The daughter

Dushyanthi Nugawela Wijeyawardena’s father was a Buddhist and her mother a Christian. Yet her parents raised her to respect both Christianity and Buddhism and left her to make the choice. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam. Danno Budunge (“Ode to the Sacred City”) written by John de Silva, sung by Eardley Wijeyawardena.

Tags: , ,

Join the discussion: 10 comments

  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    On the phone to Dushyanthi Nugawela Wijeyawardena, she insisted that I call her “Aunty Dushy”. So when we finally met at her Colombo home, we relaxed quickly into the interview. Usually, I ask the interviewee to talk freely. Then I ask questions and at the end, fund out from them if there was anything that they said that they would rather not be public. With Aunty Dushy, she was very open with me from the start and trusted my judgement as to what was best to include. I hope I haven’t let her down.

    Aunty Dushy was warm and welcoming. Straightaway you knew that family was central to her life. As we talked about her family, she brought out album after album of family photographs that her mother, Lousie Erin Nugawela, had beautifully put together. An entire wall was full with more family portraits that Aunty Dushy had collected. There were also things around the house that were connected to her hometown of Kandy.

    Her father, Edward Alexander (“Eddie”) Nugawela, had been a Buddhist, and her grandfather, the Diyawadana Nilame of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the custodian of the Temple of the Tooth. One of the highest honours for a lay Buddhist to hold in Sri Lanka. Eddie Nugawela fell in love with and married a Christian, but he didn’t neglect his Buddhist roots and together with his wife, they encouraged their daughters to respect both beliefs.

    Eddie Nugawela went further, drawing from both Christianity and Buddhism, finding common ground. He used to tell his two daughters that “he learned about Buddhism from the sermon on the mount”. I was aware that this approach of drawing from different faiths and philosophies was shared by Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, who also valued the Christian ‘Sermon on the Mount’, the Buddhist ‘Celestial Song’, but was of course himself a Hindu. Interestingly, Gandhi had stayed at Aunty Dushy’s ancestral house in Kandy when the Mahatma visited Ceylon in 1927. He had even suggested a name for one of Aunty Dushy’s aunts, only a baby at the time: “I am Mohandas, you will be Mohini”. Later Eddie Nugawela gave the name ‘Mohini’ to his daughter as her middle name.

    Aunty Dushy kept saying she didn’t want to sound like she was boasting. But with so much history and wonderful stories from an old Kandyan family, I suppose it’s difficult not to think that.

    On my second visit, I managed to persuade Aunty Dushy to talk about her entrepreneurial achievements. Aunty Dushy started with just 3 sewing machines in her garage, and together with the help of her cousin, built up a successful garment business that now hires over a 1,000 workers and supplies Tommy Hilfiger, GAP and other well known brands.

    Like her parents, family, faith and tradition, were important things in her life. Aunty Dushy has always lived in Colombo, but the connection to Kandy was strong. She was so proud of her granddaughters in South Africa keeping alive the practice of worshiping elders. It showed that you can be thousands of miles from your hometown, but still feel rooted in its customs and traditions.

  • Gayathri Fernando says:

    Wow … I love the juxtaposition of the post-colonial references with local Buddhist-Sinhalese cultural flavour ie. Danno Budunge and Gilbert and Sullivan, Olu Pipeela and Irish songs … these are threads that were interwoven without destrooying the weave in our post-colonial heritage. Why deny it? When I met an Irish friend in Bruxelles she told me that my word-perfect rendering of Galway Bay would reduce her dad to tears! Lovely faces – your photography Kannan is brilliant. The use of music in this interview enhances its nostalgic value – need to rush and make myself a cup of tea now :)

  • Chathuri Nugawela-Munasinghe says:

    So good to see Aunty Dushy sharing family history. Growing up in Kandy, I remember visiting Uncle Sankarakumaran’s house with my aunt to watch the Perahera and passing Aunty Mallika Talwatte’s house on my way home. What wonderful memories!

  • Shamil Ranasinghe says:

    I have to disagree with one fact in Aunty Dushy’s opinion. Royal College is NOT the BEST SCHOOL OF ALL. Trinity IS and WILL BE for the foreseable future :)

  • (@iam_project) (@iam_project) says:

    Dushyanthi Nugawela’s parents raised the family to respect both Christianity and Buddhism #lka elders project

    • Dinty Lawrence Ranasinghe says:

      Hello Dushyanthi Nugawela,
      I live in Brisbane Australia, my Facebook timeline is as on the name panel. I also have several Internet sites if you Google me. Around 1955, as a guitarist I helped/accompanied at many school concerts. I wonder where Christine W. is? We met on the train from Jaffna and sang all the way to Colombo.

      I remember you did a square dance at one of the concerts. I then spotted you organising a concert at the Lionel Wendt Hall in 2000, or thereabouts. Any news of Christine?

      Dinty Ranasinghe

  • Sunil Wijeyesinghe says:

    I am the son of the late Violet Boyagoda who was a granddaughter of the late George Edward Paranagama of Paranagama walawwa, Thumpane. The name of Vincent Nugawela appears in Mr. Paranagama’s testementary case. Are you connected to my mother by any chance? Thanks, Sunil.

  • Kaushinie Panditaratne Weerasekare says:

    Hello Chathuri, yes what wonderful memories tinged with such nostalgia these [portraits] bring — Uncle Sanka and Mr Dunivila — both quintessential gentlemen and these videos capture that. The gentleness and sensitivity that Aunty Malika’s video captured is utterly fantastic. Jean Arasanayam had been my mother’s university mate and wrote to condole me after her death, especially as my father is also well known to her husband. I was so touched as she was a role model.

    We hear that she changed after ’83 and as she says how could it not be so — it changed all of us. Hiding Tamil neighbours’ daughters in our rooms, my brothers trying to save a Tamil man who in desperation had jumped in to the lake to escape the mobs from Colombo who had come in buses, the Buddhist priests on the other side of the lake helping the man to the temple, my own horror to remember even today that the huge blaze I saw while walking to town was that of the tiny oil shop by the Murugan temple run by a jolly, plump elderly Tamil man.

    The videos all show Kandy as it was ”once upon a time” without bigotry, full of humanity, sharing mixed race and mixed religious famlies without great awareness of that being so. I too share Hindu and Christian relatives going back to my parents’ generation. It seems they truly were more multi-cultural though the word was not even invented then perhaps.

    A wonderful set of videos and audio
    recordings and a very worthy project.

    May it also help our country heal faster and treasure what the ealier generations handed over to us.


Leave a comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our submission guidelines before you comment. Comments that do not adhere to the guidelines will be edited or deleted.

Submission guidelines

When engaging with the i am project, we encourage you to communicate with respect and be tolerant of differences.

Comments that do not adhere to these guidelines will be deleted.

We reserve the right to remove your access to i am completely if we believe that you are abusing the site guidelines in any way.