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XI – State Patronage to Oriental Studies
1. Institutional Arrangements to Foster the Study of Ancient Culture
The period covered by the correspondence published in this Volume saw the gradual evolution of the governmental machinery, comprising departments, institutions and regular publications to foster the study of the ancient culture of Sri Lanka. Revd. Father S. G. Perera summarizes the crucial events of the initial stages in three paragraphs:–
“The study of Ceylon’s ancient literature and art. George Turnour’s edition and translation of the Mahāvaṁsa attracted the [clxxxi] attention of European orientalists and philologists to the chronicles and inscriptions of Ceylon. A Danish professor, C. Fausböll, edited certain Pali works in 1885, and the French consul of Colombo, M. Grimbolt, made a collection of manuscripts which were studied in France by eminent scholars in 1886. Commenting on a French publication, the Saturday Review remarked that “though Ceylon has been an English colony, hardly anything has been done by the English government to collect these interesting relics of ancient literature, to deposit them in our public libraries, and thus to render them accessible to oriental scholars; while the French government, nay, it would seem an individual French gentleman, has during the last six years accomplished all that could be desired.” Stung by such reproaches and seeing an archaeological survey started in India, in 1870 Sir Hercules Robinson commissioned James de Alwis to compile a catalogue of Sanskrit, Pali, and Sinhalese literary works of Ceylon. In 1871 the government procured a series of photographs of the principal ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva. In 1873 Sir William Gregory directed an archaeological survey to be started on a modest scale, and in 1877, detailed plans and drawings of the important ruins were made by Smithers. A German professor, P. Goldschmidt, was meanwhile invited to collect the ancient inscriptions, and he visited Anuradhapura, Polonnaruva, Mihintale, but died of fever while engaged in inspecting the Kirinda, Tissamahārāma, and Kataragama inscriptions. The Secretary of State thereupon sent Dr. E. Müller in 1887 to complete the task, and the result was the publication of the Ancient Inscriptions of Ceylon.
“The government agent of Anuradhapura was directed to commence explorations and excavations in the North-Central Province, and in 1890, a systematic archaeological survey was begun under H. C. P. Bell of the civil service, starting from the Three and Four Korales and then extending to other districts. Bell laboured long and zealously in his chosen field of study and procured the establishment of an Archaeological Department, [clxxxii] and his Reports still remain unsurpassed mines of information for the study of Ceylon’s ancient history. The publication of the inscriptions was entrusted to D. M. de Z. Wickremasinghe who brought out the first volumes of the Epigraphia Zeylanica, a work later carried on by Dr. S. Paranavitana, for many years archaeological commissioner.
The study of Ceylon’s ancient culture was fostered also by the Royal Asiatic Society, founded in Ceylon in 1845, and by the opening of the Colombo Museum in 1877.” Father S. G. Perera S.J.: A History of Ceylon II: The British Period and After, 1796–1956 (Revised by Father V. Perniola S.J.), Colombo, 7th Edition 1956 pp. 186–7. I have been quite disturbed by the number of errors in the first paragraph particularly as I am personally aware of the pains which Father Perniola takes to be thorough, precise and accurate.
This short account, however, contains a number of errors in dates and names: i.e. not “C” Fausböll but “V” for Viggo; “certain Pali works in 1885” does not fit logically into the sequence: it must be the edition of Dhammapada in 1855 that the Revd. Father had in mind; similarly the name of the French consul is not Grimbolt but Grimblot (who in collaboration with Leon Feer published in Journal Asiatique XVIII, 1871, some extracts of the Paritta); and the date when manuscripts collected by him were studied in France is not 1886 but 1866. In the face of such errors, one is tempted to question the accuracy of the main argument that the motive for State action to promote studies into ancient literature and art came from reproaches published in a popular periodical.
The information I have presented in this Introduction shows that long before the 1870s the promotion of scholarship in the field of literature and art had been helped in two major ways: first, the interest taken by the officers of the Civil Service as well as other branches of the government – due to what Ludowyk calls “the British Civil Servant’s tradition of learned dilettantism” See footnote on next page. ; and, second, the extension of government printing facilities to the point that the Government Printer was the most important – if not the [clxxxiii] sole-publisher of scholarly works. These two factors were interrelated. The facility of publication had gone a long way in encouraging the government officials to be authors. The use of government printing facilities for religious and scholarly publications dates back to the Dutch regime. The first book in Sinhala printed at the Government Press (more precisely the Dutch East India Company’s Press) in 1737 was a book of Christian Prayers.
Among the scholarly works published by the Government Press during the early part of the British period are Turnour’s Mahāvaṁsa (1837), James de Alwis’ Sidatsāñgarāva with its 286-page introduction on the history of Sinhala literature (1852) as well as several of his later works, and preliminary reports on early archaeological finds. E.F.C. Ludowyk: The Modern History of Ceylon, London, 1966 p. 232: “Many of them, both the old and new, made good use of opportunities which came their way of conserving and developing a great deal of information on old Ceylon which without their care would have been obliterated. The British Civil Servant’s tradition of learned dilettantism had been maintained by people like Hugh Nevill. Even in the bad old days before the competitive examination there were civilians like George Turnour who was both a coffee planter and a student of Pali learning. In this tradition of the Civil Servant researcher were H. W. Codrington and L. J. B. Turner. The versatility of the talents which might be found in the Civil Service of this time could be proved by a reference to men like T. W. Rhys Davids, W. T. Stace, and Leonard Woolf, all of whom spent some part of their early working life in Ceylon. They were on the whole an intelligent, responsible and enlightened body of men. They came closest of all their fellows to knowing and understanding the country where they served.”
What appeared to have first been a privilege reserved for government officials, with James de Alwis as a notable exception, was gradually extended to local scholars. Ven. Subhūti’s Abhidhānappadīpikā was printed in 1864 at the Government Press and the earliest correspondence in this volume between Childers and the Nāyaka Thera refers to the Governor’s role in this publication. Ven. Subhūti’s later works including the second edition of Abhidhānappadīpikā were also published by the Government. So was his pupil’s (i.e. A. Mendis Gunasekera’s) “A Comprehensive [clxxxiv] Grammar of the Sinhalese language” (1891). Ven. Ratmalāne Śrī Dhammārāma’s edition of Dharmapradīpikā was published in 1876. Ven. Weligama Śrī Sumangala’s 700-page commentary on the Sanskrit Grammar “Mugdhabodha” was also a government publication (1897) just as his translation of Hitopadeśa in 1884. The procedure for getting such government patronage was, no doubt, complex. The impression one gets from the letters of Childers and Rost is that their intervention was instrumental in obtaining the sanction of the Governor. It had not been always easy or successful as shown by the abortive attempts to get the extended Mahāvaṁsa published.
The period following 1870 brought into existence more formal arrangements. Sir William Gregory, to whom several references are made in Childers’ and Rost’s letters, figures prominently as the live wire in formalising State support to epigraphy, archaeology and museology. He was responsible for the engagement of P. Goldschmidt to decipher and publish ancient inscriptions in 1874 and the establishment of the Colombo National Museum in 1876. His interest in the photographs of the monuments of Anuradhapura taken by Captain Hogg is also mentioned in Childers’ letters. The impetus given to archaeology during the governorship of Sir William Gregory culminated in extensive excavations in the 1880s and the creation of the Department of Archaeology in 1890 with H. C. P. Bell as the first Archaeological Commissioner. In 1904 were started the Epigraphia Zeylanica (edited by D. M. de Z. Wickremasinghe to publish with notes and translation ancient inscriptions more systematically than hitherto) and Spolia Zeylanica as the research bulletin of the National Museum. These publications, along with the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and Ceylon Literary Register of A. M. & J. Ferguson and Ceylon Antiquary and Litrary Register of J. P. Lewis and J. M. Senaveratne, provided effective fora for scholarly exchanges.
State support was also extended to national institutions. The Buddhist school established by Ven. Doḍanduwe Piyaratana Tissa in 1869 was recognized for grants-in-aid by 1874. Vidyodaya Pirivena, founded by Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala in 1873 was [clxxxv] given financial assistance as from 1878. Regarding assistance to Vidyodaya Pirivena, J. E. Jayasuriya writes: “The recognition by the government in 1878, for financial assistance, of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, a college of higher learning in oriental languages such as Pali and Sanskrit, was an event of importance, as it was the first occasion on which the government conceded that such learning was of value and deserved encourage-ment”: Educational Policies and Progress, Colombo, 1977 pp. 291 -2 (See also p. 228). In subsequent years the Buddhist schools set up by the Buddhist Revival Movement began to receive grants-in-aid, even though the procedures laid down and obstacles imposed were quite cumbersome.
Yet the educational policy and, in particular, the system of examinations did not provide any incentives for the study of national languages or culture. Though Sinhala or Tamil could be taken as an extra language at the local Junior level examination in 1870, they did not become subjects of the Cambridge Junior and Senior Examinations and also the Bachelor of Arts examination of the University of London until 1919. But as from 1902, the examinations of the Oriental Studies Society, conducted by the Department of Education and granting the degree of Paṇḍita, gave an impetus to the study of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit, History and Archaeology mainly among monks. The only lay persons who benefited from this system were those who were preparing themselves to be ayurvedic medical practitioners and Sinhala notaries.
In spite of the fact that the promotion of national studies through education policy received very little attention until the constitutional developments brought a stronger representation of nationals to shoulder legislative and policy-making responsibility, the State patronage to learning continued to be given through the activities of the Departments of Archaeology and National Museums as well as those of the National Archives. Libraries of these Departments specially the National Museums Library – provided facilities to researchers and students. Grants were made available to exceptional literary works but on an ad hoc basis. Activities like the compilation of the Sinhala Dictionary were organized and conducted as Government undertakings. Learned societies such as the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society received financial assistance. [clxxxvi]
But a visible deterioration of the State involvement in scholarly pursuits had begun to take place as from about the 1920s. The governorship of Lord Chalmers almost marks a watershed in this respect.
2. Sir Robert (later Lord) Chalmers (1858–1938)
As Mrs. Rhys Davids had written on several occasions to Ven. Buddhadatta, Robert Chalmers studied Pali from Rhys Davids and was considered to be one of his most distinguished students, in this volume is published the letter Chalmers wrote to Ven. Subhūti in November 1891 at the suggestion of Rhys Davids (Paragraph 201 B). As I have already stated, Chalmers’ contribution to Pali studies were quite substantial before he arrived in Sri Lanka as the Governor in 1913. His reputation for “his cultivated interests in Pali literature and the sacred lore of Buddhism” had reached Sri Lanka and the scholar-monks, dealt with in this Volume, welcomed his appointment, endorsing what Woodward wrote in Pali about it in a letter to Ven. Seelakkhandha: namely, Tam pun, api dhammassa upakārāya samvattati (That, too, will be a help to the Dhamma) – Paragraph 551.
As Ludowyk states, he “was a Treasury official with distinguished record of service and a reputation for abstruse and exotic research so often typical of the cultured British Civil Servant. He had accepted a Colonial Governorship when he had reached the heights of Permanent Secretaryship. His reputation as an orientalist (he was a student of Pali and had already begun his translations of the Buddhist Canon) had preceded him to Ceylon. As a young man, fresh from Oxford, he had been interested in welfare work in slum settlements. He was intelligent and he had liberal leanings. He was highly thought of by such eminent politicians as Asquith.” E.F.C. Ludowyk: The History of Ceylon, London, 1962 p. 213.
Once in Sri Lanka, he was keen to utilize the opportunities available for his researches in Pali literature. As mentioned several times in Mrs. Rhys Davids’ letters, he began with arrangements to bring out a critical edition of Papañca-sūdanī, the [clxxxvii] Pages clxxxviii-cxc and cxciii-cxcv were negative facsimiles of letters and letterheads, which are omitted here. Commentary on Majjhima-nikāya. He established links with scholar-monks of the time and one of his closest associates in this work was Ven. Ratmalāne Dhammārāma. A letter addressed to him on 25 June 1915, refers to this co-operation and also hints at the developments which brought a sudden change in his plans relating to scholarship as well as his future in Sri Lanka. The letter signed by the Governor’s Private Secretary runs as follows:–
“I have communicated to His Excellency the request contained in your letter of the 24th inst. If, as His Excellency assumes, the interview you desire has reference to the Papañca-Sūdanī, to the completion of which His Excellency looks forward with much interest, I am directed to say that, at the present time, His Excellency cannot find time to deal with this work but looks forward to discussing the subject with you at a later date of which you will be informed.” (The original reproduced in ensuing pages).
What interfered with Sir Robert’s scholarly work are the riots of 1915, which broke out, for his bad luck, just a few weeks after he had lost two of his sons in active war service in Europe. His declaration of martial law on 2 June 1915 and continuing it for three months – long after the rioting stopped, the inefficiency of Brigadier-General Malcolm, the Officer Commanding the troops, the excesses of the armed forces, the involvement of European planters and civilians as Justices of Peace to try the Sinhalas accused of complicity, the imprisonment of Sinhala national and community leaders and the havoc which rumour and fear created against the backdrop of the First World War all combined to make the one hundred days following the Gampola incident on 28 May 1915 the darkest in the history of modern Sri Lanka. The pity of it is that this had to happen during the stewardship of a very rare Englishman as far as his command of Pali and the profound knowledge of Buddhism and its culture was concerned. As it happens to most people in high places at times like these, he was probably kept informed of only what his surrounding sychophants wanted him to know. Testimony to that is his much-quoted statement to the Legislative Council that “A revolt has been put down with rose water.” E.F.C. Ludowyk: The History of Ceylon, London, 1962 p. 214. [cxci]
We have in our collection in the National Archives a letter which was addressed jointly to Ven. Ratmalāne Śrī Dhammārāma Both in this letter and the previous one of 25 June 1915 the initial of Ven. Dhammārāma is given as K, possibly a confusion with Kelaniya. But the envelope is addressed to High Priest of Vidyalankara Pirivena. and Ven. Mahāgoda Ñāṇissara, the Principals of Vidyālaṅkāra and Vidyodaya Pirivenas respectively on 16 July 1915 – the mid-point of the martial law period. It shows a clear hardening of positions, it, too, was signed by W. J. Southorn as Private Secretary to the Governor:
His Excellency the Governor has had before him your memorial dated the 12th inst. in which (i) you set forth the conclusions you have readied regarding the genesis and development of the disturbance which began at Kandy on Wesak Day the 28th May last, and (ii) pray for relief and clemency in the cases which you specify.
So far as scholarship and learning are concerned. His Excellency is well aware of your undoubted claim to speak on behalf of the entire body of Bhikkhus of Ceyylon; and he can only wish that he could be equally certain that the entire body of Sinhalese Bhikkhus share your abhorrence of the painful lawlessness that prevailed to a most alarming and lamentable degree from the 28th day of May 1915, being the anniversary of the nativity of the Tathāgata.
While there is much – though by no means all – in your six conclusions with which His Excellency is disposed to concur he would be impressed by the knowledge that other Mahānāyakas of distinction desire to associate themselves with you in condemning “the real culprits” who have been guilty of such monstrous acts against their fellow-subjects in Ceylon and against the mild creed which those real culprits profess and have shamed.
As regards clemency – na hi vereṇa verâṇi sammant’īdha kadâcanaṁ – His Excellency can hold out no prospect of the Commutation of death sentences in the case of persons indisputably [cxcii] found guilty of actual murder. You will however have observed that in four out of ten cases of death sentences for treason, &c., the clemency of the Crown has been already exercised. (The original reproduced in ensuing pages).
The upshot of the events was that Sir Robert’s tour of office as Governor terminated prematurely. Whether he was recalled due to the agitation of the Sri Lankan leaders has been a moot point among historians. In this respect, the information provided by E. F. C. Ludowyk is of special interest:
“In December 1915, Chalmers was asked by the Secretary of State to take up an important post in the Treasury to which his talents had clearly destined him. His departure and the attitude of his successor Sir John Anderson, another official from Whitehall, led to the myth, still current in Ceylon, that Chalmers had been recalled at the instance of Ceylonese leaders engaged in petitioning Westminster and Whitehall with their grievances. The cables offering Chalmers his new appointment were in no sense the stepping down of a Colonial Governor who had been found wanting. Nor did his subsequent career indicate that the home government had in any way punished him for any dereliction of duty in Ceylon. Chalmers was Under-Secretary for Ireland during the grave troubles of 1916. In 1924 as Baron Chalmers he became Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge.” E.F.C. Ludowyk: The Modern History of Ceylon, London, 1966 pp. 141-2.
Lord Chalmers continued his Pali and Buddhist studies while at Peterhouse. His translation of Majjhima-nikāya as “Further Dialogues of the Buddha” were published in the Sacred Books of the Buddhists Series in 1926 and 1927. His masterpiece, the translation of the Sutta-nipāta into English verse, was published in the Harvard Oriental Series in 1932. The last two paragraphs of Charles R. Lanman’s blurb on this publication in the List of the Harvard Oriental Series illustrates the meticulous care which Lord Chalmers had taken to preserve in the translation the poetic character of the original. [cxcvi]
One important contribution of Lord Chalmers to the progress of Buddhist and Pali studies of Sri Lanka has been overshadowed by the events of 1915. In the implementation of the recommendations of the Macleod Committee of 1912, which related to the establishment of the Ceylon University College, it was Lord Chalmers who made the concrete proposal for approval of the Secretary of State for Colonies. The scheme he proposed was accepted with one modification relating to the manner in which the University College would be affiliated to a British University (The Governor proposed affiliation with Oxford University). What is relevant is the fifth clause in his proposals, it says:
“As to the staff, the Principal was to be an administrative officer, and was not himself to hold a Professorship. The Professors were to include a Professor of Sanskrit and Pali, and the professorial staff was to be assisted by Lecturers paid for special courses, the proposal to employ Lecturers on sterling salaries being abandoned” Sessional Paper 14 of 1916 quoted by J. E. Jayasuriya: loc. cit. p. 384. (Emphasis mine).
Since then there had been no question that the pride of place had to be given to Oriental Studies in the scheme of higher education which was fashioned over a period of two decades, culminating in the creation of the University of Ceylon in 1942 with four Faculties, the first being the Faculty of Oriental Studies.
3. Since 1942
The State patronage of Oriental Studies had steadily increased over the last four decades. Apart from direct steps, spin-off effects of educational and cultural policies have continued to provide an impetus to the promotion of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist studies. With the C. W. W. Kannangara Committee came the introduction of free education, the stipulation of national languages as media of primary education and the establishment of secondary schools in rural areas. With the emphasis on Sinhala, the study of Pali and Sanskrit gained importance and these proved to be popular subjects in the newly established central schools. It was, perhaps due, at least partly, to the fact that free education had begun to bring to [cxcvii] these secondary schools as government scholars children from a social class, which under the impact of the Buddhist revival movement, were culturally oriented to the appreciation and preservation of the national culture. These were the first beneficiaries from free education and the progressive introduction of national languages as media of instruction in secondary education.
An analysis of statistics relating to the number of candidate offering Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Sri Lankan and Indian History at public examinations at Grade X and Grade XII levels in the later 1940s and 1950s would provide an index of the degree to which Oriental Learning had found a firm place in school curriculum. The result was increasing admissions of students in these subjects to the University. In 1947 when the University admitted a little over 400 new students into all its faculties, I found myself in classes ranging from 150 to 50 students (i.e., around 150 in Sinhala, 75 in Pali and 50 in Sanskrit) during the first year and quite a number were Buddhist monks. In the following year, I was one of 24 students who had opted to do Sanskrit Honours. The results of the University of London External BA. and M.A. Examinations reflected a similar trend. Post-graduate studies in the Oriental Faculty were as much in demand and several valuable publications like Ven. Walpola Rāhula’s “Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon” and Ven. Dehigaspe Paññāsāra’s “Sanskrit Literature Extant Among the Sinhalese and the Influence of Sanskrit on Sinhalese” were theses presented for doctorates in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. To these must be added the theses and dissertations which Sri Lankan students presented to foreign Universities – mainly in Britain, France and India. There were quite a score during this decade.
The University had recognized the importance of providing facilities for Buddhist monks to acquire modern techniques of research so as to utilize the learning, acquired through traditional methodology, to better advantage. To enable those monks who had no proficiency in English to acquire the regular B.A. Degree, a special course leading to a degree called “Vidyā-viśārada” was instituted. [cxcviii]
The impact of the popularity of Oriental Studies at University level is also seen in the publications which appeared in Sri Lanka in the 1940s and the 1950s. As Oriental Languages, including Sinhala and Tamil, were taught and tested in the English medium, the translation of prescribed texts into English was so widespread that there is hardly a Sinhala classic that was not translated into English; sometimes, poetry was rendered in verse. With regard to Pali and Sanskrit classics, translations usually came from abroad. These translations, both local and foreign, included detailed commentaries discussing grammatical and literary points of interests and lengthy introductions which provided a student’s basic grounding on research findings relevant to a particular book or a branch of literature. Histories of literature were followed by research studies on specific aspects of the national culture: folk play, puppetry, dance and ritual, etc. In-depth analysis of Buddhist Philosophy occupied a pre-eminent place in the scholarly output of Oriental scholars of Sri Lanka.
A significant phenomenon resulting from the widespread popularity of higher learning in Oriental Studies was the increasing visibility of graduates in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit in the public service – in the Ceylon Civil Service as well as in administrative positions in various departments. Some of them continued their interest in research and further study and attempted to maintain the image of the scholar-administrator.
4. Buddha Jayanti and its aftermath
In the evolution of State support to Oriental Studies the period commencing from around 1954 has a special significance. On a proposal by Mr. A. Ratnayake, then Minister of Home Affairs, the Government decided to celebrate the 2500 Buddha Jayanti in a manner befitting the religious and cultural significance of the occasion. A Cabinet Sub-Committee comprising Messrs. J. R. Jayewardene, M. D. Banda and C. W. W. Kannangara with Ratnayake as Chairman was appointed to make proposals on activities to be supported by the State. It was my privilege to have served as its Secretary and later to have been entrusted with the implementation of its recommendations as the [cxcix] General Secretary of the Lanka Bauddha Mandalaya (the Buddhist Council of Ceylon). The fifteen-point programme, which the Government approved, included three major long-term scholarly projects and several other activities which had a direct bearing on the promotion of Oriental Studies.
The three major projects were–
(i) The translation of the Tripiṭaka into Sinhala
(ii) The compilation of an Encyclopaedia in Sinhala, and
(iii) The compilation of an Encyclopaedia on Buddhism in English.
Among the other activities were the publication of Buddhist literary works, the organization of exhibitions of Buddhist art and sculpture and the mobilization of national efforts to usher in a religious awakening. The Lanka Bauddha Mandalaya was also requested to study the feasibility of establishing a Faculty of Buddhist Philosophy in the University, convening an International Buddhist Conference and setting up a Buddhist Library. The programme was funded by the State and its executive consisted of a section of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The direct involvement of the Government in a religious celebration and, in its wake, promoting research and literary activities created a precedent. The influence it had on the development of State sponsorship of cultural activities in the following period, was singularly important. Thus apart from the specific activities which brought most of the well-known scholars of Sri Lanka to co-operate in the three major activities, Buddha Jayanti brought the State into active partnership or even sponsorship in an area which had hitherto seen only ad hoc and specific assistance from the Government.
With the precedent of State involvement so well established, greater participation began in 1956 first by the creation of a portfolio of Cultural Affairs in the Cabinet with Mr. Jayaweera Kuruppu as Minister of Local Government and Cultural Affairs and then by establishing the Department of Cultural Affairs which was developed around the Secretariat of the Lanka Bauddha Mandalaya. The continuation of the three major literary projects [cc] was entrusted to the Department of Cultural Affairs. One of its earliest activities was to establish by Act of Parliament the Lanka Sahitya Mandalaya on the model of the Indian Sahitya Akademi for the promotion of literature. It embarked on a programme of publications which enabled some scholars to have their learned works published. Its Sahitya Conferences provided fora for literary discussions and the results they had on the promotion of literature were substantial.
The year 1959 began with a purely educational problem but ended in a manner which once again enhanced State support to Oriental Learning. With the introduction of national languages as media of instruction in 1947, the first batch of Grade XII students sitting for the University Entrance Examination in 1959 had to be found University courses in national languages. The problem was acute with regard to Sinhala students who, unlike their Tamil counterparts, were basically monolingual. A flat refusal by the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon to organize classes in Sinhala within the time frame envisaged by the Government resulted in the search for another solution. A proposal to confer University Status to Vidyodaya and Vidyalaṅkāra Pirivenas were under consideration by the Minister of Education (Dr. Wijayananda Dahanayake). At first, it was meant to be more a gesture of recognition for these two venerable seats of learning. But faced with the practical problem of providing University Education in Sinhala, the two Pirivenas were entrusted with a much larger educational task. The challenge which they encountered was indeed very great. But they were willing to try. The two Universities, which for years continued to be called Buddhist Universities, This was on account of two provisions in the Act. One referred to the promotion of Buddhist Studies as an objective of the Universities and the other stipulated that the Vice-Chancellor should be a monk. even though the official designations in the Act of Parliament called them Vidyodaya University of Ceylon and Vidyalaṅkāra University of Ceylon, had far-reaching results on the entire system of national higher education, in general, and on the promotion of Oriental Studies – specially Buddhist Studies – in particular. Within years, the University of Ceylon had begun classes in Sinhala, [cci] assigned to Buddhist Studies a measure of recognition and instituted a system of external examinations. Early years of Vidyodaya and Vidyalaṅkāra Universities were characterized by an enormous output of translated and original research papers, which appeared in a series of periodicals.
By 1965, Vidyodaya and Vidyalaṅkāra had evolved into full-fledged Universities with facilities capable of serving a wider clientele. Thus under Mr. I. M. R. A. Iriyagolle, Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs, they were drawn into a national scheme of higher education. Their role in relation to the promotion of higher education for Buddhist monks was transferred to a newly established Buddhist University with the official designation, Buddhaśrāvaka Dharmapīṭhaya.
Later reforms in higher education had an adverse effect on Oriental Studies. The progressive attrition of the intake of Arts students as a measure of checking graduate unemployment, on the one hand, and the regrouping of departments of study on grounds of cost-effectiveness, on the other hand, jointly affected Oriental learning to a point that Sanskrit studies had all but disappeared and Pali and Buddhist Studies were sustained by a handful of students, mostly Buddhist monks. On the eve of the 1980s, the future of Oriental Studies appeared very bleak.
It is, no doubt, gratifying that the situation has been recognized and diagnosed and suitable measures are afoot to arrest further decline. The promotion of Post-graduate studies in Pali and Buddhism is a step in the right direction as Sri Lanka continues to he looked upon by the whole world and specially the Buddhist countries as having the best facilities and potential for taking leadership in research and training. The Conference of Buddhist Leaders and Scholars, which met in Sri Lanka in June, 1982, made a specific request to Sri Lanka to reinforce her role in this respect. A stimulus to in-depth studies in archaeology, epigraphy and history is given by the Buddhist Cultural Triangle project, for which international support is being mobilized in co-operation with UNESCO. The development of the publishing capacity of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs provides opportunities for easier [ccii] publication of scholarly works. The acceleration of work in relation to the Sinhala Dictionary, the Tripiṭaka Translation, the Sinhala Encyclopaedia and the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism enlists more intensified co-operation among national and international scholars. A Pali and Buddhist University has been established in Colombo with the special objective of promoting the study of Pali and Buddhism. All these promise significant outcomes. But the State can only assist and support scholars and provide the best climate for them to pursue their studies in the chosen fields. The self- effacing dedication, tenacious perseverance and strictest adherence to quality of scholarship must come from the scholars.
last updated: June 2016