Sri Lanka’s legend of media | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka’s legend of media

The legendary Kalakeerthi Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa, the colossus of Sri Lankan media celebrates his 96th birthday tomorrow and to mark this momentous event, the Sunday Observer went down memory lane with him a few days ago.

Even at 96 years of age’ he is still very much ‘the Grand Old Man’ of our media and mass communication and has been dubbed the ‘man who never retires’ for since he started to write to newspapers in his teens he has never stopped working and boasts of over 24,000 articles to date. The number of speeches, talks and lectures he has given run into thousands.

The following is a translation of an interview conducted by veteran journalist Nalaka Gunawardena for the felicitation volume to mark Dr. Ariyadasa’s 95th Birthday and it clearly reveals the secret of Dr. Ariyadasa’s unique mental ability and long life.

Gunawardene says, “You are a senior citizen who has passed his 90th year. Yet, you have never tried to retire ever. You still lead an active life and how do you keep an open mind while doing so?

Dr. Ariyadasa replies, “It is my character. Instead of having deeply rooted views I enquire into and study everything deeply. Innate curiosity has been a part of my life and I have fostered it. On the first day of each New Year I make a resolution to study something new in that year. This year I am closely studying social media. Also I can look at life with upeksha or equanimity. I do not harbour anger against anyone nor am I jealous of anyone. My mind is free of these pollutants and therefore it is clear and my philosophy of life is important. Throughout my long life I have explored and studied knowledge. Even now, as a person learning new things I have been able to retain an open mind. Anyone can do this if they have the desire and will to do so.” This would also account for his fantastic memory power even as a nonagenarian.

Vijayatunga Karunaratne Edwin Ariyadasa was born as the youngest child to Vijayatunga Abraham Appuhamy and Abeysinghe Pathiranage Sisiliya Hamine’ in the village of Manawila, Unawatuna in the Galle district on December 3, 1922. The new born baby had three brothers and two sisters who were all much older than him. His eldest sister, Dayawathie Iskoley Hamine gave Edwin the name Ariyadasa.

As a child, the books of his older siblings were Edwin’s favourite playthings. He would spend hours looking through them. His favourite book was ‘Hiroads of Literature and by the time he was two and a half he knew the English alphabet thanks to this book. When the time came for him to be initiated into the alphabet in the traditional way he already knew his letters.

Edwin started his schooling at the Buddhist Mixed School in Unawatuna in the Sinhala medium. It was while he was in grade four that the child Edwin first articulated his passion for journalism. A teacher, L. A. Jayasena asked the students what they would like to be when they grew up. Most of the boys said ‘bus driver’ or ‘conductor’, with some throwing in doctor, lawyer or engineer. Edwin Ariyadasa said he wanted to be an editor. To children of that rural environment the profession of journalism or editorship was alien and so Edwin’s answer provoked much mirth. But Edwin Ariyadasa achieved his ambition later when he became the Editor of the ‘Navayugaya’. He passed his Junior School Certificate (JSC) with distinction and transferred to Devathura College in Magalle. The Principal, A.M. Abeygunawardene saw and understood Edwin’s love and capabilities for English and nurtured it. When speaking of his mastery of English, Dr. Ariyadasa always remembers Principal A.M. Abeygunawardene with fondness and gratitude.

Having passed his Senior School Certificate (SSC) extremely well Edwin was awarded a scholarship to Mahinda College, Galle by H.W. Amarasuriya. Edwin chose Sinhala, English, Pali and History for his Higher School Certificate (HSC) in the English medium and sat for it in 1944 and gained entrance to the first Independent University in Ceylon(as Sri Lanka was called then) in 1945.

The Campus was in Colombo and the Vice Chancellor was Sir Ivor Jennings. Prof Siri Gunasinghe, Prof Vinnie Vitharana Dr. Dharme Arampatta and Prof Nandadasa Kodagoda were among his contemporaries at University and Dr. Ariyadasa is very proud of the fact that he and 13 batch mates became Phds.

At the General Arts Qualifying Exam (GAQ) Edwin qualified to specialise in Sinhala. He wanted to offer English as his subsidiary subject but was not allowed to do so at first. Prof E. F.C. Ludowyke, the Head of the English Department, readily gave Edwin permission to read English as a subsidiary subject.

While in University Edwin became involved with the Buddhist Brotherhood there. After finishing his finals, Edwin went home and joined the Tutorial Staff of his alma mater Mahinda College, Galle. While there the patrons of the All Ceylon Buddhist Students Union request Edwin to return to Colombo to contimue the Union work. Ananda Mivanapalana, Chairman, General Insurance Company and Patron of the ACBSU employed him as the Company Secretary.

From his undergraduate days to the present time, the value of Dr. Ariyadasa’s contribution to Buddhism is immeasurable. The book ‘A treasury of Truth – Illustrated Dhammapada’ was edited by him with Rev. Weragoda Saradha Thero, Chief Prelate, Singapore as its Author. This work translated into several languages is considered an invaluable comntribution to the global literature on Buddhism.

One fine day Aelian Perera, Private Secretary to Esmond Wickremesinghe, Chairman, Lake House contacted him and conveyed a message that Esmond Wickremesinghe wished to meet him. Busy with his Buddhist Brotherhood work Edwin could not pay much heed to this request. Later, a second message came while Edwin was with renowned author Martin Wickramasinghe. He encouraged Ariyadasa to meet Wickremesinghe and the meeting resulted in Ariyadasa joining the Dinamina on March 11 1949. This marked the birth of his legendary career in newspapers:

To detail the Edwin Ariyadasa feats in journalism would be a mere gilding of the lily but a few memorable occasions are given here. Edwin Ariyadasa worked at the Dinamina, Silumina, Daily News, Daily and Sunday Observers. He was a lead and feature writer for the Observer. There was a time when he was writing two editorials for the Daily Observer which had to be on the streets by 10 a m. He and editor Denzil Peiris would meet around 5. 30 or 6 a.m and discuss the topics. Then Edwin would write and as he finished one page Denzil Peiris would rush it to the printing section, reading it along the way and this performance was repeated.

The Ceylon Daily News of March 23 1949 (Wednesday) carried his first review of a book, ‘Landmark in Sinhala Fiction ‘Yuganthaya’ (The end of an Age) March 11 1949 saw another review, this time of a movie, Hamlet. Dr. Ariyadasa treasures these two writings and they are carefully framed and preserved by him.

The pinnacle of his career in journalism came when he was appointed Editor, ‘Navayugaya’ - a magazine which was a deep well of knowledge just like its Editor. He still writes to many newspapers and magazines both locally and internationally. He is also a regular contributor to the Sunday Observer.

His keen interest in films led Dr. Ariyadasa to study and foster it and today he is not only an expert on movies but is a much sought after judge and jury member and a mentor to novice movie makers. The many who have been helped by him do not hesitate to declare their gratitude to him always.

Technology has always fascinated this unique nonagenarian and therefore he is very much in touch with the latest developments in technology especially in mass communication.

He can also be called the ‘Father of Mass Communication Education in Sri Lanka since he planned, developed and established the first course in Mass Communication at the Junior University in Dehiwala,thus introducing the teaching of Mass Communications at several Institutions of Higher Education in Sri Lanka. At the University of the Sri Jayawardenepura he in troduced the teaching of Public Relations as part of the study of Management.

Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa is an incomparable speaker in both English and Sinhala and probably is the only nonagenarian speaker people still clamour for.

His overseas assignments are too many to be listed and includes a stint with UNEP and ones in Germany, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia to name a few. He was at the East-West Centre in Hawaii on invitation.

Naturally, much recognition and accolades have come his way. He has been awarded the title of Kalakeerthi by the Government of Sri Lanka and has also been honoured by the titles of Sahithyarathne and Rohana Pradeepa by those who revere and appreciate him. In 1995, he received the Media Veteran Award and in 2016 he received the Signis Award. He was also honoured by the Soka Gakkai Association of Singapore. He was recently awarded the Malalasekara Commemoration award.

Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa is a very rare human being who touches the lives of those coming into contact with him in an unforgettable way. Despite his knowledge and acknowledged position as a leader in society he remains humble and approachable, his kindly smile welcoming visitors and putting them at ease.

On his 96th Birthday we at the Sunday Observer say in all sincerity,

Chiran Jayathu Mathiduni!