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Sunday, 28 February 2016

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Don Simon W Samarakone:

The reclusive philanthropist

Simon Samarakone traversed the social milieu then existing like a colossus neither hesitating nor wavering in the face of obstacles, which were nearly insurmountable. Trained under British scholars he ended his academic career by becoming a qualified civil engineer. His specialty was drainage and his services were eagerly sought by the British administration at a time when qualified civil engineers were few and far between. His material wealth consisting of nearly five hundred acres of land strewn across the Western Province plus a sizable amount of cash deposits part inherited and part earned was entrusted to the Public Trustee as was specified in his last will.

Samarakone Trust Fund

Most of the public institutions established around Piliyandala at present, such as the Multi-Purpose Co-op Bokundara, CEB Technical Training Centre previously Ceramic Corporation, YMBA Piliyandala and Woodwork and Handloom Training Centre at Piliyandala Town, all playing an indispensable role in the public life of people around Piliyandala today remain everlasting monuments to his memory. His kindness and generosity penetrated every aspect of public life thus the Government School Wewala, Bimbarama Temple at Kolamunna, the International Buddhist Centre at Kahapola Madapatha, (still at the initial stages of development) Thumbowila Gangaramaya Temple and Asokaramaya at Thimbirigasyaya are also public institutions, which have immensely benefitted by his munificence.


Don Simon Samarakone

It is highly regrettable to note that most of his resources initially meant to be used for the welfare of people around Piliyandala have been squandered and self-seeking individual have grabbed a sizeable part of it for their benefit. Case in point is the construction of the Hall built in his memory in the Public Cemetery ground and handed over to the Urban Council on Feb 16, 2002 to be used as a resting place for the people who accompany their dear departed ones in their final journey. Even at present, almost sixty two years after his death grants are made using the funds from Samarakone Trust Fund to build temples around the island and award scholarships to students who are unable to pursue their education due to poverty.

Perhaps only few of us now among the living are aware that he allocated a portion of the Samarakone Trust Fund to provide dowry to the unmarried daughters of low income families living around Piliyandala.

It is regrettably noted that although he had allocated Rs. 20,000 in 1950 as per his last will for a ward to be built in the Piliyandala Hospital premises in memory of his mother, the late Mrs. D.C.W. Samarakone, it has not gone beyond the initial stages.

Thus if somebody in authority takes an interest in this regard and helps fulfil one of his ardent desires, the endeavour will immensely benefit the people around Piliyandala.

Piliyandala

The closest town to Wewala, where Simon Samarakone was born and raised was Piliyandala, a small town developed during colonial times. Then, it consisted of a market, Village Council Hall, Police Station and the Post Office. Buggy carts for passenger travelling, bullock carts for carrying goods, company owned buses for long distance travelling, were the only modes of conveyance.

Piliyandala played the role of a small market town, which supplied the consumer needs of the inhabitants of Mampe, Thumbowila, Kolamunna, Suwarapola and Wawala. Located in a vital intersection, where the road leading from Colombo to Horana is criss-crossed by the road leading from Katubadda to Maharagama, Piliyandala town rose to prominence owing its importance to its public market where consumers could buy provisions conveyed from Colombo, as well as vegetable and a variety of yams supplied by farmers from around Piliyandala at bargain prices.

People living around Piliyandala at the time when Samarakone walked across the landscape like a giant were still steeped in a value system begot by many years of subjugations to colonialism.

It was during the latter part of the post-independence period that the people were able to emerge free from this colonial mindset and realise the true value of philanthropists like Samarakone who did everything they could do to uplift the living standards of the people.

The clock tower

This will remain a lasting monument to his generosity for a long period to come. It was at the request if Somaweera Chandrasiri, then MP for Moratuwa, that Samarakone undertook to build the clock tower in memory of his departed parents. Built at a time when wrist -watches were a luxury and only few of the local populace could afford them, and clock towers were a rare phenomenon among the rural masses - he might have had the twin objective of showing exact time of the day to a passerby as well as raise the image of Piliyandala in the public eye.

The foundation stone was laid by the then Minister of Local Government C. W. W Kannangara and the work had been completed in just seven months. The entire expense for this project had been borne by Samarakone.

The machine inside is entirely assembled using British technology and the complex engineering concepts used in the making still pose a challenge for mechanics who undertake to repair it even today.

The foundation is believed to be around 15 feet or 20 feet deep and there is a set of steps leading from the ground to the basement .The structure is built of brick, with the walls nearly 12 inches thick. The roof is of thick concrete cover and the structure measuring nearly eighty feet in height is built in three storeys.

The summit of the tower could be reached by using a stair-case consisting of seventy two steps. A person gaining access to the top most floor could see ships sailing in the distant sea on one side and hills and dales covered with thick mist on the other side.

When reaching the top through the interior, the machine that gives life to the clock faces could also be seen, installed in a 4ft high, 5ft wide wooden box.

The three bells keep ringing, one at the passage of every fifteen and thirty minutes, the other at every forty five minutes and the third bell at the passage of every hour. Although the chimes of the clock were heard several miles in the days gone by, the sound is at present heard only few miles around, owing to the congested urban living.

Winding is done once a week, the big pendulum made in proportion to the strength and make of the machine is nearly one-foot in width.

The other remarkable feature of the machine is that it is operated by a cable system instead of springs.

The Samarakone Brothers, the business establishment owned by the members of his family who equally shares on the estate of Don Simon W. Samarakone have been regrettably deprived of their lawful share of the estate since it is now vested with the Public Trustee.

At a time when information technology was still at the initial stages of development and the modern devices such as computers and fax machines were not even heard of, the vital details of his life and surroundings to remain hidden in mystery is no matter to be wondered at. Individuals of his nature are very rare today.

- K.D. Jayathissa of Piliyandala

 

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