Today is the 63rd death anniversary of D.S.
Remembering the Father of the Nation
Don Stephen Senanayake is a name that is inextricably entwined and
written in gold with the history of Sri Lanka. His name has, within the
course of time emerged larger than life in the minds of the people.
Today on his 63rd death anniversary the greatness of the man who earned
the title Father of the Nation is felt more than ever before.
“That mighty heart lay still, that mighty frame sleep forever,
While the multitude moved in a ceaseless stream of pious grief
Amid the silent eloquence of flowers
Today he will be borne through the doleful streets
Past those who throng to pay him reverence.
Their guide, their guard, their father and their friend
And when he comes to his last journey's end,
Where sad mortality to ashes must be burned by fires unrelenting,
From Freedom consecrated ground will rise,
The flaming beacon of his deathless name.”
These heartrending lines by Burgher poet Hilaire D. Jansz, then
Editor-in-Chief of the Ceylon Observer aptly expressed the sorrow of a
nation at the time Don Stephen Senanayake's mortal remains were cremated
at Independence Square on March 29,1952, at the very place he received
the gift of freedom for his country.
The Observer reported “Up to 3.30 p.m. today over 500,000 persons had
filed past the remains of the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake at the assembly
hall of the house of representatives.
At 10.p.m yesterday the queue stretched over three miles. It wound
past along Lower Lake Road, Elephant House and through Ingham Street in
Slave Island to Parsons Road. The end of the queue was opposite the
Regal Theatre. There are tentative arrangements for the funeral
procession of the late leader which is due to start from Parliament
House for Independence Square at 3.p.m. tomorrow. Policemen from all
parts of the island will be on duty at various points on the route”.
Don Stephen Senanayake, the great statesman of his day, died on March
22, 1952 following a fall from his horse ‘Chitra'.
Sixty three years later today, the tragic memory moves the nation.
During his lifetime, through the giant strides he made, Don Stephen
Senanayake gave this country the pride of nationhood - he gave it
He was the main architect, the strategist of the bloodless transition
of the country from a colony to self-rule and formed the United National
Party and became the First Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.
D.S. Senanayake’s contribution cannot ever be summed up in one small
article but with the space that we can utilize I make an attempt to give
a peek, a skeleton sketch the least, of the gargantuan life of the first
Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.
The name sans blemish, one that all generations after him can look
upto with great pride, Don Stephen Senanayake hailed from the village of
He was the son of Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina
Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake.
Although brought up in a devout Buddhist family, he entered the
prestigious Anglican school S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal.
How true he made the words that the schools at the time “maketh the
man”. The education he had with Warden Buck and subsequently with Warden
Stone nurtured his inherent qualities which were reflected in later
It is reported D.S. Senanayake was witness to Buck’s famous farewell
speech “You have learned the best lessons from STC (S. Thomas’
College)... true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those
things that make a man a gentleman...”
As most in his generation and a few after were to experience and
witness later, his college had inculcated a self-confidence to him which
had enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest intellectual
levels and to be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent
character traits in life. D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with
whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayake (19 June 1911 - 13 April
1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (8 April 1913 - 26 April 1986).
He also had two brothers and a sister. The two brothers, Don Charles
Senanayake and Fredrik Richard Senanayake were also involved in
But it was D.S. Senanayake’s who went the stretch in politics. Don
Stephen Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were prominent members of
the Lanka Mahajana Sabha, the latter shunned the limelight although he
became a prominent and very influential member of the Temperance
Movement founded in 1912. On his guidance D.S. Senanayake entered public
life as an active member of the Movement achieving success after success
in receiving mass support from the people. Fredrick Richard Senanayake
and Don Charles Senanayake were also the founders of the Y.M.B.A.
D.S. Senanayake initially worked on his father's plantation, and also
the Survey General’s Department. When World War 1 broke out in 1914 he
joined the Colombo Town Guard.
He was imprisoned without charges during the 1915 riots and faced the
prospect of execution. All three Senanayake brothers were arrested at
one given time with the other freedom fighting leaders and held in
inhuman conditions in 'Penal Cells' which were worse than the ordinary
cells occupied by convicts. The authorities tried their utmost to
implicate them in the riots but short of any evidence released them
after 46 days of incarceration.
Senanayake’s initial role as an independence activist was to support
his brother Fredrick Richard Senanayake.
While on a pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in 1925, F. R. Senanayake met
with his death, after which Don Stephen Senanayake took his place on the
Legislative Council and led the independence movement.
In 1931 he was elected to the State Council, and went on to become
the Minister of Agriculture and Lands.
He took up the challenges of the Ceylon's agricultural problems
effectively, and established the LDO, an agricultural policy that
countered Ceylon's rice problems which earned him much respect. During
his tenure as a minister for 15 years, he also enforced 'Agricultural
Modernization', which reportedly increased production output. During
World War II he was a member of the Ceylon war cabinet.
In 1946, after he resigned from his cabinet post to fight for
Ceylon's independence, he founded the United National Party (UNP) the
same year by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties.
Within a year of its formation he succeeded, and was elected as Ceylon's
first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947.
He refused a knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain
and was a Privy Counsel.
He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya
scheme relocated over 250,000 people.
He steered the nation on the path to freedom without shedding a drop
of blood, geared the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food by
restoring almost all the ancient irrigation tanks and initiated
colonization schemes to boost agriculture, which were and still are the
main source of income of the rural masses.
D.S Senanayake was widely respected by Sinhalese and most Muslims.
However there was dissent among the Tamil community due to his
citizenship laws, which disenfranchised virtually all Tamils of Indian
origin living in the central highlands. His bold agricultural plans and
pro-Western policies drew criticism for their modern and nontraditional
His other plans included the increase of hydroelectric power, but he
couldn’t implement same as he suffered a stroke and fell off the Police
mare ‘Chitra’, while riding at the Galle Face Green on the morning of
March 21, 1952. He died at the age of sixty-seven.
His eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime
Minister in 1952, followed by another relative, Sir John Kotelawala
(1897–1980) in 1953, but this nine-year family dynasty was ended by a
landslide victory for Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956,
campaigning under the 'Sinhala Only' slogan.
However Dudley Senanayake regained the Prime Ministership in 1960,
and served again from 1965 to 1970.
Under his family's leadership, Sri Lanka's economy flourished.
To mark his death anniversary last year, one of his grandsons, a
former parliamentarian, one-time cabinet minister, chairman of the UNP,
and Assistant Leader of the UNP, Rukman Senanayake authored and launched
a comprehensive book on the father of the nation titled, D.S. Senanayake,
the Reflection of Parakramabahu, which is a befitting tribute to his
I wish to draw the attention of D.S. Senanayake’s feat achieved not
only in our island nation but the world stage, I quote The Daily Herald
that wrote of his death, “He will be remembered not only as the “Father
of Ceylon” but also as a great world statesman.“ In Sir Winston
Churchill’s words, “The Commonwealth is poorer without him and the wise
counsel he always gave”.
As his grandson notes, “Sri Lanka has followed a chequered path in
the post-independence era. From being the envy of the world, it has
moved to the brink of a failed state, only to inch back to a slow path
of progress. Eras of different leaders have brought diverse results to
Some have taken the country on the path of progress, keeping the
people content while others have driven the country to the brink of
It is a sad fact that those who are responsible for such misfortunes
seldom suffer themselves, but only expose the innocent masses to
unbearable suffering simply because they happen to live at that time”.
He further states, “Mr. Senanayake may have been the reincarnation of
He undoubtedly is Sri Lanka’s greatest visionary of the twentieth
century. Such men are worthy of veneration”.
Such men are indeed worthy of veneration.
Finally while time has endorsed that D.S. Senanayake, the prodigious
first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon is an unparalleled colossus,
and I join in the thoughts of the statement issued by the Ramanya Nikaya
at the time of his death, pondering….” whether a leader of this stature
will ever be born again in this country?...
The writer is the niece of late P.C. Imbulana, senior politician and
founder member of the United National Party and former President of the
D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society.
Charnika is currently a Media Advisor to several service-oriented