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Cultural renaissance on the horizon



Minister T.B. Ekanayake

The time is ripe for a cultural revival in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's cultural identity has to be projected to the world. Resources of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs will be harnessed to realise this objective said Minister of Culture and Arts, T. B. Ekanayake.

Minister Ekanayake held the portfolio of the Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs in 2000. Montie Gopallawa was the Minister of Cultural Affairs and the advisor was Dr. Leel Gunasekera.

Excerpts of the interview the Sunday Observer had with Minister T. B. Ekanayake.

Q: Sri Lanka has a history of over 2,500 years of archaeological importance running back to over 5,000 years. Compared to other countries Sri Lanka could be proud of an unique cultural heritage. Your comments?

A: Yes, Sri Lanka is proud of its rich cultural endowment. Many countries that boast about their scientific advancements have only a brief history of few centuries.

The modern day engineers marvel at the greatness of the ancient indigenous irrigation systems at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

The site identified as suitable for the Maduru Oya dam by the Mahaweli engineers and foreign experts after much research proved to be an ancient irrigation site.

Water cooled rooms, had been built on the top of the Sigiriya Rock by the ingenious Sri Lankans as early as the 3rd century. They are the mainstays of our cultural heritage.

Q: Japan, China and Korea have gained fame on account of their cultural heritage. Many countries are yet to know the grandeur of Sri Lanka's cultural milieu, your observations?

A: The Stupa, Sandakadapahana, Samadhi Buddha statue and tanks dotted the dryzone have its origin in the Anuradhapura period. Such masterpieces have epitomized our civilization. Lovamahapaya an edifice consisted of nine floors was laid with iron tiles. Sri Lankans also knew the subtle art of melting iron. There are lots of archaeological ruins in the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambadeniya and other kingdoms of Sri Lanka. The Government aims at attracting 2.5 billion tourists by 2016. Cultural Tourism is a major sector of industry. The cultural tourists, specially westerns love visiting ancient ruins in the East. Several Western countries have withdrawn travel advisories on Sri Lanka as peace and stability have been restored.

Q: Tourists arrivals have increased by 46 percent during the past 12 months, while the room capacity in hotels has increased. A major campaign to promote tourism has been launched by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

What steps have your ministry taken to educate tourists on our cultural heritage?


Ola leaves and archaeological items were displayed at the Galpihilla Rajamaha Viharaya, Kandy. Here the Minister inspects some items.

A: Tour guides need a thorough knowledge of our cultural patterns, behaviours and lifestyles. The Cultural Ministry has discussed this matter with the relevant ministries and it has been decided to launch a crash program to educate tour guides on history archaeological sites, rituals art and paintings.

Q: The Chinese government has donated an International Performing Art Centre to Sri Lanka. What is the progress of this project?

A: The construction of the Performing Art Centre has been completed. It will be opened in March. At present we have facilities for only drama and dancing. The new centre will be a boost for performing arts. The new Act on the performing art centre is being studied by Attorney General, will be presented to Parliament soon. The International Performing Art Centre - IPAC - has magnificent halls.

One performing stage has 1,280 seats while the other on the top floor has over 600 seats. All facilities for artistes such as dressing rooms and the vehicle parking space for visitors are located inside the centre. The new Performing Art Centre estimated at Rs. 3,080 million which is an outright gift to Sri Lanka by the Chinese government will be a forum for staging internationally reputed performing art shows of SAARC or Commonwealth in Colombo.

Q: You have met eminent scholars and artistes. Do you have any plans to ensure their future welfare?

A: The private sector has compiled different directories for cinema, drama, literature and artistes as well. I strongly believe the government should compile a comprehensive directory on artistes. I have already discussed this matter with Carlo Fonseka, Chairman Arts Council. The directory will be prepared soon. Housing for artistes is another area which should be addressed soon.

A 12-acre plot of land in Kaduwela will be acquired by the Ministry to build houses for about 500 artistes. Deeds of the Ratmalana-Kalapura housing project will be handed over to the artistes soon. In Kandy Pallekale an eleven and half acre land is being developed to provide a peaceful environment to writers and those conducting research on various disciplines. I visited this site recently. I have proposed some alterations to graft a Kandyan outlook to the building. The project will be completed soon. A similar centre will be constructed in Naotunna, Matara in the near future.

Q: You will no doubt concede that the cultural centres and the cultural officers have to be reactivated to meet the challenges of changing times, your observations?

A: We have over 155 cultural centres islandwide staffed by graduates. Their talents and experience have to be harnessed to herald a cultural revival which is long overdue in our country. Merely organising dramas or dancing competitions or conducting classes are not sufficient.

The traditional cultural performances such as Bali, Thovil, Sokari, Kolam, Shanthikarma and the Olafarm literature, cave paintings, wall paintings have to be given the pride of place in our cultural milieu. Time is ripe to herald a new era of peace under the bold leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. During the thirty-year terror the Northern and Eastern people saw only weapons and heard gunshots. They performed their religious, rituals under fear. A large number of chief priests in Hindu Kovils were killed by the LTTE.

Q: What are your plans to ensure the cultural revival in the North and Eastern provinces?

A: A land has been identified in Jaffna to set up a cultural and Information Centre. Visitors to the North should first go to this centre if they want to get an understanding of the area and its people.

The government of India has expressed willingness to fund this new centre in Jaffna. Such centres will be launched in Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Mannar and Trincomalee soon.

Q: The "Yapahuwa Cultural Triangle" project was proposed by you as the Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs. Do you expect to launch that project?

A: The aim of the Yapahuwa Cultural Triangle project is to conduct archaeological research covering the Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa periods.Excavation has already commenced. Over 1,000 Chinese coins belonging to that period have been found.

Q: The Tower Hall, Colombo is a living memory of modern drama in Sri Lanka. It was opened by Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratna after renovations recently. How do you evaluate the progress achieved by Sri Lanka drama with special reference to the role played by the tower Hall Foundation?

A: Tower Hall built by don Hendric Appuhamy Seneviratna in 1910 is the pride of Sri Lanka drama. The great personalities of the recent history C. Don Bastiyan Jayaweera Bandara, Lawyer John De Silva, Lawyer Charles Dias and others rendered a yemon service in the evolution of the Sri Lanka Drama. Tower Hall has been the training ground for the popular and upcoming dramatists. Renovation to the Elphiniston Theatre will commence soon. Music and dancing training programs, cultural competitions and film shows conducted by the Tower Hall Foundation should be upgraded to meet fresh challenges.

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