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KD Somadasa’s contribution to Hugh Nevill’s work



I am disappointed that Tom Peterson’s article on the Hugh Nevill Collection (Features, 21 Apr) did not refer to the part played by K D Somadasa.

Mr Somadasa, who was a researcher at the British Museum and the British Library, spent about 20 years meticulously cataloguing the 2,224 papers in the Collection which were published in seven outstanding volumes in the 1980s and 1990s.

For example, Volume 3 is a compendium of Sinhalese ritualistic poetry with descriptions of palm leaf manuscripts and summaries of 19 volumes of bound paper manuscripts containing texts of two major cycles of ritualistic legends, fully indexed. Mr Somadasa’s invaluable services to all who wish to research the Hugh Nevill Collection should be recognized.

Dr R P Fernando
19 Danetree Close,
Epsom, UK.

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Need we saddle religion with morality?



The first thoughts that come to our mind at the mention of religion is morality: good and bad, right and wrong. However, while ‘religion’ is rolling on the wheels of glitzy festivals, formalised rituals, vibrant sounds, flashy bulbs, repetitive processions of singing and dancing, those who are adept at using religion to their own advantage continue to wax eloquent on the wonderful benefits of drumming religion in to the heads of children from their early years. Meanwhile, morals, which should ideally refine and unite people, unwittingly divide them, as they are brand-named and spoon-fed to babes; hence the lasting misunderstandings and alienation.

Goolbai Gunasekara’s (GG) article on “Religion”, which appeared in The Island of May 10, is stimulating and also upfront in its claim that “religion has been the cause of the most appalling bloodshed and strife”. She goes on to assert, “so let us agree that religion DIVIDES and most certainly does not UNITE”. One might have dissimilar opinions of teaching religion so as to make it serve the purpose of uniting people. However, GG’s statement resonates with all those who are disheartened by the way societies are split along religious differences.

In a world in which religion is, for an overpowering majority, an inescapable legacy that prevents a conscious choice in adulthood, which would have resonated with the values of a more civilized society – a legacy with all its divisive seeds sown inexorably in unformed minds- GG’s bold statement would be annoying for many at the very least. It’s an irony that such claims appear unpalatable to those who are steeped in their own religions, each one of which is expected to make them more refined, open-minded and balanced. Instead, we who are supposed to be enlightened by a religion tend to be intolerant of criticism, which is a pity. It’s little wonder that religion is seen to have left us untouched by its intended pacifying mechanism.

History keeps providing enough proof of religion’s insignificant contribution to the refinement of society. Of course, persecutions rationalised by religious zeal, compounded by acquired ethnic identities and the unending power struggles continue to upset us from time to time. However, in most instances, reactions to them do not go beyond expressions of horror, sympathy for the victims and censure of the perpetrators. Hardly ever anyone asks whether religions have truly cultured us and to what extent. In such a context, it is encouraging to hear lone voices questioning the role being played by religion with no inhibitions.

It is universally accepted that religion is our essential moral guide. But during which phase of our life would this moral hectoring come to us through religion? It’s enough to think how custom has made us lose commonsense when we teach some ‘morals’ to toddlers when they can hardly appreciate the difference between six and sex. Can anyone who has read Madol Duwa forget how Martin Wickramasinghe relishes the discomfort of Mr. Dharmasinghe, the headmaster, when the latter tries to explain the third precept of pansil Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkha (refraining from unlawful sexual conduct / similar to “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, 7 th of the Ten Commandments), to little children including Upali and Jinna, with downcast eyes, avoiding the gaze of his own children, saying “Young as you are, you must make up your minds not to fall into it”. The readers can only sympathise with the predicament of the disciplinarian, when Wickramasinghe squeezes out the last drop of humour from the scene when he writes with a chuckle how Upali notices the way Mrs. Dharmasinghe discreetly left them if she happened to be there at that point. Mr. and Mrs. Dharmasinghe are not alone in this predicament.

Obviously, drilling morals into babies has its own complications. It’s time you let moral teaching be done more sensibly and elegantly under the continuous supervision of the experts. Such a non-religious and rational approach to teaching ethics would help rid the world of the forced marriage between religion and moral education. And, this leads to the more disturbing question of branding our kids with our own faith, even before they could properly articulate a couple of words, let alone know the basics of any religion. However, the unwitting separation of children based on religion continues and all are devoutly happy.

Socrates said that the “unexamined life is not worth living”, which seems to be applicable to morality and all value systems. The accustomed way in which religion comes to us, almost the same ideas of good and bad / right and wrong, come to us tightly sealed in different caskets that we happen to consider as consecrated due to pure chance. Whether we consider some edicts holy or not overwhelmingly depends on who our parents happened to be. As such, selecting which casket of morality is to be worthy of our devotion is not any cooler than, if you like, selecting our parents. Therefore, the long and the short of our proud religious inheritance is pathetically circumstantial, although some of us would be ready to die or kill for its sake. A religion wouldn’t be a religion any longer when every Tom, Dick and Harry began to be too nosy, although one may venture to say, “unexamined ethics would not be worth following” – if one were to take the liberty of fiddling with Socrates’ aphorism about the ‘unexamined life’, mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph.

It is meaningless that morality, the erosion of which is squarely blamed on religion or rather the lack of it, is always married to religion by history and tradition. This is superfluous because morality can be sensibly examined and discussed without religion – which can surely be studied by anyone for knowledge, without being a victim of an ‘unexamined custom’, which is revered.

Today, in our context, politicians would not be able to pose as saints to fool the credulous, if people could see that being publicly religious has nothing to do with avoiding sin, corruption, taking commissions, money laundering, bribery and living on a continuous diet of deceit and high protein.

Religions would remain as ‘religions’, as we have known them for donkey’s years, but the age- old religious disciplining would fail to produce intended results. Morality has to be disengaged from “religion” and taught as a discipline like any other branch of study. It will ensure the preservation of religion as a field of academic study and, also, a matter of common interest.

Let morality be an ongoing discussion devoid of religious claims. After all, morals are for the people who are living and constantly trying to move towards a better world. We had better be less bigoted and isolationist about them.

Susantha Hewa

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A protest by only two against a vital issue



A file picture of a protest in Colombo

Protests in Sri Lanka, Colombo especially, are daily occurrences, university students being the most frequent protestors, next the health sector, followed by teachers and others. And what are their protests against? Invariably personal demands; higher salaries, allowances, release of troublous students taken into custody and strong violent gatherings against private medical colleges. All these are personal and selfish, even against privatisation of higher education which exhibits the ‘dog in the manger’ syndrome.

One recent issue that has not called forth public protests by any lot of consistent protestors is the MPs’ demand for duty-free vehicle permits, which they sell at fabulous prices.

There was one single protest against this pernicious, totally unnecessary perk to MPs, a week ago. And how large was the protest which should have been in the thousands? Just two persons. A gentleman and lady, very decent in appearance and very reasoned in what they told the police.

To stymie them was a posse of policemen all geared up. The fairly elderly man and woman said that MPs should not be given this perk which would eat into foreign reserves, while more than half of the population was struggling to have one decent meal a day. They were harassed by the police, and, I think, taken to the nearest police station.

Where was Stalin somebody with his stentorian voice demanding this and that for teachers, most of whom have a comparatively easy life and some make money on private tuition?

Where was Wasantha Mudalige and his following firebrands of the IUSF? They seem not to care what happens to the country’s economy; the majority people’s battle to make ends meet; and extravagant demands of most of the MPs. Why can’t they come out unified and stop this handing out of further perks to these pestiferous career makers of representing people in the legislature?

This woman shivered and shook literally, with outrage she supposes, when she heard MPs are demanding insurance for themselves and families for life!

It’s bad enough that ex-Presidents and families are setted in luxury thanks to JRJs vote catching largesse-giving from people’s money. Even Presidents who nearly destroyed the country enjoy the high life on government money – taxes extracted from struggling you and me. Now, most MPs are united in their demand for insurance. In return for what? Except just a handful, the others hardly contributed to debates in

Parliament, voted not knowing what they were voting for, but got fat on food served in-house and commissions or whatever pocketed illegally. The public was waiting to boot most of them out. Now they want to go with luxury car licenses and insurance for life.

There should be mass protests against these demands of MPs. Once given they cannot be retracted.Honestly, there are no other people like Sri Lankans for insensibility and personal greed.

Concerned Woman

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Killing systems the govt.’s way



As of last month, a system which was working perfectly, namely the issue of tourist visas for foreign visitors, has been disrupted. The system of Visa issue was simple. You filled up a form from the immigration department website and paid a fee of about 30 US dollars, online.

The visa was normally issued very smoothly if you submitted the passport copy. Now, Mystery surrounds the issue of srilankan visa, but certainly it has become a racket and some crooks are making a killing. At a time when the country needs tourists!

It is government policy – if something is working well., interfere with it. Kill it. Other examples are the Ceylon German Hotel School and the Ceylon Shipping Corporation.


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