A tribute to a great teacher

Peter Dantanarayana was the father of our batch mate late Savithri Dissanayake


114th Birth Anniversary of Mr. Peter Dantanarayana“Even now we recall the sweet memories we had at the physics laboratory where you had a good command. We were guided and advised on Science subjects especially Physics, Mechanics and Applied Science. You brought up many pupils by imparting knowledge at maximum level. We remember you as our capable Vice Principal too when you did school administration excellently. You brought light to our school, Mahinda College. Many students did extremely well in your subjects. We are greatly indebted to you for basic foundation laid on us. Many Mahindians pay homage to you on this precious 114th birthday. N.Pandikorala” – Physics Prize winner of Mahinda College, 1962”.The above extract was from an e-mail Mrs. Dayadari Devendra received from Mr. N. Pandikorala, forwarded to her mutual friends, including me. On reading the contents, I thought I will pen down what I remember about our late Guru – Mr. Peter Dantanarayana, fondly known as “Dantaya”/”Dante”.

Mr. Dantanarayana, born on 17th January 1907, passed away on 9th December, 1978. He was the Vice Principal of Mahinda College until his early retirement in March 1962. Like most of us Mahindians, he had his entire primary and secondary education at Mahinda. He entered University College, Colombo, graduating with B.Sc. Hons. in the late 1920s. His early mentor was the famous Educationist Dr. P. De S. Kularatne. He joined Mahinda College as a teacher in 1933 and in 1947, was appointed the Vice Principal, relieving Mr. G.C. Edirisinghe, who was the Composer of the College Song.In the College magazine of 1949, the Editor’s note had the following comment regarding its tutorial staff Quote “It was at the beginning of last year that Mr. P. Dantanarayana who returned to us after a period of Post Graduate Training at the Government Training College assumed duties as the Vice Principal of the College. During the absence of our Principal, he had to take up duties as Acting Principal. With delight, we mention that he discharged duties as Acting Principal energetically and successfully and to the entire satisfaction of all concerned”.

It is relevant to mention here that he was among the first batch of Ceylonese to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship for postgraduate studies at Stanford University in California 1952-53.Although I was in the primary school, I can remember him driving a brand new Hillman car to the College with an unforgettable number plate EL – 990. Mr. Dantanarayana was always neatly clad in a cream coloured national attire with a matching shawl. Almost all his eight children accompanied him in the car, entering the College via the steep entrance. We watched out the Hillman car coming up the hill every day, as our classroom had the best view of it. The car was always parked just after the top of the hill, where all the children gets down. When the assembly or the Office work is over, he comes back to the car and would just release the brakes. The car then ends up in his designated place in the garage without using a drop of petrol !!!

Mr. Dantanarayana’s eldest son Duleep and I were in the same class – Form one “A” in 1958 and he was treated as another student in the class. Duleep and I were together upto our O’ Level in 1962. We were together in the Junior cadet platoon too, being the two Corporals of the 1962 platoon.My direct contact of “Dantaya”, as we called him affectionately, was in 1961, when we entered the fourth Form. Mr. Dantanarayana was the Teacher for Physics & Mechanics (Applied Maths) and these two subjects were like “Greek” to us. We all had to walk from our usual classroom (2nd floor one facing the College entrance) to the Physics Lab for these two subjects. So much so, one of my classmates – the late Dr. Danister Gunaratne said to me as the subject is “Mechanics” we could be dealing with car engines, as generally, Mechanics were found in Motor Garages !!! To our surprise, Mr. Dantanarayana began to teach a subject called Trigonometry, which we have never heard of. He continued teaching trigonometry until the end of the first term, by which time the formulae – (Sin A + Sin B) = Sin A Cos B + Cos A Sin B and (Sin A- Sin B) = Sin A Cos B –Cos A Sin B, Lami’s theorem, Theorem of Parallelogram of Forces, Couples etc., had got properly registered in us. We used text books for Statics, Dynamics and Hydrostatics written by S.L. Loney. I can still remember one of his pupils, the late Daya de Silva remembering Dantaya when he had to cut a very huge tree close to Galle Road, Pandura. He said as taught by Dantaya he arranged to hang the branches by the Theory of Parallelogram of forces to lower the branches with no harm to anybody !!!

For Physics we had books relating to heat, light and sound, all written by Mackenzie. For heat it was mostly coefficient of linear expansion, cubical expansion and later calorific value and latent heat. For light, convex and concave mirrors, lenses, prisms, total internal reflection (Kohinoor Gem) and for sound, unfortunately, he could teach us only about two lessons as he had to leave the College in March 1962. He also made efforts to teach a few terms in Sinhala using “Paaribashika Shabda Maalaawa- පරිබාෂික ශබ්ද මාලාව” that depicted the Sinhala term for wave length, frequency and amplitude.When I was just out of College around 1967/68, I happened to meet him at an AGM of the Colombo Branch of the OBA. He never misses the AGMs as he enjoyed the company of his old College friends met once a year. Notable attendees during 1967/68 were the Deputy Speaker Mr. I.A. Cader, Chairman of the Senate Mr. Thomas Amarasuriya, Major Simon Wijeratne, Lionel Edirisinghe and a few others. They addressed each other by their first names thus Thomas, Simon, Cader, Peter, Lionel … It was like the present day “Back to School” for them.Another significant event I remember about Mr. Dantanarayana was that I visited him and Duleep late in the evening sometime in December, 1973 at No. 116, Wakwella Road in Galle. We had a very comfortable chat until about 8.00 p.m., sipping liquid from a Red JW bottle but Duleep sipping only beer. He remembered to inquire from me about a very Senior Marine Engineer that Mahinda produced, the late Mr. A.S.M. De Silva. That was the last time I saw Mr. Dantanarayana as I was working overseas.

Mr. Dantanarayana was married to one of the prettiest ladies in Galle, Miss. Wilhelmina Turin De Silva. She was one of the best Seamstress in Galle, who brought up five daughters and three sons namely Dr. Mrs. Dheemathie De Silva, Mrs. Dayadari Devendra, the late Dr. Mrs. Savithri Dissanayake, Buddhimathie Chethiywardane, Mrs. Ramani Wijeratne and sons Duleep (aka Danto) Indra (aka Ginikura) and Sarath (aka Rubber).On the initiative of MCOBA Colombo Branch, the then President the late Deshabandu Albert Edirisinghe offered a Scholarship to a student from Mahinda who would enter the University in the Science stream, which was named the “Dantanarayana scholarship”. Latterly, the Dantanarayana children increased the number of scholarships to Five and a family member or two would always be present at the awards ceremony. Also the family awards a Gold medal to the best student in Mathematics at the annual prize- giving of Mahinda College.Mr. Peter Dantanarayana is most affectionately remembered on his 114th birth anniversary.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.Ranjith Gurugamage17th January, 2021.

Reproduced FB article by Ranjith Gurugamage

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