Vidyodaya University | Sunday Observer

Vidyodaya University

26 September, 2021

Vidyodaya University, now the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, is the second university to be established in the country and the first after gaining independence in 1948.

This university, which is well known locally and internationally, was first established at the Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena premises and was later relocated to its current location, Gangodawila area due to lack of space at the earlier location.

In 1959, a new university was established at the Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena premises, but realising that there was not enough space, Vidyodaya University’s founder, Ven. Valivitiye Soratha Thera requested a Government-owned land near the Independence Square in Colombo 7 but the request was not granted. However, he did not give up the idea of relocating the university to another area and was looking for suitable land around Colombo.

Accordingly, after some time, the Thera decided that a piece of land in the rapidly developing Gangodawila area in Nugegoda, not far from the city of Colombo was suitable for this purpose. Later inquiries revealed that the property was in the possession of none other than Ven. Madagoda Sumanatissa Thera, who was the then Chief Incumbent of the Sunethradevi Rajamaha Vihara in Pepiliyana and also a student of the same university at the time. The land chosen by Ven. Soratha Thera to be suitable for relocating the Vidyodaya University was also of historical value. As a result of the literary renaissance that took place during the Kotte period, King Parakramabahu VI set aside a plot of land around the Sunethradevi Rajamaha Vihara for the purpose of obtaining Ola leaves for composing olas and it was the site chosen by Soratha Thera for relocation of the university.

After Sumanatissa Thera agreed to donate the land to the university, Ven. Soratha Thera laid the foundation stone for the construction of buildings on the site on January, 18, 1960.

It is surprising to learn that Soratha Thera was the designer of all the buildings constructed at the Vidyodaya University in Gangodawila. He instructed the builders to complete all the buildings in such a manner as to suit the climate of the country, to receive natural air and light, and to be very simple without carvings.

Accordingly, the Vidyodaya University, which was initially established at the Vidyodaya Pirivena premises in Maligakanda, was relocated to the Gangodawila premises on November, 23, 1961 within a short period of two years.

Also, in addition to the 25 acres provided by the Sunethradevi Rajamaha Vihara, Ven. Soratha Thera was able to add another nine acres to the university premises.

Surprisingly, more than 60 years after the establishment, Sumangala Mandiraya, Gnaneswara-Rathanasara Mandiraya, Bandaranaike Hall and some other initial buildings built at that time, can still be seen there.


Ven. Soratha Thera donated all his valuable books to the Vidyodaya University Library which he started at Sumangala Mandiraya.

In addition, Rosmond Hilda Constantine Kumarihamy, the mother of Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, the world’s first Prime Minister, donated all the books in her library to the University, which contained rare books owned by Kumarihamy’s father, Samuel David Mahawalatenna.

Today, the university library has a collection of rare books and documents that are preserved and it is called ‘Lanka Collection’.

Vidyodaya University or the present day University of Sri Jayewardenepura was a pioneer in introducing a number of new subjects to the field of universities in the country.

In particular, the University of Ceylon (now the University of Colombo), was then conducting all teaching activities in English and Vidyodaya University became the first university in the country to introduce teaching in Sinhala.

In addition, at the time of the introduction of archaeology as a subject for the first degree at the Vidyodaya University by Ven. Soratha Thera, no other university in the world had begun teaching archeology for the first degree. It was also the first university in the country to teach Ayurveda and Astrology and Prof. Wimal. G. Balagalle also introduced a new subject called “Modern Sinhala”.

Insurrection in 1971

Although it is common for various political parties to be involved in various student unions at the university, the arrival of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1970 and the expansion of its power throughout the Vidyodaya University in a short period of about one year marked a turning point in the history of the university.

As a result, Vidyodaya University became the centre of the 1971 JVP insurrection. The final decisive discussion of the uprising took place on April, 2, 1970, at the University.

Also, some university students who were members of it, also made clothes for young people who took part in the uprising. Rohana Wijeweera, the founder of the JVP called this group of student members of the Vidyodaya University by a special name, the ‘Red Brigade’. During this time, they were assigned a number of special duties in leading the rebellion. However, with the failure of the uprising, the university became a detention centre.

Detention centre

In the aftermath of the failed uprising, thousands of people, including university students, were detained, turning the Vidyodaya University itself into a detention centre.

The university was divided into three sections by barbed wire and Sumangala Mandiraya was the centre for military and prison officers. The detention centre was maintained for 550 days with minimal facilities.

Later, due to protests by university students, the university had to be returned to academic activities and some of the university buildings were found to have had various writings by rioters.

During this period all the universities in Sri Lanka were made one university and accordingly Vidyodaya University was Vidyodaya Campus.

However, the new Government that came to power in 1977 introduced a new Universities Act in 1979 which suggested that universities in Sri Lanka should be renamed according to the location of each university, after which the Vidyodaya University became the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.