Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka was born on February 13, 1868 in Waragoda, a village in Kelaniya, the eldest son of Don Daniel and Elisa Jayatilaka (nee Weerasinghe). His father Daniel Jayatilaka was from Paththalagedara in Veyangoda and was a contractor in the construction of roads and a founder member of the Vidyalankara Pirivena in Kelaniya. [...]


The “Guru” to many pre- and post- Independence leaders of our country

Sir D.B. Jayatilaka’s 150th birth anniversary was commemorated on February 13

Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu at the Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka commemorative oration by Wickrema Weerasooria on Tuesday. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was the Chief Guest at the ceremony.

Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka was born on February 13, 1868 in Waragoda, a village in Kelaniya, the eldest son of Don Daniel and Elisa Jayatilaka (nee Weerasinghe).

His father Daniel Jayatilaka was from Paththalagedara in Veyangoda and was a contractor in the construction of roads and a founder member of the Vidyalankara Pirivena in Kelaniya. Elisa Jayatilaka (nee Weerasinghe), a devoted Buddhist was a descendant of the highly respected and wealthy Weerasinghe family of Waragoda.

His initial education was at Vidyalankara Pirivena where he learnt Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist literature under the patronage of scholars such as Ven. Rathmalane Sri Dharmaloka Thera. He had his elementary education in the English medium at a Baptist school in Kelaniya and his secondary education at Wesley College Colombo. His siblings were Muhandiram Don Simon Jayatilaka and Mudliyar Don Abraham Jayatilaka. He married Mallika Batuwanthudawa, daughter of Pandith Batuwantudawa of Warahena Bentota in 1898.

Sir D.B. was a scholar of high intellect who revised Buddhist literature in Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and English and also Sinhala literature (which had declined under colonial rule). He was the founding Chief Editor of the monolingual etymological Sinhala dictionary, an influencer for the publishing of the “Dinamina” newspaper of Lake House, a great Buddhist leader, founder and first president of the YMBA (which position he held for 46 years until his death), president of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, president of the Vidyalankara Sabha, initiated Dhamma schools (“Daham pasal”), president of the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon, a leading personality in the Temperance Movement, first Buddhist and Sinhala Principal of Ananda College Colombo, also the first OBA President of the College, Founder Principal of Dharmarajah College Kandy and first Manager of Visaka Vidyalaya Colombo. He began and managed several Buddhist schools, was General Manager and Secretary of the Buddhist Theosophical Society and a founder of Sri Dharmaloka Maha Vidyalaya Kelaniya.

Sir D.B. Jayatilaka was a Barrister. He qualified with a BA and MA from the University of Calcutta and University of Oxford respectively. He was an advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon and a very well-respected diplomat who represented Ceylon in India and at many international conferences.

He was instrumental in the revival and upgrading of the religious, national and cultural values of the nation that had deteriorated during colonial rule. Sir D.B. had close relationships with intellectuals and leaders such as Ven. Rathmalane Sri Dharmarama, Anagarika Dharmapala, Col. Henry Steele Olcott, F.R. Senanayake, Pandith Batuwanthudawa, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, C.W.W. Kannangara and T.B. Jayah. He also understood the pulse of the common man.

Sir D.B. was an outstanding politician and statesman who towered above his contemporaries. He was a freedom fighter, patriot and leader of the Independence movement of Ceylon. He was appointed as President of the Ceylon National Congress in 1923 and was elected to the Legislative Council of Ceylon from the Colombo District, holding the position of Vice President which was the highest position a Ceylonese could hold (the British Governor was the President).

Sir D.B. was elected to the newly formed State Council of Ceylon from the Kelaniya electorate and became Leader of the House and Minister of Home Affairs in 1931. He was the first elected leader of Ceylon / Sri Lanka through the voting rights of the people of this country and was the Leader of the House in the State Council – a position equivalent to that of Prime Minister.

Being immensely popular among all nationalities he was re-elected uncontested to represent the Kelaniya electorate and continued as the undisputed leader of the State Council of Ceylon.

Sir D.B. was the first Ceylonese to prepare the Budget speech for Ceylon as the Leader of the State Council. He was instrumental in the renovations of the “Ruwanweli Maha Seya” and was the state leader at the pinnacle laying ceremony of the Stupa in 1941.

As the Leader of the State Council he was the greatest strength to Minister of Education C.W.W. Kannangara to overcome barriers to pass the “Free Education Bill”.

Rightfully and most deservedly Sir D.B. received a Knighthood for the services rendered to Ceylon.

This great man was the “Guru” of most pre and post-Independence leaders of our country, including some leaders who later became Prime Ministers of independent Ceylon.

He sacrificed his personal wealth to fund the Independence movement and donated most of his assets to the state. The Public Trustee Offices at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 (Thurban House) was gifted to the state.

The Sir D.B. Jayatilaka Trust presently is the richest state owned trust comprising a range of revenue generating assets which makes contributions to numerous educational (leading schools), charitable and social institutions annually.

The Second World War in the early 1940s  created a severe food shortage in the country. The British Colonial administration and the then Ministers of Agriculture, Trade and Commerce with officials were unsuccessful in negotiations with the Government of India to obtain food as India too was suffering similar shortages.

Sir D.B. was the first Ceylonese to be the President of the Indian Students Association at University of Oxford at the time he read for his MA and having closely associated with the Indian National Congress leaders during their Independence struggle, had developed personal friendships with the Indian leaders. The British Governor made a desperate request to Sir D.B. who went to India and requested food aid. As a result of the respect and tremendous regard the Indian leaders had for Sir D.B. food aid was provided to Ceylon.

This very success ironically proved to be detrimental to Sir D.B. as the British Governor felt that his continued assistance was required to obtain food aid from India, with dangers lurking in the high seas from enemy naval ships to cargo vessels.

Sir D.B. hence sacrificed his position at the State Council in 1942 to comply with the request of the Governor and undertook to function as the Representative (High Commissioner) of the Government of Ceylon in India.

He fell ill in 1944 whilst in India and decided to obtain medical treatment back home. However he passed away in the special aircraft allocated by the Viceroy of India on May 29, 1944 while being flown home. His last words were “Are we in Ceylon” and he breathed his last whilst the plane was over Indian territory.

Sir D.B. was accorded an official state funeral which was attended by large numbers from all parts of the country.

I conclude this article with a verse by the famous Tibetan Monk – Ven. S. Mahinda following Sir D.B’s death under the heading “Lak mawa valapey” – Weepings of Mother Lanka

“Ran Mal Halena Karunabara Hinawata

Pandithakamata Yali Sihikalpanawata

Thanpathkamata Rupeta Wasanawata

Un Mage Putha aiyo Nathiwuna Mata”

Translation (by Dr. H.J)

“Your kind and pleasant smile made flowers bloom

Wisdom and thoughtfulness,

Serenity, blessed bearing,

My son alas, I lost forever.”

- R.S.J.P.


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