Men and Memories
Dudley Senanayake’s 84th Birth Anniversary
Dudley’s refusal to marry changed Lanka’s history
Buddhika Kurukularatne

It was Poson Poya in 1911. The date was 19th June. A jubilant father went from Borella in Colombo to the Tiruwana Walawwa in Ambepussa to convey the news of the birth of a grand son to his father. The father carrying the glad tidings was Stephen Senanayake to Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake and his grandson was Dudley Shelton Senanayake who was to become the Prime Minister of Ceylon on four occasions.

Don Spater Senanayake was bestowed the title of Mudliyar by the colonial governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway probably because of his wealth 'black gold' (plumbago). Don Spater had invested heavily in the plumbago industry in the Kegalle district and his mines at Botale were very productive. Spater Senanayake had four children. Three sons, D.C., F.R. and D.S. His daughter married a Dias Bandaranaike (Mrs. F H. Dias Bandaranaike).

Spater Senanayake, though educated at St. Thomas' Matale and later at S. Thomas, Mutwal before it was removed lock, stock and barrel not to mention the banyan saplings to the more salubrious environs by the sea at Mount Lavinia, was a devoted Buddhist. He made a resolution that he would gift his, mansion at Ambepussa known as the 'Tiruwana Walawwa' (so named due to the abundance of the hard mineral, 'Tiruwana', a type of quartz found to this day in the locality) to the Sasana — the day that his first grand son was born.

first grand son

So, Spater's first grand son was Dudley. On receipt of the good news he vacated his home in Ambepussa and gifted it with all the valuable furniture and fittings to the Ven. Kokaliyagollewe Sri Bharathandra Thera who had his makeshift temple the Rukgastenna temple in the Bajjangoda paddy field which got submerged for the, slightest rain.

The 'Tiruwana Walawwa' became known as the Senanayake Mudalindaramaya. (The temple that Mudliyar Senanayake built would be a passable translation!) and today it is a great seat of Buddhist education. It has a resident student monk population of 150 today with 15 teachers teaching not only the subjects upto G.C.E. A/Ls but also ecclesiastical subjects like the Abhidharma, Sanskrit, Pali, Buddhist Civilisation etc. The temple properties too have been vastly enhanced by rich land donations by a lay-devotee Wijepala Mendis ex-minister who donated 50 acres whilst his eldest daughter Manori gifted 26 acres.

The Senanayake Mudalindaramaya continued to receive Spater Senanayake's patronage even after it was gifted to the Maha Sangha (’Agatha, Anagatha, Chatudesa, Saghasa Dene' — gifted to the present and future monks who come from the four corners) and the present Chief Incumbent, Ven. Madathiyawala Medhalankara, Anunayake Thero of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya told this columnist that in 1917 Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake organised a procession which had 117 'banas' (braces) of elephants (i.e. 234 elephants) at the head of a bullock cart carrying a huge 'Aggala' (sweet-ball made of rice) and a 'money tree' also hoisted on top of a bullock cart. The procession wended its way to the Kaluaggala temple and at the head of the procession marched D.S. who by now had cut his teeth as a national leader, having been incarcerated by the British in 1915 falsely accusing him (and others) of being responsible for the Sinhala-Muslim riots. Ven. Medhalankara stated that, the procession was organised as a means of 'Thanks giving' for a bountful harvest of plumbago which found its way to the markets in Europe, United States and Japan.

Dudley was only 4 years old when on the 21st of June his father was arrested and he used to tell us that he could faintly remember DS being taken away by Punjabi soldiers whilst he was on his father at the breakfast table. This incident gave rise to the nationalist struggle which was ultimately responsible for achieving independence.

Dudley was admitted to S. Thomas' College — following the tradition established by grand father Don Spater and he soon endeared himself to his peers and to his teachers as a fine all-rounder. He won the college colours in five sports — cricket, boxing, athletics, football and hockey. He was also the Head Prefect which earned him the prestigious Victoria Gold Medal. Going to England for higher studies he joined Corpus Christie College in Cambridge where he was awarded the Natural Science Tripos. Taking to law, he was admitted as a Barrister of the Middle Temple.

Most Ven. Pelane Siri Vijiragnana

Maha Thero

Although the Senanayakes attended S. Thomas' College which was an Anglican educational institution, D.S. and his wife Molly wanted the sons to learn their own religion. Dudley and younger brother Robert were placed under the tutelage of the Most Ven. Pelane Siri Vijiragnana Maha Thero and his disciple, Ven. Narada Thero, of the Vajirarama.

D.S and his brothers D.C. and F.R. too were dayakas of the Vajirarama and other Buddhist temples in Colombo and the Botale, their family seat.

Although Don Spater Senanayake was a leading figure in the very lucrative business of running taverns, his three sons were pioneers of the temperance movement which was a spring board to prepare the people for the independence struggle. The Senanayakes were responsible in wiping out all the taverns in their home 'Korala' (Division) of Hapitigama and this movement no doubt affected their father's toddy rental business adversely.

But Spater Senanayake never interfered with the activities of the temperance movement which went from strength to strength even arousing the suspicions of the colonial rulers that it was a movement aimed at driving the British away from the island. No doubt it would have been their ultimate goal, but D.S. being the shrewd leader he did not want to show his hand — instead he carried on in his usual 'hemin hemin' (slowly, slowly) strategy.

Thus the young Dudley too was subject to the influence of the temple and that of his parents. In later years he too spearheaded the temperance movement. The Buddhist environment that he grew up with moulded his character that he undertook missions of Dhamma abroad and was the chief lay custodian of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya. He succeeded his father as the President of the Mahiyangana Chaitya Restoration Society and actively supported the cause of Buddhism.

The education he received at S. Thomas' during the famous 'Stone Age" prepared him to shoulder responsibilities in the years to come. At S. Thomas' there were boys from various communities, of various races and faiths. S. Thomas' during the stewardship of Rev. Stone followed Wykeham's famous motto 'manners maketh men'. At S. Thomas' he learnt not only maths and classics, but also lessons of life.

Mr. T. T. S. S. Amarasekara, an Old Thomian who was the librarian in parliament told me what Dudley had implored on the young Thomians at a Prize Day speech he made as the Chief Guest.

He had narrated the incident where he took part in the one mile event which was the last event at the sports meet. Others had finished but Dudley still had to do several 'laps'. By the time Dudley completed the mile others had already gathered at the venue where the prizes were distributed. Unknown to anybody Dudley's perseverance in completing the event had caught the eye of Warden Stone who had given a special prize to Dudley who came last. Incidentally Dudley also won his athletics colours at S. Thomas'.

Even in England, Dudley pursued his love for sports cricket in particular. Bradman Weerakoon narrates this story in his book 'Rendering unto Caesar'.

Dudley was playing his first game at Lords for the Indian Gymkhana Club XI. He was batting comfortably and was particularly severe on a medium fast leg break bowler. He had compiled a chanceless 45 by the time lunch was taken and looked set for a big score.

Dudley knew that the fielding side had a feared all England bowler by the name of Ian Peebles. At lunch he asked a colleague as to why their opponents had not yet brought Peebles into the attack.

'Peebles'. It was Peebles that you were dispatching to the boundary ever so often. So schocked was he, that he got out to the first ball from Peebles after lunch!

voracious appetite

Dudley had a voracious appetite. Being a very humble and unpretentious person, he accepted invitations from party supporters representing even the lower strata of society to attend their wedding receptions — not in star class hotels — but in their humble abodes. On such occasions he was invited to 'declare open' the wedding feast by partaking of rich food that had been laid out. We used to be amazed at his ability to pop in cutlets and full-boiled eggs with obvious ease.

Last Sunday accompanying Wijepala Mendis to the Senanayake Mudalinderamaya an 'old' UNP youth leaguer, Gamini reminiscenced as to how Dudley used to 'whack' two pockets of buriyani in one go, chatting with the youth delegates from all over the country. At conferences he always sat for meals with the ordinary party cadres. A leading hotelier regularly supplied 'buriyani' to most party functions held in Colombo and perhaps it was this practice that earned the UNPers the rather contemptuous nick name 'both gottas'.

Dudley, in spite of a notorious stomach that rebelled against its owner at the slightest provocation, was also a record holder at S.T.C. This record was unique for it was established for 'downing' 75 string hoppers in one go!

At one time Dudley was a 'chain smoker'. He also smoked the pipe. (after his death, a pipe smoking judicial officer approached me to get one of Dudley's pipes as a souvenir. Alas! by that time every conceivable item used or possessed by him from expensive cameras to golf shoes worn by Dudley had been snatched or spirited away by Souvenir hunters!).

Once he declared like Mike Tyson in his hey-day 'Buddhika I have now completely given up smoking. You know what? Now I have such a voracious appetite that I can eat like a Rhinocerous!' I burst out laughing. Dudley may have wondered why? It was only because I was at a loss to fathom the quantity he now ate with his increased appetite when I was fully aware of his eating habits before giving up smoking.

His craving for food was such that his mother Mrs. Molly Senanayake always insisted that Dudley was served last when they had guests for a meal (perhaps through fear of the guests going back starving if Dudley was allowed to serve himself first!)

at Cambridge

'Rendering into Ceaser' records how Dudley became seriously ill whilst at Cambridge trying to confine himself to a diet of fruits only.

Another solid witness to Dudley's eating habits as quoted by Bradman is K. S. Periyasamy the Indian cook at the Prime Minister's Lodge at Nuwara Eliya. Bradman quotes Periyasamy as saying that Dudley had the biggest appetites he had encountered. And that coming from Periyasamy an expert on culinary skills who had seen many 'world eaters' of the day is indeed a (dubious) compliment!

When Dudley returned to Ceylon after his studies his parents were keen that they should get their son 'settled' in marriage. Dudley was certainly a most eligible bachelor hailing from one of the leading aristocratic families in the island.

Marriage brokers were deployed country wide and the Senanayake's took their son to see several brides. One such visit took them to an aristocratic walawwa off Balangoda. A sumptuous banquet was laid for the groom’s party and Dudley 'dug' in with relish. There had been 'Watalappan' for dessert made from the choicest jaggery that Balangoda Kitul palams produced. Dudley was seen helping himself to several services of watalappan obviously relishing the tasty caramel like pudding. The pretty bride was dressed in a Kandyan 'Osariya' and bedecked in expensive traditional jewellery. She was indeed a very pretty lass with an ivory complexion and D.S. and Molly Senanayake were silently praying that their elder son would at least say 'yes' to this proposal.

On the way back to Colombo, the parents posed the question though in an indirect way.

'So what do you think?', asked Mama Senanayakes.

'Hari Shoak! Hari Shoak' (excellent! excellent) exclaimed Dudley. The parents obviously relieved said 'Oh we must not waste time in bringing 'Sirima' home!

Startled by the mention of a feminine name, Dudley asked, 'Who is this Sirima?'

This time it was the Senanayakes turn to be startled. 'Why 'Sirima' is the name of the bride. Barnes Ratwatte Disawe's daughter when you described as 'Hari Shoak!' said Mama Senanayake.

'Oh' I was commenting on the watalappan as being 'hari shoak' not to the girl!'

'The old couples' world collapsed with this statement.

And if Dudley had said 'yes' to the girl Sirima instead of to the watalappan, the course of history of this country would indeed have changed — for better or worse only God would know. At the rate that the Gods are being harassed these days by politicians it is doubtful whether even they would have known.

I couldn't remember who told me the above story so I checked it up with Sam Wijesinha — a former Secretary General of Parliament who confirmed the story. It was offered to the Sunday Islanders to savour it only after 'double checking' as we have been trained to be news hounds whilst being attached to the Fourth Estate.

Amarasekara, the former librarian of parliament, also narrated, a story told by 'Dudley himself at a function at S. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia as to how a piece of meat on his plate did a pole vault to another diner's plate some distance away. This incident had taken place during his very first meal at Cambridge. The 'accident' occurred due to a bluntknife placed with the fork and spoon.

I have also heard of the story how Dudley skipped lunch when he realized that the small rest house off the beaten track where he descended with a retinue of journalists, during an election campaign well past the hour of lunch had not enough food to cater for the whole party. He 'cooked up' a story that he was not feeling hungry and instead ordered a whole plate of 'pappadam' which he munched to alleviate the hunger.

His (in) famous stomachache bothered him in no small measure from his early childhood. It was considered a problem that he had been afflicted with from birth. No amount of treatment from specialists in the States, the UK and Singapore could rid him of this problem which was identified as a severe form of peptic ulcer. It had the 'bad' habit of surfacing in times of emotional stress and in the days of the LSSP staged Hartal in August 1953 the attack was so severe that he had to throw in the towel and hand over the reins of power to his cousin Col. J. L. Kotelawela when fate deprived from donning the Prime Ministerial hat on the demise of the 'old man' D.S.

In September 1965, Dudley who by then had become Prime Minister for the fourth time, was felicitated by the S. Thomas OBA at the Hotel Taprobane. Canon ('Cunji') R. S. de Saram in welcoming the famous Old Thomian said, 'One people, one land, equal rights, equal opportunities. That is what his father stood for. That is what Dudley stands for. This is what our school stood for'. Canon de Saram declared that Dudley Senanayake was the worthy son of a worthy father.

Mr. L. W. de Silva, a veteran Old Thomian replying to a toast to the Old Boys' Association said that Dudley believed that the state existed for the people and not vice-versa. "We are able to live with self respect and respect for others. Those were Mr. Senanayake's ideals."

Mr. N. A. de S. Wijesekera, the Secretary of the OBA, said that Dudley was called upon to captain the country as he had captained the Thomian cricket team of old.

Replying, Mr. Dudley Senanayake said that he was happy to be head of a government which was formed free of caste creed or religious differences. It reminded him so much of S. Thomas' College. 'At S.T.C. we knew no difference of caste, creed or religion. I realised what caste I belonged to only when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge', he said. 'The government had a tremendous task ahead of it, but my task is made easier with the assistance of Cabinet colleagues who are Old Thomians'.

Reminiscing about his school days which he referred to as the happiest days of his life Dudley declared that he held no records at S. Thomas'. He was caned twice in a single day by his teacher Mr. Brodie and he ate 75 string hoppers at one sitting.

'Those around me must have been quite surprised at the little I ate today but that is the price one had to pay for the past. Now my stomach is world famous' he concluded amidst thunderous laughter, according to an account published in the centenary issue of the History of the Old Boys' Association.

Dudley was brought on a stretcher to 'Woodlands' from the 'S. S. Orian' which brought him home from England, again due to a bad attack of Peptic Ulcer.

His father D.S. had to use all his persuasive powers to get Dudley to stand for election for the Dedigama constituency to the second state council adjoining his own Minuwangoda seat. D.S. even got R.V. Dedigama, another candidate to withdraw in support of Dudley. Dedigama electorate more so than now had a very high representation of non-goigama voters. A formidable candidate N. H. Keerthiratne was the candidate of the so-called 'depressed' communities. With the withdrawal of R. V. Dedigama, the 'fight' at Dedigama was a 'straight fight' between Keerthiratne and Senanayake.

Although it was called a straight fight merely because there were only two contestants, nothing was straight in the election. Keerthiratne, who later became a minister in the UNP cabinet (as did his brother Asoka after him and also Asoka's daughter Samantha keeping alive the tradition) was a 'Chandiya' (thu) of no mean repute. Dedigama consistency was very large in extent then, embracing upto Kadugannawa, Rambukkana and Bulathkohupitiya.

Keerthiratne brought large numbers of persons from the villages of Dorawaka and Narangoda to cast 'Hora Votes' (impersonate) and John Kotelawela who was in charge of cousin Dudley's election campaign brought in thugs from his plumbago mines who maulded the would be impersonators. Not to be outdone, knowing that women folk will not be set upon by Sir John's thugs, Keerthiratne brought in women from Kadugannawa to cast 'hora votes'. Keerthiratne was dead right. The things of Kotelawela did not lay the little fingers of their on the women — most of them very comedy. Instead, the miners raised their sarongs and exposed their 'persons' to the shrieking women who took to their heels never to returns. Dudley who was blissfully unaware of all these happenings won by a handsome majority of 8299 votes.

Much later when he learnt of the incidents he had said that had he known that politics was so dirty he would never have taken the plunge. If Dudley could see how it is today he would commit 'hara kiri'.


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