The First Sinhala Tripiṭakaya Translation: De Zoysa’s ‘Protestant’ Buddhist Project for Mass Literacy in Twentieth Century Sri Lanka


  • M. Deegalle Bath Spa University and University of Cambridge, United Kingdom


Though the Tripiṭaka was and still remains central to Theravāda Buddhism, Sri Lankan Buddhists had not taken serious steps until the middle of the twentieth century to systematically translate the Tripiṭaka into Sinhala. Among various initiatives, A.P. de Zoysa’s Sinhala Tripiṭakaya project (1950–1968) which consisted of 48 volumes, achieved a remarkable feat of success and still stands out. As an unsurpassed, noble ‘Protestant’ initiative of a single lay Buddhist, de Zoysa completed the translation of the entire Pāḷi canon into Sinhala within a decade (1950–1958). Had not de Zoysa taken up that pioneering, challenging and formidable task, Buddhists on the island would have been compelled to wait another three decades to see the completion of the Buddha Jayanthi Tripiṭaka Granthamālā (1954–1989). The Sinhala Tripiṭakaya reached many temples and homes as never before and became a beneficial resource for monastic students in their learning. The vernacular translation made the Tripiṭaka central again in the lives of Theravāda Buddhists by filling a gap that was left open wide for nearly a century since the Buddhists first acquired the printing press in the early years of the 1860s. Though some were critical of de Zoysa’s initiative, he accomplished a formidable task by producing an elegant Sinhala Tripiṭakaya to attract a wider readership. With a focus on the Tripiṭaka translation, this article examines facets of academic life and intellectual work of A.P. de Zoysa (1890–1968), who single-handedly embarked on translating the Tripiṭaka into Sinhala and both the religious and historical significance of that project in enhancing Buddhist understanding of the Buddha’s teachings by reaching out to a broader local, vernacular audience.