X – Beyond Buddhism to a Wider Concept of Oriental Learning

1. Catholicity of Oriental Learning

The scholar monks, who figure in this Volume, as well as their erudite contemporaries, had a broader concept of learning than most of us today would ascribe to them. They did not believe in narrow specialization even though they concentrated on Pali language and literature and Buddhism. They placed as much stress of Sinhala and its classical literature. Even though Vedic Sanskrit was hardly studied by them, their interest in the classical Sanskrit Literature – particularly as far as it helped in the study of Sinhala literature – was very high. Following, undoubtedly, the old Sanskrit dictum that grammar was the root of all learning and twelve years should be devoted to its study, grammars in Pali, Sinhala, Sanskrit and Prakrit – of which there exists a veritable treasure-house – absorbed most of their attention. Along with [clxvi] them went the traditional lexicons in Pali, Sinhala and Sanskrit and other ancillary works such as those on prosody and rhetoric. They also delved deep into the traditional system of medicine, ayurveda, as well as such other subjects as astrology and theory of statuary and architecture. To be recognized in this circle as a scholar, therefore, called for an in-depth knowledge of a very extensive field of learning. See my Vidyodaya Lipi, Colombo, 1961 pp. 1 ff. for a brief account of the content of Oriental learning as conceived in Sri Lanka. It also meant that most of this knowledge had to be carried in one’s memory to be recalled instantly in debates and discussions and even day-to-day teaching.

There is one other area in which the scholars of this time evinced an enormous interest: that was the national historical tradition. South Asians in general, and Indians, in particular, have often been criticized for a lack of a historical sense, quoting in support an observation of Alberuni on India in 1030: “Unfortunately the Hindus do not pay much attention to the historical order of things, they are very careless in relating the chronological succession of their kings, and where they are pressed for information and are at a loss, not knowing what to say, they invariably take to romancing”. E. C. Sachau: Alberuni’s India, London Vol. II p. 10. A further statement quoted is that of Macaulay referring satirically to “history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long”. Macaulay’s Minute on Education quoted in Betty Heimann: Indian and Western Philosophy, London, 1937 p. 116. But these criticisms do not apply to the Buddhist Saṅgha, which had, particularly in Sri Lanka, concerned itself with the preservation of as objective and comprehensive a historical record as possible of its development and, as a direct consequence, provided invaluable information on the social and political evolution of the country.

The Vaṁsa literature in Pali is replete with chronicles dealing with not only the general history of the country as Dīpavaṁsa and Mahāvaṁsa – the latter being successively extended to modern times – but also the history of important sacred objects like the tooth relic, the stupas and the bodhi tree at Anuradhapura (i.e. Dāṭhāvamsa, Thūpavaṁsa, Bodhivaṁsa). The tradition of writing [clxvii] such chronicles extended to other Buddhist countries and we have such Pali chronicles as Sāsanavaṁsa (on the history of Buddhism) and Gandhavaṁsa (on the history of Pali literature). The study and the preservation of this historical tradition was thus looked upon by the Saṅgha as a bounden duty.

Thus the scholar-monks of the last century or so were carrying on an age-old system of Buddhist education in which the study of language and literature, history and other branches of knowledge went hand in hand with the study of religion and philosophy. Comparative study was the corner-stone of this system of education. Thus comparing text with text, commentary with commentary theory with theory was stressed to the point that a scholar who knew and could recall the most of comparable elements in grammar, literature, philosophy, religion and history held sway in any debate of controversy. Such a system of evaluation of learning encouraged a constant search for new knowledge to compare and contrast with what was already known.

It is this intellectual curiosity which amazed many of the Westerners who came in touch with the scholar-monks, mentioned in this Volume. Where they expected religious conservatism and narrow-mindedness, they were confronted with an amazing width of vision and an unbelievably refreshing liberality. These monks were ready to learn and to accept correction. They showed an admirable sense of humility as they proceeded, child-like, to explore the new ground that their Western contacts opened for them. But they knew their strength and, whenever the need arose, they rose to the occasion and asserted themselves. They did so specially when they found that facts as they knew were either misrepresented or contradicted.

Interestingly, the subject in which this situation arose was history. Among the Westerners, who concentrated on Sri Lankan history and, therefore, met the scholar-monks in this role, the most prominent was Wilhelm Geiger, the German Scholar who has done more to the promotion of Sri Lankan studies abroad than any other. [clxviii]

2. Wilhelm Geiger (1856–1943)

Wilhelm Geiger finds a place in this Volume on account of his long years of correspondence with Ven. Subhūti and Ven. Buddhadatta. This unique scholar whose versatility is evinced by the ease with which he moved from Iranian to Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala and Maldivian grammar, literature, history and culture, producing in each field learned monographs and papers which continue up-to-date to be highly rated.

His interest in Sinhala developed around 1890. According to Geigers’ biographer and editor of his last work, “Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times” – Heinz Bechert, Heinz Bechert: The Life and Work of Wilhelm Geiger (translated into Sinhala by David Karunaratne, Colombo 1975) English version: second edition 1977. My references here are to the Sinhala version. his introduction to Sinhala and Sri Lanka was through D. M. de Z. Wickremasinghe, one of the most brilliant pioneering scholars Sri Lanka had produced. Judging from Wickremasinghe’s later works, specially his contributions to the Epigraphia Zeylanica, there is no doubt that Geiger had one of the most competent Sri Lankans to launch him in this new field and also to offer appropriate advice on the first visit to Sri Lanka in 1895–96.

During this visit, Geiger met a number of leading scholars of Sri Lanka and visited both Vidyodaya and Vidyalaṅkāra Pirivenas and several temples. He was most impressed with Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala with whom he had discussed the wealth of literary material locked in yet unedited and unpublished palm-leaf manuscripts. The Nāyaka Thera had taken Geiger to witness an examination at a Pirivena close to Mount Lavinia – possibly, Paramadhammacetiya Pirivena in Ratmalāne. He also met the Principal of Vidyalaṅkāra Pirivena, Ven. Ratmalāne Śrī Dhammārāma and recorded with appreciation the Nāyaka Thera’s achievement in reconstructing Jānakīharaṇa from the Sinhala Sanne. It is with Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti that he established closer working relations and a lasting friendship.

Geiger made a comparison between Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala and Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti. As competent scholars in the same field of specialization, Ven. Subhūti was considered to be [clxix] in no way second to Ven. Sumaṅgala; but Ven. Subhūti had not yet reached the level of being a competitor to Ven. Sumaṅgala, as in maturity, erudition and the volume of literary production, Ven. Sumaṅgala was far ahead of the other. It was Geiger’s assessment that, as a researcher, Ven. Subhūti had made some significant advances; Ven. Sumaṅgala, he considered, was an embodiment of traditional scholarship while Ven. Subhūti has adopted a line of research similar to that taken by Western scholars. He felt that they were quite different in their external behaviour. Ibid p. 58.

Ven. Subhūti had introduced Geiger to Mudliar A. Mendis Gunasekera and it was this lay Sinhala scholar, who enabled Geiger to study at first hand the dialects of the Veddhāhs and the Rodiyās. Another lay scholar whom Geiger befriended during his first visit was Mudliar Simon de Silva, who, like Mudliar Gunasekera, was an official of the Department of Education. Ven. Subhūti worked in very close co-operation with them, Mudliar Gunasekera himself being one of his students.

Inspired by the first visit to Sri Lanka and encouraged by the co-operative arrangements he established with Sinhala scholars, Geiger embarked on an extensive study of Sinhala and Pali. His first Sinhala grammar appeared in 1900 in the Encyclopaedia of lndo-Aryan Research and gradually, through progressive study – reflected by several scholarly papers which stand as landmarks in his extensive investigation – culminated in “A Grammar of the Sinhalese Language” published by the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch in 1937. The Pali counterpart, which he completed in German in 1916 was translated into English by 1937 and published by the University of Calcutta in 1943 and, revised, enlarged and reprinted in Calcutta in 1956 and in Delhi 1968. These studies brought him to the Sri Lankan chronicles, on which another distinguished German scholar, mentioned in this Volume, namely Hermann Oldenberg, had already done a fair amount of research.

With his involvement in the editing and the translation of Mahāvaṁsa and Cūlavaṁsa, on which I have given a brief account in Book One, Part 5 (Paragraphs 231-252), Geiger began what [clxx] turned to be his life’s work – his most significant achievement. The letters which Geiger and Ven. Subhūti exchanged give some idea of the difficulties he encountered. Ven. Subhūti had extended to him every possible assistance whenever requested. A direct result of this co-operation appears to have been Ven. Subhūti’s edition of the Extended Mahāvaṁsa (i.e. the text in a Cambodian Ms. which was found to have a substantial amount of interpolations). We, however, only hear of the efforts to have it published by the Government of Sri Lanka.

Whenever Geiger’s work on Sri Lankan chronicles is to be evaluated, it has to be remembered that he was not a pioneer in this field. George Turnour had brought out a critical edition of the Mahāvaṁsa with a translation in 1837; Oldenberg had edited and translated in 1879 “The Dīpavaṁsa: an Ancient Buddhist Historical Record”; In 1883 Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala in collaboration with D. A. de S. Baṭuwantuḍāwe (Devarakshita) published a critical edition of the Mahāvaṁsa; and the continuation of Turnour’s work on the later chapters was accomplished by L. C. Wijesinha in 1889.

Still the task he undertook was as massive as it was difficult. Being a very thorough scholar, he left no stone unturned in his attempt to verify the validity of every reading he accepted and every interpretation he gave. This required a tremendous amount of comparative study. The thoroughness with which such a study was done comes up clearly in “The Dīpavaṁsa and Mahāvaṁsa and their Historical Development in Ceylon”. Translated by Ethel M. Coomaraswamy and printed by the Government Printer, Colombo, 1908. Still there were nuances which escaped him simply because the allusions to religious practices and socio-cultural phenomena such as customs and beliefs were difficult to interpret. There were no handy reference books to help him. As Geiger was all too ready to admit, a Sri Lankan scholar would have been better placed. Ven. Buddhadatta’s role as a constructive critic has, therefore, been salutary (See Paragraph 473).

Apart from Ven. Buddhadatta, there has not been an adequately systematic effort on the part of Sri Lankan scholars to review Geiger’s text and translation of the Mahāvaṁsa and the Cūlavaṁsa. [clxxi] E. F. C. Ludowyk commented on the literary style of the translation “Would that they were newly rendered in a form expressive of their literary value.” E. F. C. Ludowyk: The Story of Ceylon, London 1962 p. 315. Bechert dismissed this criticism as applicable to the English translator Mabel Bode. Op. cit. p. 105. S. Kiribamune, in 1979, examined Geiger’s work from the point of view of his methodology and conceptual framework. S. Kiribamune: Geiger and the History of Sri Lanka, The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, N. S., Vol. VII January–June 1979. Though this comes very briefly in the concluding paragraphs of a paper which gives more space to a description of the background to Geiger’s work, she makes a number of important points:–

There is no pressing need for fresh editions of these texts “Whatever the shortcomings, Geiger’s editorial skill deserves the highest praise. The lengthy introductions relating to textual criticism and copious footnotes bear ample testimony to the labour involved and the meticulous care taken. For this all Sri Lankan historians are ever grateful.”

–”Geiger belongs to that group of European Indologists who displayed a great sensitivity towards Asian culture and as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, his writings have a definite place in the political and cultural milieu of his time. Against Geiger there can be no charge of ‘sterile objectivity’

–”Whatever criticism he made of the Chronicles, he couched in the mildest of terms and one almost feels that Geiger was somewhat inhibited in his style by perhaps a desire not to endanger the position of the Buddhist revivalists. Having had occasion to, point out a weak spot in the Cūlavaṁsa, Geiger hastens to add ‘I must repeat here that not the least doubt is thrown on Dhammakitti’s (the author’s) good faith by such criticism.’ He obviously did not wish to tread on the sensitivities of the local intelligentsia and consequently did not have to face the kind of public scorn with which G. C. Mendis was greeted when he made his criticisms of the chronicles. This in no way questions the sincerity of Geiger’s convictions. He was undoubtedly an admirer of the chronicles of Sri Lanka.” [clxxii]

–”Not all Geiger’s views regarding the Chronicles have gone unchallenged. His overall explanation for whatever ailed these texts seems too simplistic. To attribute the lack of certain information, the clumsy handling of a military campaign, the exaggerated praise reserved for a particular ruler to the ‘one sided mentality of Buddhist priests’ hardly carries conviction. Today some of us are looking at the Chronicles from a different standpoint. Surely there were many more imperatives for the growth of so vast and rich a historical literature as there is in Sri Lanka than the mere desire of Buddhist monks to Chronicle the history of their faith! The ideological perspectives within the Chronicles and the complexities of the attitude of their authors to current social and political issues do not seem to have concerned Geiger. A conceptual base is sadly lacking in Geiger’s writings.”

–”Geiger had no penchant for historical abstractions. Documentation was his forte. In his last big work ‘The Culture of Ceylon in Medieval Times’ full play is given to this skill. Every scrap of information found in the Chronicles ranging from such minor items as the use of the oil lamp to complex matters of statecraft, is noticed. In the interpretation of these facts, however, Geiger has sometimes been shown to have been erroneous. This of course is in the natural order of things. With the increasing volume of new archaeological data and with more sophisticated techniques of historical research, earlier beliefs can become out-dated.” (Emphasis mine).

It is true that Geiger wrote with a certain sense of admiration and loyalty whenever he discussed Sri Lankan history and Buddhism. Such an emotional identification had come into effect not so much from a considered decision not to endanger the position of the Buddhist revivalists, as Kiribamune suggests, but, to my mind, more from his genuine conclusion, that the chronicles as well as Buddhist literary works of Sri Lanka were written by dedicated scholar-monks, who were motivated by deep religious sentiments. While the popular writings of Geiger, like his two travelogues, express ideas similar to those expressed by Anagārika Dharmapāla, Piyadasa Sirisena and the like, at no time did his scholarly work reflect any alignment with the Buddhist Revival Movement. [clxxiii]

Moreover, none of the Buddhist activists looked up to his works for support to their practical objectives. For example, not once had Anagārika Dharmapāla quoted from or referred to Geiger in all his writings although later works than Geiger’s were mentioned. On the other hand, Turnour and Wijesinha find mention in about ten places in the collection, I compiled under the title “Return to Righteousness.”

During the two visits to Sri Lanka, Geiger, met and befriended four of Sri Lanka’s finest scholar-monks, Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala, Ven. Ratmalāne Śrī Dhammārāma, Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti and Ven. Widurupola Piyatissa, to whom he had referred in his writings with great affection and deference. I have the impression, from these writings as well as the letters published in this Volume, that Geiger projected his image of these Nāyaka Theras to all scholar-monks he encountered in literature and history. He recognized their source of motivation to be a very deep commitment to the promotion and preservation of a religious tradition which had many elements to attract an independent modern thinker.

Unhindered either by the evangelical motives of certain Western scholars or by the political overtones likely to affect a British national, Geiger had that degree of objectivity to make a judgement more independently. If he is found to be partial to what would please a Sri Lankan Buddhist activist of the Revival Movement, much of the credit should go to the scholar-monks, who through their learning and comportment, had won his heart. Here again is a case of inspiration, which had come to a Western scholar from the “living fountains of Buddhism.”

As regards Kiribamune’s comments on Geiger’s adequacies or otherwise as a historian, it needs to be stressed that Geiger never claimed to be one. He was primarily a philologist and he remained so to the last. The problems he grappled with were primarily literary and linguistic. As a translator, he was mindful that he was making documents accessible to students of history, who usually did not have the requisite linguistic equipment. But his interest in the culture which the chronicles reflected was so great that he [clxxiv] continued to look further for what a philologist should contribute to the study of such a culture: that is, to cull out, and present systematically, the wealth of socio-cultural information locked in the documents. To say that documentation was Geiger’s forte is, indeed, correct in relation to his last work, “Culture of Ceylon in Medieval Times.”

But a question remains to be asked. The text in Pali of the chronicles may not call for fresh editions, even if new material is found, simply because the number of scholars who would rely on such texts for historical research is steadily decreasing. But what about the translations? The letters published in this volume – and that has been a single-pointed mission of Ven. Buddhadatta – show how much of corrections one could propose if one was competent and patient enough to go through the three volumes of Mahāvaṁsa and Cūlavaṁsa translations with a fine-tooth comb. We know more of Sri Lankan history today than was known at the time these translations were made – seventy years ago in the case of Mahāvaṁsa and nearly fifty years ago in the case of Cūlavaṁsa.

An urgent need exists to revise Geiger’s translations or even to re-translate afresh these chronicles, taking the best advantage of recent discoveries in archaeological and literary fields as well as facilities now available in the form of more advanced Pali dictionaries and grammars. Geiger’s work was, no doubt, inspired by the “living fountains of Buddhism”, as I have emphasized above. But should not the Sri Lankan chronicles emanate to the world directly from the living fountains of Buddhism?

3. A Dictionary of the Sinhalese Language

While we are on the subject of Wilhelm Geiger’s contribution to Sri Lankan studies, it is important to draw attention to his involvement in another major activity: namely, the compilation of “A Dictionary of the Sinhalese Language.” [clxxv]

It is to Reinhold Rost that we owe the original proposal:– Somapāla Jayawardena’s brief history of the Sinhalese Dictionary, how-ever, goes only as far back as 1923: “Sinhala Sabdakoṣaye Itiāhsoya”, Department of Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1977.

21 July 1882.– Rost wrote to Ven. Subhūti: “I trust the best scholars of Ceylon will combine in working at a new dictionary of Sinhalese language, the one by Clough being now excessively scarce” (Paragraph 149).

At the same time, Rost addressed the proposal to John F. Dickson, who was then the President of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The proposal was accepted on 4th October 1884.

17 December 1884.–Rost informed Ven. Subhūti: “From a newspaper sent me from Ceylon, I saw that the Asiatic Society has taken up my suggestion concerning the compilation of a scientific dictionary of the Sinhalese language and I am very glad to know that you have promised to take part in it.” (Paragraph 163).

The special editorial committee which was constituted for this purpose included Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti, Right Revd. R. S, Copleston (the author of “Buddhism, primitive and present, in Magadha and Ceylon London 1892), W. P. Ranasinghe and Mudliar B. Gunasekera. All this was very exciting news for Rost.

27 February 1885. Rost wrote again to Ven. Subhūti: “It was very gratifying to me to learn some time ago that you had joined the Colombo Asiatic Society and had also promised your co-operation in the compilation of the new Sinhalese Dictionary” (Paragraph 165).

16 July 1886.– Rost Complained to Ven. Subhūti: “I fear the preparations which were set on foot for the compilation of a dictionary have been allowed to go to sleep” (Paragraph 167).

For nearly forty years, the Dictionary Project lay dormant. On 7 October 1925, the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society [clxxvi] decided to revive it. According to Nandadeva Wijesekera’s Biography of Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka, Published by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1973. This infor-mative and inspiring biography – though unfortunately too brief – represents an opportunity regretfully missed in 1968. I had volunteered to prepare two volumes of Sir Baron’s original writings in Sinhala and English – on the same lines as my ධර්මපාල ලිපි {Dharmapāla Lipi} and “Return to Righteousness”. If I had not withdrawn in favour of Nandadeva Wijesekera’s offer to do the same plus a biography, on the ground that he had better access to relevant material, the Centenary Celebrations could have been a good opportunity to get a few thousand pages of valuable source material on Jayatilaka in his own words put together in a handy form. Such an opportunity may not come up for many years again. Sir Baron was appointed to serve on a Dictionary Committee. Wijesekera says,

“By now Government had accepted the proposal to compile a Sinhala Etymological Dictionary. No doubt his position helped to start this work which had been mooted from as early a date as 1890. Preliminary work was started in 1927 with a grant of Rs. 35,000 to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The work was entrusted to a band of scholars. W. F. Gunawardhana and A. Mendis Gunasekara assisted him as Editors. A small office was opened in Colombo. He started collecting words through a band of volunteer scholars. He contacted scholars and Pirivena Heads. At this time D. B. Jayatilaka was invited to the Orientalist Conference at Oxford. He left on 8 August 1928 and reached London on the 27th. The paper that he read before the conference was on the Sinhalese Etymological Dictionary. He met several foreign scholars and the discussions really helped greatly in planning his new work... There was another eminent Sinhalese Scholar who assisted him in the arduous literary work. Once the work had almost been suspended but this man salvaged the project and outlived D.B. Jayatilaka to succeed him to the post of Editor-in-Chief. He was Julius de Lanerolle.” Ibid p. 113.

Later on in his book, Wijesekera refers to the dictionary in connection with Sir D. B. Jayatilaka’s visit to England to attend the jubilee celebrations in 1935: [clxxvii]

“On his way home, he paid a visit to Germany to meet Prof. Wilhelm Geiger. The work relating to the Sinhalese Etymological Dictionary was discussed. Thereafter he returned on 21st September 1935. The first volume of the Dictionary was published in 1937, almost ten years after commencement of the work under the editorship of Sir Baron. Arrangements were made for the work to be continued under a larger staff well trained and well paid. He hoped that it would be possible to continue the work without interruption in order to bring it to an early finish.” Ibid p. 126.

Geiger’s involvement with the Dictionary was anything but casual. When Geiger, in the course of a study tour, visited England, he met Reinhold Rost in 1888. Whether Rost had discussed with Geiger the faltering beginnings of the Sinhala Dictionary is not known. Geiger’s interests at this stage were in Iranian studies and the language he was concentrating on was Balochi. Within years, Geiger, as earlier stated, developed a deep interest in Sinhala language and literature and by 1925 had become an undisputed authority in the West on Sinhala and its ancillary dialects. See Wilhelm Geiger: Culture of Ceylon in Medieval Times (ed. Heinz Bechert) p. 256 for a bibliography on his early writings on Sinhala, its etymology, Roḍiyā and Veddāh, etc.

It is significant that Geiger’s second visit to Sri Lanka in 1925-26 look place within three months of the decision of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society to revive the Dictionary Project. The President of the Society consulted Geiger and on 26 February 1926 he submitted a detailed analysis of the proposal with suggestions on both organizational and technical aspects of lexicography. Geiger was invited to assume the editorship of the Dictionary but he declined. The Government was disappointed as seen from a letter which the Chief Secretary had written to Geiger on 8 July 1926. This letter also shows that Geiger had offered to assist in the work.

The committee, which Nandadeva Wijesekera mentioned, was set up in March 1926 according to a proposal of Geiger and its members were H. W. Codrington, Wilhelm Geiger, D. B. Jayatilaka [clxxviii] and Mudliar A. Mendis Gunasekera. The initial years were beset with all kinds of odds, including a legal tangle into which Sir Baron Jayatilaka was drawn.

According to a cable sent by Sir Baron Jayatilaka on 22 January 1931, Geiger had, by this time, agreed to visit Sri Lanka to assume the editorship of the Dictionary. Sir Baron had inquired whether he should seek the necessary clearances from authorities. Geiger’s decision appears to have had a welcome effect. Noteworthy is the inducement it gave a national scholar to review the whole project. On 11 February 1931 Gunapala Malalasekera had sent Geiger a frank account of the project, highlighting the built-in causes of failure: Sir Baron Jayatilaka, though a competent Sinhala scholar, had limited proficiency in Pali and Sanskrit philology and besides was deeply involved in politics; Mudliar W. F. Gunawardhana, though very well versed in grammar and philology, was obsessed with his theory of Dravidian origin of Sinhala; Mudliar A. Mendis Gunasekera, the most competent among them, was too old and preoccupied with other duties; the compilation of words was entrusted to persons with no training in lexicography; and the Dictionary office had no means of verifying the words sent in by these compilers as it did not have the relevant manuscripts; none on the staff knew French or German and the current literature on lexicography and philology was a closed book to them. In short, Geiger had a massive task to accomplish – veritable Augean stables.

Wilhelm Geiger arrived in Colombo in December 1931 with his wife Magdalene and during the next five months both of them spared no efforts in bringing order to the project and putting it on a sound footing. The first volume was ready in a couple of years with a long and comprehensive introduction on Sinhala language and literature signed by both Sir Baron and Geiger, but, as is clear from internal evidence, written by Geiger. An important proposal which Geiger made at this time was to enlist the co-operation of an equally well-known Western scholar from Denmark, Helmer [clxxix] Smith. When the war broke out in 1939. it was to Helmer Smith that Geiger entrusted the European direction of the dictionary work. For the information summarized in the last four paragraphs, I am indebted to Heinz Bechert: Wilhelm Geiger (Sinhala version) Chapter 13. A little confusion is caused by Bechert in describing the main actors in relation to positions they held long after the time of the events: e.g. those of Sir Baron and Malalasekera.

Geiger’s intellectual inputs to the Sinhala Etymological Dictionary had been substantial. The Dictionary Office recognized the value of his etymological research and published in 1941 a revised version of “Etymological Glossary of the Sinhalese Language”. During the formative years of the project – that is, from 1926 to the outbreak of the war, he provided technical backstopping in diverse ways. Both Sir Baron and Julius de Lanerolle visited him in Germany to pursue discussions and obtain advice.

A question which is, sometimes, raised is whether Geiger overestimated the capacity of the people who were actually to implement his plans and directions? That means, did he conceive of a dictionary which was not to be completed within a reasonable length of time with the intellectual and material resources that Sri Lanka could devote to it? In fairness to Geiger it must be stressed that his experience with Sri Lankan scholars had been extremely encouraging, if not unusually favourable. Anyone, who came to know the four scholar-monks (Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala, Ven. Ratmalāne Dhammārāma, Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti and Ven. Widurupola Piyatissa) and the remarkable galaxy of lay scholars of the time (D. M. de Z. Wickremasinghe, Mudliar A. Mendis Gunasekera, Mudliar W. F. Gunawardhana, Sir Baron Jayatilaka, Julius de Lanerolle, Gunapala Malalasekera, M. D. Ratnasuriya, and D. E. Hettiarachchi) as intimately as Geiger did, would have formed the highest impression of competence, [clxxx] dedication, versatility, seriousness and perseverance. He designed a project for these intellectual giants to accomplish. But they were needed in too many places, for more urgent tasks and, above all, to provide leadership in the overall development of national culture. Theirs was a gradually diminishing contribution to the Dictionary.

The Dictionary has gone through many vicissitudes. From the Royal Asiatic Society it was transferred to the University of Ceylon in 1941 and currently it is a direct responsibility of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. It is over a hundred years from the day the proposal was made by Rost. It is nearly sixty years since it was revived. The first fascicule was published nearly fifty years ago. The delay has been subject to much criticism. The project as a whole and the staff in particular have been the butt end of vicious jokes. Among the most virulent of critics had been Ven. Welivitiye Śrī Sorata Nāyaka Thera whose, two-volume Sinhala Dictionary called “Śrī Sumaṅgala Śabdakoṣaya (ශ්‍රී සුමඞ්‌ගල ශබ්දකොෂය) was published in 1952 and 1956. More vituperative, however, were Munidasa Cumaratuṅga and the poet Raphael Tennakoon.

It is gratifying to record a visible acceleration of the Dictionary work over the last few years. The publication of the 27th fascicule has served as a significant morale booster to the band of devoted workers who are struggling against many odds which most people not conversant with intricacies of bureaucratically managed intellectual undertakings would hardly visualize.