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Memories of archaeologists Paul and Siran Deraniyagala, father and son

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by Raja de Silva

In my schooldays, everyone knew of Paul Deraniyagala, ‘Cambridge Boxing Blue’, who was a familiar figure judging the boxing at the Stubbs Shield contests in the Royal College Hall. Twenty years later, I would see him at close-quarters in his office at the National Museum, poring over the remains of a man in his plaster of Paris cocoon brought from an excavation in Balangoda. This man was later known as ‘Balangoda man’. That was in 1957, after Paranavitana had retired and Godakumbure, later to become Archaeological Commissioner was in England; Paul Deraniyagala, Director of National Museums, was appointed Acting Archaeological Commissioner in addition to his own duties.

Excellent idea

At the outset, the Acting AC told me, then the most senior officer in the Department, that I was to see him at the Colombo Museum, across the road from our Department, only on important matters such as signing statutory papers. Otherwise, a telephone call would do. One Saturday morning (then a working day till 1 pm) I was working in my laboratory and workshop in the Old SSC pavilion next door. I received a visitor at about 10.30. He was my friend Charlie Kannangara from Deniyaya, where he was the Member of Parliament; he was tired after driving non-stop and wanted to take me to the SSC for a hard-earned beer. I held him at bay with magazines till 11.30 when he began to show signs of becoming restive. But it was a working day. So, I telephoned the Acting AC, whereupon the following dialogue took place:

de Silva: de Silva here, Sir.

Paul D: Yes, what’s the matter? (The Acting AC did not like receiving telephone calls.)

de Silva: A friend has driven to Colombo from Deniyaya. He is tired and he wishes to take me to his club for a beer.

Paul D: An excellent idea.

And thus the conversation was concluded.

I was glad to have had an understanding Acting Archaeological Commissioner who gave me a free hand in managing the Department. I have (hopefully) perpetuated his name in Sigiriya by referring in official documents to a cave (B7) as Deraniyagala’s Cave. This is where he had earlier discovered several paintings containing female figures showing their whole bodies.

Like father, like son

In 1968, there was provision in the Estimates of the Archaeological Department for the appointment of an Assistant Commissioner (Excavations). The Public Service Commission (PSC) gazetted the notice calling for applications, and one day five members of the board of interview (myself included) sat in the board-room of the PSC waiting to interview each applicant. I noticed that the peon (later known as ‘Karyala Karyaka Sevaka’) had whispered to each of three interview board members that there was a telephone call at the office of Secretary/PSC, next door. I was the next to be similarly telephoned, whereupon the following conversation took place.

de Silva (AC): Hello.

Bradman Weerakoon, Secretary to the Prime Minister (S/PM): Hello, Raja, Brad here. I have a message for you from the PM.

AC: Is it the same message that you gave the other interview board members?

S/PM: Yes, the PM is interested in one of the applicants you are about to interview (and he named the applicant).

AC: Brad, the post is for an officer of my Department, and I want the best.

S/PM: Understood. Anyway, I was asked to convey the message.

AC: Message received.

Siran Deraniyagala was the best applicant, and he was appointed to the new post in 1968.

Resignation and re-employment

Some time after 1979, Siran Deraniyagala found that his presence was periodically required in Germany to attend to certain family obligations. This entailed his being abroad for longer periods than was permissible by the regulations of the Government. He told me of his decision to resign from his post of Deputy AC. I informed the Minister of Cultural Affairs, Edwin Hurulle, of the situation, and advised him that we could retain Siran’s services after his resignation by his re-employment as Advisor in Excavations. There was provision for such a procedure, and so he was re-employed.

MH Sirisoma, the next in line, was appointed Deputy AC and Siran Deraniyagala was appointed Advisor in Excavations, enabling him to continue heading the Excavations Branch of the Archaeological Department. On the premature death of AC Sirisoma in 1992, Deraniyagala was appointed Director General of Archaeology on 24 November 1992, and on his retirement in 1999, he resumed work as Advisor in Excavations. He is the longest serving officer of the Archaeological Department. He has had an outstanding career, and I consider myself fortunate in having had him as an Assistant Commissioner of Archaeology.

One final memory I recount concerns my late wife, Kamala. She had met Siran Deraniyagala periodically, and once took the opportunity to ask him why he used big words in physical geography like “aeolian” in his papers. His riposte was that it was for the purpose of confusing his readers. This was appropriately met by laughter all round.

Paul Deraniyagala and his son, Siran, are exceptional in many ways: both were alumni of Cambridge and Harvard universities, both had doctorates, and both served as heads of the same government department, i.e. of Archaeology. I am aware that the son brought great satisfaction to his family in this achievement.

Siran Deraniyagala, a foremost archaeologist, has left us (on October 4) on his longest journey. The only member of his family known to mine, from her infancy, is his daughter Lily Juleff (born 1997, resident in the UK) to whom we send our thoughts of deepest sympathy. I conclude by warmly wishing Siran Deraniyagala bon voyage.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Features

Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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