ऊँ at the Colombo World War Cemetery!
Every city has some hidden gems that normal tourists are unaware of. Every city also has a fabulous history whose all aspects are not known to us. What you need to do is to travel like a local and let yourself soak in the atmosphere. Many a times, while travelling to some secluded, not so popular places, you might not find tourists around you, at least not as much as you would find at popular tourist destinations. But that would be a good chance to know about the insights of culture and history of a place.
That’s what happened to us in Colombo. Sri Lanka or erstwhile Ceylon shares a lot with India, in terms of culture and history. Britishers, after controlling whole of India, also occupied Ceylon in early 19th century. They controlled the whole Indian sub-continent as a single territory. And as history says, all the occupied territories of the Britishers fought for them in the Second World War against Germany. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were stationed in Sri Lanka. They were also joined by 7th Australian Division and 1st African Division.
A journey to the colonial destinations of Sri Lanka brought us to the Commonwealth War Graves at Colombo-Jawatta. This cemetery is in honour of those soldiers who laid there lives while fighting for the British and allied forces in the Second World War. Commonwealth War Graves cemetery is right besides (or inside the campus of) Jawatta Cemetery, which is a Muslim cemetery belonging to the Trustees of the Jawatta Mosque. Jawatta cemetery is the biggest one with 625 headstones of war soldiers, laid on a one and a half acre plot of land. Its peaceful inside. The cemetery is maintained by National Botanical Gardens Department.
The entrance to the cemetery incorporates the Memorial Tablets commemorating over 300 men who died while serving in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), whose graves either could not be found or, if found, could neither be permanently maintained nor (for religious or other reasons) moved to cemeteries where their maintenance for all time would be assured.
What we found most interesting that the Liveramentu Cremation Memorial also stands within this cemetery and commemorates over 150 men of the Hindu faith who died while serving in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and who were accorded the last rite required by their religion – committal to fire. So it was very surprising for us to find ऊँ (Om) and ऊँ भगवते नमः (Om Bhagvate Namah) inscribed on the grave stones inside the cemetery. A first such instance witnessed by me.
As per information by Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in addition there is also a memorial commemorating 28 Italian prisoners of war who died during 1939-45 and who are buried in Sri Lanka, stands within this cemetery. There is also a section dedicated to the Muslim soldiers from middle-east and African countries.
There is another Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Colombo at Borella. It contains War Graves (including those of a German soldier, a German merchant seaman, a German interned civilian and an Austrian nursing sister); and a War Cross is erected. There are now over 60, 1914-1918 and nearly 300, 1939-1945 Commonwealth war casualties commemorated in this site. 4 casualties of the 1939-1945 war are unidentified.
As history says, there was an air raid by Japan on Colombo on Easter Sunday (5th April) of 1942. Few days later there was an attack on Trincomalee too. All these lives were lost in these attacks and few other were killed when there ships were sunk. Trincomalee and Kandy also have such cemeteries. Family members of these war soldiers from across the world come occasionally to pay there homage to them.
Commonwealth War Graves is located 1.5 kilometres from the centre of the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Torrington Avenue in the direction of Jaawatte. The war graves plot is in the rear left corner of the municipal cemetery.
The opening hours of this cemetery are 07:00 – 16:00 every day. There is no resident caretaker so the cemetery cannot be accessed outside of these hours. Actually, when we reached there, we too had to wait for the caretaker to come with the keys and open the gate as it was locked and there was no other tourist.
Srilankan capital Colombo has an international airport and closest Indian Airport Trivandrum Airport in Kerala has non stop one hour flight to Colombo operated by Sri Lankan. The return journey between Trivandrum Airport and Colombo Airport hardly costs 16,000 Rs. There are also flights from Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai to Colombo.