To commemorate the 100th year of arrival of Nobel Laureate Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to Sri Lanka, the University of Colombo in collaboration with the High Commission of India, Colombo, organized a special ceremony to unveil the bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the Sri Palee Campus of the University on 03rd February 2022. The Chief Guest, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, along with the Guests of Honour Shri Gopal Baglay, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka and Vidura Wickremanayaka, State Minister of National Heritage, Performing Arts, and Rural Promotions, unveiled and garlanded the bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in the presence of Prof. Chandrika N. Wijeyaratne, Vice-Chancellor, University of Colombo, and distinguished officers, staff and students of the university. This bronze bust of Tagore has been gifted by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
During the unveiling ceremony, Prof. G. L. Peiris highlighted that Sri Lanka had a special place in the heart of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, who visited Sri Lanka three times in 1922, 1928, and 1934. The third visit of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is remembered for the foundation of “Sri Palee.” He recalled that the invitation for this visit was extended to Tagore by his granduncle, Mr. Wlimot A. Perera, who was a leading entrepreneur and social reformer. Mr. Wlimot A. Perera had earlier visited Visva Bharati at Santiniketan in West Bengal, India and was so impressed by the works and thoughts of Gurudev as well as the values of the institution that he resolved to establish a similar institution in Sri Lanka. On his invitation, the Gurudev visited Sri Lanka and laid the foundation of the new institution on 20th May, 1934. He proposed that the new institution should be named as “Sri Palee.”
The High Commissioner of India, Gopal Baglay recalled Tagore’s love for Sri Lanka, which inspired him in many ways. High Commissioner quoted one of Tagore’s speeches in 1934 during his visit to Sri Lanka, wherein he said: “The spirit of India once visited Lanka…As a poet, it is my mission to restore that ancient association of mind through my efforts that speak through a direct language of art.” High Commissioner expressed his appreciation to the University of Colombo for honouring the legacy of Tagore by accepting the gift of the statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and installing it at the very same institution whose foundation stone was laid by him.
Prof. Chandrika N. Wijeyaratne, Vice-Chancellor, University of Colombo and Dr. Prathibha Mahanamahewa, Rector of the Sri Palee Campus of the University of Colombo also highlighted the close cultural ties between “twins” India and Sri Lanka and thanked the Government of India and the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka for extending their support to the University as well as to students of Sri Lanka by offering them scholarships for higher studies in India.
During the event, the students of the University of Colombo presented special cultural performances, which were based on Rabindra Sangeet, Hindi music, as well as select dance forms of India and Sri Lanka, showcasing the strong and deep cultural bonds between the two countries. The performances were deeply appreciated and were also webcast via social media.
It may be recalled that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore founded Visva Bharati in 1921 as a great seat of learning and centre of art. Pioneers of Sinhala ballet, Premakumara Epitawala and Deshamanya Chitrasena, studied at Santiniketan in the early 1940’s. Similarly, many Sri Lankan musicians, such as Edwin Samaradiwakara, Surya Shankar Molligoda, Ananda Samarakoon, Sunil Shanta, Lionel Edirisinghe and W.B. Makuloluwa, and painters, such as Somabandhu and Ananada Samarakoon (who was also a musician) studied at Santiniketan. Even today, a large number of artists and scholars all over the world, including in Sri Lanka, take inspiration from the legacy of Gurudev. Tagore’s Gitanjali has been also translated many times into Sinhala. This highlights the deep respect that people of Sri Lanka have for Gurudev Tagore. To rekindle this bond, this year, special events are being organized to commemorate the 100th year of arrival of Nobel Laureate Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to Sri Lanka. The High Commission of India has recently institutionalised a Gold Medal in the name of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to recognise the highest academic record holder at the University of Colombo’s Sri Palee Campus.