Personal Information
Born:7th May 1929
Nationality:Sri Lankan
Education:CMS Ladies' College
Spouse:James Peter Obeyesekere
Parents:Charlotte Valerie Amybelle Corea and Lois Robert Clifton Dassenaike

A Portrait of (Deshamanya) Siva Obeyesekere


James Peter (J. P.) Obeyesekere, husband of Deshamanya Siva Obeyesekere


Wedding Photo of Deshamanya Siva Obeyesekere


Deshamanya Siva Obeyesekere with her daughter, Chantal and grandchildren Dhevan and Chiara De Saram


DESHAMANYA SIVAGAMIE VERINA OBEYESEKERE (Siva Obeyesekere as she is popularly known), was born to Charlotte Valorie Amybelle Corea and Lois Robert Clifton Dassenaike, on the 7th of May 1929, at Nattandiya. Srimani her elder sister was also born in Nattandiya, where their grandmother, Eugene Sarah Attygalle Corea lived. The family later lived in Marapola in the Veyangoda area and then shifted to Mount Lavinia.

Educated at CMS Ladies College up to the Senior School Certificate, Siva was a Hostel Prefect, Games Captain and Captain of the Netball and Tennis Teams from 1943-1948. She married James Peter Obeyesekere in 1948 at the Ladies' College `Chapel of the Hope of the World’. Her husband, J. P. Obeyesekere, having finished his education in Britain, piloted his own airplane back to Ceylon. He had sat out World War II in Britain, and being a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron learned to fly and navigate. When S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from the United National Party (UNP) to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), James was one of the first to join him. James was better known for his enthusiasm for motor racing (driving his locally built `JP Special’ racing car) and his interest in Scouting. Both Siva and James were founder members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). James was the Deputy Minister of Health, the Deputy Minister of Finance and a Senator during the period that S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was Prime Minister. James was also conferred the Honour of Deshamanya.  Deshmanaya (Pride of the Nation) is the second highest national honour (after the Sri Lankabhimanaya) awarded by the Government of Sri Lanka as a civil honour and is conventionally used as a title or prefix to the awardees name. James and Siva constitute the only instance of a husband and wife being awarded this honour. They have two children, Peter and Chantal. Chantal, who has donned her mother’s mantle, continues her work with regard to the development of indigenous arts and crafts and development of local talent.

During the period 1960-1965, when James was the Member of Parliament for Attanagalle, Siva organized Community Health Programmes in 127 villages of the Attanagalle Electorate and began to develop Handicraft and Handloom Centres as well. Appointed the Chairman of the Small Industries Board in 1961, she organized Village Sewing Centres and Traditional Crafts Centres, reviving the District Co-operative Unions in Handloom Textiles. In 1963, she was appointed the Chairman of the Accommodation Committee and a member of the Tourist Development Council and was responsible for the drafting of the Tourist Development Act. In 1964, Siva established `Laksala’ the first Government Cottage Industries Emporium and was the Chairman of the Advisory Board.  She established the Craftsman’s Association of Sri Lanka and promoted the Master Craftsman’s Apprenticeship Scheme, while representing the country at many international fora.

Having nursed her husband’s electorate, it was easy for Siva to contest the Elections in 1965, to be returned as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Mirigama in 1965. A delegate to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Canada in 1966, she was the first woman of the Commonwealth to preside as the Speaker of Parliament on the 12th of January 1968. She was re-elected as the MP for the Mirigama seat in 1970 and was appointed the Deputy Minister of Health and later, Minister of Health.  She established the National Family Health programme, adopted by the United Nations as an international model. Elected President National Artisans & Craftsmen’s association in 1973, she established `Lakpahana’, a private sector organization for the development of local handicrafts, and in 1974 was presented a National Award in recognition of her work, by His Excellency the President.   

Between the years 1973 to 2003, Siva Obeyesekere represented Sri Lanka at many International fora. In 1973, she was elected Vice President `Status of Women in Family Planning’ in Djakarta and led the Sri Lankan delegation to the World Population Conference in Bucharest, Romania. In 1977, she led the Sri Lankan Delegation to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and was the first Asian Woman to be elected as Vice President. During the period 1977 to 1987, she was a delegate representing Sri Lanka at ESCAP in Bangkok on Population related conferences and conferences relating to indigenous crafts in Japan, Austria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In 1991, she was the first woman to be awarded the `Deshamanaya’ for her services to the Nation in Sri Lanka and was elected the first President of the World Crafts Council affiliated to UNESCO, and in 1996 was elected the first President of the Asia Pacific Region of World Crafts Council. In 1993, she was the first foreigner to be awarded the `Kamala Saamaan’ in memory of Kamala Devi Chattopadyayi of India for the development of `Laksala’. In 2006, she was appointed as National consultant to the Ministry of `Rural Industries and Self Employment Promotion’ and in 2009, was appointed to the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike National Memorial Foundation by His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In addition to her official commitments, Siva Obeyesekere was deeply committed to the Sri Lanka Cancer Society and was a Past–President who established Branches in Kandy, Galle, Batticaloa and Jaffna and as a member of many social service organizations, helped in fund-raising for the Mentally Retarded, Ceylon School for the Deaf and the Blind, Homes for the Aged and Orphanages, and was a popular fund raiser for education institutions such as S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, Trinity College Kandy and her Alma Mater, Ladies College, Colombo. In retirement, she now runs a Home for the Aged and Orphanage, as President of the Siyane Korale East Society. 

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