|Saturday, 30 March 2002|
113th Birth Anniversary : Sir Bennet Soysa - the philanthropist of the hills
by M. B. Dassanayake
Today (30th March, 2002) is the 113th Birth Anniversary and 88th Wedding Anniversary of Sir Bennet Soysa, Kandy's great philanthropist and Buddhist leader, who dedicated his wealth for the propagation of Buddhism.
Until his death he listened to the sermons of the Venerable Panadura Sriyadhamma, a preacher of international repute.
He lived alone since the death of his wife 'Sarah' (in 1956 aided by his faithful aide P. M. Wijaya Kumar whom he adopted in 1937).
Coincidentally Sir Bennet passed away on the day when Dharmaraja College 'his Alma Mater', the leading Buddhist educational institute in Kandy celebrated its 94th anniversary and he was the oldest old boy at that time.
Sir Bennet excelled in the political arena was Mayor of Kandy for a considerable length of time, a Member of the State Council, a Senator and a philanthropist who worked tirelessly for the cause of Buddhism and the poor.
Before he retired from politics and wound up his business he donated Rs. 25,000 for renovating and painting the outer chamber of the Sri Dalada Maligawa.
He contributed generously towards the propagation of Buddhism. There stands to him as a monument 'the Senkadagala Buddhist Cultural Society and Pilgrims Rest' which he initiated at a cost of a few lakhs of rupees.
He released his residence 'Chulapaya' in the precincts of the General Hospital, Kandy to accommodate doctors who had no residential facilities.
This great philanthropist and statesman who established big business in Kandy, had no relative or friends to look after him. His wife predeceased him on 4th June, 1956. He had no children to see to his comforts until his death but the man behind him was P. M. Wijaya Kumar who served Sir Bennet loyally and devotedly for well over 35 years.
Warasahennidige Abraham Bastian Bennet Soysa made a success in business. He was head of the firm of Messrs W. B. Soysa and Company. He was a Member of the Kandy Municipal Council since 1929 and was Mayor in 1943 and 1944 and for a further term.
At a bye-election in 1944 he was elected to represent Nuwara Eliya in the second State Council. He contested the Galaha Seat at the General Election in 1947 as an United National Party candidate and lost. In 1947, he was elected by the Senate and was re-elected at the end of his first term in 1951.
Sir Bennet was made a Justice of the Peace in 1944. He was awarded the M.B.E. in 1950, the C.B.E., in 1953, and the knighthood in 1954. He was Treasurer of the 'Mahiyangana Restoration Society' and he was responsible to instal a twenty foot pinnacle weighing several tons cast in bronze to crown the historic jungle shrine at Mahiyangana which cost twenty five lakhs of rupees.
The massive pinnacle on which was mounted the brilliant Burmese crystal 'Chuda Manikkaya' was fully gold plated at a cost of nearly Rs. 50,000 by Sir Bennet at his own expense in memory of his late wife, Lady Sarah de Soysa. They were both pioneers in the restoration of the Chetiya.
To Lady Soysa, Kandy owes its first leading Buddhist Girls' College 'Mahamaya' which she established in the 1950's. Known for her philanthropy, devotion to religious seal and social and Buddhist educational work, she founded the 'Sadachara Bauddha Kulagana Samithiya', the leading women's society at that time, and was its President and Secretary.
One of the oldest Buddhist Sunday Schools in Kandy, 'Yasodhara Daham Pasala' was established by her at Katukelle in 1940. She contributed Rs. 40,000 to provide a building for this school.
Since the death of Sir Bennet, the activities of the Buddhist Associations, he and his wife inaugurated are rapidly advancing with the assistance of philanthropists in the calibre of Messrs A. T. Premadasa, a prominent businessman, Buddhist and Social worker, Anura Punchihewa, Ambaruppe Dharmadasa and Kesara Senanayake, son of late Mr. E. L. Senanayake, veteran politician and philanthropist of the hill capital.
"The Sarah de Soysa Sadachara Bauddha Kulangana Samithiya" and its activities are looked after by Mrs. J. M. Sarojini Perera, a close relative of Sir Bennet. Amongst the subsidiary activities of this organisation is the maintenance of the residence for Buddhist Nuns, orphans and invalid children. All Buddhist Nuns visiting Kandy are accommodated and their necessities found.
In 1943 on his election as Mayor, Sir Bennet said, "I am a man of action and my success is due not to talking. I hope to do the same thing in the Mayoral chair."
In May 1955, Sir Bennet during a speech at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the new Maligawa hailed Sir John Kotelawala as the 'Hero of Bandung'. Sir Bennet said that when the history of Kandy was re-written that day would be outstanding. The name of that 'Bandung Hero' would be written in golden letters in the heavenly world.
On 21st August, 1956, Sir Bennet in welcoming the delegates to the twenty-sixth annual general meeting of the 'All Ceylon Union of Teachers' said, "the value of self control and discipline which must be initiated in the class-room to young children by their teachers in order to make them useful citizens is not sufficiently stressed by the teachers of today."
Produced by Lake House