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Thirty seven years ago, on 13 April 1985, the British Prime Minister of the day Mrs Margaret Thatcher during her visit to Sri Lanka to open the Victoria Dam, said in an address to the Parliament of Sri Lanka ” The remains of an ancient civilization are visible in many parts of your island. Two thousand years ago, your irrigation system far exceeded in scale and sophistication anything existing in Europe. That great chronicle the Mahavamsa, has passed down to us the story of your island’s development.”

The Mahavansa and the history it contained would probably have been lost in the mists of antiquity if not for the indefatigable efforts of a Civil Servant by the name George Turnour


George Turnour was born in Ceylon in 1799. His father (the fourth son of the Earl of Winterton) also with the same name George Turnour, came over to Ceylon in 1789 with the 73rd Regiment, and was appointed Fort Adjutant in Jaffna in 1795, after the capture of Jaffna from the Dutch. He died on April 10, 1813 aged 45 and was buried in the Dutch Church of Jaffna.(since destroyed during the civil war). The headstone to the grave of his infant daughter would have suffered the same fate. However we are indebted to Leopold Ludovici who preserved for posterity images of some of the tablets and headstones in the country, in his magnificent work Lapidarium Zeylanicum 1877.

His son George Turnour, born in Ceylon in 1799, was sent to England for his education, and on his return as an 18 year old was appointed to the Ceylon Civil Service. When he was appointed as Government Agent at Ratnapura, he made the acquaintance of the High Priest of Sabaragamuwa through whom he obtained a transcript of the commentary to the Mahawansa, written in Pali and preserved at the Mulkirigala Vihare. Since there were no Pali dictionaries available then, Turnour studied the Pali language, and together with some Buddhists priests translated the text, and after many years of labour, produced the first thirty eight Chapters of the Mahawamsa into English.

This was an epoch making event. The Mahavamsa” or “The Great Chronicle” is the documented history of the great dynasty of Sri Lanka kings in general and Sinhalese Buddhism in particular. This important work is believed to have been written by Bhikku Mahanama in Pali language and describes the life and times of the people who forged the Sri Lankan nation, from the coming of Vijaya in 543 BCE to the reign of King Mahasena (334 – 361) (6th Century BC to 4th Century AD).


Historiographical sources were rare in much of South Asia before the publication of the Mahavamsa. As a result of its publication, more became known about the history of the island of Ceylon and neighbouring regions, more than that of most of the subcontinent. Its contents have aided in the identification and corroboration of archaeological sites and inscriptions associated with early Buddhism, the empire of Asoka, and also the Tamil kingdoms of southern India.

The publication of the first 38 chapters of the Mahavamsa in 1837 by Turnour served as a trail blazer for ethnographic studies in South India and Ceylon. Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders who served in Ceylon for over a decade published his two volume memoir Eleven Years in Ceylon in 1840. In it he stated ” I have the opportunity of stating my admiration of the judgment and accuracy with which Mr Turnour has arranged and abridged the Cingalese history”.Much of the ancient history of both India and Sri Lanka would not have been available were it not for the Mahavamsa.

Turnour however fell ill before he completed his task and retired from service. He left Ceylon in 1842 and died in Naples at the age of 44 on April 10, 1843. He was buried in the old Protestant Church in Naples. When the news of Turnour’s death reached Ceylon there was widespread grief in the island among colonial officialdom and local elites. It was decided to establish a suitable memorial to Turnour and subscriptions were collected for the purpose. The subscription list was headed by the Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Oliphant with a donation of £2-2sh. This was matched by similar donations from the following:

Mr Justice Stark, Donald Davidson Capt Kelson, Dr Cameron, Joseph Read , Lt Col Fletcher, J Jumeaux, JG Firth, CR Buller, Francis Hudson, Lt Hawkins, Capt Lillee, William Morris, F de Livera , TC Power , FB Norris, JH Rabinel, R Jefferson, H De Alwis, David de Silva, Mudyr, C Webster, S Northway, Don Hendrick, Mudyr.

Since Kandy was going to be the epicentre of the emerging plantation economy, it was decided by the organisers of the Turnour Memorial Fund to make a substantial donation towards the construction at a cost of pounds sterling 2,371 of St Paul’s Church, for which a plan was already in place. A memorial to George Turnour was to occupy a prominent place in the church. The Church was opened in August 1846, four years after the death of Turnour

An impressive large marble tablet was installed to the memory of George Turnour as the focal point of the Church. (Please see accompanying photo)The marble tablet is the oldest in the church. The writer acknowleges with grateful thanks the assistance provided by Mr Nihal Seneviratne of Colombo in procuring the images of the Turnour tablets from St Paul’s Church, Kandy)

“Sacred to the memory of GEORGE TURNOUR Esq, the eldest son of the Hon”ble George Turnour and Emelie his wife. born March 11th AD 1799 and died at Naples April 10th AD 1843, aged 43 years. Appointed to the Ceylon Civil Service in 1817 he served under govrnment with distinguished ability for a period of 24 long years and was enabled by his researches in Oriental literature and profound acquaintance with ancient history and chronology of this island, the scene of his literary and valuable public services.

In erecting this tablet to the memory of one who united in himself the accomplishments of a gentleman, the erudition of a scholar and the piety of a Christian, his family are anxious to record in an especial manner the deep constant and mutual affection which in no ordinary degree subsisted between him and younger sister Jane, wife of Capt H.A.Atchinson, Ceylon Rifle Regiment, who died the year before her brother at Plymouth, April 20th, 1842 in the 36 th year of her age leaving behind her a bright example in which were blended the inestimable qualities of a devout Christian, an affectionate wife, a devited mother, and a faithful friend.”


The organizers of the testimonial to the memory of George Turnour presumably in their belief that Turnour’s gift to global scholarship should also be perpetuated by a live, ongoing memorial to the scholar, could not have selected a better institution to serve their objective. Today’s Royal College was in 1846 known as the Colombo Academy, and was barely 11 years in existence when the organizers decided to donate the balance funds from the donors to create an annual endowment to the most distinguished student of the Colombo Academy.

The first winners of the Turnour Prize were George F Nell and Charles Ambrose Lorenz. The Turnour Prize now in its 175th year is the oldest continuing Prize in the history of Sri Lanka. It is in fact older than most of the other prominent schools of today like S. Thomas’, Trinity, St Joseph’s and is now a revered institution by itself. It has inspired scholarship of the highest order in the most prominent school in the country, and its pioneering nature has served as a shining example to other educational institutions in no small manner.

Throughout its 175 year existence the Turnour Scholarship has identified, nurtured, and held aloft some of the best scholars, administrators and national leaders that have influenced the development of Sri Lanka. A list of some of the names of celebrities who kick started their journey into life via the Turnour Prizr reads like a roll call of the nation’s revered leadership. Names like. C. A. Lorenz, that foremost Burgher of all time, Sir James Peiris, Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy, Christopher Britto, Francis Beven, Sir Ponnmbalam Arunachalam, Sir Thomas de Sampayo, Sir Marcus Fernando, his brother C.M. Fernando, Dr C.A. Hewavitarne, HV Perera, QC, VM Fernando, AE Keuneman, AE Christoffelz, BW Bawa, EW Jayewardene, and more recently of Gamini Iriyagolle, KS Gangadharan, and several others too many to mention, reflect the very high standard of scholarship inspired by the prize.

Special mention must be made of one family whose members were Turnour scholars for four successive generations. Starting with Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam followed by his son Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva, then by the latter’s son Balakumaran (Baku) Mahadeva, and then by his son Kumar Mahadeva. While Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s uncle Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy the first barrister ever from Asia (father of Ananda Coomaraswamy, the savant) was an early Turnour Scholar, the equally brilliant brother of Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan one of the founders of modern Ceylon, could not make it to the Turnour Prize despite being a brilliant student of Royal College. Overall however, the family’s contribution to scholarship and national leadership remains unsurpassed.

Mention must also be made of MJR Paul later known as P.M. Jeyarajan who together with AH Macan Markar were the joint winners of the Turnour Prize in 1928. PM Jeyarajan, later a member of the Indian Civil Service, was for many years the Honorary Director of the Royal College Orchestra, underscoring a line from the school song “they have repaid the debt they owed; they kept thy fame inviolate.” All the winners of the Turnour Prize have their names inscribed on a panel displayed in the College Hall.

Over 150 Turnour Scholars have left their alma mater Royal College, to carve out a career in the big wide world before them. Not only have their achievements done George Turnour proud, but are remembered through posterity for their association with that great scholar whose contribution to history is indelibly inscribed into the nation’s psyche.

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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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