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Academia

This is another area where Anandians have excelled, and it is difficult to present even a sample of the achievements of Anandians in a short essay of this nature. A few academics, especially in the professions of medicine, engineering and law have been already mentioned, but some others, especially the sciences and the humanities have not been covered at all. An attempt will be made here to consider at least a few among those who have excelled in these fields. Even in some of the fields mentioned, hardly any mention had been made of those serving overseas. A sample of those in North America is included here, but we have been unable to collect information about those in Europe, Australasia, Japan and many other countries.

Among Anandians who have made a significant contribution to knowledge, one of the leading figures would be Venarable Balagoda Ananda Maithriya Thero, who studied English at Ananda and later taught the Dhamma at both Ananda and Nalanda Colleges. His achievements span many spheres, for he was learned in many languages, both oriental and occidental, and in many disciplines of philosophy.

It is said that when he was a teacher at Ananda, he used to walk barefoot, in the scorching sun, all over Colombo in search of rare and out of print books. The physical discomforts do not seem to have disconcerted him on account of his strong mental faculties. He is reputed to have attained many stages of the Jhanas, even though he was not attached to them either.

He was an avid reader and a writer and has authored more than fifty books on various aspects of the Dhamma. In a sense, he deviated from the traditional path trodden by Theravada monks in that he also studied other disciplines such as Yoga and the Mahayana doctrines. His widespread knowledge and erudition saw him appointed as the Professor of Mahayana at the Vidyodaya University. He was honoured by the governments of Myanmar and Thailand, by the conferment of the titles Agga Maha Panditha and Abidajada Maharattaguru in recognition of his varied services to the Dhamma.

Many consider him to be Bodhisattva.

In a much later era, Venerable Kotagama Vachissara Thero too carried on the tradition of learning with distinction. Even though he was not a student of Ananda, he was a much respected teacher who was imbibed with the spirit of Ananda and who simultaneously influenced many a generation of its students to absorb this same spirit generously. Like Ananda Maithriya Thero, he too was learned in many languages & disciplines and was a voracious reader and author.

In the conduct of research that resulted in the award of a Ph D by the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, he broke new ground in scouring the countryside, visiting many remote temples for long forgotten manuscripts while others confined their searches to the British Museum Library and a few other European sources.

He too worked in many fields in the service of the Dhamma, and in fact once visited China in the company of a very much older Ananda Maithriya Thero. On his return, he had commented that the Venerable Maithriya Thero was much more open and even ‘playful’ than himself, despite his age!

Prof Sudharshan Seneviratne excelled in both sports and studies at Ananda. His University education, both undergraduate and postgraduate, was in India where he worked on many different aspects of archeology in an unprecedented series of multi-disciplinary studies. On his return, he joined the University of Peradeniya where he holds the Chair in Archeology. He introduced many new topics such as Early Iron Age Archaeology, Environmental Archaeology (including sections in Archaeological Sciences), Settlement Archaeology, Pre Industrial Technology and Ethno Archaeology to the curriculum.

His field work covered many sites, both in South India and Sri Lanka. He also functioned as the Director of the UNESCO funded Cultural Triangle Project. He has interacted widely with both the present and Old Boys of Ananda, where his presentations were very much appreciated. In the most recent speech at the 125 Banquet, he paid a glowing tribute to Venarable Kotagama Vachissara Thero and to Mr. V Thanabalasingham as two teachers at Ananda who helped mold his character.

Deshamanaya Emeritus Professor J B Dissanayake is a well known personality among not only the intelligentsia, but also among the general public of Sri Lanka on account of his wide and varied writings, which covers the complete spectrum of human interest, from child literature through both creative and critical writing to academic writings on linguistics. He is also a very much sought after public speaker on matters of national importance.

He is a passionate advocate of the use of language as a means of national reconciliation, whereas it has been a cause of ethnic strife for the last half a century. Perhaps as a contribution to this, he has recently authored a ‘Handbook on Simple Tamil’, intended to promote Tamil language proficiency among the Sinhala speaking public.

His services to the nation have extended to other fields too, notable among them being diplomacy.

Like the others included in this survey, Prof Sunanda Mahendra has played many roles in his life; and he has excelled in all of them. He started life as a broadcaster, both in Sri Lanka and in the UK where he served on the BBC world service. While at the BBC, he read for his Ph D. On his return, he joined the Kelaniya University as its first Professor of Mass Communication.

He has ventured into almost all areas of the creative arts from poetry, novels, theatre to drama (both stage and radio). His academic and literary works also span a wide spectrum as illustrated by the variety of awards that he has collected over his life time.

He has won the state literary award for the best Sinhala novel on more than one occasion, starting with his first novel ‘Hevaneli Eda Minissu’ in 1964, the state literary awards for poetry, drama script and for research. His creations have also won many state drama awards. He has won the UNESCO Copernicus award for Social Sciences in 1983.  

Prof W S Karunaratne started his student days at Dharmaraja, and ended up at Ananda. At the University entrance examination, he shared the first place with Felix R Dias Bandaranaike for the prestigious Moaulana prize. After graduation from the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya, he joined the University’s Department of Pali and Buddhist Civilisation. At the School of Oriental and African studies of the University of London, he won the F L Woodward prize for his doctoral dissertation ‘The Theory of Causality in Early Buddhism’

Back at the University of Ceylon, he continued his studies in Buddhist Philosophy, and in 1964, was appointed as its first Professor of Buddhist Philosophy. In 1973, with the reorganisation of the Universities, the Department was moved to the Vidyalankara Campus at Kelaniya, and he moved along with it.

He was involved in politics, first in the MEP of Mr Philip Gunawardena in 1960, and later, in 1970 and 1978 in support of the UNP. His oratory was much in demand by the political establishment. In 1978, he served as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States, and later returned to the Vidyalankara Campus at Kelaniya.

Like Prof Vachissara Thero before him, he too died young. He too was conversant in many languages, and was an avid collector of rare books on Buddhism in various languages.  After his demise in 1986, his book collection, including extremely rare and ancient Burmese and Pali manuscripts, some written on ola leaves was donated by his family to the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka.

One of his pupils, Prof Y Karunadasa recalls his association with Prof Karunaratne  thus:

"It is with great sense of gratitude that I recall my association with Professor W.S. Karunaratne as one of his pupils at the University of Ceylon. Versatility being the hallmark of his life, his achievements is not confined to the groves of the academia. As religious and social leader, public orator, political agitator and diplomat, he distinguished himself in a number of other fields in a manner few can equal in brilliance, besides being a scholar of great repute and an acknowledged authority on Buddhist Philosophy. The doctoral thesis submitted to the University of London in 1956 by Professor Karunaratne introduces the reader to the very heart of Buddhism, for as recorded in the discourses of the Buddha, an insight into the dependent co-origination is said to constitute an insight into the very essence of Dhamma. Moreover, it brings into focus Buddhism's position in relation to the contemporary intellectual scene".

Prof P W Epasinghe did not commence his University education with the intention of becoming a mathematician – he entered the Faculty of Engineering to read for the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, but having won the First in Engineering Scholarship awarded to the best Engineering student in 1955 and opted to switch over to the Faculty of Science to read for a Special Degree in Mathematics.

He obtained his Ph D degree from the University of London, having worked under Nobel Lauriat Prof Abdus Salam, FRS at Imperial College, and returned to the Department of Mathematics at the University of Ceylon. He later moved to the Vidyodaya University at Gangodawila, Nugegoda to serve as its Professor of Mathematics.

At the Vidyodaya University, he was responsible for many innovations. He introduced statistics as a separate subject, helped in the introduction of the teaching of mathematics and science in Sinhala at university level and accepted students who have studied in the bioscience stream into the mathematics department.

He spent some time as a Visiting Professor at the Florida State University in the United States, and also with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste headed by his former supervisor, Prof Abdus Salam.

On his return to the University of Colombo (which evolved from the former University of Ceylon, along with the University of Peradeniya) he introduced the teaching of statistics as a distinct discipline, drawing upon his experiences at Vidyodaya. During this time his expertise was sought by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka, which appointed him as a visiting Professor to design and deliver a Post-Graduate Course in “Quantitative Techniques in Decision Making”. He later spent a sabbatical year at the Open University, where he taught, among other things, Mathematical Modelling to beginning students. He carried this experience too back to Colombo and on his return, introduced Mathematical Modelling to the students at Colombo.

Prof. P.W. Epasinghe retired on 30th September 2001 after a continuous service as a University teacher for 44 years, of which 34 years was as a Professor; first at Sri Jayawardena Pura (then Vidyodaya) and later at Colombo. During this long period of time, he has served the Universities of Sri Lanka in many capacities, among which are Director, University of Colombo Institute of Computing and Dean of Science, both at Colombo and at Sri Jayawardena Pura.

Unlike Professor Epasinghe, Professor Charles Dahanayake did enter the University with the intention or reading for a degree in Mathematics. However, he developed a deep liking to the intricacies of Physics, and changed over to study Physics under Professor Mylvaganam. After graduation, he joined the Department of Physics as an Assistant Lecturer, before proceeding to the UK for further studies. There, he undertook research under C.F. Powell, FRS, NL. On his return, he commenced his University teaching career at the University of Ceylon, but soon shifted to Kelaniya (then, Vidyalankara) as its founding Professor of Physics and Dean of Science. He continued to teach at Kelaniya until his retirement. He was the founder President of the Institute of Physics, Sri Lanka and was a founder member of the Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka. He was also a General President of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science.

Just as much as Mr Karunananda was a pioneer in the teaching of science in Sinhala at the secondary school level, so was Professor Dahanayake in the teaching of science at University. Quite early in his career as a University teacher, while still at Colombo, he was one of the initiators in publishing a science journal (‘Vidura’) in Sinhala; the science magazine edited and published by Dr Adikaram being defunct by this time.

Despite all his achievements, he was a very simple man at heart, and many consider this to be his most admirable quality. This is made apparent even in the way he met his death, while walking along the road. The following extract from the appreciation written by K Godage is typical of the assessment of his life by others:

‘Despite this most impressive academic record his greatness lay in his humility, which was an example to us all. He was indeed unassuming to a fault. He was a Buddhist who lived as a true Buddhist should; rituals were not for him, Buddhism to him was Metta (loving kindness) Karuna (compassion) and Muditha (Equanimity) and its fundamentals tenets, Sila (morality) Samadhi (meditation and control of the mind) and Pagngna or the acquiring of understanding or wisdom through Meditation. He was after all a Scientist and a Physicist.’

As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, it is impossible even to list all those who have excelled themselves in academia, even in the limited fields of the sciences and humanities. Some that come to mind are Professor H.M. Dias, Professor Nimal Goonatilleke,  Professor V. Arulpragasam, Professor Raja de Fonseka, Professor I Balasooriya, Professor S.G. de S. Wettimuny, Professor Buddhi Marambe, Professor Ranjith Mapa, Prof P D Gunathilake  and Professor I. Rajakaruna.


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