Ponnambalam Ramanathan

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Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930).jpg
Ponnanbalam Ramanathan
Unofficial Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon
In office
In office
Solicitor-General of Ceylon
In office
Preceded by Sir Charles Peter Layard
Succeeded by James Cecil Walter Pereira
Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon for Educated Ceylonese
In office
Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon for Valikamam North
In office
Personal details
Born (1851-04-15)April 15, 1851
Died November 30, 1930(1930-11-30) (aged 79)
Nationality Ceylonese (Sri Lankan)
Relations Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam
Alma mater Royal College
Presidency College
Occupation Politician, Crown Counsel
Profession Lawyer
Religion Hindu

Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, KCMG, KC (15 April 1851 – 30 November 1930) was a Solicitor-General and Tamil political leader in Sri Lanka.

Early life[edit]

His father was Gate Mudaliyar A. Ponnambalam and mother was Sellachchi Ammaiyar, both belonging to the Vellalar caste. He was the elder brother of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who was another famous Sri Lankan Tamil leader. Ramanathan was educated at Colombo Academy (Royal College, Colombo), and enrolled as an Advocate from 1873 to 1886.

Political career[edit]

Ramanathan was nominated as an unofficial Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon from 1879 to 1892 representing the Tamil-speaking people. He positioned himself as a representative of all communities in the Island. About 1890, Ramanathan had several conferences with the American Theosophist Col. Henry Steel Olcott about the feasibility of founding a Hindu-Buddhist College for the benefit of the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus.[1] He was then appointed by the Governor of Ceylon as Solicitor-General in 1892 and functioned as such until 1906, and acted as Attorney-General on several occasions during this period.

Ramanthan was steeped in Hindu and Christian mysticism, and became active in the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon. He was closely associated with Col. Henry Olcott, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, in promoting Buddhist education in schools. He was also responsible for the Government declaring Vesak a public holiday.

Ramanathan was nominated by the Government (along with JWC de Soysa) to represent Ceylon as a delegate to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria in 1897 at London. He was described by Lord Salisbury as the most accomplished speaker in the British Empire and Queen Victoria awarded him a gold medal on the occasion.

Ramanathan was elected representing the educated Ceylonese to the Legislative Council of Ceylon by a sweeping majority in 1911.[2] It was an historic event, as he was the very first candidate to be elected to the Legislature of the country by an all-Ceylon electorate, prior to the introduction of universal franchise in 1931. He was re-elected to this seat in the Legislative Council in 1916 and held it until 1921.

He was the founder of Uduvil Ramanathan Girls College and Parameshwara College Parameshwara College of Jaffna which later became the University of Jaffna.[3]

Riots of 1915[edit]

During the widespread and prolonged Sinhalese-Muslim Riots of 1915 (from May 28—June 5, 1915) the British Governor came down with a heavy hand on the Sinhalese community. The Governor declared Martial Law (June 2—August 30, 1915)[4] and ordered the Police and the Army to arrest and imprison several prominent Sinhalese leaders. Among those imprisoned were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, Dr. Cassius Pereira, E. T. De Silva, F.R. Dias Bandaranaike, H. Amarasuriya, A.H. Molamure and several others. It was reported that other leaders were shot without trial. On the request of Anagarika Dharmapala, Ramanathan came to the rescue of the Sinhalese community.

He and Sir James Peiris led the campaign for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (for the vindication of the reputations of those who had been falsely accused). He traveled to England under great threat to his own life (as World War I was on) and argued the case of the imprisoned Sinhalese. So articulate were his arguments that he succeeded in having the governor transferred and the head of Military recalled from Ceylon. He eventually managed to get all the leaders released from prison. When he came back to Ceylon victoriously, there were thousands to welcome him. Sir John Kotalawala and A. C. Seneviratne, a prominent businessman, said that the Sinhalese owe Sir Ponnambalam a debt that could never be repaid. They insisted that his horse carriage be drawn by Sinhalese. Sir Ponnambalam was driven through the streets of Colombo to his residence at Ward Place and some of the top families, of Sinhalese aristocracy, had no qualms about drawing his carriage through the streets of Colombo virtually carrying him on their backs. Sinhala leaders took turns to pull the carriage.

D. S. Senanayake, the first Sri Lankan prime minister, called Ramanathan ‘the greatest Ceylonese of all times’, while Sir Baron Jayatilaka, the Head of the Cabinet in the State Council, referred to him as ‘the greatest man Ceylon has produced during the past 50 years.’[5]


Ponnambalam Ramanathan married Miss Sellachchi Ammal, daughter of Mudaliyar E. Nannithamby of Manipay. Later, when his first wife died, he was remarried to Leelawathy Ramanathan, née R. L. Harrison in 1906.[6] He was considered a very stubborn man of western ideals, and this identity was changed by Mr Ilakanam Ramaswami Pillai, the Tamil teacher for the Tanjavur Raja, whom he considered his guru. After his meeting with Mr Ramaswami Pillai he gave up liquor, smoking and became a vegetarian. He became a Spiritual man and wrote great books on Hinduism, some translated by his wife Mrs Leelawaty Ramanathan). In return for Mr Ramaswami Pillai's help, he decided to take his great grand son Mr S Natesan to Ceylon, and gave him a job as a teacher in Parameswara College, Jaffna which was founded by him. (Mr S Natesan was a Lawyer by profession, but followed Mr Ponnambalam Ramanathan to become a political leader in Ceylon). He also got his only daughter (Through Leelawathy Ramanathan) Sivagamisundhari married to him. His direct descendants end with Sivagamisundhari. Because Mr S Natesan and Sivagamisundhari did not have any children, they adopted Mr S Natesan's niece Devi (Padmini).

Through the Theosophical Society Ponnambalam Ramanathan had met Florence Farr, who was greatly impressed by his plans for the education of young women in his native country, and she committed herself to helping him when he was ready.

In 1912, Farr learned that Ramanathan had established his Uduvil Ramanathan Girls College, and at the age of fifty-two, she sold all her possessions and moved to Ceylon, returning to her first vocation, that of a teacher. Farr was appointed Lady Principal by Ramanathan and the administration of the school was turned over to her. Certainly the organizational skills she learned as the Praemonstratrix of the Golden Dawn served Farr in her new position, and due to her tolerance and respect for the Tamil traditions, the school thrived under her administration.

Then in 1916, a lump in her breast was diagnosed as cancer, and she underwent a mastectomy. But the cancer had spread, and Florence Farr died a few months later at the age of 56 in a hospital in Colombo, in April 1917. In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and the ashes scattered by Ramanathan in the sacred Kalyaani River.[7]

Current Chief Minister of Northern Province, Sri Lanka, C. V. Vigneswaran's grandfather was a cousin of P. Ramanathan and P. Arunachalam.[8]

Selected writings[edit]

Ramanathan availed himself of this period of service as a senior Law Officer of the Crown to introspect and produce very illuminating writings on Christian and Hindu spiritual themes.

  • An Eastern Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus According to St. Matthew (1898)
  • An Eastern Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus According to St. John (1902)
  • The Culture of the Soul Among Western Nationals (1907))
  • The Spirit of the East Contrasted with the Spirit of the West (1905)
  • On Faith or Love of God (1897)
  • Tamil translation of Bhagavat Gheetha (1914)
  • Tirukkural (1919)
  • Shri Ramanatha Dharmasastra (lesson)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "HS Olcott, ‘Old Diary Leaves’, 4th series, Chapter Xii, ''Theosophist'' Vol XXII, October 1900, Madras 1901; p 2-3". Archive.org. 1901-12-31. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  2. ^ Sangam Webmaster. "Sachi Sri Kantha, "The Leading Characters in the Political Turmoil of Sinhalese-Muslim Riots of 1915", Sangam.org (on line)". Sangam.org. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  3. ^ "Parameshwara College, Jaffna (1921-1974)". Parameshwaracollege.googlepages.com. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  4. ^ "Ponnambalam Ramanathan, ''Riots and Martial Law in Ceylon, 1915,'' London, St. Martin's Press (1916), pp. 69-90. On line". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  5. ^ "Ponnambalam Ramanathan". Sangam.org. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  6. ^ "The Jaffna Royal Family". The Jaffna Royal Family. Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  7. ^ Jayawardena, Kumari (1995). The White Woman's Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-91105-4. 
  8. ^ http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130721/news/im-not-a-politician-i-only-wish-to-serve-my-suffering-people-53745.html
  • Vythilingam, M. The Life of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, 2 vols., Ramanathan Commemoration Society, (1971–1977).

External links[edit]