Monday, Feb. 23, 1948

Lion for Lion

For 2,000 years the Lion flag of Kandy waved defiantly over the Indian Ocean island of Ceylon. Under it the Sinhalese Buddhist kings struggled and connived with invading princes and rival island chieftains for uncertain sovereignty over their huge (25,000 sq. mi.) island of blue mountains, green jungles and yellow sands. Then Ceylon became a British Crown colony, and in 1815 the Lion of Kandy was hauled down to make room for another, more famous member of his species.

Last week, the British Lion was still in Ceylon, but only as a guest. In a Buddhist ceremony in Kandy as old as the island's history, golden-robed chieftains and 100 richly caparisoned elephants (decked in ruby necklaces and white pantaloons) paraded the streets in dressy dignity to celebrate a new independence. Jasmine-decked maidens and bare-breasted Sinhalese youths with bells on their ankles whirled in ancient dances.

Then, before Britain's Royal Duke & Duchess of Gloucester (who had traveled from London for the occasion) and 150,000 of Ceylon's six million-odd Eurasians, Indians, Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors and Malays, rugged, 6 ft., 63-year-old Prime Minister Don Stephen ("Jungle John") Senanayake hauled the old Lion flag to its place atop the Temple of the Tooth.* By a peaceful act of Britain's Parliament, Ceylon—like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Eire, India and Pakistan—had become a sovereign dominion of the British Commonwealth.

* Kandy's temple is one of Buddhism's holiest shrines. It is supposed to house a tooth of the Gautama Buddha, brought to Ceylon for safekeeping in the 4th Century. The Portuguese claim to have burned this relic in the market place at Goa in the 16th Century, and since then successive teeth have been stolen from the temple by other invaders. But pious Buddhists still believe that the enshrined relic, a chunk of ivory 20 times the size of an ordinary tooth, is the original.