The Uncrowned King of Ceylon

Published : 11:56 am  February 4, 2018 | No comments so far |  | 


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Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka was born on February 13, 1868, in Waragoda, a village in Kelaniya as the eldest son of Don Daniel and Elisa Jayatilaka (nee Weerasinghe), the former being from Paththalagedara in Veyangoda, who was a contractor and a founder member of the Vidyalankara Pirivena in Kelaniya.



Mrs Elisa Jayatilaka (nee Weerasinghe) a devoted Buddhist, was a descendant of the highly respected, wealthy Weerasinghe family of Waragoda.

His initial education was at Vidyalankara Pirivena where he learnt Sinhalese, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist literature under scholars such as Ven. Rathmalane Sri Dharmaloka.


This very success ironically proved to be detrimental to Sir Jayatilaka as the British Governor felt that his continued assistance would be required to obtain food aid from the neighbouring country with dangers lurking in the high seas from enemy naval ships to cargo vessels.


Elementary education in the English medium was commenced at a Baptist School in Kelaniya. Secondary education was at Wesley College, Colombo. The siblings were Muhandiram Don Simon Jayatilaka and Mudliyar Don 
Abraham Jayatilaka.

Marriage to Mallika Batuwanthudawa, daughter of Pandith Batuwantudawa of Warahena Bentota took place in 1898.

Sir Baron Jayatilaka was also a scholar of high intellect, who revised Buddhist literature in Sinhala, Palli, Sanskrit and English and also Sinhala literature (which had been denied under colonial rule), the founding Chief Editor of the monolingual etymological Sinhala dictionary, an influencer for the publishing of the Dinamina Newspaper of Lake House Publications, a great Buddhist leader, founder and first president of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), which position was 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 of the Temperance Movement, first Buddhist & Sinhala Principal of Ananda College, Colombo also being the first OBA President of the Collage, Founder Principal of Dharmaraja College Kandy and first Manager of Visakha Vidyalaya Colombo. He commenced and managed several Buddhist schools, held the position of General Manager and Secretary of the Buddhist Theosophical Society, one of the founders of Sri Dharmaloka Maha Vidyalaya Kelaniya-now one of the most reputed National School in the Gampaha District in his village at Waragoda, Kelaniya.
Sir D.B Jayatilaka was a barrister qualified with a BA and MA from the University of Calcutta and the University of Oxford respectively, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon, a very well-respected diplomat, who was the representative for Ceylon in India and represented Ceylon in many International conferences.


The Second World War in the early 1940s created a severe food shortage threatening starvation in the country.



He was a well-respected personality in the country by both the eminent and the common public, therefore, was instrumental in the revival and upgrading of the religious, national and cultural values of the nation that had deteriorated due to colonial rule Sir Baron Jayatilaka had close relationships with intellectual and eminent personnel such as Ven. Rathmalane Sri Dharmarama, Anagarika Dharmapala, Henry Steel 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 and was a noble personality who spent time with the general public.

Sir Baron Jayatilaka 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 (British Governor was the President).

Constitutional reforms of the Donoughmore Commission led to universal franchise. Sir Baron Jayatilake 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.

It must be emphasised that 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.

This is a fact that has not been appreciated adequately.

Being a remarkable administrator with good governance, immense popularity among all nationalities and the towering personality as compared to his peers led to Sir Baron Jayatilake being re-elected uncontested to represent the Kelaniya electorate and continue as the undisputed leader of the State Council of Ceylon.

Sir Baron Jayatilaka was the first Ceylonese to prepare the Budget speech for Ceylon as the Leader of the State Council and under his administration as the Leader of the House not only the Ministry of Home Affairs that was led by him, especially the Ministers of Agriculture, Education and Health were supported to perform with outstanding results to serve the public of the country.

He also was the Buddhist and State leader who was most 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 Sir Baron Jayatilaka was the greatest strength of C.W.W Kannangara, the Minister of Education to overcome barriers to pass the Free Education Bill.
Rightfully, and most deservedly he was conferred 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 but also donated most of his assets to the State.

The Public Trustee Offices at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 07 (Thurban House- A palatial building) was gifted to the State.

The Sir D.B Jayatilaka Trust presently is the richest State-owned Trust comprising of a range of revenue generating assets.

The Second World War in the early 1940s created a severe food shortage threatening starvation 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 as India too were suffering similar shortages. Sir Baron Jayatilaka being the first Ceylonese to be the President of the Indian Students Association at the University of Oxford at the time he read for the MA and later 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 Baron Jayatilaka, who went to India and requested food aid.

As a result of the respect and tremendous regard that the Indian leaders had for Sir Baron Jayatilaka, food aid was provided to Ceylon.

This very success ironically proved to be detrimental to Sir Baron Jayatilaka as the British Governor felt that his continued assistance would be required to obtain food aid from the neighbouring country with dangers lurking in the high seas from enemy naval ships to 
cargo vessels.

Sir Baron Jayatilaka 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.

The position of Leader of the House in the State Council was then filled by D. S. Senanayake, whom the vast majority in the country regarded as being his deputy and who later became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Sir Baron Jayatilake fell ill in 1944 whilst in India and decided to undergo medical treatment in his motherland, in stark contrast to the high and mighty of today. However, he passed away in the aircraft allocated by the Viceroy of India on May 29, 1944.

The last words uttered were ‘Are we in Ceylon’ and breathed his last whilst the plane was over 
Indian territory. Don Baron Jayatilaka the great Philosopher was spoken of as Uncrowned King by the Ceylonese of all walks of life and the highest respect was paid to Sir Jayatilaka by the State of Ceylon with an Official State Funeral attended by a large number of people from all parts of the Country.
Sir Jayatilaka was declared an outstanding National Hero produced by Mother Lanka.