Memoirs of a GA’s wife
by Carmen Ranjini Amarasekera
It was in 1965 that Wimal assumed duties as GA Moneragala. We were just married and having been born and bred in Colombo, I was longing to live in an outstation. Moneragala was the ideal place for me because I loved jungle life. Kataragama, Yala, Bibile, Mahaoya, Nilgala, Lahugala and Siyambalanduwa were all within that district and close to Moneragala. The district also had a rich cultural heritage with many temples, not well known but of historical value. It was even more interesting because many people did not go there because it was not so developed.
There were only few people we were able to associate with – among them the DRO, (District Revenue Officer), DLO (District Land Officer), SSO. (Social Service Officer) and ACCD. (Assistant Commissioner of Cooperative Development). Most of them were bachelors except Mr. Talagune, the DRO. Wellawaya and his wife Kalyani whom I was quite friendly with.
About two weeks before the Katara-gama firewalking we had to be there in situ. As the GA, Wimal had to go about a fortnight earlier and take up residence there. He had to resolve problems arising there officially and I too joined him. That was the first time I saw the real Veddahs. They were from Pollabedde and their language was quite different to ours. I got used to Wimal being called Mahahura as they called the GA. We stayed till the firewalking and early next morning the water cutting ceremony in the Menik Ganga where the whole procession got into the water.
I enjoyed the firewalking spectacle even more at Kotabowa where they had another such ceremony annually. It was quite different because the GA and officials had temporary huts built for them during the festival. We took our mats, pillows, cooking utensils, lamps etc. and stayed there for two days. That was an enjoyable experience with the jungle all round us and a river flowing nearby.
I met many people who used to come there for the festival – the real rustic people. Sometimes I think most of us prefer to have a simple meal wrapped in a plantain leaf seated under a shady tree near a stream than eating with the best cutlery in a five star hotel. The memories I treasure are the simple ones even from childhood. Maybe we will always remember a picnic we had rather than a party. Just like that the two days I spent in Kotabawa stays in my memory.
Apart from the govt. servants there were two people there who were very friendly with us, Mr. & Mrs. Berenger, the Superintendent of Moneragala Estate. Millie and Clarence as they were called were very hospitable. At Moneragala Group they had a lovely bungalow on top of a hill and it was as cold as in Nuwara Eliya up there. A swimming pool, blue grass lawns, and a beautiful house with the best furniture and well stocked bar. I liked everything about them except that Mr. Berenger was a hunter and I never liked to go on trips with them.
If we went with them he had to promise that he will not shoot any animal or bird while he is with us. One day we went to the jungle and he saw a wild boar and reached for his gun, but I told him firmly “if you want to shoot at something get us some woodapples high on the tree over there”; and that is exactly what he did. They are no more with us now. A few years after we left Moneragala they met with a tragic accident and died together.
Bibile was also a very nice place. The DRO Mahaoya, Mr. Abey Danuwille, was quite friendly with us. We always went to see him when we were there. Once when we visited he had two leopard cubs. They were very small like big cats. He had them in the house and they were very tame following him all the time. But that did not last long. Next time we went there they were in chains tied outside. I sensed a change in them. They snarled at me and I got a little scared. Abey told me they didn’t like females (unlike other males) maybe because he was a bachelor and they didn’t see many women around. He couldn’t keep them for long when he started feeding them with raw meat and they became dangerous and had to be given to the Zoo.
Once we went on a very interesting trip across the Strict Natural Reserve. The two DROs, DLO. SSO and ACCD went with us. We went in two jeeps from Yala to Kumana. That was the route that the pilgrims from Panama, Pottuvil and even Jaffna used to take. They start from Kumana and come to Kotambawa a month before the festival with their cooking utensils, dry rations, etc. When we planned the trip I was in charge of the food being the only female in the group. I prepared quite a lot of ambul thiyal, roast wild boar, accharu, seeni sambol, boiled eggs and potatoes; plenty of water, soft drinks and tinned foods were also packed. In Moneragala I used to bake my own bread so I took plenty of home- baked bread. The driver said we had to take an axe because the path was not used much and we might have to cut the branches off trees. That was back in the 60’s but things may be quite different now. A tracker from Yala accompanied us.
The first animal we saw was a fox. Someone said it was lucky to see a fox at the beginning of a trip and that made us very happy. I later thought that there may be some truth in these sayings. First we crossed the Menik Ganga and as it was the dry season there was only a little water in the river and we were able to cross it without any problem. On the way we saw plenty of wild boar, deer and pea fowl. Everyone who goes to Yala sees these species. On the banks of Menik Ganga we saw the pilgrims – one man said it was the 19th day of their long march. They were all men and one was scraping coconut, the other was cooking the rice in a pot. I asked them whether they encountered any elephants or leopards; they said when they see any animals they chant a manthram. That is their only weapon and they have never been harmed. Sometimes I feel that even if I walk in the thick jungle nothing will happen to me. Nowadays we have to be careful of terrorists rather than wild animals!
The second river we crossed was the Kumbukkan Oya which had more water than the Menik Ganga. The first jeep crossed the river safely but we were in the second jeep. Just as we were about to cross the water, it stalled and then I saw the biggest, hairy-est and the most ferocious looking
wild buffalo I have seen in my life. Wild buffaloes unlike elephants have a way of looking at you as if they are about to charge at any moment. We were almost helpless then with our jeep stalled with water in the engine. In the circumstances we had nothing we could do but stay quiet in the jeep. I suggested putting the shutters up and got some cold looks from the others who seem to be saying “as if that is going to help us”. Those few moments were so full of tension and suspense perhaps without which a trip to the jungle would not be worthwhile. After sometime the animal went away. We gave him plenty of time and the two drivers got the jeep going and we resumed our journey.
There were times we had to cut the branches off the trees to make a drivable track. Suddenly we heard the sound of branches breaking and just then on to the left of us we spotted a tusker, a loner who is dangerous. He was not blocking our path so we had a good look at him and drove slowly past without disturbing him. Our next destination was the Kumana school where we planned to stay the night.
It was a small village but I saw one of the prettiest girls I can remember there. Maybe she was of mixed blood because she was very fair, with dark brown eyes. We had time for a small walk before nightfall and we went a little further to the jungle when we heard a noise. The tracker told us that it was a leopard looking for prey. They all insisted that we should return to the school specially because there is a lady in the group. I protested saying I can run as fast as any one of them.
We shared our meal of bread, seeni sambol, fish etc. with the principal and he gave us some kurakkan roti and dried venison. After the meal we sat by the fireside and he related some very interesting stories and experiences he has had while there. We were very keen to know local customs and asked about that. We were surprised to hear that for the six years he had been there, not a single death had occurred. For a sickness the medicine they take was very simple. Once a month the Apothecary came on a bike from Panama with just two medicines – a cure-all that had been very effective. I don’t know how it is now over 50 years later with the development that has occurred. But there is more sickness and more problems as life becomes more complicated. Next morning we started about 9.00 a.m.; it was a holiday for the children that day. As GA, Wimal wanted to know the needs of the school and the other officials noted the shortcomings as stated, promising to see to their needs immediately they get back to work. We left the principal saying that we will return soon.
We saw some beautiful birds in Kumana. It was a bird sanctuary and we saw so many different kinds of birds. Next we went to Okanda. There was an old devale there near the sea. Almost on the beach there was a stone boat and the priest told us a very interesting story connected with it. According to him God Skanda had come in a boat and landed there. He with his friends had gone into the jungle to explore when two thieves had come to rob the valuables in the boat. When Skanda returned he saw the two men and with his supernatural powers turned them into stone. The rock boat had two fixtures in it like men and two oars on either side. We even stepped into it.
When we were in Moneragala a little baby elephant had fallen into an abandoned gem pit in the Okkampitiya area. He was rescued by the villagers and brought to the residency. He was so lovable and when the villagers got to know that we had a baby elephant in our garden, they all came to see him. Once I saw a man picking the hair off his tail. There was a superstition that if you have a hair from a wild elephant is a ring or locket it wards off evil spirits. I strongly forbade him to do that; just imagine if everybody started to pick his tail hairs, the poor fellow would have been minus a tail at the end of it all!
Wimal contacted the zoo authorities and asked them what to feed the baby elephant on. Because he was so small we were told to give him Pelargon (a branded milk food), but unfortunately Wimal forgot to ask how to feed the milk to the little one. Someone suggested a bottle and feeding him his milk from it. Because he was getting used to me, I gave him the bottle of milk which he promptly broke into bits.
My first instinct was to put my hand into his mouth but I quickly took it away. I thought the best way was to put the milk into a bucket and feed him, and that is exactly what I did. He drank as much as he could and squirted the rest on his head with his trunk. He was so cute and it was very sad to see him go to the zoo. I shed a few tears because for the week he was there he got very attached to me. I still treasure the photographs I have taken with him.
Nilgala was another interesting place we went to. It was near Bibile. We went there with our usual crowd in a jeep. There were many medicinal trees like aralu, bulu etc. in the forest. I also saw some rare orchids growing wild on the trees. They were beautiful and undisturbed. We went to the Gal Oya stream. It was lovely, with plenty of water and flowing through thick jungle and quite a sight to see. I had got into the habit of always taking a chintz cloth with me whenever I go out and when I see the clear water I just can’t resist getting into it. Wimal and his friends were chatting over a bottle of beer and I quickly got into my diya redda and stepped into the water. I ventured boldly further downstream when I suddenly felt as though someone was watching me. Sometimes we get the instinct that we are not alone.
I looked around to see a man with long hair behind a tree looking at me. I cried out for Wimal and they all came running. They called the man and we discovered that he was living close by. He had not seen Wimal and the rest and when he saw me he thought he was seeing a spirit. We seemed to have scared each other! Later on he took us to his hut and I gave him some bottles of achcharu and seeni sambol he accepted very gratefully. In return he gave us some bees honey and dried venison.
A few days after I went to Moneragala I stopped eating meat altogether. I used to get such a lot of wild boar and venison from our friends. I did my own cooking there and when I used to cut the meat I got a dislike for it. But for the visitors who came there, I cooked and served them game meat. People who came to Moneragala always like to eat wild boar etc.
Lahugala was one place that we usually took visitors to. That is a place where you can see elephants anytime, specially at twilight. So those who came to see us, even our foreign friends, we always took to Lahugala. There is a special kind of grass elephants relish there. They come swimming across the tank in herds to feed on it. In Lahugala there is an ancient temple, the Magul Maha Vihara. I have seen many Magul Maha Viharas but this one was unique. On the outside there were hanuman (monkey) carvings unlike in others which have the bahirawa carvings. The vihara was well preserved even though the rest of the site of was in ruins.
The Maligawila Statue had fallen in the jungle with the neck of the statue broken. Buduruvagala, Yudaganawa temple were some of the historical sites I was fortunate to see during that time. There were quite a lot of ruins in that district – not too well known but ever so fascinating.
Moneragala was quite an under developed and backward area. As the wife of the GA, unlike in Jaffna and other places Wimal was stationed in, I did not have many official duties. Annually the Avuruddu festival where I had to give away the prizes and a few school prize givings were events I attended. The hospital didn’t even have the basic facility of a dentist. The villagers had to go to Badulla, a distance of about 60 – 70 miles, for a simple toot extraction. As a GA, Wimal has always done his best for the districts he served in and when he heard about it he got a dental unit installed there.
The farmers in the district did a lot of chena cultivation. There were a few schemes we used to visit to see to their water problems, loans etc. Mostly they grew gingelley (thala), groundnut, chillies, pumpkin, cucumber and kurakkan, apart from paddy. There were plenty of mangoes and papaw which we used to buy on the roadside for about five or 10 cents each. I tasted the most luscious oranges in Bibile. They were so sweet and big that we couldn’t imagine they grew in ours country.
Our stay in Moneragala was short and we had to come to Colombo when I was expecting our first child. I cherish the memories I have of Moneragala and hope one day my two sons who are doctors will serve there.
Banana: the everyday super fruit
by Randima Attygalle
Be it visiting loved ones for the new year or on any other occasion, taking a comb of bananas along is a time-honoured practice among Lankans. We are not alone in our love for this delectable fruit relished over centuries by mankind and herbivorous animals alike. One of the most widely grown fruit crops in the world, banana occupies a top place in the fresh fruit trade, second only to orange. Banana (Musa spp.) is native to South Asia and Western Pacific Region. The wild ancestors of cultivated banana Musa acuminate Colla and Musa balbisiana Colla are distributed in South and South East Asian countries including Sri Lanka.
The earliest written reference to bananas in Sri Lankan history goes back to about 341 A.D. the time of King Buddhadasa who is reputed to have been a skilled physician. The king had recorded in his Sarartha Sangragaha, the medicinal values of various parts of the banana plant. There is also evidence that the prehistoric inhabitants of the island, over 12,000 years ago had eaten wild bananas. The seed remains of ati-eta kesel which had been found in a carbonized state in the stone-age cave sites of Batadombalena in the Ratnapura District prove the long existence of banana in Sri Lanka.
“Botanically known to be a kind of berry, banana is the only fruit crop equally recognized as a fruit and a vegetable. Although ‘bananas’ and ‘plantains’ are commonly used to name the fruit, there is a distinction between them. The two major types of edible banana cultivars in the country are classified into banana and plantain each with different morphological characters and uses. “While banana is considered to be the ‘dessert’ type, plantains are the cooking type,” explains Dr. Kalyani Ketipearachchi, former Principal Scientist (Fruit Agronomy), Fruits Crops Research and Development Station of the Department of Agriculture in Gannoruwa, Peradeniya. Today what is known as ‘ornamental banana species’ have also found a place in home gardens, she adds.
While almost 1,000 varieties of bananas are found across the world, there are around 50 varieties locally found, says Dr. Ketipearachchi. Other than a few varieties introduced scientifically through international research projects such as Ambun types, Cavendish type, recommended varieties of Kandula and
Pulathisi, almost all the others are indigenous to the country, she adds.
Sri Lankan bananas are found in three main groups: the Mysore, the Kolikuttu and the Cavendish. Ambul and seeni bananas are of Mysore group. Kolikuttu, suwendel, puwalu and rath kehel belong to the Kolikuttu group, while embun, anamalu, nethrampalam and bim-kesel belong to the Cavendish group. While all these are popular dessert bananas, alu-kesel or ash plantain is a cooking variety. Among the cooking types are Kithala, Mondan, Etamuru, and Marathamana which are however not as common as alu-kesel. Nethrampalam, she says, is the most expensive local variety. “This is not commonly available as it is not yet cultivated on a large scale. Nethrapalam is believed to help improve eyesight and contains aphrodisiac qualities. Bimkesel or Navkesel is also a Cavendish type known as Sri Lankan Cavendish. The tree is of dwarf size and its fruit bunch almost touches the ground.
Bananas are a popular fruit crop ensuring high economic returns throughout the year. “This is the fruit’s biggest attraction, as it could be grown across the country even at very high elevations unlike other seasonal fruits such as rambutan or mango. Moreover, banana can be harvested in shorter periods, bearing fruit in about ten months,” notes Dr. Ketipearachchi. The economic life span of a tree is about four years.
Nearly 50,000 hectares of land are under banana in Sri Lanka – that’s about 54% of the total fruit cultivation extent, according to the Department of Agriculture. It is also our highest export fruit crop. According to the Export Development Board’s numbers, Cavendish has a high demand in the international market and ambul and rath kesel are also exported in small quantities. Middle East countries are the largest buyers of Lankan bananas, (largely Cavendish) followed by several European countries including Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and the UK. Japan and New Zealand are also among lead buyers.
Along with its everyday presence in Lankan homes, the fruit is also part of the country’s religious and cultural fabric. All of it, be it leaves, flower bud, pseudo stem or corm, no part of this plant goes unutilized. It is also a popular weaning food for infants as it is easily digestible, soft and palatable. Rice and curry wrapped in banana leaves, popularly known as kesel-kola buth is much relished, giving a special flavour to a meal apart from its packaging function.
Harvard School of Public Health in their literature alludes to banana as the ‘iconic golden fruit’ which carries the title of the ‘first super-food endorsed by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century as a health food for children and a treatment for celiac disease. Rich in potassium, vitamin A and C, banana can easily fulfill the minimum daily fruit requirement of 100gms, says Dr. Renuka Jayatissa, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association.
An advocate of ‘a banana a day keeps the doctor away,’ she remarks that banana is a natural intervention for tropical lands like ours to supplement the minerals lost due to heat. “It’s actually a wonder fruit with many advantages – nutrition value, affordability, availability and its natural peel-wrapper, makes it a safe and a practical fruit that could be eaten at any time without interfering with our meal patterns.”
Nearly 50% of Lankan adults have high blood pressure says the Clinical Nutritionist. Rich is potassium, the fruit is recommended for maintaining blood pressure levels. However, those with potassium-related health issues need to be conscious of how much of the fruit they eat, says Dr. Jayatissa. As it is rich in calories and carbohydrates, it should be eaten in moderation by diabetics and other high risk groups such as the overweight and the obese, to prevent glycemic overloading. “People unnecessarily fear banana which should not be the case. Eating in moderation is the key,” she notes.
The nutritional level of different kinds of bananas varies but this is not very significant, so people have the advantage of enjoying their preferred variety, Dr. Jayatissa says. “Ambul has more citric acid, and that’s the reason why it doesn’t agree with those who have citric acid intolerance. But such cases are now not very common. Rath-kesel has more beta-carotenes and is good for those with Vitamin A deficiency. Anamalu is recommended to treat diarrhea as well as constipation,” she explains emphasizing that this fruit can also meet the recommended daily dose of vitamin C as a buffer against COVID-19.
Citing Thailand’s example, she says that the wastage of this wonder fruit must be avoided. “In Thailand, hardly any bananas are thrown away. Overripe fruit is sun-dried and diced into small pieces which they enjoy with ice cream or smoothies. We can learn from this and even add it to our much loved curd. Banana peel soaked in water for three days is a good fertilizer”, Dr Jayatissa says, encouraging Lankans to be more creative with this abundant fruit.
Rock it with FROK !
by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
FROK, the brainchild of the innovative fashionista and trend setter, Natalie Jayasuriya blazed into the online shopping platform with a desire to provide locally designed haute couture for the young and trendy fashion conscious youth. Its marketing has been designed to target a young demographic of 16 upwards, however the products available on the site are for the Perpetually Youthful, whether it be Female or Male, those who are fiercely spirited and live in a realty where filters are key. As online purchasing dynamics have reportedly proven, an influential image or persona fuels and secures consumer decisions.
The platform offers a mix of FROKE Signature designs and select collections from local designers who will showcase their interpretation of the authentic FROK Feel.
“Guilty as charged,’ admitted the enthusiastic entrepreneur who admitted to shopping overseas for her ultra- chic clothing, adding that she has perennially faced a brick wall when hunting for that, “little black dress,” or clothes that accentuate and enhance the unique individuality of a person. Thus the lockdown paved the way for some research among the retro teens and young adults who expressed their views, adding that online shopping has grown stealthily due to a dearth in clothing stores that cater to their taste. Thus the wheels were set in motion and together with Mario Gooneratne, Natalie established FROK, a Contemporary Fashion Forward Online platform with a pragmatic and conscious brand ethos.
Forming bonds through FROK
The backbone of FROK is a scalable e-commerce platform that captures vast amounts of data points from the shoppers so that we can use machine learning to bring out hyper-personalized experiences to our valued clients” says Natalie Jayasuriya “expect to make use of valuable data that we capture so that we can offer a great shopping experience.” We possess the ideal recipe for morphing fast fashion into high fashion, without altering the price point.
FROK is completely customer centric. “The customer will actually be able to reach out and speak to a member of the FROK Family, who will assist them as we believe it is essential to retain close bonds with our customers. The HUMAN Element is our strongest USP”.
Trendy fashions at your fingertips
All the user journeys of the FROK platform are mobile optimized. “We’re catering to the mobile savvy customers who demand best in class experiences while on the go. Each page is designed carefully by taking new age design concepts that are optimized for all form factors of mobile phones. A mobile app which is native to Apple and Android will be launched within this year”.
Founders of FROK
Mario Gooneratne, Director of FROK is also the founder and CEO of LinearSix (PVT) Ltd, a boutique technology and consulting company with a strong focus in helping banks, finance and insurance companies be better by implementing cutting edge software solutions to digitally transform them.
The independent business woman, Natalie has earned due respect and awe for her successful repertoire in PR and Marketing. She has always had an interest in entertainment and F&B ventures which lead her to be at the forefront of the conceptualization and development of immensely popular nightclubs, bars and restaurants in Sri Lanka over the last decade. The wonder woman, has carved her own path from get go, thanks to the strong work ethics and values wish were inculcated by her parents since her formative years. Since childhood she found herself being immersed in an effervescent culture in which growth was closely associated with the freedom to explore new possibilities. This creative streak coupled with an intense passion to bring Sri Lankan creations which appeal to the specified age group into the mainstream, making it easily accessible resulted in the founding of FROK!
IN A FROKSHELL:
• To be the Sri Lankan hybrid of ASOS or SHEIN for Sri Lanka
• Support and market home grown vendors and adapt to Global trends to fit within OUR cultural context
• Help young Fashion Designers do what they love, and design and we will take care of the rest.
• To Provide Trendy, fast fashion products on an efficient and easy to use platform, essentially, making aspirational wear affordable and attainable, locally, regionally and eventually globally.
• Aim to keep revenue within our aisle instead of channelling it overseas
• To start by regulating sizing for Sri Lankan products
• FROK will be positioned as a forerunner for fashion forecasting, utilizing a relatable online platform.
Pix by Dharmasena Welipitiya
The Place of the Physician in Sri Lanka’s Society
“The Best Physician is also a Philosopher”
Galen of Pergamon (c.129 – 216 AD )
An institution, a learned society and a body of practitioners, the Ceylon College of Physicians stands at the apex of medical learning and practice in Sri Lanka. For over half a century, the College has fulfilled an integral role in medical education and the maintenance of professional standards. As an institution, it has played a valuable part in the building of our nation. As a scholar, a historian and a Sri Lankan, it is a privilege and an honour to address its 52nd assembly.
In a thought provoking conclusion to the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Volume, Dr Panduka Karunanayake, President Elect for 2017, explores new horizons. In an increasingly technological age, he underlines the great need to master the human and social aspects of healing. A profession that truly cares for its patients in every sense of the word, must seek to understand and shape the future. This demands that the physician not only advise patients but that he guide society. If as Dr. Karunanayake suggests, the physician is to shape the future, he must endeavor to understand the human being, his society and his environment.
This was a philosophy which was articulated by one of the fathers of western medicine Aelius Galenus better known as Galen of Pergamon. The most celebrated medical authority of the Roman empire, Galen was one of the greatest physicians and surgeons of the ancient world. He has authored more books still in existence than any other ancient Greek. With the exception of Aristotle and Plato, he ranks as one most influential intellectuals in the classical west.
Born into the intellectual and social elite, Galen was son of a wealthy architect with scholarly interests and he received an excellent education. He travelled and studied widely, spending several years at Alexandria in Egypt, the greatest medical centre of the age. Returning home he spent four years tending a troupe of gladiators, eventually become the personal physician to a succession of Roman emperors.
Described by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius as “First among doctors and unique among philosophers,” Galen strongly believed that science and medicine must be practised in the context of human desires and needs. For him, medicine was an interdisciplinary field where science, ethics and the arts were all interwoven He saw himself as both a physician and a philosopher and believed that the study of philosophy would make for a better scientist, hence his short treatise The Best Physician is also a Philosopher.
In an eerie evocation of a contemporary dilemma Galen attacks the medical culture of his day which
“…encourages people to value wealth over virtue. For, “it is impossible to pursue financial gain at the same time as training oneself in so great an art as medicine; someone who is really enthusiastic about one of these aims, money or medicine, will inevitably despise the other.”
Galen advocated the study of arts and letters as an essential component of scientific study. In another work An Exhortation to Study the Arts, he warns against specialized isolation and lists several arts which he categorizes as divine gifts because they are useful to life. Alongside natural science and medicine, he also lists poetry, music, and philosophy. This underlines his belief that physicians must be specialists who were not only technically competent but also humane and morally responsible. According to Galen, proper, precise scientific inquiry was indeed ‘useful for life’. However, it could not be accomplished by scientists who were not properly trained in the other arts, because they would not then possess the humanity, the sensitivity, to do that science properly.
There does not appear to be a great distance between Galen’s creed and the requirements of contemporary medicine. A modern day physician like a philosopher is trained to think, to inquire and to ask questions. It is perhaps one of the foundations of his long and rigorous education. A good physician, like a good philosopher is always asking questions. It is by asking the best possible questions that he can make conclusions and diagnose.
A real philosopher is always open to question. This is even more the case with medicine. The danger is that answers shut down questions. Therefore the physician must always be open to question. As it is a question of wellbeing, of life and death, these questions are always shifting, changing with the time and the moment. If as a physician one must come to a conclusion, one can only do that by becoming a philosopher. To do that the physician must be able to listen, to observe, to think and to question. He must have time and make time. Time to listen, time to ponder, time to think, to analyze and evaluate.
It is a dilemma which still lies at the core of modern medicine. In an age where the internet and artificial intelligence have made vast inroads into the credibility of the physician, what makes him special is that although modern technology can make diagnoses, it cannot take a judgement call. That judgement call still rests on the human element, the physician’s understanding of the social context- on factors such as belief, culture, environment, sustainability and cost. This will determine the success of the cure. As Dr. Karunanayake foresees, if the physician is to play a role in the future, he must endeavor to understand the human being, his society and his setting.
The history of medicine reveals that physicians have occupied a special role in many parts of the world. Classical scholars have always regarded the ancient Greeks as the fathers of western medicine. However recent research suggests that the ancient Egyptians practised medicine long before the Greeks. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian surgical treatise dating from 1600 BC suggests that medical practice was well established in Egypt 1,000 years before Hippocrates. This documents 48 injuries which were described, diagnosed and treated rationally through observation and examination. It is thought to be a copy of a much earlier work dating from the 3rd millenium BC by the Egyptian polymath Imhotep. Chief Minister to the pharaoh, a priest, a sage and an architect, over the ages Imhotep was gradually glorified and became a god of healing.
His counterpart in the Greek world was Asklepios, the son of Apollo. The legend goes that Asclepius become so skilled that Zeus, the king of the gods, feared that he might render men immortal. To prevent this Zeus slew him with a thunderbolt and over time like Imhotep, he too became a God. His shrine at the sanctuary of Epidaurus became known as the Asklepieion and it grew into the most important centre of healing in the Greek world. The legacy of Asklepios looms large in the Greek tradition of healing. Hippocrates formal name was Hippocrates Asclepiades, “the “descendant of Asclepios.” Galen too, we are told was not destined to become a physician and only took up medicine after the God Asklepios appeared to his father in a dream.
In Ayurveda, the system of medicine and lifestyle developed in Ancient India, the pre- eminent figures are Sushruta and Charuka. Sushruta is thought to have lived near Varanisi during the 6th-7th century BC. Regarded as the father of Indian medicine, he was the main author of the Sushruta Samhita, one of the most important surviving ancient treatises on medicine. The other medical text to have survived from ancient India, the Charaka Samhita, was authored by Charaka, who is thought to have practised throughout the Punjab between the 2nd -3rd century BC.
One of the oldest medical systems in the world is traditional Chinese medicine. This tradition has produced many leading figures. In the 5th century BC Bian Que (Pien Ch’iao) was the first to rely primarily on pulse and physical examination for the diagnosis of disease. He was followed by Hua Tuo (Yuanhua) the greatest surgeon in Chinese history. In 2nd century AD he became the first person in China to use anesthesia during surgery.
Throughout the ancient world the practice of medicine was associated with learning and skill, over time it become a divine gift. The physician was the incarnation of Imhotep, Asklepios, Hippocrates, Galen; he was a god, a seer, a sage, a skilled and deeply learned practitioner, a guide and a philosopher. Only in Sri Lanka however, was the physician a king.
The place of the physician in Sri Lanka’s society is documented in the island’s great historical chronicle, the Mahavamsa. Compiled in Pali by Buddhist monks, the Mahāvaṃsa and its successor, the Cūlavaṃsa, charts the history of Lanka from the 5th century BC to the 18th century AD. It is a remarkably accurate record, of seminal value for the history of India and Sri Lanka.
King Buddhadasa reigned between 341 – 370 AD. The Culavamsa recounts how he diagnosed, treated and cured patients from all walks of life. The chronicle devotes several whole sections to the practice and establishment of medicine and documents at least seven detailed case studies. This suggests that the physician had a very special place in this society and that his story was as important as the great warriors, builders, saints and the monks who shaped the history of Lanka. Each of these case studies tells us different things. Each concerns a different situation and elicits a deeply and carefully thought out remedy, based on reasoned analysis and evaluation.
In one case, it tells of how a man drinking water swallowed the eggs of a watersnake. The egg gradually grew into a snake. As it grew sucked at the man’s intestines, torturing the victim with pain. The man sought out the king, who questioned him. When he described the pain and related what had happened the king realized that a reptile must have formed inside the man. However as the reptile was lodged deep inside the intestines, the king refrained from cutting it out.
Instead he made the man fast for a week, starving the reptile within him. He then had the patient, bathed and rubbed with oil. This calmed and soothed him and he eventually fell asleep. The king knew that when he was asleep that his mouth would open. He tied a piece of meat to a string and dangled it over his mouth. Lured by the smell and driven by hunger, the watersnake reached for the meat. The king however, held the string fast and drew on it, gradually pulling the reptile out.
Another case concerned a Bhikku or Buddhist priest, the most venerated member of society. The bhikku had gone begging for alms and was given milk which had worms in it. The worms grew and fed on his bowels, causing agonizing pain. The king then asked leading questions. At what meal did the pain arise? What kind of meal was it and what was the nature of the pain? When the bhikku told him that it was a meal that he took with milk, the king recognized the symptoms.
Taking the blood from a horse, he gave it to the monk to drink. He then waited until he had drunk it all. Then he told him that was horse’s blood. The reaction was what he had anticipated. On hearing that he had drunk the blood of a horse, the monk vomited, spitting out the blood. The worms which had caused him such pain, came up with the blood.
Compassion and feeling made up an essential part of the King’s healing skills. There is a deep feeling for life in all its forms. This applied even to the most dangerous animals. Galen had concluded that even dumb animals are not entirely devoid of reason. In Buddhadasa’s most wellknown case, the king cobra, one of Sri Lanka’s most venomous reptiles, becomes a willing patient. As the king passed by, the cobra turned over onto his back to expose his underbelly so that the king could see the tumour growing on it. After observing the growth, the king reasoned with the reptile. Although he understood its pain, he dared not touch it. Understanding the king’s dilemma, the snake stuck his whole neck into anthill so that he could not hurt the king. Whilst the cobra was immobilized, the king slit open his belly, removed the diseased growth and applied a healing remedy.
This episode suggest a high level of surgical skill. It is underlined by another. A young man had drunk water which was full of frog’s eggs. Through his nostrils an egg had penetrated into his skull and evolved into a frog. As the monsoon approached the frog became more and more agitated, causing unbearable headaches. In this case the king appears to have resorted to immediate surgery. Performing a complicated and dangerous operation, he split the skull and removed the frog and then put the parts of the skull back together.
Ancient Indic society was dominated by caste and social taboos. Despite this and ignoring own his royal status, Buddhadasa cut across every social barrier and boundary to serve the suffering. In Indian society the lowest and most menial of tasks were performed by the Caṇḍālas, outcastes who worked as sweepers and scavengers. A Candala woman who had already had seven children, became pregnant for the eighth time. This time however, her unborn child was facing the wrong way in the womb. When Buddhadasa learned that this, he intervened to save the woman’s life. In the ancient world, birth and reproduction were the preserve of women and midwives. Socially this is a unique case. It is also a complex gynecological procedure.
The understanding of the human mind is an integral part of the physician’s craft. More often than not it holds the key to the patient’s condition and his recovery. In ancient times leprosy was a common condition. Lepers were shunned and regarded with horror and leprosy deemed a curse of the Gods.
The king noticed a leper, who upon seeing him, became enraged, striking the ground with his staff. In a previous birth the king had been the leper’s slave, it maddened him to see him riding his elephant and all he wanted to do was to kill him. Learning of this, Buddhadasa set his mind to winning him over. He sent one of his men to befriend the leper and share his anger. Pretending that he too was against the king, he invited the leper to stay at his house and help him destroy his enemy. The leper was bathed, fed and given beautiful clothes and a comfortable bed to sleep. One day, when he had become happy, contented and calm, Buddhadasa’s man served him food and drink, saying, “This is the gift from the king.” At first the leper refused and then refused again. Finally he accepted. Reaching out to the most diseased and most deeply troubled member of his community, the king was able to heal his mind. It is a clear demonstration of the power of empathy, feeling for and feeling with. It is from empathy that re assurance comes. So much of healing is in the mind. If the physician can take the time and make the effort, he has the power to do great good.
All these cases make one point. The physician truly cares and feels for all his patients, no matter who they are or where they are from. In his posthumous work Galen and Galenism (2002) the Spanish historian and Physician, Luis García Ballester (1936-2000) quotes Galen as saying: “In order to diagnose, one must observe and reason.” This is the dictum which King Buddhadasa embodies. He observes closely, listens carefully and questions keenly, making every attempt to form a picture of the condition. It is then he makes his diagnosis and decides on course of action. A demonstration of the power of the mind, sustained thought and inquiry, it is characterized by understanding and feeling.
The Cūlavaṃsa praises King Buddhadasa as a “Mine of Virtue and a Sea of jewels.” This perception is based on the king’s understanding of the human and social aspects of healing, his ability to care and feel. It is probably this tradition which lies at the roots of the well known Sri Lankan saying “If you cannot be a king, become a healer.”
This is the challenge which western science and learning faces in one of the world’s oldest living cultures. This context demands that the physician be conscious of the rhythms of a society, whose needs, values and way of life are often quite distinct from western norms and practices, often very much older. If as an invited guest, I can make one suggestion, it is that Sri Lanka’s physicians begin to study their past. For it is through comparative traditions that we learn deeply about ourselves.
If he is to truly guide as well as “Cure, Relieve And Comfort,” the Physician must also strive be a Philosopher.
He must not only ask the best possible questions, most of all like King Buddhadasa, he must care, be concerned and compassionate. For that he must have time.
TITLE; SINHARAJA/ APRIL 4
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