Professor Lakshman Perera
On 19 December2015, Professor Lakshman S. Perera’s second daughter, Kanthi Rupasinhge conveyed to me in an email with unfathomable emotions the sad news about the passing away of her father in London on 17th December. She simply wrote: “ As you had written about him in so much depth and warmth, I thought will convey this to you before the Death Notice is out. I learnt much about my father from you”.
A few years ago I came to know Prof. Lakshman S. Perera in London. Subsequently, we remained close friends over the years. Prof. Perera took an immense interest in Sinhala culture and the language from the time he was an undergraduate at Peradeniya University. He identified the Sinhala language as being influenced by the original language of the pre-Aryan population of Ceylon (Veddas).
The teaching of Sinhala language in London dated back to the beginning of the 20th Century at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) of the London University. When in 1986 university grants cut backs began to have an effect on teaching of Sinhala at the SOAS, Prof. Lakshman Perera, as a consultant, spearheaded a campaign against such a programme; set up an ad hoc committee and made representations to the Sri Lanka Government, through the University Grants Commission. That helped to convince the late President R. Premadasa to continue with the teaching of Sinhala by retaining a lecturer out of the Sri Lankan Government funds. This helped to continue with the teaching of Sinhala at the SOAS.
Lakshman S. Perera always had a dream from the time he obtained his honours degree (London External) in history, especially after he won the Hilda Obeysekera Fellowship to do research on Institutions of Ancient Ceylon from inscriptions.
Initially it proved to be hard when he had to learn the Brahmi script, in order to read inscriptions written in ancient Sinhala and Pali languages during the Colonial rule. When he became enthusiastic to arrange all published and unpublished inscriptions in chronological order to publish them in volumes, the response he received was negative. All profit-orientated publishers in Sri Lanka simply turned it down!
More and more refutation he faced, greater and greater he became tenacious to get his dream fulfilled. With each passing day his thesis was gathering dust at the Peradeniya University, while a generation of historians used it as reference material until many pages were reduced to shreds. Subsequently, it took him six years to get his thesis published, which ran into over a 1,000 pages.
During his retirement in London, Professor Perera approached the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Kandy. Its Executive Director, Prof. K.M. de Silva and Prof. Srima Kiribamune, Senior Research Fellow, identified it as a first degree study on vitally important aspects of the history of Sri Lanka and took a decision to publish his works into volumes.
The laborious task of updating the references used in the text, after 50 years, and typing of 1,500 crumbling and discoloured pages, that could not be scanned, were successfully completed and Volume 1: The Institutions of Ancient Ceylon from Inscriptions, containing 322 pages from 3rd Century BC to 830 AD bound in hard cover, published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, was released to the public in July 2001 at the Jayewardene Centre, Colombo.
It authenticated even in minute detail stories of the Mahavamsa, which had been condemned by some as myth and legend. Inscriptions identified outstanding rulers like Devanampiyatissa, Vattagamini and Dutthagami along with the latter warriors such as Senapati Nandimitta accurately.
One of the major controversial issues that popped up in recent the history of Ceylon was the Vallipuram Gold Plate in the Vadamarachchi Division of Jaffna Peninsula, beneath the foundation of an ancient structure on land that belonged to the Vishnu Temple, discovered in 1936.
Prof. Perera managed to exhibit the gradual process of centralisation of majestic power with the Maharaja at Anuradhapura, and the Rajas in the periphery, superseded by provincial administrators. The inscription recorded that in the region of Maharaja Vasaba (67-111 AD), Ameti Isigiriya was Governor of Nakadiva of Nagadipa, as Jaffna was then known. Prof. Perera concluded that sovereign power had extended to the Jaffna Peninsula, which made it a province under the Maharaja of Anuradhapura.
Volume II-Part I, described political institutions from 831 to 1016, that too was published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy in 2003 and, Volume II-Part II, Economic and Religious Institutions came out in 2005.
During his academic career, Prof. Lakshman S. Perera became the Administrative Head of four sub-departments in the Second Faculty of Arts in Colombo. In 1952,when the Faculty of Arts was shifted to the new campus in Peradeniya, he became the Professor of History of the Colombo Campus and later was elected to the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences where he served as a member of the Editorial Board of the Revised University History of Ceylon and the Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies.
In 1973, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended him to the Department of Education at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London as a Senior Consultant on Universities and Higher Education where he continued in this position until 1983. Even after his retirement from the University, he has been serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. On 15 August 1998, Professor Lakshman Susantha Perera was decorated at the convocation held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo,
Born with Bodhi Sathva qualities, Prof. Lakshman S. Perera's yearning was always to help others, which meant that the problem of others became part of his own glitches. He always helped anyone who sought his advice seeking no rewards or publicity; neither did he pursue appreciation or praise and appeared always as a simple and an unassuming individual who always treated the other person as a human being.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!
ps: The funeral will take place on the 7th of January 2016 in London .It will be a cremation and the Ashes will be later interred at the family grave at a later date. TSF