Great sons of Galle Part III
Born on October 22, 1902, he was the twin son of Muhandiram Dionysius Sepala Panditha Dahanayake. He was named Wijayananda after the Wijayananda Vihara in Weliwatta, Galle, where Col. H. S. Olcott first observed the five precepts.
His learned father was the chief lay disciple of this Vihara. The eminent astrologer Karo Gurunnanse, who read Dahanayake’s horoscope had predicted that one day he would rule the country. With Ceylon under the British Raj at the time, and with no independence in sight, it was treated as a far fetched prediction.
He was educated at Richmond College, Galle and later at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. The born fighter that he was, he one day created a rumpus, while lunch was being served, when Warden Stone sternly said, “Dahanayake! the next train to Galle is at 4.30.”
As a young man, he took part in the by-election campaign of Kannangara for the Legislative Council, referring to him as a ‘Conscientious Willing Worker’ (C. W. W.). At the time he would never have dreamt, that they both would be future ministers of education.
From S. Thomas’ College he joined the Kingswood College as a teacher. He once said that at Kingswood he learnt more than what he taught there.
A dashing young man then, he was in love with Rev. de Silva’s charming daughter, who played romantic music for him on the piano, which included a rendering of ‘Someone like you’.
Years later when he was heavily involved in politics, a newspaper reporter asked him as to why he remained a bachelor.
And, Dahanayake replied “I was looking for the perfect woman and one day I found her and proposed to her.”
“And why didn’t she accept you sir?” asked the reporter.
“Because she was looking for the perfect man!” chuckled Daha.
From Kingswood, he joined, the Government Training College in Colombo, as a trainee, together with his twin brother Kalyanapriya.
As a young man of 23 years, seated in the garden of the Government Training College, he wrote the poem titled ‘He stoops to conquer’.
The Poem was on the famous romance of Prince Saliya, son of warrior-king Dutugemunu and the Chandala girl, beautiful Asokamala; a romance that shook the Royal Court and the entire country and has been told and re-told, sung, and re-sung down the centuries.
“In palm thatched hut alone – she sat
And breathed the jasmine – scented air
Whilst woodland bird so blithely chirped
To greet this maiden wondrous fair,
An outcast born, unloved, unknown,
What passing phantom greets her sight:
‘Tis stately Sal, King Gemunu’s son
Her bosom heaved with mad delight
Whilst Sal, with magic dreams a lit,
Beheld this sprite, of Heavenly beauty,
No darksome rift his thoughts did sift,
For lingering love had conquered duty!
This lingering love was far above,
The harrowing pangs of princely pride;
By the Gods he swore “I thee adore!”
And lost a kingdom for a bride!”
One day he was reprimanded by the principal for not wearing a necktie to dinner, a strict rule at that time.
An apparently contrite Dahanayake humbly promised the principal that he would do so, the next day. The next day Dahanayake came to dinner wearing a necktie, as promised.
It was a shoelace.
Graduated a trained teacher, he had a brief stint at Siddhartha College Balapitiya, before joining St. Aloysius College, Galle where he taught for eight years, from 1928 to 1936, teaching a variety of subjects including Latin, mathematics, history, geography and rural science.
He was also the games master in charge of cricket, football and athletics. Dahanayake was no mean athlete, easily clearing five feet at high jump.
Schoolmaster Dahanayake was a fine actor and was the chief attraction in the college plays, many of which were adaptations from Moliere’s comedies.
It was the year 1935. The loyal little colony of Ceylon was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Coronation of King George the Fifth, in a big way, much to the infuriation of the sworn anti-imperialist Dahanayake.
Waving a black flag, he joined the celebrations and was immediately taken into custody by the Police. Hundreds of people who were there followed Dahanayake who was being dragged away to the Police station.
Thereafter he was detained at the Bogambara prison and was later produced in court, where he was fined Rs. 10.00.
Dahanayake, now an anti–British hero, was taken to his home “Sri Bhavana” in a colourful procession.
When Dahanayake started addressing political meetings, the school authorities terminated his services saying that teaching and politics were incompatible.
In 1933, he published a newspaper called ‘Ruhunu Handa’. It was four-paged, priced at three cents and was published every week. Its humour column ‘street talk’ was very popular. When D. R. Jardine’s controversial cricket team came to Galle, Ruhunu Handa headlined “Go back Jardine”.
Soon after leaving St. Aloysius College, he got into main stream of politics.
The humble John Aloysius and Alice Akkas, with whom he rubbed shoulders with easy familarity and affection, became his idols.
He also became a frequent visitor to the Pacha Gaha (Fibber’s tree), the local Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner, where he waxed eloquent as a political aspirant.
It was not long after, he became the first mayor of Galle in 1939. In 1940 he declared May Day as a holiday for the Municipal Council workers, long before 1956.
By now, he was an amusing speaker, a crowd puller, a very lovable human being and the undisputed champion of the down trodden masses.
He then went to Keppitipola’s Wellassa, far removed from his native Galle and contested the Bibile seat in the second State Council at a by-election in 1944, and was elected.
At the State Council, he functioned as a one man opposition, espoused the idol of the masses and was always in the limelight with his gimmicks and fun.
In 1945, he made a marathon speech in the legislature lasting 13 hours. It is still an unbroken record.
Once he was named for a week for calling the State Council “a den of thieves”.
Dahanayake was the one and only member who voted against the introduction of the Soulbury Constitution, on the grounds that the cabinet system was not suited to the genius of the people. He preferred the then existing executive committee system of government.
He was a man with a keen sense of humour who had a gift for eloquence and repartee which he often displayed in the House.
Some of his delightful parodies as a master parodist, drove a point home where extended verbiage failed.
Here is he on Sir John.
Twinkle, twinkle, good Sir John,
How you’ve fooled our fair Ceylon.
Looking young in spite of age.
Like an actor on stage,
When the girls at “Temple Trees”
Crowd and dance like buzzing bees,
Then you sing your sweetest song,
Twinkle, twinkle, all night long!
But if you care to see the woe.
Of starving men who come and go,
Then you’ll sing a sadder song.
And twinkle like a wiser John.
Addressing a meeting at Galle, Premier Sir John Kotelawala once said “If Dahanayake tries his nonsense with me, I will devour him.”
The next day Dahanayake issued a statement: “Then at least Sir John will have a brain in his stomach”.
He was a darling of the press, who always found him for a good story.
As an unconventional parliamentarian he was the first M.P. to travel third class with a first class ticket. And once he was asked why he travelled third class. He chuckled, “Because there is no fourth class.”
It was one way that he kept in touch with the people.
Those were the days when in December every year, the Galle Gymkhana Club held their horse racing meets. And Dahanayake devised an ingenious way of keeping contact with the people. On the morning of a meet, he displayed the “Treble Forecast”, on the Beli tree in his garden. As some of his tips clicked, the Beli tree became more popular.
His official telephone was like a public telephone. Those days there were no direct dialling facilities and calls had to be monitored through the exchange. If the call happened to be an urgent one, then Daha would help the caller by calling back the exchange to give the call ‘official priority’.
He was not a globe trotting M.P. or a minister. Once Sir John, the then Minister of Transport invited him to join the inaugural flight of the newly created Air Ceylon to Madras. That was the only time he left our shores.
When S.W.R.D came to address one of Daha’s election meetings at Galle in 1956, he went up to the mike and shouted “Banda comes to town! UNP down!” On hearing it S. W. R. D. had a hearty laugh.
When W. was a hot-blooded young man, he was presiding at an LSSP meeting at Galle Face Green, when a comrade came up and whispered in his ear, that thugs from a rival political party had been posted at strategic points in the crowd to disrupt the meeting. When told this, Daha immediately got up, stopped the comrade who was speaking and in stentorian tones cried out.
“Mage gama Gaalley!
Gaalley kollo bohoma vasai!
Ung hapuwath Naaga visai!
Yakada kandan dekata navai
Dekata navala thunata kadai!”
(“I am from Galle!
The boys of Galle are very dangerous!
If they bite you, it’ll be like a snake-bite!
They can bend iron giders!
They bend them in two and break them into three!”)
And the planned disruption never took place!
At the 1947 general elections, Dahanayake contested W. Amarasuriya, one of the richest in the island at the time and defeated him.
There is an interesting aftermath almost four decades later. A statue of Amarasuriya was erected after his death by the grateful people of Galle, and Prime Minister Premadasa was invited to unveil it. On that occasion, Dr. W. Dahanayake, Minister of Co-operatives, made a stirring speech, going to describe the late H.W. Amarasuriya as a Bodhisatva.
The Prime Minister, in his speech, quipped that had Dahanayake made that speech in 1947, he would have lost the election!
On that fateful day of September 25, 1959, Dahanayake who was staying at the M.P’s hostel ‘Sravasti’ ordered a plain cup of tea for the security officer on duty and another for himself and was chatting with him at the security post, when he received an urgent message, on receipt of which he drove to the Queens House to take oaths as the acting Prime Minister.
On the days he was at Galle, the premier’s Cadillac was somewhat of a public vehicle in which the young men used to go on jolly jaunts, even to the extent of going to the Galle Town to bring hoppers for those manning his election office in the night.
Soon after his defeat at the 1960 March election, Dahanayake went on a pilgrimage, armed with a camera given him by Sir Susantha de Fonseka, a former Ambasador of Ceylon in Japan and a former deputy speaker.
He was going to the Avukana Shrine after parking his vehicle, when he felt thirsty and went to a hut close by, asking for some water. The woman there brought a glass of water and while offering it asked him where he was from. Dahanayake answered that he was from Galle, when the woman fuming with indignation said, “The people of Galle do not deserve to be given even a glass of water, for the way they defeated Dahanayake Mahattaya.”
Dahanayake chuckled and resumed his journey, without revealing his identity.
After a long and eventful tenure in the legislature, he lived in retirement sans opulent wealth, respected and loved by the people.
There will never be another like him!
Strong on vocals
The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!
Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.
At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).
The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.
However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.
Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.
Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year
Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.
It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.
The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.
The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.
The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.
Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.
This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.
Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.
The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.
Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.
Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.
New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations
Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.
Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.
A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.
Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.
Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.
Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.
Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.
Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.
The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.
Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.
Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.
This is the verse sung while playing the game:
“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,
Olinda thibenne bangali dese…
Genath hadanne koi koi dese,
Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
Happy New Year!
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