Remembering Professor Sinnappah Arasaratnam

ONE: A Valedictory Vale from Don Beer of the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, in 1998

  Emeritus Professor S. Arasaratnam died suddenly in Sydney on 4 October, aged 68.

Sinnappah Arasaratnam was born in Navaly, Ceylon, on 20 March 1930. After taking his BA with First Class Honours at the University of Ceylon in 1951, he began the first of two stints lecturing in history at that university, before undertaking doctoral research at the University of London in 1954. Arasa, as he asked to be called, graduated PhD in 1956, returned to the University of Ceylon as a lecturer, and in 1961 took up a lectureship in Indian Studies at the University of Malaya. By 1968 he had risen to the rank of Professor of History there.

In 1972 he was appointed the second professor in the Department of History at the University of New England, and he took up the post in the following year. He retired in March 1995 after 22 years of valuable service.

Arasa was the ideal academic. He was an outstanding scholar. He wrote 15 books and 93 articles/chapters, an astonishing corpus of high-quality work that is the more remarkable for the fact that most of it was produced while he was heavily engaged in other activities. His distinction in this respect was shown by the prestigious international invitations and other honours he received regularly during his lifetime. Of these the most notable was the Smuts Fellowship in Commonwealth Studies, Cambridge, the highest honour available to a scholar in his field, which he held in 1977.

Arasa also took his teaching seriously. He was not flamboyant, but he had a way of inspiring students, who seemed to have responded mainly to his personality – the gentle and dignified manner, the humility with which he carried his immense learning, his lack of pretension, his helpfulness and consideration. Many former students remember him with deep affection and respect.

Arasa made a major contribution to the running of the University. As head of the Department of History he worked very hard to promote consensus and avoid conflict, while consolidating the massive changes of the early 1970s. He was respected and influential in the Faculty of Arts and the University as a whole, being on such key bodies as the Academic Advisory Committee.

He served a long term as chair of the University’s Publications Committee. In all these areas he showed not only subtlety and steeliness under pressure, but also a thorough commitment to traditional university values.

Arasa effectively began and led the development of Asian studies at UNE, and he played a significant part in the burgeoning of South Asian studies in Australian universities at large. He rescued the South Asian Studies Association from potential collapse with such success that, at the end of his record 12-year term as President, its journal, South Asia, ranked as one of the top three scholarly journals on South Asia in the world.

Most important of all, he brought to the study of South Asia what he called an “indigenous perspective”. Following in the footsteps of C.R. Boxer and Holden Furber, his great mentors, he looked at European colonisation of the Indian Ocean region – but from the perspective of the colonised. In this important respect he was the first, and he gathered round him a group of scholars who have carried on this great project.

Arasa had many friends at UNE and in other universities. He was interested in important things, such as history and politics, and, of course, cricket. He always had something thoughtful to say, and he was a good listener. His judgments seemed never to lack balance. His sense of humour and his sense of propriety were both strong. He was a practising Christian, attending the Uniting Church regularly during his time in Armidale, sitting in his accustomed seat in the back row near the window. He was a man of rare quality.

Arasa is survived by his wife Padma and his three children.

Associate Professor Don Beer, …. School of Classics and Ancient History

Media contact: Robyn McDougall, Publicity Office, UNE, Armidale, (02) 6773 3402


TWO: Biography in Wikipedia

Professor Sinnappah Arasaratnam (20 March 1930 – 4 October 1998) was a Sri Lankan academic, historian and author, born during British colonial rule. Known as ‘Arasa’, he was a lecturer at the University of Ceylon, University of Malaya and University of New England (Australia).

• 1Early life and family
• 2Career
• 3Death
• 4Works
• 5References
Early life and family[edit]
Arasaratnam was born on 20 March 1930 in Navaly in Northern Province of British Ceylon.[1] He was educated at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai.[2] After school he joined the University of Ceylon in 1947 from where he graduated in 1951 with a First Class Honours BA degree.[1][2]
Arasaratnam married Thanalakshmi (Padma), daughter of Selvathurai. They had two daughters (Sulochana and Ranjana) and a son (Niranjan).[2] They have 7 grandchildren, 2 granddaughters (Meera and Lily) and 5 grandsons (Rohan, Isaia, Arasa, Eamonn, and Aron). Arasaratnam was a practising Christian who attended the Uniting Church in Armidale, New South Wales.[1]
After graduation in 1951 Arasaratnam was appointed an assistant lecturer of history at the University of Ceylon.[1][2] In 1954 he joined the University of London to carry out doctoral research and in 1956 he graduated with a Ph.D in history.[1][2] On returning to Ceylon Arasaratnam rejoined the University of Ceylon as a lecturer.[1][2] He was appointed lecturer in Indian Studies at the University of Malaya in 1961.[1] He was promoted to professor of history in 1968.[1][2]
Arasaratnam was appointed second professor in the Department of History at the University of New England (Australia) in 1972.[1][2] He took up the post in 1973. He held the Smuts Fellowship in Commonwealth Studies, Cambridge in 1977.[1] Arasaratnam retired from the University of New England in March 1995.[1]
Arasaratnam died suddenly in Sydney, Australia on 4 October 1998.[1] He was 68.
Arasaratnam was prolific writer — he wrote 15 books and 93 articles/chapters.[1][3] His literary works were achieved while heavily engaged with activities such as sitting on key bodies such as the Academic Advisory Committee.[4]
• Dutch Power in Ceylon, 1658-1687 (1958, Netherlands Institute of Cultural Relations/Djambatan)
• Ceylon (1964, Spectrum/Prentice-Hall)
• Indian festivals in Malaya (1966, University of Malaya)
• Indians in Malaysia and Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. 1970. OCLC 6328370.
• Maritime India in the seventeenth century (1994, Oxford University Press)[5]
• Ceylon and the Dutch, 1600-1800 (1996, Variorum)
• Maritime commerce and English power (1996, Variorum)
0. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m Beer, Don. “Obituary Emeritus Professor Sinnappah Arasaratnam”. University of New England (Australia). Archived from the original on 11 March 2011.
1. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Arumugam, S. (1997). Dictionary of Biography of the Tamils of Ceylon. p. 10.
2. ^ “A Tribute to Three ‘Golden Age’ Dons with Great Respect”. The Island, Sri Lanka. 10 May 2009.
3. ^ Associate Professor Don Beer, Obitury, Australia in the University Newsletter, Volume 13 Number 19, 23 October 1998
4. ^ Scholberg, Henry (February 1997). “Maritime Trade, Society and European Influence in Southern Asia, 1600-1800 by Sinnappah Arasaratnam; Maritime India in the Seventeenth Century by Sinnappah Arasaratnam”. The Journal of Asian Studies. 56 (1): 219–220. doi:10.2307/2646395. JSTOR 2646395.


THREE : A NOTE from Michael Roberts. 31 March 2022

After I entered the University of Peradeniya in 1957 and then opted to pursue a course in History from 1958 “Arasa” was one of the teachers who inspired me (along with WJF Labrooy, Karl Goonewardena, Fr Pinto and Lakshman Perera). I believe he was also one of those who, with Ian Goonetileke, inspired the formation of the journal Ceylon Journal in Historical and Social Studies (a story waiting its biographer).

Alas, Arasa left the island to take up a post in Malaysia — undoubtedly primed by the “1958 riots” and the groundswell of Sinhala extremism in the political arena.

After I recieived my postgraduate degree in 1965 and returned to teach at Peradeniya University, I had the good fortune to meet Arasa occasionally at international conferences in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and even at Hong Kong and Osaka in Japan when I was teaching in Adelaide (the details have, alas, faded from memory). I also think I interacted fruitfully with him one I reached Adelaide University in 1977. His sudden ‘departure’ from this our tempestuous world was a great loss to scholarship.



Dutch Power in Ceylon, 1658-1687 Hardcover – December 1, 1988 …

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