Restitution of Sri Lankan artifacts
Apropos my article on the above subject published in The Island mid last month, I regret that I have made an error when I referred to the King’s Crown which was stolen from the museum and melted was that of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha which was returned by the British government and the loss occurred at the National Museum, [Colombo].
Dr. P. H. D. H de Silva, who was the Director of the National Museum ,has sent a note to a common friend in Kandy after reading my article which the latter brought to my attention. I thought I would reproduce it rather than paraphrase it.
“Bandu had made a small error and that was about the Kandyan King’s Crown. What was burgled was the Crown of King Rajasimha II from the Kandy National Museum way back during Deraniyagala’s administration. They came through the roof and the Police recovered several small bars of gold and a few pieces of the Crown. During Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time, Nissanka Wijeyeratne, who was Secretary to our Ministry, arranged for a copper replica to be made and some of the gold from the recovered bars was overlaid on the replica. The rest he got me to hand over to the Central Bank. This was opened to the public by Governor-Genera William Gopallawa at the Kandy Museum which you see today.
“The Crown of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha is at the Colombo National Museum. Long ago, a lunatic had broken the glass and put the Crown on his head. He was quickly taken in by Police who arrived promptly and a dent in the Crown is the only evidence of the incident.”
I wrote that part of the story from recollections of a newspaper report which I read a long time back. I had mixed up the two events referred to by Dr. de Silva. I thank Dr. de Silva for correcting me and apologise to him for mentioning that the loss was at the Colombo National Museum which was under his able administration for a long time. I also apologise to the readers for this mix-up on my part.
Whether the incident happened in Colombo or Kandy, it does not take away from my argument that we as a nation do not seem to care much about even valuable patrimony like the Crown of one of our heroic rulers. It is unpardonable that King Rajasinha II’s Crown was spirited away in the very City where the King held Court a few centuries ago. Rajasinha II was a ruler who fought relentlessly to chase the Portuguese and the Dutch out of this country and left his indelible mark on the history of the country in many ways.
Sometime back I wrote about the pathetic state of the place where the King was cremated. I also wrote that the first century B.C. King Dutugemunu built a monument on the site of cremation of his adversary Elara and the place was honoured till the time of the early British rule on that King’s order. I may ask if today we have become a nation which forgets its heroes? What is then the point in trying to regain our artefacts which are under protective care overseas?
Not many months back, the Archaeological Museum of Kotte lost one of the few Kotte period sword sticks. The person who brought it to my attention has stated that up to now there has been no news about this loss. He laments that an article he had sent a newspaper (not The Island) has remained unpublished. He has made a sketch of the sword. He has come to the conclusion that writing articles like that seem to be considered “unpatriotic” and “traitorous” these days! I do not think so as far as one is ready to bravely expose wrongdoings and pitfalls.
Bandu de Silva