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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

University of Peradeniya – A Treasure of Beauty and Wisdom

By T.K.Premadasa

Exactly 40 years ago on a day like today( 8th of May) ; I was over the moon enjoying my very first day of my entrance to the University of Ceylon Peradeniya.

I still remember the day of my arrival with my parents at Peradeniya Sarasavi Uyana Railway Station, a reminiscent construction by colonial rule in Sri Lanka.

No words can express the radiance of the blooming May flowers and beauty of lovely songs of birds that portrayed a symbol of warm welcome to the new entrants. All the beginners arrived in numbers were received by the seniors with warmth of cordiality. It was obligatory for freshmen to be clad in white during the first two or three weeks and opted to use our own choice of dress later.

The academic course of study for Bachelor's degree was successfully completed in a proximate period of three years or four years at the University. I am proud to accentuate that all my batch mates have reached the zenith of their glory in professional career. They shine at the apex of their career as Justices, Lawyers, Senior Government Officials, Diplomats, Executives in Finance & Administration and Reputed Politicians in local and international arena. This is the gift of erudite talents presented by the world recognized University of Peradeniya.

It is significant that this year becomes highly remarkable of its 60th Anniversary of the University of Peradeniya ceremonially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20th of April, 1954 on her visit to Sri Lanka.

Under the Ceylon University Ordinance No. 20 of 1942, the University of Ceylon was established on 1st July 1942, by amalgamating University College and Ceylon Medical College. The motto of this University of Ceylon was “Knowledge is the Eye Unto All” (Sarvasva Locanam Sasthram in Sanskrit). However there is nice story behind the establishment of University of Ceylon.

Students from the elite society in Sri Lanka were sent to England for higher studies during the time Sri Lanka was ruled by the British. Once they returned to Sri Lanka after completion of their studies they accentuated the importance of establishing high educational institutions in Sri Lanka to enable pursuing higher studies locally. The intellectuals and reputed personalities like Sri Ponnabalam Arunachalam , Sri James Peiris , Sir Marcus Fernando made representations to the higher authorities pointing out the urgent need of the hour. As a result, the Medical College of Colombo, Law College , Ceylon Technical College (CTC) were opened in 1870,1874 and 1906 respectively. In 1921, Ceylon University College was established enabling to sit the University of London external examination but no degree was awarded. However the establishment of Ceylon University College was the first formal step taken to introduce the formal Universities in Sri Lanka.

In early 1900’s there were more proposals were forwarded on the location of the proposed University of Ceylon. In response to these proposed projects, the Governor Hugh Clifford who realized the essential need of a University, appointed a Committee chaired by Justice M.T. Akbar in 1926 to submit its recommendations to the government in an attempt to meet the necessity of a College for higher studies. It was proposed to build a University with residential facilities located outside Colombo city. Subsequently another Committee was appointed under the Chairmanship of Sir Walter Buchanan to consider the most favorable location with salubrious atmosphere. Recommendation of this Committee was to establish the University in Aruppola, Dumbara in Mahanuwara District. As a result of lengthy discussions over the issue, the government finally acquired about 700 hectares of land for construction of the proposed first University and its park.

The land acquired for the University was a huge tea estate later utilized as a cantonment for troops of the World War II. The writer recollects the military office colored in green situated opposite the Art Gallery being used by the Department of Political Science & Economics and Department of Philosophy of the Art faculty.

The adorable location of the University is extremely charming. It is surrounded by lovely Hanthane Mountain, Mahaveli River and Kandy-Colombo Road. The world famous Botanical Gardens, another fascinating attraction of tourists, is also situated opposite the University site. The Engineering Faculty and Akbar Hall built closer to Peradeniya Railway Station could be reached across the Akbar Bridge, a portrayal of expertise demonstrated by the Engineers led by Prof. A. Thurariraja with advanced technique of construction. Famous Yaka Palama and Sarasaviya Railway Station on Kandy-Galaha Road running through the University strengthen this site with inexpressible beauty to the University. The University premises are unequivocally a natural beauty largely grown with a variety of trees and blooming flowers of radiant breeze.

P. M. Senaratna in his book Sri John Kothalawala & The Premier Stakes1952 emphasizes the significance of the huge role played by Sir John Kothalawala to establish University of Peradeniya in getting necessary funds passed by the Government. According to Senaviratne, while Mr Wijewardana influenced his persuasive effort to obtain the services of the world renowned town-planner Sir Patric Abercrombie, Sir John Kothalawala insisted that Peradeniya was the best suitable location for the projected University.

Credit should be given to the Designers and Architects who contributed an excellent masterpiece of work in creating a colossal building with a landscape of natural beauty and incredibly a highly attractive environment tantamount to the paradise of Sri Lanka. The buildings have been constructed on the basis of historical value of architecture. The entire building with granite slabs and huge images of lion etc., Gaja Singha Bridge, resembles constructional structure of historical Polonnaruwa era. The doors of the art gallery covered with historical Ambakke Devala Craving Arts feature and Colonial lamp posts the significance of durable value. It was this historical type of buildings that compelled film makers to utilize Peradeniya University as their location site for filming sceneries admired by the audience. The famous Vesathuru Siritha was filmed at the University Grounds using Hilda Obeysekara Hall as the Palace of King Vessanthara.

The significance of University of Peradeniya is that there is no fence or wall to make boundary of the university. It is a well planned engineering of a city for a University. Highly appreciative move adopted by the founders to create the environment equivalent to that of the Cambridge and Oxford Universities under the British Prestige has been magnificently completed with no fence or wall demarcated to divide the neighborhood. It is a showcase of a brilliantly thought far sighted project by the founding designers.

All Sri Lankan should honor Sri Ivor Jennings, the first Vice Chancellor, architectures Sir Patric Abercrombie, Clifford Holiday and Sherly de Alwis who have taken great effort to dream come to true with Predeniya University. Today , anyone can see the attractive memorial known as the Alwis Pond which was built in memory of Sherly De Alwis.

Since University of Ceylon was established in 1942, the academic and other activities had been carried out in the University College Building until construction of the permanent building was completed in Peradeniya. Completion of the University building was delayed due to the Second World War but steps were taken to move to the new building gradually.

Administration of the University was moved to Peradenyiya in 1952 as the construction of the building was completed by then. But the official commencement of the University was ceremonially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20th of April, 1954. The plaque displayed in remembrance of the proud visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburg in Senate building built on 130 granite columns is a resemblance of historical palace in Polonnaruwa era.

While University of Ceylon was functioning its academic schedule smoothly, Colombo University was established in 1967 as a separate University which was operated as a campus of University of Ceylon. Major departments including Legal Department were moved to Colombo University with all the facilities enjoyed by the University of Ceylon Peradeniya. In 1972 all the Universities were brought under one umbrella as University of Sri Lanka and all Universities became campuses under new University of Sri Lanka. All these universities were introduced as Peradeniya Campus, Colombo Campus etc. Then in 1978 with implementation of new amendments all campuses became separate universities. Peradeniya Campus was made a separate independent University with change of name as University of Peradeniya .

Significantly Chancellorship secured the proud image of the University of Peradeniya. The Head of the Government in power became Chancellor by ex-officio, a portrayal of prestige of the University. The first Chancellor was Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott ( 1942- 44) and after that Governor Sir Henry Mason Moor(1944 to 49), Governor General Lord Soulbury (1949- 54) Governor General Sir Oliver Goonathileke (1954- 62) Governor General and President William Gopallawa ( 1962- 64) and President J.R. Jayawardena (1978- 79) were Chancellors followed in accordance with British University system. In 1979, President J.R. Jayawardena introduced the appointment of reputed personalities as Chancellors of Universities ending the prestige enjoyed by University of Ceylon Peradeniya.

University of Peradeniya is the largest and the only residential University in Sri Lanka provided with all requisite facilities as student halls, housing quarters etc made available for the academic and non academic staff and students. There are 10 students halls including newly opened hall in the University built in the ancient architectural design in comparison with Polonnaruwa era. All these Halls have been named after those families who spent their money on building the University. Hilda Obeysekara , James Peiris , Marcus Fernando halls are few examples. Places of worship of all religions have been made available in the University premises to practice their faith. Sarasavi Seya or Stupa constructed on top of the mountain hill portray as that of Thuparamaya in Anuradhapura gives additional attraction to the beauty of University. The play grounds, swim pools , health centre are few other available facilities areas.

The Library located in the high rise building of seven floor levels is one of the largest in South Asia replete with a colossal number of inestimable books. Names of professionals like H.A.I Goonetilleke , Walter Marsinghe and others who made an invaluable contribution to bring to its high recognition should glow writ in gold in the history of University of Peradeniya.

The Art Theater with parapet made out of granite located at the centre of the University is praiseworthy place to the University. It is the place where world famous films were screed. It is worthy to note the technician Mendis’s ( Medis Ayiya ) contribution to the university to fulfill his duty with minimum technical facilities. The original songs and entire drams of Maname and Sinhabahu have been securely stored at the University and gifted to nation by this little man Mendis Ayiya.

The popular open air theater Wala built to be matched with the Greek architectural design in early 1950’s is a spectacle that invaded the University. Beyond exaggeration, even the Nature has virtually illuminated the environment with sparkling light and radiance of the blooming flowers during the May and June season. This Open Air Theater popularly known as Wala, has now been named as Sarachchandra Open Air Theate for performance of drama. The debut of the famous drama Sinhabahu was performed at Wala.

There is a plethora of lovely places of past memories around the University. Kissing Bend, Lovers' Street and Hilda Nuga Tree (Banyan tree) enlivens the romantic background prevailed at the University. Sadsiri Hotel situated outside the University has become a closely accustomed eatery for the University students.

The lovely environment portrayed with landscape of unimaginable attraction of finest locations flexible to the romantic background brought popularity to the image of the University at the greatest. It was this fascinating atmosphere that influenced producers to utilize the culture and sceneries at University locations in their cinematic creations like Hantane Kathawa. Numerous number of songs have been composed on University background that have become lasting memories of the past. “Me Nagarya “ of Mervin Perera, “Hanthaneta Payan Sadha” of Amarsiri Peiris and Hantane Kadu Muduna of Amardeva are the few examples.

MEP Government that swept into power in 1956 under the leadership of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike implemented many progressive measures. As a result Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University established in 1959. Vidaylankara University was the Successor of Vidyalankara Pirivena, established in 1875, which was one of the highly reputed tertiary education institutes administered under monastic teaching. The land and basic facilities were initially donated by Pirivena and Buddhist Temples. In latter part of seventies, Vidaylankara University and Vidyodaay University were renamed as Kelaniya University and Jayawardenapura University respectively. The main argument was that there was need of change the names as the original names of two universities appears as Privina names. Today no mention of the original names found in official websites of one of these Universities. Later Moratuwa and Jaffna Universities were established in 1970’s followed by Universities of Ruhuna, Sabaragmua, Uwa , Wayaba, Rjarata and Batticiloa. It is observed that only Southern University has been built up under a planned structure whereas others are just conversion of buildings utilized for various other purposes. This has closed the conducive environment needed for a University with healthy background for students to pursue their studies and other activities at the apex of their talented skills. It is needed in future to build up universities with proper environment.

The writer and his batch mates proudly recollect the forty year experience of the past on the dedication and contribution made by them to national development as grateful products of Peradeniya University reciprocating duty bound responsibility of the highest tribute to the University Flag flying high in esteem.

It is doubtful if Sri Lanka could gift a similar University to the country in near future. No effort appears to have been taken during the last 70 years to build a University equivalent to the high standard Peradeniya has acclaimed. During our period, we never even touched a branch of a tree with the fear of destroying the beauty.

Responsibility lies on each and every person affiliated to the University to honor beauty and its culture and maintain the high profile reputation shining at the apex of its glory for benefit of the future generation.

It would be more appropriate to quote the First Vice Chancellor Sri Ivor Jennings words on his first visit to the University site first time with the architect Sir Partric Abercrombie to conclude the article.

“No University in the World would have such a setting”

The writer T.K.Premadasa is the retired former Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications- Sri Lanka Export Development Board and Ex-Director of Sri Lanka Trade Centre in Maldives .

- Asian Tribune -

University of Peradeniya – A Treasure of Beauty and Wisdom
No words can express the radiance of the blooming May flowers and beauty of lovely songs of birds
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