Prof Dhammika Tantrigoda: A tribute to a great mentor, guru and idol

Prof TantrigodaDhammika Ariyakumara Tantrigoda was born on the 10th day of June 1949 in the salubrious village of Palatota in the close vicinity of the historical coastal city Kalutara. After completing his primary and secondary education at Kalutara Vidyalaya and Royal College-Colombo, he joined the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya Campus and successfully read for a Special Degree in Physics under the tutelage Prof. V. Appapillai and Prof. George Dissanayake. In November 1974 he joined then Vidyodaya Campus (present University of Sri Jayewardenepura) of the University of Sri Lanka as a Probationary Assistant Lecturer. In 1978 he left to the United Kingdom for his higher studies and obtained M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Durham. On his return to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura after successful completion of postgraduate studies he was promoted to the post of Senior Lecturer in Physics in 1982. In 1996 he was appointed the Chair of Physics which became vacant subsequent to the retirement of Prof. P.C.B. Fernando. In 2004 he was promoted to the post of Senior Professor of Physics, a position he held with dignity and distinction until his retirement on the 18th January 2015.

Prof. Tantrigoda has held many important positions within and without the university. He gave the leadership to the Department of Physics as its head for almost twelve years and contributed immensely towards transforming it into what it is today. He has also been the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Though the time duration that he held this position was rather short, his contribution for its development was immense. In 2011 he was elected as the 67th General President of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, a premier scientific body in the country. Prior to this in 1998 he has also held the position of the President of Section E1of the same association. It will be a very tiresome exercise if I attempt to mention all the other important positions and fellowships he has held so far as the list will naturally be quite longer that one would expect. Yet, the Fellowship of the National Academy of Sciences and that of the Royal Astronomical Society of London, UK are worth mentioning.
Prof Tantrigoda and Physics staff

Prof. Tantrigoda has published over 50 research papers in reputed national and international scientific journals on a spectrum of topics which made him recognized and acknowledged by the international colleagues as a leading researcher in Sri Lanka. He played a leading role in the project on “Demarcation of the Outer Edge of the Continental Margins of Sri Lanka According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”. He has been awarded the National Science and Technology Award for the year 2008 in recognition of this contribution which went far beyond the outlines of mere ‘knowledge creation”.

At the time of retirement he has been the Chair and Senior Professor of Physics in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura as well as the Chairmen of the National Science and Technology Commission.

It was in 1995 when I first had an opportunity to get personally acquainted to him and since then I have associated him very closely. He very positively influenced our lives and became the guiding star for many of us in the field of physics today. He has been a gentleman, scholar, kind and efficient teacher, loving father, good friend and even a keen student prepared to learn from anybody including his own students. Possibilities that all such characters be found in a single individual are rather remote. Prof. Tantrigoda in this aspect stands out as a clear exception. This could be the reason why he occupies a unique position amongst the many professors and scholars in our country.

We quite often used to discuss complicated problems related Physics and Mathematics with him and were always surprised with his knowledge expanding beyond the horizons as well as his precision of thought process. He is a very humble and approachable person prepared to listen to anybody at anytime with his characteristic delightful smile. He did not go after positions. Instead, positions came after him. He never lost his common touch despite the high positions he held and his achievements. He continued to lead a simple and unsophisticated life style. Though we have read important qualities that leaders should posses in relation to good governance, it was through him only that we saw those in practice. He respected the views of others. He encouraged his students and colleagues to argue with him if they disagreed. Such arguments always ended in a happy note and those who held opposite views always left him with a smile.

In him, we saw the “bodhisathwa quality” of capacity to understand, respect and even love his enemies. It is true that some of us have reached a level not to hate those who hate us through the wisdom we gathered from religion. However, he is the only person whom I know who has reached the mental level of genuinely displaying love and kindness in return of hatred. Many people relished close association with him. This is because they felt quite at ease when spending time with him, not only talking and listing to him but also even when confronting and arguing with him. Prof. Tantrigoda strongly believes that leaders and those who hold high office should behave in such a manner that others should feel free and comfortable with them. Prof. Tantrigoda himself is a text book of reference for those who want to shape up their leadership qualities.

A very special trait we have observed in him is his approach in solving complicated problems. First he sets aside the original complicated problem and starts solving its simplest version. Then little by little he brings in the complications and reaches the solution in a short period of time in a surprising manner. He believes that the clue to solve any complicated problem has been embedded in its simplest version.

Prof Tantrigoda fairwell

It is a well known fact that Prof. Tantrigoda spent a fair amount of his time helping others. He always had time to listen to them and do his best to help them. He was ready to lend a helping hand to those who need help irrespective of their status. Those who held highest positions as well as those who were at the grass root level in the university were among those who sought his help, assistance and much respected opinion.

His capabilities are not limited to Physics and Mathematics. He has been a poet, lyricist and a talented short story writer. Felicitation song to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the university of Sri Jayewardenepura in 2009, Einstein song to mark the 100th anniversary of the three great discoveries of Einstein in 2005 and the forest song to mark the International Year of Forests in 2011are some of his beautiful creations.

Prof. Tantrigoda is a loving husband and caring father of three sons. He leads an exemplary family life and there are many a lessons one can learn from him in this aspect as well.

“Great teacher who dispelled darkness of ignorance,

Great teacher who shined our lives with knowledge and wisdom, blended with love and affection”

We wish you a very prosperous, healthy, peaceful but interactive life in your retirement. You will be living in our hearts forever!

(by Dr. Prasanna Madhuranga Fernando – Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura)

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