THE DEFINING ELEMENT OF OUR NATIONAL CULTURE

Corruption in the News



  

“මුහුද දෙබෑ කරන…, අහස පොළොව සිඹින…,
රටට සෙනෙහෙ පුදන…, ලෙයින් මසින් සැදුන…

සැබෑ පියෙකි දරු දහසකි…

, මුලු රටේම ලේ නෑයෙකි…,

අපේ එකෙකි සිය දහසකි… , මේ දරු හට මව් දහසකි…

‍යව්වනයේ මේ සගයා…, අපට නොහැකි මේ කරනා

…, අපේ එකෙකි මේ මිනිසා….., මේ මිනිසා…

…රටක් රාජ්‍යයක් වටිනා…

,  මේ මිනිසා…

“අපි වෙනුවෙන් අපි”,

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane
From historic times, the primary distinguishing characteristic of the

Sinhala people of Sri has been their Sinhala language. Their

collective identity as a distinct community is established by their

unique language. Language is the defining element of any advanced

culture and it gives the strongest form of identity to a community.

Sinhala is one of the world’s oldest living languages and as a vibrant

language Sinhala has a celebrated history of over 2300 years. The

Sinhala language grew out of Indo-Aryan dialects and exists only in

Sri Lanka and has its own distinguished literary tradition. The script

used in writing Sinhala evolved from the ancient Brahmi script used in

most Aryan languages, which was introduced to the island in the 3rd

century BCE.

In 1909, the Sinhala script won international recognition from a group

of reputed international scholars as one of the world’s most creative

alphabets. It has been named as one of the world’s 16 most creative

alphabets among today’s functioning languages, and some of them among

the oldest known to mankind.

All salient aspects of our national culture – tangible and intangible,

either grew or evolved within the borders of our country. Sinhala

language and literature evolved and developed in Sri Lanka. All other

languages used in Sri Lanka originated in other countries. It is

significant to note that the overwhelming majority of people of Sri

Lanka are distinguished by their language – Sinhala. Sinhala language

has not only been  a means of communication for our people but also a

strong unifying influence providing solidarity and strength to the

Sinhala community as a unique cultural entity in the world. From

historic times virtually all place names of the country are in the

Sinhala language – in the North, South, East, West and Central

regions.

This unifying effect has prevailed from historic times, but was

threatened to some degree with the arrival and impact of European

colonial powers, especially with the wide-ranging socio-economic

changes to which the country was subject during the British period of

occupation.

SINHALA LANGUAGE AND BUDDHISM
Sinhala language in both its oral and written, informal and formal

forms developed as the language of Buddhism in our country. The

primary activity of Buddhist vihares, then and now, has been

‘dharma-desanaa’, bana’ or sermons which were invariably conducted in

Sinhala. From historic times, our Buddhist bhikkhus and our royalty

were responsible for the development, preservation and promotion of

the Sinhala language.  Bhikkhus were in the forefront in the

propagation of education in general, both religious and secular. The

Mahavihara, Abayagiriya and Jetavanarama Buddhist fraternities and

associated monasteries were outstanding places of learning equivalent

to universities of today. They had international affiliations with

international students. The medium of instruction and all scholarly

activities in these institutions were conducted in the Sinhala

language. Large libraries were a part and parcel of these

institutions. Particularly in these institutions, scholar Bhikkus were

involved in translation into Sinhala of Pali and Sanskrit literary

works pertaining to Buddhism, on a large scale. The patronage received

from Sinhala royalty played a dominant role in the propagation and

preservation of Sinhala language. We had kings who were outstanding

Sinhala scholars compiling Sinhala literary works of high quality,

both in prose and verse.

EARLIEST SINHALA LITERARY WORKS
According to Prof. Senarat Paranavithana the earliest specimens of

Sinhala metrical compositions may be dated to the first century BCE.

Four of the early Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka have been

identified as poetical compositions. The Mahavamsa composed in Pali in

the 5th century CE was based on ancient Sinhala Commentaries known as

Sihala-Atthakatha-Mahawamsa. The Sigiri graffiti scribbled on the

mirror wall are dated to 7th-8th centuries and are on fascinating

secular themes- many of the verses of an amorous or romantic nature.

Some of the oldest Sinhala literary works date from the 9th century

CE. The Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya is the oldest Sinhala prose work

which dates back to the 9th century.

Sinhala literary work flourished during the Polonnaruwa and

Dambadeniya period from 10th to 13th century CE which is considered as

the golden age of Sinhala literature. Among prominent Sinhala prose of

this time is the Amavatura written in the 13th century by Gurulugomi.

Dharmapradipikava is another of his compilations. Gurulugomi’s works

are characterized by the use of pure Sinhala (Elu) words and limiting

Sanskrit and Pali loan words to the minimum. Other literary works of

this period include the Buthsarana by Vidyachakravarti, the Pujavaliya

and Saddharma-Ratnavaliya. The latter is renowned for the beauty of

its style and the simplicity of its language. Other notable prose work

is the Saddharmalankaraya by Jayabahu Dharmakirti in the 14th century,

Thupavansaya, Elu-Attanagalu Vansaya and the Dambadeni Aasna.

SINHALA POETRY
The Sinhala people have excelled in poetry. The Pujavaliya of the

13trh century refers to twelve famous Sinhala poets who flourished

during the reign of king Aggabodhi-I (568-601 CE). The Sinhala

language is a poetical language. It lends itself easily to metre and

rhyme due to its grammatical flexibility and rich vocabulary

comprising of a large number of synonyms. Sinhala is a mellifluous

language with a smooth sweet flow, with high vowel content and is

comparable to French and Urdu, widely regarded to be the two most

romantic languages in the world. One of the greatest literary

monuments of the medieval period is the “Kavsilumina” a 13th century

“Maha-Kavya” composed by King Parakrama Bahu-II (1234-1269). The

oldest Sandesha poem of which we have any evidence is the “Mayura

Sandeshaya” (Peacock’s message) dating back to the 13th century, if

not earlier. The work no longer exists, though examples from it are

cited in the classical Sinhala grammar “Sidath-Sangarawa” (13th

century).

During the Kotte period (15th-16th centuries) Sinhala poetry was

receiving greater attention especially by way of “Hatan Kavi” or war

poems and “Sandeshas” or message poems.  This period marks the

efflorescence of Sinhala poetry with secular “Sandesha” poems gaining

much popularity. Among the popular Sandesha poems of this period are

“Thisara Sandeshaya” (Swan’s message, dated 14th century), “Gira

Sandeshaya” (Parrot’s message), “Hansa Sandeshaya” (Goose’s message),

“Parevi Sandeshaya” (Dove’s message), “Kokila Sandeshaya” (Cuckoo’s

message) and “Selalihini Sandeshaya” (Starling’s message) belong to

the 15th century.

Jataka tales formed the thematic content of most Sinhala poetry of the

medieval period. “Kavya-Sekharaya” written in mid 15th century by Sri

Rahula Mahathera narrates the “Sattubhasta Jataka” and Guttilaya of

Vetteve Thera (15th century) is based on the “Guttila Jataka”. Other

Sandesha poems include the “Sevul Sandeshaya” (Cocks message), “Hema

Kurulu Sandeshaya” (Oriole’s message) “Ketakirili Sandeshaya”

(Hornbill’s message), “Nilakobo Sandeshaya” (Blue dove’s message) and

“Diyasevul Sandeshaya” (Black swan’s message).

THREATS TO SINHELA LANGUAGE IN THE PAST
It is recorded that many Sinhala literary works of the Anuradhapura

period were lost when South Indian Dravidian invaders destroyed places

of Learning and Buddhist establishments in Anuradhapura and

Polonnaruwa. In the distant past, the Sinhala language faced serious

threats from South Indian Tamil-speaking Dravidian invaders who caused

untold damage to Sinhala writings. Vast libraries of ‘ola’ palm-leaf

manuscripts  in the thousands were set fire to and destroyed by these

foreign invaders in ancient capital Anuradhapura at various times

since the 1st century BCE until the city was abandoned, and later in

Polonnaruwa during the 11th to 13th century period when the greatest

destruction was caused to thousands of ola manuscripts stored in

ancient libraries, Buddhist temples and monasteries.

CATHOLIC PORTUGUESE ATROCITIES
This was followed in early 16th century by the Portuguese and later by

Dutch invaders, with their gun powder and soldiers, who brought in a

reign of terror to the country, killing and undermining Sinhala and

Buddhist scholars,  causing widespread destruction to Sinhala and

Buddhist places of learning and setting fire to ola manuscripts.  All

Buddhist temples and places of learning in the maritime areas under

the Catholic Portuguese control were demolished. Monasteries were

razed and their priceless treasure looted. Libraries were set on fire.

In 1588, the world renowned Buddhist educational institution Wijayaba

Pirivena at Totagamuwa and Keragala, which had carried on the

traditions of ancient Taxila and Nalanda universities were destroyed

and their incumbent killed. Weedagama Privena in Raigam Korala,

Sunethradevi Pirivena of Kotte were burnt and destroyed. The valuable

books of the temple were destroyed. The great Poet monk Weedagama

Maithree Thero who wrote Lowedasangarawa and Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula

were living in that temple at the time of its demolition by Catholics.

Ratnapura Samandewalaya was destroyed. fort was constructed

with the stones of the destroyed and plundered Kelaniya temple. King

Buwanekabahu’s five storied Royal palace and the seven storied palace

called Kithsimewanpaya built by Dambadeniya king were demolished. The

three-storied Dalada Maligawa of Kotte was pulled down to the ground.

Buddhist religious edifices, which had taken generations to build,

were completely destroyed by Catholics. Never were a glorious

civilization and a noble culture more brutally destroyed. The work of

centuries was undone in a few years. The Catholic Portuguese period

(1505 – 1658) constitutes a long and poignant chronicle of oppression

and injustice meted out to the Sinhala Buddhists. The Catholic

Portuguese were the first colonial power to pave in this country the

way to almost continuous religious tensions – the repercussions of

which is felt to this day in Sri Lanka. The Dutch, who ousted the

Portuguese in 1640, occupied the places under Portuguese control. They

continued similar trade activities and started converting people to

their form of Protestant Christianity. They too were instrumental in

destroying Buddhist temples, monasteries and the royal palace at

Hanguranketa.

VENERABLE VELIVITIYE SARANANKARA THERA
Before the arrival of the Portuguese, during the Kotte and Mahanuwara

kingdoms under Sinhala kings, there was a great revival of Sinhala

language and literature. The same patronage to Sinhala learning was

not forthcoming from the Tamil speaking Nayakkar or Malabar kings of

the Mahanuwara period. Bhikkhus who had contributed much to the

advancement of Sinhala writings were not accorded necessary

recognition. This state of affairs continued until the emergence of

Venerable Velivitiye Saranankara Mahathera (1698-1778) a great Sinhala

patriot and an outstanding scholar. His initiatives, patronage and

contribution to the revival and strengthening of the Buddha Sasana,

Sinhala language and Buddhist culture are immeasurable and unsurpassed

by anyone during the colonial and the post colonial period of over

five centuries. His impact was so strong, that in the second half of

the 19th century, it was students and their successors who established

outstanding places of learning such as Vidyodaya Pirivena at

Maligakanda, Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda, and Parama Dhamma

Cetiya Pirivena at Ratmalana.

BRITISH PLUNDER AND CRUELTY
The British finally in the early 19th century, capturing the entire

country, did the most catastrophic and shattering damage to our

Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage and thereby to our language. They

not only introduced their language as the medium of communication in

all affairs of governance and economic activities, but took direct

measures to undermine the Sinhala language and culture. English was

forced upon our people as the language of administration, the language

in which justice was meted out, the language in which government

records were kept. The Sinhala language and ordinary Sinhala people,

suffered immensely during the British period of occupation.

To serve their self-interests they practiced the “divide and rule”

policy by setting one community against the other. It is a well known

fact that the British gave special privileges to the Tamil minority

and those of the Christian faith. They were provided with better

opportunities for education, employment and other government services.

They soon became privileged communities. In terms of the density of

schools per unit area, the district had the highest density. In

1870 there were only two Buddhist schools left in the country – in

Panadura and Dodanduwa, with an attendance of 246 children as against

805 Christian Schools with an attendance of 78,086 children. As far as

the Sinhala community is concerned, for generations in the past, their

traditional places of learning were the Buddhist temples where

Buddhist monks were teachers of both religious and secular subjects.

These centers and Buddhist monks were not accorded the same

privileges/support accorded to Christian missionary schools and

teachers.

As an act of revenge against the 1817-1818 rebellion against them, the

British ordered their troops to destroy all property belonging to the

Sinhala people. They destroyed houses by setting fire, destroyed home

gardens and cattle. Thousands of acres of paddy land, irrigation

works, reservoirs and water ways were destroyed to starve the

population to death. Water that spilled into surrounding areas turned

Wellassa into a large malaria mosquito breeding ground killing

thousands of people. Almost all Sinhala nobles and bhikkhus linked to

the rebellion were beheaded to terrorize the population.  During the

Kandyan rebellion of 1818, every man over 14 years was ordered by the

British to be killed and some sixty thousand Sinhala people were

massacred. Large numbers of local leaders were annihilated by the

British – Veera Keppetipola, Veera Puran Appu and Veera Gongalegoda

Banda are the better known. These are the same hypocritical British

who now talk of ‘Human Rights’!

After the rebellion was crushed the British embarked on a policy of

appropriating millions of acres of land belonging to peasants in the

Hill country regions and selling them to British capitalists to

develop commercial plantations. Thousands upon thousands of Sinhala

peasants were rendered landless and homeless by this inhuman act

perpetrated in mid 19th century. To make matters worse for ordinary

people, the British imposed a highly discriminatory direct tax system

on our people which included license fees on guns, dogs, carts, and

shops. Labour was made compulsory on plantation roads, unless a

special tax was paid. A mass movement against these oppressive taxes

developed in 1848, centred in the Matale region which was soon

suppressed by the British using brutal force.

Traditional agriculture was a way of life for the people. It had the

influence of bringing about social cohesion, or a sense of

togetherness among people. They worked jointly helping each other in

their farm activities. It provided them with sufficient leisure time

to be engaged in other productive and creative pursuits including

cultural, literary and religious activities. This economic

independence of the country was destroyed by the British by converting

the long-standing self sufficient sustainable economy of our country

to an outer-oriented, instable commercial economy dependent on

fluctuating external world markets. Sri Lanka’s economy was

transformed to become a cheap source of agricultural raw material for

industries in Britain. The economy became so badly outer-oriented; a

greater part of essential food requirements of the large mass of our

people had to be imported from other countries. With the decline of

traditional farming vast areas of former productive land were forced

to be abandoned owing to neglect of irrigation facilities or acquired

by the British for development of export agriculture – coffee, tea and

rubber.

As far as the ordinary people were concerned, the loss of freedom and

privileges that they enjoyed under their kings and traditional

leadership had a strong negative psychological impact on people. This

situation did not permit the emergence of leaders from rural areas

where the large mass of the dominant community lived. Besides, royal

patronage was the strongest form of motivation and support for those

involved in creative cultural and literary pursuits in ancient times.

These supports were no longer available to our people.

POST INDEPENDENCE DILEMMA
When the British left Sri Lanka in 1948, they made sure that power

remained in the hands of the English educated and English speaking

few, who were toeing their line. To make matters worse, power

-political, administrative, and economic was inherited by those

belonging to the westernized Colombo sub-culture dominated by

Christians. Most of the qualified professionals subscribed to this

sub-culture. It is most unfortunate that we did not have political

leaders of the caliber of the Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu,

Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Lal Bahadur

Sasthri, S. Radhakrishna, Zakir Hussain, Krishna Menon, Subash Chandra

Bose, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Ambekar, to name a few. Indian-ness

was the common characteristic in all of them although they were highly

exposed to western culture. They were self-less leaders committed to

work for the welfare of the common mass of people. They were inner

oriented, true representatives of Indian culture, who were able to

feel the pulse and listen to the heart beat of ordinary Indian people.

They were proud of being Indian. They were strongly supported by a

bureaucracy that was equally Indian.

During this time, most of the prominent local people involved actively

in political and professional fields were products of a non-national

education given by the British imperialists or the Missionary

establishment who were not conversant with the history and the culture

of their country. Some of them were token Buddhists who did not belong

to the culture of the people. Among them were some who had returned

from education in Britain, influenced by leftist ideals and were known

as “leftists” or “Marxists” of the time. These “intellectuals” were

also inheritors of the Colombo urban sub culture and were actively

involved in translating the knowledge created by their masters in the

west into the “vernacular”.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND WESTERM CULTURAL NORMS
During the British colonial era (1796-1948) and a good part of the

post-independence period, the promotion of the English language and

Western cultural norms was the order of the day as far as the

political establishment of the country was concerned. The same was

true in regard to most professionals at decision-making levels in the

public and private sectors and big businesses. Their attitudes and

actions either directly or indirectly had the effect of denigrating

Sinhala language and Sinhala cultural norms and the simple Buddhist

way of life to an inferior state.  The influence and authority of the

village temple was reduced to a level of parasite owing to the willful

neglect and undermining of these traditional institutions by the

rulers. The study of history was dropped from school curriculum

thereby preventing children from being exposed to their history and

cultural heritage.

The urban English education system had much to do with this

undesirable development. School educational services during this time

were basically the monopoly of Catholic and Christian missions and

English was the medium of instruction in these schools. European

cultural norms were promoted vigorously by these schools. Under the

circumstances, the social status and recognition were based on one’s

exposure to western culture and especially one’s ability to

communicate effectively in the English language and familiarity with

and often the observance of western cultural norms. Opportunities for

advancement in fields such as education and professions were almost

exclusively the monopoly of people with such exposure.

Higher learning at this time was basically bifurcated; the rural

masses and bhikkhus studied Sinhala and other oriental languages

whereas in the urban areas English was the medium of instruction and

communication. Opportunities for advancement were highly limited to

the former. They were low-paid and distant from the government whereas

the latter were better paid and enjoyed more benefits from government.

It is simply a miracle that Sinhala language was able to survive this

tragic situation for over four and a half centuries. It was the

dedication of the Sinhala scholars, especially our Buddhist scholar

Bhikkhus, and the inherent strength of the Sinhala language that may

be cited as main reasons. Among the most prominent who contributed to

that miracle were the Venerables Velivitiye Saranankara Mahathera,

Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera (early 20th century) who was the

founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Venerable Waskaduwe Sri Subhuti

Nayaka Thera (early 20th century), Ven. Kahave Sri Ratanasara Nayaka

Thera, Ven. Baddegama Sri Piyaratana Nayaka Thera, Ven. Velivitiye Sri

Sorata Nayaka Thera and Ven. Panangala Sri Piyaratana Nayaka Thera

RISE OF A NEW COSMOPILITAN URBAN ELITE
These people formed a class of their own with undue privileges which

were not available to the large majority of those without similar

exposure. It was a new elite that developed on the basis of its

member’s knowledge of the English language and was associated with the

Greater Colombo region. A wider more cosmopolitan outlook

differentiated this urban elite from the more ‘old fashioned’

predominantly Buddhist, Sinhala speaking rural folk. What developed

here was a form of sub-culture which was referred to by some

Sinhalayas as “Thuppahi culture” which accorded a highly step-motherly

treatment to Sinhala language and culture. This had a strong negative

impact of undermining and decimating the commonly spoken indigenous

language of the nation to an inferior position. The step-motherly

treatment of the Sinhala language by the  government and the urban

elite running affairs of the economy, business and private sector

activities, and the Catholic and Christian missionary education

establishment, continued even after the country attained political

independence in 1948.

There are many aspects of western culture which are commendable and

helpful to enrich one’s life. But most of these outer-oriented urban

elite which included the so called Sri Lankan political leaders, held

to half-baked foreign values, superficialities and strange ways of

living. They were barely conversant with the plight of the majority of

people – the ordinary Sinhala people in particular. They were not

representative of the large mass of people, but became the trusted

servants of the British administration. Almost all of the qualified

professionals belonged to or subscribed to this sub-culture. The

British left no room for the leadership to emerge from the truly

indigenous people.

The excessively poor living conditions of the large mass of rural folk

led to migration of youth to Colombo and other big towns. Some were

subjected to the influence of the extremes forms of undesirable urban

culture that was gaining ground in urban areas. Alcohol abuse, crime

and underworld activities of later years may be explained in terms of

this urban migration.

BUDDHIST RESURGENCE OF LATE 19TH CENTURY
In late 19th century, a series of public debates took place in

Panadura between Anglican Christian clergymen of Sri Lanka and

Buddhist bhikkhus led by the fearless Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera,

culminating in the defeat of the Christians. There were some fearless

Bhikkhus who openly spoke out against British rule and the colonial

mentality of our so-called leaders. The Buddhist revival that followed

was aided by the Theosophists led by American Col. Henry Steele

Olcott. When Olcott visited this island, the Sinhala Buddhists,

although formed the majority in the country were a highly

underprivileged group in their land of birth. To the 802 Christian

schools that had come up there were only four Buddhist schools. Nor

was Sinhala taught at a privileged school like Royal College even at

the beginning of the 20th century. Olcott was instrumental in

establishing Buddhist schools in Colombo and other important urban

centres in the country. Among these national schools were Ananda

College, Colombo established in 1886, Dharmaraja College Mahanuwara,

Maliyadeva College Kurunegala, College Galle and Meuse us

College Colombo as a Private Girls’ school founded in 1895 by the

Buddhist Theosophical Society managed by a Board of Trustees. It was

during the late19th century that one notices a surge in secular

Sinhala literature. The Sinhala novel had its beginnings during this

period. Piyadasa , Sagara Palansuriya, Munidasa Kumaratunga,

Hemapala Munidasa, W.A. Silva and J.H. Perera were prominent among the

Sinhala scholars of this period.

In late 19th and early 20th centuries, Anagarika Dharmapala(1864-1933)

was a leading figure of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He spearheaded a

movement to revive Buddhism and Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka. He

spoke of the superficiality of the lives of those of the Colombo sub

culture who have joined up with the colonialists to run the country.

Then there was another outstanding patriot – Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy

who urged our people to develop a sense of their own traditions and

national culture. He challenged the intrusion on eastern values by the

expansion of western society.

CHANGES STARTNG IN MID 20TH CENTURY
In the middle of the 20th century, Mr. W. W. Kannangara and a few

others led a movement which made Sinhala the medium of instruction for

all Sinhala children up to Grade V in all government schools.

Subsequently, Sinhala and Tamil became the languages of government and

higher education. In the 20th century, there were many Sinhala

patriots who helped to enrich and save our language and culture. The

late fifties and sixties in particular was a period when we saw the

emergence of outstanding personalities and cultural pursuits. Among

them, W. F. Gunewardena Martin Wickramasinghe, Senarath Paranawithana,

Munidasa Kumaratungha, L.H. Mettananda, G. Malalasekera, Ediriweera

Sarathchandra, Mahagama Sekera, Madawala S. Ratnayake, Gunadasa

Amarasekera, K. Jayatilaka, Amaradeva, Premasiri Khemadasa, Chitrasena

and Vajira, Solias Mendis, Lester James Pieris and a few others

including their students.

Their literary works appealed to the hearts of a generation that was

just beginning to shed the last vestiges of European socio-cultural

domination in the island. The basis of their work which made them

prominent was Sinhala language, Sinhala culture and Sinhala Buddhist

values. Among outstanding Buddhist monks who assumed global status at

the time were Venerables-Walpola Rahula, Ananda Maithriye, Narada,

Piyadassi, and Madihe Pangnaseeha. One of the essential text books

used in courses on Buddhism in most universities in the western world

has been “What the Buddha Taught” by Venerable Walpola Rahula written

initially in Sinhala.

With these developments after the mid 20th century, Sinhala language

started to revive and books on diverse subjects were written by those

competent in the language. New forms of poetry and drama were

introduced and Sinhala songs and movies became popular forms of

entertainment. Among positive trends during this period was the

official recognized of Sinhala as the national language, the

establishment of a Cultural Affairs Ministry, the elevation of two

Pirivena’s to University status, the take-over of Missionary schools

by the government. It was the Sinhala Buddhist leadership, including

leading Buddhist monks who were in the forefront in the initiative to

take-over schools and making higher education accessible to all

irrespective of religious affiliation. It is an accepted fact that

this enabled rural youth to come to the forefront. Many were able to

secure university education and excel in their professional fields.

Unlike ’s Shantiniketana or Vishva Bharati and its strong Indian

cultural influence on up-coming leaders of that great nation, the

first University of at Colombo and subsequently at Peradeniya

catered to and promoted the interests of the colonial masters and

western culture until recent times. As far as the promotion of our

national culture is concerned, it is questionable whether the several

universities that we have today have made any significant

contribution. They in fact should be in the forefront in this

initiative. The majority of our  university students are Sinhala

Buddhists from provincial schools. There may be a diversity of reasons

for their lack of initiative to be actively involved in activities

that relate to the promotion of our national culture. Whether the

undue interference of Marxist political elements on university

students lives is a reason for this unfortunate state of affairs, is

yet to be known.

CATHOLIC ACTION
A significant development during the 1960’s was the emergence of the

outspoken Mr. L.H. Mettananda and his Bauddha Jatika Balavagaya (BJB)

which was instrumental in exposing the work of Catholic Action and its

control over Sri Lanka’s mass media. The seeds for the current

Buddhist Revival campaign were laid by Mr. Mettananda who played a

singular role in writing the Buddhist Commission Report in 1956. This

report had strong impact on political developments in the country at

that time. The Press Commission Report of 1964, of Justice K.D. de

Silva, makes glaring references to the work of Catholic Action in the

media and its control of leading newspapers in the country. The BJB

presented invaluable evidence to the Press Commission on Catholic

Action. Catholic Action was behind the failed Catholic Army Officers

Coup in 1962 to overthrow the legitimately elected government of

Mrs.Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

PERIOD OF INSTABILITY
This period of healthy growth which began in 1956, was short lived and

with the passage of about two decades, there emerged distinct signs of

a downward trend in the importance accorded to the Sinhala language

and national culture in general. During the last few decades, it was

the Sinhala Buddhist community who underwent traumatic experiences and

all fatalities, owing to the efforts of the local Marxists to

counterbalance the imbalance created by the outer-oriented Colombo

clan. The situation in the country was worsened by the youth uprising

in the south and the north and the widespread violence and bloodshed.

Leadership at all levels – political, professional and secular –

deteriorated during the past few decades. This was also a time which

saw extreme divisiveness, animosity and criminal activity among people

supporting opposing political . This was a time when bribery

and corruption was institutionalized, and crime and underworld

activities became rampant.

DOWNWARD TREND WITH GLOBALIZATION
A distinctly downward trend had its beginnings in the late 1970s, and

continued for about four decades. This was with the adoption of the so

called policy of ‘open economy’ and unrestricted globalization which

resulted in a drastic degeneration of local culture and values. What

followed was the excessive outer orientation of the entire system with

anything western being respected and accepted as necessary for the

furtherance of so called “development process” of the country and

enrichment of lives of our people. The emphasis was on western systems

of governance, development, education, language, social dynamics and

organization English language became the means to get things done

during this time.  A striking attitudinal change was observed in

people caught in this trend who were largely the English educated

urban folk, dominated by non Buddhists. Their life-style was becoming

highly materialistic and superficial, competitive, self-centred and

corrupt. With the expansion of urban areas and sub-urban

neighborhoods, the impact of this sub-culture was spreading inland.

These trends were strengthened by the influx into the country of

foreign NGO’s and international schools and expansion of and

related business activities, foreign travel for education and

employment and also the arrival of foreign-funded Evangelical and

Christian unethical conversion business practices in the country which

paid little heed to local cultural norms and values.

UNDESIRABLE INFLUENCES

This attitude was further promoted by the importance accorded to

western attire, western music and dancing, partying, foreign trips and

watching televised cricket matches for long hours. Youth became more

and more prone to popular western youth lifestyles characterized by

partying, loud and sensuous music, disco and break dancing, and

associated smoking, drinking, use of drugs and laxity in sexual

behavior. They were inclined to dress like, speak like, act like, do

things like and live like westerners being brainwashed by what they

see on television and read in popular mass media. There were not

conversant with the superficial nature of lives of most westerners.

Unethical conversions to Christianity was rampant during this time and

being Christian was considered fashionable in a society that was

blindly following western norms and lifestyles. Catholic Action which

remained dormant until 1977 raised its head again, and has been a key

player in the moves to create religious and communal tension in our

country by playing one community against the other -against the so –

called ‘majoritarianism’ of the Sinhala Buddhists.

Foreign exposure through foreign employment, tourism and

commercialized relationships with tourists, popular screening of adult

movies, increased availability and use of illicit drugs and alcohol

continue to have a very harmful impact on our youth in particular.

There was a significant increase in the sex trade, casinos, gambling

and other extreme forms of underworld activities often patronized by

political leaders. Disharmony and abuse in families, family break-ups,

divorces, abortions, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other forms of

vice and family crime and disruption became commonplace. Among the

many complex reasons for this trend is employment of women in the

Middle East and in local garment factories, especially in urban and

sub-urban areas, separation of spouses occasioned by such employment.

All these “global” changes have directly and indirectly affected

negatively the traditional cultural norms and have resulted in

undermining of Sinhala culture and Sinhala language.

IMPACT OF MASS MEDIA
There was excessive publicity and importance accorded to these trends

by the media, especially the electronic media.  Television was

introduced during this time with little restriction if at all, on the

nature and type of programs that were presented, and all English

newspapers and media in general, was basically promoting the

“thuppahi” Colombo sub-culture and life-styles. This led to excessive

impacts of western culture and values and the blind adoption of

foreign customs, behavior patterns and organizational systems by our

people.

In general, what became the order of the day were  irresponsible,

unethical and highly commercialized mass media programmes, television

in particular, with undue emphasis on commercials and misleading and

mind-polluting propaganda contrary to the cultural norms of the

country. These became harmful especially to the innocent minds and

psyches of children and youth. These so called modern trends were

largely responsible for the drastic change of attitudes and thinking

observed in most people, especially in urban neighborhoods even in

recent decades. Promotion of western commercialized values had been

the order of the day, especially for the English mass media. The

administrative and editorial staff of the national news media

continues to be  dominated by non Buddhists and people with little

sense of nationalism or interest in its promotion.

The direct and indirect impacts of these ‘developments’ have been the

sheer disregard for and undermining of our national cultural norms and

values. It had led to significant change of attitudes and priorities

of our people especially in urban areas. This brought about

divisiveness and confusion among Sinhala Buddhists. This has seriously

affected the significance of the Sinhala language as the traditional

medium of communication among the people. Besides, it has begun to

seriously affect the unity and long-established cohesiveness of the

Sinhala Buddhist community. Western systems including western

religious beliefs, norms, and traditions that have been thrust upon

the Buddhist community have introduced divisiveness and disharmony

among Sinhala Buddhists. This has been clearly manifest during the

last few decades.

ATITUDINAL CHANGES WITH ENGLISH COMMUNICATION
During the past six decades, the language of government in our

motherland has been English for all purposes, and not Sinhala or

Tamil. Knowledge of English has been a big advantage and sometimes an

essential requirement for better employment in both the public and

private sectors. It was difficult to get ahead in society without a

knowledge of English. In most urban settings in the country, teaching

children to communicate in English has become quite fashionable even

today. The western oriented education systems, media, television,

tourist industry, foreign employment – all contribute to this peculiar

change of attitude among our people in recent years.

The most striking influence of all these developments and trends was

the strong outer orientation of people, especially the youth. The

heightened importance accorded to spoken English at the expense of

Sinhala was clearly evident during this time, so much so, those who

spoke English were considered by many as the more educated ones that

should be emulated.

Also, there is the tendency among some people to give undue importance

to those who could speak the English language.  They are considered to

be smarter, refined and better calibre as opposed to those who could

not speak English. It is common observation and experience generally

in the urban settings that people who communicate in English draw more

attention and respect and find it easy to get things done as compared

to those communicating in Sinhala.  Such disregard and disrespect for

the Sinhala language has the tendency to push other aspects of Sinhala

culture to the background. Owing to the lack of a strong exposure to

their own cultural values, learning English has made these misinformed

and misguided people to move further away from their culture and

values.

It is not the language per se but its cultural dimension that has

become a serious problem in our country. There is a tendency among

some of the English educated folk, to observe western mannerisms and

attitudes and consider themselves to be more refined, more cultured

and a step above the others. Often in superficial ways, they tend to

observe peculiar mannerisms and deportment that are different to or

contrary to our long established cultural norms. This unwarranted and

ridiculous attitudinal changes that learning English or being able to

speak the language has brought about not only tends to alienate this

group of individuals but also has led to divisiveness among our youth.

This trend has made some of our youth to shy away from their own

language and culture. Speaking English or mixing English with Sinhala,

or adding English words while speaking in Sinhala became the

fashionable and accepted practices. This we commonly observe in some

television programs to the dismay of many.

There is no question that there are many positive aspects and much to

be learnt from other cultures. However, unfortunately it is those

superficial, worthless and undesirable aspects of other cultures that

have been of appeal to some people. Often the immature, naïve,

careless and slapdash individuals get trapped in these western

superficialities. The youth of this period – 1980’s and 1990’s grew up

at a time when there were extreme forms of political unrest and

violence in the south and north. There was polarization of ethnic

communities. The economic and social trends and developments at this

time such as globalization without a human face, introduction of

television characterized by highly commercialized and often crude

programs, expansion of tourism industry without restrictions, and

increase in overseas employment encouraged outer oriented attitudes

and lifestyles of most youth and the disintegration of many families.

There is no dispute that on many counts, knowing English is highly

advantageous, especially for our youth. A working knowledge of English

has become a requirement in a number of fields, occupations and

professions such as medicine and computing. It is very helpful in

learning and improving many useful skills. It is a global language and

over a billion people speak English to at least a basic level.

Besides, it is one of six official languages of the United Nations.

Most youth of last two decades were not conversant with the history of

their country. They do not know that our country is the oldest

continually Buddhist country in the world. They do not know that

history and culture of our people have been shaped and mounded by

Buddhism since its introduction to the island over 2200 years ago.

Being unaware of the richness of their cultural heritage, most youth

have become indifferent to their culture. Our youth still did not have

proper role models to follow and genuine youth leaders to guide them.

It is the greatest tragedy that befell our nation, because youth are

our greatest resource and they determine the future of our country and

its cultural heritage.

There is definitely no case for not learning English. But what is

necessary to emphasize is that the Sinhala language needs equal

emphasis as English. Undue emphasis on learning English will have the

effect of undermining the Sinhala language faster. Equal importance

should be accorded to the learning and use of Sinhala language.

Otherwise it will be a cultural genocide much like the effects of the

propagation of western culture and evangelism in our country, in the

name of globalization. The learning of Sinhala literature, Sinhala

culture and history by our children is fundamental to bringing about

an attitudinal change in our younger generation. This will make them

develop a sense of pride in their outstanding cultural heritage. They

will begin to be appreciative of the wholesome values of their

glorious culture. And, this will help them to develop a lifestyle and

livelihood that is beneficial to them and the society in general.

GANGODAWILA SOMA THERA
Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera who came to the limelight in the

1990’s, stands out as someone unique. He spearheaded the cause of

reviving Buddhism and Sinhala culture, and restoring a sense of

nationalism and pride among our people. He was a charismatic figure

who earned island-wide popularity and reputation as a bold bhikkhu who

campaigned for the Sinhala Buddhist cause at a time when many

prominent luminaries of the Maha Sangha either kept silent or took up

ambivalent positions.  At a time when the country was experiencing a

burgeoning open market economy which was destructive of traditional

values and increased terrorist activities by the racist Tamil LTTE,

Venerable Soma was a forceful defender of the traditional way of life

identified with the Sinhala Buddhists of the country.

One of his outstanding missions was to mould the younger generation to

live according to the Dhamma. He guided the young and old to live

according to Buddhist teachings. Thousands flocked to listen to his

sermons, which were delivered effectively in simple Sinhala language.

His mission was to mould the younger generation to live according to

the Dhamma and soon they rallied round him in an organization called

‘Thurunu Saviya’. With the rapid change in cultural values and the

escalating crime rate of the time, Soma Thera started various

programmes to address the minds of the young.

Through his television and radio programs he highlighted how the

practical side of Buddhist theories could help ordinary lives.

Television stations clamoured to get him to discuss religious and

social issues.  ‘Andurin Eliyata’ and ‘Nanapahana’ Sinhala television

programmes soon became the most popular Sinhala television programmes

that provide him with a sound platform to address an increasingly wide

audience.

He had the extra power of enticing the audience, especially the young

crowd. He was listened to by many and watched by many and read by

many. Sinhala news media highlighted his campaigns. He strengthened

the Jathika Sanga Sammelanaya headed by outstanding scholar monks. His

untimely death had a strong impact on the mobilization and coming to

the forefront of concerned Buddhists and prominent Bhikkhus of the

country to confront the forces that were undermining the cultural

ethos of the country and to bring about a change in the political

culture of the country by restoring Buddhist norms and principles in

running the affairs of the country.

FEW ENCOURAGING DEVELOPMENTS
Our country is now witnessing the beginnings of a revivalist movement,

especially with the eradication of Tamil LTTE terrorism and the dawn

of an era of political stability where people across the country are

enjoying long-awaited peace and freedom. What we see is a movement to

revive cultural nationalism with a sound leadership given by a

popularly elected Executive President, to save the country from

disintegration, to halt the rapid erosion of social values, and to

direct our society towards cultural rejuvenation based on traditional

Buddhist values. We now have a leader who is not a product of the

outer-oriented Colombo sub culture, but a true son of the soil. His

concern is the welfare of the ordinary citizens, particularly the

marginalized Sinhala Buddhists and the protection of our Buddhist

culture and value system which are characterized by non-violence,

tolerance and peaceful co-habitation with all communities who have

made our country their home.

Among the encouraging developments in the country during the last five

years is the  introduction of the teaching of the History of Sri Lanka

in schools which was stopped by the government in late 1970s. This has

been made a compulsory subject for children right up to ‘O’ levels.

Also evident is an increasing interest in development and promotion of

Sinhala performing arts, especially traditional dances. The teaching

and study of Sinhala Aesthetic studies has become generally popular

school curriculum. Sinhala music and songs have received a boost owing

to the influence of  television, radio and the increased production of

CD’s, DVD’s and associated electronic devices, although the cultural

pollution promoted by some of the “Super Star” programmes and “tele

natya” have been subject to criticism.

The extreme degree of popularity attained by some Sinhala television

programmes focused on discussions among reputed professionals on

important national issues and Buddhist issues had a definite positive

impact on reinforcing our traditional cultural norms, Sinhala

language.  Another blessing in disguise during the last stages of

military action against LTTE Tamil terrorists was the popularly

watched on-site Sinhala television programmes highlighting the untold

sacrifices and heroic deeds of our Sinhala youth in the war front.

People were made to realize that these gallant Sinhala youth were

engaged in activities that were focused on protecting not only our

land and people but also, most importantly, the glorious national

culture that forms the foundation of this great nation of ours. Among

Sinhala songs during this period that attained the highest degree of

popularity were those on our military personnel-  –

“මුහුද දෙබෑ කරන…, අහස පොළොව සිඹින…,
රටට සෙනෙහෙ පුදන…, ලෙයින් මසින් සැදුන…

සැබෑ පියෙකි දරු දහසකි…

, මුලු රටේම ලේ නෑයෙකි…, අපේ එකෙකි සිය දහසකි… , මේ දරු හට මව් දහසකි…

‍යව්වනයේ මේ සගයා…, අපට නොහැකි මේ කරනා

…, අපේ එකෙකි මේ මිනිසා….., මේ මිනිසා…

…රටක් රාජ්‍යයක් වටිනා…

,  මේ මිනිසා…

“අපි වෙනුවෙන් අපි”,

An encouraging development well evident in our country in most recent

times is the increased popularity of the use of meaningful Sinhala

names for children and for government development programmes. Also,

Sinhala publications by way of books, magazines and newspapers have

increased in recent years.

A somewhat awkward and somewhat silly development of recent years,

especially with the popular use of the electronic media such as

television and radio, is the tendency for people to struggle speaking

formal written Sinhala instead of a readily understood form of

Sinhala. This is often seen in television and radio interviews of

ordinary people on common happenings. Both the interviewers and those

interviewed resort unnecessarily to formal often grammatical Sinhala

language thereby preventing people from expressing their views in a

clear and direct manner. The spoken form of the Sinhala language is

rich and most expressive and it is a pity why the spoken form is

forgotten the moment one encounters a microphone.

There is much to be desired in the way Sinhala is used in most Sinhala

television programmes.  The thematic content of some Sinhala

television programmes are contrary to our cultural norms and values.

For some westernized Sinhala elements, both men and woman, it has

become fashionable to mix English words while communicating in Sinhala

and there appears to be undue importance attached to western and

foreign attire among most youth appearing on television. Given the

fact that most people are quite sensitive to what is promoted via

television and that it has a strong impact on children and youth, it

is important that this media is not permitted to resort to programmes

that are contrary to our cultural norms.

FATE OF SINHALA LANGUAGE
Of some 7000 languages that exist in the world, about 2500 are

expected to disappear from the face of the earth in a hundred years.

This means 25 languages will disappear every year. Languages live when

people use them in their daily lives. The preponderance of the Sinhala

community continues to use their language at home, in schools, in

public places such as temples and in communications with government

and other establishments. Under these circumstances, in spite of

emphasis on learning and use of the English language, Sinhala will

continue to be used and the possibility of losing our language is

remote.

The large majority of Sinhala people are Buddhists and the language of

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is Sinhala. Buddhist culture and the Sinhala

language are integral and inseparable components of our nation’s

cultural heritage. The preservation and promotion of the Sinhala

language is directly affected by the preservation and promotion of

Sinhala Buddhist culture. Buddhist cultural activities, ceremonies and

festivals are invariably conducted in Sinhala. Sinhala terminology

characterizes all tangible items and aspects associated of Sinhala

culture. Our Bhihhkus have been in the forefront in protecting and

propagating the Sinhala language. All names and titles of our Bhikkus

from ancient times have been exclusively Sinhala.  All Buddhist

functions and activities in Buddhist temples are conducted in the

Sinhala language. All Buddhist temples and establishments have Sinhala

names.

In any event, the present President of our country has openly accorded

the rightful prominent place to our national culture when he, for the

first time in the history made his maiden speech at the United Nations

General Assembly in the Sinhala language. His regime has given due

prominence to the Sinhala language and the glorious visual cultural

heritage of our nation in all important national functions.

There are no signs that Sinhala culture or its integral component the

Sinhala language are in the process of decline and deterioration. No

patriotic Sri Lankan will allow the defining element of their glorious

cultural heritage to be sacrificed for the sake of accommodating

foreign modes of the so called ‘modernization”, “westernization’ and

“globalization” of our country. The Tamil language has not suffered as

much as Sinhala language in its usage and development in recent times.

It will continue to be studied in Tamilnadu and escape the challenges

to which the Sinhala language is subject owing to the present day

overemphasis on learning English and the negative cultural impacts of

this development.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

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