Munidasa Cumaratunga - the consummate master of language and style
66th death anniversary:
At the present time, when there appears to be a lamentable lack of
interest and total indifference towards the Sinhalese language, when
even the educational authorities have failed to realise the importance
of promoting and enriching the mother tongue, it is of paramount
importance to find out the ground work, and the ground plan laid so well
by the greatest genius of the Sinhalese language in his great ambition
and emulation of rendering the yeoman service rendered to his language,
(basa) race (rasa), (desa) the country.
Actually it is high time for the educationists, school authorities
and the general public to take immediate steps to study the methodology
of Cumaratunga diligently and critically to get the facility, clearness
and elegancy to express in their mother tongue - and that is the main
purpose for which they should be exercised in its thoroughly.
The Buddha in solemn words have emphasised this that there should be
thoroughness in all the physical and mental thoroughness in human
activities - signifying the significant meaning of the Pali word,
Sakachehakari to complete successfully some specified activity quite
In other words to be successful in some specified capacity as a
teacher, monk, doctor, writer, or as an administrator etc.
Jesus Christ stressed the same point in the following words:
'Whatever they findeth to do, do with all they might, for there is no
wisdom nor a device in the grave, whither thou goest.' In this respect
Cumaratunga's illustrious father laid the groundwork, and supplied the
ground plan to study language to be a consummate master of it.
Cumaratunga's all embracing love, regard and respect towards the
Motherland, induced him to find ways and the means to enrich language (basa)
to vitalise the race (rasa) and to illuminate the country (desa) rapped
up in darkness.
Obstacles of life
The main characteristic feature of his life was the constancy of
purpose - a constancy not baffled by his appointment nor warned out by
delays, difficulties or obstacles of life. These factors, instead of
discouraging him, charged his vibrant character, in an amazing manner.
These aroused in him a complete cognitive consciousness of his latent
powers, as expressed by him.
This is an endowment he received from his beloved father. In solemn
words he expressed this in Piya Samara (Remembering Father) verse I:
Asa vasu nusudussa sudussa pae
Basa no be pirunen aruthin resen
Vesa ginu sathuran mithuran lesek
Pubuduvada aho yali ma koda?
The eye that concealed the improper
And exposed what is proper
The words that were replete
With suggestion and sentiment complete
The outlook which treated
Friends and the foes peer,
When will you again my mind inspire?
Cumaratunga was in a position to visualise this fact only as a
sure-footed poet. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) rightly observed how
the suitable learning process paves the way for the maturity of the
as the Head Master of the Bilingual Training College at
* Inspector of Schools in 1917
* Fluency in Sinhalese, Pali,
Sanskrit and English
* Significant factor in the
Revivalist Movement of Language and Literature
No man can learn what he has not preparation for learning, however
near to his eyes is the object. A Chemist may tell his most precious
secrets to a carpenter, and he can never be the wiser - the secrets he
would not utter to a chemist for an estate. God screens us even more
from a premature ideas.
Our eyes are holden that we cannot see things that stare us in the
face, until the hour arrives when the mind is ripened; then we behold
them, and the time when we saw them not is like a dream... not in nature
but in man is all the beauty and worth he sees. The world is very empty,
and is indebted to the gilding, exalting soul for all its pride.
(Selective essays P. 70)
During his childhood, Cumaratunga was able to come into contact with
the stimulating personality of J. W. Bultjens, St. Thomas' College,
Matara Principal, where he was able to study up to the 7th standard. He
failed to continue his studies owing to the unexpected changes that took
place. He had to devote his time to a larger part of the ideas and
activities predominant in his home and the neighbourhood.
It is at this stage that he was able to lay the foundations to the
With interest he devoted most of his time to read the books forth in
his father's library. He had vividly elaborated this in Piya Samara
'Remembering Father' - verses 107-108:
'Every paper, every journal,
Every book that saw the light of day,
You gathered and bound together,
They were in that house
Which we called our home.
Unaware am I now
Where their ashes are?
At the time I was at home
Doing nothing, with deepest interest
Did I read through every volume.
Your efforts did bear fruit,
If deeds are good results will be good.'
With the accumulation of knowledge from the father's library,
Cumaratunga was induced to assimilate preliminary knowledge with the
guidance of a erudite monk Kahave Ananda Thera who resided at
Vavurukannala temple close by. It is in this association that he managed
to acquire a knowledge in Sanskrit. Thus he was fortunate to breath a
learned atmosphere, as others breath common air.
This habit of utilisation of well understood principles later paved
the way for him to assimilate remarkable wisdom in Pali, Sanskrit,
Sinhalese and the other allied languages.
As pointed out by Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947) philosopher,
mathematician, an educator - From the age of eleven onwards there is a
gradually increasing concentration towards precise knowledge of
language, finally the three years from twelve to fifteen should be
dominated by a mass attack upon language so planned that a definite
result in itself worth having is there by achieved.
In this particular period his contract with the towering personality
of the father, his contact with St. Thomas' College, Matara, principal
and the contact of his Sanskrit teacher, Kahave Ananda Thera, might have
given a dynamic drive towards the assimilation of knowledge. As observed
by Magaret Philips.
In the Education of the Emotions', that children need to come into
harmonious contact with stimulating personalities who are themselves the
possessors of well developed objective interests and who will stimulate
the child's belief in his own powers in similar directions.
In addition to these, stimulation towards various forms of bodily and
the mental skill for arts, might arise from contacts with the
environment as a tendency to stimulate bodily movements, and specially
creative activity of aesthetic contemplation.
In the student - teacher - training - course that he actually laid
the foundation for the most promising period of his life, as a brilliant
student who surpassed others in innate talent, efficiency, and wide
Utilisation of knowledge
As he passed all the exams with distinction, in 1909 he was appointed
as the Head Master of the Bilingual Training College at Kadugannawa.
Taking into account his diverse talents, scholarship, administrative
skill and towering personality, Educational Authorities appointed him as
an Inspector of Schools in 1917.
He worked with enthusiasm, fervour and devotion to impart precise
knowledge to students and teachers. Cumaratunga was aware of the fact
education is the acquisition of art of the utilisation of knowledge.
At the same time, this procedure depended on diverse factors, but the
peculiar genius of the teacher occupied a predominant place.
As pointed out by William James (1842-1918) as in so many other
fields of teaching success depends on the native genius of the teacher
the sympathy, tact, and perception which enables him to seize the right
moment to set the right example.
Cumaratunga's exhilatory and exhortative educational methods, made
use of at that time, paved way for the students, and teachers to acquire
their aspirations and ambitions.
Cumaratunga's erudite scholarship in Sinhalese, Pali and Sanskrit
languages, and his avidity in the wide reading in English, and his
fluency and versatility in rare speech - patterns, and above all his
remarkable memory powers attracted their attention.
This is an outcome of his sustained attention driven to go ever
important facts in his mind constantly comparing and contrasting a
series of them to form a concept - system.
Referring to great memory powers William James has given a graphic
pen picture of it.
The great memory for facts which a Darwin or a Spencer reveal in
their books is ton incompatible with the possession on their part of a
mind with only middling degree of physiological retentiveness.
Let a man early in life set himself the task of verifying a Theory as
that of evolution, and facts will soon cluster and cling to him like
grapes to their stem. Their relations to the Theory will hold these
facts; and the more of these the mind is able to discern, the greater
the erudition will become. (Talks to Teachers, by William James page
After the retirement as an Inspector of Schools, the innovations
brought about by Cumaratunga in the exhaustive treatment of Classical
Texts (mostly prescribed for exams at that time) appear to be a
significant factor in the Revivalist Movement of Language and
The Interpretative method that he has made use of in the Elegant
Classical Texts like Ama Vathura, Daham Sarana and Saddharma Ratnavaliya,
helped the students and especially the teachers to acquire a fully
fledged language - literary - tradition full of expressiveness,
effectiveness, clarity, precision and the richness of vocabulary. In
these commentaries he has exhibited his many sided erudition in
Sinhalese, Pali, Sanskrit and the other allied languages.
In most of these commentaries he has been quite cautious to avoid
colloquialism, slang, cant and jargon that might have crept in owing to
the false interpretations of the illiterate copyists, or scribes.
It is quite necessary for the readers to go through these
commentaries too in order to assimilate knowledge, vocabulary and
diction, rhetoric and grammar.
There are 27 commentaries. New publications 17, and seven creative
work. Teachers and students should pay special attention to the Kiyawana
Nuwana Readers I-7, supplied as a remedial measure for the dearth of
Sinhalese readers and for the scarcity of suitable Sinhalese books,
Kiyawana Nuwana 6, June 1939 - December 1963, (14 impressions) Kiyawana
Nuwana) 7 1941 - July November 1964 (II impression) All these readers
amplified and provided the eager aspirations and the objectives of the
students and teachers in a remarkable manner.
When one goes through these Sinhala Texts prescribed by the Board of
Education during the Colonial rule, - (Shiksha Margaya and Kiyawana
Nuwana series) exerted a profound influence towards the all-round
development of the child on the one hand, and the real awareness among
the teachers on the other hand about the intellectual and moral virtue
based on these texts. The very names of these texts bear ample proofs.
To be continued