Celestina Dias

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Selestina Dias MBE (11 July 1858 – 26 March 1933) (née Patthinihennadige Warnadeepthia Kurukulasuriya Selestina Rodrigo), also known as Mrs. Jeremias Dias, was a Ceylonese philanthropist and businesswoman.[1] She was a pioneer in the field of Buddhist Girls' education and women entrepreneurs.[1] She was the founding patron (1917) of the premier Buddhist School for girls in Sri Lanka; Visakha Vidyalaya, located in Bambalapitiya, Colombo.[2]

She was born in the coastal town of Nalluruwa, Panadura to an old aristocratic family.[3][4][5] Her father was Pattinihennadige Warnadeepthia Kurukulasuriya Salaman Rodrigo and her mother was Mahawaduge Madalena Perera. She was the third in a family of seven girls and two boys.[2] They were proprietors of coconut property, distillers, renters and exporters of arrack, one of the few avenues open to natives for growth and enterprise during the early colonial period.[6][7] They were also pioneers in the rubber and the hotel industry.[8]

She married Jeramias Dias of Panadura, a businessman, planter and pioneer Buddhist revivalist, who was instrumental in organizing the world famous "Panadura Vivadaya/Debate".[2][9][10] They had eight children; Harry, Lillian, Arthur Vincent, Edmund Wilson, Adeline, Ellen, Rosalind and Charles. After the death of her husband in 1902, she became the managing director of the business concerns of the family.[1] The "Panadura Vivadaya/Debate" was the turning point in the Buddhist revival movement in the island, which attracted the likes of Henry Steel Olcott. What is not quite so famous is that the Weslyan chapel was also built by the Rodrigo family and Mathaes Swaris Rodrigo Goonewardane, the churchwarden on whose land the church was built invited the parties for a debate.[11][12]

In 1917, she established Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo.[2] The funds for setting up the school were derived from the profits from a rubber estate in Matugama: Good Hope Estate. Rs 100,000 was put on trust to set up the school, Rs 50,000 to acquire land and the remaining Rs 50,000 was to be used for its upkeep.[1] She entrusted its management to the likes of D. S. Senanayake Dr. W. A. de Silva, Baron Jayatilaka and the Buddhist Theosophical Society[9][13] She also built a modern laboratory for Ananda College, Colombo in 1916, which helped it to be recognized as a Grade-1 status institute of higher education and eligible for the government grant and a Sanatorium for Buddhist monks.[14] The family also gifted the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura.[8]

She was a former President of the Panadura Association and a chief patron-custodian of the Rankot Viharaya, Panadura and Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya. She assisted in the campaign to resurrect Buddhism in this country. The innumerable religious and social service activities initiated by her have helped a large number of organizations to fulfill their objectives. She is widely regarded as the pioneer lady/female entrepreneur and philanthropist of the island.[1][15] She died on March 26, 1933.

Her son Arthur V. Dias and grandson Wilmot A. Perera were also famous philanthropists. She is a grandaunt of Mahesh Rodrigo and Aravinda de Silva.


  1. ^ a b c d Remembering…Selestina Rodrigo - Mrs Jeremias Dias - Dr Harsha Boralessa (the Island) Accessed January 15, 2015
  2. ^ a b c d Mrs. Jeremias Dias:A visionary of the 20th Century by Dr. Ganga de Silva (The Island) Accessed January 15, 2015
  3. ^ The Rodrigos celebrate 175 years of helping the needy by Ara Rasool (Sunday Times) Accessed January 15, 2015
  4. ^ A lasting legacy from the 19th century (Sunday Times) Accessed January 15, 2015
  5. ^ The Rodrigo family of Panadura (Karava of Sri Lanka) Accessed January 15, 2015
  6. ^ When the 'nobodies' made their mark (Sunday Times) Accessed January 15, 2015
  7. ^ Extracts from 'Nobodies to Somebodies - The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka', Kumari Jayawardena, (Social Scientists' Association and Sanjiva Books). ISBN 955-9102-26-5 Accessed January 15, 2015
  8. ^ a b Charity begins at home – The Rodrigo Saga by Leelananda De Silva (The Island) Accessed January 15, 2015
  9. ^ a b Philanthropy in the twentieth century by Leelananda de Silva (The Island) Accessed January 15, 2015
  10. ^ The Great Panadura Debate by S. de F. Jayasuriya (Sunday Observer) Accessed January 15, 2015
  11. ^ The Story of Selestina Dias: Buddhist Female Philanthropy and Education - Manel Tampoe, p. 23 (Social Scientists' Association) ISBN 9550762165
  12. ^ Methodist Church, Panadura celebrates 150 years - Nalin Peiris (Daily News) Accessed January 15, 2015
  13. ^ The Story of Selestina Rodrigo (Mrs. Jeremias Dias): Pioneer in Buddhist Girls’ Education, Manel Tampoe (Book Review) Accessed January 15, 2015
  14. ^ Ananda History: Wilson Dias memorial Laboratory (Insolanka) Accessed January 15, 2015
  15. ^ One man’s vision by D.C. Ranatunga (Daily FT) Accessed January 15, 2015