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The cities of Sri Lanka – What’s behind a name?




Trincomalee was so well known in ancient times that Ptolemy the Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer in his map of the world which was published in the second century indicates Sri Lanka referring to this island as Taprobana and referring to Trincomalee as Ko-Kannam Bay. It is possible that the latter name was derived from certain Sanskrit manuscripts in which Trincomalee was called Go-Karna.

Here in Sri Lanka, the Portuguese who had arrived in the island in 1505 and were in possession of most of the coastal areas became a threat to the Kandyan Kingdom in which King Rajasinghe II reigned from 1635 to 1687. Fearing that the Portuguese would invade his kingdom through the port of Trincomalee, he built a fort on Ostenburg Hill. Proof that this fort was built was provided very recently when a research worker of the Archeological Department found a Sinhala verse, which is transcribed below.–

“Male, male, thembiliya venna pol male Rale, rale, muhudin damana diya rale Bale, bale, Rasing Diviyange bale Gale Kotuwa bendi Tirukanamale”.

There are also three other interesting but little known facts about Trincomalee which clearly indicate how significant this harbour was to the western world. Firstly, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson who defeated the French fleet at the battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805 referred to Trincomalee as the “finest harbor in the world.” Secondly a British warship launched on October 12, 1817 was named HMS Trincomalee to commemorate the victory of the British fleet against the French fleet off the coast of Trincomalee on September 3, 1782. Thirdly, and this is something Sri Lankans living in the state of British Colombia in Canada would be proud of is that there is a 19th century old channel called Trincomali. It was so named after the previously mentioned warship was assigned to the Royal Navy’s Pacific station in Esquimalt, Vancouver, Canada. Trincomalee being the third largest natural, deep water harbour in the world has attracted nations initially from the west and much later from the east, namely Japan, of whom reference will be made later. These western nations realized that by bringing their fleets and capturing Trincomalee it would be the most tactical method of gaining a foothold in the island and subsequently penetrating further into the interior.

It is generally considered that other than the Portuguese, Dutch and British no other western power was able to capture Trincomalee. But contrary to such views long before any other western power arrived in Trincomalee it was the Danes who came. That was in 1620. Their fleet was equipped by the Danish East India Company on lines similar to that of the Dutch East India Company. Having captured Trincomalee they went ahead in fortifying their port. However by 1624 the Portuguese who as mentioned earlier, had control of most of the maritime provinces of the island, had built their own fort in Trincomalee naming it Fort Tirinkenemalee or Fort Fredrick. Thus they were able to overpower and oust the Danes.

The French arrived twice. Firstly on March 22, 1672 at the time when the Dutch were occupying Trincomalee. But they were unable to penetrate inland because of the well fortified Dutch fort. The second time the French arrived was in 1782.This time it was the British who were in possession of Trincomalee. The French not wanting to face a second failure went to battle with the British and in the decisive Battle of Trincomalee they defeated the British and handed over the port to the Dutch. However in 1795 it was handed over once more to the British in accordance with the ‘Treaty of Paris which was signed in 1763 whereby France ceded to Great Britain all territories which they conquered since 1749.

During World War II the Japanese who failed in their attempt to capture Colombo on Easter Sunday April 5, 1942 now targeted Trincomalee. They considered this to be a more strategic military base because of the several allied ships anchored in the harbour and the planes in the China Bay airport. Furthermore there were 101 oil storage tanks built by the British in China Bay between the years 1924 and 1930. According to a legend the original plan was to build 102 such tanks. However due to the superstition of the workers the spot of the 100th tank was kept vacant . Hence the next tank became the 101st.

At 6.30 am on Monday April 9, the air fleet led by Commander Mitsui Fuchida, who led the attack on the American fleet in Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, flew over Trincomalee with 91 bombers and 38 Zero fighters. Over 100 airmen in China Bay aerodrome were killed. It is estimated that around 700 people lost their lives. Dissatisfied by his attempts to destroy the military bases Mitsui Fuchida ordered a Kamikaze attack. It was a Japanese style suicide bombing where the pilot crashed his plane on a specified target. This was the first time that such an attack had been experienced in Sri Lanka.

Fortunately the Japanese were able to destroy only one oil tank, which due to its contents kept burning for nine days. It is reported that parts of this ill-fated plane can still be seen in the Air Force Museum in Colombo.

Trincomalee was still being used as a military base by the British even after our country was granted independence in February 1948. It was only at the insistence of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike who did not want a foreign power to occupy Trincomalee as it transgressed our national sovereignty and violated our policy of Non- Alignment that on October 15, 1957, the British handed over Trincomalee to the Sri Lankan Government, at a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister and the Acting British High Commissioner T.L. Crosswaite.

Trincomalee in addition to its militarily strategic importance is also a popular tourist destination. One of the many attractions is that between the months of May to August from the top of Swamy Rock there can be seen approximately six to eight nautical miles in the ocean, groups of spouting blue whales and playful dolphins. However Swamy Rock is also associated with a tinge of tragedy. According to a legend a young lady who was betrothed to a Dutch officer and was rejected by him threw herself into the sea as the vessel in which he was sailing passed Swamy Rock. This is the reason why this spot is called Lovers Leap. However in order to prevent any suicides by lovelorn lovers the authorities have built a safety fence close to the edge of Swamy Rock.

But Trincomalee had another disaster coming and it came on the December 26, 2004 which was a Sunday and also a Poya day. An unsuspecting peaceful city was turned into one of destruction and devastation, chaos and calamity. Commencing near Banda Aceh in Sumatra at 6.28 am a mega under sea earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter scale, sent 100 ft high waves speeding across the Indian Ocean ferociously lashing Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, Myanmar and even Somalia –in that order. This was the Tsunami. In Trincomalee the mountain high sea waves reached 2 km inland. The Naval base was submerged and over 2,000 were confirmed dead.

As the incidence of Covid 19 is seemingly on the decline and tourists are permitted to arrive while adhering to important health restrictions it is hoped that Trincomalee will once more be one of the most visited places in the island.

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



A meeting of BRICS leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



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

by Anton Peiris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

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

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

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

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