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Emeritus Professor Chandima Wijebandara

Former Vice Chancellor | University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Hearing that I had been selected to enter the University of Ceylon (now the University of Peradeniya), one of school teachers told me that the era of learning from ‘teachers’ who took almost parental care will be now over and I was ‘destined’ to learn from lecturers who would deliver lectures from a podium for us to listen and take notes. I was really worried thinking that it meant the personal love and care I was blessed with at the school might be something of the past. I thought University dons are almost like robots who do not care to remember our names, to give us a friendly smile when they walk past us or even say good morning to us. It was with that gloomy picture in mind I happened to step in to my dreamland – University of Ceylon.

 However, all my fears and diffidence were immediately vanished the moment our warden – none other than the famous archeology professor Leelananda Prematilleke – welcomed us with a fatherly smile and talked to us friendly. And I was delighted when I came to know he was to be our lecturer in Buddhist Art. Other Professors and lecturers, like Professors W.S.Karunarathne, Jothiya Dheerasekara, Ediriweera Saracchandra etc.,  were also absolutely pleasant and very kind teachers who made my four years of learning there highly enjoyable. 

Professor Prematilleke never seemed ‘lecturing’ to us. He welcomed our voice also in the class and was always ready to discuss with us. He was actually teaching us, contrary to my prejudice. He wanted to be sure that we get all what he explained well into the memory. Any technical term we were not familiar with was clearly explained by him to us both in English and Sinhala. His knowledge of Pali was also of great help in explaining intricacies related to the conceptual background of classical Buddhist aesthetics. 

Being an ideal University don Professor Prematilleke  did not believe in dictating ready made notes to us. ‘If one is not capable of following a lesson and making his own notes he does not deserve to graduate from a university.’ was his philosophy. He used to give us exact pages of the recommended reference books and checked from our tutorials whether we had actually referred to them. He wanted all his students to be not only learners but writers too. He himself was a good writer and artist as well. Even before his University days he had drawn covers for Venerable Professor Bambarande Siri Seevali Thero’s books. In his artworks he signed as ‘Pemthilak’.

We will never forget the study tour we made with Professor Prematilleke in the year 1967. He took every effort to make us comfortable and enjoyed sharing his wisdom all the way from the University to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva. Students really liked his presence though he did not join in singing or dance. But he seemed to enjoy what we were doing to avoid boredom. However, at historically and archaeologically important sites everybody had to pay full attention to his commentaries offered without any book or notes. Yet we had our notebooks and tried to faithfully record almost everything the Professor spoke knowing that he would casually check what we had jotted down.  All four days he spent with us during the trip he used to stay in the same pilgrim rests and take every meal with us. 

 Having graduated from Peradeniya I taught at Colombo, Kelaniya and Sri Jayewardenepura Universities. During my university career too, I continued to have opportunities to meet my beloved Professor at conferences, meetings and in the Cultural Triangle office in Colombo. Every time I met him, he used to call me by name and reminisce about the days that I was in his class. The last time I met him was when I happened to visit him with his nephew, my optometrist Harsha Edirisinghe. He was home owing to ill health, but officers from Triangle had come to take some guidance from him. That was our professor, who never retired from being an academician, mentor and an ideal teacher. 

Emeritus Professor Chandima Wijebandara
Former Vice Chancellor | University of Sri Jayewardenepura.