How The War Memorial in Colombo came into Being

Dr. Narme F. Wickremesinghe, in the Sunday Times ……………..  …….. where the  title is  “The Genesis of the National Remembrance Park”

The red poppy which s”ymbolizes the blood of war heroes is from the poppy that grows in Flanders, France, a Remembrance Park for the war dead. It was at 11 a.m. on November 11 (- the 11th month) 1918 that the Armistice was signed, bringing to an end the First World War. The war heroes are remembered on the Sunday closest to November 11th at 11 a.m. with two minutes silence and all life comes to a standstill including electronic channels and vehicular movement. In this article I will give you an account of how Sri Lanka’s Flanders – the Remembrance Park at Mailapitiya, off Kandy, came into being.


The concept

In September 2000, Dr. Tara De Mel, Adviser on Social Infrastructure to the President, consulted several knowledgeable persons as to how best to remember the thousands in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police who had sacrificed their lives for the nation in order that the rest of us can live. It was discerned that most nations had four ways of commemorating the war dead, viz.

War Cemeteries – where the dead heroes are interred. e.g. at Kandy, Trincomalee, and Kanatte during the World Wars. Arlington in the USA is both a cemetery and a memorial, as is the Jerusalem Military Cemetery in Israel. National Memorials – where heroes are remembered by a construction. e.g. The Cenotaph at Vihara Maha Devi Park, Colombo (-originally located at Galle Face) and at Whitehall, London; the Arc de Triumph in Paris, the India Gate in New Delhi, and the Israel Paratroopers Memorial outside Tel Aviv War Museums – where military mementos are displayed in almost every capital in the world, such as the Imperial War Museum in London and the Air Force Museum in Ratmalana. Remembrance Parks – where the dead are remembered in serene surroundings where people visit almost in a spirit of pilgrimage, stimulating a sense of patriotism eg. Flanders in France, Gettysberg in U.S.A., Runnymead in England.

Dr. Tara de Mel perhaps in consultation with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga decided on a Remembrance Theme Park, commemorating all the dead and missing personnel of the Armed Service and Police since Independence in 1948, but with instruments which symbolize life and living. In October 2000, on the advice of Armyne Wirasinhe, the President invited the winners of the “Top Ten” business organisations to support the various projects of the newly formed Rana Viru Seva Authority (RVSA). Of the ‘Top Ten’ only Gen. Denis Perera, the Chairperson of the Ceylon Tobacco Co. (CTC) agreed to support the implementation of the concept paper on a Remembrance Theme Park, even though all 10 were asked to do it together. He subsequently obtained the concurrence of the CTC Board to construct it with the RVSA and voluntary donors.

The project

Although Horana or Kurunegala as the site for the Park (NRP) had been suggested in the concept paper, both General Denis and I felt the cool and tranquil atmosphere around Kandy would be more suitable, particularly with the added pilgrimage site of the Dalada Maligawa being in the vicinity. The CTC contracted two architects, Mano Ponniah and Turner Wickremesinghe who together with General Denis Perera and Lakshman Nugawela (representing the CTC), Priyantha Kulathunga, Chamil Samarasinghe and myself (representing the RVSA) selected the site of the NRP at Mailapitiya.

This was a 34 acre land on two hills with the flowing backwaters of the Victoria Reservoir in the valley, a constantly blowing cool breeze in a serene noiseless atmosphere, and although a shrub jungle then, could easily be beautifully landscaped and developed with living trees and plants. The area belonged partly to the Mahaweli Authority and partly to the Wild Life Department.

The total cost estimate (and actual) was Rs. 31,591,000, contributed by donations to the RVSA (Rs. 14.5 million), CTC (Rs. 8 million), and the Armed Forces and Police (Rs. 9 million). It was to be a combined effort of the Armed Services, Police, public sector and the private sector to honour ‘some who gave all’.

National Remembrance Park

At the entrance to the NRP is a large gate and retention wall stating that it was opened by the President of Sri Lanka on 03 October, 2002 and the names of the executing agencies. Unfortunately, a politician who had nothing to do with the establishment of the NRP and who did not know of the major role and financial contribution of Gen. Denis Perera on behalf of the CTC has got the name of the CTC erased, today. The gate leads through a flight of steps and a differently abled access gangway to a high platform which has the central monument, a fountain, pond, and four shrines of the major religions of the country. The monument is unique. Three stainless steel pipes ascend high into the skies with a fountain and pond in the centre. It depicts the respectful gesture of the entire nation in salutation for those killed and missing in action.

The fountain and pool of running water signifies life and peace that the heroes who sacrificed their lives have made it possible for future generations of our land to live in peace. Around the monument are four altars for each religion in Sri Lanka, to enable those who wish, to recite a gatha or prayer. Inscribed on each altar is a significant quote from the Scriptures in all three national languages, selected by religious leaders- An eternal flame in an oil lamp burns on this platform.

Throughout the Park are platforms for each Force and Regiment with granite slabs in which are engraved the names of all those who have been killed or missing in action, so that generations to come may remember and honour them. The granite slabs are placed at an angle, like a book, not vertical, to emphasize that this is NOT a war cemetery. Those who were posthumously awarded for the highest acts of bravery (PWV) have their names engraved in gold. The present Chairperson of the RVSA, Col. Lalith Gunaratne has brought up to date the names engraved of all heroes.

At the summit of another hill and visible at night for miles around, an artificial flame has been constructed but is now unfortunately lit only on ceremonial occasions such as on Ranaviru Day on June 7 annually. At the further end of the Park is an information centre where details and photographs of all those disabled, missing and killed in action may be accessed on a computer and through the NRP website, which was developed by the CTC. It enables those interested to employ the differently abled or assist the families of the victims.

Things not done

The Project Document required the establishment of a Trust for the security, maintenance and management of the NRP, where it will be a grateful public, the Armed Forces and Police who will maintain it as a national monument, rather than politicians . The RVSA collected Rs. 5 million for this purpose from donors and on April 28, 2003, the Trust Deed No. 2598 was signed by myself (on behalf of the RVSA) , Gen. Denis Perera, Vijaya Malalasekara (on behalf of the CTC), the three Service Commanders (Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalla, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, Air Marshal Donald Perera), the IGP T.E. Anandarajah, the accountant of the Presidential Secretariat A.L.D. Gunaratne, and witnessed by Arch. Mano Ponniah and Lakshman Nugawela (the Project Coordinator).

However it was sabotaged by a politically motivated SLAS person whispering falsities to the powers that be, and the Trust Deed was stopped from being registered. It had been drafted by Attorneys at Law Indra Baduge (the RVSA Lawyer) and Indira Samarasinghe (RVSA Board Member from the Legal Draughtsman’s Department) and approved by the Attorney General and the Judge – Advocate General to the Forces.

To date it remains a dead document enabling squatters and politicians to have a field day, but fortunately the Central Province Command of the Army and other Forces continue to do its functions assigned in the Trust Deed and the NRP remains beautifully and respectfully maintained.

Hopefully the present dynamic Chairperson of the RVSA, Col. Lalith Gunaratne together with the Armed Services, Police, legal and medical statutory representatives on its Board will continue the intentions of the NRP at its foundation. Those who feel so inclined can visit the NRP and donate funds for its maintenance to the Ranaviru Seva Authority.

NRP Project), 287, Galle Road, Colombo 03. Communications with the RVSA  ……………… Chairperson, Or Tel: 011 2375914.

 The author is a former Chairperson of the Rana Viru Seva Authority…. while this entry in Thuppahi has been facilitated by Retd Group Captain Kumar Kirinde


























Filed under accountability, architects & architecture, art & allure bewitching, Colombo and Its Spaces, cultural transmission, heritage, landscape wondrous, life stories, martyrdom, nationalism, patriotism, performance, pilgrimages, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, trauma, world events & processes

2 responses to “How The War Memorial in Colombo came into Being

  1. Very interesting, informative and well written. Also clearly shows the perfidy of politicians, who have put spokes in the wheel of this and so many other things, for nefarious reasons of their own, thus bringing about chaos in the country, by splintering the unity, economy and environment of our country.

  2. Dickie Bird

    Dear Narme,
    Thank you for enlightening the existence of such a Memorial Park to remember those who gave their lives. Being out of the Country for so long, until now I never envisaged there existed something of this nature.
    These politicians buffoons with bloated egos are a curse.
    Thank you once again to Dr. NFW.

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