Reminiscing the Proud Beginnings | Daily News
University of Peradeniya

Reminiscing the Proud Beginnings

The University was the symbol of education of the elite in the colonial era. It was in Colombo, the capital city. University of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon under the British was set up in Colombo in 1942 until the premises were prepared at Peradeniya. On completion of the first phase, mid 1952 saw the transferring of the University to Peradeniya as the first residential university in the country - the most prestigious with a special place in the university system.

The Pioneer

The person behind this great edifice was none other than Sir Ivor Jennings, the founder Vice-Chancellor of the University, the first and the one and only university at Peradeniya, a shining example of an intellectually gifted genius in the academic world.

He was really the key to the outstanding success in this venture. Lack of a university in then Ceylon deeply embedded in him was the force that guided him throughout his career. After assuming duties, he made a thorough study and worked constantly to realise his dream and finally he made it a magnanimous seat of learning in the island at the time.

Today it remains a precious heritage in the history of Sri Lanka. It was set up on the British university model (Oxford Cambridge) described as the best during that time. He toiled hard in his desperate attempt to carry forward the university on the path of perfection working tirelessly and selflessly towards the goal. From there onwards it has been a steady upward journey towards academic excellence. He was an authority on Political Science and Economics too. His service to our constitution during the pre-Independence era is still being admired. The Economy of Ceylon which he authored after much research in the rural sector was an asset to the students of Economics at the time. The most impressive was his view that “The fundamental task of a university is to produce educated men and women.” He worked enthusiastically towards it.

Majestic Glory

The University of Peradeniya is a nature’s gift. It was founded in a place where nature itself had created an ideal site for the purpose. The wonderful landscape with Hanthana hills on one side and the River Mahaweli on the other is amazingly serene. The scenic splendour with enchanting natural beauty drove the founder to make it a splendid masterpiece who with the gifted architect Shirley de Alwis made it a heaven on earth.

The residential halls and other requisite buildings were all built with traditional architectural features of ancient Sri Lanka. Those were well spaced and constructed on mini hill tops. Marrs, Jayatilleka, Pieris, Sanghamitta, Hilda and Ramanathan are a few such halls. “The Lodge” - the residence of the Vice Chancellor is found in the vicinity. Many of the bungalows, the Lecturers’ quarters were along Galaha Road. Some located at Mahakanda with neatly cut lawns and flower beds beautified the surroundings. All these bear witness to the splendid contribution made by the pioneer and the Architect to this esteemed institution. The University premises on the whole is a true wonder unfolding the majestic performance and the service it rendered.


There was truly an intellectual atmosphere in the campus. The first two weeks in the campus were filled with numerous activities. The simple fun then known as “Ragging” had been introduced by the pioneer for the students to enjoy and rejoice their arrival in high spirits. It was meant as a form of familiarisation between the seniors and the newcomers termed freshers. Really and truly, it was true fun-wearing dresses the other way, slippers the wrong foot, doing small jobs for the seniors. The seniors showed their concern, warmth and love when we were freshers and ever since ragging was part and parcel of university life. It is a pity that ragging today has become a social problem violating human rights.


When stepping into the campus anyone can see the vision of the creator - the intellectual atmosphere combined with the physical beauty. Sir Ivor Jennings dedicated service was not single handed. He was ably assisted by a galaxy of Professors and lecturers. They were much admired academics. They had strong intellect to plan, guide and lead the students. They were all well-known among the undergraduates for their teaching skills. Their lectures were thought provoking. To name a few - Professors Hettiaratchy Passey, F. R. Jayasuriya, Karl Gunawardena, Indraratna Thambiahpillai, K. N. Jayatilleka and Basil Mendis were heads of Sinhala, English, Economics, History, Geography and Philosophy.

Still others to be added to this list are Doric de Souza, Sarachchandra, Ariyapala, Peter Silva, R. S. Karunaratna, H. A. D. S. and Victor Gunasekera, Father Pinto, Labrooy, Ashley Halpe, Arasaratnam, Tony Rajaratnam, Vanden Driesen, Srima Kiribamuna, Swarna Jayaweera. Space does not permit me to do justice to them. Then from India, there was Professor Ray, Dr. Das Gupta and Dr. Sarkar performing their duties well in their respective departments. The superior wisdom and wealth of knowledge of the above mentioned was directed towards students’ well-being. It is fitting that we pay tribute to them.

New Era

Going back to life at the university, every undergraduate had a serious look into the future. Enchanted by the scenic beauty and encouraged by the atmosphere they settled down to studies with enthusiasm for the highest achievement.

The first examination to face was GAQ from which you decide whether to do the four year course to specialise in the qualified subject.

After exams, the climax of one’s academic life here is marked by the convocation. This is something that every undergraduate anxiously waits for to see the completion of their studies here and also witness the grandeur of the occasion. Governor General Sir Oliver Gunatilleke was the gorgeous figure officiating the ceremony awarding the certificates in the presence of their parents, at the end of which you feel that you have reaped something.

These are reminiscences running over half a century and much more. Many are away from our midst. Among the living, wherever they are I am sure they cannot fail to reminisce about their university days.