21 July, 2024


The Oldest ‘Modern’ May Go Primitive!

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

The Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka is set to elect its next president on Saturday 28th of March 2015. The Annual Report of the Council of the RASSL for 2014 and 170th year informs the membership of the society that Dr. Hema Goonatilake wife of the Present President Dr. Susantha Goonatilake wishes to succeed her eminent spouse as President of the Society. Dr.Hema Goonatilake is currently a Vice President of the Society and doubles as the Honorary Editor. The contender, challenger and the only alternative is Dr.W.M.K Wijetunge former Associate Professor of History University of Sri Jayawardenapura who had served as a Vice President before .

There is something quaintly charming about a Mom & Pop business undertaking. Before Keels and Cargills drove them in to extinction the ‘Game Kade’ run by the ‘Mudalai’ and ‘Hamine’ was an accepted social, cultural and commercial institution. This has been immortalized by Ajantha Ranasinghe’s lyrics of the song ‘Game Kopi Kade Denna Depaththey” that depicts the delightful languor of our rural land scape. What is delightful may not always be decorous or dignified.

the council of the RASSL  of 1970The Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka [RASSL] has arrived at a unique cross road in its 170 year history. The RASSL can and should be rescued and made in to a forum that voices varying strands of intellectual authority. For too long it has been held hostage by intellectual eccentrics. Contrived history and trivialized methods of inquiry have been the hall mark of its activities in its immediate past. The RASSL has through the years been a microcosm of the nation’s intelligentsia. When sensible people do nothing or remain indifferent to achieving something better no progress can be made. The elections for office bearers due on Saturday next is a window of opportunity. The nomination of the wife of the outgoing President is to continue the status quo of dealing with the surface and encouraging the levelers and popularizers of arid personal obsessions.

On the other hand the Challenger is not the dynamic young helmsman that is needed. But he represents the only sane alternative that promises discovery and creativity in its pursuits taking it upwards and forwards.

The Royal Asiatic Society was founded in 1823 by the eminent Sanskrit scholar Sir Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765-1837)

The Sri Lanka branch of the Society was founded in 1845 as the Asiatic Society of Ceylon. It was affiliated to the RAS of Great Britain and Ireland as the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1972 in keeping with Sri Lankas constitutional evolution it became the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka [RAS SL]

The RASSL describes itself as the oldest ‘modern’ academic organization in Sri Lanka.

The mission statement of the RASSL under the tutelage of Dr. Susantha Goonetilake Engineer by training, Sociologist by academic pursuit and autodidactic historian, archeologist, political scientist, musicologist and anthropologist declares that RASSL promotes “inquiries in to the history, religions, and languages, literature, arts, sciences and social conditions of the present and former peoples of Sri Lanka and connected culture.”

This is in sharp contrast to the pristine RAS of the United Kingdom and Ireland confines itself to the modest purpose of providing a “forum for those who are interested in the history, languages, cultures and religions of Asia to meet and exchange ideas. It offers lectures and seminars and it provides facilities for research and publishing.”

The principal activities of the Society have been the following.

Administration of its treasured Library: The Library contains books and journals on a wide variety of subjects concerning Sri Lanka and Asia. It calls for urgent measures to leverage its resources to provide digital and print information and facilitate the creation of new knowledge. Above all it should create the environment that inspires learning, reflection and collaboration. Today the Library of the RASSL is a practical workshop that trains its members to find books in ‘books stacks’ It has no professional librarian.

Publications: In past times under the directions of eminent scholars such as Paul E Pieris, Profesor G.P. Malalasekera, Karl Gunawardene and Dr. C. E.Godakumbure the society had an active publications program.

The Journal of the Society: The RASSL Journal has been published from its inception and is expected to enjoy an international reputation as an academic encyclical of our island nation. The present day product does not contain any original or in-depth scholarly explorations. Today contributors are selected on the basis of their personal allegiance to the supreme lawgiver of the outfit.

Lectures and Symposia: RASSL is expected to conduct a monthly lecture series aimed at maintaining a high degree of intellectual vibrancy among its members. It is also expected to conduct Symposia at regular intervals in order to mirror the interests of the society and its discerning membership. In recent years hardy an event has generated interest and attendance of more than twenty participants. The Annual Research Symposium has been reduced to a public relations ritual devoid of even the semblance of a scholarly content.

The RASSL has in recent years withdrawn in to a self-imposed exile and cut off its links with other branches of the RAS in Asia.

The fraternal societies with which RASSL could collaborate actively are the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, The Asiatic Society of Bombay, The Madras Literary Society and Auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society, and the Malaysian branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. RASSL has immense potential in promoting regional ties with its fraternal counterparts. Fraternal relations are more than receiving and dispatching routine mail.

Will the discerning membership of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka opt for Marie Antoinette in place of the outgoing Bourbon?

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Susantha goonetilleka and his wife are one of the most controversial and harmful couples in the academic world . Recently he circulated a email titled “ an Asian clown in London” which showed President Maithripala Sirisena and his wife visiting various VIPs in London including the queen. Susantha tried to show that Mrs Sirisena’s courtesy to the Queen was not what the regulations required ! Not only are the Goonetilleka’s virulently racist they are also contemptuous of those like MS who may not have had the exploitative opportunities that the they have enjoyed in foreign universities. But as always the case with such people the Son of the Goonetilleka’s lives and works in London !

    I have heard him condemn [Edited out] But since MS is a mild man Goonetilleka openly ridicules him. Everybody knows about the Goonetilleka connection to the DJV death squads in the 1980s. How the hell did such people get their grubby old hands on a respected organization like the Royal Asiatic ? It is a tragedy and a supreme insult to its membership of decent and true academics.

  • 4

    What dismal reading. One cannot but help in thinking that the concept of personal fiefdom lives and breathes strongly in our Lanka. Whether in politics, in sport and academia, we have nearly perfected the practice of keep it in the family. The thought of silverfish salivating at the prospect of of such a smorgasbord in the library brings tears to my eyes.

    The ‘Royal’ has been a misnomer all along; there is nothing ‘Royal’ about this institution anymore.

  • 3

    Thanks Mr Alwis and Ms. Fernando for exposing this pair of charlatans. To the understand the depths to which they have brought the this once respectable scholarly body can be gauged by reading the articles they have published in the journal.The triviality of these contributions is beyond belief and is perhaps an index of the decline of scholarship in certain quarters in Sri Lanka.
    Ms. Fernando: What is this about DJV death squads?

    I hope the voting members take the option and put Prof. Wijetunge in charge to clean up the once respectable society and save it from being a forum for benighted chauvinism.

  • 0

    This article and comments look suspiciously like trying to garner support for an internal election of officers of this society. I have never heard of this ‘Royal’ organisation – am surprised that CT allowed publication of this nonsense.

    • 2

      Siva Mahendran

      The Royal organisation has been around for more than 170 years. If you haven’t heard of this institution it only shows your ignorance.

  • 0


    Thank you for exposing Susantha.

    These are social climbers.Racism is their vehicle.He graduated in Electrical Engineering from the University of Ceylon and then became a Sociologist.In the the 70s he edited a mag of the Peoples Bank. He even went to the extent of calling Prof:Thurairajah- his senior a Tiger.

    Royal Asiatic Society for these folks?

  • 0

    I am always so surprised as to how articles and comments on Colombo Telegraph are so personal in their attacks. Anyone seems to be able to say anything under the cover of anonymity. In most counties such comments would be subject to libel law suits.

    • 0

      Thushara Weerasena:
      On general principles I agree with you:personal attacks are not the way to carry on intellectual debates.However,when individuals become public intellectuals and get involved with hallowed institutions and want to keep it in the family by one means or another they are fair game. Don’t you think?

  • 0

    I have been reading this comments thread with interest. The problem with this publication is that you can say anything because unlike most mainstream online publications, you do not need to login via your Facebook or LinkedIn account to make comments. The problem with this is that you can say pretty much anything without any recourse.

    I challenge stanislaus, The Owl of Minerva and Manjula Fernando to use this comments section to (1) post their LinkedIn or Facebook profile OR (2) post any other personal identification material, so that they can stand behind their comments. [Edited out]

    • 1

      Joe Pillai

      Calm down and take it easy.

      This the only forum where we can take out our own frustrations on others. Its not only good fun but also therapeutic. You don’t know what you are missing. We want to be cool and and seen to be cool.

      You are welcome to join us on a regular basis and get used to the idea of what Voltaire said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” or what CP Scott “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”.

  • 3

    It is so funny that two persons with tamilian names Joe Pillai and Siva Mahendran are charging forward to defend the infamous Goonetilleka couple . Do they know him at all ? He is so race biased and virulent against them. Please dont become sanctimonious we know the true nature of this couple.

  • 1

    If Sarath Siva intention is indeed to safeguard the Royal Asiatic Society and not mud slinging, he should present the resumes’s of the two Goonetilakes and the other candidates to see who are better suited to run the Society.

    One way of independently verifying qualifications and academic contributions is simply to google the name. Both Goonatilekes Google profiles show related qualifications to contribute to this society

    Strangely Sarath De Silva and Manoj Fernando when you google – nothing of significance comes up.
    For Sarath De Silva and Manoj Fernando to be so critical why not post your Cv or LinkedIn profiles. I

    Sarath Silva also says the Society is basically dead and the blame goes to Susantha Goonatilake. Why not present the status of the society before Susantha Goonatilake took over (in terms of events, publications etc) and compare them during the tenure of Susantha Goonatilleke

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