OLD DIARY LEAVES, Sixth Series (1896-98)
by Henry Steel Olcott
INSPECTING SCHOOLS IN CEYLON
ALL good things must come to an end and the grand Rajput wedding at Varal was no exception. On the 19th of April Prince Liluba, the Heir Apparent of Morvi, left and the bride’s presents and dowry were displayed in a large temporary structure. The presents alone were worth thirty thousand rupees and made a splendid display, as may be imagined from what I said in the preceding chapter. The wedding guests and hangers-on having departed, Harisinhji and I were left alone. He had a somewhat extensive library and I took advantage of the occasion to read, among other things, Max Nordau’s Degeneracy, which gave me the impression that the author was fully persuaded in his own mind that he was the only person in the world who could not be classified as a degenerate. Still, his book is full of sage deductions from observed facts and should be read along with the books of the great hypnotists of
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Salpétriére and Nancy by all who have to do with persons of hysteric temperament. I left Varal for Surat via Sihor on the 24th, in what discomfort will be imagined when I say that the thermometer was registering 108 to 110 degrees (F.) in the shade. The top of one’s head became burning hot from the heat rays reflected from the roof of the railway carriage.
At something past midnight I reached Surat, the home of that universally beloved and respected colleague, Dr. Edal Behram, and of that other high-minded friend, Mr. Narotamram Uttamram Trivedi. I was taken by the doctor to his house, or, as he wished me to consider it, my house where, in his company and that of his amiable wife and nice children, I enjoyed myself very much. The weather continued very hot the next day but still I had many calls and in the evening addressed a meeting of our local Branch, of which Mr. Narotamram was President. The next day was also devoted to visitors and I got through a large amount of deskwork. That evening a large audience gathered to hear me lecture on the subject of education for boys, but mainly of adults for, strange as it may seen, the Missionaries had influence enough to prevent the boys in their schools from attending the lecture! Under the circumstances, therefore, the formation of a boys’ society was impracticable. On
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the next day, Monday, I visited a girls’ school established by our Branch, and also saw there a considerable number of boys from the boys’ school which had also been started by our devoted members. In the evening I lectured on “India’s Place among the Nations,” and at about midnight left for Bombay.
Reaching there in the morning I was busy with visitors and conferences with our members and Parsi friends, bought my steamer ticket for Colombo, and at 6 p.m. lectured in Novelty Theatre to an overflowing audience, on the education of boys, which, as above noted, was the principal theme of my discourses throughout this short tour. Dewan Bahadur Manibhai Jasbhai, late Dewan of Baroda and, when H.P.B. and I first made his acquaintance in the early days, Dewan of Cutch, called on me and presided at my lecture. On the 29th I cleared off arrears of correspondence and attended a farewell reception given me at our Branch rooms.
The conferences above recorded between certain leaders of the Parsi community and myself resulted in an agreement that, as I was going to Europe on Society business, I should also obtain, on their behalf, the opinions of certain noted scholars and archræologists about the best way to promote the interests of Zoroastrian research. On the occasion of the meeting above mentioned, I received my
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credentials from Mr. K. R. Cama and Dr. Jivanji J. Modi. The latter gentleman introduced me to the famous M. Menard, of the Institute, Dr. Mills, my compatriot, a noted Zendist, and that greatest of living archæologists, Professor Flinders Petrie. In his letter to the latter gentleman Dr. Jivanji says that he will be glad if he will exchange views with me on the subject and make any definite practicable suggestions. Needless to say it was almost pleasant anticipation to be thus brought into personal relations with so erudite and respected an archæologist as the one in question.
The next morning I exchanged farewells at our rooms, and then embarked at Victoria docks on the steamer “Rosetta” at about noon. We were at sea the rest of that day, the next and the next, and reached Colombo at 2.30 p.m. on the third day. I was met, of course, and then taken to the house of Dharmapala’s father, that good man and esteemed friend who is one of the most sincere Buddhists of my acquaintance. He has a fine mansion and extensive grounds at Kolupitiya, and if his son is “Anagarika,” the Homeless one, it is of his own choice.
Thus shifts our story from clime to clime and country to country; the Ariadne thread of memory leading me through all the maze of the crowded scenes of my official experience in the past.
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My first duty on the morning after my arrival was to pay my customary visit of salutation to my friend the High Priest Sumangala, whom I found at his college in the accustomed reception room, with the usual swarm of pupil priests blocking up the doors and windows to catch any scraps of conversation between their master and his visitors. It has often happened that when I had something of a confidential nature about the work to discuss with Sumangala—through an interpreter, for he does not know English and but a few words of French—I have asked him to dismiss the crowd of eavesdroppers. It is the custom in the Orient for juniors to stand, in the presence of their elders, only by permission seating themselves even on the floor ; but Sumangala has invariably caused a chair to be placed for me, usually a lower one than the ordinary, for he knows well enough that our Western kneejoints are not lubricated like those of Orientals so as to fold together the two halves of the leg, clasp-knife fashion. On the occasions of my returns to the Island he gets me to tell him about my travels, and especially rejoices when I am able to say that I have been asked to lecture on Buddhism. He is a good man and very learned but, at the same time, so susceptible to the criticisms of his people, that I am never sure of not finding him temporarily upset by some doubt created in his
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mind as to my orthodoxy in Buddhism; it is never anything very serious, and I can always dispel it by getting him to compare the state of Sinhalese Buddhism to-day with what it was when he and I first met in 1880. From the College I went to the Fort, as it is called, the business quarter of the banks and foreign mercantile houses clustered about the head of the Harbor and near the old Dutch fort, built when the Hollanders were masters of the Island. Thence I went to our Ananda College, now a prosperous and very successful educational institution, but which was founded by Mr. Leadbeater in 1885 as an English High School, when he was working with me in Ceylon. I also went to the Sanghamitta Girls’ School, and finished the day with a dinner at Mrs. Higgins’, with whom the aged Mrs. Pickett of Australia was then working.
Early the next morning I left for Beruela, thus beginning the tour which had been sketched out for me. I inspected our boys’ school in which we had sixty pupils, and thence by afternoon train to Ambalangoda. Here a crowd welcomed me at the station and a hundred and fifty Buddhist boys escorted me in procession to the large school building which had been erected for us by liberal Buddhist friends. The room was uncomfortably crowded, but I distributed prizes and made an address upon
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the state of education in Ceylon. Three other gentlemen followed me, and after the adjournment I was taken to the breezy and cool rest house by the seashore, where I had a good meal and refreshing sleep. These travellers’ bungalows along the seashore of Ceylon are the most comfortable that I have ever seen in the tropics; the rooms are large, the ceilings lofty, the floors paved with large tiles, and the ocean breeze circulates freely through the venetians that give upon the broad verandahs. I remember perfectly how charmed H.P.B. and I were the first time that we passed a night at one of these bungalows: we should have been glad to have spent the whole hot season there, for back of the house was a sandy beach and sheltered pools fenced in from the ocean by rocks, where the water was so clear and limpid as to invite one to step in and refresh himself from the burden of the tropical heat. At the time of which I write we had four schools at Ambalangoda, two for boys and two for girls, an aggregate of 860 children, and buildings that were highly creditable to the local promoters of Buddhist education. Here was no flash-in-the-pan, like that first famous school that was opened at Galle in the first flush of excitement caused by our visit, which began with a register of over five hundred pupils and, before the year was out, dwindled away to
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almost nothing, because the rich and wily Missionaries suddenly abolished their school fees and baited their traps with free education for Buddhist children. The people at Ambalangoda were in dead earnest, and had had sixteen years since the Galle episode in which to get to realise what the undertaking of an educational movement implied in the way of self-sacrifice and courageous persistence. In the afternoon of that day I moved on by train to Galle, where I was taken to our Mahinda College, another of our great Buddhist schools, where the boys greeted me with cheers aud fireworks and I made them the inevitable address before I could betake me to bed.
On the next morning (May 7th) I inspected our schools at Dangedera North and Dangedera South, also at Miripenna and Habaraduwa, all suburbs of Galle. I was very much pleased with all; they occupied substantial buildings and showed signs of good management. Returning to town, I lectured at the college at 5 p.m., to the general public, and started a subscription towards a College Fund, getting over two thousand rupees subscribed on the spot. By the next morning’s train I went to Ahangama to inspect two schools of 221 and 259 pupils respectively. They were also excellent. Of the former I had laid the corner-stone in 1888, eight years previously. By the noon train I returned to
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Colombo and reached the hospitable house of Mr. Don Carolis at 6 p.m.
My next move was towards Kandy, the old hill-capital of the native sovereigns, and one of the prettiest places in the Orient. After the four hours’ journey by rail I reached there and was put up at our local college building, where, at 2.30 p.m., I held a public meeting and raised a subscription of Rs. 530 for the benefit of the college. My destination the next day was Katagastota where there was a grand procession, in which three huge elephants, one from the Dalada Maligawa, or Tooth Relic Temple, figured. I lectured to a large crowd in the big school building put up by Mr. Ranaraja and raised a few hundred rupees for the Education Fund. The same afternoon I went on to Matale, where that old veteran nobleman and connecting-link between the times of the Kandyan kings and the British Raj, Mr. W. Dulewe, the Adigar, met me and took me under his wing. I found a boys’ school prospering greatly and, at the meeting which I addressed, a subscription for the proposed girls’ school was started with every appearance of good feeling and popular interest.
The turn of Rattota, where we had a girls’ school, came the next morning. Its chief promoter and patron was a Dr. Goonesekara. Dulewe, Adigar, went with me and Mr. D. J. Jayatilleke went as
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interpreter. A little Sinhalese boy prodigy was brought to me to the rest house and delivered a lecture in Sinhalese on the celebrated verse, Sabbapapassa akaranam, etc. A breath of Europe came to me that day on the arrival of a German Doctor and his wife at the rest house and we passed a vary agreeable evening in talk. The lady was a friend of my dear and always respected friend Baron Oskar von Hoffmann, of Leipzig. To Wattegama to inspect our boys’ and girls’ schools, the next morning, thence by carriage, a charming mountain drive of seven miles over a good road, to Panuela. In this small and retired village, the Mistress of our prosperous Girls’ School had earned the marked distinction of getting from the Government Inspector of Schools a certificate of 100 per cent at the last examination; every girl in the school was found perfect in every subject. This is as well as Mrs. Courtright did this year with one of the fine Panchama Schools under her charge—the one at the village of Urur where 116 pupils were presented—and 14 per cent better than the average-of passes throughout the whole Madras Presidency. I believe also that this is the only case where every child presented for examination passed “perfect”. The average of her four schools was 95 per cent. This shows what can be done with Oriental children in the lower standards by careful
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training. From this place I returned to Kandy to sleep.
Of course, the reader understands perfectly well that the block of educational work in Ceylon about which I am writing is not, properly speaking, an activity of the Theosophical Society as such, but merely an undertaking by the Ceylon Branches, which are composed of Buddhists, to conduct the educational campaign which I suggested to them in 1880, when H. P. B. and I and the Committee of the Bombay Theosophical Society first came to the Island. All the same, it is one of the most important and successful results of our movement as achieved by our Buddhist colleagues: and which as has frequently been explained, is to be classified along with the active movement for the nationalising of Indian education, led by Mrs. Besant and which has culminated in the foundation of the Central Hindu College. My present memoirs are, of course, only my personal recollections of the different phases of official work through which I have passed, and as such are as much autobiographical as officially historical. There was a time when the whole movement centred in the personal activities of the two Founders, but it has now expanded over such a vast field that neither I nor any other of the prominent workers can hope to do more than to record what passes under his own personal observation. With
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this parenthetical remark let me pass on to my next station in the Ceylon school-inspecting tour under notice.
I went on to Gompola by the next morning’s train and found a school building unnecessarily big, which had been erected by the late Muhandiram at a cost of several thousand rupees. This was the same enthusiastic gentleman who, in 1880, when H. P. B. and I visited this place, removed the horses from our carriage, got ropes and helped drag us in the carriage from the station to his house. There was a large and interesting meeting at their school-house and much enthusiasm shown at the conclusion of my remarks. In the afternoon I went on to Nawalapitiya, a well-known Kandyan village, the centre of a rich planting district. Our school-house was in a lovely situation on a hill. It was started four months before my visit under such popular auspices that it had pretty well emptied the Christian school of its pupils. On Thursday the 14th (May) I took train for Hatton, a mountain town, the railway station for Adam’s Peak. We were here in a grand hilly country with beautiful landscapes on all sides. Our local school of sixty pupils was founded by the lamented C. F. Powell, who made so deep an impression within his short connection with our Headquarters, on both the Sinhalese and South Indian Hindus. The local Committee informed me with
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pride that not a single Buddhist boy was now in the Christian school. The founders and supporters of the Buddhist school were low-country men, and I am glad to say that, at that stage of the movement in Ceylon, the Buddhist educational work in the Kandyan district was almost entirely done by the same class of persons. The fact is, that under the Kandyan kings, the Feudal system prevailed to such an extent that the nation was divided into, practically, the two classes of nobles and slaves; education was not at all general, even among the nobility; the monasteries were endowed by the Crown and a sufficient support being guaranteed in their revenues from the lands granted them by the Crown, the Bhikkus were lazy and there was very little religious spirit existing in the “Mountain Kingdom”.
At the same time, an insufferable pride prevailed among the upper class, and I have often been shocked to see the contemptuous way in which they treated the usually excellent merchants and others who came from the low country to do business in that part of the Island. It got so at last that I expected no help whatever from the Kandyan chiefs, and I always felt uneasy to receive from or make visits to them in company with the Colombo and Galle people whose earnestness had gained all my esteem and for whom I felt great friendship. I
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remember the case of one individual of the Willala caste, i.e., the land-holder or cultivator class, who held an office under the British Government. He occupied a spacious ancestral bungalow and always made a great show of courtesy in receiving me. On the occasion in question I was accompanied on my visit by the President and one or two other officers of one of our largest Ceylon Branches. I was received with distinction and they were put off with a short nod each. My American blood grew hot at that (for I hadn’t the smallest respect for the man’s character) and I had to put myself under powerful restraint to prevent my catching him by the coat collar and flinging him across the room. But, of course, I have met with individuals of the old Kandyan nobility who won my friendly regards by their gentlemanly behavior all around. One of these was the veteran Adigar above spoken of. Our College, formerly High School, at Kandy is now large and prosperous and there is much activity here and there throughout the Kandyan country, but, viewing the Ceylon movement as a whole, one cannot in justice deny that more than 90 per cent. of the credit for the successful direction of the movement which has gathered some thirty thousand Buddhist children under Buddhist school teachers in Buddhist schools, is due to our colleagues in the Maritime Provinces.
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Returning to Kandy I visited the schools in the suburban villages of Peredeniya and Ampitiya, two in each place. At the latter village I raised a subscription towards building a girls’ school-house and then visited our boys’ and girls’ schools in the town of Kandy—all in one day. My programme took me the next day to Kadunnawa to see a girls’ school in the morning, after which there was a lecture in a Temple Preaching Hall (Banamaduwa); in the afternoon to Gardaladeniya where we had a mixed school. At Rambukkana we were treated to a specimen of barbaric pomp in a long procession headed by two huge elephants, and after them a company of a dozen male devil-dancers, dressed in fantastic costume, with frightful masks and a network of beaded bands crossing their chests. As we moved through the woods the sounds of the barbaric music, the squeak, roll, and clatter, all combined to make a cacophony bad enough to drive all the wood elves and hamadryads out of their sylvan retreats. From that place I went on to Curunegala, where the old Muhandiram had built for us a large L-shaped school-house; then on to Veyangoda and to the neighboring village of Pattallagedera, where the children of the boys’ and girls’ schools were got together to hear me. After that another girls’ school was opened. A ride by bullock cart without springs is not a joy for ever, but I had one of five
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miles on the next morning to open a boys’ school, and then by train back to Colombo, thus closing my Northern tour.
My third visit to the Leper Colony at Hendala, near Colombo, was made on Wednesday, May 20th. As I have described the dreadful spectacle of a colony of these poor victims of one of the greatest pests of humanity, I shall not repeat myself now. By request I gave them the Pancha Sila and a lecture showing the operation of the Law of Karma in their case. One cannot but feel compassion for these human outcasts and a prompting to do something, however little, to give them momentary pleasure, but really it is one of the most distressing of imaginable experiences and I am not at all anxious to repeat the visit.
On the afternoon of that day I presided at a meeting at Ananda College, gave out the prizes and made a long address. I was followed by the Hon. Mr. Ramanathan, the then recognised leader of the Hindu community, and by a Dr. Pinto. After this I attended a meeting of the Maha-Bodhi Society, at which I read a paper on the situation of affairs and offered my resignation of the position of Honorary General Adviser, for the reason that, as I explained, Mr. Dharmapala did not seem disposed to take my advice when given. Since that time I have had no responsibility whatever for the management of that
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Society, nor done anything to secure the considerable success which Dharmapala has achieved with the help of his friends.
Visits to Nedimale and Kirulapane schools followed the next day, and on the following one to Moritumulle and Indepette. The school at this latter place had an interesting history. The local school of the Government had been turned over to the Wesleyans by a sympathetic head of the Education Department. This was regarded as an injustice by our people, and, on their behalf a vigorous protest was sent in by Mr. Buultjens, our then Manager of Buddhist Schools, but the Government turned a deaf ear to us. Thereupon, a public meeting was called, and resolutions adopted to build a school-house of their own and remove their children to it. When I addressed the meeting on the occasion of my visit I had 123 boys and girls before me, of whom 105 gave me, as Guru, betel and tobacco leaves, 4,200 of the former and 105 of the latter. The next day at Colombo, the Buddhist Defence Committee referred to me for decision a question as to the Buddhist Registrarship which they wanted laid before the Secretary of State for the Colonies. At an adjourned meeting I gave them drafts of such papers as they were to sign and send on to the Colonial Office.
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This was my last official act during the present Ceylon tour, as on the morrow, the 25th May, I embarked for Marseilles on the Messageries steamer “Saghalien”.