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In loving memory of Dr. Roland Silva, a pillar of Sri Lankan Archaeology

By Chryshane Mendis and Prasad Fonseka

Deshamanya Vidya Jyothi Dr. Roland Silva was one of the foremost experts in the conservation of historical monuments and sites and one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent archaeologists. He was the former Commissioner of Archaeology (1983-1990) and the pioneer Founder Director General of the Central Cultural Fund that implemented the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle, former Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa, former President of the World Body of Conservators, the first president of the of ICOMOS International (International Council on Monuments and Sites) from Asia (1990-1999), which is one of the three formal advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee function under  UNESCO, the pioneer in the establishment of the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology and the pioneer founder President of The National Trust Sri Lanka. In addition he was a senior/honoured member of many other national and international professional institutions of Architecture and Archaeology.

Dr Roland Silva

Born in 1933 to a prominent entrepreneurial family in Giriulla, Roland Silva was the fifth in the family. His only brother was the eldest and there were three elder sisters and three younger sisters to Roland. He began school at St. Joseph’s College Colombo 10 in 1939 and was the youngest boarder at that time in the hostel, where he resided throughout his years at College. In 1942 when the Darley road premises were taken over by the military, the students were moved to three branches in Gampaha, Kelaniya, and Homagama. He continued his studies in Gampaha and then in Homagama, where he excelled in the second and third standards and received a double promotion to the fifth standard. Returning to Darley road in 1946, he took part in high jump and volley ball and finally captained the College Athletics and Volley ball teams. The late Dr. Carlo Fonseka who later entered SJC after having his early education in Mari Stella College was a classmate of his and were together in their years of schooling until they were separated in different streams. Due to his excellence in academic and the other activities, he was awarded the Head Prefectship by the Rector Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, in 1951.

Young Roland Silva

In Senior Prep (Year 9), he chose Double Maths, Physics and Chemistry (for HSC) and after passing all the examinations, he was called for an interview for selection to University where he indicated his desire to study Architecture. As there was no course on Architecture in the University, the panel recommended him to discuss with the Rector and so the Rector communicated with the Architecture Association (AA) of England to secure a place in their School of Architecture.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Senake Bandaranayake, Dr Senarat Dissanayake, Prof. Anura Manatunga, Dr. Sirimal Lakdusinghe

Dr. Roland began his studies in London in 1954, and while there, he had received a letter from Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai about his visit to London to undergo surgery for nonalcoholic cirrhosis. Fr. Peter Pillai had requested his former student to arrange suitable accommodation and he was able to find a visitor’s room in the hostel where he was staying. He had also given his contact details to the Hospital as the emergency contact of Fr. Peter Pillai and tended to the needs of Fr. Pillai throughout his stay in London.

While studying architecture in London from 1954 to 1959, he became interested in  archaeology and thus he found time to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Indian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1958; and even at this young age, he demonstrated his skills in multi-tasking, which later became the hallmark of his career.

After his studies in London, he toured in Europe and North Affrica visiting archaeological sites and he collected his appointment letter as the Assistant Commissioner (Architecture) of the Department of Archaeology from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Egypt. He became an Associate Member of Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1960, Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962 He later went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Monuments from the University of Rome in 1968 and his Ph.D. from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1988.

Dr Roland Silva

During his illustrious career of 30 years at the Department of Archaeology, Dr. Roland had the privilege of being the last Commissioner of Archaeology and its first Director General. During his tenure, he gave professional and scientific leadership for complex conservation works such as the restoration of the Maligawila Buddha Image and many historical Stūpas. Through his great vision and holistic approach to heritage, he was the pioneer and pathfinder for the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle in 1980 and also for the inscribing of Sri Lanka’s first six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In par with these international projects, he also set up the Central Cultural Fund for the financing and implementation of the project.

Dr. Roland Silva was the Founder President of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka from 1981 to 1990, and also championed for regional representation in ICOMOS International and was subsequently elected the first Non-European President of ICOMOS in 1990, which he held for an unprecedented three consecutive terms till 1999; during which he worked tirelessly to set up national committees of ICOMOS in African, Asian and Latin American countries to realize his vision of making ICOMOS truly a world body. His international work included chairing scientific sessions of UNESCO that listed 222 sites throughout the world and also advocated looking into Asian traditions in conservation and management with an approach to living heritage. He also chaired the international proceedings in Nara, Japan, in 1993 that led to the Nara Document of Authenticity, a landmark document in heritage conservation.

Dr. Roland Silva was a consultant for World Heritage Site projects in many countries. One of his major contributions at the international level was serving in  the team of experts in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, which made the tower stable.  Roland Silva the architect, too was active, having assisted in developing the architecture education by setting up a course in architecture at the Colombo Campus and was thus an influential teacher to several generations of architects. The former Head Office building of the CCF, Polonnaruwa Site Museum, and the old site Museum at Sigiriya were all designed by him, evolving a specific architectural vocabulary with tradition.

He is a constant reference to any student of Archaeology in Sri Lanka, and his theoretical studies of ancient Buddhist architecture are now standard practices. Even at an old age, Dr. Roland was still involved in the heritage sector and attended to the affairs of The National Trust with great enthusiasm. His strong charisma was an inspiration to many and although his demise is a loss to Sri Lanka and the whole world, the legacy he left behind will last the ages where he will join the list as one of Mother Lanka’s greatest sons.

Dr Roland Silva with Prof. Gamini Adikari, December 2019

 

Special thanks gooes to Mr. IMS Madanayake and Ms Sonali Premarathne for providing photos for this article.

This article was published on arcaheology.lk on January 03, 2020

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Events

ICOMOS – Sri Lanka felicitation ceremony for Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. L. Prematilleke

By Chryshane Mendis

The felicitation ceremony for Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. P.L. Prematilleke organized by ICOMOS – Sri Lanka was held recently on the 24th of March 2018 at 10.00 am in the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects, Colombo 07. This was held to honour the services of Dr. Roland Silva and Prof. P.L. Prematilleke, two past presidents of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka, for their unique and valuable contribution to the protection and conservation of Sri Lanka’s heritage. During the ceremony, the first ever Gold Medal offered by ICOMOS – Sri Lanka was conferred onto Dr. Roland Silva with Prof. Prematileke being conferred with the Honorary Membership of ICOMOS – International, the first Sri Lankan to receive it. The ceremony was followed by a lecture on “Challenges of Redevelopment in the City of Anuradhapura” by the Guest of Honor Prof. Madduma Bandara.

 

The ceremony, participated by distinguished dignitaries, began with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp; which was followed by the welcome speech delivered by the Mr. Jayatissa Herath, President of ICOMOS Sri Lanka. Following the welcome speech, the dignitaries in the persons of Prof. Gamini Adikari, Prof. D.B. Nandadeva, Dr. Nilan Cooray, Arch. Jayatissa Herath, Dr. Roland Silva, Prof. Prematilleke and Prof. Madduma Bandara were invited to take their seats at the head table. The day’s proceedings began by inviting Prof. D.B. Nandadeva to read the citation of Prof. P.L. Prematileke. The following is a summary of the read citation.

Greeting the audience, and assisted by a slide show of photographs, Prof. Nandadeva began by saying it is a great privilege given to him by the President and Council of ICOMOS, to formally introduce ‘an inspiring teacher, an enthusiastic archaeologist, a pioneering heritage preservation specialist, an innovative Museologist and a great role model of our times’ in the person of Professor Leelananda Prematilleke.

Prof. Nandadeva delivering the citation for Prof. Prematilleke.

Having obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Oriental languages from the University of Ceylon, Colombo, a Master’s Degree in Ancient History and Culture from the University of Calcutta and Doctoral training at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London; he began his academic career as an Assistant Lecturer in the Sub-department of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya in 1960, with Professor Senerat Paranavitana as his mentor. He was instrumental in establishing the first ever undergraduate degree programme in Archaeology in the country in the early 60s and he is also credited for the upgrading of the sub-department of Archaeology to a full-fledged academic department in 1976. He was then subsequently promoted to the Chair of the same department and held that title until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement and in recognition for his outstanding services to the field, he was awarded the honorary title of Professor Emeritus and few years later the Honorary Degree of D.Litt by the University of Peradeniya. He served as an Advisor and Consultant to the Department of Archaeology and was instrumental in forming the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology and the Sri Lanka Council of Archaeologists. Contributing to the academic sphere with over 200 works of literature, he was active both locally and internationally as well, being a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and Waseda University in Japan. His most noteworthy contribution to heritage conservation was in the rescue archaeology project of relocating the Nalanda Gedige, a 8th-10th century monument which was about to be submerged by the Bowatenna Reservoir in Matale; this was somewhat reminiscent of the rescues archaeology project of the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt. His contribution to the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle was immeasurable, in association with Dr. Roland Silva and other scholars he played a major role in its implementation from 1980-1997. Through the programme he directed archaeological excavations at Polonnaruwa, which uncovered an ancient hospital site in the Alahana Pirivena and at Kandy. UNESCO also obtained his services as a Scientific Leader for the Third Leg of the Silk Roat-sea Route project and as an Assessor of authentication of the Lumbini site. Prof. Prematilleke was also involved in the field of Museology having being lead Consultant in the display arrangements at the International Buddhist Museum at Kandy and others such as the Colombo National Museum. He was also a founding member of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka and its President from 1997-2000. Prof. Prematilleke, even at the age of 96, is still involved in the activities of ICOMOS.

On an ending note, Prof. Nandadeva also mentioned that he was much privileged to have been a student of Prof. Prematilleke as part of the Fine Arts study programme at Peradeniya University in the early 1970s; and was also an inspiration for him in specializing in the Heritage Management and Conservation field. Prof. Nandadeva said that it was decided at the 19th General Assembly of ICOMOS held in Delhi, India in December 2017 to confer honorary membership of ICOMOS upon Prof. Prematilleke for “his contribution to the life of the organization of the ICOMOS and his distinguished service in the field of conservation, restoration and enhancement of historical monuments, sites and group of buildings”. (see link to full speech)

Dr. Roland Silva (left) and Prof. Prematilleke (right), speaking a few words after receiving the Honorary Membership.

The Honorary Life Membership of ICOMOS – International was subsequently bestowed upon Professor Prematilleke and after which, Professor Prematilleke was invited to speak a few words.

For the second leg of the ceremony, Dr. Nilan Cooray was invited to read the citation for Dr. Roland Silva. The following is a summary of the read citation. Greeting the audience, Dr. Cooray said it was a privilege given by the President and Council of ICOMOS, to formally introduce a unique personality of our times, Dr. Roland Silva.

Born in Giriulla in 1933 and educated at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, Young Roland Silva, going against his parent’s choice of studying Accounting, began his architecture studies at AA School of Architecture in London from 1954 to 1959. There he became interested in the meaning of heritage buildings and thus while studying architecture, he found time to complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Indian Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London in 1958; and even at this young age he demonstrated his skills in multi-tasking, which later became the hallmark of his career. Returning to Ceylon he became an Associate Member of Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1960, Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962 but finally chose the heritage sector by joining the Department of Archaeology as Assistant Commissioner (Architecture) in 1960. He later went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Monuments from University of Rome in 1968 and his PhD from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in 1988. During his illustrious career of 30 years at the Department of Archaeology, he had the privilege of being the last Commissioner of Archaeology and its first Director General; and during tenure he gave professional and scientific leadership for complex conservation works such as the restoration of the Maligawila Buddha Image and many historical Stupas. Through his great vision and holistic approach to heritage, he was the pioneer and pathfinder for the UNESCO – Sri Lanka Project of the Cultural Triangle in 1980 and also for the inscribing of Sri Lanka’s first six UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In par with these international projects he also set up the Central Cultural Fund for the financing and implementation of the project. A founding member of ICOMOS – Sri Lanka, he was its Founding President from 1981 to 1990, and also championed for regional representation in ICOMOS International and was subsequently elected the first Non-European President of ICOMOS in 1990, which he held for an unprecedented three consecutive terms till 1999; during which he worked tirelessly to set up national committees of ICOMOS in African, Asian and Latin American countries to realize his vision of making ICOMOS truly a world body. His international work included chairing scientific sessions of UNESCO that listed 222 sites throughout the world and also advocated looking into Asian traditions in conservation and management with an approach to living heritage. He also chaired the international proceedings in Nara, Japan in 1993 that led to the Nara Document of Authenticity, a landmark document in heritage conservation. One of his major contributions at international level was leading a team of experts in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  Roland Silva the architect, too was active, having assisted in developing the architecture education by setting up a course in architecture at the Colombo Campus and was thus an influential teacher to several generations of architects. The former Head Office building of the CCF, Polonnaruwa Site Museum, and the old site Museum at Sigiriya were all designed by him, evolving a specific architectural vocabulary with tradition. (see link to full speech)

The first ever ICOMOS – Sri Lanka Gold Medal was subsequently presented to Dr. Roland Silva and after which, he was invited to speak a few words. Dr. Roland Silva appreciated the presence of all friends who attended the event and commented on a small experience of his involvement in the conservation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He said how committees were established over the history of the tower for its conservation and that he chaired the last committee in 1999. He said that they had to take the final decision as it had leaned 5 meters. The committee consisted of 134 members he said, and described how they chose a simple solution; to extract earth from underneath the raised end and managed to save it. He concluded by saying how he was asked to deliver the toast while having dinner under the shadow of the Tower and how he delivered it with a joke – “Leaning Tower of Pisa said to the Big Ben of London, Mr. Big Ben, if you have the time, I certainly have the inclination!”

Next, the key note speaker Prof. Madduma Bandara was introduced and began his lecture afterwards (see link to lecture). Coming to the event’s conclusion, Arch. Jayatissa Herath presented a memento to Prof. Bandara for his interesting lecture, and the vote of thanks was delivered by Arch. Viranjani Kulakulasuriya, which was followed by a fellowship afterwards.