Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne: His footprints on Sri Lankan cultural studies

(This article is to mark his second death anniversary on July 9)
In the early phase of studies of Sri Lankan heritage and culture, important observations were made by English civil servants such as H.Parker, H.Nevil, Hocart, Codrinton and Emerson Tenent. Though Hocart said "I had originally an intention of going over again the ground trodden by my predecessor", almost all the scholars in the field depended upon one another.

Following the English civil servants, Sri Lankan cultural anthropologist s such as Ananda Coomaraswamy, Charles Godakumbura and S.Paranavithane made their contribution to the field. Most of them focused on the period termed as medieval. An outstanding scholar in recent times whose primary research focus was on the mediaeval period, was Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne who wrote 70 books on Sinhalese culture both in Sinhalese and English. His corpus of works includes Golden rock temple Dambulla(1983), Kandy(1985), The Springs of Sinhala civilization(1993), Ancient Anuradhapura(1994),Pollonnaruwa(1998), Sunset at the valley Kothmale(2001).
Prof. Anuradha Seneviratna was a Senior Professor in the Department of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya. Earlier he served at the University of Colombo and the Institute of Aesthetic Studies as its Director. He has so far written and published nearly 70 books in Sinhala and English on various aspects of Sri Lanka's culture and civilization. His most popular books were the publications by the Archaeological Survey Department and the publications of the Central Cultural Fund on various Archaeological monuments and sites in Sri Lanka


He obtained his doctorate in comparative Indo-Aryan languages from the University of Halle. He won a Fulbright Senior Research Award in 1977 and spent his sabbatical at the Folklore Institute of the Indiana University in Bloomington and the University of California in Berkeley U.S.A.

He won the Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship in 1998 and was elected to a Visiting Fellowship at Oxford University, U.K. In 1998 he was appointed Senior fellow of the SOAS University of London where he taught for two years. He toured widely on invitations addressing many academic organisations. In the year 1994, the Government of Sri Lanka conferred on him the National Honours - Kala Keerti in recognition of his services to the country

Similarly, the Malwathu Mahavihara in Kandy which is the prime Buddhist Monastic institution in Sri Lanka conferred on him the honorary title Dharma Sashtra Visharadha Kirti Sri for his contribution to Buddhist scholarship. He was also the Chairman of the Arts Council of Sri Lanka.


In a lecture , a couple of months before his death, on Cultural Monuments , Prof. Seneviratne made some important observations which shed light on some aspects of cultural monuments which were earlier considered as controversial.

I cite some of the remarks he made at the lecture as they give insights into the subject;

"Patimaghara" is a sacred compartment, where a Buddha image is installed in early times. When the Buddha image was in its prime stage, Patimaghara was not to be seen. In Mahawamsa a famous Buddha image at that time is mentioned as "Urusila". It was placed under the bodhi tree. Later it was believed, that a Patimaghara was built on behalf of this particular image. When we consider the Patimaghara found in Polonnaruwa period, a special sort of south Indian influence can be observed. Prof. Anuradha Senevirathne has made an important observation on this building in the book "Medieval Capital Polonnaruwa" as follows;

"An another unique feature found in these image houses is that they are highly decorated from outside. That is a common aspect of hindu temples"


In 1907, the Commissioner of Archaeology states in his reports on Galvihara ; "This rock temple is a unique one in Sri Lanka and no temple of this kind can be seen in the Indian peninsula. The whole rock is 56 yards in length, images were carved by cutting rock in to deep." The first image that we can see is having "Samadhi Mudra" and "Virasaha" that image is installed inside the "Vijjadhara Guha". The arch which project over the image has peculiar aspects. Four small Buddha figures are kept in the arch.

Prof. Chandra Wickramagamage affirms that this aspect may be due to an influence of Mahayanic concept called "Panchadyani Buddha" the standing Buddha image which is subject to controversies among scholars whether it is really a Buddha's image. Because it has been installed upon a lotus stand.

The posture of this image can be specified as"Chankamana" or walking posture. Prof. Paranavitana named this posture as "Paradukkhadukkhitha" further he has observed two other Buddha figures in this posture, which are kept in Vatalavihara and in Damdulla temple.

Prof. Anuradha Senevirathne does not agree with Prof. Paranevithane's concept and observes that "The term "suffering nature" can't be attributed upon a superior being as lord Buddha .Then this posture inevitably should be. "Lokawalokana" or observing the world"

Apart from being an academic Prof. Seneviratna was a creative artist, who had talents in diverse areas. In the early seventies, Prof. Seneviratne was famous among listeners as a lyricist who wrote songs for radio and among the twenty songs he wrote include . "Budukaruna dasa themi" sung by Nanda Malani, "Jayathu Jayathu Srilanka derane" sung by Pandith Amaradeva.

In the golden era of SLBC Prof.Seneviratne served as an adviser and composed several geetha nataka's (Radio drama in songs). Some of the Geetha Natakas composed by him are "Era mudumal" and "Geethagovinda".

The popular song "Bakmase Udawuna" sung by Sanath Nandasiri at that time was from the Eramudumal Geethanatakaya. Prof. Seneviratne was a script writer for several documentary films dealing with cultural themes.

His "Anumodhana"the felicitation volume for him published in 2004, is a testimony to his singular contribution to the field of culture and fine arts in Sri Lanka.

Born poet

Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne was a born poet as well as a translator. He translated the Sanskrit book of poetry entitled "Maurashtaka" by a great Sanskrit poet Maura into Sinhala which he later translated into English. The translation was dedicated to George keyt with the remark; "Walls of my home are decorated by means of vivid paintings, which were drawn by you. That was the symbol of the friendship we had. I dedicate this book to the great artist the special friend of mine".

I would like to conclude the article by citing the last poem of Maurashtaka as translated by Prof: Seneviratne.

"The rays are ships for crossing the ocean; which is the fear of rebirth the source of long unhappiness. The best of purifications may produce for you unbounded joy.

Memorial Foundation

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