D.R. Wijewardene, a colossus with political intellect | Sunday Observer

D.R. Wijewardene, a colossus with political intellect

The late D.R. Wijewardene once said that it is the national, religious and cultural inspirations that elevate the newspaper journalist to the national level and added that the subjects of a country need to be culturally moulded at the time of independence.

Kelani Vihara

It is due to this cultural vision that he got down veteran artist Solius Mendis to erect the new Buddhist shrine at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, a magnificient centre of art. It is this same vision that prompted him to have the Peradeniya University building complex modelled on oriental architecture embellished with traditional moonstones and guardstones surpassing all other Western architectural models in Colombo. Doubtless this would have been DR’s dream. While studying law in England, the close association of patriots such as Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir James Pieris, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, F.H.M. Cobert, Sir John Jardene and MacCallum Scott, would have had a benign influence on young Wijewardene’s effords towards Sri Lanka’s independence.

National Independence

DR would have thought as to how the national independence movement spearheaded by Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera, Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra, F.R. Senanayake and E.W. Perera could have been rekindled. DR’s vision towards national freedom foresaw the need to reawaken his countrymen in the direction of Sinhala race, Buddha Sasana, motherland and cultural heritage while uniting the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities. Having passed his law examinations in England, DR launched himself on the precarious enterprise, the newspaper industry as a means of mobilising strong public opinion and political leadership towards achieving independence.

Following the steps of British newspaper moguls such as Lord Bever Bruce and Rothemere, DR set up Lake House incorporating modern management systems to launch Sinhala newspaper journalism at a time when it was difficult to secure loans from British-dominated banks. His sole interest was to get rid of the servile vision and mentality created in the minds of the people by the Sinhala, Tamil and English press and inculcate a sense of nationalism and national freedom in the minds of his people. To accomplish this ideal, he enlisted the active support of media greats such as Piyasena Nissanka, Martin Wickramasinghe, Alexander Weliwita, Hikkaduwe Sri Lal Liyanage, Denzil Peiris, Tarzie Vittachchi and also of Peter Keuneman, Henry Peiris and Meemana Premathilake who had embraced a rival political ideology.


He was determined to set up a monolith of a newspaper organisation so that the people could be enriched with dissemination of information and improved literary and social intercourse. Having mobilised his inborn talents such as entreprenurial skills, administrative expertise, management of resources and inborn dexterity he launched the Silumina, Dinamina, Daily News and Thinakaran as a medium to address all sections of the population. This was a commendable step which made the ordinary masses aware of world events. H.S. Perera’s Dinamina and Piyasena Nissanka’s Silumina became a role model of a university disseminating knowledge among the people. The Dinamina rendered yeomen service to the nation by translating H.C.P. Bell’s archaeological research, R.L. Brohier’s writings on hydro-civilisation and Russian literary creations into Sinhala. This eventually gave birth to the ‘Ten Cent University’.

Important writings on national and religious revival in the Dinamina and Silumina were printed and published by the Dinamina or Lake House printing press as a national service. The Dinamina Vesak Annual launched in 1933 was the catalyst for spreading the Dhamma.

The Daily News Vesak Annual and the Budusarana tabloid were equally helpful to cultivate the knowledge of the Dhamma. The Dinamina, Silumina, Daily News, Observer and Thinakaran became mainstream media to address the country. Its contribution to literature, drama, cinema and architecture was colossal. Artists such as G.L. Gauthamadasa, L.T.P. Manjusri, Sybil Wettasinghe and Thalangama Jayasinghe and critics and writers of the fame of Nihal Ratnayake, Edwin Ariyadasa, Benedict Dodampegama, Prof. Ediriweera Saratchchandra, G.B. Senanayake, Gunapala Malalasekera, E.W. Adikaram and Dayasena Gunasinghe too added their fair share of commitment to the success of the then national paper.

D.R. Wijewardene pioneered the setup of the Peradeniya University along with his peers. Our only national university should be the mirror of our culture was the view he held firmly.

The architectural superiority of the Peradeniya University’s building complex with indigenous cultural traits such as the moonstone and punkalas in the hands of reputed architect Patrick Abercrombie was DR’s obsession.

To preserve the dignity of bhikkhu students, D.R. gifted a Sangarama-bhikkhu hostel to the Peradeniya University in addition to the D.R. Wijewardene Hall for lay students.

Together with his mother, Helena Wijewardene D.R. was instrumental in getting Solius Mendis, the artist of distinction to draw the world famous murals at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara’s new shrine room.


Rabindranath Tagore’s fifth visit to Sri Lanka was at the invitation of D.R. Wijewardene. The Udayashanker drama troupe performed for four days in Colombo. Shanthinikethan students held four musical concerts and delivered eight lectures on oriental culture. Tagore laid the foundation stone for the Sripalee Vidyalaya, Horana.

It was the result of Tagore’s Lanka visit that artistes such as Suriyasankar Molligoda, Chitrasena, Panibharatha, Nimal Welgama, Somabandu Vidyapathi, Lionel Edirisinghe, Wasantha Kumara, Sunil Shantha and Ananda Samarakoon decided to leave for the Bharath in quest of the roots of theheritage of arts.

Most people may have forgotten that it was D.R. Wijewardene who was behind Tagore’s visit to Sri Lanka which eventually led to the renaissance of indigenous modern art.

D.R. Wijewardene, a colossus gifted with political intellect and deep cultural vision breathed his last on June 13, 1950.

His 133rd birth anniversary falls on February 23.

Translated by Michael Kittanpahuwa