Compilation of dictionaries is not an unusual exercise in the Sinhala language. Several dictionaries written in the glossary style in Pali and Sanskrit languages are available in the Sinhala literature. In the same way even if several dictionaries written in alphabetical order by scholars such as, Attaragama Rajaguru Bandara, Veragama Punchi Bandara and Ven. Boruggamuve Revata Thera are found in the history of lexicographical works, they are not comprehensive and complete dictionaries. It was with the advent of European nations in the 16th Century, that the need for a modern, scientific dictionary was felt. The initiative taken by British. nationals such as Benjamin Clough, Charles Carter and John Callaway in compiling Sinhala - English dictionaries is seen as a result.
With the inauguration of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in the year 1845 there arose a trend to the study of Sinhala language and literature. Both foreign and local scholars felt the absence of a comprehensive Sinhala Dictionary as a loss and Charles Bruce, the Director of Education at that time and Reinhold Rost, the Librarian of London University appointed a committee to make recommendations but the compilation of a dictionary did not take place. Mudliyar Mendis Gunasekara reminded the Director of Education regarding this matter in 1923 and a committee was appointed with R. Marrs, the Head of the University College, Colombo as its chairman. Following the report of this Committee, a decision was taken to commence the compilation of a Sinhala Dictionary and in 1927 it was started with Sir D.B.Jayatilaka as the chief Editor and Prof. Helmer Smith, Mudliyars W.F. Gunawardhana, and Mendis Gunasekara were the other members of the Editorial Board. Prof. Wilhelm Geiger who was a great linguist and an erudite scholar in Sinhala language was appointed as Consultant and Director of the Editorial Board. A Board of Administration was appointed with L.J.B. Turnour as its head. Compilation of a Sinhala-English Dictionary and a Sinhala-Sinhala Dictionary was started and by 1935 the first volume of the Sinhala- English Dictionary was issued in 1937. It was followed by the first volume of the Sinhala- Sinhala Dictionary.
The work in connection with the compilation of the Sinhala Dictionary that was transferred from the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society to the University of Ceylon in 1942 was re-transferred to the Cultural Department in 1972.
The Editors-in-chief of the Sinhala Dictionary from its inception to the present day were, Sir D.B.Jayatilaka, Prof. Dharmasiri Ratnasuriya, Dr. P.B.F. Wijeratna, Prof. D.E. Hettiarachchi, Prof. D.J. Wijayaratna (Co-Editor), Dr. P.B. Sannasgala, Prof. Vimal G. Balagalle, Prof. Vinnie Vitharana and Prof. Ananda Abeysiriwardana. The Present Editor-in-Chief who steers this great national venture is Ven. Dr. Akuratiye Nanda Nayaka Thera. In 1992 it was possible to complete the compilation of the main Sinhala-Sinhala Etymological Dictionary. Five revised volumes of this Dictionary were published. At present 27 volumes of the Sinhala- English Dictionary consisting lexical articles from ‘A’ to ‘Gilanpasa-pujava’ were issued. And in addition a Tri- lingual Dictionary of Sinhala - English - Tamil is being prepared.