Vini Vitharana was born on June 2, 1928 at Pallikudawa, Tangalle. He had his early education at Christ Church College, Tangalle and entered Mahinda College, Galle in 1942 from where he continued his studies until he passed his University entrance examination and entered the University of Colombo in 1945. His academic record appears below.
BA University of Colombo 1949, MA Vidyodaya University 1959, PhD Peradeniya University 1966, PhD London 1968, Lanka Sahithya Shoori – Vidyodaya University, Sahithyacharya – Vidyalankara University and Shaastra Visharada – 1st Class – Vidyodaya University.
After graduation 1949, he was appointed as a teacher at his Alma Mater – Mahinda, College, Galle where he served till 1953, teacher at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia from 1953 – 1957, Deputy Editor, Sinhala Encyclopedia 1957 – 1959, Lecturer and finally Asst. Professor Sinhala at Vidyodaya University from 1960 to 1981, Professor in Sinhala at Ruhunu University, Matara from 1981 to 1993, Emeritus Professor, Sellipi & Archeology at the Post Graduate Institute, Kelaniya University, Emeritus Professor, Culture and Humanism, Sri Jayewardenepura University, Nugegoda 1999 -2007, Emeritus Professor, Buddhist & Pali University 1999, Emeritus Professor, Sabaragamuwa University 1999-2000, Sinhala Consultant, National Institute of Education, Maharagama 2000, Chief Editor Sinhala Paribashitha Dictionary 2001-2004, Consultant Publications, Central Cultural Fund, Ministry of Culture and Arts 2010-2014, Lay Consultant, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress 2015.
English Publications translated into Sinhala:
“Asia Eliya” – Translation of Light of Asia – 1955, ’Goda Manel” – Translation of several poems- 1977, “Midi Vitha” – Translation of several English and Greek poems. -1978, “Asiya Peheliya ” – Translation of Sir Edwin Arnold’s ‘Light of Asia’- 2001, “Rubaiyathaya’ – Translation of Rubbaiath by Omar Kayyam – 2002, “Geethanjali” – Translation Geethanjali by Ravindranath Tagore – 2004.
Sinhala Publications Translated into English:
“Muwadevdawatha” 2007, “Sasandawatha” -2012, “Mayura Sandesaya” – 2014, “Selalihini Sandesa” 2015, “Kawsilumina” 2017, Gira Sandesa” 2018, “Saddarma Rathanavaliya ” 2019.
“Sithuvam Boogoloya — Lankawa” 1960, “Boogola Vidya Shabdakoshaya” 1961, “Lipi Ata” (Collection of articles on Sinhalese Literature), 1975, “Thotagamuwa” (History of Buddhist Institutions 15th Century) 1986, The Oru and the Yathra , 1992, “Baliyagaya, 1992, “Pahaduwa” (Commentaries re Sinhala Usage 1993, Sri Lankan-Maldivian Cultural, Affinities 1997, Sri Lanka Geological Vision 1999, Sun and Moon in Sinhala Culture 2013.
Night of Doom (Cyclone in the Eastern coast) 1978) Reprinted 1990, “Pabanda Athewela” (usage and mistakes in modern Sinhala usage) 1993, “Hiroshimawa” 1995. Reprinted in 2005, “Sunil Samara” – A collection of articles regarding Visharada Sunil Shantha – 2000, “Padaya, Wakya saha Chedaya” – Common errors in Sinhala Grammar and Usage 2007, “Amara Samaruwa” an appreciation of the Amarasuriya family of Unawatuna, Galle.- 2010, “Viyarana Visithuru” 2013
Awards won (National Level):
UNICEF Award for Sinhala ‘Sahithyaya’ 1962, Sri Lanka Literary Council award for Best Sinhala Translation 1978, National Kala Keerthi Award 1993, World Buddhist Brotherhood Award 2002, Kala Mandala Award for the Best Sinhala Translation 2002, Cultural Award by the Sinhala Institute 2004, Rohana Ransilu award of the Southern Provincial Council 2004, Special Award of the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Council 2005,
Award by the Cambridge International Society England for one of the Best 2000 Intellectuals of the 21st Century – 2007
Tangalle Sinha Smajaya Award 2010, Uruma Prasad Award presented by the Ministry of National Uruma -2012, Sahithya Ratna Award by the Ministry of Culture and Arts – 2013, Professor GP Malalasekara Award of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress 2013, Sri Lanka Archeology and Central, Cultural Fund Award 2013, Hela Havula Award 2013, State Literary Award “Kaw Silumina” 2018, State Literary Award “Gira Sandesaya” 2018, H. A. I. Gunatilleke Prize for Translation – Gratien Trust “Kaw Silumina” 2018, Godage National Literary Award for life long contribution to Sri Lankan Literature in English 2019
Other posts /Appointments:
Chairman, Consultant Committee on Sinhala Literature 1970 – 1977, Founder President Munidasa Cumaratunga Foundation 1986-2002, Founder President Sunil Shantha Society 1987 – 2003, Chairman, Sri Lanka, Kala Mandalaya 1989-2004, Chairman, Sri Lanka Archeology Society 2007, Asst. Director, Abhayagiri Vihara Project UNESCO – Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle 1982-1987.
The other posts held in many organizations, presentations made on different occasions, articles published in numerous publications, are too long to be included in an article of this nature.
He had also visited India, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, UK, USA, Soviet Russia, Mongolia, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Laos and Maldives connected with various research and study projects.
Professor Vitharana was a person who has had a vast experience not only academically and in teaching, but also in various other fields like translations, research, archeology and geography etc. He was a scholar heavily inclined towards research and writing. He was a teacher emulated by many. His love and desire for learning and teaching cannot be compared with many others.
If wealth could be measured in terms of knowledge, he was one of the wealthiest persons I have known. He was a person who was contemptuous of colonial rule, in spite of which his knowledge and skill in the usage of the English language may surprise many. Learning and teaching were his greatest passions. He touched the lives of so many students around the country and his legacy continues to inspire, guide and live through them.
In addition to the academic and literary activities he was also Founder Chairman, Munidasa Cumaratunga Trust and Founder Chairman, Sunil Shantha Society.
As a teacher at Mahinda College, Galle, in addition to his classroom teaching activities, he also contributed a great deal to extracurricular activities like training students in English and Sinhala elocution, English and Sinhala Debating Teams, English and Sinhala Dramas, helped in organizing variety entertainments, educational tours and compiling and editing College Magazines. He was a leader, friend and confidant to his former students.
His personal qualities were an example for his students to learn the true leadership qualities. He was a man of high integrity. He was honest to a fault. He was a symbol of simplicity and was a most unassuming and modest person. His great sense of humour was one of his trade marks.
He passed away on 2nd December 2019. He leaves behind his loving wife Thilaka, a graduate teacher now retired, his daughter Dr. Kumudini and his son Ruwan Lasith, senior specialist at Toyota Motors, Belgium.
In December 2018, he drafted this poem to be sent by email to a British friend. It was sent through a friend of his in Sri Lanka as the Professor did not have email facilities.
“With my right I cannot write
-Of my left nothing much is left
-With no ear can I clearly hear
-My eyes show nothing precise and clear
-Both legs can make me barely walk
– And the mouth can only pretend to talk
-But as I think of wishing you both
– Good tidings for the year that’s drawing fast
-My heart of ninety in youthful leap
– Bound in cheers forlorn in heaps”.
I came to know him during the early forties when he joined Mahinda College, Galle and entered the school hostel. He was many things to me later – teacher, mentor, friend, coach & big brother. I am so pleased to have had this opportunity to pay my last respects to a fine teacher and a wonderful human being.
May his journey in Sansara be a pleasant one until he achieves Nirvana.
Wimalasena de Silva
Dudley and Gopallawa: two simple leaders
Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd.) Edward Gunawardene
Barely a week had passed after the election ended I was in for a surprise. I received a message from the IGP that I had been appointed as the ASP in charge of the security of the Hon. Prime Minister and His Excellency the Governor-General. As expected Dudley Senanayake had been appointed the Prime Minister and he was in the process of forming the Cabinet. William Gopallawa was the Governor-General. He had taken over from Oliver Goonatilleke after the attempted coup of 1962.
The VIP Security Division fell within the purview of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police. I was not given any indication as to where I was to take up residence. As the only official police bungalows were the large ‘C’ type houses on Brownrigg Road (now Keppetipola Mawatha) I knew that as a bachelor I had no chance of getting one of these. Furthermore all these were occupied mainly by the DIGs and SPs.
With no other alternative and my presence in Colombo urgently needed I decided to occupy a room in the Officers’ Mess. I telephoned Jamis the butler and told him to prepare a room for me. All my furniture was piled up in one room of the Kegalle house and the HQI was requested by me to look after the premises. My successor in Kegalle had not been appointed. My clothes were packed into two old suitcases. My shoes, riding boots, football boots, guns, fishing rods etc were packed separately. Chandradasa and I left Kegalle to the Officers’ Mess with just these few things. There was no time for farewells, not even a farewell parade or guard-of-honour. To me and Chandradasa the Mess was not a new place. During my CID, Colombo Div. and Nugegoda District days I had lived in the Mess and Chandradasa had been my personal servant.
Because I left Kegalle very early I was able to be at the Mess by 9 a.m. Having changed my clothes and wearing shirt and tie I went to the CID office on the fourth floor of the New Secretariat building and reported to the DIG CID John Attygalle. He was very cordial. A room was allocated to me with a telephone, a Sub-Inspector, a PC and a civilian clerk who could also type. He also told me that my duties would be such that I will have to spend little time in the office. The vehicle allocated to me was a new Peugeot 404. When the DIG indicated this to me, I told him that I would use this only when I travel out of Colombo for official purposes. I preferred using my Peugeot 203 for my usual travel in Colombo. He appeared to be surprised by my decision.
After taking over duties as the ASP, VIP Security and reporting to the DIG CID there were two other important tasks to perform. They were to introduce myself to the Prime Minister and also to the Governor-General. The former was no stranger to me, after lunch and a short nap at the Mess I was driven to ‘Woodlands’ by my new orderly PC Fernando. The gate was manned by two PCs. My car was stopped. When my orderly spoke to them, both of them came up to the window on the side I was seated and saluted me smiling broadly.
When I got down at the portico there were several people on the verandah. There were also a Sub-Inspector and two or three constables in uniform. When I disclosed my identity to the Sub-Inspector he saluted me and told me that the Prime Minister was in. From the verandah I walked into the quite spacious office room. A handsome man dressed in white and a red tie was seated at the large desk. His white jacket hung on the wall behind him.
When he saw me, he got up smiling. Stretching out his hand he said, “Hello Eddie. We were expecting you”. This was Joe Karunaratne, the son of Professor W.A.E. Karunaratne who had assumed duties as the private secretary to the Prime Minister. Joe and I had been at kindergarten together in St. Joseph’s College in the early 40s. He had left St. Joseph’s and joined St. Benedict’s and was my junior at Peradeniya. He told me that the Prime Minister was busy finalizing the Cabinet with Bradman Weerakoon. Until Bradman joined us, Joe and I reminisced about our old friends and the days as kids. Happy Karunaratne was Joe’s twin brother. A happy-go- lucky young man he had died early.
After about 45 minutes Bradman came out of the Prime Minister’s room. He was dressed in a cream tussore lounge suit. After I was introduced to him by Joe we had a brief chat. As he was in a hurry to get back to his office, the room adjoining the Prime Minister’s room in the Senate building, he excused himself and left. Bradman was a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. Commencing with S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike he had worked for every prime minster. A model public servant he commanded much respect even after his retirement. As the security chief of the Prime Minister it was necessary for me to work closely with the Secretary and the private secretary. Naturally the three of us became friends.
As the Prime Minister was busy with several ministers, I told Joe that I would visit Queen’s House, study the security arrangements there and return. When I went to Queen’s House it was about 4.30 pm. Inspector Bongso received me. Apart from Bongso the other security officers consisted of two Sergeants and four constables. The uniformed personnel at the gates and a tactical patrol through a passage between the perimeter wall and a Madras-thorn hedge were provided by the Fort Police Station.
Although the residence of the Governor-General everything at Queen’s House appeared very simple. Bongso took me round the premises of this sprawling Dutch building adjoining the Gordon Gardens. I was impressed by the simplicity of William Gopallawa when I was taken to the kitchen. The main area of the kitchen with a long table, a large electric cooking range, two deep freezers and numerous other gadgets did not show signs of use. In a small room next to the extensive kitchen there was a man dressed in sarong and banian preparing a meal. The room had a refrigerator and an electric cooker. This cook from Matale was preparing two vegetable curries to be eaten by “hamuduruwo” with two slices of toast for dinner! It is unimaginable indeed that a kitchen that had seen nothing less than turkey and ham served by liveried waiters even during the early post-independence years, readying such a frugal meal for a simple head of state in 1965. Having told Bongso that I would visit the following morning I left to Woodlands.
When I reached Woodlands it was about 6.30 pm. Joe was still there talking to a person who had come from Dedigama. Just then Robert walked in with young Rukman who went inside and came out saying “Mahappi is resting.”
“He will be up in a few minutes Eddie. We can have a chat. Don’t go away”, said Robert turning to me. It did not take long. Carolis came to us and indicated that “Hamu’ was up and that he had just lit his pipe. He added that Hamu’s Brilliantine was over and all his efforts to get a bottle had failed. I immediately telephoned OIC Pettah and told him to get two jars of — Yardley Brilliantine and send them to me at the Officers’ Mess. No other hair cream had the rich aroma of Yardley brilliantine and Carolis said this was an urgent necessity as ‘Hamu’ would not use any other brand.
Pleasant looking in gold rimmed glasses Carolis had a fine sense of humour. Saying, “Sir, a wonderful thing happened today”, he related a story that made all of us laugh. Ruskin Fernando the MP for Moratuwa had come to Woodlands when the Prime Minister was not in. Carolis had told him that ‘Hamu’ was busy making (hadanawa) the Cabinet. Putting his palm on his forehead Ruskin had blurted, “Why didn’t he tell me. I could have turned out a special cabinet for him! As everybody knows Moratuwa is famed for its carpenters.
More on Villa Venezia
Tissa Devendra’s lament for Villa Venezia, Sri Lanka’s first University Library, prompted a letter from Mr. Rohantha Fernando, a relative by marriage of Sir. Marcus Fernando, who has long lived in the UK, enclosing some photos of the villa from a Plate annual published in the 1930s and a brief description of the house published below.
After Sir. Marcus, a prominent physician and legislator sold the house, he lived in another palatial mansion, Deveronside, on Sir. Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7.
The description of Villa Venezia:
QUEEN’S ROAD, COLOMBO.
The Residence of Sir Marcus Fernando.
Architects: – Messrs. Edwards, Reid and Booth, F. & A. A. R. I. B. A.
1. The main staircase runs up from the marble octagonal hall to the First Floor ante room. The dome is similar in shape and colour to a lotus flower.
2. The ball room verandah on the First Floor. There is a similar verandah on the other side of the ball room, which in addition to the great height of the ball room ensures that the latter is always cool.
3. The Ground Floor Drawing Room. This room leads out of the Octagonal Hall and the Dining Room and is flanked by two verandahs. The exterior of one of these is depicted on plate 4.
4. The central feature of the elevation towards Queen’s Road. The great height of the Ball room is marked by this feature. The character of the building is Adriatic.
Is India in the West or East, that’s the question
by Malinda Seneviratne
What if the British High Commissioner in Colombo, Sarah Hulton, met with the Ambassador of South Korea, Woonjin Jeong, on Tuesday, May 2, 2021? What if he was accompanied by the former Foreign Minister and the man who happily tossed Sri Lanka under the UNHRC bus driven by a warmongering Uncle Sam? What if Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, David McKinnon, held discussions with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 7, around the same time?
Now there are no laws against diplomats meeting other diplomats. There are no laws to stop diplomats meeting citizens of the country they happen to be posted in. However, it is significant that both South Korea and Bangladesh are members of the Human Rights Council. It is significant because in a few days time a vote will be taken in Geneva on a resolution on (well, ‘against,’ really) Sri Lanka. It’s a one country-one-vote situation, and therefore every vote can count. Indeed, if it is a close affair then that one vote becomes even more significant.
The Resolution is not just against Sri Lanka; it is a vote which, if succeeds, will set a dangerous precedent and effectively turn ‘human rights’ into an even more ironic, preposterous and pernicious weapon that the worst thug-nations in the world can deploy to wreck nations and regimes refusing to toe the line. In other words, it would give credence to vexatious persecution
The earth is not flat; this we know. Neither is Switzerland despite the lovely mountains, except in the dullness of the flavors pertaining to political economy. Countries might have equal voting worth on paper, but then again few would not have heard of that stinging truism ‘some are more equal than others.’ That oft quoted Golden Rule makes sense: he who has the gold makes the rules (we’ll come to that shortly). One can add ‘guns’ to the equation except that such killing-instruments are outdated in a world where there are nuclear weapons and countries which possess them have not hesitated to use biological weapons.
If it has come to a point where local diplomats have been directed by their respective governments to canvass votes then it simply means that the bosses driving the resolution have got jittery. Now one might be persuaded to imagine these diplomats sipping green tea and trying to persuade the relevant counterparts to join the club. However, persuasive arguments were never part of the story. It’s never been about right or wrong, good or evil. No. It’s about proposals that end with ‘or else…’ directly stated or suggested. Bribes too are part of the story. ‘How about if we…’ could be the ice-breaker in such situations.
Considering the geographical (and yes, ideological) location/orientation of the key players, this is essentially a West vs East game. This brings to mind a curious case of ‘seeing the light’ not too long ago. Let me elaborate.
It is no secret that the UNP faction of the previous regime was cosy with the political West. You could, if you are generous, call it ideological agreement of course but there has always been a streak of servility that prompts one to think and label, ‘colonial remnants.’
That dispensation, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, banked on the West. Mangala Samaraweera, Foreign Minister of that government, played ‘local agent’ to the extent that he bent backwards to get Sri Lanka to dig a hole and crawl into it. He’s gone now, but he (and all those in that government who either cheered, watched in silence or looked away) essentially laid a minefield for those who would arrive later to walk on. This is why ‘Geneva’ is still in the news.
This, however, is not about that kind of political intrigue. It’s about the West (and therefore, obviously, the East). Wickremesinghe’s cabal, sweethearts as far as the West was concerned, operated as though we live on a planet so misshapen that there was only the West. Obviously the word means nothing if there’s no East, so maybe they operated as though the East, existent though it is, was inconsequential.
Brexit hit them between the proverbial eyes. Wickremesinghe came up with a classic and ironical observation: ‘we will look to the East.’ OMG! Wickremesinghe, thought of as some kind of whizkid in things economic, we learned, hadn’t heard of China or known that China and Japan own North American and European debt! OMG all over again!
So then, that’s how we need to frame this charade. East vs West. T.S. Eliot, in his iconic poem ‘Wasteland’ had a pretty and perceptive line (if it’s ok to interpret it in terms of a tectonic shift in ‘seeing’ and true domination):
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The above is obviously a description of someone moving from West to East. We can think of it as an ideological shift or even a re-alignment of philosophical orientation, but at a more mundane level, it’s about a shift in the balance of global power. In that sense, the Geneva Circus of Vexatious Persecution using/abusing Sri Lanka is but symptomatic of a last gasp effort on the part of those who have called the shots for a long century and are suddenly realizing that they are going to lose their voices.
The title has ‘India’ in it. Why India, someone might wonder. Well, India seems ideologically confused and geographically challenged right now. The West (or rather the spokespersons for the ideological and political camp that uses the locational term as identifier) has made it’s position clear: ANTI-SRI LANKA. The key voices of the opposite camp, led of course by China, have backed Sri Lanka. Even Japan and Australia (the other two Quad members) haven’t shown any of the belligerence of the world’s worst human rights offender over the past several centuries, Britain (yes, add ‘perpetrator of genocide, common thief, generator of inter-communal conflict, pyromaniac’) and her present day allies. India hasn’t mimicked the ‘Mother Country’ of course, but the noises are not supportive. They are marked by grumpiness. So much so that it would not be unfair if the relevant authorities assume ‘India will side against Sri Lanka.’ India could abstain, but at this point, it would be silly for India to assume that Sri Lanka would applaud such a position.
It’s simple, really. India has an issue with a strident China. India can play pawn and scoot over to the country that raped her. India might even be envisaging a future world order that is divided between two new superpowers, China and India. India could, on the other hand, envisage a new world order led by powerful nations which will not settle things with guns and bucks, even if they have the bombs and the gold. Instead of carving up the world (as the European powers carved up —and impoverished — Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1884), India, with China, could use new found sway to heal the world and make it a better place (for you and for me, as MJ said).
India has a single vote. However, the stand that India takes will be taken note of. Sri Lanka certain would. Other nations would too. Sometimes, arms need not be twisted (as the British and Canadian mission heads in Colombo might very well be doing — Bangladesh and South Korea are proud nations, we still believe, by the way). A threat is often more powerful than its execution, as the great Polish and French chess master Savielli Tartakower once said.
So. India. Where is it located or rather where does India wish to locate itself? That’s the question. The answer will be important for Sri Lanka because it could persuade Sri Lanka to reassess her location (as nations do from time to time).
[The writer is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views].
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