Ananda College 1886 - 2011


by Tissa Devendra

Although I am not quite an Anandian, I grew up with the values of patriotism and Buddhism that moulded my father, D. T. Devendra, as a young teacher at Ananda during the golden era of its Principal the charismatic Kularatne. Ananda's Old Boys' Association has now honoured their alma mater with this handsome , and amazingly comprehensive, volume of its history, achievements and the role it has played in Sri Lanka's modern history .

Ananda was never just another school from its very beginning as the 'Buddhist English School' when Ceylon was yet a British Colony. Anagarika Dharmapala's vigorous campaigning for a Buddhist resurgence was now inspiring a rising Sinhala mercantile class proud of their ancient Buddhist civilization. Social and commercial advancement was, however, the monopoly of the largely Christian, subaltern class educated in English in Missionary schools. These schools were the only avenue for a modern education by which Buddhists could rise in business or government service.

To the great good fortune of Sinhala Buddhists there arrived in 1880 the American Theosophist Colonel Henry Steele Olcott [whose second name this volume unforgivably misspells- minus the final 'e'] The amazing impact that Olcott had on the Buddhist revival is well recorded in Chapter 2 of this volume .Olcott embraced Buddhism and was acclaimed by the Buddhist public. As a citizen of a modern state he soon realized that the sadly insular Buddhists were in the stranglehold of a Christian educational system geared to the needs of the Colonial government. Olcott understood that what Buddhists lacked was a modern education and the remedy, he identified, was to establish Buddhist English schools on modern lines on par with missionary schools. He set about this tremendous task with characteristic American vigour and 'fathered' the establishment of Buddhist English schools in many important towns. The first of these was the Buddhist English School [later Ananda College] in Colombo in 1886.

Ananda's early history has been well researched in the section The Formative Years. Olcott was very perceptive in ensuring that the first Principals were English or American. The fact that he was a 'white' American would have made the British Colonial government treat him with caution, though irritated with his pro-'native' activities. This factor made Olcott ensure that quite a few of Ananda's early Principals were "European" fellow Theosophists. These gentlemen were an interesting, occasionally eccentric, band but did a great service to place the fledgling Ananda as a modern English Buddhist school, complete with a cricket team. Leadbeater, the first Principal, was followed by Davis, Moore and Fritz Kunz. There was also a lack of educated Sinhala Buddhists prepared to head a new school. The yeoman service done by these early non-national Principals has been well recorded here.

Meanwhile, the Buddhist Theosophical Society [BTS] of leading Buddhists had assumed the management of all Olcott established schools, most importantly Ananda. They noticed that these Theosophist Principals, though good administrators were quietly emphasizing Theosophist beliefs. It was decided, therefore, to ease them out and recruit 100% Buddhists as Principal. This has been the policy right up to the present day, to ensure Ananda's Buddhist heritage. Buultjens and D. B. Jayatilaka were the first Ceylonese Buddhist Principals. Both were scholars and British qualified Barristers, thus, deflecting any doubts of their academic competence to head Ananda. Another Barrister, young P de S. Kularatne took the reins in 1918 - the year the 'Great War' ended and the Golden Age of Ananda began. The Section 'Coming of Health Minister and Co-Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has gone so far as to drag Lenin, of all late leaders, into the SAITM (South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine) dispute. He tells us that the legendary Bolshevik leader, if alive today, would call university students’ forcible entry into his ministry last week an act of terrorism. Referring to Lenin’s seminal work, Left-wing communism: An Infantile Disorder, the minister has quoted chapter and verse, to drive his point home.

Having cut his teeth on progressive politics as a dental science undergrad, in the 1970s, Dr. Senaratne is quite au fait with socialist ideology. His knowledge of Leninism cannot, therefore, be questioned. The same goes for many other former leftists who are now members of the present capitalist government, parading their knowledge of Marxism and Leninism while practising the very antithesis thereof for political expediency. Even the devil quotes Scripture for his purpose.

So, Minister Senaratne is convinced that what the anti-SAITM students resorted to at his ministry last week was terrorism and the government was right in ordering an STF crackdown. His statement may be read as a warning that the same treatment would be meted out to protesting undergrads in case of a repeat performance. One is intrigued.

The anti-SAITM protesters obviously overstepped their limits and found themselves on the wrong side of the law when they occupied the Health Ministry and caused considerable damage to vehicles and buildings there. They provided the government with an excuse to use force which was disproportionate to the threat they posed. But, why didn’t the grandees of the present dispensation including Senaratne, advocate the use of force to neutralise real terrorism which plagued the country for nearly three decades until May 2009?

It may be recalled that in 2006, Dr. Senaratne, as a prominent member of the Anti-war Front, denounced military action against the LTTE in spite of its savage terrorism. Even after the terrorists had carried out a claymore mine attack on a bus in Kebitigollewa, killing 60 civilians including 15 children, he declared, at an Anti-war Front rally in Colombo, that neither he nor the UNP would ever support the country’s war against the LTTE. He as well as his present ministerial colleague, Dilan Perera, called for continuing negotiations with the Tigers amidst mine attacks on military personnel. Is forcible entry into a ministry a more serious offence than massacring civilians?

The SAITM issue boils down to a chronic failure on the part of the state, under successive governments since Independence, to develop national universities to cater to the increasing demand for higher education. If anyone is to go by Lenin’s teachings, he or she should call for allocating more funds for developing the state-run university system to guarantee the right of each and every student qualifying for university admission to receive higher education so that the question of private universities will not arise at all.

Let the so-called leftists in the present government be asked what punishment Lenin would have prescribed for political crooks for amassing ill-gotten wealth at the expense of the masses and spending public funds to the tune of billions of rupees on super luxury vehicles for them while shirking their legislative responsibilities? The Bolshevik leader would have got them whipped in public and thrown behind bars.

How would Lenin have dealt with politicians and their cronies sponging off the public, selling national assets to foreigners and defending racketeers carrying out bond scams and helping themselves to workers’ savings? He would have got them lined up and shot dead.

Finally, one may wonder what Lenin would have done to pseudo-socialists quoting him selectively to justify the use of violence to advance a capitalist agenda; he may have seriously considered having their teeth pulled out without anaesthesia.

Lenin would backflip in his grave if he knew what is being said and done in his name in this republic which is neither socialist nor democratic.

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