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A Tribute to Sir Ivor Jennings

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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.)

Historical Heritage

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.

Integrity

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.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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