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Sunday, 24 June 2012





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Dharmaraja College

125 years of service to the nation:

Founder of Dharmaraja
Colonel Henry Steele Olcott

Dharmaraja College, Kandy, one of Sri Lanka's premier Buddhist schools, turns 125 years on June 30. It was the first Kandy Buddhist School to be launched by the Buddhist Theosophical Society led by Sir Henry Steele Olcott on June 30 1887, fulfilling a need of the era for a Buddhist education system in the British colonial period. Since then Dharmaraja has produced notable alumni, including statesmen. It has produced erudite and patriotic sons who contributed in numerous ways to the progress of their motherland.

Billimoria building situated at Dalada Maligawa square

Dharmaraja College was named after the Buddha (King of Dhamma). Dharmaraja owes its existence to Colonel Henry Steele Olcott, philanthropist and the founder of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Olcott was an American born on August 2, 1832. His parents were English and had migrated to America. He was the eldest son of a family of six siblings. A Christian by birth, he came across a copy of the Panadura Controversy by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. Col. Olcott made an extensive study of Buddhism. He came to Ceylon on May 17, 1880 and at Vijayananda Pirivena, Weliwatte, Galle, Col. Olcott and Madam Blavatsky became Buddhists by accepting the Triple Gem and observing Panchaseela, from Ven. Akmeemana Dharmarama.He started branches of the Theosophical Society in Colombo, Kandy and Galle with the support of Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Ven. Walane Sri Siddhartha Thera and Ven. Ratmalane Dhammaloka Thera along with Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harishchandra and Sir D. B. Jayatilake.

Best solution

The Theosophists identified that a major factor for the decline of Sinhala Buddhists was the lack of proper education facilities, and the best solution was to make available educational facilities with a solid Buddhist religious background. In 1887 Colonel Olcott visited Kandy and expressed his wish to start an English medium Buddhist school. It was decided that the plot of land in front of Old Palace, adjoining the Natha Devalaya in Kandy town was the best for building the school. On Thursday, June 30, 1887, Dharmaraja College, under the name "Kandy Buddhist High School" was opened. Andiris de Silva was the first principal and the only teacher of the school at that time which had enrolled 12 students with the school's motto in Pali 'Attahi Attano Natho' , "oneself is the refuge for one", a quote from the Dhammapada.

In 1890, Sir D.B. Jayatilake was appointed as principal. The school had 80 students by then, and Sir D.B.'s popularity as a leader and his multi-disciplinary fluency and knowledge boosted enrolments as well as the quality of school. Sir Jayatilake was appointed the deputy principal of Ananda College in 1898 and later went onto become the Governor of Ceylon.

H. Banbury succeeded Sir D.B. as principal and he brought forth a campaign to raise funds for a permanent building, travelling even in remote villages collecting donations. He used the money to build a single storeyed building near the city premises of the school, which was later named the 'Banbury Building' in his honour. One of the most notable events during his time was officially changing the name of the school to Dharmaraja College.

Wilton Hack took over from Banbury in 1899 and accepted the challenge of developing the school's resources. Later in 1899, following the retirement of Hack, C.S. Rajaratnam was appointed principal. Though he himself was not a Buddhist, he was an acclaimed scholar and continued to guide the school along Buddhist principles and attitudes, while giving more emphasis to improve the standard of education.

Golden era

Dharmaraja's golden era began with the appointment of K.F. Billimoria as principal in 1902. He recruited many able educators as dedicated as himself towards heightening the students of Dharmaraja, and also identified the need of developing the physical resources to match the educational achievements.

The founder of the world's largest voluntary children movement, the Scouts Movement, Lord Robert Stephenson Smith Baden Powell visited the "Lake View Park International Scout Centre", the summit which is on a promontory in the Lake View Park within the 57-acre land belonging to Dharmaraja, twice during this period. It is a unique distinction held by any Sri Lankan school. The first Kandy Dharmaraja Scout Group began 1913 under the Billimoria and scout master, J.H. de Saram and many sports and other extra activities were encouraged. The first Kandy Dharmaraja Scouts won the coveted "King's Flag" for three consecutive years from 1917 to 1919. The flag was traditionally awarded to the troop in any of British colonies that had the large number of King's scouts. This is an unprecedented record held by any of the Sri Lankan schools.

The big match between Dharmaraja - Kingswood also began at this time. Several world renowned figures visited Dharmaraja during his office including Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Baden Powell and D.H. Lawrence.

Billimoria served 30 years as principal and retired in 1932, which led to beginning of another important chapter of Dharmaraja history.

P. de S. Kularatne, who had served as the principal of Ananda College took over duties from Billimoria in 1932. Dharmaraja was facing a financial crisis when Kularatne assumed duties, and even Lake View was under the threat of being sold. But, Kularatne was able to save the land and secure a home for Dharmaraja, for centuries to come.

In 1936 Kularatne was re-appointed as the principal of Ananda and L. H. Mettananda who was Ananda's principal was appointed principal of Dharmaraja. Mettananda set off to build two two-storeyed buildings at the Lake View premises. It was funded using proceedings of the Golden Jubilee Carnival in 1937 and other fund-raising projects. Dharmaraja started Advanced Level classes in 1940 and the secondary section of the college was moved to Lake View, leaving only the primary section at the original Maligawa-Natha Devala premises.


S.A. Wijayathilake was appointed principal in November 1945, the same year that free education was established in Sri Lanka. Wijayathilake's vision and action assured Dharmaraja's place as one of the best schools in the island.

Wijayathilake retired in 1955 and was replaced by Charles Godage, who was also a patron of arts and an acclaimed poet and writer. By 1959 the end of Godage's office, the number of students had risen from 842 to 1,276.

D.B. Thewarapperuma took over the duties from Godage, and continued the progress. The academic results and performance in sports saw improvements and in 1960 Dharmaraja, along with Ananda was taken by the Government which was a result of strong campaign led by Thewarapperuma and others. This meant that further development and improvement of the school's resources could now be done without a cost burden to the school board.

Colonel Perusinghe took office as principal in 1961 and this period showed a marked improvement in the number of students and staff members. Col. Perusinghe retired in 1964 to be replaced by Colonel S. L. B. Amaranayake, an old boy of Dharmaraja. On June 27, 1965 the Kandy Municipal Council officially named the access road to the school as 'Dharmaraja Mawatha' in recognition of the great service rendered by the school.

D.G.B. Samarajiwa took the helm of Dharmaraja in 1971 from Col. Amaranayake, and was responsible for re-structuring the administration of the College. After a short but important term as Principal, Samarajiva left for Matara as Director of Education in 1973.

Momentous era

A.P. Gunaratne, another old Rajan took over office from Samarajiva in 1973 and gave priority to develop all aspects of the school. By this time Dharmaraja showed the best academic results in the island with many students being qualified for university education.

Gunaratne initiated a Career Guidance Unit in 1983, which provided great assistance to school-leavers for building a successful career. In 1987 Dharmaraja celebrated its centenary with a Centenary Scout Jamboree with an exhibition and many other events, which only boosted the fame Dharmaraja had already acquired through a hundred years of fruitful service to the nation as an educational institute.

Gunaratne built the school so painstakingly with great devotion and commitment, for nearly two decades and carried it to dizzy heights by the Centenary Year. His period was indeed a momentous era in the history of Dharmaraja.

Gunaratne was appointed Principal of Ananda College in 1987 and U. B. Herath took office as the principal. He took the initial steps to set up a modern auditorium for the college. Nihal Herath was appointed principal of Dharmaraja in 1988 and he served for two years and showed a vast improvement in rugby football in the school.

T.B. Damunupola succeeded Nihal Herath and during his period Dharmaraja scouts won all the awards presented by the Sri Lanka Scout Association at the annual awards ceremony and scouts celebrated 80 years of scouting at Dharmaraja in 1993. W.M. Bandaranayake took office after Damunupola was appointed as the principal of Ananda in 1995 and gave more emphasis to improve the standard of the college's sports activities. Asoka Herath, the most senior staffer of the college was appointed principal in 1998. During his period the college marked a vast improvement in both education and extra-curricular activities.

Knowledge hub

In 2001, S.M. Keerthiratne (the current principal) was appointed and took over the challenge of developing the school's infrastructure facilities. Major tasks like a modern playground, swimming pool and sick ward were completed during the period of Keerthiratne. He made Dharmaraja College the 'knowledge hub' of hill country. He has already taken steps to modernise the Lake View Park International Scout Centre for preparing the Centenary Celebrations International Jamboree of the first Kandy Dharmaraja Scout Group, scheduled to be held on February 18-22, 2013. Keerthiratne's continuous effort gained highest academic results and performances in all sport activities.

Over the past 125 years, Dharmaraja College has produced Sri Lankans who always put their country before self. But country needs more Rajans of this calibre for a better tomorrow for our next generation. The highest ranking statesman amongst the old Rajans was President William Gopallawa, the first President of Sri Lanka and the last Governor General of Ceylon. Many political leaders including A.E. Goonesinha, A. Ratnayake, Sir Bennet Soyza, Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, Yasaratne Tennekoon, Janaka Tennekoon, Lalith Dissanayake, Anura Daniel and Eric Weerawardene were products of Dharmaraja. Most Venerable Madugalle Sri Sumana Siddhartha Dhammasiddhi Maha Thera, former Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter was an old boy of Dharmaraja. The college's alumni include Stanley Wijesundara, J.B. Dissanayake, Sunanda Mahendra, Anuradha Seneviratne, Ananda W.P. Guruge, Wimalaratne Kumaragama and Dharmasena Pathiraja.

Dharmaraja will continue to produce sterling men who will serve the nation with aplomb.



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