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Ambassador Dr. G. P. Malalasekera
The 30th death anniversary of Dr. G. P. Malalasekera, scholar, professor, Buddhist leader and diplomat, fell on April 23. His excellent store-house of knowledge regarding Pali, Buddhism, Buddhist Civilisation, not to mention English, Latin, Greek and french languages, was unique.
Dr. G. P. Malalasekera
Born on November 8, 1899 at Malamulla, Panadura, his father was a well-known Ayurvedic physician, Ayur. Dr. M. S. Pieris Malalasekera.
As a school boy, young George Pieris Malalasekera as he was known then, was sent to St. John’s College, Panadura, for his English education. It was a leading college in the English medium under the principalship of Cyril Jansz, an educationist of repute during the colonial era.
At present it is named after him as a mark of respect – Cyril Jansz Vidyalaya. After receiving his education in that school from 1907-17, he joined the Medical College, Colombo to qualify as a doctor with the then diploma – L.M.S. (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery, equivalent to the present degree of M.B.B.S).
The death of his father cut short his medical studies. Circumstances compelled him to give up his hopes of becoming a medical doctor. By following a correspondence course from England, he passed the B.A. (London) examination, 1919 externally in the first division. His subjects were English, Latin, Greek and French. He was the youngest candidate to obtain the Bachelor of Arts degree in the British empire in that year with a first class.
Coming under the influence of Buddhist renaissance of Srimath Angarika Dharmapala, he changed his foreign names of George and Pieris to those of Gunapala Piyasena and henceforth came to be known as G. P. (Gunapala Piyasena) Malalasekera. He took to teaching at Ananda College, Colombo, with his B.A. (London) under the principalship of P. de S. Kularatne. Both of them were the architects of the Sinhala national costume.
In quick succession Malalasekera rose up to be the Vice Principal and acting Principal of Ananda. In 1923, he proceeded to join the University of London and obtained the two post-graduate degrees of M.A. and Ph.D simultaneously in 1925, in oriental languages majoring in Pali.
His thesis was ‘Pali Literature in Sri Lanka’. On his return to the motherland in 1926, he was appointed Principal of Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo.
Shortly afterwards, he succeeded Ven. Suriyagoda as lecturer in the then University College, Colombo to lecture in English on Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit for the London degree examinations. When the University of Ceylon was founded in 1942, he became the Professor of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Civilisation. In course of time he was the Dean, Faculty of Oriental Studies and Editor-in-Chief of the Buddhist Encylopaedia. His research on Buddhism and Buddhist Civilisation is a class by itself – excellent – locally and abroad.
His contribution by way of research papers and publications to the Pali Text Society of London under the distinguished patronage of scholars like Rhys David and Miss I. B. Harner are stupendous, voluminous and highly knowledgable. From 1927 twice he was elected the Joint Secretary of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Thrice he was the Vice-President and functioned as its President from 1939-1957.
During his tenure of office, he saw to it that this congress got constructed a magnificent-storeyed building for its headquarters at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo-7. He took a delight in the activities of the Viharamahadevi Girls’ Home, Biyagama and was responsible for the establishment of boys’ homes at Panadura and Ja-Ela. During his presidency of the Buddhist Congress for 25 years, he was fortunate to address 20 of its annual sessions. His ‘magnum opus’ or great work is the famous ‘Gunapala Sinhala-English Dictionary’. Of equal importance is the Pali dictionary – Sinhala-English. An ardent member of the Ceylon Asiatic Society, he was conferred honorary degrees from the reputed universities in the UK, France, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma). He represented our country at several parleys abroad notably, Conference on Living Religions (1924 – London), Conference on World Religious (1936 – London), Association of Occidental (Western) and Oriental Philosophers (Hawaii – 1949), Association of Indian Philosophers – India, meeting of the Pakistani Philosophers (1953 – Karachi), and the Seminar on Religions for Peace, (San Francisco, USA, 1965). So numerous were the essays, write-ups, literary contributions he made and radio talks delivered over Buddhist, religious and cultural matters and Social service assignments. He was the founder president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated within the hallowed precincts of the ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’ (Temple of The Tooth Relic) Kandy in 1950 at the suggestion of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.
From 1950-58, he held that exalted position in that internationally famous institution. Dr. Malalasekera was appointed the first High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to the USSR (Soviet Russia) in 1958 by Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when he opened up ambassadorial or diplomatic connections with socialist countries such as Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia etc.
Subsequently, he functioned as the High Commissioner in Canada and was our UN Representative in New York. Finally, he was the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in the UK.
In 1967, he returned to the motherland to accept the highest post in the field of higher education as the chairman of the National Higher Education Commission which responsible post he held till 1971.
A virtuous, erudite, unostentatious, religious-minded, pious, mild-mannered gentleman with an impeccable character, he breathed his last on April 23, 1973, – 30 years ago. Of his brilliant three children – two daughters and one son, one daughter excelled in Western music (piano) and the other daughter became a science graduate whilst the only son Vijaya studied law at the University of Cambridge and was called to the English Bar as Barrister-at-Law. He hold a very high position in the sphere of personnel management in a reputed mercantile establishment.
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For your information Prof. G P Malalasekera had 3 sons Vijaya is not the only son. Please correct that, his eldest son was Indrajith, Arjun was second and Vijaya was the youngest. My father-in-law was Indrajith and he would be very upset if he was alive today to see articles like this. Please correct this mistake you have made.
• Mrs R. Malalasekera
• United Kingdom
Malalasekera, G. P.
MALALASEKERA, G. P.
MALALASEKERA, G. P. (1899–1973), Buddhist scholar, founder of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, and a dominant figure in the cultural life of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Born in Panadura, the son of a prosperous family, Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera grew up in a scholarly atmosphere. As a schoolboy he was tutored in the Sinhala, Sanskrit, and Pali classics by his father, an Ayurvedic physician. During his formative years, Malalasekera was also deeply influenced by learned monks whom he came to know through his father, and he was inspired by men like Anagārika Dharmapāla (1864–1933), a leader in the Buddhist revivalist movement that had arisen in the age of British colonial repression of nationalistic aims and aspirations.
Preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps, Malalasekera entered the Medical College in Colombo in 1917, but he had to abandon his medical studies the following year, upon his father’s untimely death. Via external registration at the University of London, he then turned to the study of Western classics, graduating with first-class honors in 1919. In 1921 he joined the premier Buddhist school in Colombo, Ānanda College, as a teacher, and in ensuing years he became first its vice-principal and then its acting principal.
Upon the return of Ānanda’s principal, Patrick de Silva Kularatne (1893–1976), Malalasekera was profoundly influenced by him in matters both educational and nationalistic. He went abroad for postgraduate studies at the University of London and obtained both the M.A. and the Ph.D. degrees in 1925. On his return home in 1926 he was appointed principal of Nālandā Vidyālaya, the new sister school of Ānanda, and within a year developed it to some stature. He was then appointed lecturer in Sinhala, Sanskrit, and Pali at University College, Colombo, and for most of the next three decades he pursued a brilliant academic career. He held the chair of Pali and Buddhist studies from the establishment of the University of Ceylon in 1942 until his resignation in 1959. As professor and dean for the greater part of this period, which saw the rapid expansion of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, he was a highly respected member of the academic community.
In 1957 Malalasekera was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union, and he represented Ceylon at the ambassadorial level in Canada, the United Nations, and the United Kingdom until 1967, when he was called home to chair the National Council of Higher Education, a post in which he served with distinction for five years. Despite the demands of diplomatic assignments and administrative responsibilities, his scholarly activities were undiminished.
Malalasekera’s major works include The Pali Literature of Ceylon (London, 1928); Vaṃsatthappakāsinī (London, 1935), a critical edition of the exegesis on the Mahāvaṃsa (Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka); the Extended Mahāvaṃsa (Colombo, 1937); The Dictionary of Pali Proper Names (London, 1937); and An English-Sinhalese Dictionary (Colombo, 1948). He wrote a large number of other scholarly books and articles, and he contributed extensively to popular journals both in Ceylon and abroad. His highest intellectual achievement, however, was the work he did on the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, whose completion he, as editor in chief, did not live to see. This undertaking, sponsored by the government of Ceylon in commemoration of twenty-five hundred years of Buddhism, was commenced in 1956 and is still in progress. As a contribution to Buddhist learning, it will stand as a monument to Malalasekera’s love of scholarship and great perseverance as a student of the divers aspects of Buddhist thought, culture, and civilization.
Throughout his life, Malalasekera participated in various spheres of interest in Ceylon, religious and social, cultural and intellectual. At government level his advice was sought in many fields and was acceptable to people of all shades of political opinion, for he discreetly steered clear of party politics. He stood for equity and social justice, always taking up the cause of the underprivileged. As a social worker, he traveled the country at his own expense and addressed gatherings large and small. He was frequently heard over Radio Ceylon. His was a receptive mind, and he was noted for his ability to expound with precision and clarity on topics from fine arts and humanities to social sciences and current affairs. As a religious leader, for twenty-five years Malalasekera was president of the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC), an important platform for shaping public opinion, and he was principally responsible for the founding, in May 1950, of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, modeled largely after the ACBC.
Until that time, the voice of the Buddhist population, which forms more than a fifth of the human race, had not been heard, nor its views adequately expressed, nor its aspirations respected in world assemblies. Communication among Buddhists of various lands had been limited, and Buddhists the world over had had no forum to air their grievances or to redress injustices. The differences between the Mahāyāna and Theravāda schools had led to disunity. It was Malalasekera’s indefatigable efforts that brought them together. As a sequel to a resolution passed at the twenty-eighth session of the ACBC in 1947, a resolution was passed at a conference of world Buddhist leaders held in 1950 in the historic Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy, to establish the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Malalasekera was founder-president from 1950 to 1958. During his lifetime it grew into a dynamic organization, expressing Buddhist opinion and unifying Buddhists under the six-hued flag bearing the emblem of the dharmacakra, the Wheel of the Law, as a symbol of peace.
Dharmabandhu, T. S. Siṃhala vīrayō. Colombo, 1949. In Sinhala.
Guruge, Ananda, ed. Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala. Colombo, 1965.
Hewage, L. G., et al., eds. All Ceylon Buddhist Congress: Malalasēkara anusmaraṇa saṇgrahaya. Colombo, 1973. In Sinhala.
Wijesekera, O. H. de A., ed. Malalasekera Commemoration Volume. Colombo, 1976.
Wijewardena, Don Charles. The Revolt in the Temple. Colombo, 1953.
Freiberger, Oliver. “The Meeting of Traditions: Inter-Buddhist and Inter-Religious Relations in the West.” Journal of Global Buddhism 2 (2001).
N. A. Jayawickrama (1987)
Encyclopedia of Religion
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Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Gunapala Piyasena MalalasekeraBorn
George Pieris Malalasekera
8 November 1899
Malamulla, PanaduraDied23 April 1973 (aged 73)
ColomboNationalitySri LankanEducationSt. John’s College PanaduraAlma materUniversity of LondonOccupation(s)Academic, diplomatSpouse(s)Margaret Russell (m. 1927–d. 1930)
- Veda Muhandiram Malalage Siyadoris Peiris Malalasekera Seneviratna (father)
- Dona Selestina Jayawardene Kuruppu (mother)
Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera, OBE, JP, KCM (8 November 1899 – 23 April 1973) was a Sri Lankan academic, scholar and diplomat best known for his Malalasekara English-Sinhala Dictionary. He was the Ceylon‘s first Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Ceylon’s High Commissioner to Canada, the United Kingdom and Ceylon’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. He was the Professor Emeritus in Pali and Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies.
Early life and education
Born on 8 November 1899 at Malamulla, Panadura as George Pieris Malalasekera. His father was a well-known Ayurvedic (native medicine) physician, Ayur. Dr. M. S. Pieris Malalasekera.
Malalasekera was educated at St. John’s College Panadura, (now the St. John’s College National School). It was a leading school in the English medium in Panadura under the head master Cyril Jansz, a reputed educationist of the colonial era. After receiving his education in that school from 1907–17, he joined the Ceylon Medical College, Colombo to qualify as a doctor with a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery (LMS). However, the death of his father cut short his medical studies, compelling him to give up his hopes of becoming a medical doctor. By following a correspondence course from England, he gained a BA from the University of London External Systemin 1919 with a first division. His subjects were English, Latin, Greek and French. He was the youngest candidate to obtain the Bachelor of Arts degree in the British Empire in that year with a first class.
In 1923, he proceeded to join the University of London and obtained the two postgraduate degrees of a MAand a PhD concurrently in 1925, in oriental languages majoring in Pali from the London School of Oriental Studies. Malalasekera would later gain a DLitt in 1938, his thesis was ‘Pali Literature in Sri Lanka’ from the University of London.
Coming under the influence of Buddhist renaissance of Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, he changed his foreign names of George and Pieris to those of Gunapala Piyasena and henceforth came to be known as G. P. (Gunapala Piyasena) Malalasekera. After gaining his BA he took to teaching at Ananda College, Colomboas an assistant teacher, then under the principal P. de S. Kularatne. Both of them were the architects of the Sinhalese national costume. In quick succession Malalasekera rose up the ranks to be the Vice Principal and acting Principal of Ananda College. Thereafter he left for London for his graduate studies. On his return to the motherland in 1926, he was appointed Principal of newly formed Nalanda College Colombo. The student assembly hall of Nalanda College Colombo is named Malalasekara Theatre in memory of him.
In 1927, he succeeded Ven. Suriyagoda as lecturer in the then University College, Colombo to lecture in English on Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit for the University of London degree examinations. When the University of Ceylon was founded in 1942, he became the Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies. Serving as the Head of the Department of Pali, he went on to serve as the Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Ceylon. His research on Buddhism and Buddhist Civilization was extensive and he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. He contributed research papers and publications to the Pali Text Society of London under the patronage of scholars like Rhys David and Miss I. B. Horner. From 1927 he was twice elected the Joint Secretary of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Thrice he was the Vice-President and functioned as its President from 1939–1957. On his departure from the University of Ceylon, he was appointed Professor Emeritus.
During his tenure in office, he saw to it that the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress constructed a new building for its headquarters in Buller’s Road (now Bauddhaloka Mawatha). He took a delight in the activities of the Viharamahadevi Girls’ Home, Biyagama and was responsible for the establishment of boys’ homes at Panadura and Ja-Ela. During his presidency of the Buddhist Congress for 25 years, he addressed 20 of its annual sessions. His most significant publication is the Malalasekara Sinhala-English Dictionary. It was first published in 1948 and is currently up to its fifth edition, which was released in 2014. Of equal importance is the Dictionary of Pali Proper names. He was an ardent member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon. He represented Ceylon at several parleys abroad, notably: Conference on Living Religions (London, 1924), Conference on World Religious (London, 1936), Association of Occidental (Western) and Oriental Philosophers (Hawaii, 1949), Association of Indian Philosophers – India, meeting of the Pakistani Philosophers (Karachi, 1953), and the Seminar on Religions for Peace, (San Francisco, USA, 1965). He presented numerous essays, write-ups and literary contributions, and delivered radio talks on Buddhist and religious/cultural matters and Social service assignments. He was the founder president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated within the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy in 1950 at the suggestion of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.
He was president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists from 1950 to 1958 as well as the Ceylon Arts Society;
Malalasekera was appointed the first Ceylon’s Ambassador to the USSR in 1957 by Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike when he established diplomatic relations with socialist countries such as Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia. In 1959, he was appointed concurrently first Ambassador for Ceylon to Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. He served till 1961
Subsequently, he functioned as the Ceylon’s High Commissioner to Canada and Ceylon’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York from 1961 to 1963. There he served as chairman, Security Council Member, Fact Finding Mission to Saigon and also in the Committee on Information from North Non-self Governing Territories. Finally, he was the Ceylon’s High Commissioner to the UK from 1963 to 1967.
In 1967, he returned to the island to accept the post of chairman of the National Higher Education Commission which responsible post he held till 1971. He died on 23 April 1973.
He married Margaret Russell in 1927. She was a concert pianist he met while he was a student at the London School of Oriental Studies. The marriage lasted only three years until her early death, and produced a daughter Chitra who excelled in classical music (piano). He thereafter married Lyle, they had three sons and two daughters. His sons were Indrajith, Arjun and Vijaya. Vijaya studied law at the University of Cambridge and was called to the English Bar as Barrister-at-Law. His second daughter became a science graduate.
Malalasekara Theatre of Nalanda College Colombo
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) (1949 Birthday Honours)
- Justice of the Peace
- Professor Emeritus of the University of Ceylon
- Honorary Doctor of Letters, Vidyodaya University of Ceylon
- Honorary Doctor of Philosophy, University of Moscow
- Membre d’Honneur of École française d’Extrême-Orient
- Commander of the Royal Order of Monisaraphon
- Buddha Sasana Vepulla Hitadhara from the Supreme Council of Buddhist Monks, Burma
- ^ Wijenayaka, Walter. “Remembering Professor G. P. Malalasekera – outstanding personality”, “The Island (Sri Lanka)“, Sri Lanka, 24 April 2011. Retrieved on 16 January 2018.
- ^ Outstanding Buddhist Leader Archived 25 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ Professor G. P. Malalasekera – outstanding personality.
- ^ Malalasekera, Gunapala Piyasena (2002). Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. Government of Ceylon. p. 582.
- ^ Tribute to Malalasekera: A Collection of Messages, Appreciations & Pen Portraits in Honour of Professor Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera. Mutukumara. 1981. p. 39.
- ^ Perera, Gayani (22 August 2010). “M. D. Gunasena – “We taught the nation to read””. The Sunday Times. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
- ^ Situge, Hemantha (12 September 2018). “The word centenary 70th Anniversary of the Malalasekera’s English Sinhala Dictionary”. The Daily News. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
- ^ Jayakody, J. A. K. (8 November 2002). “Nov. 9th is the 103rd birth anniversary of Prof. G. P. Malalasekera : Scholar who blazed a new trail for Lanka”. The Daily News. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
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- Dictionary of Pali Names by G. P. Malalasekera
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