HONOURING A PILLAR OF ARCHAEOLOGY
“Great people set the bar for the rest of us.”
― Bert McCoy
For those who are familiar with the history and archaeology of Sri Lanka, the name Professor Emeritus, T.G. Kulatunga needs no further introduction. Especially to Ceylon Today readers, Prof. Kualtunga is a well-known figure as many of our heritage discussions were illuminated by his insightful and profound interviews and comments.
Realising the great contribution of Prof. Kulatunga, the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) has organised a felicitation to pay tribute to this great historian, archaeologist, and teacher to honour and appreciate his great contribution to Sri Lanka’s archaeology and history. It will be held on 1 November, at 3 p.m. at Ape Gama, Battaramulla with Minister Vidura Wickramanayake attending as the Chair of the event.
To me, personally, Prof. Kulatunga is not merely a professor of archaeology and history and a resource person; he is a mentor and guide. I am truly humbled, blessed, and proud to say he is a teacher of mine. May this humble attempt be a tribute to Prof. Kulatunga – a giant in the discipline of history and archaeology in Sri Lanka.
There are different types of teachers that we meet in our lifetime. Some are paid and some are not. Most of the teachers who are paid for their job end their duties within the given timeframe and limit their guidance only to the discipline they are supposed to teach. Among such many teachers, we meet some, who are either paid or not, fulfil their duties as a teacher, to the extent that cannot be measured by time or money. They are teachers beyond a specific discipline.
They are inspirations and guiding stars, and pave the path to success for those who are under them and around them. They not only guide you in your given discipline but also help you to find your way during many hurdles of life and teach important lessons about life, expanding your horizons about life, society, research, and various other subjects.
Professor Emeritus, T.G. Kulatunga is one such teacher. He has been illuminating the lives of university students, young archaeologists, and young historians for decades. He has trained hundreds of young archaeologists. For decades, Prof. Kulatunga has educated the nation through his insightful television discussions, countless books, research articles, and countless newspaper discussions and articles. He has been the inspiration for many young and budding scholars through these discussions, and publications.
I first knew Prof. Kulatunga through his invaluable television discussions on Sri Lanka’s history and culture. Most of these programmes were telecasted on Poya days. Then, since grade 8 – 9, I used to read Prof. Kulatunga’s books on the history and archaeology of Sri Lanka.
He was already a famous archaeologist, but at the same time, a highly acclaimed scholar who produced great scholarly work. His contribution to Sri Lanka’s archaeology, history, and culture is immense.
Such a giant figure he was, when I first met Prof. Kulatunga while I was working at the CCF, I felt fear and reverence toward the professor. For the giant persona, we have known about the professor through his massive work as an archaeologist and as a nationally and internationally known scholar, I never knew the professor was truly a humble and kind-hearted mentor.
Professor has a habit of encouraging young scholars, by not just words, but also by truly paving their path, telling what to do and how to do it, gifting valuable publications, and correcting their work. This quality is extremely rare among most scholars nowadays.
Prof. Kulatunga has served as a professor for more than four decades and is a well-known field archaeologist, researcher, and a professional in heritage management, as well as an author.
Born in 1942 in Harispattu, Kandy, he received his basic education from Sri Rahula College, Katugastota, Kandy. After completing his basic education, he entered the Unversity of Sri Jayawardenepura, then known as Vidyodaya University in the year 1963. After completing his first degree, he was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of History and Archaeology in 1968. Eventually, he was promoted in his position and reached the level of Professor and also became the Head of the Department of the Department of History and Archaeology.
Thus, after 40 years of service, after his retirement from service in the year 2007, the Governing Council of the University awarded him the title of ‘Professor Emeritus’ and later the D.Lit. (Sahitya Suri) award degree in recognition of his excellent service towards the academia and to the nation.
In 1988/89, he was awarded the Japan Foundation Fellowship and entered the University in Nagoya. His research there was titled, ‘A Comparative Study on Social-Cultural life of the Traditional Agro-Economic Societies of Japan and Sri Lanka’. During his stay in Japan, he also took part in and examined archaeological sites in Japan and the archaeological work at these sites.
Also, Prof. Kulatunga has travelled to America, Rome, Switzerland, Thailand and India, and other countries to observe and study archaeological sites in these countries.
In 2013, the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of National Heritage presented him with the Uruma Prasada Pranama Swarna Award in recognition of his great service to Sri Lankan archaeology.
In 2015, his scholarly work, Purana Abhayagiri Viharaya was awarded the award for the best scholarly work of the year category of the State Literary Award Ceremony.
In 2018, his scholarly work, Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya, was awarded the Best Buddhist book of the year award by the All Ceylon Buddhist Federation.
In 1996, the Subject Minister appointed Prof. Kulatunga as a member of the Archaeology Advisory Council, a position which he still he holds.
Furthermore, in 2009, he was appointed as a member of the committee to prepare plans for the management of Sri Lanka’s world heritage sites declared by UNESCO. He was also appointed as a member of the committee to examine the destruction of Kurunegala Raja Sabha Mandapaya by then Prime Minister.
As a member of the Archaeology Advisory Council, he has been appointed to a number of committees to examine and resolve problematic archaeological sites. Prof. Kulatunga is also a member of the National Archaeological Policy Compilation Committee which is currently approved by the Parliament.
He is also a fellow (adhi samajka) of the Sri Lanka Archaeologists Council (which is approved by an Act of Parliament). He has served the council and the field of archaeology continuously by holding the positions of committee member, treasurer, deputy secretary, secretary, vice president, senior vice president, and president.
He has served as the Assistant Director of Archaeology of the CCF’s Abhayagiri Project since 1986, as its Director of Archaeology since 1992, and as its Project Director since 2014, and as the Director of Archaeology of the Maha Vihara Project from 1997 to 2014 and since then as its Project Director.
He was the archaeological director of the Abhayagiri Stupa Conservation Project from the beginning to the end of its conservation. Prof. Kulatunga initiated and maintained the archaeological work at Anuradhapura Vijayarama which was under the Abhayagiri project.
From 2007 till date, he has served the field of archaeology in Sri Lanka as a member of the Management Board, as well as a member of the Academic Board, and as a member of the Finance and Audit Committee of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) affiliated with the University of Kelaniya.
He has worked as visiting lecturer on the subject of archaeology in the universities of Kelaniya, Rajarata, Ruhuna, and so on. He is currently sharing his knowledge as a visiting lecturer at the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology (PGIAR) and the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
Prof. Kulatunga also trained young scholars on many projects. To name a few; training teachers to teach archaeology to external undergraduates of the Yowun Sarasaviya programme organised by the National Youth Service Council, training young graduates enrolled in the CCF in 2005, training and giving practical knowledge in field archaeology to university archaeology undergraduates at Abhayagiri and Maha Vihara archaeological sites.
He initiated a six months certificate course on Archaeology for Buddhist monks when he was the president of the Sri Lanka Archaeologists Council. This programme was financially sponsored by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.
Prof. Kulatunga is also a supervisor and examiner for many post-graduate degree theses in history and archaeology at many universities. He also serves on the board of appointing professors of history and archaeology at universities.
The annual Dalada Perahera is a major festival at Anuradhapura today. In initiating this event, Prof. Kulatunga assisted Dr. Roland Silva and pioneered this task.
Prof. Kulatunga has authored many brilliant scholarly works in Sinhala and English.
Some of his notable Sinhala books are;
– Sri Lankawe Kaasi ha Mudal Wyawaharaya
– Purana Abhayagiri Viharaya
– Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya
– Madhyakalina Sri Lankawe Arakshaka Sanwidhana
– Mahamewanwe Maha Viharaya
– Abhilekhana Shapa Pata
– Anuradhpura Atamasthanaya ha Wenath Purana Sthana
– Sri Lankawe Bauddha Nikaya Ithihasya
– Anuradhapura Jethawana Viharaya
– Anuradhapura Vijayaramaya
– Abhayagiri Bauddha Prathima
– Anuradhapura Thuparamaya
– Some of his notable English books are;
– Buddhist Nikayas in Sri Lanka
– Curses Found in Sinhalese and Tamil Inscriptions in Sri Lanka,
– Maha Vihara at Anuradhapura,
– Abhayagiri Vihara at Anuradhapura
– Hero-stone at Anuradhapura and Other Essays
Apart from this, Prof. Kulatunga has published about 50 exploration and excavation reports of the Abhayagiri and Maha Vihara projects.
A book he has co-authored with Prof. Karunasena Hettiarachchy is currently in press.
A brilliant professional in heritage management, senior archaeologist, and architect, the late Dr. Roland Silva’s doctorate thesis was translated into Sinhala by none other than Prof. Kulatunga as per the request of Dr. Silva. The book was published by the CCF and titled Thupa, Thupaghara Saha Thupa Pasada.
A few notable research papers published in national and international journals such as; Journal of Pali and Buddhist Society –Tokyo, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), Ancient Ceylon (Department of Archaeology), Vidyodaya (Journal of Sri Jayewardhanapura University) are;
– Contributions of Buddhism to Ancient Medical Science in India and Sri Lanka
– Identification of Tombs of Thera Mahinda and Therani Sanghamitta and Location of Padalancna Cetiya
– Tantirimale Tivakka Brahmanagama and Planting of Eight Bo-Seedlings
– Janthaghara within Ancient Buddhist Monasteries
– New Interpretation of the Velanadamana Hero-stone
– Nisawatta Inscription of Abhayagiri Vihara
– Eight Samadhi Buddha Statues Discovered recent Excavations at Abhayagiri Monastery
– Elephant and Swastika Coin
– Anuradhapuraye Korawakgalaka Athi Minisa saha Asva his Katayama
– Dhathu Karandu
– Siri Maha Bo Mlauwe Purawidu Kanim
– Madhyakalina Lankawe Yuddha Sanwidhanaya
– Sethu kasi
– Polonnaruwe Welaikkara Sellipiya
– Abhyagiri Damila Gruhapathinge Sila Lipiya
– Anurapura Yugaye Sellipi ha Wanskathawala Athi Kawyamaya Warnana
– Kotte Yugaye Arakshaka Sanwidhana
When studying the research work and field archaeology work of Prof. Kulatunga what is evident is that his work spreads across a wide area, covering a large number of topics in history and archaeology. He has worked as a field archaeologist as well as an academic professor. This is rare among professionals in history and archaeology as many are confined to specific subject areas.
Although Prof. Kulatunga has officially retired from the university, he still serves the nation and academia.
We at Ceylon Today wholeheartedly wish that he may continue to serve the nation and Sri Lankan archaeology for a long time to come.
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
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