Reflections on ‘microchip of our civilization’
A few days ago I wrote about Lionel Ranwala, the indefatigable
archivist and exponent of traditional Sinhala music. A line at the end
of the article prompted a response. Here’s the line: ‘Our ancestors live
in us in some form or another, as remnant and life-thread. It awakens us
to who we are and therefore inspire us to become who we want to be.’
Here’s the response:
Ariyaseela Wickramanyake used to say that we all carry in each of us
a microchip of our entire civilization, which could be tapped. The idea
is that we as a nation could repeat our greatness over and over. That is
the only explanation for our spectacular victory at the last war which
propped up from nowhere. So we cannot be just written off.
The email was sent by Gamini Gunawardena, Sanskrit scholar, retired
DIG, father-figure, friend and occasional contributor of comments to
newspapers. Too ‘occasional’ I might add. The above contention, though,
could well be articulated by any patriot in any country, especially
those that have survived all manner of invasions.
Ruwanwelisaya, part of our ancient civilization. File photo
There are nations that survived and those that did not and we could
surmise that the former could perhaps attribute their survival to the
presence of civilizational microchips in heartbeat and sinew, folk gaze
and folk archive.
We ourselves suffered for 500 years under the jackboot of
colonialism. Those who invaded us were armed with guns and moral licence
issued by the Vatican in the form of Papal Bulls. That’s a history that
ought to be but is not taught in our schools. Certain things are swept
under the carpet in the name of ‘inter-religious amity’ but those who
make such decisions fail to realize that censorship and half-truths
amount to mis-education and in the end do a huge disservice to the
faiths themselves. Catholicism ought to be embraced by the convinced not
out of ignorance but out of a clear understanding of the history of the
Catholic Church and that this is not the fault of Jesus Christ.
Yes, we came out of all that. Today we don’t have to contend with
Papal Bulls but this does not mean that the core of who we are is not
under threat by those forces that would obliterate our culture in order
to facilitate all manner of takeovers. This is why Gamini Gunawardena’s
email reminded me of something that a batch mate of mine from Peradeniya
Campus told me a few days ago.
We are too old to give anyone blank cheques, especially politicians.
We are mature enough not to get emotional about things political. We
were talking about politics in general and Mahinda Rajapaksa in
‘There is something about him that makes me feel that deep down
Mahinda understands what this country is about. He doesn’t talk about it
much. It’s there as a frill in his rhetoric and policy statements, but
the core of who he comes out unannounced, in unpredictable ways, in the
little observations he makes.’
He rattled off three examples. On one occasion, the President had
said divyaloketa giyath maubima amathaka karanna epaa (even if you go to
heaven, never forget your Motherland).
On another, he had said, nivaaduwata yanna anuradhapurayata; gihin
balanna mirisawetiya ruwanweliseya, balala avith iskole eva gena
igenaganna (go to Anuradhapura during the holidays, visit Ruwanweliseya
and Mirisawetiya, come back and learn about them in school). There was a
third that he mentioned: nivaaduwata yanna gamata, gihin aththa
aththamma balanna (go to your ancestral village during the holidays; see
how your grandparents are doing).
These are things anyone can say but these are not things our leaders
have said very often and certainly not in ways that make us believe the
words were heart-born and not rhetorical devices. Politicians come and
go. Some turn into Statesmen, some do not.
They are admired for certain achievements and despised for their
failures. Time does not move in predicted ways. Today’s victory is often
followed by tomorrow’s debilitating defeat. It is prudent therefore to
remember always that the most important thing is to preserve the
integrity of civilizational cores, the foundation of who we are as a
If our ‘entire civilization’ has a microchip and this contains
archaeological artifact, it must include the Ruwanweliseya, the
Abayagiriya Complex, Sigiriya, the magnificent irrigation system, the
Kala Vewa, the Yoda Ela, the Galvihara Complex, etc.
It must contain grandmothers and grandfathers, the relay of value and
narrative from generation to generation.
Dutugemunu- Elara war
It must contain an umbilical tie to Motherland, to earth and
creature, plant and flower, tree-line and wave-remnant.
It must contain the Dutugemunu-Elara post-war moment of humanity as
clearly as the principle of equality that Elara affirmed at the cost of
a son in that tradition-defying historiography where winner loser was
not painted as brute.
And it must contain the story of Velivita Sri Saranankara Sangharaja
Thera who did not counter Bull with Bull or bullishness with like
bullishness, but simply walked a path of timeless worth prescribed by
our Budun Wahanse, Siddhartha Gauthama.
I don’t know how Mahinda Rajapaksa will be remembered by history.
What is important to remember though is what he does not want us to
forget for these are things that will outlast him, his government and
the memory of achievement and failure.