Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga, an epitome of military heroism

Jun - 26 - 2011
Ravi Ladduwahetty

Fifth death anniversary falls today(26th June)

He was of the mould of the “Desert Fox” – General Erwin Rommel, one of Adolf Hitler’s two famous military Generals along with General Montgomery in World War II; bold, dashing and handsome, relentless in combat, magnanimous in victory and gracious to his vanquished enemies.

For, slain Lieutenant General Parami Sugandika Bandara Kulatunga, VSV, RSP,USP, PBP, DPS, USAWC, GW, Sri Lanka Army’s former Deputy Chief of Staff and third most senior military General at the time of his assassination and whose fifth death anniversary falls today, will be remembered with both affection and reverential respect for the role that he played in the Northern theatre of war against the LTTE, among others, akin to Rommel playing a part in two very significant battles during World War II– both at El Alamein in North Africa and also at D-Day.

He will be remembered as a man with a heart by his peers and a grateful nation for the major roles he played in the Vedamarachchi operation in 1987 in the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula where he was a Junior Commanding Officer under the guidance of another slain General- Lt General Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa and also the Operation Balavegaya I and II in 1991 and 1992 which saved Elephant Pass.

He will also be remembered as the General Officer Commanding of the 52 Division which stopped the waves of the advancing LTTE cadres in the Eluthumattuval Region after the Elephant Pass camp was over run. Parallel to that was the then, ten serious Kinihira operations which were meant for the capture of Jaffna peninsula of which he was an integral stakeholder. He also played an integral part in the Valampoori, Yal Devi and Jayasikurui Operations.

Early life

Born on October 9, 1951 at Lewella, the remote suburban hamlet of Kandy to a family steeped in rich, conservative Kandyan traditions, his horoscope has said that he was destined to lead a very pious life. He was so named as Parami, as the astrologer said that he was going to lead an exemplary Buddhist life akin to a Bodhisatva, an aspiring Buddha. Some thought that he would take to robes and be a seeker of liberation. So, he was named as Parami. For Para, in Sinhala, means road and Mi is the abbreviation for Midena or liberation. So, as, at least, astrologically, he was destined to pursue the path to liberation and therefore, named Parami. This was also further evidenced when, Parami, the young stripling of five, was building temples, chaitiyas and stupas in mud and lovingly placing flowers before them with his childhood playmates.

As he grew older, his fascination for chaithyas was replaced by a boy’s passion for sword fights. About that time, he began talking of joining the Sri Lanka Army — a little boy’s dream that was going to take him to heights unimaginable. He remained the epitome of a true soldier right until the end, but he achieved something even greater — he retained the piety of his boyhood all his life, dedicating it to the Dhamma as he stood vigil for the motherland he adored.

With his ideal torso and height, any rational thinking mortal might have perceived that he was a unanimous choice for a Lock Forward’s berth in a Rugby team and more so, the Lock Forward in Fullback, Rugby Lion and subsequent Sri Lanka Fullback Shafie Jainudeen’s unbeaten Trinity Rugby XV of 1969, but it was a tryst with destiny. His passion was for cadetting. He ended up as the Senior Regimental Sergeant Major of the Senior Cadet Platoon.

That is when coming events cast their shadows. Deeply perturbed by the goings on in the 1971 JVP insurgency which broke out on April 5, and buttressed by his passion for the military and patriotism, he enlisted in the Sri Lanka Army as an officer cadet on July 20, 1971. After his initial military training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and subsequently posted to the 1st Battalion of the Gemunu Watch on October 14, 1972.

On July 24, 1974, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. Three years later, on July 24, 1977, he was promoted to Captain. On June 1, 1982, he was promoted to Major. On March 24, 1989 he was appointed as Staff officer to the Intelligence Operation headquarters of the Ministry of Defence and on October 1, 1989, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and continued working at the Ministry of Defence. On January 6, 1990, he was appointed as a General Staff Officer to the 23 Brigade. On June 27, 1993, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel, at General Staff headquarters 2 Division. On November. 31, 1993, he was appointed Deputy Commandant of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy at Ratmalana.

On June 10, 1994, he was promoted as the Assistant Military Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and on December 12, 1994, he was promoted to the rank of a Brigadier, taking command of the 22 Brigade in Trincomalee.

On December 28, 1996, he was appointed Director of Training at the Army Headquarters. On October 1, 1997, he was appointed Deputy General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 56th and 54th Divisions. On November 28, 1999, he was appointed General Officer Commanding of the 52nd Division, Varani. On May 5, 2000, he was: promoted to the rank of Major-General, and appointed as General Officer Commanding of the 11th Division, at Panagoda. On September 6, 2003, he was appointed the Director General of the General Staff, Army Headquarters . On August 10, 2004, he was appointed Commander of Security Forces Headquarters, Wanni. On December 6, 2005, he was promoted Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army, the third most senior officer.

In his military education, he followed the International Military Education & Training Program at the United States Army War College and several other courses including the Senior Command Course in India, Advanced Intelligence Course in Singapore, the Intelligence Staff Officers’ Course in India and a few other short courses. Apart from that he has also represented Sri Lanka in a number of international symposia, including the Special Operations conference in the US, South Asia Peace Keeping Operations Seminar in Bangladesh, Pacific Armies Management seminar in Malaysia, Senior Military Officers’ Seminar in United Kingdom and United Nations Medal Awarding Parade in Haiti.

Awards and military decorations

The main military decorations Kulatunga received included Rana Sura Padakkama(RSP), Uttama Seva Padakkama (USP), Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal, Riviresa Campaign Services Medal, Poorna Bhumi Padakkama, North and East Operations Medal, Desha Putra Sammanaya amongst others. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya (VSV), the second- highest ranked medal for gallantry.

Parami – the Trinitian

I could yet recall with nostalgia, meeting General Kulatunga at the passing out parade of the Sri Lanka Military Academy at Diyatalawa, on the morning of June 21, 1997 at which former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was the Chief Guest as then Commander in Chief. Parami was there in his capacity as Director of Training at the Army Headquarters. That was the 50th passing out parade and of intakes 43 and 43 Bravo. I was reporting the event.

That was the day that I met the slain General last, both personally and officially. That day also coincided with the first leg of the Bradby Shield in Kandy where Fullback Nuwan Fernando’s Trinitians were locking horns with Abdulla Yusuf’s Royalists.

Later that afternoon over lunch, former President Kumaratunga had remarked to the General that everybody must be in Kandy for the match. Parami had rebutted with a smile: “Yes Madam, we would also have gone if not for this ceremony!”

Then, President Kumaratunga had reminded the military top brass at lunch that she was among the first few schoolgirls who went to see school rugger matches! The military officials had quipped that she could even go for rugger matches as President!! Cascades of laughter erupted across the lunch table with the former President rebutting that with all the security checks, that she would lose the few votes that she was getting! Also was that Sunday morning in February 1971, when the Trinity College Buddhist Students’ Movement, (of which Parami was the President that year) went to Anuradhapura on the annual pilgrimage in a privately hired bus. The college bus had to be reserved for Ravi Sathasivam’s Thomian Cricket XI had come up to Kandy to play the Trinitians at cricket at Asgiriya led by triple coloursman at cricket, rugby and athletics- Jayantha Weerasinghe, later Colonel in the Sri Lanka Army Electrical and mechanical Engineers’ Regiment.

Virtuoso Royal- Thomian record breaking batsman and Thomian cricket captain in waiting for 1972, Duleep Mendis, stroked a belligerent top score of 103 the previous day and Trinity Cricket Lion that year, Niroshan De Silva notched the top score for the Trinitians with 81. The Thomians had to be dropped at the Kandy station for their return to Colombo. The college bus was parked outside the hall.

I was in an animated conversation with Thomian and Ceylon Schools opener/ wicket keeper – and cousin Kamal Samarasinghe, (younger son of eminent Civil Servant, Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Defence and External Affairs and subsequent Secretary to the Cabinet-G.V.P. Samarasinghe) through the window of the college bus. Then, a stentorian voice thundered: “I say, Ladduwahetty, get into that bus, otherwise, we will leave you, behind!” That was the resonant shrill of Parami. That was too much to take for a twelve year old. I made a beeline move to the “Vandana” bus.

It was at around 7 am of June 26, 2006, that fateful day, five years ago to the day, today. He left his Kendalanda Residence at around 7 am, earlier than usual, enroute to the Army Headquarters, due to a backlog of work to complete, fighting a deadline. But, alas! It was only up to Pannipitiya that he could travel up to.

A motor cycle rammed into his vehicle. The rider, as it transpired later, was a female LTTE suicide bomber. Only a few split seconds followed. A gigantic explosion ensued. The LTTE, licking the wounds of annihilation in combat in the North, had struck in Colombo with a vengeance. They got their principal target.

It was with the utmost difficulty that the passengers were retrieved, amidst the vehicle going up in flames. They were to be taken to the closest hospital, the Military Hospital at Panagoda. Also in the vehicle were his personal security officer- Staff Sergeant Buddhika Madhuranga and the driver- private A.R. Gomes. Prior to their being admitted to hospital, the inevitable happened, leaving thousands of patriotic Sri Lankans in veritable bewilderment and in mute grief.

Written by Ravi Ladduwahetty

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