Sir Cyril de Zoysa


By Honourable Karu Jayasuriya,


Sri Lanka Parliament

On the occasion of the 120th birth anniversary of Sir Cyril de Zoysa who holds a unique place among the great leaders of this nation, I consider it my fortune to have this opportunity to contribute an article setting out some of the services rendered by him which help make up his greatness. Indeed I consider this a great honour conferred on me.

Many community leaders are National Heroes because they have rendered services to the nation, within their own specific fields. Any reference to Sir Cyril immediately brings to mind the contributions he made towards fostering the Buddha Sasana. His services were however not confined to these limits.

His services in various spheres of activity such as economic, educational, political, sports etc., can never be forgotten. It must also be stated very specifically that in all these spheres he was second to none.

Born on the 26th of October 1896 in the village of Welitara in the township of Balapitiya, his parents were Solomon de Zoysa, Notary Public. and Mrs. Harriet de Zoysa. Having received his education at St. Thomas’ College, Matara, Richmond College, Galle and Royal College, Colombo, he passed the Cambridge Senior Examination and then entered Law College.

It was in the town of Kalutara that he chose to practise his profession. He dedicated himself to the development of the Kalutara Bodhi, which is just what immortalized his name.

In the nineteen thirties the Residency (official residence of the Government Agent)together with Government Offices including the Kachcheri were located in the premises on the right bank of the Kalu Ganga to the East of Galle Road. Meanwhile, devotees paid homage to, and performed religious rites before, the Bodhi tree which was left unprotected on the Western side of Galle Road. This is known as the pahalamaluwa or lower compound. Sir Cyril who was a devout Buddhist perceiving the growing sanctity of this place, had a mal asanaya or stand erected on which to place the flowers offered by devotees. Development activities commenced soon after. But the place became the target of many an obstacle placed by the then Government Agent who was resident in these quarters. But Sir Cyril being a lawyer overcame all such obstacles taking great pains to ensure that the Kalutara Bodhi is the sacred place that it is today.

The establishment of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust to conduct the administration of this place is a very far sighted step taken by Sir Cyril. By registering this under the Trusts Ordinance it has become a legal entity. The procedures to be followed are very clearly set out in this document. Therefore it has created the circumstances under which the administration of this Trust is conducted in a highly transparent manner. The Bodhi Trust was formed by appointing as its members, eight distinguished persons held in high esteem in the country. While Sir Cyril has lavishly spent a vast portion of his personal resources on the development of the Bodhiya, several tills were placed so that devotees too could voluntarily participate in such development by making their contributions. ‘With the gradual progress of this place of worship, the adjoining premises where the Office of the Kalutara Urban Council was located were acquired; for this, the building where the Urban Council is housed at present was constructed and handed over to the authorities, and the premises so taken over were subject to development as programmed.

Sir Cyril wanted very much to acquire for the Bodhi, the large mound upon which lavishly sprouts a Bo Tree (which is speculated by some to be one of the 32 original saplings that sprang from the 2300 year old Sacred Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura) and which lies to the East of the main road. This is where the GA’s Residency and the Kachcheri stood. For this Sir Cyril offered in exchange a house and land owned by him in nearby Nagoda. After constructing there the buildings required for the Kachcheri he got the land released in the year 1970. The splendid Vatadage and the Chaitya constructed here is a creation of great artistic beauty which today adorns the very town of Kalutara. It is also symbolically the main attraction of the town. It is with the overriding sentiment that merit will be transferred to Sir Cyril that services rendered by the Kalutara Bodhi today and tomorrow need be appraised.

The services rendered by Sir Cyril for the revival of Buddhism and for its sustenance cannot ever be expressed in a mere string, of -words.

At a time that the restoration work of the historic Kiri Vehera had come to a standstill, Sir Cyril accepted the position of Chairman of the Kiri Vehera Restoration Society, took the reins into his own personal hands and brought the restoration work to completion. For a full span of nineteen years, from 1960 to 1978, when he was President of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) he ensured the complete construction of the YMBA Building Complex in Colombo. He has also made meaningful contributions towards the development work of a large number of monasteries such as the Kande Vihara in Alutgama, Sadharmaakara Pirivena in Pinwatta, Panadura, Vajiraaraumaya in Bambalapitiya, Gangaaraamaya in Hunupitiya, Colombo 2, Rajamaha Viharaya in Bellanwila, and Jayasekaraaraamaya in Kuppiyawatta, Colombo 10. He has also joined effectively in the restoration work of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Ananda Bodhiya in Savaththi, India.

He held the position of Patron or President of Buddhist organizations such as the Maha Bodhi Society, YMBA, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and other such institutions and actively participated in the work concerned. He was responsible also for supporting a large number of Pirivenas in the Island and made generous donations to meet their needs.

He also initiated the work of providing text books free of charge to students in Dhamma Schools and by thus uplifting the level of Dhamma School education he sought the spread of the Dhamma among children in their formative years.

Thus, it should be gratefully recalled that well before constitutional provisions were made to the effect that the State should protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, Sir Cyril had performed and inspired the performance of a number of services relevant to the fostering of the Buddha Sasana.

While engaging in such religious activities he was also a remarkable business magnate. For the first time in Nagoda, Kalutara, he started a factory to produce car batteries together with bicycle tyres and tubes. Later it was expanded to include tyre retreading, the production of electric cables and the manufacture of refrigerators. The factories steadily developed into a business complex and generated employment for thousands of people. Accordingly, Sir Cyril should be hailed as a pioneer industrialist.

The `Swarnapali Bus Company’ which he inaugurated provided a passenger service from Colombo to Galle. Later this turned into the ‘Southwestern Bus Company’. This Company too had generated a sizeable quantum of employment opportunities. It is a well known fact that in 1957 when bus transport was nationalised, Sir Cyril had called upon his brother, V.T de Zoysa, who was the incumbent Managing Director of the Bus Company to repair all the buses and to replace all worn out tyres with new ones before handing them over to the State.

He also started a Handloom Weaving Centre thereby creating employment to about 1500 villagers in his home town, Balapitiya. Sir Cyril who worked 16 hours a day expected these employees to provide 8 hours of honest and efficient service.

Another unforgettable contribution he made to Kalutara was the founding of Kalutara Vidyalaya and Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya. They are now recognized as the leading and most popular schools in Kalutara town. Distinguished past pupils who had their education in these schools are today well-placed in various fields of service and activity. Even at present many are the events in these two schools when the memory of Sir Cyril is gratefully recalled.

In addition to this, his bungalow located in his rubber estate at Bombuwela has been converted to a Home for the Aged and continues to be maintained well.

A reputed social worker, Sir Cyril has concurrently served as Patron/President/Member in a number of different societies and associations. To- name a few, they are the Colombo YMBA, All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Maha Bodhi Society, Law Society of Ceylon, National Council of the Blind and the Deaf, Child Protection Association, Ceylon Cancer Society, Ceylon National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (CNAPT), Kalutara Town Club, Sinhalese Sports Club, Boys’ Scout Association etc..

Everyone who worked with him acknowledged his ability, his commitment and his leadership qualities and therefore he attained a position of leadership in all these organizations.

Although he was engaged in these social and business activities, he was by profession a lawyer. In Kalutara he stood out as a clever criminal lawyer. As President of the Law Society of Ceylon for nine long years he has made lasting contributions. It was during his time as President that the Law Society buildings were constructed within the Colombo Court Complex.

Although Sir Cyril was not in active politics, he was nominated a member of the Senate. This was in consideration of his ability and the esteem in which he was held in society. He served as Deputy President and President of the Senate for a considerable period of time.

In a brief article such as this, we can do scant justice to Sir Cyril, considering the vast extent of the service he has rendered to State and Nation. Had he been born in India he would sure have been deified and received all due honour and encomiums. It is gratifying to note that a number of endeavours he initiated continue to live on, so successfully followed up and maintained as if in fruition of his aspirations. I salute this National Hero who in the 20th century rendered immortal service to Sri Lanka and wish him speedy realization of the Truth.


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