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Panadura Vadaya: A Socio-historical Sketch



by Dr D. Chandraratna

The important historical fact about the Colonial narrative of Buddhism in Sri Lanka was the ability of Buddhist ideals to survive even when the external political circumstances were highly unfavourable. The Panadura Vadaya signifies in many ways that dogged determination on the part of the educated sangha fraternity to persevere with the struggle, and more importantly in that struggle to delve deeper into scriptures to challenge Christianity at a scholastic level.

When Christianity had state backing it was not surprising for the colonialists to harbour an apocalyptic vision of the eventual triumph of Christianity. Therefore it was not unusual for the Colonial secretary Tennent to assert that the dissociation of the State from Buddhism will only expedite its inevitable decay as Spence Hardy, the Wesleyen missionary, had predicted in his book, The British Government and the Idolatry of Ceylon in 1839.

The educated sangha, on the other hand were acutely aware of the protection that Buddhism needed State patronage to arrest its decline but their pleas to honour the promises made in the Kandyan Convention of 1815 fell on deaf ears. By the middle of the 19th century British authors were cautiously optimistic that ‘Buddhism, shorn of its splendour, unaided by authority, will fall into disuse before Christianity is able to step into its place’ (Forbes, 1839).

The elite Sinhalese Christians like James Alwis while appreciating the colonial powers for propagating Christianity nonetheless lamented that Buddhist decline will erode the language and literature of the Sinhalese which he said is the heritage of Ceylon, maintained mostly by the sangha under whose tutelage even J Alwis acquired his punditry. He wrote that the ‘names of Batuantudawe, Hikkaduwe, Lankagoda, Dodanpahala, Valane, Bentota, Kahave and Weligama amongst a host of others have produced compositions by no means inferior to to those of a Buddhaghosa or a Parakkrama‘. Contrary to the missionary statements and the colonialist assumptions, erudition in Buddhist scriptures and knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhalese was no less lacking among the sangha who were many, not the exception.

Monastic (Pirivena) and Missionary education

It was no secret that without state patronage monastic education, which was the mainstay of local knowledge and intelligence, waned drastically. Colebrooke’s insistence on English education with its declared outcomes such as the civilizing potential, secular advantage through state employment, and the pathway to redemption through the Christianizing intent was a blow to vernaculars. It discouraged many to receive the monastic pirivena which was the provider of indigenous language and religious knowledge. Major Davy was correct in his observation in 1815, that in the Kandyan provinces reading and writing is far from the uncommon acquirements and is as general as in England’ (Forbes 1839). But Colebrooke dismissed monastic learning curtly in one sentence. He said, ‘monastic education scarcely merits any notice’. A sub committee of the Legislative Council reported in 1867 that ‘whatever taught is intertwined with error and superstition and if left in the hands of Buddhist and Hindu priests will defeat the aims and objects of all of primary education’.

There was another reason for the neglect and virtual abandonment of Pirivena education in the Kandyan provinces. The Temple Lands Ordinance of 1856 contributed in no small measure to the use of monastic wealth, which earlier was used for pirivena schools, diverted for personal advantage of the incumbent monks. In most places usufruct of the lands became assets to individual monks and not to the institutions that they were in charge. It was noted in the Report of the Commission on the Administration of Buddhist Temporalities that, ‘The Kandyan priesthood lead a life of the careless and sensual…, and the offerings and produce of the lands are devoted for personal enjoyment. C. B Dunuvile, the Diyawadana Nilame and grandson of the Disave of Walapane who signed the Kandyan Convention complained that monks have abandoned their priestly duties and are engaged in temporal pursuits and all but a few are even ignorant of Pali. This statement was given before the Commission by Rambukwelle Sonuttara Thera of the Malwatta Chapter.

The British continued with state assistance to missionary education, as much as the Dutch, right from the beginning with Governor North taking the initiative. A few years into his tenure he wrote to the Colonial Secretary for missionary assistance to education. The Baptists arrived in 1812 and the Wesleyans (1814) and Church of England (1818) and the Americans followed by the London Missionary Society thereafter. In addition the government employed its own colonial chaplains, preachers and catechists in the State Ecclesiastical establishment.

Education no doubt was tied up with diffusion of Christianity and the Schools Commission, the important instrumentality was in the control of the Anglicans. The missionary effort extended beyond mere education for their evangelical zeal was not limited to, ‘making the natives learned men’ but in fact leading them to the Redeemer, i.e., conversion to Christianity. Their greater aim was directed to the larger multitude of ‘heathens’ outside the school, to whom they had to go by taking on the role of the itinerant preacher. John Murdoch set the example by resigning his position as Headmaster of the Government Central School in Kandy. His personal journal reads, ‘I shall require to travel on foot and shelter at night wherever I can; I shall be following the example of the Apostles, yea, of the Saviour Himself’.

Preachers: Christian and Buddhist Styles

The Christians had to face stiff competition from the Buddhists who were skilled preachers from yore. The latter had enduring contacts with the villagers and the missionaries even with state patronage, were handicapped from the start. Their English competency was of no use here. Proficiency in Sinhalese was an absolute necessity. It was an impediment to the foreigner competing with the Buddhist monk who was clearly in a class of his own. The missionary was at times offensive in the use of language and idiom, made worse by the novelty of the Buddhist scriptural content, which he only mastered after arrival in the island.

The complex system of word usage in Sinhala proved virtually an insurmountable hurdle to the foreign missionary. The use of pronouns conjoined with status differentials baffled them no end and often ended up offending the audience. An English author wrote in the preface to the English-Sinhalese dictionary that one Sinhalese singular person equivalent of the term you had fourteen different terms, each in the measure of the status of the person. The missionaries were so confused and virtually gave up by sticking to just one or two, which were less than polite. The word you in addressing a gathering became tho and umbala and the aristocrats in the audience were offended to be addressed as umba or tho in the presence of their subordinates seated alongside. Tho, thopi (you), Varella (come), palayalla (go), karapalla (do) did not please many in the audience. The Buddhist monks consciously avoided all status differentials by the use of the endearing term pinvathni flattering everyone.

To make matters worse the Sinhala translation of the Bible sponsored by the Church missionaries arbitrarily used one simplified term in translating the Sinhala equivalent of you as tho and thopi (meaning thou) was highly offensive to all and sundry. It was on the premise that it followed the simplicity that God had intended. On the use of the pronoun tho, wrote the chief translator Lambrick, ‘to apply tho to a man of respectable class is an actionable offence… a native professor of the Christian community admitted that he shudders whenever he reads that passage where the Devil using the derogatory term tho to our blessed Saviour’. They still retained it in the hope with time it will be weakened and diminished by the ‘mighty power of simplicity and truth’ of the Bible. But after much controversy and ill feeling the church missionaries back tracked and gave into Sinhalese Christians like James Alwis and John Pereira, and a new acceptable version of the Bible appeared in the 1860’s.

The Missionary preachers faced an uphill battle from the outset. Their countenance was problematic. Their unfriendly attitude of superiority, appearance and even personal aloofness were very much unfamiliar to the villager. Most Buddhist villagers therefore refused to attend. The preachers felt it and they complained to the Missions that that they are often taunted, cajoled and met with contempt, opprobrium and laughter. The villagers at times ridiculed the missionaries in demanding payment for attendance or arrack to sit till the end, in the knowledge that Europeans levied heavy taxes on arrack and had a penchant for liquor.

The arrival of the Print word

Religious controversy, proselytization debate and preaching received a boost with the introduction of the printing press. The Dutch firstly established a printing press in 1736 and the Wesleyans under a trained printer Mr. Harvard revived the printing press. They were followed by the Christian Church Mission and Baptists few years later. The Sinhalese Tract Society was organized under John Murdoch in 1849. The missionaries used the press to instruct the Christian believer and furthermore to convert the nominal believer into a devout disciple and in so doing, ‘save the deluded heathen from idolatrous superstition’ of the local faith, seen by the Europeans as ‘a massive evil structure’.

Gogerly, the manager of the Wesleyan Press was convinced that ‘it is by the press that our principal attacks must be made upon this wretched system’. The missionary tracts and pamphlets had an extensive circulation, helped by the fascination of Buddhists to read the printed word. This same development was to assist the Buddhists to counter the Christian effort and retaliate, but with the added benefit of scholarly dialogue and debate for which they were superior to the foreigner. Ultimately it played a major role in the revival of Buddhism and nationalism in the country.

The activities of the missionaries were not taken as a serious matter by the many. The Buddhists in the low country were interested in halting the decline of their religion than competing with the missionaries. Tennent wrote that ‘Active hostility was scarcely visible’ except the enthusiasm to propagate their own religion by erecting ‘banamaduwa’s and holding pinkam’. In fact the low country Sinhalese were quite comfortable with both Buddhism and Christianity having lived through the foreigner and their different faiths for centuries. It was not uncommon for the Sinhala Christians to be tutored by Buddhist monks for whom they showed the greatest respect. In fact many Sinhalese were willing to get their children baptised, with ‘no regard to their worthiness’ as Christians for legalities and secular advancement and also in the hope they become closet Buddhists. The clergy also did not mind fake baptisms in order to bolster the statistics to enhance the incomes to their missions.

(To be continued)

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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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