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Home >Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Right to Self Determination - Tamil Eelam > Kandyan Sinhalese Call for Three Federal states in 1928 and 1948 - Lakshman Kiriella


Kandyan Sinhalese Called for Three Federal states in 1928 and 1948
Lakshman Kiriella,
5 January 2003 Sri Lanka Observer

After years of colonial rule, when Sri Lanka was on the way to constitutional reform, the Donoughmore Commission was set up by the British Government in 1928 and several representations were made to the Donoughmore Commission. The most liberal and far-sighted memorandum was sent to the Commissioners by the Kandyan leaders at that time.

They pointed out to the Commissioners that for nearly hundreds of years before the coming of the Portuguese, Sri Lanka was divided into three Kingdoms of Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti and if the British were to depart at a particular time, they should create three self-government areas comprising:

1. The Northern and Eastern provinces in which the Tamils predominate

2. The Kandyan provinces

3. The Southern and Western provinces peopled mainly by low-country Sinhalese.


Each of these three communities would thus be granted a government of its own, the Kandyans would preserve their national identity and would no longer be in danger of being sacrificed to the pressure from the South and North. For purposes affecting the welfare of the entire island, these three governments would be united in a federal government, thus ensuring that no one section would be in a position to dominate the others.

It is our duty to mention at this moment, the names of the delegates who represented the Kandyan community at that time. They were: J.H. Meedeniya Adigar (Leader), B.B. Nugawela Dissawa, J.C. Ratwatte Dissawa, T.B. Panabokka, J.A. Halangoda, A. Godamunne, A.W. Mediwaka, U.B. Dolapihilla, N.B. Galagoda, L.B. Girihagama, W. Talgodapitiya, T.B.L. Moonemalle, G.E. Madawala, F.D. Dissanayake, K.B. Beddewala, Roland Tennekoon, A.T.W. Marambe, Dr. T.B. Kobbekaduwa, P.B. Dolaphilla and W. Gopallawa.

They suggested that a federal form of government should be formed in Sri Lanka with the centre holding such important issues like foreign policy, defence and other key issues that they feel should be kept with the centre. This point of view was strongly urged by the Kandyan leaders, but the Commissioners rejected the memorandum of the Kandyan leaders.

Just before independence in 1948, the Soulbury Commission came to Sri Lanka. The Kandyan leaders made a similar claim of the creation of three self-governing Federal Regional Councils, but this request too was turned down. In retrospect, if this was done and if devolution was granted at the point of independence, like in India, we would not face the present unfortunate situation in our country.

The Commissioners held "The arguments of the Kandyan leaders were compelling and historically accurate". However due to pressure from Western Educated Colombo leaders who did not want to share power the Commissioners rejected the memorandum of the Kandyan leaders.


The 1947-1948 period was the best hour for devolution as there was extreme cordiality between all communities in Sri Lanka and a strong mediator in Britain.

The representatives to the Soulbury Commission were: M.B. Panabokke, B.H. Aluwihare, P. Dolapihilla, H.K. Keerthiratne, V.C. Udalagama, H. Ratwatte, Halangoda, H.W. Mediwake, A.E. Illukkumbura, J.A. Dhanapala, G.C. Leelaratne, U.B. Kulatunga, H.B. Kirimetiyawa, Rajakaruna Vedamahathmaya, H. Sunderasekera.

Though the Kandyan demand for self-government has died down, the Tamil demand persisted, resulting in the unfortunate situation in our country.

If power was devolved like in India at the point of independence the situation in this country would have been totally different. The Kandyan leaders were called backward and living in the past, but in retrospect if the suggestions of the Kandyan leaders were accepted the unfortunate situation in this country would have been totally avoided. They were the first leaders in Sri Lanka to speak of devolution openly, keeping in mind the historical kingdoms that existed before the coming of the colonial rulers. They were futuristic and far ahead of their time in thinking.

Indian experience

After years of colonial rule, in 1947, when India was granted independence, a new constitution was drafted. The patriotic Indian rulers who were poised to be rulers of that country after independence were conscious of the historic diversity that existed before the coming of the British. They realised that once the British departed, unless power was shared by the centre with periphery, the old feuds, difference between the old kingdoms would once again surface. New Indian states were created more or less out of the ancient kingdoms and devolved a great deal of autonomy to these states. The centre keeping foreign affairs and defence brought policy and other key issues.

For example, though the national language of India is Hindi, the respective states were granted the liberty to use their own languages in the day-to-day affairs of the respective states. Imagine what would be the situation if Indian rulers tried to force Hindi on all the states of the Indian Union. The situation would have been chaotic. So today after 50 years of Indian independence we have a situation where persons from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengalore proud to call themselves Indian first with a strong sense of Indian identity. The cultural, religious and language rights are safeguarded in the respective states. At the same time they consider themselves a part of a great Indian nation.

Rulers at the point of independence were generous enough to share power with the respective states rather than attempt to keep all the power selfishly in Delhi. If this was not done, there would have been friction within a short time after independence which would have led to the disintegration of the Indian Union.

Sri Lankan experience

When the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka in 1505, the situation in Ceylon was very similar to the situation in India when the British arrived there. Just like India, in Sri Lanka too there were several kingdoms. Dr. (Mrs.) Lorna Devaraja who is a well-known historian, in her book "The Kandyan Kingdom", mentions that when the Portuguese first came to Sri Lanka in the beginning of the 16th century there were three kingdoms of varying politics and economic importance in the island. Foremost was the kingdom of Kotte occupying the west and the south west of the island, whose king claimed a nominal overlordship over the whole of Sri Lanka.

A separate dynasty was ruling in Kandy having broken away from the authority of the Kotte King. The founder of this dynasty was, according to tradition, Senasammata Vikramabahu who ruled from C. 1474-1311. Ever since the middle of the thirteenth century there had also been an independent Tamil king in Jaffna. This view was supported by all leading historians.

So in Sri Lanka like in India there were basically three kingdoms when the Portuguese came. The Mahawamsa confirms this position by stating that from ancient times, Sri Lanka was divided into three kingdoms Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti. Three treaties were signed by the respective rulers of these kingdoms with the foreign invaders. There was the Nallur convention by which King Sangili ceded the kingdom of Jaffna to the Portuguese.

Then there was a Malwana convention whereby the low country were ceded to the Dutch. Then finally, the convention by which the Kandyan territory was ceded to the British. Further proof of the existence of the three kingdoms is again a system of laws prevailing in the three regions.

In Jaffna the Thesa Walamai Law operates. In the low country the Roman Dutch Law operates and in the Kandyan areas Kandyan Law operates. So it is well established that in Sri Lanka, there were three kingdoms for a very long period of time confirmed by the three treaties and also the three personal laws applicable to the respective areas. It is on this basis that the Kandyan leaders made their observations in 1928 and 1947.

If devolution of power was done at independence Sri Lanka would have been spared the present crisis.

Genuine devolution is 50 years late.


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