F R Senanayake’s death anniversary: Selfless servant of people
F R Senanayake’s death anniversary:
Selfless servant of people
Patriotic philanthropist, Buddhist social activist, pioneer of Temperance Movement
Stanley E Abeynayake
On January 1, citizens of the country remember with gratitude and pay homage to one of the greatest sons of Mother Lanka who sacrificed his wealth, energy and wisdom to free our homeland from the British rule. F R Senanayake was a gentleman par excellence rarely born into any nation. He belonged to all communities of Sri Lanka. One of the Tamil lawyers, a leading advocate of that period H A P Sandarasagara remarked that F R Senanayake was a unique patriot - who never kindled any caste, creed or communal fire but treated every citizen equally, the entire nation is forever indebted to the patriot who never desired or aspired for any personal benefit for the services he rendered.
The distinguished Senanayakes of Botale Walawwa, Mirigama Hapitigam Korale in the Gampaha district need no introduction to our people - Sri Lankans.
F R Senanayake
They hail from an ancient historic family steeped deep with Buddhist traditions. All Senanayakes never embraced Christianity, under the colonial rulers, Portuguese, Dutch and British in order to curry favours with those masters and gain emoluments of high positions of rank. They remain up to the present as true practicing Buddhists.
The scion of the Botale Walawwa Senanayakes was Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake. By dint of perseverance be amassed a fortune by coconut plantations and graphite (plumbago) industry during the 19th Century under the British rule. His wife was Dona Catherine Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera of Kebelella Walawwa, Hunumulla, Divulapitiya also in the Gampaha district.
They were blessed with three sons D C (Don Charles), F R (Frederick Richard) and D S (Don Stephen) Senanayake;
The second son Frederick Richard Senanayake was born at Botale on October 22, 1882.
For his primary education he was admitted to English School, Matale. Subsequently, he was educated at S Thomas’ College, at that time located in Mutwal, Colombo 15 (1893). On passing the Cambridge Junior and Senior examinations creditably well (1898) he proceeded to England and joined the University of Cambridge (1899). Then he was only 17 years of age. At Cambridge he obtained the Law Tripos (BA) and the postgraduate degree - LL.B and also read for the Bar. He was called to the English Bar from Lincoln’s Inn - Law College, London.
The young barrister was only 21 years at that time. On his return (1904) he was duly admitted and enroled as an advocate of the Supreme Court. The lawyer F R Senanayake was not at all interested in the practice of law. Philanthropy, charity and welfare of his countrymen were in his blood. The main objective uppermost in his mind was the advancement of the Sinhala Buddhists. His fellow countrymen and villagers in Mirigama - Botale - Ambepussa affectionately called him ‘London John’ for having received higher Cambridge University academic education and professional law achievement.
His elder brother came to be known as ‘Colombo John’ for he left his village Botale, Mirigama to permanently reside in Colombo. The younger brother D S, later first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon - now Sri Lanka was fondly nick named ‘Kele John’ for his preference to outdoor sportive life taking to coconut and paddy cultivation.
The three Senanayake brothers - DC, FR and DS were appalled at the opening up of taverns both toddy and arrack by the British administration in every nook and corner of our country. The Government had passed into statute book the Excise Ordinance. The peasants and poor workers in urban and rural areas became addicts to liquor. With the result the wave of crimes increased by leaps and bounds. The ever-patriotic Senanayake brothers organized the Temperance movement in their own area - Hapitigam Korale with the help of the Buddhist monks. They along with their kind-hearted, social welfare minded father Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake were the patrons of Buddhist temples and Pirivenas in that Korale.
F R Senanayake took the initiative in this benign movement that began in 1911-12 at Botale, Mirigama.
By this time he married Allan Aatygalle, the younger daughter of Mudaliyar D C G Atygalle of Kolamune Walawwa, Madapatha, Piliyandala on May 26, 1910. The Mudaliyar was a wealthy coconut estate proprietor cum graphite (plumbago) mines magnate. He made name and fame in the Salpitikorale of the Colombo district like Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake of Botale Walawwa, Ambepussa, Mirigama in the Hapitigam Korale of the present Gampaha district.
F R Senanayake became the father of six children - three sons R G (Richard Gotabhaya), F T (Frederick Tissa) C U (Chandra Upali) and three daughters, Phylis Nedra, Rupawathie, Neela, Swarna. When Fr entered the band of matrimony he was 27 years.
When the governor Robert Chalmers declared martial law in May-June 1915 to suppress the Sinhalese-Muslim riots, the British Government took steps to suppress them ruthlessly destroying their lives and property of all Sinhalese suspected of flimsy grounds. In this horrendous task, the governor had the merciless services of the head on the Army General Malcolm, Inspector General of Police (IGP) A L Dowbiggin and the G A (Government Agent) Fraser (Colombo). They deployed Punjabi and Marathi. Indian reinforcements got down from Bombay/(Now Mumbai).
Without any rhyme or reason, the British administrators arrested among other all patriotic Sinhalese Buddhist teachers. Among the leaders the three Senanayake brothers - D C F R and D S got them arrested and incarcerated at the Welikada prison. On the arbitrary sentence passed by the court martial held in Colombo Captain D Edward Henry Pedris of the Colombo Town Guard was ordered to be shot. When he was killed by shooting on July 7, 1915 within the precincts of the Welikada jail.
F R Senanayake who was also an inmate there made the solemn pledge namely to free the country from the British colonial rule.
He declared that “even if I am made to beg with a coconut shell in hand, I’ll spend all my wealth to teach these fellows (British administrators) a lesson”.
True to his honest promise, he spent lavishly his money to send a deputation headed by yet another patriot lawyer/advocate E W (Edward Walter) Perera, ‘The Lion of Kotte’ to found on for the purpose of agitation or Constitutional reforms in our country.
E W Perera also pressed for a commission of inquiry concerning the atrocities committed by the 'British Raj' to the Sinhalese-Buddhists. F R Senanayake also sent D B (later Sir Baron) Jayatilleke also to place the grievances of that community.
The legitimate representations of these two gentlemen - E R and D B resulted in the recall of the culprit governor Robert Chalmers. He was replaced by governor Anderson. A Commission titled 'Kegalle Shooting commission' too was appointed to probe into malicious killing of innocent peasants in the Kegalle district during the gloomy days of martial law. At that commissionist Lawyer (advocate) F R Senanayake appeared as counsel.
His pioneering patriotic efforts paved the way for the formation of the National Congress. Its sole aim was to gain independence to the country. Ultimately when independence was declared on February 4, 1948, FR's younger brother D S Senanayake emerged 'As the first Prime Minister', affectionately dubbed as the 'Father of the Nation'.
Thus F R Senanayake's efforts by way of energy, counselling, advice and wealth - contributions proved fruitful at the end.
Similar to all Senanayakes, F R too was a practising Buddhist. It could most appropriately be remarked that his generosity philanthropy and charity were limitless that he was indeed a King Wessanthara - a Bodhisathwa or a King Sangabodhi who sacrificed his life for the cause of future Buddhahood.
His intimate advisors on those religious meritorious acts were Ven Halaluwe Sri Sunanda Thera and the most Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thera of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Maligakanda, Colombo. He not only assisted the Kelaniya, Peliyagoda Vidyalankara Pirivena but also patronized all the Buddhist temples in and around Colombo.
His munificance was such that he contributed tremendously for the purchase of the Colombo YMBA building in Borella. He never let go empty-handed a Buddhist monk or any person in want who called at his residence 'Grassmere' Gregory's road, Colombo 7.
Buddhists of his era believed him to be a Bodhisatwa - an aspiring Buddha to be fulfilling donation merit - 'Danaparamitha' fate decreed that he should breath his last in India 'Dambadiva' in the land of the Buddha. He went on a pilgrimage to that holy country and on December 16, 1925 he suddenly became sick in Calcutta.
On admission to a hospital there he passed away on January 1, 1926 aged only 44 years.
It was revealed that the cause of his death was appendicitis for which he underwent a surgical operation in that far off remote Indian city.
We all must behold the architect of our independence, the late F R Senanayake, a unique gentleman unsurpassed, through whose yeomen national service and foresight, we gained National spirit and the stature to achieve the status of an independent government.
May his dignified name live-forever in the hearts of our citizens, particularly the Sinhalese Buddhists.
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