Pioneer writers in Sinhala literature
this week’s column, I would like, briefly, to examine some of the
pioneer writers in Sinhala literature and their seminal contribution to
the growth of Sinhala as a literary language.
One of the important factors that led to the cross cultural
fertilisation and the enrichment of contemporary Sinhala idiom is that
most of the pre and post independent Sri Lankan writers were either
bilinguals (Sinhala and English) and multilingual, particularly in the
case of W. A de Silva, who not only read English literature and world
literature in English translations available at the time, but also read
and was influenced by French literature.
Although it is not possible within a limited scope to examine a vast
corpus of literary works by pioneers in Sinhala literature it is quite
possible to introduce them to contemporary English readers in a concise
Evolution of Sinhala novel
In examining the evolution of the Sinhala novel in the 19th century,
the very first series of fiction which can be considered as the
rudimentary form of the Sinhala novel was known as Amutu Kata. Literary
works by Bentara Elbert Silva (1894) were known as Amutu Kata. In the
next stage of the evolution of the Sinhala novel, the fiction was given
the term Pabada (Prabanda) and Nava Prabanda Kata (new fiction). For the
first time, Piyadasa Sirisena used such terms as Pabanda and Nava
Prabanda Kata for his literary productions. M.C.S Perera ( a prominent
20th century writer of Nava Prabanda Kata) who wrote fictions such as
Mage Pembari (1906), Lanka Abhirahas (1907) and Sirimadura (1908)
identified his literary works as Samaya Kata (Stories of the time). W.A
Silva who was heavily influenced by Sanskrit literature and diction, had
also used the term Nava Prabanda for his literary productions. The
fictions by Alexander Welivita who subsequently became the Editor -in
-Chief of the Sinhalese daily Dinamina and who wrote fiction such as
Horunge Guhava (1912), Adara Hasuna ha Kavata Kata (1915) took the shape
of Amutu Kata.
According to Punchi Bandara Sannasgala who compiled the voluminous
book entitled History of Sinhala literature, “Martin Wickremasinghe who
read early Sinhala fiction began his literary career with Leela. He
describes it as a Rasavat Katandaraya (exhilarative read). He also used
the word ‘novel’ in the book. The Sinhalese equivalent of English word
‘novel’, Navakatava, would have been used as a common term to describe
fiction of such nature. ”
Sannasgala observes, “As these books were pleasurable reads, readers
began to enjoy them. This, in turn, resulted in the surge of fiction.
Most of such fictions commenced with either a gist of the content
presented in the first chapter or an epigraph and to offer poems at the
beginning, in the middle and at the end of the fiction”.
W. A de Silva
W. A de Silva (1892-1957) was one of the major Sri Lankan writers who
wrote over 20 books since 1909. The rich corpus of novels which were
extremely popular of his time, included Siriyalata (1909), Lakshmi
(1922), Higanakolla (1923), Kala Handa (1936), Radala Piliruva( 1936)
and Pasal Taruniya (1939). Romance has been a prominent theme in W.A de
Silva’s literary productions. Vijayaba Kollaya and Sumetra are major
Sinhala historical novels. In novels such as Radala Piliruva, Silva
severely attacked certain sections of society. Notably, he derived
inspirations for his writings from English and French novels. It is
obvious that Lakshmi was inspired by Rider Haggard’s She and Radala
Piliruva by Moliere’s work. His literary works are highly influenced by
Eastern and Western classical literature.
James de Alwis
James de Alwis (1823-1878) was a bilingual who did research in
Sinhala and English. His introduction to the English translation of
Siddath Sangarava which runs into 286 pages, discussed Sinhala
literature, grammar and poetry, served as a reference book for English
scholars who learnt Sinhala. The book published in 1851 still remains as
a primary source. The book entitled Contributions to Oriental Literature
or Leisure Hours and published in 1863 served as a major publication for
English scholars who learnt Sinhala. He was known as an intellectual who
translated not only Sinhala texts into English but also Palit texts. In
1863, he translated part of the Kachchayana Vyakaranaya into English and
translated the entire text of Attanagaluvansaya into English in 1866.
Ven. Bambarande Siri Seevali
Among the prominent bhikkhus who substantially contributed to Sinhala
literature was Ven. Bambarande Siri Seevali. He served as a lecturer at
Vidyalankara Pirivena which later became the University of Kelaniya and
was a writer of distinction. Among his books, Adyana Kalava, Kata Kalava,
Jeevana Kalava, Palana Kalava , Chtra Kalava and Sitana Kalava were
prominent. Some of his works include a Sinhalese translation of Bhagavat
Geeta, Bauda Sishtacharaya, Bauda Lokaya and Bauda Satva Adarshaya.
Perhaps, the first and the most prominent satirist in Sinhala
literature was Thenakoon Gorge William de Silva better known as T.G.W de
Silva (1913-1990). His characters such as Bhagalavati Iskole Hamine,
Kakadivpaya, Patpadagam are still famous among readers who enjoyed his
cutting-edge wit at the expense of prominent personalities of the time.
Some of his short stories were Visipahe Sundari, Sanskruti Polla,
Abhidharma Mudalali, Daha Avurudu Thinduva, Agamati Oralosuva, Agamati
Beheta and Maheshakya Koduva. Yaksha Gedara and Mahara Hamuvu Striya
were his satirical novels.
T.B Ilangaratne (1913-1992) was a famous Sinhala novelist who
contributed to popularise the genre of novel among readers. Some of his
famous works are Anduva saha agama, Vilambita, Amba yahalovo (which was
turned into a tele-drama), Tilaka Ha Tilaka, Sasara, Nadayo, and
Mahanama Rajapaksa (Maya Ranjan)
Mahanama Rajapaksa (1913-1968) was a prominent Sinhala writer who
wrote his fiction under the pseudonym of Maya Ranjan. His literary
productions include Trojan Pura Sangramaya, Vidiya Bandara, Pandukabhaya
Vana Sangramaya, Mage Rajjaya, Pitisara Minissu, Kalisama and Sukumara.
His famous text Digamadulu Sangramaya was a Sinhala translation of an
English literary text.
Some of the Sinhala writers of the early stage of Sinhala fiction in
the post-independent era were Hemapala Munidasa (1903-1957), I.M.R.A
Iriyagolla (1907-1973), C.E Godakumbura ( 1907-1977) , Vimalananda
Tennakoon ( 1907-1983), Sagara Palansuriya (1908-1961) and David
Karunaratne (1918-1981). Dr. Leel Gunasekara, former civil servant and
one time Secretary to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, made
substantial contribution to Sinhala literature. Petsam and Atsana were
prominent among his famous works.