A tribute to Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 111th birth
A tireless servant of the Dhamma
Due to the good fortune of nations, from time to time and from era to
era they witness the birth of men of mark. With the birth of such men,
such nations see a national awakening, a resurgence of religion and the
progress of the land.
Such a man born on October 26, 1896 towards the end of the 20th
century was the second son of Solomon and Harriet de Zoysa of Kankanang
Gedera Watta, Welitara Totamune, Balapitiya, in the District of Galle in
South Sri Lanka. This was Cyril de Zoysa.
Two brothers, two sisters and Cyril himself comprised the family. Of
them, Sir Cyril and his brother, V. T. de Zoysa, were men of mark who
brought undying fame not merely to South Sri Lanka but to the whole
country. They were men of quality, wisdom, wealth and power.
From his childhood, Cyril de Zoysa evinced unbridled affection
towards his parents. It was at St. Thomas’ College, Matara, Richmond
College, Galle, and Royal College Colombo that he had his primary and
Following upon his higher education at the Ceylon Law College, Cyril
fulfilled the aspirations of his father, a Notary, and of his mother, by
commencing his career at the Balapitiya Courts and attaining fame as a
A man of unshaken and relentless devotion to the Buddha Sasana, it
was such affection and devotion that he evinced towards his parents. His
words extracted below makes it crystal clear how much he cared for his
parents and how adept he was in making money and in the altruistic use
of his earnings.
“In the days gone by, it was at Ambalangoda that my father engaged in
his practice as a notary. He commuted in a buggy cart hired for the
purpose. I was not too happy about this. I dearly wished to have my
father use own buggy cart.
I gave tuition to students, and with these earnings purchased a
quality buggy cart and an ox for the sum of five hundred rupees. I
gifted this to my father, who blessed me for this act of love and
generosity. I perceived that this gift I gave my father brought him
immense joy. Likewise this brought me too unforgettable joy.”
Cyril commenced his legal career in the judicial division of
Balapitiya based in his elegant residence at Kankanang Gedera Watta of
Welitara Totamune. He soon found destiny taking him away from Welitota
Cyril speedily proved himself an honest and able lawyer, whose fame
soon radiated from the city centre of Kalutara and spread far and wide.
The turning point in his life was indeed his move to Kalutara in 1926 to
continue his practice there.
Cyril de Zoysa was a born defender of the Buddha Sasana, which he
cherished as if it were his own life. He protected the sacred Kalutara
Bodhi, so dear to his heart, prizing it above his very life as it were,
and this fact is reflected in his own words:
“Those days (in the nineteen thirties) no one was allowed to approach
the Kalutara Bodhi even if it were only to offer a flower or light a
lamp. The Government Agent of Kalutara deployed the Police to secure the
place and chase away the people who come to worship the Bodhi. I got
wind of this.
I cannot indeed account for the sentiment that arose within me to
erect even forcibly a stand to place flowers before the Bodhi and
conduct a Buddhist religious ceremony there.
At my own expense I had a stand and ‘tray’ erected to place flowers,
right at the point where today the main till receiving offerings of
coins is located. The police approached me and asked me to move on
without continuing this. I ignored the requests.
I challenged them to file action against me if they so wished and
continued to build four flower stands around the sacred Bodhi Tree. Now
increasing numbers began to flood in to worship here.
It is my belief that this happened so, because I had the blessings of
a guardian deity aloft the sacred tree. Moreover, I began this work
certainly not for the love of praise and fame out owing to the religious
fervour reposing within me from my childhood days.
At that time it was the residence of the white Government Agent that
stood atop the hillock opposite the sacred Bodhi. On the right was the
office of the Government Agent, the kachcheri. Cyril embarked on a
bitter battle and obtained the entire area, to be utilised in pursuit of
his acts of charity and philanthropy.
It is this great devotee who had a dagoba with a relic chamber built
on this hillock, had it sealed, then had a massive, protective outer
dagoba with four entrances built around it, and the inner walls had
murals depicting various incidents in the life of the Buddha-aspirant
painted, thereby turning it into a veritable gallery of Buddhist art.
These premises with artistically finished parapet walls, donation
boxes and flights of stairways turned into a source of inspiration and
devotion for ardent Buddhists, as though the Buddha himself were gracing
the precincts with his personal presence.
This beautiful place, attracting the hearts and minds of all those
who witness this spectacle, may be ranked one of the most eminent places
of Buddhist worship in the entire region of Asia.
Where the kachcheri once stood there stands a pilgrims’ rest.
Witnessing this sacred place with the Dagoba and the Bodhi Tree so well
developed, Cyril spent the rest of his life happy and content.
The Swarnapali Bus Service that he had inaugurated was soon
transformed into the South Western Bus Company.
This provided a service from Colombo right up to the southernmost
point of the island and it stood out conspicuously above all other
transport service providers owing to Cyril’s effective management, which
paid due regard to the needs of the public as well as the employees.
It is Cyril who, for the first time, provided the opportunity for
people of this country to commute in double decker buses.
The Swarnapali Bus Service that he initiated, now under the name of
South Western Bus Company, expanded its services more vigorously. In
comparison with transport services in the other regions, it is because
of Cyril’s efficiency, strong commitment, firm determination and
employee relationship that this service was way ahead of the others.
In 1957 it was decided that all bus services would be nationalised.
It is Cyril who drew greater satisfaction by this gift, than did the
Upon the nationalisation of bus services on January 1, 1958, Cyril,
displayed characteristic qualities of a true professional, without any
regret, the South Western Bus Company consisting of 300 buses which he
had tended to so protectively.
It was with great joy, without any hesitation or remorse that he
transferred all depots and sub-depots together with all the equipment in
each such place, to the Government.
Cyril raised wealth through his many business enterprises, and far
from using it selfishly to meet his needs alone, utilised it as a humble
altruist would, in the cause of social service. He spent much of the
twenty-four hours of the day on religious and social service activities.
The conspicuous features stamped on his personality were his
engagement in social service, providing them on a voluntary basis and
holding honourary office in several organisations or institutions and
provided his guidance and donated much of his wealth to them.
Sir Cyril de Zoysa also took into his hands the reins of the
development of the Sacred City of Kataragama, completed the restoration
work of the Kirivehera at Kataragama and shouldered the responsibility
of having the crystal pinnacle place on the Kirivehera Chaitya.
He rendered a valuable and laudable service to the town of Kalutara
by establishing the Kalutara Bodhi Trust in 1951 thereby laying the
foundation for the continued maintenance of the historic Bodhi at
Kalutara and the sustenance of the Buddha Sasana.
Cyril who was appointed a member of the Senate (the upper chamber of
the Parliament of independent Sri Lanka - then Ceylon) remained its
Deputy President for six years.
Thereafter, he succeeded Sir Nicholas Attygala as the President and
served in that capacity for eight years. Accordingly, he was fortunate
enough to serve the Senate for fourteen years.
Not only did Sir Cyril de Zoysa dedicate his life, wealth, time,
labour and intelligence in the cause of the country, nation and religion
but he also founded the Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya, or Kalutara Girls’
School built upon his residence, Brooklyn, and pioneered the
establishment of a Buddhist College, the Kalutara Vidyalaya bordering
the Galle Road.
Cyril de Zoysa was a great Buddha-aspirant, who sent the evening of
his life very happily contemplating the services he rendered. His own
words testify to this:
“I am now free. However much of wealth one has it is all futile. They
are all empty. I was born with no wealth. I shall die without wealth. My
joy, my consolation, my strength is the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live
I shall incur the blessings of the gods.”
Sir Cyril de Zoysa, who was a fearless Sinhalese, a good Buddhist, an
able politician, a farsighted business tycoon, a social worker of the
highest order, a man of immense wealth and a philanthropist par
excellence was a great Buddhist.
The writer is the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Grantha Visharada
Rajakeeya Pandita Dauldena Gnaneesara Mahanayaka Thera and The Most
Venerable Mahanayake of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha.