Last Monday’s ‘Sithawaka – Sisu Arunalu” programme to mark distribution of school uniform clothes and school equipment to 12,000 students became an important platform not only to stress the imperative need for education reforms but also the necessity to glorify Sithawaka heritage and rectify historical misjudgement on King Rajasinghe 1 of Sithawaka who earned the sobriquet Tikiri Kumaru after he, as 16-year old young Crown Prince led the battle to defeated the mighty Portuguese invaders.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at the programme held at Rajasingha Central College, Hanwella to distribute school equipment and uniforms donated by the Chinese Government, called for a fresh analysis of the life and character of King Sithawaka Rajasinghe, a courageous, patriotic king of historical significance. Little remains today of the 16th century medieval Kingdom of Sithawaka whose first king was Mayadunne, followed by his illustrious son Rajasinghe 1.
The President emphasized that King Rajasinghe has been overshadowed by history due to a reference in Chulavansa made two centuries after his reign. President Wickremesinghe urged a reconsideration of the historical approach that has favoured victorious figures while neglecting those who faced defeat.
Advanced education system
The President presented school equipment to several students during the event. It is worth mentioning that this assistance is a direct outcome of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s visit to China. Hanwella, Avissawella, situated in the Western Province, boasts an advanced education system, the President said.
The President’s reference to Rajasinghe 1 was that the historical chronicle, Chulawansha had been biased against Rajasinghe I and failed to glorify his heroic deeds of defeating invading Portuguese forces at Hanwella and Mulleriyawa.
President Wickremesinghe called for a re-evaluation of the character and history of King Sithawaka Rajasinghe, suggesting that the narrative surrounding those who lost battles in history should be reconsidered. In an effort to encourage knowledge-sharing, President Wickremesinghe invited local school students to submit facts about the Kingdom of Sithawaka and King Sithawaka Rajasinghe.
Underlining the significance of preserving historical and cultural heritage, President Wickremesinghe revealed that he has instructed the Department of Archaeology to explore the archaeological treasures of Sithawaka Kingdom. This effort aims to shed light on the historical significance of the region and pave the way for the construction of a museum dedicated to Sithawaka’s history.
The President emphasized the need for the country’s children to receive both modern education and knowledge about Sri Lanka’s rich cultural history. As an incentive to students, he pledged to reward the school that submits the most compelling information. He expressed his commitment to ensuring that Sri Lankan youth are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to shape the nation’s future.
He pointed out that Hanwella, Avissawella, situated in the Western Province, boasts an advanced education system and added that the Prime Minister, who hails from Sithawaka, is making a substantial commitment towards its further development of the region.
The ruins of the Sithawaka Fort and the palace of King Rajasinghe 1 lie on the side of the Avissawella – Panawala road en route to the Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya. ‘An Account of the Interior of Ceylon, and its Inhabitants,’ written by Dr. John Davy stated that in 1819 he came across the ruins of once a royal residence of Sithawaka King Rajasinghe. “Remains of buildings have been discovered in June 1819, when travelling this way the third time, I was conducted by the natives to an old fort concealed by wood, situated on a tongue of elevated ground, formed by the confluence of a small deep steam with the river”, he stated.
He also authenticated that the natives called the ruin Kotuwa (a fort) and it was the domain of the Prince of Sithawaka. The initial archaeological research that the stone steps leading to the castle still emerge when the water level of the river drops and partly buried stone pillars lie scattered around.
President Wickremesinghe, in an obvious reference to the famous poem on Tikiri Kumaru, said, “A poem was recited in honour of King Rajasinghe, highlighting his historic significance. King Rajasinghe’s actions are recognized for preventing Sri Lanka from facing a fate similar to Mozambique or Angola and for being the only South Asian king to successfully defeat the Portuguese.”
Referring to the importance of preserving the historical legacy of the Kingdom of Sithawaka, emphasizing its role in safeguarding Sri Lanka’s independence, he proposed that in order to ensure this heritage is passed down to future generations, a museum should be established in the Sithawaka area.
Key historical battle sites
He also instructed Chief of Defence Staff Shavendra Silva to oversee the construction of memorials at key historical battle sites, such as Mulleriyawa and Danthurei. These efforts aim to commemorate the bravery and sacrifices of those who contributed to Sri Lanka’s history.
Addressing the event, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena underscored the significance of education as a vital investment in the country’s future. He emphasized the government’s unwavering commitment to the educational sector and acknowledged the importance of providing essential school equipment, generously provided by the Chinese government, to students.
He also paid tribute to the historical role of Rajasingha Central College Hanwella as the first Central College in the Kelani Valley, which has educated numerous students who have gone on to contribute significantly to the nation’s development. He emphasized the collective efforts of various governments that have made substantial contributions to the growth and advancement of Rajasingha Central College, Hanwella.
Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong said the strong and friendly partnership between China and Sri Lanka is characterized by mutual respect and trust. He emphasized the collaborative nature of the relationship, where both nations consistently support and assist each other.
Acknowledging the temporary difficulties faced by the Sri Lankan people, Ambassador Qi expressed confidence that, under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the country would overcome these challenges and pave the way for a brighter future.
Ambassador Qi reiterated China’s commitment to supporting Sri Lanka in achieving sustainable development and addressing prevailing economic issues.
Free education and healthcare
President Wickremesinghe also used this forum to assure that the government remains committed to allocating more resources for free education and healthcare, despite economic hardships. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the current education system and his determination to transform Sri Lanka into a vocational training centre while providing children with an education system that empowers them for the future.
This situation entails significant parental investment in education. The government is actively seeking input from educators and students to develop a new education system that addresses these aspects.