Prominence for Loincloth | Daily News

Prominence for Loincloth

All media highlighted pictures of the ‘peasants’, backed by the JVP controlled Sri Lanka Govi Sammelanaya leaders, demonstrating in the city clad in their traditional field dress, the Amude [Loincloth] a couple of years back. The Government withdrew the heavily subsidised issue of fertilizer and substituted it with alternative schemes. The protest was aimed at conveying to the public and authorities on the negative effects of the fertilizer subsidy withdrawal. However, some sections of media appeared to be a little cautious, quite understandably, over referring to the term ‘Amude’, which is fast becoming an obsolete word in the Sinhala dictionary. A reference to the recent past shows the significance of “amude”.

Wijayananda Dhanayake, the controversial ex-PM, once chose to protest the scarcity of textiles during Sirimavo’s economically disastrous rule in the 1970s, by attending Parliament clad in Amude. The government restricted textile imports, allowing only cheap varieties described by the public as ‘bhumi-thel redi’. [clothes with an odour of kerosene] Our newspaper photographers had a field day capturing Dhaha in his novel parliamentary attire, though authorities quite rightly disallowed the veteran legislator from entering the chambers.

The reason given being, ‘Improperly attired’, as per a statement by Clerk-of-the-House [as Secretary-General was then known] was loosely interpreted by a junior member of his staff as ‘Half-naked’ at the door, provoking the Thomian English literati turned maverick politician from South to rejoin, “I say, do you know that the so-called Half-naked Pakeer from India was granted an audience with the King of England whenever he sought one?” Realizing that the staff member was clueless whom the person mentioned, Daha explained: “I say, now go and tell your Chief that Mahatma Gandhi wore a simple dhoti [loincloth] and shawl, an extra piece over his shoulders and that he stuck to this dress code even when he was entertained at Buckingham Palace,” and Daha returned to MP’s restroom to change.

This simple dress of a square piece of cloth known as the loincloth, which the peasant of our country traditionally used during field work to satisfactorily cover the non-exposable parts of male anatomy was worn by both former Presidents, JR Jayewardene and R Premadasa at annual Vap Magul ceremony or the traditional commencement of paddy cultivation at Maha season replicating the ritual practiced by ancient kings in these regions. The former Head of State, a son of a ‘Richmondite farmer’ however, chose to wear the tucked-up sarong, the dress he is more comfortable with before he stepped into the muddy field for the same purpose during his tenure as President.

Paddy Lands Act of 1958

Admiring the newspaper photographs of the events, my nostalgia took me back to Kindergarten days in the late 1940s. The mother of one of my classmates, together with the female teacher struggled to dress my friend ‘Goviya’, for the fancy dress competition at school concert; but was compelled to seek the help of Head Mistresses’ rickshaw-man to help in the endeavour.

I recall the Paddy Lands Act of 1958, an important piece of socialist reforms introduced by Marxist Phillip Gunawardena, Minister of Agriculture and Lands and father of Dinesh, under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s 1956 government. This progressive legislation was designed to remove injustices caused to the peasantry, as one third of island’s paddy lands were cultivated by non-owners under the age-old Ande system.

The main feature of the proposal was to increase the Ande Goviya’s share from the traditional one-fourth or half of the harvest to three-fourths. The Act specified that unless the owner or his family members are directly involved in the work on cultivation or make a reasonable contribution to costs, the owner becomes entitled to one-fourth only.

The vast landowners who declined to accept such a self-sacrificing ‘beating’ without a fight got around the right-wing faction of Cabinet led by C P de Silva, Maithreepala Senanayake, Stanley de Soyza, and Wimala to teach a lesson to Philip- SWRD duo. They were the famous ginger-group in the Cabinet who staged an unprecedented Cabinet Strike in 1958 [unparalleled in the history of global parliamentary democracy], who conspired to disrupt the attempt. At a secret meeting held at Buddharakkita’s Kelaniya temple abode, [the venue where they conspired to assassinate the Prime Minister a year later].

All negotiations to get at least the temples exempted from the Bill failed [Buddharakkitha owned large paddy land holdings]: as planned, a group of about 50 men, most of them like the modern JVP ‘goviyas’ never had been to a paddy field, was brought into the temple premises by Health Minister Wimala, the exonerated 6th accused in Bandaranaike assassination case, who also ‘enjoyed’ free access to Buddharakkita’s ‘inner chambers’ at Kelaniya, [a famous word-of-mouth gossip in the absence of social media]. The men were dressed in loincloths and taught on the art of holding the mammoty over the shoulder.

Anti-Philip slogans

The ‘Farmers’ were dropped opposite parliamentary complex in Galle Face: they started the protest shouting anti-Philip slogans. Before they could move up to the entrance to Parliament building, a considerable section of the 15,000-strong Philip’s Harbour and Dock Workers Union, the most powerful in the port, was unleashed by trade union leaders to unmercifully attack the Amude clad ‘Goviyas’. The demonstrators unfamiliar to the environments ran helter-skelter. Some of them in confusion and disorder had to leave the alien dress Amudes behind and run for life.

It is not only the village peasant, but habitually every male six or seven decades ago, as Robert Knox once wrote unless on a special occasion, was seen in Amudes, a quite respectable casual dress, especially among the Kandyan peasantry.

Let me conclude this note, by quoting a famous anecdote on the hill country's traditional polygamists of good old days when two brothers shared a single wife under the same roof for reasons best known to them. [Students of sociology— a theses for research] As the saying goes, each brother would hang his, let’s say, loincloth over the lock-less door to signify to the other brother, who enjoyed equal rights too, about his ‘lawful’ occupation of the precincts with the common bride under the serenely rising moon-radiated magnificent sylvan beams that pierced the cadjans to fall on the romantic reed-mat.

Should we fight shy to call it Amude? After all, it is our ancestors’ traditional casual-wear.

“All the alterations I have made in my course of life have been affected by momentous occasions, and they have been made after such a deep deliberation that I have hardly had to regret them. And I did them, as I could not help doing them. Such a radical alteration — in my dress, — I effected in Madura.”— The Mahatma says Madurai gave him the strength to shed his conventional attire for ‘loincloth’ at last. 


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