111th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Senarath Paranavitana falls today:
While I was turning the pages of this valuable book, titled "Dina 366" (366 Days) authored by A.J.M. Shiranee Perera, I found that Dr. Senarath Paranavitana's birthday falls on December 26, 1896.
It prompted me to write, this article on the hundred and eleventh Birth Anniversary of this erudite scholar, historian, researcher and archaeologist as a tribute to this great son of Sri Lanka.
Way back in 1966, when I was the first Graduate Teacher at Sigiriya Maha Vidyalaya, before joining the tutorial staff of my "Alma Mater" Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo, it was unbelievable that the visit of Dr. Senarath Paranavitana brought showers to Sigiriya and Dambulla area.
Dr. Paranavitana, was one of the most brilliant and outstanding personalities that adorned Sri Lanka in the 20th century. As a student of history in the university, and as a teacher and later as a journalist attached to Lake House, I was fortunate to associate with this man of the era. He was a great son of Sri Lanka.
Born on December 26, 1896, at Metaramba, Galle, he had primary education at Metaramba School and entered Bonavista School, Galle and studied Sinhala and English. He studied Pali and Sanskrit, at Ranvalgoda Pirivena, Heenatigala.
Paranavitana started his career as a school teacher at Government school, Udugampola. On May 31, 1923, he gave up teaching and joined the Department of Archaeology. With dedication, commitment, and hard work he went up in the ladder. They say, the heights of great men, reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight. While their companions slept, hard working men toiled.
To begin with, Dr. Paranavithana's special field was Epigraphy (scientific study of epigraphican writings or inscription - Epigraphist-n (Greck Epigrapher-to write on). He underwent training in India, and studied in all fields of archaeological activities, such as Epigraphy, Iconography, Numismatics, Museology, Conservation, Excavation, Archaeological Administration and Practical Knowledge in Chemical Treatment and Antiquities.
Paranavitana obtained his first Doctorate (Ph.D) in 1936 from the University of Leiden, Netherlands for his thesis 'Stupa in Ceylon'. His greatest achievement was the compilation of Kurutu Gee - Sigiri graffiti. He did research and studied the poems written on the Sigiriya Mirror wall. This brought him international recognition as a historian and an archaeologist.
He joined the Department of Archaeology on June 13, 1923 and retired as the Commissioner of Archaeology on December 12, 1956. After his retirement he served as the Professor of Archaeology in the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya from 1956 to 1964. He compiled the book 'History of Ceylon'.
Dr. Paranavitana possessed a golden heart and was a fine human being. Sigiriya and Pranavitana were inseparable. Once he was travelling to Pindurangala from Sigiriya in a bullock-cart, the bull, pulling the cart was tired and he got off the cart and fed him with fruits.
When, I was serving in Silumina Editorial in the 1960's Wimalasiri Perera, Editor of Silumina assigned me to interview him on "Folk Poetry". "Janakaviya" the topic the Cultural Department selected that year for their annual Literary Day.
When I met Dr. Paranavitana, he asked: "Epasinghe, who gave you this topic? Tell the Cultural Department, that dogs, cats, lions, tigers do not write books or sing songs or write or recite poetry. Even Totagamuwe Rahula Thera is also "Jana". Carter who sang "Thandale Denna Depale Dakkanawa" is also "Jana". "Ajanayas" did not do any literary works. Remember that".
The second occasion I met him was on October 15, 1967 to write an article on the "Defacing of Sigiriya Frescoes".
The late Cecil Graham, Editor Daily News and Dharmapala Wettasinghe, assigned me to write a feature as I was the one who reported the scoop on defacing of Sigiriya Frescoes exclusively for the Lake House Group.
When I met this great man, at his Raymond Road residence at Nugegoda he told me with tearful eyes:
"Epasinghe, I looked after Sigirya like my own eyes".
In my days, I assigned watchers and guards and gave top security to Apsaras, Megalathas and Vijjulathas day and night. They are the most valuable treasures that we possess".
In conclusion I quote another great scholar Munidasa Cumaratunga who summed up the greatness of Paranavitana in this manner.
"Some are embellished by their official status. But it does not apply to Dr. Paranavitana. In his case, he embellished the offices he held."