JDCSI: Reminiscent reflections of an 11-year old
The author of this feature has focused himself on one event and its context and attempted to recreate that scenario of that time in the spirit of an 11-year old lad.
October 10, 1947 was a historic day in Jaffna, more particularly at Vaddukoddai, the hub of missionary inspired educational and religious activity that was already almost over 130 years old. This was a very special day when the Rt. Rev Dr Sabapathy Kulendran was enthroned as the Bishop in Jaffna of the newly launched Church of South India and ours was its Jaffna Diocese. It was the day the popular acronym JDCSI, so dear to us took form among us in all its historic legitimacy and inspirational hope intrinsic to our faith in our Redeemer Jesus Christ. It was also a hallmark of progress.
We, not only as the Christian community from 21 parishes scattered around the peninsula and the islands but also the entire people of Jaffna among whom we had so much goodwill, acceptance and rapport were privileged to have as our first spiritual head a man of the stature of Bishop Kulendran. Humble, down to earth he was a scholar who towered amidst the entire community and gave us great pride. He was a virtual saint whose spirituality was akin to the shepherd who loved his entire flock. At no time was he prejudiced even against a sheep, black, white or brown, with designs that went against the interests of the flock. He loved them all.
On the firmament of politics that was tearing the country apart, he was a prophet. Without being political, unmoved even in circumstances that would have raised the rage of the strongest and most stable of people, Bishop Kulendran was identified as having the firm belief that federalism was the best solution for Sri Lanka's multiracial community.
I was an 11-year old boy at that time, last year in the Lower School at Jaffna College and looking forward to the First Year in the Upper School in four months. I had begun to show signs of a difficult lad to control unless people who had a say in my life showed me lots of affection, love and leadership qualities. I had already picked up those folks who would be that and they were far too few. This was quite a worry to me, even at the age of eleven, bare-footed and shorts-clad and having to walk to school a mile and a half each direction and on Sundays too to church. Imagine walking that distance in the early afternoon heat to Vaddukoddai from Sithankerny for Sunday school! My grand children will hardly believe it.
What was special about October 10, 1947 to me was the large piece of butter cake that was served at the garden party felicitating this great occasion and the thunderous crackers made out of foot-long bamboo stems arranged to go off at the intervals of ten seconds and there were a hundred of them I guess, arranged on the gym poles that use to be there in the college premises near the banyan tree but right opposite to the main entrance of the Cathedral Church across the road. The chaps who made these crackers came from the village of Thavadi also famous for tobacco cultivation and cigar rolling.
The crackers with a deafening boom began as Bishop Kulendran in his maroon glory and the symbolic shepherd's crook in hand emerged from the church at the rear end of a grand, dignified train of priests clad in their well-pressed cassocks and orange stoles worn around their necks. It was so impressive to an 11-year old, I was aghast and astonished at the splendour of the occasion. It also appeared to me at that time, the entire Jaffna humanity was at Vaddukoddai and yet there was plenty of cake to go around and crackers to roar into regular explosive booms. What more does an 11-year old want?
Even at that age, there were already my favourite priest and pothagar ammah, the Rev A C Thambirajah and Arul aunty virtually second parents to my brother and I, a relationship that remained so precious and has passed to the third generation now. There were also the much-endeared Rev Singanayagam and Thevy aunty. Later came into my life the Rev G D Thomas and Aunty Thomas, the Rev Asirwatham and Gnani aunty, the Rev B C D Mather and Navamani aunty, the Rev K S Jeyasingam and Margery aunty, the Rev J R Arnold and Samathanam aunty, the Rev D P and aunty Eliyathamby, the Rev G M Kanagaratnam and Daisy aunty, the Rev K J Mills and Kirubai aunty, the Rev S P and Vijayaratnam aunty and the Rev J J Ratnarajah and Kanagamalar acca and of course the Christa Seva Ashram's, the ever so warm, amiable Periannai the Rev Selvaratnam, Chinnannai the Rev Yesusagayam and Sam annai.
There were our lay leaders all giants of our times like Aria aunty - Miss Hudson Paramasamy head of Uduvil Girls College, IPT – Thurairatnam head of Union College and his beloved Rose acca a truly model couple for the community, Sevadurai head of Uduppiddy Boys College, Lee aunty, head of Uduppiddy Girls College, Miss Mathiaparanam of Pandatheruppu Girls College, SVA – Alagaratnam head of Memorial College and a harmoniumist, P W Ariaratnam of Jaffna College, Saravanamuthu, head of Drieberg College, E J Jeyarajah, manager of the hospitals and Morning Star all efficiency, style and pleasantness, Dr Chacko and later Dr Buell, head of the Green Memorial Hospital and Drs Chelliah, Thambar and Mathew, BKS – Somasunderam teacher Jaffna College and Kathaprasangam specialist, Lyman Kulathungam for several years the editor of The Morning Star the oldest bilingual weekly of Asia, K A Selliah principal Jaffna College lovingly in respect Boss Selliah, preachers like Kathiravelu pirasangiar, Carpenter Canagasingam, Preacher Canagasingam, the indefatigable Sinnathamy who was such an asset to families with eligible sons and daughters for marriage, and Pasumalai graduate Kanagaratnam who combined preaching with a great deal of social consciousness.
We also had some great teachers from Kerala, India who served our community as if it was their own. There were the much-loved K V George and Professor George of Jaffna College and K T John of Uduppiddy Boys College who served as principal and many others.
How can we ever forget them especially those of my generation? They all belonged to the rich 1947 vintage and what better galaxy than theirs to hail the founding flows of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India? Will there ever be men and women of their stature and leadership in our community who were so committed and dedicated? They made us feel that the entire diocese was one family.
They were also leaders in the community in their own right. They brought into the church a richness that greatly enhanced the role of the diocese in the community that was predominantly Hindu and in very friendly and warm relationships with each other. In the Bible-based kathaprasangams – sung-sermons - rendered by BKS the accompanying artistes were Brahmins, experts in violin, ghatam and mrithangam and one was even a High Priest of a temple in the neighbourhood of Vaddukoddai.
There were the Rev John Bicknell fans of Jaffna College alumni from the Hindu Community who were in good, friendly relations with the Christian community like the Supreme Court Justice P Sriskandarajah, Handy Perinpanayagam, a unique Jaffna Socialist and a leader of the Youth Congress and later principal of Kokuvil Hindu College, T Vernayagamoorthy of Jaffna College, Jaffna's top lawyer S R Kanaganayagam, Orator Subramaniam of Skandavarodhaya College and scores of others from Vaddukoddai, Sithankerny, Araly, Moolai, Chulipuram and other villages further away all faithful alumni of Jaffna College and friends of the JDCSI who cherished their friendship with Bishop Kulendran. Here was a man who stood on ground reality and such was his humility that those who loved him had him among them; they didn't have to look at an elevated place for him even though his spirituality and scholarship were awe-inspiring.
The Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India had 21 parishes at that time. The major ones where full-fledged pastors served were Tellipallai, where the Mission Post was established 1816, Vaddukoddai, Uduvil, Uduppiddy, Manipay, Navaly, Chavakacheri, Atchuvely, Karainagar, Pandatheruppu, and Delft. Catechists were in charge of such parishes as Chankanai, Anaicottai, Pungudutivu, Nunavil, Earlali South, Earlalai North, Usan, Kudathanai-Varany the home village of Bishop Kulendran, Sandilipay and Kankesanturai. In all, twenty-one of them, the pioneering churches of the JDCSI, large, small and tiny yet leaders of our time. The Colombo Church and the Nainathivu outpost came later.
In a reminiscence of this nature that recollects the event of October 1947, sixty years later written without any documents at hand but just memory, many names and places are likely to be missed. This feature will be kept edited from time to time as and when information appropriate to the spirit of this witness is received and or remembered. This should be reckoned as a tribute of a 11-year old given in the spirit of that age grateful for the kind of impact JDCSI has made in his life spiritually, in social relationships and above all as a fountain of historical significance to the community.
The JDCSI has progressed from the Mission Outpost at Tellipallai established one hundred and ninety one years ago and flowed through historic events in the fields of faith, education, health and community service to the South Indian United Church and finally sixty years ago to the historic Church of South India of global significance. We can only progress from there and spread our wings out into the world more and more. We must always be conscious that there cannot be a flow backwards. That would be reaction. We have to move forward and that is progress.
(Victor Karunairajan has served on the Jaffna Diocesan Council for four years and has been closely associated with the JDCSI from his youthful years. He worked for the American Ceylon Mission Press for a year and during that time and later gave invaluable help to the Morning Star. While in England he worked with the Church Information Office of the National Assembly of the Church of England at Church House, Westminster, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Anglican Union worldwide.)