Friday, November 3, 2017

First Buddhist school needs public support for survival

Media in recent months had given wide publicity and made the public knowledgeable about the first Buddhist school in Sri Lanka — G/Piyaratana Maha Vidyalaya, located between 64 and 65 mile post along Galle — Colombo main road in the Southern Province. It was highlighted in both the printed and electronic media that this school is heading towards rapid deterioration and possible collapse if it goes unattended by the relevant educational authorities and the public.

It may be of historical interests for many Sri Lankans, particularly the Buddhists living here and abroad to know about the pioneering role played by this school, and the pioneering efforts made by the founder of this school in promoting native (national) education in Sri Lanka. Historical records speaks more on the valiant and charismatic role played by Piyaratana Tissa Nayaka Thero — the founder of this Buddhist school — who challenged missionary education in Ceylon under British rule. The significance of this challenge was that it was the first ever attempt to revive Buddhism through the promotion of native Buddhist education subsequent to the victorious great religious debate known as Panaduravadaya (Debate held in Panadura).

The saga of this school goes as far back as 1869. That was the time when missionary schools and the government authorities did everything possible to suppress Buddhism and the setting up of native schools.

Archival records in the National Archives in Sri Lanka and the collection of historical records still preserved by Sailabimbaramaya of Dodanduwa the abode of Piyaratana Tissa Nayaka Thero and also at Kumarakande Mahaviharaya (Dodanduwa) authoritatively suggest that Piyaratana Tissa Nayaka Thero was the founding father of Buddhist education in Sri Lanka. This fact was accepted when the Postal Dept. of Sri Lanka issued a commemorative stamp valued sixty cents in honour of this priest on 22nd May 1984.

Although we identify the first Buddhist school as Piyaratana Vidyalaya, was initially known as Jinalabdhivishodhana (in love of Buddha) and the latter name replaced after the demise of Piyaratana Thero by his pupil, Siridhamma Thero, the immediate successor and the chief incumbent of the Temple.

Historical documents further indicates that Piyaratana Tissa Thero through a society known as Lokartha Sadhana Sanagamaya, founded by himself engaged in a valiant battle to get his school registered with the then educational authorities under colonial government. Failing in his efforts to get it registered, he seemed to have used his tact and intellectual skills by giving a grand welcome to Governor Robinson by erecting pandals, when the latter visited Dodanduwa in an official tour in the Southern Province. In the same year he won his battle in getting this school registered with the educational authorities. That was in 1874 and it was a monumental task done by Piyaratana Nayaka Thero for the promotion of native Buddhist education in Sri Lanka.

His contributions to promote Sinhala Buddhist education, of course need further research and it is unfortunate that his role is shrouded in the history of Buddhist revival, perhaps on account of the pre-eminence given to other contemporaries of his era by historians. It is not intended here to make a detailed historical sketch of his contributions except stating certain facts about him and the significant role played by this school during the pre and post — independence era.

Historical records indicate that many leaders during the period of Buddhist revival had worked with Piyaratana Nayaka Thero and visited dhamsabha Mandapa of Sailabimbaramaya where many discussions were held on matters pertaining to Buddhist education. Veteran Buddhist priests like Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala and Migettuwatte Gunananda (the chief debater of Panadurawadaya) and clergymen like Anagarika Dhammapala and Henry Steel Olcott were among the close associates of this Thero, with whom they exchanged letters on various topics in addition to their visit to this temple located adjacent to this school.

Henry Olcott, an American national who formed the Theosophical Society and helped in promoting Buddhist native schools like Mahinda College in Galle, Ananda and Nalanda Colleges in Colombo and Dharmaraja College in Kandy and schools in other parts of the island was first administered pansil by Piyaratana Nayake Thero. Impressed by the activities of the thero, Olcott has contributed much needed financial assistance and laboratory equipments to this school including 8 mm projector, the first of its kind brought to the island (which is now in the possession of an outsider and worthy of preserving it as cultural heritage of Buddhist revival).

It is also recorded in the archival records that the famous poet priest of Tibetan origin — Rev. S. Mahinda — was ordained by the same priest at Sailabimbaramaya. Another matter of historical importance is that the said temple is having a Buddha statute made out of rock which had been ferried through sea from Kaveri Pattanam of South India. As children we heard from our grand parents that the statute was brought to the temple by cutting a temporary canal from the sea coast leading to the temple bordering on the land side of the present railway track near Dodanduwa Railway station. It is well known that this priest was behind this Herculean task. (It is of historical interests to note that Dodanduwa was a hub of commercial activities during this period with linkages to South India from where salted fish (jadi in Sinhala) and Calicut tiles were brought through Customs located near Dodanduwa Road bridge. And also it had linkages with the Maldives and Singapore. Historical records in the possession of late Rev. Dhammasena of Kumarakande maha viharaya gives a vivid account of the commercial activities engaged by the sea-faring heroic people of this area).

The efforts launched by Piyaratana Thero to promote native Buddhist education was unlimited. Accordingly it is known that it was this thero who took pains to introduce English medium stream to the school which was started in a temporary cadjan shed. The aim was to make students prepare for government jobs particularly make them compete with students passing out from English missionary schools.

Because of this pioneering effort, Piyaratana Vidyalaya continued to be one of the best schools in the Southern Province, where admission was difficult as late as 1950 and 1960s. Many students from distant places like Ambalangoda, Galle, Kalegana, Katudampe, Boosa, Kumarakande, Hikkaduwa, Telwatte, Gonapinuwala, Thiranagama, Rathgama and surrounding areas attended this school. It had one of the best science laboratories and the Science graduates during my time (that was in 1940s and 50s) were brought from India. There were so many teachers committed to work and no tuition at that time. The results of the college were high. Many students who studied in this school including my contemporaries of 1940s and 50s have either entered top administrative positions or senior positions in the government service or joined as professionals in the medical, engineering and legal fields. Those who joined business emerged as business tycoons who may have second generation or third generation of children
The reason why I am writing this is to draw attention not only to the past students of this school but also to their children and grand children to make them proud of the type of education served by this school. And also to remind the need for compulsory obligations to extend help to help recover from its present position. Above all, I want to draw public attention, particularly of those Buddhist high priests living here — Colombo, Kandy, Anuradhapura and foreign capital cities like London, New York, Washington, Tokyo, Toronto, Singapore etc. Also I wish to draw the attention of the Buddhist Philanthropists living all over the world.

My objective in providing this article is two fold. Fist to emphasize the significance of preserving the first Buddhist school in Sri Lanka; second, to make an open appeal to the government, general public and the affluent Buddhists and all others concerned to promote this school either by funding or through any other means.

My appeal in directed mainly to the Minister of Cultural Heritage — Vijitha Herath and Her Excellency, the Prime Minister, Minister of Education, relevant authorities of provincial education and all parliamentarians and the Opposition to help preserve this school as a place of "Cultural Heritage". Because this school is more than 130 years that is 30 years more than what is required to declare this school as an institution of cultural heritage... In this connection I draw the attention of the Commissioner of Archaeoloy to take all possible measures to preserve the cultural identity of this school and the temple where Piyaratana Thero lived.

Subsequent to media reports an ad-hoc committee was established by a few old boys a couple of months ago when I was elected as the pro-tem treasurer.

A full session of the Old Boys and Girls has now been summoned for today by extending an open invitation through public media to all the former students of this historic school. This meeting will commence at 9 a.m. and it is hopeful of establishing a steering committee for fund raising and mapping out future strategies to overcome the present debacle of the first Buddhist school.

Any funding by philanthropists or well wishers within and outside the country may be drawn in favour of the Treasurer, Piyaratana Old Boys and Girls Association and addressed to the Principal, Piyaratana Vidyalaya, Dodanduwa. 

(Prof. W. M. Karunadasa, University of Colombo)
 Source : 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are today’s power women excellent role models?

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson are business celebrities. Everyone knows them. Their business models are often referred to in MBA class rooms. They are hailed and recognized for their strong entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. They are almost always cited as role models for tomorrow’s young executives.

But mention Irene Rosenfeld, Indra Nooyo or Safra Catsz and not many hands will go up. In theory, they should. These are the counterparts of Jobs and co. Power women who have climbed the ranks to achieve business success probably unheard of a few generations ago. Irene Rosenfeld is the CEO of Kraft Foods, Indra Nooyo is the CEO of Pepsi Co and Safra Catsz heads Oracle. Just a sprinkling of a few names – of power women who run companies as successful as Apple and Microsoft. There are more of course. Some of them hold key positions in new age techno wizardry companies such as Google’s Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook who was sought by Mark Zuckerburg for her excellent skills in running Facebook the business.

So what’s the point in taking the name list of power sisters into high gear?

We all need role models. In a world where power dynamics call for strong, capable leadership, the class room is where the first nuances of building character and leadership traits are nurtured.  Tomorrow’s generation needs to know and relate to people that could inspire them to outstanding success. In Sri Lanka, positive and clean role models are a need of the times. Children often find inspiration in sports stars but not everyone can become sports heroes. Business leaders, particularly successful business women, need to connect with the young women of tomorrow.


My just-turned-thirteen son admires Steve Jobs – an avid Apple fan, he finds Jobs an ideal role model for tech savvy youngsters like himself. Today’s generation, female or male, comes equipped and empowered with skills we didn’t have. They need dependable role models more than ever because they have limitless opportunities and they need to be able to sift through to get to a career that not only inspires them but also drives them to achieve outstanding results.  Visibility of power women like Google’s Mayer and Facebook’s Sandberg can play an influencing role for young women. Women who have achieved success at high profile tech firms such as Google and Facebook can easily become the ideal role models for young women of today who are tech savvy themselves and are considering non-traditional, tech based careers.

This rings true for Sri Lanka. We have more women passing out of higher educational institutions than men, in keeping with demographic changes. More women join the labour force ; women must also grapple with gender specific issues that come into conflict with career options. Marriage, motherhood, reliable child care and domestic chores are issues that face every woman who has ever considered a serious career. Equipped to multi-task, women still find balancing it all a hard act to follow. Unless driven by a passion and a commitment to a goal, most would settle for less glamourous yet dependable jobs that would allow them to stick to regular hours. Some even give up on a career altogether – a few others consider returning to work once the children are grown and their domestic chores lessened.

Local favourites

In Sri Lanka, we have our own successful entrepreneurs such as Aban Pestonjee and Janet Balasuriya. There are top female bankers such as Rohini Nanayakkara and Ranee Jayamaha. More women have climbed the ladder of corporate success in Sri Lanka than ever before.  Indra Nooyi, Pepsico’s Indian born CEO who has the honour of being named Numero Uno on the Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” list, is listed by Forbes as the 06th most powerful woman in the world. Born in Chennai, Nooyi represents a new generation of women to whom cultural and regional boundaries mean nothing. They have achieved the level of success that surpasses such boundaries.  And they are bankable, solid role models girls can be inspired by.       

Men are supposed to ‘traditionally’ identify with prestige in terms of financial compensation given the recognition of their work. On the contrary, experts point out that women treasure camaraderie, fulfillment and flexibility in a career. With technology paving way for work-from-home scenarios, more women are content – and committed to working late hours telecommuting while kids are at school or in bed. While such flexibility has its advantages, it can also have negative repercussions like in Netherlands, which has the highest percentage of women in part time work , in Europe. Netherlands therefore technically has more women in the work force but less women holding key senior management posts in the corporate sector. 

Additionally, some careers are simply not cut for telecommuting or work-from-home and require a physical presence in the office, in addition to putting in long hours. There are of course many women, in Sri Lanka and the world, who have success stories of combining it all – balancing the home with a demanding career and emerge victorious on both counts.       

Nayomini is a senior journalist  & PR professional and can be contacted at

Source : Daily Mirror - 25-Mar-2011

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Visit to the English Classes at Gonapinuwala

The committee of the DWFWA (Dodanduwa Weerasooriya Family Welfare Association) visited the English Class at Woodlands Estate - Gonapinuwala, funded by the Association on 27th November 2010. 2 Classes are held every Saturday 4PM to 6PM and 6PM to 8 PM at the Community Hall

 Kids Class

the adult class

The president keeping a note at the Gramasewaka Office adjoining the community hall

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gen Srilal Weerasooriya new Independent Director at Ceylinco Insurance

Ceylinco Life PLC has announced the appointment of former diplomat and retired four-star General C S Weerasooriya RWP, RSP, VSV, USP as a independent non-executive director of the company educated at St Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, and a graduate of the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul and the National Defence College of India, General Weerasooriya held many key positions in the Sri Lankan Army over his 35 year military career and was decorated for gallantry and service more than a dozen times.

As Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Pakistan for six years upon retirement from the army, and accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Sri Lanka to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, he played a lead role in improving political and trade relations between Sri Lanka and the region. He was also Patron of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Friendship Association and of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Business Forum.

"General Weerasooriya's four decades of experience in the military and the diplomatic corps will be a great source of strength and wisdom to the board of Ceylinco Life," the company's Jt. Managing Director/CEO R Renganathan said. "His proven managerial and administrative skills, integrity and acumen will be invaluable, as will his vast experience of working with people at all levels and in diverse settings."

General Weerasooriya is the second independent director appointed to the board of Ceylinco Insurance in the past year

source : Business Today 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dodanduwa Sri Piyaratana Tissa Mahanayake Thero

A quaint stillness permeates the seaboard that was devastated in the tsunami six months ago. Away from the hustle and bustle of the towns, the villages Rathgama and Dodanduwa exude an aura of distinct quietude with men and women going about their daily work. Around the village the abundance of the Rathgama lagoon, a sprawling sheet of shimmering aquatic delight rich in its biodiversity, brings a comforting breeze to the locality. It is like an ancient giant silently watching over the poor villages where women spin coconut fibre strings or make loose strands of fibre the difficult way, beating hard on the coconut husks soaked in the lake with wooden machetes, till the sinews of their hands ache from sheer physical exertion day in, day out. All that labour for a mere pittance, in a country with a milieu virtually adulating the so-called market economy and the "level playing field". The product of incessant labour drips from their hands and faces in the form of drops of sweat, which the celebrated Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote was where God made his abode.

When one passes the Dodanduwa bridge on the Galle Road ancient single storey buildings that line the road among the newly built markets or kiosks seem to beckon one to an age of prosperity and bygone resurgence towards the latter half of the 19th century when Buddhist leaders like the Most Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayake Thera attracted Western intellectuals like the American theosophist Col. Henry Steele Olcott. Olcott came here to learn the rich cultural and religious heritage of this country and unlearn some of the pseudo-intellectual teachings and beliefs of the newly civilized Western world.

Less than a kilometre from the Dodanduwa Bridge is a turnoff to the left that leads to interior hamlets of the main village and a special school. A memorial complete with a statue of another bhikku, Ven Sasanalankara Vinayacharya Siri Piyaratna Tissa Nayake Thera (known as Dodanduwe Piyaratana Nayake Thera), who placed Dodanduwa in the annals of the country’s education history can be seen at the turn. He was pious and erudite monk whose efforts made this school a reality one and a half centuries ago. A name board stands opposite the statue, Dodanduwa Piyaratana Vidyalaya, the first Buddhist school established in the colonial era after the British introduced their system of school education replacing our own system of education that was thousands of years old. Like a lone sentinel, the saffron robe clad image of this illustrious son of mother Lanka seems to be patiently watching what has become of his noble dreams today. Though thousands of people pass the image on Galle Road daily, only a handful of people of even the locality are aware of his great service today.

A hundred yards from the turnoff are a set of walled in school buildings on either side of the road. When this school was opened in 1869 it was in a background of the British colonial rulers discouraging and stifling efforts of indigenous leaders and intellectuals to resurge their own cultural heritage and civilization, the preservation of their very birthright.

British policy

One has to go back to 1812, when Robert Brownrigg, the notorious British governor who was recalled to England in disgrace after his scorched earth suppression of the Kandyan peasantry’s rebellion of 1817-18, wrote to his superiors in England that it would be a useless exercise to open any more schools in this country as the local children do not come to these schools. They go to the Buddhist temples, sit under the Bo tree and learn under Buddhist monks who wield tremendous influence over laymen. Unless the strong bond between the Buddhist monks and the lay society was broken it would be useless to open any more schools in this colony, Brownrigg wrote to his government in August 1812. Thus did the work of "educating and converting the pagans" begin in a country that had a flowering literature, art, sculpture, architecture and the world’s most advanced irrigation systems and well planned cities with running water supplied via underground conduits.

In pursuance of Brownrigg’s policy of discouraging the Buddhist clergy from playing their traditional key role in education, more and more missionary schools were being opened up under the patronage of the British government and a number of laws were enacted to discourage the Buddhists. Dodanduwe Piyaratana Thera, the founder of Dodanduwa Piyaratana Vidyalaya started the Dharmarthasiddha Society with the express intent of starting Buddhist schools as far back as 1869, the year in which the school was opened.

Port of call

An inlet formed along an outcrop of rocks at Dodanduwa, adjacent to the Rathgama lagoon was a small port of call for sailing vessels in past centuries even before the Portuguese set foot in the country that had brought prosperity to the two villages. The fisher folk of Dodanduwa were famous for their salted fish, which found a ready market all along the western seaboard. Local, Indian and Maldivian sailing vessels called over at this port as well as at Beruwala, Weligama, Devinuwara, Colombo, Chilaw, Mannar and even as far away as Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

There was trade with vessels that came from Trichinapoly, Nagapattanam and Kaveripattanam and the goods that changed hands ranged from the famous salt fish of Dodanduwa to clay roof tiles, clay pottery, and handloom textiles. People of the area were prosperous and most fish caught in the locality were salted or sold fresh. When the sea became rough, they sailed to fish in the seas off the east coast during the South West Monsoon. The sailing craft were as large as 60 or 70 feet long, a veritable fishing and trading fleet sometimes drawn up on the beach after sailing like the wall of a fortress.

Religious resurgence

With the prosperity reached by the people religious resurgence and the penchant for learning among these enterprising people also grew. Dodanduwa port became the centre that helped to establish the Sri Kalyaniwansa Maha Nikaya sect of the Buddhist clergy that led to the national resurgence.

In 1808 the Most Ven Kathaluwe Gunaratana Tissa Nayake Thera and his lay followers set sail from Dodanduwa in a local vessel for Myanmar to bring the Upasampada, higher ordination from that country as Buddhism and ecclesiastical development under continuous onslaughts of the Portuguese, Dutch and later the British had continued to suffer and decline. There was an even earlier visit to Myanmar by the Ven Kapugama Dhammakkanda Thera from Dadalla, Ven Bopagoda Sirisumana Thera of Rathgama who also left by a sailing vessel from Dodanduwa in 1786. These devoted theras set up a vihara in Dodanduwa in 1802. Legend has it the theras, seeing a luxuriant ginger plant, when uprooting it found a ginger tuber the size of a parasol and decided to build their temple on that spot. Some years later a marble image of the Buddha was found at Kaveripattanam in India and the French Governor of the district, who was approached by the Ven Sasammatha Dhammasara Thera, chief incumbent of the temple at Dodanduwa, gifted the statue to the temple. A second image of the Buddha that was found at the same site that was smaller in size was offered to the temple by the residents of this Indian port town.

Of this temple’s past, history and legend is interwoven. Named Shailabimbaramaya, the two marble images of the Buddha can be seen in the temple today. More importantly, the valiant and tenacious efforts of the Buddhist clergy of the Southern Province, especially Rathgama and Dodanduwa is an epic forgotten by people whose pursuit of overtaking their neighbour has made most of them rats in a meaningless race.

National heritage

The school had a complete lab, one of the first labs in the Southern Province that was started by the Ven Dodanduwe Piyaratana Thera and fully equipped by Colonel Henry Steele Olcott himself after he visited the school in 1880. Today the lab lacks proper facilities and equipment and science education at the school has lagged behind other schools in the area.

The number of students on roll today is 191 with classes from grade one to eleven. Some classes have only seven or eight children. The principal, Ms. Y. Seelawathie says children of the locality go to other schools, as they are popular and that this school has been neglected for sometime, especially during the past decade. Some of the buildings have collapsed while most others are in a neglected state. The education department or the ministry are probably unaware of the historical significance of this school, which has been named a National Heritage by the former minister of Cultural Affairs Vijitha Herath very recently.

One wonders whether the president who is herself the Minister of Education is aware of the existence of this school as no educational dignitary or plenipotentiary has ever visited it or taken notice of it.

There are various Buddhist societies and organisations in the country like the ACBC and even political parties that claim to fight for the rights and privileges of the Buddhist society and religion but the first Sinhala Buddhist School has not received their attention for decades. In fairness to the Buddhist Theosophical Society, it has to be said that they thwarted a recent attempt of the Southern Provincial Council to convert the school to a temporary shelter for tsunami victims last year. The Theosophical society official objected to the school being used as a camp for tsunami displaced but a part of the school’s land has been given to an NGO that has been criticized in certain quarters as an anti-Buddhist organisation to put up tents for the displaced.

Best library

The school had one of the best libraries in the south that Col. Olcott and many other Buddhist leaders helped to develop but surreptitious hands had been at work and most of the invaluable books have gone missing. There is no librarian. One of the objects of historical value and significance, an 8mm film projector gifted by Col. Olcott to the school has been sold by the Education Department to a person of the area for 400 rupees. The department has acted under the Financial Regulations and had condemned this artefact as an "unserviceable item" and sold it to the highest bidder! Just how stupid could red tape really become?


Col. Olcott visited the school and Sri Shailabimbarama Dodanduwa where the Piyaratana Nayake Thera lived. The thera advised Olcott to help open Buddhist schools, not in competition with the Christian missionary schools but to give an opportunity to rural Buddhists who could not get the recognition of the colonial authorities if they had received their education in the Buddhist temples or Pirivenas.

Col. Olcott took this advice, as he had known the thera with whom he had corresponded since 1878. Though many writers have written that Olcott's visit to Sri Lanka was inspired by learning about the religious debate at Panadura it is the correspondence he had with the Ven Piyaratana Nayake Thera that brought Olcott to our shores.

In the archives, Olcott's diary still exists. He has written that he came to this country from the port of Galle and visited the temple of Piyaratana Thera after addressing a gathering of about 2000 that came to Galle to greet him. He said the temple was one of the most well organised and orderly temples. He spent ten days at the temple discussing the future of Buddhist education in this country and formulating the concept of the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) schools that changed the colonial education map of this country.

History sits like an unseen but ubiquitous reality here. Even the Tibetan born Ven S. Mahinda who adopted this country as his motherland and became the poet laureate of the freedom struggle was also ordained in the temple of Ven Dondaduwe Piyaratana Nayake Thera in 1911. At present, we have stepped into an era of spurning history, especially after 1977. When one visits the school one is really treading on hallowed ground, still held close to their hearts by persons of the locality.

The principal proudly shows the shrine room with a Buddha image completed recently by two well-wishers. This new shrine in spotless white is perhaps the only feature that has been added on by the present generation.

The promontory projecting into the lagoon from the adjoining Rathgama rises above the waters as one goes on a village road to the hamlet Moraththuduwa. Here atop its crest hiding under the lush canopy of areca, bamboo, jak, and coconut trees is a middle class home where a lone campaigner Amarajeeva de Silva Rajakaruna shows old documents, meticulously kept records of dates and events which he values as the most precious of all his worldly possessions. His father, octogenarian and retired principal D. D. de S. Rajakaruna, and his own father had been students of the Dondaduwa school. They have both campaigned for the revival of this school to its past glory.

However, has our nation been cured of the ailment of the open economy that disdained this country’s national heritage preferring to count dollars while the people were told to earn money, money and more money and make merry, even if you had to commit the vilest calumny on the sacred treasures of this nation?


A stamp released in honour of 
Rev Dodanduwa Sri Piyaratana Tissa Mahanayake Thero

J N Oleap Fernando

I wish to express my thanks to the President & Editorial Committee for having requested me to write an article about Oleap & his professional & academic activities as I know it from my knowledge of him during the 35 years of our married life.

Oleap is a unique name given by his father to commemorate the unusual fact that he was born on Leap Year's Day; the letter "O" runs down the family & hence his third name & the name by which he is called came to be OLEAP. His other names Jerence Nansel are also unique since like his 2 sisters & 1 brother all their names have been coined by their father after names of relatives and/or God parents.

Oleap had an excellent scholastic record at St. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, where he received 12 years of his post Kindergarten education: he was the recipient of many prizes & scholarships including the Panel Awards of Liturgy Prize Winner for 3 years, Gregory Scholar for 2 years and Miller Mathematical Prize winner. He was placed first in the island at the 1959 SSC/GCE (O/L) examination & was awarded the C. A. Hewavitharana Prize. He was again placed first in the Science stream at the University Entrance examination in 1961. Oleap takes great pride in reiterating again and again that on many occasions in his personal & family life he has tried to do things in the way that he preferred rather than "go with the crowd". As a striking example, one could cite the fact that while all his classmates at St. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia customarily applied to enter the medical faculty or the engineering faculty at the end of their school career, Oleap was unique in applying to join the science faculty instead since he felt that he was not interested in becoming either a medical doctor or an engineer.

His parents had been broadminded enough not to force or influence Oleap to do the more popular or perceived to be prestigious courses. Oleap & I were also similar broadminded enough 30 years down the road, to permit our only child Oshan to do what he wished, which happened to be Arts, which usually only those students who are not eligible to offer science do as a third hand option; looking back on life, Oleap always maintains that neither he nor his son have been any the worse as a result since both have done what they liked & wished with relatively low stress & much peace of mind! Financially too, neither has suffered!

Oleap thus entered the University in 1962 to do a Science degree, not necessarily in Chemistry since he was equally good in Physics and even better in Mathematics; he could have chosen any of these 3 disciplines for his special degree but after a great deal of internal debate, investigation & consultation he chose Chemistry perhaps because it seemed to be the most relevant & useful for him in the Sri Lanka scene in the middle of the twentieth century. However, his passion for Physics made him choose that as his subsidiary although most students chose Mathematics since it is less exacting as it does not involve practical classes. He was once again placed first in Chemistry at the B.Sc. examination of the University of Ceylon in 1966 & awarded the Bhikaji Framji Khan Gold Medal for Chemistry.

Soon after graduation, Oleap joined the University system as a temporary Assistant Lecturer at Peradeniya for the first year & then he received his permanent academic appointment at the University of Colombo.

He pursued his PhD at Imperial College London in the area of Surface Chemistry while on a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship. Returning to Sri Lanka in 1971, he became a Lecturer in Chemistry and in 1977, a Senior Lecturer at Colombo. His love for University teaching has made Oleap continue in the University system for 41+ continuous years and looks forward to a total of 43 years in the Sri Lankan University system when he retires in September 2009.

Another unique feature in Oleap's academic life is the unique feature that he was a Chemistry Special student at both Colombo & Peradeniya and subsequently an academic staff member in the Chemistry Department at both these campuses: such a record no other can ever achieve. Looking back on his professional life, Oleap wanted to pursue an academic career in the University system in Sri Lanka and has for the past 41+ years never thought it relevant or necessary to think of a change within the country or by going abroad for financial or other gain!

The lack of physical infrastructure, funding and the critical minimum peer atmosphere for extensive research was quite evident in the seventies, when Sri Lanka had a foreign exchange starved closed economy in which nothing substantial seemed to happen. In such a situation, Oleap found it rather difficult to continue with experimental research particularly in the area of his specialty. Oleap, however, thought it more relevant and useful to involve himself in an honorary capacity in a big way in the activities of learned societies and professional bodies, which very badly needed human resources to provide the services that they are expected to provide. Oleap's organisational capabilities in organisations had come to the forefront while he was a teenager doing church work in the Junior Guild and Sunday school teaching staff in his home parish at Holy Emmanuel, Moratuwa.

These abilities were well recognized by his professional peers in learned societies & professional bodies. Initially, it was at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) where as Treasurer and General Secretary even before he was thirty years in age Oleap utilised his leadership abilities & organisational skills to raise the quality & service provided to members. Oleap regards his association with the SLAAS in an honorary capacity as something that benefited him personally a great deal as well in putting out his innermost abilities and also getting to know & working with professionals in all scientific areas including the Social Sciences, an opportunity he would never otherwise had. Oleap's current "on the job" knowledge of finances, investments, taxation & economics has its origin in what Oleap learnt informally at the SLAAS while being Treasurer.

That knowledge & experience served him personally very well in later years. Oleap served the SLAAS in numerous capacities and was ultimately elected General President in 2001. He has served over 25 years in the SLAAS Council and takes pride that its Headquarters Building (Vidya Mandiraya) came up in 1976 while he was General Secretary with Architect Justin Samarasekera as General President.

That grounding at the SLAAS laid the foundation for what Oleap considers as his crowning service of value in his own professional body, the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon. Oleap's services to this Institute are without parallel and have enabled him to make an outstanding contribution to Chemistry, the Chemical sciences and professional organisations in a big way. Oleap has served the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon in various capacities and in various ways and has been responsible for a number of new initiatives, which are too many to list. However, the unprecedented manner in which he has been able to organise a Graduateship Programme in Chemistry for the past 30 years in a very unconventional and unique manner outside the regimented, bureaucratic and highly politicised state system is regarded by him as his most outstanding and unparalleled contribution to human resource development in the field of chemistry in Sri Lanka. 519 Graduate Chemists have so far been produced through this marvellous activity through 25 batches which have passed out. Oleap also considers the recognition that he received from his professional peers in the Institute of Chemistry over the past three decades as the most satisfying result of his entire life in a professional sense. Amongst the series of recognitions he got, he identifies two as crowning glories: Firstly, his election as President of the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon at the young age of 40 years was indeed extremely satisfying since he was still a senior Lecturer at the time of his election and became a Professor only a few months later while he was holding the said Presidency. Secondly, the decision made by the Institute to name a lecture hall in the new headquarters of the Institute in 2005 as J N O Fernando Hall in recognition of his immense, unique and outstanding contribution has given him such satisfaction and joy which no amount of money could ever have given him. It was in such a context that he has voluntarily given his services free of charge more or less on a full time basis as Honorary Dean of the College of Chemical sciences during the entirety of his two-year sabbatical leave from 2006 to 2008. The amount of service and financial gain he has been able to provide the Institute of Chemistry during that period gives him much more satisfaction than he would ever have got working elsewhere for personal monetary gain.

Oleap's services to the University system for over 40 years at the Universities of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka(OUSL) has also been considerable particularly since remuneration and other working conditions had not been attractive for many years. He has been Head of the Department of Chemistry for several years and Dean/Science at OUSL for 6 years. Very recently in March 2008 he has once again been honoured for the services rendered by the Chemistry Department there and its Buckyball Society by collection of funds to launch the J N O Fernando Prize Fund for the best performance in Chemistry at the OUSL B.Sc. examination.

When he retires at the age of 65 in September 2009 he would have served the University system in Sri Lanka for 43 years and been a Professor for 25 years!

Oleap has also been actively involved in the international scene and attended numerous conferences in the areas of Science & Chemical Education, Chemistry, Distance Education, & Professionalism in Science in many countries. In particular, he has been the Institute of Chemistry representative on the Federation of Chemical Societies for nearly 15 years and served as Director of its Asian Chemical Education Network for 4 years. He has also used his sabbatical leave entitlements to serve as a Leverhulme Commonwealth Fellow at UMIST, Manchester in 1977/78, as Visiting Professor of Chemistry in the University of Papua New Guinea in 1987 and as Visiting Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Colombo in 1992.

While he has carried out numerous ad-hoc national assignments pertaining to science policy, educational publications, Advanced Level Examinations etc and has been Controlling Chief in Chemistry at the GCE(A/L) examination for 4 years his non-involvement in partisan politics has presumably prevented him from been even considered for appointment by Ministers to serve on the Management bodies of any state institution; it is however interesting to note that there have been two occasions on which he has served at a national level but that has been a direct result of non-political recommendations: firstly, when he was the SLAAS nominee for 4 years on the Board of Management of the National Science Foundation; secondly, he was recommended by the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon to the first Constitutional Council in 2002 as a suitable appointee for the first-ever independent Commissions. Accordingly, the non-political Constitutional Council appointed Oleap to the Public Service Commission for 3 years; the very nature & structure of this appointment is valued very highly by Oleap! It would be far too numerous to list all the other appointments which Oleap has held in various spheres; suffice it to mention in conclusion, a few in the Church scenario: Oleap became a Church Warden at Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa at the age of 29 years; he represented his Church at the Diocesan Council for about 20 years during which time he also served on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colombo. He represented the Church of Ceylon at the seventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada in 1983. He was a nominee of the Bishop of Colombo on the Board of Governors of St.Thomas' College for almost two decades and was the Board Treasurer as well as Board Secretary. He was also the Manager of St. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela for almost a decade.

Finally, may I conclude that I have had the great pleasure of having Oleap as my husband for nearly 35 years and I greatly value his consistent remark that he would not have been able to do what he has done or achieve what he has during his professional, life if not for my help, assistance and toleration!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mr P L Weerasooriya and family

- By O. M. Weerasooriya

When the family magazine ‘Sooriya Katha’ was published last year there was no mention about my father – late Mr Peter Lionel Weerasooriya (affectionately addressed by many as Peter uncle). Some close friends including a few family members queried and asked me the reason for this omission. I believe, I am partly responsible for this as I failed to provide the necessary information about my family in time when requested by members who were editing the magazine. Some even raised doubt as to whether we actually belong to the ‘Dodanduwa Weerasooriya family’

I must confess that I do not know very much about my father’s early years as I spent most of my early years as a boarder at St. Aloysius’ College, Galle till I entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1957. The only thing I was aware is that he was very happy to see me entering the university which I assume was one his silent wishes. Unfortunately he died in 1958 after a hernia operation from which he never recovered fully, partly due to lack of proper aftercare combined with stress and worries created as a result of financial problems existed at that particular period.

I did manage to gather some information about my father’s past from my mother, but unfortunately, she also died in 2000 just as I was about to retire from Government service as the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue.

My father was born in 1896 and belonged to a fairly wealthy family. He joined St. Aloysius College,Galle on 19-9-1903 for his early education as the 463rd student after his pre-school education at Sacred Heart Convent, Galle. During his school days, he has been a very active member of various extracurricular activities.

He became the Secretary of the General Literary Association in 1916 and was a member the School’s Cadet Corps. He even played soccer for the school team and was very proud to see me play soccer for the same school in 1956, almost 40 years later.

He left College in 1917 and had a brief spell as a teacher at St. Servatius’ College, Matara. He continued his studies and passed the Cambridge Senior and ‘First in Law’, in keeping up with his family tradition in legal profession as his father Theodore Weerasooriya was a Proctor. My father managed to trace the ‘Weerasooriya Family Tree’ up to 1938 and produced a manuscript detailing the ancestry of his family. I am very glad to mention that I still have this manuscript detailing the of his family history including the highly cherished ‘parker pen’ my father used for his beautiful hand writing. According to this document my father is the great great son of Magiris de Silva Weerasooriya Patabandy and grandson of Don Haramanis Weerasooriya and the youngest son of above named Theodore Weerasooriya.

Regretfully, my father did not pursue his Law studies due to some strange and selfish belief that the lawyers always had to be economical with the truth and rather not entirely honest when they defend clients in legal work.

My father was a scholar in Latin, Mathematics, French and English, and was fluent specially in French and always made communications with reverend fathers in French. I can well remember that my father never missed a single weekend to see me at St Aloysius College hostel and gave me tuition in all above subjects. He would always be willing to help and assist anybody who needs help in learning those above subjects. Some of my father’s notable tuition pupils in Mathematics include my uncle, late Mr Sam de Silva- Chartered Accountant , ( father of Aravinda de Silva who needs no introduction in ’cricketing world’) and Dr David Weerasooriya (son of Mr Harry Weerasooriya) who is at present living in Australia. He was also a clever bridge player and had regular playing sessions with friends.

In early years after his marriage, he devoted his spare time writing a book ’Latin for Beginners’ . Even though my father completed the full version of the book, he was unable to publish it as Latin became a superfluous and a dead language as it was not included in school syllabuses .

Even after leaving , he kept close contact with the college establishment and kept a keen interest in its general progress. According to the magazine he made generous contributions and regularly donated several prizes to St Aloysius College prize giving. It has been recorded that in 1936, he even contributed to the general School Playground fund. According to the ’Aloysian’- the annual magazine published by the St Aloysius College, Galle, my father was enrolled as the 1st life member of the St Aloysius Old Boys Association immediately after it was formed in 1924. When Rev Fr Delaney made and urgent appeal and requested every old boy at that time to enrol as ’life members’, it appears that it was only my father who responded immediately. Rev Fr Delaney was so appreciative of my father’s response and wrote in the magazine praising my father’s devoted in faith in College as follows:-

“………….. As far as I am told the applications for membership has been very poor. There is only one life member from ‘California Estate’ in the name of Mr. P L Weerasooriya. How he wished that he were an American millionaire from California itself ; He could then pay for every Old Boy and make all of them life members. However we thank him for his good example he has set and hope all that tea, rubber and plumbago kings will come out of their seclusion and emulate this young old boy’s example ………”

According to the Magazine in1917, my father became the Manager of the now famous Piyaratana Maha Vidyalaya in Dodanduwa . As explained in the last edition of “ Sooriyakatha “ this local school is recorded as the first Sinhala Buddhist School in Sri Lanka established and founded in 1896, pioneered by Ven Dodanduwe Piyaratana Thero. As we all know, Ven Piyaratana is the younger brother of Mr. David Weerasooriya who are all illustrious and well known members of the “ Weerasooriya Clan “. As I understand, when the school had no funds available to pay teachers salaries at times , my father has very generously paid them from his own money including free school books for the children. As a mark of respect to his unselfish commitment to this local educational establishment, the school closed for a few hours on the day of his funeral.

My father was very eccentric in certain ways and habits and was a teetotaller and never smoked. He used to buy his soap bars for washing (sunlight) and keep them for months for ‘conditioning’ as he believed that ‘hard’ soap would last longer. He would never bother a ‘bus conductor ‘ or any ‘ ticket collector’ during his travels as he always had the exact fare in hand. At home, my two sister were strictly disciplined not to leave any needles or pins on tables or would never let them sew at night. One of the noblest deeds he carried out during his life was to look after his beloved mother and his niece ( his sister’s daughter ) Kusuma Akka who was a toddler at the time. Kusuma Akka later married Mr Wilson Silva - the parents of Chitta ,late Sunil and Dr Demantha. My father was so unselfishly devoted to his mother that he never contemplated marriage until the death of his mother. In 1940, after the death of his mother my father married my mother Jayawathie who was only 19 years old at the time. It has been rumoured in family circles that my father has made a promise to marry the first lady who sits on his bed and this still remain a mystery to all of us whether this had any relevance or significance to his ultimate marriage.

At the time of his marriage, my father had a fair amount of money at his disposal and property including California Estate at Dodanduwa and also the proud owner of a car driven by a chauffeur. My father continued living his comfortable life at Patuwatha, Dodanduwa after his marriage even though the house was owned by Mr Harry Weerasooriya. (always addressed him as Harry uncle ).Mr Harry Weerasooriya was the father of David ,Monica, Annette, and Frank. During his tenure at this house ,it is believed that the house was offered for purchase by the above owner but why he refused this offer still remains a mystery to all of us. At present this house at Patuwatha is occupied by one of Frank Weerasooriya’s sons.

During late 1940, he gradually found that everyday life was getting a little bit difficult due to his dwindling resources and had no alternative but to sell his main asset ‘California Estate’ to boost his finances . His partnership in plumbago business with his father-in law Mr P U de Silva also appeared to have been a dismal failure.

In around 1946/47 ,with very little money left my father moved to Colombo with his young family to start a new business venture with one Mr Panaluwa. As far as I can remember we lived in Campbell Place and I attended Wesley College for a short period. As the house was owned by Mr Panaluwa my father paid rent but for some strange reason he let the owner live in the same house as a guest. I am still not sure what the business partnership involved but this venture also failed miserably.

With no money left and self esteem shaken, my father had no alternative but to bring the family back home to Tiranagama and occupy a house given as a gift by his father-in-law. Even at this vulnerable and helpless situation my father was so adamant and stubborn not to accept the house as his dowry. Eventually with no hesitation or regret he changed the deeds and transferred the ownership to his brother-in-law, Mr Lynton de Silva.

With no income to depend on, day to day living for my father became a nightmare. My father started worrying and became rather concerned about the welfare of the family and had no choice but to seek financial help from a few selected friends and trusted relatives. One of the worst humiliation he had to endure during his entire life must have been the let down by some friends and relative who ignored his desperate call for help . Regretfully, they were the very people who received and accepted favours from my father during his better days. When people of similar age were retiring and drawing up their pensions , my father started applying for jobs. He managed to find a temporary clerical job at Galle Municipal Council and later worked as an accountant’s assistant at Indian Walker Estate, Udugama. While he was there, the owner Mr Gunasekara, who appreciated his hard work seemed to have helped my father immensely. Even though penniless, my father managed to keep his dignity and lead a honest and disciplined life. When he sold his California Estate at Dodanduwa , the new owner has requested my father to remove any produce that was ready to be harvested. He has flatly refused to accept anything saying that any crop belong to the new owner immediately after the sale. One of his close associates named ‘ Edwin Aiya’ from the adjoining village Pinkanda told me, that on one occasion my father very angrily refused to take back some money loaned to him because he failed to repay the money on the agreed day.

In fact ,after his death I found that he has kept most of the relevant letters and documents connected with his past business and financial affairs and expected them to published at a later date when he once again become wealthy. I expected some of these documents to be very controversial and critical of some people who obviously had business and financial affairs including those who ignored him in his time of need. I took the liberty to destroy these documents without any hesitation to avoid further embarrassment and resentment among those involved.

In a funny way , he always lived in a dream world hoping that he would one day, once again become rich and revert back to his past comfortable life. My father always made sure that he bought a Gymkhana Sweep ticket for Rs 2/ and used to fill the ‘ nom de plume’ column with words ‘sure to win’. He believed in ’Wigi-board’ and ‘tumbler talking’ game and rather foolishly expected the ’mysterious spirits’ to forecast his dream future.

During these difficult times, my father’s long established connection and association with St Aloysius College helped my school career immensely. He wrote to Reverend fathers Chiriatti and Perniola explaining his financial hardships relating to my school education. With no hesitation what so ever, they promised help and admitted me immediately to the college hostel offering me a scholarship funded by the Old Boys Association even though I was a Buddhist studying in a catholic school. I am ever so grateful to Reverend Jesuit Fathers and Father Morell for giving me all the asistance and moral support during my stay at school, including my first new pair of football boots when I was a under 17 soccer player. When I entered the University the school very kindly generously awarded me the Rajapakse Scholarship for 4 full years so that I could continue my university studies without worrying about financial problems.

In a rather strange way, my two sisters Pearl and Queenie who were attending the Hikkaduwa Central School at the time, boosted our family budget immensely by receiving Rs 40/ and Rs 20/ monthly, after winning government scholarships. During our hard times my father depended heavily on a very understanding and sympathetic village shop keeper called ’Ralahami’ who allowed us to buy everything available on unlimited credit for years trusting that someday my father will settle the account. Unfortunately my father did not survive that long to keep his promise but we did settle the full amount due, as soon as we could even though a few years late.

Even though my father, sadly did not live long enough to see our progress, my mother Jayawathie, through her sheer courage and determination kept the family going through the most difficult period of our lives. At least she lived long enough see all her children doing rather well and establish themselves in society .

I retired as the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue after serving the department for 37 years. My eldest son Nishan , ( a Chartered Institute of Management accountant and a Computer Engineer) is a very proud father of triplets and is employed by DFCC. Other son Thushan , ( Chartered Accountant) is married and have two daughters and is the Group Accountant at Pership.

My sister Pearl graduated in Economics at the University of Ceylon, Peradenia and began working as a teacher for a short period in Sri Lanka. After marrying Mr Justin Pinnaduwa - ( a Chartered Civil and Municipal engineer ),they emigrated to U K and continued her career as a teacher for another 36 years. Her elder daughter Priyanthi read a Mathematic degree at Oxford University and obtained a MA in Personal Management and is at present working as the Manager-Human Resources at a pharmaceutical firm in Cambridge. Her son ,after obtaining a science degree in Computer Technology from University of Manchester is employed by Exon-Mobile as the ’Human Resources Manager -Europe’. My younger sister entered the Vidyodaya University but decided not to continue her university studies and went back to her job at Telecom. She later married Mr Harris Jayasuriya who was a police inspector at the time. My brother Donald has a Diploma in mechanical engineering from Katubadda Technical College and is presently working at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Germany. He married Hildegrad from Germany and have two sons Sascha and Nico. Sascha, after getting a degree in Mechanical Engineering is continuing his studies for a Masters in International Engineering and Nico is continuing his studies to obtain a Diploma in Electrical Engineering.