Sir Baron Jayatilake:
A beacon of light
My Mahappa Sir Baron Jayatilaka was a statesman and a scholar and at
the same time he was a very simple man who led a very ordinary life.
Born at Waragoda, Kelaniya, he was the eldest son of Liyanarachige Don
Daniel Jayatilaka and Dona Elisiyana Weerasinghe. He had two younger
brothers, Muhandiram Don Simon Jayatilake who had 5 children and my
father Mudaliyar Don Abraham Jayatilaka. He had a sister older to him,
but she died young. My father being the youngest in the family inherited
the house where my Mahappa, Sir Baron spent his childhood. I am happy
and proud to own it now being the only child in my family. My
grandfather was a landed proprietor and he with the Weerasinghe's of
Waragoda and the Fernando's of Wanawasala were responsible for the
establishment of the Vidyalankara Pirivena. When Mahappa was six years
old he read his first letters at the feet of the Most Venerable
Ratmalane Sri Dharmaloka Maha Nayaka Thera. Thereafter he was sent to
the local Baptist school at Waragoda, where he learnt English and other
subjects through the medium of English. At the same time he went to the
Pirivena and learnt Buddhism, Pali and Sanskrit. He mastered all these
languages so quickly that the Most Venerable Nayaka Thera was deeply
impressed by his ability to do so. After some time he left the Baptist
School and was admitted to Wesley College. There too he was a shining
student and carried away all the prizes.
There is something very important and interesting which my father
related to me a long time ago. When my grandmother was expecting Mahappa
she had a wonderful dream. In her dream she had carried her eldest
daughter and gone to the rear door of our house. This door leads to the
garden and she saw that the moon was shining bright.
All off a sudden the moon started coming down towards her. As she was
carrying her daughter on her right arm she held her left hand to the
moon. But the moon went up. Then she took the child to her left arm and
held the right hand and the moon came and rested on her right palm.
Heart and soul
She got such a shock that she woke up quite disturbed as it was an
unusual dream and besides she was expecting a baby too. She immediately
told my grandfather about her dream and he went early morning to the
Vidyalankara Pirivena and narrated the dream to the Most Ven. Dharmaloka
Thera who was very clever at sorting out dreams. The Most Ven. Thera
told my grandfather not to worry that he will be blessed with a baby boy
who will be a shining light to Sri Lanka. True to his words Mahappa
excelled in his studies here and at the age of 22 he got his B.A. at the
Calcutta University. He was an active Buddhist worker. He did everything
he could to promote Buddhism here and abroad. He was in the forefront of
the temperance movement. In 1915 he was arrested and imprisoned by the
British Government along with other Buddhist leaders. Their cause was
taken to the Privy Council by E. W. Perera and after a lot of hard work
they were released. Although he visited several foreign countries he
never forgot the fact that he was a Sinhalese and a Buddhist.
In 1898 the Young Men's Buddhist Association was started in a small
building at Maradana. Later he purchased the land at Borella. It was a
big struggle for him to find the money as the Association had hardly any
funds. Mr. F. R. Senanayake helped him to buy the land. He was the first
President of the Y. M. B. A. and held that position till he died. The
Vidyalankara Pirivena and the Y. M. B. A. were his heart and soul. Later
he entered the Ceylon Lagislative Council and was the member for
Kelaniya. His seat was always uncontested. He was the Minister for Home
Affairs and he became the Leader of the State Council, and held that
position till he resigned and went to India as Ambassador for Sri Lanka.
He married Mallika Batuwantudawa, the third daughter of Pandit
Batuwantudawa. She was a good Sinhala Buddhist and was well versed in
Sinhala, Pali and English. I remember her very well, and she was quite
fond of me. My mother was a Miss Samarasinghe, sister of Atapattu
Mudaliyar Walter Samarasinghe. My mother too was well versed in Sinhala
and English. So the two sisters-in-law got on well together. Mahamma was
of great assistance to Mahappa. She never interfered in his work but
whenever he needed assistance she gave it to him.
Pillar of strength
My father was the President of Village Tribunal of the Siyane Korale
West. He was of great assistance to Mahappa in organizing various
functions at the Pirivena and elsewhere.
It was my father who organised the Perahera to take the Sacred Relics
to the Pirivena. When State dignitaries came from abroad Mahappa always
entertained them at his residence. When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru came to
Sri Lanka Mahappa invited him to tea at his residence. Pandit Nehru came
with his sister Mrs. Huthee Singh and I had the privilege of presenting
a basket of flowers to her. Later Mahappa introduced us to Pandit Nehru
and his sister and we had the honour of shaking hands with them. Mahamma
died in 1929. She was ailing for some time and when she was critical he
was informed and he came rushing to her bedside.
Then she recited two lines from the `Gatha' but she could not
complete it, and she passed away. Mahappa who was by her bedside
completed the `Gatha' It was very difficult for him to bear the loss as
she was a pillar of strength to him. He was in the midst of building a
house for them to live at Bullers Road. But she died before it was
completed. So he never went to live in it. Instead he has bequeathed
this house along with his other properties for charity.
Now the Public Trustee Office is housed in this building. Before he
left for India as Ambassador for Sri Lanka he wanted to visit the
Vidyalankara Pirivena. A special train was provided for him to go to
India. The train started from the Fort Station, and a large crowd of
well-wishers' relatives and friends had gathered there to bid farewell
He made it a point to stop the train at the Kelaniya Station to go to
the Vidyalankara Pirivena to pay his respects to the Most Venerable
Lunupokune Dhammananda Thera. There was a large crowd at the Kelaniya
station, to bid farewell to him.
While in India he got ill and was very keen on coming to Sri Lanka
for treatment. Permission was taken from my father to bring him home.
The Viceroy of India provided a special plane for him with a doctor and
medical staff. But on the way to Sri Lanka he passed away. His last
words were "How far are we from Colombo?" He died on the 31st of May
The mammoth crowd that attended his funeral was an ample testimony to
his popularity. Although he moved about with great men he never forgot
the fact that he was a Sinhalese and a Buddhist. He was in the forefront
of the fight for independence for Sri Lanka.
He was chosen to lay the pinnacle for the Ruwanveli Maha Seya. Amidst
the shouts of `sadhu' from the thousands that gathered there, he attired
in the grab of an Upasaka along with Sri Cuda Ratwatte pressed the
button to lay the pinnacle to the Ruwanweli Maha Seya. There is a saying
that the good that men do live after them but I would conclude by saying
that the good that men do die with them.