A true son of the soil

122nd anniversary of the birth of Sir Cyril de Zoysa


by Imthiaz Bakeer Markar

"I am now a free man. One’s affluence is not a matter of importance. Everything is delusive.

I was born without wealth. I shall pass away without wealth. My peace, my joy, my strength lies in my philosophy – in the Dhamma to which I subscribe."

This is a statement that Sir Cyril de Zoysa made in his twilight years. Contained within this is the truth and reality of life that every religion preaches.

Sir Cyril de Zoysa is no more. Although he is not physically present with us, his lifestyle was such that he set examples for us to follow. I have not seen Sir Cyril de Zoysa , but I have seen the services he has rendered to all and sundry. Through such services, I see him also through the lives of his family members I know very closely. It was a close relationship that my father had with them. It is precisely because of this bond that my sisters, who were schooling at Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya and Holy Family Convent, Kalutara, stayed with Sir Cyril’s sister in her home, at the outset, when they were admitted to schools in Colombo. As I write, I recall what my sisters said about Sir Cyril’s sister and how she treated them with love and care at her home at Frazer Avenue, Dehiwela.

While he held the post of Chairman of the Urban Council (UC) in the 1940s, this particular sister’s son, Kingsley Wickremasinghe, was later elected several times by popular vote as Chairman of the U.C. I recall how much he wished to engage in the development of the Kalutara town and to solve the problems faced by people. That was the time when I was State Minister of Housing. I believe that his desire to ameliorate the pain of the ordinary man, his forthrightness and the discipline he evinced are qualities he imbibed from the Cyril de Zoysa ancestry.

In the 1960s during the days of my youth, I saw Sir Cyril’s brother, Advocate V. T. de Zoysa, together with Queen’s Counsel A.C. Goonaratne visiting us - being in and out of our home. At that time the two of them were in charge of the management of the affairs of the UNP in the Kalutara District. In turn my father too was in and out of their homes and their office. On many such occasions I joined my father. Carrying forward this bond to the next generation, it is a great joy that today, Ajita and Tilak de Zoysa, continue to maintain a strong bond with us. Today, these two nephews, Ajita de Zoysa, Chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Tilak de Zoysa, the Secretary, are engaged in carrying forward Sir Cyril’s vision suitably adapted to meet the needs of the day.

For centuries, the native community was deprived of many of its fundamental rights as well as a sense of self respect. Cyril de Zoysa was born in those times when patriotic Sri Lankan leaders were resolutely striving to liberate the native community. Young Cyril too followed this path, took on these responsibilities, and made his contribution to the national struggle. The Kalutara Bodhiya, Kalutara Vidyalaya and Balika Vidyalaya rank among his contributions to the community.

Patriotic heroes are born in different countries in different eras as though it were to help fulfill the needs of each such era. Sir Cyril was one such hero, born at the end of the nineteenth century. Born on the 26th of October 1896 in the District of Galle, educated at St. Thomas’ College, Matara, Richmond College, Galle, and Royal College, Colombo. He was admitted to the Ceylon Law College. He commenced his professional career in 1921 as a lawyer in Balapitiya. Later he moved to Kalutara where he became famous. A true son of the soil, he dedicated his life to the service of the people as the Chairman of the Urban Council, a Member of the Senate and then as the President of the Senate.

When he was a Law Student he conducted private tuition classes. With his savings he bought a bullock cart and presented it to his father, who was hitherto dependent on a hired cart to travel to his office to practise as a Notary.

Never did he lose his head when he received honours including a knighthood.

Deeply touched by the neglect of Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, he gave leadership to the mission to develop the sacred place and constructed at his own cost a stand upon which devotees may place flowers, etc. He had the Kachcheri (the Government Agent’s or GA’s Office), the Residency (official residence of the GA) and the premises acquired, and a Chaitya built atop the hillock.

He was again deeply touched by the state of neglect into which sacred Buddhist premises had fallen. He removed his gold ring and sold it to raise funds to renovate the place. He made significant contributions towards Buddhist missionary activities in various countries and also played a vital role in the restoration of the London Buddhist Vihara. He had a section of the Buddhist Vihara re-designed to accomodate Sri Lankan (then Ceylonese) students in London.

When the restoration of the Kiri Vehera at Kataragama came to a standstill, Sir Cyril took matters in hand and within a brief period he completed the work of restoration, had the pinnacle placed atop the Dagoba, in traditional style, by the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Dudley Senanayake. He had the road from Kataragama Devalaya to Kiri Vehera cleared and made a beautiful path to connect the two religious centres,

Sir Cyril took the initiative to set up the Moragalla Aaranya Senasanaya (hermitage) and he was a devout Buddhist who contributed much towards the development of many Buddhist temples. including the Kande Viharaya at Alutgama, Gangarama Viharaya at Hunupitiya, Colombo, Jayasekhararamaya at Kuppiyawattta, Colombo, Bellanwila Viharaya, Vajiraramaya at Bambalapitiya and the Saddharmalankara Pirivena at Pinwatta. The construction and donation of a hall in memory of his parents for the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) when he was serving as its President, the construction of the YMBA building in Colombo Fort and the construction of Pilgrims’ Rests in Kataragama, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, are among his contributions.

He started the Swarnapali Bus Company, which developed into the South Western Bus Company. He commenced a Kataragama-Colombo bus service so that a link between the Southern and Western Provinces was formed. Through this he generated employment and gained much popularity,. Soon, transport services were nationalized, and the Company taken over by the government.

Sir Cyril built a factory for the Associated Motorways Group of Companies on a land in Palatota, Kalutara, to commence the production of tyres and tubes and to build a tyre retreading facility. He also started factories to produce batteries and ‘Sisil’ refrigerators.

This way he also generated employment opportunities for thousands of people. He did not forget his native village of Balapitiya where he commenced a textile weaving factory.

Sir Cyril living a life in accordance with the Buddhist philosophy, treated all religions with respect.

May I conclude this piece of writing with a quotation from the ‘Subhashita Kavyaya’ authored by the erudite poet, Alagiyawnna Mukavati.

පින් මද පුතුන් සියයක් ලදුවත් නිසරු

ගුණ නැණ බලෙන් යුතු පුතු මය ඉතා ගරු

"Fruitless it is to have sired a hundred sons of scant merit

One lone son of character, wisdom and power would suffice to command the highest respect."

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