Rare are the scholars with great humane qualities. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan was such an exceptional politician and academic. It is hardly possible to transpire such a great personality by a brief write-up of this sort. Nevertheless it is our obligation to venerate such a pronounced personality who fostered and maintained a compassionate vision and mission towards a world void of trivial ethnic, creed and cast prejudices on the commemoration of his 86th Death Anniversary.
Having a cultured upbringing, nurtured under methodical parents and given an in-depth education gained through prestigious educational institutions in the world, he earned a reputation as an international academic. He was a man of practicality and dignity. His eloquent speeches at the Legislative Council were as terrifying as lion roars that frightened the then British rulers. Every time the colonial rulers tried to suppress the basic human rights of the people of the colony, Sir Ramanathan voiced against such vicious acts.
It is rare that a nation has epoch-making personalities. Their vision and mission pave the way for the respective nations’ forward march towards progress. Descended from a prestigious Tamil family, he came forward to defend the rights and privileges of Sinhala Buddhists each time their liberties were threatened. He continued his mission, upholding patriotic approaches and shunning chauvinistic ideologies and attitudes. With regard to his contributions towards the upliftment of the Sinhala Community and Buddhism, the entire nation is indebted to this illustrious and erudite intellectual who is remembered forever in the hearts of all.
The outstanding personality of Sir Ponnabalam Ramanathan was not made up of charisma alone. He played diverse roles as a factual politician, a far-sighted statesman, eminent lawyer, an eloquent orator and a true friend of all communities of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher. His notable role as an ardent comrade of the Burgher community was varied and appealing. Above all these virtues, his benevolence and compassion towards humanity was particularly remarkable.
Mahamanya D.S. Senanayake who was a gallant Sinhala leader and the First Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka once extolled that Sir Ponnamabalam Ramanathan was “The supreme person of all ages”.
“I have served the Sinhala nation wholeheartedly. I entered the Legislative Council at the age of 28. I never resolved to be a representative of only the Tamil community. I supported the aspirations of all communities alike. I observed everything with impartiality and with an objective of serving every community equally. I understood well the needs and ambitions of every man and woman of all walks from the Sinhala community. Sinhalese possess upright qualities of a great nation. They are truly innocent and kind”, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan once commended the Sinhala community.
The above statement of Sir Ramananthan is a straight hit against the so-called chauvinistic, caste minded and religious extremists of Sri Lanka today.
A noble person of Sir Ramanathan’s calibre should have lived in the present era. Had a great person as Sir Ramanathan been born in the contemporary years, Sri Lanka would have never have undergone a painful thirty-year civil war.
He heroically and courageously marched forward to the greatest heights of the nation’s leadership, gradually qualifying in all spheres. Sir Ramanathan’s vision was benevolent and intellectual. He strove to shed the brilliance of his knowledge over the future generation void of chauvinistic outlooks. He struggle against the imperialist rulers to ensure the right to follow any faith and to name all important religious days of every faith as public holidays. He argued at the Legislative Council to have Vesak Poya Day branded a public holiday. Such arguments showed the depth of his philosophical spirituality as a faithful Hindu.
As the then British rulers tried to suppress the Sinhala community front-runners and leaders during the Muslim-Sinhala riots in 1915, this erudite scholar dared to visit the British Queen, risking his life. He could abort the imperialist conspiracy to destroy our leaders.
Sir Ponnamabalam Ramanathan was a symbol of Charisma. He erected the bridge of peace and reconciliation between the North and South. Amidst constant efforts of chauvinist rogues to damage this “Bridge” which exists to date unharmed, given to the nation’s good fortune! Grateful Sinhalese should forever felicitate the profound spiritual charisma of this great pro-Sinhala Tamil.
In resolving the ethnic issue of the country, Sir Ramanathan’s vision should be studied, examined and observed in depth. The members of the present new generation, particularly ruling politicians, should take notice of his national mission in the journey towards peace, reconciliation and harmony among nations. This brief write-up contains only a very tiny division of the biography of Sir Ponnambalam. His biography emanates the aroma of a spiritual appeal of a scholarly soul of the past.
Let me conclude with a brainy quote from Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan which shows his compassion and love towards all.
“If Sinhalese lips will not speak the Sinhalese language, who else is there to speak it… How is a nation be lifted out of error, reformed and advanced into plains of higher knowledge except by its own language?”
Dr. Hemakumara Nanayakkara