A birthday gift for Dharmaraja

By Palitha Jayasekera

Dharmaraja College, Kandy, a premier Buddhist school in the country, will be celebrating its 119th anniversary on June 30, 2006. Tracing her roots, it may have been the good fortune of Buddhist education and karmic force that attracted the great Col. Henry Steele Olcott to the island in 1886. He lost no time in founding Ananda College in 1886 and Dharmaraja in 1887 through the auspices of the Buddhist Theosophical Society.

From its modest beginning with only 12 students, the growth of Dharmaraja over these 119 years is phenomenal. Today her student population stands at 5,000 with a tutorial staff of 160. To this end, credit is due to many great men of the calibre of M/s De Silva, Banbury, Jayatilake, Rajaratnam, Billimoriya, Kularatne, Mettananda, Wijeyathileke, Godage, Amaranayake, Gunaratna and Herath, who shone as principals of a bygone era.

However, it was K. F. Billimoria, a Parsee gentleman from Bombay with roots in Iran, who blazed the trail for Dharmaraja.

He acquired the 37-acre hill top (now 55 acre) presently called ‘Lake View’, to build the infrastructure for a new Dharmaraja. The immaculate planner and an illustrious builder Billimoria set his priorities thus,

1. New buildings to accommodate the collegiate section
2. A swimming pool
3. Provision of electricity to the complex
4. Providing a hostel for boaders
5. Play ground

Reference is made in a ‘speech day’ presentation in 1929 of the Swimming Bath (as it was called then), constructed by him, giving details of dimensions viz. 50’x 30’ with a 7’ deep and 3 ½’ shallow ends. He even built a smaller pool for kids subsequently.

What stands out is the memory that Dharmaraja did have a swimming pool way back in 1929 or earlier. Now how many public schools can boast of such a facility! Perhaps it is this fact that has re-kindled the embers of a past history, where the Old Boys Union has pledged an anniversary gift to the Rajans of today and for those of tomorrow on her 119th birthday.

Plans are already afoot for the construction of a swimming pool to match national standards, complete with a stadium and other amenities. Work will be carried out in stages, depending on the financial support expected.

A sum of Rs. 20 million will have to be spent. For this purpose, the Colombo branch of the OBU inaugurated a fund on August 4, 2001.

The OBU Colombo branch is now appealing to old boys, students, their parents, friends, well-wishers, businessmen and others to contribute lavishly – “To give till it hurts” (as the phrase goes) to make this project a great success.


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