First death anniversary :
Prof Anuradha Seneviratna made great contribution to Sinahala
I first met Professor Anuradha Seneviratna in 1990 when I was an
employer of Janasaviya Trust Fund. His elder son Udayana also worked
with me in the same division. Before that I was a one of lover his
creative works in Sinhala and English. His works covered topics from
Sinhala literature and language, to archaeology and historical studies.
His works influenced my life until his untimely death at the age of
71 on July 9, 2009, hence, my pleasure in penning a few words.
Late Professor Anuradha Seneviratna was born in the village of
Eriyagama near Kandy, on July 13, 1938. His father planned an exacting
program of studies for his son based on the traditional system of
classical language training.
From the age of four he studied Sinhala in his village school at the
same time, under his father’s instructions; he attended classes at the
village temple where he studied Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil. It is
indicative of the eclectic attitude of that age that these languages
were considered to be the absolute minimum requirement for any educated
person, let alone a prospectively classics scholar. The early
inspiration for continuing his studies in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit was
made by his father taking him to meet Prof G P Malalasekara, the
foremost Pali and Buddhist scholar in Ceylon at that time and Anuradha
Seneviratna received his academic abhisheka from this distinguished
scholar in the form of an exhortation to seriously take up the study of
Pali. His father also took him to meet the leading monk-scholar in
Ceylon, Ven Parawahera Vajiranana Mahathera who was the first Buddhist
monk from Ceylon to be awarded a Ph.D. at Cambridge University in
England for his work on the psychology of Buddhist meditation in 1936,
published as Buddhist Meditation in 1962.
Other major influences on his academic career were the works of two
of the most well known scholars of their time. Max Muller with his work
on Vedic and Sanskrit texts was especially important for any serious
student of Indian literature and S Radhakrishnan with his pioneering
works on Indian philosophy giving proof of the influence of Upanishadic
teachings on the Buddha. Prof S Paranavitana, former Archaeological
Commissioner and reputed scholar in Sri Lanka was also a great source of
support and inspiration during this time.
At the age of eleven he was sent to the Dharmaraja College in Kandy
where he studied Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala and History. This was an
English medium college and young Seneviratna now had to study and Master
English as part of his basic curriculum. He passed his Senior School
Certificate Examinations in the English medium with a first division. At
the age of 15 his father fell ill and this left the family lacking the
money to support his studies. Later he passed GCE A Levels, University
of London in order to be able to teach in a government school and to
further his undergraduate studies. His first book was published as a
student in 1961 on the Upanisads and their influence on the Buddha and
his teachings. This stired up a considerable controversy, as Ven A P
Buddhadatta Mahathera and other leading Buddhist scholars criticized
some of the assertions of the book, and a flurry of newspaper articles
followed in which heated debate was carried on by these scholars. Prof
Seneviratna now looks back with amusement on this David and Goliath
situation, he was but a young up and coming scholar and he had to point
this out to his critics, along with an apology for any unintended errors
or inaccurate assertions in his work.
Research on Sinhala folklore
In 1963 he married Irangani Kumarihami Niyarepola, a dance teacher of
at a leading Girls college in Kandy and is the father of two sons -
Udayana and Charu.
In 1965 he completed his BA degree at the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya)
where he majored in Sinhala, with Pali and Archaeology as secondary
subjects. Two years later young Seneviratna won a scholarship for a
D.Phil from Leipzig and Halle Universities. His thesis consisted of a
comparative study of the ancient Sinhala Language and the Old and Middle
Indo-Aryan languages. As he works on Oriental languages he also studied
and mastered the German languages. He obtained his D.Phil degree with a
Cum Laude in 1967. He joined Colombo University and after some period he
was a senior lecturer at Peradeniya University. In 1984, he was
Associate Professor of Sinhala Peradeniya University and in year 1991 he
was appointed to Sinhala department.
He won several academic distinctions during his career including been
awarded the Fulbright Research Award for Folklore Studies at Indiana
University, USA. Here he carried out research on Sinhala folklore and
Fulbright Senior Research Associate scholar at Berkeley, California
University. In 1988-89: Awarded Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship,
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford.
1998-2000: Visiting Fellow in Sinhala, Pali and Theravada Buddhism at
the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. During
this period Prof Seneviratna, as well as teaching the three subjects
that he had been appointed to teach, gave a number of special lectures
at the request of the South Asia Department. In November, 1999 he gave a
lecture of Sinhala Tamil cultural relations in Sri Lanka South Asia
Department. At the invitation of the Languages and Cultures of South
Asia Department he taught a course on Sri Lankan Culture and
This was entitled ‘The Royal Parasol and the Saffron Robe’ and dealt
with the relationship between the Sinhalese monarchy and the Buddhist
Sangha in Sri Lanka. Entitled ‘The Lions and the Tigers’. He also acted
as examiner on the Tamil language program of the London University.
As a senior he was most supportive of his juniors. If any member of
the staff had any sort of problem, be it official or personal, he or she
would make a beeline to Prof Seneviratna and be assured of not only a
sympathetic ear and advice but also far more specific aid. Print and
electronic media personnels also, had close contacts with Prof
Seneviratna on background information of Sri Lankan culture and
civilization history. This empathy and compassion, no doubt inherent,
but honed by his devout Buddhist principles he had acquired in early
life. He lived according to these principles and instilled them to all
those who came into contact with.
Prof Seneviratna is the author of over 70 books in Sinhala and
English, covering topics from Sinhala literature and language, to
archaeology and historical studies. He is also the author of more than
200 journal articles covering an equally encyclopedic area. He has
travelled widely to conduct lectures and seminars. In recognition of his
outstanding contribution to the field of educational and cultural
activities, the government conferred on him the National Honours in
1994, and the Malwatu Mahavihara in Kandy, similarly conferred on him an
honorary degree Dharma Shastra Visharada Kirti Sri in 1997 in
recognition of his contribution to education and Buddhism. Looking back
on his career Prof Seneviratne feels grateful to Prof D E Hettiaratchi
and Prof S Paranavitana for their valuable help and guidance in
assisting him to reach his current position in life.
Prof Anuradha Seneviratne has won the State Literary Award thrice for
his books. He was also Sri Lanka Art Council Chairman and a member of
the Advisory Board of the Archaeological Survey Department. The Central
Provincial Council at a public reception held in Kandy in 2007 honoured
him for his services rendered to the country over the last 50 years.
Similarly the Kandy Municipal Council unanimously named a road at
Katugastota, Kandy after him. These events are very rare occurrences in
the life of a living intellectual and a writer of our times.
Prof Anuradha Seneviratne was a man of few words. He would never say
anything without weighing his words.
He won the heart of all Sri Lankans for his dedicated services to his
country but his greatest achievement is his legacy to the people of Sri
- Gamini Sarath Godakanda