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Engineering

Engineering is perhaps the most unseen of the professions. People do not notice engineers in their midst, only the work of engineers. Even that, they only notice in the negative, for we have come to expect the products and services provided by engineers and engineering as given, and only notice their absence. Examples of this abound in our daily life – electricity, telecommunications, roads, railways and many others. This makes it difficult to write about ‘Ananda and the engineering profession’, for apart from personal knowledge (which by its very nature is limited) and scholarly journals (whose publications are of no interest to the public), there are few resources available for consultation.

One can think of four eminent engineers who gained recognition for their engineering in the modern history of Sri Lanka and two of them were old Anandians – Mr. D J Wimalasurendra and Mr. B D Rampala. The others are Dr. A N S Kulasinghe and Dr, Ray Wijewardena. Two out of four - not a bad achievement for one school.

Mr. Wimalasurendra was an eminent Civil and Electrical Engineer who ‘discovered’ the Laxapana falls when he was officially prospecting for gold! He realised that hydro power is worth more than gold, and undertook a detailed investigation of the potential of the Laxapana falls on his own initiative before making his proposals public at a meeting of the Engineering Association of Ceylon, the precursor of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka. However, he was disappointed, for the British dominated engineering profession at the time rejected his proposals, and he had to await the political independence of the country before he could witness the fulfillment of his dream, in 1950.

Demodara1   Demodara2

The Demodara railway ‘loop’, and the Laxapana Hydro Power project (completed after his retirement), two of the  achievements of Engineer D J Wimalasurendra

Perhaps in an act that many present-day Sri Lankans will appreciate, Mr. Wimalasurendra had to take his fight for hydro power in to the political arena – he contested and won a seat in the State Council in 1931.

Wimala Surendra

Engineer D J Wimalasurendra

While Mr. Wimalasurendra retired from public service as the Chief Engineer of the Department of Government Electrical Undertakings, Mr. Rampala rose to the position of General Manager of Railways. The Rampala era of the Ceylon Government Railway is regarded by all as its golden age, when the Railway workshops were well recognised as one of the best mechanical engineering workshops in Asia, when discipline was at its highest and more than anything else, trains kept to their timetables and arrived on time. There is the famous story of the then Prime Minister, Sir John Kotelawala arriving at the gate of the railway workshops at Ratmalana and demanding entry. He was politely refused entry by the gatekeeper, as he had no valid permit, and on being told that he is the Prime Minister, was told that even Mr. Rampala himself needs a valid pass to enter the workshops. Such was the discipline instilled in his workers by Mr. Rampala.

Many innovations that have now come to be accepted as the norm, such as long distance express services and colour signaling lights were introduced by Mr. Rampala. He is reported to have driven the first Ruhunu Kumari from Colombo to Matara by himself.

ClassM4   Rampala

Class M4 MLW - Alco Bombardier Locomotive # 747 (Kelani), hauling the Matara bound 'Ruhunu Kumari Express and Engineer B D Rampala

In 1956, the Royal Engineering Society of the UK recognised him as the best engineer in Asia.

There are numerous other Anandians who served or are still serving the country (and the world) in the field of engineering, and it is impracticable to mention all of them by name and unfair to name only a chosen few.  However, I would like to include just a few of them as worthy of special mention.

Dr. L.H. Sumanadasa was the first Sri Lankan to qualify as an aeronautical engineer in the 1930s, and his potential was so highly valued by the British Aeronautical Industry that he was refused leave to accept a commission with the RAF during the war.

After completing a degree in Physics at Ceylon University College, he won the Ceylon Government Scholarship to study aeronautical engineering at Imperial College, London in 1932. He learnt to fly with the London Aeroplane Club at Hatfield. His instructor was none other than Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. of Havilland fame. He made his first solo in early 1934, and passed his ‘A license’ on 13 April 1934 (flying a DH.60G Gipsy Moth with a Gipsy II 120hp engine). He was duly issued with his Air Ministry private pilot's license.

DrSuamadasa1   DrSumanadasa2

These photos of Dr Sumanadasa were presumably taken after he had qualified, as the aircraft has the sloping struts characteristic of a DH.82 Tiger Moth

The combined mass of the pieces of the statue was approximately 70 tons and in the absence of heavy machinery, in this outlandish area, this massive work had to be done with human labour.  Gemunu Silva rose to the task, using pulley blocks, rope and chain as the main tools. This had to be done with substantial care and time, avoiding undue tensile stresses on the structural elements. Consequently, the result of that massive effort was a glorious success. 

Maligawila statue after restoration

Renovation of the Tissamaharama Stupa is another of his prominent works. The Stupa started to split and in the renovation the whole stupa had to be tied with stainless steel.  He also participated in the renovation of the Abayagiriya and Jethawana stupas.     

Mr. Ramsay Wettimuny was a Mechanical Engineer who worked in the transport sector of the country. But he is best remembered for his work on Buddhism. He wrote a number of learned books on Buddhism, and had his doctrinal knowledge sharpened by association with Nanavira Thero. He devoted his later life totally to the study dissemination of knowledge and practice of Buddhism. In sporting circles he is also remembered as the father who introduced the game of cricket to three of his sons, the famous Wettimuny brothers; Sunil, Mithra and Sidath who played cricket for Ananda , club and country.

Independance Sq

Independence Hall in Colombo

Mr H. R. Premaratne worked in the (then) Department of Public Works (PWD), and retired as its Director. He is remembered as the engineer who built the magnificent Independence Hall in Colombo, where the first Parliament of independent Ceylon was inaugurated. He was not only an engineer, but a man of many talents, which were amply demonstrated in his contributions in both art and in engineering to the building of the sets for the space station for the Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey” based on Arthur C Clarke’s famous book. Still later he served Sri Lanka as a diplomat.

There is one thing in common among all these Anandian Engineers – they were all Polymaths or Renaissance Men, and imbibed with the ‘Spirit of Ananda’ as ably described by Dr. B M A Balasuriya, another Anandian Engineer:

‘Let us pause for a while to see the qualities that go to make a good engineer; in fact, these hold true not only for engineers, but for any other profession as well. One of the most important qualities, in my opinion is to have a live, inquiring and a disciplined mind; one has to be able to appreciate the realities of a problem and be innovative; one must be methodical, evolve a sense of involvement in, and dedication to the task in hand. Engineering is a team effort, unlike, in say, medicine; it is therefore important to cultivate managerial attributes and leadership. One must be able to freely communicate with those above and below one.

 

Ananda has been very successful in cultivating these qualities in her alumni, Ananda gave pride of place to our history, culture and the teachings of the Buddha; Ananda had honest, upright and dedicated teachers — men of ideals. It is therefore not strange that the young ones, who grew up in that environment, and under their guidance, naturally developed the qualities mentioned above. The sense of involvement, team spirit and leadership, developed in the playground or the cadet platoons, the sense of honesty, dedication and the courage to do what one thinks is right, are qualities that we are proud of as having been cultivated in us at Ananda.’

Dr Balasuriya himself was an example of the qualities that he wrote about. He was a reputed structural engineer, much appreciated by clients, who commenced his professional work at the State Engineering Corporation. He had taught students at the University of Moratuwa, and later had his own consultancy firm. He helped Ananda College during the Rajapaksa period in all its construction work with dedication, and designed most of the structures (including the Pavilion) that came up during his active period. It is very unfortunate that Ananda and the country lost his services due to his demise at a relatively young age. Balasuriya, during his studentship at Ananda, was placed first in order of merit at the Senior School Certificate (SSC) examination in the early 1960s.

Professor M P Ranaweera had had an exceptionally brilliant career at Ananda, at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Ceylon and at Cambridge University, so much so that in the turbulent days of 1988 – 89 when the academic activities of the Universities were disrupted, The University of Cambridge accepted a student who had not yet sat the final examination of the B Sc Engineering degree (as the exams were postponed) for post graduate studies on the recommendation of Prof Ranaweera and Prof Thurairajah. His work included theoretical analysis related to the conservation and restoration of the ancient stupas that went in tandem with the work done by Engineer Gamunu Silva.

M de S Manamperi was another civil engineer produced by Ananda. He served the Gal Oya Development Board and the Mahaweli Development Authority with distinction. At Mahaweli, he came across newly opened up area and was deeply interested with their place names, leading to a study of their historical evolution. He too died at a comparatively young age, and at the time of his death, was the General President-elect of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science. In memory of his services, the SLAAS established an annual award for the best project among engineering undergraduates of Sri Lankan Universities.

Professor Chandana Wirasinghe is a Civil Engineering graduate from Peradeniya (1968), a Fulbright Scholar, and holds a PhD from Berkeley in Transportation Engineering (1976).  He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed dean of a faculty at a major university outside the island, a position he held at the Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary, Canada, from January 1994 to June 2006.  He has produced more than 200 publications and keynote presentations in transportation engineering and planning.  Dr. Wirasinghe has won many honors, including an honorary DSc from the University of Moratuwa (2001) and Alberta’s highest award in engineering—the APEGGA Centennial Award (2003); he also was named the city of Calgary’s Citizen of the Year in 2005. 

He delivered the Olcott Memorial lecture at Ananda in the 125th anniversary year of its founding, during which he made an impassioned plea to restore Ananda to its pristine glory thus:

We are Anandian's.

This is our School, our inheritance from amazing fore- bearers.

We have done great things.

We are the guardians of a great religious philosophy.

We have defended this land.

We know it. Our forefathers knew it. Their forefathers knew it too.

In the name of the Arahant Ananda, Founder Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, First Principal Charles Leadbeater, and other great leaders, teachers and alumni, we can show the way again, and we will.

In addition to the above, there are many former Anandians who had risen to the top of their profession. A few among them are, D Chandrasekera (Petroleum ), V C de Silva (Public Works), H. B. Jayasekera (CECB), G. G. Jayawardena (Mahaweli and CECB), Linton Wijesuriya (Irrigation), Newton Wickramasuriya (Manufacturing), Ananda Senewiratne (Electricity), Prasanna Wickramarachchi (Telecom), Thilak Wijesinghe (Highways), A H Mendis (Gal Oya), R Patuwathawithana (Marine ), R U Fernando (Irrigation and Mahaveli ) and K D D Perera (Irrigation)

Also, around the Universities here there are very many other engineers who have distinguished themselves in teaching and research. A few among them that come to mind are: Dr. Rohan Tittagala, Dr. Gamini Abeysuriya, Prof. Udaya Annakkage, Prof. K K Y W Perera, Prof.C Patuwathawithana, Nihal Kulatunga and Prof. K. Wathugala.

In addition to serving humanity in the field of engineering, very many Anandian engineers have distinguished themselves in other fields such as finance and banking, business and in politics, basing themselves on their knowledge of engineering. Their achievements will not be discussed here.


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