|Sunday, 26 September 2004|
How much hatred can an island contain?
Journal of the end time - extracts from a diary
Maureen Seneviratne is an inspired writer, and she can word-lash with cutting exactitude when it is demanded of her. In this insistent record from her diary - each entry like the blazing bead of an olive-wood rosary, she calls on us to think of an 'end time' - a time of havoc, bitterness, hatred and pestilence - not the pestilence of some epidemic but the pestilential forces that still bubble to the surface in this witches cauldron that has become our island home.
In a 'World Before' she justifies her stance. All four great religions tell of this 'end time' and it seems that we are witness to the manic rush to it in this so-called Paradise. It may be trite, but even the original Paradise knew no peace or order, did it?
Maureen gave to the Army her son, but yet, was it his war? Whose war was it? When the 13 soldiers killed at Elephant Pass were brought for burial at Kanatte, Borella town was set ablaze. July 1983... and as a friend told her, "Galle Road is an arc of fire!"
Helpless, decent Tamils who never said it was their war either... "Like the German people," Maureen says, "in the 30s and 40s were helpless when the Nazi gangsters burned the houses of the Jews and took them away to destroy them..."
This diary record is a stunning one. What is more shame-making to us as Lankans, is to face the stern castigation of the writer - words that spit cobra-fashion, into the faces of so many who should cower in disgrace.
Refugees... the Church of Martyrs in Mannar. Bleak eyed Tamil refugees say: "We have lived in Kotahena for centuries. In the shadow of the cathedral." Then came death, looting, burning, ships to carry them North. It was here that the King of Jaffna slaughtered all his subjects who had converted to Christianity. And the sad decision: "We'll go to South India... why should we stay in a country that does not want us?"
If people can still be brain-washed, led out to kill, to ravage and destroy, what part of this "nation" can they ever belong to? As Maureen says: "We have all become monsters battening on our own flesh and blood and the media battens on that." What sort of nation do we proclaim when the Lord of Misrule crows from the roof of the roost?
July 1987... India moves in. "History, I thought, is being repeated... Invasion by Invitation?... 3000 Indian troops in Jaffna... more to come... already Colombo is in flames... people anti-people.
Destroying each other in the name of... a Pact to bring in the clowns?" Maureen asks if it would not have been better if JR had taken the people into his confidence, formed a National Government. But no, thousands had to die, divisions were fostered, a Peace-Keeping Force invited to overlord a part of our island.
And she reminds: the Portuguese came, also to sign a pact, support a king at enmity with his own brothers. "We are indeed a cursed generation," she declares. "We have perpetrated our own misery. We are paying with our shame for our follies."
The IPKF... Guzzling gallons of coconut oil, eating every banana they could, slaughtering the village goats, raping young girls, robbing every village boutique. The accursed Javans. Their assault on the Muslim village of Vallichenai; hundreds of refugees fleeing to Polonnaruwa. "They came inside our houses. Molested us. Raped our women. Our young girl children.
They took even the food cooking on the fire. They were like animals mad for sex. They called 'Paki! Paki' as they attacked us. Many who fled died in the Welikanda and Poonani jungles. Women who got pregnant committed suicide. Others were strangled by their own husbands..."
A Batticaloa Burgher family... a child of eleven with terrible eyes. "She was raped thirteen times," the grandmother said. An occupying army doing its will on the people of the East; the peace-keepers, invited here as friends of Lanka!
A question of exploitation
This publication has been assembled in an appealing presentation as a book. The title is bound to arouse the curiosity of readers. Perhaps deliberately the title is left as an intriguing caption. The author was popular with his 'Traditional Homelands' which appeared sometime ago. Now the new publication turns the spotlight on him and evokes a number of questions.
The author elaborates on ways and means utilised for exploitation which takes place when advantageously placed countries enforce their will on helpless countries. The writer explores the takeover and use by stronger developed countries of impoverished weaker neighbours within the globe. This process allows no room or means for the development or growth of the poor countries which reduced to the level of victims to be misused for the profit and advantage of more advanced countries.
On the other hand, as the author pertinently and prudently points out sustainable development is the very antithesis of monetary exploitation. Sustainable growth should spur the people all over to lead a life of self satisfaction and gear them to gain self fulfilment at the same time.
Goods needed domestically to sustain health, and to obtain essential requirements in the way of comfort, happiness and security have to be provided in terms of sustainable development. Furthermore the author maintains that sustainable growth ought to encourage social and economic activity built on resources that will be kept alive by society and nature.
The writer's aim is to find out the reason for worldwide poverty and how it could be overcome. The answer to this comes from the author's formula itself. He has described this formula in about 26 chapters, and what he says is presumed to be correct. This is about financial exploitation, poverty, aid, free trade, terrorist crisis, peace international security and on how exploitation can be got rid of.
The writer is not a trained economist. A number of statements in the book will be questioned and the books will spark off criticism from diverse quarters. Unfortunately there is no index, which would have been useful. For curiosity sake and to know something unusual, the book may be read for example to find out what is termed "the Karuna definition of sustainable development..."
The author suggests of fruitful relations between the developed and developing countries and he condemns domination of one nation by another. A better deal in employment is advocated for women. This oppression and exploitation may end the writer believes. It can be discerned that the author is inclined to have a free, fair and just world instead of the prevailing unfair order or set up.
The subject of study picked out by the writer is interesting and important but necessarily constricts the discussion to be limited to one aspect of exploitation. The focus is essentially on monetary exploitation.
A stimulating journey of the mind into space
A View of the World.
Godwin Wijesinghe, who only four years ago became familiar with the meaning of Buddhism, leaves this book to his grandchildren, to tell them about the core and essence of the Teachings of the Buddha and the contentment it brought to his life.
This happened in far away Canada and the revelations would probably be entirely new, to his grandchildren. Wijesinghe was a Christian. The Teachings of the Buddha are placed against a worldview of civilisations which went before.
But this exploration would I am sure, be of interest not merely to the uninitiated and the curious, but also to Buddhists who would like to understand the Teachings presented in simple and comprehensive form.
Wijesinghe quotes profusely from many sources - from scholarly bhikkhus, learned scholars and philosophers, and from wide-eyed, open-hearted visitors to this country who saw not only its explosive tropical beauty, but also its spirituality and found for themselves the source of the ancient teaching. For such a small book the spectrum is wide and it is a pathfinder among men of letters, science and philosophy.
To mention just a few-Mark Twain, Bertrand Russel, Albert Einstein, Sir Edwin Arnold etc.
Wijesinghe quotes from the Dhamma epitomizing the openness of the Teaching of the Dhamma, its freedom of thought, expression and tolerance, so important to the young growing up in an era which values these concepts. Wijesinghe explains 'ehi passiko' (come and see), the absence of dogma and the rejection of an inflexible stance that there is only one.
Truth alone, and none other. The reader is introduced to who the Buddha really is - not a divine being or a mysterious, powerful manifestation, but a highly enlightened human being who has shown the way and it is left to others to follow his teachings.
The reader is also introduced to the history of Buddhism and then to some understanding of the essence of Buddhism - the Four Noble Truths, the Middle Path, the reliance on self alone and on no outside entity, the release from sansara and the attainment of Nibbana.
Wijesinghe quotes the Ven. Rahula who explains the Five Aggregates of Matter, Sensations, Perceptions, Mental formations and Consciousness and the Bhikkhu says: What we call a 'being' or an 'individual' or 'I' is only a convenient name or label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing.
Whatever is impermanent is 'dukkha.'
The reader is then led to the path of Nibbana.
In the second half of the book the writer introduces the reader to a wide mosaic of civilisations from the past, giving one an idea of the development of culture and religion over the ages.
Wijesinghe's grandchildren and others would get a glimpse of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, the Vedas, the Upanishads, Greece and Rome, the romance and wonder of Troy, Ulysses and if you pursue these guidelines elsewhere, you would meet the wondrous Helen. And if you are more intellectually curious, you could search for more information about Plato, Socrates, Aristotle.
All of it is a most stimulating journey into space for the mind.
Sabaragamuwa - in Legend and History
Sabaragamuwa Vansa Kathawa
Sabaragamuwa was the last to be demarcated and declared a province. That was in January 1889. When the British rulers first divided their new colony into the provinces in 1833, to facilitate administration, the present Ratnapura district was part of the Southern Province and parts of the Kegalla district were in the Western Province and parts in the Central Province.
Sabaragamuwa was on administrative unit with Ratnapura as the capital until 1953 when Kegalla, comprising Thun Korala (Three Korala), Hatara Korala (Four Korala) and lower Bulathgam Korala were declared as separate districts.
The Kandyan Kingdom comprised 12 Disavanis (administrative divisions) and Sabaragamuwa was one of them. But the Sabaragamuwa Disava was smaller in area, smaller than even the Ratnapura district.
Although the province is now known as Sabaragamuwa, the name used in earlier documents was Saparagamu. The Kandyan Convention listing the disavas comprising the kingdom gives the name Saparagamu. That was the official name of the disava. Sapara became Sabara in popular parlance. The scholar-monk now an MP, the Ven. Ellawala Medananda derives Sapara from the Sanskrit Shavera, Sinhala Sapara meaning "blue gem". He even conjectures that the Greek Sappheiros may be a derivative of Shavera or Sapara, the word used by the men who took the blue gems to Greece.
The author of the continuation of the Mahavamsa written during the 13th century records that bhikkhus from Saphare ratte were among those who participated in the Sangayana convened by Parakrama Bhanu I to reform the Sangha.
Some of the very backward parts of the country even today are in Sabaragamuwa, especially in the Ratnapura district. Yet Sabaragamuwa has many claims to 'Firsts' - the world's first woman Prime Minister, the first woman to get elected to our legislature, the first woman to win an Olympic medal. Both Mrs.
Adeline Molamure elected member for Ruwanwella in the State Council (1931-35) at a by election in November 1931 and Ms. Susanthika Jayasingha are 'natives' of the Kegalla district. These are the most outstanding of Sabaragamuwa's many claims to 'Firsts'.
The province has claims to many unique features too. Sri Paada/Adam's Peak, the holy mountain revered by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and assisted by John Still by Eastern Christians as well.
Sinhraja one of the few remaining virgin rainforests in the world, the Wesak Orchid endemic in the Ratnapura district, the priceless gems embedded in the earth around which has given the town its name and as stated earlier gave the province its name, are some of them.
Homo Sapiensis Balangodensis lived and roamed in Balangoda and its environs of far back as 30,000 BC. Rock caves in both districts and gem pits have yielded evidence of homo sapiens who lived here in the mesolithic and neolithic ages.
A little known fact - Sabaragama had a woman Disava (chief administrator) appointed by the King. No other district has had a woman as a chief.
She was known as Edanduwawe Disawa after her native village near Mawanella in the Kegalla district. Folk lore tells us that she was an expert fencer who, disguised as a man, fought a dual with a fencer from the Suraliya guild, to avenge the death of her father (he belonged to the Maraliya guild) killed by foul play in a dual. She was victorious and won accolades from the king, who finding out her true identity was so impressed that he made her a Disava and presented five elephants and more - the privilege of riding an elephant, a privilege denied to women.
From 1931 when we got universal franchise there have been more women MPs from Sabaragamuwa than from any other province. While Colombo and Gampaha the most literate districts together have had seven MPs, including the member for Attanagalla, Sabaragamuwa has elected nine Members of Parliament and one member of the State Council.
The only woman to be elected to the first parliament in 1947 was Mrs. Florence Senanayaka, member for Dehiowita, the Kegalla district. The Speaker of both the State Council and Parliament, Sir Francis Molamure, is another 'first' from Sabaragamuwa.
Some of the very heroic and colourful figures in our history are sons of Sabaragamuwa - Parakramabahu I, born in Dedigama, the warrior King Rajasinghe I also known as Sitawaka Rajasingha, Edirille Rala born in Colombo and baptised Domingo Corea, who returned to the village of his ancestors Atulugama near Sitawaka and turned against the Portuguese, the fearless Leuke Disawa slain on the orders of Sri Wickrama, Saradiel the highway robber and in more recent times, Maduwanwela Disawa who had scant respect for the ruling Brits and was a legend in his life time.
In our own day, the foremost among the bhikkhus from Sabaragamuwa who have served the sasana is the saintly Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreyya.
Among the famous sons and daughters of Sabaragamuwa are two cinema icons, Joe Abeywickrama and Irangani Serasinghe (nee Meedeniya), the monk-poet turned politico Sagara Palansuriya, better known as Kayus the author of the perennial favourite Sudo Sudu, B. A. Sirisena - editor of Aththa, Dr. Wijaya Godekumbura, the inventor of the safety lamp and winner of the Rolex Award, and academicians Dr. J. B. Dissanayaka and Dr. Siri Gunasingha, all hail from Sabaragama.
All this and more has been recorded in a 3 volume chronicle titled Sabaragamuwe Vamsa Kathawa, published by the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council. Well documented with copious references, statistics each chapter has been written by a specialist in the field viz Ven. Ellawala Medananda archaeologist par excellence, Dr. Sriyan Deraniyagala, Prof. Kapila Dahanaya, Prof. C. M. Madduma Bandara, Prof. S. B. Navaratna Prof. W. H. Wijepala, the present Director of Archaeology, to name a few.
What do you wish to know about Sabaragamuwa? You name it and it will be there - Sabaragamuwa's pre-history, its legends and history up to date, topography, place name, folk lore, folk poetry, customs, rituals, festivals, arts and crafts and the sons and daughters of Sabaragamuwa who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields.
What struck me as I read their names and achievements was the part played by the Central Schools in the blossoming of young men and women who came out into the open from the glens and mountain villages hidden in jungles. But for the State's free education would some of them be where they are now, or were a few years ago!
As I discovered in my conversation with some or two closely associated with the compilation of the Wansa Katha, it has been a labour of love of a few 'natives'of Sabaragamuwa proud of their heritage and determined to record it before it is forgotten.
The Wamsa Katha is edited by Dr. Pandula Andagama, former Assistant Director of the National Museum, assisted by Saviman Uragodawatta, both products of Central School, Andegama of the Karawita MMV and Seevali College, Ratnapura and Uragodawatta of Gankanda MMV.
The three volume Vamsa Katha replete with maps, pictures, photographs, facsimiles of inscriptions, is an encyclopedia on Sabaragama which should be in every school library, and made easily accessible to students, to gather information on any topic related to their studies.
Produced by Lake House