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Sunday, 31 January 2016





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Government Gazette

Hall of history and grandeur

As Sri Lanka prepares to celebrate its 68th Anniversary of Independence, we revisit the Independence Memorial Hall where freedom is carved in four pithy words – ‘Ni’, ‘Da’, ‘Ha’ ‘Sa’

As Sri Lanka prepares to mark the 68th Anniversary of Independence from British yoke, the simple celebrations are also likely to mark the final Independence celebration under the island’s second Republican Constitution, introduced in 1978 by the J. R. Jayewardene administration.

While the Galle Face Green prepares for this national event – marking a new era under a constitution that is to be made this year –not too far from the main venue lies a serene and aesthetic monument that proudly marks Sri Lanka’s Independence from British rule on 4 February 1948.

In what was once known as Torrington Square and subsequently renamed Independence Square, stands a flint-carved work of beauty that is among the most remembered national monuments in the island– the Independence Memorial Hall.

In close proximity to this hall of history and grandeur is the statue of Sri Lanka’s first post-Independence Prime Minister and the Father of the Nation, Don Stephen Senanayake.

Cultural heritage

The Memorial Hall bears testimony to Sri Lanka’s vast cultural heritage and the architectural finesse that has survived many centuries, combined into a single monument, reflects history and heritage of a nation in granite elegance.

Overshadowed by the beautiful Independence Memorial Hall is the basement museum, which provides invaluable information on the island’s history, individual heroes and those who contributed to nurture the island’s culture and arts, reflecting the evolution of a diverse nation.

Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known then, drew strength from the Independence struggle in India and directly benefitted from it. In 1948, the island came to be known as the Dominion of Ceylon, ‘an equal nation state that is not subordinate to another.’ Nearly a quarter century later, Sri Lanka was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka, on 22 May 1972, subsequent to the promulgation of the island’s first Republican Constitution.

The Independence Memorial Hall was constructed much later at the location of the first Independence Day ceremony, in remembrance of the opening of the country’s first Parliament. For many years, it had served as the ceremonial assembly hall for the Senate of Ceylon and the House of Representatives of Ceylon, until the House of Parliament was shifted to Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, the new political capital.

Work of art

The elegant structure was constructed to resemble the ‘Magul Maduwa’ of the Kandyan Kingdom – also known as the Royal Audience Hall or the Celebration Hall. It was at the ‘Magul Maduwa’ that the Kandyan Convention was entered into by the British rulers and the Kandyan chieftains in March 1815, thus converting the island to a British colony.

Bust images of various Sinhala heroes

The original Audience Hall was created using solid wood but the main structure was made out of concrete and reconstructed stone. The roof is covered with traditional clay tiles, locally known as ‘Sinhala ulu’. There are 60 pillars, similar to those found at the famous Embekke temple in the Kandy District. The woodworks and carvings are typical replicas of the famous Embekke art, with added features from the island’s rich history such as the ‘Korawak Gala’ – a special type of entrance stone – and ‘Punkalas’– a symbol of prosperity and sanctity.

Several steps lead to the main chamber where the inner walls reflect the island’s history. Renovated in recent years, there are added sculptures and artefacts, offering visitors an opportunity to learn about the country’s legacy, of heroes from the past and facets of the march for freedom.

At the main exhibition space, panels depict detailed descriptions including the arrival of Prince Vijaya. There is a section dedicated to the memory of King Pandukabhaya, referred to as the Golden Era of the island, the various kingdoms that rose and fell and the many stages of socio-cultural evolution of the island people.

There is also historical information about the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505, the Dutch legacy and finally, the colonisation by the British, signifying the end of native rule.

There are bust images of various Sinhala heroes such as Keppitipola Nilame, Pilimathalawe Nilame, Gongalegoda Banda and Veera Puran Appu. The museum also records the proud legacy of several Buddhist monks who pioneered Buddhist resurgence during periods of political suppression and religious decline, such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera and Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, known for their indomitable spirit.

Symbolising unity

Tribute is paid to the contributions made by lay persons in the fostering of the Dhamma, including Henry Olcott and Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala. Others who pioneered the revival of Hindu and Muslim cultures too are celebrated here, including Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Mohammed Cassim Siddi Lebbe. Writers and scholars who contributed to the culture and arts such as Martin Wickramasinghe, Ven. S. Mahinda Thera, archaeologist Dr. Senerath Paranavitana, W. A. De Silva, John De Silva and Prof. Gunapala Malalasekara too are remembered.

Recent history

The museum has a special section that records in detail, the political changes that swept across the island closer to gaining political independence in 1948. Murals and photographs of events and people, invaluable images from the very first Independence Day celebrations including the famous photograph of the then Premier, D.S. Senanayake unfurling the island’s national flag are found here.

The ‘Table of Independence’ is certainly the jewel in the crown here. It is a small polished-satinwood podium where the Declaration of Independence of 1948 was signed. Four Sinhala letters are carved on the table – ‘Ni’, ‘Da’, ‘Ha’ and ‘Sa’ – embellished with motif designs, standing for the word – ‘nidahasa’ or freedom.

The renovated museum also pays tribute to the military personnel who represented the three armed forces and those who died in the final war in May 2009. A metal memorial sculpture contains their names, written on an Ola leaf, reflecting an ancient tradition.

For the discerning eye – the elegant Independence Memorial Hall presents a proud symbol of political independence from the British, while the basement museum offers a slice of history – equally significant.


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