Renaming roads is quite a task. Historical, cultural, political, ancestral, paternal even racial issues have to be carefully considered. What one group proposes another group opposes. Tar brushes are used liberally to prove a point. Ours is a land like no other ! Thankfully !! Anyway let’s start with Duplication Road. Named, because it ‘duplicates’ a section of Galle Road by running parallel to it. It’s now R.A. de Mel Mawatha. However to the ‘Tuk Tuk’ drivers who rule the roads and ride over the rules, it’s still Duplicasen Paara. Never mind the Sinhalisation. R. A.de Mel was a Mayor of Colombo. Later, elected to Ceylon’s first Parliament and appointed Deputy Speaker, he was unseated on an election petition regarding impersonation. Shocking? But be consoled. That was Ceylon. Now we are Sri Lanka. Worse things happen. Like shooting a supporter of a rival party whilst he was decorating a stage for an election rally.
At one end of R.A. de Mel Mawatha was Dickman’s Road. Now it’s Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha. ( Wrong spelling. Should be ‘Peries’ ). Dr Lester was undoubtedly Lanka’s most renowned film Director and he lived on this road. Dickman on the other hand was a long standing resident of the area. Many, many years ago, even before Dr Lester decided to live here, he – Dickman, not Lester, donated part of his property to build this road. So, no Dickman. No road.
Now from Dickman’s Road – Oops ! Dr Lester James Peiris Mawatha turn left and drive along that stretch of Road you may recall as being Havelock Road. Now it’s not. It’s Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mawatha, to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of Lord Buddha. However to most, even Buddhists, it’s still ‘Havelock Road.’ Easy to write. Easy to remember.
Close by was Thimbirigasyaya Road. It is now Venerable Muruththetuwe Ananda Nahimi Mawatha ( Required – Large envelope. Large letter-head ) This Venerable Thero is the Chief Incumbent of the Abeyaramaya Temple. Also, the President of the Public Services United Nurses Union. Nurses are most pleased. Politically unbiased, he loyally safeguards their rights. Let’s now drive to what was Reid Avenue. Major H.L. Reid was the principal of Royal College when it was re-located to its present site in 1923. The college song was composed by him. The Royal- Trinity rugger match was initiated by him. Phillip Gunawardena after whom this road is named once lived in a house in Reid Avenue. His three sons were educated at Royal College. Famous father. Famous sons. So be it !
But not all roads were renamed to please family and friends. Brownrigg Road was so named after Robert Brownrigg who In 1815, as Governor of Ceylon annexed the Kandyan Kingdom and brought our entire country under the British yoke. In an ironical twist of fate this road is now named Keppetipola Mawatha. He was a warrior Dissawa from Uva who led a rebellion against the British forces and was subsequently executed for high treason. From here to Kanatte. The junction. Not the cemetery. That stretch of road from Kanatte Junction to Borella Junction was part of Baseline Road because it was the ‘baseline’ or reference point for British surveyors to draw their maps of Colombo’s road network. It is now appropriately named D.S .Senanayake Mawatha, after our first Prime Minister whose Colombo residence ‘Woodlands’ was on that road. Why was this house not declared a Heritage Site?
The road from Borella Junction to Dematagoda which was also called Baseline Road is now called Dr Danister de Silva Mawatha. In a doctor versus doctor contest, Dr Danister (WD) de Silva, defeated Dr R.B.Lenora to win the Borella Electorate in the 1960 General Elections. A five minute drive along Dr Danister de Silva Mawatha takes you to a junction. On the right is the Welikade Prison. Ignore it. At least for now. Turn left to what was Campbell Place named after Sir George William Campbell who circa 1866 was appointed as the first Chief Superintendent of the Ceylon Police Force. It is now Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha. He was one of the pioneers of Sinhala poetry. Remember that Sinhala nursery rhyme – Rosa Male Natuwe Katu? It was composed by Ananda Rajakaruna.
But there are more interesting roads that will make you wonder as you wander. That stretch of road between Horton Place and the Public Library is/ was/is named after Ananda Coomaraswamy. A world renowned geologist, mineralogist, philosopher, art historian and more. We are truly proud of him. On that road you will also see quite an impressive building with an oriental design, appropriately named ‘ Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Stadium’. Someone got a bright idea, erased ‘Ananda Coomaraswamy’ from the name board and substituted ‘Nelum Pokuna.’ There was quite a strong protest. ‘Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha’ reappeared.
We then had the puerile attempt to rename Bagatelle Road as Srimath Wijayananda Dahananayake Mawatha. That unassuming, witty, short time Prime Minister ‘Daha’, would have been the first to protest. He was a son of Galle, not Colombo. A few minutes drive from Bagatelle Road and we reach a road lined with massive trees , whose overarching branches provide a long, canopy of shade. This is Bauddhaloka Mawatha. Many years ago it was named Bullers Road after a one time Government Agent (circa 1840). On this road are the stately homes of men who matter, whose stateliness is emphasized by sentries. A landmark is the magnificent Chinese gifted, Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).
Also visible along this road is a harmonious religious co-existence. Opposite the BMICH is a life-size replica of the much revered Aukana Buddha. By the side of BMICH is the impressive Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour. Off Bauddaloka Mawatha near the BMICH was Longden Place, named after the 15th Governor of Ceylon (1877-1883). But there comes a time when remembering our colonial past is best left to historians. Hence Longden Place was renamed Malalasekera Mawatha. Prof G.P. Malalasekera was one of the country’s most famous academics, scholars and diplomats. His ‘Magnum Opus’ was the English –Sinhala dictionary. A two minute drive off Bauddhaloka Mawatha leads you to what was once Gregory’s Road. If there is a time to let only historians remember our colonial past there is also a time for us never forget our colonial past. It was Governor William Henry Gregory who in 1877 was responsible for building that most imposing, stately, iconic, landmark – the National Museum. But on July 16th 2013, Gregory’s Road was renamed Srimath R.G. Senanayake Mawatha. He was at one time Minister of Trade and Commerce. O Tempora O Mores !
In another display of cordial inter -religious harmony, Maradana Road has been divided into three sections – Kularatne Mawatha. Named after one of our country’s foremost Buddhist educationists who was Principal of Ananda College, founded Nalanda College and several other Buddhist schools. The next section is named after the weekly Catholic Magazine, first published in 1866 and is called Gnanartha Pradeepaya Road. The third section is Orabi Pasha Mawatha. An ardent Muslim reformist, he spearheaded a Muslim revivalist movement. It was due to his inspiration that Zahira College was established in August 1892.
Well, well, there’s very much more to write about our renamed roads. But it may result in all of us being driven round the bend. Can’t allow that to happen can we?