By Senaka Samarasinghe
Erika Fraulien Jayawardena was born on 15-07-1933 in Palana, Weligama in Matara District. She had four siblings Sybil, Berryl, Cyril and Artie. Erika was the third in the family. Her father was Diamond and mother was Dona. Erika completed her school education in Matara and joined University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1958. Her two cousin sisters namely Arundathie Ramawickrama Jayawardena and Achala Pandita Gunawardena joined her at the same university.
Her university batchmates called her Swan, because she walked gracefully like a swan. By that time, Hiran Deva Dias had completed his post graduate studies (PhD) in Cambridge University and worked as a faculty member of the same university. The newly build university located on the right bank of Mahaweli river positioned in a fantastic romantic location in Sri Lanka. Cambridge scholar Hiran met beautiful student Erika and they got married on August 7th, 1959.
Agashan is the eldest son and his wife is Katherine two granddaughters namely Isabelle and Erika. Second son is Neshan and his wife is Tok. All of them are living in Sydney, Australia. In 2019, Hiran and Erika celebrated their happy 60th wedding anniversary.
I came to know Prof. Hiran D. Dias during the late 1960s when I was a graduate student in University of Ceylon, Colombo Campus as my geography lecturer. He was a kind hearted and dedicated teacher but strict disciplinarian. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka offered a scholarship for me (1985) to Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Bangkok do MSc in Human Settlements. As AIT allowed students to accompany their family members, I decided go to AIT with my wife Chandani and daughter Rowanthi. Three of us went to Chandani’s Loku Achchi (Grandaunt) Derbi Pandita Gunawardena in Colombo 5. At that time, she told us that her niece, Erika got married to Hiran a faculty member in AIT and she gave us an introductory letter to her nephew Hiran.
When three of us went to Bangkok, we came to know that Erika Akka was very busy with her Buddhist meritorious work and kept company with an international group of friends. When Sri Lankan Government Servants visit Thailand for official matters most of them (mainly friends and Prof. Dias’s students) always spent their last few days with the Dias family in Bangkok while attending to domestic matters such as shopping, visits to Buddhist temples and city tours. Thai husband and wife (Khun Uthai and Kanchana) were helping Erika Akka by offering services such as driving and cooking. In addition to all that, Erika was a Consultant to UN-ESCAP in Bangkok between 1978-1987.
Erika Akka published more than ten books of poetry and won international awards from Thailand, Australia, and the US, including a Hon. Doctorate from the World Academy of Arts and Culture in California, USA in 1991. She wrote poetry for Queen Sirikit of Thailand on the celebration of her 60th birthday in 1992.
In 1995, Prof Dias and Erika Akka returned after 17 years in Bangkok to settled in Mirihana, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka. Erika Akka organised a monthly Circle of Dhamma Friends with 20 to 30 participants followed by a wonderful lunch. When I went to Sri Lanka, I too stayed with them for one month. Erika Akka maintained two types of household helpers such as live-in and visiting daily. Other than paying them a fabulous salary, she helped them for day to day needs of their families.
Both of them selected a close temple for their meritorious deeds at Meditation Centre, Pagoda, Nugegoda. At that time the Chief Monk of this temple was Ven Aggamaha Pandita Davuldena Gnanissara Thera (1915-2017). In the mid 1970s a young man Rudy Hammelberg from Holland was ordained as Ven Olande Ananada as a student Monk under the Chief Monk. The Dias family closely associated with this temple and therefore both Prof Dias' and Erika Akka's funeral rights were led by Ven Olande Ananda Thera.
May her journey in Samsara be short and may she realise the ultimate truth!