The Spirit of Pluralistic Learning in Jaffna


Jaffna Hindu College was established in 1890 when the Hindu revival movement was being led by Srila Shri Arumuga Navalar in the North and East. The Hindu Colleges all over the North and East as well as in the Hill Country were coordinated by Hindu Boards of Management with the financial assistance of well wishers from the community such as Pasupathy Chettiyar, Sitharampillai, Nagalingam, Chellappapillai, Casipillai, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and the like.

Jaffna Hindu College had hostel facilities for students from various parts of Sri Lanka including the North with a view to accommodating also the needy students. Even though it was a Hindu managed school, it had Muslim students as well such as Zakf, Rahumatulla, Lathif and M. S. Alif. They attended the day school and some of them resided in the hostel alongside students from Jaffna, Mannar, Akurana, Kandy, and Vavuniya.

I believe that this may be the only school in Sri Lanka which has a school anthem placing an emphasis on the importance of learning all the national languages, namely Tamil, Sinhala and English.


Title: The wisdom of what you learn, learn well and lead your

life with what you learnt

Long Live the Jaffna Hindu College

Earning forever the praise of the world

Throughout this great Sri Lankan nation

Living in the hearts of the Hindus

As the great portal of learning

Making the hearts of youths happy


It is the place for learning the arts

And a repository of many arts

Making Tamils walk with pride

Wherever we are whatever the suffering

We will not forget the goodness

Of thee our alma mater

May God favour thee to live forever and ever

English sweet Tamil and Aryan Sinhala

It is the centre to learn them

This is the great cradle of learning

Guarded with affection by those of learning

This is the centre of light

This is the centre of elevation

And the centre of life.

Long live the unique cradle of learning

That shines in our Tamil lives

Long live long live long live

Long live without a parallel

In this world forever

These lyrics of the school anthem were written by Viduvan K. Karthigesan, B.A.(London) and the melody composed by Viduvan C. Arumugam.

It is important to recall the far-sightedness of the scholars who established this school and served on the Boards of Management such as Pasupathi Chettiyar, Nagalingam, Casipillai, Nevins Selvadurai, Dr. R. Rasah. Some of them were from Christian families but they nevertheless assisted in promoting Hindu culture and traditions through Hindu schools.

Teaching of the Sinhala Language

We had a Sinhalese teacher named Amarasinghe from Matara who taught us the Sinhala language in Grade 6 and conducted two periods a week with the Grade 1 book ‘Kumararodaya’ where he commenced his lessons with the fundamentals of the Sinhala Alphabet i.e. ’ ‘Mala’. Even though he was a language teacher, he was accepted as a staff member and attended all staff meetings. His name was placed on par in the pay sheet alongside other members of the staff. This is an indication of how a Sinhala language teacher was accommodated in the interest of the progress of the school and nursing of its image as the staff members had a voice and were given due hearing in respect to all the developmental activities of the school. Any part time or an additional teacher of languages is generally not included in the staff list.

The teaching of the Sinhala language was associated with the idea of improving the four language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening. Mr. Amarasinghe discharged his duties with utmost dedication and commitment. I still remember the time i.e. 1956, when the Language Bill was introduced resulting in a commotion that made the few Sinhalese living in Jaffna to leave Jaffna. When Mr. Amarasinghe also left Jaffna, it caused so much concern to all of us but we never thought that he will not come back. We thought that he was leaving us due to the disturbances and that he will come back once the situation had subsided. But he never returned and we lost a golden opportunity of learning Sinhalese while in school.

 The school anthem that places an emphasis on the importance of learning the Sinhala language constitutes part of the fundamental pluralistic view of the Jaffna people and it also reflects the wisdom and far sightedness of the founding scholars. This outlook helped the students who studied in the pre-conflict era to think and live as people of one country.

Regular contact with Schools in the South

Secondly, the Jaffna Hindu College had regular contact with the South by arranging for students to visit all historical and tourist sites in the island twice a year and the students were well looked after and accommodated by other schools in Anuradhapura, Hatton, Matale, Galle and Kandy. The school had an annual cricket match with Maliyadeva Vidyalaya, Kurunegala and taking turns each school had the opportunity of visiting Jaffna or Kurunegala in alternate years and this arrangement was continued until the early 1980s.

Thirdly, the pluralistic outlook was also reflected in the activities of its Cadet Corps and the Scout movement. Only three schools from the North i.e. St. Patrick, St. Johns and Jaffna Hindu College were represented by their Cadet platoons in the annual inter school cadet competition held at the Diyatalawa Military camp. The participation in this event provided an opportunity for our School cadets to meet and interact with cadets from other schools in the South as well as with Officers of the military establishment. Our college had two Cadet platoons – Senior Cadet platoon and Junior Cadet platoon and both these platoons took part in the annual programme at Diyatalawa.

Muslim students at School

Prominent Muslim families were happy to send their children to Jaffna Hindu College as it was well reputed for its high educational standards as well as non discrimination on matters relating to religion and culture. For example, Dr. Carsim who is practising in UK at present obtained a distinction in Hinduism at the O/L. For several years the Junior and later the Senior Cadet Corp was commanded by a senior student Mr. Ashroff who hailed from Nuwara Eliya. Originally the command and the instructions for the military drill of the Cadets were in English but later the medium of command was switched to Sinhala. No one looked at these developments with a different thinking. The school Cadets had their regular training every day in the playground and in the roads and lanes adjoining the College. The children of M M Sultan, Mayor of Jaffna, Deputy Mayor M M Abusally, and Mr. Nisthsar a prominent businessmen from Akurana, were some of these students. Allapitchachi who later served for a long period as Deputy Principal, Zahira College, Colombo, hailed from Mannar.

Fourthly, moulding the students with the broader aspect of a pluralistic outlook made us to support and subscribe to the divergent political ideologies prevalent at that time. For example, when I was the Secretary of the History and Civic Association of our College the first person to visit Moscow from the Communist Party of Sri Lanka was the late Mr. V. Ponnambalam. I invited him to address our Society despite the opposition of our patron and a relation of mine who became in later years our Principal. He objected to a Communist Party member addressing the students as he was overtly partial to the political views of the Tamil Congress Party. But even though he objected, he nevertheless allowed Mr. V. Ponnambalam, the Communist party member to share with us his impressions of his visit to Russia, rather than on the doctrinaire aspects of Communism.

Fifthly, even though the younger generation took up arms for a cause, in the middle of the temporary peace in 2002 when I was invited to be the Chief Guest at the annual School Prize Giving, the School Principal in his introductory speech when referring to me and my wife, made some insightful remarks which I would like to set out below, as they provide an idea even at this late hour of the stance of the school and its management in respect to adopting a pluralistic approach towards nation building.

The Principal said, "You have the honour of informing the characteristics of the lives of Tamils in beautiful Tamil language to the entire nation. You have achieved humility and depth with proficiency in Sinhalese, Tamil and English which are the languages of our country. I am delighted that you have come to the alma mater which moulded your husband giving dignity and stature to him. Born in the Neduntivu island (Delft Island) which produced several eminent persons, you have traveled up to the United States engaging in service to Tamils and the religion. You have rendered much service both here and abroad through the Seva Vanitha making use of the knowledge and experience gained in the Government Service for more than 15 years".

Still I remember the packed hall of over 2000 students, teachers and many parents of the students as well as old boys including at the time the political campaigner of the LTTE, Mr. Yogi, and some of his colleagues. I was thinking of talking to them after the Prize Giving and the lunch but they were not available immediately after my speech and Prize Giving. I would like to point out that one of the salient points I made in my Prize Giving day’s speech was that my success in life was due largely to the solid foundation I had in Jaffna Hindu College. My success cannot be attributed purely to studies and my abilities but also in learning the other two languages, all the more the Sinhala language, the language that every Jaffna man needs to know for his progress, understanding and peaceful co-existence beyond the Elephant Pass. My emphasis on the importance of studying Sinhala was even at this juncture not sidelined by the gathering assembled on that occasion.

Distinguished Alumni

The wisdom and insights enshrined in the school anthem constituted the inspiration and wellspring of future progress for several youth who were educated in this School. In later life they became eminent educationists, Economists, Scientists, Doctors, Engineers, Diplomats and leading politicians. I would like to mention the names of some of them from the recent past. They are:

Prof Balasundarampillay (Educationist), T. Kamalanathan (Educationist), Kunarasa (Writer), Pasupathipillay Nagalingam (Educationist), Kasipillay, Mr. Sabapathy, Sirinivasan, Mahadeva, Cooramaswamy, Justice Sharvananda (Law), Siva Pasupathy (Law), Justice Sri Bhawan, Kailasapillay, Dr. Ambalavanar, Dr. Indra Kumar, Dr. Jothilingem, Kathiravetpillay, Sabanayagam (Educationist), Arunachelam (Law), Thillainadarajah (Educationist), Jayaratnarajah, Jayakumar, Narayanaswamy, Sri Vishakarajah, Shanmuganathan, Navarathnam, Raja Viswanathan, T. S. Thurairajah (Politics), K. C. Thangarajah, V. Anandasangaree and some of the foreign service senior colleagues such as Ambassador Balasubramaniyam, Yogendra Duraiswamy, Kathiramalainathan who brought fame and glory to Sri Lanka in the international arena are the proud products of Jaffna Hindu College.

Name Board in three languages in Jaffna

As a final remark I would like to pin point and bring to the attention of the readers of this article an incident relating to the name board of ‘Kalajothi Community Centre’ which was established in 1949. It is situated at a stone’s throw distance from Jaffna Hindu College. The name board had the institutional name written only in Tamil since 1949. When I was an Assistant Treasurer of this Centre in 1963, when we wanted to change the name to ‘Kalajothi Youth Organisation’ and effect an extension to the building, this name was inscribed in cement in all three languages and the name board placed on the top of the building.

The inscription of the name in Sinhala was opposed by a powerful local resident who was supportive of the then Federal Party. He declined to give his regular assistance to us at the time when we were organizing ‘Dan Sal’ for the devotees of the ‘Nallur Festival’ who pass through this centre after coming from all over Jaffna. He went to the extent of requesting the late Mr. Amiththalingam not to participate in the festivities on the 25th day at the end of the ‘Nallur Festival’ where we conduct a Religious competition and thereafter hold a Prize Giving, the first prize being a gold medal for the young competitors. When we heard the news that Mr. Amiththalingam may decline our invitation to be the Chief Guest at the function, four of us youths proceeded on push bicycles all the way to his home nine miles away from Jaffna town. When we met him we were very much surprised by the reply given by the late Mr. Amiththalingam.

Mr. Amiththalingam said, "You are doing the right thing. My supporter is wrong. You have every right to put the name of the organisation in all three languages and I will come as the chief guest" and he attended the function, made a speech and gave away the prizes. Though at times the late Mr. Amiththalingam may have propagated a Federal state solution or advocated autonomy for the North and East in eloquent Tamil touching the feelings of the Tamil masses, he was against all forms of racial discrimination.

I also heard that when Jaffna was retaken by the Government Security forces and the military was moving on the main roads, one of the Army Officers on seeing this board which was in all three languages had declared, "There seems to be some sensible people living in this area, so we will have our Military post here."

It is also interesting to note that even during the period Jaffna was under LTTE control, the LTTE had not taken any steps to erase the Sinhala wording and it would seem that this organization has a policy entirely different when it comes to languages. I may be wrong.

We are proud to be the students of Jaffna Hindu College which stood and still stands for an integrated and pluralistic Sri Lanka with all the attendant difficulties, and continues to produce able and well trained youths to man high office in institutions and to be outstanding professionals not only in Sri Lanka but in many other parts of the world as well.

Courtesy:  Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)

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