Monday, February 20, 2012


Service of Praise and Thanksgiving for the Life and Ministry of

Grace Nesamma Kadirgamar

Wife of the late Rev.J.W.A.Kadirgamar
24 August 1905 - 20 October 2002

Wednesday 27 November 2002 at 6 p.m.  
Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, Colombo Church,
17 Frances Road, Wellawatte

Silan Kadirgamar

Reflections on a Long Journey

The Tamil lyric that was sung just now Eesan Patham Tholuwom (Let us worship at the feet of the Lord) has been sung at all our family occasions, times of joy and and occasions such the one we observe today. This lyric was composed by Kanagamalar Ratnarajah, wife of the late Red.J.J.Ratnarajah, my mother’s cousin.

My faith it is an oaken staff the travelers well loved aid

Guide me O Thou great Jehovah pilgrim through this barren land

These are the opening words of two well known hymns that come to one’s mind as I reflect on and eventful life of Amma (mother) which I have titled “Reflections on a Long Journey – I use these words both literally and figuratively – it is a journey that has spanned practically a century, a turbulent and tumultuous century – a much troubled period of war and violence both in this country and in the Asian region. It is the story of one mother who had the gift of long life. I am sure that there are many similar stories of mothers that deserve to be and must be acknowledged. The Rev. Samitha Baddegama speaking at my mother-in-laws funeral a few years ago quoted the Buddha who said “if you wish to know me know your mother.” I must admit that it was in the last six years that I re-discovered my mother in a very special way – it is an experience that will linger until the end of my life. We owe it to our mothers to honour and perpetuate their memories. I do it today in the nature of a testimony to a person to whom we owe so much. I do it partly in the context of the joint ministry of both my parents.

It was exactly 30 days prior to the date of her passing away that I stood opposite our ancestral home – a humble but spacious house that stood as a symbol of happier and memorable times now in ruins – in Chavakachcheri. I was visiting Chavakachcheri after nineteen years and I stood there gazing at the ruins as memories passed my mind. It was the place of birth and home to many of us in the extended family a homeliest of homely places where many a memorable event took place - weddings, funerals and family get-togethers. Naturally ones thoughts go back to Chavakachcheri as one looks back on my mother’s life. It was in this house – later named ‘Ashram” by my father in later years that Amma was born and began her long and blessed journey, which took her to Uduvil Girls School, to Udupiddy and Navaly where the ministry of her parents was recalled with affection for decades to come and finally marriage in Chavakachcheri to a man who was an idealist cut in the Gandhian mould. He had insisted that she get married in Khaddar without jewellery and all the paraphernalia that go with weddings in our culture. She is known to have given away her gold chain to Gandhi’s fund for the toiling masses in India when he visited Jaffna in 1927.

But 1928 to 1938 were to prove hard and difficult times. My father had resigned from his position as a worker in the church in 1928. As Bishop Kulandran remarked in his tribute at his funeral in 1961 “Kadirgamar was ahead of his times. All that he stood for are now commonplace in our church life”. He was making reference to the lighting of oil lamps, the singing of thevarams, carpet seating as later adopted in the Christa Seva Ashram and the Uduvil Chapel and all that constitutes indigenization of worship.

Therefore the arrival in Seremban, Malaysia via Singapore 1938 was to mark a major turning point in my mother’s life as my father returned to his calling as a pastor. We have vivid memories of some of the experiences of those times. One of these was the miraculous manner in which she  travelled by train and ferry via Talaimannar and Rameshvaram to reach Nagapatnam in S.India to catch the last boat to Singapore just before war broke out with two of the youngest children in the family and my eldest sister.

And one of the lasting memories is of that day in December 1941 when we heard the sound of bombs falling on the town of Seremban.  All women and children had been evacuated to the rubber estates on the orders of the British government whose forces were on the retreat. The men were required to report for work. As the bombs fell and rumours spread the women wept and wailed fearing that the worst had happened to the men. Amma did not. She remained calm and collected – a quality she was to retain throughout the equally brutal war in Jaffna four decades later. I have seen her weep on many an occasion – that is when someone dear and near to her died. In fact the Hitchcock sisters did that part of the mourning in the traditional Jaffna way and did it in style as we say. But when faced with danger she never showed signs of weakness.

The high point in their ministry was in the war years in Malaysia. Those were years when American funding for the churches had ceased. The institutional and administrative structure of the church had collapsed. The missionaries were all under detention. There was no fixed or steady income for the pastor and the family. The members of the parish took care of the pastor’s family to the best of their ability. And the pastor served the parish with devotion and duty. One task he was called to perform was to comfort and address needs of the families of detainees under the ruthless and merciless regime of the Japanese.

On one occasion he was exposed to an unusual and dangerous test when he went to plead on behalf of our neighbor, the Chinese pastor’s son-in-law. The officer put the following questions to him:

Question: Were you a loyal subject of the British when they were here?
Answer:   Yes
Q:          Are you a loyal subject of His Imperial Majesty’s
              Government now?
A:           Yes.
Q:           If this country is taken over by the American’s will you be
               a loyal subject of their government
A:           Opening the New Testament that he always carried in his pocket
                 he read the following verse:

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Roman’s. 13:1, King James Version) and told the officer this is what my religion teaches me.
That was one of his most frightening experiences during the war. The officer let him go but not the young Chinese on whose behalf he had gone to plead.

That was part of the journey of trials and tribulations that my mother went through. She coped with it all and most difficult of all feeding, clothing and educating a large family, when there were times when a handful of rice was a luxury and a spoon of sugar or a dash of milk in ones tea an absolute luxury.

The firm and irrevocable decision to return to Jaffna was made even as the war came to a close. And here began the second stage of my parent’s ministry – initially a return to Chavakachcheri for a while and then the parishes of Tellippalai and Vaddukoddai. Let me here quote a tribute received from one of my cousins Balan Thurairatnam from Zambia.

My childhood memories of Nesaunty are many indeed and the joyous occasions we would have at Chavakachcheri with the sisters chatting and laughing still rings in my ears. But the one thing which I have always remembered with much admiration from when I was a little older was Appah and Nesaunty ministering at Tellippalai when we would see them often walking the roads of the village visiting some family - and not only from the church. They seemed so full of cheer and joy as they walked in the line of their duty for the Lord.

We thank God for Nesaunty’s life and the gentle death she was blessed with. It could not have been any other way because she was always so calm and at peace whatever the circumstances. Nesaunty’s face always radiated her inner peace and her smile a sign of affection and love even without a word being spoken.

Known as all pastor’s wives are as “Pothagar Amma” her contribution was in not only visiting every family in the parish – but knowing each and every person by name – establishing relationships that lasted a lifetime. This was as true in Jaffna as it was in Malaysia. The rewards of this ministry came later in life. The city of Singapore in her last four and a half years became a miniature parish as one time church members and children of church members returned the visits.

The manner in which she survived the war in Jaffna is a long story. She had her share of intense sorrow not the least of which was the shocking and devastating assassination of her son-in-law Anandarajan, Principal of St.John’s College – an act of injustice and violations of all norms of human rights by the sons of our own soil the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

She lived through the several stages of the war.  I once asked her to compare life under the Japanese with life in war torn Jaffna. “The Japanese were gentlemen she said compared to the state’s security forces – she paused and said the IPKF included.”

Finally in the last decade trapped in a never ending war – in her ninetieth year carried by two grandsons Katpagan and Dev she was part of the great Exodus of 1995 – as she moved even as the shells fell – from Maruthanamadam to Chundikuli and from there to Chavakachcheri for a final meeting in the ancestral home with one of her sisters who herself was bedridden and then with the further assistance of cousin Rajendra’s son Ronny carried again across the shallow waters of the Kilali crossing in primitive boats to the mainland and in dilapidated vehicles to Navajeevanam in Paranthan to live with the youngest of the Hitchcock sisters Arul Thambyrajah. It was a matter of weeks when the shells began to fall on Paranthan and the total destruction of that beautiful children’s home built painfully and with total dedication by The Rev.and Mrs. Thambyrajah and Sister Elizabeth Baker.  My mother moved with what was left of the Navajeevanam community further inland to Dharmapuram. Finally transported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), she resumed her long journey to Colombo arriving in Dehiwala in November 1996.

Some others of her age succumbed to the strain and psychological trauma of flight. She survived it all without bitterness or rancour. Those were months of deep anxiety to all of us. We, especially those of us abroad, at that time spent anxious days that dragged on for months.

I recall some words of the lyric mentioned above.

Athisayamai  nammai anpal aravanaiththu
Aandukalthorum inpaay
Thunpangal thollaikal yaavum anuhamal
Paththiramahave kaththanare enrum

Through the years thou has lavished us with thy wonderful love and care, saving and protecting us from troubles and sorrow.

Not that she did not have her share of thunpangal and thollaikal – of sorrow and troubles – she had a full measure of it – but she overcame them with a Gracefulness true to her name – bestowed on her by her mother Alice Muthupillai and father the Rev. Shanmugam Ramalingam Hitchcock.

We have much to be thankful for – especially the last six precious years when contact was established for her with all the members of the family.

There is something beautiful and lovely about the way she returned to Singapore and spent her last days there in the comfort, peace and security of my sister Sita’s home, the city in which my father was ordained a minister of the Methodist Church.

If I am to write an epitaph for my mother , “It would read in the words Peter Acts 3: 6 “Silver and gold have I none but such as I have give I Thee.” She never owned wealth, and for the greater part of her life she ran a home on the pittance that constituted a pastor’s salary, in fact in material terms I am not ashamed to say there were times when we were poor very poor indeed, but she gave us something that silver and gold cannot buy – the inner peace and calmness that her own life reflected. She has sustained us even in our adult lives in our ups and downs; she was firm as a rock, the center and foundation of our lives and above all together with my father gave us something worthwhile to live for – to find meaning in life and to live it in all its fullness and abundant love.  

We have much to be thankful for and it is in that spirit of Thanksgiving that we children and spouses, and a host of grandchildren 23 in all and great grand children at the moment 31 scattered as we are around the globe thank you for joining us in on this very special occasion as we gather together in praise and thanksgiving for a long and blessed life.

It is with hearts full of thankfulness that return our mother to the Fount and Source of all Creation, Being and Life, Almighty, Wonderful, Lord of the Universe.

And we are able to say in truth and sincerity “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever”

In his first meeting with a Japanese officer (As the frontline troops of the Japanese army entered Seremban in Malaysia) something prompted my father to make a bold request which was granted. He always carried a New Testament in his pocket. On a blank page of this N.T. he succeeded in getting the officer to write in Japanese the following words. “This man is the pastor of the Methodist Church. He and this church are entitled to our protection.” This was to prove extremely valuable in the coming years.

 There were several occasions when leading Ceylon Tamil citizens in the town were arrested without charges being framed, very often on suspicions that they were pro-British. My father was sometimes able to appeal on their behalf. On some occasions he is known to have given some of them refreshments and food when he found them doing forced manual labor on the streets.

The greatest difficulty was to approach the Japanese authorities when a Chinese was imprisoned. On one occasion the son-in-law of the Chinese pastor, our neighbor, was taken into custody. The Chinese who were most brutally treated did not dare to approach the Japanese. My father went on their behalf.

The above text is one of the very few verses in the New Testament that can be called a political text. Though it helped my father to get out of a dangerous and tricky situation one must add a word of caution. Many years later I had the privilege of studying the history of western political thought in the University of Ceylon (late 1950s), under the distinguished scholar and teacher the Rev.Fr. Pinto.  I realized then how this text has been and could be used by authoritarian and fascist regimes to legitimize their hold on state power, including the so-called ‘Christian’ states. As Fr. Pinto indicated Peter’s words in Acts. 5: 29 “We must obey God rather than men”, supersedes Romans 13:1.

Here again we have the problem of how one interprets these words. We are increasingly seeing in contemporary times how the powers that be distort the message of the Bible. The totality of the Biblical message both in the Old and New Testaments, makes it clear that when faced with a challenge to ultimate values, human and democratic rights we should obey a higher law than that of men the state included. This is the position of human rights and justice movements in contemporary times. Beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, we today have a corpus of covenants and declarations enacted by the United Nations that provide guidelines for action.  


Lila Solomon 
nee Kadirgamar

A tribute
Silan Kadirgamar

at the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Witness of
Lila Solomon
(Acca - my eldest sister)
 [16 August 1922 – 14 July 2010],
Church of St. Paul, Milagiriya, Colombo, 14 August 2010.

Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

This last one month we in the family in the words my brother Rajan have been profoundly reminded of “an era that has gone” – as we celebrate the life of Lila Solomon. Scattered as we are in different parts of the world, I bring greetings to all of you present here from Rajan and Padma in Toronto, Sita in Singapore and Kumaran in Jaffna and their respective families and a host of nephews and nieces and grand-nephews and nieces. She occupied a special place in the family as the eldest – among nine siblings - the one person all of us called with deep affection Acca.  She fulfilled that role from the time we were children in her own quiet and affectionate way, never domineering, never demanding, always giving of her love and affection and without doubt upholding each and everyone one of us in her prayers.

Acca was the eldest daughter of the later Rev. J.W.A.Kadirgamar and Katherine Kingsbury who passed away when she was two years old. One of the valued pictures in the family album is that of the five year old Lila standing with her father and new found mother soon after their unconventional wedding in Gandhian khaddar, without any jewellery and attire usually associated with weddings. The very close bonds between her and her step-mother lasted decades and ended when she arrived providentially on a visit from Sydney to Singapore in October 2002. Mother passed away peacefully with her head resting on Acca’s arms – a fittingly beautiful end to a relationship that lasted 75 years.

She was also very closely attached to her two maternal uncles Willie and Bobby Kingsbury

Acca had her early education in the Holy family Convent in Bambalapitiya. Rajan and Alagan have memories of that period in Colombo. She then went to Chundikuli Girls’ College, Jaffna, where she adored her principal the legendary educationist of India & Ceylon, Dr.Miss.E.M.Thilliampallam.

When the family moved to Malaysia she passed her Senior Cambridge exam at the Anglo-Chinese School in Seremban, having participated fully in the life of that multi-racial Methodist school and church. She returned to Colombo in 1940 to live with her grand-father and was supposed to enter Women’s Christian College in Madras.

Destiny decided otherwise. Her affectionate grandfather the Rev. Francis Kingsbury suddenly passed away and she returned to Malaysia with mother and two youngest in the family in the last ship to reach the shores of Malaysia from Nagapatnam in India before the outbreak of the Asia –Pacific war in December 1941.          .

She was both mentor and friend to me. She always had words of encouragement for me relating to my involvement in politics and the human rights movement in particular. Though twelve years older than me she treated me as an equal, which is a bit unusual in our often oppressive hierarchical family structures.

I have gratefully affirmed on several occasions on how she was my teacher at home. When schooling was interrupted during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia I did not have a conventional primary school education. The foundations for my knowledge and command of the English language were laid at home by her, inculcating skills that stood me well when we returned for our secondary education at Jaffna College after the war.   

Naturally memories of years gone by come back at this time. Ones heart and mind are flooded with memories of that early period in Malaysia, then of the return to that homely village Chavakachcheri, and her wedding in 1946 unique and memorable in the family. Her husband Arasakone Solomon, gentleman to the core of the old school culture in this country was a deeply affectionate brother-in-law to all of us. This wedding was also the last occasion when the senior members of the large extended family came together.

I remember the days I spent my school vacations in their Uduvil home while my parents continued their ministry in Malaysia. We walked often more than a mile to the Ashram to be there for the evening quiet time and prayers. Acca and Athan were Ashram oriented persons deeply influenced by the Revd Sevak Selvaretnam of the Ashram who was a very close friend of my father and eventually of the rest of the family.

Acca’s was a chequered life deriving her heritage from what may be regarded as a formidable non-conformist tradition. She was the grand-daughter of the Rev. Francis Kingsbury the first lecturer in the newly formed Dept. of Tamil literature in the University College of the 1920s and 30s. He was admired and venerated by his students who in later years felicitated him with a volume of essays titled Alagasundara Thesihar. He was the author of several books in Tamil including the Story of Rama and The Pandavas widely read and used as textbooks in the 1940s and 50s. He also wrote in English the Life of Jesus and was the co-author of the Hymns of the Saivite Saints.

He in turn was the son of the eminent Tamil scholar C.W.Thamotherampillai, one of the first graduates of the University of Madras in the 1850s (his portrait has an honoured place in the library of the University of Madras.) He had his early education at the Batticotta Seminary, the precursor of Jaffna College. Having settled down in Madras he went back to Hinduism.

Irony of ironies his one and only son at the age of 18 left his father’s home embracing Christianity, but remained steeped in Tamil Literature. Francis Alagasunderam Kingsbury himself in later years deeply influenced by his readings in Tamil and Saivite Literature became a Unitarian, evoking the opposition of the established church of those colonial days.

My father had become a Gandhian, discarded western clothes and made a bold attempt to introduce indigenous forms of worship, including carpet seating and the celebration of Tamil cultural festivals such as New Year, in the church in Jaffna. This met with staunch opposition in the then Jaffna church. He was forced to quit the Christian ministry only to come back to it in Malaysia in 1938, where his church members acknowledged his ministry during the years of Japanese occupation as that of a “prayer warrior” sustaining his congregation through those dangerous and unstable times.

Acca was fully aware of these different strands in her heritage, and survived these ups and downs with her faith intact. But she did take pride in her heritage and was a source of information to us the younger ones as she recalled in her conversations what she had witnessed and heard. In her eighties she participated in a television programme here in Colombo on the life of her great-grand father C.W.Thamotherampillai. We shall miss her for these memories of an era that has gone.

I will dwell briefly on two facets of her life. I recall a retreat in the early 1960s at the Devasaranaramaya in Kurunegala led by the Rev. (later Bishop) Lakshman Wickremasinghe and Yohan Devananada, for recent University graduates. Responding to a question on how one knows that ones relationship with God is right Fr. Lakshman posed a question to the group. “Do you have the urge to be friendly with people in whatever circumstances and places you meet them in?

This was very true of Acca, a quality I have noted that her children have acquired. She knew and related to everyone who crossed her path, and as my wife Sagu says she would have made an excellent public relations aid in any organization. She knew every Tamil Christian family in Uduvil and adjacent parishes, and many in the larger Jaffna peninsula. Her friends included Hindus in the neighbourhood as well. In later years her contacts reached far and wide in the Tamil diaspora in Singapore, Malaysia, UK, Canada and of course in Sydney as testified by the large gathering that attended her funeral

The second quality I wish to comment on was where she stood as a member of the highly controversial Tami diaspora.

Romila Thapar in her lecture titled “Of Histories and Identities” at the 11th Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture recently (August 01, 2010) spoke of “a claim to connectedness” in disapora communities, and how such identities may well be historically untenable. Incidentally it may be mentioned that Neelan’s mother the late Mrs. Tiruchelvam was related to the Kingsburys belonging to the Hindu branch of the family from Chavakachcheri

(“Analyses of identities are pertinent to the extensive and vocal South Asian diaspora. Nationals settled in distant lands often nurture identities that may well be historically untenable and outdated in the culture of the home country. But they are a source of solace to the migrant in an alien culture and underline a claim to connectedness. Such identities frequently deny the plurality of South Asian civilization and the intersections within it.”)
 My sister did give importance to her connectedness and her identity but this did not undermine her humanity marked by love and concern for all the people in this country. She retained an identity that was tenable and retained strong bonds with the country, without bitterness and never fuelling the forces of violence. This wanting to be always in touch with the country and her deep aspirations for peace were evident as she waited for the postman with news from Lanka and in later years through the internet (interestingly she was internet and skype literate at her age). This passion to be in touch was evident in her telephone calls which we shall miss.

Acca kept visiting the country every year until some three years ago it was no longer physically possible for her to do so. As illustrated in the contents of a letter she wrote and read at her funeral she affirmed the plurality of her identity and how her heart went out to the victims of war

(In this letter she had referred to her Sinhalese and Muslim relatives and how though not a Catholic her heart went out to devotees of the Madhu Church at the height of the war.)
We affirm these values as we in a spirit of thanksgiving say goodbye to a deeply affectionate and beautiful life.

I conclude with words of one of my father’s favorite hymns which is associated with a true life story he wrote soon after the end of the war in Malaysia – it is a sad story about the atrocities of war, killings and penitence. This hymn figures prominently in what he wrote. While writing this tribute I was not aware that the family had selected this hymn to be sung at this service!

 (A Japanese officer Joseph Tsutada had walked into his church during Japanese occupation to make a confession in an act of supreme repentance haunted by his carrying out orders by his superiors to behead a New Zealand pilot. That Sunday’s service became a memorial service for the pilot and one of healing for the person who killed him. This hymn sung at this service had been a favourite of the pilot as he faced death.)

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise,
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount – I’m fixed upon it-
Mount of Thy redeeming love

(Note: The portions within brackets I did not deliver at the service, due to time constraints.)


                                                                               Rajan Kadirgamar


A Tribute to my deeply loved and respected brother Rajan Kadirgamar

Funeral Service - St.Margaret’s in the Pines Anglican Church
Scarborouh, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 14, 2011

Silan Kadirgamar
Colombo. Lanka

Read by Ahilan Kadirgamar at the above service

When my  father passed away 50 years ago one of our family friends from Malaysia, Stanley Padman, wrote a tribute in which he reminded us about a sermon he had preached titled “Make Jesus a Reality in your Life.” I am inclined to think of Rajan as one who attempted to make Jesus a reality in his life. I open this tribute recalling the opening words of a favourite hymn in the family.

O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou for ever near me,
my Master and my Friend
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if you will be my guide.

We celebrate today a life lived in all its fullness, serving and following his master, friend, and guide. He reached out in full measure to students, teachers, Alumni, the community and not the least to the family where having exceeded the ripe old age of 80 he assumed a father figure in the very large extended family that constitutes the Kadirgamar – Hitchcock and related families with four living generations. We will miss the e-mails, the long chats on skype, and the irreplaceable anchor that he was in linking and holding us together.  Now is a time of sadness as we part but also a time to savour the heart-warming beautiful memories of eight decades. At the same time we should not forget, especially the younger ones, the privations, challenges and the hard times that he had been through on which I will dwell later. As I read through the spontaneous tributes that have been coming from Alumni, friends and family one’s heart is overwhelmed with mixed feelings of intense grief often moved to tears but also joy tinged with profound memories.

In conversations with Sorna and other nephews and nieces we often referred to Rajan as the Patriarch – partly in good humour but more so in recognizing in him a patriarchal figure in the biblical tradition – to a very large extended family – a person fully involved in the life of the family but also with a striking public profile in church, society and education, recalling the heritage that is ours. His patriarchal bearings were humane, humble and tolerant. In this age of strident dogmatism and intolerance leading to religious, racist and fascistic bigotry in society he did not impose himself on others. He was a true liberal in the Jaffna College tradition of his times. Therein lies the reason why he was adored, loved and respected.

I was the most dissenting and non-conformist member in an otherwise traditional and often establishment oriented family, be it college, church and theology, society and politics. But I knew that somewhere deep down in his heart he responded positively to my unconventional ways. So much so that a few days before he entered hospital he widely publicized my candidature – which I had not done - at the forth coming local government election, through his e-mail loop reaching a few hundred. It is said that to understand is to love. Understanding is not necessarily to agree. It is however a vital trait of the truly educated and should be that of the educator who deals with the raw emotions of young impressionable minds. This quality of his I perceive as the dominant theme in the numerous tributes that have been pouring in.

One  writes in the Alumni loop: “He was not just a teacher or principal, but he was a Guru in a real sense … he guided people who took the wrong path, showed kindness to all, helped every one and remained a friend to all. I always admired his memory; in fact he was a walking encyclopedia.”

In a personal note to me the son of a teacher of less privileged circumstances who had his own share of privations and hardships, writes: “It gives me a terrible shock, sorrow and pain to learn of the demise of uncle Rajan, He was a great source of strength to my father when my father was at Jaffna College during the period of his principalship.  He helped me in many ways, which I cannot forget in my life time, praising my father's talents and service to Jaffna College when he died.’

One of the outstanding college cricketers and one time president of the school council of the 1960s wrote in a deeply moving personal letter:  “He had left a lasting legacy which is etched in Gold not only in the annals of Jaffna College but in the hearts, life and memory of all who walked through the portals of this great institution which will be archived for generations … he epitomised the spirit and  ethos of our college founded by the  American missionaries whose core values revolved around concern, care and compassion for the fellow human being. I can go on and on reflecting on the life of your brother and our master.”

This reference to core values and spirit and ethos of the College touched on the essence of my brother’s life placing him in the long line of those educators who gave leadership to Jaffna College in the twentieth century such as Brown, Bicknell, Bunker, Selliah, Kulathungam and Jeyasingam among numerous others too long to list here. The college, fellow teachers, students and its Alumni were Rajan’s life from 1946.
While drafting this I have received a remarkable tribute from Grace Bunker placing on record the sentiments of the missionary families in which she refers to him as the great communicator. Much has been said in the last few days on Rajan as teacher and principal - exceptionally well stated by principal Noel Vimalendran and colleague and co-administrator Mr.Rajasingham.

I will therefore dwell on two other less publicly known facets of his life as I speak on behalf of the family.

He was born in the Mission House within the then Drieberg School at Chavakachcheri, where our grand-father Sanmugam Ramalingam Hitchcock was pastor in 1927. His early schooling was at Drieberg (1933-38) with a spell in between at St.Thomas’ College, Mt.Lavinia. The family moved to Seremban in Malaysia in 1938. Schooling at the Anglo-Chinese School (Methodist) 1938-41 was abruptly ended by the outbreak of war and for a while a school of sorts was run by French and Italian Catholic priests and brothers at the St.Paul’s Institution in co-operation with the Japanese regime - the American missionaries having been placed in detention camps.

Rajan began working at fifteen as an apprentice clerk in the Japanese administrative services where he honed his skills in letter writing and typing which laid the foundations for a prolific writer of letters, speeches etc. right to the end of his life. His last letter was written on the 9th September just before he left home for the hospital. He practically functioned as my father’s secretary typing all his letters at war’s end resuming contact with notable personalities like principal Selliah and Handy Perinbanayagam and numerous one time close friends and contemporaries. This experience also gave him an insight into my father’s thinking, his theology and world view which influenced his life deeply. Writing on father’s 100th birth anniversary in the year 2000 he reminded us “ Appa was an energetic and forceful writer, editor, orator, preacher, a Christian patriot and an ardent Ashramite.”

As we returned to Jaffna and Jaffna College in 1946 he was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the finances and decision making for the younger siblings left behind as our parents returned to Malaysia. These early responsibilities he took in the family lasted for years when he and my sister-in-law strong and with sacrificial and caring love provided a home for Amma and the younger members of the family in Vaddukoddai, hosting several weddings in the family. This was a heavy responsibility. He stood by the family playing a prominent role on happy occasions and at times of mourning as when the assassination of Anandarajan took place. Mr.Rajasingam in his tribute this week recalls how “Exactly 22 years ago Rajan stood by me and my family at the darkest moment of our personal lives, the killing of my daughter Rajani Thiranagama. He made the most eloquent tribute to my daughter at her funeral.”

With his naturally endowed gift for public speaking he was on call at numerous occasions to deliver eulogies and at other times to felicitate. He had no inhibitions in striking an emotional or sentimental chord which won him friends though at times detractors a well. In a family of some twenty immediate nephews and nieces and nearly forty grand ones on the Kadirgamar side alone he kept in touch trying to remember each and every one by name. He looked forward to interacting with young and old which made a visit to Rajan mama/uncles house a must. In one of his very recent letters to me he was overjoyed relating how my grand-daughter just 18 months old warmed up to him and landed on his lap on their last visit to him. His will be a void difficult to fill. To Baba Machal, Katpagan, Mallika, Premala, Naveena, their spouses and children I will repeat a powerful message given by D.T.Niles which Rajan and I have recalled many times: “We have to learn to live in fellowship with those who have gone beyond.” 

The second noteworthy facet of his life is the manner in which while living in that remote village of Vaddukoddai he reached out to the world of ecumenism long before the information and communication revolution took place. Initially his life revolved around the College and Sevak Selvaretnam’s Ashram. My father had appointed Selvarertnam as one of our guardians. In the Ashram where we spent part of our vacations with its ethos of simple living, quiet time and personal piety, Rajan’s spirituality took shape. This was supplemented by the challenges that the reaching out and being engaged in society values that the YMCA and the SCM and the Christian Teachers Guild brought to his life, in all of which he assumed a leadership role. This further widened as he went to Madras Christian College where Dr.Chandran Devanesan influenced a whole generation of Jaffna students. He responded to the challenges that the ecumenism of the World Student Christian Federation, the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia posed.

His period at Columbia University and then at the Union Theological Seminary gave him the intellectual bearings and the contacts he made in the USA in the early 1960s stood him well. The 1960s and 70s were also the years when “Dialogue and Partnership with Peoples of all Faiths and Ideologies” were dominant themes in ecumenical circles. In 1977 he was a participant in an Educational Consultation with Paulo Freire the Brazilian author of the path breaking “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, Switzerland. This I know had an impact on his life as an educator. He was President of the Northern Province Science Teachers’ Association, and member of the Ex-Co of the Headmasters’ Conference of Ceylon. His involvement with the NPTA had an interesting sequel. On one occasion the American Embassy delayed his visa to the USA until his name was cleared from being a suspected communist. That was because the NPTA had some high profile members of the left movement who had submitted a memorandum signed by the NPTA members calling for the legitimate seat in the UN to be given to the Peoples’ Republic of China. 

Rajan never failed to recall the lives of men who influenced his life foremost among them were D.T.Niles. Others were Prof. Chandran Devanesan, the Rev. Celestine Fernando, and Bishop Lakshman Wicremasinghe. In Vaddukoddai he was very close to the Bunkers, the Lockwoods, the Holmes and other missionaries with whose families he maintained contact to the end. He worked very closely with Bishops Kulandran and Ambalavanar. His principalship coincided with that of brother-in-law Anandarajan at St.Johns strengthening the bonds without diminishing the healthy rivalry that prevailed especially in cricket and football. The long held ties with St.Patrick’s College were enhanced resulting in the Rajan Kadirgamar Trophy for the annual battle of the golds.

His life had its hard, threatening and dangerous times. These included the war years in both Malaysia and Jaffna and the several crises that Rajan had been through in his long and eventful life. One of these was the devastating and traumatic days in 1975 when the State took over the college to found the Jaffna University. He and his family were given 48 hours to vacate the spacious principal’s bungalow and the college community had to quit the better part of the college campus including the Administration Block and Ottley Hall. I will not go into the pros and cons of this whole issue where we have a rather uncommon case of the end justifying the means – leading to the founding of the premier institution for higher education for the Tamils in which I myself spent some of my most meaningful years.  But it was done with the full operation of the darker side of State power with its repressive apparatus. It could have been done in a more humane manner in a spirit of partnership and cooperation. This event left a permanent scar on Rajan’s life – unhappy memories of which surfaced in conversations with him all along until even a few weeks ago.

The other was in 1987. He with others had to lead the College and Vaddukoddai community in marching towards Kottaikadu with a white flag in act of surrender to the IPKF to save the College and the community trapped as they were between the LTTE and the advancing Indian forces. But through the passage of years he overcame these tribulations to get on with his life as an educator.  He did not allow the atrocities and deprivations of war to break his spirit.

This is what he wrote from Jaffna in March 1994 to me in Tokyo as I approached sixty. Quoting an often repeated verse that Lyman Kulathungam was fond of, “Grow old along with me the best is yet to be,” Rajan wrote: “I have realised it in my own life, that the best years have been these years. It may sound ridiculous to many outside Jaffna to hear such a statement. Life has been more rewarding, more purposeful, and more spiritual and we could all spend time really on the very essentials even if it meant reading with a kerosene lamp with an additional candle late into the night.”
There were other facets to his life. He enjoyed playing tennis, acting in dramatic performances and good singing, having been an active member of the Jaffna Christian Dramatic Society and president of the Jaffna Western Music Society. When he was appointed principal my long time contemporary Devu Kulathungam remarked humorously that for the first time we have a principal who can sing and sing he did leading the College assembly with the College song.

And hence my dear friends and comrades of a life time in the alumni with whom I have shared so many get-togethers with Rajan, always with him, I invite you today to once again to sing with gusto as you carry his mortal remains “Wherever we gather, while we live our filial love renew.” He would love it that way.


Reverend Nesakumar Kadirgamar
Born December 5, 1948
Departed this life – 28 November 1992

A message of thanksgiving and love
remembering the life of
my beloved youngest brother Nesan
 read at the Service of Thanksgiving in Toronto, Canada
December 4, 1992


Lead, kindly light amidst the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene – one step enough for me

These well known words from a hymn that was also one of Mahatma Gandhi’ favourite hymns, is relevant to all of us in these times. Especially to those of us who have loved ones in our troubled land where life is, “solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short,” and merciless death haunts old and young alike anytime, anyday. On an occasion like this I would like all of you to remember in your prayers the people of Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians – trapped in a never ending war. I have no doubt that Nesan would have wanted it this way.

Under normal circumstances Nesan would have passed away surrounded, comforted and sustained by a large gathering of the members of his family; brothers, sisters, in-laws, nephews and nieces, and a whole new generation of grand-nephews and grand-nieces with songs of praise, love and adoration in the same way in which we stood around our beloved father exactly thirty-one years ago singing his favourite hymn, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine” in Tamil.

It will be to my eternal regret that I was not present there by the side of my affectionate youngest brother in the last moments of his life. As soon as I heard on Friday evening Japan time that he did not have many more days to live, I had made the decision to make every effort to leave for Vellore on Monday. That was not to be. I have had the privilege of visiting him more than any other member of the family in the last nine years. We met in Madurai, Madras, once in Trivandrum where we went together to visit Abraham Moses (we called him Moses mama – my father’s faithful manager of the Lankabhimani (Ceylon Patriot) Press  in Chavakachcheri, for three decades 1930s to 1960s now in retirement in his homeland Trivandrum), and finally in Vellore last year. I was able to see his physical condition gradually deteriorate. This did not prevent us from sitting up late into the early hours of the morning looking back deep into the past recalling memories both happy and sad, joking and laughing, at times arguing and fighting, as we agreed and disagreed on many issues pertaining to church and state, family and society, but always enjoying the beautiful and loving fellowship of brother with brother. We had serious theological differences. We did not agree on the task and mission of the church or on the role of the clergy. But this was always a dialogue in love.

Nesan had remarkable intellectual gifts, earning the B.A. degree in the United States and later the M.A. in Sociology (at Bryn Mawr) and finally a B.D. earning a First Class at Bangalore, becoming only the second Lankan to have achieved this distinction after D.T.Niles.  And all this in spite of a severe physical disability that troubled him through life. I always felt he would have done admirably well as a university teacher. I would often taunt him recalling the advice I gave him not to enter the service of the church. When I called the church a reactionary and corrupt institution he would never fail to defend his decision to enter the Christian ministry. One day he retorted, “you would not last one day in these clerical robes.” Perhaps he was right. He was convinced that he was called to the ministry to comfort and sustain others. He had great pastoral qualities which he amply demonstrated when he worked as Chaplain at the Grace Kennet Hospital in Madurai. He treated others with a great deal of love and affection. This was evident in his relationship with the poor such as the tricycle rickshaw man who faithfully took him to work and back. With his deep and resonant voice he would sing and lead us in prayer never failing to remember those in need, in pain and suffering.

His full potential to preach, teach and interpret the Biblical message were not fully tapped and utilised. He had profound insights. I recall one occasion at a conference at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, he responded to a question by saying that we should avoid the idolatry of the Bible and rather focus on the core and essence of f the Christian message. This discussion was in the context of the rise (early stages) of fundamentalist and evangelical trends marked by religious bigotry and crude and intolerant extremism in our otherwise normally sane and staid Church circles in Lanka proclaiming the message of faith, hope and love.
Family friends here are no doubt aware of his physical disability that finally took him away from us. He knew all along that he was likely to die young in age. Quite often I have seen him lost n his own deep thoughts. But as soon as I entered his room his face would light up and his eyes sparkle with joy. He would greet me with that little mischievous smile that was so characteristic of him since his childhood days. After every visit to India and the time came for us to finally say goodbye he never failed to send us away with a beautiful prayer and blessings in his own inimitable style and cheerful tone that inspired hope without a tear in his eyes, always strong in spirit. That was how we departed on that day in August 1991.

It is difficult in a family of three sisters and six brothers to see the youngest go. His prolonged illness, as he lay bed-ridden in later years, made his condition sad for all of us to face. I have wept as I have never done in my life, this last one week not because he has gone. We have to condition ourselves to face death when it comes with the prayer “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.” The tears I have shed have been tears of bitterness resulting from a deep agony of the spirit that a physically disabled person, whoever he may have been, had to face slow death for nearly two years, without receiving the love, compassion and understanding he should have received from his superiors and the church he chose to serve. He was ignored and treated unjustly by men who did not care. Not one letter, not one card, not one word of assurance that his wife and daughter will receive some support, not one word of prayer.

From what we have heard from his wife Ranee and others who were with him, Nesan’s last moments were peaceful. But I have no peace of mind with the passion I have had for justice and fairness. I deeply wanted justice and recognition for my ailing brother on his death bed. It was a question of material support. It was simply a question of caring love for a person who deserved it abundantly.
As we remember Nesan’s life and observe with thanksgiving his 44th birthday tomorrow Deember 5th our thoughts are will all the members of the family around the world. We remember in particular. His caring and loving wife Ranee, his sweet little daughter Romila, brother Kumaran who for many years was his constant companion and physical support, and finally Amma who has witnessed so many occasions of joy and sorrow in her long, blessed and prayerful life.
A conclude by recalling sermon preached by Rev.D.T.Niles in the 1960s. That was the golden age of Niles, Kulandran and Selvaretnam in Jaffna. I have repeated this message to Nesan several times. It is also worth mentioning that Nesan departed this life in the same hospital in which Niles passed away and his remains were buried in the same churchyard. At a watch-night service at St.Peter’s Church, Jaffna, D.T.Niles preached a memorable sermon on the theme “He fills the vacant places.” And he added, we must learn to enjoy the fellowship of those who have gone before us with joy and thanksgiving. It is in that spirit that I wish to conclude this message, that we as a family will continue to enjoy the wonderful love and fellowship we have had with you dear brother Nesan until we meet again.

This is my Father’s world, O let me never forget
                               That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
                               God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: The battle is not done;
                               Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
                               And earth and heaven one.

With affectionate greetings to all of you present at this service.

4 December 1992