Assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike | Sunday Observer
61st Death Anniversary:

Assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike

27 September, 2020

It was a Friday 61 years ago to be exact on September 25, 1959 at around 10.30 a.m. when I was in the classroom listening to H.P. Jayawardena’s English lesson in our final year at Royal Primary School, when my eye caught a movement in the corridor adjoining the class.

When I looked sideways to my left, I saw young Anura Bandaranaike being accompanied by his Ayah leaving the premises. In that relatively quiet moment, my classmates too saw Anura being led away, but none was able to second guess the reason.

It was during the lunch hour that we got the distressing news that Anura’s father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister of Ceylon, had been shot. Amidst a variety of reports streaming in of the shooting, it was not possible to give adequate attention to any classroom instruction for the rest of the day. In that class of H.P. Jayawardena we had a number of students who shot to national prominence in public life as adults. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Dinesh Gunawardena, late C.R. de Silva (former Attorney – General), Dr. Ajita Wijesundere (leading Gynacologist) and Sarath Abeysundera (entrepreneur in UK) were among them.

In 1959, Anura Bandaranaike was in T.William’s class, which also had Anura de Alwis (son of Duncan de Alwis, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister). Both were close friends. It is said that when Anura had wanted to invite only his favourite friends to celebrate his birthday, his father had given him an important lesson saying, “If you are inviting anyone to your birthday party, do not pick and choose. Invite the entire class.” To a politician, alienating someone by not inviting was far more damaging than the benefits accruing from inviting a close friend.

Anura’s mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike used to visit Royal Primary School to inquire into Anura’s well being as a schoolboy, at a time when her husband was running the country. In 1957, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was the Chief Guest at the Royal Primary School prize-giving on February 15, 1957. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was also present.

‘Gateway‘, the Magazine of the Royal Primary School in its issue in 1958, has published the Annual Report of A.F. de Saa Bandaranaike, then Headmaster of Royal Primary School, where he pays a glowing tribute to his name sake the visiting Chief Guest. A.F. de Saa Bandaranaike, retired as Headmaster in 1958 and with his retirement, the highly informative Magazine ‘Gateway’ which he started and continued for 10 years, was discontinued by his successor for reasons that are not fathomable.

Appeal to the nation

The train of events from the time of shooting to the rushing of the Prime Minister to the General Hospital at Borella is well known.

He was operated by a team of top doctors in an operation that lasted for more than five hours. Dr. M. V. P. Peries, Dr. P. R. Anthonis, Dr. L. O. Silva and Dr. Noel Bartholomeusz were in the team.

Upon being admitted to the Merchants’ Ward after surgery, the Prime Minister issued a message to the nation from his hospital bed showing extreme generosity of spirit towards the man who had shot him. He described the assailant as a foolish man dressed in the robes of a monk” and then said, ‘‘I appeal to all concerned to show compassion to this man and not to try and wreak vengeance on him.”

His condition took a turn for the worse in the early hours of the morning the next day. He passed away at around 8.00 a.m. on September 26.

About 13 years ago, I met Dr. P.R. Anthonis at a public meeting in Colombo and had an opportunity to talk to him at leisure. Dr. Anthonis said that he was present when Bandaranaike died in Hospital. Mr. Bandaranaike had asked for a bottle of Orange Barley which had been supplied to him. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had also been present.

After he drank a glass of Orange Barley, the body had turned ‘blue’ due to a clot in a blood vessel restricting the flow of oxygen to his brain.

Dr. Anthonis said he was present in the Hospital until the remains of Bandaranaike were taken to his residence at Rosmead Place. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike died as a Buddhist, Dr. Anthonis told me.

Upon the announcement of the death over the radio, the country plunged into mourning. The radio played solemn music. A verdict of homicide was recorded by the City Coroner. People started queuing in their hundreds to pay their last respects to the man who ushered in the ‘Common man’s era ‘through the political revolution of 1956 which he led.


I visited No. 65, Rosmead Place in the company of my father, mother and brother at around 7.30 p.m. on September 26. We did not join a queue. We were ushered into the main house. I saw the inside of the house, full of black ebony furniture and the bullet holes in the glass panes. I met Anura and one of his two sisters, probably Chandrika and conveyed my condolences. My parents and brother did likewise. Anura recognised me, but he was too dazed to engage me in a conversation.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was in a room in a state of deep grief. I had an occasion, rather my father to speak to the driver of the Cadillac car who drove the injured Prime Minister to the Hospital. His name was Miskin.

He was a Police Sergeant. Around the time we were paying our respects to the late Prime Minister at his residence, I remember seeing Sydney de Zoysa, then a senior DIG, slowly circling in measured steps the coffin with both his hands inserted in his trouser back pockets, while hundreds of mourners were filing past the remains of the late leader in despair.

The poignant scene at the Bandaranaike household which I saw on the evening of September 26, 1959 as a schoolboy, will remain etched in my memory. On September 27, 1959 at about 10.00 am, I was travelling with my father and uncle in our car and near Cambridge Place, we switched on the car radio and heard the last few sentences of a sermon praising the late Prime Minister and the radio announcer thereafter saying that it was a talk delivered by Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thera as a tribute to the late Prime Minister.

September 28, 1959 was the day that S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was scheduled to leave the country for the United Nations to address the General Assembly.

Instead his remains were taken on the shoulders of his Cabinet Ministers from his residence to the top of Rosmead Place where the coffin was placed in a hearse and taken to Parliament.

In that procession of Cabinet Ministers carrying the coffin on their shoulders was Wimala Wijewardena (then Minister of Health). She was in a white sari using one hand to keep up the coffin while using the other hand to adjust her Sari Pota which was constantly dropping down.

The role played by Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thera in the conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister is well documented. Wimala Wijewardena was an accused in the assassination inquiry into the death of the late Prime Minister.

My classmates at Royal Primary School were taken by bus to pay our last respects to the late Prime Minister in Parliament. To us, schoolboys, the assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was somewhat of a nerve racking event. His son Anura was our classmate.

Anura, an enigma

Anura‘s life was shattered by the assassination of his father at such a young age. He never received the guidance of a father figure.

He became reclusive in the first few months following his father’s death. He was always dressed in white and was no longer the bubbly boy. He had more security whenever he came to school intermittently. We felt sorry for him.

Anura was no ordinary boy. He had a deep voice, a commanding voice which I had not come across in any other schoolboy of his age. He had a liberal spirit and was inclined towards the West. In 1961 when I was the monitor in a class conducted by T.D.S.A. Dissanayake ( the author and diplomat), there was a debate held after hours presided over by the late Upali Attanayake (dramatist). The topic of the debate was Capitalism or Socialism. It was the time when President John F. Kennedy was the US President. Anura, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Vijitha Kuruwita (a well-known Vet) spoke and defended Capitalism, while W.S. de Silva, Chitta Ranjan de Silva (Bulla) and myself spoke on the merits of socialism.

The celebrated French writer Voltaire said, “Who so writes the history of his own time must expect to be attacked for everything he has said, and for everything he has not said: but those little drawbacks should not discourage a man who loves truth and liberty, expects nothing, fears nothing, asks nothing, and limits his ambition to the cultivation of letters.”