Progression from a hamlet to a global village
Kalakeerthi Edwin Ariyadasa to whom we dedicate this issue of
Montage, celebrated his 87th birthday on December 3. He is a person of
unique talents who may be described as the most senior practising
journalist of Sri Lanka today. It is difficult to assign Mr. Ariyadasa
with a tag such as journalist, teacher, editor, broadcaster, television
personality or communicator as he has always demonstrated the qualities
of a great humanist who is always there to support and help anyone who
seeks his help.
He was born on December 03, 1922 in the pastoral southern village of
Unawatuna which is still breathtakingly beautiful despite the centuries
of changes following the collapse of colonialism and the emergence of a
new socio-economic order.
He had his early education at Buddhist Mixed School in Unawatuna and
received his secondary education at Mahinda College, Galle. Among his
contemporaries at Mahinda College included young Siri Gunasinghe, Vini
Vitharana, Sirimal Ranawella and Nandadasa Kodagoda, and all of whom
later became his university mates and experts on their chosen careers.
In the University College, Colombo he read for BA with Sinhala as a
major and English as an auxiliary subject at the feet of Sir Ivor
Jennings, a vestige of Colonialism and an intellectual of international
repute. It was the heyday of Colonialism and inter alia, Edwin Ariyadasa
came under the influence of heavily Anglicised culture where the
clattering of fork and spoon was the order of the day. Since 1949 when
he took journalism at the behest of Edmond Wickremasinghe (then the head
of Lake House publications) as Deputy Editor in the Editorial Board of `Dinamina'
under the Editorship of Piyasena Nishsanka, Edwin Ariyadasa has been a
Although his scope of activities spanned over many areas such as
journalism, Communication, teaching of journalism which he pioneered
with the drafting of the syllabi for the first ever course in Journalism
at the Junior University set up by the then Minister of Education,
I.M.R.A. Irriyagolla, his mainstay has always been the print media.
Edwin Ariyadasa is a bi-lingual journalist par excellence who has
written over 20,000 articles on diverse subjects in both Sinhala and
English. One of the singular contributions of Edwin Ariyadasa is the
introduction of Sinhala terms for English terms such as the Internet.
For instance, Sinhalese words such as `Antarjalaya' (Internet), `Madya
Rupa' (media images) and `Sajivikaranaya' (live broadcasting) were
invented by him. He had either authored or edited a number of
publications including the monumental work `The Buddha World' and
`Treasure of truth' which is a unabridged English translation of `Dhammapada'
running into 900 pages. Perhaps, his brightest period in journalism at
Lake House was the one in which he functioned as the Editor-in-Chief of
The period 1970s is considered as the golden era of the periodical
bringing the latest development in the field of science and technology
to the very threshold of Sinhala readership, thereby contributing to the
growth of scientific vocabulary in Sinhala language. As Edwin Ariyadasa
himself acknowledged that Sri Lankan born NASA scientist Dr. Sarath
Gunapala had mentioned at one stage of his life, `Navayugaya' had
created an interest in him in science and technology.
During his reign as the editor of `Navayugaya' Mr Ariyadasa
discovered and mentored many novices as feature writers who have
progressed into their chosen careers in various fields. One of the 1970s
novice writers he introduced through `Navayugaya' was the bi-lingual
poet and writer Sunil Govinnage who still writes in Sinhala from down
under despite being employed as a civil servant in Perth.
Sage of our time
In retrospect of his illustrious career in journalism spanning sixty
years, Edwin Ariyadasa saw the evolution of Sri Lankan society from a
rural agricultural society to a partner in a robust global economy. He
belongs to a vanishing tribe of bi-linguals who shaped the cultural
landscape of the pre 20th century. Writing a personal appreciation of
the life and work of Mr Ariyadasa's 80th birthday Ajith Samaranayake
wrote: `In fact Ariyadasa's progression from journalist to communicator,
from wordsmith to media guru, is indicative of the man. It demonstrates
his mental agility, his ability to adapt to the times and his consuming
intellectual curiosity which has made him a bridge-head between
generations and cultural eras straddling what is almost a century.'
Mr Ariyadasa's role as a cultural intellectual in the formative years
of the 20th century is remarkable on many counts. It was the era of
cultural renaissance after the dismantling of colonialism in what turned
out, as a bloodless transition from the British to Sri Lankan
administration. However, one of the cardinal issues confronting at the
time, was the absence of an effective vocabulary in native tongues to
express the socio-political developments of the emerging world order.
The highly Anglicised elite were either out of touch with the reality or
simply could not express themselves in native tongues.
So the task of devising an effective vocabulary in native tongues
such as Sinhalese and Tamil fell squarely upon the generation of
bilinguals, especially, in order to teach academic disciplines in
emerging universities like Peradeniya which was modelled on the
Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. It was the cultural
intellectuals like Martin Wickremasinghe and Munidasa Kumaratunga who
pioneered in introducing Sinhala terms for English words. Over the
years, the baton passed on to intellectuals like Edwin Ariyadasa and
Professor Wimal Dissanayake with the vast changes that took place in the
field of mass communication in general and in journalism in particular.
When Professor Wimal Dissanayake was appointed as the Head of the
newly established Mass Communication Department at Kelaniya University
in the 1970s, he invited Mr Ariyadasa to be a visiting lecturer. As
stated elsewhere in the Montage, Wimal Dissanayake had "first got to
know Edwin in the 1950s without getting to know him."Professor
Dissanayake who was a school boy then was an avid reader of the series
of essays that Mr Ariyadasa had penned under the name of `Janaka'
writing to 'Silumina' supplement on arts and letters.
When television was introduced to Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, it
was the media gurus like Edwin Ariyadasa who devised formats not only
for Sinhala programs but also for English programs. As an expert on
foreign affairs, he conducted several programs covering the political
developments around the world. At the time, he was among the few
resource personnel in television who defined the early part of the
development of that media. One of the salient features of his
personality is his ocean of knowledge spread over many areas of human
affairs and remarkable photographic memory.
A little known facet of his personality is that Edwin Ariyadasa is
also a gifted and perceptive creative writer and futuristic poet. In a
way, readers would be baffled by the sheer depth of his poetry albeit he
has not yet published his creative work in an anthology. Among other
things, he cherishes the memories of his rather eventful childhood which
he spent in the village of Unawatuna and the mouth-watering Sri Lankan
cookery in general and `roti' made with `Elangi' oil in particular.
A foremost cultural intellectual
One of the defining roles Edwin Ariyadasa with his multifaceted
personality plays in the Sri Lankan public sphere is the role of a
cultural intellectual of the milieu. If Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra
shaped the contours of intellectual tradition in universities and Martin
Wickremasinghe in the literary field, it is, perhaps, Edwin Ariyadasa
who profoundly influenced the Sri Lankan media scene and actively
campaigned for a vibrant media culture in Sri Lanka. He is an object
lesson for young media personnel who aspire to climb the career ladder.
He is among other things, famous for the accurate usage of both Sinhala
and English. Particularly, his English is perfect and is termed out as
proverbial Queen's English. He emphasises particularly on the use of
standard language both in Sinhala and English and abhors the present
trend of bastardising the language by using slang in reported speech.
We wish Mr. Edwin Ariyadasa good health and capacity to continue his
remarkable life and above all, his ability to roam "beyond the galaxies
and the stratosphere and reach out to the stars" for a few more decades.