Once widely known as Victoria Park, Viharamahadevi Park is Colombo’s oldest and largest public park. Situated within an older section of the city it lies close to historical monuments such as the colonial-era Town Hall building, the National Museum, and the Colombo Public Library. Having received extensive renovations recently, it is now an essential location where the city’s residents relax and enjoy themselves.
The Park’s History
The park was built, by Charles Henry de Soysa during the British rule of Sri Lanka, on land donated to the Colombo city; and was named "Victoria Park" after Queen Victoria.
It was occupied by the British Army during World War II, and was where the Australian 17th Brigade was based. After the war the park was restored and open to the public in 1951, and at the time it was named Viharamahdevi Park after the ancient Queen Viharamahadevi. This queen was the mother of King Dutugamunu who was an important figurehead of Sri Lanka’s history.
Another face of the park’s history was the cricket ground that used to be within the park. It was used for international level cricket games between 1927 and 1995. Ceylon played against a touring English team there in 1927 and against an Australian team in 1935. However with time the ground fell into disuse and was later removed.
The Park’s Features
A couple of decades ago the park was still much-loved by the residents of Colombo, especially its children. However, it was not as beautiful or as neatly arranged as it is now. It comprised mostly of woodland thinly spread with trees and occasional paths meandering through. Amongst the dark shadows of the bows romantic couples met for their dalliances, which they could not have under the keen eyes of the public. Flowers, grass and other undergrowth grew wild and rampant; with the groundskeepers barely able to control them. There was a murky lake, with a damaged bridge over it. The park had three entrances at the time; and close to one of the entrances was a small amusement park. This park was the delight of the local kids in Colombo as it had quite a few popular rides, such as a Merry-go-round and a bumper car ride; fair food like cotton candy; and many other wonderful things. Therefore that entrance was especially popular during the weekend and stayed open till late unlike the other gates.
However as computers, phones, televisions and other modern devices appeared throughout Colombo, heralding an era of technology in Sri Lanka, Victoria Park was slowly forgotten. Its rides were unlit and silent, barely any children visited the place, the leafy avenues were empty and haunted by the memories times long past. The park was almost ready to disappear.
But then in 2013, fortune favored it. The 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting happened in Colombo; and the government did some extensive sprucing up of the city to make it look more attractive. Viharamahadevi Park, being centrally located, received a complete makeover.
The fences and gates were removed enabling visitors to enter wherever they wished. This also enabled a continuity between the street, the park, the library and the World War Memorial. Beautiful paved pathways, lush palm trees and perfectly groomed grass have been added. There are now some delightful little hollows with pleasant wooden or concrete seats. There are no more overgrown bushes for lovers or thieves to hide behind, so it’s not dodgy and dark anymore. While romance is still aground, it’s quite openly done and has a lighter brighter note. Unlike before guards don’t chase them away and give them their privacy. The lake has been cleaned and the ruins of the old bridge removed. Instead a sturdy suspension bridge ahas been added above it making the wobbly path a popular attraction amongst both adults and children. There are clean concrete slabs around the lake to sit and enjoy the view.
The play area is now large and much renovated. The best part about this area are the gently rolling landscaped hills with their pretty blue and purple paved pathways. Some of the hills tunneled through so that children can crawl around and have fun. Around these hills are slides, swings, a giant outdoor playhouse, water fun zone. There are occasional ponies; and for a small fee children can have a short pony ride. Sellers walk around selling toys, cotton candy, ice cream and many other items.
On the eastern end of the park is a little aquarium. This requires a ticket for a small fee. It is worth having a look at as it is cheap and has a fairly decent collection of rare local fish, though obviously not at all comparable to a full aquarium.
The park is overall great for a walk or a bike ride through its breezy avenues. It’ll give a chance to let go of some of the stress that a packed travel schedule gives. As one of Colombo’s most historic places, Viharamahadevi Park is definitely not to be missed.