Tomb Palitha built for himself to spare family bother and expense

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Former UNP Deputy Minister Paltha Thewapperuma had no pretensions of being an educated intellectual nor any claim to a distinguished pedigree. He was a grassroots son of the soil, a man of raw impulse who exuded a natural honest-to-goodness rustic air, who never failed to call a spade a spade. A man of the people for the people whose political creed was to serve the people irrespective of race, religion, caste, and political creed.

He was born on May 3, 1960, and remained a born UNP member unto the last. Entering politics, he initially served a spell in local government. He entered Parliament in 2010 and in 2015 held a string of deputy ministerial posts in UNP’s Yahapalana Government. Alas, he too lost his Kalutara seat in the party’s complete route at the 2020 general elections.

Two years ago he told a YouTube interviewer, ‘My ancestral home has always been the United National Party. And I will never desert it for political privilege or ministerial power’. As for ‘Aragalayas’, he scornfully said, ‘My idea of staging ‘aragalayas,’ is not to stand on the streets and protest, holding placards. But to do whatever I can do to relieve the hardships of the people through personal effort.’

He wasn’t kidding.
Though an outspoken man who spoke straight from the heart, his actions were not limited to words.

As the Sunday Punch commented on July 3, 2016, Palitha—who had been appointed Deputy Minister for North Western Development and Cultural Affairs only two months before—charges into the Meegahathenna Primary school principal’s office, along with the parents and the children and his supporters, and incessantly demands the principal to admit the nine children. When the principal points out that he had received verbal instructions to delay the admissions, he insists, his voice rising with each passing moment that the children be admitted then and there. But to no avail.

PALITHA’S OPEN AIR MAUSOLEUM: With four bare-bodied warriors standing guard at each of the four corners, with two lions at the entrance and his concrete crypt at the centre; a large picture shows a cross-legged Thewapperuma seated behind overlooking his grave.

‘The Deputy Cultural Minister then rushes out, closely followed by his supporters. He enters an empty classroom, gets onto a table, removes his shirt, unbuckles his belt, ties the belt around his neck, attaches one corner of the shirt onto the belt, ties the other corner to the ceiling fan and, whist still standing on the table, attempts to commit a bizarre suicide by hanging. His supporters manage to bring him down and carry him out of the room when he suddenly collapses in a feint.’

‘He is rushed to the Nagoda hospital where his condition worsens and is immediately taken to a private hospital in Colombo and admitted to the ICU. Fortunately, he survives the attempted suicide.

The following week, on July 10, the Education Provincial Ministry found an alternative school within the same educational zone for the children.

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: The UNP’s former Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma

The year earlier, his 23-year-old eldest son had died after a brief illness. The fruits of victory at being returned to Parliament at the general elections held that same month, as a member of the ruling Yahapalana Government, lose their sweetness and he never survives the deep personal blow.

As he said in an interview two years ago, he had never recovered from that grievous loss. He said: ‘He passed away when he was only twenty-three. His death has been unbearable to me. When I engage in social service, it reminds me of him. When I look at my younger son, it reminds me of him. When I see food, it reminds me of him. In everything I do or see, it reminds me of him. It has left me devastated. It’s terribly unbearable and I find I’ll never be able to come to terms with my grief.’

Perhaps, it was this this sense of death, that made him plan out his own funeral and build his tomb. In a video released recently, standing before his open-air mausoleum built on his private land, he explains what led him to build it.

‘I have planned my funeral to the last detail to prevent being a burden to my family when I die. I have checked and found out, the ‘pansa-koolaya’ can be given before one dies. Not for me expensive coffins. I have built my own coffin. It’s a makeshift stretcher, like a ‘booru-andha’ All they have to do is to carry me aloft on it and bring me here to this site and lower it to my  6 feet by 9 feet long concrete crypt. . No box for me. Then close it with the slab I have prepared.

‘As they bring me here, there cannot be any crying. They should, instead, recite this ‘kavi’ which I composed myself by paraphrasing a popular song to suit my circumstance. It goes like this.’ He then recites a few lines which in English means, ‘Near the garden’s tank, I have built my own peaceful shelter, my small son: To share my solitude I will find my elder son in tomorrow’s morn.

DISTRAUGT: Palitha’s grieving mother

He then says: ’Recently, I got a foreboding of my death. Since I believe in rebirth and also believe the soul wanders around till it is reborn, I can relax here till I am reborn.’

But death came sooner than he had expected it to come. At a most unexpected hour. On that fateful Tuesday—April 16—he had gone to his 10-acre coconut land to manure the trees. It was a land he had bought with his private savings before contesting the provincial council elections in 2002. ‘I bought it with my own money,’ he recently declared in an interview. ‘No one bought it for me.’

The driver of the small lorry in which he went, described what happened that day. He said: ‘We went there and, after unloading the bags of manure, he asked me to take the lorry forward. As I did, he gave a loud scream. He was behind the lorry and when I went there, he was lying motionless on the ground. We quickly put him in the lorry, picked up his son and drove to the hospital. He didn’t utter a word during the trip.’

Palitha Thewapperuma had accidentally stepped on a live wire that had fallen from its post and lay hidden beneath the overgrowth. The magistrate who visited the scene, recorded a verdict of accidental death by electrocution. He was just 17 days short of his 64th birthday.

They came in their thousands to bid their last farewells, to pay their last respects in undying gratitude to the man, whose selfless service to them had asked nothing in return. Now he lay dead. As they filed past his coffin, many openly wept and asked, ‘now who is there for us, to whom can we go now’?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe came on Friday to pay his last respects to the man whose loyalty to the party had remained unwavering unto the last. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa came on Friday to pay homage to the man who had stubbornly refused to join his breakaway group. He sympathised with his wife and son and assured them, he considered it his duty to see their welfare. Even Mahinda Rajapaksa came to pay his respects to the man who had been harshly critical of the SLPP.

Not only did Palitha Thewarapperuma’s tragic death deeply touch the heartstrings of the nation, it also brought political friends and foes to cast aside their divisions and hail in one voice his selfless service to the people irrespective of political divides.

May he attain the bliss of Nirvana.


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