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Dharmaraja College - early beginnings

by T.W. de S. Amarasekera, Chairman - Dharmaraja Foundation Incorp - Daily News Monday July 1 2002

Dharmaraja College now a premier Buddhist school in this country became 115 years on June 30th this year. It had been started due to the efforts of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, the founder of the Theosophical Society in the country, in an abandoned Bana Salawa in the premises of the Natha Devalaya, with a Buddhist, Andiris de Silva as Headmaster with eight boys followed by D.B. Jayatilake (later Sir Don Baron) as the first Principal who began building it up.

He was succeeded by three courageous and devoted foreigners, Harry Bambury, Wilton Hack (after brief break with C.S. Rajarathnam a Tamil advocate) K.F. Billimoria, a Parsee from Bombay who had visited Ceylon (SL) from Bombay but by a chance meeting with D.B. Jayatilake, had persuaded him to fill this post. Bombury and Hack had shown much pluck and courage, despite lack of funds, many odds and opposition from Christian missionaries who had already established a Christian school in Kandy. With British occupation and the opening up of the hills, for coffee plantations the villages had been driven to the foot of hills and were eking out an existence. Undaunted, Bambury and Hack finding the funds from the few benefactors insufficient, had gone to these distance places and collected money to develop the school.

With these tiny collections Bambury had put up single storeyed building to meet the growing numbers who sought admission. Upon Bambury leaving Hack followed in his foot steps but fell ill and had to retire. Then Billimoria took over. He continued the good of his predecessors work with zest.

With puny collections made by the boys collecting five cents from people by asking them to punch a hole in a card, he put up a magnificent storeyed building with a hall in which later time was the venue of many significant events. In the course of time the school had reached a comparatively high standard with several students passing the Cambridge Senior (Local) examination and joining the clerical service after sitting competitive exams. Bilimoria had been keen on Scouting as he has been about drama and music.

The Scout troop had won the coveted King's Flag thrice in succession. Several Sinhalese plays on the style of the plays of John de Silva and Charles Dias were staged even in the outstations where, while giving actors opportunity to display their historic talents, brought in much needed funds to the school. He was also keen on developing the literary standards of the students. He got the senior boys to publish a weekly cyclostyled paper called the 'Telescope'. Being fond of music he got teachers on the staff who could train the junior school boys to sing at the piano. Much attention was paid to the teaching of the Dhamma. He was known to be immaculately dressed, methodical and particular about honesty and punctuality and in addition been a stern disciplinarian. Anyway his crowning achievement was his purchasing Lake View Estate, 36 acres in extent with a large Dutch type bungalow. But for his foresight where could this school have shifted when the town premises had to be vacated. He had lost no time in having a telephone installed and electricity provided to the bungalow.

He had put up a building to house the boarders and even built a swimming pool by an automatic pumping devise, water from a spring close by for the purpose. Then he had started building the play ground by getting the boys to cut and remove the earth in trolleys on rails provided by him. He had plans to build a science laboratory when after thirty years of service he was asked to retire.

Due to the liberal education he provided, three old boys entered first the State Council, one of them, A. Rathnayake who became a Senator and then an illustrious President of the Senate. One of them A.E. Gunasinghe became the first labour leader of the country not to forget William Gopallawa the first Governor - General.

A significant event was the visit of Mahatma Ghandi to the school. Bilimoria was succeeded by the famous Buddhist educationalist P. de S. Kularatne.

It was a revolutionary change from the conservative loyalty to the British Raj, having to line up the streets and wave the Union Jak each time a British Governor visited Kandy and singing the British National Anthem, to a national outlook. Kularatne lost no time in converting the ground floor of the Bambury building into a well equipped Science Laboratory with a highly qualified science teacher.

He had gathered together well qualified teachers. He himself taught Maths, and his wife Hilda (who later became the first Principal of Mahamaya College), English. He then started a Junior Cadet Corp led by his son, which won the De Soysa Cup. He had given much encouragement to debating, he himself and some members of the staff taking part in them. He had continued the expansion of the school with new buildings and the playground while giving an impetus to cricket and football.

He started a London Matriculation class and in the first year itself two students had got through and found entry to the University, Kularatne had to go back to Ananda for the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It was during his time that Rabindranath Tagore visited the school, put up with the principal and gave a dance recital. Metananda another great teacher and educationalist succeeded him.

He had been a strict disciplinarian and had taken great pains to reform difficult students and generally recognised their talents. It was during his time the college celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1937. He had organised a massive Parahera carnival making use of the whole of the Bogambara ground with trade stalls and many other attractions.

The whole school had co-operated with him in this venture. A play 'Ayesha' written by an old boy, S.L.B. Kapukotuwa, with music for songs provided by another old boy Abraham Rajapakshe which had been staged earlier music even in the outstations was also staged and with the funds thus collected he had put up the science laboratory in Lake View Estate. Many of his products became DROs. It was he who got the college song composed by notary Elangasinghe. On his retirement he continued his great interest in the Buddhist revival and Buddhist education.

Many principals like S.A. Wijayatilake had built up the school to the present high standard and now in great demand for admission to the school.

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