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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Unchallenged Legacy of Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala: ‘Rare genius’ and ‘Inspirational’ Archaeologist

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Even though he is gone now, he still is an outstanding archaeologist and academic. His grift and tenacity inspired not only me but people all over the world. His sudden and painful demise is a massive knock-on of the infrastructure of Sri Lankan Archaeological Academia which is potentially irreplaceable. We lose people every day. But, he is a colossal and sheer rock among sanctimoniously preaching academics. We as a nation cannot afford this huge academic loss. This surely tips the absolute end of a golden era of Sri Lankan Archaeology. To describe Dr. Deraniyagala would be hard as he had a unique character coupled with a charismatic personality and a brilliant mind. These qualities along with his dynamic leadership abilities proved to be very successful, professionally as well as personally.

Dr. Deraniyagala and me at Ekneligoda Walauwa

I first and last met him during a pleasant day, 2nd July 2021. Consistently whitely dressed placid he greeted us. He was exactly how I pictured him. Convivial and exuberant. It was remarkable amicability for an undergraduate like me. “There is no such thing as being this-archaeologist or that-archaeologist, be the whole-package-of-an-archaeologist. Take as many as course units you can during university. Never ever narrow down to a single discipline. Explore the subject. We still have so much to learn” his first piece of mind strolled towards me.  Now more than ever, these words ring true. “Consider stratigraphy as the backbone of Archaeology. Center it and do your studies. Everything topsy-turvy will not gain reputation or recognition in archaeology. What’s the point of the story you going to tell, if stratigraphy is disturbed? you feel where I’m heading child?”. Another piece of his mind reflects his penetration of careful understanding and theoretical approach in values of archaeology.  Most of all he was a kind man, gracious always and I can still hear his voice booming in my ears not loud but powerful as he would speak giving weight to each word.

While digging into some fond memories of Dr. Deraniyagala’s journey, we were offered some fresh jaggery. “When I was beginning my Ph.D. at Harvard University, I was mandatory by law to pursue geology and research methodology as a part of my doctoral studies. This is what we are deprived of here. An interdisciplinary understanding and coalition”. He sets a thoughtful face. “Let’s get an example from home. You said you want to be a zooarchaeologist. Fine. Terrific. But the thing is you can’t just do your job, sorting animal bones taxonomically by sitting on a comfy chair inside a fully techno-equipped lab. You got to be in the field. You must know where your bones routing to your table. Therefore, you might want to know geology, stratigraphy, and dating methods, what’s not my child? Think……”. He was an eye-opener to me and other young researchers as well. He put me in the fire spot as well as he made sure to put our nation on the world map.

What I personally found more profound about him is his eidetic memory of everything he has done and read. I never found anyone in my life who talks very much fluently and confidently about his own work. “Be confident of what you do.” The expressive and elongated words on his Anuradhapura Citadel Excavation say it all. Some voids cannot just be filled. I felt that. There is a void where he left off, an emptiness; an eerie silence.

The eminent scholar and inevitable genius asks me ‘In the long run, what can I do for you child? Is there anything you wish to ask or request? I stoned for a moment. He tried to open more doors for me even though from afar. What can I possibly ask, after he has willingly dedicated almost three hours of his precious time? “No, Sire”. Memory counts from the very moment. “Do you have a Prehistory of Sri Lanka?”, “No Sire”, me again. He went inside and back with the bible of prehistory, ‘Prehistory of Sri Lanka: An Ecological Perspective”. He wrote something. “With my best wishes for her future in Archaeology”.

Unchallenged Legacy of Dr. Siran Upendra Deraniyagala
For Kalangi from Dr. Deraniyagala

I was honored and fortunate enough to spot his great aura just before three mounts of his departure. “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. Be an ‘archaeologist’. While saying, he slightly touches my shoulder when I bowed him. His last words for me still echo in my ears. Anyone can teach, but only a star can navigate through the darkness while inspiring hundreds and thousands of atoms of light elements. His extraordinary presence cannot be erased easily and is a sad loss to our nation simply because of the enormous contribution he made towards the field of archeology.

Still, cannot believe he is gone forever, but he will continue to be missed by millions locally and internationally. His unbeatable legacy will continue to inspire new generations of archaeologists and bud scientists for ages yet to come. May his soul gets all the peace he believed in.

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