Magnificent citadel of wisdom
A tribute to Sir Ivor Jennings:
Nothing has changed
Buildings well-known for their architectural beauty
Sir Ivor Jennings
I love to rewind the days spent in the university of Peradeniya in my
mind, playing it back slowly, pausing over unforgettable events and
replaying them... again and again. No wonder almost all her alumni look
back nostalgically to their university days.
In fact how can they ever forget the best period of their lives spent
in Sri Lanka's most beautiful university which nestles among a site of
great natural beauty on the lower slopes of the Hanthana Range and the
banks of the River Mahaweli?
So will her grateful 'children' ever overlook the name synonymous
with the University- her founder Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings?
Apart from being an educationist, the role he played as a constitutional
lawyer and a political scientist during the crucial years of Sri Lanka's
Colonial history and the early post-colonial era is significant.
When a handful of ungrateful students protested against naming the
newly built hostel after Sir. Ivor Jennings, voices for this great man
gained volume, making the former shudder with guilt and shame.
Sir Ivor Jennings, a Professor of Law at the London School of
Economics arrived in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1941 with the intention
of establishing the first residential University in the country which
was a dire need at that time. He was appointed as the second principal
of the Ceylon University College.
Though the site to establish a university had been acquired by the
time of his arrival, it was Sir. Ivor Jennings who made all the
necessary arrangements to make it a reality.
His plan was to create the university in Colombo first and later move
it to Peradeniya and he submitted a memorandum to the Minister of
Education C. W. W. Kannangara stressing that urgent need.
By combining the Ceylon University College and the medical college
into a single unit, University of Ceylon in Colombo was established on
July 1st, 1942.
What if Sir. Ivor Jennings thought of never moving it to Peradeniya
as this was a time of great calamity? The Second World War had started
affecting the East at that time and there had been a shortage of
Also the site had been taken over by the armed services for setting
up the headquarters of the allied South East Asia Command (SEAC) during
the period of war . Determined to construct the University in Peradeniya,
Sir Ivor waited patiently till 1946 and the construction of Sri Lanka's
'most beautiful university' thus commenced finally.
Sir. Ivor knew that his intention was great and that is probably why
he wrote the following lines in his autobiography "The Road to
Peradeniya" (edited and introduced by H. A. I. Goonetileke): "The
building of a university is the most valuable job that any body could be
asked to do".
The exemplary planning and lay out of the university complex were
done by the consultants Sir. Patrick Abercrombie and Clifford Holliday.
And who wouldn't want to know her designer? It was Shirley de Alwis
attached to the Public Works Department.
Anyway as floods hit the area unexpectedly the major scheme which was
to be put into operation in two phases had to be changed. Yet, amidst
all the difficulties, Sir Ivor Jennings and his team worked tirelessly
and he saw his dream becoming a reality gradually as the first batch of
students from Colombo was transferred to the University of Ceylon,
Peradeniya in 1949. October 6, 1952 marks the formal establishment of
Today what we see there is a magnificent university. The University
buildings well known for their architectural beauty, hostels, staff
bungalows blend well with the greenery.
The style of architecture is based on the Kandyan style. Sir Ivor had
firmly believed in the importance of environmental factors in emotional
and intellectual development and do we need any testimony to prove it
other than the Symbol of wisdom in Peradeniya?
In a society where most of the people tend to 'forget' their past as
they go up the social ladder, Sir Ivor Jennings' character is
exemplarary. He frankly admits that his early days were spent in
relative poverty, that his father was a carpenter who was unemployed
often and his mother was a daughter of a night watch man.
The way he climbed the social scale is a fine example to many of the
University students in the country who undergo such economic hardships
often. The solution lies in courage and determination, not in hatred or
envy. If they follow Sir. Ivor Jennings, without bearing malice against
their well-off batch mates or the staff many of the problems can be
overcome without much effort.
The River Mahaweli still flows across the University enhancing the
natural beauty. The Hanthana range stands as her guardian. Saffron
coloured beautiful flowers cascade down from the trees. Nothing has
A few years ago we were her under graduates, now we are her alumni
who nostalgically yet with pride recollect our days spent there. Some of
her future students are still schooling waiting longingly to study there
in the future, just as I aspired to enter this great university one day
as a child. So Dear, Sir, can a person ever think of greater 'honour'