Dharmaraja History and the Role of Old Rajans
(This article first appeared in "Digital Pencil", Issue 1, 2009).
By Kamalanath Samarakoon
We read, write, talk, admire and sometime boast about our Alma Mater’s proud history. Young Rajans are inspired by reading our history. It is an undisputable fact that history paves the way to future endeavors. What allows us to talk about our history is what we often forget or do not care. It is the documented evidence and artifacts that reveal the history.
It may be startling news for you that we are losing our history. It is sad to say that the college did not have a formal method of collecting information which made our history. At least from 2002, we have a place to keep and preserve the collected records. That is Sir D.B. Jayathilake Memorial Dharmaraja College Archives.
The idea of a college museum came during the cen-tenary exhibition, to Mr. A.P. Gunarathna who managed to collect a reasonable amount of artifacts. Though Milton Senanayake building (Old Chemistry Lab) was officially allocated for the museum, it had no proper facilities to display or preserve artifacts and also was never used just as a museum. There is also a rumor that some of the artifacts were stolen after Mr. Gunarathne’s departure.
When Mr. S.M. Keeriratna assumed duties in 2000 as the present principal, the National Archives was very active in promoting school archives. This inspired the new principal and he entrusted the mammoth task of developing the college archives to 79/80 old boys’ group. The allocated building was completely renovated, given a face change and equipped with showcases spending total of 1.2 million rupees. This was ceremonially opened in 2002 (See http://archives.dharmaraja.net/Activities.html). In order to ensure uninterrupted custody of the archives, the Dharmaraja Archives Foundation was established in 2004 as an independent body appointed by the principal. The initial fund for refurbishment activities was raised with the donation given from Sir D.B. Jayathilake trust by the Public Trustee and remainder was donated by the old boys and also by the Colombo and Melbourne old boys’ unions (DAANA did not exist at the time).
During the last seven years we are trying our best to collect the historical information using various methods. Interviews, voice and video recording of senior old Rajans, collecting information through data collection forms and news paper advertisements are among few. Though collecting scattered past information is obviously challenging, it is disturbing news that collecting present information has also become a formidable task. This is mainly because we do not have a culture of keeping records unlike Christian schools. Though the Archives committee has been continuously striving, even with fullest support from the principal, it is still difficult to inculcate such a culture into the school.
What reveal the college history to us? It is ironic that the same Dharmaraja College struggling today without a formal record keeping culture, had a record of issuing fortnightly printed magazine (using a stone press called ‘Gal Acchuwa’) called ‘Telescope’ from 1902 to late 1930s possibly becoming the first school to do such a record keeping activity in Sri Lanka. We have 3 issues of Telescope preserved in the Archives. In addition, photo copies of the magazines issued from 1909 - 1914 were obtained from Mr. Dharmathilake and he has promised to donate the originals to us. These were originally found by Mr. Gamini Gunawardane (who is also a Patron of the college archives and who has proposed the concept of living museum for the college). He also found a collection of diaries of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott which were later donated to the Archives. According to some past teachers, a collection of the Telescope magazine was available in the principal’s record room. It was said that most of the records in that room were destroyed when that room was taken for some other purpose in late 60s or early 70s. We assume that the Telescopes also must have faced the same fate.
In addition, there was an annual magazine called Rajans issued during the same period which collected all the important information of each year. Amongst the services rendered to the college by the principal during that era - Mr. K.F. Billimoria, his habit of collecting information and recording them itself shows visionary thinking he was possessed with. There are few Rajans volumes available in the Archives. The recent volumes of Rajans Magazine on 50th, Buddha Jayanthi, 80th and 100th anniversaries provide most of the contemporary information of and around the anniversary years. The Telescope and Rajans are the two types of documents that mostly provide details of our history. In addition, a couple of Principal’s reports, sports meet and colors night souvenirs reveal glimpses of our great history. After extensive search in the National Archives, we found ‘Buddhist Theosophical Society’s folder which has a potion for Dharmaraja which might provide some information before 1900. I did not go through the document as the condition of it was so poor which prevented me from turning pages. In those pages, valuable information such as the names of the students who sat for London Matriculation exam, names of the teachers etc. are available. That document was sent for restoration and we have requested a copy of the folder and expecting to get it once the restoration is done.
The other main document type that reveals the history are the group photographs of the staff members and teams. Though they are not accompanied with any written documentation, we use them to start searching information by contacting the teachers and old Rajans in the photographs. It is happy to announce that the collection of the photos of the 1st XV rugby teams and the names of the players have recently been completed by Kumudu - one of our motivated committee members. It took almost one year to com-plete the task and information collection process which was like begging door to door, contacting one team member after the other finally delivered the goods.
In order to support the data collection and administra-tion, a complete web database system is recently deployed. The collected information can now be ac-cessed through the Archives Web Portal (http://dharmaraja.net). The information of the students from 1913 to 1997 (about 25,000) are now extracted from the admission book and entered into the data-base. Information of about 150 teachers is also in the database. All the data stored in the database are linked to records of students and teachers. Registered users can access information through seven web ap-plications. The users can upload their photos, personal information and achievements during and after school days. The private Wikipedia, display this information as a summary to create an encyclopedic structure of the college history (http://history.dharmaraja.net). In addition, registered users can write a narrative on any topic while making interlinks with other pages of the private Wikipedia.
At present, even though there are many events taking place in the college in a year, none of them are properly recorded. Particularly, the results of matches, sports events and other events, at least the names of the team members’ are not properly recorded. Infor-mation of educational achievements are not collected or recorded at all. There is no organized method to take group photographs.
Though we have a place and mechanisms to preserve information, collecting data is still a great challenge. We want YOUR help to collect YOUR information. We want your name to serve as a role model for future Rajans and we want to preserve your information for the future generations to read and inspire.
Please provide any information related to Dharmaraja that you have through the web applications in the web portal (http://dharmaraja.net) or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also please register in the database and update your personal information.
As collecting new information that is being generated in the school is challenging, the committee seriously believes that the college archives should have a ded-icated paid employee to collect information who can fill the missing gaps while collecting new information. He or she will follow year by year, case by case and person by person to collect information. Without having such a person inside the college with focused commitment only for collecting and preserving information, parts of the college history will be lost.
We are presently raising a fund which will provide a sufficient bank interest to pay a salary for an employee. Please consider to contribute for this noble activity. We seek your generous contributions. Any contribution big or small is welcome. The names of the donors of over Rs. 5000.00 (US$ 44) are permanently displayed inside the archives. The list of donations can be accessed through the web (http://archives.dharmaraja.net/ArchivesDB/donations_list.php) and all the payments are subjected to the Principal’s scrutiny. The accounts are audited and are made available to the donors.
This is the hour of need. We hope you will support this noble endeavor wholeheartedly.
May the Noble Triple Gem Bless You!