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Cabbages, kings & things : 

What's in a name - Silva or Marapane?

by Padma Edirisinghe

On Badra Marapane's agenda predominates service for the underprivileged kids of Sabaragamuwa. The income derived from selling his father's Nindagama he has invested for this worthy cause.

This column recently paid tribute to three Silvas who pioneered the Sinhala novel. Even a third grader of Lanka is aware that Silva is an alien surname come over from Portugal. I remember reading a piece where a Sri Lankan who came over from that country had remarked that the telephone directory of Portugal reminded him of his own directory back home because of the preponderance of Silvas.

I also have read in the saga of the Buddhist revival movement staged in late 19th Century (of which a repetition is said to have begun now) that the famous American who was at its initial phase its chief leader had once asked the Sinhala Buddhist leaders why they had selected a Portuguese, one Robert Silva (if I remember right) to head an anti-Catholic campaign. Somebody had replied that Robert Silva was a full-blooded Sinhala Buddhist but carrying an alien name. So what's in a name, you can say. There can be bad vindictive Silvas and good virtuous Silvas and bad vindictive Marapanes and good virtuous Marapanes.


One such Marapane, I met in distant Sabaragamuwa, all the way in a hamlet at Getangama off Ratnapura. Of course he himself is not a rustic villager but belongs to the aristocratic clan who held sway as feudal landlords during the early stages of the British period.

While the power of the fathers eroded under British hegemony they chose to send their sons to the premier English-medium colleges in the capital so that they would end as carbon copies of those who were smart enough to vanquish their power. (If the battle fails just imitate them, had been the flexible approach of the time among many). So Badra Sri Marapane's father, the feudal landlord stripped of his titles just packed off his only child for his education at St. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia. But Badra Marapane admits very frankly that he never shone in the scholastic field.

The alien environment of the school oppressed him and he longed for the mountains and ravines and gorges of his beloved Sabaragamuwa. He had felt much more at home at Parama Dhamma Chetiya at Ratmalana that he attended in the evenings to brush up on Pali and Sanskrit and Buddhism, never taught in his alma mater. Back he came to his beloved land of Gems gladly and one of the first things he did after he owned his father's legacy on the latter's death was to sell the Nindagama of the Marapane family.

And how did he invest this income? By building a Museum mostly for the inspiration of schoolchildren.

"For kids of Getangama and beyond who live in the deeps of Sabaragamuwa visiting museums of the capital remains a dream", he declares. So adjacent to his Gem Bureau he has built a moderate museum that houses miniatures of the ancient and medieval artefacts of our country. In a proximate workshop under correct guidance the crafting goes on. His main target is the school population and he sees to it that the children do not go empty-handed, as what happens when schoolchildren from 100 plus miles away who visit the museum put up by governor Gregory depart.

They (the children who visit the Getangama Museum sited by the Poth Gul Vihara) are each given a sort of dossier that contains among other things the list of our kings from Vijaya to Sri Wickrema replete with the regnal years. That the list is very much accurate can be discerned in that it includes even King Soththisena of the 5th Century who ruled only for one day. Who says the 21st C politics of Lanka is a turbulent field? Even the 5th C political arena seems to be just as bad. Maybe Vijaya landed here at an inauspicious hour.


A list of the ancient Buddhist shrines in the island, 109 in all, too is given to the children along with names of kings responsible for their construction. On display in the museum is a collection of the various alphabets used in the world. Cards on which are printed worthwhile sayings by philosophers too are distributed among the children.

Badra Sri Marapane is almost a unique personality who though he found school walls oppressive flowered into many activities and developed varied hobbies as interest in indigenous medicine and indigenous music. He had as a youth taken part in musical programmes of the SLBC. Recording had taken place in Silver Phone sited at Malay Street. After coming back to Ratnapura to take over the family fortunes on his father's demise, he began collecting Buddha statues, old Ola manuscripts, masks, rare publications and artefacts and soon grew up the local museum.

On one of the cards meant for distribution among children I came across this Sloka from Hitopadesha. Only the meaning is given here.

"If the human's life span is reckoned as 100 years how is it spent? Half of it gets lost in the dark night (during slumber). The rest becomes rather defunct in kid's age and the old age. The remnant time gets consumed mostly by celebrations or by calamities and diseases. What a little slice of worthwhile time (for constructive work) is left? What joy does a human subject to the rough tides of fate actually enjoy?" - Pratya Shatakaya.

Badra Sri Marapane of course enjoys altruistic joy be his self-less service while he jocosely says that to the above investments of time in his case should be added the delivering of bombarding language to his workforce to keep them going.

The significance of the quotations collected reflect that though immune to the formal system of education Badra Sri Marapane has all his wits about him to help the less enlightened and that wee little time which according to Pratya Shathaka a human is left with for worthwhile activity he has capitalised on to do his utmost for the rural and under privileged kids of his area. Service in little corners like the Getangama corner would themselves add certainly to a great national revival minus political fangs.

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