A life of loving and giving The 80th Death Anniversary of Mallika Hewavitarne falls on July 27 It is with a feeling of profound gratitude and affection that we pay tribute to Mallika Hewavitarne Lamathani on her 80th Death Anniversary which falls on July 27. A review of her life will no doubt be an inspiration [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



A life of loving and giving

The 80th Death Anniversary of Mallika Hewavitarne falls on July 27
It is with a feeling of profound gratitude and affection that we pay tribute to Mallika Hewavitarne Lamathani on her 80th Death Anniversary which falls on July 27. A review of her life will no doubt be an inspiration to all Sri Lankan women, a mother who moulded the lives of several children and grandchildren, who left their mark on the religious, social and political life of this country.

Mallika was born to Muhandiram Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardana and Mrs. Dharmagunawardana of Kotahena in 1844. Her father was a prosperous land owner, a devout Buddhist; it was he who donated the land where the great seat of learning, the Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda stands today. Young Mallika was brought up in a traditional Buddhist atmosphere. In accordance with the customs that prevailed she was given in marriage at the tender age of 14 years to H. Don Carolis Hewavitharana from Hitthatiya, Matara. Young Carolis born in 1833 was a promising young man who came to Colombo in search of fortune. A man with a sound Pirivena education, he was an expert in astrology. A student of Brahaminical and Buddhist Literature he was the first to publish the Sinhala Astrological year book. No wonder he fell for Mallika’s horoscope which predicted immense wealth and illustrious children.

Soon after their marriage Don Carolis set up a furniture business in Keyzer Street in a land belonging to his father-in-law. As predicted in his wife’s horoscope business thrived and soon he was exporting furniture to distant lands. Both Mallika and her husband were praying for a son, every morning after offering flowers, lamps, incense at the feet of the Buddha statue in their shrine room, Mallika prayed for a son who would one day revive the Buddha Sasana in the country that was fast fading away under colonial rule. But the father’s wish was a son to carry on the thriving furniture business.

As time passed, they were blessed with four sons and a daughter. One can have an idea of the atmosphere in which these children grew up through the following passage from “Reminiscence of my early life” by the Anagarika Dharmapala.

“I was born in Colombo, the capital of Ceylon, in the ancestral home where my old mother still lives. My earliest memories are of cool coconut groves, fanned by breezes from the Indian Ocean, and broad verandahs, overlooking gardens luxuriant with cinnamon, orange trees, vermillion and purple rhododendron and the blazing scarlet of the coral plant. The garden was a fascinating world for a child. Humming birds, hovered over giant blossoms, land turtles basked in the sun and even snakes glided gracefully though the tangled underbrush; for like all other living there, they knew they were making home with Buddhists, who would not disturb them.

“All the members of my family were devout Buddhists. I had to recite passages from the Sutras and holy poems to my mother; and always she had ready, as a reward for good work, special sweets that she knew I liked. I adored my mother and often in the midst of my play, I would say to myself, ‘May my mother enter Nirvana when the next Buddha comes.’ She was good and charitable and generous. Beggar women came to her every morning to receive baths and food and fresh clothing. From her I have inherited certain traits. I cannot endure the thought of human suffering from bodily privation, and always want to help those who are poor.

“As for my father like all intellectual Buddhists, he believed that each person must work out his own salvation. He always said to me eat what you want, don’t sleep too much and do not ask blindly, but learn through your own efforts. With the rest of my family I fasted once a month on Full Moon Day. Relatives and friends then assembled to spend 24 hours in meditation and in reading the Buddhist scriptures and commentaries in honour of the Buddha, who on that day attained Enlightenment. It was four in the morning when we got up, put on clean white cloths and gathered flowers from my father’s garden. Bearing offerings of sweet-scented yellow champak and jasmine, we went with my parents, grandparents to the temple near our home and laid the flowers.”

Their first born was named David. Later he came to be known as Anagarika Dharmapala, the great patriot and social reformer, a freedom fighter and intellectual leader with humane qualities whose one aim in life was for the regeneration of the nation which was undergoing severe hardship under Colonial Rule. He was forthright and independent in his relentless struggle to save Buddhagaya for the Buddhist. Even after 150 years, he is venerated as a national hero for his unflagging struggle for the propagation of Buddhism.

Mallika’s second son Edmond married Sujatha Peiris and they had three sons, Neil, Raja and Daya, a daughter Sumanadevi – mother of Gamini Jayasuriya who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather who was involved in politics and religious and social activities.

Both Neil and Raja were elected to the then State Council and made tremendous contributions to the economic, social and culture development of the country. Edmond while helping his father in his business was keenly involved in social and political reforms of the day. When riots broke out in 1915 he was arrested and detained under martial law, tried and sentenced to jail for life, at the Jaffna Prison – he died in prison the same year contracting dysentery mostly due to the appalling living conditions.
The third son Simon Alexander married Somawathy Gunatillake from the deep south. He joined his father in his business ventures but died at a young age. His widow, a devout and pious lady left her entire wealth to the Tripitaka publication. Mallika’s only daughter was given in marriage to Jacob Moonasinghe of Matara. Their children were named Sanath, Kumaradas, Piyada and Nalin.

Her youngest son Charles Alwis Hewavitarane, a doctor of medicine married Charlotte, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P.A. Pieris of Marawila. Their only son was named Wimaladharma. Charles was very close to his mother. Apart from healing the sick he was actively engaged in Buddhist activities, in fact it was he who gave Mallika all the encouragement to achieve her ambition of setting up a home for destitute old women. It is said that he visited his mother every day before going to work and was in the habit of leaving some money with her to distribute among the poor women who flocked to her house daily where they were bathed and fed. He bought the land to establish the Mallika Home.

This devoted son, philanthropist, gentle healer of the poor and the sick met with an accident at a level crossing and died. His widow worked with Mallika in promoting all her religious and social activities. She bequeathed to the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya her home Sri Sadana at No. 50, Green Path, Colombo 3.

The tragedy of Mallika’s life was that her husband and all her children predeceased her. She was widowed at the age of 52. She became stronger with every tragedy. She drew deep from the teachings of the Buddha and bore these tragedies with calm and fortitude. As Dharmapala was busy awaking the people with the Buddhist renaissance she in her own way was very supportive. Her house was the hub of all the activities in Colombo. Buddhist monks came there from all parts of the country. It fell on Mallika’s lot to look after them. She fed them and attended to all their needs with much devotion.

Anagarika Dharmapala, is said to have ridiculed people who dressed in European clothes. He even got his mother to wear the Kandyan saree. Today one might call her a trend setter for soon after most of the ladies adopted the saree. As she grew old it is said that she became profusely religious and was in the habit of giving away anything she could lay her hands on to the poor who came to see her. It was at this stage that she was seriously thinking of setting up a home to carry on her charitable work and The Mallika Anatha Nivasa Samitihiya was inaugurated for the express purpose of looking after destitute old women. Later it was changed to Mallika Nivasa Samithiya.

Today in its 95th year of existence, Mallika Nivasa Samithiya stands as a colossus to Mallika Hewavitarne’s vision and pioneering spirit. Her compassion, courage and foresight have paid rich dividends for generations to come. The Mallika Home started with two inmates now caters to over 100 under-privileged elderly women, the Parakrama Boys Home looks after nearly 50 orphaned boys and the Sneha Home cares for abandoned infants. To meet a crying need, the Samithiya opened a home for paying ladies.
This unique lady passed away on the 27th of July 1936 aged 92 years leaving an invaluable legacy.

The daily newspapers at the time had given vivid accounts of the funeral of this remarkable lady. Thousands of people had lined along the streets to pay their respects and get a glimpse of the funeral procession which was arranged in a very simple manner sans trumpets and drums. The coffin bearing her remains was received at the entrance to cemetery by the National leaders of the day. They included eminent persons from all communities. Hundreds of monks of the three Nikayas paid glowing tributes to this great Upasikawa and appealed to all Sri Lankan women to follow her example. Thus ended a life of loving and giving loved and respected by all.
May she attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

-Lakshmi Perera

A gentleman and scholar
On June 13, 2016, Sri Lanka lost another doyen in the field of Medical Parasitology. Prof. Ismail was one of the earliest members of the Sri Lanka College of Microbiologists, serving as its 11th President, in 1987. In 2015, when the College decided to honour those who have served the College and our profession by awarding honorary Fellowships, the Council was unanimous in deciding that Prof. Ismail should be among the first recipients of a Fellowship.

Mohamed Mahroof Ismail obtained his MBBS from the University of Ceylon and his PhD in Medical Parasitology from McGill University, Canada. He also spent a post-doctoral year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the UK. After his return to Sri Lanka, he worked at the MRI for several years and became its Director in 1983. In the same year, he joined the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo as the Professor of Parasitology and later served as Dean of the Faculty from 1994 to 1996. Throughout his working life, Prof. Ismail engaged in research, mostly on lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminths. His work was of such quality that it had significant impact on national as well as international health policies in relation to control of both groups of infections. The most significant body of work that he and his collaborators produced was to demonstrate for the first time that albendazole combined with diethylcarbamazine citrate or ivermectin has a pronounced and sustained effect of reducing microfilaraemia for over two years. This combination is currently being successfully used by the WHO and the Ministries of Health in 83 endemic countries as part of the global strategy to eliminate filariasis.

Prof. Ismail also held many eminent posts, serving as a member of the University Grants Commission, as the Chairman of the Board of Management of the Post-Graduate Institute of Medicine; and as external examiner in Parasitology of the University of Malaya as well as the National University of Malaysia. He served the WHO at its Headquarters in Geneva, and in the South East Asian Regional Office in New Delhi in many different capacities: as Chairman of the WHO Expert Committee on Soil-Transmitted Helminthiases; as a member of the WHO Expert Committee on Lymphatic Filariasis and the WHO Technical Advisory Group for Lymphatic Filariasis; as a WHO Consultant to Egypt and Bangladesh to revise their National Filariasis Control Programmes; and Chairman of the South East Asian Programme Review Group for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis from 2002 until 2006.

I am just one of many who owe an immense debt of gratitude to Prof Ismail. I learnt much of my parasitology from him, as a medical student, as a postgraduate student, and even after that. He was one of the examiners at my MD examination in 1994. I still recall very clearly, the occasion when I went to thank him after passing the exam. I was a young probationary lecturer back then, who had just started working at Ragama, in a medical faculty that was virtually in its infancy. My husband Janaka and I met Prof. Ismail in the Dean’s Office in the Colombo Medical Faculty. We talked of this and that, and then I asked him if he had any suggestions for research. He immediately shared with us an idea that had occurred to him while attending a WHO meeting a few weeks previously. He said that this study could only be done in Sri Lanka because of the confluence of circumstances at that moment in time, but that it had the potential to transform international policy with regard to deworming programmes. Together with other colleagues from Ragama, we turned this idea into a study that was eventually published in one of the foremost medical journals. This little episode is only one example of the unassuming generosity and supportiveness that Prof. Ismail extended to all who came into contact with him. He probably never thought twice about what he did, but for me, it was a landmark in my academic career.

Over the decades since then, we came into contact at regular intervals, especially at Parasitology oral examinations for medical students. Those times when I was his co-examiner were days that I really enjoyed, because Prof. Ismail somehow turned them into learning experiences for both students and me, and his unfailing sense of humour lessened the tedium of coping with medical students who seemed to view Parasitology oral exams as an instrument of torture.

As he gradually withdrew from the professional arena, Janaka and I tried to stay in touch by visiting him at home. He was an unfailingly courteous and considerate host, and we learnt that he was an excellent cook, who also enjoyed good food. We also saw a marriage that seemed to have been made in heaven. Prof Ismail and his wife Jezima, an equally eminent figure in her own right, in the field of education, lived their life together, not only in bringing up a family, but in many other ways that sought to support the underprivileged and disadvantaged.

I have had the privilege of following in Prof. Ismail’s footsteps, in that my research has been largely in the same fields. At international meetings, mention of my Sri Lankan nationality often results in enquiry after Prof. Ismail. World-renowned experts speak of him with much respect and affection. One of them characterised him as a ‘gentleman and a scholar’ – a phrase which struck me as a particularly appropriate description of Prof. Ismail. May he rest in peace!
- Nilanthi de Silva

Farewell my dear friend after 60 years of friendship
Herbert Ranasinghe passed away peacefully in his ancestral home at Vijaya Road, Gampaha on April 10. He was 88 years old.
He joined the Department of Health as a Radiographer on March 1, 1950. When I was a trainee Radiographer in July 1953, at the General Hospital in Colombo, he was my senior who taught me the practical work with diligence and more so with patience and kindness.

Although he was a Radiographer, he had a great liking to dabble with Electronics and Electronic equipment. To fulfil his ambition, he joined the Electro Medical Engineering Division of the Dept. of Health at its early formation in 1959. Mr. Casperz was the Electro Medical Technologist in charge at the time. Two other Radiographers- Sydney Dissanayake and Mr. Munasinghe joined the E.M.E. Division with Mr. Ranasinghe.

Mr. Ranasinghe was keenly interested in the maintenance of E.C.G. machines so much so the E.C.G. repair section was put in his charge. He was also entrusted with the maintenance of operating theatre equipment. During the early stages of open heart surgery done under hypothermia at the General Hospital Colombo by the then Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon, Dr. A.T.S. Paul, Mr. Ranasinghe was in charge of the functioning of all the electronic equipment in the O.T. during the performance of surgeries.
At the latter part of his career he was in charge of the Cardiology Unit equipment, at the time Dr. N.J. Walloopillai was the Chief Cardiologist. He had a special unit at the cardiology.

He retired from the department in 1985, and due to his perseverance and dedication he was promoted . When the Blood Bank was opened for the first time at the Gampaha Hospital, in 1969 or 1970 during the time of the late VOG Dr. Nalin Rodrigo and VP Dr. Nagaratnam,Mr. Ranasinghe was instrumental in organising the opening ceremony.

During his career Mr. Ranasinghe had travelled to so many countries on a WHO fellowship. He was trained in the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Japan. He got trained in Cardiac Monitoring systems in the United States of America, and was conferred a Doctorate in Bio Medical Engineering by the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

In his later years of retirement he started an E.C.G. Training School at his home in Gampaha and trained a number of E.C.G. recordists who are now employed in private hospitals. Mr. Ranasinghe was a very soft spoken, amiable person who was much loved by his colleagues for his geniality.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters who had always been a solace to him. Much as I know him for the last 63 years, I will now bid farewell to thee my dear old friend. May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!

- Marshall Fernando

An active social worker and journalist
Azwar Mohideen
Azwar Mohideen passed away on February 1 at the age of 73 after a brief illness while serving as an Information Officer at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He was born to an illustrious family from Kandy and attended Sauladia Vidyalaya, Asoka Vidyalaya and later St. Paul’s College. He started his career as a teacher and served as English language lecturer in various parts in Sri Lanka, among them Teachers’ Training Colleges of Kandy, Peradeniya and Addalaichenai. He was known as an English teacher who inspired the people. He also carried on his social work while teaching.

After leaving Government service he started an institution to teach English language in Colombo, which attracted a large number of students because of his new approach. He was an excellent teacher whose lessons were fondly remembered by his students who reached positions of eminence in Sri Lanka and abroad.

A multi-faceted personality, he excelled in many fields. As a well known political analyst his contributions were well recognized among diplomatic circles in Colombo. He was also a provincial correspondent of Lake House publications. He was a columnist for the Nawamani newspaper and a long-time member of the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum.

A simple man, he laboured without reward for the upliftment of his community and for the benefit of his students. Two years back the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum decided to felicitate him for his services towards education and journalism and I personally approached him as president of SLMMF, but he politely turned down our request.

He was respected and loved by his neighbours for his humility and yeoman work for the progress and development of the village he lived in. On one occasion, when Iran’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mr. Faraji transferred to Hungary, he took Azwar with him to hold the same post he held here. He served for three years there and returned and resumed his position here.

To me, personally, he was a sincere friend for over 30 years. While serving at Lake House I had the privilege of associating with him very closely. Mallika and their daughter have lost a great husband and father. We extend our deepest sympathies and pray for God’s grace and peace of mind for the bereaved family.

When I heard of his death, former minister A.H.M. Azwar and I rushed to his house at Himbuttana, Salmal uyana. I was astonished to see that the entire village was decorated with white flags and banners and all the arrangements made by his Sinhalese friends. The former member of Pradesha Sabha in his oration explained the services rendered by Azwar. He also reminded that it was he who was instrumental in extending the 164 bus service up their village.

Azwar was laid to rest at Maligawatte burial grounds after Janaza prayers. A large gathering of friends, relations and almost the entire village of Himbuttana was present to bid him farewell.  May Allah the most compassionate accept Azwar Mohideen among His pious faithful ones and reward him with Jennathul Firdous.

-N.M. Ameen

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