The sentiments experienced by any one of us today during Independence
Day celebrations of our beloved motherland cannot be compared in any way
to those experienced by the people of our land 63 years ago. Having
being citizens of a free nation virtually our entire lives, most of us
can hardly imagine what joy they would have felt to be finally free from
hundreds of years of foreign rule.
to newspaper reports, the first day of freedom which was referred to as
the 'Appointed Day' under the Independence Act was ushered in with much
pomp and pageantry. Islandwide celebrations had been held on this day,
which had been declared a public holiday, and they had continued until
the opening of the first Dominion Parliament on February 10. People had
thronged the city of Colombo which was robed in a 'Mantle of splendour',
to witness the official ceremonies on this historic day.
Do you know that to them February 3 night had been just like New
Year's eve to us today? They had been anxiously counting the hours,
watching the clock tick by, for the eventful day to dawn at the stroke
And then, when it finally did, the still of the night had been
shattered with the thunderous sounds of crackers, pealing of bells in
temples and churches and the screams of jubilation from the people.
What a contrast from what we experience today when February 4 comes
around. To many of us it is just another day because we have not been
subject to foreign rule, and so many Independence Days have been
celebrated with State ceremonies and pageants.
Of course, unlike some countries, people of our land did not have to
go to war and kill each other to gain independence. The struggle for
freedom was comparatively devoid of bloodshed and violence, except in
the very early stages where the famous rebellions in 1818 and 1848 took
from all walks of life, ethnicities and religions banded together as
people of one nation to carry out the long struggle to free our
It is because of the blood, sweat and tears of all those who lived in
the pre-independent era that we are enjoying the fruits of freedom
today. Even though more than three score years have passed and we have
marched forward as a free nation, we must never forget what it was like
to sit back and watch our beloved motherland being ruled by foreigners.
Today we are up in arms even when foreign powers try to interfere in
our country's affairs.
So, when February 4 dawns in a couple of days, offer thanks to all
who struggled to free our country from the yoke of foreign rule, and
make a commitment to always protect the sovereignty of our
country.Freedom is something all living creatures, even animals would
die for. So, never be in haste to let that freedom be taken away from
Learn all you can about the events that led up to Independence in our
country and celebrate the day with great pride and joy.
* The Portuguese invaded our country in 1505.
* The first Portuguese fleet that arrived was led by Lorenzo de
Almeida. They ruled the coastal areas.
* The Dutch overthrew the Portuguese in 1658 after a six month seige.
* In 1796 the British drove away the Dutch and controlled the
maritime provinces for 19 years.
* It was only in 1815 that the British invaded the Kandyan kingdom,
ending 2,357 years of local rule.
* The last king of the Kandyan kingdom, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and
his family were taken prisoner and deported to Vellore, South India. The
King died in 1832.
* The British Imperial rule prevailed in the country for no less than
* Sir Frederick North who later became the Earl of Guildford was the
first British Governor of Ceylon (as the country was then known.) The
Dutch Governor Fun Engelbech signed an agreement to hand over the
administration of the maritime provinces to the British and Sir
Frederick North assumed duties in 1798.
Some British governors and what they
* Sir Frederick North launched an attack against the king of Kandy in
The Postal Department and Survey Department were established during
* Sir Thomas Maitland who assumed duties from 1805 introduced the
Jury system to Ceylon in 1810.
* Robert Brownrig became the Governor in 1812 and the Kandyan kingdom
fell under British rule during his regime.
Brownrig attacked Kandy in January 1815 and captured the king within
* On March 2, 1815 Brownrig signed an agreement with Sinhalese
officials bringing the Sinhala regime to an end.
* Governor Henry Ward (1855-1860) pioneered the railway system in the
country to provide proper transport to the cocoa, tea, coffee and
cinchona plantations started by the British. He also renovated
reservoirs in the Southern and Eastern parts of the country.
Govenor William Gregory (1872-1877) focused on developing irrigation
schemes in the North Central part of the country.
* Governor West Ridgeway established the irrigation Department in
1900. The Department of Agriculture was established in 1912.
Acts of rebellion
* Wariyapola Sumangala Thera, a true patriot of Sri Lanka was the
first to openly protest against foreign rule and he heads the list of
national heroes. On March 2, 1815 when the British flag was being
unfurled at the Audience Hall or the Magul Maduwa in Kandy, where the
convention was signed, the thera boldly pulled down the flag in protest.
* Keppetipola Monarawila Disawa who was sent to Wellassa by the
British to restore peace and order following riots which had erupted in
October 1817, joined the band of rebels, became their leader and
continued to riot with the aim of overthrowing the British.
When the insurrection ended in November 1818, nearly ten thousand
people had lost their lives. This is recorded as the first attempt to
regain our land. It was known as the Uva-Wellassa rebellion. Keppetipola
was beheaded and is a national hero today.
* In 1848 too - a century before we finally gained independence, an
attempt was made to overthrow the British regime.
This time the lead to rebel was given by a Bhikkhu named Kudahapola
Hamuduruwo (Kudahapola was a village near Kuliyapitiya in the North
Western or Wayamba Province). There were two others in the forefront -
Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda.
The uprising which originated in Matale spread to Kandy and
Kurunegala. Governor Lord Torrington imposed Martial Law in the area.
Puran Appu and Gongalegoda Banda were arrested and shot. Kudahapola
Hamuduruwo was tried by Court Martial and shot in the temple premises -
Others who struggled for freedom
D. S. Senanayake (who later became the first Prime Minister of
Independent Ceylon and is called the Father of the nation), F.R.
Senanayake, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Al Haj T.B.
Jayah, Razik Fareed, G.G. Ponnambalam, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, D.B.
Jayatilleke, Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera,
Anagarika Dharmapala, Arthur V. Dias, D.R. Wijewardene, E.W. Perera,
James Peiris, Colvin R. de Silva, Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy, W.A. Silva,
Sir Waithilingam Duraiswamy, Sri Amugu Navalar, C.Y. Thamotherampillai,
C.V. S. Aiyar, Swami Vipulananda, H. Perimpanayagam, S.J.V.
Chelvanayagam, M. Thiruchelvam, James T. Rutnam and C. Vanniasingham
among many others.
There are many who contributed in their own ways to the struggle,
even at the risk of their lives.
What's unique is how the people banded together irrespective of
caste, creed or religion to bring freedom to our motherland. They amply
proved the maxim that "United we stand, divided we fall" by their
actions. We fell as a nation because we were divided but rose to gain
independence because we were united in the struggle.
First Independence Day
* The boom of salutary guns at 7.45 am on February 4, 1948 announced
the new constitutional state of the country - Dominion of Ceylon.
* The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester represented the King of England
at the first Independence Day celebrations held at Galle Face Green.
* Henry Monk - Mason Moor took oaths as the first Governor General of
Dominion Ceylon on this day at a simple ceremony held at the ballroom of
* The lion flag was unfurled alongside the Union Jack at the F.R.
Governor-General Sir Henry Moor's and first Prime Minister D.S.
Senanayake's messages to the nation were broadcast.