Continued from last Saturday
by Prof. K.N.O. Dharmadasa Efflorescence
Going back to the “cultural desert” remark, Goonetilleke records that Jennings thought of “Thurstan Road as an oasis” He was eagerly awaiting the transfer to Peradeniya where ” the desert would blossom like the rose” ( KR, Intro. Xxiii) .As we all know it did indeed. (Let us leave aside the “cultural desert” part.) . Being empowered to “develop” in a separate Faculty, Sinhalese, Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit studies expanded their academic vistas. I think the most momentous development was in the Department of Sinhalese. In Peradeniya, it had come under a new Professor and Head of Department, D.E.Hettiarachchi (B.A.;Ph.D. Lond; M.A.; Ph.D. Calcutta) The study of modern Sinhala literature was added to the curriculum of the Department enlisting the services of Ediriweera Sarachcnadra, a scholar who had been making pioneering studies on modern Sinhala literature, getting him transferred from the Department of Pali. This proved to be the most appropriate choice. For, Sarachchandra by his critical writings, not only guided the course of new developments in the art of the novel, short story and poetry, but also became “the father of modern Sinhala drama” in the years to come, producing the monumental ‘Maname’ in 1956. His research interests were wide and varied. In 1952 he brought out the book The Sinhalese Folk Play , described by the Times of London, Literary Supplement as ” the most interesting, indeed unique, account of the many phases of drama in Ceylon… is so wide in scope that it must surely interest all who wish to trace the development of dramatic forms” (Q. in J.B.Disanayaka, “Sarachchandra the trail-blazer”, The Birth Centenary of Sarachcandra, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2014)Apart from literature the Department expanded its academic concerns to various branches of Socio-cultural Studies as for example in the research done by M.B.Ariyapala and P.E.Fernando. In the ‘fifties young scholars were trained in various foreign universities in new areas of research : M.W. Sugathapala De Silva (structural linguistics) Hemapala Wijayawardhana (Sanskrit aesthetics) Ariya Rajakaruna (Theatre and Cinema).
Similar expansion of vistas was noted in the Department of Tamil as well. The first Professor of Tamil Swami Vipulananda had a very progressive outlook which set the tone for Tamil scholarship in Sri Lanka taking an independent course of development which was in marked contrast to the traditionalism which characterized Tamil studies in Tamilnadu. Vipulananda is on record as being the “first Tamil Professor to recognize the spoken Tamil dialects”( M.A.Nuhuman, “The University of Peradeniya and the Development of Tamil Literary Criticism” in R.A.L.H.Gunawardene ed,pp.185-98)Among the other academics, it is noted that venturing into newer fields of research had been inaugurated by K.Kanapathipillai who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Tamil Inscriptions of Sri Lanka. In the late ‘forties and the fifties’ several others took his lead in pursuing linguistic studies. For example, A Velupillai who worked on Tamil Inscriptions, S.Thanajayarajasinham who studied the Tamil documents during the Dutch period and A.Shanmugadas who made a linguistic study of the Jaffna Tamil dialect. The more striking departure from the South Indian tradition was noted in the field of literary criticism. In South India, traditionalism was so strong in the academia that in the early days “modern literature and literary criticism were excluded from the curriculum in …the universities and Colleges.” (Nuhuman) In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, the study of modern literature was undertaken because of the progressive attitudes of the first Professor and his juniors, notably Dr. K.Kanapathipilla, who took the revolutionary step of writing plays in the colloquial dialect. The progressive Tamil academics in Sri Lanka forged ahead and it was later recognized that as far as in the field of literary criticism, Sri Lanka was ahead of Tamilnadu (Nuhuman, op. cit.).The outstanding scholar in the field of literary history and literary criticism in Tamil was V. Chelvanayagam who approached literature in a social, political and historical perspective. His pioneering studies had not been superseded. (Nuhuman, op.cit.)
In illustrating the great impetus received by the academic departments in the Oriental Studies during the early years of the Peradeniya period I have described only the case of the two modern languages, Sinhala and Tamil. Similar expansion in academic vistas could be seen in the case of the two classical language departments Pali and Sanskrit.
The point that has to be made is that these two national languages were able to expand their academic vistas because of the recognition they received in the University of Ceylon. The pre-eminent position enjoyed by the Humanities studies in the University of the 1950’ and “60’s is best summed up by the Geographer Prof. G.H.Pieris, “in the Faculties of Arts and Oriental Studies…academic disciplines concerned with historical,linguistic and aesthetic occupied centre stage while the so-called social sciences Economics, Sociology geography etc……maintaining a relatively low profile”( Pieris, op.cit.)
Talking of the country’s cultural heritage, Jennings in 1950, pays a tribute to the work done by Bell, Codrington John Still and Paranavitana ( RP , p168). He mentions that the University had taken the necessary steps to make that knowledge available to the undergraduates and graduates. But he saw that a lot more had to be done. With his vision for a University Museum where our history could be studied more intimately, he was hoping that the facility would eventually be provided in Peradeniya. He was engaged in a “battle” to get that established and the Archives (then in Nuwara Eliya) shifted there so that the whole complex would be a “convenient centre for research scholars” Ibid).We know that these things did not happen. But his vision for the study of our national heritage should be appreciated. Much more significant, as far as vision becoming reality is concerned, was Jenning’s proposal in the Senate that the University should undertake the job of writing “a comprehensive History of Ceylon”. (The Preface to pt. 1, vol.I by Sir Nicholas Attygalle, Chairman Editorial Board). People who have watched the progress of this massive project are aware of the trials and tribulations through which it went until it was completed in 1995. But what needs mention is that it was again Sir Ivor Jennings who took the initiative in launching the project.
We mentioned earlier about the Museum. It was in fact a museum cum art gallery he had in mind. Sir Ivor established The Arts Council of the university to sponsor artistic activities which he thought was an essential part of education, “the training of the emotions” as he saw it. One of the first acts of the Arts Council was an Exhibition of paintings by George Keyt, a denizen of Kandy who had achieved international fame. From the proceeds of the exhibition Sir Ivor bought the painting titled “The Offering” by Keyt which was to be the first item in a collection which would form the exhibits of the envisaged Art Gallery. Jennings is said to have established the “Peradeniya Fund” vested in the Vice Chancellor “intended to enhance the beauty of the University Park and its environs”.( H.A.I.G. , Intro. KR p.xiv) and he had hoped that contributions “would flow in like the Great Sandy River”. In 1953 its balance was Rs. 50 .”perhaps the author’s own initial contribution”. And in 1956 it stood at Rs. 146.49 and the university authorities decided to close down the Fund and remit the balance to the General Fund (Ibid.)In the last pages of his autobiography Jennings wrote about the various Endowments the University had received during the first eight years . He added in the end “the endowment nearest my heart , however, is the Peradeniya Fund which caused this book to be written”. The proceeds from the sale of the book, The Road to Peradeniya was to go to that fund. It was his hope that the proceeds of the Fund would enable the University not only to enhance the physical beauty of the University Park but also to purchase works of art to be exhibited in the Museum cum art gallery that was to come up. The following are the last words in the autobiography: “By writing this book I have made a small contribution. History will say that it was small indeed. But at least my name will appear among the thousands of benefactors listed in the Calendar of the year 2950” (RP, pp201 -2). There is no need to comment on the above facts.
The education of the two daughters of the Jennings family, Claire and Shirley was disrupted due to the war and their father’s departure to Ceylon in 1941. When the family got together finally in Ceylon, Shirley was educated in South India and later in Melbourne in Australia where she married a lecturer in the university. Claire’s education was haphazard . She worked as a journalist in Colombo and in 1952, asked her father whether she could join the university of Ceylon. His immediate retort was” you are not intelligent enough.” When they went back to England, years later, Claire passed the necessary exams and entered the university of Cambridge, graduating six before her father passed away. This story communicated to Ian Goonatilleke by Claire appears in his introduction to RP (p.xiii).
In coming to the end of this tribute, I would like to quote Ian Goonatilleke again.
” The very title of his autobiography, the cast of its content and the fact that he made no attempt to extend its coverage into his later illustrious years may well be regarded as further pointers to his single-minded resolve to place Peradeniya on the academic map of the world- the shining peak he had set himself to scale” ( intro too KR, p.xxii)
To conclude,I would like to place on record the salutary steps taken by the present Vice Chancellor, Prof. Upul B. Dissanayake to erect a bronze statue of Sir Ivor Jennings in a prominent place on the campus. Future generations of university students who have never heard of this great academic will at least get a fleeting impression of him and hopefully be inspired to discover more about the founder Vice Chancellor of the university.
India at 75
By Gwynne Dyer
Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.
The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)
India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.
So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.
That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.
The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.
Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).
The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.
The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.
Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.
Ukraine War: Mother May I?
By Gwynne Dyer
“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”
The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.
The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”
Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.
But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?
It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.
Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.
Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.
Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.
Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.
The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.
Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity
Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation
Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran
A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication
Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz
This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.
Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.
What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.
The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.
The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’
When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.
At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.
For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.
A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.
‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.
However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.
The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.
Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.
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