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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 Administrator.

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 that area.

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 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 Story 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.

“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.


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