Timeless beautie in an age of change | Sunday Observer
Amarasuriya Walawwa:

Timeless beautie in an age of change

11 July, 2021

There are many ancient homes commonly known as Walawwas in the Southern Province. Such homes are common in that area and the Amarasuriya Walawwa, which is currently the ‘Amarasuriya Teacher Training College’ was the residence of the well-known Amarasuriya family.

Prior to it becoming a teacher training college, it was the home to a distinguished generation that had rendered immense service to the social, economic and political spheres of the country.


Muhandiram Thomas de Silva Amarasuriya can be identified as a pioneer of the generation later known as a‘Amarasuriya’.

He was born in 1847 in Unawatuna, Galle to Jiris de Silva and Gardiyawasam Minohami Nona. He entered Rumassala Bonavista College as a child and was educated at that school until the age of sixteen, and is said to have been very fluent in the English language.

After completing his schooling, he boarded a ship, during which time he gained extensive knowledge of the nations around the world and their economic affairs. He was working on the ship for about three years and later returned to Ceylon to work as an accountant for a company.

Young Thomas, while working for this company as an accountant, married Dona Christina Lokubadu Jayasuriya in 1869.

She was born to a well-known family in Weligama. She was the sister of Ven. Weligama Sumangala Thera, who was the then Chief Incumbent of the Amarapura sect.

Thomas resigned from the company for which he was working in 1877 and started his own business.

By 1885 he had become a wealthy man living in the Galle area, with the gradual development of his business, especially in the field of exports.

Thomas, who was involved in the rising religious revival movement in Sri Lanka at that time, was among the local dignitaries who went to welcome Colonel Henry Steel

Olcott to Ceylon. Thomas was also the first Secretary of the Galle Theosophical Society since its inception.

There is information that he had started a theological school in Galle with Olcott to promote Buddhist education, but the school was later closed due to various issues.

He then again, with Olcott in 1892 started a Buddhist school in Galle which later became to be known as Mahinda College, Galle.

It is a well known fact that Mahinda College was founded by Olcott. However, it was administered by Thomas de Silva Amarasuriya.

For the same reason, when he was promoted to the rank of Muhandiram by the then British Government, he was given the honorary title of ‘Mahendrapala’ or ‘Ruler of Mahinda’.

Not only was he a founding member of Mahinda College, he also created schools in Unawatuna, Gintota, Meepawala, Dangedara, Ganegama and Katukurunda.

At Olcott’s request, Thomas had also done another special task that is to plant thousand king coconut trees in the garden of the Theosophical Society’s headquarter in Adyar, India.

This park is also known as the ‘Amarasuriya Gardens’ and at the same time he became the President of the Galle Theosophical Society. Sources also said that Thomas was able to create patriotic thinking among the public by sponsoring the screening of plays by playwrights such as John de Silva.

Thomas is said to have had a daughter named Caroline and a son named Henry and the daughter was married to Charles Francis Jayawickrama, the Mudaliyar of the Kegalle District Court.


Thomas’ son, Henry Amarasuriya, born in 1872, was educated at the Royal College, Colombo, and at a young age began to venture into business. In addition to his father’s trade, he also became involved in the plantation industry.

By this time Henry had begun to buy estates, as many Europeans who owned estates had sold them and returned to their home countries.

He started the plantation industry from the Citrus Estate in Akmeemana and within a very short time was able to expand it to Morawak Korale.

In a few years, Henry Amarasuriya became the owner of 5,000 acres of rubber and continued the service started by his father.

During this time he was able to double and triple the number of schools founded by his father, and brought Piyadasa Sirisena to Galle and set up a printing press to start the publication of the Sinhala Jathiya newspaper. In 1901, he married Carline de Silva, the daughter of K. C. Juanis Silva, who was a well-known businessman in Galle.

The couple had three daughters, Susima, Yashodhara and Amara, and three sons, Henry Woodward, Thomas and Buddhadasa.

Henry Amarasuriya was one of the local leaders imprisoned during the 1915 Sinhala-Muslim riots. He was instrumental in the development of several fields and died on September 25, 1916.

Born in 1904, Henry Woodward Amarasuriya, as the eldest son of the family after the sudden death of his father, focused on business and social work while still at school.

His stepfather, Tantalus Amarasuriya, was taking care of the business for some time and after school, Henry Woodward had to take care of 2,500 acres of cultivated land, 1,500 acres of uncultivated land, the thousands of employees who worked on those estates and about 30 schools including the Mahinda Vidyalaya in Galle, the school where he was educated.


Henry Woodward later joined the struggle for independence of Ceylon and in 1935 became the President of the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya.

He continued to contribute to the independence struggle along with national leaders and became the first General Secretary of the United National Party (UNP) when it was founded. He also became the Minister of Trade in 1948 and later became the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.

He was also the Vice President of the Theosophical Society, the President of the Colombo Young Buddhist Association, President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Vice President of the Mahabodhi Society, and President of the Maligakanda Vidyodaya Vidyadara Society.

Henry Woodward formed the Amarasuriya Trust Fund at the time with Rs. 500,000 to continue his Buddhist mission even after his death and also donated a fully equipped library to Visakha Vidyalaya in Colombo.

Towards the end of his life he became visually impaired and he eventually converted the Amaragiri Maha Walawwa in Unawatuna, the residence of Amarasuriya family, Galle into a teacher training college. He died on March, 6, 1981.

Thomas Amarasuriya, the brother of Henry Woodward Amarasuriya, had also made an indelible mark in Ceylonese politics.

Born on June 17, 1907, he held a number of important positions in the political arena until his death on May, five, 1979. He was a member of the State Council of Ceylon and also the Chairman of the Senate.


Thomas Amarasuriya, an early member of the UNP, resigned from the party in 1959 and joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), where he supported the slain Prime Minister and SLFP founder, Soloman West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike’s political journey.

In 2017, Amarasuriya Walawwa was used to host a foreign television series called “The Good Karma Hospital”.

The series were first aired in October 2019 in Australia and in March 2020 in the United Kingdom. Currently operating as a teacher training college for English language teachers, the Walawwa is also home to the Amarasuriya family museum.