Lakshman Kadirgamar [1932 - 2005]
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Independence dawned for Sri Lanka then Ceylon on February 4th 1948. The union
jack was lowered and the national flag raised at the stroke of midnight. Even as the flag
fluttered proudly four young athletes carrying flaming torches entered the square and
ran up the steps of Independence hall. Together they lit the lamp of freedom. The
quartet comprised members of the four major communities of the Island. The sixteen
year old youth representing the Tamils was Lakshman Kadirgamar.
That instance may not have been the proudest moment in Lakshmans life as he was
destined to achieve glory in many spheres of life. But on that day as a new nation made
its tryst with destiny Kadirgamar played a role that he never ever played again. The
Tamils perceived themselves jubilantly then as an integral part of the Country.
Lakshman Kadirgamar personified the Tamil people in that ceremony. He Was Tamil
and he was Ceylonese (Sri Lankan). There was no conflict here. In later years this
harmony was ruined as the serpent of racism entered the garden of Eden. Kadirgamar
himself was to be caught up later in this dilemma of ethnicity and nationality and pay
the supreme price.
The man who carried the torch of independence as a representative of the Tamils is a
man whom the self - imposed sole representatives of the Tamil people and their
minions love to hate. So intense is their hatred that the name Kadirgamar itself is
featured in tiger and pro - tiger discourse as a word for traitor. Ettappan who betrayed
Kattabhomman to the British, Kakkai Vanniyan who betrayed Sankiliyan to the
Portugese were words used to depict traitors earlier. In recent times the assassinated
Jaffna mayor Duraiappa's name was used. Nowadays they use Kadirgamar. Now that
they have killed him another "thurogi" has to be discovered and vilified.
The name Kadirgamar is unique to Sri Lankan Tamils. Lord Muruga or Skanda in
Kathirgamam or Kataragama is the most sacred place of Hindu worship in Sri Lanka.
Names such as Kadirgamar, Kathirgamanathan, Kathirgamathamby,
kathirgamasegaram etc are derived from the deity of Kathirgamam. Names like these
are seldom found in Tamil Nadu. It is indeed interesting that a name like Kadirgamar
should be borne by some members of the Christian faith in Sri Lanka. This is because
some Tamils continued to retain their Tamil "Hinduistic" names even after conversion.
Others took on English and American names as surnames.
Lakshman Kadirgamar belonged to a Protestant Christian family of Jaffna Tamil Vellala
origin. The founder of this christianised Kadirgamar family was a native of Puloly West
called Karthigeyan Kadirgamar. His staunch Hindu family renovated and was involved
in managing the Point Pedro Sivan temple at one time. Karthigeyans first cousin
Eliyathamby during colonial times was an Adhigar in Batticaloa. It is said that Adhigar
road in Batticaloa was named after him.
Karthigeyan took on the name Christian after baptism but retained the Kadirgamar
name. He served as the first Ceylonese Registrar - General of the Supreme Court. His
wife was the daughter of Rev. Francis Ashbury of Vaddukkoddai. The Ashbury family
was one of the earliest converts to Protestant Christianity in Jaffna. The Kadirgamar
family through the Ashbury Connection, as once asserted by Bishop Kulendran of the
CSI Church can claim unbroken continuity from the first protestant converts with the
founding of the American mission in the early decades of the 19th century.
Karthigeyan's eldest son Samuel Jebaratnam Christian (SJC) Kadirgamar was the man
who established the Kadirgamar family in Colombo. He studied at St. Thomas's College
travelling to Mutwal from Jaffna by boat. One of his dormitory mates was a laad called
Wilson. Both found themselves quarrelling eternally. The STC Warden at the time
resolved it in typical English public school fashion. Both were asked to don boxing
gloves and slog it out in the ring with the warden as referee. At the end of it both
became firm friends for life. Both became proctors and set up the law firm Kadirgamar
and Wilson in Colombo.
SJC Kadirgamar married Edith Rosemand Parimalam Mather the daughter of Edward
Mather of Manipay. The Mathers apparently were engaged in commerce and traded in
imported products. Two of Lakshmans uncles were christian ministers. The Rev. JWA
Kadirgamar on his paternal side and Rev. BCD Mather on his maternal side were
pastors. This Christian heritage is something which cannot be obliterated despite
Lakshmans latter day Theosophy of the Olcott variety.
Incidently the assassin or assassins using the Thalayasingham residence to snipe at
Kadirgamar had carried a cricket bag with the name of Sri Lankan cricketer Russel
Arnold written on it. Russel Arnold himself is a nephew of Lakshman being the
grandson of BCD Mather. While talking of cricketers it may be recalled that the
Thalayasinghams too were excellent cricketers at Royal. Lakshman called "Thalaya"
captained the team in 1966 when the unbeaten Thomian team was led by Anura
Tennekoon nicknamed "Ataya". Lakshmans brothers Sahadevan opened batting for
Royal in 1968 and Jayantha opened bowling in 1969 - 70.
Lakshman Kadirgamar born on April 12th 1932 the youngest of six children. The eldest
SJC (jnr) or Sam Kadirgamar was the well known Queens Counsel. Selvanathan or
Bhai Kadirgamar a major in the army later emigrated to the USA. Rajan was the former
Sri Lankan Navy commander. Thirumalan or Mana Kadirgamar was a planter who died
early meeting with a motor accident in Dickoya. With Lakshmans death none of the
brothers are now among the living. The only sibling alive is his eldest sister Eeswari
who married Dr. AMD Richards.
While all his brothers were educated at Royal only Lakshman went to Trinity
presumably due to the war where he studied from 1942 to 1950. He won many awards
while at Trinity including the Dr Andreas Nell Memorial Prize for Ceylon History- Napier
Clavering Prize for English and the Ryde Gold Medal for the best all round student in
1950. In sports he got cricket colours, was Cricket Captain -1950. Rugby Colours-1949.
Athletics Colours-1949 and Trinity Lion 1950. He came first at Public Schools, and
broke the record in the 110m hurdles (15.7 seconds) in 1949. He won the Duncan
White Challenge Cup-1949 De Soysa Challenge Cup-1949. was Senior Prefect in 1949
He entered the Peradeniya University and read for an LLB degree there. While an
undergrad he won the All Ceylon 110m hurdles title in 1951 and 1952. All India inter
University 110m hurdles title and set records at Ahamedabad in 1951 and Allahabad in
1952. He was also Member of the cricket teams of the University of Ceylon and later
Balliol College, University of Oxford becoming an Oxford Blue in Cricket
After getting his Bachelors degree in law Kadirgamar passed the Advocates final first in
order of merit. He then served as secretary to Justice ENA Gratiaen. He later went to
England becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple and entering Balliol College Oxford.
He made history in Oxford getting elected as President of the Oxford Union. Four Sri
Lankans have been Presidents. They are Kadirgamar (Trinity) Athulathmudali (Royal)
Noordeen (STC) and Jeyasundharie Wilson (Methodist). Jeya Wilson the only woman
President from Sri Lanka is a niece of the late Prof. AJ Wilson.
In 1958 during the communal violence Lakshman Kadirgamar when interviewed by the
media said that SWRD Bandaranaike was only a "politician" and not a " statesman"
because of the violence. The next year Lakshman was instrumental in getting a portrait
of SWRD hung up. The tradition is that any Union President who becomes head of
state gets a bust. Since SWRD was only treasurer of the union he got a portrait. SWRD
however was assassinated a few weeks before he was to visit Oxford for the ceremony.
In his absence it was left to Lakshman to do the honours.
Many years later Lakshman Kadirgamar's portrait was unveiled at the Oxford Union on
March 18, 2005 by Rt. Hon Lord Chris Patten of Barnes CH, Chancellor of the
University of Oxford. In the 183-year history of the Oxford Union he is the fifteenth office
bearer whose bust or portrait is displayed in the Union building. Kadirgamar was also
made Hon. Master of the Inner Temple-1995 -the second Asian to be made so after
former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
While at Balliol Kadirgamar married an artist Angela Malik of French - Pakistani
descent. He has two children. The daughter is Ajitha Perera now resident in Boston.
She was a well - known media personality in Sri Lanka during the eighties and nineties.
Her son Keira Perera is Kadirgamars only grandson. His son an architecht is in Sri
Lanka. He was named Sriraghavan Jebaratnam Christian but is generally known as
In later years Kadirgamar divorced his first wife. He married again in 1996. He married
Suganthi Wijeysuriya a lawyer and senior partner at the law firm FJ and G de Saram.
Their wedding was a private one with Chandrika Kumaratunga and Gamani Corea
being the attesting witnesses.
After returning to Sri Lanka in the sixties from Oxford Lakshman Kadirgamar went about
building a lucrative law practice. At the same time he began exploring prospects of a
political career too. It is interesting to note that Kadirgamar at that time was
contemplating a political future as an elected MP from the North. He was ardently
wooed by both the Federal Party and Tamil Congress. Though he never joined those
parties or participated in actively in politics Kadirgamar interacted closely with Tamil
politicians like SJV Chelvanayagam, GG Ponnambalam, M. Tiruchelvam, EMV
Naganathan. M. Balasundaram etc.
He also made several visits to Jaffna during this time. One objective was to rediscover
his roots. Another was to scout around for a prospective electorate. Though his own
family was now Colombo based there were several others of the extended Kadirgamar
family in Jaffna. He was also a keen student of history and very much interested in that
of the Jafna kingdom. Though his pro - tiger critics chide him as an ignoramus in the
history and traditions of Jaffna people who have heard him speak on the subject are
amazed at his knowledge and insight. There are few with Kadirgamars knowledge of
Jaffna history in the tiger camp.
During one of his Jaffna trips in the sixties Kadirgamar addressed the Jaffna YMCA on
an interessting theme. His lecture was titled "From PLato to Sirimavo". When excerpts
of that lecture were carried in newspapers Mrs. Bandaranaike was reportedly annoyed.
Years later she herself telephoned Lakshman inviting him to join her daughter
President Chandrika Kumaratunga cabinet of which the grand old lady was Prime
Minister. She added her voice then to numerous others urging Kadirgamar to enter
active politics. What led Kadirgamar to give up ideas of entering politics in the sixties
and then do so thirty years later in the nineties?
[To be Continued Next Week - Aug 28, 2005]