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Sunday, 30 January 2011





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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.

According 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 of midnight.

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 place.

People from all walks of life, ethnicities and religions banded together as people of one nation to carry out the long struggle to free our motherland.

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 you.

Learn all you can about the events that led up to Independence in our country and celebrate the day with great pride and joy.



Foreign rule

* 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 150 years.

* 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 did

* Sir Frederick North launched an attack against the king of Kandy in 1803.

The Postal Department and Survey Department were established during North's regime.

* 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 40 days.

* 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 - Kahalla Vihara.

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 Queen's House.

* The lion flag was unfurled alongside the Union Jack at the F.R. Senanayaka Memorial.

Governor-General Sir Henry Moor's and first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake's messages to the nation were broadcast.

LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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