ISLE Program

2005 Session I

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Along with daily Sinhala classes, in Session I the students began attending the required Material Culture class, and preparing for the traditional Northern Tour, where Material Culture Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne lectures at various sites of historical and religious importance. Unfortunately, a national tragedy unfolded on August 12 (several days before the Northern Tour), when Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated in a gun attack in the capital, Colombo.

Professor Seneviratne took this news particularly hard, as he knew the Foreign Minister personally and had in fact been with him just hours before at a book launching. The schedule for Material Culture was slightly re-arranged to allow Prof. Seneviratne to attend the Foreign Minister’s funeral.

The Northern Tour began on August 17, taking the students to Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka; to Mihintale, a monastic city developed around the cave that sheltered the first disciple of Buddhism (Mahinda); the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa; and to Sigiriya, where the Monarch Kassapa built a stupendous palace on top of a mammoth rock. The group started at the Ibbankatuva megalithic burial site, and the drip-ledge caves at Vessagiriya, in Anuradhapura.


Exploring the Ibbankatuva megalithic burial site.

under a drip cave

Matt M. taking notes under a drip-ledge cave at Vessagiriya.


Inscription in a drip-cave ledge, c. third century B.C.
These caves were used by forest-dwelling Buddhist monks.

Western Monastery

Jacob, Peter, Mr. Herath (sitting) and Matt M.
at the Western Monastery in Anuradhapura.

Several students and the director also took the opportunity to visit the National Museum in Anuradhapura (impressive when another option was the swimming pool at the hotel). Nearly the entire group requested a second visit to the Maha Stupa on the Poya (full moon) holiday. Sigiriya Village in Sigiriya was a most welcome and spoiling experience, with the students taking full advantage of the the spa and pool in the extreme heat. The schedule was modified a bit to accommodate the hottest part of the day.


The entire group on Pidurangala: Back row, l-r: Colin, Lish, Christoph, Ian, Matt M., Matt C., Nick, Peter,
Jacob, Jamie, Bristol. Front row, l-r: Aimee, Sarah, Casey, Rocio, Te, Ariel, Shalini, Cathy, Randine, Sara.


On Pidurangala looking towards Sigiriya: Randine, Jacob, Peter,
and a local boy named Nimal.


The awesome Sigiriya rock seen from the water gardens.


Buddha statue at Mihintale.


The stupa at Mihintale.


The 42-foot Avukana Buddha carved in living rock, south of Mihintale.

At the midpoint of the tour, students held paper topic discussions at one of the sites with Prof. Seneviratne, while Mrs. Seneviratne passed out homemade brownies she had made for the group. The students presented ideas for their papers, some of which were very well-defined. The discussion took one hour; record breaking time according to Prof. Seneviratne, who was extremely impressed with the group.

In Polonnaruwa the heat increased, and the day's schedule was again adjusted. The Royal Lotus Hotel served as a base for the group, and students, faculty and staff hung out together in the lobby and in the evenings by the pool. Students and faculty used the convenient space to read, prepare their talks with Professor Seneviratne and Mr. Herath, and to socialize.


Rankot Vehara (or the Gold Pinnacled Stupa) in Alahana Pirivena, Polonnaruwa.


Dwarves supporting the walls of the Tivanka image house, Polonnaruwa.


The Vatadage, or Circular Stupa House, in the Sacred Quadrangle, Polonnaruwa.

The trip back to Kandy was made with two unscheduled stops: one for gifts of papaya for host parents and the other for a temple in Nilambe. Upon returning, the students made use of the center's library and University's computer room to finalize plans for the papers. After one more round of discussions with Prof. Seneviratne, the students spent the last week of Session I writing their Material Culture papers.

small buddha

On Saturday evening, and on Sunday, students attended a tourist-oriented dance performance at the museum. Hopefully this will spark an interest in the students to take up dance and music classes in Session II. Director Kremer also took the students to the ICES building to become familiar with the seminar room and library, which is where they will attend Colonial History of Sri Lanka classes in Session II.

  • "The Northern Tour was highly relevant and quite interesting. Only after researching on my return did I realize how important what we'd seen was to the formation of a national culture."
  • "Prof. Seneviratne was very knowledgeable and his perspective was helpful in navigating a very tricky and controversial subject."
  • "The Northern Tour was very relevant and useful for the class.... The visit to the forest-dwelling caves where the monks used to live was particularly helpful."
  • "Honday (good)!"

(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)