Friday, May. 19, 1961

Banda Avenged

Two years ago, Ceylon's Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike bowed respectfully before a Buddhist monk among the crowd of petitioners gathered on his veranda, in return got a blast of four bullets in his body. He clung to life long enough to utter a last request. "I appeal to all concerned to show compassion to this man and not to try and wreak vengeance on him," he said, and died.

Disregarding "Banda's" dying wish, a Ceylon judge last week sentenced Tal-duwe Somarama, 45, to death. But the trial had proved that Somarama had been only the triggerman; the instigator and chief plotter had been Mapitigama Buddharakitha, 41, high priest of the Kelaniya temple outside Colombo.

High Priest Buddharakitha was clearly a man who was more interested in power than religion. In 1956, when Bandaranaike was running for election, Buddharakitha organized the United Monks' Front, which went scuttling off to the hustings to recommend Banda and his Freedom Party, on the grounds that Banda promised to give Buddhism its "rightful place" in Ceylon and to make Sinhala, the tongue spoken by most Ceylonese Buddhists, the official language of the land.

Banda won the election and became Prime Minister. In token of his gratitude, he took his Cabinet to Buddharakitha's temple for the customary postinaugural rites. He also gave the post of Minister of Health to Buddharakitha's intimate friend, the handsome widow Vimala Wijewardene, then 47. But when the high priest demanded a $6,000,000 government contract for the construction of a sugar factory and government concessions for a shipping company he planned to set up, Banda balked. Buddharakitha, who had reveled in his position as kingmaker, felt that he had been publicly humiliated. He decided to put Banda out of the way.

Casting about for a triggerman, he happened on Talduwe Somarama, who was both a monk and a practicing ophthalmologist. As a Buddhist, Somarama was exasperated at the Prime Minister's delay in fulfilling his campaign promises to Buddhism. As an ophthalmologist, he was anxious to have his contract at the State Indigenous Hospital renewed, and therefore needed Buddharakitha's good offices, for the widow Wijewardene had put the high priest on the hospital's appointment board. Plainly, Somarama was Buddharakitha's man.

In a confession that he later disavowed.

Assassin Somarama straightforwardly declared: "I have done this thing to a man who did me no wrong—for the sake of my religion, my language and my race." High Priest Buddharakitha truculently declared that he had been railroaded. The judge unhesitatingly sentenced both Somarama and Buddharakitha to hang.