An exhibition tracing the German connection

Exhibition of Germans in Dutch and British Ceylon (Sri Lanka) organised by Ismeth Raheem now on at the Goethe Institut, (upto November 10, from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.)

This exhibition is unique –of a nation that was unique in its association with Sri Lanka. Germany took a lead in Buddhist studies when most countries in Europe were too preoccupied with their own culture. Long before this country’s British administrators took a serious interest in its Buddhist heritage, it was the Germans who spearheaded the research in the mid-nineteenth century into the cultural, religious and philosophical roots of Sri Lanka’s heritage.

The reason is not hard to see- by the mid 19th century professorial chairs for the study of Buddhism, Pali and Sinhalese were created in German institutions of learning. The universities of Berlin and Heidelberg not only recognized the importance of such specialized areas of study, but also took the unusual step of appointing Sri Lankans to head the relevant university department. As early as 1889 Don Martino de Zylva Wickramasinghe was appointed Professor of Pali, Sinhala, Telugu and Tamil at the University of Berlin. Later in the early 1930s there was a move by Wilhelm Geiger (1856-1943) to establish a special institute for research and study.

This exhibition traces the influence of German events and personalities on the cultural, religious and scientific aspects of Sri Lankan life.

Among the scientists who visited Sri Lanka was Ernst Haeckel, one of Germany’s leading biologists although he is best known for two scientific statements- ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and the other scientific terminology such as phylum, phylogeny and ecology commonly used by biologists today. Haeckel (1834-1919) was the quintessential 19th century scientist, essentially a renaissance man, being both an artist and a scientist.

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