By Ajanta de Abrew
It was indeed a big day for us Visakhians in the UK. April 8th saw the commencement of the centenary celebrations of Visakha Vidyalaya by it’s Past Pupils’ Association in the UK. This coincided appropriately with Founders Day but this year, instead of the usual Mal Pahan Puja to mark the occasion the past pupils of Visakha presented an exhibition of the life and times of Visakha over the 100 years of her existence.
The Exhibition room was beautifully arranged. The well illuminated display boards were of a very high standard. A two foot carving of the “pahana”, the emblem of Visakha , its outline accentuated by light bulbs, suspended on a navy blue curtain draped across the back wall made a spectacular impact as one entered the room. This was Gamini Abayawardena’s splendid creation, innovative art work at its best.
The story of Visakha was related as seen through the eyes of members with supporting evidence from archived photographs and pictures as well as interviews with other past pupils of different generations.
It began with the life and vision of the founder Mrs Selestina Rodrigo Dias, better known as Mrs Jeremias Dias. Her vision was to establish a school for girls to meet the demands of a changing world while at the same time ensuring that their feet were firmly grounded in their culture, traditions, and religion. This was followed by the early years, before and after 1927.The academic progress, of the school to keep pace with changing needs eg opening & development of the science dept were highlighted. The first Visakhian Subadra Balasuriya, teachers and principals who have given their lives to & shaped Visakha, facets of life in different times , biographies of a few of the many, many distinguished past pupils,and achievements of the school followed. Finally ,We posed the question: “Was Selestina’s vision realised?” The answer was a resounding “YES”.
The organisation and presentation of this event was led by the President PPA Vsakha ( UK ) Dr Harshi Boralessa with the programme co-ordinators Mithra Gajraj and Ranji Vimalathas. Needless to say they had the support of the entire committee and friends behind them.
The event was introduced with the strains of Danno Buddunge in the background to usher in the Venerable Maha Sangha from the London Buddhist Vihara led by Head of the Vihara, Chief Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain Most Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera followed by Her Excellency Amari Wijewardena, the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in the UK. The traditional lamp was lit by the distinguished guests, the Patron and the President.
Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera provided us with a very informative ‘Anusasana’. He described the qualities of Visakha Maha Upasikawa who was a supporter of the Buddha and was well known for the purity of the life she led and her unstinting generosity. He believed that the founder of our school Mrs Selestina Dias had a very similar personality. He commended the PPA Visakha for the support they have given over the years to the London Buddhist Vihara. He made special mention of one of our founder members, Mrs. Ari Dissanayake, who initiated and supported Buddhist activities and involved the community in the activities of the Association.
The President Dr Harshi Boralessa delivered an illuminating keynote address. She talked about Mrs Selestina Dias and the innate qualities that made her a sound manager of the project – founding of Visakha. She attributed Selestina’s ability to plan, delegate, identify risks, put in place risk mitigation strategies pivotal to the founding and progressive development of Visakha to its present stature.
She said that Selestina owed her success to the application of good governance , when the concept was unknown.
H.E. The High Commissioner Mrs Amari Wijewardena spoke about the achievements of Visakha and Visakhians. She said that Visakha remains one of the most sought after schools and was the only girls’ school to be included in the first ranch of National schools. She continued “The school takes pride in having the highest number of achievers at the GCE Ordinary Level and Advanced Level Examinations & Visakhians had contributed immensely to the economic , social and cultural development of our country”.
The attendees were finally treated to a wonderful spread of refreshments, including traditional Avurudu delicacies.
The committee has undertaken a commendable task. We like to extend our gratitude to all those who worked tirelessly to make this an excellent event. Undoubtedly, this evening will remain poignant with all past pupils and well wishers.