Step in for a state-of- the-art lesson in history

From past heroes to present, the Memorial Museum at the Independence Square in Colombo, transports you from one chequered era to another
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Turn back the pages of time to imbibe the pathways of history, with its twists and turns which have made us Sri Lankans what we are today.

Getting into the belly of the Independence Memorial it is a walk into the dim and distant past, transporting you from one chequered era to another, while Sri Lanka’s greats look on benevolently from a ‘gallery’ of busts flanking a red carpet.

Replica of the canon of Leuke Disawa

Here at the Independence Memorial Museum patriotism and love of country are rekindled and strengthened, with history given in small doses while the muted sound of W.D. Amaradeva’s beautiful lyrics in ‘Sinidu sudu mudu thalawe’ provides an apt accompaniment.

History is the focus at this museum which is comparable to any other in well-known metropolises, leading the viewer from one kingdom to another, highlighting not only the grandeur of the different eras but also the power struggles and the intrigue that were rife in those times.

Starting with the Early, Middle and Late Anuradhapura Periods, Sri Lanka’s destiny is followed in detail through to Polonnaruwa, Transitional, Kotte, Kotte-Seethawaka and finally Kandy Periods, with rebellions et al thrown in.

Rebellions, uprisings, end of national kingship, the coming of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British and the momentous event of the country gaining independence, other significant happenings upto 1972 each and every detail is documented meticulously.

Knives, swords, other arms and weapons including kaalathuwakku even a replica of the canon of Leuke Disawa, Government Gazettes of British times declaring Martial Law, conventions and the table on which the Father of the Nation, D.S. Senanayake who became the first Sri Lankan Prime Minister signed the document declaring independence for the country are displayed.

The past is enhanced by the present, with the current heroes who have laid down their lives since 1983 to save the country from terrorism being remembered in a separate section.

Names and more names of these fallen heroes have been entered onto pus kola (ola leaf) in the Commemoration Gallery of Soldiers.

“We have information on 22,214 soldiers,” says Museum Keeper Kumarasinghe Thennegedera, explaining that it is up to December 31, 2007. “We are in the process of collecting the balance thora-thuru (information). The museum comes under Assistant Director (Ethnology) Senarath Wikramasinghe.

The names of the fallen soldiers are in files as well as a database in the computer, so that relatives can look them up and even see the photographs of their loved ones, says Mr. Thennegedera.

Meanwhile, the busts of over 20 from 50 National Heroes identified include the long-haired Veera Puran Appu, the serene-looking Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Anagarika Dharmapala, Ven. Arumugam Sri Navalar, Siddhi Lebbe Mohammed Cassim and Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan.

This compact state-of-the-art museum is a history lesson covering many a century in a nutshell.

Please help to fill them up

Some display cupboards are full but six are stark empty. Please help us fill them up with items invaluable when documenting our history, requests Mr. Thennegedera, appealing to the descendants of these monks, authors and political and social leaders to rummage through their homes and hand over to the museum anything of interest that may have been used by their eminent relatives.

Senarath Paranavitana, Arumugam Navalar, Cumaratunga Munidasa, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra, Martin Wickremasinghe, N.M. Perera, Henry Pedris, Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, T.B. Jayah and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike are some of the names that immediately come to mind.

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