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58th Independence Day celebrations

Looking back...

Sri Lanka will celebrate 58 years as a free nation this Saturday. The island gained independence on February 4, 1948 after being under foreign rule for about 450 years.

The wealth of our country attracted the colonial powers of Europe; colonial rule started in Ceylon with the arrival of the first Portuguese fleet headed by Lorenco d' Almeida in 1505.

The Dutch outsmarted the Portuguese in 1656, when they captured Colombo after a six-month siege. The kingdom in Kandy continued to be independent. Although both colonial powers tried on many occasions to capture the city, it continued to evade them due to a combination of mountain landscape and tropical climate. Although the Portuguese and the Dutch failed to capture the whole country, the British, who arrived in the country in 1795, succeeded them on February 18, 1815, ending 2,357 years of local rule.

In 1818, a unified administration for the island was set up. The first British Governor appointed to Ceylon was Frederick North (later Earl of Guildford).He displaced Brigadier-General Pierre Frederic de Meuron, who was the military governor at the time. The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Wickrema Rajasingha, was taken prisoner and was deported to Vellore, South India, where he died in 1832. Ceylon continued to be a colony of the British Empire until independence was finally granted on the Wednesday of February 4 in 1948.

Independence however, wasn't handed over to us on a platter. Ceylonese of every race and religion had to fight hard for this freedom. One of the very earliest struggles against the colonial powers was the 1818 Uva-Wellassa rebellion.

This was crushed by the British Governor Brownrigg, who was afterwards recalled to Britain. Keppetipola, Monarawila was beheaded as a result of this rebellion. Another rebellion took place in Kandy in 1848, where its leaders Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda were captured and shot.

Some of the more modern leaders in the struggle for independence were, D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake, D.B. Jayatilleke, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, T.B. Jayah, Razik Fareed and D.R. Wijewardene. People such as Anagarika Dharmapala and Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera awakened the locals against colonialism and were supported in their actions by others like Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera.


Events leading up to Independence

1931 - Elections held for the State Council, through universal franchise - June 13-20.

1943 - The grant to Ceylon of full responsible government under the Crown, in all matters of internal civil adminstration, is stated in a message from His Majesty's Government to the Board of Ministers, to be the end to which the post-war re-examination of the reform of Ceylon's Constitution will be directed. The Speaker reads the message to the State Council - May 26.

1944 - Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, new Governor of Ceylon and Lady Monck-Mason Moore arrive - December 4.

Reforms Commissioner Lord Soulbury, Chairman and other members arrive in Ceylon - December 22.

1945 - Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton relinquishes the post of Commander-in-Chief of Ceylon - January 8.

Dominion Status Bill passed in Parliament - March.

1947 - After the Soulbury Commissioners complete their report, Sri Lanka's Independence Act of 1947 is passed in the House of Commons in England.

The first Parliamentary elections in Ceylon begins on August 15 and ends on September 20. D.S. Senanayake is invited to form a Cabinet.

The inaugural meeting of Parliament taken place - November 25.

D.S.Senanayake delivers the Convocation Address at the University of Ceylon - October 17.

First meeting of the Second Chamber and election of President and Deputy President - December 1.

Independence Motion is passed in the House of Representatives by 59 to 11 votes - December 3.

1948 - Formal announcement that February 4 would be "Appointed Day" under the Ceylon Independence Act.

Ceylon's new Governor-General Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore G.C.M.G. sworn in at a solemn ceremony at Queen's House, Colombo - February 4.

Pageantry marks the colourful opening of Parliament in the Assembly Hall in Torrington Square - February 10.

Ceremonial hoisting of the Lion Flag over the Paththirippuwa (octagon) of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy - February 11.

Courtesy: Ferguson's Directory


Father of the Nation

* Don Stephen Senanayake was the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

* He was born on October 20, 1884 in Botale, Meerigama, the youngest in the family, with an elder sister and three brothers. F.R. Senanayake was his second, elder brother.

* D.S. studied at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.

* He entered public life by identifying himself with the Temperance Movement, which wasn't held in favour by the British government.

* Elections for the first government of independent Ceylon were held in 1947. After independence, D.S. Senanayake took office as the country's first Prime Minister.

* He was responsible for building many tanks for agriculture and also contributed to the promotion of national literature.

* He died in an accident in 1952, and was succeeded as Prime Minister by his son, Dudley Senanayake.


Those who led the struggle

D.S. Senanayake

F.R. Senanayake

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

Anagarika Dharmapala

Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera

Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Arthur V. Dias

D.B. Jayatilleke

Ponnambalam Arunachalam

Ponnambalam Ramanathan

G.G. Ponnambalam

D.R. Wijewardene

E.W. Perera

James Pieris

Alhaj Dr T.B. Jayah

W.A. De Silva

Razik Fareed

Colvin R. De Silva

Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy


The first day of freedom

After more than half a century since gaining independence, the nation usually wakes up to face February 4 like any other day. Nowadays, it is ushered in silently and quietly, without much fanfare except for the pageantry organised by the State.

One does not experience a sense of elation, or see excitement or joy on the faces of the people on this day, which is a significant national day. But, just imagine how the people of our land would have felt on February 4, way back in 1948; the great day of freedom, the day of victory for our little nation, which was under foreign rule for more than four centuries.

Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke arriving for the parade of the Armed Forces at Galle Face Green during post Independence celebration.

Nothing anyone of us, yes, even the most patriotic among us, feel on an independence day nowadays, can ever be compared to what the people of that era would have felt on this great day which was referred to as the 'Appointed Day' under the Independence Act.

According to newspaper reports, the first day of freedom which was declared a public holiday was ushered in with much pomp and pageantry, with islandwide celebrations continuing till the opening of the Dominion Parliament on February 10.

Celebrations at Galle Face Green in yesteryears.

People had been anxiously watching the clock tick by, on the night of February 3, the way some of us do on New Year's eve or Christmas eve; and at the stroke of midnight, the silence of the night had been shattered by the thunderous sound of bursting crackers and the peeling of temple and church bells to welcome independence.

 Page 1 of the CDN of February 4, 1948

A day of revelry had dawned with islandwide ceremonies. Thousands of people had flocked into Colombo, which had been 'robed in a mantle of splendour', to celebrate this historic event and also view the parades, gaily decorated streets and illuminated buildings. It had led to a major traffic jam in the city.

The Senate building, floodlit in red, white and green, the Fort Clock Tower, Queen's House, Temple Trees, Galle Face Green and the Harbour, where a water pageant had been organised (at 7.45 p.m.) by the Colombo Port Commission had been the centres of attraction on this day. As is customary, various religious ceremonies and planting of trees too had been a prominent aspect of celebrations.

Mounted police in procession at Independence Day celebration.

H. R. H., the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester represented the king of England at the first Independence Day ceremony. His arrival in the island was heralded by a 21 gun salute at Galle Face Green.

The boom of salutary guns, at 7.45 a.m. on the 'Appointed Day', Wednesday, February 4, 1948, had emphasised the constitutional aspect of the country's new status...the Dominion of Ceylon.

After 15 minutes, when the guns fell silent, Henry Monck-Mason Moore had taken Oaths as the Governor-General of the New Dominion, at the ballroom of the Queen's House, in a simple but dignified ceremony, in the presence of his Cabinet, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the British Commonwealth Relations Office, Sir John Howard. The Chief Justice had administered the Oaths.

School children participating at recent celebrations.


The lion flag which had been unfurled when the foreigners invaded our motherland, had once again fluttered freely, this time alongside the Union Jack, at the F. R. Senanayake Memorial, and many other places.

A pageant to pay homage to the son of Lanka had also been organised.The all important messages from the Governor-General Sir Henry Moore, and the first Prime Minister of Dominion Ceylon, D. S. Senanayake, stressing the right use of freedom for the good of the common man, had been broadcast.

In his message, the Prime Minister appealed to his countrymen to rise to the opportunity which freedom offered, and "strive and toil willingly to advance the happiness of our people and for the establishment of a greater Lanka".

We should all take his appeal to heart, especially today as we prepare to usher in yet another Independence Day, in a few more days. We certainly need to establish a greater Lanka!


Marching forward...

We have witnessed many Independence Day celebrations over the years, at different venues, comprising march pasts and a display of strength by our valiant forces, parades of people, and eye-catching floats, traditional dances, some of which are performed by school children, and of course, the customary 21 gun-salute and unfurling of the national flag, among many other spectacular events.

Some of the popular venues for these national celebrations have been the Galle Face Green, the Independence Square and the Parliament grounds.

This year too, the Independence Day celebrations will be held on a high note, with various events organised islandwide to mark this day.

The state ceremony will be held under the auspices of the Executive President, Mahinda Rajapakse, with the usual pomp and pageantry that we witness on this special day, which commemorates the day Mother Lanka ceased to be a British colony, and joined the ranks of other free nations within the British Commonwealth.


Post independence fact file

1949 - British Parliamentary delegation arrive to present the Speaker's Chair and Mace to the House of Representatives - January 3.

Four outstanding athletes from the four communities completed the last lap of the relay at the Independence Square on Independence Day celebrations with messages from Point Pedro, Dondra, Batticaloa and Colombo.

The Governor-General Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore leaves the island after a ceremonial farewell - June 29.

Sir Arthur Wijeyewardene, Chief Justice, sworn in as first Ceylonese Acting Governor-General - June 30.

Lord Soulbury, the new Governor-General arrives and a Swearing-in Ceremony takes place at the Queen's House - July 27.

1950 - D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister made a Privy Councillor by the King - January 1.

1951 - Independence Day celebrations were modernised.

1952 - Celebrations were held on a subdued scale due to the death of King George VI.

1954 - The last colonial Governor-General Viscount Soulbury left the island and the first local Governor-General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke took oaths - July 17.

Courtesy: Ferguson's Directory


Opening of the first Parliament of Dominion Ceylon

The ceremonial opening of the first Parliament of the Dominion of Ceylon was held at the Assembly Hall in Torrington Square on February 10, 1948. This was an occasion of great historical significance and was marked by colourful pageants.

The Duke of Gloucester reading the king’s address at the Assembly Hall of Torrington Square .

The opening was performed by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester (brother of king George VI) accompanied by the Duchess of Gloucester. The Duke and Duchess had arrived in Sri Lanka to represent the British monarch at the celebrations.

The Duke read the king's address at the opening of the Ceylon Dominion Parliament.


Past Governors, Governors-General, Prime Ministers and Presidents


The Hon. Frederick North, G.C.M.G.,(Afterwards Earl of Guildford) 1798-1805

Lieut-Gen. The Right Hon. Sir Thomas Maitland G.C.B., G.C.M.G. 1805-1811

General Sir Robert Brownrigg, Bart, G.C.B. 1812-1820

Lieut-Gen. The Hon. Sir Edward Paget, G.C.B. 1822-1823

Lieut-Gen. Sir Edward Barnes, G.C.B. 1824-1831

The Right Hon. Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton,Bart.,G.C.B. 1831-1837

The Right Hon. James Alexander Stewart Mackenzie 1837-1841

Lieut-Gen. Sir Colin Campbell, K.C.B. 1841-1847

The Right Hon. Viscount Torrington 1847-1850

Sir George William Anderson, K.C.B. 1850-1855

Sir Henry George Ward, G.C.M.G. 1855-1860

Sir Charles Justin MacCarthy, KT. 1860-1863

Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, G.C.M.G. 1865-1872

The Right Hon.Sir William Henry Gregory, K.C.M.G. 1872-1877

Sir James Robert Longden, G.C.M.G. 1877-1883

The Hon. Sir Arthur Gordon, G.C.M.G.(Afterwards Lord Stanmore) 1883-1890

Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock,G.C.M.G. G.C.I.E., G.C.S.I. 1890-1895

The Right Hon. Sir J. West Ridgeway,G.C.M.G., G.C.B., K.C.B.I 1895-1903

Sir Henry Arthur Blake, G.C.M.G. 1903-1907

Sir Henry Edward McCallum, G.C.M.G. 1907-1913

Sir Robert Chalmers, G.C.B.(Later Lord Chalmers) 1913-1916

Sir John Anderson, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. 1916-1918

Brigadier General Sir William Henry Manning,G.C.M.G., C.B., K.B.E.1918-1925

Sir Hugh Charles Clifford, G.C.M.G., O.B.E. 1925-1927

Sir Herbert James Stanley, G.C.M.G. 1927-1931

Sir Graeme Thomson, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. 1931-1933

Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs, G.C.M.G. 1933-1937

Sir Andrew Caldecott, G.C.M.G., C.B.E. 1937-1944

Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, G.C.M.G. 1944-1948


Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore, G.C.M.G. 1948-1949

The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Soulbury, G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., O.B.E., M.C. 1949-1954

Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, G.C.M.G., K.C.V.O. K.B.E., K.S.T.I. 1954-1962

William Gopallawa, M.B.E. 1962-1972

Prime Ministers

Rt. Hon. Don Stephen Senanayake 26th Sept.1947-22nd Mar.1952

Dudley Shelton Senanayake 26th Mar. 1952-12th Oct.1953

Rt. Hon. Sir John Kotalawela 12th Oct. 1953-11th Apr.1956

Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike 12th Apr. 1956-26th Sep.1959

Wijayananda Dahanayake 26th Sep. 1959-20th Mar.1960

Dudley Shelton Senanayake 20th Mar. 1960-21st Jul.1960

Mrs. Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike 21st July 1960-25th Mar.1965

Dudley Shelton Senanayake 25th Mar. 1965-27th May 1970

Mrs. Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike 27th May 1970-23rd Jul.1977

Junius Richard Jayewardene 23rd July 1977-3rd Feb. 1978

Ranasinghe Premadasa 6th Feb. 1978-1st Jan. 1989

D. B. Wijetunga 6th March 1989-28th Mar.1990

D. B. Wijetunga 30th March 1990-1st May 1993

Ranil Wickremesinghe 7th May 1993-16th Aug. 1994

Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 19th Aug. 1994-12th Nov.1994

Mrs. Sirimavo R.D.Bandaranaike 14th Nov. 1994-10th Aug. 2000

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake 10th Aug. 2000-9th Dec. 2001

Ranil Wickremesinghe 9th Dec. 2001-6th Apr. 2004

P.Mahinda Rajapakse 6th Apr. 2004-19th Nov. 2005

Ratnasiri Wickremanayake 21st Nov. 2005-to date

Presidents (under 1972 Constitution)

William Gopallawa 1972-1978

(Elected President under 1978 Constitution)

J. R. Jayewardene 4.2.1978-1983

J. R. Jayewardene 4.2.1983-2.1.1989

R. Premadasa 2.1.1989-1.5.1993

D. B. Wijetunga 1.5.1993-11.11.1994

Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 12.11.1994-2005

P.M. Rajapakse 19.11.2005

(six-year term)

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