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Grand daughter remembers the Maha Mudaliyar



by Chantal Hiranthi Obeyesekere de Saram

My grandfather, Sir James Peter Obeyesekere, was a benevolent man who believed in giving to the society/community in which he lived. He was a linguist and a scholar who made great attempts to facilitate education throughout the Island. He had no interest in politics and was more focused on carrying out social activities to develop education, religion and society as a whole. He was a member of the colonial government service and was appointed to the post of Chief Mudaliyar. He was regarded as one of the most powerful personalities in British Colonial rule.


Family Background and Parents

His mother was Mrs. Cornelia Henrietta Dias Bandaranaike Obeyesekere. She was possibly one of Ceylon’s largest landowners and a leading philanthropist. She was married to Hon. James Peter Obeyesekere, a member of the Legislative Council. Her husband met with a tragic accident, leaving her a pregnant young widow of 26 years, with three very small children, Hilda, James and Donald. At the same time she lost her beloved mother. A devout Christian lady, she relied on her Saviour to overcome the tragedies in her life.

Cornelia Obeyesekere managed her estates of tea, rubber, coconut and rice very well. From Kankesanturai, Jaffna to Kataluwa, Galle, she owned more than 20,000 acres. She introduced rambuttan from Malaysia to Ceylon and planted rambuttan on her estates at Malwana. She gifted 1,000 acres of her Muthurajawela land to the Government to conserve the wetlands. She loved her children and grandchildren.

Her three sons James, Donald and Stanley attended Cambridge University. She accompanied them to England. Queen Victoria sent a special train to London to bring her to Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria was very impressed with her ability to speak good English and her style of dress. They enjoyed a close friendship.

St. Mary’s Veyangoda Church, St. Mary’s Veyangoda School, Wathupitiwela Hospital are all gifts made to the country by this noble lady. She built many schools, clinics to combat malaria and helped the temples of Attanagalle, Warana and the Saman Devale in Ratnapura. The Hirdramani family, a business family of repute, owe their beginnings to Mrs. Obeyesekere. She gave them the money to start their shop in Chatham Street. A large population of people in Siyane Korale live on lands gifted to them by Mrs. Obeyesekere and her son.

After her death in 1935, her assets passed on to her daughter Lady Hilda Obeyesekere and her sons, James, Donald and Stanley.

My grandfather was born in Mutwal in 1879. He had three siblings. His eldest sister Lady Hilda Obeyesekere was a well-educated lady. She helped the arts develop in this country. “The Lady Hilda Obeyesekere Hall” in Peradeniya was gifted by her to the University of Peradeniya. Her son Justin Deraniyagala, an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, was an artist of repute. Her grandchildren, Druvi and Rohan de Saram are world famous musicians.

Donald Obeyesekere was my grandfather’s younger brother. He was educated at Royal College. He was a historian and an authority on ayurvedic medicine. His sons boxed for Cambridge University and Ceylon.

My grandfather’s youngest brother, Stanley Obeyesekere, was also educated at Royal College. Stanley Obeyesekere was the country’s first Ceylonese Solicitor General. His grandson Dijen de Saram played cricket for S. Thomas’ College. His great grandson Julian Bolling was a Sri Lankan Olympic swimmer.

My grandfather studied at S. Thomas’ College Mutwal. He was a good scholar and excelled in athletics. He was involved in the Scout Movement and was a Cadet. He was a good horse rider and played Polo. He went to Trinity College, Cambridge University in the UK as did his two brothers. His father Hon. J.P. Obeyesekere also attended Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge, he and his brothers who all studied Law were called to the Bar. He was an Advocate of the Supreme Court, Justice of the Peace. M.R.A.S., C.B. District Commissioner, Henaratgoda Boy Scouts Association. He went on to become President of the Boy Scouts Association.

He also showed a keen interest in Geology. His mother had owned plumbago mines. He and his brothers after graduation from Cambridge University studied agriculture at the Royal Agriculture University in Cirencseter Gloucestershire, UK.


Contributions Made Towards Nation Building

My grandfather was not fond of politics. He was the last Chief of all Chieftains of Ceylon or Maha Mudaliyar, in which capacity he also served as the Chief Interpreter and Extra A.D.C. to his Excellency the Governor. He served under Sir Andrew Caldecott and Sir Henry Monk-Mason Moore. King George VI was the British Sovereign at that time. He was the conduit that bounded the local citizenry and the British. He had a very difficult diplomatic role to play.

After graduating from Cambridge, he and his brothers who all studied Law, were called to the Bar. He became an advocate to the Supreme Court on his return to Sri Lanka. He initially joined the Colonial Government service as a district commissioner and was later appointed ‘Maha Mudaliyar’ or Head Mudaliyar in the year 1928. This post was an important one in the British Government of Ceylon. Having served as a Governor’s Chief Interpreter, native representative, adviser and aide-de-camp he came to be known as one of the most powerful personalities in British Colonial Ceylon. It is significant that he was the last to hold the position under the British.

He served in the Colonial government in such a capacity because he had no desire to enter the political arena in Ceylon. He was not power hungry and on the contrary played the role of a mediator between the British Government and the citizenry. He mediated through diplomacy and although this was not an easy task he was able to gain the trust of both the British Government and the Ceylonese people.

My grandfather was a social worker, a suitable role for a benevolent man. He believed that the down trodden and dis-empowered should be empowered and given a voice. He laid the foundation to this through his generosity. He extended a hand as well by listening to the grievances of the villagers in the Attanagalle area and taking steps to solve them. There was even a place in his home separated just for the purpose of meeting villagers to redress their grievances. At our home in Nittambuwa, there were people from all walks of life coming to meet him. He enjoyed the company of those who were interested in science.

Furthermore he witnessed the historic moment when Ceylon gained independence in 1948 with satisfaction, as he had played a role in ensuring Ceylon gained her independence.

Later on in his career he was appointed a Justice of Peace by the Governor and also a Knights Bachelor for public service in Ceylon in the 1936 New Year Honours by King George V.


His Contribution To Education

My grandfather owned land in Mt. Lavinia which extended from the Galle Road to de Saram Road. His sister Lady Hilda Obeyesekere owned the land which extended from de Saram Road to the sea. Sir J.P. Obeyesekere donated the land which extended from Galle Road to Hotel Road to S. Thomas’ College. He served on the Board of Governors for many years and helped set up a lot of the buildings of the school. He provided good jak timber taken from his estates and also provided labour necessary to build these buildings. All the school furniture was donated by him.

There were many schools in Alawala, Walpola, Bauddha Vidyalaya, Anura Madya Maha Vidyalaya, Kamburugalle Maha Vidyalaya, Udammitta Indrasara Vidyalaya in Attanagalle that were gifted by him. He donated buildings, desks, chairs, books, cupboards to these schools. He also provided scholarships to needy children.

He also contributed to the development of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, the Nittambuwa Buddhist Pirivana, the Muttune Buddhist Pirivana, the Attanagalle Raja Maha Viharaya and the Warana Raja Maha Viharaya all benefited from his generosity.

He was a linguist and scholar. He was well versed in English, French, Sinhalese, Pali and Sanskrit. He studied Astronomy. He had a very powerful telescope with which he would study the night sky. He was always a student, reading voraciously. He was interested in new scientific discoveries. He would constantly impart this knowledge to the less privileged.

In all these gifts, the family followed the principal of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand give.” My father Deshamanya Senator J.P. Obeyesekere a Royalist and Cambridge graduate gave to S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia 250 perches and made a further donation of eight perches to the school. I made available to S. Thomas’ College 50 perches and a purpose built Montessori and Day Care Centre. This building cost 40,000,000/- as it was a purpose built for pre scholars, thus enabling S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia to now extend their facilities to early learning. It is interesting to note that most of the school buildings, land holding worth over a billion rupees belonging to my family now belongs to the school. This is possibly the largest gift any family has made to this particular School. All his employees children’s text books and school books were gifted to them every year.


He gifted five acres to the Mrs. J.P. Obeyesekere Wathupitiwela Hospital. He built many wards in this Hospital and gifted the necessary equipment. Many clinics in Gampaha were constructed by him. A total of 20 acres and buildings have been gifted by him, his mother and his son to this hospital.



Contribution to the Anglican Church

A deeply committed Christian he maintained St. Mary’s Church Veyangoda and St. Peter’s Church Mirigama. He contributed generously to All Saints Church, Hultsdrop, the family church. Each day like his mother, he would start the day in prayer in a little chapel in his home, Batadola Walauwa in Nittambuwa. He also administered the “C.H. Obeyesekere Trust” in the Diocese of Colombo.


Social Services

He gifted eight acres and helped build the Siyane Korale East Social Service Home for the Elders’ and Children. This was on a request made by daughter-in-law, my mother Deshamanya Mrs. Siva Obeyesekere.


Scout Movement

He was very involved in the Scout Movement. His wife Lady Amy Estelle Obeyesekere was the first Ceylonese President of the Girl Guides.


Gifts to the Nation

His gifts of land and houses were legendary. The present Pradeshiya Sabhawa is located on 2.5 acres gifted by him.

Growing up with my grandfather was a magical experience. He was a very disciplined person. He kept fit by riding twice daily his favourite horse, a very feisty animal, a polo pony. At a very early age he taught me to ride. I was three years old when I received my first pony. It was selected by his friend who was the V.C. Chairman of Delft Island. Patiently and slowly I was taught to ride. Then we would get up early morning and ride through his estates to Mahibulkande. He had gifted his lands to the villagers there. We were given two stools to sit on and they would welcome us with kurumba water. It was lovely listening to folk songs and stories, My grandfather loved entertaining my friends. We were very young but he knew how to amuse us. He was so witty.

In the night he would show us the night sky through his powerful telescope. Our home was always vibrant with people of different walks of life sharing their knowledge with us. In particular he was interested in natural history and geology. I would spend hours in his company and never tire of listening to his stories. He would read children’s books to me. I would go for long walks with him. I was very privilege to share my childhood with him.



At the age of 89 he passed away at Batadola Walauwa, Nittmabuwa. My father and I were by his bedside. He was given a grand funeral complete with Lascarine guards and was laid to rest at the Borella Kanatte Cemetery Anglican section in September 1968. He lived by the noble saying “it is not what you have but what you give that brings you happiness.”

(This article follows last week’s excerpt from DIG Edward Gunawardane’s memoirs of his meetings, as a young ASP, with the Maha Mudaliyar)


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31st night…Down Under



The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.

In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass. 

The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 

According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.

The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.

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Fall armyworm:



Strategies for effective management

by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.

Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)


FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff



Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.

The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security



The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology

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President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest



by Jehan Perera

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.

In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.



It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.

The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.

More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.



President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.

One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.



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