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Sunday, 20 January 2002  
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Book reviews

Unimaginable wealth of knowledge

by Dr. Senarath Paranavithana
Published by Visidunu Publications,Boralesgamuwa
Fifth Edition Rs. 300

Reviewed by Padma Edirisinghe

It may not be off the mark to sate that blazing fame of Dr. S. Paranavithana as the foremost archaeologist of our island perhaps has dimmed his radiance in the world of writing. But it can be easily maintained that his prowess in writing stood almost on par with his brilliance in other professional fields.

He had an inimitable style of writing, both rich and eloquent yet economical. From the pen of this gifted son of Lanka poured forth a multitude of books in English. The magnus opus of course was Sigiri graffiti published in two monumental volumes by the Oxford University Press. Besides his numerous contributions to foreign and local journals in the fields of epigraphy, history, art, architecture, religion, languages and literature are the following publications.

The shrine of Upulvan at Devundara (1953), The God of Adam's peak (1958), Ceylon and Malaysia (1961), Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol.l (1970), The Greeks and the Mauryas (1971), Arts of Ancient Sinhalese (1971) Inscriptions of Ceylon vol 11, Story of Sigiriya (both published posthumously) and Sinhalayo.

Sinhalayo written in 1967 is a book of modest proportions and the author puts its objective very simply as "This book attempts to give in brief an outline of the history of the Sinhalese people and the salient characteristics of their culture".

Of course the objective is put very modestly.

One is more inclined to agree with reviewer Akuretiya writing a few lines on the book to the Daily News in 1968 in the following strain.

"Dr. Paranavithana is our fabulous voyager. He is the Ulysses of the Orient discovering for the world the rich past of old civilizations. There are quite a number of books written by specialists but none in a single volume in which we could red and contemplate the many splendoured thing that was our past".

What are these many spledoured facets that the renowned author touches on? The Sinhalayo's devotion to Buddhism runs through out the canvas of the text like a golden tapestry providing sustenance not only to kingship but to our culture and the arts, to our literature, to our mores and values and even our modes of livelihood.

With masterly skill and the pilling wealth of knowledge the author owned he recounts these splendours generously traversing the vast field 'Of the political, social, economic and cultural life of the Sinhalayo". Attention is generously focused on art and architecture, the development of the language and literature and modes of warfare of this racial entity of the Sinhalayo who has trotted the earth under this same name for an amazing length of time, nearly two and half millennia.

"Sinhalayo" is the singular saga of an island race going on and on under one of the longest monarchies of the world. The race's recorded beginnings are from the advent of Vijaya but the author goes back to the neolithic culture of pre - Vijayan times and begins his story there.

The culture that later develops according to him is the fusion of this culture with the immigrant Indo - Aryan Civilization from North India. With remarkable skill the author takes the reader on the uphill climb of the Sinhala race - that is from the crude dolmen of Rambukkana to the refined sculptures of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. But the writer true to his facts does not rest on the high plane. So he descends with the reader to the sad plummeting of this civilization and to the flight of the Sinhalayos to the central hills.

It is in the second edition of this book put out in 1972 that the account of the decline of Sinhala civilization has been added along with 22 illustrations on places of vintage.

Altogether there are 122 such rare illustrations aptly reflecting the varied facets of "the many splendoured thing that was our past".

The economic style of writing has enabled the author to encapsule an unimaginable wealth of knowledge into less than 100 pages. As for the veracity of these facts no one can dispute for he was and is Lanka's pride in the field of archaeology, the self taught prodigy replete with historical knowledge, indigenous vision and intuition, "the fabulous voyager, the Ulysses of the Orient".

It is almost superfluous to review his books but Visidunu's laudable project at re-republishing works this nature that are of inestimable value needs equal publicity. And the book comes out minus a single printer's devil which in itself is an amazing feat in these irresponsible days.

In some of the current English publications the errors come in such multitude that one gets tempted to cease the reading process, get back into childhood days and launch into a game of counting the mistakes.

Deities and demons

The Deities and Demons of Sinhala Origin
Author: Professor Abaya Ariyasinghe
Publishered by The National Library and Documentation Service Board
Printed by Deepani Printers and Publishers (Pvt.) Ltd.

Abaya Ariyasinghe, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Kelaniya, has authoured several books on history, archaeology and folklore themes. And his latest work on the deities and demons who had appeared to have held sway in the beliefs and traditions of the Sinhala people at various periods of time provides interesting reading.

Professor Ariyasinghe comments that demonology had played a considerable role in the day to day life of the Sinhala people over thousands of years. He has selected the legends behind twenty of the deities and demons who had been held in awe or adoration among the common people of Sri Lanka in different regions and examines the reasons for deification of these supernatural beings in the country.

His analysis is a plausible one in that he points out that members of the local human society who had excelled in some sphere as heroes, warriors, or even those who had lived lives of religious excellence after their death had been deified by the people who had known them.

The book is written in lucid language and provides interesting reading not only to the student of history or archaeology but also to the modern day citizen whose life is pervaded by information technology or other technological spheres in vogue in these times. But like all countries of the world other than new lands which had been opened up for migration of people in the western hemisphere Sri Lanka's rich and diverse cultural heritage is underlined in texts such as this.

Professor Ariyasinghe has done much research which is evidenced by the substance of the book.

One of the main points he makes is that demonology or worship of ancestral spirit or adoration of ones who had gone before existed side by side with Buddhism in Sri Lanka as Buddhism did not play the role of being an esoteric or exclusive religion which exercised a strict dogma or authority on its followers in this country.

Hitiwana Kawi

Reviewed by Dhanapala Nissanka.

Culture, it is said, is the intellectual expression of societies. Any society has practices and habits endemic to it and so do we, the Sinhalese. The art of reciting extempore verses (hitiwana kavi) although not widely practised is an intellectual expression of the Sinhala society. Unique to Sinhala language.

Practice of reciting Sinhala extempore verses has a long history. Andare, Gajaman Nona, Barana Ganitha, Patthayame Lekam etc. Who lived a couple of centuries ago were some poets and poetesses who embellished our Sinhala literature and culture with their witty extempore verses. Some Sinhala kings added the hue of royalty to this art with their dialogues of extempore verses with others who at many times happened to be poor villagers. Their exalted positions never precluded them from mixing with them in practising this art.

Some critics hold the view that reciting extempore verses is a practice confined to imbeciles and hence not even practised in other countries. They attempt to degrade and relegate it into insignificance. But the fact that it is not practised in other countries except among the Sinhalese is the very reason why it should be preserved and protected. It is our identity and heritage.

shaping an idea instantly into a quatrain with all the qualities it should have and reciting it before an audience with aplomb, is not an easy task. For its performance one must be very skilled, clever, sensitive, intelligent, witty and should possess a rich vocabulary.

Extempore verses which remained dormant for sometime during pre-independent era, received a new lease of life with the dawning of the Colombo school of poetry.

While many pay only lip service to protect this extra-ordinary art from becoming extinct Piyasena Wickramaratne by publishing the book "Hitiwana Kavi" has done a splendid job for its perpetuation.

Piyasena Wickremaratne, regularly contributes a column containing extempore verses in the weekend "Rasanduna" a supplmenet of "Silumina".

'Voice of Lanka'

It is a common fact that the reading of a book of literature, guide the mind of students. It is a course for those who know little on general knowledge with the moral and ethics. This trend of habit should be controlled by senior students. The context of the present 'Voice of Lanka' consists of religion, philosophy, heritage, social science and environment etc. This is a book for general reading.

The author of the book Mr. D.P.E. Dias is a trained graduate now retired from the service of eduction.

Peace essential for tourism boom

Tourism - Aiming for that magic million

by Carl Muller

Reviewed by A.A.W. Visvanatharajah

Carl Muller recently gave us four monographs published by Stamford Lake.

With these, he told us that the art of the essayist is very much alive and that non-fiction can be just as absorbing to those who relish the right approach to the subject.

His fifth monograph, which I wish to comment on, is timely for, as the hopes of peace grow, the hopes of a more vibrant tourism sector also grow.

These have been lean times for the local tourist trade, aggravated by the incident at the Katunayake airport and then plagued by the hopelessness that followed the US Twin Towers destruction in September 2001. But, as Muller says, in Sri Lanka resilience is the name of the tourism game with its slumps and rises and the strong will to endure.

Muller's art is in the way he pushes his subject along in a conversational style, giving offence where he will. Harking back to the early days of the sixties, he tells of the dubious entities that crowded the footboard:

"Hole-in-the-wall 'Travels and Tours' were run by the smarmiest characters ever, each armed, as it were, with shearing clippers. Touting became an almost honourable profession and unwary visitors realised, often too late, that, at the mercies of these cheats, the lie of the land was actually the lies of the land.

Guides were of the poorest and basest of quality; itineraries were hastily put together with the main eye on the centres where visitors could buy 'glass and brass' at unbelievable prices while guides and drivers would line their pockets with the commissions surreptitiously paid them."

While Muller claims that things have got infinitely better, he protests the willy-nilly development in places like Kandy, Hikkaduwa, Negombo and Nuwara Eliya and the unwholesome competition that rises - mindless cost-cutting, touting for business and the overall effect on morale and conduct of hotel management as staff.

As Muller points out, even in hotel training, stress is not laid on communication skills and language aptitudes. "It is no secret that half the staff of many large hotels in the island is unable to express itself in English; talk badly if compelled to do so and is quite oblivious to English terms and nomenclature."

An important segment of this monograph deals with the global overview, where the World Trade Organisation has forecast the world number two slot for East Asia and the Pacific by 2010. As such, Muller points out, Sri Lanka's position as part of the region remains exceedingly bright.

Locally, he insists that what is needed is a greater development of entrepreneurial and management skills, especially in the small- and medium-scale enterprises that provide the necessary ancillary services, the better promotion of synergies between transport and tours policies, the increase of the relevant elements of the multilateral trade framework and the proper planning and management of our natural and cultural environment.

This monograph has covered so much in so few pages that I have to congratulate the author.

He also insists that we still need to get our act together. As he states: "It amazes me to think that all entrances to Colombo are utterly vile in demeanour and style. Somehow, we have never got down to that essential task of cleaning up our act. The utter lack of civic discipline is of a nature monumental."

Muller is particularly venomous when he tells of local authorities that levy their own charges. "It is in this area that the business of bleeding the tourist (or milking him/her) has become a fine and quite sadistic art."

He adds: "When municipal systems are substandard, roads in bad shape and pollution grave, the industry suffers and the reputation of an area with much to offer, is destroyed."

Talking of the katunayake terrorist attack, he insists that "peace is the vital ingredient in the preparation of a wholesome dish." He calls the calamity "a massive coronary and from which recovery will be long and most painful."

Regional tourism, he says, is the answer. "Imagine the potential that exists for the country if South Asia is marketed as a single destination with a total easing of visa restrictions and with direct air links between the different countries." What is needed is a central agency for market research that would serve all the SAARC countries.

Muller advocates a collective approach that will help identify strengths and weaknesses. "We need to accept that tourism is now in an age of increasing competition in a technology driven market place," he reminds.

What Muller deplores is the "human element that keeps exploding and the unhealthy divisiveness between peoples, cultures and religions that is being fanned to a flame by self-seeking, self-serving radicals and power-hungry politicians.

"This is where we fall flat on our faces and where we tell the world that, as a destination, we can be pretty raw around the edges too."

In conclusion, Muller demands an end to political feuding in this country, to national disunity, economic disruptions and political instability that drags a degraded society along. "Peace is an imperative and peace is the only way we can make this country the finest Asian destination of all.... Mark my words: On the day that world headlines proclaim "Peace comes to Sri Lanka" - that will be the day when the magic million (tourist arrivals) will not be something to strive for. It will simply fall into our laps!"

Crescat Development Ltd.

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