Professor KNO Dharmadasa, the present Editor in Chief of the Sinhala Encyclopedia goes down in history as mounting, to date, the only direct, authoritative academic challenge to Professor Leslie Gunawardana, an ancient period historian of Sri Lanka who became a darling of certain social anthropological circuits through his “The People of the Lion: The Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and Historiography”– (1979) and “Historiography In a Time of Ethnic Conflict, Construction of the Past in Contemporary Sri Lanka”– (1995). Professor KNO opened up to Darshanie Ratnawalli about this debate and its repercussions.
DR– I am sure there are many subjects I could talk to you about. But my main interest is in your debate with Professor Leslie Gunawardana. I think it was one of the high points of interest in Sri Lankan studies in the 1990s. What struck me about the whole exchange was how little you were challenging him on linguistic grounds. I felt that even though Professor Gunawardana was making many linguistic gaffes, you missed them because you were concentrating too much on historical narrative and interpretation.
KNO– For example?
DR– For example, on p11 of his 1995 work “Historiography in a Time of Ethnic Conflict”, which was sort of a response to your 1992 paper, Prof. G is discussing the Vallipuram inscription. He says; “The identification (by Paranavitana in 1939 in Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vol. IV, pp.229-237, my parenthesis) of the language of the inscription as Sinhala runs counter to opinions which have remained dominant in the field of historical linguistics for more than half a century”
KNO– This is bullshit. It’s no such thing. Actually it goes fully with the dominant view. Continue reading