Sri Lankan National Hero … and Classicist!

Coat of arms of Sri Lanka.
Image via Wikipedia

I love when my spiders bring back things which are completely unexpected, in this case, the text of a speech given last year to mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of Marhoom Al Haj Dr Tuan Branudeen Jayah, whom I confess to have never heard of before, but is clearly a national hero in Sri Lanka. The bit of the oration which is of interest to us:


But, before getting to all that, let us first welcome the 20th century, which dawned when young Branudeen was only 10 years old, and well versed in the Holy Quran, Masha Allah, and very little more.

His first school was the Anglo Vernacular School Kurunegala which he attended only for a few months, as fortunately his father was transferred to Colombo. He was admitted in 1901 to SPG School, Kotahena, which I believe was the name given to St. Paul’s College in Kotahena. He was then eleven years old, and he entered what was called ‘the baby class’ which preceded the lower kindergarten and upper kindergarten after which came the first standard.
Multiple promotions

A boy too old for his class becomes a target for the mischievous. He was fortunate in having understanding school authorities who realized his predicament.

They were impressed by his intelligence. At the end of the year his father was gratified to learn that he had been given multiple promotions to enter the third standard in 1902. This was not the end of his triple jumping, as the very next year, due to his sheer brilliance, he was given a treble promotion from third standard to sixth standard, the equivalent of Year Seven. In 1903, he won a scholarship to enter St Thomas’ College, where Jayah passed the Cambridge Junior Examination in 1906 winning the J A C Mendis Junior Mathematical Prize, a highly commendable performance indeed.

He soon became one of the most brilliant classics pupils of Warden Stone, himself a first-rate classicist who, in his pre-Ceylon period of school-mastering at Bristol Grammar School, had produced a very scholarly edition of Sallust’s Catiline, and under Warden Stone’s watchful eyes, in 1907 he passed the Cambridge Senior Examination winning the Dr Ebell’s Latin prize, showing the shift of his studies towards specialization in the Classics, which was crowned with the annexation of the Christoffer Obeysekera’s first Classical prize. It was a remarkable record for a boy who began his formal studies in the Infants’ class in 1901 to pass the London Matriculation in 1908, completing a course of studies spanning eleven years of the general education course, with distinction in just seven years – a performance that rightly belongs to the realms of the near impossible all through grit, industry and brains.

Intellectual giant

Unfortunately, mere grit, industry and brains are not enough for someone to graduate. He needs money or educational support, which young Jayah did not have. He was compelled by circumstances to seek employment before completing his education and joined Dharmaraja College, Kandy, as an Assistant Teacher in 1910. In the same year, however, he was able to assume duties as Classics master at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa. It was while he was serving at Prince of Wales College that he passed the Intermediate Examination in Arts of the University of London in 1913 reading English, Greek, Latin, History and curiously enough, Mathematics.

This combination proved what an intellectual giant Jayah was turning out to be, as much as the combination with which he obtained his degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of London in 1917, which included Latin, Greek, History and Economics, demonstrating his extraordinary versatility of mind, and infinite capacity for acquisition of knowledge of all disciplines.

Branudeen’s specialization in the Classics brought its own reward. In May 1917, he was accepted as a teacher at Ananda College, the heart and core of the Sinhala Buddhist revival in Ceylon. He was chosen for his extensive knowledge of the Classics in the teaching of which he had few rivals. In due course he achieved fame as a Classics Scholar and teacher equalled by few, surpassed by none.

At Ananda he taught Greek, Latin and History in the Upper School. Although these were his specific subjects, he led his pupils effortlessly into other fields of knowledge in which he was equally at home.

This demonstrates the universality of his outlook and the role he cast for himself as a teacher to help in the development of the mind, not fill it with pre-conceived notions, as while being by nature very conservative in political ideology, he produced fiery radical leaders like Philip Gunawardena, father of the left revolution, and Dr N M Perera, who was called the ‘golden brain’.

Both attained Cabinet rank and notwithstanding ideological differences they never failed to express their high regard for Jayah as a teacher.

It was this erudite scholar of classics and wonderful teacher who was doing so well at Ananda, who was invited in 1921 by N M Abdul Cader, on behalf of the Maradana Mosque Committee, to accept the principalship of Zahira College, Colombo. Marhoom Tuan Branudeen Jayah, had by then realized that despite the great debt the Muslim Community owed to its ulemas, the Alims and Moulvis who defended Islam from inroads from the West by moulding the youthful minds of the community, it was necessary to strengthen general educational standards of the community.

Read the whole thing to get a more rounded picture of this very interesting man. An item from last year in the same newspaper provides some more details. I haven’t been able to track down his ‘scholarly edition’ of Sallust’s Catiline …


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