Dr Harischandra Wijayatunga: Commitment, Dedication, Perseverance

Harischandra wijayatunga

Dr  Wijayatunga Mudalige Harischandra Wijayatunga the eminent  erudite scholar and superseding celebrity in Sinhala science  and literature was born on 25th October  in year 1931 at Madamulla in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka. His father, Wijayatunga Mudalige Don Bastian Wijayatunga, was an Ayurvedic eye physician cum a wealthy land proprietor and a planter owning coconut and paddy cultivations.

Dr Harischandra Wijayatunga had obtained his elementary education at the Government Bilingual School in Minuwangoda. had continued his studies at Nalanda College. His father’s ambition had been to groom his son to be a doctor.  But young Wijayatunga had other ideas to devote his time for accepting the challenge to translate English science books to Sinhala.   This was a time that many thought  that Science could not be taught in Sinhala.

At Nalanda College some of Wijayatunga’s distinguished contemporaries were Karunaratne Abeysekera, Dr Hudson Silva ,Dr Dharmasena Attygalle ,Rupa Karunatilleke, Ravindra Rupasena ,Gunadasa Amarasekera and Stanley Jayasinghe.

Dr Harischandra Wijayatunga the mythical celebrity possess milestones of triumphs as a  BSc science graduate, a PhD  for his thesis “Legal Philosophy in Medieval Sinhale by the University of Kelaniya  in 1990 based on research work on “Nithi Niganduwa, Senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, Hela Wadanpathi, External Lecturer of the Kelaniya University, Translator, Author and many more.  His political philosophy Mahasammatavada (‘Great Consensus’ or comprehensive consultation) envisages consulting all people which he described “as going beyond democracy”.

He is Editor in Chief of the latest huge Practical Sinhala dictionary volume 11 the most comprehensive Sinhala dictionary consisting of over 3000 pages, an enhancement  of volume 1 published in 1982 with over 130,000 key Sinhala words, launched during the Colombo International book fair in September 2017.

In 1955 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Science, BSc. The medium of language then was English. During this decade there had been the proposal to make Sinhala the state official language. At the same time there had been resistance opposing the proposal that science could not be taught in Sinhala. However in contrary to this concept young Wijayatunga undertook a mammoth exercise  to translate the standard Practical Chemistry book written by Browning and Joseph to Sinhala,  a gigantic endeavour in the year 1956.  Subsequently he completed translating and publishing in 1962 the standard book “Inorganic Chemistry” by PJ Durrent also a hectic venture. This book is what was used by the Advanced Level students for decades.

Immediately after obtaining his BSc degree Wijayatunga obtained an appointment as the science teacher at Dharmaraja College Kandly. Concurrently he had been offered to teach Chemistry at Mahamaya Girl’s College, Kandy. He was very soon appointed as the Vice Principal of Dharmaraja College. During this period he utilized his practical familiarity in the school laboratory to write his first science book in Sinhala “Miridiya Jivihu”. Wijayatunga based the book on life that was not seen to the naked eye but to verify that still living beings, both creatures and plants existed.

During his tenure at Dharmaraja College he ventured on publishing a Sinhala ‘kavi” book titled “ Pahan Wana Da”. One verse he had dedicated to Mahaweli River titled “Gangawe Andonawa” which means “Mahaweli River is crying”. A copy of this book Wijayatunga had presented to his close comrade Arisen Ahubudu who had a terrific knack to compose lyrics for Sinhala songs had shuffled the words therein had written the lyrics for Sunil Shantha’s popular song “Emba Ganga.Gangawe…..”

In year 1965 he was appointed to the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI). He was the pioneer member appointed to the staff, functioning as its solitary Secretary. SLSI is the National Standards Body of Sri Lanka, established under the Bureau of Ceylon Standards Act No.38 of 1964. This Act was repealed and replaced by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution Act No. 6 of 1984. During his tenure at SLSI, he had been instrumental in issuing 180 SLS standards for certification.

One of Dr Wijayatunga’s ambitions in early life was also to serve as an Attorney-at-law.  After joining Law College he took oaths in year 1973.

It is significant to cite that Dr Wijayatunga had changed the concept of writing letters on double ruled exercise books introduced by the Englishmen for Sinhala letters. His hypothesis had urged the authorities to print six ruled exercise books for Sinhala letters. Dr Wijayatunga was adamant that students should be familiar with the correct spelling of scientific words such as “chlorophyll “,”chlorine” in Sinhala. 

After compiling the Practical Sinhala dictionary in 1978 a cabinet Minister E.L.B Hurulle then Minister of Cultural affairs who was present at the launch had asked Dr Wijayatunga whether he could compile a more sophisticated Practical Sinhala dictionary Volume 1 in less than two years time within his tenure. He had said ‘yes’ provided the desirable staffs were given with the words that had been already searched and preserved. Dr Wijayatunga had obliged within the specified phase which was launched as Volume 1 of the Practical Sinhala dictionary in year 1982, in a colossal exertion.

Dr Harischandra Wijayatunga has contributed immeasurably as a translator and author.As a person via such accomplishments has done incredible yeoman service to the advanced level students and undergraduates to unprecedented levels. In a nutshell the erudite scholar had had entered the corridor of celebrity revolving around authoring books on science, creative works,  religion and history,  politics,  philosophical, biological works, languages, translating science books culminating  with of course the huge Practical Sinhala Dictionary Volume 11 undoubtedly one  of the largest  books ever compiled and published in this country. We all Sri Lankans should pray for him for superior wellbeing and prolonged life in his 86th year.

By: Sunil Thenabadu  from Queensland, Australia