April 12 the whole world celebrates the International Day of Aviation and Cosmonautics, established to commemorate the first space flight by the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, that opened the new era of the history of human civilization.
Sri Lankan people remember Yuri Gagarin, Hero of the Soviet Union, First man in space, and, of course a friend of Sri Lanka. After his historic space flight, Yuri Gagarin received many invitations from different countries of the world to visit their countries.
He accepted all invitations and visited Sri Lanka on December 7, 1961 to honour the invitation extended to him by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
More than 5,000 people gathered to see this great human being and Gagarin said in Sinhala ‘Mama Lankawata Adarei’ (I love Sri Lanka). And the people of Matale burst into a thundering applause and cheered him. Long live friendship of Sri Lanka and the Soviet Union.
(Memories - Mr. Richard Basnayake-Former Secretary, Sri Lanka-Soviet Friendship Association, Matale branch from 1960 to 1990).
During his historical visit to Ceylon, the first Soviet cosmonaut planted a tree in the Peradeniya botanical garden near Kandy. It is still there and over 50 years old, but they say that after Yuri Gagrin’s demise it stopped growing, thus it still look as a young tree.