Deshamanya H. K. Dharmadasa

Nawaloka Group

Some roads to success are a trudge; utterly daunting for anyone without the remotest of advantages in life but who still has dreams and ambitions. Here is a lesson in what sheer gumption can achieve…

Hewa Komanage Dharmadasa claimed his more popular appellation ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’ with a well-deserved sense of pride and achievement. He had earned the right to the epithet with no formal education, no professional qualifications and no real proficiency in the invariably required English language.

He was quite rightly proud of the grit and determination that had culminated in the Nawaloka conglomerate of 16 companies encompassing hotels, timber trading, construction, piling, polythene manufacturing, housing, hospitals and aviation.

Born and bred in remote Sulthanagoda, Matara, Dharmadasa left home at the age of 13 when his father passed away, to seek his fortune in the metropolis. He reached Colombo with the princely sum of 75 cents in his pocket.

His mind unhindered by the strictures of a formal tutelage, Dharmadasa willingly set his hand to anything that came his way that brought him remuneration: selling groceries; transporting goods in bullock carts, contracting, timber trading and finally, the turning point – running a small hotel.

But to his last breath, the jewel in his crown was the Nawaloka Hospital.

At a press briefing leading up to his 90th birthday celebrations Dharmadasa reportedly said: “My best achievement in my life is the venture I began… to save lives, establishing the fully fledged Nawaloka Hospital – the first private hospital of that magnitude in Sri Lanka.”

He founded the healthcare facility on a simple but powerful ethos – arogya parama laabha (good health is supreme wealth), and it has remained to this day the epitome of his legacy: the distribution of his wealth for the health of others.

What an enormous and unimaginable achievement indeed, for a teenager who came to seek his fortune with just 75 cents rattling in his pockets! The greatest heights in life are attained by those who dare enough, work hard enough, believe enough. He understood too well that success is not a gift but a destination reached by taking that first courageous step.

When he made his final journey, it was from one prestigious address to another equally coveted one, as had many of the elites of the land. The poor boy from a far-flung hamlet in Matara had found his way to riches.

Hewa Komanage Dharmadasa: sought success from the very soles of his feet.