ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 51
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The Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915

It was on May 28, that the riots of 1915, commonly known as the 'Muslim riots' occurred. Arising from a petty incident in Gampola town, Muslim traders in the neighbouring town of Kandy decided not to allow any processions of Buddhists to disturb worship at their mosque by the noise of the traditional drums and flutes. The Buddhists were equally determined to hold the Vesak procession following the usual route. When the procession reached the mosque, the Police managed to divert part of it but when the remainder passed through, jeering and stone throwing began. There was pandemonium. The result was a large number of deaths and loss to properties.

The Government acted hastily letting the military handle the situation. Martial law was declared. The military came hard on the people particularly the Sinhalese and Buddhists.

All the prominent Sinhalese leaders, particularly those who were working in the temperance movement were arrested and jailed even though they had helped to restore order and in protecting the lives and property of the Muslims. In the Legislative Council, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan defended the Sinhalese leaders in a series of speeches condemning the excesses committed by the British forces in suppressing the riots.

Meanwhile, E W Perera, another patriot left for England to whip up public opinion in sympathy of the grievances of the Sinhalese.

The British government was forced to intervene by pressure of public opinion both in Sri Lanka and in England. The Governor, Sir Robert Chalmers was recalled and replaced by Sir John Anderson, who had to repair the damage done by the military rule.


The imposing Town Hall

The Town Hall remains an imposing landmark in Colombo city. It was on May 24, 1924 that the foundation stone was laid to build this magnificent building to house the Municipal Council of the country's principal city.

The decision to build a new Town Hall was taken in the early part of the century when it was found that as the functions of the municipal council expanded, there wasn't enough room in the Pettah Town Hall. There was no room to expand the building either. World War 1 delayed the process. Several fresh sites were suggested until finally the present site overlooking Vihara Maha Devi Park (then called Victoria Park to remember Victoria, the Queen of England) and the Cinnamon Gardens residential area.

After three architects submitted designs, the one by S. J. Edwards of the firm of Ralph Booty & Co., Singapore was selected. The Ceylon Government Architect at the time, A. Woodeson wrote: "The buildings are admirably laid out on the site; the outbuildings are well secluded, but very accessible. The main building stands out prominently and would command pleasing views from all angles. The connecting roads are well laid out… The details and plans are excellently drawn, and illustrate in an artistic manner a most striking and effective design."

Construction work by A A. Gammon & Co., took four years to complete and the new Town Hall was occupied in May 1928. The cost was met largely by the revenue without taking any loan from the central government. Once completed, the Town Hall was regarded as the best building of its kind in the East.


Arabi Pasha leaves

Ahmed Arabi Paha Al Misri (1838-1911), commonly known as Arabi Pasha was an Egyptian nationalist who led an abortive uprising in 1882 and was tried for treason. He was exiled to Sri Lanka where he spent 19 years (1883-1901) mainly in Kandy. He was treated by the people as a hero and he contributed to a Muslim resurgence.

On May 23, 1901, he and the family left the island. He was remembered with the release of a stamp on November 13, 1983.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.