By Thilak S. Fernando

For nearly half a century Sri Lankan historian, Professor Laksman Susantha Perera's research on ancient inscriptions in ' Ceylon' between 3rd Century to 10th Century AD was gathering dust at the Peradeniya University, occasionally used by many scholars, lecturers and students until it became flimsy due to constant usage over the years. Quite recently the University was sensible enough to microfilm and save it from destruction. This has been the one and the only historical piece of evidence to the way of life of Ceylonese who lived during that era under Ceylonese Kingdoms.

On a bright mid-summer early morning in 1998, Prof. Perera was woken up by a long distance telephone call from Colombo. It was an old friend, Mr. George Coorey, to seek permission to nominate Prof. Perera for the prestigious award of the Doctor of Letters, honoris causa (D. Lit) offered to luminaries by the Colombo University. On 15 August 1998 Professor Lakshman Susantha Perera was decorated at the convocation held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo. Simultaneously it became evident that the flower, which appeared to have been born unseen and wasting its sweetness in the Sri Lankan society's dessert air for nearly 50 years, had suddenly come to bloom openly not to waste its sweetness any longer! His thesis which he completed in 1949 on Sinhala inscriptions was evidently getting closer to the printing machinery for publication, which was seen as a major financial hurdle in 1949 when no publisher was enthusiastic or willing to undertake publication on their own account due to the specialised nature of the text.

Mahavamsa, written in Pali language by monks after the 5th Century AD was the only text, which carried in written form as excerpts of some of the early Sinhala text. But on the other hand inscriptions of ancient Ceylon dating from the 3rd Century BC and right down to the 12th Century BC series were found on rocks, pillars and sometimes on slabs. These inscriptions dealt with the people, Kings' orders and their determination of the taxes (Bojakapati) and donations made to the Buddhist viharas (temples) giving a glimpse to the day to day activities of a people during this era.

Professor Lakshman Susantha Perera gained admission at the University College in 1938 and opted to read History for his degree course. The University College by this time had elevated to University status under Sir Ivor Jennings as its first Vice Chancellor. Under the gracious influence of Dr. G. C Mendis and inspiration of Mr. S.A. Pakeman, Principal at the University (well-known author of Sri Lanka's past and antiquities), young Perera's yearning to go into an original research on the ancient history of Sri Lanka became a reality. As providence dictated young Perera was selected for the Hilda Obeysekera Research Fellowship, as the first award of its kind to research into ' The institutions of Ceylon from inscriptions of the Third Century BC to Tenth Century A.D., and receive a Ph.D. from the newly-formed University of Ceylon.

In his next stage all collected inscriptions were arranged, analysed and divided into 4 institution groups - (i) Political - level of politics carried out on a day-to-day basis (ii) Religious - covering religious institutions & their activities (iii) Economic - economic activities including Dajakapati (water taxes) and Bojakapati( taxes to the King) & (iv) Social Institutions portraying the people and their social life to examine how life style of the Ceylonese had developed during these periods.

It had been established during his research that a fair number of the institutions mentioned above were found in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Ceylon with a considerable numbers in the Central Province which gave the extent of the existed Kingdoms during these periods. It is also mentioned that there were very many inscriptions in the Jaffna peninsula too among which was the Wallipuram Gold Plate discovered at Vallipuram on the orders given by the Sinhala Kings at the time.

No one had ever attempted or given thought before until Lakshman Perera undertook this arduous challenge with boundless energy and enthusiasm, untiring effort backed up by overflowing patriotism. In the next stage Lakshman Perera started comparing these material with what was mentioned in the Mahavansa which was written in Pali language after the 5th Century AD. These were the only documents that had been written where he found in Mahavansa much was concentrated on the lives of the Kings and their activities on the whole. All the inscriptions that Prof. Perera worked on were published in the Epigrapha Zelanica, a book edited by Dr. Paranavithana and published by the Archaeological Department containing pictures of inscriptions, their translations with a comment. However, in the Epigraphia Zelanica these inscriptions were not in chronological order except that they had been taken as found and then edited without any sequence.

Although Professor Perera collected material up to the 12th Century AD he had to limit the thesis to 10th Century A.D as it would have exceeded 14,000 pages. Finally in 1949 the thesis containing 1400 pages bound into three volumes was completed.

When the publishing of the thesis became a major drawback Professor Perera was left with three copies, one of which was handed over to his guru Dr. Mendis, second copy to the Peradeniya University and the third copy remained with him for solid five decades.

In his normal academic career Prof. Perera became the Administrative Head of four sub-departments in the second Faculty of Arts in Colombo when in 1952 the Faculty of Arts was shifted to the new campus in Peradeniya. He became the Professor of History of the Colombo Campus and later he was elected to the office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Being a member of the Editorial Board of the Revised University History of Ceylon and the Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies Professor Perera has contributed several chapters to the University of Ceylon ( Vol) covering the period of his research. In 1973 Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended him to the Education Department of the Commonwealth Secretariat as a Senior Consultant on Universities and Higher Education where he continued in this position for a decade till 1983. Even after his retirement from the University he has been serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth . As a voluntary Consultant he has expended much energy in mediating between the Sri Lanka High Commission and the School of Oriental Arts.

It transpired during the interview with Prof. Perera that there are more than one party in Sri Lanka who are now interested in publishing his long overdue thesis. It is the personal opinion of the writer that when there are so many Sri Lankans who have become ' men of the world' and living as expatriates at all corners of the world today who are equally taking an interest in their roots to come forward in getting this precious historical piece of work about Sri Lanka off the ground and get it published and given the maximum publicity and circulation that it deserves, especially at a time when the Ceylon History is clouded with so many new versions by various individuals for number of reasons.