Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri – A Farewell Tribute
Posted on December 2nd, 2018

Senaka Weeraratna(Hony. Secretary, German Dharmaduta Society)

The Funeral of Emeritus Professor Dr. Jayadeva Tilalaksiri was held at the Mount Lavinia Cemetery, in the afternoon of Saturday December 01, 2018.

The remains of Professor Tilakasiri were cremated in the presence of several senior (retired) Professors, close relatives and friends.

The Pansakula ceremony was earlier conducted at the Mahinda Funeral Parlour, Mount Lavinia. It was followed by several funeral orations. Among the speakers were Emeritus Professor J.B. Dissanayake, Professor Walter Marasinghe, Mr. Senaka Weeraratna, Attorney –at –Law and Hony. Secretary, German Dharmaduta Society, and Mrs. Seetha Dehigaspitiya among others.

Emeritus Professor K.N.O. Dharmadasa, Emeritus Professor Jayasiri Lankage, Lieutenant Commander (Retd.) Somasiri Devendra, Major – General Sardha Abeyratne and Deshabandu Sirisumana Godage (leading Book Publisher) were among those present.

The funeral oration delivered by Mr. Senaka Weeraratna (Hony. Secretary, German Dharmaduta Society) is set out below:

Ven. Sirs, friends and relatives of the late Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri, members of the German Dharmaduta Society, ladies and gentlemen

We are gathered here today to say farewell to one of the most eminent men in our society.

The late Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri was one of the foremost Indologists of Sri Lanka. He held the chair in Sanskrit at the University of Peradeniya from 1968 to 1982. During his 36 year period of service at this University he also became well known as a scholar and promoter of then traditional art of puppetry in Sri Lanka.

Jayadeva Tilakasiri was born in Galle in 1921, and had his early education at Mahinda College, Galle from 1927 to 1938. He was 97 years old when he passed away on November 28, 2018.

It was at Mahinda College that he was first introduced to the study of Sanskrit and Pali by several learned Buddhist monks and Mr. U.G. Handy who had developed a great reputation as a teacher of Pali and Buddhism at Mahinda College.

It was mainly the influence of these teachers that created an abiding interest in the study of Sanskrit, Buddhism and allied subjects in young Jayadeva, although the first steps in the study of Sanskrit were taken by him quite early in life under the parental directive that he should daily learn and recite a given number of stanzas from the Sataka texts and thus imbibe their richness.

In 1939, Jayadeva gained admission to the University College in Colombo, which became the first independent University of Ceylon, in 1942. Jayadeva opted to study Sanskrit and Pali, which he did under the guidance of redoubtable teachers such as G.P. Malalasekara and in particular, O.H. de A Wijesekera, who soon became his mentor. Mention must also be made of a self- made classical Sanskrit scholar of Galle, Mr. H.A. Wimalaratna, who had given Jayadeva a sound grounding in Sanskrit prosody and poetics as well as in Paninian grammar.

Jayadeva passed out, in 1943, with the first batch of Arts graduates of the University of Ceylon, securing First Class Honours, and one year later i.e. 1944, he was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in the newly created Department of Sanskrit.

In the mid – 1940s, Jayadeva proceeded to England to read for the Ph.D. degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, which he obtained in 1949, by submitting a thesis on Sanskrit literature, which was later published under the title “Kalidasa’s imagery and the theory of poetics”. It had great relevance to Sinhala Classical Poetry.

Jayadeva Tilakasiri succeeded Prof. O. H. De. A. Wijesekera, and served as the Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Peradeniya from 1968 to 1982 and rendered a significant service to enhance Sanskrit scholarship in Sri Lanka and to deepen our understanding of traditional arts and crafts including puppetry and handicraft. The scope of his works on Sanskrit ranges from Sanskrit grammar to poetical and scientific literature, while many of his works are included in the prescribed readings for university students on Sanskrit, Indian History, Indian Philosophy, Fine Arts, and Sinhala literature.

Jayadeva served as President of the German Dharmaduta Society (GDS) for about 5 years commencing from year 2005 taking over the duties from Dr. Granville Dharmawardena. He was succeeded by Dr. Manel Lakdivdas. Jayadeva was the last surviving founder member of the German Dharmaduta Society which was founded by Asoka Weeraratna on September 21, 1952. He attended the first meeting of this Society.

Jayadeva was a close friend of my uncle Asoka Weeraratna. Jayadeva resided as a young student with his parents at Wakwella Road, Galle, in a house located just behind my father’s ancestral home at Wakwella Road, Galle, where the Jewelry business known as ‘ P.J. Weeraratna & Sons ’was originally located, before it was shifted to Maradana, Colombo in 1948. This family jewelry business was founded in 1862 in Galle by my forebears and it was the oldest jewelery firm in the southern province.

Both my father Dharmasena Weeraratna and uncle Asoka Weeraratna had high regard for Jayadeva’s intellectual attainments and skills. Asoka Weeraratna and Jayadeva Tilakasiri had used to walk together to school i.e. Mahinda Vidyalaya, which was within walking distance from their homes. Asoka Weeraratna and Professor N.A. Jayawickrema (Professor of Pali) were Jayadeva’s class mates. So was Dr. Daimon Kularatne. In the 1950s when I was in the primary school my uncle Asoka repeatedly held up Professor N.A. Jayawickrema and Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri as role models and worthy scholars that I should try to emulate.

Professor Tilakasiri was a prolific writer. His writing style was rich old English, coming from reading the great classics. He was extremely well read. It was a delight to read his writings for sheer lucidity and eloquence. He was equally fluent in Sinhala. He had the knack to deliver speeches in either language at a moment’s notice. This was a great boon to our Society. We could always count on him to address a public gathering.

He has 34 works in 85 publications in four languages and 499 library holdings. He was the winner of State literary awards for Sinhala and English Books in 1959 and again in 1994. He has delivered lectures and participated in discussions at high profile conferences and seminars all over the world. His published works include texts on Sanskrit literature, drama, aesthetics, poetry, and religion. He has also published books on puppetry, shadow play, handicrafts and craft people of Sri Lanka.

He acted as the Chairman of the Crafts Council and organized exhibitions and festivals for craft products. Many of his Books have been published by S. Godage & Brothers.
He has received the President’s Award, Kala Keerthi (Artist of Eminence) in May 1993 and the Sahitya Ratna (Literary Excellence) award in October 2004. He was a visiting lecturer on Asian Drama at the University of Kelaniya. He was the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation Grant as well as research grants from the University of Ceylon and various Government Departments.

Jayadeva Tilakasiri was the oldest surviving old boy of Mahinda College, which felicitated him with a warm and cordial reception at the Office of the Principal, Mr. Gamini Jayewardena on January 20, 2017.

The University of Peradeniya too has accorded him similar felicitations on the 5th of September 2017. The felicitation ceremony was organized for him by the Department of Classical Languages and the Faculty of Arts under the auspices of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Peradeniya. The Vice-chancellor, Prof. Upul B. Dissanayake, awarded him a special citation and wished him well, while Ven. Dr. Waragoda Pemaratana, sometime professor of Sanskrit at Peradeniya, Prof. O.G. Dayarathna Banda, Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, Dr. Chandima Wikramasinghe, Head of the Department of Classical Languages, and Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga,Secretary to the Treasury from the Ministry of Finance, also addressed the gathering on this occasion.

We have to thank Mr. Gamini and Mrs. Seetha Dehigaspitiya for taking care of Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri with great affection and solicitude for the last five years in their home in Panadura. Professor Tilakasiri lost his beloved wife Srimathie in September 2013. With no immediate member of the family left in Sri Lanka to look after him, it was left for Mrs. Seetha Dehigaspitiya and her husband to perform that noble task.

Both sons of Prof. Tilakasiri, Aruna and Ravindra are living overseas. Aruna visits Sri Lanka annually to meet his father. Ravindra has made arrangements with friends and relatives to take care of Professor Tilakasiri’s needs. In this respect we must mention the names of Nayuni Amendra and Rohitha Perera, in particular, who have been extremely helpful.

Finally, I must thank on behalf of the German Dharmaduta Society for your kind presence here today to fare well a great man, great scholar who has brought lustre to his rata, jathiya and agama, and who lived a very simple austere life in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism.

May he attain Nibbana soon.

Thank you.

Senaka Weeraratna
(Hony. Secretary, German Dharmaduta Society)

December 01, 2018

Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri – A Farewell TributeThe Funeral of Emeritus Professor Dr. Jayadeva Tilalaksiri was held…

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