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Ponnambalam Ramanathan

Colombo 1 (Fort), Sri Lanka.


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Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, KCMG, KC was a Solicitor-General and Tamil political leader in Sri Lanka.

Early life

His father was Gate Mudaliyar Arunachalam Ponnambalam and mother was Sellachchi Ammaiyar, both belonging to the Vellalar caste. He was the elder brother of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who was another famous Sri Lankan Tamil leader. Ramanathan was educated at the Colombo Academy (Royal College, Colombo), and enrolled as an Advocate from 1873 to 1886.

Political career

Ramanathan was nominated as an unofficial Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon from 1879 to 1892 representing the Tamil-speaking people. He positioned himself as a representative of all communities in the Island. About 1890, Ramanathan had several conferences with the American Theosophist Col. Henry Steel Olcott about the feasibility of founding a Hindu-Buddhist College for the benefit of the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus.[1] He was then appointed by the Governor of Ceylon as Solicitor-General in 1892 and functioned as such until 1906, and acted as Attorney-General on several occasions during this period.

Ramanthan was steeped in Hindu and Christian mysticism, and became active in the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon. He was closely associated with Col. Henry Olcott, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, in promoting Buddhist education in schools. He was also responsible for the Government declaring Vesak a public holiday.

Ramanathan was nominated by the Government to represent Ceylon as a delegate to the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria in 1897 at London. He was described by Lord Salisbury as the most accomplished speaker in the British Empire and the Queen awarded him a gold medal on the occasion.

Ramanathan was elected representing the educated Ceylonese to the Legislative Council of Ceylon by a sweeping majority in 1911. It was an historic event, as he was the very first candidate to be elected to the Legislature of the country by an all-Ceylon electorate, prior to the introduction of universal franchise in 1931. He was re-elected to this seat in the Legislative Council in 1916 and held it until 1921.

He was the founder of Uduvil Ramanathan Girls College and Parameshwara College Parameshwara College of Jaffna which later became the University of Jaffna.

Riots of 1915

During the widespread and prolonged Sinhalese-Muslim Riots of 1915 (from May 28—June 5, 1915) the British Governor came down with a heavy hand on the Sinhalese community. The Governor declared Martial Law (June 2—August 30, 1915) and ordered the Police and the Army to arrest and imprison several prominent Sinhalese leaders. Among those imprisoned were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, Dr. Cassius Pereira, E. T. De Silva, F.R. Dias Bandaranaike, H. Amarasuriya, A.H. Molamure and several others. It was reported that other leaders were shot without trial. On the request of Anagarika Dharmapala, Ramanathan came to the rescue of the Sinhalese community and fought hard and long against the tyranny of the British Government.

D. S. Senanayake, the first Sri Lankan prime minister, called Ramanathan ‘the greatest Ceylonese of all times’, while Sir Baron Jayatilaka, the Head of the Cabinet in the State Council, referred to him as ‘the greatest man Ceylon has produced during the past 50 years.’ K.G.Dilana Sandaruwan.


Ponnambalam Ramanathan married Miss Sellachchi Ammal, daughter of Mudaliyar E. Nannithamby of Manipay. Later, when his first wife died, he was remarried to Leelawathy Ramanathan, née R. L. Harrison in 1906. He was considered a very stubborn man of western ideals, and this identity was changed by Mr Ilakanam Ramaswami Pillai, the Tamil teacher for the Tanjavur Raja, whom he considered his guru. After his meeting with Mr Ramaswami Pillai he gave up liquor, smoking and became a vegetarian. He became a Spiritual man and wrote great books on Hinduism, some translated by his wife Mrs Leelawaty Ramanathan). In return for Mr Ramaswami Pillai's help, he decided to take his great grand son Mr S Natesan to Ceylon, and gave him a job as a teacher in Parameswara College, Jaffna which was founded by him. (Mr S Natesan was a Lawyer by profession, but followed Mr Ponnambalam Ramanathan to become a political leader in Ceylon). He also got his only daughter (Through Leelawathy Ramanathan) Sivagamisundhari married to him. His direct descendants end with Sivagamisundhari. Because Mr S Natesan and Sivagamisundhari did not have any children, they adopted Mr S Natesan's niece Devi (Padmini).