26 December 1896 (1896-12-26) Metaramba, Galle, British Ceylon
Occupation Archeologist and an Epigraphist
Books Ceylon and Malaysia, Sinhalayo
Senarath Paranavitana, CBE (Sinhala:සෙනරත් පරණවිතාන) (26 December 1896 – 4 October 1972) was a pioneering archeologist and epigraphist of Sri Lanka. His works dominated Sri Lankan archaeology and history in the middle-part of the 20th century. He became the Archeological Commissioner in 1940, following H. C. P. Bell, and Don Martino de Zilva Wickremasinghe in that position.
Paranavitana was born on 26 December 1896 at Metaramba, Galle, and had his early education at the Metaramba Government School. He later entered Buona Vista College in Galle. He studied Oriental languages at Ranweligoda Pirivena in Heenatigala and was a school teacher at the Udugampola Government School. Paranavitana joined the Department of Archaeology in 1923. He married in 1930. Paranavitana received his Ph.D. degree in 1936 from the University of Leiden and was appointed Archaeological Commissioner on 1 October 1940 in which capacity he served diligently till December, 1956. The next year, in 1957, he was appointed Professor of Archeology at the Peradeniya campus of the University of Ceylon. He was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the 1952 New Year Honours for his services as Archeological Commissioner.
Even though Paranavitana's period began with the onset of the Second World War, his erudition and energy resulted in seventeen fruitful years as the Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon. Sri Lankan history and prehistory were illuminated by his academic and popular writings which are filled with insight, profound learning and a vital sense of history. Known for his contributions to and editing of Epigraphia Zeylanica, his most celebrated magnum opus was Sigiri Graffiti, published in two folio volumes by Oxford University Press.
Some of the epigraphical texts published after Paranavitana's retirement present a number of problems for historians. In 1996, for example, Ananda W. P. Guruge subjected his later work to detailed scrutiny in his paper "Senarat Paranavitana as a Writer of Historical Fiction in Sanskrit." The problem was reviewed comprehensively a short time later by D. P. M. Weerakkody. The general consensus that has emerged subsequent to these publications is that all of Paranavitana's later readings need to be double-checked before being treated as sound epigraphic and historical evidence.
Paranavitana made numerous contributions to foreign and local journals in the fields of epigraphy, history, art, architecture, religion, languages and literature, most notably the University of Ceylon Review. The following monographs may be noted specifically:
The Shrine of Upulvan at Devundara (1953)
The God of Adam's Peak (1958)
Ceylon and Malaysia (1961)
Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol. I (1970)
The Greeks and the Mauryas (1971)
Arts of Ancient Sinhalese (1971)
Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol. II (published posthumously)
Story of Sigiriya (published posthumously)