Bhava Tharanaya - reviewed after 37 years
Bhava Tharanaya was the final novel written by Martin Wickramasinghe
and published in 1975 (approximately one year before his death). In
Bhava Tharanaya, Wickramasinghe depicts the life of Prince Siddhartha
predominantly from birth to the Enlightenment. Martin Wickramasinghe
illustrates the young life of the Indian prince in historical, cultural
and pragmatic terms.
The literary genius Martin Wickramasinghe had a profound knowledge in
He wrote profusely on Buddhism. His books on Buddhism such as Budu
Samaya Ha Samaja Darshanaya (Buddhism and Social Philosophy) published
in 1948 , Bana atha Sahityaya (Buddhist Folk Literature) published in
1955, Bhavakarma Vikashaya (Unorthodox Interpretation of Buddhist
Philosophy) 1967 , Bauddha Darshanaya Ha Margaya (Buddhist Philosophy
and the Way)1968, Nivan Muhunuvara Ha Bamunu Dittiya (Face or Nirvana
and Brahmin Dogma) in 1972 Manava Vidyava Ha Bauddha Vignana Vadaya
(Arthropology and Buddhist Ideology) published in 1974 testify the
enormous knowledge that he possessed. Indeed, he was a scholar who had
an analytical mind. His creativity was outstanding.
After publishing, Bhava Tharanaya Martin Wickramasinghe had to face
huge criticism. Many people condemned him stating that Bhava Tharanaya
was an insult to Buddhism.
The journalist and the literary critic Sisira Kumara Manikyarachi
attacked Wickramasinghe with degrading words. Sisira Kumara Manikyarachi
accused Wickramasinghe that he wrote Bhava Tharanaya to humiliate
Buddhism and with a hidden motive to achieve the Lenin Peace Award.
Manikyarachi even used a derogatory term - old Kevattaya (a skeptical
and cunning character in Jathaka Stories) to refer to Martin
Wickramasinghe. Wickramasinghe had to face a public protest.
He was the Salman Rushdie of 1975 (fortunately without a fatwa type
of death penalty he faced defamation. But it was a stressful period for
Wicramasinghe and he was preparing to write another book to disprove all
these accusations, but he could not finish it due to his biological
Although Martin Wickramasinghe’s creativity was highly pronounced in
his final novel Bhava Tharanaya many readers misunderstood it.
Regrettably, even 36 years after the publication of this great novel
still there is no constructive debate on Bhava Tharanaya.
Bhava Tharanaya, primarily narrates the adolescent and young life of
Prince Siddhartha who was born about 563 BC in India. Prince Siddhartha
had extravagant comforts in his life given by his father King
Suddhodana. He belonged to a warrior clan and Prince Siddhartha had
training in combat.
He was an excellent marksman, as well as an outstanding swordsman. He
was a fully-fledged warrior like his father. He enjoyed his lavish life
in three beautiful palaces; surrounded by pretty women and musicians he
had all the earthly pleasures. But he realized the emptiness associated
with it. Prince Siddhartha renounced his wealth, comforts and left his
mundane life in search of spiritual truth.
As Wickramasinghe described in the novel Prince Siddhartha wanted to
explore the society. He secretly visited theaters, marketplaces,
cemeteries, associating common people and exchanging ideas. He met
people from all walks of life. He saw the disparity between the rich and
poor. He saw the injustices of his own society. How people were made to
suffer in the cast system. Prince Siddhartha decided to launch a social
revolution by addressing the spiritual dimension.
The novel Bhava Tharanaya shows the emotional conflict that Prince
Siddhartha encountered in the verge of renunciation. He had all the
luxuries without any emotional soreness. The material wealth was
He had a loving wife Princess Yasodara. However, existential
emptiness affected him deeply. By seeing a weak old man, a sick man, and
then a corpse, he realized the unavoidable realities of life.
He wanted to find the answers to human suffering. Prince Siddhartha
decided to leave the palace, his wife Princess Yasodara , and the newly
born son Rahula in search of universal truth.
In Bhava Tharanaya, the character of Prince Siddhartha was depicted
as a human rather than a demigod. This was something unusual compared to
traditional literary work on Buddha and his life. Most of these books
exaggerated the human qualities of the Lord Buddha and showed him as a
person with superpowers.
Wherever Buddha walked, the flowers emerged from the ground. He was
always surrounded by gods and the Brahma. But Bhava Tharanaya did not
have these descriptions. It was based on realism. For some people it was
a blasphemy and in their shortsighted view, Bhava Tharanayawas was an
The Lord Buddha mentioned that he was a human and not an omnipotent
god or a savior. In spiritual terms, the Buddha was a man who had
achieved a supreme position yet he was a human being.
After attaining, the Enlightenment Buddha went to Isipathana to meet
the five hermits who helped him when he was searching for the truth. On
his way, he met a loner named Upaka. Upaka did not see any extraordinary
features in Buddha except his calm attitude.
This shows that the Buddha was more human. Similarly, when King
Pukkusathi accidentally met Buddha in a stable the king could not
recognize the Buddha. He recognized Buddha after having a brainstorming
philosophical discussion with him.
To make realize the phenomenon of aging and impermanence, in his old
age the Buddha tells Ven Ananda that his body is now like an old cart,
that is feeble and breakable. These examples clearly show us the human
part of the Buddha. He was not an extraordinary god like character that
was often described in popular Buddhist literature. What Buddha always
emphasized was not his physical qualities but the depth of his
Martin Wickramasinghe ’s attempt was to show the inner spiritual
incongruity of a young Prince who was trapped between two goals. If he
stayed, he could have been an Emperor, if he renounced the earthly
pleasures he could reach his spiritual objective.
The young Prince was shifting between these two goals and his father
and other relatives took maximum effort to keep him in the palace.
Prince Siddhartha realized the emptiness of the worldly pleasures and he
made up his mind to renounce his wealth and glory. He left the palace
and searched the spiritual truth for six years. Finally, he found the
universal truth. Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment.
In Bahva Tharanaya novel, Martin Wickramasinghe wanted to show the
spiritual journey of a young prince who had wisdom to see and analyze
the world, its impermanence and suffering. However, Wickramasinghe ’s s
efforts were lost. The novel was not given its due recognition. Even
after 37 years, Bahva Tharanaya remains the least discussed novel of