Darling we aren't too old, though we pass the Jubilee
The secret of a happy marriage:
The camp at Manawa was the very second youth camp held in the history
of Sri Lanka in the recent past. The young simple tiny man who founded
this whole movement, finally decided to have a rest on a mat unfolded at
a weaving centre near by.
Neetha and A. T. Ariyaratne
Pix: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe.
He and his group of well wishers had just finished the first day
chores of Shramadana. Many thought social service was the only forte and
hope was kindling inside him.
However though many weren't alert, this young man too was in the
quest of finding a partner for himself. But that was also not merely to
look after himself, but also to fit with him as a mate to shoulder the
social revolution he was envisioning. That night the young man had a
dream. He saw a well dressed elderly lady coming along with the two
girls. He apparently took the hand of the younger girl and flew away
like a bird.
The following morning he related what he saw in the previous night to
his counterparts, and declared he was waiting for his future partner.
His friends who assumed the young leader to be a joker took all what he
said as a joke, and just wished 'good luck'. But the young man was
waiting for her. It was the day that he was going to pull the strings
for the nuptial knot. His eyes were set on every vehicle that entered
At about 8.30 a.m. a lady in a Kandyan Osari got off from a car and
walked towards the office with two girls. The pretty looking younger
girl! Yes, she would be his future bride. A hand of some unseen force of
destiny was putting things in a certain way, he felt...
Our dear readers would at once know whose love story we are going to
reveal this time; Ari and Neetha, the Sarvodaya couple.
Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne was born on November 5 in 1931 at
Unawatuna to a businessman and landed proprietor Hendrick Jinadasa and
Roslin Gajadeera. Ari was the third of their family of two elder
sisters, one younger brother and two younger sisters.
Their house was adjoining the famous Peellagoda temple where little
Ari had the best education in Buddhist doctrine.
After having the pre-education at the Unawatuna Buddhist Mix School,
Meddakanda Buddhist Mix School and Buona Vista College, Unawatuna he
entered to Mahinda College, Galle for his upper education.
Unawatuna was a poor fishing village at that time. The main
occupation other than the fishing in this village was the coir industry.
The women earned a living by going through a long and hectic procedure
of making coir ropes. But the middle buyers were exploiting them and a
very low income was earned by the poor.
Ari who was 15 or 16, was a clever organiser. The fever and the
spirit to work for the depressed and the poor seemed to have been in him
since he was in his mother's womb. Ari got together with some of his
village friends and opened up a coir centre on a small land in the
village so that people can sell their products and get a better income.
Not merely that young Ari's mere love and hobby was social service
work. His village benefitted in many ways through his forte.. He entered
the Teachers' Training College, Maharagama and there too he formed a
social service league. His first and through out appointment as a
science teacher was at Nalanda College.
School boys of Nalanda was the first batch to join hands with him in
launching the ever biggest movement in Sri Lanka.
Ari, the young man who had the fever of helping the poor, the under
privileged, destitute harassed and marginalised people heard from the
dove who flew down from India about the land gift movement of Vinoba, a
disciple of Mahathma Gandhi who lead a Shanthi Sena (Peace Army) across
the terrain of India appealing land from the rich to donate the poor in
Ari who was inspired by this movement, and Mahathma Gandhi's 'Sarvam
Udayam' concept decided to introduce a similar concept to Sri Lanka as
well. Ari paid a few visits to India and no sooner brought the novel
notion to the country.
'Sarvam-Udayam'; all awakening or welfare of all; was the inspiring
slogan of Mahathma Gandhi, a tiny Indian man with an ability of a giant.
'Sarvodaya'; respect for all lives; was the different interpretation
of Mahathma's motto moulded into his slogan by the tiny Sri Lankan man.
Socially backward and harassed villagers that of like down caste 'Rodiya'
people and tribal clans like 'Vedda' people were the main aims of
development of Ari's Sarvodaya.
A clean and beautiful environment with clean and adequate supply of
drinking water, basic clothing, a balanced diet, a simple house to live
in with basic healthcare including toilet facilities, simple
communication facilities and energy requirements, well-rounded education
with cultural and spiritual sustenance were the basic human requirements
Sarvodaya had identified. While the things were cleverly organised in
this way, the movement was given a huge publicity by the newspapers.
Neetha Dhammachari Alpitiarachchi was born on June 16 in 1942 to
Hemapala Alpitiarachchi, owner of Studio Chitra at Kuliyapitiya and a
landed proprietor, and Jane Ratnayaka. All in her family were girls. And
Neetha was the second.
She had her primary education at Kuliyapitiya Primary School,
Maliyadewa College, Kurunegala and then at Musaeus College, Colombo. "I
was preparing to sit for the Senior School Certificate when we heard
about the Sarvodaya Movement.
It was featured in all the papers. I was a girl guide and always had
the wish to help others. When I read about the campaign some kind of
burning desire to get involved in this began to rise in me. As girl
guides we had helped many places like Lady Ridgeway Children's
Hospital," reminisces Neetha.
"Mrs. Tennakoon, Chairman of the Urban Council of Kuliyapitiya was
our neighbour. A lot of wishers had also decided to join the Nalanda
Sarvodaya camp held at Manawa. When I heard she was also going there I
somehow got permission from my parents to join her along with my elder
sister. And that was how I first met him," she smiles.
Neetha who was in her sweet sixteen was a beauty. But beyond her
pleasant appearance a deep intelligent, exorbitant cleverness and kind
compassionate in her would entice anybody whoever who encountered her.
She was one of the brightest girls Musaeus has ever produced. She even
got the Peter de Aabrew Scholarship at school. Her parents wanted her to
excel in studies and to do medicine. And it was her aim as well until
she heard about Sarvodaya.
Ari had a few minutes to chat with her when he was escorting the
three ladies (Mrs. Tennakoon, Neetha and Neetha's elder sister who came
to the camp making Ari's dream come true) around the camp. He was taking
the longest path around it so that he would have more time with her.
Neetha, the sweet sixteen who didn't know about Ari's 'dream' was highly
enthusiastic to talk with the simple 'hero' whose figure had already
inculcated in her mind as a giant.
After taking part in Shramadana the group drove away. And Neetha and
them also set off for home. Ari also got into his friend's car and
followed them. He first paid a visit at Tennakoon Walawwa and then
appeared at Neetha's doorstep.
Mr. Hemapala Alpitiarachchi, Neetha's father was so excited to see
Ari there. After introducing and greeting Mr. Hemapala, Ari declared his
proposal for Neetha to her father. "Mahathmaya, I am in a hurry.
So I would tell you why I am here. I have no regard for caste,
racial, religious or political differences. What I want is a partner who
would sacrifice her life for the causes I have in mind and help me to
I feel that your daughter Neetha will fill the gap. I have not asked
her. If you agree please let me know later," he said. Mr. Hemapala stood
there like a figure hewn out of granite. When Ari was getting into the
car the two girls (Neetha and her elder sister) came running to him to
Ari pulled two magazines from the back seat of the car and gave them
to the girls. The magazine 'Kurukshetra' was given to Neetha's sister
and 'Link' was given to Neetha. It just happened. But Ari was thinking
of how an unseen force was behind him and guiding him in many ways. He
gave 'Link' to Neetha.....
Ari didn't get a word of 'okay', but next evening, the campers were
invited for tea at Kuliyapitiya at Mr. Hemapala's house. It was
unexpected, but was a good sign of positiveness.
However it was not a secret that Neetha was showering some especial
attention for Ari. He became more close to the family and Ari was asked
to give some extra help to Neetha for certain lessons for her SSC exam.
So under especial permission granted on the request made by Mr. Hemapala,
Ari started visiting Neetha at Musaeus College for 'tuition' for few
hours once a week.
Their friendship grew by leaps and bounds. Ari was the 'driver' for
Neetha's family when they were going on pilgrimages. He used all this
time to get close to Neetha, during the next few months they were able
to get to know about them well.
Ari fell ill, and when it was diagnosed as chicken pox he was
immediately driven to his Unawatuna home. And it was Mr. Hemapala who
took him there. During his stay on the sick bed, the tiny man of
Sarvodaya had a little space of time to pour his flourishing love
thoughts out on a piece of paper.
By this time, Neetha's father was quite enticed by Ari. However, the
Sarvodaya man knew that his to-be-mother-in-law was not in that much in
favour of him. Mrs. Hemapala's wish was to see her ever bright and
clever daughter to become a doctor.
Neetha was in her Advance Level classes at school. She was
eighteen.In the midst of the oppression of Neetha's mother Ari somehow
persuaded Neetha and her father to register their marriage and to take
the wedding function later. He got his Punchi Akka to sew all the
dresses for his bride.
"I want the most simple wedding in the world," was the only few words
he told both family members about it. On July 25, 1960 Ari went to
Nalanda as usual, and conducted his classes. By 1.30 p.m. he came back
to his Maradana annexe which was popularly known as 'Delgaha yata gedara'
(the house under the breadfruit tree).
The house was colour washed by his younger brother and the house
owners to welcome his bride.
The simple giant of Sarvodaya Ari and sweet Neetha tied their knot at
the Registrar's Office at YMBA, Borella. M. W. Karunanada, Principal of
Nalanda College and D. C. Katugampola, Chairman, Milk Board were their
attesting witnesses. Still other than the two family members and very
close friends no one knew they were tying the nuptial knot.
From the YMBA they straightaway went to Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya,
and got blessings from Ven. Narada Maha Thera and Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha
Mahanayaka Thera. After a 'Pinkama' and chanting of Pirith Madihe Thera
gave the newly married couple fine advice.
"When two people live together, it is natural to get angry. But only
one party should get angry at a time. Then the other party should be
patient," The other advice was: "If your eyes and ears tell that your
husband or wife is behaving suspiciously do not believe your eyes and
ears, but believe him or her. And that was the implicit trust in each
other," advised the Thera which was followed to the letter by Neetha up
"I have violated these pieces of advice, but Neetha has not given up
on me. Alert to my flaws yet tolerating them, she directed me always on
the right path without using a single aggressive word.
She is really a great example to women who transform their families
here on earth," said Ari in 'Bhava Thanha', his autobiography (page 196
- Volume 1). Their love bonded with their movement, 'Sarvodaya' as they
They didn't have a special honeymoon as from the day of their
registration they were together going from camp to camp, helping and
looking after the welfare of the depressed, poor and destitute citizens
of this country. Sarvodaya is one of the shower of blessings that has
fallen into this country. Facing the unending jealousy, life threats and
obstacles Ari and Neetha have sailed this ship of compassion for the
past four decades.
It's a miracle! Just a miracle!
Today, even in their old age the loving couple hardly have any time
for themselves. Every moment is spent for the welfare of others. Under
the umbrella of the main body, Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana
Sangamaya there are several legally independent units that are being
conducted. Sarvodaya Suwasetha looks after the welfare of orphan
children, teenage mothers, disabled, destitute, old people in their
branches all over the island.
And this bunch of branches were under the eagle eye supervision of
Neetha. She is the mother and grandmother of all the girls, women and
children under 'Suwasetha'. It's heart aching to view how they get
around her and cling on to her whenever she steps into their centres as
'Neetha' is the only 'Mother' in their world of salvation.
The work rendered by the Sarvodaya cannot be completed scripting down
in a limited space of a newspaper like this. Whoever loves to know more
about this great couple and their Sarvodaya movement have access to them
at their headquarters at Rawatawatta, Moratuwa.
A. T. Ariyaratne, the Sarvodaya man has been honoured by many awards
and titles locally and internationally. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts
(B.A.) degree in Economics and then the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from
the Vidyodaya University (presently known as Sri Jayawardanapura).
Doctor of Humanities (D.H.) degree was conferred by Emilio Aguinaldo
College, Philippines, and many other peace awards until last year. But
still I (the writer) personally feel that Neetha, the driving force of
the whole movement and the God Mother of everybody should have been
felicitated much more and better.
"No, No, child, I do these things for the benefit of the people which
would indirectly help me when travelling in Samsara and also assist me
one day to attain Nibbana. I have no craving for worldly gains," she
says. "Nor do I," joins Ari with a broad smile.
The two love peace and meditation. They built the Vishra Nikethan
Global Peace Meditation Centre in 1999 to seek both national and global
awakening conducive to peace, harmony and spiritual growth. It also
hosts a peace library and museum along with the archives of the
There is a lot more to write about them. But it would be unending.
The memories of their unattached and compassionate excellent service
rendered to the world would live forever until this earth prevails.