There is a magical house in Thalawathugoda. Which is surrounded by a garden. Adjoining which is a paddy field. In the garden there is a tree. Around it is a paddock. Which is penned in by a wooden fence. When you wake up in this house, in the guest room, you see, with sunlight streaming in through lace curtains, animals grazing around that tree. If you were brought up in a village, you might think they were cattle. Through the curtain covering the closed window, they can appear like a herd of bovines. But they are equines – horses, and if your hostess knew you had been making bovine comparisons, she will be mortally offended. “Keeping an equine is not like keeping a cow. It’s not like keeping a dog. It’s a completely different science.” says Ineke Pitts, owner of the horses whose grazing would grace your waking if you spend the night in her guestroom.
Ineke owns five thoroughbred racing horses and four ponies. She is an unusual hands-on owner who washes, grooms, saddles, doctors and rides her horses. No horse, hers or another’s, has yet broken any of her bones, only her heart. Horses have broken that many times, by dying and those scars she bears silently, so like a woman, so unlike a man, who’d dine out on the smallest horse related injury. Seated in her gracious verandah, looking at her sundrenched paddock, I ask her to describe the recent tragedy at the Premadasa riding school where six horses died painfully on a single day, as their horrified caregivers looked on helplessly. Ineke goes all British on me and refuses to discuss other people’s horses. As …read more »
Demonizing Sudharshan Seneviratne- A Narrative on Inclusivity, Coexistence, Shared culture and Demonization
Published in Ceylon Today on 28 January 2016. Read it on the e-page 7 continued on e-page 10 or web-page.
Sudharshan Seneviratne is on the stage. He looks so very dashing standing there behind the podium, a hand thrust insouciantly into a pocket holding his scarlet Don’s robe open. It’s 28 November 2013 and he is delivering the Sujatha Jayawardene Oration to the University of Colombo Alumni Association. He is taking the audience through a heritage odyssey, a visual narration of the multi-faceted personality of our island civilization. He starts with the names Sri Lanka was known by during the ancient period. Despite being spellbound, I notice that he omits a certain conspicuous name from the list. According to him the island was known in antiquity as Tambapanni, Taprobane, Serendib, Ceilo, Ceylon and finally as Sri Lanka, the ‘Resplendent Island’. Borne along the heady current of his narrative, I wonder fleetingly about the omission. Afterwards, making my way to the refreshment area, hoping to catch a few words with my favourite archaeologist, I notice in the audience Bandu De Silva, former diplomat and severe critic of Sudharshan. I decide to ignore him.
The next day, Bandu De Silva sends me an email: “What did you think of the Lecture? I thought like others he does not want to highlight the Sinhalese contribution. That is not placing things in ‘specific context’”. Bandu is being petty, I think. Is it reasonable to expect a man who famously believes in redefining heritage for conflict resolution, to ‘highlight the Sinhalese contribution’? Besides as the invitation to the Oration had promised, it was supposed to focus on Sri Lanka’s inclusive history as an island society. All the same the missing name, which amounts to a factual omission bothers me. So I …read more »
In November 2010 I wrote an article with the sensational heading; ‘Why did Dr. Jehan Perera lie to Dr. Michael Roberts – A Sri Lankan horror story’. It sought to straighten the kinks imposed on the historical record by Dr. Jehan Perera’s vested interest. One year later a historian named Sinharaja Tammita Delgoda; B.A Hons (Wales), M.A Medieval Studies (York), Ph. D History (Kings, College, London), sent me an email. He congratulated me on my historical awareness and urged me to concentrate it into a book or at least a regular column in a newspaper. I thought he made writing a book sound so easy.
“He wrote a book on Indian history while still a PhD student and it became a best seller!” remarked the expatriate historian whom I tapped for information about my sudden well-wisher. Sinharaja’s first book, A traveler’s history of India (UK, USA 1994), is now in its fifth worldwide edition and has been translated into Russian and Chinese. On its back cover blurb, the book promises to cover the whole scope of India’s past and present history, allowing the traveler to make sense of India in ways that go beyond a mere guide book.
From 1997 to 1998, Sinharaja was a visiting lecturer at the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology, teaching a course on art, culture and architecture to members of the public. The course attracted a distinguished bunch of students including, Shehara De Silva, corporate queen, Chloe de Soysa, a granddaughter of Sir James Peiris, Kapila Ariyananda, gifted artist and Ninel Fernando, designer. They helped him when Sinharaja decided to curate and sponsor an exhibition of paintings by Stanley Kirinde, contemporary …read more »
Dear Visitors to this site
Seeing that the last post uploaded was on November 2014 may give you the wrong idea. That I am dormant. Far from it. Simply did not have time to upload. Here are links to what has been happening after. I will be uploading all this to this site soon.
“Excavating Sri Lankan Archaeology with Raj Somadeva (Part 3)” – The Nation, Sunday 23 November 2014.
Matale Mass Grave: Skeletons In Closets As Well?
– Investigative feature on the Matale Mass grave investigations, The Nation andColombo Telegraph, Sunday 21 December 2014
Identities, scholarship, politics of knowledge (Interview with Professor K.N.O Dharmadasa in 3 parts)
“Revisiting the sins of Leslie Gunawardana with KNO Dharmadasa (Part 1)” –The Nation, Sunday 15 February 2015.
“Revisiting the sins of Leslie Gunawardana (Part 2)” – The Nation, Sunday 8 March 2015.
“Revisiting the sins of Leslie Gunawardana (Part 3)” – The Nation, Sunday 22 March 2015
Tranquillity after the War
– The Nation, Sunday, 26 April 2015.
TCG Gediz. Arrive, Capture Hearts and Depart. Mission Accomplished.
– Visit of the Turkish warship TCG Gediz, The Nation, Sunday, 10 May 2015.
Prof. Raj Somadeva says “I had no intention of resolving any conflict at Kuragala
– Interview, The Nation, Sunday, 7 June 2015.
Sri Lanka and Eye-level Diplomacy. Straight lefts from the Turkish Ambassador
– Interview with the Turkish Ambassador, The Nation, Sunday, 14 June 2015.
State Terror In Sri Lanka: Why Did The Future President Go To A Coconut Estate?read more »
Published in my Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 21 December 2014
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
The Matale mass grave has had its 15 minutes of fame. From the time when it was first uncovered in November 2012, throughout the judicial inquiry by the Matale Magistrate and right up to the appointment of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the media fluttered around it moth like. Recently the mass grave got a definitive date. The news failed to grip.
The only news site to report it, adaderana.lk got it wrong. They reported (http://www.adaderana.lk/news/matale-mass-grave-skeletons-belong-to-early-1950s) on 18 November 2014 that the Police informed the Matale Magistrate’s Court that day that the skeletons of the mass grave belong to the early 1950s. In reality the early 1950s don’t come into the picture at all. I reproduce the report below;
“Report on Radiocarbon Analysis of Samples, Matale Case No. B.1810/12, Sri Lanka Douglas H. Ubelaker, PhD Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C. USA October 30, 2014
This report is in reference to samples submitted to Beta Analytic Inc. for radiocarbon analysis. According to the report from Beta Analytic Inc., these samples originate from skeletons number 27, 50, 81 and 136. For all samples, values of PMC are less than 100 and values of fraction modern are less than 1.0. These values indicate that the samples were formed prior to the modern period (defined as post AD 1950 with the entrance of excess radiocarbon in the atmosphere due to thermonuclear weapons testing). Details of the analysis procedures and specific results are cited in the report by Beta Analytic Inc..”
Pre 1950 mass graves?
The problem with this date is that the forensic evidence on the skeletons; signs of being nailed, buried without clothes, noosed and chained, of decapitation, …read more »
Darshanie Ratnawalli, … being the third part of an interview with Professor Raj Somadeva published in The Nation (print edition here) on Sunday, 23 November 2014
The last part of the interview of Professor Raj Somadeva with Darshanie Ratnawalli continued from last week.
DR: To which period do you assign your ‘yaksha’ inscription?
RS: Frequently we used to ascribe the inscriptions written in early form (angular style) of the Brahmi letters found in Sri Lanka to 250 BCE which is contemporaneous with the reign of Emperor Ashoka in India. In that conventional sense, our present inscription could also be ascribed to that date. But the thinking on the antiquity of the Brahmi script has now been gradually changing. I would like to quote a very particular case in this regard. Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, as you know, a well-known archaeologist in the country has unearthed a potsherd with an early form of Brahmi letters engraved on it found in an excavation carried out in the Mahapali refectory in Anuradhapura. The letters written reads as ‘ tayakute’ of which the meaning is uncertain. The soil layer where this particular potsherd was found has been radiometrically dated to a period between 600 and 500 BCE. This finding is stunning. It has provided an empirical framework to the early use of Brahmi script not only in Sri Lanka but also in the greater South Asian region. In 1970s, Professor Paranavitana has also concurred with the dating of the use of Brahmi letters before Ashoka. Anyway I suppose we need further research on this subject within a positive line of thinking.…read more »
Darshanie Ratnawalli, … being the second part of an interview with Professor Raj Somadeva published in The Nation (print edition here) on Sunday, 16th November 2014
Professor Raj Somadeva, PhD (Uppsala), Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology, Sri Lanka spoke to Darshanie Ratnawalli on a variety of topics, assiduously tackling all questions both verbally and in a 2400 word answer script, and modestly dismissing all thanks, citing his obligation to answer to the public. Here are excerpts from the interview continuing from last week.
DR: You believe in giving weight to the internal dynamic when interpreting findings?
RS: Yes. We separated from the Indian mainland 7000 years ago. We developed as an island. The main characteristic of an island civilization is the insularity. We got capabilities of developing some things on our own. We had a series of external influences, but the internal dynamic was the most crucial factor in shaping our culture. During the last 100 years, the main theoretical perspective to dominate our historiography, inspired by our first generation of historians and archaeologists was diffusionism. Everything diffuses from the powerful place to here. This is an old fashioned way of thinking. Every people has the capacity to develop their own things. As an archaeologist by profession, I believe that it is more important to look at our ‘internal dynamic’ than try to find conquering external connections. It does not mean that the external influences should be ignored.
DR: But the island didn’t develop Prakrit on its own…
RS: This happened due to the Indian oceanic trade in the first millennium BC. If it hadn’t we would have developed our own language. That’s the historical reality.
DR: But because it happened we got a Middle Indo Aryan language and the associated mythology. The …read more »
First part of the interview with Professor Raj Somadeva published in The Nation (print edition here) on Sunday, 09 November 2014
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
Raj Somadeva, one of the top Sri Lankan archaeologists, has drawn attention to his work in recent times with two interesting claims viz: discovery of a yaksha inscription and the existence of Buddhism in the island complete with a cave dwelling monastic sangha prior to the 3rd century BC. He spoke to Darshanie Ratnawalli on these claims as well as the ideological debates within the discipline. The following are excerpts of the interview.
DR: Dr. Susantha Goonathilaka, the president of Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka alleges that you call every settlement complex a ‘civilization’ indiscriminately when cities and/or evidence of writing are necessary for a culture to be called a civilization. How do you define a ‘civilization’?
RS: First I want to say that I am confident about what I am saying and also academically and professionally qualified to say so. Civilization is a particular state of development achieved by humans. It is mainly characterized by an ‘urban way of life’. This is a highly relative notion. My stand on what is civilization appeared in my book titled ‘Urban Origins in Southern Sri Lanka’. It was published in 2006 by the UppsalaUniversity in Sweden in their series of Global Archaeology. Presence of a writing system and cities are not the valid characteristics for identifying the emergence of civilization any more. This ‘bundle of criteria’ of pre-modern urbanism was first explained by Gordon Child in his seminal article on ‘Urban Revolution’ published in the 1940s. Now this list of criteria has been discredited as a non-representative ‘laundry list’ which is not adequate to explain pre-modern urbanism. You have ancient civilizations that had no writing system. For …read more »
Published in my Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 12 October 2014
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
If you told me that Buddhism causes dilemmas to rulers who are required by tradition to uphold social norms that enshrine killing such as war, hunting, judicial homicide and honour killing, I will snigger. As I snigger, I’ll be thinking of the earliest Buddhist societies such as the Vajjis[i] and the earliest Buddhist royal disciples such as Pasenadi Kosala. The theory of a social dilemma causing Buddhism is outlined in “Betraying Buddhism and Undermining Sri Lanka”, an article by Tisaranee Gunasekara in Colombo Telegraph. She says; “According to the Buddha’s teaching the killing of any living being is a sin and those who commit such deeds have to suffer the consequences in this and subsequent births. The dilemma caused by this belief system to the Lankan kings is easy to imagine. They needed armies to protect their thrones and/or to extend their politico-geographical holdings. But if true Buddhism took root in the island, finding soldiers to fight their wars may have become next-to-impossible.”
The last sentence contains a clear surmise that wherever true Buddhism takes root, society will become dysfunctional. The people will tie themselves into knots over the first precept and stop behaving normally. Apparently, when true Buddhism takes root, the first precept grows like a weed crushing out all other norms until society breaks down.
As I sat contemplating this strange belief of Ms Gunasekara, it occurred to me that perhaps, she or the ideology she represents may be confusing Buddhism with Jainism. There is a very telling statement of hers which strongly suggests confusion; “Given this crystal clear and unequivocal stance, Buddhism was (and continues to be) betrayed not by …read more »
Published in my Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 21 September 2014
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
Buddhist war studies, those that investigate the compatibility of Buddhism and war, have an awful potential for sanctimony. With the best intentions in the world, I don’t see how they can avoid it. I used to think that “How can Buddhists go to war” was on par with “How can Buddhists commit adultery?” But then I saw the fatal flaw in the analogy. Buddhism condemns adultery unconditionally, considering its proliferation among the laity as a symptom of decay in the religion. The Maha Kanha Jataka[i] (No 469-Full text) describes a time when the religion established by the Buddha Kassapa had fallen into decay. One symptom of the rot is men who “go after others’ wives, of teacher, or of friend, Sister of father, uncle’s wife.” In contrast, the Buddhist conception of Utopia (Cakkavatti-Sihanada Sutta, p395-405, The Long Discourses of the Buddha[ii] – full text) imagines the King still with the full complement of the Army and blessed with heroic sons who are conquerors of the hostile army. The King “dwells having conquered this sea-girt land without stick or sword, by the law”. The method of “conquering by law” is to go to that particular region with the fourfold Army and take up residence there with the fourfold Army. Then those who oppose the King in that region come and say: “Come, Your Majesty, welcome! We are yours, Your Majesty. Rule us, Your Majesty.” And the King says: “Do not take life. Do not take what is not given. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not tell lies. Do not drink strong drink. Be moderate in eating.” And all the people of the …read more »