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Sustaining vistas of Peradeniya Campus landscape beyond 80 years



By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke,
Member, Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka

The Peradeniya University was literally ‘more open than usual’ on the 01 July 2023, when it celebrated the very first Founder’s Day on her 80th (or 81st to be exact) birthday. Thousands of people, the majority of them being the young aspirants to higher education, thronged this world-renown Garden University of Sri Lanka on that day. They would have been, no doubt, enthralled by the scenic beauty of university park while paying equal or more attention to an assortment of events organised by the university within its library- and different faculty premises.

Amongst them, the Great Chronicle – Mahawansa text, which was selected as the authentic copy to be listed among the 64 new items of documentary heritage inscribed on the UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) International Register in 2023, was on display at the new wing of the University Library. Also, the memorabilia of Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra including his hand-written briefs and the original costumes of the iconic Maname stage drama and a selection of rare paintings and line drawings of George Keyt MBE (1901 – 1993), who is considered Sri Lanka’s most distinguished modern painter was on display. Likewise, different faculties, too, had their own thematic exhibits for public viewing.

The university should be congratulated on organising such an event for the first time in its history for which the public response was so outpouring and the University was less than prepared for this ‘widely open-than-usual’ blitz. It reflects the inquisitiveness of people from all walks of life to see for themselves what is going on inside these portals of higher learning about which a gloomy picture has been painted more often than not.

I was informed by a former employee of the university that 17 busloads of students, their parents, and teachers, all from a single school in Jaffna had come, probably traveling overnight.

The lead taken by Peradeniya University in celebrating Founder’s Day with an Open Day, which most universities the world over has as a regular feature in their annual calendar is indeed heartening. It should surely be on the annual calendar of all our universities. Even more remarkable was that the Park was cleaned up of litter and residual garbage almost completely the following day and a special tribute to the University Health Services in charge of the garbage disposal among the many other chores they performed to their utmost to cope with the sudden deluge. Thankfully, the heavy rains that followed would have washed away any undesirables that remained.

University Park

The walk along the maze of driveways and footpaths within the University Park seemed to have fascinated the young and the old alike on this Open Day, as I myself, was witness to it. In this context, what came to my mind immediately was the Queen’s Drive on the occasion of the formal opening of the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya by HRH Duke of Edinburgh K.G in the presence of H. M. Queen Elizabeth II on the 20th April 1954, 69 years ago. The panoramic landscape along this Queen’s Drive on which the Royal Entourage was escorted by the first Vice Chancellor of the University Sir William Ivor Jennings is vividly described in the guide booklet that was prepared on the occasion. The landscape of the Peradeniya University Park which was planned by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Mr. Clifford Holliday and implemented to near perfection by the renowned landscape architect Mr. Shirley d’Alwis during the preceding 10 years has been described in this booklet in the following way: ‘IN TWENTY YEARS’ TIME, THE UNIVERSITY PARK SHOULD BE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS’.

This was probably not an impetuous statement as Sir Ivor was already well aware of the outstanding beauty of the Royal Botanic Gardens, which he acknowledges as among the finest botanic gardens in the tropics at the time. He goes on to quote Count Angelo de Gubernatis – a mid-Victorian visitor from Naples in the former’s book ‘Kandy Road’: ‘ If India is the paradise of Asia; if the Island of Ceylon is the Paradise of India; the botanic Gardens of Peradeniya is the paradise of Ceylon, and thus, as has been said the Heart of paradise’(sic. p.59).

Most likely Sir Ivor was referring to the approx. 320-acre (130 ha) University Park Landscape which he compared with the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. A detailed description of the avenue planting along the main driveway and the selection of tree species displaying the University Colours (Scarlet and gold) twice a year is given in the said booklet. Except for the larger Mara trees along the Galaha road and some rubber trees still surviving on the New Peradeniya Estate (now the University Park) amidst the buildings, all other trees were planted or have grown from seed in nurseries at the time the landscaping was originally planned.

When trees and woody climbers are in bloom (mostly planted exotics and some escapees from the Royal Botanic Gardens across the road), it is truly a magnificent spectacle to behold. For someone with a botanical interest seeing the nuanced seasonal changes in leafing and flowering of the manicured gardens and the associated woodlands is indeed a delight beyond measure.

However, the Mara trees are more than a century old now, and with the added weight of the aggressively growing woody creepers/lianes overtopping these tree giants pose serious risks of their limbs falling off during strong winds causing dangers to passersby. The curatorial staff of the University should join hands with those of the Botanic Gardens personnel, who are more professionally trained to manage its Park while incorporating creative ideas coming from academia through their research pursuits. In that way, the panoramic landscapes of the two institutions together uniquely positioned on either side of the Kandy Road would be even more beautiful than what Sir Ivor would have envisioned.

However, conventional landscaping with elegantly designed and manicured lawns, beds of exotic flower species including potential invasives, rows of non-native trees, etc., may help shape an aesthetically appealing, relaxing campus environment, but it also could pose a veiled threat to the native wildlife populations. The invasive and non-native species without their natural predators or normal control mechanisms, can spread exponentially and become dominant which we are already witnessing in the Peradeniya University Park.

History of Forest Conservation Initiatives in Hantana Mountain Amphitheatre

In addition to the 130 ha of the University Park in the lower slopes and the valley of the Mahaweli Ganga (part of Ganga Wata Korale), approximately 1100 acres (445 ha) on the upper slopes of Hantana forms a mountain amphitheatre draining to Maha Oya which meanders through the University Park and deposit its relatively clean water to the Mahaweli river just above the railway bridge. Hantana Ridge is the last westward bastion of the Hantana mountain range which forms the catchment from which the University continued to draw its water supply during Sir Ivor’s time until recent times.

The Hantana water scheme was initiated during the Second World War period to ensure a steady pipe-borne water supply by the troops of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command who occupied this parkland.

Realising its value as a watershed for the campus community, Sir Ivor was of the view that the Upper Hantana Campus land bequeathed from the Old Peradeniya Tea Estate should go back to a jungle with the added benefit of earning revenue from its timber that would provide a valuable endowment. Indeed, the Forest Department was advised to plant the area first with Mahogany in between the shade trees (mostly Albizzia spp.) of the abandoned tea plantation. In more recent times, in particular, during the USAID-funded Reforestation of Upper Mahaweli Catchment project in the 1980s, the remaining pathana grasslands on ridge tops and upper slopes were planted with Caribbean pine. About 100 ha or 14% of the University lands have been planted with pines during this project.

Large-scale planting of Pinus spp. in the watershed areas was (and still is) vehemently criticised by environmentalists having experienced negative impacts on biodiversity, soil, and water conservation exacerbated by frequent fire hazards. The University of Peradeniya was very much a contributor to this nationally important environmental debate on public media at the time, so much so that a symposium on ‘Reforestation with Pinus in Sri Lanka’ was jointly organized by the University of Peradeniya and the British High Commission on behalf of the Overseas Development Administration of the UK, in 1988, to address this sensitive issue between the environmentalists and forestry professionals. Being a part of the catchment of the Victoria Reservoir built with generous British assistance and together with the keen interest of the then British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David Gladstone on sensitive environmental issues of this nature would have paved the way for the British sponsorship of the event.

Quoting famous poets Longfellow, Tennyson, and Kipling, on ‘black and gloomy temperate pines’ ( in Hiawatha) in his Keynote Address, the High Commissioner conveyed the message that the objective of organising the symposium was to come to the grips of the problem of Pinus cultivation in Sri Lanka and if possible to reach a consensus on how to handle the issue of commercial and scientific considerations in guiding the hand that sows the seeds of the new forests or the tree farms. Reinforcing his standpoint, he went to the extent of posing 17 questions on Pinus cultivation in Sri Lanka for which answers were sought from the participating professional and scientific community at the end of the symposium, before embarking on supporting any further large-scale afforestation schemes based on Pine.

This landmark symposium probably would have positively contributed to the inclusion of a University of Peradeniya- Oxford Forestry Institute (UP-OFI) Link project to the overall Aid/Loan program on the Forestry Sector Development Plan for Sri Lanka with bilateral and multilateral funding in the early 1990s. The UP-OFI Link project was primarily geared toward facilitating collaboration in training and research in forest management.

Around the same time, Dr. Nihal Karunaratne, a distinguished citizen of Kandy, while being a member of the University Council in the late 1980s was instrumental in establishing a Forestry Subcommittee on ‘Reforestation of the University Lands’ and strongly supported the ongoing conservation efforts at the time. We ourselves being members of the same committee, while supporting his noble initiative, also proposed that a selected portion of the University land could be used as a crop gene pool garden in which the rare and valuable varieties of food crops, indigenous medicinal plants, industrial crops like rubber, and others could be maintained for posterity.

Being located in an environmentally favourable landscape in close proximity to the germplasm gardens of the Department of Agriculture and surrounded by traditional Kandyan spice gardens with fast-disappearing valuable gene pools of mixed species in them (spices, fruits and beverages like coffee), it would be a tremendous boost to agro-biodiversity conservation that the University could offer at a local, regional and even global scale.

As an example, the University of California, Riverside Citrus Variety Collection (UCR-CVC), USA is one of the most important collections of citrus diversity in the world. This collection with over 1000 accessions spread over in approx. 10 ha on the UCR campus is used for long-term research in plant breeding and educational extension services


On a similar mission, we received a very favourable response from the Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka at that time for establishing a rubber gene pool garden (seed orchard) with FAO assistance but unfortunately, these efforts did not materialise.

Subsequently, there was a subcommittee of the Lands, Buildings, and their Maintenance Committee (LBMC) for developing a Master Plan for Landscaping the University of Peradeniya in the 1990s especially to address primarily the issues of encroachments and requests for timber extraction. Towards the master plan preparation, maps depicting i) Land Use, ii) Contours and Slope Classes at 10 m intervals [1:10,000], and iii) physical structures were prepared with support from the UP-OFI link project and handed over to the then Vice-Chancellor. Around the same time, yet another project – The Multipurpose Tree Research Network of the Faculty of Agriculture in collaboration with the Sri Lanka-German Upper Mahaweli Watershed Management Project – was mooted to conserve stream reservations – Maha Oya in particular – with aesthetically pleasing landscaping incorporating appropriate tree planting. Currently, there is an urgent need for this as the Maha Oya embankments are eroding as a result of flash floods arising upstream in Upper Hantana with a threat to the very existence of the playing fields.

While serving on those committees and with our own experience in forest ecology, we initiated several forest restoration experiments in lower Hantana i) Reforesting pathana grasslands and ii) converting Pinus plantations into mixed-species plantations in 1991 and 2004 respectively, using several broad-leaved species that are widely used for timber and medicinal uses in Kandyan districts viz. Gini Sapu, Bedi Del, Mahogany, Albizzia, Bulu, and Mee.

Both these trials have proved to be successful applied ecological research models and after 20 years or more; these long-term forestry trials have demonstrated that indeed pathana grasslands as well as Pinus plantations can be converted to native species stands. Consequently, these two sites are being regularly used as demonstration models in providing training in restoration ecological fundamentals to the students at Peradeniya and other universities over the last two decades.

The above is an abridged chronological narrative of the history of some of the conservation efforts by the University of Peradeniya (formerly University of Ceylon) during the past eighty years since Sir Ivor’s initial recommendation for establishing revenue-earning forests in Hantana Watersheds. However, in the present circumstances, while aligning with our legally binding national commitments to the global conventions on the environment (UNCBD, UNFCCC, and UNCCD), there is a need for a transformative shift to a more ecologically sustainable campus landscape, in particular, the upper Hantana hill slopes.

We need to reassess the ecological and socio-economic context that this important watershed provides in this era of our national commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goals – the UN’s blueprint for a more sustainable future for all. Their adoption could place environmental restoration, sustainability, adapting to climate change, and ensuring water security under the international spotlight. Two classic textbook examples of this kind of long-term watershed restoration projects, to take a cue from, are the Hubbard Brook Watershed Ecosystem in New Hampshire and the equally famous Catskill/Delaware watershed project in upstate New York, both in the USA. With the availability of modern computer and sensor technologies, long-term hydrological and meteorological monitoring in the Hantana watershed would be an invaluable teaching and research tool with the potential of upscaling onto all major river systems deriving wider-scale benefits in the era of changing climate.

Sustaining Peradeniya Campus Landscape as outdoor living laboratories

The campus landscape is the most highly visible representation of the university and its relationship with nature. Just like its buildings, the campus landscape can be seen as the physical embodiment of the cultural and other values of the region it represents – Kanda Uda Rata – being located at the Northwestern edge of the central highlands. As such, the campus landscape together with the surrounding Kandyan Spice Gardens of traditional communities in Uda Peradeniya, Dangolla, Penideniya, Hindagala and Mahakanda, is an asset for cultural sustainability, among others. It offers the potential to integrate environmental, economic, and cultural sustainability entwined with intellectual well-being into the fabric of the university for generations to come.

The present site for the then University of Ceylon chosen after an intense ‘battle for sites’ over a decade or more since the 1920s has emerged as a landscape that expresses the soul and personality of this outstanding institution about which Sir Ivor once had said that it had one of the most beautiful environments in the world. So many literary works have been associated with Hantana Mountain Range and its foothills. Consequently, the campus landscape with the human-dominated University Park and the nature-dominated Upper Hantana Wilderness has the potential to become a key instrument to advance university sustainability and a legacy for future generations to build upon.

A major portion of the Upper Hantana watershed is included in the Hantana Environmentally Protected Area (EPA) of the Central Environmental Authority declared under a Gazette notification (# 1641/28) which is under review at present. As such, the Hantana watershed is pronounced as a climatically benign and land degradation-neutral area of national importance with its inherent biological richness and ecosystem services effectively conserved.

The world today faces extraordinary environmental challenges and all Universities, being caldrons of innovative thinking have a crucial role to play in meeting this challenge of utilizing the campus landscapes as the best outdoor laboratories for socio-cultural, economic, and scientific exploration and management.

Today, the Peradeniya University campus landscape together with its neighbouring Kandyan Spice Gardens of world repute provides multifarious functions, including aesthetic appreciation, recreational facilities, and a living laboratory for academic pursuits while delivering crucial environmental services including ecological safeguards.

The ‘Living Campus Landscape’ concept could be incorporated into the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy, specifically to address the challenges of a growing peri-urban campus alongside the opportunities for a healthy environment provides for people and nature. For example, sustainable campus landscapes can demonstrate effective reduction of the university’s carbon footprint. In this context, perhaps a more rationalised perspective than what Sir Ivor originally envisioned to meet the current and future challenges through strengthening partnerships with public and private sector institutions and local, regional, and global communities including the ever-loyal alumni in these changing climates is the need of this critical hour.

Universities the world over are no longer ivory towers; they are inevitably the microcosms of the larger society with all its attendant advantages and drawbacks churning up from within. An enduring legacy of sustainability backed by meaningful transformative changes integrating scholarship with environmental stewardship can inspire generations to come.

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Understanding policy of neutrality



Yuan Wang 5, Chinese research and survey vessel, at the Hambantota port in August, 2022.

by Neville Ladduwahetty

In order to assuage the apprehensions of India regarding the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel Shi Yang 6 to Sri Lanka, an informed source of the National Aquatic Resources Research Agency (NARA) is reported to have said “a team of officials from the NARA would board Shi Yang 6 to observe research activities”. This act is “widely seen by Sri Lankan interlocutors as an attempt by the Government to signal to the countries which are at loggerheads with China that Sri Lanka is privy to what is transpiring in the whole process and to make sure that it will pose no security threat to any third country” (Daily Mirror, September 19, 2023).

Continuing the above DM report states: “Sri Lanka advocates a neutral foreign policy. However, India, Japan and the United States are skeptical about Chinese maritime activities in the Sri Lankan territorial waters since they fear that it is part of a major effort by China to systematically map the seabed across the vast swath of the Indian Ocean. They fear hydrographic data, collected in the process, can be used for security related purposes later …. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka insists that it is a neutral venue to all countries, and won’t allow its territory, be it sea, air space or land to be used against the security interests of another country, particularly India” (Ibid).


Sri Lanka is indeed encouraged and heartened by the stand the country has taken to exercise its rights in keeping with its stated policy of Neutrality backed up by provisions of Internationally accepted Customary Law relating to entitlements, such as exploring within Exclusive Economic Zones of Coastal states. However, this stand could be strengthened by incorporating provisions of International Law as stated in Part V of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea presented below.

By incorporating these provisions into the Corpus of Domestic Law, Sri Lanka would be in a much stronger position to exercise its sovereign rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone by way of imposing penalties on those who violate its provisions and in particular those who engage in illegal fishing and destroying natural resources by the fishing crafts of India and other countries.


Rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the exclusive economic zone

1. In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:

(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting conserving and managing the natural resources» whether living or non-living» of the waters superjacent to the sea-bed and of the sea-bed and its subsoil» and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone such as the production of energy from the water currents and winds

(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:

(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures:

(ii) marine scientific research:

(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment:

(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.

2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.

3. The rights set out in this article with respect to the sea-bed and subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.


A top source that is considered to be familiar with Indian affairs is reported to have stated: “Sri Lanka’s neutral position is acceptable but it is doubtful for India whether Sri Lanka being economically weak, has the strength to maintain such an approach” (Ibid), and cited the example of India purchasing fuel from Russia despite objections by the United States. That top source has forgotten that India despite its power, once “invaded” Sri Lanka hoping to resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka and was compelled to return in shame having failed to fulfill its mission.

According to him “India can act in this way because it is powerful enough to resist any pressure…”. For India to buy oil from Russia despite objections from the U.S. means that these objections are relatively benign because the U.S. needs India as part of QUAD to counter China. However, this being a commercial arrangement, it cannot be compared with the legacy of despicable acts repeatedly committed against humanity of weaker States by so called “powerful states” in the pursuit of their interests.

It is evident that the “top source” is unaware that the International Order does not make a difference between “powerful states” and the rest, because one of the principal pillars on which the United Nations Charter rests states in Article 2 (1) that “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members”.

Furthermore, Principles and Duties of a Neutral State are based on International Customary Law, which in its Introduction states: “The sources of the international law of neutrality are customary international law and, for certain questions, international treaties, in particular the Paris Declaration of 1856, the 1907 Hague Convention No. V respecting the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers and Persons in Case of War on Land, the 1907 Hague Convention No. XIII concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War, the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I of 1977 (ICRC Publication June 2022).

Despite the existence of such International provisions “powerful states” have not hesitated to brazenly flout its provisions in the pursuit of their interests most of which are warped imaginations.

For instance, it was India that imposed its will on Sri Lanka when it forced Sri Lanka to accept the 13th Amendment; an act that denied Sri Lanka the fundamental right of self-determination enshrined in Article 1 (2) of the Charter of the United Nations that state:

“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…”. This Amendment crafted by India compels Sri Lanka to adopt devolution to Provinces as a form of internal government to satisfy the imaginations of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. This was violently rejected by the People when it was first introduced and ironically even after more than three decades continues to be rejected not only by the majority but also by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Despite such rejections, India keeps insisting the Sri Lanka should live by its provisions; the latest being at the ongoing General Assembly Secessions in New York.

Under the circumstances, Sri Lanka has to come up with an innovative strategy within the provisions of the Constitution to get free of 13A because its entrenched contradictions hinder peripheral development. What is most objectionable about devolution as a concept is that it fosters the operation of Central Government and Provincial Government functions simultaneously that often are at variance thus perpetuating disparities within and among Provinces amounting to entrenching discrimination among the Peoples; a fact that is starkly evident among the States in India and other countries that have divested Central power.

Another practice adopted by “powerful” India is to overlook the violations committed by the Fishing community in Tamil Nadu at the expense of the Fishing community in Sri Lanka, by robbing the maritime resources and vandalizing the marine environment by resorting to bottom trawling within Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone notwithstanding the fact that it is a violation of Article 56 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Instead of raising such issues at bilateral meetings, despite the presence of the Minister of Fisheries, Sri Lanka has been trapped into commitment to issues of connectivity that bolster India’s influence over Sri Lanka.


While Sri Lanka appreciates and is proud of the position taken by NARA and the Government in respect of the intended arrival of the Chinese research vessel, Sri Lanka has to exploit all International safeguards to overcome potential threats from the so called “powerful states”. In a background where “powerful states” would not miss an opportunity to exploit the circumstances in other States, countries such as Sri Lanka have to depend on the shield or weapon of international law to protect their interests.

Therefore, for them, it is the codified rule of the Rights and Duties of a Neutral State and the incorporation of the relevant provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea into Domestic Law or the fact that its provisions are part of Customary Law to protect its sovereign rights and enforce its interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Such material should form the framework of a Standard Operating Procedure as suggested in a previous article (Neutral Foreign Policy in Practice, August 22, 2023). A strengthened Sri Lanka would then be in a position to avail itself of the resources of the International Court of justice, as other countries have done to seek redress. Furthermore, since they are numerically greater, their strength lies in a Rules based World Order and not on “power”, irrespective of its source.

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Some buildings with their attributes gone forever



Rest houses were places we grew up with and most had existed during the later years of British rule in Ceylon. Counterpart in India was called a dakh bungalow, or so Cass remembers from staying overnight long ago in one in Sanchi. Rest houses were really what their name implied: places to rest in; mostly for government administrators when they travelled on government business termed circuits. There were the circuit bungalows too but they were in remote areas and with much less amenities.

The best-known rest houses were Nuwara Wewa and Tisa Wewa in Anuradhapura, the one jutting into the Parakrama Samudra in Polonnaruwa, in Belihuloya, Ella, Hambantota Tissamaharama, Kankesanturai and Elephant Pass, and in Peradeniya, opposite the Botanical Gardens. They were well known for their gentlemanly keepers, most dressed in cloth and shirt, and the food served: excellent lunches with the invariable fried karola or hal messo; the wonderful coconut sambol and the fried red chillies which was not a usual homemade appetizer.

Now, most of these wonderful places of staying in comparatively cheap, are called resorts and expanded, losing the old-world charm, the warm welcoming ambience, and the spacious one storey roominess. They were tossed aside by hotels being constructed and so they too changed ‘shape’. One or two deteriorated – the Hambantota RH accompanied by the deterioration in standard of clientele too becoming more a water hole than temporary stay-in place. Some surpassed their previous selves like the Ella RH which was transformed to a high-end inn.

We often lunched and stayed in several times and remembered was the Peradeniya RH with its wide veranda with tables to lunch or dine at, looking across at the trees in the Gardens, particularly that variety which had red drooping down flowers bordered by bright red spathes which we called kukul kakul and even ate, delighting in its sour flavour. No more. None of the view of glorious nature; none of the almost al fresco lunching; none of the old-world charm and particular ambience of the old rest house. It has been rebuilt and ‘developed’ to a horrible state.

Change – for better, for worse

On a recent visit to Kandy after many years the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens was walked through, with plenty others, both local and foreign. One small niggle of doubt was the fee charged from foreigners Rs 3,500, Cass believes. Too excessive is her opinion particularly in comparison to what locals pay. We should not fleece foreigners though they are with dollars, pounds sterling, euros or whatever.

The gardens are excellently maintained; the orchid house glorious in its blooms and the banning of vehicular traffic very wise. Unlike many of our Buddhist places; visitors who found it difficult to walk much and toddlers were amply catered for by frequently running motorised open vehicles. The layout of the Gardens is almost the same as it was for many decades previous, but improved and maintained sprucely clean.

In sharp contrast was the Peradeniya Rest house. Cass forgot to note its name. The old building was so stately yet with a comforting, welcoming air about it. You usually parked yourself in the wide quarter-walled verandah at a table or in a comfy, un-upholstered chair. Now you are led to the first floor to a fully curtained room. Tall windows were all closed and the drawn curtains obliterated even a glimpse of the outside. Cass ordered rice and curry since she did not want a buffet lunch. Not possible to serve rice and curry a la carte was the waiter’s reply. Only Chinese dishes could be ordered. Cass was aghast.

Imagine not being able to order our basic meal in a restaurant that was a rest house previously with the reputation of serving the best rice ’n curry. You had to have the buffet if you wanted rice and curry; if you ordered your lunch it would be Chinese – fried rice, chopsuey, etc. Isn’t that a travesty? You are enclosed claustrophobically in a heavily curtained room with fans; cut off from fresh air and all the greenery around, and dictated to on what you eat. That is development for you!! Cass calls it mudalali aberration. The buffet was simple enough with a couple of additions like soup to a rice and curry meal costing 1800. Chinese was 1200.

Special committees

I am sure all adults of Sri Lanka object to President RW’s promise to set up a Parliamentary Committee to look into and report on the Easter Sunday suicide bombs in April 2019. A comment people make is that RW’s solution to any problem/matter is to appoint a committee; never mind the report and taking action.

You can bet your last thousand rupees that if a Parliamentary Committee is set up to report on the C4 documentary and its repercussions etc., all politicians will be exonerated and the ones who are pointed at as the accused, would be pronounced lily white. Zahran did it all by himself with ISIS control. We millions of Ordinaries too cry out against a fully local panel of investigators, and never a group of MPS.

A boxed news item on page 1 of The Island of Tuesday September 19 had this heading: CID takes over probe into gun attack on MP. The car with Anuradhapura District MP Uddika Premarathne was shot at. No one was injured. But quick as lightning, the Police handed over the hunt for perpetrators to the CID. They too will work overtime and catch the miscreants.

Good! But what happens over the several motorbike shootings and those guilty of distributing dangerous drugs and making this lovely island rotten with drug importers, peddlers and takers? Oh, those can be taken time over and never nail the guilty and punish them. Rather assist those caught and jailed to get out or at least attempt escape.

Heartwarming story

An Indian friend sent me this story which so gladdened my maternal heart. It is shared here so more mothers could feel appreciated.

Ninth Grader Ajunath Sindhu Vinayala of Trissur (Kerala), often heard his father brush his mother aside as “just a housewife. She does not work.” Ajunath was surprised because he never saw his mother not busy so he painted this picture (published with this article) depicting all the chores she did. His teacher sent it to the State govt office where it got selected as the cover for the 2021 gender budget document. The appreciative son with more of his pictures can be accessed on the Internet.

Almost all Sri Lankan mothers will agree with Cass that our sons and daughters are wonderfully grateful and caring people, with many living overseas but still visiting, transferring money and sending parcels of goodies and necessities. Bless them, we mothers/grandmothers chorus.

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Amunugama on Anagarika: A partial review



By Uditha Devapriya

In the course of his study of myths and legends, Bruce Kapferer observes that those who attempt to rationalise myths are as much in error as those who believe in their literal meaning. There are several points in his book with which I beg to differ, but I agree with this specific point. Myths have a logic and a life of their own, and any external compulsion to alter or rationalise them will be met with hostility. Kapferer’s other contention, that myths are continually being renewed and reborn, is also tenable. The narrative around which these myths revolve may stay the same, but the implications of such stories change from era to era. Millenarian platitudes about glorious pasts and histories, of utopic Edens before the Fall, whether in Buddhist or Christian societies, fall into that category.

I reflected on Kapferer when I reread Sarath Amunugama’s impressive book on Anagarika Dharmapala, The Lion’s Roar, the other day. Dharmapala has gone down as perhaps the most misunderstood national figure or figurehead in our history. For close to two centuries if not more, Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe got a bad press as well, but thanks to recent forays by Gananath Obeyesekere, we have come to understand and, as a nation, identify with the tragic figure that he was. Dharmapala, however, is more complex, because his writings and speeches lend themselves to a multiplicity of interpretations: out of necessity, he made it a point to speak differently to different people. Ultimately, I believe all national figures end up being misunderstood. Dharmapala was no different.

What Amunugama tries to do in The Lion’s Roar is to present Dharmapala in a new light. As one reads through his book, one realises how predictably he has been presented until now. Most contemporary assessments of Anagarika Dharmapala place him at the forefront of the Buddhist Revival of the late 19th century. Though, in later years, he broke ranks with the organisation which gave the revival its impetus, the Theosophical Society, he nevertheless maintained contacts with it. Sociologists and anthropologists have presented the Revival as having been led by an emergent, nascent Buddhist bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. The latter were constantly frustrated in their efforts to join the ranks of the former, a point which more or less pitted them against foreign traders and minority groups.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Until now, social scientists have been content in casting Dharmapala as a messiah, of sorts, of this petty bourgeoisie. Dharmapala’s actions certainly did not endear him to the up-and-coming Sinhala bourgeoisie. Unlike his brothers Edmund and Charles, he was alienated from the many elite and bourgeois groups which formed the basis of later political associations, of which the most prominent would have to be the Ceylon National Congress. That may have been because of Dharmapala’s own background, which stood a tier or two below that of the Senanayakes and the Attygalles. Sarath Amunugama goes as far as to contend that the death of F. R. Senanayake in India closed the possibility of an open conflict between Dharmapala and these families. Yet even Senanayake’s death did not wholly foreclose these possibilities, as the many press campaigns against Dharmapala shows.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Is it accurate, then, to locate Dharmapala at that crucial juncture between the formation of the Theosophical Society, the beginning of the Buddhist Revival in the late 19th century, and the emergence of a weak but aspirant Buddhist petty bourgeoisie in the early 20th? This is how social scientists have generally viewed him, so far.

Dharmapala himself may not have been conscious of his role here. Yet as Regi Siriwardena eloquently put it once, “[t]o say that any thinker or leader served the interests of a particular class is not necessarily to say that he was conscious of doing so, still less that he was hired or commanded by that class.” The ultimatum of social scientists and anthropologists, hence, seems to be that he became the ideological vehicle of these groups, that as the latter’s attitudes to foreigners and minorities hardened, they saw in him a definitive “ancestor from antiquity.”

Amunugama attempts to shed new light on Dharmapala’s followers and acolytes by bringing to the foreground groups which have been excluded from most contemporary assessments of Dharmapala’s life. Prime among them are what Amunugama sees as “subaltern” groups, among whom he includes the Sinhala working class. This working class, he contends rather convincingly, were swept away from their roots into the cities, where they confronted a new and different social order.

As they became more aware of the conditions of their existence and sought to transform them, they began to encounter foreign traders and minority groups, hired by the colonial government to counter the growing tide of trade unionism and Sinhala proletarian discontent. It is against this backdrop that they saw Dharmapala as a saviour, and not just a saviour, but someone they could call their own.

This is, to be sure, an intriguing point. Yet how “subaltern” were these classes Amunugama associates with Dharmapala? Without splitting hairs too much, I think we must bear two points in mind. The first is that, until the formation of a Left movement in the 1930s, no political association, however radical, envisioned a Ceylon falling outside of the orbit of the British Empire. This was as true of bourgeois reformist associations as it was of nationalist ideologues. Whatever “subaltern group” in Sri Lanka at this juncture saw things differently, in contrast to their mobilisation by the Left after 1935. In that sense Dharmapala fulfilled a role, however limited, for these groups. The Marxists could not have been more different to his ideology, as their struggles on behalf of Indian Tamil plantation workers showed. But then Dharmapala was no Marxist, even if a scion of his family – Anil Moonesinghe – made a seminal contribution to the Left movement of the country.

The second point recalls an observation Gananath Obeyesekere once made in relation to Dharmapala and his disciples: namely, that their attitudes to the Other – which Amunugama dwells on at considerable length in his remarkable study – were paradoxically activated by their alienation from their social and kinship groups. In their quest for “identity affirmation”, the Dharmapalists sought a negative identity for themselves, in relation to the Other.

I think that more or less explains the Sinhala working class’s affinity for Dharmapala, at a time of rising anger against foreign traders and minority groups, including the Malayalis. Such anger cannot be condoned, especially when it transforms into racialist feelings. But it helps explain why, in the absence of an anti-imperialist Left movement in the country, these groups could gravitate to nationalist figures – and why even as key a representative of the Sinhala working class movement as A. E. Gunasinha could invoke him in his struggles.

Does this necessarily mean Dharmapala’s politics were not anti-imperialist, or in the least radical? I think the jury is still out there, though I believe that Dharmapala’s emphasis on industrialisation has been missed out by those who see only his ranting against other social groups and ethnicities. Dharmapala once counted among his defenders a highly unlikely figure: Yohan Devananda.

Writing in the Lanka Guardian, in response to Regi Siriwardena, Devananda contended that Dharmapala “did perform an essential historical function in rousing the national consciousness against the foreigner.” I do not know what to make of this assertion, given that for Dharmapala’s followers, “the foreigner” has come to include all groups deemed “alien” in the country. But there is no doubt that he did, at the end of the day, serve a function. The question that countless scholars have raised, which Amunugama tries to answer, is exactly in whose interests he served that function.

The writer is an international relations analyst, independent researcher, and freelance columnist who can be reached at

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