ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09
Funday Times- Our Heritage funday times logo

Bank of Ceylon is opened

Sir Ernest de Silva, first Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon

A significant event in banking occurred on August 1, 1939. That was the day the Bank of Ceylon was opened at No. 41, Bristol Street, Colombo Fort by the Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott.

The establishment of the Bank of Ceylon was based on the recommendation of the Ceylon Banking Commission appointed in 1934. The Commission recommended the setting up of the first state aided indigenous bank.

Sir Ernest de Silva, a highly respected individual at the time was appointed first Chairman of the Bank.

The bank began to grow despite severe competition from exchange banks and informal money-lenders. It opened its first branch in 1941 at Kandy and subsequently in outstation towns, such as Galle, Jaffna and Trincomalee.

By the time Sri Lanka gained Independence, foreign banks dominated the industry. There were nine foreign banks holding over 60% of banking sector assets. The Bank of Ceylon opened its first overseas branch in 1949 in London.

Artist's impression of the Bank of Ceylon in the early days

The Bank was nationalized in 1961 to facilitate the national development efforts. The People's Bank was opened the same year and the two banks today function as State-owned banks.

In keeping with the prevailing State policies at the time, the Bank had to fulfill the aspirations of the nation. Under the Agricultural Productivity Law which was enacted in 1972, Agrarian Service Centre branches were set up island-wide. As a result, the branch network expanded tremendously covering most of the rural areas of the Island.

Extending its services to neighbouring countries, the Bank of Ceylon opened a branch in Male, Maldives in 1981 and two more in 1995 in Karachi and Madras (Chennai).

Presently the Bank has 301 branches, 44 extension offices and eight pawning centres. On-line banking facilities are provided to 270 branches.


Raja the royal tusker

Raja, the royal tusker

The highly respected royal tusker ‘Raja’ who performed the most onerous task of carrying the casket of the sacred Tooth Relic for 51 years, was offered to the Dalada Maligawa by its owner Tikiri Banda Mampitiya Dissave of Giragama Walauwa, Yatinuwara on July 31, 1938. Raja won the hearts of millions of devotees for its solemn and dignified behaviour while carrying the casket along the streets of Kandy during the annual Esala Perahera.

Born in the thick jungles close to Batticaloa, the animal was captured on January 5, 1925 under a warrant issued by the government. It was then four feet five inches in height and 12 years of age. According to the traditional concepts, there were several characteristic features of a royal tusker. Its trunk, the tail and the genitals should touch the ground. The spine should be flat. The head when raised should give a dignified look. The left tusk should be slightly more elevated than the right. Raja possessed all these features.

Mampitiya Dissave bought the tusker on December 11, 1925 for Rs. 3,300. Twelve years later he offered Raja to the Maligawa along with a baby tusker 'Kanda.'

On August 20, 1986 President J. R. Jayewardene declared Raja as a national treasure in recognition of its invaluable services to the religion, performing its task of carrying the relic casket with utmost respect. It was the only tusker in Asia to be honoured thus.

Due to old age Raja started falling ill after its 60th year and was provided with expert treatment until its death on July 16, 1988. A stamp was issued in its memory on December 12, 1989. Raja continues to 'live' in the form of a figure stuffed with cotton wool and is exhibited in the museum adjacent to the Maligawa.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.