That the small sandy Peninsula of Jaffna situated in a remote corner of the Island of Ceylon should enjoy the privilege of having one of the pioneer institutions of higher Western Learning in the East can only be accounted for by the inscrutable ways of providence.So wrote Mr. J.V Chelliah in his “A century of English Education in Ceylon.”
Emerson Tenenant, the erudite Colonial Secretary who visited Batticotta Seminary in 1848 wrote “….in the course of instruction and in the success of the system of communicating it, the collegiate institution of Batticotta is entitled to rank with many European Universities”.
Modern education in Jaffna begins with the founding of the Batticotta Seminary in 1823 by the American Ceylon Mission. The Batticotta Seminary soon evolved into a centre for higher education and laid the foundations for the advancement of education in the peninsula. Since its founding in 1823 by the American missionaries, Jaffna College and the predecessor the Batticotta Seminary contributed immensely for the educational advancement cultural development and economic growth of Jaffna. Jaffna College has produced eminent scholars, academics, Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Civil Service Administrators, Business leaders as well as two bishops.
Set in the midst of lush green paddy fields, sturdy palmyrah trees and majestic mahogany trees, serene ponds and a maze of village lanes studded with neat little houses and antique boutiques, Jaffna college rises like a poem – an oasis of solid faith, learning, residential living and humanitarian service. It was a College and a home without ‘walls’ in its literal and idiomatic sense.
There is an unbroken missionary presence in this home from Dr. Daniel Poor in 1816 to Dr. Robert Porter in 1998. These is in this home a unique blend of intermingling pleasantries through the years – the American and the Jaffna Tamil with a tinge of the flavor of the Indian Ceylonese, Portuguese, Dutch and English. There is an Ox-bridge-New English aura and antiquity about the place to the discerning observer or connoisseur of art and culture. There is this ancient Church of 1626 and the Principal’s bungalow of Portuguese and Dutch origins with pine wood material, the Hunt buildings, the pleasant Quadrangles, tennis and basketball courts, the Ottley hall, the YMCA building, The Daniel Poor library, the Bunker and Howland halls of residences, the staff flats, the Brown and Bicknell grounds and pavilion, and a little further out the picturesque pond reflecting the cluster of well-built modern structures of the Institute of Technology. They all blend together forming a splendid mosaic to make the College Home most endearing and memorable.
Beyond all these visible scene arise the visions – the faces, names and deeds of noble, learned, devoted men and women. The vociferous emotional cheers of the ‘Crimson and the Gold’ echoes through erudite and brilliant prize givings, colourful sports meets, soccer and cricket matches and the lively social functions of the literary associations.
The Jaffna College students attained a character and class that has made them outstanding where ever their lot was cast. The unique campus life within acommunity of people engrained in the students a culture of diversity that emphasized respect, inclusiveness and fairness.
Student publications such as the Young Idea and Northern Undergrad fully edited and managed by students, encouraged free expression of thought. As a result the principles of democracy and the responsibilities associated with it were learned in a practical way. Another unique feature of the college is co-education from kindergarten to degree classes where boys and girls learned to treat each other with mutual respect.
( Excerpts from the articles of Mr. Rajan Karidgamar, Rt. Rev. Jabanesan, Mr. V. Selvaratnam, Mr. G. Rajanayagam, Mr. C.D. Chinnakone and Dr. M. Sarveswaran appeared in the Souvenirs published by the Jaffna College Alumni – Colombo to mark the 175th and 185th anniversaries of Jaffna College. )