Anagreement between the UK and the Kandyan Chiefs of Ceylon titled, Kandyan Convention,was signed in 1815. The terms of the convention stipulated that the Kingdom of Kandy would be annexed to the British Empire, giving Britain total control over the island nation. The king of Kandy was arrested and deposed.
The convention upheld many of the traditional rights, rituals and powers enjoyed by the locals. The convention also specified that the laws, customs, and establishments of the Kandyans were to be administered and maintained by the native authorities. A unique feature of the Convention was the inclusion of the Article 5, which stated:
Governor Brownrigg met Kandyan Buddhists to discuss the convention and gave a special audience on February 10, 1815 to them on his own where he assured them that Buddhism and its properties and places of worship will be protected. The British colonial authorities merely wanted to please the Kandyan Chiefs and the prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters with this ineffectual piece of inducement.
The Kandyan Chiefs and the Mahanayake Theras agreed to the Kandyan Convention as it included an article protecting their religion and privileges. The fifth clause however, it must be pointed out, extended to protecting Hinduism too.
The two prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta threatened to boycott the Independence inauguration ceremony in Kandy
‘The religion of Buddha, professed by the chiefs and inhabitants of these provinces is declared inviolable and its rites and ministers and places of worship are to be maintained and protected’. The slightly-different Sinhala version says not only the protection and maintenance of Buddhist temples but also Devagama (Hinduism) Devales or Hindu temples should be protected.
D.S Senanayake vehemently opposed in 1948
Buddhism is declared inviolable and its rights to be maintained and protected. When the Colonial masters and local leaders agreed to a Dominion status, Hon D.S. Senanayake along with Sir Ivor Jennings the Constitutional expert, designed the 1948 Constitution. British rulers transferred powers of self-rule to Sri Lanka. Senanayake faced a Constitutional crisis in December 1947/January 48. In the 1948 Constitution of Independent Sri Lanka didn’t give Buddhism the foremost place as of now. Senanayake was under pressure to include a special clause for Buddhism from the leading Buddhist clergy, especially the Siyam Nikaya Mahanayake Theras. The two prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta threatened to boycott the Independence inauguration ceremony in Kandy.
The first documented constitutional reforms, the Colebrook-Cameron proposals to satisfy the needs of the Britishers, date back to 1833. A 184-year history of constitutional reforms offers us ample lessons in formatting an innovative constitution. In 1912, Crewe-MacCallum proposed a team of advisers, with the members of Legislative Council, who don’t represent the people. Then there was another short-lived reformation in 1921-1924 as proposed by GovernorManning which was followed by Manning’s reforms under LG which governed Ceylon from 1924 to 1931.
In 1931, the famous Donoughmore Reforms, which granted universal franchise, were introduced. It also proposed the State Council replacing the Legislative Council and provided the last stage prior to Independence. The 1947 reforms named, ‘Soulbury Constitution’ was drafted by the first vice chancellor of Peradeniya University, Sir Ivor Jennings under the guidance of Senanayake, the Leader of the House, providing Independence under dominion status.
Discussing the provisions with Attorney General Victor Tennekoon and Solicitor General Rajah Wanasundera, and being mindful of Article 5 of the 1815 Kandyan Convention, she requested them to pen an appropriate clause and had directed Dr. Colvin R de Silva, who was responsible for the first 1972 Republican Constitution to provide the ‘foremost place’ to Buddhism. Colvin had quipped “she is thrusting the Kandyan Throne into our Constitution.”
This Article, ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka,’ shall give Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d). This was followed by J.R. Jayewardene (JRJ) in the 1978 Constitution as well. This helped her to extend her term by two years by ‘Constitutional means’.
J.R.J allowed it in 1978
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena affirmed that Buddhism would be given the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s new Constitution. The premier’s statement has made evident that the Unity Government would retain the special place given to Buddhism in the 1972 and ‘78 Constitutions. Therefore, the foremost place accorded to Buddhism will be preserved in its new draft as well. JRJ got himself promoted to Executive President without a mandate by ‘Constitutional means’
DS and the Prelates
A deputation headed by the Mahanayake Theras of Malwatta and Asgiriya and members of the laity, including prominent Kandyan representatives, proposed to wait on the Minister of Home Affairs Sir Oliver Goonetillake to urge that a declaration be made on behalf of the Government, pledging itself to honour Article 5 of Kandyan Convention of 1815.They urged that the most appropriate occasion for such an announcement will be the visit of the Duke of Gloucester to Kandy in February 1948. It was suggested that the announcement be made on behalf of the successors to the British Government, preferably by the Duke himself at the Audience Hall Kandy, where the treaty of 1815 was signed, and at the Maligawa Octagon [patthirippuwa].
A hint that the Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiriya will not participate in the Independence celebrations, when the Duke of Gloucester visits Kandy, unless their demand is included in the Independence Act, was given to S F Amerasinghe, the G-Agent. The Mahanyakes Theras had the support of the Adigars, Diyawadane Nilame, Basnayakes, the Kandyan Youth League and the Kandyan National Assembly. In their view, though they had confidence in the Senanayake Cabinet, they were concerned about the future, if certain other parties assumed power.
Mahanayakes to private residences
The Government invited the Malwatte and Asgiriya prelates and C B Nugawela, the Diyawadane Nilame, to the Government Agent’s residence to meet the Prime Minister. The Diyawadane Nilame, as the lay custodian of the most sacred relic, was averse to the pontiffs of the religion being invited to private homes for conferences. He suggested that the proposed conference should be held in the Dalada Maligawa and asked for a direction to that effect. It was also decided to request that the conference should be open to representatives of the Kandyan political associations.
A mandate was issued to the representatives of these associations that they should consent to cooperate during the Independence Day celebrations only if an undertaking was given that the Order in Council would contain a clause recognizing the Treaty of 1815. The secretary was directed to summon a further meeting to discuss the result of the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Support from Kelaniya
The high priest of Asgiriya, in the process received messages from Nayake Theras islandwide, including the incumbent of Rajamahaviharaya of Kelaniya, Ven Mapitigama Buddharakkitha Thera, [the first accused in Bandaranaike assassination a decade later] that he would receive the fullest support in his boycott of the Independence Day celebrations unless the protection of Buddhism was guaranteed. The Diyawadane Nilame wrote to the Government Agent stating that he was directed by the Mahanayakes to state that they were prepared to meet the Prime Minister at the Dalada Maligawa.
At the conference were present the Mahanayakes of the two chapters, the Anunayakes, representatives of the Kandyan political associations and several others, including GA Godamune. Prime Minister DSS didn’t succumb. He travelled to Kandy, didn’t visit the temples, but met them at the Maligawa and convinced the two Prelates on the importance of not introducing special provisions on protection or foremost to Buddhism in the new Constitution. He said, “equality is a basic tenet of Dhamma. If equality is a provision, then you can’t give primacy to one religion.”
DSS was nicknamed ‘Jungle John’ for his aversion to conventional book-education in school. He was by no means an intellectual, but he was a man with shining intelligence. With academic qualifications that wouldn’t have made him a low-ranking public servant, he gained knowledge by doing things, managing people, perceiving them rather than interpreting of theories.
His sort of indulgence couldn’t be gained through books or by theoretical craming. His insightful foresight undoubtedly surpassed the intellectual capacities of the ‘learned’. Rt Hon. DS Senanayake did not fear any authority. He never sought to enthrone Buddhism in the Constitution and gain popularity. But he was a devout Buddhist. A practicing one, too. His Mettā ‘friendliness’ and Karunā ‘compassion’ in international relations were amply demonstrated in supporting Japanese peace treaty.
We should copy the Burmese Constitution’s Clause no 21.4 which states, “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden; and any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this constitution and may be made punishable by law.” In Sri Lanka, the State is responsible only to protect Buddhism, not other religions. This unreasonable, defensive principle was derived from the 1815 Kandyan Convention. Isn’t it a grave error to adapt the distinctive situation that existed two centuries ago to the present political environment? The key requirement is to bring together the people and not to divide them. From 1972 was there any special protection or improvement to Buddhism by the Government;
and what harm it did to Buddhism from 1948 to 1972, during which period there was no such constitutional guarantee? The civil society has a huge responsibility to be sincerely involved in the course of drafting the proposed supreme law of the country. Parliamentarians will always see that their own personal concerns take precedence over that of the people, thereforeleaving it in their hands will only make sure of a clash of interest.
The Buddha invited all to join the fold of universal brotherhood to work in harmony for the happiness of mankind. He had no chosen people and he didn’t consider himself as the chosen one either. The Buddha urged people to respect all religious people in spite of the differences of opinion that existed.