27 May, 2022


Murugeysen Tiruchelvam: A Great Hindu Leader

By Ram Balasubramaniyam

Ram Balasubramaniyam

Ram Balasubramaniyam

The 39th Death Anniversary of Senator M Tiruchelvam, QC, a former Cabinet Minister and Solicitor-General of Ceylon.

The Hindus of Sri Lanka suffered colonialism longer than any other Hindu society. After 450 years of Christian rule, the Hindus became victims of a vicious ethnic conflict. Many Hindus perished due to an ethnic schism contrived by the Christians on both sides of the divide.

One should not ignore the Hindus who shone brightly in the darkness. The former Cabinet Minister Murugeysen Tiruchelvam QC was a selfless Hindu leader. He sacrificed much for the greater good of the Hindus and the country.

Tiruchelvam was born in 1907 in Jaffna and moved to British Malaya at the age of three months. His father Mr. Vishwanathan Murugeysen was the Post Master of the Kuala Lumpur Telegraph Officer. After the Great War ended in 1918, Murugeysen sent his two elder sons Tiruchelvam and Rajendra to St. Thomas College in Ceylon.

Senator M Tiruchelvam QC

Senator M Tiruchelvam QC

Murugeysen’s decision to send his sons was prompted by the son of one of his friends – SJV Chelvanayakam. Chelvanayakam’s father Mr. JV Velupillai was a friend of Murugeysen. Chelvanayakam, who later became a King’s Counsel and a political leader, was then a young man of promise. He was an old Thomian who was pursuing a legal career in Colombo. S. Thomas was better than any institution in Malaya. St. Thomas College had an exalted reputation as the Eton of the East.

Tiruchelvam and his brother Rajendra excelled at S. Thomas. They both entered the University College in Colombo, where they received degrees from the University of London. Tiruchelvam took two BAs in History and Law.

He joined the government’s legal service in the 1930s. He soon rose through the ranks as a district magistrate and a crown counsel.

In 1947, Tiruchelvam served as Sir Alan Rose’s (Legal Secretary under the Donoughmore Constitution and later Chief Justice) junior in drafting the Soulbury Constitution. Rose accepted the junior’s prompting on the need for minority protection.

Tiruchelvam’s Hindu consciousness was apparent when Ceylon got independence in 1948. The newly independent country was discussing a national flag. The Hindu leaders favoured a flag with the Nandi image. The Nandi is the sacred bull of Lord Shiva. It was also the symbol of the Jaffna Kingdom. This proposal was vetoed in favour the Lion Flag.

According to Prof. AJ Wilson, Tiruchelvam was defiant. “On Independence Day, 4 February 1948, Tiruchelvam boldly had the Nandi flag flying in his car, not paying attention to the consequence that could visit him. As one of the crown’s most skilled lawyers, he did not seek to conceal his nationalism for petty gain or rapid promotion.”

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered politics in 1960 after a stellar career as a government legal officer. He had been named a Queens Counsel, the highest honour that a lawyer could receive in the Commonwealth. Having reached the pinnacle of his profession, he set his sights on contributing to the greater good of the country as a politician.

Mr. Tiruchelvam became the chief advisor and principal strategist of the founder of the Federal Party- SJV Chelvanayakam, QC. Chelvanayakam, who was eight years senior to Mr. Tiruchelvam, had played a leading role in shaping Mr. Tiruchelvam’s education career. He was the guide and mentor to Mr. Tiruchelvam’s foray into politics.

His early years were shaped by civil disobedience. In 1961, a mass satyagraha was staged by the Federal Party to protest against the Sinhala Only Act. The SLFP government jailed Mr. Tiruchelvam and more than 30 other leaders of the Federal Party in Panagoda for over six months.

Today, the mass imprisonment of peaceful politicians would be condemned. But things were different in 1961. This wanton act of oppression was ignored. In 1965, the UNP and Federal Party entered into a coalition pact, after the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact. The press baron Esmond Wickremesinghe was the mediator between the two parties.

Mr. Tiruchelvam entered the Senate and was named in Dudley Senanayake’s UNP-led Cabinet as the Federal Party nominee. As the Minister of Local Government, Mr. Tiruchelvam played a leading role in administrative reforms. He was instrumental in the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act and the creation of the Jaffna University. The move to create Jaffna University was a giant leap in widening educational opportunities.

In September 1968, Tiruchelvam resigned due to a dispute over a Hindu shrine. The UNP-led coalition had already bitterly disappointed the Federal Party by failing to pass the District Councils Act.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Prime Minister refusal to declare Fort Frederick in Trincomalee as a sacred area for the Hindus. Fort Frederick is the area in the town that contains the Tirukoneswaran temple. This temple is sited at the scene of one of the major battles between Rama and Ravana in the Ramayana. It is an ancient shrine that honours Lord Shiva and has been called the Kailash of the South of the Indian Subcontinent. The temple was built by the Chola dynasty around 1000AD.

A group of prominent Hindus wrote to the Prime Minister and Minister Tiruchelvam requesting Fort Frederick to be made a sacred area for the Hindus. Fort Frederick in Trincomalee a sacred site and the Prime Minister told Tiruchelvam to take necessary action.

Tiruchelvam, a devout Hindu, was directed by the Prime Minister to appoint a committee to look into the question. The appointment of the committee was gazetted on August 27, 1968 with the aim of “Declaration of Fort Frederick of Trincomalee, a Sacred Area”. Tiruchelvam appointed his Deputy Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa (who later became President) to the Committee.

Two days later, a Buddhist priest named Mangalle Dharmakirti Sri Damasgasare Sri Sumedhankara Nayaka Thera of the Trincomalee district complained to the PM. The Buddhist monk claimed that an “ancient place of Buddhist worship” would “get into the hands of those who are neither Sinhalese nor Buddhists”. The PM was an indecisive and insecure man. He succumbed to the threats of the Buddhists chauvinists. He immediately asked Tiruchelvam to suspend the committee.

Tiruchelvam was shocked by the PM’s somersault. He resigned from the Cabinet in November 1968, effectively ending the UNP- Federal Party Coaliton. Senator Tiruchelvam said that the PM’s volte face “brought to naught the unanimous wish of all Hindu religious bodies”.

His last years saw worsening communal relations in the country. Tiruchelvam was outraged by the 1972 constitution, which established a unitary state and gave Buddhism the foremost. The minority protection was removed from the constitution.

Despite the dire situation, Mr. Tiruchelvam was resolutely in favour of a united and plural Sri Lanka. He was opposed to the 1976 Vadukkodai resolution that demanded a separate state of Tamil Eelam. He advised his mentor Chelvanayakam against it, but it was in vain.

On the night of November 23rd 1976, Tiruchelvam breathed his last. His death was mourned by the Hindus of the island, as well as the rest of the country. He will remembered for his courage, intellect and patriotism.

*Ram Balasubramaniyam, Attorney-at-Law served as the Private Secretary to Senator M Tiruchelvam when he was Minister of Local Government from 1965 to 1968. Mr. Balasubramaniyam is the Editor of Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy (published by Vijitha Yapa in 2007).

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Latest comments

  • 9

    “It is an ancient shrine that honours Lord Shiva and has been called the Kailash of the South of the Indian Subcontinent. The temple was built by the Chola dynasty around 1000AD”

    The Temple Koneswaram was in existence well before 1000 AD, it was only rebuilt by Chola Kingdom from first BC/

  • 7

    How could Koneswaram be claimed as an ancient place of Buddhist Worship?
    This Hindu shrine was there long before the Buddhist influence!

    • 5


      Whoever claimed Koneswaram as a Buddhist shrine?

      Now I am not sure who is mad, the Buddhist who claimed that it was a Buddhist shrine or the Hindu who says that Buddhists are claiming it a Buddhist shrine.

      Buddhists woeship Hindu gods and in this spirit Buddhists go on pilgrimage to Koneswaran. Alternatively the Hindus condider Budda as one of their own in the tradition of Ahimsa.

      There is absolutely no religious animocity between Hindus and Buddhists. The conflict is based on ethnicity and language. Plese note that the writer of this article says “Many Hindus perished due to an ethnic schism contrived by the Christians on both sides of the divide.”

      If the Hindus desire it to be declared as a sacred Hindu area I raise both hands.


      • 4


        “Whoever claimed Koneswaram as a Buddhist shrine?”

        Many claimed Koneswaram used to be a Buddhist Vihare. Of all the foremost proponent of this claim was non other than our own old codger Bandu de Silva who is noted for rewriting history. However I like him very much.

        Please read excerpts of his typing below:

        Trinco temples underArakan Bhikku
        by Bandu de Silva

        Controversy surrounds the origins of the temples at Trincomalee where today a modern Hindu Kovil, popularly called Koneswaram has been set up. Though a tradition is quoted in support of the antiquity of the modern Hindu temple dating to the time of a mythical ruler named Kulakoddayan, after the Portuguese Captain General Azavedo destroyed the old temple complex and his successor Constantine de Sa removed the material from the destroyed temples to build a fortalice overlooking the bay, nothing remained there except the Bodhi tree where occasionally offerings were made by different people to their respective deities.

        This Bodhi tree like the Bodhi tree at Killiveddi in Trincomalee district (Sansoni Commission Report) and in the Jaffna peninsula (Guruge), was destroyed between 1956 and 1964. The observations by Alexander Alexander, the first British writer (1805) who was a gunner in the Trincomalee garrison in his two volume book, makes no mention of temples in his time but a small church and people performing some rites from time to time at a spot close to the sea and a young man being ordained which is obviously a reference to an ordination of a Buddhist monk (samanera). He also saw a temple nearby where the occupants looked very austere and on the walls of whose gloomy looking building were paintings of crocodiles (Makara designs?).

        The accounts of the temples given by Fernao de Queyroz, the 17th century Portuguese chronicler based on records left by the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier, who had visited the place and the fathers of the order of Francis and others, which are the first available European observations on the temples, religious practices of the place and about those who were in possession of the temples, make it abundantly clear that the place destroyed by Azavedo and de Sa was a temple complex that was under the chief Buddhist monk (Mahaterunnanse) of Arakan (Rakkhanga-desa in Sinhalese texts) and was administered on the spot by another monk (Terunnanse) of lesser standing and his Ganzes (Ganinnanses). The latter were samaneras or monks in training. Queyroz makes the observation that it would take about 20 years before one could reach the status of a Terunnnanse. Another description gives a post-Portuguese origin to the word Ganinnanse in that they were not fully ordained and wore white robes to evade persecution by the Portuguese after the latter prohibited Buddhist monks and teachers visiting territories under their control. Another explanation is that Ganinnanses were laymen who remained in (white) robes in order to claim temple property which became hereditary in the family. (Tradition recorded in the Kandyan perod; also see by E. R. Sarachchandra).

        Trincomalee-Arakan connection

        The Buddhist connection between Arakan and Sri Lanka from around the 14th century onwards has been the subject of several scholarly studies by Sir D. B. Jayatileke using the Sinhalese text Curnika (British Library and Colombo Museum), Dr. P. E. Fernando (University Review, 1959 using the same sources) and Dr. Lodewijk Wagenaar, Director of Hague Archives, (RAS Journal, vol. XLVIII) and by the present writer (RAS Academic Sessions 2006). My efforts were directed to the evidence furnished by Queyroz which the other three writers had missed in their studies and which has been selectively used by Tamil scholars (e.g. S. Pathmanathan) suppressing the major part of Queyroz’s evidence which is not supportive of the Tamil tradition.

        The known Arakan connection commenced with the founding of Maruk-U in 1433 as the last capital of Arakan “when the Golden Age of Arakan Theravada Buddhism saw the import of many copies of Tripitaka which were placed around the image of Mahamuni”. A replica of the Sacred Tooth Relic from Sri Lanka was also placed at Andaw Stupa during the reign of Min-Bin (1531-71). According to the Mahavamsa the link with Arakan was maintained even during the time of Vimaladharmasurya I (1592-1604) who, reversing the process after the Portuguese onslaught on Buddhism, successfully sent envoys to Arakan to invite bhikkus to come to the island to celebrate the much needed Upasampada and bring over Ven. Nandicakka and other monks. Vimaladharmasuriya II also sent a successful mission to Arakan (1693) and invited Ven. Santana to come over. The Colombo Museum Curnika Pota and the British Museum Rakkhangasasana Curnikava and Mahavamsa give some information about the three missions made to Arakan for this purpose. King Kirthi Sri Rajasimha like Parakramabahu VI of Kotte turned to Siam after this source dried up due to political turmoil.

        An explanation for the connection of Trincomalee with Arakan, to which Queyroz refers for the first time, is not forthcoming from other sources. Queyroz mentions that the state (of Trincomalee) and the maritime areas including the surroundings of the temples (pagode) was subject to Mahaterunnanse of Arakan and the temples were administered by the Ganzes of the “Sect of Budum” who were subject to him; who also received the produce of lands at “Tambalagama and Gantale”, while a Vanea shared the administration of the interior. He states further that the chief of the Ganzes who was a Terunnanse, a man of around 40 years, was converted by Francis Xavier during his visit to Trincomalee. The events described by Queyroz fall between the historical space between 1533, around the time Francis Xavier could have visited Trincomalee and 1623/4 when Constantine de Sa built the fortalice there using the stone work of demolished temples.

        The power of the “Ganzes of the sect of Budum” over the Vanniya is demonstrated by Queyroz’s reference to the fact that when he became a convert to Christianity he was stoned to death by the people of the former.







        As usual this is also a long-winded typing. The trouble with him is he never gets to the point.

        “If the Hindus desire it to be declared as a sacred Hindu area I raise both hands.”

        Make sure you tuck your sarong properly before you raise both hands especially if you are in front of women and children.

      • 4


        “There is absolutely no religious animocity between Hindus and Buddhists. The conflict is based on ethnicity and language.”

        If what you type is right then why does the state continue to create conflict?

        Could you clarify the following schedule of the constitution:


        9. The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

        • 0

          Aiyo Native, you seem to be climbing down the ladder. I never expected to be dragged into this silly point. I don’t think even Prabakaran would have borne any gdudge over this kind of traditional stuff. No minority member would have placed this along with “Sinhala Only”. But with so much anti Sinhala BUDDHIST venom fed into the hearts of the minority in recent years, a campaign of which you are virulent champion, there seems to be a swell of hatred over this para in the Constitution.

          You can campaign against inclusion of a similar para in the next Constitution and see for yourself how painful it is going to be for the patient. You don’t care I know.

          Many democratic,liberal, secular Western countris do still retain residues of their historical religiosity. Words like Bible, God are common in official functions. Just ponder over this:

          “The membership of the House of Lords is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 bishops in the established Church of England.[6] Of the Lords Temporal, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. However, they also include some hereditary peers.[7] ” -Wikipedia


          • 3


            I do not expect you to understand secularism. I am one who has no religious faith.

            Please refer to secularism.org.uk and learn what secularism really means.

            “You can campaign against inclusion of a similar para in the next Constitution and see for yourself how painful it is going to be for the patient. You don’t care I know.”

            Religion should be a private matter. Its up to the individuals to protect what he/she believes is his/her religion.

            The constitution as it is gives bureaucracy, crooked politician and the corrupt legal establishment the powers to misinterpret, enforce, misuse religion to advance their individual/collective agenda. Their own agenda do not help protect religion as we know it instead it protect corrupt practices within the religious community.

            SWRD Banda was assassinated by saffron clad killers not because he failed to protect Buddhism but because Banda refused to authorise corrupt business deal.

            A combination of religion, language, politics, dishonesty,.. .. make a lethal cocktail.Therefore we must make sure country goes back to secularism, which is good for religions, good for people and good for the country.

            If you believe in what you copied from Wikipedia please stay wherever you are and be loyal to the country, Queen and lords.

            Why does it make you loopy when inequality/disparity/injustice/irrationality/ignorance/…… is mentioned in our comments?

            “You don’t care I know.”

            Don’t you think you have come to symbolize double standards and hypocrisy?

            • 0

              You understand secularism , not a wee bit about social behavior.

              Clinical surgery causes a lot of blood to flow. Rivers of it when the cancer is in the body politic.

              Native,I am consistent in one thing. The day I observe Tamil speaking people presently living outside North and East voluntarily moving towards North East I will actively support for a separate political unit for the Tamils. I wish to see Wingeshwaran and Native Vedda educate the Tamil school children of the vicious, genocidal nature of the Sinhala Buddhists to trigger this process.


              • 2


                “Clinical surgery causes a lot of blood to flow. Rivers of it when the cancer is in the body politic.”

                You are still living in the early part of 19th century. I suggest you update your knowledge of bloodless surgery which is practiced increasingly in the medical field. The technology, technic and skills have moved on whereas you are permanently stuck in the past.

                FMwand Ferromagnetic Surgical System and other surgical instruments have improved the quality of surgery, reduced blood flow, etc.

                If your outlook of this world is limited to 19th century world view nothing what we write here can convince you that the world is not flat or the Americans have landed men on moon and safely returned them to earth.

                With your constipated ideas and mindset please stop judging the people of this is island. They deserve far better than what is given to them by parochial bigots like you. You cannot and will not see beyond your nose therefore let them see the future for themselves. If you really care about the people of this island do them a favour, please reserve a place in one of those MR bunker and live there happily ever after.

                ” I wish to see Wingeshwaran and Native Vedda educate the Tamil school children of the vicious, genocidal nature of the Sinhala Buddhists to trigger this process.”

                You should unlearn the Mahawamsa myth before preaching to the unborn.

  • 0

    Pl.see the Line….

  • 1

    Pl.see the Line….

    Two days later, a Buddhist Priest named Mangalle Dharmakirti Sri Damasgasare Sri Sumedhaiankava Nayaka Thero of the Trincomalee District complained to the PM. The Buddhist monk claimed that an Ancient place of Buddhist worship……

    Plato responded to that claim! Nothing to do with Buddhist-Hindu Ethos and CO-existence.
    You are right when you say that the conflict is based on ethnicity and Language.
    I take up the position that the Monk Mahanama laid the foundation in the Mahavamsa for the conflict.
    But,frankly Soma this conflict is resolvable if not for the extremists on both sides who are throwing the spanner in the works!

  • 0

    “After 450 years of Christian rule, the Hindus became victims of a vicious ethnic conflict. Many Hindus perished due to an ethnic schism contrived by the Christians on both sides of the divide.”

    “After the Great War ended in 1918, Murugeysen sent his two elder sons Tiruchelvam and Rajendra to St. Thomas College in Ceylon.”

    Hindus are happy to enter the Christian schools to get the best education.

  • 0


    There seems to be a mix-up! THE 9.54AM IS FROM ME TO YOU.

  • 1


    The majority of students at STC-Mt.-Lavinia were Buddhists and Hindus to this date.The school was founded in 1851 and if a count was taken Christians would have been a Minority,right along contrary to popular belief!

    • 0

      Plato maybe you are not a Thomian.

      Even in the late 60’s to the 70’s it was predominantly christian.

      One just had to see the numbers who went to Chapel (twice a week) versus those who remained back, the Buddhists/Hindus/Muslims.

      At the start of the school in the 1800 you had to be christian and later changed to first preference to christians, specially Anglicans

  • 0

    Colombo Telegraph

    Comments 9.29 am and 9.54 am are not mine.


  • 0

    Mr Ram Balasubramaniyam,

    In my schooling days at Wesley College Colombo 1956 to 1964, I have seen the name of Mr M Tiruchelvam in an honours and/or position held in the Wesley College hostel amongst a long list of names on a board on the wall of the stair-way landing to the student and teachers dormitories.

    My father too studied at WCC during Rev/Principal Henry Highfields’s days and it was due to this friendship that Mr MT was a family friend and peace maker to my parents. I recall my father saying that it was during this period at WCC that Mr SJV Chelvanayagam was a teacher who wore the Gandhi Cap. It was probably during this period that I suspect Mr SJVC and MT too made contact.

    In passing his son Thiruneelakandan Tiruchelvam (TT) known as Neelan to most, was a class-mate with me at the RPS from 1949 to 1954 and my last contact with him and his wife was in May 1986 when I accompanied the corpse of a college from the UAE. In Dec 86 I was able meet with his wife as he was heavily engaged with the then TULF leader, Mr R Sampanthan in the adjoining room for whom he had to give highest priority at that time.

    Please let me know as to why there is no mention of Mr. MT’s schooling at Wesley College Colombo?

  • 0


    Unusual pseudonym!
    Not that it matters Plato had three generations of Thomians,commencing 1900.
    I must hasten to add that ,I do not say this as a snob.
    I could assure that the NO:of Buddhists @ STC were numerically higher than the NO:of Christians even at the turn of Independence. The NO:of Hindus,by virtue of their population in the country,may have been less than the Christians who came from both Communities.

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