Saturday, 17 January 2015 04:33
Two iconic buildings – one in Colombo and the other in Kandy – came alive with the appointment of the new President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. One was the Independence Memorial Hall and the other was the Pattirippuwa in the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy.
Both the Independence Hall and the Pattirippuwa are used sparingly, only for specific purposes of national significance. President Maithripala Sirisena picked the Independence Hall for his swearing in ceremony and he made his first address to the nation from Pattirippuwa.
This is the first time that a President took his oath at the Independence Hall. The earlier Presidents chose the Galle Face Green (J.R. Jayewardene took the oath twice at Galle Face), the President’s House or the Presidential Secretariat for the ceremony. President Premadasa took his oath at the Dalada Maligawa and addressed the nation immediately afterwards from the Pattirippuwa.
While the Pattirippuwa dates back to the time of the Kandyan kingdom, the Independence Hall has a history of just six decades. The latter was built at the site where the transfer of power from the Colonial administration to Independent Ceylon took place.
Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake hoisted the national flag symbolising that the country was now an independent nation. Watching the ceremony was the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The Duke represented the British monarch. The hall was gaily decorated with the traditional ‘reli palam,’ giving it a majestic touch.
The hall, as we see it today, is an open one. A capacity crowd was present to witness President Sirisena taking his oath. Obviously a hurriedly-arranged ceremony, the President even found it difficult to make his way to and from the place where the senior Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Kanagasabapathy J. Sripavan administered the oath. The atmosphere created was that a ‘People’s President’ was being sworn in.
I was reminded of the day when crowds swarmed into Parliament at the first sitting after Mahajana Eksath Peramina/Sri Lanka Freedom Party Leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister after a landslide victory, beating the United National Party at the 1956 general election. That was when the present Presidential Secretariat in Colombo Fort was where the members of the House of Representatives sat. Earlier, the State Council had sittings there.
The Pattirippuwa was an extension to the original Dalada Maligawa built by King Narendra Sinha (1707-1739), son of King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1687-1707), who had earlier built a smaller temple to house the sacred Tooth Relic before the Relic was taken away due to the threat of a Portuguese invasion. Incidentally, it was King Vimaladharmauriya who had allowed Father Joseph Vaz from Goa (he was canonised by Pope Francis on Wednesday) to reside in the Kandyan kingdom and preach the Christian faith.
The octagonal Pattirippuwa and the moat were added during the reign of the last King of Kandy, Sri Vickrema Rajasinha. A well-known Kandyan architect, Devandra Mulacharin, is credited with building the Pattirippuwa. Originally it had been used by the king for recreational activities. The king had addressed the people from there. The building now houses a library. President Sirisena (as President Premadasa did) was, in a way, following tradition of the head of state addressing the people.
The practice during the early days after Independence was for the ministers to be sworn in at the Queen’s House (as the President’s House was then known) before the Governor General. It was, in fact, more or less a ‘private affair’ in that there were no invitees. We only saw a group photograph of the ministers with the Governor General in the centre in the newspapers the following morning. Today it’s an ‘open’ event at the Presidential Secretariat with invitees being present and the public watching the proceedings live on television.