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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

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Department of National Archives:

Memory of the nation

A tall building, christened as the Department of Archives, which stands against Royal College, Colombo 7, is a common sight to the commuters who regularly enter into the Reed Avenue. Though the name sculptured on the wall of this mammoth building connotes that it is mandated to preserve documents, a clear picture about the institution is not comprehended.


Sketch of National Archives Department

The Department of National Archives (DNA) was established under the legal framework of National Archives Law No. 48 of 1973 which was enacted with the dawn of Independence in 1948. Later, the department was empowered by National Archive Amendment No. 30 (1981)

Commenting on the duty and the responsibility shouldered by the department, Dr. Saroja Wettasinghe, the Director General of the department of National Achieves said:

“National Archives is the memory of our nation and the staff pertaining to the department is rendering a momentous task of preserving the past document which speaks the legal and rudimentary elements of the country’s affairs in large volumes. This is a repository of written evidence since 1640s. It means since the Dutch Period. On the other hand the documents if there’s any need to produce before courts ours are the only legally recognized records accepted by Sri Lankan judiciary.

Preserving for posterity


Archives Chairperson Saroja Wetasinghe
Pictures by Rukmal Gamage


The process of archiving

The sole objective and the responsibility the department conferred is to preserve and archive old records on behalf of many generations. Country’s historical roots are integrated in to this institute and everyone who sweets their blood to check out the historical identities can come here and refer to the collection available at DNA. The utility and the potential of the institution to bear ample testimony germane to history is what the very reason why the department is considered a nation’s asset.

In fact from the degree the temple of tooth is contemplated the symbol of statehood National Archives can be held in high esteem as the legal deed of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and its Independence.

DNA assures physical safety and custody for the archives of all public offices and to make them available for the reference and study while serving as the legal depository of the island.

Without being confined to the above mentioned activity it administers presidential archives and reference service. And also the administration of printing presses, printers and publishers and newspaper ordinances.

History lays over the Department of National Archives.

Historical records unfold the fact that during the 5th century AD there was an officer to run Royal (king’s) records and the documents of historical importance. The officer recruited in this regard was called Maha Mohotti who furnished the Kandyan palace archives during the 18th and the first decade of the 19th century.

The systematic keeping of archives was commenced after Dutch took control of the Sri Lankan maritime belt. It was in 1640s that Archives especially Tomboes (Dutch-written records) were housed at Galle and later it was shifted to Colombo. After British took the mantel of Sri Lankan maritime power the post of Archivist and the Department of Government Archivist was established.

The section 13 of the national archives law which was proclaimed in 1973 does a good contribution to preserve old documents. The Survey General is bound to send the National Archives all the newly published maps and other documents.


First book archived

The Post Master General should send the specimen of stamps and the Governor of Central Bank of Sri Lanka is bound with his responsibility to send all specimen of currency notes and coins to DNA within 30 days of its issue.

National Archives expects every candidate who fields himself or herself for Provincial council election, Parliamentary Election, Presidential election, to make the department receive all their election literature within 30 days of its issue.

Pride of Nation

Though we feel mundane looking at the mammoth building where the Department of National Archives functions, the duty it is rendering is beyond the power of expression.

Among the collection now available in the National Archives is blessed with ancient documents namely Udarata Givisuma and the first printed book in Sri Lankan which goes back to 1973.

“As the computer has got a hard disc to preserve it memory, likewise I reiterate that this is the hard disc of country’s memory. So that is why it is held in high esteem as a nation’s asset,” added Dr. Wettasinghe further highlighting the significance of the institution.

Technological supremacy

Microfilming is one of the devices utilized to preserve old documents. The Newspapers are also preserved by means of microfilming.

For the moment as the department has not got many technical officers with developed aptitude in microfilming.

The available staff microfilms are only on Daily News and Dinamina.

The technical devision is the muscle of the whole precesses, as it gives life to old discarded written records to survive the items on behalf of the next generation.

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