In memory of Henry Jayasena
In the event Bastain Koralage Henry Rodrigo Jayasena was not
unfortunately subjected to the medical misadventure which caused him to
succumb to his death he would have today passed his 80th birthday and
living today hale and hearty.
The 11th November 2011 however is the day that marked the second
death anniversary of legendary Dramatist, renowned Actor, Lyricist,
Translator and Author popularly known as Henry Jayasena. Late Henry
Jayasena was a firm believer of Shakespeare's memorable phrase" All that
live must die/passing through nature to eternity". Decease had already
taken its toll on him. He was actually aware that as we learnt in
school, "To every man upon the earth/death cometh soon or late". During
the time his commenced his long career, he initially stood tall on the
modest unsophisticated Lumbini Theatre in the early 1960's.
He had confessed many times as a much adored artiste that his heart
lies in theatre. Henry Jayasena could be easily and definitely
classified as one, alongside amongst the elite of eminent literary
figures in the annals of theatre in Sri Lanka, like Professor Ediriweera
Sarathchandra, Sugathapala De Silva, Dayananda Gunawardena, , Gunasena
Galapaththy etc. His numerous contributions to the theatre and cinema
spanned for almost 4 decades. He retired from his acting career in the
year 1999 while he was under treatment for the acquired dreaded decease
The entire treatment process took around one and a half years. On his
personal experience and suffering he had written in detail a book titled
"Balha Gilano - the story of a cancer patient" purely to educate the
masses. However he lived for a further 10 years leading a normal life.
His death was sudden and was shocking to many as he had recovered fully
from the dreaded 'colon cancer' was a very unfortunate to have died
following a medical misadventure when he was hale and hearty.
He was in such a good normal health condition when he possessed the
strength during which time he revived his famous drama Hunuwataye
Kathawa an adoption of Bertolt Brecht's 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle by
deploying experienced, talented and mostly novice actors along with a
few who were involved earlier in the likes of Nimal Jayasinghe and Chula
The role of judge 'Azdak'is ideally portrayed by Nalin Pradeep
Uduwela while that of 'Grusha' by Ruwini Manamperi.
Henry Jayasena was born on July 6, 1931 in a village called
Bendiyamulla in Gampaha. He was the youngest in an unfortunate family of
six children, four elder brothers and a solitary sister.
His father was Albert Rodrigo Jayasena who was once the Private
Secretary to Sir Solamon Dias Bandaranaike was a well versed person. He
had quipped that when his parents were parted. He was left alone to grow
up with his mother He grew under difficult times. When the family was
united his father got all children to memorize celebrated phrases of
Shakespeare although he did not understand the contents of them. He had
quipped that he was brought up in such an environment, where I fostered
no fear of language.
He grew up in the rural hamlet of Bendiyamulla, was initially
educated at the Gampaha branch of Lorensz College exposing him to both
Catholic and Buddhist cultures taking an active part in both church and
temple activities, subsequently at Nalanda College, Colombo.
His first stage play was when he portrayed the role of Prince Rohitha
in the stage play 'Harischandra' in school at Nalanda College. It was
late Dr Gunapala Malalasekera an eminent Civil Servant who first
predicted a great future for him in the field of acting after the famous
educationalist observed the talents of little Henry Jayasena while
acting in a school concert at Nalanda College. His contemporary notable
and distinguished classmates were Karunartane Abeysekara, Dr
Harischandra Wijayatunga, Dr Hudson Silva, Dr Dharmasena Attygalle,Hon.
Rupa Karunatilleke and Stanley Jayasinghe most of whom have predeceased
Since leaving school he opted for a career as an Assistant Teacher of
English at the Dehipe Government Primary School in Padiyapellela in the
Nuwara Eliya District in the year 1950 at the tender age of 19. He
initially ventured into stage acting by producing the drama 'Janaki' in
the same year while he was a teacher. As he wanted to pursue a career in
the Government service, he got through the General Clerical Service
Examination and secured a job at the Public Works Department (PWD).
While working in the PWD with his immense innate creative abilities he
was able to produce a number of new plays The first of which was
'Manamalayo' in the year 1953, then 'Vedagathkama' in 1954 and
'Paukarayo' in 1959.
Then the vastly improved Dramatist created 'Janelaya' and the famous
'Kuweni' in 1962. Subsequently he produced 'Thavath Udesanak',
'Manaranjana Wedawarjana', 'Ahas Maliga', 'Hunuwataye Kathawa', 'Apata
Puthe Magak Nethe', 'Diriya Mava Saha Ege Daruwo', 'Makara',(The Dragon)
'Sarana Siyath Se Puthuni Habha Yana' in the years 1964, 1965, 1966,
1967, 1968, 1972, 1973 ,1975 respectively. With these creations the name
of Henry Jayasena became a household name in Sri Lanka owing to the
massive revolution he made in the field of creative arts.
As a gesture of appreciation for his contribution towards literature,
theatre and music, Henry Jayasena was honoured by the OBA of his 'alma
mater' Nalanda College by conferring on him the title of 'Nalanda
Keerthi Shri' on September 27, 2003 which was given for the first time
was a timely gesture towards honouring one of Sri Lanka's prodigious
son. It is also interesting to note that the actor received the award at
the "Malalasekera Hall" of the school, named after the first principal
of Nalanda College late professor Gunapala Malalasekera.
The Media Secretary of the organizing committee said that the idea
behind this award was to honour their past pupils, who have emerged as
distinguished personalities in society by serving and nourishing in
various arts like aesthetic, drama and film fields with their many
talents. It was under the guidance of U A S Perera at Nalanda College
that Henry Jayasena and many other students made their way into the
theatre and other fields of Arts.
For his roles as Piyal in 'Gamperaliya', Azdak in 'Hunuwataye
Kathawa', Lalith in 'Dahasak Sithuvili'his was once more honoured by his
'alma mater',Nalanda College on 25th June 2006.Henry Jayasena had many
hopes and aspirations. He said "he would like to a bit more" in
2006.While taking part in a Tele drama he confessed he would dedicate
most of his time to work on the "Manel Trust".
In memory and for the love he had for his late wife Manel, Henry
established " Manel Jayasena Health Care and Educational Trust Fund in
Sri Lanka to coincide with her 68th birthday together with his son
He was an elegant communicator equally eloquent in both Sinhala and
English. He was gracious humble and possessed immense humane qualities.
Henry Jayasena was always in the forefront in the dying art of Sinhala
Theatre. He was a link of a generation of very imminent artistes such as
Ediriweera Saratchandra,Gunasena Galapathtthy, Dayananda Gunawardena ,
Dhamma Jagoda and Sugathapala de Silva who together pioneered the
cultural renaissance and ushered in and sustained the golden age of
Sinhala Theatre in Sri Lanka. In this aspect Henry Jayasena was simply a
The veteran Dramatist married the talented actress Manel Ilangakoon
in the year 1962. She acted as the lead actress in Jayasena's drama
'Kuweni' for which she won the best actresses' award as well as for her
She started to act just one year after their marriage. She was so
talented and it was like a duck to water. She had been a Bharata Natyam
teacher prior to marriage and was well versed in dancing. She made a
very valuable contribution to 'Hunuwataye Kathawa' (Chalk Circle)
portraying the main female role as 'Grushe' For 32 long years, opposite
the main male character of Judge Azdak portrayed by her husband. Their
only son Sudaraka during his early years acted for the little Prince
Actress Manel predeceased him after 42 years of married life on the
July 24, 2004 following a prolonged renal failure. Prior to her
prolonged illness in the year 2004 February 25th Manel was felicitated
at " Janakala Prasada Pranama Ulela" at the John de Silva Memorial
Theatre for her 40 years of dedication to the stage and for completing
32 years of uninterrupted acting in the drama "Hunuwataye Kathawa"
Henry Jayasena's debut in films was in Sri 296 in the year 1959.
During the 1960s he acted in several films. The portraying of the role
of Piyal opposite Punya Heendeniya in 'Gamperaliya' became an award
winning role in 1964.
Then he portrayed the role of Lalith in G D L Perera's 'Dahasak
Sithuwili' in 1968. He played vivid roles in contrasting characters in
'Hansavilak', 'Gehenu Geta', 'Kaliyugaya', 'Raththaran Neth', 'Wena
Swargayak Kumatada', 'Suhada Sohoyuro', 'Heta Pramada Vedie',
'Beddegama', 'Soldadu Unnehe', 'Kaliyugaya', 'Ammai Duwai' and
Some of the roles portrayed by him in the above films were leading
characters, while in some others they were supporting roles. In each
role he very clearly demonstrated and proved his prowess as an actor. He
created a further image in society through his portrayal of "Sudu
Seeya", the isolated intellect in "Doo Daruwo', the much acclaimed
Tele-Drama. This Tele drama attracted an enormous interest among almost
all television viewers.
Henry Jayasena retired from Government service in the year 1975 to
devote his entire time for the Theatre and Arts. Before he retired, he
held the positions of Deputy Director of the National Youth Services
Centre (Arts and Sports Division) and at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini
Corporation (Programmes Division).
Late Henry Jayasena will remain a model in the field of Art and
Culture and as one of the most influential Dramatist of our times. There
is no doubt that his enduring works in theatre and his diverse
performances in cinema and television remain as a rich cultural legacy
of the nation.
It should be the wish of every follower of the theatre and arts that
the tremendous efforts of late Henry Jayasena rendered to these fields
would be sufficient enough to shorten his life through Sansara until he
attains Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.