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Focus on Books

A trilingual book on Pada Yatra

by Prof Sunanda Mahendra

'Vandana' is a Sinhala term that denotes a pilgrimage to sacred places. The ancient pilgrims all over the world had the great tradition of visiting sacred places with a special mission - a leisurely mission in a mediative mood that makes one feel relaxed and healed, especially when the place happens to be of some sanctified status.

In Sri Lanka, the ancients believed that the eight places of worship (Atamasthana), Sri Pada or adam's Peak, Kataragama are chief places that are frequented by pilgrims not merely as a visit, but with a devoted faith healing intention.

One of the main traditions is to pay homage to these places on foot, for the journey itself makes one feel that there are quite a lot more to be observed on the way. The term pada yatra' denotes this in totality.

Though in Sri Lanka the term 'vandana' is used, the Indian counterpart uses the term 'Pada Yatra' to mean many more symbolic idealogies out of which the predominant view is the feeling of commitment or dedication to a cause, which is no means an act of truth or 'Satya Kriya'.

Though the world has changed technologically and otherwise we hear from time to time some commentaries and interpretations on the subject.

'Kataragama foot pilgrimage' is a trilingual book written by Jayantha Samarasinghe on the subject disclosing his accounts of such a pada yatra with a team of others gradually developed as they walked by foot from Jaffna to Kataragama.

Travelogue

I found the accounts laid down in the book by Samarasinghe quite interesting for several reasons. Firstly it is a new trend of writing a travelogue necessary for modern times, for the writer says:

"When I made a special trip to Jaffna and interviewed some, I was told that devotees of God Murugan (God Skanda or God Kataragama) have been journeying by bullock carts and on foot, from Jaffna peninsula, along the Eastern Coast, to Kataragama for many years.

Nowadays, it is done annually in an organised manner by 'Kataragama Devotees Trust' with Patrick Harrigan shouldering the bulk of the work. I was one among many, who completed this arduous journey in 2002. Though I am a Buddhist, I was welcomed by the Jaffna, Mulativu, Vavunia and Kalmumai devotees in a brotherly manner and even today I treat them as my far away relatives."

Secondly for those who are ignorant of the myths and legends revolving round the Kataragama place and the god concerned, the writer Samarasinghe gives the following account;

"In Hinduism God Eswara (Siva) with his abode at Moutn Kailasa in Himalayas is the almighty, the Paramathama, and his wife is Parwathy (Paththini Amma) with sons being Ganesh (Ganapathy) and Murugan (Sakanda). Saraswathy is another avatar of Parawathy. Trishul is the weapon of Siva. Vel is the weapon of Skanda.

Siva appears in two other forms, i.e. Brahma (the Padithal Deivam, the producer creator) and Vishnu (the Kokum Deviam, who takes care of all things) and all three forms are collectively called Trimurthy.

Transformation

Siva gave some powers to the Asura, Sura Padman, who then did evil things, As other gods requested to kill him, Siva emitted fire from his eye, into Saravana Lake in Himalayas and six babies were born. They were transformed into one (Murugan) when Parvathy accepted them.

Murugan fought, Sura Padman at Tiruchendur, killed him and broke him into two, one piece became the Cock Bird in his flag and the other became the Peacock, his vahanam (vehicle).

These details are given in 'Skanda Puranam' written by Kachiappa Sivachariar.

One legend says, Skanda married Valli Amma at Valli Malai, Tamil Nadu, India and another says he met her in Ruhuna jungle in Sri Lanka.

In Hinduism, living beings, upon doing good and accumulating merit, finally reach the highest level, Moksha and no re-birth can happen thereafter.

The Sannyasis (Sadhus etc.) in Ashrams are the custodians and preachers of Dharma. Pusaris are paid employees to conduct Pujas in kovils."

Followed by this account, the reader is told as to the use of some terms such as 'OM' ect.

This short though useful guide book records some of the difficulties and barriers encountered by the team of people who undertook this arduous 'pada yatra'.

In would full of army barriers seatigers and check points, the team had managed to be honest citizens of peace, who have for the most part explained their mission.

Citizens of peace

The guiding motive behind the members is quite clear, for it is the same wick-lamp that gives the light in temples, kovils and mosques. It is the same red blood that flows in all the people of different countries, races and religions.

Thirdly, though the book written by Samarasinghe is short it is full of colourful photographs of such places as Murugan shrine, the famous Nallu Murugan Kovil in Jaffna, Amman Kovil at Ariyalai, Nagadipa Viharaya, Chemmalai beach, Tiriyai, Koneswaram, Seruwila temple, Batticaloa lagoon, the Bodhi tree at panama temple, Vali Amma Kovil, Kataragama, Kiri Vehera, and quite a number of other places of interest especially to a devotee.

This book also can be used as a manual for another person to traverse the same journey. But I felt a certain sense of sadness, for most of those interested in such 'pada yatras' may perhaps not get the opportunity to do so due to pervading constraints. This book is well produced and ought be a good gift to a devotee cum tourist.

I wish the author undertakes many more pada yatras enabling as to read wore about them.


So much glorious poetry still to unlock

Fusillade

Author: Jean Arasanayagam

Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2003 - pp. 118

So many restless periods of questioning and waiting ... Every time I take up a new collection of Jean's poetry, the thought won't be dispelled: "Ah," I think, "a new beginning." Is she the perpetual beginner? I see the impatience in being imprisoned in a previous collection of thought-forms.

Perhaps slight twinges of dissatisfaction too. She always questions herself. Is there also confessional urge - too much solemnity - "no, self-confession is not what I aim for. I have to re-explore the treasure-house of memory."

But - yes, that is a big but - is self-regard itself a subject? Are reminiscences justified by the achievement of their recording. So much good, bad, indifferent ... "can I allow my lines be arranged in the light of my satisfaction or for the satisfaction of others?"

You see, I am trying to tell you of the true, pure artist. Jean is all this and more, because her work is not merely "work of sight" that she achieves but "heart-work". This has been best said by the German Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote, in "Wendung" (1914):

Work of sight is achieved, Now for some heart-work

On all those pictures, those prisoned creatures within you!

"Fusillade" presents us with multitudinous images of an inward experience - as well as the fashioning of a vision of human life and destiny. It is truth, capital-T'd - and where Jean takes apart a world on which she has looked at so intently and so long. In trying to reach into the fire of her creativity, I am not as yet satisfied.

Those explosions of light within the radiance cannot be analysed - not yet; but in her poems appearance and vision come together. In "The House of Your Childhood" a whole inner world is exhibited - a world that over the passing generations, is no longer regarded from today's point of view.

Universality

The thought impinges. Jean's heart does not beat with the general heart. Around her is a monstrous sort of universality and within it she must remain, ineffably individual. She is not depressed, allowing the concerns to surface, but there is no vulgarization of suffering or sacrifice. Instead, we have utterance and release.

Jean Arasanayagam

"Fusillade" is a quest. a seeking. Like the path of some hesitant comet, there is a settling, then a spinning - offerings that are beyond comparsion, in landscapes that are magnificently constructed. Yet, as she says in "My Deities Have No Chariots:"

The pilgrimage is endless
In search of that elusive memory-shrine.
I have still to encounter the saints
Of those traveller tales,
Discover some new deity that will
Spring out from the riven mountain.

I feel that Jean has not as yet come to the realization that, in truth, the mighty wellspring of her poetry lies in the manner in which the saints have, instead, encountered her. It is she who those new deities seek to discover, the mountain that she ever sculpts and remakes.

There is no need for uncertainty or timorousness. No need to ask "Have I even a philosophy to utter?" and to also ask:

Do they want to hear my personal

Vedas, strain their ears to catch a

Whispered mantra that will bind the soul to eternity?

Really no need! Every poem generates its own radiant after-storm. She does not, like Doris Fassman, play chords to "silenced audiences of ghostly listeners" but tells, proclaims, the thoughts of centuries with consummate artistry, and traces the inexhaustible stratifications of human nature; the torn-asunder; the consolations of life; the even greater consolations of death.

It is indeed a marvellous talent to remain in the withering Now and tell of the grinding pressure of years, secret depths, perceiving those torn-open clefts to find continuity of work and mind.

Renovation

This makes many of her poems a "restoration". In "Letters from War Zones Anywhere" we find innermost renovation: Then it is finally here that we must find poetry

It is here that we put our finger on the truth
In scraps of paper torn off from the pages
Of disjointed lives, the spines crushed
Seamed together in the passage
Of disturbed arrival or exodus.

It is a task - an intellectual post-war declamation that allows us to prepare our way - a renovation that allows us to more ahead with a more serene future. But again, I have to ask: Is Jean saving others as well as herself? As Rilke wrote:

Art cannot be helped through our trying to help and specially concerning ourselves, with the distresses of others, but in so far as we bear our own distresses more passionately, give, now and then, a clearer meaning to endurance, and develop for ourselves a means of experiencing the suffering within us and its conquest more precisely and clearly than is possible to those who have to apply their powers to something else.

This is why I have given a particular title to this review. Jean, with passionate awareness of her own distresses, helps us to develop our own reactions.

In reading her, we relate to her dreams and longings, and in so doing, begin to find ourselves. There is so much more she has to do - so much glorious poetry she yet has to unlock.

In my mind memory turns cannibalistic
Gnawing night after night on thought-flesh
In the hunger of my dreams...

Experience

Jean resorts to the symbolic - those external equivalents for inward experience. It is a particular art that she performs with incredible ease. The visible things she tells of are equivalent to the vision within - and they express shades precisely and profoundly; and we then see how we truly exist also become externalities to be internalized, thereby recreated.

Jean finds all existence a "task" to be dismembered and that makes demands upon her. Things become and possess stupendous intensity of those inner equivalents. We see this in "Ex Bello Pax: After War, Peace":

It hung on our verandah wall beside the antlers
Of a hunted stag whose horns impaled
My father's French beret and sergeant-major's cap
Memory preserved by vanquished time.
She transforms the symbols into inner experiences.

Everywhere, appearance and vision comes together in the object; and in all her work we see the exhibition of a whole inner world.

It is this that plunges us into a visionary landscape where the familiar and unfamiliar transcend the distinction between the inner and the outer.

Her reactions to modern-day violence are vividly given in "Detonations". The layers of meaning are so apparent. She tells of a suicide bomber, and the tortured soul speaks:

My body peels off like strips of poster
Clawed off the hurtling globe
I am my own avatar
Of destruction, burning, burning.

Even the special knowledge of portions of the human heritage come to possess a symbolic value.

Human heritage

But we also see vestiges of her personal life and especially the conflict she wages between the claims of "life" and "art". In "It's the Small Life" we have:

It's the small life that stumbles among the
Ruins, goes to market, trips past buckets
And basins brimming with offal...
It's the bystander, the survivor who watches
From the edge of the road the monk's protest...
It's the small lives that warn us
- if we pay heed-
That we are in danger...

The poems remain as columns of monumental life and with that innermost langauge that, as Von Salis once said, "is grasped in the speech-seed."

Spiritually impoverished

Her poem on the Dalada bombing and many that follow those how steadfastly she refuses to be dragged into that spiritually impoverished cul-de-sac that is "clever poetry".

This sad mockery has come to dominate poetic fashion. She remains firmly within the strains of "pure poetry" - lines that flow into the moon-dry sea bed of heritage.

In "The Gun that's Vertical Still" the statue of the unknown soldier still rides his high-stepping horse, his flintlock held vertical, turning his back on history while the historians turn so many pages in their skulls.

She drags on the pain that lies in deep recesses ("Childhood Memory"); thinks with a pang of University hills of sharp=bladed mana - the wild grass that now rustles threateningly ("Remembering Peradeniya"); the stories of old that now turn into the hell-tales of the new ("Chronicles of History").

The Nallur Quartet are four dark-burnished opals... and I still see how she keeps beginning anew; and how she will ever sign and continue to her own immortality. Can her readers mind-house her? This is something they would strive to do and are then impelled to give recognition that such creative force can be exerted again and again.

Certainly, there is so much yet to be unlocked. Jean is not the poet who will allow her thoughts to stay overnight, then slink away. Everything rises, yields fruit. The arrow joins the bowstring. She, the archer, makes of its out-leap something more than itself.

"Fusillade tells me that more purely-proceeding spirits are yet to follow.

- Carl Muller.


A preface to the comparative study of world literature

Vishva Sahithya Vimarshana

Author: Dr. Premachandra Magammana
S. Godage Publishers, Colombo 10.
118 pp Rs. 175

Dr. Premachandra Magammana's Wishwa Sahithya Wimarshana (A study of World Literature) is an attempt to acquaint the Sinhala reader with global literature.

Although it is not an in-depth study, yet it contains material interesting enough to induce the reader to roam to greener pastures in world literature. The author states that one should know the past in order to understand the present and both the past and the present make up the future.

With this objective in mind, the writer starts off seeking the sources of creative literature and society. The book is rather a preface to Greek, English, French, Russian, Italian and Sanskrit literatures. It leads the reader into the vast universe of literature. The author said at the launching ceremony at Godage Bros that he wished to write a separate book in Sinhala on each literature outlined here.

In the opening chapter, "Creative Literature and Society," the writer traces the development of world literature from its formative stages to its present forms. This is enlightening. In the process, he cites a couplet from Sinhala poetry by Mahagamasekera, which zooms the reader to transports of delight:

"Anna balan sanda ran tatiyen sudu
Seeta Gangul galana hada soka tawul niwana."

The aesthetic beauty of this couplet plunges the reader into a trance forgetting about everything else.

Epics

Dealing with Greek literature, the author aptly touches on the epics, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

The Trojan War waged by the Greeks to avenge the dastardly act of Prince Paris eloping with Helen, Queen of Meneleus who hosted Paris is the story behind the Iliad. The Odyssey describes the return journey of Odysseus after victory from Troy to Ithaca.

The writer says at pages 27 and 28 that the Iliad had more literary value than the Odyssey. I do not, however, agree with him as Odyssey seems to be the better work in its artistic framework just as Selalihini Sandesha is better than Hansa Sandesha. Moreover, the Odyssey is full of interesting anecdotes like the charmer, Circe which reminds us Prince Vijaya's encounter with Kuweni.

All the same, the writer skilfully makes a fairly comparative study of Greek drama. Here he subtly evokes the readers' curiosity to get in touch with the tragedians like Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the Comedian, Aristophanes.

Apart from his predominant attention to literature, Magammana would have done well, if he had made a passing comment on the system of education preached by Plato in The Republic as the western civilization is mainly based on Greek culture.

The author's next step is English literature which is the universally acknowledged dowry donated to the world by England. He systematically sets about delving into the history of English poets, dramatists and novelists with brief comments on their outstanding works.

He loyally recounts Ifor Evans' views that there were six centuries of literature in England before Geoffrey Chaueer, the Father of English poetry who became world famous for his Canterbury Tales. Dr. Magammana holds that Beowulf was a myth just like those found in Greek literature and Buddhist Jataka Stories. According to Evelyne White.

Warrior

Beowulf was written down by an unknown scribe 400 years after it had been first sung by minstrels or "skops." "Beowulf is the valorous story of a hero called Beowulf, a nephew of the King of Geats, and an enormously strong man and a great warrior" who killed a terrible monster called Grendel which was an invincible enemy to King Hrothgar, at the great hall of Heoret.

His second adventure was the destruction of Grendel's mother whilst his final fatal encounter with the staying of the fire-breathing dragon put an end to both the dragon and himself. About the langauge of Beowulf, Evelyne White states that "it can only be read by those expert in the reading of the Anglo Saxon or Old English.

The words appear at first sight to be almost foreign, but a close examination reveals words like 'he' and 'to' which are the same today." The other important Anglo Saxon works are "The Seafarer" anon, "Genesis" and "Exodus" by Caedmon and "Dream of the Rood" and "the Phoenix" by Cynewulf. From Chaucer downwards, Magammana expresses his views on writers of high calibre.

The writer methodically explores French literature from its origins in the 11th century with sagas like Chansons de geste.

The mention of this chronicle is only a clue to arouse a desire in the genuine reader to peep into the deep recesses of the Old french epic where (to quote Geoffrey Brereton" how Roland, the impetuous nephew of Charlemagne, was left in command of the Frankish rearguard while the main army passed back northward over the Pyrennese; how through the treachery of his step-father, Ganelon, Roland was overtaken by the Saracen hordes - in history, they were the Christian Basques, how through over-confidence, he refused to blow his marvellous horn, the olifant, which would have brought back Charlemagne to his help before it was too late; and how he fought to the last beside Oliver and Turpin and died only when the enemy were in full retreat...."

Dramatists

Dr. Magammana casts glances in passing at the line of celebrated French poets novelists and dramatists. His attempt titillates the reader.

There are vivid but short prefaces to Russian and Italian literatures dealing with various philosophical and psychological schools of thought.

Sanskrit literature is the last leg of Magammana's work. There are ample details of the world-renowned epics Maha Bharatha with the religious scriptures of Bhagavath Geetha and Ramayana, of other works by great poets like Ashwaghosha and Kalidasa. Influenced by vedic writings, Sanskrit literature is rich with philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Ayurveda, Music, Astrology, Architecture and literary works. Thus magammana's book is a useful guide to the reader.

- S. Arandara.


Focus on traditional fishing methods

Paramparika Dheevara Krama

Author: Bernard Sri Kantha

Author Publication, 86, Duwa, Negombo, 80 p.p. Rs. 120

From time immemorial, the two principal occupations of man is either cultivation or fishing. It began before industrialisation of modern society. Sri Lanka, because of its insular formation geographically is fortunately surrounded by the sea teeming with fish.

Hence its abundance and the very high potential for that source of natural wealth. With tropical fishing grounds, besides lagoons with the multiplicity of various kinds of fish our territorial waters have been the envy of foreign high standard fishermen whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian or even Indian equipped with sophisticated trawlers or even high-powered boats. Exploitation of this natural endowment is a must by any of our governments.

American scientists have remarked that with the expanding population, for finding protein rich food, ocean is a rich bowl of 'soup' in the sense fish as a staple nutritious food would serve that purpose.

With the creative ability of Bernard Sri Kantha, journalist, novelist Easter drama playwright and critic has traversed an arena into which name of our writers have up to date drawn their attention, by bringing out the excellent, thought stirring above book in Sinhala dealing with the traditional methods of fishing mostly on the Western coastal belt stretching from Negombo, Chilaw, Kalpitiya and Puttalam.

Born and bred in 'Duwa', Negombo he is quite competent to delve into this unsurpassed field of writing regarding the traditional methods of fishing.

Business centre

What the Grand Canal to Venice in Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' is equally comparable or true of Duwa lagoon to Negombo as far as the sea beach and coastal environment are concerned. Riatto, the commercial centre in Venice, is reminiscent of Duwa and its neighbouring 'Lellama', the major fish landing business centre.

His reference to the history of Negombo fisherfolk whose ancestry is traced to the advent of "Kaurawa" warriors from the coast of Karikal in South India-Tamil Nadu during the Kotte period and classified into the well-known Sinhala clans of Warnakulasuriya, Kurukulasuriya and Mihindukulasuriya.

According to the 'Mukkara Hatana' they were brought down to fight and repel an invading fierce tribe described as "Kaka Mukkara" also from a coastal region of South India.

However, our early history going further mentions of fishing communities in the down South - who confronted and saved queen Viharamahadevi of historic Kelaniya, the mother of King Dutugemunu, the saviour of Buddhism and Sinhala race when she landed at Kirinda in Tissmaharama.

She got married to the King of Ruhunu-rata, King Kavantissa, father of King Dutugemunu and prince Saddhatissa. Then there is reference to the mighty King Gajabahu bringing in as state prisoners from the Chola country some thousand Indian immigrants and settling them in Aluth-Kuru Korale and Parana-Kuru Korale that comprise Gampaha and Negombo divisions.

Fundamentals

The author describes the varied aspects of traditional fishing from A to Z precisely, lucidly and in simple language, so that even a primary school student can grasp the fundamentals of this thriving industry and trade.

An interesting topic touches on the spirit of folk songs of that robust industrious community. Others deal with their various paraphernalia, types of fishing boat or vessel, varieties of fish including crustaceans, the mouth watering lobsters, crabs, shrimps and prawns and so on. The sections written with the author's finesse is also profusely illustrated with photographs clearly done.

It could be pointed out that the field of researching and writing about the subject of fisheries, methods of fishing and fisherfolk is a rich ground anthropologically, sociologically, environmentally and economically.

The enthusiastic, pioneering author and others as well who wish to follow suit could take to those matters in a more comprehensive manner. Let us expect that they will ponder writing extensively on the habits, patterns of life of them, their religious and customary background, educational and health facilities etc.

Also, on matters like the need for preservation of the environment and potential for development of tourism in and around "Duwa" and other coastal fishing villages.

Dwelling

It is refreshing as the cool, invigorating sea-breeze to watch with glee the sprawling sea-beach plus the golden sun-kissed sand with zincsheet, asbestos roofed tiny houses, others red-tiled houses, concrete storeyed dwellings in Duwa, Negombo, Chilaw, Wennappuwa, Marawila, Kalpitiya, Puttalam etc. not to mention such a spectacle along the Down South coastal belt.

The shallow azure-blue sea lashes incessantly. The verdant coconut trees sway gracefully. The zenith at the horizon greets the gazer. In the evening the red sun is silhouetted against obsolete catamarans or leisurely shedding its golden mellow mixed rays of sunshine shower on tiny boats and modern mechanized boats or trawlers.

The scene of men with wiry bodies and in some instances their equally strong womenfolk, tall, lean or fat with Amazonian physical features are engaged in drawing ashore the large "Madel" nets. It is a pleasure to listen to their rhythmic chanting "Hela Elaiya, Eli Elaiya".

The spectacle is not fully described if no mention is made of "Fish Mudalalis" who are prone to fish in troubled waters like "Shylocks", brokers, middlemen, and traders both wholesale and retail. What a wonderful sight of busy people! Some speak mixed dialect of Sinhala-Tamil.

Literature

Although printed literature on fishing life is not found in our country, it is abundantly found in our neighbouring small South Indian State of Kerala. "Chemmeen" the Malayalee film on fishing life there was adjudged the best film in the '60s. Fortunately it is translated into Sinhala under the title "Koonisso".

Moderately priced and published on glossy printed material with an eye catching printed cover this invaluable book is available with the author at No. 86, Duwa, Negombo.

It is most appropriately dedicated to a worthy son of the soil - W. T. A. Leslie Fernando, former High Court Judge, a learned gentleman with an inherent talent for literary pursuits following in the footsteps of his illustrious father the late Santiago Fernando, 'Santhi Gurunnanse' of Negombo, veteran schoolmaster turned pioneer LSSPer later MEP leader.

The fishing community in the author's area are all invariably Catholics. Hence I would do not justice by them if I do not make reference to their God, Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. References are found in the Holy Bible pertaining to the fishermen - his first disciples Simon, Peter, Andrew etc. etc. and to sea.

- Stanely E. Abeynayake.

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