A committed Buddhist leader who lived for the Dhamma Albert Edirisinghe The well-known Buddhist leader who contributed much to the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka, Deshabandu Albert Edirisinghe, J.P., passed away on July 22 this year at the age of almost 100. In the latter years as a monk he was known as Ven. Ganegama [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka



A committed Buddhist leader who lived for the Dhamma

Albert Edirisinghe

The well-known Buddhist leader who contributed much to the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka, Deshabandu Albert Edirisinghe, J.P., passed away on July 22 this year at the age of almost 100. In the latter years as a monk he was known as Ven. Ganegama Devamitta Thera.

Born in Baddegama he was educated at Mahinda College, a well-known Buddhist College in Galle. Taking to optometrics and spectacle frames, he served in a private company for some time and then established his own undertaking: Albert Edirisinghe Opticians Company Ltd. He was also the chairman of Albert Edirisinghe Investments Ltd. and chairman of Lanka Opticians Industry. From small beginnings the Albert Edirisinghe Optician Co. Ltd. expanded and developed rapidly and established branches all over the island.

His financial strength enabled him to contribute substantially for Buddhist activities and play a leading role in Buddhist affairs, closely associating himself with Buddhist scholars and activists of the calibre of Prof. Gunapala Malalasekara and Prof. Ananda Guruge. Taking an active interest in the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) he was its president from 1972 to 1975 and again from 1983 to 1984. Earlier he was its treasurer. The assistance of Albert Edirisinghe for the activities of ACBC was substantial, both financial and otherwise.

The World Fellowship of Buddhists was established in 1951 initiated by Prof. Malalasekara at a conference in Colombo with representatives from several Buddhist countries in the region. Albert Edirisinghe was closely involved in its activities and was its vice president from 1975 to 1986. He was president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists’ Sri Lanka branch from 1964 to 1987.

Albert Edirisinghe maintained a close and active association with the Maha Sangha of Sri Lanka. He visited numerous Buddhist temples in the country and discussed matters pertaining to the welfare of the Buddha Sasana. On these visits he made a special effort to have a dialogue with young Samanera monks.

His wife Yasawathi Edirisinhe was by his side in most of his Buddhist activities. He married her on September 7, 1935. Their spacious residence at R.A.de Mel Mawatha, popularly referred to as Duplication Road, was open house to both monks and laymen. They were so well organised that they could provide dana for monks or a meal for lay friends at short notice. He often visited old temples and helped to undertake renovations where necessary. In this connection a special interest was shown for the restoration of Somawathi Chaitya in Polonnaruwa and Dutugemunu Viharaya in Baddegama. Action was also initiated by him to establish an institution to take care of ageing monks.

His interest in the welfare of monks and temples was remarkable. Thus, it was in the fitness of things that in later years he took to robes and joined the ranks of the Sangha. This decision was taken around 2001. Thinking that relatives and close friends may dissuade him from doing so, he went to a temple secretly and ordained himself as a monk and when others came to know it was a fait accompli.

It is not easy for a layman in late life to adjust himself to the discipline of the order of the Sangha. However, he led a peaceful life as a monk at Wijewardanaramaya in Baddegama. He mentioned to me at that time that the chief monk of the temple Ven. Horangalle Hemasara Thera took great care of him and guided him in his initial years as a monk. He made him sit next to him when they went out for dana in households.

Albert Edirisinghe was active in the affairs of his old school Mahinda College and helped H.W. Amerasuriva, a well-known politician, philanthropist and one time president of the ACBC to establish the Colombo Branch of Mahinda College Old Boys Association in the early 1950s. He was once its treasurer and later succeeded Mr. Amerasuriya as its president.

His generosity was well known. Spectacle frames and lenses were given at significant discounts to associates and the poor. In my student days in the university in the late 1950s I went to his shop in Fort and was about to pay a bill of Rs.40 when he made his appearance. When he inquired whether everything was alright, I just mentioned on the spur of the moment, light heartedly, that the charges were too high. He immediately reduced it to Rs.20 and inquired whether I could afford it. If not he said pay whatever you can. On another occasion, he was reprimanded by concerned members of the family regarding substantial discounts and giving spectacles free for some. He smiled and replied in my presence that he had to be generous to old friends and the needy.

His dedication and devotion for the upliftment of the Buddha Sasana was an example for others to follow.
Last month, a dana was held at Gangarama Temple in Hunupitiya for 100 monks to commemorate his 100th birth anniversary. For this event, most monks even from distant places made their own arrangements for travel. Institutions such as the Sampath Bank, Mount Lavinia Hotel and Opticians Associations and many others contributed financially and otherwise to make this event a success with more than 100 laymen also participating. Unfortunately in the last few years he was unwell and had to move from the Baddegama temple to Colombo. He was well looked after by son Janaka, and his brother and sisters. He was close to his family and provided a sound education and foundation for the children to prosper. More importantly, he guided them to lead a Buddhist way of life. He lived a long and fruitful life.

In this hour of grief we extend our sympathies to his devoted and caring children Gamini, Janaka, Mangala, Shamali and Tulani. They could take consolation in the fact that they were fortunate to be with a father so committed to the Dhamma for a long period of time.

May this dedicated Buddhist leader and benefactor of the Buddha Sasana realise early the Supreme Peace of Nibbana.

Rajah Kuruppu

Ammi, you were a truly gracious lady


We can’t believe that a year has passed since you left us, but the days have not gone by without us thinking of you and reminiscing about the good times we shared. We may not have put into words often enough, how much you meant to us, but Ammi you were “the rock” that anchored our rocking ship and provided us the stable home, we simply took for granted.

Thank you Ammi, for your courage, patience and perseverance for which we are eternally grateful.

We recall what a wonderful cook you were and the tireless efforts you put into making our favourite dishes and enjoyed seeing us relish them. Despite our protests, it was both heart-warmingand exasperating to watch you preparing special dishes for your grandchildren, even while battling cancer during your last few months. Thathi often says you were a greater diplomat than he was and how much he misses you.

There were times our actions may have displeased you and we never got to make it up to you. Ammi, we are truly sorry for all the times we may have hurt your feelings. You were well liked by all who befriended you. What a gracious lady you were.It is said that “the definition of a lady is a person who has put more into life than taken out of it”. Ammi, you were a true lady by this definition.

We love and miss you very much and our sincere wish is that you be liberated from all bonds and ties in sansara and attain the supreme state of Nibbana.

Your loving children, Kaushalya, Rajeewa, Dushyanthi, Sanjeewa and Vimuktha

A leading light of Lanka’s Library and Information Science

N. Amarasinghe

N. Amarasinghe, former director of the Sri Lanka National Library Services Board (SLNLSB), (present National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB)) and founder Head of the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of Kelaniya passed away recently. With his demise Sri Lanka lost a pioneering bibliographer, excellent teacher in Library and Information Science (LIS) and a quality librarian.

Mr. Amarasinghe studied at Nugawela Central College and later at the Peradeniya University, where he read for a Sinhala honours degree. After graduation he joined the Department of Archives as an Assistant Archivist. During that time he was involved in the launching of the Ceylon National Bibliography (CNB) project together with A. J. Wells, the legendary former editor of the British National Bibliography. Mr. Wells came to Sri Lanka under the auspices of UNESCO for this purpose.

The National Bibliography which lists the publications of a country is a prerequisite to an organised and quality library and information management of a country. Technically the compilation of the National Bibliography is a function of the National Library. Since there was no National Library in Sri Lanka at the time, the Department of Archives stepped in to fulfil the requirement.

The National Bibliography branch was established at the University of Ceylon Library, Peradeniya by the Department of Archives in November 1962 and Mr. Amarasinghe was appointed as the first editor of the CNB to understudy Mr. Wells. This was a successful initiative and the Sri Lanka National Bibliography is still thriving as the official publication on Sri Lankan publications, presently under the NLDSB.

The UNESCO was keen to lay a strong foundation for this national project and provided a fellowship to Mr. Amarasinghe to the University of London, where he studied bibliographical services and librarianship from 1963 to 1964 and obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Library and Information Science. After returning to Sri Lanka he continued to work with the National Bibliography project at the Department of Archives.

Since his postgraduate qualifications were in LIS and also due to the scarcity of qualified librarians, Mr. Amarasinghe received many lucrative employment offers. 

In 1968 he joined the Junior University College of Dehiwala as a lecturer and was responsible for the highly successful but short lived Junior University Diploma programme in Library and Information Science. Thereafter he assumed duties as a Senior Assistant Librarian of the Peradeniya University. In 1974, the Kelaniya University sought his services for the newly created Department of Library and Information Science, as the founder Head of the Department. Although he stayed there only for a short period, he managed to give it a strong foundation, on which it still thrives offering both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

In 1976, he became the second director of the Sri Lanka National Library Services Board after the first Director, K. D. Somadasa (1971-1975), former Librarian of the University of Ceylon, left the office to join the British Museum Library (presently the British Library). Mr. Amarasinghe served for 12 years (1976-1988) as the Director of SLNLSB, during, probably the most turbulent time of the organisation. The long delay in constructing the National Library building, lack of office accommodation and forced migration from one place to another, scattered office accommodation in several places, inadequate funds for projects and the scarcity of qualified senior staff were the order of the day. Even under these trying circumstances, Mr. Amarasinghe and staff, with the help of some dedicated SLNLSB chairmen such as M.J. Perera, H.P. Siriwardena and Sugunadasa Athukorale weathered the storm and contributed significantly to the strengthening of the new institution. 

The National Library building at Independence Avenue was built during his tenure. The design of the building was prepared by a UNESCO architect, Prof. Michael Brawne of the University of Bath, UK. Although the main building plan was prepared in 1973/74, designing of the library furniture, interior designing and some improvement to the initial building plan — e.g. addition of the present auditorium — were carried out later in consultation with the UNESCO expert.

Building up the National Library collection, introduction of the Publication Assistance Project with the initiative of the then Chairman, Sugunadasa Athukorale, strengthening the National Bibliography Project, introduction of the ISBN and ISSN numbers to the publishing field in Sri Lanka, assisting the establishment of the Non-Aligned Databank Project in Colombo which was initiated and ably assisted by the then Sri Lankan Ambassador to France, Bandu Silva with the assistance of UNESCO (which was subsequently abandoned), expanding the Library Education and Training activities of the SLNLSB including the LIS correspondence course for the benefit of the library staff of rural areas, establishing the APINESS (Asia-Pacific Information Network in Social Sciences) national focal point at the SLNLSB, commencing the folklore collection with the assistance of late Peter Wijesinghe and initiating a number of other LIS projects (e.g. District Central Library Project, Technical College Library Development Project and Book Box Scheme for selected local authorities) were some of the projects initiated at the tenure of Mr Amarasinghe. 

With his initiative, the Conference of Directors of National Libraries in Asia & Oceania (CDNLAO) was held in Sri Lanka in 1986 with the participation of a large number of National Library directors from the region.

Mr. Amarasinghe was well known and widely respected within the LIS field as an excellent teacher and educator. In addition to teaching at the Junior University and Kelaniya University, he taught extensively in both Sinhala and English at the Library & Information Science Diploma classes conducted by the Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA) in Colombo and Kandy and also served as the Education Officer of the SLLA. He has a number of publications to his credit including the ‘Catalogue of postgraduate thesis available in Universities and Research Libraries in Sri Lanka’.

After leaving the SLNLSB in 1988, he joined the Papua New Guinea University and served as a senior lecturer of the teaching faculty and subsequently as the Librarian of one of the university campuses till 2005. Mr. Amarasinghe’s contribution to strengthening LIS in Sri Lanka in general and National Bibliographic Services, Library Education and Training and National Library Development in particular is significant. He will be remembered as a pioneer of the national library services, national bibliographic services and library education and training in Sri Lanka.

May he attain Nibbana!

Upali Amarasiri

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