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Prof. Sucharitha Gamlath: The Plekhanov of Sri Lanka

by Neil Christopher

Sinhala literary criticism had begun to blossom along the line of grammar-oriented analysis and of theories of Sanskrit aesthetics, during the first part of the 20th century. W. F. Gunawardena, Munidasa Kumaratunga were the pioneers of this trend.

W. F. Gunawardena Ediriweera Sarachchandra Sucharitha Gamlath Munidasa Kumaratunga Martin Wickramasinghe

Using theories of Sanskrit aesthetics, mainly 'rasavada' to assess the quality of artistic productions of the medieval period, Kumaratunga rendered a tremendous service to the areas of interpretation and annotation to the old tents. Even today he and Tennekoon are the beacon lights to make the reader well-aware of the meanings of these texts.

Apart from occasional anti-sexist approaches, as shown in 'The Kovul Sandesa Vivaranaya' by Tennekoon, the Sinhala literary criticism remained within the confinements of grammar-oriented analysis mingled with Sanskrit aesthetics, until Sarachchandra came with realism to expand the horizons of literary criticism sensing well the dire necessity to enrich the area of literary criticism with realistic elements.

With the advent of realistic novels of Martin Wickramasinghe and the rapid expansion of the middle class with a bilingual background, the demand for realism was at its peak. Although Sarachchandra blended Sanskrit aesthetics with western literary theories. Emphasizing the importance of realistic elements in works of art, his approach was also idealistic in the final analysis. The intellectual enterprise of establishing realism in the literary criticism fell on the shoulders of critics with Marxist background, and Prof. Sucharitha Gamlath took up the challenge well-armed with the needed intellectual capacity and courage.

It is indisputable that Prof. Gamlath is the foremost living aesthetician in Sri Lanka. His knowledge of both oriental and accidental aesthetics is unquestionable. His massive contribution to literary criticism is yet unsurpassed, and can basically be divided into three periods. In the first period we find a scholar well-armed with the fundamentals of Sanskrit aesthetics.

He made a tremendous attempt to encapsulate the cream of Sanskrit aesthetics into the literary criticism, then messed up with efforts by others to found an indigenous critical theory. His arguments to this effect could be found in his 'Kavsilumini Vinisa'.

He bravely introduced theories of Sanskrit aesthetics having understood that it was to India that we ought to turn because it was the intellectual universe of our past. In his 'Rasavada Vivaranaya', 'Samskrutha Natya Kalava Saha Abinnana Sakunthalaya,' 'Natya Sastraye Rasavadaya', etc. We find that commendable attempt. I still think his 'Rasavada Vivaranaya' serves as a guide-book for the students who wish to have a grasp of 'rasavadaya' in Sinhala.

In the second period of his literary service we find a transitional intellectual whose aesthetic philosophy had been inclined to western theories of aesthetics. His 'Sahithya Lokaya ha Seba Lokaya' is a fine manifestation to this tendency where he raises questions and suspicions relating to the concepts of beauty, truth, morality and aesthetic judgement.

In the third period we find an aesthetician armed with dialectical materialism exploring the dialectical nature of aesthetics. In 1980s Prof. Gamlath flashed himself in the sky of literary criticism in Sri Lanka as an adjudicator to whom all with no hypocrisy went and listened in the hope of expanding their intellectual horizons. It is during this third period that his aesthetic vision blossomed to a rationalistic brim. With regards to the written literature the critical tools he has developed and introduced are quite adequate to give the needed critical judgement. When it comes to the criticism of pure and applied music, I think they have further to be developed and refined.

Prof. Gamlath co-authored a book critical of Sarachchandra's aesthetic vision with late Kirthi Balasuriya. That book alone is a monumental contribution to the field of literary criticism because it makes a commendable and successful attempt at struggling with the remnants of idealism in the literary criticism. When it is translated into international languages, the world intellectual community will realise that here in this tiny island are the twins of aestheticians of world class.

Apart from the contributions as a critic, Prof. Gamlath's services have extended to the areas of introducing technical terms to the Sinhala language. His yet unpublished 'English-Sinhala Dictionary' is the only one which properly caters to the needs of the student on anyone who is in search of a fitting equivalent term in Sinhala. It is highly unfortunate that the process of publishing is getting delayed.

Another area of his services that cannot be left unmentioned is the translation of literature into Sinhala. He has translated world literature into Sinhala without distorting the original work and in poetically opulent language. I must say that for any student of translated literature, Prof. Gamlath's works will serve as guidelines in the field. A volume of essays is needed to assess the contribution of Prof. Gamlath to literature.

Perhaps I am unfair by him when I write this brief note. To be frank, I am not adequately qualified to assess his contribution. But the sense of gratitude to this great intellectual who enriched our generation with universal knowledge compelled me to write this note of tribute.

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