Harking back to Independence pride | Sunday Observer

Harking back to Independence pride

29 January, 2023
The Independence Memorial Hall at Independence Square
The Independence Memorial Hall at Independence Square

The Independence Memorial Hall is a tribute to the courageous Sri Lankan national heroes who fought to achieve liberation from colonial rule, and is an eternal reminder of national pride.

The imposing edifice of the Independence Memorial Hall stood against the dimly-lit morning sunlight when I entered Independence Square in Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo’s luxurious residential area, nestling in the heart of the bustling city of Colombo.

Though we have read stories about our independence, written by prolific writers over the years, capturing the independence legacy visually is, perhaps, less and limited. Hence my attempt to catch the beauty of the Independence Memorial Hall which is one place that incorporates symbolic hallmarks of Sri Lankan native art and architecture, erected by the Government of Ceylon to commemorate the achievement of Independence on February 4, 1948.

Armed with my Nikon camera, my object of focus was to capture the magnificent architectural beauty of the sprawling building. Here, the atmosphere is redolent of history – not just a magnificent tribute to Sri Lanka’s glorious past, its courageous heroes, its richness of Sinhalese art and architecture, its proud liberation from colonial rule in 1948.

Assembly Hall

I slowly climbed the short flight of steps leading from the right side at ground level and entered the cement-built Assembly Hall abound with massive decorated columns. The building housing the Memorial Hall consists of a beautiful blend of Sri Lankan architecture; the unique interior of the two-storeyed building, thick pillars, spacious halls paved with marble floor, and high ceiling with floral motifs keep the temperature cool in our humid climate.

The prominent feature of the monument, the Assembly Hall, was inspired by the Magul Maduwa, the Royal Court of the King of Kandy. Incidentally, it was at the Magul Maduwa that the Kandyan chieftains handed over the island’s sovereignty to the British throne in 1815. The exterior of the Assembly Hall is decorated with Punkalasas (pots of plenty), which signify wealth and prosperity.

The interior of the Hall is supported by cement pillars adorned in the style of the famous Embekke wood carvings from the 14th century Gampola Kingdom. The concrete-built rows of lions are reminiscent of the famous 13th century Yapahuwa tradition, while Polonnaruwa traditions are also visible in the sculptures around the halls.

Freedom struggle

Located on the front side of the monument is the statue of the first Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Don Stephen Senanayake, who commissioned the building of the Memorial Hall intending it to epitomise the country’s freedom struggle. The larger-than-life statue is surrounded by a flower-shaped pond, and guarded by four lions that resemble the Yapahuwa Kingdom, larger and more imposing than those that flank the Hall itself. The pond and lion figures have been added in the recent past.

After viewing the upper chamber of the Independence Memorial Hall, I ventured into the basement which housed a museum exhibiting rows and rows of sculptured busts of national heroes who led the Independence Movement. The museum features fascinating exhibits showcasing Sri Lanka’s colonial history and independence struggle as well as ancient literature and art. Most visitors to the site miss out this museum. In fact, it is a must see site for schoolchildren.

During my short visit to the Memorial Hall, I witnessed a large crowd throng the place, among them, nearby university students who had come to study in this spacious cool building.

In one corner of the building, a group of small children were engaged in art classes with their parents, while young couples spent time strolling romantically.

Historical monument

The influx of foreign tourists is esmerised by this historical monument with its marvellous creations etched by Sri Lankan sculptures. The workers of the Colombo Municipal Council keep vigil around the clock to keep the place clean and tidy.

A recently constructed shaded pathway at Independence Square gives tranquility, serenity and elegance to the visitors those who seek a relaxing ambience in the city. At the entrance to this stone pathway is a beautifully sculptured Sandakadapahana or moonstone, usually placed at the entrance to Buddhist shrines. The path is an ideal place to relax, bordered by ponds and sprawling trees.

Today, the Independence Memorial Hall and Square is not just a national monument but also a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature amid the historical edifices, and a large number of local and foreign visitors throng the premises to seek peace and independence.