D.S.Senanayake, a Brilliant Leader, and a Proven Legacy of Sri Lankan Politics
D.S.Senanayake, a Brilliant Leader, and a Proven Legacy of Sri Lankan Politics

Sri Lanka is one of the tiny islands in the vast Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, it is a land that has been popular worldwide for many and more reasons. That includes the glorious history and uncomparable culture starting from the kingdom eras and the natural beauty to be one of the best in the tourism industry as a fantastic holiday resort! During the history of this magical land of Sri Lanka, there have been many great leaders who shed their sweat for the country’s betterment. The most valuable service of those personalities can never be missed, which helped the country become what it is today. One such great leader who marked an important place in the history of Sri Lanka was D.S.Senanayake, whose story is an excellent example for all.

Thus, we thought of sharing the story of this legend with you, through this read. Continue reading, to get to know about this true Sri Lankan leader!

Who is D.S. Senanayake?

Don Stephan Senanayake or D.S, as he was famous among Lankans, was a respected personality for several specialties during the history of Sri Lanka. He was one of those Sri Lankan leaders, with true dedication who shed sweat for the betterment of this precious Island.

Primarily his significance emerged in the political field of Sri Lanka. In fact, this gentleman was a person respected by the people of Sri Lanka for his greatness in the field of politics and leadership. Consequently, D.S Senanayake became extremely popular for his active participation in serving the national independence movement of Ceylon in the 18th century.

To be specific, he is among the number of significant personalities who worked hard but peacefully to win back the lost independence of the motherland. His unmatchable talent and suitability were the reasons for the same.

D.S.Senanayake then became the first Prime minister of the independent Ceylon. After serving the nation for its betterment in many other facets, finally, his name became immortal with his outstanding service to the education sector of this island. Besides, his name is famous among young and old as the ‘Father of the Nation’ of Sri Lanka.

Education and Early Life of D.S. Senanayake

D.S.Senanayake was born on 21st October 1883 in a village called Botale, around the current Mirigama area in Sri Lanka. He was the younger son who was born to the family of Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunesekara Senanayake. His father was an entrepreneur of the graphite industry, and his mother was a housewife. D.S. Senanayake had two brothers older than he called Don Charles Senanayake and Frederick Richard Senanayake, along with a sister named Maria Frances Senanayake. 


Although the little Stephan Senanayake was a child of a devout Buddhist family, he received his education at the St. Thomas College, Mutwal, a prestigious Anglican school. This school later was shifted to Mount Lavinia and is currently popular as the St. Thomas college in Mount Lavinia.

However, D.S.Senanayake was not a very bright student during school days when it came to studies. Nevertheless, he was popular at the school as a sports star. Stephan showed talents in the world-famous game of cricket and was a shining cricketer at the national level. Young Stephan was an essential player at the annual Royal-Thomian matches those days. He also played for several cricket clubs and showed his sporting talents during his studentship.

However, he was physically active and a popular student in games at the school rather than other academic work. Further, he excelled at martial arts such as boxing and wrestling while participating in weight-lifting. As a reason for that, Stephan Senanayake was always a favorite of his peers and teachers. At one instance, his warden told Stephan Senanayake that “I see you everywhere, Senanayake”. His reply to this statement was, “yes sir, just like God”. Indeed, this smart gentleman, later on, could act similarly for the nation and become famous from generation to generation.

The Early Life of D.S.Senanayake

After completing his secondary education, D.S.Senanayake started working for the government first as a clerk. But he did not continue the job for an extended period therefore, joined his father’s business and started working with his brother-D.C. Senanayake, and later F.R. Senanayake in the rubber plantation field.

At that time, F.R. Senanayake had ownership of the famous Kahatagaha Graphite mine. Thus, Stephan Senanayake got to manage the mine for the brother, which he did successfully. He once went to Madagascar to learn and report on graphite mining. It was after taking over the position of a member of a government commission.  

At that time, he also became famous as a planter who introduced Rubber as a commercial crop to the family planters of Sri Lanka.

In 1910, the young D.S.Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, the daughter of a well-educated family. Then they got two sons namely, Dudley Shelton Senanayake and Robert Parakrama Senanayake.

The Political Career of D.S. Senanayake

D.S. Although he was famous as a sports star in academic life, Senanayake later became significant and prominent in Sri Lanka in the political field. Thus, there is a long story on the politics of Senanayake and how his name later became immortal in the political field.

At the very beginning, he was an active member of the Legislative Council, and then he took over the duties at the State Council of Ceylon. Later on, he became a minister of Sri Lanka and took the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture and Land.

D.S.Senanayake also became an activist in the period of World War II as well. Finally, after being a significant contributor in achieving the independence of Sri Lanka, he became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the first time in the country’s political history.

Let us now look into each stage of his political career which we pointed out above, and learn about this great personality and his importance to Sri Lanka. 

The Early Political Activism of D.S.Senanayake

In 1912, Buddhism and the anti-colonialism of Sri Lanka commenced a political movement. It was the famous temperance movement, one of the leading organizations that strengthened the foundation of the country’s Independence movement

D. S. Senanayake, along with his two brothers, participated in the temperance movement and actively worked. It was the very first move of this young and energetic soul towards public service. Undoubtedly, the experience gained through these initiations might have been the reason for his political career to be a success ultimately.

Subsequently, he joined the Colombo town guard regiment in 1914. A Colombo Town Guard was a volunteer regiment attached to the Ceylon Defence Force in which both British and Ceylonese officers took part. This regiment has been mobilized with the emergence of world war 1 and 2. D.S. Senanayake was one of the notable participants in this movement. Some of his peers were Sir Razik Farid, Captain Henry Pedrick, and Sir Oliver Goonatillake. All these people became prominent characters in Sri Lankan history afterward.

However, Stephan Senanayake, along with his brothers, had to be imprisoned at Welikada prisons after the riots in 1915. He then got released after 46 days without any charges. At that time, the educated middle-class people of Sri Lanka started the modern independence movement. Parallelly, in 1919 a Ceylonese political party in the name of ‘Lanka Mahajana Sabha’ came into existence under F. R. Senanayake-a, brother of Stephan Senanayake. Thus, Stephan Senanayake and his brother Don Charles Senanayake joined this party and worked hard to achieve independence in Sri Lanka.

Legislative Council

The next move of D.S.Senanayake was at the legislative council. He held the secretary of the unofficial members in the committee after being elected without any opposition. It was in 1924. Senanayake raised his voice and was active in matters related to agriculture, lands, and irrigation. He highlighted several issues and tried providing solutions to them while he was in this position.

One such issue was the administration’s discriminatory policies held by the colonial administrators in the plantation field. Then, he also questioned the council about the costs over the budget on the railway lines constructed during this period—for example, the Batticaloa line and the Trincomalee Line. Also, another vital thing is D.S.Senanayake raised his voice against was the delay in completing the Norton Bridge Dam.  It is a gravity dam built in the Central Province of Sri Lanka across the Kehelgamu Oya. Norton Dam is also one of the major tributaries to the Kelani River.

Meanwhile, D.S.Senanayake was one of the great personalities who joined in advocating for establishing one of the first universities in Sri Lanka under the University of Ceylon.

State Council of Ceylon

The character of D.S.Senanayake subsequently emerged at the state council of Ceylon. Established in 1931, it was the unicameral legislature for Ceylon. Senanayake represented the Ceylon National Congress of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam.  National congress – a party formed in the 20th century when nationalism grew in Lankans with the commencement of the British Colonial rule.

With no opposition, D.S. Senanayake became a minister in the first board of ministers and became the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.  Some of his peers were C.W.W. Kannangara, Sir Baron Jayatilake, and many other leading characters.

Memorable Service of D.S.Senanayake as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands

After D.S.Senanayake took over the duties as the minister of Agriculture and Lands in Ceylon; there has been significant improvement and success in the field as never before. The policies prepared by him using his knowledge and great thinking could solve many problematic areas in the agricultural field of Sri Lanka.

It is he who established the Land Development Ordinance in 1935. This Ordinance legalizes the isolation of state land. He could also solve the issues in the country related to rice by making policies that adequately address those issues. The commitment, the significant contribution, and the success gained in these fields by this great leader made way for the public to respect and accept D.S.Senanayake over and over again. As a result, he could secure his position as a minister for fifteen long years. People elected him again and again over the years. 

“Agriculture modernization’ is another program that he enforced while bearing the position of the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. History also reveals that D.S.Senanayake was the person who introduced the land bill in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, another remarkable service rendered by this great character as a political leader was, expanding the cooperative movement. It was in 1923. Cooperative is one of the most famous enterprises in Sri Lanka even at present.

Meanwhile, he also introduced the “Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance” in Sri Lanka, with the establishment of The Yala National Park. It aimed at the conservation of wildlife for both the present and future generations.

Other Services Offered while being in the Position of the Minister of Agriculture and Lands

Besides the agricultural reforms, he also contributed to the many other fields of Sri Lanka. One such example was the banking field. The very famous Bank of Ceylon (BOC) is the leading state-owned bank in Sri Lanka. D.S.Senanayake was one of those people who contributed to establishing or founding the Bank of Ceylon in 1939.

However, at one point he gave resignation from his post as a result of a strong argument with the Governor at that time. Nevertheless, the governor agreed to settle thus withdrew the resignation. The personality of Senanayake continued serving the nation for many long years after that incident.

D.S.Senanayake at the Period of  World War II

Ceylon formed a Civil Defence Department in December 1941 with Oliver Goonetillake as the commissioner. It was in line with World war II which took place in the far east. The role of D.S.Senanayake as the minister of Agriculture and Lands was to supply and control the food required. However, the import of food items, especially the rice supply was not adequate from the other countries during this period. While he actively accomplished the requirements related to food, he also gave his knowledge and talents to complete a number of other defense projects during this period.   

He worked very understandingly and actively with all parties involved in the said missions thus, developed close relationships with many important characters.

D.S. Senanayake’s Contribution in Gaining Independence

Sri Lanka achieved independence through a peaceful independence movement after being a European and British colony for 400 long years. The power was then transferred from the British empire to Ceylonese representatives very peacefully. Among the middle-class, educated personalities who led this peaceful independence movement through the 20th century onwards, D.S.Senanayake is a name that cannot be forgotten. The independence movement was one of the main turning points in his political career and the whole nation in the history of Sri Lanka. He and the said group of patriotic Ceyloneses shed their sweat, not for battling physically to snatch back the motherland but, for intelligently and peacefully winning it back.  His peers were his brother, F.R. Senanayake, Don Richard Wijewardana, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, and Sir James Pieris.

Important Milestones of the Peaceful Independence Movement of D.S.Senanayake

  • D.S.Senanayake became the leader of the House at the parliament in 1942.
  • He also became the Vice Chairman at the State Council for the Board of Ministers, succeeding Sir Baron Jayatilake.
  • When the British government declared the Ceylon constitutional change in 1943,  Senanayake submitted his proposal of Dominion status.
  • The British government accepted his proposal in 1944.
  • The Soulbury Commission-one of the main instruments of the constitutional change of the British government came into existence in the same year, reflecting the influence of Senanayake.  
  • In 1945, D.S.Senanayake met the secretary of State for the Colonies in London for further discussions and negotiations.
  • In 1946, he formed the political party called the United National Party (UNP) merging with two other political parties.
  • Finally, the British government accepted the suggestions of D.S. Senanayake’s proposal that allowed for constitutional change.
  • He then managed to achieve an adequate amount of votes for the Soulbury constitution, which was more than 75 percent at the State council.
  • D.S, for the first time, could form a UNP government in Lankan history associating the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. It was at the general election in 1947.
  • As the first Prime Minister, Senanayake formed the Island’s first cabinet with the invitation of Sir Henry Moore, who was then the Governor-General of Ceylon.
  • They signed the agreements between Ceylon and the British government in November 1947.
  • He opened the Parliament of Ceylon officially and ceremonially, marking the independence achieved on 4th February 1948.

Who Formed UNP?

UNP or The United National Party is a center-right political party of Sri Lanka. It is also one of the oldest political parties on the Island. The founder of UNP is none other than Don Stephan Senanayake or D.S.Senanayake. The establishment of this political party took place in 1947.

UNP initially came into existence formed as a result of a merger between two Dominion parties. They are the Ceylon National Congress and Sinhala Maha Sabha.  UNP favors a free and open economy, and it has ruled Sri Lanka from time to time for 38 years out of 69 years after independence.

First Prime Minister in Ceylon

After Ceylon became an independent state in 1948 a position called ‘the prime minister’ was created. The Prime minister was the head of the cabinet who had the highest power in the administration of the country. D.S.Senanayake, who was the leader of the United National Party became the first Prime minister in Sri Lanka. As he always acted in each position he held, D.S.Senanayake acted brilliantly in the post of the Prime minister as well which led his name to be written in golden letters in the political history of this island.

Knowing his talents and the greatness at that time, the British government offered him a knighthood as well. However, he did not want to accept it. Instead, he kept on serving the country while securing his relationship with the British administration as some of the sectors such as defense, trade, and external affairs were still under the British.

Here are some of the main areas in Sri Lanka which he could develop or newly implement.

  • National Development
  • Culture and heritage
  • Foreign policies and relationships
  • Defense

Let’s have a quick insight on each of the said areas as follows.

National Development

Taking over the country, D.S.Senanayake acted immensely towards national development. He understood the need of spreading out the population thus made necessary influences towards the same. Also, his wise strategies made way for Ceylon to face the food requirement for the growing population and the lands for location. He could make it a reality after providing guidance to his son Dudley Senanayake who was the minister of Agriculture and Lands at that time.  One of the most commendable moves he took was to encourage food production locally. It enabled the self-sustainability of Ceylonese at that time as a nation. It was D.S.Senanayake proposed Hydroelectric power in Sri Lanka.

Culture and National Heritage

He also worked for the betterment of the culture and national heritage. He renovated many national heritage sites within the Island and added value to each of them providing guidance. The best examples are the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa cultural sites.

Foreign Policies and Relationships

Meanwhile, when talking about his foreign policies, establishing proper connections with other nations as an independent nation marked an important place. He also developed diplomatic relationships with powerful countries In the world such as the USA and Japan. It was after granting the membership of the commonwealth. Subsequently, D.S.Senanayake also hosted the commonwealth conference of foreign ministers in Colombo in 1950. He could achieve some benefits to the country through this conference. Most significant was the Colombo Plan which was a program in which some of the countries in the Asia Pacific region aid each other economically and socially.   


Defense is one of the main fields of a nation when acting independently. The contribution of the first prime minister in Sri Lanka to the defense field was priceless. D.S.Senanayake was the first to introduce the acts of the three forces, Army, Navy, and Airforce. It was in 1949, 1950, and 1951 in the order. Not only he introduced but also got the armed forces trained under the British.

Death of D.S Senanayake

The death of D.S.Senanayake was, unfortunately, a  very fatal death. It was on the 21st March 1952. He had a habit of riding his horse each morning at the Galle face grounds. Thus, as usual, he had gone off for a ride this time on the said day with his favorite mare called ‘Chitra’. While he has been on the horse’s back, he has fallen off it as a result of the mare beginning to gallop. Although a number of medical specialists and other best doctors at that time tried to cure him, D.S.Senanayake could not be cured. Thus, he died on the very next day (22nd March 1952).

Many Lankans repented over the death of this great and brilliant personality. The public came in huge numbers to offer the final respect to the body of D.S.Senanayake.

 Who was the Prime Minister after D.S.Senanayake?

Along with the death of Prime minister Senanayake, the position became vacant.  Then, who succeeded him was Dudley Senanayake who was none other than his son. Born on 19th June 1911, Dudley Senanayake was also the minister of agriculture and land before he took over the position of the prime minister with his father’s death.

Dudley was a bright student at the school –St. Thomas College-Mount Lavinia. He also once won the victoria gold medal as the most outstanding student of the school. Not only in studies but he also displayed his excellence in sports and martial arts just as his father, D.S.Senanayake. Subsequently, he completed his higher studies and became a barrister. Dudley also got the opportunity to enter the Middle Temple. Afterward, continuously and actively participating in the administration sector from time to time, he became the Prime minister by Governor-General Lord Soulbery.

However, he resigned from politics in 1953 following the Island-wide Hartal in August. Hartal of 1953 was the first-ever social crisis that occurred in Ceylon after the Independence. The Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) led this strike which although lasted for a day. Besides, this caused much destruction to the properties and death to over ten people. Nevertheless, he came to power again in 1954 and resigned another time in 4 months.  Again in the election in 1965, he got the appointment as the Prime minister of Ceylon and remained in office for five long years serving the country.

 Legacy of D.S.Senanayake

The Legacy of D.S.Senanayake is clearly visible by understanding how famous he is among Sri Lankans even at present. If not for the peaceful independence movement led by him, Sri Lanka would still be a colony.  The economy of this little Island initially developed thanks to the D.S.Senanayake’s excellent agricultural policies. That is why he is popular as the father of the Sri Lankan nation.

D.S.Senanayake being the first Prime minister after the independence could elevate Sri Lanka as a nation independent and proud. There are many statues of this great leader that are erected at different important places in Sri Lanka in memory of him. People in Sri Lanka commemorate this admirable personality each year on his birth date, dressing the statues with flower garlands and organizing special programs. Many schools and other public buildings were named after him to show respect. Furthermore, in memory of his excellence at school as a sports star, the shield that is offered for the winners of the famous Royal-Thomian matches is named the Hon. D.S.Senanayake memorial shield.

The lake that was created through the Gal Oya Dam is “Senanayake Samudraya” today. It is to memorize the service he could offer millions of the general public. Many people still support the political party -UNP for the respect their elder generations had for the party due to the policies of first the leader and its’ founder. Thus, D.S.Senanayake is simply a legend that still lives in the hearts of Sri Lankans.

The Bottom Line

Although the significance of D.S was explained thus, it can never be expressed in a few sentences. There are even books written about his great personality and his uniqueness as a politician in this country. Honorable D.S. Senanayake was indeed a one-of-a-kind politician among several other people of his time. When looking into Sri Lankan political history since the achievement of independence, the leaders like D.S.Senanayake who is capable in all facets is indeed very rare.  According to Sri Lankans, they would never be served by such a knowledgeable, genuinely active, and eager politician again!