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  Rahula College, Matara: 75 years of distinguished service  
     
 

The year was 1923,when British colonialism was at it's peak. English as a language was dominating the national fabric of Ceylon in every respect and at all levels, from South to North and East to West. So was the case, not only in the public service and the private sector, but also in the homes of a wide Ceylonese community following British tradition, in preference to the indigenous cultures and oriental practices In the tip of the Southern Province, beyond Galle, hardly could the up coming generation match these trends without a properly streamlined English education, as was enjoyed by the more fortunate children in and around many other cities of the country.

This stigma primarily became the vision of a noble man called F Gordon Pearce - himself a British, who was the Principal of Mahinda College, Galle - one of Ceylon's best known educational institutions of the day. Mr. Pearce propelled himself into action to bridge this gap in terms of English education, between Sinhala children in Matara and those in Galle. He spoke to a group of philanthropists from Ruhuna to start a school in Matara with the prime objective of teaching English. They organized themselves as the Matara Buddhist Education Society, with the popular Notary Public D T W Rajapaksa as the Secretary, and founded Parakramabahu School in a small building rented out for the purpose on the Main Street, Matara. Mr. Pearce, in his unparallel magnanimity offered to release one of his most committed and dedicated senior teachers called Mr. William de Silva as the Principal of the new school. Mr William de Silva earned the respect of all Southerners then, for the sacrifice he made and the risk he took, by giving up his well - established position in Mahinda College to pioneer an unregistered small school in Matara.

On May 01, 1923, when Mr. Pearce himself was invited to declare the school open, he did so with a log entry made in the School Record Book with one of the most inspiring set of words for the residents of Matara at the time, which is today a part of well conserved history in the annals of education down South. He wrote, "To the Glory of Buddha Sasana and the Service of Humanity, this School was dedicated in the opening ceremony. In the first lesson formally given to the newly enrolled pupils, they were asked to repeat from the blackboard inscription, `May I be a true Buddhist'. That both these aspirations, for the School and its pupils, may be realized more and more fully in the coming years is my earnest hope".

It is 75 years now, since Mr. Gordon Pearce proclaimed in very clear terms what the mission of the new school should be. What happened thereafter is not just the history of this little school only, but also the story of the awakening of a new life for Ruhuna in particular, and the well being of the Southern Province as well as the country in general in the subsequent years.

Immediately after its founding, hundreds of parents of Matara and the suburbs brought their sons to Parakramabahu School for English education, and the problem of space came up. The business and industrial magnate of Matara, C A Odiris de Silva and his family with great generosity offered their valuable property called Siriwardanawatta where the famous Saram Walawwa was located to shift Parakramabahu School to a more spacious premises. With the shift in the location, there was also the shift in the name, Parakramabahu School to Rahula Vidyalaya.

With these major historical events, Rahula was attracting more and more children, but it somehow remained unregistered with the Education Department. The Department manned by some highest elements of bureaucracy, instead of recognizing the need for the new school, threatened the parents to take them to courts for sending their children to an unregistered school. The much disturbed leadership of the Matara Buddhist Education Society, appealed to the then Legislative Council member Forrester Obeysekara for assistance. The white skinned Director of Education asked Mr. Obeysekera, 'Why, Rahula, when there are other schools in Matara for the children to learn English?' and the matter ended there. The Good Samaritan Gordon Pearce, who was then resident in India, extended his hand of assistance again to Rahula, and through the new Director of Education McRay, he was able to register Rahula Vidyalaya with the Government as an Assisted School.

With the major hurdles thus cleared, there was no looking back for Rahula. Year after year, chapters and chapters were written on innumerable epoch making events that took place within its precincts to the delight of its worthy pioneers. By its 75 th year, over twenty five thousand students had passed through its enviable portals, everyone of them determined and destined to serve the humanity - the cause Rahula was committed to 75 years ago. After yhe learned founding Principal William de Silva, there were 11 other Principals who guided the destinies of Rahulites during this period. They were C Amirthalingam - a brother of famous C Sundaralingam, J R Bhatt - an Indian Scholar, D J Kumarage - who dawned the golden era of Rahula, B P Ariyawansa - 0ne of the first University Graduates Rahula produced and eventually who became its first Old Boy Principal, B Suriarachchi - Principal of Richmond and Royal in later years, A H Godavitharana - another old Rahulite, P Wijewardana, Mahinda Jagoda, Nanda Weerratunga, Ariyasingha M Liyanage, and N Ariyawansa, the present Principal, Who is also an old boy.

Rahula could also be proud of some of their most illustrious teachers it had in the teaching staff, such as the Head Master L A W de Silva, C Justin Wijayawardana, R K J Jineris de Silva, L B Gunasekera P B J Hewawasam, W G M Gunadasa, L Jansz, D S Weeratunga, K P P Nair, V Chinnadurei, D P Atapattu, G Wickramaratna, N Mutukumarana, A de S Jayawardana, H Samarasingha, Siri Pandithasekera and Ivor M Fernando, to name only a few. Due to the vast contributions made by C A Odiris de Silva family to promote Rahula as a leading Buddhist School in the country, the names of C A Edwin Silva, C A Ariyatilaka, C A Harischandra, C A Dharmapala, C A Dharmasena and C A Peter Silva have been synonymous with Rahula. Some of Sri Lanka's respected names like Sir D B Jayatilaka, Ananda Rajakaruna, Gunapala Malalasekera, P de S Kularatna, L H Mettananda, Raja Hewavitharana, H W Amarasuriya, Sarath Wijesingha, D A Wanigasekera, D M Ratnayaka and many others were closely associated with the development and the progress of Rahula.

Achievements of Rahula and its students in the past 75 years have been numerous, multi faceted and remarkable. Many of them have become indelible in the national horizon due to more than one reason. Products of Rahula, with or without graduation at higher echelons of education, have dominated with considerable impact in a variety of areas ranging from academic fields such as Engineering, Medicine, Law and Judiciary, Science and Technology, and Arts and Crafts, through Industries, Business and Trade, Sports and Politics and several others. Majority of them has risen to the highest ranks in national and international policymaking, administration and management affairs, having specialized in some of the most challenging tasks in the contemporary history.

As students, many of them experienced some of the glorious achievements in the competitions they presented themselves for, scoring topmost marks and securing many firsts. In doing so, they defeated much more fancied opponents and elegant schools of the country. At studies they made their mark with no mistake, and in sports they offered formidable challenges, sometimes even creating records. Rahula also produces one of the eleven best one - day cricketers of the world in Pramodya Wickramasingha. True to the mission of serving the country and the nation, several sons of Rahula have shown great courage and gallantry at the on going war front, and a few of them have even made the supreme sacrifice.

Rahulites are active today in all places and in all fields, within Sri Lanka s well as in many countries of the world. If one were to examine the scenario in SRI Lanka alone, one may perhaps be amazed to learn that in its 75th year, Rahula learning, discipline and dedication are well represented at some of the most prestigious positions of the country, from the benches of the Supreme and the High Courts, through the Secretary to the President, Additional Secretary to the Prime Minister, Secretaries to the Ministries of Defence, Labour and Social Services, and Provincial Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries, to the Chairmen, Commissioners and Directors in over twenty offices of the Public Service alone, besides the Vice Chancellors and the Deans of the Faculties in Universities. Even in the private and the non - governmental sectors, the story is not much different.

The role of Rahula and the Rahulites was succinctly translated into a few word by Gurudewa D J Kumarage, the Principal who masterminded the renaissance of Rahula in 1937 and worked relentlessly for the glory of the school, as well as for the well being of the students, until he retired in 1956. He wrote, 'It may not be possible for every student to become a government official or a member of the learned profession. But it is possible for everyone to become an honest, disciplined and useful citizen, living at peace with himself, and his fellow human beings, and thereby fulfill the purpose of life.' And thus the desire in life of all Rahulites has been wedded to the philosophy underlined by these words, and through the wisdom, discipline and the qualities they accrued at Rahula, they aim to fulfill the purpose of life, and indeed, they do continue to achieve that fulfillment, to support their humble service to humanity.

Lal Hewapathirana
(Courtesy - Ceylon Daily News, May 20, 1998)