Nalanda College

How it all began…

Sir Henry Steel Olcott
Sir Henry Steel Olcott

It was a time when the English rulers kept Buddhists under colonial heel. A time when Buddhist parents were compelled to send their children to missionary schools since there were no indigenous schools of their own. It is in this context, that the foreigners like Sir Henry Steel Olcott, Madame Blavatsky and Miss Marie Musaeus Higgins arrived in this country, to help the few Buddhist leaders in their quest for moral and philosophical freedom.

When Ananda College was established in 1886, it attracted the attention of many Buddhists. Thus, in no time students were drawn in from all corners of the island, craving for education catered to suit their own culture. As a result, by the end of 1923, it was quite conspicuous that the infrastructure that was present could no longer cope, with the ever-increasing demand.

A New Wing for Ananda…

Mr P De S Kularathne

At that time the Ananda playground was located in Campbell Place, Colombo. Next to the playground was a stretch of land about one acre in extent. Mr P De S Kularathne the then principal of Ananda College leased this land and moved in some junior classes of Ananda. These first classrooms were simply mud huts!

This new wing of Ananda was under the authority of Mr E W Perera. He was a very efficient administrator, who did an excellent job in keeping the place clean and maintaining discipline among students. He was well rewarded for his hard work when this new institution was readily approved by the then director of education Mr Robinson, who quite clearly was very impressed with the way it was functioning.

Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithriya Thero
Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero

Mr Kularathne went even further and bought another 4 acres, from an adjacent land, which cost him 55 000 rupees at that time. A new building comprising of 16 rooms was constructed on this newly acquired land soon after. Sir Gregory Thompson, the then Governor of Ceylon, laid the foundation stone in 1922. Out of its 16 rooms, which were the best that had been built for Ananda so far, 2 were used as laboratories and 2 others as the staff room and the principal’s office. The remaining 12 rooms were used as classrooms under the authority of Mr L H Meththananda. Mr E W Perera was appointed the head master. The Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero became the first Dharmarcharya.

Nalanda, A New School…

Mr Kularathne registered this off shoot of Ananda as a separate school on the 1st November 1925. The day was so chosen because it was the 39th Anniversary of Ananda and Mr L H Meththananda became the first principal of Nalanda. Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero was allotted the task of finding a name and a motto for this new school. He named it ‘Nalanda’ and chose ‘Apadana Sobhini Panna’ meaning ‘wisdom beautifies character’ as the motto. Nalandians old and new have lived up to it; and will strive to do so in future as well.

THE GREAT PARADOX OF NALANDA: If the school was opened in 1925 Nalanda cannot celebrate 75 years of service to the nation on 1st November 1999; but since we are doing so, we are compelled to do so on grounds that Nalanda was indeed opened in 1924. Yet if Nalanda was opened in 1924 why was it only registered in 1925, a year later?

Mr Kularathne acted quite generously in choosing his best pupils to be among the initial batch of 330 Anandians who were sent to Nalanda (Ananda?) in 1924 (inconsistent with above!), from both the senior and the junior schools. His intention was to attain outstanding results from Nalanda, at the upcoming Government Examination. Not surprisingly in 1926, the Nalandians out shadowed the Anandians, though to everyone’s relief the downfall of the Anandians was temporary!

Prof Gunapala Malalasekara

All in a Day’s Work!

This infant school was put into the care of Prof G P Malalasekara, an intellectual giant, who was appointed as the principal of Nalanda on the 1st January 1926. At the time there were a total number of 557 students at Nalanda. Mr Kularathne laid down the foundation stone for another building on the 30th March 1926. It was the second building to be constructed at Nalanda, in a series of many others that were to follow towards the end of the 1900’s. Anagarika Dharmapala lent money to Mr Kularanthne to build the Nalanda primary school. He was later repaid by Prof Malalasekara.

A Clone?

During the time of the Second World War, Nalanda was split into two separate institutions. One was moved to Maharagama and the other to Minuwangoda. Though Nalanda was restored, once the insecure period was over, Ven Hinatiye Dhammaloka registered the institution that started in Minuwangoda as a separate school. It was also named “Nalanda”.

Nalanda College, Colombo an icon in the education system of Sri Lanka is a prestigious institute in the forefront of holding out the nation’s rich cultural heritage. Inspired by Buddhism and Cherished by Scholars Nalanda College has set the standards for independent national education. “Nalanda” was a university in India at the time of Lord Buddha (650BC); long lost and forgotten by the decay of time it’s name somehow lived on. Even after 2000 years of human evolution, the morals and social etiquette taught by Buddhism still remained true as ever. It almost seemed as if education had to wait 2000 years for the finished product.

At a time of cultural renaissance in an exotic tropical Island in 1923, Nalanda was reincarnated as an educational institute. It was fate that brought Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, the founder of Nalanda to Sri Lanka on his quest to find the ultimate truth. Upon his arrival from America, he became a Buddhist, and devoted his life to preserve it. Long before Sri Lanka won it’s independence in 1948 from the British Empire, The founders of Nalanda College had to work within the limits set by the government. It was pure will power, patriotism and personality shown by men like Ven Sri Sumangala Thero and Anagarika Dhamapala that has made Nalanda the crown jewel of Sri Lankan schools today.

At the beginning, Nalanda was nothing more than a classroom in a humble bamboo shaded hut. We started out with about 20 students and a few volunteers as teachers. Everything was done with the help of generous public donations to the Buddhist Theosophical society set up by Colonel Olcott. Negligence of Buddhism and Buddhist culture in the early 20th century made Nalanda a godsend to the people. The opportunity to get equally good education without going to a missionary school to have Christianity imposed upon themselves was a liberty they never had before. Despite the strains of British colonial rule in Sri Lanka at that time Nalanda never looked back on it’s course in providing independent national education for the children of tomorrow. From the very beginning the “Buddhist Theosophical Society” headed by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was facing a trivial problem in fighting to to keep up with the influential missionary program sponsored by the government. However, Nalanda had the one thing that it will ever need; the blessing of the common people.

As we step into the new millennium it is only right that we honor the efforts of the pioneers of the Nalanda The name “Nalanda” was given to us by the late Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero. The Pali word “Nalanda” means “the place which gives strength”. History will teach the next generation that the land they walk on is rich with the blood & sweat of our brothers and that Nalanda was the strength of independent Sri Lanka.