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A literary effort to Rekindle Peradeniya University Review: Coffee Table Book; Garden University of Peradeniya

2017-12-08 00:00:14
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The Co-authors Dr. R.M.K. Ratnayake and and Mr. S.A.C. Mohamed Zuhyle need to be commended for bringing out a beautiful Coffee table book on University of Peradeniya. The book is aptly named “Garden University of Peradeniya — Sri Lanka”. Theirs have been a compilation of imagination, creativity and most importantly an expression of love for the university. Apart from any other considerations, the book is an aesthetic treat, anot a depiction through well placed photographs of the stunning beauty of what must undoubtedly be one the most picturesque University campuses in the world. The publication is full of a Campus adorned with rich and varied foliage; flowering trees and shrubs of riotous colours spreading in profusion; manicured lawns; avenues, vistas, alcoves and perspectives which almost overwhelm the senses. 


Then there are the buildings, the halls of residence, the faculty buildings, the administrative locations, and the religious edifices of the various faiths, almost all of them designed predominantly according to the norms of classical Kandyan architecture, but also with selected classical architectural features from the Anuradhapura period onwards. The architecture and indeed the sculpture is another treat to the eyes and the other senses. But all this did not happen through accident. The ideas, concepts and vision of such an incomparable final product, originated and marinated in the mind of one man, Sir William Ivor Jennings   


Q.C LLD, Ieading up to final articulation in tangible creation. This is not a simple achievement. What Sir Ivor saw was a run-down, derelict tea estate. 

The transformation that followed was the result of an almost incomparable vision and creation. The authors therefore rightly make the central dedication of the book. “To the Visionary — Sir William Ivor Jennings”.   


Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala in her contribution to the volume states, “Trees and shrubs were selected for planting in a manner that the flowers and foliage that depict the university colours, scarlet, maroon and gold predominate throughout the year..... During some seasons of the year maroon flowers appear thick-red or claret and gold flowers turn to amber”. Such was the meticulous planning.   

The publication is full of a Campus adorned with rich and varied foliage; flowering trees and shrubs of riotous colours spreading in profusion; manicured lawns; avenues, vistas, alcoves and perspectives which almost overwhelm 
the senses


The book contains brief references to the history of the university, beginning from the famous “battle of the sites”, where there was a prolonged and fascinating debate on whether the university was to be built in Kandy or Colombo.   


Some of the distinguished figures who participated in this debate are mentioned, notably persons such as M.T. Akbar,Sir Marcus Fernando, D.R. Wijewardena, Sir D.B. Jayathilaka, Sir James Peiris, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and the principal of the then university college Sir Robert Marrs. All these persons had halls of residence named after them and their pictures  are published in the volume with short biographical sketches. in addition, sketches are given of some others after whom halls of residence were named, notably, The Arahat Sanghamitta, Lady Hilda Obeysekera, and Dr. Andreas Nell. All this is of great historical interest and value. Since the volume is a coffee table book, it is designed to be a feast to the eye and the text wherever it appears is kept concise and brief. 


Pictures supporting history 

There are other references to matters of historical importance to the university. Although Sir Ivor was the Visionary, a visionary who however took a practical interest in implementation, the distinguished British architect Sir Patrick Abercrombie designed the layout of the Campus. Assisting him closely was Shirley D’ Alwis (F.R.I.B.A.) who brought in the features of classical Sinhalese architectures from the Anuradhapura period to the Kandy period. Sadly, he died in 1952, while at work.   


The book also contains photographs of indispensable importance to the historical record. Among them are Sir John Kotalawela inviting the Duke of Gloucester to lay the foundation stone for the university on 12th February 1948, just a few days after independence; the Convocation procession led by the Vice Chancellor Sir Ivor Jennings followed by the Hon. C.W.W. Kannangara, Minister of Education, and the Ceremonial opening of the University of Peradeniya by Queen Elizabeth Il and the Duke of Edinburgh on 20th April 1954.   

The material in the book is very well presented in a logical and reader friendly order. For instance, in the section dealing with the halls of residence, there is the photograph or picture of the person after whom the hall is named


The material in the book is very well presented in a logical and reader friendly order. For instance, in the section dealing with the halls of residence, there is the photograph or picture of the person after whom the hall is named and a photograph of the hall on pages side by side, A turn of the page reveals a short biographical sketch of the great person. The presentation of the Faculties, and the religious edifices of all religions follow the same pattern, an eye catching photograph and the text in pages side by side so that when reading the text one could glance at the picture from time to time.   


Time and effort rewarded 

Dr. Ratnayake and Mr. Zuhyle and the team they have assembled must have spent considerable time and effort on this project. Happily their labours have been rewarded with a production of high quality, beauty and historical value.   


The proceeds from the sale of this book is to be deposited to the “Sir Ivor Jennings Endowment Fund, which could be used for the development and welfare of the university. The Fund would be managed by a Board of Management.   


Finally, a personal note. I had the good fortune of being an alumnus of this university as a member of the batch of 1957. This era has often been described as “the golden era” of Peradeniya. I have written elsewhere indicating some reasons as to why this period was termed as such. But whether one accepts this or not, it is only great good fortune that would have got you into a university campus of such outstanding beauty, situated in a comfortable and salubrious climate and being taught by academics and professors of such high distinction.   


It behooves all related and connected persons to the university to reflect deeply during this anniversary period, as to whether developments subsequent to the great creative work of Sir Ivor Jennings and his collaborators have enhanced or enfeebled the further development of the university in the areas of beauty and learning, in the improvement of general standards and academic achievement, and the enhancement of culture and values.   


Such a retrospect could induce important decisions and further courses of action.   
In the meantime, this beautiful publication will indeed indicate the limitless possibilities that are opened up, when vision, talent and dedication are combined.   


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