The unforgettable Senanayake family | Sunday Observer

The unforgettable Senanayake family

24 October, 2021

The Senanayake family can be described as such an unforgettable political generation in Sri Lanka’s politics. In particular, the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, D.S. Senanayake was a member of this generation and was succeeded by his son Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister. Since then, Dudley Senanayake has held the post of Prime Minister on several occasions and in addition several other members of the Senanayake dynasty have held prominent positions in Sri Lanka’s politics.

Senanayake’s original residence is located in the Mirigama area in the Gampaha District and is popularly known as the ‘Botale Walawwa’.

The beginning

Don Spater Senanayake, born in 1848, is considered to be the most recent founder of the Senanayake dynasty, who made a fortune at a young age by engaging in the graphite mining business. He later stepped into the plantation and alcohol industries and was given the title of ‘Mudaliyar’ by the then British Government.

He was married to Dona Catarina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera and had three sons and one daughter, Don Stephen Senanayake (D.S. Senanayake), Don Charles Senanayake, Frederick Richard Senanayake (F.R. Senanayake) and Maria Frances Senanayake.

Construction of the walawwa

Around 1865, Spater Senanayake built a house on a 35-acre land in the Botale area of Mirigama, which was referred to as ‘Walawwa’ after the British Government gave him the Mudaliyar post. Due to its location in the Botale area, it later became known as the ‘Botale Walawwa’. Initially the Walawwa owned more than 600 acres of land and now it owns less than 50 acres of land due to the acquisition of lands by the Government under the Land Reforms Act introduced later.

At the entrance to the Botale Walawwa, in the centre of a large garden, is a gate with two slightly larger pillars. In front of the Walawwa, which is a house with a soldier, one can see a large porch with English architectural features. There is a large arch in front of the porch and two slightly smaller arches on either side. There are also two large arches on either side of the porch. It has wooden doors and windows and the floor of the house is paved with clay tiles.

The main entrance to the Walawwa has two antlers of deer or elk and above the door is a replica of a Bodhi tree, which is the emblem of the Senanayake dynasty. Inside the house, antlers from various animals can be seen on the wall, and in one place a rifle, a machete and a sword can be seen. There is also a hackery inside the house, which is believed to have been used by the Senanayakes for travel in the past. Furniture such as beds, armchairs and desks used by the Senanayakes are kept in the house.

On the inside walls of the Walawwa, one can see the photographs of the Senanayakes and those of many others. Among them is a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II and her consort, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Another special feature is that photographs of the Prime Ministers and several other former Presidents of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their political affiliation, can still be seen hanging on one wall of the Walawwa. Among those photographs are D.S. Senanayake, Sir. John Lionel Kotelawala, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (S.W.R.D) Bandaranaike, Dudley Senanayake, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa.

There is a large kitchen in Botale Walawwa and in the past there have been about four or five wood stoves. In addition, a Wee atuwa used to store the paddy harvest obtained from the paddy fields belonging to the Senanayake family can also be seen.

The tomb

A slightly larger tomb can be seen adjacent to the Botale Walawwa and it was originally built for D.S. Senanayake’s father, Don Spater Senanayake. The tomb, which was painted white, was later rebuilt and the ashes of D.S. Senanayake and Dudley Senanayake have also been buried in it.

Born on October 21, 1884 in Mirigama, D.S. Senanayake was educated at S.Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and worked as a clerk in the Survey Department after completing his studies. He later ran the family business with his brother, Charles Senanayake.

In 1924, he was elected to the State Council representing the Negombo seat. In 1925, following his brother F.R. Senanayake’s sudden death while on a tour to Bodhgaya, he led the Independence Movement which was earlier led by his brother, F.R. Senanayake. D.S. Senanayake was re-elected to the State Council in 1931 and was elected Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

He contested from the Mirigama electorate for the first time in the 1947 general election and entered Parliament with a majority of 16,000 votes. As a result of his proposal, the British Government granted Ceylon partial independence or Dominion status. Henry Moore, then Governor of Britain, invited Senanayake to form Ceylon’s first Cabinet of Ministers and to take over as Prime Minister, after which Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon.

Dudley Senanayake was born on June 19, 1911, as the eldest child of D.S. Senanayake and Molly Dunuwila. He returned to Ceylon in 1936 after qualifying as a barrister. He was elected to the State Council in 1936 and was elected as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands in 1946, which was previously held by his father. He served in that position for five years, until 1952.

He was elected the second Prime Minister of Sri Lanka after the sudden death of his father and resigned in 1953 due to ill health. Dudley Senanayake returned to active politics in 1957 and served as Prime Minister again for around four months in 1960. Dudley Senanayake, who served as Leader of the Opposition until 1965 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became Prime Minister in 1960 and formed a Government, again served as Prime Minister from 1965 to 1970.

He then remained a Member of Parliament and the United National Party leader following the return to power of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1970, and passed away on April 13, 1973.

The Botale Walawwa which is currently owned by Dudley Senanayake’s brother, Robert Senanayake’s children was declared a protected monument by the Department of Archaeology in September, 1999.