|Friday, 30 July 2004|
A model father - son relationship revisited
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
The timely reprinting of this major poetic work by Cumaratunga Munidasa is bound to help in re-establishing not only literary but also fast-dwindling moral standards.
For, what is essentially celebrated in 'Piyasamera' (commemoration of a father) is the determining moral influence of a father over his son. That is, the tremendous character-building impact which Cumaratunga's erudite father exercised over him in his childhood years.
From what could be gathered from this Evergreen in the Sinhala poetic tradition, Indigasare Don Abiyas Cumaratunga was no run-of-the-mill Southern village dignitary.
He was a scholar-physician who encompassed within him what is regarded as the best of Sinhala culture: a literary knowledge and capability, a thorough-going intimacy with the Buddhistic ethos which informs local culture and a caring humanism which flowers into a selfless philanthropy.
'Piyasamera' details these essential components of the traditional Sinhala character as they inhere in one man - the towering personality of the scholar-physician who was Cumaratunga Munidasa's father.
It is hoped that this reprint of 'Piyasamera' would help in reviving the once-lively discourse on what constitutes the quintessential Sinhala literary idiom.
That Cumaratunga Munidasa played a key role in establishing the school of poetry which came to be known as the 'Hela Havula' is now the stuff of legend, but considering the continuing debate in Sinhala literary circles on what constitutes the best and most flexible literary style, the input of the Hela Havula to this discourse would need to be reconsidered. Hence the importance of 'Piya Samera' from a literary viewpoint.
However, the moral dimension of the seminal work is equally important. With what constitutes a sound moral formation and the need for Integral Education among the young coming into focus, the value of 'Piyasamera' becomes quite obvious. It could be gathered from this poetic gem that Cumaratunga modelled himself closely on his scholar-father.
The latter was never a distant, awe-strickening, inaccessible personality but one who lavished affection and caring on his son. Besides, he was the budding poet's earliest educator and knowledge-giver. Thus the father wielded a positive, multifaceted influence on the son.
The following verses bear this out:
The portrait which emerges from these lines is a caring, concerned father who was linked to his son by a cord of deep intimacy. The father gave his son the first lessons in almost everything - from "the moon and the stars" to life values.
This father-son relationship could be considered a model for our times. If children are to be insulated from inimical societal influences, first and foremost, parents need to play a positive, guiding role in the lives of their children. Parents need to be educators and "spiritual directors".
The value of this reprint of 'Piyasamera' is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of several erudite essays on Cumaratunga Munidasa, his poetic style, the Sinhala literary tradition and allied matters by scholars and writers such as Professor P. B. Meegaskumbura, Gunadasa Amerasekera and Sri Nath Ganewatta.
The book ends with some elucidatory verses on 'Piyasamera' written by Cumaratunga Munidasa himself, in reply to an assessment of the work by an admirer.
Many thanks to Visidunu Prakashakayo, Boralesgamuwa, for this most vital reprint and input to the Sinhala literary scene.
Contemporary link in the hierarchy of scholars
We consider Professor D. E. Hettiaratchi as the continuing and contemporary link in the hierarchy of scholars such as Batuvantudave Devaraksita (1819-1892), James de Alwis (1823-1827), Rev. Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala (1826-1911), Rev. Ratmalane Sri Dharmarama (1853-1918), W. F. Gunawardhana (1861-1935), Sir D. B. Jayatilaka (1868-1944), Munidasa Cumaratunga (1887-1944) and Rev. Welivitiye Sorata (1897-1963) whose articulation and tenacity of purpose contributed much to research and new directions in the Sinhala classical studies.
Batuvantudave Devaraksita is best remembered as the editor of Yatalaba (1854) (Whatever Received), journal which created a background for pubic discussion on various subjects pertaining to Buddhism, language and literature - the outstanding example being the Savsatdam Vadaya.
He, along with Rev. Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala also pioneered the Sinhala translation of the Mahavamsa. In 1853, James de Alwis published the Sidat Sangarava with a long and exhaustive Introduction which is deemed as a landmark of evaluative Sinhala literary criticism.
Rev. Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala in establishing the Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda in 1873, and Rev. Ratmalane Sri Dharmarama in improving the Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda in 1875 while being heavily involved in literary activities, fulfilled the literary and cultural demands thrust on them by the contemporary Sinhala Buddhist society.
They were in fact the pioneers in publishing edited versions of Sinhala classical texts. Mudliyar W. F. Gunawardhana is well known as an editor and commentator of classical texts and a versatile grammarian. His publication of the Guttila Kavyaya Varnanava in 1916 and the Siddhartha Pariksanaya in 1924 are the best examples of his erudition.
In the literary field, Sir D. B. Jayatilaka is remembered as a pioneer in the Sinhala Dictionary and as an editor of the Dhampiya atuva gatapadaya, Jataka atuva gatapadaya and Sikhavalanda Vinisa. Munidasa Cumaratunga was a revolutionary both in his commentarial literature and in re-vitalising the Sinhala grammar.
Rev. Welivitiye Sorata while preoccupied with various literary activities compiled the Sri Sumangala Dictionary the purpose of which is 'to assist students of classical literature who face many difficulties in the absence of a standard dictionary' (Sri Sumangala Dictionary 1952-p, XVII). These are only a few of the scholars who belong to the classical tradition to which Hettiaratchi belongs.
How Hettiaratchi earnestly followed their footsteps is discussed in the articles published in the issue. He is an experienced teacher, a talented writer, a philologist and a language specialist firstly in Sinhala, Pali Prakrit and Sanskrit and secondly in the Dutch, Portuguese and English Language which exercised an immense influence on the Sinhala Language.
He is a linguist well versed in dictionary and encyclopaedial editorial work. We have therefore endeavoured to include in this issue only such articles which either have a direct bearing or are ancillary to his scholarly pursuits.
Even as his predecessors did, he too identified what was then expected of him to further the studies in Sinhala language and literature. It is in this perspective we have to analyse his scholarship. Hettiaratchi was fully aware of this position held by the Sinhala literature when he commenced his mission.
While engaged in the textual and other editorial work he was determined to elevate the status quo of the Sinhala langauge and literary studies. He, therefore along with Prof. M. D. Ratnasuriya endeavoured to change the basic structure of the Department of Sinhala which came under the purview of the Faculty of Oriental Studies.
Those were the days when the study of English, Greek and Latin literature reigned supreme in the University of Ceylon. We were compelled to study even Sinhala through the English media! The lectures on Kavsilumina or Amavatura, for example were conducted in English.
The study of contemporary Sinhala new writing or new drama was not entertained by the Department of Sinhala. During this critical epoch when the higher education was in the hands of Sir Ivor Jennings those who entered the university were the socially privileged rich class, excepting in a very few rare instances.
It is therefore natural that in a university where the majority of the students and the teachers as well, were alien to the cultural traditions of the country, the Faculty of Oriental Studies was frowned upon as an inferior and ill-learned category of scholars and students.
The Department of Sinhala was housed in a two-storeyed building known as 'Cruden' and obviously the Sinhala students were known as 'Crudenis' which by and by became an inferior appellation. The urgent need of the hour to redeem the plight of the Sinhala students therefore, devolved on the teaching staff led by Prof. M. D. Ratnasuriya and Prof. D. E. Hettiaratchi.
A course entitled 'Culture' introduced to the Sinhala final year students by Prof. M. D. Ratnasuriya during this period was instrumental in removing the hitherto inferior complex showered on them, by making these students more and more aware of contemporary anthropological scholarship pursued in other countries.
Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, on the other hand, engaged himself in research in Sinhala folk drama and evolved an all-pervasive new Sinhala dramatic tradition concurrently introducing a modern evaluative Sinhala literary criticism based both on the oriental and the occidental traditions.
The third member of the trio was Prof. Hettiaratchi who, while engaged continuously and assiduously in his research work paid particular attention to language studies and ultimately was responsible for the establishment of an independent course of studies on linguistics.
His next mission was to initiate the publication of the Sinhala Encyclopaedia which for Sri Lanka was entirely a new experience.
In analysing his research contributions in this issue, we are therefore concerned firstly, in presenting an idea of his scholarship achievements. Secondly, we wish to re-literate our policy that scholarship should be subjected to deep and critical analysis through constant research by emerging new scholars.
We earnestly hope therefore, that our endeavour in this journal would in the final analysis, inspire the contemporary scholars to pursue his scholarly researches by constant research in a re-analytical critical approach.
In that context the present special issue is meant not only to be a felicitation volume but a humble attempt in focusing the attention of the future research student to the theoretical and the research traditions of Professor Hettiaratchi.
It is evident from the statement published elsewhere, that the Hettiaratchi Felicitation Volume was originally planned by a University Editorial Board constituted for the purpose. When a substantial amount of editorial work was done, the balance was completed by us very willingly as we ourselves do recognize the literary and the cultural contribution rendered by Professor Hettiaratchi.
- Dr. S. G. Samarasinghe.
Produced by Lake House