Mallika Hewavitharana, a legend of our time
Posted on September 21st, 2014

Lakshmi A. Perera

July 28, 2012,

The Founder of the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya

Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharne the mother of Anagarika Dharmapala, founder of the Mallika Niwasa Samithiya, daughter of Muhandiram Andiris Perera Dharma Gunawardena. It was one of the foremost Women’s Buddhist Societies in colonial Ceylon, in an age when rigid sectarianism of class, caste and race was observed.

Mrs. Hewavitharne upheld the precepts of Buddhism in her daily life. To see to the poor and destitute was an obsession with her, not begun only on the threshold of old age or fear of the after life. Her last wish was to see that somebody continued doing the good work she had started, when she was no more.

Thus was born the idea to inaugurate a Home for the destitute aged women and orphans run by a band of Buddhist Social Workers. She was the President of the Society for 8 years, and was Patron of the Society until her death on 27th July l936 at the age of 92.


It is with affection and respect that we pay tribute to Mallika Hewavitharana on her 76th death anniversary. While doing some research on the beginnings of the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya, I came across a news item of her funeral in the Sinhala daily newspaper Dinamina dated 30th July, 1936.

It is touching to note how a nation had paid tribute to this unique lady. The Dinamina gives a vivid description of the funeral. It is recorded that there were large crowds paying their last respects to her at her residence at Aloe Avenue. The coffin bearing her remains in a hearse decorated with white flowers and the funeral procession sans trumpets or drums wended its way peacefully along Galle Road, Turret road, Ward Place up to the Borella junction.

At the main entrance the coffin was received by the national leaders of the day, Sir D. B. Jayatilleke, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, W. A. de Silva, C. W. W. Kannangara, G. A. H. Welle, K. Balasingham, L. W. A. de Soyza and A. Mamuji. They followed the hearse up to the pyre where a large number of Buddhist monks from all three Nikayas were present. Funeral orations were delivered by the head of the Vidyodaya Pirivena Venerable Baddegama Piyarathana Nayaka Thera, Venerable Lunupokune Dhammananda Nayaka Thera, Head of the Vidyalankara Pirivena, Kelaniya and Palene Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera of Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya. They all praised her for all the good she had done and appealed to all Sri Lankan women to follow the example of this great Upasikava. And thus ended a life of loving and giving.

Much has been written about Anagarika Dharmapala who is held in high esteem as a social and religious reformer, a freedom fighter and intellectual leader with humane qualities and was regarded as a national leader. He was fearless and forthright and independent in spirit.

A great orator he was born with these remarkable qualities. Amazingly very few people remember and recognise Mallika as the mother of this unique person. It is with respect that we reflect on the life and times of this remarkable lady who moulded the lives of four illustrious sons and grandsons who left their indelible mark in several spheres of life in this country.

Mallika was born to Muhandiram Andris Perera Dharmagunewardene and Mrs. Dharmagunewardene in 1844 at Kotahena. There is reference to a sister she had in ‘Reminiscences of my Young Days’ by Anagarika Dharmapala. Her father a prosperous land owner was a devout Buddhist and a philanthropist. It was he who donated the land where the great seat of learning Vidyodaya Pirivena stands to this day at Maligakanda. Young Mallika was brought up in a traditional Buddhist atmosphere. As was the custom of the day she was given in marriage at a tender age to Don Carolis Hewavitharana from Hitthatiya, Matara. Young Carolis born in 1833 a promising young man came to Colombo in search of fortune. A man with a sound pirivena education was an expert in astrological mathematics, a student of brahminical and Buddhist literature. He was the first to print the Sinhala astrological year book. No wonder that he fell for Mallika’s horoscope which predicted immense wealth and illustrious children. Soon after their marriage Don Carolis set up furniture business in Keyzer Street, in a land belonging to his father-in-law. As predicted in the horoscope business thrived immensely and soon he was exporting furniture to distant lands. By this marriage they were blessed with four sons and a daughter. Their first born was named David who later became Anagarika Dharmapala the patriot and social reformer held in high esteem as a national hero.

Her second son Edmund married Sujatha Peiris and they had three sons, Neil, Raja and Daya a daughter Sumanadevi – mother of Gamani Jayasuriya who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and was involved in politics, religious and social activities. Both Neil and Raja were elected to the then State Council and made tremendous contributions for the economic, social and cultural development of the country. Edmund while helping his father in his business was keenly involved in social and political reforms of the day. When riots broke out in 1915 he was arrested and detained under marshal law, tried and sentenced to jail for life, at the Jaffna prison. He died in prison the same year contracting dysentery.

Mallika’s only daughter was given in marriage to Jacob Munasinghe of Matara. Their children were named Sanath, Kumaradas, Piyadas and Nalin. The third son Simon Alexander married Somawathy Gunatillake from the deep south. He joined his father in his business ventures. He died at a very young age. His widow a devout and pious lady left her entire wealth to the Tripitaka publications.

Her youngest and favourite son Charles Alwis a doctor of medicine married Charlotte daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. A. Pieris of Marawila. Their only son was named Wimaladharma. Charles was very close to the mother, apart from healing the sick he was actively engaged in Buddhist activities, in fact it was he who gave Mallika all the encouragement to achieve her ambition of setting up a home for destitute old women.

It is said that he visited the mother everyday before going to work and was in the habit of leaving some money with her to distribute among the poor women who flocked to her house daily where they were bathed and fed. He bought land to establish the Mallika Home. This devoted son philanthropist gentle healer of the poor and the sick met with an accident at a level crossing and died. His widow worked with Mallika in promoting all her religious and social activities. She bequeathed to the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya her home Sri Sadana at No. 50, Green Path, Colombo 3.

The tragedy of her life was that her husband and all her children predeceased her. She was widowed at the age of 52. She became stronger with every tragedy. She drew deep from the teaching of the Buddha and bore these tragedies with calm and fortitude. As Dharmapala was busy awakening the people with the Buddhist renaissance she in her own way was very supportive. Her house was the hub of all the activities in Colombo. Buddhist monks came there from all parts of the country. It fell to Mallika’s lot to look after them she fed them attended to all their needs with much devotion. Anagarika Dharmapala it said ridiculed people who were dressed in European clothes. He even got the mother to wear the Kandyan saree. Today one might call her a trend setter, for soon after most of the ladies adopted the saree. As she grew old it is said that she became profusely religious and was in the habit of giving away anything she could lay her hands on, to the poor who came to see her. It was at this stage that she was seriously thinking of setting up a home to carry on her charitable work and the Mallika Anata Nivasa Samithiya was inaugurated for the express purpose of looking after the destitute old women. Later it was changed to the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya.

Today in the 87th year of its existence the Mallika Nivasa Samithiya stands as a colossus to her vision and pioneering spirit. We pay tribute to this unique noble lady whose munificence is legendary. Her compassion, courage and foresight has paid rich dividends for generations to come. It has expanded its activities. Mallika Home started with two inmates now caters for over 100 under-privileged elderly women, the Parakrama Boys Home looks after nearly 50 orphaned boys, Sneha Home cares for abandoned infants. To meet a crying need we had to open a home for paying ladies. The most recent project embarked upon is to train young girls in caring for elders in collaboration with HelpAge Sri Lanka and the Social Service Ministry. This unique woman passed away on the 27th July, 1936, leaving a priceless legacy.

– Lakshmi A. Perera

Past President, Mallika Nivasa Samithiya

Courtesy:  The Island

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2021 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress