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Emplacing Senake Bandaranayake’s archaeology in an intellectual tradition



by Prof Jagath Weerasinghe

Former Director of Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya

(Text of speech delivered by Prof Jagath Weerasinghe the seventh commemoration of eminent archaeologist Professor emeritus Senake Bandaranayake at the auditorium of Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Kelaniya on 08 March, 2022)

On the 7th anniversary of Senake Bandaranayake’s death, how should he be remembered? What form and content should we commemorate him in, with the understanding that commemoration is, by necessity, a mourning process fraught with inevitable misrepresentations presented with self-assuring phrases of the one who enunciates the commemoration? Calling one of your mentors, who is also a great scholar-citizen, to remembrance in public is essentially a political gesture that can only be written in the enunciator’s anxieties. The loss of the hero’s presence, which we are mourning, gives the enunciator an opportunity to impose her/his anxieties on the other. For this writer there is no other way to commemorate anyone than by rewriting the commentated in one’s own anxieties, struggles, aspirations for existence and change. The anxiety that underpins any commemorative exercise is based on the insurmountable gap that exists between the necessarily incomplete knowledge of someone or something and the incapacity of discourse to encapsulate that totality within a notion of ‘truth’; this is a fundamental human predicament. And, I am speaking of my mentor, my teacher, my professor Senake Bandaranayake with deep sense of this limitation, which, however, provides an unlimited space for creative and imaginative speculations of love, mourning, fear, respect, and loss.

I am going to talk about him from two perspectives––Bandaranayake, the person, and what kind of personality he was, and Bandaranayake the scholar-citizen. My proposition is that as a scholar-citizen he fought head-on with the remnants of colonial-modernity that was undermining the aspirations of postcolonial modernity that seeks to transcend colonial era shekels, deceptive legacies of the colonial era, such as ethnic margins that define the other, positivist claims that abound in history and archaeology, and that there is a past to be discovered, to name a few.

I would first speak about Bandaranayake with a glance fixed on his modes of thought production from a position that intersects the private and the public in his persona. For me, Bandaranayake was a singular phenomenon, there was none like him before him, and there would be none like him in the future; when considered in relation to Sri Lankan scholarship in archaeology, he was an originary thinker (not just original). I am not proposing, by using the signifier, “singular’ that he was not within a history, but, on the contrary; he was a in fact a full-fledged complex result of the historical time/moment that produced him. He was well aware of the privileged position he had inherited, he was after all a ‘Dias Bandaranayake’, and he knew how the world received and intercepted and reacted to that privilege, he was also aware of the false or deceiving promises that the postcolonial modernity has offered to the younger generations, and he knew his limits in remedying or intervening with that. He was aware of the deceptive modernist construction of the idea of “I” in a singular form, a remnant from Enlightenment era thinking; the deceptiveness of the notion of ‘independent ‘I’. His critique of this ‘I’ was intuitive and was coming from the understanding that knowledge on the past is complex and variegated, and that truths on past events are hard to grasp, or even impossible. His critical sense about the notions of ‘I’ did not come from Michel Foucault’s ‘Archaeology of Knowledge’ or Jacques Derrida’s ‘of Grammatology’ or Jean Luc Nancy’s ‘Singular in the Plural’. He was not attracted to those French thinkers.

However, while I am speaking commendably of his sense of his own limits, while being linked, by birth, to the higher echelons of political power coteries of the country, there were many occasions that he and I argued on this matter.

Let me give you one incident. Once, having sensed this aspect in his thoughts, I insisted that he should prepare a white paper on archaeological activities, I claimed, that for us archaeology is going to be very different from what it is to you. The social landscape of archaeologists has been totally turned upside down by you and your friend, Roland Silva, and in this social landscape we would be struggling to do many things, achieve many things through archaeology, such as buying property, getting married, going abroad, securing positions, making a name, etc. We are children of working-class families from the rural and suburban petit bourgeois, unlike you, or Siran Deraniyagala or Roland Silva. Our archaeology, art history can potentially end up as populist, subservient to existing hegemonies and ultimately serving vested self-interests, unless you intervene now. He didn’t counter me, instead he had his usual charming smile, and said, “Jagath, you can’t save the world, let history take its course. Think of Horton Plaine, its ecology has remained somewhat unchanged while the rest of the island was experiencing major changes. Build a Horton Plaine for you and your colleagues”. Today, I say the same thing to my younger colleagues, when they are so angry or upset with something, some development in the field of archaeology. The Horton Plains, the redoubt that Bandaranayake envisioned for Sri Lankan archaeology and archaeologists is the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology.

In many ways I have been close to Senake Bandaranayake as one of his ‘found-in-the field’ students, nonetheless, talking of Bandaranayke, today, in this place, the Department of Archaeology of the Univeristy of Kelaniya, to an audience consisting mostly of his former students and their students, where he began his Sri Lankan phase of scholarly life, that doubled as teacher-scholar is challenging. Makes me nervous. The history that crossed paths wherein I met Senake Bandaranayake does not reside here. I am not fully privy to the histories that informs the internal dynamics of this place. But I am a hard core insider of archaeology-world of Sri Lanka, but yet I am an outsider to that as well. And I try to think of the kind of challenges that he might have felt here. My insider-outsider double gives me a vantage point of seeing this complex field of archaeology from a critical distance and to see our omissions, failings, and miss-steps that, in my opinion, have jaded the Bandaranayake’s vision.

The main challenge that he faced, I would claim, in the way I can think of it now, when considering the distance that has grown between his ideals in archaeology and the current archaeological practices, performed by some of his own students, I am prompted to see that challenge from a social perspective, from a class perspective. This is something that I began to sense since 2004. This place, the Department of Archaeology of the University of Kelaniya where he began to teach archaeology, art history and heritage to a class of students coming from a social background which is very different from his. As I said earlier, they came from a working-class background who had been schooled at Maha Vidyala and Madya Maha Vidyalas in Sinhala. They were mono lingual, spoke and read only Sinhala. Unlike us, for him his language of communication was English, his competency in Sinhala was very limited. Nonetheless, he was the mentor for two generations of archaeologists and art historians whose competency in English was limited as was his Sinhala. I know very well that he was very sympathetic to the quotidian struggles that impaired our academic activities, but, in retrospect, I would say for obvious reasons he could not see the gravity of the impact of those trivial struggles.

His idea of being a scholar citizen in Sri Lanka – at a post-colonial social-political environment defined by the anxieties emanating from postcolonial modernity – was starkly different from most of ours. Our notion of a scholar-citizen has been a rather two-dimensional one. For him doing archaeology, visiting art exhibitions, seeing great films, listening to music, reading literature, designing a publication or a poster, cooking, arranging a lecture hall with screens and multimedia equipment or arranging his office room with curtains and a few works of art were activities with thoughtful intellectual engagements. For him those were also rooted in a tradition of knowledge production. For him all those activities involved intellectual inputs, assessments, judgments that were premised on inclusionary and exclusionary normative processes. Siad differently, Bandaranayake knew that human actions are necessarily interpretive, and symbolic. Hence meaning is associative and context dependent. He always searched for meaning inductively. For him meaningful actions have to be found from within the context itself, not relying on a given document.

As a result, he would usually be anti-bureaucratic, anti-hierarchical, and anti-essentialist. But I must add a note to the last point, ‘being anti-essentialist’. He did believe in core values, in essences, but he, like Hegel, saw essences as historical, that means changing through time; essences sublating within themselves giving rise to new essences. In his mode of thought production, one could always sense the workings of an Hegelian unconscious.

He was, on every occasion, a product of his disciplines: of archaeology, of history and, also to a large extant of Marxism influenced social sensibilities. He was a descendent of an aristocratic family, with a substantial historical depth and memory, and at the same time he was a product of the emancipatory politics of 20th century Sri Lanka. In him, I saw a well-integrated personality, which I admired so much. Let me tell you two seemingly trivial incidents: he didn’t care about celebrating his birthday, he was in fact embarrassed by any idea of celebrating his birthday, I still remember how he cringed when someone proposed to have a ‘birthday party’, but he used to receive a cake form a friend on every birthday, and once he had me at his home to share a piece of that cake. He didn’t like religious rituals that much but enjoyed visiting Sri Mahabodhi and offer flowers to the tree, and once he explained his seemingly religious action, he said something like this, ‘I just like doing this’, and then, like an afterthought, he said, ‘doing this makes me part of the long history of humanity and a larger community of people’. An excellent example where I could see the private and public intersecting in his thinking and actions. Let me give you another incident, a very trivial one. Once in late 1990s, he walked into the lecture room in the upper floor of the old colonial building at the PGIAR. Our then Registrar, Mr. Dhanapala, had hung the screen for the projector, having shut the old window with a plyboard. Prof. Bandaranayake had one look at it and turned to me and said, “Jagath, the people would think that we have no civilization”

It took me a while to get the full hang of this comment. Why such a heavy response to such a simple thing? What he reacted to was, I realised later, the insensitive intervention, thus upsetting the ordered material culture of the old room. I would rephrase his comment in the following manner now: “People would think that we have lost our symbolic structures.” And, for sure, for most of the archaeologists of our generation and the ones that came after, there is no symbolic structure, the “name-of-the-father,” in the Lacanian sense. For most of us, there is no voice issuing the command “no.” In most cases, Sri Lankan archaeology in our hands has fallen back to “pre-Oedipal unbridled antiquarianism” . At this point, I would stop speaking about Bandaranayake the person and the normative qualms that uneased him and turn to Bandaranayake the archaeologist. (To be continued)


Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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