SURFACING OF CEYLON HISTORY AFTER FIVE DECADES – II
Posted on December 27th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Cdn-2010-tag---In-Focus---i_0.jpgFor nearly half a century Professor Laksman Susantha Perera’s research, bound in three volumes, consisting nearly 1400 pages on ancient inscriptions in ‘ Ceylon’ between 3rd Century to 10th Century AD gathered dust at the Peradeniya University, occasionally used by many scholars, lecturers and students over the years.

Of late, however, the University was sensible enough to convert the text onto microfiche format and save it from destruction. This has been the one and the only historical piece of evidence to the way of life of Ceylonese who lived during that era under Ceylonese Kingdoms.

This gem of history about Ceylon has been regularly used at the University by generation of historians until many of its pages were reduced to shreds by constant usage. Some who claimed to be ’eminent scholars’ have used Perera’s Volumes as ‘ their original idea’ for personal glory, conveniently forgetting to acknowledge the authorship!z_p09-CEYLON.jpg

Over the years, Professor Perera’s ambition as a patriot to get this valuable piece of history published with a view to disseminating his stored up knowledge to the present generation was marked only by a single word ‘rejection’ by profit orientated publishers in the county. It was an unfortunate state of affairs and more so as Sudharshan Seneviratne, Prof. of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya once put it, a clear cut example of poverty of human values rather than poverty of history”. There were three copies available of the manuscript, one of which had been handed over to his guru Dr. Mendis, second copy to the Peradeniya University and the third copy remained with him for solid five decades.

‘Never say die until really dead’ !

As much as his enthusiasm to complete the study, Professor Perera’s attempts at publishing and making it known to the world never died. Decades after, while in retirement in London, he approached The International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Kandy. Its Executive Director, Prof. K.M. de Silva and Prof. Srima Kiribamune, Senior Research Fellow, enjoyed and identified it as a first rate study on vitally important aspects of the history of Sri Lanka. A silver lining, in Professor Perera’s ambition, began to emerge through dark clouds of many a year.

The laborious task of updating the references to inscriptions used in the text after 50 years and typing of 1500 crumbling and discoloured pages, which could not be scanned, were successfully completed by Prof. Sirima Kiribamune, assisted by Dr. Piyatissa Senanayake of the Department of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya. Consequently Volume 1, (out of three) under the title ” The Institutions of Ancient Ceylon from Inscription (from the 3rd century BC to 830 AD) was released to the public in July 2001 at the Jayawardena Centre in Colombo amidst a distinguished gathering.

After the publication of Volume I, Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne was quoted as saying thus: ” The future, of both historical and archaeological studies in Sri Lanka, is at cross roads facing a dilemma of priorities, choices, resources, resource persons, attitude and above all quality of research. . After 53 long years, Prof. Lakshman Perera’s Masterpiece finally appeared in print as a classic. But that was only in part ( volume I). Unfortunately it is at present out of print and as the writer understands no more publications of this will be”.

Volume 1 which is factual history, containing 322 pages (from the 3 century BC to 830AD) bound in hard cover subsequently became available for the public to purchase from the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, Kinsey Terrace, Colombo 8 and most of the bookshops in Colombo.

Final Part

Volume II, part I and Volume II, part II came out of publication in 2003 and 2005 respectively, prepared by Prof. Srima Kiribamune and Dr. Piyatissa Senanayake . It is equally interesting to note that the author Lakshman Susantha Perera’s name appears on both volumes in Sinhala Script which belonged to the 9th Century AD to coincide with the contents of the publications.

The final part of the three-volume work deals with the gradual evolution of the Island’s institutions political, economic and religious aspects, beginning from 3rd Century BC to 1016 AD – which is the Anuradhapura period of Sri Lanka history

An array of complimentary reviews by many eminent Sri Lankan scholars has commented as follows: “Author’s systematic approach dealing with each phase in a chronological sequence, under various headings, political, economic, social and religious, gives a clear picture of the development that has taken place over the centuries in Sri Lanka; the evolution of kingship, and the king’s role as ‘Defender of the Faith’, and the development of the Sangha from a cave dwelling, amorphous community to a more complex, compact one, controlling large economically independent establishments, the growth of the local government institutions, the irrigation system, taxation, the use of money, diet and many other facts; each of which is sufficient to open new vistas of historical research for an interested student”.

Dr. Lorna Dewaraja in her review states: ” In Prof. L. S. Perera’s meticulous study, he has expressed the life of a society in its political, economic, religious and social aspects and shows that in any society institutions are inter-related and affect each other” .

Overall inspirational reviews of this publication have shown that ” reading through the author’s masterly analysis of the earliest inscriptions, one is struck by the fact that they authenticate even in minute details of the Mahavamsa, which has been condemned by some as myth and legend. Not only can outstanding rulers like ‘Devanampiyatissa, Vattagamini and Dutthagami be identified in the inscriptions, they say, but even one of the latter warriors mentioned in the Mahavanmsa, Senapati Nandimitta could be identified with a good deal of accuracy’.

The writer learnt from the International Centre for Ethnic Studies that Volume I has already gone out of print and it will not be available in the future ! It would , therefore, be prudent for the authorities concerned with the history of Ceylon ( Sri Lanka) for this volume to be reprinted and published continuously as ” this path-breaking dissertation on which it is based was the first to use epigraphically in writing the history of ancient (Ceylon) Sri Lanka, and more so according to many comments, ” it is equally important, the author’s interpretations of the institutional structure in his dissertation on early Sri Lanka continue to be part of the current historical debate in the country as many of his insights have still not been challenged”

Prof. Lakshman Perera has expressed his deepest gratitude and thanks to Professor K M de Silva and the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Kandy) and particularly to Professor Srima Kiribamune and Dr Piyatissa Senanayake who did the editing and supervision of the camera ready copy for printing and to the staff of the ICES, Kandy and the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) programme, a consortium of US Colleges, whose funding made possible the publication of his thesis

Profile

In his normal academic career Prof. Perera became the Administrative Head of four sub-departments in the second Faculty of Arts in Colombo when in 1952 the Faculty of Arts was shifted to the new campus in Peradeniya. He became the Professor of History of the Colombo Campus and later he was elected to the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Being a member of the Editorial Board of the Revised University History of Ceylon and the Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, Professor Perera contributed several chapters, covering the period of his research, to the University of Ceylon.

In 1973 Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended him to the Education Department of the Commonwealth Secretariat as a Senior Consultant on Universities and Higher Education where he continued in this position for a decade till 1983. Even after his retirement from the University he has been serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth.

On a bright mid-summer early morning in 1998, Prof. Perera was woken up by a long distance telephone call from Colombo. It was an old friend, Mr. George Coorey to seek permission to nominate him for the prestigious award for the Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa (D. Lit) offered to luminaries by the Colombo University.

On 15 August 1998, Professor Lakshman Susantha Perera was decorated at the convocation held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, thus evidently becoming ‘the flower, which appeared to have been born & unseen and wasting its sweetness in the Sri Lankan air’ for nearly 50 years, had suddenly come to bloom so as not to ‘waste its sweetness any longer’!

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5 Responses to “SURFACING OF CEYLON HISTORY AFTER FIVE DECADES – II”

  1. Dr Romesh Senewiratne Says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. I was wondering if these manuscripts could be photographed if they can’t be scanned. Then they could be published and studied online.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    I agree with Romesh.

    These have to be EXTENTSIVELY FOTOGRAPHED and preserved.

    Ultimately these will be the ONLY claim SL will have to its territory. South Endians and Arabs will claim parts of our island with BS historical twists.

  3. Senevirath Says:

    yes Lorenzo everything should be done to prev ent tamils and arabs claiming our country

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dr Tilak Fernando,

    Thank you for this article.

    ————–

    I am dismayed at this attitude of ‘giving up’ : ” Unfortunately it is at present out of print and as the writer understands no more publications of this will be”. Why ?
    Never give up ! Intellectuals and Publishers in Sri Lanka who are concerned must launch a re-print (thousands of copies to schools and libraries everywhere, in Lanka and outside), with public help, if not government. These books ought to be required reading for all school children.

    The reason why there is no love or gratitude toward Lanka by some is because they have no knowledge or pride of the past,
    no connections with the past or our ancestors and their way of life.

    At present, there is a technique in place to corner Lanka’s leaders with false accusations (no proof) such as War Crimes so that they are kept busy in defending themselves and pleasing outside forces with agendas that suit them, rather than taking care of the country and the People. This is the same as causing Riots and using Riots to flee Lanka as Refugees and later accuse Lanka of atrocities.

    Lanka may become a illegal migrants ‘nesting ground’ if the concerned citizens don’t stand watch and act. This is the reality of our Near History which is as important as Far History. Let us learn from History, far and near.

  5. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Professor Laksman Susantha Perera’s research is a gem of historical literature about an ancient nation yet unknown to the world, even unknown to India. It is work like this that should inspire others to follow suit on every aspect of ancient, medieval and colonial Sri Lanka and her relationships with other civilizations as well. this research should be followed with extensive archeological digs since most of Sri Lanka remains undiscovered. According to one article there are an estimated 250 thousand archeological areas yet to be uncovered. It is time the world discovers the wonder that is Sri Lanka

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