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Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake – Galle’s most flamboyant son

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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!

 



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MICHELANGELO OF ITALY and BARANA OF SRI LANKA

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BY Sampath Fernando

“Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” –

Michelangelo (AD 1475-1564). And he discovered THE DAVID inside a rock of marble around AD 1501-1504.

Barana, the Sri Lankan sculptor, performed a similar act in the 5th Century AD. He was supposed to have accomplished this around 455-477 AD during the reign of King Dhatusena. Avukana is a standing statue of the Buddha near Kekirawa in the North Central province of Sri Lanka. The statue, which has a height of more than 40 feet (12 m), was carved out of a large granite rock face.

 

BARANA, THE SCULPTOR

There are enough historical records about Michelangelo and his paintings and sculpture. Barana was virtually unknown. My speculation is that he was employed by the king, not for his artistry but merely for his skills to get a Buddha statue sculptured. In ancient Sri Lanka, kings were well known for creating Buddha statues and Stupas (dome shaped buildings to preserve relics).

Whatever the reason both Barana and Michelangelo deserve great honour from us. Why? It is amazing the genius of both of them, how they produced such wonderful work of art without the aid of modern cameras and computers, electromechanical drills etc. Also, how did the Romans carve their tall fluted columns which are perfectly proportioned. The magnificence of ancient Egyptian pyramids goes without saying.

 

SPIRITUAL ASPECTS

Michelangelo later in life developed a belief in Spiritualism, for which he was condemned by Pope Paul IV. The fundamental tenet of Spiritualism is that the path to God can be found not exclusively through the Church, but through direct communication with God. I speculate than Barana was a devout Buddhist. Buddhism being the only organised religion at the time. As mentioned earlier the kings spent lot of wealth and employed skilled artists to honour the Buddha.

 

THE PERFECT BUDDHA STATUE

Carved out of the living rock with supreme assurance, Avukana Buddha is a magnificent image. His expression is serene and from his curled hair sprouts the flame called siraspata signifying the power of supreme enlightenment. Although the statue is large and stands straight up with feet firmly planted on the lotus stone pedestal, the body retains a graceful quality enhanced by beautifully flowing drapery clinging to the body.

 

THE TALLEST BUDDHA STATUE IN THE WORLD

The magnificent free-standing (still attached to the original massive rock) statue carved out of a single rock is the tallest Buddha statue in existence today. Following the destruction of similar but much larger statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Avukana Buddha has gained even greater significance in the Buddhist World.

 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My parents were devout Buddhists and school holidays were combined with a family pilgrimage. So, I was taken to Avukana statue with my two brothers and the two sisters to worship the Buddha. I was only about 10 years old. As I reached my adulthood I began to look up to Buddha for his philosophy.

As an octogenarian, I visited the site on 7 December 2019 and venerated Barana for giving us such a marvellous image of art. A combination of philosophy and art!

“I am still learning” said Michelangelo at the age of 87. I can say the same thing now, seven years ahead.

 

(The writer taught Applied Physics at The University of Arts London (UAL) and retired as a professor.)

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Save the Last Dance for me

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By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

elmojay1@gmail.com

A few months ago, I was in Hong Kong, visiting a well-known charity organisation called Crossroads. It was to seek assistance for a project in Sri Lanka. Crossroads has an enormous warehouse filled to the brim with anything and everything; ready to be sent to places where people in need plead.

The store surroundings looked familiar. Then I realised I was standing where the old Kai Tak airport was, now pastured and replaced by the glamour of the new Hong Kong International Airport.

Yes, I have been here before, many a time at that, bringing jet aeroplanes into land on runway 13, turning at the famous Chequered Board at 600 feet and pointing at the short runway besieged by the sea. The final turn and approach was made between sky-scrapers that stood on either side, like sentinels, and one could spot the flat residents’ laundry hanging outside their windows.

The Chequered Board was fixed to the mountainside, big board with orange and yellow squares, clearly to say “Turn now, beyond this is damnation”.

That was Kai Tak, surrounded by hills, minimum length to stop, and the weather gods playing their fancy games so often that we, mere mortals who flew the machines were nothing but puppets on a string.

But we managed; day in and day out to put our aeroplanes down and brake like crazy to make sure we didn’t overrun and tip into the water.

When the skies were friendly, it was a thrill to land at Kai Tak. The runway usually was direction 130 (runway 13) and the wind rolled from the East, nice and steady and we came past Green Island and saw the Chequered Board in front to tell us we have to change direction lest we too got pasted like the Chequered Board on the same mountain. Then came the turn, low and precise to make the final approach, the laundry run, to fly between the buildings and place the wheels precisely at the touch down point to avoid going swimming.

Every time a pilot landed in Hong Kong in the olden days, there was that gleam in the eye. I’ve seen it a hundred times in my co-pilots and I’ve felt the same whenever I made the approach; the accomplishment of doing something right where the demand was high, which sent the adrenalin into overdrive.

The typhoon time was another story. The winds sheared, gusted, backed and veered and the rain swept across the field, diminishing visibility. Dark grey clouds hung low, covering the mountains and the Chequered Board was hardly visible. We went in by the leading lights, which were very powerful strobes that throbbed, giving us a path to follow to take us to the laundry lane. All this was with the wind playing wild symphony and the rain pattering down like machinegun fire. Most times, lining up on the runway for the short final run was almost impossible and that is where the pilot’s skill mattered, kicking rudders and wagging wings like a mad man playing drums just so that the aeroplane landed and stopped all within that little wet and slippery runway with the sea awaiting with open jaws for a luckless pilot’s mistake.

I remember my last flight to Kai Tak, in June 1998. I left home determined to do the landing. Most days, I would let the co-pilot fly, I’ve seen a lot of this airfield and the younger pilots were always grateful for a swing at Hong Kong. But this was my final flight to Kai Tak and I saved the last dance for me, just like the The Drifters sang.

The co-pilot was young and he mentioned he had never landed in Hong Kong. It was a hard call on me. I could not let this young man go and run through a flying career having never landed in Kai Tak. Maybe, years later his first-officer would ask about the infamous Kai Tak approach and my friend would have to answer that he had never done it.

All in all. the deck was stacked against me, there is something called professional courtesy and out went my last dance, “Son, you take it to Hong Kong”.

The weather was bad, the winds were howling, and we went in. The young man turned at 600 feet and the aircraft was bucking and jumping and he hung in there like a rodeo kid but that wasn’t enough.

With 300 feet to go we were pointing at mountains and the field was almost below us and then I took over and went around to the safety of the sky.

One thing I never did in an aeroplane is if I ever took over from a co-pilot, I never gave it back. I flew it and landed it – that was the golden rule, the safe approach.

The rodeo kid and I were now loitering in the sky to await our turn to make the next run. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt, same co-pilot, years later would be a Captain and when his co-pilot asked him about Kai Tak and how it was to fly in he would have to say “I got one chance and I blew it, couldn’t make the field and the Captain had to take over.”

There was no way I could crucify this young man’s soul, make him poor as gutter water in a field where professional prestige mattered most.

‘Son you take it in, go and land this aeroplane.”

That’s precisely what he did. He waltzed with the wind and came through the clouds and turned at the Chequered Board and flew down the laundry lane and lined up the big 747 on the short runway to land as smooth as Mr. Neil did on the moon.

Then I saw the glitter in his eye – Last dance or no dance, I wouldn’t have traded anything for that look. That’s what flying was all about.

It is possible that my rodeo-kid friend would read what I write and remember. It was all between him and me and the old Kai Tak Airport.

He, I am sure by now, is a Captain. I like to think that he too would at times give away his turn to dance just to see the gleam in a fledgling’s eyes. That should be the legacy.

If not, what would we be worth as professional pilots?

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Identity issues continuing to fuel Mid-East conflict

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On the face of it, the decades-long Middle-East conflict is all about who controls which plot of land in the chronically conflict-ridden region. For example, the powder keg city of East Jerusalem is claimed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. On and off, the city erupts in violence on account of its disputed nature and we are just witnessing a new round of such blood-letting. Ownership of real estate seems to be at the heart of the conflict. But there is more than meets the eye in the conflict and land ownership is just one vital aspect of it.

As important as land and issues relating to material well being that grow out of it is religious identity and connected cultural markers that are seen by the Israelis and Palestinians as defining them as ‘nations’. This accounts for the centrality of East Jerusalem to the complex problem which is the Middle East.

In the latter city are places of worship which are seen as being of the utmost sacredness by the groups concerned. For example, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to Islam and therefore the Palestinians, and which came under attack in the current round of violence, is located in East Jerusalem. Likewise, numerous are the sites in East Jerusalem which are sacred to the Jews. The Temple Mount is one such structure which is revered by the Jews. But many of these places of religious worship are revered by almost the entirety of the communities of the region, although some groups proclaim exclusive ownership over them.

It is for the above reasons that pronouncements to the effect that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’ could be anathema in the ears of a considerable number of Palestinians and many of those of the Islamic faith. Recognizing this statement as true and factual could be tantamount to conceding that all Islamic sacred sites in East Jerusalem should come under the complete control and jurisdiction of the Israelis.

To very many sections professing the Islamic faith in the region, conceding East Jerusalem to Israel would be unthinkable because East Jerusalem is integral to their identity as a people or as a ‘nation’. This is the reason why they would see themselves as fully justified in taking up arms to defend their perceived ownership of East Jerusalem. And ‘native’ places and locations are almost sacred to most communities and ethnic groups because those are the sites where they could practise their religions and cultures. The same line of reasoning holds good for traditional Jews. Since East Jerusalem is home to numerous sites that are sacred to them they would see themselves as justified in possessing the city by even the force of arms.

It is in view of the foregoing that former US President Donald Trump could be said to have destroyed peace prospects in the Middle East to a considerable measure by fully endorsing the position that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’. By doing so, the former US President legitimised Israel’s complete hold over the city. But the truth is that ownership of the city is bloodily contested and this has been so for decades.

The question could be asked as to why one group should consider it unthinkable and revolting that the other group should exercise controlling power over religious sites that are claimed by it as well. In short, why are these group antagonisms so deep-rooted? We go to the heart of the Middle East conflict with this question.

In fact, the ‘enmity’ could be centuries long. Its roots could lie in the ‘myths of origin’ churned out by hard line sections in both communities. Both Judaism and Islam revere Abraham, seen as the originator of most theistic religions of the Middle East. Abraham is believed to have had two sons of different natures. At the popular level, each of the adversarial groups in the Middle East sees itself as deriving from the ‘better-natured’ of the sons. Like most popular myths, these notions die hard among the more impressionable sections.

However, there is no denying that land and territorial disputes have been keeping the flames of conflict and war ablaze in the Middle East. This is true of today as it was at the turn of the last century, when the British were seen as implanting the Jews in the land of Palestine at the expense of those who were already inhabiting it. That is, the Palestinians of today. The Jews were seen as growing in number in Palestine and they very soon laid claim to a state of their own in Palestine. Thus were sown the early seeds of the conflict which has bedevilled the region to date.

As matters stand, Israel controls to a considerable degree all contested areas in the conflict except the Gaza strip where the militant group Hamas exercises extensive governing control, backed by some staunchly pro-Islamic extra-regional states. At present, the religious unrest in East Jerusalem has invited the military involvement of Hamas, which development has, in turn, triggered off a spiral of violence between the Israeli security forces and Hamas. At the time of writing, the violence has claimed more than 30 lives.

It is highly regrettable that the violence is occurring in the holy month of Ramadan. It is hoped that the international community would intervene to end the violence and make a fresh effort to work out a political solution to the conflict.

A scrutinizing look at Middle East developments over the decades would indicate a close link between land issues and identity questions. These factors could be said to have been mutually-reinforcing. To the extent to which the Palestinians see themselves as being deprived of land and other means of livelihood, to the same degree are they seeing themselves as suffering on account of their religious identity. This trend aggravates religious tensions. Economic issues deriving from land questions trigger a sense of being victimized on account of religious and cultural markers.

Accordingly, US President Joe Biden has his work cut out. If he is serious about bringing peace to the Middle East, he will launch a fresh bid towards evolving the two-state solution. Under this formula there is a possibility of resolving land issues equitably.

 

 

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