5 October, 2023


What The University Of Ceylon, Peradeniya Taught Me

By Tissa Jayatilaka

Tissa Jayatilaka

Tissa Jayatilaka

Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Firstly my thanks to  Prof. Savitri Kumar, President, and to her colleagues on the committee of the Alumni Association of the University of Peradeniya (AAUP) for inviting my wife Lilani and me to join you on the occasion of the 25th Annual General Meeting of the AAUP.

Lilani and I consider our years spent in ‘Peradeniya’ ( I refer here to the institution as much as to its ambience) among the most enriching and enjoyable of our lives to-date. Each time we return to these idyllic surroundings, we re-live our warm and fond memories of times spent by the banks of the Mahaweli. We both were not only students here but had the good fortune to also be attached to the academic staff for a while. As I face the audience before me today, I recognize many a familiar face and my mind’s eye instantly transports me to certain shared pleasures of ‘time past’. And I know that these memories will continue to sustain me through good times and bad, as they have done in the past, until the end of my days.

I thought long and hard about what I should say this morning. At first I thought of taking a retrospective critical look at how our university came into being, how it evolved, and changed over the decades. At a gathering of the kind we are at today, I felt that such a philosophical contemplation may be out of place if not inappropriate. That I might, if I went down that road, spoil the collective mood and dampen spirits. In any event 20 to 30 minutes that I have at my disposal this morning will not suffice for me to do justice to an undertaking of the kind I initially had in mind. Hence after a degree of soul searching, I decided to spend the next several minutes sharing with you some of my significant recollections associated with this great institution that is our alma mater which, borrowing the words of W.B. Yeats, Ashley Halpe’  has most aptly referred to as that ‘dear, perpetual place. . .’ In the process of sharing my recollections, I thought I should reflect on how the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya (as it was known in my time) refined and reinforced my worldview and outlook on life, the values it inculcated in me, and how all of these impacted on my life and career to-date. Without taking anything away from Peradeniya, in fairness, I need to note here that my parents and family and my school laid the foundation on which the University of Ceylon subsequently built.

My father, a post master by profession, was transferred to Kandy and we moved in as a family there in 1960. I attended Kingswood College and from my earliest days there dreamed of entering the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. No other university either in Ceylon or elsewhere in the world mattered or entered my thoughts. I can yet vividly recall how excited I got whenever I boarded the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) ‘University’ bound bus to travel to and fro between Kingswood and our then home in Katukelle, on Peradeniya Road, right next to Girls’ High School. For that brief period of the bus journey, I let my imagination run riot and pretended to myself that I was one of the undergraduate occupants of the bus.

In the 1960s, I also recall noticing established university academics driving past Kingswood. Oddly enough, I even yet remember the numbers of their motor cars!  Doric de Souza’s black Volkswagon Beetle bore the number  1 Sri 1014; Ian Goonetileke’s grey-green Beetle EN 1288; Merlin Peris’s light green Skoda 1 Sri 5045 and Thiru Kandiah’s black Beetle 5 Sri 747. We knew of these personalities by reputation or because they were ‘ Varsity contemporaries of older relatives or of our school teachers. Some of them, at the behest of certain of our teachers, came to our Sixth Form (University Entrance Form) Union at Kingswood and gave talks. I recall Fr. Pinto holding forth on ‘The Fallacies of Marxism’ and Gerry Peiris, a fellow product, together with K.M. de Silva, of Kingswood, explaining to us the proposed Mahaweli River Diversion Project as it was first envisaged in the 1960s. One way or the other we knew of these Peradeniya academics and we looked up to them. We youngsters of that era were awe struck by these university dons, in the same way perhaps today’s youngsters are by film stars, national cricketers or politicians!

From the earliest days while nursing dreams of going through the portals of Peradeniya’s ‘green and pleasant’ seat of learning, I wanted my sojourn there to be memorable. I wanted to meet and interact with intelligent and inspiring men and women with vision. My desire was not to spend four years merely acquiring book knowledge but to get to know the fundamentals of existence. I also yearned to be taught by Peradeniya’s learned men and women (especially the legendary eccentrics amongst them) about whom the stories I had heard from those of my family elders, teachers and friends who preceded me at Peradeniya were legion. I had been told that a university was a place where mind meets mind and wondered whether this was really the case.

As is evident from the foregoing, my expectations of Peradeniya were great. And, am delighted to say that, on the whole, Peradeniya lived up to them. Virtually all of my teachers and other academics there in my time were exceptional men and women. We truly sat at the feet of giants. Being an excellent residential university, Peradeniya afforded us easy access to the institution as a whole.  Thus the giants at whose feet we sat were teachers from all the Faculties of the university. We attended ‘P4’(Thursdays) classical music evenings at the Medical Faculty where Valentine ‘Bas’ Basnayake, Mark Amerasinghe, Senaka Bibile, Rienzil ‘Bandi’ Piyasena et al did the honours; ‘Pop Science Gossip’ talks here at the Faculty of Science which drew on speakers from the entire university and where ‘Gossip’, popular or otherwise, was not limited solely to ‘Science’. I listened at these varied and enlightened ‘Gossip’ sessions to ‘Chubby’ Arseculeratne, Raja Bandaranaike, Osmund Jayaratne,  V. Appapillai, M.U.S. Sultanbawa, Reggie Appadurai, M.Maheswaran, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Ashley Halpe’,  among others; and then there were those special guest lectures  of interest at the Arts Theatre.

In the course of my undergraduate career and in the years later when I taught in the English Department, I had the great good fortune to be guided by such venerable figures as ‘Cuthy’ (Professor of Classics and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Cuthbert Amarasinghe) who revealed to us the world of Homer and Virgil and that of the Greek tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. One of his children, the late Preshantha, a contemporary of mine, was a brilliant product of the Department of Zoology here; ‘Mathy’ (Miss. K. Mathiyaparanam), the legendary Warden of Hilda Obeyesekere Hall, ‘Walled-off-Astoria to some of us, and later, when it became a women’s Hall of Residence, of Wijewardena Hall, was head of the Department of Philosophy and one of the kindest of my teachers; ‘Labby’(W.J.F. LaBrooy of the History Department) who at the request of Ashley Halpe’ gave us background lectures in ‘Victorian’ History to help us understand ‘Victorian Literature’ better by enabling us to situate it against its socio-politico-economic context. Incidentally, pardon me for this idiosyncrasy, but I do also remember the number of Labby’s beige Austin Cambridge which he and his wife, the then Principal of Girls’ High School, one of the earliest lady drivers of our time, owned – – 1 Sri 7914. And I also recall how ‘Labby’ clad in his light brown tussore suit used to doff his brown felt hat, in keeping with the manners and mores of his generation,  on each occasion he happened to pass on Galaha Road three of my lady contemporaries who read History, Corinne Baptist, Michele Berenger and Pat Miranda; Hilary Crusz, (Professor of Zoology), who I well remember talking to me of the great goodness of Saints Augustine and Aquinas and their invaluable contributions to knowledge on numerous evenings, over arrack and beer, at his ‘Augusta Hill’ home.  Hilary Crusz, a student of Latin and Greek and the Classics at school switched to Science on entering university (as did Ashley Halpe’ from Medicine to Arts). I learnt from my fellow-students who read Zoology that Hilary Crusz,   not infrequently, used to begin his lectures with a quote from Saints Augustine or Aquinas, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Swinburne, or Hopkins. I have with me yet a duly inscribed paper Prof. Crusz had written on those great German Men of Letters, Goethe and Schiller, that he gave me many moons ago; Ian Goonetileke, friend and mentor, the gifted and brilliantly well-read  Librarian of the University and bibliographer par excellence; ‘Dental’ Dissa (S.B. Dissanayake) , the debonair and versatile Professor of Dental Science; ‘Carl’ Goonewardena, the historian, specialist on  the Dutch period of Ceylon; Merlin  Peris( Department of Western Classics)  who guided me magically through the mysteries of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Greek and Roman History; Ashley Halpe’, Ranjini Obeyesekere, Yasmin Gooneratne,  Kamal de Abrew, Thiru Kandiah, Sarath Wickramasuriya and Derek de Silva who taught me much that I know of English Literature. Others like ‘Tawney’ Rajaratnam, George Kodituwakku,  Shelton Kodikara, ‘Pep’ Jayasena, ‘German/Lobby’ Kanapathypillai, M. Maheswaran, ‘Breck’ Breckenridge, ‘Botany Bala’ Balasubramaniam,  Sivalingam Mahalingam,  T.Sooriamoorthy, Rex Clements and Noble Jayasuriya and the following gentlemen from ‘the other side of the river’ in the Faculty of Engineering, S. Mahalingam, A. Thurairajah, ‘Batho’ Bartholemeusz,  S.Sivasegeram, ‘Gunda’ Gunawardena,  N.B.(‘Rambuks’) Rambukwella, Ranjith Galappatti, Sanath Ranatunga, Kosala Gunetilleke,  among others, made my years at Peradeniya exceedingly rich  and unforgettable. Vijay Kumar, here with us in the audience today, was my Warden at Arunachalam Hall in my final year and I recall many an interesting encounter with him. In E.O. E Pereira, I happen to think, we had the last of our gentleman Vice Chancellors who was more successful than most at keeping interfering politicians at bay. He was thus able to administer the university with great acceptance.

Most, referred to above, are dead and gone; a majority of those left are in the twilight of their lives. I know, as I speak, that Ashley Halpe’ is fighting the indignities that life and age force upon us and I wish him the speediest of possible recoveries. I wish to take this opportunity to remember all of my teachers and other guides, philosophers and friends with gratitude and respect, and thank them again for their role in making me who I am. Needless to say, I, not they, am solely responsible for such shortcomings as I yet possess.

What did the University of Ceylon and my teachers do for me? In a nutshell, they taught me to be true to myself. From this has arisen whatever other qualities of mind and heart that I possess. Let me share with you these latter as briefly as I can in the few minutes left.  In the process of teaching me to be myself, they also guided me to realize:

  • that race is a myth and that there are only two kinds of people on earth: human beings and

inhuman beings. That we may speak different languages and belong to different religious groups but that deep down all of us are human beings struggling to make sense of our existence;

  • that a majority of people is not always right and a minority of them not always wrong. And that I should not  be afraid to belong even to a minority of one should ever my convictions lead me there;
  • that I should strive hard to take care of the vulnerable and marginalized segments of humanity wherever in the world I may be;
  • That I should listen to diverse points of view, consider them on their merits, and work out my own position on any given issue diligently.
  • That I should take care not to be swamped either by the popular view or the dominant one if neither accords with mine. I was taught that succumbing to cheap popularity is as awful as jumping on any bandwagon for shallow gain;
  • that once I had carefully worked out my own position on any subject, I should speak my truth calmly,  fearlessly and call a spade a spade no matter who he or she may be or what position that person may hold;
  • that I must always be a good listener and that whenever I disagree I should take care not to be disagreeable.

Over the years, I have done by best not to let either my teachers or my university down. Peradeniya and the education I received here, both in and out of the classroom, have equipped me to hold my own wherever in the world I have had the opportunity to go. The University of Peradeniya( as it is known today) is certainly different from the institution I encountered and benefited from over four decades ago.  Sadly, change and decay are part and parcel of life and no individual or institution is immune from this reality. But, there yet is so much to be grateful for as no one can take away from us what we learnt and took away from here. I shall hold on to all that I was taught and learnt here throughout the changing scenes of life. As that memorable line from the Sinhala Vadan Kaviya I learnt as a child reminds us: ugatha mana shilpayamai mathu rekena.  I wish to end now with a few lines from one of my favourite poems of Wordsworth which echoes perfectly my present sentiments:

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever be taken from our sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of  splendour in the grass, or glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind;

In the primal sympathy

Which having been must ever be;

In the soothing thoughts that spring

Out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.


I thank you.

*Based on comments made as Chief Guest at the 25th Annual General meeting of the University of Peradeniya [AAUP] on Sunday, 23 March, 2014, at The Chemistry Theatre, Faculty of Science, University Park, Peradeniya

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Many thanks for publishing this. Just looking at the great names he lists takes my mind straight back to Galaha Road.

    “E.O. E Pereira, […] more successful than most at keeping interfering politicians at bay.”

    How true! Sometime before EOE was Jennings as VC (my parents’ time) and a few after came Panditharathna (my time). Need one plot a graph to see when the transition occurred?

    • 4

      Dear Tissa Jayatilaka,

      “As is evident from the foregoing, my expectations of Peradeniya were great. And, am delighted to say that, on the whole, Peradeniya lived up to them. Virtually all of my teachers and other academics there in my time were exceptional men and women. We truly sat at the feet of giants. Being an excellent residential university, Peradeniya afforded us easy access to the institution as a whole. Thus the giants at whose feet we sat were teachers from all the Faculties of the university”

      Thank you for sharing your memories of Peradeniya. Many teenage students who entered the salubrious surroundings with most of their ideals, lives and carriers in front of them, left as young men with most of their ideals and life still ahead of them.

      We all need to thank the committee of the Alumni Association of the University of Peradeniya (AAUP) for those efforts in trying keep the ideals of a University alive and going.

      The University was started with great hopes for a young nation, in the European University tradition, to mold the young nation, where the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and other Paras( per native Veddah terminology) can interact and form a civilized and egalitarian society. It could have been a mini-America, or a mid-size Singapore. Unfortunately, you all know the rest of the story and the resulting chaos created by the Para-Sinhala and Para-Tamil, in the scared land of the Native Vedda.

      Peradeniya was the closest Sri Lanka ever came to as an egalitarian society, before the the so-called egalitarian socialists, LSSP and the Communist Party, sold out to the Monk Mahanama “Buddhists” and “Sinhala Buddhist” racists. You all know the rest of the story.

      However, for all those lucky students who were able to enjoy the salubrious surrounding of Peradeniya as equal citizens, get a good and decent education with the ability for critical thinking, sharing each other’s ethnicity, culture. religion and traditions, and respecting for whatever is, despite all the myths, it was the closest Sri Lanka came to as a civilized society. Sri Lanka could have built a nation out of this by expanding on these ideals.

      Unfortunately, the Sinhala “Buddhist” racism of the Monk Mahanama Mindset set in, and it also infected the university and the academic staff.

      Monk Mahanama, an agent of Mara, this is what your lies in Mahawanse has done to the land of Native Veddah and destroy a potential country. May you continue to suffer in “Apaya”, Buddhist Hell, without neong reborn, for your crimes of lying and distorting Buddha’s teaching for ever and ever with Mara.

      Reference and Notes:

      How can one forget a great “pacha” Scholar, lying scholar, like Monk Mahanama and his imaginations.

      His work, Mahawansa is an insult to Buddhism and is a Tissue of Absurdities according to leading scholars.

      Mahavamsa- An Insult To The Buddha!



      • 4

        Dear Tissa Jayatillaka,

        In the European University Tradition, here is some pertinent reference to monk Mahanama and the current agony the county is facing. The country needs to move beyond the Mahanama Monk imaginations written in Pali, just like the Tipitaka and move on. Europe moved on to to the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.


        From Barbaric Buddhism to Civilized Buddhism
        By J.L. Devananda, Sri Lanka Guardian, March 10, 2010

        Colombo, Sri Lanka — The Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, better known as Sinhala-Buddhism (or Mahavamsa-Buddhism) is different from the Theravada Buddhism practiced in other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and so on.

        Mahavamsa- An Insult To The Buddha!

    • 4

      Tissa Jayatillaka,

      Well summarized by you below as to what you learned at Peradeniya.

      “fearlessly and call a spade a spade no matter who he or she may be or what position that person may hold;”

      1. that race is a myth and that there are only two kinds of people on earth: human beings and inhuman beings. That we may speak different languages and belong to different religious groups but that deep down all of us are human beings struggling to make sense of our existence;

      2. that a majority of people is not always right and a minority of them not always wrong.*(yes, revisit Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler)

      3. That I should take care not to be swamped either by the popular view or the dominant one if neither accords with mine. I was taught that succumbing to cheap popularity is as awful as jumping on any bandwagon for shallow gain;

      4. that once I had carefully worked out my own position on any subject, I should speak my truth calmly, fearlessly and call a spade a spade no matter who he or she may be or what position that person may hold;

      5.that I must always be a good listener and that whenever I disagree I should take care not to be disagreeable.

      Tissa, very good. You have learned well , and got a good education at Peradeniya.

      • 3

        Agree with you Amarasiri, but I must say credit must go also to that school Kingswood which was perhaps the most egalitarian of all schools in inculcating egalitarian values that you speak of.

  • 9

    Oh, the most beautiful campus in the world!

    Murukku from the North and Jak curry from the South shared in the balconies and rooms in residential halls!!

    Mathy’s student Kusuma(”social worker”) gave us a glimpse into how Philosophy enriched Sociology !!!

    Oh, the Vice-Chancellor addressed the freshers in 1965 only in Sinhala!!!!

    Oh, *Papa(Botany)!!!!!

    *Prof Abeywickrema – the gentlest soul one could ever meet.

    Our Zoology demonstrators, Anil and Avril – Zoology special students deeply in love with each other … Anil met with a nasty accident in the final year and lost a part of his memory. In 2010 I happened to meet a lady in a train and started talking ….. ended up learning how Avril has been taking great care of Anil.

    old memories, … a peculiar wrenching of the heart

    Tisaa, thank you for this piece, esp:
    ”that once I had carefully worked out my own position on any subject, I should speak my truth calmly, fearlessly and call a spade a spade no matter who he or she may be or what position that person may hold”

    • 0

      but still that is a part of sinhala nation.

  • 6

    Thank you for this delightful piece on Peradeniya of halcyon days. I too was there during this time though I did not know Tissa. These were the days when great men and women taught at our universities. Their products, driven away by events to other lands, excelled in other universities, becoming academic leaders of their chosen fields.

    But, the storms were coming. No one reflected it more than Professor Cuthbert Amerasinghe. He had no students to teach Greek and Latin to. His department taught Western Classics in Sinhalese and he was a man who could not have spoken it well. The divisions that ran in the society came into Peradeniya with the swabasha medium coming in. The sciences and the engineering faculties escaped this to some extent but not the Arts Faculty. The Tamil boys and the Sinhalese boys did not have a common language to speak to each other. There were lecturers who made use of the situation, driving out those who could not teach in the swabasha. Mediocrity set in slowly with the swabasha guys moving into Pali,Sanskrit and Sinhalese for their arts degree. They knew that their parents were selling their farms for no good purpose and that the best they could get were teaching jobs in village schools.

    This perfidy was multiplied. When Gopallawa’s son could not get into university, they opened up the Colombo Arts Faculty at the Race Course. Soon to be known as the Ashwa Vidyalaya, it really stood in contrast to Peradeniya and was a place where the young were cheated out of an education. I was able to get a teaching position there. Since I spoke Sinhalese well and was doing some social work in finding accommodation in Colombo for boys coming from distant areas, I knew some of the Sinhalese and Tamil boys. Came the JVP uprising and its suppression. Some of the Sinhalese boys did not return when the university reopened. Their haunting faces, more so those of their parents who came in search of them, still appear before me. More than the Tamils killed in droves, it is for them I feel most for I knew them well.

    What a tragedy it is that the youth of Sri Lanka are so cheated and inculcated with hatred, told that there is no education beyond Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhalese or taught Mila Niyaya through a text book of 200 pages. This tragedy is what has led to the rule of the Rajapox family, which has ridden on the hatred sown by successive politicians who have cheated the rural youth, while their inept young flaunt their corruptly acquired wealth and power.

    It is left for us to yearn for the days at Peradeniya. What a beginning we had. It was a great university. The ones in the country will not even rank anywhere above the 3000th judging by the type of people who teach their. A cursory glance at their degrees on the website is revealing. Even Vice Chancellors would not have made the grade as lecturers of the old days. Facile est descensus averno. Easy is the descent to hell.

  • 7

    Peradeniya made a very much homely boy into a man attuned to the world. It was a microcosm of the world I had to transit to. Thank you Peradeniya.

    This speech evoked strong emotions in me. Prof. Kangasabapathy of the math department , who I had the fortune to know and associate, though a very unassuming and quiet man, inspired many of us to do things that we could not have imagined. I remember him picking me up at 8pm from Jayatilleke hall to meet Prof. E.O.E. Pereira at the Lodge about some issues that confronted the campus Murugan temple. Instead of him talking, he made me talk to that great VC. It was an experience that has stood me in good stead. There are others like Prof.S.T. Fernando , the born parasitologist who on seeing a big bundle of long worms in a chicken at postmortem, proclaimed, ” Beautiful !”, to our astonishment and through that one word got Into our hearts, There were many such men and women at Peradeniya in my time in all faculties . There were also fellow students who had the promise of greatness in them.I remember the day in which all students, irrespective if their identity labels joined together to welcome the statues to be installed in the newly built Murugan temple. Those were the days!

    Peradeniya was what a university should be!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendrab

    • 6

      This was when ?

      To my days late 80ties, I have left all my belongings in the hostel to escape my life. They reopened and closed the university back and forth. There only, I planned to leave the country for continuation of my education. Unfortunately, I really dont have good memories at Pera looking back. Perhaps, I enjoyed myself little being together with all walks of students. Got to know how diverse of our thoughts and minds have been even if we are from the same country.

      • 5

        .i am referring the latter half of the 1960s. The degeneration started in the late sixties and accelerated thereafter.. A great institution has been brought to its knees as a result.


        • 4

          DRN@Thanks for your prompt response. I got all these details from my cousins too. Two of them completed their basic degrees at Pera in late 60ties, one had been an unique prof worked for Monash and then to an american Uni since early 70ties.

        • 1

          How was the ragging during your times at Pera. In late 80ties it was like so brutal – seniors regardless of the gender behaved as if they are today´s white van activists handled by Gotabaya Rajapakshe. To that time, they not even 3 rd batchas in their undergraduate courses. Today in Europe, even if you are a post doc (life science), you still feel obtained qualifications are not good enough

          • 3

            Ragging was decent. when I entered Peradeniya as a fresh. As Veterinary students we were made to salute every dig we came across on the streets. We were also made to chase after crows and try to catch them. The seniors also made us propose to school girls crossing the hanging bridge within the botanical gardens.

            The clash with the soldiers who were temporarily barracked within the campus over an incident where some soldiers tried to be ‘ fresh’ with the girls and the water bag attack on the train carrying school boy cadets to Diyatalawa by residents of Wijewardene hall also took place in our time. The foolish decision of the authorities in response to this decision was to convert Wijewardene hall into a girls hall. In another incident at Wijewardene hall an administrative officer who was appointed VC ( M.J. Perera ? ) was surrounded by students and given knocks on the head, while being called Modaya. The most hilarious incident I remember was when during a strike initiated by the Arts Faculty, a dog was taken in procession to represent the Faculty of a Veterinary Science, which declined to participate in the strike, along with the medical faculty.


            • 0

              late 60ties to late 80ties, within that two decades, lanken society should have changed towards all brutalities. Gap between the middle class and the poor should have widened. I believe, it is mixture of jelousy,hatred,enviousness and the like worked against brutal forms of ragging. We the boys were made naked on their commands and asked us to jump on our knees being in sand – can you imagine ? some could not even walk well after facing such brutal acts, they were exempted from their following day schedules. There were batchas whose knees looked as if it was made in a slaughtering house. Such blood oosing wounds perpetrators (senior students)resounded as symbols of being belonged to a single family. I still remember there were batchas that left the universities forever being unable to face it. My parents are from beyond bentara river, so rag events applied on me were multiple times cruel than others got.

      • 5

        In the campus my cousin just escaped a mob of fellow students (”Cyril Mathew phenomenon”) in May 1983 though some others were not so fortunate. It took him a few years to recover his psychological health to a reasonable level.

        • 3

          This is true. Those who remember an idyllic Peradeniya, belonged to a group studying in English, from good schools and having hopes of a good future. There were other people who were different, came from rural areas of the North and the South, unable to speak English and with a bitterness that they were missing out on education. It was a sad situation. The campus was getting split into many groups. The only zoology I learnt was Sarachandra’s glorification of fornication between a lion and a woman which gave rise to the Sinhala race. Good music and songs but it catered to racial myths. The teachers themselves were either rewriting history and religion or glorifying what separated people from each other. Nakedly communal history and geography came to be taught. If the students were divided, so were the staff. Communalism had begun to raise its head. A campus which had the LSSP, the communist and the occasional foolish buthgotta (as the UNP guys were called) suddenly had the Mahajana Eksath Party screaming filth at the Tamil students at every election time. We must temper the situation of Peradeniya with the reality that under the romance it evoked, there was considerable ugliness going on.. The rot had begun quite early in the sixties. After that the decline was rapid. I remember being involved in inquiries into charges of corruption against two wardens. As much as Miss Mathiaparanam was much loved warden of Hilda protecting the virginity of her charges so assiduously, others were pilfering even rice from storage. We must not forget that the seeds of change to the worse were sown early.

  • 6

    It was 1961. The Science Faculty at Peradeniya came into being. I was there!

    The VC was the portly Sir Nicholas Attygalle (1954–1967). He was a worthy successor to the very first VC, Sir Ivor Jennings (1942–1954).

    Men of their calibre and charisma are hard to come by these days.

    One evening, I attended a speech by KMP Rajaratne, Member of Parliament, at the ‘A’ Theatre. At the end of his rousing delivery, I had to run for dear life. No exaggeration!

    The writing was on the wall for Ceylon.

  • 5

    Peradeniya was a great place where Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim youth mingled as brothers and sisters in the mid sixties.

    We, as students, witnessed the high handed action of the police beating students on strike. No one was killed but several inured: If it happened today hundreds would have been killed.

    There was very little animosity between ethnic groups. It was a pleasure to have experienced the beauty of the campus, friendly atmosphere and a truly academic environment it provided.

    Political leaders of the country has ruined the country, and it has become a laughing stock internationally.

  • 2

    In the medical faculty of Peradeniya in the seventies students from all ethnicities mixed together and formed longstanding friendships. During the 1977 riots many of our Sinhala friends helped protect the tamil students but there were a few hard core racists who openly threatened violence against us. Apart from this the experience of university life was so idyllic and memorable. We had some great teachers like Prof Senaka Bibile, Prof Balasubramaniam and Prof Jayatilleke. The university environment was perfect for studying and enjoying life and as students we made the most of it during our days there. One of the happiest memories of my life.

  • 1

    Although Tissa Jayatilaka’s evocative speech transported me back to my days at the Peradeniya campus from 1958 to 1962, some of the icons he mentions with great respect fail to ring a bell in mind.

    Perhaps this is because Jayatilaka was pursuing an area of studies that I considered was not too relevant to the needs of a newly independent country. I inferred from his speech that he was a student of Western civilization focusing on Western classics (Amarasinghe), Western history (Pinto, LaBrooy), and English (Halpe, Kandiah, Souza), A significant omission in his list is Basil Mendis, who taught Western philosophy for a handful of eccentric students who entered the university from the “elite” schools in Colombo and Kandy.

    He also fails to mention W. S. Karunaratne (Buddhist Civilization), the great orator who could deliver post-prandial speeches in English or Sinhala with equal finesse.

    What Jayatilaka fails to say is that these areas of study merely continued to produce “kalu suddas” at public expense to perpetuate colonial thinking detrimental to the welfare of an ex-colony.

    I entered the university from Ananda College. I was influenced by the thinking of educators like L. H. Mettananda, S. A. Wijetilleke and Tilak Ratnakara. I too enjoyed life on the idyllic campus, but I did not spend much time on the hills of Hantana or the banks of the Mahavelli because I was unable to find a “partner” to accompany me! I found the botanic gardens to be a much more exciting place to visit.

    Jayatilaka Hall under Warden Brito Muttunyagam was a great place to live. The friendships I cultivated there still continue though I live in a different country and given up my Ceylon citizenship.

    • 3

      D. S. A. Gunaratne

      “What Jayatilaka fails to say is that these areas of study merely continued to produce “kalu suddas” at public expense to perpetuate colonial thinking detrimental to the welfare of an ex-colony.”


      Furthermore, the faculty of arts produced far too many gradates who had to find employment as school teachers, to produce still more arts students and graduates.

      Three we far too few graduates in science, engineering, commerce and other areas who could directly or indirectly contribute to a growing economy or country. At that time, Taiwan was producing 25,000 science and engineering graduates year in 1975.

      There was no science faculty until 1961, No Engineering until 1965. No Medicine until 1960 or so.

      • 3

        Mr Gunaratne has a point but the swabasha kids were being taught Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Civilization, hardly subjects for a developing country. They perpetuated the racial hatreds of Mettananda and others at Ananda, by ensuring a cohort of teachers who would spread the poison to the rural kids. They were not kalu suddhas perhaps but became racial bigots of the worst sort. They fitted in nicely with the politicians who were sending their children to study in England. As always, the Sinhala politician fed the kalu suddha notion to the masses but lived like kalu suddhas and ensured that their children became kalu suddhas. Mr Gunaratne should know better as he is ensconed no doubt among suddhas, living a different life away from the less privileged in Sri Lanka.

        • 3


          “…the swabasha kids were being taught Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Civilization, hardly subjects for a developing country….”

          Yes, these were good subjects 3,000 to 2,000 years ago. In the modern world, they could be subjects, one of many subjects, but there was no need to train a whole country on these subjects. The Catholic Church did the correct education, by teaching in addition to re;religion and languages, taught Philosophy, mathematics, and other subjects. The Islamic World also taught in addition to religion, mathematics, Philosophy, Astronomy etc., until the religious fanatics prevailed, leading to the decline of Islamic Sciences.

          Read about Al Biruni, born 4/5 September 973 in Kath, Khwarezm,[3] died 13 December 1048 in Ghazni) known as Alberonius in Latin and Al-Biruni in English,[4] was a Persian[5]-Khwarezmian[6][7] Muslim scholar and polymath from the Khwarezm region.


          Al-Biruni is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era and was well versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a historian, chronologist and linguist.[7] He was conversant in Khwarezmian, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, and also knew Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. He spent a large part of his life in Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan, capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty which was based in what is now central-eastern Afghanistan. In 1017 he traveled to the Indian subcontinent and became the most important interpreter of Indian science to the Islamic world. He is given the titles the “founder of Indology” and the “first anthropologist”.[8] He was an impartial writer on custom and creeds of various nations, and was given the title al-Ustadh (“The Master”) for his remarkable description of early 11th-century India.[7] He also made contributions to Earth sciences, and is regarded as the “father of geodesy” for his important contributions to that field, along with his significant contributions to geography.

  • 0

    In Short there’s simply not
    A more congenial spot
    For happy ever-aftering
    And here is Camelot

  • 3

    What the old University of Ceylon essentially taught was “discipline”.
    The Board of Residence and Discipline consisted of Ivor Jennings VC,Prof.Nicholas Attygalle and Prof.A.W.Mylvaganam, and enforced discipline among undergraduates.

    Those were days of complete autonomy of the university.
    Erosion of discipline began later,with politics being allowed in universities,and politicians appointing vice-chancellors.

  • 3

    Tissa Jayatilaka’s fine journey down memory lane has evoked a multifarious response but most agree that it was the egalitarian bearing of the life at Peradeniya that they enjoyed. The values of thought and conduct that was experienced were misinterpreted by some as those of “kalu sudhas”, but these values resonated well with the Eastern religious teachings. On the other hand the actual “kalu sudhas” were those who adopted the western culture in toto. But that was their choice, and the freedom to do so was essentially a western concept with some even migrating and renouncing Sri Lankan citizenship. That freedom of thought and action is vital for human development. In the present day that freedom is stifled which is why we now have mediocre faculty and mediocre products from the universities. Mere book learning does not maketh a graduate.

    Thank you Tissa Jayatilaka.

  • 0

    But is it?

    Is it true, we produced greats in Sri Lanka, products of Peradeniya and Kelaniya and such? Is it true that the countless men and women who proceeding to Oxford and Cambridge and becoming shining luminaries really great people? Is it true that we should be proud of such top achievers who are too many to list here?

    Well it is arguable when we look at the final product, meaning the nation that such greats produced. SWRD, a great achiever and a top luminary of Oxford comes to mind.

    Can someone please explain this anomaly? Well if we are a country of great men and women of thinking, please explain why this super mess of a country they in turn produced. We are a country where since independence, despite Tissa’s claim of greatness and claim of institutions who taught only what is good, reasonable and live and let live philosophies, why have we only succeeded in creating a more ruthless, more murderous, more authoritarian, more merciless, dangerous, corrupt, (ah the list goes on) Sri Lankan society? A society where even the traditional soft spoken, calm minded, passive Buddhist monks have tied up their saffron robes and go on masse on destructive rampages.

    I do not know how you stand up there in the US and talk Thissa Jayathilaka, when in fact you should be hanging up your head in shame for the things we do over here in our beloved mother country.

  • 1

    I was in so called University. But I never got justice. All the marks given to examinations are very bios and very high preferences are given to some groups and finally I do not know anything but I ad second upper pass with special degree. Head changed marks and recruited persons he likes for staffs. Now see pathetic situation of Peradaniya. Do research and see how B. Hevaithrana destroyed whole Economics dept in this University. Today these lecturer jokers are run the system. This is the reality in all SL universities. During last 40 years wrong people into University system as lecturers.

  • 0

    I think Tissa acquired all those excellent knowledge and good qualities from the people who ragged him in 1970 and not from those professors and other dignitaries he associated with. Sorry for adding little fun to this wonderful speech. It has taken us back to memories of more than forty five years.

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