‘Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.’ – (Lord Buddha)
This was the beacon of guidance provided by our parents who gave undivided attention to us – the five daughters from the earliest age.
Appachchi as we called him was born in Ambagasdowe gedara in Ambewela at the foothills of Pattipola in the Uva Province on June 15, 1915 as the eldest son of a rice farming family. His first school was the local school in Haputalagama, a mixed school at Kudurugamuwa, now known as the ‘Kadurugamuwa Sri Jananada Maha Vidyalaya’. His academic ability was recognized by the Head Teacher when he completed primary school in three years. On the advice and guidance of Ven. Sri Gunananda Maha Thera, a close relative of his father S.M. Ukku Bandara, he was introduced to the Head of Pravachandodaya Pirivena in Molligoda, Wadduwa. Under the guidance of Labugama Lankananda Maha Thera and Maha Nayake Thera of the Kotte Chapter of the Siam Maha Nikaya, he studied in depth and graduated with distinctions in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit. I remember later in my childhood the regular visits to the Molligoda Pirivena to visit Ven Labugama Lankananda and the respect and fondness my father had for the Rev.
He commenced in-depth studies in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit and other subjects relevant to make a pandit in oriental studies, under Labugama Lankananda Mahathera and under the Maha Nayaka Thera of the Kotte Chapter of the Siam Maha Nikaya.
In 1938, following successful completion of his pirivena studies, he joined St John’s College, Panadura and Colombo University where he obtained his BA degree in 1949. During this period he started writing regularly to Dinamina and Silumina earning a name for himself and recognition as a scholar. He became a regular contributor to the periodicals and scholarly articles, and his critical analysis of the Sinhala literature to many Sinhala papers and journals were gaining popularity.
On February 19, 1951 he married my mother Nalini Ratnayake, the eldest daughter of Senator A. Ratnayake, member of the first Parliament after independence and the Minister of Home Affairs who became the last President of the Senate, and Mrs. Amawathie Andarawewa Ratnayake in Kandy. They settled in Lake Crescent, Colombo where together they raised and educated five daughters and spent the next forty-six years together.
In October 1954, he obtained his Master’s Degree and received the Doctor of Philosophy at the Convocation held in Peradeniya on November 4th,1960.
His passion for education and Sinhala literature resulted in him taking an active role in remodelling the Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara Pirivena universities in the early sixties and he was appointed as an Associated Professor in Sinhala at Vidyalankara that became the Kelaniya University.
In 1975, the Minister of Cultural Affairs, T.B.Tennakoon entrusted him with the reins of the Sinhala Dictionary office where he worked until he retired in 1996. He became the editor-in-chief of the Sinhala Dictionary in 1988. It was during his tenure as the Editor-in-Chief of the Sinhala Dictionary that he managed to complete the dictionary and publish the completed volumes.
In 1975, he was selected by the Netherlands Government for a one year fellowship in Lexicography in the University of Amsterdam. This was followed by a British Council Fellowship to the University of London and Oxford. This was his first foreign travel and I remember my mother teaching him the basics in cooking, including making tea. Later his culinary ability was exceptional. I had the privilege of accompanying amma for three months to Nederland and the UK in 1975. My memories and nostalgia of the visit to London still remain vivid.
In 1984, he was awarded the Cordell Fellowship to proceed with in-depth studies in Lexicography at the University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, USA.
When he joined the Sinhala Dictionary office, the dictionary was stagnating at 702 words explained in 905 pages in print which commenced in 1927. I remember vividly his commitment and dedication to the completion of the dictionary. He visited the office during weekends, Poya and public holidays to work in the office. On many occasions I would accompany him to the office to do my homework.
As the editor-in-chief he succeeded in publishing approximately 116,600 words in a total of 6595 pages bound into several volumes, the height of which stacked together was more than the height of an average human. Following the successful completion in 1991, a week long Lexicography conference was organized which internationally recognized lexicography academics and professors from Amsterdam, USA, UK, India and Burma attended.
There are a large number of publications to his credit. Sannasgala Sadu Cheriyawa (1947), Sinhala Sandesha Sahithyaya (1949), Kav Silumina Sahitya (1949), Kavyasekaraya (1953), Sanga Sarana (1954), Dalada Pujavilliya (1954), Sadharmalankaraya, Soragunu Devala Puwatha (1973), Sinhalese Vocable of Dutch Origin (1976), Sinhala Supa Sastharaya (1989) are a few of the famous books published by my father.
The Sinhala Sahitya Vansaya is the most acclaimed of his literary works, an up-to-date critical literature review from the inception of the Sinhala literature (437-1058 AD), the first chapter of which was published by Lake House in the year 1961. In 1990, he attempted to publish a revised edition of “Sinhala Sahithya Wansaya” but did not have funds to support the publication. The revised edition was finally printed on June 15, 1994 after obtaining a grant from the Government. In this edition he has emphasised the power of the human resources in the country. In 2009, a posthumous edition was published by S. Godage & Sons.
He believed that the basis of a successful generation is by its knowledge of literature together with Theravada Buddhism. He advanced the opportunities to study Sinhala literature in depth. This coupled with his indomitable will to give future generations an exposure of Sinhala literature resulted in the mammoth task of completing the Sinhala Dictionary and the publication of the Sinhala Sahithya Wansaya.
He passed away peacefully after a brief illness on March 22, 1997 surrounded by Amma and his beloved daughters at Durdans Hospital in Colombo.
We still sadly miss you Appachchi and Amma and not a day goes by when we do not think of you. We cherish the memories, the wisdom and guidance given to us to believe that strength comes not from physical capacity but from mind, courage, compassion and simplicity.
May you attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!
Dr Thushani Sannasgala Wickramaratne