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EVENTS IN THE 1800'S BY GAVESHAKA - Sunday Times August 2006

The historic Panadura Debate

The historic Panadura Debate between the Buddhists and the Christians took place exactly 133 years ago - on August 26 and 28, 1873. Before that, several debates were held and each was identified by the place where it was held. After three major debates at Baddegama (1865), Udanwita (1866) and Gampola (1871), the fourth which turned out to be the most notable was held in Panadura.

Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera

The two key persons in the Panadura Debate were Migettuvatte Gunananda Thera for the Buddhists and Father David de Silva for the Christians. Gunananda Thera was acclaimed as a debater of a very high order after this debate and his personality deeply affected the resurgence of Buddhism which was to follow. He was described as "the boldest, most brilliant and most powerful champion of Sinhalese Buddhism" and the leader of the Buddhist revival.

The Panadura Debate was the climax of the first phase of the revivalist movement which began with the establishment of the 'Society for the Propagation of Buddhism' at Kotahena and the establishment of the Lankopakara Press in Galle. Both events took place in 1862. In the meantime, another sect, the Ramanna Nikaya had been established in 1865 and the Vidyodaya Pirivena, the first leading centre of oriental learning was founded in 1872.

It was the success of the Panadura Debate that prompted Colonel H. S. Olcott to come to Ceylon. He was impressed with what he read in the newspapers in the United States on the Debate and immediately sent a mass of pamphlets and other literature which were very critical of Christianity. Gunananda Thera got these translated into Sinhalese and distributed them all over the island.

The Panadura Debate thus created quite a stir not only in this country but in many parts of the world.

A nationalist is born

The birth of a prominent personality who fought hard to protect traditional values and prevent the undue influence of western culture happened on August 31, 1875. He was Piyadasa Sirisena who used his pen to forcefully communicate the strong feelings he held about the need to preserve our heritage.

Piyadasa Sirisena

The pioneer Sinhala novelist and newspaper editor put out a strong nationalist message. Starting his journalistic career as a sub-editor in the journal, 'Sithumina' in 1895 having come to Colombo from his village Aturuwella in Induruwa, he started editing his own journal 'Sinhala Jatiya' in 1903, which became a weekly newspaper two years later. The newspaper took up issues which concerned the Sinhalese very strongly. It supported the temperance movement which began in 1912 against the Excise Act.

He was among the national leaders who were imprisoned during martial law following the 1915 riots. Serving a prison term only strengthened his desire to fight the imperialists and by 1930, 'Sinhala Jatiya' became a popular Sinhala daily newspaper. Though it ceased publication due to economic reasons, it was restarted as a weekly in 1936 and continued until his death in 1946.

He effectively used the novel, the verse, the newspaper and oratory to spread the nationalist message. He published his first novel, 'Jayatissa ha Roslin' (also known as 'Vasanavanta Vivahaya' - Lucky marriage) in 1906. It turned out to be an extremely popular piece of fiction and was published five times. It sold 25,000 copies. There are 18 novels to his credit. Among them are 'Apata Veccade', 'Maha Viyawula', ' ‘Taruniyakage Premaya', ' Yantham Gelavuna', 'Suchiritadarshaya', ' Chintha Manikyaratnaya', 'Anthima Kemetta', 'Pasan Niwasa' and ' Dingiri Menika'.

Though he was well known as a novelist, his first creative effort was a book of poetry - 'Ovadan Mutuwela' - written in 1905. It was a book of advice and consisted of 164 verses.

The birth of a renowned scholar

This week commemorates the birth of a Sri Lankan who gained international recognition as an authority on Asian art and culture. He is Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, the renowned author best known for his work, 'Mediaeval Sinhalese Art'. He was born on 22 August 1877. It is a classic work on the crafts of Sri Lanka and serves as an authoritative reference book. The well researched book is profusely illustrated.

The son of a public figure and scholar Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy, he studied geology in England and when he returned to Ceylon in 1903, was appointed as head of the Mineralogical Survey. His dedicated work in the field earned him a D.Sc. from the London University. He was most concerned about the neglect of traditional arts and crafts and was very critical of borrowing western ideas and models ignoring the rich native culture.

He published 'Mediaeval Sinhalese Art' in 1908 after returning to England. Having travelled widely in India, he established the India Society in London to create a better understanding of the art, culture and philosophy of the East, in the Western countries.

Between 1910 and 1947 (the year he died) he wrote at least a dozen books on the oriental culture and Buddhism.

He was honoured in Sri Lanka by re-naming 'Green Path', (Colombo 7), the road where the National Art Gallery is situated. It's now known as 'Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha'.

'Mediaeval Sinhalese Art' (1908) begins with a chapter of 'The Sinhalese People'. The lucidity of his writing can be seen in the opening paragraphs:

`A page from 'Mediaeval Sinhalese Art'

"The Sinhalese people are inhabitants of Ceylon, but not all the people are Sinhalese. The etymologically identical word 'Ceylonese', however, is used to describe all persons born in Ceylon, whether Sinhalese, Tamil, Eurasian or otherwise, except Europeans. The word Cingalese is an old-fashioned and less correct spelling of Sinhalese. Of the three and a half millions forming, in round numbers, the population of Ceylon, two and a third million are Sinhalese inhabiting the southern two-thirds of the island, and rather less than one million are Tamils, living mostly in the north, on the east coast, and in Colombo. The remaining population consists of Moormen (Muhammmedans of Tamil extraction for the most part), Burghers (mixed descendants of Dutch settlers), Malays, Eurasians, Europeans and a few others.

Of the influence exerted by these people on Sinhalese art, we need to consider only the Tamil; for on the one hand, Ceylon lies outside the range of Muhammedan conquests and influence, and for the rest, we must carefully avoid the manifestations of European influence if we are to see Sinhalese art at its best and purest. Fortunately, in the 18th century this influence had scarcely at all affected the art of the Kandyan province, although well marked in the low-country.

"Almost the earliest Indian tradition of Ceylon is found in the Ramayana, the beautiful and romantic love story, which has for so long been to India all and more than was the tale of Troy to Greece, or Volsunga to the Scandinavians. It relates the capture of Sita, a queen of Northern India, by Ravana, the lord of Lanka (Ceylon); and the invasion of Ceylon by Rama, aided by his brother Laksman and by Hanuman and his monkey army.; the defeat of Ravana, and recovery of Sita. Lanka is also mentioned in the Mahabharata.

"Another reference to Lanka is found in the Skanda Purana, the story of a great and malignant demon, for whose overthrow Skanda or Kartikeya was incarnated as a god of war and wisdom. This Kartikeya is still revered, particularly at his shrine at Kataragama in the feverish forests of the south-east of Ceylon, where pilgrims resort even the distant parts of India; Kataragama Deviyo, as he is generally known, was the patron god of Elala; and many devales dedicated to this god are found elsewhere, although the one just referred to is of peculiar sanctity".

The Postcard arrives

The postcard, a convenient way of sending a message by post, was introduced to this country on August 22, 1872. It was cheaper to send a postcard than sending a letter. When the postage rate was six cents, the postcard cost three cents - exactly half. And that was the era when one cent coins were available in plenty.

The postcard was introduced 15 years after the issue of the first postage stamp in Ceylon. The 6d (the currency then were pence & shillings) stamp was released on April 1, 1857. That was the letter rate to England by ship for half-ounce letters. By the time the postcard was issued, a decimal currency (rupees and cents) had been adopted. That too happened in 1872.

Ananda moves from Pettah to Maradana

Ananda College moved to its present location at Maradana on August 17, 1895 after a philanthropist, Gate Mudaliyar Tudor Rajapakse gifted three and a half acres at Paranavadiya. The school, first known as Buddhist English School, had been established at Maliban Street, Pettah on November 1, 1886 on the initiative of Colonel H. S. Olcott.

A report in the 'Buddhist' described the event thus under the heading "Opening of new Buddhist College at Maradana": Ananda College, the new Buddhist Institute, was formally opened by Mr. Tudor Rajapaksa, Gate Mudaliyar. After the opening ceremony a benediction was pronounced by Buddhist priests of whom 10 were present, including the Rt. Rev. H (Hikkaduwe) Sumangala, head abbot at Dodanduwa, Piyaratana Maha Nayaka Thero, Chief High Priest of the Amarapura Sect. The large hall was decorated with flags and filled to its utmost capacity. The report of the building committee was read after which a sum of Rs. 905 was laid on the table collected by the merchants of Pettah. Addresses were delivered by the High Priest Piyaratana, Dr. W. A. de Silva and the Chairman. Mr. Rajapaksa was presented with a silver trowel with which he laid the foundation stone of the buildings some months ago. Light refreshments were then abundantly served round. The meeting dispersed shortly after 6. The College has got its name from Ananda, Our Lord's favourite and the most learned disciple. The building is intended to be enlarged soon for which plans were laid on the table, and a Vihara is to be erected in the grounds for the benefit of the students".

After A. E. Buultjens took over as Principal from the first Principal, C. W. Leadbeater in 1890, the school had made rapid progress and in 1894 the numbers on the list reached 200, the average attendance being 174. By the time the school shifted to Maradana, the number of roll had reached 300.

Erudite monk

The passing-away of the scholar monk, Venerable Ratmalane Sri Dharmaloka Thera, founder of Vidyalankara Pirivena, Peliyagoda occurred on August 15, 1885. It was two years after the establishment of the Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda that the Vidyalankara Pirivena was founded on November 1, 1875.

Born on May 28, 1828 at Ratmalana, Dharmaloka Thera entered the Order in 1837 when he was just nine years. He received higher ordination (Upasampada) from the Malwatta Chapter in 1860 by which time he was accepted as a learned monk. He taught the Dhamma to the monks and lay students at his resident temple at Ratmalana and wrote and edited several classics. It was when he, along with a student monk, came on invitation to Dalugama to observe the 'vas' season in 1875, that he took the initiative in setting up the Vidyalankara Dayaka Sabha. Thereafter the Pirivena was established.

Leading a simple life according to the teachings of the Buddha was his motto which he promoted among the inmates of the Pirivena. By training his chief disciple, Ratmalane Sri Dharmarama Thera, to be well versed in the Dhamma, by the time he passed away, he had established a solid tradition to continue the good work he started.



A pioneer painter

In the early days of the British administration, many talented painters recorded events and the country's beautiful scenery. Samuel Daniell was one of these pioneer artists. He arrived in Ceylon on August 14, 1805 and was appointed Assistant to the Secretary to the Board of Revenue and Commerce by Governor Sir Thomas Maitland who later created a special post for him titled 'Ranger of Woods & Forests.' He was just 36 when he died while serving as Superintendents of the Forests in Ceylon.

Twelve of Daniell's paintings have been published in a book titled 'A Picturesque Illustration of the Scenery, Animals and Native Inhabitants of the Island of Ceylon,' published in London in 1808. An interesting text accompanies each picture.


Early days of cricket

The earliest mention of a cricket club in Ceylon dates back to August 8, 1832, identified as the date on which the 'Cricket Club' was established. But due to lack of old records, there is hardly any information of its progress in the years that followed.

The Kandapolla cricket macth as seen by an artist

In the late 1860s, however, the Colombo Cricket Club comes into prominence. Several other clubs are also mentioned by 1869. The Union Club, the Smallpass Club, the Slave Island Club, the Juvenile Graduates, the Hultsdorf Club, the Fort Club and the Military Club are among those.

The match between Colombo and Up-country has been the principal match in the early days of cricket in the country dating back to the early 1860s.

Expatriates, really Englishmen, were the players of both teams. Details of the match played in 1875 have been recorded. Only one innings per side was played and Colombo won, the scores being Colombo 99 and Up-country 43. For Colombo, Captain Budgeon scored 48.

'The Illustrated Sports and Dramatic News' (October 1878) published in England recorded that a match played at Kadapolla was "an immense treat". "Badulla men had to journey from 40 to 50 miles across country to get to the ground, and that by many this distance was accomplished by foot", the report states.

A bank is inaugurated

The Ceylon Savings Bank was established on August 6, 1832 obviously to promote the savings habit among the people. A government institution, it was managed by a Board of Directors under an Ordinance. Steady progress was made in the early years and soon the Bank developed into a recognised financial institution.

The earliest mention of a bank in Ceylon is a private institution established by Jeronis Pieris and Louis Pieris in Kandy in 1828. Reference is made to this bank -'The Bank of Kandy' - by Sir Thomas Villiers in his book, 'Mercantile Lore'.

He writes: "It was in the early days of coffee, and money was always in demand. Colombo was very far away, taking no less than four days to reach from the hill capital. The road too led through robber-infested country, and was consequently never safe. Sardiel, Ceylon's Robin Hood was only one of the many who made the cart road a danger. There were bands of highwaymen, not to mention rogue elephants and other savage animals, reported all along the less frequented paths.

So it came about that the Kandy Bank became a most useful institution, keeping money in custody till called for, and furnishing money on Colombo orders, when getting money from Colombo was a very hazardous business."

Gas lights in Colombo city

Colombo city is well lit up today. But for most part of the 19th century it was not so - at least not until August 5, 1872 when gas lamps were used for lighting of Colombo. The supply of gas was done by Colombo Gas & Water Company which was formed in 1868. In the following year, the company entered into an agreement with the Colombo Municipal Council. By the end of the first year, there were 870 gas lamps in the streets. The cost of service was estimated at Rs 70,000.

The supply of electricity for lighting the City started after a private company, Boustead Brothers commenced the generation of electricity on commercial lines in 1895. This was done following concessionary terms offered by the Colombo Municipal Council for a tramways scheme. Power was first supplied to the Fort area and a few government offices. In 1927 the Government bought the electricity system from Boustead Brothers and set up the Government Electrical Department.

A library in Colombo

The first library in Colombo was founded on August 12, 1813. It was called 'The United Service Library' and at first was solely for the use of civil and military officers of the Government stationed in Colombo. It was housed in a military building opposite Queen's House (now President's House) which was demolished when the General Post Office was built. Later the members who were elected had to pay subscriptions to use the library.

The 'Colombo Pettah Library' was the second library in Colombo. It was established by the Burgher community in the City. Pettah was then the residential area of the Burghers. They had moved over from the Fort when that area became too busy.