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Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake – The First Prime Minister of Sri Lanka



by Karu Jayasuriya

(Former Speaker of Parliament President of the D.S. Senanayake Commemoration Society)

The 69th death anniversary of Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake fell on March 20 and it is our foremost duty and obligation to refresh our memories and pay tribute to this great statesman for rendering an unparalleled service in winning Independence from the Colonial masters in 1948.

The country knows and calls him “The Father of the Nation.” This paints in our minds an instant image of a well-built, broad shouldered six-footer, dark complexioned with rugged features and dominant grey moustache.

Don Stephen Senanayake, was born on October 21, 1884, at Botale, in Hapitigam Korale, currently known as Mirigama.  DS, as he was popularly known, was the third son of the late Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherine Elizabeth Gunasekera.  Spater Senanayake made his fortune in graphite mining and expanded into plantations and other investments.  He was later awarded the title of Mudaliyar for his philanthrophy.  Don Stephen had two elder brothers, Don Charles, (DC) and Fredrick Richard (FR) and one sister.

He attended the prestigious Anglican S. Thomas’ College, then situated in Mutwal, excelling in sports, including cricket, and played in the Royal-Thomian match.  After completing schooling, he joined the Surveyor General’s Department and worked as a clerk for a short period.  His father encouraged him to undergo vocational training in agriculture at the Gannoruwa Farm School.  Empowered by this training and experience in agriculture, he opted to join his father fulltime.  He became an excellent planter and was able to plant broad acres of rubber and coconut. He helped his brother DC to manage the family’s graphite business, too.

The Senanayake brothers were involved in the Temperance Movement of 1912.  During the World War I, they were arrested and imprisoned by the British Governor who considered this movement seditious and released on bail, after 46 days without any charge.  DS and DC were prominent members of the political party, Lanka Maha Jana Sabha.  FR and DC were committed supporters of the YMBA.  DS played an active role in the Independence movement, supporting his brother, FR.

In 1924 DS was elected to the Legislative Council from Negombo.  He became the Secretary to the Unofficial Members Group of the Council, actively engaged in proceedings with a particular interest in subjects related to agriculture, lands and irrigation. He advocated the establishment of the first University in the Island close to Kandy.  When his brother FR died on a pilgrimage in India in 1925, DS assumed leadership of the Independence Movement.  Although belonging to the affluent society, DS never lost the common touch and was very close to the common man.

As Prime Minister from 1947 he gained respect from all ethnic communities and was able to maintain the morale of the then elite Ceylon Civil Service during the post-Independence transition period. This despite the loss of senior British officials.  However, he retained the services of experts such as Sir Ivor Jennings and harnessed their valuable expertise.

The Gal-Oya Multi-Purpose Scheme of D.S. Senanayake was launched to colonize uninhabitable areas to resettle 250,000 people.   In a country without coal, oil or gas, he encouraged hydro-electric power development and constructed the Inginiyagala power generation project, followed by many other hydro power projects.

His dry zone colonization schemes were the foundation of our new era of self-sufficiency in rice and other grains.  The settlements of Minneriya, Padaviya, Gal Oya just to mention a few, tells us much of his achievements in a relatively short time.

With the dawn of the Donoughmore reforms, DS became the Minister of Lands and Agriculture, in 1931, holding this position for 15 years.  As the Minister he was able to push the Land Development Ordinance through the legislature to convert barren land to cultivable assets.  He restored ancient tanks and irrigation network in the dry-zone knowing that fertile lands were covered by dry zone jungle. The relocation of the landless in the wet zone was undertaken by his Ministry under the colonization schemes.  Having founded the cooperative movement in 1923, he emphasized the development of cooperatives and acted to modernize agriculture.  He became the first people’s Prime Minister with the blessings of the ordinary masses.

The present generation should know about this exemplary leader of Sri Lanka, who was associated with all political leaders and spearheaded the independence struggle.  He and his elder brother, FR Senanayake, and colleagues such as Sir D.B. Jayatilake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, T.B. Jayah, E.W. Perera and many others led the independence struggle and achieve their objective without shedding a single drop of blood.

Following an illness, due to the weakening of his heart, DS had been hospitalized for a few weeks in early 1952.  This culminated when on March 21 of the same year, the Prime Minister succumbed to an untimely death when he suffered a stroke and fell off his horse during his morning ride on Galle Face green.  The country was plunged into mourning at the sudden loss of the Father of the Nation. In the words of Kwaja Nazimuddin, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, “Ceylon has been deprived of one of her most distinguished sons and the world of an elder statesman”.

He successfully guided the country to freedom, when it ceased to be a colony of the British Empire, on February 4, 1948.  DS re-hoisted Sri Lanka’s flag that was hauled down by the British in 1815, some 25 years after he embarked on his political career in the National Legislature, and proclaimed the country’s independence to the world. It was evident that his wisdom, clear vision and steadfast perseverance had successfully led the country to independence and economic stability.

With an acute sense of integrity, he firmly believed in maintaining good rapport with our neighbours.  Sri Lanka is a small country and as such he knew that we would require the assistance of those far more experienced than us in self- governance.  He concluded agreements with the United Kingdom for military assistance and valued the country’s membership of the Commonwealth.  He established strong relations with all Commonwealth countries and the United States as well as Burma and Japan, two of the foremost Buddhist countries of the time. 

He was a great statesman, known and revered across the world.  His son Dudley Senanayake who became the Prime Minister of the country four times followed in the footsteps of his beloved father and continued with the father’s far reaching efforts in economic development

His Excellency Percy Spender, former Australian Ambassador’s observations on DS’s death may be of interest to our present day leaders.

“He (DS Senanayake) was a man of great personal strength of character, yet of profound humanity and humility; unspoiled by the high distinctions he enjoyed.  He belonged to the soil and all things with a depth, which only those who belong to the soil can feel”.

DS Senanayake was the man who was the architect of the destiny of a nation and single-handedly facilitated the smooth transition from dominion to independence with great tact and determination.  His policies on agriculture, irrigation and colonization were far sighted and ensured the country’s food security. 


May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana

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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.



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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.



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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…”

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