Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lakshman Kadirgamar - A tribute - Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour Colombo, 20 August 2005

A Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of Lakshman Kadirgamar P.C. was held on the 20th August 2005 at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Colombo 7. Members of Diplomatic Corps, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a very large circle of relatives, friends and members of the general public were present.

The names of those who participated are:

The service was led by the Ven Crishantha Mendis, Archdeacon of Colombo.
Opening Thevaram: Mrs.Jeevanam Watson (niece)
Opening Prayer: The Rev.Sathiaseelan K.Kadirgamar (cousin)
Tributes:  Mr. Silan Kadirgamar (cousin) and Mr Ragi Kadirgamar (son).
Lessons: Mr Ragi Kadirgamar (son) and Mr. Keira Perera (grandson).
Sermon: The Rt. Revd Duleep de Chickera (Bishop of Colombo)
Intercessions: Ms Ajitha Kadirgamar Perera (daughter).
Closing Prayer: H E Monsignor Mario Zenari (Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See).
Choir: Directed by Mr. Mano Chanmugam


Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of
Lakshman Kadirgamar P.C.
Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour
Colombo 7
20 August 2005

A Tribute

Santasilan Kadirgamar

I have been requested to say a few words on behalf of the family. I have followed the career of Lakshman from the time my family returned from Malaysia in 1946, after the Second World War and consider it a great privilege to be given this opportunity at this service, which in our tradition is a service of thanksgiving and a celebration of life.

In the many exchanges of letters in the last few days I had this piece from my eldest brother in Toronto who has vivid memories of the Kadirgamar home “Lalitha” at Queen’s Road, where Lakshman grew and was nurtured.

“A splendid era,” he writes “one of which we were all proud of and relished being associated with has gone.” And he adds, “I cannot forget my early childhood days in the 1930s visiting the home of uncle and aunty. Lakshman was a little boy of three or four with lovely locks of long curly hair.” 

I wish to dwell on two facets missed in the flood of tributes we have read since the tragic assassination. Lakshman’s personality and values were to a great extent shaped and influenced by his distinguished father, outstanding brothers and sister. He was the youngest in a family of five brothers and one sister. Few are aware that he lost his mother Parimalam nee Mather at the tender age of eight, and the task of taking care of him fell very much on his sister Easwary Richards. The second facet relates to the Lakshman we knew before he entered parliamentary politics. Born, bred, educated and having lived the greater part of my life in Jaffna, a visit to the Kadirgamar home at Queen’s Road was an occasion looked forward to. In the first of my visits in the mid-50s the room allotted to me was Lakshman’s. He was away in the UK. There I had my first exposure to his mini-library – a collection of books that made a permanent impression on me, revealing the man, the ideas and the values that shaped his life.

In the tributes that have been paid to him I have noted two comments relevant to what I have to say today. H.L.de Silva the eminent lawyer and his close friend used the phrase “to the manner born – an icon to be treasured for generations.” Professor of Archaeology Sudarshan Seneviratne, on TV stressed the exceptional manner in which he engaged people in discussions. I know what Sudarshan was exactly talking about having had the privilege of indulging in long discussions with him, an opportunity rare and far between that I looked forward to. These interactions ceased after he entered parliamentary politics and assumed office. I have had similar frank discussions over the years with two of his brothers Sam and Rajan. The three of them shared qualities that in the context of the tributes pouring in today, I perceive as attributes that ran in the family. These were qualities of openness and intellectual honesty, an uncompromising commitment to principles and in the context of challenges faced in their lives the demonstration of immense courage.  

Lakshman’s father Sam J.C.Kadirgamar was a well-known figure in the public life of this country in the first half of the 20th century. He gave his time to many causes. He was president of the Law Society and a much-respected member of the Board of Directors of the Colombo YMCA for nearly four decades, and President for a period. When the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India and this one time congregational church adopted episcopacy, he was called upon to donate the bishop’s throne made of pure Palmyra wood, which to this day adorns the altar of the Vaddukoddai Cathedral in which two of Lakshman’s uncles later served as pastors.

He had obviously great ambitions for his sons, which did not work out the way he willed. The spacious Queen’s Road house was built in anticipation that the boys will enter the then University College. As it turned out Lakshman went to Trinity College and became the single member of the family entering the Faculty of Law in the neighbouring campus.  His brothers Sam, Bhai and Rajan, independent minded as they were, were attracted to the security forces during the Second World War. Later Sam took to the legal profession and became a distinguished Q.C. The brothers Bhai and Rajan remained in the services, the former seeking early retirement having reached the rank of Major and Rajan reached the rank of Rear Admiral at a relatively young age, much loved and revered by many who served under his command. A fourth brother Mana died young under tragic circumstances in a motor accident.

A word about the ancestry of the Kadirgamar family and roots that go deep into the past both on the paternal and maternal side would be in place. These reach back into the history of Jaffna but are first documented with the arrival of the American Mission in Ceylon with the founding of the Batticotta Seminary in 1823, now Jaffna College in Vaddukoddai, and the Uduvil Girls School the following year.  The Rev. Francis Asbury, a fifth generation ancestor, was among the first converts. He accompanied the Rev. Dr. Daniel Poor, the American principal of the Batticotta Seminary in establishing the first Congregational Mission in Pasumalai, Madurai in the 1830s, which in turn led to the establishment of the American College. It may be noted that one of Lakshman’s uncles studied briefly at Tagore’s Santiniketan and spent time at Gandhi’s Ashram.

This established a tradition leading to the family members having a long and intimate relationship with India, which Lakshman carried forward in a remarkable way into the political realm and the public life of India.

His paternal grandfather was, a first generation convert, who hailed from Pt. Pedro – from an orthodox Hindu family that is known to have been associated with the building of the Sivan Temple in Pt. Pedro. Karthigeyan Christian Kadirgamar did not give up this very Hindu name when he was baptized. My uncle once told me that we have given a great deal of trouble to the world in adopting this family name. A name, which I have noted, that none of my many good Sinhalese friends can either spell or pronounce correctly. Grandfather K.C.Kadirgamar was an interpreter Mudaliyar in the Supreme Court of those days, sowing the seeds for a career in the legal profession in which father and two sons excelled.

Robert Ashbury, the son of Francis Ashbury and a great-grandfather was among the first natives appointed to the Faculty of Jaffna College when it replaced the Batticotta Seminary. He was one of the founders of the Jaffna College Miscellany and the Alumni Association in 1879. He also published two books in English. One was on Education and the other on Poetry. Ashbury and his cousin Strong took over the American Ceylon Mission Press when the mission did not have the resources to run the press and publish the bilingual weekly “The Morning Star”, founded in 1848. Robert Asbury edited the paper until it was handed back to the mission.

On his maternal side Lakshman was the grandson of Edward Mather, who in turn belonged to the well-known family that engaged in business and commerce and in subsequent years in the professions and the Christian ministry.

The legal profession, the Christian ministry including its service organizations such as the YMCA, teaching and the armed services have been four strands in which several members of the extended family excelled. Lakshman served on the legal committee of the YMCA for several years and I was told only yesterday that he was a life member of the Bible society. He broke new ground and was the first in the family’s long history to enter the hazardous, risky and controversial arena of politics in contemporary Lanka – a subject on which I need not dwell except for a brief comment at the end of this tribute.

Many of my own recollections of Lakshman have been covered by the extra-ordinary media coverage his death brought to him. In one of his interviews he revealed that he had received tons of abuse in his mail. This last week he has received tons of adulation and appreciation from people from all walks of life. One recalls his being among the four athletes carrying the torch on Independence day in 1948, his breaking the public schools record in the hurdles thereby becoming a role model for his Jaffna cousins at Jaffna College and St.John’s who excelled in the same event.

A little known fact is that Lakshman could have lost his life in a plane crash in Greece in the early 80s. He was the last to leave the plane and had to jump off the emergency exit and was bed-ridden for three months.

Though Colombo based he had demonstrated an interest in Jaffna in his early years. As private secretary to Justice Gratien he accompanied him to Jaffna in the 1950s and participated in the annual student dinners at Jaffna College. Soon after his return from Oxford in 1960 he gave top priority in visiting Jaffna for two largely attended lectures. The first, under the auspices of the Undergraduates Union of Jaffna College was on the “The Rule of Law.” The second was at the Jaffna YMCA interestingly titled “From Plato to Srimavo.”
In his own quiet way and known only among very intimate circles he helped many a person in need in material terms, for educational purposes and in some cases to settle abroad. Unassuming and self-effacing he was a gentleman to the core. 

We are living in an age of religious fundamentalisms and religious bigotry that fuel senseless conflict. This can only be contained by meaningful dialogue among peoples of all faiths.  Lakshman was essentially an inter-faith person. Justice Weeramantry in today’s Island and Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne in an earlier article have drawn attention to this. His theology, if I may say so, was explicitly stated in his Celestine Fernando memorial lecture in October 1992 before he became a minister. His religious convictions perceiving common values in the four great religions, has struck a responsive chord in me as among others, and I wish to affirm in the strongest terms have nothing to do with his assumption of office. As a student of Indian history I place him in the great tradition in Indian history from Asoka to Akbar, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Tagore and Gandhi - inclusive and not exclusive.

If there is anyway way in which his family and friends would like to perpetuate his memory, I plead that we give the highest priority to and carry forward his ideals in inter-faith dialogue in a world increasingly torn asunder in the name of religion, leading to far greater tragedies than we have already experienced in this country, the Indian sub-continent, West Asia and narrow de-humanising religious sectarianism that is fast emerging in the western world breathing oppression, violence and destruction. His lasting legacy is a commitment to pluralism and multi-culturalism.

He has carved for himself a permanent place, in the life of this country and the South Asian region, which will increasingly be seen in perspective as the years roll by. When the dust and heat has settled on the conflict that has torn this country apart, and it surely will someday sooner or later; and when we have our own truth and justice commission in the great South African tradition, when the perpetrators of violence and injustice have made their confessions and made peace across the ethnic divide, I hope and believe the people of this lovely island in the sun will jointly celebrate the life and work of Lakshman Kadirgamar. We pray that that day come soon.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

I conclude in the first prayer my father taught me and one that we heard at the state funeral last Monday, “Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi”, and in the opening words of a song immortalized by the great D.K.Pattamal in January 1948, and now sung beautifully by her grand daughter Nithyasree, which in English I would read “Let there be peace everywhere, Let spirituality triumph in the world, Let peace prevail in the universe.”
“Engum Shanthi Nilava Vendum, AthmaShakthi Oonga Vendum Ulahile, Engum Shanthi Nilava Vendum”.       

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