Colombo I saw in 1947
My very first visit to Colombo was in April 1947, when I was a
teenager and my reminiscence is clear and vivid of the city and places I
visited then with my parents.
We came to Colombo by Kelani Valley Train, boarding the train at
Kahawatta railway station, the one before Opanayake which was the last
station on KV Line. Coming from the remote village of Emetiyagoda in
Sabaragamuwa boarding a train to Colombo was indeed a thrilling
experience we youngsters looked forward to passing many railway stations
travelling all day long.
We reached Maradana our destination in the evening. I well remember
climbing the steep stairs and coming out of the station to the road at
Maradana which was well lit up and full of traffic with tramcars moving
and the street filled with people on the pavement. At Maradana we
boarded a bus to Dehiwala where we were to stay at our aunty's house
down Fairline Lane.
Following day we visited the Colombo museum where the Holy Relics of
Sariputta and Moggallana, the Aggrasavaka of Buddha brought down from
India were in exposition for Buddhists to pay homage. The main purpose
of the visit to Colombo was to pay homage to these relics.
The entire museum was gaily decorated and a long line of devotees in
waiting, winding its way to worship and pay homage to Sacred Relics.
A group of drummers clad in white with decorative red headgear was
humming their drums outside the Relic Chamber on the green. The entire
place looked dignified and serene and devotees moving slowly and
silently to pay homage. These many hundreds of Bhikkhus coming in a
different queue to pay homage.
After worshipping the Relics we visited many halls in the museum
where historical objects including the throne of the last King of Kandy
were on display. We the younger were awe-struck by the impressive
museum, its long corridors and archways in gleaming white. The large
lawns outside neatly kept with flower beds made a lasting impression in
my mind of beauty and order in a garden as part of a large building.
Getting out of the museum with a deep sigh, father took us to show
the Race Course, Royal College and the University at Reid Avenue. We
walked down Thurstan Road to Reid Avenue under the shades of giant Mara
trees grown on both sides of the road, forming a green canopy over the
We saw the massive Race Course, the grand stand and the white railing
along the race track. The university building and its centre tower and
the play ground in front were very impressive. I remember father showing
some students entering the large building and saying if we studied hard
we too could study there. We had no idea then what a university was.
Later when we saw the red buildings of the Royal College nearby with
very large trees in the front garden. I thought university was another
college for senior boys.
Boarding a bus from Reid Avenue we came to Galle Face Green where I
was awe-struck by the vast scene I saw - The vast ocean in front with
the green running along the Galle Face Hotel at one end and the
Parliament, grey in colour, standing at the other end. We all walked the
entire length of the Galle Face ground to the spot called Galle Buck, a
rocky spot with a few coconut palms and the sea waves dashing on the
rocks to reach the beach. We were let to touch the sea water and walk on
the beach. From there we saw many ships in the sea across and the
harbour at the distance. We walked up to Chatham Street where we had
lunch. The shops along that street were full of people mostly foreign
After lunch with ice cream as dessert we hit the street again and saw
the massive grand Queen's House with two impressive gates with uniformed
guards standing motionless armed with guns. We were too scared to get
near the impressive gates and look closely. Father explained that they
were special police guarding the Queen's House where the Governor
resides. We visited the beautiful garden next to Queen's House. It was
called Gorden Gardens. There we saw beautiful beds of flowers, roses and
many others well laid with pathways to walk on adorning that garden.
It was full of European visitors, some seated on the benches eating
bananas and pineapples, under shady trees. They appeared to be enjoying
the sun very much as some had large hats in their hands.
Leaving the beautiful Gorden Gardens to them we then visited the
Colombo harbour and saw large ships anchored at a distance.
We saw the jetty and the landing pier and few white passengers
leaving in boats, some carrying bunches of bananas and pineapples.
Father explaining to us that they were European travellers returning to
their countries by ship.
There were several sailors all in white uniforms wearing caps and
appearing very smart on duty at the pier. Opposite the harbour was the
Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH) from where many travellers walked to the
pier. We were told that Europeans stayed either in the GOH and boarded
the ships to travel to England. While watching them leaving in boats to
big ships, I thought to myself that journey across the ocean must be
thrilling and wished I too could go on board a ship London bound. My
father explained to us while walking back from the harbour, that the sea
journey took several weeks and the ship had all the things the
passengers required during the long sea voyage. That visit to Colombo
harbour made a deep impression on me and kindled a desire to travel
across the seas one day.
We returned to Emetiyagoda after a few days and the pictures of
Colombo, the buildings, the roads, tram cars, parks, gardens and the
harbour and the ships lingered in my mind for months. Father bought us
Pilot brand fountain pens and tooth brushes and tooth paste for us to
use as utility items in Colombo.
My second visit to Colombo was in 1950 to join a college for studies
after junior level education in Dickwella, Matara at Vijitha Vidyalaya.
After coming to Colombo during my early youth, I grew up in Colombo and
saw the city growing up after independence in 1948, and experiencing
many changes within the city's urban environment.
When I came to Colombo I stayed in a private boarding house, down
Maligakanda Road, Maradana. The boarding house was close to Vidyodaya
Pirivena and was opposite to Cliffton Girls School.
Then the area around Maligakanda was typically a residential area,
close to two leading boys schools, Ananda College and Nalanda College.
The boarding house had a number of students attending Ananda College
including my brother and two graduate teachers of Nalanda College.
I attended Alexandra College, Colombo 7 managed by G. Weeramantrie,
the well-known maths teacher of the Royal College. Maligakanda area
being close to leading schools had boarding facilities in most private
houses. It was a service to outstation students attending Colombo
schools as well as a source of supplementary income to those
householders who had space to let and willing to provide full-board to a
Those days college teachers wore full dress in white and wore a black
tie while most junior students wore navy blue shorts and white shirts
and the seniors white long trousers and white short sleeve shirts and
girls white frocks.
In the mornings and early afternoons Maligakanda Road, otherwise
drab, turned lively with white clad students moving down the road after
school on their way home.
wThe girls were orderly though somewhat chatty. The most striking
feature was that they were not accompanied by parents or any elders.
This was probably due to order and propriety that prevailed then in
Colombo. Most students walked to schools by themselves and hardly anyone
came in vans or other private vehicles. So did teachers and few came in
cars or rickshaws.
The entire length of Maligakanda right up to the water supply
reservoir on the hill, was dotted with houses some quaint and others
cute with hanging flower pots or window boxes.
Only a few had front yards to grow flowers, but most had neatly kept
flower pots at the entry points to the houses. One well kept house down
Maligakanda Road was 'Sigiriya'.
It was the house where the late Karunaratne Abeysekara and his
brothers, who were students at Nalanda College lived with their parents.
I saw the famous lyricist and radio - broad caster going about along
He was immaculately dressed in white trousers and short sleeve shirt.
And he wore a thin moustache.
Opposite the 'House Sigiriya' was the well-known dancer Premakumar's
Epitawala's residence. On an ordinary day this road was not congested
and one could cross at any point without fear as only a few cars and
rickshaws moved up and down.
Evenings were colourful with yellow robed bhikkus in groups, leaving
the pirivena after classes to their respective temples. Being close to
Vidyodaya Pirivena, there were several bookshops and publishing houses
along Maligakanda Road, Maradana.
(To be continued)