athletes, soldiers, the Saint of the youths and is appealed to protection against the plagues. St. Ambrose reveals that the parents young Sebastian were living in Milan as a noble family. St. Ambrose further says that Sebastian along with his three friends, Pankasi, Pulvius and Thorvinus completed his education successfully with the blessing of his mother, Luciana. Rev. Fr. Dishnef guided him through his spiritual life. From his childhood, Sebastian wanted to join the Roman Army and with the help of King Karnus, young Sebastian became a soldier. Within as short span of time he was appointed as the Commander of the Army of king Karnus. Emperor Diocletian declared Christians the enemy of the Roman Empire and instructed judges to punish Christians who have embraced the Catholic Church. Young Sebastian as one of the servants of Christ converted thousands of other believers into Christians. When Emperor Diocletian revealed that Sebastian had become a Catholic, the angery Emperor ordered for Sebastian to be shot to death with arrows. After being shot, one of Sebastian supporters, Irane, treated him and cured him. When Sebastian was cured, he came to Emperor Diocletian and professed his faith for the second time disclosing that he is a servant of Christ. Astounded by the fact that Sebastian is a Christian, Emperor Diocletian ordered the Roman Army to kill Sebastian with club blows.
In the liturgical calendar of the Church, the feast of the St. Sebastian is celebrated on 20th of January. This day is, indeed, a mini Christmas to the people of Kandana, irrespective of their religion. The feast commences with the hoisting of the flag staff on the 11th of January at 4 p.m. at the Kandana junction, along the Colombo- Negombo road. There is a long history attached to the flag staff. The first flag staff which was an ariecanut tree, 25 feet tall was hoisted by the Aththidiya family of Kandana and today their descendants continue hoisting of the flag staff as a tradition. This year’s flag staff too was hoisted by the Raymond Aththidiya family. Several processions originating from different directions carrying flags meet at this flag staff junction. The pouring of milk on the flag staff has been a tradition in existence for a long time. The Nagasalan band was introduced by a well-known Jaffna businessman that had engaged in business in Kandana in the 1950s. The famous Kandaiyan Pille’s Nagasalan group takes the lead even today in the procession. Kiribath Dane in the Kandana town had been a tradition from the time immemorial.
According to the available history from the Catholic archives and volume III of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, the British period of vicariates of Colombo written by Rev. Ft. Vito Perniola SJ in 1806 states that the British government granted the freedom of conscious and religion to the Catholics in Ceylon and abolished all the anti-Catholic legislation enacted by the Dutch. The proclamation was declared and issued on the 3rd of August 1796 by Colonel James Stuart, the officer commanding the British forces of Ceylon stated “freedom granted to Catholics” (Sri Lanka national archives 20/5).
Before the Europeans, the missioners were all Goans from South India. In the year 1834, on the 3rd of December, XVI Gregory the Pope, issued a document Ex Muwere pastoralis ministeric, after which the Ceylon Catholic Church was made under the South Indian Cochin diocese. Very Rev. Fr. Vincent Rosario, the Apostolic VicarGeneral, was appointed along with 18 Goan priests (The Oratorion Mission in Sri Lanka being a history of the Catholic Chruch 1796-1874 by Arthur C Dep Chapter 11 pg 12) Rev Fr. Joachim Alberto arrived in Sri Lanka as missionary on the 6th of March 1830 when he was 31 years old and he was appointed to look after Catholics in Aluthkuru Korale consisting Kandana, Mabole, Nagodaa and Ragama. There have been one church built in 1810 in Wewala about three miles away from Kandana. Wewala Chruch was situated bordering Muthurajawela which rose to fame for its granary. History reveals that the entire area was under paddy cultivation of which most of them were either farmers or toddy tappers. History further reveals that there have been an old canal built by King Weera Parakrama Bahu. Later it was built to flow through the Kelani River and Muthurajawela up to Negombo which was named as the Dutch Canal (RL Brohier historian).
During the British time this canal was named as Hamilton Canal and was used to transport toddy, spices, paddy and tree planks of which tree planks were stored in Kandana. Therefore, Kandana name derives from “Kandan Aana”.
Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto purchased a small piece of land called Haamuduruwange watte at Nadurupititya in Kandana and put up a small cadjan chapel and placed a picture of St. Sebastian for the benefit of his small congregation. In 1837 with the help of the devotees, he dug a small well of which water was used for drinking and bathing and today this well is still operative. He bought several acres of land including the present cemetery premises. Moreover, he had put up the church at Kalaeliya in honour of his patron St. Joachim where his body has been laid to rest according to his wish of the Last will attested by Weerasinghe Arachchige Brasianu Thilakaratne. Notary public dated 19th of July 1855. Present Church was built on the property bought on the 13th of August 1875 on deed no. 146 attested by Graciano Fernando. Notary public of the land Gorakagahawatta Aluthkuru Korale Ragam Pattu in Kandana within the extend ¼ acre from and out of the 16 acres. According to the old plan number 374 made by P.A. H. Philipia, Licensed surveyor on the 31st of January 195, 9 acres and 25 perches belonged to St. Sebastian church. However, today only 3 acres, 3 roods and 16.5 perches are left according to plan number 397surveyed by the same surveyor while the rest had been sold to the villagers. According to the survey conducted by Orithorian priest on the 12th of February 1844 there were only 18 school-going Catholic students in AluthKuru Korale and only one Antonio was the teacher for all classes. In 1844 there was no school at Kandana (APF SCG India Volume 9829).
According to Sri Lanka National Archives (The Ceylon Almanac page 185) in the year 1852 there were 982 Catholics – Male 265, female 290, children 365 with a total of 922. According to the census reports in 2014 prepared by Rev. Ft. Sumeda Dissanayake TOR, the director Franciscan Preaching group, Kadirana Negombo a survey revealed that there are 13,498 Catholics in Kandana.
According to the appointment of the Missionaries in the year 1866-1867 by Bishop Hillarien Sillani, Rev. Fr. Clement Pagnani OSB was sent to look after the missions in Negoda, Ragama, Batagama, Tudella, Kandana, Kala Eliya and Mabole. On the 18th of April 1866, the building of the new church commenced with a written agreement by and between Rec. Fr. Clement Pagnani and the then leaders of Kandana Catholic Village Committee. This committee consisted of Kanugalawattage Savial Perera Samarasinghe Welwidane, Amarathunga Arachchige Issak Perera Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Arachchige Don Isthewan Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Appuhamylage Elaris Perera Muhuppu, Padukkage Andiris Perera Opisara, Kanugalawattage Peduru Perera Annavi and Mallawa Arachchige Don Peduru Appujamy. The said agreement stated that they will give written undertaking that their labour and money will be utilised to build the new church of St. Sebastian and if they failed to do so they were ready to bear any punishment which will be imposed by the Catholic Church.
Rev. Fr. Bede Bercatta’s book “A History of the Vicariate of Colombo page 359” says that Rev. Fr. Stanislaus Tabarani had problems of finding rock stones to lay the foundation. He was greatly worried over this and placed his due trust in divine providence. He prayed for days to St. Sebastian for his intercession. One morning after mass, he was informed by some people that they had seen a small patch of granite at a place in Rilaulla, close to the church premises although such stones were never seen there earlier and requested him to inspect the place. The parish priest visited the location and was greatly delighted as his prayers has been answered. This small granite rock provided enough granite blocks for the full foundation of the present church. This place still known as “Rilaulla galwala”. The work on the building proceeded under successive parish priests but Rev. Fr. Stouter was responsible for much of it. The façade of the church was built so high that it crashed on the 2nf of April of 1893. The present façade was then built and completed in the year 1905. The statue of St. Sebastian which is behind the altar had been carved off a “Madan tree”. It was done by Paravara man named Costa Mama, who was staying with a resident named Miguel Baas a Ridualle, Kandana. This statue was made at the request of Pavistina Perera Amaratunge, mother of former Member of Parliament gate muadliyer D. Panthi Jayasuriya. The church was completed during the time of Rev. Fr. Keegar and was blessed by then Archbishop of Colombo Dr. Anthony Courdert OMI on the 20th of January 1912. In 1926, Rev. Fr. Romauld Fernando was appointed as the parish priest to Kandana Church. He was an educationalist and a social worker. Without any hesitation he can be called as the father of education in Kandana. He was the pioneer to build three schools to Kandana: Kandana St. Sebastian Boys School, Kandana St. Sebastian English Girls School and, the Mazenod College Kandana. Later he was appointed as the principal of the St. Sebastian Boys English School. He bought a property at Kandana close to Ganemulla road and started De Mazenod College. Later, it was given officially to Christian Brothers of Sri Lanka, by then Archbishop of Colombo, Peter Mark. In 1931, there were three hundred students (history of De Lasalle brothers by Rev. Fr. Bro Michael Robert). Today, there are over three thousand five hundred students and is one of the leading catholic schools in Sri Lanka. In 1924, one Karolis Jayasuriya Widanage donated two acres to build De Mazenod College for its extension.
First priest from Kandana to be ordained was Rev. Fr. William Perera in 1904. With the help of Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, he composed the famous hymn “the Vikshopa Geethaya”, the hymn of our Lady of Sorrow.
The Life story of St. Sebastian was portrayed through a stage play called “Wasappauwa” and the world famous German passion play Obar Amargave wchi was a sensation was initiated by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera. Legend reveals that in the year 1845, a South Indian catholic on his way to meet his relatives in Colombo had brought down a wooden statue of St. Sebastian, one and half feet tail to be sold in Sri Lanka. When he reached Kalpitiya he had unexpectedly contracted malaria. He had made a vow at St. Anne’s church. Thalawila expecting a full recovery. In route to Colombo he had come to know about the church in Kandana and dedicated to St. Sebastian. In the absence of the then parish priest Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto, the Muhuppu of the Church with the help of the others had agreed to buy the statue for 75 pathagas (one pahtaga was 75 cent). Even though the seller had left the money in the hands of the “Muhuppu” to be collected in the meantime he never returned.
On the 19th of January 2006, Archbishop Oswald Gomis declared St. Sebastian Church as “St. Sebastian Shrine” by way of special notification and handed over the declaration to Rev. Fr. Susith Perera, the parish priest of Kandana.
On the 12th of January 2014, Catholics in Sri Lanka celebrated the reception of a reliquary containing a fragment of the arm of St. Sebastian. The reliquary was gifted from the administrator of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua and was brought to Sri Lanka by Monsignor Neville Perera. His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo accompanied by priests and a large gathering received the relic at the Katunayake International Airport, brought to Kandana lead by a procession and was enthroned at the St. Sebastian Shrine.
Rev. Fr. Lalith Expeditus the present administrator of the shrine and other two assistant priests Rev. Fr. Sunath Udara and Fr. Sumeda Perea have finalized all arrangements to conduct the feast of St. Sebastian in grand scale. The vespers service will be officiated by his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit and the festival high mass will be solemnized by most Rev. his Lordship J.D. Anthony, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.
The latest book written by Senior Lawyer Godfrey Cooray named “Santha Sebastian Puranaya Saha Kandana”. (The history of St. Sebastian and Kandana) was launched at De La Salle Auditorium De Mazenod College, Kandana.
The Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep were the guests at the event.
The book discusses about the buried history of Muthurajawela and Aluth Kuru Korale civilization, the history of Kandana and St. Sebastian. The author discusses the historical and archaeological values and culture.
His musical exploits has touched millions of fans
Tribute to entertainer-singer par excellence – Desmond de Silva
By Trevine Rodrigo
The great Desmond De Silva, who departed from this world, on Sunday, January 9th, had been in hibernation for several months, due to the devastating outbreak of Covid, which shut down many parts of Australia.
After border closures were lifted, he embarked on a 31st night dinner dance, at the Sri Lounge in the Docklands, in Melbourne, where he delivered his last fully energised performance.
Widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s best singer/entertainer by far, over five decades, Desmond has covered every spectrum of music, in Sri Lanka, and later, in England and Australia, while wowing millions of adoring fans around the globe.
His achievements in music cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs but his fans will readily testify to the indelible mark he has made as a wonderful performer. He was to Sri Lankans what Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra was to the world, showcasing a rare and extraordinary talent that even extended to Motown.
He has travelled through numerous countries as a band member, mainly Europe and Asia, and has teamed up with hundreds of musicians along the way who have marvelled at his unique presence on stage.
After years of globe-trotting as a performer, with the Jetliners and later the Spitfires, he then continued his work as a leader of his own band, Desmond and the Clan, and this setup was very popular in Europe and Scandinavia.
After years of adventure, on the road, he then settled on a solo career, singing as a guest singer and his popularity soared when he ventured into the Sinhala music scene, as well.
Before long, he commanded the respect of the nation by being proclaimed the King of Baila which skyrocketed his fame in an era that gave fame but no massive financial gain, as he rose to an iconic status.
Ironically, Desmond always harboured his love for Western music and quite naturally chose not to be categorised, or pigeonholed, as one dimensional. He has produced many CDs, videos and commands thousands of followers on YouTube, and other related music channels.
His impressive versatility and ability to own the stage made him a standout among music lovers, immaterial of their ethnicity, and, sadly, he is another of the Sri Lankan icons who have departed this world, alongside Sunil Perera (of the Gypsies) and Ronnie Leitch, in recent times.
His musical exploits has touched millions of fans through several generations and will continue to do so, such is the impact he has cemented as a once-in-a-lifetime performer. He has nurtured several musicians, along the way, giving them pointers which have helped them launch their own careers in music to great heights. He maintained a high degree of professionalism and would not compromise his standards for anything less.
Never the arrogant performer, Des had an uncanny ability to interact with his fans, on and off stage, and this trait would see him draw invitations from all over the world.
I for one was amazed at his stamina and durability…to be in England one day, then on to Toronto and other cities in Canada, on to Sri Lanka, and several other countries, until, unfortunately, the pandemic curtailed his foreign assignments.
In our own interaction with him, my wife, Anne, and I, shared a special love for the man who slipped into our lifestyle, seamlessly, with wife, Phyllis.
He was a caring and wonderful friend and would call us at least once a week, from Sydney, to check how we were going or to share a joke. Our lives will never be the same without Desmond De Silva, a gentleman and wonderful friend.
Yes, the brilliant musician and singer/ entertainer Desmond De Silva was tragically snatched away from our midst in cruel circumstances when he suffered cardiac arrest, in his sleep, while in Melbourne. He was 77.
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