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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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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security



The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!



Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community



by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”


The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.


An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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