125 years of service to the nation:
Founder of Dharmaraja
Colonel Henry Steele Olcott
Dharmaraja College, Kandy, one of Sri Lanka's premier Buddhist
schools, turns 125 years on June 30. It was the first Kandy Buddhist
School to be launched by the Buddhist Theosophical Society led by Sir
Henry Steele Olcott on June 30 1887, fulfilling a need of the era for a
Buddhist education system in the British colonial period. Since then
Dharmaraja has produced notable alumni, including statesmen. It has
produced erudite and patriotic sons who contributed in numerous ways to
the progress of their motherland.
Billimoria building situated at Dalada Maligawa square
Dharmaraja College was named after the Buddha (King of Dhamma).
Dharmaraja owes its existence to Colonel Henry Steele Olcott,
philanthropist and the founder of the Buddhist Theosophical Society.
Olcott was an American born on August 2, 1832. His parents were English
and had migrated to America. He was the eldest son of a family of six
siblings. A Christian by birth, he came across a copy of the Panadura
Controversy by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. Col. Olcott made an
extensive study of Buddhism. He came to Ceylon on May 17, 1880 and at
Vijayananda Pirivena, Weliwatte, Galle, Col. Olcott and Madam Blavatsky
became Buddhists by accepting the Triple Gem and observing Panchaseela,
from Ven. Akmeemana Dharmarama.He started branches of the Theosophical
Society in Colombo, Kandy and Galle with the support of Ven.
Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Ven.
Walane Sri Siddhartha Thera and Ven. Ratmalane Dhammaloka Thera along
with Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harishchandra and Sir D. B.
The Theosophists identified that a major factor for the decline of
Sinhala Buddhists was the lack of proper education facilities, and the
best solution was to make available educational facilities with a solid
Buddhist religious background. In 1887 Colonel Olcott visited Kandy and
expressed his wish to start an English medium Buddhist school. It was
decided that the plot of land in front of Old Palace, adjoining the
Natha Devalaya in Kandy town was the best for building the school. On
Thursday, June 30, 1887, Dharmaraja College, under the name "Kandy
Buddhist High School" was opened. Andiris de Silva was the first
principal and the only teacher of the school at that time which had
enrolled 12 students with the school's motto in Pali 'Attahi Attano
Natho' , "oneself is the refuge for one", a quote from the Dhammapada.
In 1890, Sir D.B. Jayatilake was appointed as principal. The school
had 80 students by then, and Sir D.B.'s popularity as a leader and his
multi-disciplinary fluency and knowledge boosted enrolments as well as
the quality of school. Sir Jayatilake was appointed the deputy principal
of Ananda College in 1898 and later went onto become the Governor of
H. Banbury succeeded Sir D.B. as principal and he brought forth a
campaign to raise funds for a permanent building, travelling even in
remote villages collecting donations. He used the money to build a
single storeyed building near the city premises of the school, which was
later named the 'Banbury Building' in his honour. One of the most
notable events during his time was officially changing the name of the
school to Dharmaraja College.
Wilton Hack took over from Banbury in 1899 and accepted the challenge
of developing the school's resources. Later in 1899, following the
retirement of Hack, C.S. Rajaratnam was appointed principal. Though he
himself was not a Buddhist, he was an acclaimed scholar and continued to
guide the school along Buddhist principles and attitudes, while giving
more emphasis to improve the standard of education.
Dharmaraja's golden era began with the appointment of K.F. Billimoria
as principal in 1902. He recruited many able educators as dedicated as
himself towards heightening the students of Dharmaraja, and also
identified the need of developing the physical resources to match the
The founder of the world's largest voluntary children movement, the
Scouts Movement, Lord Robert Stephenson Smith Baden Powell visited the
"Lake View Park International Scout Centre", the summit which is on a
promontory in the Lake View Park within the 57-acre land belonging to
Dharmaraja, twice during this period. It is a unique distinction held by
any Sri Lankan school. The first Kandy Dharmaraja Scout Group began 1913
under the Billimoria and scout master, J.H. de Saram and many sports and
other extra activities were encouraged. The first Kandy Dharmaraja
Scouts won the coveted "King's Flag" for three consecutive years from
1917 to 1919. The flag was traditionally awarded to the troop in any of
British colonies that had the large number of King's scouts. This is an
unprecedented record held by any of the Sri Lankan schools.
The big match between Dharmaraja - Kingswood also began at this time.
Several world renowned figures visited Dharmaraja during his office
including Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Baden Powell and D.H. Lawrence.
Billimoria served 30 years as principal and retired in 1932, which
led to beginning of another important chapter of Dharmaraja history.
P. de S. Kularatne, who had served as the principal of Ananda College
took over duties from Billimoria in 1932. Dharmaraja was facing a
financial crisis when Kularatne assumed duties, and even Lake View was
under the threat of being sold. But, Kularatne was able to save the land
and secure a home for Dharmaraja, for centuries to come.
In 1936 Kularatne was re-appointed as the principal of Ananda and L.
H. Mettananda who was Ananda's principal was appointed principal of
Dharmaraja. Mettananda set off to build two two-storeyed buildings at
the Lake View premises. It was funded using proceedings of the Golden
Jubilee Carnival in 1937 and other fund-raising projects. Dharmaraja
started Advanced Level classes in 1940 and the secondary section of the
college was moved to Lake View, leaving only the primary section at the
original Maligawa-Natha Devala premises.
S.A. Wijayathilake was appointed principal in November 1945, the same
year that free education was established in Sri Lanka. Wijayathilake's
vision and action assured Dharmaraja's place as one of the best schools
in the island.
Wijayathilake retired in 1955 and was replaced by Charles Godage, who
was also a patron of arts and an acclaimed poet and writer. By 1959 the
end of Godage's office, the number of students had risen from 842 to
D.B. Thewarapperuma took over the duties from Godage, and continued
the progress. The academic results and performance in sports saw
improvements and in 1960 Dharmaraja, along with Ananda was taken by the
Government which was a result of strong campaign led by Thewarapperuma
and others. This meant that further development and improvement of the
school's resources could now be done without a cost burden to the school
Colonel Perusinghe took office as principal in 1961 and this period
showed a marked improvement in the number of students and staff members.
Col. Perusinghe retired in 1964 to be replaced by Colonel S. L. B.
Amaranayake, an old boy of Dharmaraja. On June 27, 1965 the Kandy
Municipal Council officially named the access road to the school as
'Dharmaraja Mawatha' in recognition of the great service rendered by the
D.G.B. Samarajiwa took the helm of Dharmaraja in 1971 from Col.
Amaranayake, and was responsible for re-structuring the administration
of the College. After a short but important term as Principal,
Samarajiva left for Matara as Director of Education in 1973.
A.P. Gunaratne, another old Rajan took over office from Samarajiva in
1973 and gave priority to develop all aspects of the school. By this
time Dharmaraja showed the best academic results in the island with many
students being qualified for university education.
Gunaratne initiated a Career Guidance Unit in 1983, which provided
great assistance to school-leavers for building a successful career. In
1987 Dharmaraja celebrated its centenary with a Centenary Scout Jamboree
with an exhibition and many other events, which only boosted the fame
Dharmaraja had already acquired through a hundred years of fruitful
service to the nation as an educational institute.
Gunaratne built the school so painstakingly with great devotion and
commitment, for nearly two decades and carried it to dizzy heights by
the Centenary Year. His period was indeed a momentous era in the history
Gunaratne was appointed Principal of Ananda College in 1987 and U. B.
Herath took office as the principal. He took the initial steps to set up
a modern auditorium for the college. Nihal Herath was appointed
principal of Dharmaraja in 1988 and he served for two years and showed a
vast improvement in rugby football in the school.
T.B. Damunupola succeeded Nihal Herath and during his period
Dharmaraja scouts won all the awards presented by the Sri Lanka Scout
Association at the annual awards ceremony and scouts celebrated 80 years
of scouting at Dharmaraja in 1993. W.M. Bandaranayake took office after
Damunupola was appointed as the principal of Ananda in 1995 and gave
more emphasis to improve the standard of the college's sports
activities. Asoka Herath, the most senior staffer of the college was
appointed principal in 1998. During his period the college marked a vast
improvement in both education and extra-curricular activities.
In 2001, S.M. Keerthiratne (the current principal) was appointed and
took over the challenge of developing the school's infrastructure
facilities. Major tasks like a modern playground, swimming pool and sick
ward were completed during the period of Keerthiratne. He made
Dharmaraja College the 'knowledge hub' of hill country. He has already
taken steps to modernise the Lake View Park International Scout Centre
for preparing the Centenary Celebrations International Jamboree of the
first Kandy Dharmaraja Scout Group, scheduled to be held on February
18-22, 2013. Keerthiratne's continuous effort gained highest academic
results and performances in all sport activities.
Over the past 125 years, Dharmaraja College has produced Sri Lankans
who always put their country before self. But country needs more Rajans
of this calibre for a better tomorrow for our next generation. The
highest ranking statesman amongst the old Rajans was President William
Gopallawa, the first President of Sri Lanka and the last Governor
General of Ceylon. Many political leaders including A.E. Goonesinha, A.
Ratnayake, Sir Bennet Soyza, Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, Yasaratne
Tennekoon, Janaka Tennekoon, Lalith Dissanayake, Anura Daniel and Eric
Weerawardene were products of Dharmaraja. Most Venerable Madugalle Sri
Sumana Siddhartha Dhammasiddhi Maha Thera, former Mahanayake Thera of
the Malwatte Chapter was an old boy of Dharmaraja. The college's alumni
include Stanley Wijesundara, J.B. Dissanayake, Sunanda Mahendra,
Anuradha Seneviratne, Ananda W.P. Guruge, Wimalaratne Kumaragama and
Dharmaraja will continue to produce sterling men who will serve the
nation with aplomb.