Posted on February 3rd, 2020

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

For a nation, to be politically ‘independent’ means, not to be subjugated, not to be under control, not to be living in fear, not to be harassed, plundered and exploited. However, political independence becomes less forceful and less meaningful in the absence of other important forms of independence, including economic independence, cultural independence, spiritual independence, freedom to lead a life that is safe and secure and to be led by and inspired by patriotic leaders who are selfless in their service to the nation.


Sri Lanka’s history provides ample evidence that this type of overall independence prevailed in the country, to a great extent, before the dawn of the colonial era in the early 16th century. Basically, this was during the golden age” of Sri Lanka or the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa period from the 3rd century BCE until about the 13th century CE – a period that exceeds 1500 years. This was a time when the country was ruled by Sinhala Buddhist royalty and when the large mass of people enjoyed overall independence, and when economic and cultural development of the country was at its peak. 

The island’s recorded history including widespread archeological evidence and records of foreign travelers and traders in the past and the extensive ancient irrigation system   bear testimony to the greatness of the country’s civilization that was based overall freedom generated by Buddhism which was the basis of the national culture. Political independence was stable and secure under the leadership of the nation’s royalty, nobility and Buddhist monks who were in the forefront as advisers to royalty. Governance was based on Buddhist principles and was focused on the welfare of the common man. The extensive irrigation system was developed during this time, which is still in use, is considered as engineering marvels today. It led to a sustainable farming system. Sri Lanka was able to develop a highly productive agricultural economy and was an exporter of food crops to other countries. Economic and social development went hand in hand with cultural advancement and spiritual development of the people at large. The peaceful  way of life provided sufficient leisure time for people to pursue cultural and spiritual  activities.

The enormous patronage provided by the royalty was the major driving force for cultural pursuits at that time. A rich language of our own – Sinhala, and a mass of equally rich literary works in the form of prose and verse developed within our island during this period. Development of fine arts attained great heights. Indigenous architecture, rock sculpture, wood sculpture, paintings on various surfaces and other forms of fine arts attained great heights. Some of the greatest Buddhist stupas were built during this time. Buddhism was the source of inspiration for this creativity and the products of this creativity which are still evident in the country are marked by serenity, peace and spirituality and are of extreme aesthetic appeal.

The greatness of the cultural development of this time is well evident in the remains of ancient cities and historic places of the past. The UNESCO has designated five of these historic sites as World Heritage Sites owing to the masterpieces of human creativity and imagination evident in these places – Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Mahanuwara (Kandy).

There were occasional interruptions to the independence enjoyed by the country during the Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa periods, owing to South Indian Dravidian invasions.   These were periods marked by violence, atrocities and plunder by these ruthless invaders. Buddhist temples and places of learning were ransacked and destroyed. Monks suffered much harassment and hardship. Literary works were set on fire and irrigation systems were damaged. During the latter part of the 13th century, constant Dravidian South Indian invasions, atrocities and terrorist activities led kings to abandon their historic capitals and drift with their people to the southwest of the country for safety. Royal Capitals were changed constantly during the 13th to 17th centuries and finally consolidated in Kande-Udarata or the hill country with Mahanuwara (Kandy) as the royal capital. It is noteworthy that the overall independence enjoyed by our people was severely affected by the invasions and atrocities brought about by South Indian Tamil-speaking Dravidians.    


European colonial powers arrived in Sri Lanka during the 16th to 18th century period. The Portuguese who arrived in 1505 occupied the coastal areas and soon became a constant source of aggression, annoyance and terror to the large mass of people. They had two major objectives – trade with maximum benefits to them, and to convert local people to the Catholic religion using force and other unethical means. It is reported that they came with a gun in one hand and the bible in the other. The destruction they caused to Buddhist temples and places of learning and the killing of Buddhist monks and people in the name of religion was unprecedented. Almost all Buddhist shrines in the coastal areas that they occupied were destroyed, including the Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya. Among seats of learning destroyed were the famous Totagamuwe Vijayaba Pirvena,  Padmavathi Pirivena of Keragala and Sunethra Devi Pirivena of Pepiliyana.

The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in 1640 and occupied places under Portuguese control. Continuing similar trade activities like the Portuguese, they started converting people to Protestant Christianity. They too were instrumental in destroying Buddhist temples, monasteries and the royal palace at Hanguranketa. The Dutch were followed by the British who ousted the Dutch in 1796. Their well-planned program of activities, for a continuous period of about 150 years, led to the greatest of damage to the country’s overall independence, culture, social cohesion, unity and dignity. In 1815 the British captured the Sri Lankan king and the entire country came under their control. This ended Sri Lanka’s long history of royalty with some 295 kings. The British rule continued until 1948.

All colonial powers acted on pure and absolute self-interest”. British occupation of Sri Lanka was one of sheer exploitation and devastation. Whatever benefits that were derived by local inhabitants were merely incidental to their exploitation of the country’s natural and human resources in order to reap enormous benefits for the British government.

Often we have heard people saying that Sri Lanka did not shed blood for freedomunlike India. This is plain nonsense. Those who are conversant with Sri Lanka’s colonial history know that much blood was shed for freedom. Prior to the Kandyan Convention of 1815, thousands upon thousands of Sinhala people sacrificed their lives to free the country from colonial repression. More were killed during the rebellion of 1818 and 1848. During the Kandyan rebellion of 1818, every man over 14 years was ordered by the British to be killed and some sixty thousand Sinhala people were massacred. Large numbers of local leaders were annihilated by the British – – Veera Keppetipola, Veera Puran Appu and Veera Gongalegoda Banda are the better known.


The economic independence of the country was destroyed by the British by converting the self-sufficient sustainable economy to an outer oriented unstable commercial economy dependent on fluctuating external world markets. Sri Lanka’s economy was transformed to become a cheap source of agricultural raw materials such as coffee, tea, cocoa to be exported to Britain. The economy became totally outer- oriented, so much so, a greater part of essential food requirements of the mass of people had to be imported from other countries. Forested mountain slopes, were cleared in the most haphazard manner to be converted to commercial crops for export. Some of this land included farmlands of local inhabitants. This had a drastic impact on the natural resources base of the country leading to drastic changes in environmental processes resulting in excessive soil erosion, landslides, increased flooding alternating with severe drought conditions. These calamities mostly affected local inhabitants in rural areas. l slaves for the British in their newly opened coffee and tea plantations. This led the British to import Tamil labourers from South India who later became a new element in the demographic composition of the country. The excessively poor living conditions of the large mass of rural folk led to migration, especially of youth to Colombo and other big towns. Most were subjected to the influence of the extremes forms of undesirable urban culture that was gaining ground in urban areas. The use of alcohol was a common element of urban culture. 


Traditional agriculture declined rapidly with vast areas of former productive paddy land either being abandoned owing to neglected irrigation facilities or because part of the agricultural land were bought over or taken over by the British for development of coffee, tea and rubber for export. Traditional agriculture was a way of life for the people. It had the influence bringing about togetherness among people. They worked jointly helping in each other in their farm activities. It provided them with sufficient leisure time to be engaged in other productive and creative pursuits including cultural and religious activities.

Royal patronage was the strongest form of motivation and support and Buddhism was the supreme source of inspiration for those involved in creative cultural pursuits in ancient times. These supports were no longer available to the people. Besides, most rural people were frustrated owing to great difficulties faced by them in meeting even their essential needs. Loss of freedom and privileges that they enjoyed under their kings and their traditional leadership had a strong psychological impact on people making them overly passive, subservient and backward. Traditional places of learning were the Buddhist temples where Buddhist monks were teachers of both religious and secular subjects. These centers and Buddhist monks were not accorded the same privileges and support accorded to Christian missionary schools and teachers in urban areas. The monks who were in the forefront with the royalty in affairs of governance, were now kept deliberately in the background with no special privileges. This situation did not permit the emergence of leaders from rural areas where the large mass of the dominant community lived.


The vast changes that they brought about in almost all areas of life in the country, led to the disruption of the long-held culture, values and way of life of local inhabitants, particularly the Sinhala community.  To serve their self-interests the British practiced the divide and rule” policy by setting one community against the other. The Tamil minority were given special privileges, were provided with better opportunities for education, employment and government services. The small Tamil community soon became a privileged community. Besides, all those who were converted to Christianity and those who subscribed to British interests and their administration, had preferential treatment in education and employment. When the British left Sri Lanka in 1948, they made sure that power remained in the hands of the English educated and English speaking few, who were toeing their line. The British also left a highly outer oriented and dependent economy at the mercy of the British and world market. The political party system that was introduced to the country helped to further divide and disintegrate the people, because the principles of party system was not fully understood by the people.

To make matters worse, power – political, administrative, and economic was inherited by those belonging to the Colombo sub-culture. Most of the qualified professionals also belonged to or subscribed to this sub-culture.  During the colonial period, the British made sure that Tamils and Christians were placed in positions of authority and influence in the administration of the country and in major professions.  Tamil leaders in various spheres including politics and Christianity were sponsored by these colonialists and some became agents of these foreign exploiters of the country, helping to undermine the interests of the dominant community of the country. This trend gained strength after the country attained independence owing to the enormous foreign funding that supported minority interests of Christians and Tamils. Among them were Tamil politicians leading racist political parties and later the racist’s terrorist LTTE organization whose leadership is Christian.  These Tamils and Christians have been engaged in propaganda against the rights of the Hela Buddhist culture all along.  


On February 4th, 1948, the country was accorded Dominion Status with the Queen of England as the Head of State and with the British maintaining military bases in Katunayake andTrincomalee.  The country did not have true political independence. In 1957 with the initiative of then Prime Minister that these bases were taken over by the government. It was in the year 1968, or 52 years ago, that our country became a Republic without any links with the British crown and in every sense acquired political independence.


Until 2009, for about three decades, the most serious national problem affecting overall sovereignty and independence of the country, and for that matter, all aspects of life of our country was caused by the racist, separatist and extremist attitudes and actions of a powerful and privileged segment of the non-indigenous minority Tamil community. Social harmony and economic well-being of our nation was destabilized and threatened to an extreme extent by ideologies based on ethnocentric exclusivity propagated by this segment of the non-indigenous minority Tamil community. The terror, horror and violence that was brought about by Tamil LTTE terrorist went   against all norms and ethics of the civilized world. Extremist Tamil groups living within and outside Sri Lanka were resorting to tribalistic rhetoric ostensibly to achieve their communal aspirations and engage in violence and terror. Sri Lanka’s overall independence and development, were severely affected for several decades owing to problems caused by misguided racist Tamil terrorists. The nation is indebted to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Secretary of Defense Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the popularly elected President of the country at present, to have provided the long-awaited leadership  to eliminate the Tamil terrorist menace from the country and restoring security and territorial integrity and overall independence in the Sinhala Buddhist Nation Sri Lanka.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

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