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Early life and schooling

Early life

Pawuludevage Leelananda Prematilleke was born on 1922 June 07 at Padiliyathuduwa, Mahara, Kelaniya. His father who hailed from this village was a normal villager, with some means. His mother belonged to Wanawasala Kelaniya and was one of two daughters of the then Village Headman Juanis, who was reputed for his stern actions against wrong doers. 

He spent his early childhood in both villages, but later settled down at the “Mahagedara” at Wanawasala. He enjoyed the close social environment within the village. In his own words he states, ‘I treated all my companions of parallel age of both sexes as my own brothers and sisters whether at play or at studies‘.

Prematilleke with his mother, sister and her family

School education

He studied in the Sinhala medium at St.Anthony’s College Wattala, and Dutugamunu Mixed School Peliyagoda. Then he transferred to studying in English medium at St. Mary’s College, Pettah, Prince College, Kotahena, and Alexandra College, Colombo.

Prior to seeking higher education, Prematilleke was able to qualify himself in both arts and science disciplines in the London Matriculation, Advance Level and Higher School Certificate examinations (English medium), taking up such subjects as Languages, History of Art Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Botany. Such background knowledge of the arts and sciences enabled to organize himself in the years to come.

The Artist

The young Prematilleke was an extremely talented artist. His artistic talent was shown from early days. He developed and perfected his art from a very young age, and due to his close association with the village temple in Wanawalasa Kelaniya, he developed an interest in temple art, and almost by default, in all things ancient. In his own words ‘in my childhood in our temple there was a stone with carvings; I would marvel at these carvings for hours‘. In the year 1942, he submitted a painting in the Kandyan tradition depicting the demise of King Dutugemunu, to the All Ceylon Schools Exhibition held at the  Colombo Art Gallery; he won the first prize from among all schools for this painting. Strangely, the Chief Guest who handed him his prize was Professor Senarat Paranavitana, his later mentor in archaeology; this was the first time he saw him.

In the years that followed, due to his artistic talent and his strong bonds with the Vidyalankara Pirivena, he was sought after by erudite Buddhist clergy there such as Venerable Bambarande Siri Seevali Thero (Dasha maha purushayo,  1953, Vidyalankara Printers, Kelaniya, 138 pages) and Venerable Kotahene Pannakitti Thero (Sahithyaya. 1959, Dept of Cultural Affairs, 132 pages), to illustrate covers for their books. These, he would simply sign as ‘Pemtilak’. 

As far back as the 1940s, as a secondary school student, Prematilleke ignited his ambition to devote his life to the pursuit of a career of service to preserve Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. He made extensive visits to the ruins of the ancient cities and the untutored first-hand knowledge he gained about the monuments made lasting memories of such archaeological sites and stood in good stead in his later studies.

Thus, ‘Pemtilak’ the talented artist, embarked on the journey to becoming Prematilleke, the world-renowned archaeologist.

View more art in gallery