Book in honour of Maithri Panagoda | Sunday Observer

Book in honour of Maithri Panagoda

19 March, 2023

Publication - Pursing a vision of Justice, Essays in Honour of Maithri Panagoda – a Biography
Editor - Senaka Weerarathna
Publisher - Vijitha Yapa Publications
Reviewed by - Advocate, Dr. Namel Weeramuni

“Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief – resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgement you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer” – Abraham Lincoln – Notes for lecture, circa July 1, 1850

Inherently Maithri Panagoda fits to this characteristic without any reservation. His behaviour and actions are beyond doubt. Everything about him is evident in this book titled “Pursuing a Vision of Justice.”

The book, edited by Senaka Weerarathna, is composed in 15 Parts and 30 Chapters which are written as Essays in Honour of Maithri Panagoda. Its Forward has been written by Dr. Palitha Kohona titling ‘Maithri, a friend, a colleague and outstanding patriot’. Essays have been penned by a few Australian Supreme Court Judges, legal luminaries such as Queens Counsels, and a few other reputed Australian Lawyers, and in particular, Prof. Laskhman Marasinghe writing about World Court Justice late C. G. Weeramanthry referring to the camaraderie he had with Maithri and indeed Prof. Dayantha Laksiri Mendis, now a world figure in law being at the very outset an Assistant Legal Draftsman in the Legal Draftsmen Department of then Ceylon.

Wealth of information supplied by Barbara Flick, Eric Wilson, Brian Hancock, Erick Wilson, of the Western Aboriginal Legal Services (WALS) relating to Maithri’s contribution to the Aboriginal Community in Dubbo was overwhelming to say the least. Equally valuable were the insights provided by Hannan Indari and Rafqa Touma of the law firm of Carrol and O’Dea, which is one of the oldest (140 years) and prestigious law firms in Sydney. Maithri is a senior partner of this firm.

Recognition in Australia

An important thing to note is that Australia acknowledged Maithri’s service to his adopted country by awarding him “Member of the Order of Australia” in 1916” which becomes very significant for him to live in the country as a respected and valued personage, VIP or public figure.

The trajectory of Maithri Panagoda’s life is simply amazing. He has confounded his most ardent admirers and even critics by the dizzy heights that he has reached in Australia. Whoever would have thought that a ‘game kolla’ (village lad) from Sri Lanka would be hobnobbing with the elite of Australia, one day. None except, perhaps, Maithri. He is a quiet achiever with steely determination.

One of his great strengths is his calm disposition and humility at all times, a balm to others. It is disarming and sweeping. He has not lost his head. His vision is multifaceted, among which is childhood ideal of being of service to others in the community. His succession is a reflection of the relentless pursuit and realisation of these noble goals.”

Maithri writes beautifully about his early home life, his likes and what he did as a youngster along with his siblings. Father was a doctor, mother, a teacher and later a vice principal of the village school. They were famously rich. They were highly regarded and well respected by the villagers. His and brother’s madness about owning a push bicycle and how they achieved was fantastic.

He says his mother was very protective and the father very strict. It is important for me to quote an incident which displays the integrity of Maithri and his father’s attitude being strict. Father “had a commanding presence” and children “feared and respected him.” He used the cane on Maithri once or twice. Punishment was usual.

At one instance, Maithri “got caught doing something unacceptable.” His father “got quite angry.” Father “looked everywhere for the cane, but could not find it. Maithri “ran out to the garden and brought a stick from a bush and handed it over” to the father. “He laughed and threw it away. Later, Maithri learnt that his “mother was responsible for the disappearance of the cane.”

Going through the whole book I come across seven remarkable, yet very relevant and significant, chapters. They, mostly for my review, are noteworthy. Chapters 4, 5, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 become preferential.

Ananda College

Chapter 5 deals with the Oration Speech. Maithri had been invited for this purpose by the Old Boys’ Union of Ananda College. This had been after 40 years since he had been a school boy. This was a tremendous honour for Maithri. The oration Speech was on Viva Ananda – Early History of Ananda College. The architect of founding this school was Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, the distinguished American Theosophist and President of the World Theosophical Society which was founded jointly with Helena Blavatsky in New York in 1875.

It is stated that the, “The founding of Ananda College in 1886 was the high point of the Buddhist revival, which stretched throughout the 19th century - a period of extraordinary progress and unexpected coincidences. Blatant discrimination against Buddhist (or, more correctly, non-Christians) and efforts to deny their children modern education in an environment free of proselytisation pressures, were to a great extent defeated. Ananda, and the many schools it inspired, under a formidable band of Principals and teachers changed the face of education over the ensuing decades providing opportunities for the exempted masses to compete”.

Initially what was important when it was commenced was the location the school came to be. It was established on November 1, 1886 at a private house with five rooms and with 37 students, at 61, Maliban street, Pettah, Colombo 2. It was named at the time as the Buddhist English School. In my opinion, reading Chapter 5 of the book is necessary to get an idea about Ananda College’s development, and its famous Principals throughout. Today, Ananda College is considered vast and the most important along with its well over 400 other schools in the country that cater to Buddhist education. Today, it has a student population over 6,000 at the present premises in Maradana.

Chapter 21 has been written late Sunil de Silva, our former Attorney General, and later NSW Crown Prosecutor, detailing that Maithri is multi-faceted, he being contributing “to the welfare of the Sri Lankan expatriate community based mainly in Sydney and the public honours he won for his notable community services, including the Order of Australia (AM) on the Queen’s Birthday. Maithri Panagoda is also one of the Sri Lankan born Australians bestowed with Australia’s Highest Award Order for Citizens and Professionals, no mean achievement.

Chapters 22 and 23 state chiefly about Maithri’s love for lyricism and song writing. Journalist and author Sachitra Mahendra pinpoints to Maithri’s talent for it in Chapter 22 so expressively. Dr. Ubeyasiri Wijeyananda Wickrama speaks about Maithri’s commitment and evolution of Sinhala Music - Its trends towards “Perceptive Arts” mode. (Subhavita Gita) in Chapter 23.

Chapter 24 is about late Judge C. G. Weeramanthry, as has been discussed earlier.

So significant is Chapter 25, penned by Dr. J. M. Swaminathan, regarding Prof. T. Nadaraja – Foundation Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Ceylon.