Sri Lankan Parliament Building

Sri Lanka Parliament
The Sri Lanka Parliament Complex (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකා පාර්ලිමේන්තු ගොඩනැගිල්ල; Tamil: இலங்கை நாடாளுமன்றக் கட்டடம்) that houses the Parliament of Sri Lanka is situated in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte in Colombo District.

Ancient Royal Councils (3rd century B.C.- 1815)
Raja Vaishyabhujanga Mandapa
Sri Lankan Chronicles and other archaeological materials provide definite evidence of forms of governance in Sri Lanka from the 3rd century B.C., since the Anuradhapura Period. In ancient Sri Lanka, the head of the state was the king and he had a council of ministers to advise him and to represent the interests of the people. This royal council met in a special pavilion and such a council building is still visible among the 5th-century ruins at Sigiriya.

During the Polonnaruwa Period, King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) constructed a special pavilion named Raja Vaishyabhujanga Mandapa for the gathering of the royal council. King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) also built a Royal Council Pavilion and presently, it is considered the best example found in Sri Lanka that reveals the arrangement of an ancient royal council. This tradition was followed until the demise of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka in 1815, the Kandyan Kingdom.

Under British rule (1815-1948)
Sri Lanka became a British colony in 1815 after signing the Kandyan Convention at Magul Maduwa. However, as Sinhalese started to rebel against British rule, the British appointed the Colebrooke Commission in 1833 to introduce reforms and over its recommendations two separate councils, viz; the Executive Council and the Legislative Council were formed (Library of Parliament, 2019). These two councils initially gathered at the Republic Building in front of the Gorden Gardens in Colombo Fort. This building is presently occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Library of Parliament, 2019)

Old Parliament Building
In 1912, the number of members of the Legislative Council increased to 21 and in 1921 it increased to 37 (Library of Parliament, 2019). This number again increased to 49 in 1924. In 1931, on the recommendation of the Donoughmore Commission, Universal Adult Franchise (right to vote) was introduced to everyone over the age of 21  and the name of the Legislative Council was changed to the State Council which consisted of 61 members (Library of Parliament, 2019). A plot of land close to Galle Face was chosen to build A New Building for the State Council and the architect selected for it was Austin Woodeson. The building was declared open on 29 January 1930 by Governor Sir Herbert Stanley (Welandawe & Weerasinghe, 2016). At the time, the seating accommodation of this building was for 49 members (Library of Parliament, 2019).

After independence
On 4 February 1948, Sri Lanka attained independence from the British and became a republic on 22 May 1972 with the adoption of a new constitution. On 7 September 1978, the second republican constitution of the country, the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was enacted and it introduces to the country the proportional representation system increasing the number of representatives of the parliament to 225.

As the parliament building at Galle Face was inadequate, after the General Election of 1977, a decision was taken by the Government to construct a new House of Parliament in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the ancient capital of the Kotte Kingdom (Library of Parliament, 2019). On 4 July 1979, the house gave permission to build it (Library of Parliament, 2019). This building was ceremonially declared open on 29 April 1982 by then-President J. R. Jayawardena (1978-1989) making Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte the administrative capital of Sri Lanka (Library of Parliament, 2019). The present building is the 3rd parliamentary building erected to house the Parliament after the Legislative Council was established in 1833 (Library of Parliament, 2019).

The parliament complex
The parliament building complex has been constructed on a 16 acres island in the Diyawanna Lake and was designed by the renowned architect Geoffrey Manning Bawa (1919-2003) and Begg (Library of Parliament, 2019). The building complex was constructed by a Japanese consortium of two Mitsui Companies who signed a USD 25.4 million contract with the Government of Sri Lanka (Library of Parliament, 2019). The workforce involved in the construction included people from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka (Library of Parliament, 2019).

During the construction, the Diyawanna Oya which was in a state of a marsh was converted into a 300 acres lake (Library of Parliament, 2019). On 22 September 1980, a silver casket containing the Navaratne Nidanvastu was deposited by J. R. Jayawardena beneath the doorway of the main entrance to the Parliament Chamber and on the night before that day a Pirith chanting ceremony was conducted at Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya (Library of Parliament, 2019).

Surrounding environment
The building covers an area of 48,000 sq. m. reflecting the historic Buddhist monastery tradition, Panchawasa. The main entrance road to the parliament complex is called the Ceremonial Drive and is located in the direction where the National War Heroes’ Monument has been erected. The road is shaded with Esala and ironwood trees (Na trees), the national tree and it ends with a large pond filled with blue lotus (Manel), the national flower. After the pond is the entrance of the foyer that leads to the parliament chamber and beyond the foyer is a special ceremonial area. The ceiling of the foyer is decorated with tiles by the famous artist Ena de Silva (Library of Parliament, 2019).

Inner environment
Across the foyer in the centre is a large bronze sliding door and behind it is a pair of gates made of iron and silver. It provides access to a rectangular lobby which contains three flights of stairs leading to the Chamber of the Parliament (Library of Parliament, 2019). The walls between the main door and the entrance to the chamber are adorned with Manju Sri's (1902-1982) murals depicting episodes from the 15th-century text, Selalihini Sandeshaya as well as the four guardian deities (Natha: Bo leaf, Saman: Sri Pada, Kataragama: Chanticleer and Vibhishana: Kimbihi face), the Temple of the Tooth Relic, King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467 A.D.), and Sri Maha Bodhi Tree (Library of Parliament, 2019). The door of the Chamber, measuring 12x12 ft., is made of silver and copper and it is created by the metal sculpture Wimal Surendra (Library of Parliament, 2019). The door is inscribed with a preamble to the constitution in Sinhala, Tamil and English in the writing style of ancient rock inscriptions (Library of Parliament, 2019).

The MPs, the staff and the public have their respective entrances situated on the ground floor. The walls of the entrance of the Speaker's gallery are adorned with paintings by Senaka Senanayake while the walls of the MPs' entrance on the east are decorated with carved Mahogany panels depicting a sylvan scene by Mahinda Abeysekara (Library of Parliament, 2019). The staff's entrance on the west is adorned with murals depicting a marsh done by Anil Gamani Jayasuriya (Library of Parliament, 2019). These two entrances on the east and west lead to one corridor of which the walls are covered with photographs of past and present members of parliament.

The Chamber
The Chamber of the Parliament building complex is rectangular in shape and has a height of two floors. It is adorned with a giant copper chandelier plated in silver by Lucky Senanayaka and with 18 silver flags, banners and standards of kings, temples and Korales (Library of Parliament, 2019). The insignia of Sri Lanka which is 7 ft. in height adorn the front wall of the chamber. At the southern end of the chamber and in the centre is the seat of the Speaker. Below this chair are the chairs of the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and the Assistant Secretary-General (Library of Parliament, 2019). Beyond the Bar of the House on either side are the seats of the Serjeant-At-Arms who carries the Mace (Senkoolaya)

There is a rectangular nickel band placed on the red carpet of the floor just above the staircase of the entrance of the chamber and it is called the Bar of the House (Library of Parliament, 2019). It has been engraved with traditional designs representing intrepidity, perpetuity and prosperity (Library of Parliament, 2019). Only elective representatives and Secretary General's staff who are attached to the chamber are permitted to cross this band.

In the upper part of the chamber are raised galleries for the public with a seating capacity of 600 persons (Library of Parliament, 2019). Immediate opposite the speaker's chair is the gallery reserved for privileged visitors and the gallery above the speaker's chair is reserved for the press (Library of Parliament, 2019).

Seating arrangement
To the right of the speaker's chair are the seats of the members of the governing party while on the left are the chairs of the opposition. Altogether, there are 232 chairs available with 166 chairs on either side (Library of Parliament, 2019). The first two rows of chairs on the right of the Speaker are reserved for the cabinet ministers. The eighth chair in the first row is reserved for the President and the seventh is reserved for the Prime Minister. The leader of the opposition sits directly in front of the president's seat. The seats are given to other members according to their seniority in the parliament (Library of Parliament, 2019).

Other facilities
Simultaneous interpretation facilities have been provided for every member of the parliament in three languages; Sinhala, Tamil and English. The parliament has a well-equipped library for the exclusive use of the members and it has books, periodicals, newspapers, Hansards, acts and bills of the country, gazettes, administrative reports, annual reports and reference materials in subjects such as law, political science, history, economics and sociology etc. The parliament also has a medical care centre, conference rooms, reception areas, dining rooms, a kitchen, a bank, a post office and an Ayurvedic centre.

The security of parliament is determined by the Security Council chaired by the Speaker.

1) WerangaR Old Parliament CMB by weranga rajapaksha is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0

1) Library of Parliament, 2019. Parliament of Sri Lanka: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. Parliament Secretariat. pp.1-20.
2) Welandawe, H., Weerasinghe, J., 2016. Urban Heritage in the Western Region Megapolis Planning Project. p.57.

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This page was last updated on 23 April 2023
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