Connect with us


The Aftermath of Empire – Reappraisal and Reconciliation – (Part 2)



by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe*

Continued from last week

The author is an Honorary Professor at the University of Buckingham, UK, at the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka, and also at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka.

He was a former Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, Staff Member of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, and former Professor at Cardiff University. He is a pioneer of the discipline of Astrobiology and the author of over 450 scientific papers and some 35 books.


Several generations of British historians, archaeologists and naturalists devoted their entire lives to tirelessly exploring the multiplicity of wonders of India. Studies of the subcontinent’s natural history, archaeology and anthropology are just a few scientific disciplines that enormously benefited from the imperial encounter. The introduction of greenhouses, zoological and botanic gardens to the Western world and much else came directly as a result of the colonial venture.

One discovery of great importance is worthy of mention. A large number of stone pillars and columns bearing mysterious inscriptions in a hitherto undeciphered Brahmi script had been scattered across the length and breadth of India and, rather strangely, gone unnoticed for centuries. In the 1830’s it was an English Philologist and scholar James Prinsep (1799-1840) who successfully deciphered these inscriptions. The edicts written in the Bhrami language mentioned a King Devanampriya Piyadasi which Prinsep had initially assumed was a Sri Lankan king. He was later to discover a Pali text from Sri Lanka from which he was able to connect the title Piyadasi with Ashoka, and thus was revealed for a first time a long-hidden secret of Indian history – the life and times of Emperor Ashoka who had reigned between 268 and 232 BCE. Ashoka is famous as the Indian monarch who became a Buddhist and unified a vast part of the Indian subcontinent into a single empire ruling it according to Buddhist principles. H.G. Wells in his “Outline of World History” said of Ashoka that amid tens of thousands of names of monarchs, “Ashoka shines, shines almost alone, a star”.

In the 1920’s it was again thanks to British archaeologists that we owe the next major discovery – the unravelling of the great Indus valley civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro which represents another long-hidden chapter in the prehistory of the Indian subcontinent stretching back to the third millennium BCE. We already had knowledge from Mesopotamian records of a vigorous trade in lapis lazuli that existed between empires in the Mesopotamia and India, but now we could link this precisely with the Indus valley civilizations.


Unravelling a Buddhist heritage

A few British Civil Servants who were posted in Ceylon in the 19th century became assiduous students of Buddhist texts and wrote extensively and enthusiastically about Buddhism. Thomas William Rhys David (1843-1922) was one such scholar who found himself posted as Government Agent near the historic ancient city of Anuradhapura. There he became actively involved in archaeological excavations that led to the discovery of a vast number of inscriptions and manuscripts relating to Buddhism and this triggered his interest. He soon became a formidable Pali scholar, translated many Buddhist Pali texts into English and also wrote extensive commentaries on Buddhism that are still being read today.

The colonial response to Buddhism on the whole had been positive throughout the time of the Empire. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) in his “Outline of World History” writes of Buddhism thus:

“Many of our best modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents of life are due, he (the Buddha) taught, to selfishness. Selfishness takes three forms – one, the desire to satisfy the senses; second, the craving for immortality; and the third the desire for prosperity and worldliness. Before a man can become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a great being. Buddha in a different language called men to self-forgetfulness five hundred years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer to us and our needs. Buddha was more lucid on our individual importance in service than Christ, and less ambiguous upon the question of personal immortality.”

The amazing degree of concordance between Buddha’s view of consciousness and modern post-Jungian ideas in psychology were discussed by me and Daisaku Ikeda in our dialogue many years ago. The practice of Buddhist meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the West today because of its potential to yield mental and physical health benefits. Such practices, however, are looked upon with suspicion by many – now and in the past – as heathen primitive rituals that challenge the cannon of Christian faith. Such a narrow view cannot be interpreted as being any other than a component of racial thinking that prevailed throughout the period of British imperialism and filters down even into our post-colonial modern era.


Buddhist cosmology

In matters relating to cosmology and life in the Universe ideas from Buddhist as well as earlier Vedic traditions have run contrary to the canonical Western world-view. For instance, in the cosmology described in the Anguttara Nikaya (a Buddhist text dated at around the 1st century BCE) it is stated thus:

“As far as these suns and moons revolve, shedding their light in space, so far extends the thousand-fold world system. In it there are a thousand suns, a thousand moons, a thousand inhabited Earths and a thousand heavenly bodies. This is called the thousand-fold minor world system….”

It then goes on to define a hierarchy of world systems, referring to the entire universe as “this sphere of million, million world systems”. Similar views do not dominate scientific thinking in Europe until after the Copernican revolution in the 17th century of the common era. Today, with the recent discoveries of exoplanets in the past decade, the total number of exoplanetary systems in our Milky Way galaxy alone is estimated to exceed 100 billion.

As far back as the first millennium BCE a school of atomism similar to that of Democritus was founded in India, the most important proponent of this school being a philosopher named Kanada (600 BCE). The idea was that atoms are point-sized, indivisible and eternal, each possessing a distinct property and individuality. These concepts were developed further by a burgeoning Buddhist school of atomism that flourished in the 7th century CE.

Aryabhata (476-550CE) was perhaps the first Indian astronomer in the modern mould who discovered an approximation of pi to six significant figures and also correctly maintained that the planets and the Moon shine by reflected sunlight. He also correctly inferred from observations that the daily motion of the stars in the celestial sphere is due to Earth’s rotation about its axis.

From both archaeological and later historical evidence there is no doubt that high levels of advancement in science and technology had been achieved in India long before Aryabhata going back to at least the second millennium before the common era. Vedic Sanskrit texts dated at the 8th century BCE refer to Pythagorean triples (eg. (3,4,5 (5,12,13), (8,15,17)) and display a knowledge of Pythagoras theorem. One of the earliest Indian astronomical texts (Vedānga Jyotiṣa) dates from 1400–1200 BCE, with the currently extant form dating possibly from 700–600 BCE. This latter timespan also corresponds to the dating of the most ancient known “university” in the world, Takshashila in India, which was a centre first of Hindu and later Buddhist scholarship.


Ayurveda and plant-based pharmaceuticals

Developments in the field of ayurvedic plant-based medicine, and including reports of surgical interventions, have been recorded in a variety of sources from the earliest times. In one of the Ashokan pillars (272-231BCE), to which I have already referred, an edict reads: “Everywhere King Piyadasi (Ashoka) erected two kinds of hospitals, hospitals for people and hospitals for animals. Where there were no healing herbs for people and animals, he ordered that they be bought and planted.” There also exist many thousands of ayurvedic texts both in India and Sri Lanka with extensive lists of medicinal herbs and their alleged benefits for curing various ailments. The result of four centuries of colonial rule has unfortunately been to relegate this vast legacy to the “archive of curiosity”.

The few ayurvedic physicians who now practice in India and Sri Lanka still rely on time-hallowed anecdotal accounts of the efficacy of their plant-based medicines. The correct procedure will be for western science to fully explore these claims with chemical analysis and trials, but this has not yet been done. It should be recalled in this context that many drugs currently used in western medicine are indeed derived from plants – aspirin, quinine, digitalis, morphine, codeine – are just a few. It is hard to imagine the medical legacy that would follow from a complete investigation of the thousands of claimed herbal remedies that still remain unexamined.


Transition from ancient to modern science

I have already mentioned the knowledge of land surveying technologies and irrigation schemes that was evident in the Indus valley civilizations of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa; and these and other technological developments have also been found elsewhere in India and in neighbouring Sri Lanka throughout the period from the beginning of the common era until the time of the arrival of the British in 1600CE.

When the British arrived in India the difference in technological development between Britain and the subcontinent was arguably marginal. Handlooms and weaving technology that were developed and used in Bengal made India (run by the Moghuls) one of the richest countries of the world at this time. In a real sense it could be maintained that the technological advancement of the West took place at the cost of the continued impoverishment of India.

From the beginning of the 20th century many Indian scientists who were trained in British Universities and laboratories made highly significant contributions to the progress of science furthering the dominant scientific paradigms of Western science. A common feature of all these scientists is that their corpus of work supported and did not in any way challenge the major accepted paradigms of the day. Their achievements were thus thought to be a continuing tribute to the prevailing and predominant traditions of western science, and so were readily acknowledged and rewarded. However serious difficulties can arise whenever an ethnically non-European scientist hailing from an ex-colony dares to challenge a reigning paradigm of Western science.


Clash of Orthodoxy and Heresy

It should occasion no surprise to find that most important advances in science with regard to fundamental of issues concerning the Universe and Life have always been subject to cultural and religious constraints. Thus, in the 19th century the unfolding facts of geology that yielded an age of the Earth of some 4 billon years came into sharp conflict with Biblical chronologies of mere thousands of years, and this had initially caused great angst in some circles. Likewise, the facts of biological evolution that were unravelled after Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859 continued to disturb conventional beliefs for several decades.

As already mentioned Buddhist and earlier Vedic cosmologies can be interpreted as being consistent with many aspects of modern and post-modern scientific thought. There are also fundamental differences that can cause consternation in a Western scientific context. In Vedic cosmology the universe is thought to be infinite in spatial extent and cyclic in time– strikingly reminiscent of the modern versions of oscillating universe models. In this context it is worth noting that the currently favoured Big-Bang theory of the Universe with an age of 13.8 billion years is by no means absolutely proved. The very recent discovery of a galaxy designated GN-z11 located at a distance of 13.4 billion light years (implying its formation just 420 million years after the posited Big Bang origin of the Universe) poses serious problems for the current consensus view of cosmology.

Recently Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose has come in among the select band of dissenters from the standard view of a unique Big Bang origin of the Universe 13.8 billion years ago. In a theory called the “conformal cyclic cosmology” Penrose postulates that the universe undergoes an infinite number of cycles in which the Big Bang event 13.8 billion years ago is the most recent cycle of which we are a part – a result strikingly in accord with ancient Vedic and Indian cosmology.


The inescapable fact of Panspermia

Finally, I turn to the age-old problem of our own origins – how we, humans and indeed all of life, came to be. This question has been approached in a multitude of different ways, embracing superstition, religion, philosophy and eventually science. The ideas that prevailed throughout ancient India involved the concept of life being an integral part of the structure of the universe – a view closely aligned to the ideas of panspermia discussed in the West by pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaxoragas of Clazomenae who lived around 500BCE. Panspermia implies that “seeds of life” are eternally present in the cosmos and take root whenever and wherever the condition permit.

This concept was vigorously rejected in the Western tradition in favour of the ideas of the more influential Greek philosopher Aristotle in the 3rd century BCE. Aristotle proposed instead that life must arise from non-living inorganic matter whenever the right conditions prevailed, and he cited many instances that were incorrectly regarded as supportive evidence, the most graphic being the statement of “fireflies emerging from a mixture of warm earth and morning dew”. Over a millennium and a half later Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1272) essentially co-opted Aristotelian philosophy into church doctrine, so that dissent from any component of it thereafter was effectively construed as heresy. The Aristotlean doctrine of “Spontaneous Generation” was transformed into “Abiogenesis” in modern terms and continues to dominate Western science almost to the present day.

Attempts to re-examine panspermia in the West began in earnest with the French biologist Louis Pasteur in the early 1860’s. Pasteur showed in the laboratory what was already known for larger visible life forms – that life is always derived from pre-existing life of a similar kind. This casual chain of events – life-from-life – is true not only for lifeforms existing today but it is also true throughout the entire record of fossilised life on the Earth. The question that next arises is: when and where this connection cease to operate. The answer could be never – so this then naturally leads to panspermia.

Following the experiments of Pasteur, panspermia came at last to be championed by many contemporary physicists in the late 19th century.

Lord Kelvin declared: “Dead matter cannot become living without coming under the influence of matter previously alive. This seems to me to be as sure a teaching of science as the law of gravitation….”

And the German physicist Herman von Helmholtz wrote in 1874:

“It appears to me a fully correct scientific procedure, if all our attempts fail to cause the production of organisms from non-living matter, to raise the question whether life has ever arisen, whether seeds have not been carried from one planet to another…”.

A similar position was also championed a few years later by the Nobel prize-winning Chemist Svante Arrhenius in his 1908 book Worlds in the Making. But all this enthusiasm was transient. On the basis of poorly designed experiments concerning limits to the viability of microbes in space, the situation soon reverted, and spontaneous generation and abiogenesis came back into vogue.

In the past five decades abiogenesis was confronted with a formidable array of new facts from astronomy, geology, space science and molecular biology, all of which challenged its validity. On the other hand, an ever-increasing number of predictions of panspermia has come to be verified to an astounding degree of precision. Wrong theories do not perform in this way, so it soon became amply clear that panspermia’s star was on the ascendant! The sociology of science now took over: the triumphs of panspermia over rival models began to irritate an ever-increasing body of scientists. This was aggravated by the fact that all attempts to demonstrate the validity of abiogenesis in the most advanced laboratories in the world consistently led to dismal failure.

The trajectory of panspermia from its early roots in the Vedas through to Anaxoragas in the 5th century BCE and into modern times is sketched in Fig.4. The last phase following on from Pasteur led up to the work of the present writer, Fred Hoyle and many collaborators. This unfolding scientific drama is well-documented in a very large number of scientific papers and recent books.

What I would like to reiterate by way of conclusion is that the body of objective scientific evidence in favour of cometary panspermia and against abiogenesis is now compelling and overwhelming. The main reason that this new world view has yet to enter mainstream thinking, and even become more widely known, may be simply because its principal proponent (the present writer) is seen as a heathen and a former colonial subject. In what could be seen as the most egregious travesty of justice serious attempts are being made to “steal” our well-documented priority on these ideas in recent publication of similar ideas but with a deliberate omission of any reference to pioneering work over the past 40 years. In my view overt racism including antagonism for what is seen to be an alien concept is the only conceivable explanation for this conduct. This explanation also provides the only reason for why a long-overdue paradigm shift from planet-centred life to cosmic-centred life – a paradigm shift which is potentially of the most profound importance across the whole of science – is being delayed.

The long colonial encounter between “West” and “East” that began in the 15th and 16th centuries ending barely seven decades ago has in every sense shaped the modern world. Many scars have been left, however, and a priority of the ongoing decolonisation process must not only be to expand on the legacy of this long experience but also to heal its wounds.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


‘A Jaffna-man, an eminent surgeon with an European reputation’



Dr. W. G. Rockwood

180th Birth Anniversary of Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood

March 13, 2023 marks the 180th Birth Anniversary of the late Hon. Dr. William Gabriel Rockwood, MLC, MD, MRCP, MRCS. Born on March 13, 1843 in Alaveddy, a small agricultural town in Jaffna; was the second of four children born to Elisha and Ms. Jane Backup, based on Alaveddy Church Records in the custody of Rt. Rev. Dr. Velupillai Pathmathayalan, Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), formerly the American Ceylon Mission. Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood died on March 27, 1909 at the ‘Emms’, Horton Place, Colombo 7.

His father, Elisha born Sinnatambi on April 06, 1820, was one of six children born to a Saivite Hindu, Perumalpillai who migrated from Karaikal, South India to Sri Lanka and married a land-owner’s daughter Ms. Vairavi of Alaveddy. He was baptised ‘Elisha Rockwood’ in 1831 in Tellipallai and was given US $ 200 to complete his education at the Batticotta Seminary, known today as the Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, by the American Congregational Movement, which later became known as the American Ceylon Mission. Elisha completed his education and taught mathematics at the same school. He later joined the Customs Department as a Sub-Collector.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood married Ms. Salome Muthamma Muttucumaru, daughter of Mr. Adam Cathiravel Muttucumaru on November 1, 1871. Mrs. W. G. Rockwood was born in Kalpitiya in the Puttalam District on March 15, 1857 and died at “Pembroke,” Horton Place, Colombo 7 on Saturday, August 29, 1925.

Thus born to humble beginnings, ‘Dr. W. G. Rockwood was a most skilful and distinguished physician and had by rare ability proved himself ‘the greatest surgeon in the East. His reputation was not confined to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or the adjacent continent, but had extended far beyond the seas to Great Britain, where he won the esteem of such eminent members of the medical profession as Dr. Marcus Beck, Dr. Charles Stoiiham, Dr. J. Bland Sutton. Sir Thomas Barlow, Lord Lister, and Sir Frederick Treves’. Dr. Rockwood was also president of the Ceylon Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA).

Early life

Dr. W. G. Rockwood, in 1851 aged 08 years, had his early education at the Vembadi Boys’ School and later at Central College, Jaffna, which was founded by the Methodist Missionaries. In 1855, aged 12 years, he went with his father to Batticaloa and joined Central College, Batticaloa which was also run by the Wesleyan Mission.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood in 1862 was in the last year of his teens, when a maternal uncle, Mr. E. R. Chelliah Pillai told him to come to Madras University for a “good education.” Mr. E. R. Chelliah Pillai died on March 19, 1900 at the “Emm’s,” Regent Street, Colombo 7.

In January 1866, aged 23 years, Dr. W. G. Rockwood passed the Calcutta University Matriculation Examination in Madras and applied for the arts course. His father prevailed on young Rockwood to follow medicine which he did with many misgiving and much reluctance. His disinclination soon disappeared for Rockwood took to anatomy with such interest. In July 1866, he joined the Madras Medical College and received the scholarship of Rs.20 allowed for those who pass the London matriculation Examination.

‘On his obtaining the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Madras, a member of the Board of examiners paid him the following rare compliment, “I have lately had, on behalf of the Madras University to examine a man of the name of Rockwood from Ceylon, for the Degree of Doctor of Medicine, and certainly was quite unprepared to meet a candidate for medical honours of this country so remarkably proficient. I fully believe that in any English or Scotch University he would have carried the highest honours” ’. (Source: Jaffna Catholic Guardian April 03, 1909).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood while he was serving in Puttalam skilfully handled an outbreak of cholera and because of his experience in handling it, he was sent to Jaffna in1868 to control the outbreak of cholera. He returned to Puttalam and then was transferred to Hambantota (June 1875) and later to Gampola (1878). It was while he was in Gampola that the vacancy for the post of Surgeon in the Medical Department of the General Hospital in Colombo arose.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood in 1878 aged 35 years held the post of Principal Surgeon at the General Hospital Colombo now known as the National Hospital, Colombo for a period of 20 years. He was the sole surgeon of the hospital and at the same time he was Lecturer in Clinical Systematic and Operative Surgery in the Ceylon Medical College. Besides this what leisure he could snatch from his official duties was given up to the demands of a large and growing practice.

He travelled to London in 1884 when he was admitted as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) and Member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood retired from active service from the Medical Department after 31 years on March 13, 1898 at the age of 55 years. Upon his retirement and in recognition of his long-standing service he was immediately appointed Consultant Surgeon to the General Hospital in Colombo.

It is said of his authority on handling tropical diseases that there was an instance when a colour conscious Englishman who had an ailment was asked to consult Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood of Ceylon while on his way to Australia from England. The Englishman thinking from the name – Rockwood – was an Englishman made an appointment to see him at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo when the ship docked at the Colombo harbour.

On that day Dr. Rockwood was at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo waiting to see his patient. The patient was informed that Dr. Rockwood had arrived, came to the lobby and was pacing up and down the lobby impatiently when the management of the Hotel who were well acquainted with Dr. Rockwood had to draw his attention to the coloured man in the room. Seeing that Dr. Rockwood was coloured he had returned to his room. A year later the patient was back with his pride in his pocket to consult Dr. Rockwood.

Another story is related where a passenger ship had docked in the Port of Colombo and an SOS was sent out for a surgeon to attend to a German National. It turned out that the German National was the German Consul Freudenberg who was treated and cured of his ailment and later became a very close friend of the family. Dr. Rockwood was also physician to the Governor of Ceylon Sir West Ridgeway.

A combination of medicine and politics

The Governor of Ceylon Sir West Ridgeway appointed Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood to the Legislative Council representing the Tamil community for a period of five years from March 14, 1898 to March 12, 1903. Dr. Rockwood succeeded Mudaliyar Ponnambalam Coomaraswamy who was the eldest brother of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who served as the first Tamil representative in the Legislative Council for a single term. Governor Sir West Ridgeway in a private letter to Dr. Rockwood inviting him to join the Legislative Council as the Tamil representative said: ‘The Tamil community could think of no one who has earned the esteem and the admiration not of one community or of two, but of every community, of all men, of all races, as Dr. Rockwood’.

Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood was presented to His Majesty the King of England, Edward VII at St. James’ Palace on June 01, 1902 while he was serving as a Member of the Legislative Council. He was appointed to the Legislative Council for a second term on July 09, 1903. Due to continuing failing health, Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood in1906 laid off from all public activity.

The Legislative Council was the first Assembly set up under the Colebrook Reforms with 15 members in 1833 by the British under Governor Sir Fredrick North. There were two categories of members. Officials numbered nine and unofficial members numbered six. The official members were appointed directly by the Governor and their communities nominated the unofficial members. The six unofficial members comprised one each Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher and three Europeans.

The Legislative Council was altered in 1931 under the Donoughmore Commission and lasted until 1947. Ceylon gained Independence from the British on February 04, 1948. Ceylon changed her name to Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972 when she became a Republic. The second Constitution was enacted in 1972 when Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister. Today we have the third Constitution enacted in 1978 when Hon. Junius Richard Jayewardene became the first Executive President under that Constitution.

‘Dr. Daniel Anthonisz, of Galle had demonstrated the advantage of breaking the monopoly of the legal profession over the unofficial seats in the Legislative Council. Dr. Rockwood’s tenure of the seat emphasised that advantage. Dr. Rockwood illustrated his preferences for his principles at the sacrifice of popularity when he proposed a motion in the Legislative Council on October 18, 1899, asking the salary of the judges of the Supreme Court to be raised high enough to make it possible to secure English barristers for the bench’.

On that occasion Dr. Rockwood said: ‘To have the certainty of even-handed justice is the greatest blessing a community can enjoy and the purity of that administration must be above suspicion. In a small place like Ceylon, where every man is known to every other man, it is necessary in the interests of the public that the Supreme Court Judges, who administer justice between man and man, must be men who have no local or permanent interests or connections. By, these remarks I do not mean to shut out local talent. Those who have established a reputation for efficiency and who have claims for meritorious service are possibly eligible for a higher post and these may be sent to other parts of the Empire where they have no personal interests to serve and no connections’. (Source: The Ceylon Morning Leader: Sunday, March 28, 1909).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood is described as one of Asia’s greatest surgeons who could operate with the use of both his hands (ambidextrous). He also promoted the choice of opium in the treatment of certain ailments. He was a member of the commission appointed by the then Governor of Ceylon to oversee the planning and construction of the Colombo-Chilaw railway line from Negombo. It was later extended to Puttalam. While serving on the commission he also suggested the construction of a railway line to Jaffna.


Six years after his death in 1915, Mrs. W. G. Rockwood donated Rs.20,000 to be utilised towards the construction of a 38 X 26 feet ‘Waiting Hall’ called ‘Rockwood Memorial Hall’ for patients who come to the General Hospital, Colombo now known as the National Hospital, Colombo for treatment. The foundation stone was laid in 1909 and the construction began in the same year. On April 16, 1912, ‘The Rockwood Hall’ was opened by His Excellency the Governor Sir Henry Edward McCallum (1907-1913). The plaque was unveiled in three languages – Sinhalese, Tamil and English to mark the donation: ‘The Rockwood Memorial Hall erected to the memory of Dr. William Gabriel Rockwood MD, MRCS, MRCP, Chief Surgeon of this hospital 1878 to 1898, Consulting Surgeon from 1898 until his death. Tamil Representative to Legislative Council from 1898 – 1905’. It is unfortunate that during the structural alterations made to the original building the three plaques and his photograph have been lost.

His character can be judged by his teaching. Once it is said that he rebuked a somewhat light-minded student and the latter, now an elderly man himself occupying a responsible position, remembers the rebuke. ‘Never make differences in your patients’, said Dr. Rockwood. ‘Every time a surgeon has a life depending upon his knife, it takes a fortnight off his own life, and the sense of responsibility is perhaps the greater when the man is a pauper than when he is a great and wealthy patient. The surgeon dare not take risks with the great man, for the world is watching him; but he fears still more to do so with the pauper, for then it is God who watches’.

He emphasised to his students that the surgeon must regard his treatise on anatomy as second only to the Bible. The words are characteristic of the man whose religion was always a predominant factor in his every thought and deed.

The ‘Rockwood Surgery Medal is awarded to the student who shows the greatest aptitude for surgery by the Medical Faculty of the University of Colombo, Peradeniya and Jaffna in memory of Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood.

‘A dutiful son, a faithful husband, an affectionate father, a loyal friend, a skilful surgeon, a good man, not slothful in business, fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.’ – Romans Ch 12; Vs 11-13

(Source: The Ceylon Morning Leader – Extraordinary Edition of Sunday, March 28, 1909).

(Excerpts from the book ‘From Williamstown to Vaddukoddai: The history of the Rockwood family’, published by the author William Sukumar Rockwood, MCPS, PgD. IHL, BA, JP, great grandson on August 21, 2011) -/end – 2280 words

Continue Reading


LTTE writ on coral exploitation more effective than govt. orders



Tragedy and drama in the dry zone jungle

Excerpted from the authorized biography of Thilo Hoffmann by Douglas B. Ranasinghe
(Continued from last week)

North of Thenaddi Bay and a little inland is the village of Kathiraveli. In 1975 Thilo discovered there a folk art not found elsewhere. He described this in an article published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Lanka. For many years he was a Committee Member of that body. As recently as 2004 he wrote a sequel, which was not accepted for publication. Parts of it are reproduced here:

“In 1980 I contributed an illustrated article to the JRAS (New Series, Vol.XXV: 91) in which I described certain remarkable decorations in Kathiraveli, Eastern Province, on the outer walls of thatched mud-and-wattle houses, painted by women on the occasion of the Tamil New Year. The pigments used are lime and natural clays of different colours found in the village environment. The painting lasts about a year and is renewed before the next New Year.

“During the following decade I visited the village once or twice a year. Calamity soon befell the remote area in the form of the ethnic conflict. The village was occupied first by the army, the IPKF and finally the Tigers under whose control it still is. (at the time this note was written) It was, much of the time, in a war zone. My last visit had been in January 1992. By then the spirit of the villagers had been broken by untold tragedy.

“Only one house had still some basic decoration. Compounds were neglected and houses dilapidated, the people apathetic and subdued. Farming had become impossible. An aged couple whose neat and tidy homestead was a model for my paper had lost their only son who was taken to the army camp and never returned. Sadness and grief prevailed.

“In April 2003 I was able to pay a visit to Kathiraveli, although it is in an ‘uncleared’ area. After answering a few suspicious questions and establishing my bona fides, I was allowed to pass the LTTE checkpoint situated a little north of Mankerni. Up to that point the landscape had been devastated by the extensive and far-reaching destruction of all vegetation for security reasons.

“Thereafter I was passing through the familiar countryside which had hardly changed during so many decades, even centuries, in parts. The majestic trees are still standing along the road and on the coast. There are forests and a serene tranquility and seemingly timeless peace. Only here and there a jarring note: the memorial to fallen Tiger heroes, a large ‘military’ cemetery. new LTTE offices and installations with loafing youngsters around them. With considerable curiosity and apprehension I approached Kathiraveli.

“Nothing seemed changed. Soon we spotted the first painted house, rather simple but unmistakably in the traditional style. In all we found about a dozen such houses, each freshly painted, along the main roads, though generally there are fewer inhabited homesteads.

“Unfortunately ‘progress’ has reached Kathiraveli in the form of corrugated metal roofing sheets; two of the painted houses were covered with this material giving them a totally different and far less pleasing appearance than those with the cool and pleasant cadjan thatch.

“But the younger women had remembered the New Year tradition and had revived it in its pure, simple and natural form, some rather tentatively as if still trying to recall the old designs and motifs. The colours and basic patterns give these dwellings a clean, even festive and happy appearance.

“In December 2003 I was again in Kathiraveli, when I distributed nearly 100 colour photographs of decorated houses I had taken in 1977 and 78. They were intended to help strengthen the old tradition.

Otherwise the visit was a disappointment because in the short interval of eight months ‘development’ appears to have overtaken the village. There are glistening roofing sheets on old houses many of which have been replaced by stereotyped cement block constructions.

“For living comfort in this environment nothing can beat a well-constructed and maintained mud-and-wattle house generously covered with a thick and overhanging thatch of cadjan: cool during the hot season, dry and warm and cosy when the north-east monsoon is on.

“In this connection I might be permitted to touch upon another facet of personal contemporary history in this area. Not far away at Kayankerni on the coast I had for 30 years, a house, now a sad ruin. It was wrecked and the material looted in 1992. Even the well rings were dug up and carted away. For decades I had been fighting a mostly losing battle against the mudalalis who openly flouted the laws of the country by breaking and burning corals for lime. As a result erosion set in, the coast was altered and the protective reefs were destroyed, together with the trees and forests which provided the firewood.

“The process was aided and abetted by a lethargic and dishonest bureaucracy and a corrupt police force. Only once for a short few years was my campaign crowned with success when an energetic and honest GA at Batticaloa stopped the rapacious exploitation by ordering the police to destroy all the kilns in Passikudah, Kayankerni, Panichchankerni, and elsewhere in the district.

“When in 1990 the Tigers took over the area after the IPKF, they prohibited all coral breaking. The order was instantly obeyed by all, as non-compliance would have resulted in most dire consequences. Only ‘war widows’ were allowed to collect coral debris washed up on the shore and turn them into `sippi’, a traditional and acceptable ‘soft’ use of the resource.

“When the government regained the area the old abuse was resumed and as late as April 2003 did I note with dismay that more lime kilns than ever were in operation at Kayankerni, under the very noses of the security forces. (Note: The burnt lime is transported mainly to upcountry vegetable growing areas where it is used as a soil conditioner. Other uses are in mortar for construction and for whitewashing. Alternate sources of raw material are Miocene limestone and dolomite). All the more was I surprised when in December of the same year all the kilns had once again disappeared, again on the orders of the Tigers.

“Thus we have the absurd situation that in an area controlled by the Government an order from the LTTE is instantly and scrupulously obeyed, and the ordinary laws are brazenly flouted. Weak and disinterested authorities at all levels have long lost the will to enforce good laws, especially in the field of conservation. `Non- enforcement’ has been elevated to a fine art and policy under the influence of foreign gurus; doing nothing is so much easier than doing the right thing.”

The Vakarai area including Kathiraveli was retaken by government forces in early 2007.

Facets of the jungle

In the wilderness, too, there were aspects other than nature which engaged Thilo’s attention.Among the many parts of the dry zone he visited Wilpattu was a favourite. Several sections in this book describe his involvement with the area.

He explored extensively on foot the former Wilpattu West Sanctuary – now part of the National Park –especially the northern half of its 30 mile (50 km) coastline, between Kollankanatta and Kudremalai Point.

Much of this coast towards the north is formed by a cliff which is being eroded by the sea. To the north of Kollankanatta towards Pallugaturai this erosion exposes and destroys layers of the remnants of an ancient settlement. Thousands of clay and porcelain and worked seashell fragments litter the shore. There was even a clay-ring well. Thilo informed the Department of Archaeology, which then undertook a sample dig, but no further action.

It would have been a trading harbour during the Anuradhapura era, because in the vicinity on the track to Sinna Uppu Villu, not far away, he had discovered several baobab trees, as in Mannar, introduced from Africa. There must also have been, he thinks, a factory to make conch-shell bangles.

On the highest point, 225 feet above sea level, of the coastal ridge stands a chimney-like tower about 50 feet high. This and similar towers near Mullikulam and south of Arippu would have served as beacons during the time of the pearl fisheries.

In Kudremalai, at 123 feet, on the very edge of the cliff is the ruin of an ancient Hindu temple which, too, is fast disappearing with the erosion. Here is found the deep red soil, nearly purple or almost violet, to which is linked the ancient name ‘Tambapanni’ for Sri Lanka. It is said that Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhala race, landed here. A motorable track provided by the Park authorities now leads to this point.

The beacon at Arippu is near the massive brick ruin of the `Doric’, built by Frederick North, the first British Governor of Ceylon from 1798 to 1805, for use as a residence when visiting the pearl fisheries. Again due to the erosion the ruins are now rapidly being lost. In the book The Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka, 2004 update, these are wrongly identified and depicted as being of the small Arippu Fort, the ruins of which are aboutfour km further north in the village.

Thilo also explored the North-eastern sector of Wilpattu which lies between the old Arippu road (now long abandoned) and Tantirimale. The ruins at this site, on the extensive rock outcrop (highest point 298 feet), were originally inside the National Park, the boundary of which in that sector was the Malwatu Oya. The place was entirely engulfed by the dense jungle. He first visited it on Vesak Day of 1966. Later the Park boundary was adjusted, the forest was cleared and people began to settle there.

To enable his explorations, from time to time he exercised walking through thick track and featureless monsoon forest with the help of a compass. The danger of missing the target several miles away was great because of the very restricted visibility, especially, where the nillu (Strobilanthes sp.) had grown high. Nevertheless, he always reached the goal with reasonable accuracy.

Observations at historical sites across the country were recorded in his notebooks, described later.Thilo also took an interest in the villagers who live in or by the jungle. Amidst his memories are tragedy and drama:

In a village called Manawa, some distance from Anuradhapura, Tikiri Bandara and 15-year-old Bandara Menike had fallen in love. Her family opposed the marriage. In desperation he shot to death three members of her clan. Then he took her by the hand and disappeared with her into the jungle, as witnessed by some women bathing in the village tank. He carried only his gun.

Tikiri Bandara was charged with three murders before the Anuradhapura Magistrate, in November 1957. The police mounted a search with dogs but failed to find the couple. Some months after this a poacher waiting for game in the fork of a tree at an abandoned tank observed a young man and woman coming out of the jungle in tattered clothes, she highly pregnant. They had a bath and vanished into the forest. Four years later, two skulls, some bones, two ear-studs and plastic bangles, a knife and the rusted barrel of a gun were found by hunters and produced before the magistrate.

Continue Reading


Jathiaka Namal Uyana Marks 32nd Anniversary



Wanvasi Rahula Thero planting saplings with children

Mother nature welcomes all. She doesn’t judge, she doesn’t discriminate, she just opens her arms to one and all. There is a space and place in nature for all. Nature is filled with breathtaking landscapes and has gifted us some of the most beautiful creatures on earth. All of us love to experience natural beauty and be one with nature. We should give her thanks everyday for being so gracious and kind to us by providing us with the means of survival.

Humans and other fauna and plants have a complex relationship extending far back into our joint evolutionary history. Natural vegetation refers to a plant community, which has grown naturally without human aid and has been left undisturbed by human for a long time. Sri Lanka’s natural vegetation covers about one-third of our total land area.

‘Jathika Namal Uyana’ is the largest ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia. It is a world heritage site that has gained the attention. Namal Uyana is rich in biodiversity. It provides a healthy and healing environment that has attracted local and foreign tourists. This ecosystem is a national resource of great religious, ecological and geographical value. The Na Uyana forest covers a total more than 2,000 acres.

The pink quartz mountain range in Namal Uyana is the largest of its sort in Asia. It consists of seven hills covering an extent of about to 600-700 acres. According to history, during the construction of Taj Mahal in India, pink quartz from here was taken to carve its windows. An amazing creation of nature, the pink quartz mountain belongs to prehistoric era.

Namal Uyana is an extremely rare phenomenon replanted with Iron Wood trees in the Eeghth century AD beginning during the reign of King Dewanampiyatissa and ended during the reign of King Dappula IV. It has been a sanctuary for Buddhist monks during King Devanampiyatissa’s reign in the eighth century. King Dappula declared it as a human sanctuary and It was decided to establish ‘’Mahamevna Uyana’’ here.

Our country is a blessed with a variety of natural vegetation . Trees are important part of every community. In the 21st century, instead of planting trees, the majority felled existing trees for construction and other uses. Deforestation has many effects on the environment and most importantly it affects biodiversity directly. If we cut one tree , ten trees should be planted in its place.

School children visiting the Namal Uyana

We are fortunate to have people who know the true value of natural vegetation and are committed to protect it. Wanvasi Rahula Thero who came forward with great sincerity to protect The Jathika Namal Uyana is an exemplary Buddha putra. He bravely undertook that great task in the midst of grave privation in the early days.

He said in an interview that he started this historic mission in March 1991. “At that time, this place was devoid of human habitation. When I set foot here, the Namal Uyana had been destroyed by treasure hunters and timber thieves. I built a small wooden house on a ‘Mora’ tree and started this mission for my country. There are no words to describe this journey and the challenges overcome. I am glad to tell you tha the Jathika Namal Uyana celebrates its 32nd anniversary in March.

Ven Rahula said that In order to gain more international attention, we need to improve and protect a world heritage sites like Namal Uyana to attract more tourists. As a developing country, Sri Lanka does not always need to seek loans from elsewhere but develop our own resources to fund economic development.

“From former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to current President Ranil Wickremesinghe all governments have supported this endeavour. I am not a monk who supports any political party. I did all the administrative work here from 1991 to 2018 when Jathika Namal Uyana was brought under the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) which now handles all operations. As a Buddhist monk I understand the true meaning of the word ‘renunciation’. it means ‘doing what must be done with no expectation of any reward. I am not the owner here just a keeper.

“I stared this national mission for the welfare of all beings. This is not something belonging to the Sinhalese but to all the people living on this island. Students of school from all provinces visit jathika Namal Uyana. It gives children of all races and religions the opportunity to marvel at this wonder. The responsible authorities should be directed to provide the necessary facilities to maximize the opportunities available here. It is a place where research on geology , ecology and archaeology is possible.

“All the electronic and print media of the country have supported me to complete this mission successfully. I give my special thanks to the Divaina newspaper for the good work done on its initiative. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported me.

Rahula thero said he has plans to undertake many meritorious projects like providing houses for the homeless, equipping schools, providing clean drinking water and succor to the sick through the Jathika Namal Uyana project. He said in this 32nd anniversary year of the project we must all strive to achieve national unity spurning racial and religious differences.

Fathima Nusra Uvais

Continue Reading