Dr. Senarat Paranavitana - Father of Archaeology
While turning the pages of the valuable book of Information depicting
the significant events, book place for each day of the year, and also
which includes the details or the important historical personalities
titled “DINA 366” authored by A. J. M. Shiranee Perera, I found, the
112th Birth Anniversary of the Father of Archaeology Dr. Senarat
Paranavitana falls on December 26, 2008.
“Some are embellished by their position. It is however not so with
Paranavitana, whose radiance illuminates the position”.
Dr. Senarat Paranavitana
The above quotation from Pandit Munidasa Cumaratunga, Scholar and
Great Visionary is worthy of mention here. Immortality is no easy
achievement in any sphere. The writer the painter, artist, musician,
composer, scholar, live as long as their work is allowed to live. Wren
lives in St. Paul’s, Shakespeare at the old Vic, Rembrandt at the
National Gallery, Mozart at Sadler’s Wells and our Dr. Senarat
Paranavitana lives in Sigiriya.
He was the first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology. He assumed
duties on October 1, 1940. He has been a prolific writer far ahead of
the others in the field both in quality and quantity of his writings.
His Sigiri Graffiti in two volumes, and the “Inscriptions” of Ceylon,
suffice to rate him among the Greatest Scholars in the World. Senarat
Paranavitana was born in Mataremba Galle, in the Southern Province, on
December 26, 1896, 112 years ago.
In 1902, he began his primary education at Mataremba school and
entered Bonavista College, Galle in 1906. Later in 1910, he studied
Sanskrit and Pali at the Heenatigala Ranawalagoda Pirivena. From June 8,
1920 till May 1923 he served as an English Assistant Teacher at
Udugampola English School.
He joined the Archaeological Department on June 13, 1923.
Paranavitana’s special field was Epigraphy. He became an authority on
this subject within his first few years with the Department. To begin
with he underwent training in India. He attained a thorough knowledge on
all branches of Archaeological Activity such as Epigraphy, Iconography,
Numismatics, Muselogy, Excavations, Conservation and Archaeological
He got married to Roslin Kitulagoda on March 3, 1930. He obtained his
Doctorate in 1936 and on October 18, 1940, he was appointed as the first
Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology.
The king is known as the Rain Giver and the Protector of Tooth Relic
of the Buddha.
The people believe, when the Tooth Relic is ceremonially taken out,
the rains invariably comes. The rural folks of Sigiriya believed,
whenever Dr. Paranavitana visits them, the rains will never fail.
Way back in 1966, I was the first graduate teacher appointed to
Sigiriya Maha Vidyalaya before joining Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo
tutorial staff in 1968. It was amazing and unbelievable, the visit of
Dr. Paranavitana, during my stay there, did in reality bring rain to
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 Totagamuwa
Rahula Thera is also “Jana”. An ordinary man who recited “Thandale Denna
Depale Dakkanawa” is also a “Jana”. The second occasion I met him was on
October 15, 1967 to write an article on the “Defacing of Sigiriya
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
Story on Defacing of Sigiriya Frescoes exclusively for the Lake House
When I met this Great Man, at his Raymond Road residence at Nugegoda
he told me with tearful eyes.
“Epasinhge, I looked after Sigiriya like my own eyes”. In my days, I
assigned watchers and guards and gave top security to Apsaras,
Megalathas and Vijulathas, day and night. They are the most valuable
treasures that we possess”.
Dr. Paranavitana was a veritable gold mine of knowledge as a Great
son of Sri Lanka.