Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 5 October 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike:

A great patriot of undying memory

Almost 55 years have passed since the death of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and between then and now, much water has flowed under the bridge. It appears that with the passing of time, the new era which he helped dawn in which the common man was able to get a place as never before, is underestimated and ‘played down wilfully’ today.

The westernised elite who were in the charmed circle, dominated the political scene for the most part, and sneered at and taunted those trying to get a place in the sun.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

In Bandaranaike they saw a person who was very keen on thwarting their outlook and attitudes, and making a determined endeavour to toss to the common man what he deserved, and yet being deprived of it by design and manipulation on the part of anti-national elements.

Born to a prestigious family and being the only son of Maha Mudliyar Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, S.W.R.D. could have led a life of ease and elegance, away from the hustle and bustle of politics.

His father dined and wined with the highest in the land, especially with the officials of the British government, outsmarting them in sartorial elegance and in the western mode of life. He thought that young Bandaranaike too would imitate him and serve the English rulers faithfully and devotedly.

This fact was amply shown when the Maha Mudliyar took his son to the Governor Sir Robert Chalmers, when he (S.W.R.D.) had passed the Cambridge Senior Examination coming third in the far-flung British Empire.


The Governor asked Sir Soloman Dias Bandaranaike whether he wanted his son also to be a Maha Mudliyar. No sooner was that question asked than young Bandaranaike had replied ‘No Sir, I don't want any high office, I want to serve my country'. The Maha Mudliyar would have been much embarrassed by his son's audacious words.

Even at Oxford University, young Bandaranaike proved his mettle. He did not take anything lying down and eat the humble pie as many Asian students did. In his autobiography which he could not complete writing, he said that he felt he could hold his own against any batch mate there and write English verses even better than some of his tutors themselves.

It was no empty boast, but an expression out of sincere conviction. He was a rebel at Oxford just as much as he was in politics. He was never prepared to take things lying down and hang the gloves. This trait in his character marked his entire life and a welter of obstacles.

When he was at Oxford, he felt that his English friends were giving him the cold shoulder and just tolerated and never considered him worthy of intimate friendship.

Sterner stuff

Made of sterner stuff as he was, young Bandaranaike, resisted that attitude of his batch-mates. Not being able to put up with such ‘cold-shouldering’, he sauntered along the streets of Oxford straightening out his thoughts. Then only did he hit upon the solution to his nagging worry. ‘I must be their superior to make them treat me as an equal.’

That was the golden key to the inner portals of Oxford and indeed he entered the inner circle of Oxford’ and even to be considered a future prime minister of Ceylon as predicted by Anthony Eden who later became a Prime Minister of England.

The name of Bandaranaike is synonymous with beautiful English. He was a master of both the spoken and the written aspects of that language. Never at a loss for a word, he was able to cast a spell upon the audience by the sheer elegance and excellence of his English as shown in his address on the day we won independence from the British, in February 1948.

The Duke of Gloucester who represented the British Government, they say, was greatly impressed by the oratory of Bandaranaike, that he had made reference to it later. The artistry and majesty of his English could be attributed to his profound learning of classics at Oxford where he was able to get an Honours Degree in that discipline.


Back in Sri Lanka he practised as a lawyer for a short spell, but that profession was not much to his liking and plunged into politics with the noblest motive of serving the country. He was head and shoulders above the common herd of mediocre politicians and no wonder incurred the displeasure and even the wrath of the others in that field.

According to Bradman Weerakoon who was close to Bandaranaike, he was never a racist. He had a very broad vision and looked at a problem from every angle, bringing to bear upon this thinking his profound knowledge and philosophical insight.

His apparent delay in taking a decision was attributable to his tendency to study and assess a problem in all its complexity. Bandaranaike ushered in a new era where the common man was given due recognition, the Sinhala language was given the pride of place, and subsequently he did recognise the importance of Tamil language and was keen on giving it due and reasonable place only to find that very potential elements were out to thwart that attempt of his.

One of his greatest contributions to the welfare of our people was his alleviating the common man from the colonial mentality and elevating indigenous culture to heights which it had not reached under colonial rule.

The greatest hour of his life was the manner in which he faced his death without having any animosity to his assassin. He called upon the authorities to pay due medical attention to that man dressed in the yellow robe of a Bhikkhu.

Even on his bed in hospital, struggling to stave off the severe pain of the shooting he was subjected to, he cracked jokes and kept his composure intact.

While being in the thick of politics he yearned for the peace and harmony of a poet and toyed with the idea as he often said to be close to nature and assimilate her beauty and be away from the madding political field. This yearning in him was expressed at the funeral of W.A. de Silva the renowned Sinhala novelist.

Bandaranaike was indeed one of the most eminent sons of Sri Lanka in modern times. His greatness cannot be denied and still less obscured, and it is our paramount duty to remember him throughout, with affection and undying gratitude.

The writer is on the advisory staff of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development.


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