Connect with us

news

Anagarika Dharmapala: Admirer of ‘Queen Mab’

Published

on

by Rohana R. Wasala

It may look unfashionable or even indecent to write about Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) in these days of ‘reconciliation’ politics. But that is due to the deliberate distortion of facts by vested interests. So I beg my readers’ indulgence. The Anagarika has been consistently misrepresented by anti-nationalists as a Sinhala supremacist, a Buddhist fanatic, and a propagator of violent nationalism. But the truth was otherwise; he was none of these.

As anthropologist Gananath Obesekera, professor emeritus, Princeton University, mentions in his ‘The Doomed King’ (2017), “Dharmapala was the most passionate defender of Sri Vikrama in colonial times…”; Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe had been demonised by the British in the interest of their imperial scheme to annex the Kandyan kingdom. To the Anagarika, the last king of Lanka was a noble ruler and human being who was betrayed by traitorous chiefs like Ehelepola disava (as he conceived of them). He “defended Sri Vikrama and implored Sinhala people to model themselves on his life and history….” (ibid.) Gananath says Dharmapala was indulging in ‘hyper-glorification’ of the last king. Perhaps, he was; but that doesn’t invalidate the latter’s assessment of the king, whose non-Sinhala ethnicity did not trouble him. At the same time, I don’t share Gananath’s criticism of Dharmapala’s alleged anti-Christian attitudes.

Dharmapala was, first and foremost, an international Buddhist missionary, and only secondarily, a Sinhala Buddhist national revivalist and social reformer. Sri Lankans (native Ceylonese) were in urgent need of the brave leadership and guidance of such a heroic figure at that time. He excelled in both roles. Anagarika Dharmapala assumed robes as a Buddhist samanera at an advanced age in July 1931, after a very industrious and productive life; he received the upasampada or higher ordination under the name of Ven. Siri Devamitta Dhammapala, hardly four months before his death on April 29, 1933.

As was the standard practice among the well-to-do families in those colonial days, he received a good school education in the English medium. During all of his active life, he mostly used English for communication. More than 75% of his writings were in that language; he spoke English even more frequently in the course of his lifelong missionary work. No religious leader of the time, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist, devoted so much attention as he did to the need for a good modern education for the young that included mastery of languages and science and technology (practical skills).

Anagarika Dharmapala said that he got an insight into Buddhism after reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem about the Buddha “Light of Asia” (1879). He treated the latter as his teacher. Arnold received the Anagarika when he visited London. Dharmapala was not an enemy of English or the English people; he was well disposed towards both. But he was a vehement critic and opponent of British imperialism, which though he didn’t challenge politically, as he thought that it was not yet the time for it; he wanted to have favourable relations with the existing imperial government in order that he could get on with his global missionary work without any obstruction. His national endeavour was to lead his people towards freedom from foreign rule through peaceful means, which motivated his work for stimulating social reform and bringing about the moral edification of the masses.

This year marks the 157th birth anniversary of the revered Anagarika Dharmapala, who made an immense contribution towards the restoration of the national dignity and the religious and cultural regeneration of the oppressed Sinhala Buddhists in the heyday of British imperialism in our country. He was born to a wealthy business family in Colombo exactly 157 years ago, that is, on September 17, 1864. The young Don David Hewavitharne, as he was named at birth, despite his strong dislike of British colonialist rule, had a passionate love of English poetry. He particularly liked the poems of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, both assigned by literary critics and historians to the Romantic tradition of English poetry. Ever since he discovered the latter’s ‘Queen Mab’ in a book in his uncle’s library as a schoolboy, it had remained his favourite English poem.

The basis of his admiration of ‘Queen Mab’ is not difficult to find. He said about the poem: “I never ceased …. .to love its lyric indignation against the tyrannies and injustices that man heaps on himself and its passion for individual freedom” (as quoted in ‘Flame in Darkness – the Life and Sayings of Anagarika Dharmapala’ by the English monk Maha Sthavira Sangharakshita, (1980). There is no doubt that this specimen of Shelly’s juvenilia (i.e. works done in his youth) was nevertheless an important source of inspiration for the Anagarika in his life’s work.

What must have appealed to Don David Hewavitharne in ‘Queen Mab’ was obviously more than just the polemical attack it mounts on “the tyrannies and injustices” that humans inflict on fellow humans. The poem embodies many of the radical ideas that Shelley articulated in his works, and some of these such as his atheism, his criticism of meat eating as a cause of vice, and the implicit advocacy of vegetarianism, his idea of death as something not to be feared, his condemnation of political and religious tyranny, his socialist politics, his scientific attitude to human experience and the external world, his belief in the moral perfectibility of humanity, his nonviolence and antipathy towards war, and his vision of social and political change through intellectual transformation are sure to have struck a chord in the great patriot and Buddhist revivalist that the young David later became.

‘Queen Mab’, a book-length poem in nine parts, was written and privately distributed by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) in 1813. It was the poet’s first work of genuine literary merit. His decision to make it available to a select circle suggests the type of audience he wanted to address: the target readers were of the same patrician (aristocratic) background as himself who had the time and the means to get an education, and the leisure to read and enjoy poetry; the mostly illiterate downtrodden masses whose welfare he actually had in mind and who stood to gain most from the revolutionary changes he envisioned were for the most part outside of this circle; the Anagarika belonged to the same higher social class in this country as Shelley did in England.

Structurally, ‘Queen Mab’ is a fairy tale composed in nine cantos (main divisions). A fairy named Queen Mab comes down in her ethereal car to the sleeping Ianthe, a beautiful young maiden. Leaving the girl in her deep slumber the fairy awakens her Soul or Spirit and invites it onboard and transports it to her celestial abode at the uttermost edge of the universe. From that vantage point the Spirit (Ianthe’s Soul) is given a view of the universe stretching below. The fairy promises the Spirit to reveal the state presumably, of humanity’s past and present and the ‘secrets of the future’:

Critics have called this poem a dream vision allegory, a fairy tale, a utopian daydream, a protest- poem etc. The young David Hewavitharne might have identified ‘Queen Mab’ as a protest-poem. In terms of its substance we may call it a philosophical poem as well. In fact, the 1813 title of the poem was ‘Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem with Notes’. Shelley was a ‘philosopher’ among the Romantics in the sense that while treating the usual ‘Romantic’ themes of beauty, passion, power of the imagination, the natural goodness of humanity, political freedom etc which formed their characteristic subject matter, he discovered and articulated causal connections in them with rare precision and clarity. He was unique in this respect among his contemporaries, with the possible exception of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) as critics have pointed out. Reading ‘Queen Mab’ we feel that it qualifies for all the above labels.

Though it is unselfconsciously melodramatic, coldly polemical, and crudely emotive in much of its versification and though he himself seemed years later to have had second thoughts about its estimation as a poem worthy of publishing for public consumption when he came to know that a pirated edition of the poem had appeared in 1821 (which was just a year before his accidental death by drowning), the ‘philosophy’ that he versifies in it is found to be as mature as it ever got in his case (considering the fact that he died at the young age of 30). The poem has even been described as ‘monumental’ by more sympathetic, and in my opinion more rational-minded and more discerning, readers. Obviously, Anagarika Dharmapala was among this group of readers.

Both Shelley and Dharmapala were revolutionaries, though of different moulds. They agitated for liberty and morality in the political and socio-cultural spheres. They had similar views about how to foster social and political reform (though the political aspect was more subdued in the case of Dharmapala than in the case of Shelley, a difference between the two that points to the Anagarika’s realistic, pragmatic approach as opposed to the dream-visionary impracticality of Shelley’s): Shelley believed in the possibility of perfecting humanity by moral means, which forms the nuclear theme of ‘Queen Mab’; the revolution he envisaged appears to be something to be achieved in this way, but not through armed struggle (despite his probable allusion to the French Revolution in his sonnet ‘England in 1819’ suggested.

As socially conscious young men in their different places and times Shelley and Dharmapala had much in common. They shared the same reformist ambitions. Both, born into wealth and privilege, showed an unusual concern for the welfare of the poor and were totally committed to the social uplift and moral refinement of the society including particularly the traditionally oppressed. Shelley’s relentless criticism of authoritarian institutions in his country is explicitly articulated in his sonnet ‘England in 1819’: The state of Shelley’s England is such that the king is “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying”; the princes are “the dregs of their dull race”; the rulers who are unable to see, feel or know, cling like leeches to their country until they “drop, blind in blood, without a blow”; the ordinary English people are “starved and stabbed in the untilled fields”; the army is corrupt and inept; the laws “tempt and slay”; religion is “Christless – Godless – a book sealed”. (Won’t this sound familiar to readers in many countries of the world even today?)

All these (agents of tyrannous evil) “Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may – Burst to illumine our tempestuous day” (This could be interpreted as an allusion to the French Revolution, in which a crucial event was the storming of the ancient fortress of the Bastille and the releasing of the wretched prisoners there in 1789, just three years before his birth). Shelley’s diatribes like these preceded, by about three quarters of a century, the Anagarika’s vehement denunciation of the demoralizing British imperialism in our country. Just as Shelley rebelled (ideologically) against what he condemned as the tyranny of the king, priests and statesmen (‘statesmen’ not in its current dignified sense, but in the sense of mere ‘politicians’), Dharmapala adopted a defiant stance towards the occupying foreigners, errant Buddhist monks, and the Westernized local elite that so slavishly pandered to the interests of the colonial rulers.

But he was not an irrational hater of everything Western. He admired the positive aspects of European culture. He possessed a very good knowledge of the English language, which he used to write and edit many English publications in the pursuance of his Buddhist revivalist propaganda. His love of English poetry was consistent with the cosmopolitan Buddhist attitude towards what is admirable in other cultures. He criticized the tyranny and injustice of European colonialism, but he obviously had a high regard for the Western nations’ scientific and inventive genius. In return, he acted in compassion towards them according to his own religious convictions. He wrote in his “My Life Story” already referred to:

It is time that Buddhists of Asia should give the Dhamma to the people of Europe and America. Buddhism is for the scientifically cultured. The discoveries of modern sciences are a help to understand the sublime Dhamma. The mediaeval theology of ecclesiastical tussle may have satisfied the half-civilized consciousness of pre-scientific Europe and the paganized tribes of Europe of a barbarous age. Today the cultured races of Europe require a scientific psychology showing the greatness of human consciousness. The sublime doctrine of the Lord Buddha is a perfect science based on transcendental wisdom. This Dhamma should be freely given to the European races.

The unacceptable reality of our current domestic and international predicament is exactly what the farsighted Anagarika acted to forestall, against many odds, which limited his success. Paradoxically and quite unfairly, leaders like him are held responsible for our present ethnic problems by some individuals. My opinion is that had Anagarika Dharmapala and other patriots that he inspired not been there in that era and after, our plight today would have been worse.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

news

Central Bank looking at proposal to permit dollar-paid vehicle imports

Published

on

Duty too must be paid in hard currency

The central bank is looking at a proposal to allow persons who can pay in foreign exchange to import vehicles and pay taxes in hard currency, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal said last week.

He said that this was a proposal made by certain parties whom he did not identify making clear it was at a proposal stage with no decision taken. But it was under examination.

Asked whether Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC) account holders – now called Personal Foreign Currency Accounts – would be permitted to use their resources to import a vehicle provided they would pay the applicable duty in hard currency, he said that he did not see why not.

“If the vehicle is paid for in hard currency and not converted rupees, and the duty also accrues to the government in hard currency, I don’t see any harm, in fact it would be good,” he said.

It would also mean that there’s are new vehicles coming into the country not paid for by rupees converted into hard currency plus a hard currency duty stream, an analyst said.

Banning vehicle imports on account of the present foreign exchange crunch has cost the government an immense revenue stream.

Continue Reading

news

Forex pressure eases – CB

Published

on

By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The Central Bank says that pressure caused by shortage of foreign exchange is easing gradually towards better.

“Earnings from exports marked a notable improvement and recorded over US dollars 1 billion for the third consecutive month in August 2021. Expenditure on imports has also increased, partly reflecting the surge in global commodity prices, resulting in an expansion in the trade deficit during the eight months ending August 2021, over the corresponding period of last year. Outlook for tourism improved with the easing of travel restrictions globally and the successful vaccination drive domestically. Despite the moderation of workers’ remittances observed in recent months, a rebound is expected in the period ahead with the improved growth outlook for major foreign employment source countries and greater stability in the domestic foreign exchange market. The realisation of foreign investments in the real sector and the timely adoption of remedial measures by the Central Bank as enunciated in ‘The Six-month Road Map for Ensuring Macroeconomic and Financial System Stability’ are gradually easing pressures in the domestic foreign exchange market,” the Central Bank says.

The CBSL said that it continued to intervene in the foreign exchange market to provide liquidity for essential imports, including fuel. The depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar is recorded at 6.8 per cent thus far in 2021.

It said that the gross official reserves were estimated at US dollars 2.6 billion by end September 2021. This, however, does not include the bilateral currency swap facility with the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) of CNY 10 billion (equivalent to approximately US dollars 1.5 billion). Gross official reserves are expected to improve with the measures that are being pursued by the Government and the Central Bank to attract fresh foreign exchange inflows, as outlined in the Six-month Road Map, thereby reinforcing the stability of the external sector in the period ahead.

Continue Reading

news

Samarasinha to promote ‘Commercial Diplomacy” among German states

Published

on

Nihal S. Samarasinha has been appointed as Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka for three Federal States in Germany, which includes Hessen, Rheinland Palatinate and Saarland.

He would be mainly promoting commecial diplomacy in the three states.

He presented his credentials to State Minister Axel Wintermeyer along with 18 other Consuls General and Honorary Consuls at the official State Residence Villa of the Minister President of Hessen.

Samarasinha, born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Germany in 1972 is the Chairman and Managing Director of Millennium Hospitality Advisory Company providing advisory services and managing and operating hotels of several international hotel brands based in Frankfurt am Main. He is an alumni of St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and graduated from the Heidelberg Hotel School, Germany, American Hotel and Motel Association, Michigan USA; Holiday Inn University, Atlanta USA and from the Ramada International University, New York.

His focus in Finance throughout his career made him a proven financial expert with vast analytical skills.

 Samarasinha has held senior management positions in organisations such as Holiday Inn WorldWide (Europe) as Director of Finance; Canadian Pacific Hotels – Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) as Regional Comptroller and Ramada International Hotels and Resorts as Vice-President of Finance and Internal Audit for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), India and Sri Lanka. He has been engaged in the hospitality industry since 1972 with remarkable success.

Over the years Samarasinha has developed strong bonds with Sri Lankans in all parts of Germany and had assisted them in numerous ways long before he was first appointed Honorary Consul for the Federal state of Rheinland Palatinate in 2010.

He is a co-founder of the Diplomatic Council in Frankfurt along with the former Sri Lanka’s Consul General in Frankfurt Buddhi Athauda, The Diplomatic Council acted as a springboard to promote Sri Lanka Tourism, Trade and Culture in an environment of commercial diplomacy.

Continue Reading

Trending