ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 24
Funday Times- Our Heritage

The train crosses the Kalu Ganga

The Kalutara bridge seen by an artist in 1880

The railway in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) began a slow but steady run since the mid-1860s. It began with the first train running from Colombo to Ambepussa in December 1864. While the work on the railway line to Kandy continued, other areas were also being developed. A feature of this expansion was how the railway followed in the wake of agricultural development. While coffee and later tea flourished in the hill country, coconut plantations developed in the West, South and North West coastal areas of the country. In the wet inland area below the tea belt, rubber was grown on a large scale.

Work on the Coastal Line (then called the 'Seaside Railway') progressed and on November 19, 1879, the first train crossed the Kalu Ganga at the entrance to Kalutara. It marked the opening of the Kalutara South railway station. With the line coming up to Kalutara, almost half the distance to Galle had been covered. The balance journey had to be done in a horse carriage – two horses drawing the coach. Earlier, half a dozen large rivers had to be crossed by ferry-boat. Bridges were built over all those by the Public Works Department (PWD).

The Kalutara bridge, designed and built by J. R. Mosse, Director of the PWD, was the largest in the island. It consisted of two bridges, each with six spans of lattice girders, each 100 feet long. The two bridges were separated by an island in the middle of the river where an embankment was raised. The bridge was opened for road traffic in August 1877 with provision for a single line of rails laid in the middle. The bridge was 1,800 feet long with the embankment in the middle, accounting for around 450 feet.

Now there are two separate bridges for rail and road traffic.


'Sudu Amma' starts a school for Buddhist girls

Sudu Amma - Marie Musaeus Higgins

In the midst the great religious and cultural revival in Sri Lanka, during the last decade of the 19th century, a Buddhist girls' school was opened on November 15, 1893. It was Musaeus College, named after co-founder Marie Musaeus Higgins (1855- 1926), a German-born American Buddhist who came to Ceylon exactly two years earlier, on November 15, 1891. As its first Principal, she served the school for a long period.

Philanthropists William de Abrew along with his son Peter took the initiative in establishing this school for girls when several other Buddhist schools were being opened under the leadership of Colonel Olcott.

The school had a very humble beginning being nothing more than a wattle and daub hut on a half acre plot of land donated by the de Abrews in Rosmead Place. The school progressed steadily with the support of the philanthropist and periodic donations of his land by son Peter. A Trust was formed in 1896 with Peter de Abrew as Managing Trustee and Colonel Olcott, William Hack, Dr. William Austine and Mrs. Higgins as members.

Authored by Mrs. Higgins in 1909

Marie Musaeus Higgins embraced Buddhism soon after arriving in Ceylon and devoted the rest of her life to the education of Buddhist girls. Hers was thus a yeoman service at a time when educational opportunities for Buddhist girls were virtually non-existent. She also wrote books on Buddhist themes mainly aimed at children. Her book on Poya Days describes the significance of each Poya day. 'Stories from the History of Ceylon,' traces the country's history from the days of Rama up to Parakramabahu the Great. She also authored a book of Jataka stories.

Affectionately called 'Sudu Amma' by her pupils, she passed away on July 10, 1926 after 33 years of dedicated service in the cause of Buddhist education in the country.

Top to the page

Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.