251,541 Pages

General The Right Honourable
Sir John Lionel Kotelawala
File:Sir John Lionel Kotelawala (1897-1980).jpg
Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

In office
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Dudley Senanayake
Succeeded by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
Personal details
Born (1897-04-04)4 April 1897
Died 2 October 1980(1980-10-02) (aged 84)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Political party United National Party
Alma mater Christ's College, Cambridge,
Royal College, Colombo
Profession Politician, Soldier, Planter
Religion Theravada Buddhism
Military service
Allegiance Ceylon
Service/branch Ceylon Defence Force,
Sri Lanka Army
Years of service 23 Years
Rank General (Sri Lanka Army),
Colonel (Ceylon Defence Force)
Unit Ceylon Light Infantry

General Sir John Lionel Kotelawala, CH, KBE, KStJ, CLI (Sinhalese language:ශ්‍රිමත් ජොන් ලයනල් කොතලාවල; 4 April 1897 – 2 October 1980) was a Sri Lankan soldier and politician, most notable for serving as the 3rd Prime Minister of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from 1953 to 1956.

Family and early lifeEdit

John Kotelawala Senior (1865-1908)

Sir John's Father John Kotelawala Snr

Royal College Colombo main building

Young Kotelawala attended the prestigious Royal College, Colombo.

Christs College First Court

Sir John Kotelawala attended Christ's College, Cambridge during World War I.

Sir John Kotelawala was born into a wealthy family, his father John Kotelawala Snr. was an Inspector in the Ceylon Police Force and his mother was Alice Kotelawala nee Attygalle. Following accusations of murder John Kotelawala Snr committed suicide when his son was 11. Following this their family was ruined, Alice Kotelawala who was originally a Buddhist converted to Christianity after this. Through careful management of their land holdings and plumbago mines she made her family prosperous. For her social work she was awarded a MBE.

Young Kotelawala attended the prestigious Royal College, Colombo, but had to leave after he became involved in pro-independence activities during the riots in 1915. Thereafter he embarked on a trip to Europe after leaving school, which was very dangerous because World War I was being fought there. He remained in Europe for five years, spending most of that time in England and France and attended Christ's College, Cambridge University to study agriculture.

Kotelawala was known as an aggressive and outspoken man who loved sports, horseback riding and cricket and, particularly as a young man, got into physical fights when he was insulted. He was fluent in Sinhala, English and French. After returning to Ceylon, he took up managing his family plantation estates and mines.

Military careerEdit

Kotelawala briefly served with the mounted section of the Colombo Town Guard without enlisting, since he was under age at the time. However after returning from Europe he was commissioned into the Ceylon Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant in 1922 being promoted to the ranks of Lieutenant in 1924, Captain in 1929 and Major in 1933. He went on to serve 23 years mostly as a reservist since the Ceylon Defence Force was a volunteer unit of the British Army. In 1939 he became the commanding officer of the Ceylon Light Infantry and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1940. With the start of World War II he became a member of the Ceylon's War Cabinet and was made a Colonel in 1942, the highest rank that a Ceylonese could achieve.

A strong supporter of the military, he was the first Chairman of the Ceylon Light Infantry Association in 1974. He was promoted to the rank of general on his deathbed, the night before he died by President J. R. Jayawardene in recognition for his long service to the country.

He bequeathed his home and estate Kandawala to the government to establish a national defence academy.[1]

Political careerEdit

As early as 1915 Kotelawala had become involved with political leaders such as Don Stephen Senanayake and his brother F.R. Senanayake, who was married to Kotelawala's mother's sister. They criticized many of the actions of the British colonial officials.

He entered mainstream politics by being elected to the Legislative Council as the member of Kurunegala. Thereafter he entered the State Council as a backbencher and was re-elected in 1936. In his second term he was appointed Minister of Communications and Works and later as the Minister of Agriculture.

Post independenceEdit

File:Frist Cabinet of Ceylon.jpg

When Ceylon received independence and dominion status in 1948, Kotelawala, was appointed to the Senate,he had become an important member of D. S. Senanayake's United National Party and served in several important positions in the cabinet, during Senanayake's tenure as prime minister (1948–1952), including being Minister of Communications, Minister of Public Works and Minister of Transport. When the prime minister died in 1952, many expected Kotelawala to succeed him, but D. S. Senanayake's son and Kotelawala's younger cousin, Dudley Senanayake was appointed instead by the Governor-general. By the following year, Kotelawala was elected to parliament was the Leader of the House in parliament, and was chosen as prime minister when Dudley resigned after the Hartal 1953.

Prime ministerEdit

As prime minister, Kotelawala led Sri Lanka into the United Nations and contributed to Sri Lanka's expanding foreign relations, particularly with other Asian countries. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1954. In 1955 he led his country's delegation to the Bandung conference in Indonesia, where his performance earned him the epithet Bandung Booruwa (Bandung Donkey) in Sri Lanka. At the conference he stated his belief that fashionably Marxist anti-colonialist rhetoric ignored Communist atrocities. In a private conversation with the prime ministers of Pakistan, India, Burma, and China, he asked Chinese premier Zhou Enlai if he wanted to bring Communism to Tibet. Zhou replied that it was impractical and undesirable, and that the PRC had gone to Tibet because it was "an integral part of the Chinese state" and because it had been threatened by "imperialist intrigues" from the British and Russian empires.[2]

His government had to deal with economic problems and ethnic conflicts, and he and his party were defeated in the 1956 elections by a group of more radically chauvinistic Sinhalese parties under the leadership of Solomon Bandaranaike.

Later lifeEdit

Kotelawala retired from politics shortly after his electoral defeat and lived for several years in Kent. He eventually returned to Ceylon. When the post of Governor-General appeared vacant with completion of William Gopallawa's first term, he was hopeful that he would be nominated to the post by the United National Party which was in the government at the time. However Dudley Senanayake in his second term as Prime Minister did not name a successor for Gopallawa and allowed to have a second term.

On 29 September 1980 he suffered a stroke at his home Kandawala. Sir John Kotelawala died at the Colombo General Hospital on 2 October 1980, and his remains were cremated at Independence Square on October 5 with full military honours.


In 1985 a national defence academy for training of Officers for all three Defence services in Sri Lankan was established in his estate Kandawala, which he gifted. It has been named General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) is a defence university offering undergraduate and post graduate study courses to officers of Defence services in Sri Lanka in various disciplines.

Though he strongly criticized the racist attitudes of many westerners, particularly British colonial officials, he did support the continued military presence of the British in Ceylon. He advocated the adoption of some western customs in Sri Lanka. He was knighted and received several other honors from the Ceylonese/British monarch as well as other foreign governments.


His Orders, Decorations and Medals and other memorabilia are on display at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University.

Foreign honours
Honorary military appointments

See alsoEdit


  1. Commander Pays Tribute to Late Sir John Kotelawala
  2. Parthasarathy, Gopalapuram, ed. Jawaharlal Nehru: Letters to Chief Ministers 1957-1964. 4. Oxford University Press. pp. 159–171. 

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by
Dudley Shelton Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
Succeeded by
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.