Monday, February 15, 2010

‘What bigger gift can one generation pass to another than a school’ - a temple of learning...?

Hindu College, Colombo :

Temple of learning
Gift out of a challenge accepted with fortitude:

Kandiah Neelakandan

Twenty four leaders of the Hindu Community in Colombo formed themselves into a society under the name ‘Hindu Educational Society’ with a view to take meaningful steps to facilitate the Hindu students in the city having their education in their own religious and cultural background.

Hindu College, Colombo. Courtesy: Internet

That significant assembly of those great men of vision and foresight was held in Colombo on February 5, 1951 under the chairmanship of Hon. Justice Chellappah Nagalingam K.C. who later became the head of the Judiciary of this country as an acting appointment as the Chief Justice.

Having recorded the noteworthy contribution of the Founders of the Society, one of them recorded as follows:

‘What bigger gift can one generation pass to another than a school’ - a temple of learning?

It was a gift that did not come easily. It was a gift that arose out of a challenge - a challenge that faced the Tamils in Colombo and the Hindu community in particular, when numerous children and parents knocked at the gates of many a school in Colombo and were turned away.

They had to face a question ‘We have no room for children of other denominations. Why don’t you people have your own school?’ This attitude was expressed quite openly. One could not possibly blame them. It was anyway a big challenge. As one who has been associated with the activities of the Hindu Educational Society from its inception I am glad to record that the Tamil Hindu Community in Colombo accepted the challenge with fortitude.

Birth of the school

On February 12, 1951 the Hindu Educational Society (‘HES’) gave birth to this school under the name ‘PILLAYAR PADASALAI’ at Sri Kathiresan Kovil ‘Madam’ only with 48 children.


The following 24 Hindu Leaders founded the Hindu Educational Society:-

1. Justice . C. Nagalingam, K.C. (Senior Judge of the Supreme Court)

2. Representative of Trustees of the Sammankoddar Pillaiyar Temple

3. K. Alvapillai, O.B.E., B.A. (Lond.), C.C.S. (Civil Servant)

4. Dr. A. Kandiah, A.R.C.S., D.I.C., Ph.D., D.Sc. (Lond.), A.I.C.

5. M.M. Kulasekaram, B.Sc. (Lond.) (Retired Vice Principal, Royal College)

6. Dr. V. Nadarajah, L.R.C.P. and S. (Edin.), L.R.F.P. and S. (Glas.)

7. C. K. Ratnam, 8. S. Sellamuttu, OBE, (Mayor of Colombo)

9. Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan, Kt. C.B.E., C.C.S., B.Sc.(Lond) (Civil Servant)

10. K.T. Chittampalam, Proctor S.C. and N.P.

11. M.S. Kandiah.

12. S. Mahadevan, (Director, Sterling Products Ltd. - later Maharajah Organisation)

13. Senator Peri Sundaram, M.A., LL.B. (Cantab), Bar-at-Law and Advocate

14. Sankar Iyer Mahadevan,

15. K.C. Thangarajah, (later Chairman Paper Mills Corporation and Eelanadu)

16. R.A. Nadesan, (once Chairman, Express Newspapers Ltd.)

17. S. Somasunderam, O.B.E., J.P. (Proctor and N.P., later President of the Ceylon Law Society, and also later held the office of the President of HES and also of All Ceylon Hindu Congress)

18. Senator S. Nadesan, Advocate

19. M. Kanagasabay, M.INST.T

20. V.A. Kandiah, B.Sc. (London), Advocate (later M.P., for Kayts)

21. A. Subaramaniam, (Director, Mascons Limited)

22. A. Ragunather, B.Sc., (Eng.) A.M.I.E.F.

23. K. Satchithananda, B.Sc.(Lond.), A.C.A. - Chartered Accountant

24. M. Vairamuttu

C. Nagalingam was elected the first President of the HES. Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan and Senator Peri Sunderam were elected Vice-Presidents. S. Mahadevan was the first Secretary and K. Satchithananda the first Treasurer. Messrs S. Somasunderam, M.M. Kulasegaram and A. Ragunather were the other members of the first Board of Governors. R.M. Palaniappa Chettiar, A.N.R.M. Ramasamy Chettiyar, KR. KN.AR.KN. Ramanathar and S.K. Vaiyapuri were the first representatives of the Trustees of Sri Kathiresan Temple to attend the first meeting of the HES. Messrs. M.S. Kandiah and A. Ragunathar were responsible for making the preliminary arrangements.

Initial task

Those 24 founders’ initial task was to find money to launch the school project and their target was to collect Rupees Ten Lakhs. A pamphlet was issued - 10,000 copies in English and 5,000 copies in Tamil - and they said in their appeal issued on February 20, 1951 as follows:- “We have thought it proper to call upon ourselves - 24 founder members of the Hindu Educational Society - to make the initial sacrifice in this great cause.

We felt that we would not be justified in appealing to the public for contributions without first providing tangible proof of our own earnestness to make this big venture a success. Some of the 24 members cannot contribute much, but still we have put up one lakh of rupees, the money required immediately for the establishment of the Primary School.”

Later, Justice C. Nagalingam had this to say on the initial efforts of his colleagues:-

“And so it was that the beginning of the year 1951 saw the formation of the Hindu Educational Society for the sole purpose of establishing a Hindu School, not in a spirit of competition or rivalry with any other institution but to supplement the task of these institutions and to take the overflow from them with which they were unable to cope.

“Through the indefatigable efforts of Proctor Somasunderam, Senator Advocate S. Nadesan and Advocate V.A. Kandiah, the Society was able almost immediately to secure an acre of valuable land in the heart of Colombo situated at Bambalapitiya. That land was placed at the disposal of the Society as a result of the magnificent generosity of Annamalai Mudaliyar, the Managing Director of the Madras Palayakat Co. and his co-directors, who are the trustees of the Shree Kathiravelautha Swamy Temple at First Cross Street and of the Manicka Pillaiyar Temple at Bambalapitiya.”

It is on this leased land the Lorenz Road front portion of the school and Saraswathie Hall now stand. The portion of the land on which the Saraswathie Hall stands was separated by HES before the school was taken over by the Government in 1962, but the College has been given free use of the Hall whenever it required.

In the month of March 1951 the Pillaiyar Padasalai was shifted to the present premises. K. Pathmanathan was the first Principal of the school. T. Sathasivam functioned as the Head Master of the Primary School.

Writing to the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of this school in 1976 K.C. Thangarajah then Secretary of the Hindu Educational Society said:-

“Planning for the future certainly calls for introspection; deep thinking, sound and sober judgement and far-sightedness.

“One cannot of course chart a new course for an institution that has a solid achievement of 25 years behind it and the interest of future generations ahead, without relating to the life of the Community that it serves and the life of the nation as a whole.

“In the case of an individual it may be possible to pull out roots and look for better soil elsewhere.

“But in the case of institutions such as this, representing as it does the trust placed on us by the founders, many of whom are no more with us, our responsibility is greater, men such as Justice C. Nagalingam, S. Mahadevan, Sir Kanthiah Vaithiananthan, Dr. A. Kandiah, M. M. Kulasegaram, K. T. Chittampalam, Senator Peri Sundaram, A. Subramaniam, A.Ragunather, V. A. Kandiah.

“Their memory is sacred to us, and whatever heritage they left behind, has to be safeguarded.”

Upper classes shifted to Ratmalana

The parents and well wishers of the school envisaging a well planned institution and desirous of ensuring an integrated development of the physique and mind of its students decided to acquire land at Ratmalana for expansion.

The land was acquired and foundation stone for the new building was laid by Sir John Kotelawala, (Prime Minister) on May 2,1953. Owing to the interest taken and support given by our community led by the HES the majestic buildings which stand there now took shape. Before the completion of the buildings, the post primary students from Bambalapitiya were shifted to Ratmalana in 1955.

During the course of time Bambalapitiya school began to function as primary school and the school with upper classes at Ratmalana as Colombo Hindu College as a post primary school. One principal served as the head of both the institutions.

Management of both schools

The history of the growth of Hindu College Colombo at Bambalapitiya) will be incomplete if we fail to honour the services done by the heads of our school at the initial stages.

It was K. Pathmanathan, the first Principal, who took a keen interest in the development of the school and paved the way for its smooth growth till 1957. (T. Sathasivam was the headmaster of the Primary section). His service was continued by N. Satyendra (Barrister) who functioned as Principal in an honorary capacity in 1958. Following him T. Subramaniam (1959-62) and S. Ambalavanar (1963-67) served as Principals.


Hindu College, Colombo - Temple of learning - Part II:

Pulling through trying times

Kandiah Neelakandan

In 1954 the Hindu Educational Society raised funds to build an auditorium for the benefit of the school and also of the Hindu community. DKS Brothers were invited from India to perform a drama as a fund raising program. Rs. 83,000.00 was thus raised. Although we may now wonder whether it is worth talking about such a sum that would have been a substantial sum those days. With those funds Saraswathie Hall was built by the HES on a part of the land given on a long lease by the Trustee of Shri Sammangodar Manicka Vinayagar Temple. The Lorenz Road front portion of this school premises was the balance portion leased to the HES by the said Trustee.

As mentioned earlier Colombo Hindu College at Ratmalana was constructed in the years 1953 to 1955.

To build that, some of the founders had given their personal guarantees and mortgages. In fact they first purchased a large estate and blocked them into lots. Having sold some of the lots they took away the burden of the costs of the land. It shows what a sacrifice they were making for their dream to come true and at the same time they used their business acumen for a social benefit. As stated earlier, the upper classes at Bambalapitiya were transferred to Ratmalana in 1955.

In 1958, the school had severe set backs. One was the demise of Justice C. Nagalingam who was the Manager of the school (in the previous year one of the founders and ardent supporters of the school, the philanthropist S. Mahadevan had passed away), the other being the communal riots in that year (1958).

Sivamani Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan who was a well respected Civil Servant who functioned as the Permanent Secretary and the construction of the first flats - Bambalapitiya Flats - is his brainchild, became the Manager of the school in 1959. In 1962 the school was vested in the Government.

New shape and life
It was during the period of service of S. Ambalavanar, the idea of making this school to serve the needs of Hindus on a par with the Colombo Hindu College at Ratmalana took shape.

In 1967, under the stewardship of P. Nalliah, the then Principal, Grade six was started and the school was raised to the status of a junior school. The two institutions which were functioning as one body, began to function as two separate entities from that date.

P. Nalliah gave a new shape and life for the school.

First ever sports meet was held on March 31,1968. First ever prize giving was held on March 28, 1969 with Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake as the Chief Guest.

After the retirement of P. Nalliah in 1970, T. Sangaralingam took over the Principalship of the school from February 1971.

In the N.C.G.E. Examination held for the first time in 1975, ‘76 out of ‘97 students from the school qualified to follow H.N.C.E. classes. This was considered a great achievement. Consequent to this, the school was given the privilege of starting the H.N.C.E. Classes [equivalent to the present GCE (A/L)] from 3rd April 1976.

In July 1972, Dr. P. Udagama, Secretary of the Ministry of Education, participating as the Chief Guest at the Prize Giving said - “Hindu College has been an example not only for the schools in Colombo but also for the other schools in this country.

It is not only the principal and the staff of the school but Parents Association takes keen interest in developing this school - it is really a pleasant surprise.”

In 1975, the colour of the school flag was changed to amber and gold.

Dream of dreamers
These are the words of wisdom expressed in the Administration Report written in 1954 by the late S. Mahadevan (then Secretary):-

“Though we have done a great deal so far with very limited resources the task ahead is of a colossal nature.

Much more determination and courage on the part of the Hindu public is needed for the fulfillment of the task and the Board of Governors is not without hope that the philanthropists will yet arise in our midst to give concrete form and shape to what has been characterised as the ‘Dream of Dreamers’.

This College has played a significant and unique role in the life of our community in Colombo. Whether it is a glorious moment or time of crisis it was the place for our people to turn to.

It had given shelter to those who flocked to it during periods of troubles and given accommodation for students to those who were displaced from their areas. By this ancillary role this temple of learning has been a haven for us in the Metropolis.

Although the Founder Society thought it prudent not to resist the vesting of this school in the Government in 1962, the Parent-Teachers Association and the School Development Society of which some members have been those of the Founder Society continued to develop this college.

While this school served as a centre in many respects for our community even after it became a government school, our community also reciprocated by nurturing the school.

Thus it remained our school for all of us. Parents, well wishers, old boys and teachers made their contributions through the School Development Society and also through School Development Board and the School Development Trust.

The dream of the dreamers was maintained as a reality due to the efforts of a number of dedicated parents and well-wishers who worked tirelessly with the principals to take their sc

hool forward.
The trend set by the forerunners in the PTA and SDS put their successors on the correct track and we owe a duty to remember those great sincere and devoted leaders of our Society. To mention a few names the late K. Visvalingam, Dr K. Velayuthapillai, S. K. Mahesan and S. Patkunam, the latter functioned as the Vice Principal for several years and also as Acting Principal.

He was the live wire of the activities of the school and worked as a catalyst to encourage the parents and the Old Boys’ Association to take an active role.

In early seventies, K. S. Mahesan had functioned as the Secretary of the Parent-Teacher Association which later became the School Development Society (SDS). K. Sivagananathan (well known Banker), Barrister-at-Law K. Nadarajah, Mr. and Mrs. S. Gulasingham, P. Kathiravelu, Prof P. Poologasingham, E. Ratnam, P. Kathiravelu, Mr. and Mrs. V. Kailasapillai, V. Ratnasabapathy (who later became Principal of Sri Lanka Law College) were some of the stalwarts of the SDS. I have already mentioned K. Viswalingam’s role. M. Arunasalam (an officer of the Ministry of Industries), T. Kandasamy who was an officer of the Education Department, K. Ramanathan (of Buildings Department), S. Tharmarajah (of Mascons Limited), and M. Balasubramaniam (Customs Officer), had performed the onerous task of the Secretary of the SDS those days.

Communal riots
Balasubramaniam was succeeded by A. P. Gnanasundaram in June 1986. In June 1987 I had to take the responsibility as the Secretary of the SDS.

Having continued in that position for three years I had to carry the same responsibility for another spell of three years after taking a break of five months in 1990.

The 1983 communal riots caused a temporary set-back to this school. However, due to the courage exhibited in action by the then Principal, T. Sankaralingam with the able assistance of his deputy S. Patkunam, whose efficiency was at par excellence in the time of crisis helped a number of refugees who took shelter in the school.

Dr K. Velauthapillai and A. Visvalingam who were two lieutenants of the SDS are the two names still remembered by those who suffered in time of crisis. Arrangements were made to conduct classes temporarily at R.C.T.M.

School at Bambalapitya for about 400 students who remained in Colombo with 27 teachers who were available. Classes up to 8th standard were held at that school. Arrangements were made to have other classes at Isipathana Maha Vidyalaya. Patkunam worked tirelessly to make those temporary arrangements. In January 1984, the school restarted to work as normal but with about 300 which number arose to 1,000 in a few months and it was the next year 1985 when I began my association with this school as my eldest son had just been admitted.

In June 1985, T. Sangaralingam who was really disappointed with and disgusted by the consequences of the unfortunate communal riots of 1983 went abroad on leave and thereafter retired after serving the school as its principal for several years. T. Sangaralingam is always commended for his services in developing this school.


Hindu College, Colombo - Temple of learning - Part III:

Services and sacrifices made by founder fathers

Kandiah Neelakandan

Vadamaradchy Operations (Military Action) in the Northern Jaffna in 1987 resulted in a number of families moving from Jaffna to Colombo. Hindu Citizens’ Committee under the leadership of Justice V. Manickavasagar was formed in Colombo.

Hindu College became the centre of activities of the Hindu Citizens’ Committee and helped displaced students from Jaffna. Thus the College continued to play a leading not merely as a school but a leading institution for the community. Thus it went beyond the dreams of the dreamers.

National school
Rajalingam was transferred to the Examination Department on August 31, 1990. V. Sundaramoorthy who was then the Vice-Principal acted as the Principal from October 21, 1990. Thereafter, S. Sri Rajasingham served as the principal for a short period from October 22,1990 to June 30,1991.

Since 1988, the HES, (the Founder Society), the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, the SDS and the Federation of School Development Societies in Tamil schools in W. P. and also M. S. Sellasamy who represented Colombo electorate in the Parliament requested the Government to declare Hindu College as a National School.

Fortieth anniversary for our family
However, it was R.M. Pulendran who ultimately had the school declared as a National School with effect from September 11, 1991.

I wish to place on record that R. M. Pulendran was taking a keen interest in the welfare of the school ever since she assumed office a speaking on behalf of the SDS I had the pleasure of commending her in the presence of her leader, the President, that although she was not blessed with a son she was the Mother for all the boys at Hindu College.

On February 12, 1991 the fortieth anniversary was celebrated starting with special Poojas at Shri Viththaga Vinayagar Kovil in the school.

Fourty well-wishers of the school lit the traditional oil lamp and the well wishers were hosted to a dinner also at Saraswathie Hall.

I had the privilege of addressing the Fortieth Anniversary Prize Giving at which President R. Premadasa was the chief guest. Having traced the history of the school and the sacrifices made by many to develop the school I told the President “It is indeed a great satisfaction for us - the Family of Hindu College - that this school has achieved the objectives for which the founder fathers established this school. Your Excellency, I said - ‘the Family of Hindu College’. Yes, as part of that family I take pride in telling Your Excellency and other distinguished guests that it is that spirit in which we live and develop this school.”

I quoted what Lord Krishna said in Bagavat Gita: “Knowledge, object of Knowledge and the knower are the three factors that motivate action: The senses the worker and the doer are the three constituents of action”.

I thereafter appealed to the President for another block of three-storeyed building. The chief guest readily responded and said that State Education Minister who was earlier described by me, as the Mother for the children of this school would do the needful. Next day the President made the order and that is how we have a President’s Block now. Subsequently with the commencement of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations, Minister A. H. M. Fowzie also responded in the same manner with another block of three-storeyed buildings.

We had many benefactors who came to our rescue whenever we were in need of financial and other material support.

To mention a few among them, the Trustees of Shri Manicka Vinayagar Kovil who leased the front portion of the school land to the Founder Society, Shri Palaniappa Chettiar and his Co-trustees of the old Shri Kathiresan Kovil who gave the land (for the back side of the school) the late K. Gunaratnam, the late A. Subramaniam, the late T. Neethirajah, V. Balasubramaniam of N. A. Vaithialingam & Co., V. Balasubramaniam of Coba Mills and M. Thavayogarajah.

Cultural activities
Giving life to the dreams of the Dreamers students of the college have been given ample opportunities in their religious and cultural activities.

Establishment of the Kovil in 1988 went a long way to influence the religious way of life of the students.

Various cultural societies and teachers have been helpful in assisting students in various cultural activities which have taken them to the height of even winning National awards.

This is a unique advantage the children at this College had when compared with those who have to study in the other schools.

Present principal
The present Principal took over the reins of Hindu College on July 22, 1996.

I will be failing in my duty if I do not expressly acknowledge the dynamic leadership given by the present Principal, T. Muthukumaraswamy. He has an excellent style of management of delegating responsibilities to his staff and coordinating and supervising the same.

Hindu College has earned a good name and reputation largely due to his management skills. Furthermore, his honesty and integrity deserves to be specially mentioned. Those qualities have enabled him to prove to be really an efficient principal. Hindu College is fortunate to have him to lead it.

Let us remember with gratitude the great services and sacrifices made by the founder fathers and our predecessors who have held various offices in the staff, the PTA, the SDS, the SDB, and the OBA and pay homage to all those who are no more with us in the Golden Jubilee year but whose spirit will always bless the College.

I wish to conclude with quoting the Mission of the Hindu College formulated under the leadership of the present Principal:-

The mission of the school is to guide the students in the light of National Educational policies, preserving Tamil as well as Saiva traditions and values, to make them competent, creative, knowledgeable and disciplined citizens in order to face future challenges.


The writer is Secretary, Hindu Educational Society


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