British and Sri Lankan flags flying high, signifying the history of the Sri Lankan Independence day.
British and Sri Lankan flags flying high, signifying the history of the Sri Lankan Independence day.

The graceful history woven around the splendid island of Sri Lanka is just simply wonderful. Starting from the civilization of Naga-Yakka tribe, with the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers, passing a series of successive ancient kingdoms, the journey Sri Lanka came was full of delight, and excitement. However, next, Sri Lanka passed a period of colonization. Of course, it is this period that paved the path for the Sri Lanka independence movement. Thus, it is something that can never be missed. Specially, when studying about the history of Sri Lanka, as well as about the Sri Lankan independence day history. 

Hence, we thought of sharing with you the story behind these incidents, helping you have a good overview on the olden days of this charming isle. So, why not? Let us start getting to know about this epoch of the Sri Lankan saga. For a better understanding, let us start with the British colonial period.     

Who ruled Sri Lanka Before Independence? 

If you have an idea about the colonization history timeline of Sri Lanka, you might know that Sri Lanka was first colonized by Portuguese. Next, Sri Lanka was under Dutch rule. Finally British colonized Sri Lanka, in 1815.

Of course, Sri Lankans were happy with the British rule. They proceeded ahead with their day to day lives at first. Yet, with time, Sri Lankans hated the British rule. They needed Sri Lanka to regain freedom, and to have a self-rule. Thus, the struggles against colonial power began. Many struggles came up, and all of them had an important role when considering the Sri Lanka independence day history. Some of them are as follows.

  • Uva Rebellion
  • Matale Rebel

Below sections highlight those most significant incidents that took place with regard in detail. 

Uva Rebellion

Accordingly, in 1817, the Uva rebellion took place. There were two closest incidents that led to this uprising. One was the obstacles Sri Lankans faced when enjoying the traditional privileges. The other was the appointment of a Moor loyal to British as an official. Keppetipola Disawe launched the rebellion. Moreover, several chiefs joined and supported the rebel. However, the rebel could not achieve the expected success, owing to poor leadership, and several other reasons. 

Matale Rebel

And then in 1848, the Matale rebel came up. Hennedige Francisco Fernando (Puran Appu) and Gongalegoda Banda led it. The Sinhalese army left from Dambulla to capture Kandy from the British. They attacked the British buildings, and destroyed tax records as well. However, British troops took Puran Appu as a prisoner, and they executed him. Yet, Gongalegoda Banda and his younger brother escaped. Later, British issued a warrant to arrest Gongalegoda Banda. Moreover, they declared a reward for any who provided information about him. However, Malay soldiers were able to arrest Gongalegoda Banda, and the British kept him as a prisoner in Kandy. 

The Buddhist Resurgence in Sri Lanka

From ancient times, Buddhism remained the main religion in Sri Lanka. Of course, there were instances where Hinduism flourished in this island owing to the South Indian invasions. Moreover, Islamism emerged from some parts of the island due to the foreign traders who arrived in Sri Lanka. Yet, the majority of the great monarchs were Buddhists. Thus, their main contributions were towards flourishing Buddhism in the island. 

However, with the colonizations, Catholicism, and Christianity came up. The British worked hard with regard. Moreover, they attempted to provide Protestant Christian education to the younger generations of the country. Yet, the efforts could not reach a success as per their expectation. That was because of the Buddhist resurgence that took place during this period. Several eminent personalities aided this Buddhist resurgence. Further, foreigners such as Col. Henry Steel Olcott were among them as well. Owing to their activities, Buddhism flourished on this island again. Also a group of Buddhist institutions came up with their sponsorship. 

In the course, Sinhala Buddhist revivalists such as Anagarika Dharmapala emerged influencing the society. Many individuals were with him. Hence, it was more like the emergence of a group of people striving towards a similar cause. However, Anagarika Dharmapala, together with his community, could create a Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness.  

1915 Sinhala Muslum Riots

In 1915, an ethnic riot arose in the city of Colombo. It was against Muslims. Moreover, Buddhists, as well as Christians took part in it. Besides, British understood that this riot could later turn out to be against them as well. Hence, they heavy-handedly reacted to this riot. As a result, Dharmapala broke his leg. His brother passed away there. Also, the British government arrested several hundreds of Sinhalese Buddhists for supporting this riot as well. Among the imprisoned were several future leaders of the independence movement. Some of them highlighting characters among them were F.R. Senanayake, D. S. Senanayake, Anagarika Dharmapala, Baron Jayatilaka, Edwin Wijeyeratne, A. E. Goonesinghe, John Silva, Piyadasa Sirisena, etc.

Their imprisonment was indeed a great loss for the continuation of the struggles. Yet, nothing could hold back the Sri Lankan motive. Sir James Peiris, with the support of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, and E.W. Perera, submitted a secret memorandum to the Secretary of States for Colonies. It was a plea to repeal the martial law. Also, it described the cruelty of the Police, led by the British, Dowbiggin. However, these attempts succeeded, as the British government ordered the release of the imprisoned leaders. Further, several British officers were replaced as well. 

Founding the Ceylon National Congress

In December, 1919, a nationalist political party was founded. Yes, you guessed it right! It was named Ceylon National Congress (CNC).

This group was a combination of the members from the Ceylon National Association and the Ceylon Reform League. However, the Ceylon National Congress played a vital role in Sri Lanka’s journey of attaining independence. The founding president of the CNC Party was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam. Later, eminent personalities such as Sir James Peiris, D. B. Jayatilaka, E. W. Perera, C. W. W. Kannangara, Patrick de Silva Kularatne, H. W. Amarasuriya, W. A. de Silva, George E. de Silva and Edwin Wijeyeratneled the party. However, it was this CNC party that paved the path for the formation of the United National Party as well.  

Sri Lanka Independence Movements and the Youth Leagues

The youth of the country were highly interested and involved in the Sri Lanka independence movement. Moreover, their utmost motive was not only achieving freedom, but also seeking justice for the citizens of the country. It is no secret that it was Dharmapala’s ethnic group that paved the way for the youth to take part in the independence movement. However, it was the Tamil Youth of Jaffna, that gave the head start for the youth leagues. Accordingly, they formed Jaffna Students. It was later popular as the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC). They argued that the Donoughmore reforms did not concede sufficient self-governance. Thus, they successfully led a boycott of the first state council elections that took place in Jaffna, in 1931. 

Meanwhile, more youth leagues came up from South Sri Lanka. Intellectuals who returned from Britain, after completing their education in foreign states, supported these leagues. However, the ministers of the CNC demanded more power from the colonial government. They even petitioned the government in order to get their demands. Yet, they never demanded for independence, or at least the dominion statues. Nevertheless, owing to their demands, as well as due to a severe campaign of the Youth leagues, the CNC ministers had to withdraw their ‘Ministers’ memorandum’. 

Nevertheless, the youth leagues that came up during that period actively took part in several activities. And of course yes! All those activities had some kind of an influence in the journey of the Sri Lanka Independence movement. Thus, we thought of having a quick glance over those highlights as well. Some of them are as follows.

  • Suriya- Mal Movement
  • Formation of Lanka Sama Samaja Party

Of course, they were some interesting movements. They had a uniqueness of their own. Continue reading, to get to know what they are! 

Suriya-Mal Movement

As the British rule continued, a poppy sale was carried out in Sri Lanka. It was with relation to the Armistice Day, which was on 11th November. Moreover, it was a project to support the British ex-servicemen to the detriment of Sri Lankan ex-servicemen.

However, Aelian Perera, who could not tolerate this activity, started a rival sale of Suriya flowers (flowers of the Portia tree) focusing on the same day. It was with the aim of aiding the needy Ceylon ex-servicemen. Later, the South Colombo Youth League joined hands with this movement and revived it. British authorities tried to interrupt this effort of the youth. Yet, they failed. Thereafter, until the second world war, groups of youth sold Suriya flowers, in competition with the poppy sellers.

Formation of Lanka Sama Samaja Party

Indeed, this is one of the most significant milestones with regard to the involvement of youth leagues in the Sri Lanka independence movement. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), also known as the Marxist Lanka Sama Samaja Party was the first party that had the sole motive of demanding independence. And the speciality is that it grew out of the youth.

Moreover, their aims were specific, since what they aimed at was complete national independence. Also, re-gaining nationalism in terms of production, distribution, as well as exchange was associated with their objectives. Moreover, they also worked hard to abolish the ethnic inequality, caste inequality, and gender inequality as well. Going beyond, they also demanded that colonial authorities replace the official language by Sinhala and Tamil. Yet, the demanded replacement did not take place, and English continued to be the official languages until 1956. Still, their efforts were impressive. They could strengthen the Sri Lanka Independence day movement.

The Sri Lankan Society By Then

Owing to the Colebrook reforms, a number of opportunities and income paths emerged. Thus, the castes and status of the traditional Sri Lankan society diminished. Instead, a new middle-class was formed within the society.

Most of them were businessmen, and they were educated. Among them were even individuals who completed their education in foreign countries. Thus, they had a good exposure, and they had a good overview on the political status of the country. All these things made this new middle-class get involved and lead the political campaigns of Sri Lanka. Hence, their involvement can be seen significant when considering the Sri Lanka independence day history. 

Solbury Reforms and the Sri Lanka Independence

However, the British government appointed the Soulbury Commission. Their task was to study and make recommendations for Sri Lanka constitutional reforms. The members of the commission arrived in Sri Lanka in December, 1944. The report of the commission came out in September, 1945. Accordingly, the commission had recommended a constitution that offers Sri Lankans the full power of the internal activities of the country. Schedules were made for the first parliament election under the Solbury reforms. Yet, the British authorities declared nothing with regard to the grant of independence for Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Sri Lankan political leaders such as D. S. Senanayake argued detailing the rights that Sri Lankans have for independence. However, after much effort, and struggles, just two months before the scheduled parliament election, British authorities declared that they would grant Sri Lanka the freedom to enjoy the facilities of an independent country. 

Then, in August 1947, the first parliamentary election took place. As per the results, having won the majority of the seats, the United Nationals Party with the leadership of D.S. Senanayake could establish the government. Yet, the British rule still had power in terms of foreign affairs, and military. The reason behind this was the significant geographical location of Sri Lanka, which was highly beneficial in terms of foreign affairs and military activities. 

Nevertheless, D.S. Senanayake could recognize the wishes of the British authorities. Hence, he took actions to sign treaties with them. Time passed by, and later, the British government approved the Ceylon Freedom Act. Accordingly, the British government lost the power to interfere with the activities related to governing Sri Lanka from 4th February, 1948. Of course, with that, Sri Lanka attained Independence, and it happened to be the independence day of Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka Independence Day Celebration

However, it was on 10th February, 1948 that the first parliament of the independent Sri Lanka assembled. On that day, D.S.Senanayake took down the British flag, hoisted the Sri Lankan national flag, and symbolized the establishment of Sri Lankan rule. 

Yet, from 1948 onward, Sri Lanka celebrated independence day on 4th February each year, commemorating the national heroes, and the efforts behind this achievement. The official independence day celebration takes place having the president as the chief guest. The president hoists the national flag, and addresses the country. Parades, and cultural performances also take place as a part of this official celebration annually. Meanwhile, Sri Lankans all around the island, hoist the national flag on this day, and join the celebration. 

The Bottom Line | Sri Lanka Independence Day History

Likewise, when considering the Sri Lanka independence day history, it is clear that the journey of achieving independence had not been that much easy. It was a collective effort of several hundreds. Moreover, it was the strength of the unity of Sinhalese. However, even after achieving independence on 4th February, 1948 Sri Lanka was under dominion state. It was only on 22nd May, 1972 that Sri Lanka achieved the status of a republic. It was after that Sri Lanka was called the ‘republic of Sri Lanka’. Besides, more than 70 years have passed after Sri Lanka gained independence. Sri Lanka passed several milestones after independence day as well. If you are willing to get to know about them as well, do not forget to check our article on, ‘Significant milestones of Sri Lanka after independence’.