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SL town to relive Gandhian moments

The discovery of a sepia-coloured photograph (above) has led to the unearthing of the chronicles of Swarajyapura where Mahatma Gandhi had stopped to address a gathering in 1927 while on his way to Kandy, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Oct 02, 2008 01:09 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Both the place and the event had fallen off the history pages. But the discovery of a sepia-coloured photograph has led to the unearthing of the chronicles of Swarajyapura where Mahatma Gandhi had stopped to address a gathering in 1927 while on his way to Kandy.

On Thursday, Swarajyapura, a small locality about 50 km from Colombo, will reclaim its place in history when a plaque of Gandhi would be inaugurated in the presence of academicians, Gandhians and diplomats from India and Sri Lanka.

Naveen Gunaratne of the Colombo-based Mahatma Gandhi Centre (MGC) was candid enough to admit that the Centre had no clue about Gandhi’s visit to the place till two months ago. “I had no clue till I was shown a photograph of Gandhi with a six-year-old girl and the father of a church. We were told that it was taken by an amateur photographer on the day Gandhi stopped to give a speech on peace and independence at this place.”

Soon, teams from the MGC visited Sawarajyapura and learnt about the historical context behind the name. “The meeting was organised by citizens who had been fired by Gandhi’s call for an independent India; hence the name Swarajyapura. But even those living in the area had forgotten why it was called so,” Gunaratne said.

The name was given in 1941 at a meeting of the Ceylon National Congress to remember Gandhi’s visit. But over the years, only the name remained and not the history.

Present among the guests on Thursday would be Bertha Fernando and the “little girl” in the photo. All of 86 now.

The man behind the rediscovery was Merryll Fernando, a local who unearthed the forgotten photograph from the house of one of the organisers of Gandhi’s meeting. Fernando knows the photo is a “national treasure” but has anyway willed it to his son and daughter. “Each will keep it every alternate year till it passes on to the next generation. The message of peace from Gandhi has to be kept alive,” he said. Many here would agree with him.