Someone looking for a brief history of ancient Sri Lanka will usually read a Wikipedia article, of course. And there`s nothing wron about it. But those looking for a book written by a renowned Sri Lankan historian, also have a choice. The leading archaeologist of Ceylon after independence was doubtlessly Senarath Paranavithana. He edited the first two volumes of the standard “History of Ceylon” of the University of Ceylon (Ceylon University Press Board, 1960) and many volumes of the “Epigraphia Zeylanica” on ancient inscriptions. His most celebrated work is Sigiri graffiti in 2 volumes, published for the Government of Ceylon by Geoffrey Cumberlege, London, Oxford Univ. Press, 1956, deciphering the ninth century poems at the mirror wall of Sigiriya, first examples of Sinhalese poetry.
However, Senarath Paranavithana,who had been Archaeological Commissioner between 1940 and 1956, later on also wrote shorter overviews for a wider audience. A work of 368 pages is his “A Concise History of Ceylon: from the earliest times to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505, Colombo, Ceylon University Press, 1961. Even shorter, less than 100 pages, is a later publication: Sinhalayo. 1st edition, Colombo, Lake House Investments Ltd, 1968, reprinted several times. The theme of Sinhalayo is the early history of the Sinhales civilisation, particularly the very beginnings and the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. A short chapter entitled the Decline is a later addition about the post-Polonnaruwa kingdoms in th late Middle Ages.
Paranavithana’s work are not free of nationalistic prowd, some of his theses may be biased or out of date. However, the doyen of Sri Lankan archaeology paved the way for modern historians and his writings are good examples of a genuine Sri Lankan style of historiography, focused not only on kings and politics but on cultural and social history.
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