The first official celebrations was held on February 10, 1948, under the auspicious of Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.A message by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister to Indian magazine named, “Ceylon Souvenir” issued by Indian authorities in end January 1948 to commemorate the event says,
“… and now comes the turn of Ceylon or Lanka of ancient fame. No country can rejoice more at this change than India which has been and is like an elder brother…India and Ceylon stands in the centre of South Asia. Indian Ocean washers their shores. Great trade routes pass by them. Inevitably there is going to be a closer union of these countries of Southern Asia. More specifically of South East Asia, and of common ideals and common objectives furthering peace and freedom in the world.” – [Courtesy JR Jayewardene Centre-–MFN7854]
The Soulberry Constitution’s  state emblem was replaced with the enactment of Republican Constitution in 1972. However, the sword-wielding lion on a red background encircled by traditional decorative design was copied from the old emblem, while adding a “punkalasa”, [a traditional pot with coconut flower] the symbol of prosperity, two stalks of ‘golden’ paddy and the sun and moon.
Today, we commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the achievement of independence from colonialists following 443-years of foreign domination. This thrice-blessed wonderful country can boast of a recorded history of more than 26 centuries with a proud tradition. We have experienced fluctuating periods of prosperity and are experiencing signs of a potentially developing state towards a free and sovereign society. DS Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka unfolded the Lion flag, the symbol of our ancient civilization, that marked the independence from the clutches of Colonial rule. Among the leadership who spear-headed the course to independence were, DS and FR Senanayake, Sir D.B. Jayatilleke, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnamabalam Ramanathan, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, T.B. Jayah and D.R. Wijewardene [to name a few], among many others who were united and worked unreservedly with great insight and grace so as to achieve sovereignty and autonomy.
On February 4, 1948, Sir Henry Moor, had to vacate the office of Governor of the British Colony called Ceylon, and took oaths as the first Governor-General of the Dominion of Ceylon before Sir John Howard, the Chief Justice.
72 years ago, an Indian poet by the name of Dr. SN Sashtri wrote the following lines to the commemorative issue on the occasion of Ceylon’s Independence, by Indian Government.
‘Mighty is the land of Bharata;
And, likewise, mighty is the Lion’s Land.
Rejoice! For this day’s bright dawn
Sees the Lion Island Free.
Victory to those who lead their people’s ever beloved.
Victory to Senanayake, leader of government,
And victory to India’s gem of Gems.’
[Courtesy JR Jayewardene Centre-: MFN 7854]
Independence day in Sri Lanka are characteristically exciting with Lion flags flickering majestically in the calm wind and the ceremonially attired soldiers displaying to the complementary melodies that create feelings of patriotism. This year with a reduction in numbers involved in the celebration and unnecessary ‘pomp and pageantry’ under austerity move introduced by the new Executive President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; the government has already announced a national tree-planting programme to commemorate the event, a gesture that marks the difference—the 71st independence was celebrated with the then Leader of the House Luxman Kiriella moving in Parliament for an enhancement of the number of Cabinet and non-cabinet ministers to 48 and 45, respectively, making an extra-large Cabinet of 48 Ministers each costing 8.5 million a month.
Both the above message and the poet’s version at the beginning carry statements indicating India’s superiority. Nehru says.. like an elder brother, while the poet put it as… India’s gem of Gems. However, close and cordial relations with India by Bandaranaike governments of 1956 to 77 and Mahinda Rajapaksa eras of 2005 to 2015 and the current rule that began with enhanced relations, when President Gotabaya accepted an invitation to visit the big neighbour on priority has helped renewal of somewhat strained relations between the two.
History of Freedom ‘Struggle’
Sir Susantha de Fonseka was the member representing Panadura in the State Council. He moved a resolution under the auspicious of DS Senanayake, in November 1944 calling for a dominion-type constitution for Ceylon. Subsequently, ‘Free Lanka’ Bill was introduced on January 10, 1945.
“…most of the agitation for independence by others have been on the wrong lines. The British getting the fullest support for the war effort from the State Council headed by Senanayake, Dominion status was promised soon after the war. Not breaking the word, there came to be appointed a Commission under Viscount Soulbury. ‘Soulbury Constitution’ it was called, but the fact is that it was produced by Mr. Senanayake”- Sir Ivor Jennings, former Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya University and co-author of 1947 Constitution University –[courtesy National Archives]
The Dominion Constitution introduced was with slight modifications from the original devised by Lord Soulbery, Sir Fedrick Burrows and Sir Federick Reed. The Legislator under the new Constitution, enjoyed absolute power, untrammeled by any subservience to British Crown.
February 10, 1948
On February 10, the Duke delivered his addressed in his ceremonial official attire, and received the throne speech from DS Senanayake seated, next he wore his cap and read, “Ceylon has now achieved independence as a fully responsible member of the British Commonwealth of Nations…and with the attainment of the status of Dominion, you met today in the enjoyment of all rights and privileges pertaining to that status…” His Royal Highness ended King’s speech then he stood up, uncovered his head and read a message from His Majesty the King to people of Ceylon, “…I am confident that you will carry your new responsibilities ably…and I pray that Ceylon will enjoy peace and prosperity in full measure. May God bless you all and guide your country through the years that lie ahead”.
“Today we shall celebrate a momentous event in the history of Sri Lanka. It will mark the birth of our freedom. In the long history of our island, the attainment of political freedom is, perhaps, only second in importance to the message of spiritual freedom which Lord Buddha delivered 2500 years ago.” – PM D. S. Senanayake’s replied.
— Ceylon Observer February 11, 1948.
Strong and united opposition
Governor-General commended the performance of his government releasing a message to Information Department’s souvenir on the 1st Anniversary celebrations held in 1949: it says, “a stable government based on the principle of Cabinet responsibility and the party system has emerged…”, and ended with the remark… “…but a strong and united opposition has yet to be formed.” [something that we lack after 72 years?]