Reconnecting with the Spirit of Independence | Daily News


Reconnecting with the Spirit of Independence

Here we are starting the second lap of a brand new, New Year, and rounding, once again, the corner called the Fourth of February. Most years, it seems, we barely get a glimpse of it before changing tack and sailing on toward all those other ‘days’ the calender is filled with.The celebration of our independence today, however, should give us an opportunity to not only have a holiday and watch independence day celebrations on Tv, but also to remember the courage and patriotism that so many men and women have shown defending our country.

This should also be a day for some answers. Do we, as a nation, realize we are independent and free on February Fourth than on any other day of the year? Do we think about our national attire and the national flag, only on this day? Will there still be legions of vehicles moving towards Kegalle today, as in 1948 when most major cities in the country held the first Independence day celebrations?

After all, this is a day for the historical re-enactment of Fourth of Februarys past, if only the ones some of us remember from childhood, especially in those early years in the 1950s and 60s.

Proving that somethings never change, back in 1948 too, motorists had their share of trouble on this day and had experienced one of the worst traffic jams in the history of the island. It had taken a car forty-five minutes to proceed from the Galle Face Hotel to the Lake House. Exist from the city had been just as impossible with a car journey from Fort to Bambalapitiya taking three hours. Did they or did they not carry the national flag? According to Nozomi Kariyasu, the Japanese expert on historical flags “ The necessity of a National Flag was discussed even before Sri Lanka gained independence on February 4, 1948. A. Sinnalebbe, MP for Batticaloa tabled a motion in the State Council on January 16, 1948 suggesting that the Lion Flag of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe which was taken to Britain in 1815 should be made the National Flag. This was debated and later Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake had named an Advisory Committee for the formulation of a National Flag. The Members of the Committee were S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (Chairman), Sir John Kotalawela, J. R. Jayewardene, T. B. Jayah, Dr. L. A. Rajapakse, G. G. Ponnambalam, Senator S. Nadesan, and Dr. Senarath Paranavithana (Secretary).”

Although a Committee for the formulation of a national flag was appointed no finality had been reached when the first Independence Day was celebrated on February 4, 1948. However the Lion Flag fluttered on that day.

Eleven days later, the Lion Flag and the British Union Jack were both fluttering in the cool breeze from the Indian ocean, on the occasion of the opening of the first Parliament of independent Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) on February 11, 1948. Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake unfurled the Lion Flag at the Octagon (Pattirippuwa) during the Independence celebrations held in Kandy on February 12, 1948.

Here is how the Time magazine of February 23, 1948 describes the celebrations in an article titled “Lion for Lion”.

“For 2,000 years the Lion flag of Kandy waved defiantly over the Indian Ocean island of Ceylon. Under it the Sinhalese Buddhist kings struggled and connived with invading princes and rival island chieftains for uncertain sovereignty over their huge (25,000 sq. mi.) island of blue mountains, green jungles and yellow sands. Then Ceylon became a British Crown colony, and in 1815 the Lion of Kandy was hauled down to make room for another, more famous member of his species.

Last week, the British Lion was still in Ceylon, but only as a guest.

In a Buddhist ceremony in Kandy as old as the island’s history, golden-robed chieftains and 100 richly caparisoned elephants (decked in ruby necklaces and white pantaloons) paraded the streets in dressy dignity to celebrate a new independence.

Jasmine-decked maidens and bare-breasted Sinhalese youths with bells on their ankles whirled in ancient dances.

Then, before Britain’s Royal Duke and Duchess of Gloucester (who had travelled from London for the occasion) and 150,000 of Ceylon’s six million-odd Eurasians, Indians, Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors and Malays, rugged, 6 ft., 63-year-old Prime Minister Don Stephen (“Jungle John”) Senanayake hauled the old Lion flag to its place atop the Temple of the Tooth.”

Ever so many years later, there is still something self-evident about the Fourth of February. We know its origin and its meaning. It retains a simplicity that resembles no other major holiday. We set aside the day, which seems to include a bit of everything — family, patriotism, parades, and simply doing nothing. Yet you could say its significance can be found in the doings of any ordinary day — something that is all too easy to forget until February Fourth comes along as a reminder, of that vital principle, freedom.

(This article was first published in the Daily News on February 4, 2019)

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