In a Goiya's Looking Glass--Part II

By Manik Sandrasagra

The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 17, 1 January 1992

Life in the village


We have survived as clans because we can remember what we were. Now, we can read all the signs around us by remembering the past. Nothing is new. ‘Suba Sha Yasa', Milinda Prashna', ‘Ummagga Jataka' etc. are our folk stories — all this makes us wise. Nobody really fools us—we just pretend to be stupid. This is very safe in a society ruled by a dominant mentality. The boy who thinks, usually ends up on tyres.


Fear and paranoia results from feeling threatened. An ant called the ‘Binkunda' teaches us this important lesson. It dances when threatened. We therefore respect the right of every living being to seek happiness. Our culture does not make us compete; we cooperate instead for common ends. The water, the land, the air....the elements we don't own. We therefore collectively plan all activity that affects one another. The only goal we aspire to is balance — this brings the rain in time. When this balance is lost, we become denatured and our darker side manifests. The Deva-Asuna war is in our thoughts and our actions externalizes this war. Fear and Paranoia is a disease that affects all those who hold on to anything. In a culture where nothing is owned, there is nothing to fear.

Fools have now arisen who react to the illusions around them. The demons and fears are in their own minds. Their urge to destroy themselves with their insecurity makes them take others with them. A shared vision of desire. The desire to rule, to dominate, to control, to make a lasting impression, to create history.


Kolāmunuoya runs from Nathagane Pattini Devale to Karawita (sea). There were several ‘gamas' and ‘wewas' along this Oya. This was at a time when Gamanis ruled our ‘gamas'. It was Pandukabhaya who first destroyed the tank system by building the mighty Pandawewa. Big tanks require a bureaucracy. Were big tanks went the Kingdom's power extended. In the small tank country our village was our world and the spirit that dwelt in our devale was both our God and King.

Kingship, as an institution became a process whereby kings expand their control through water. Finally, with democracy, irrigation and roads came to the village and we lost control over everything. Very often the road went right through our tank.


Sri Lanka's agrarian culture was not based on the Feudal patterns that existed in Europe. This interpretation was given to us by our foreign trained historians, sociologists and politicians. Our culture was based on Rajakariya not feudalism. To understand how this worked, one must first know what is ‘yuthu-kama' —duty. This was our contribution in keeping the balance. Our duty was not to a man — but to principle. It was principle that ruled not individuals.

In keeping nature's balance, we knew what our responsibilities were. These responsibilities we consider a sacred duty. This duty was looked upon as a service to the community. There was no bureaucracy to order anyone —everybody collectively attended to functions they were best suited for. Agriculture was the best example — where all participated together for the common good. This was common sense. Social Scientists cannot understand this ‘Mahasammata' (common consensus). They call it feudal based on the European experience that they have been taught.


The book-trained rarely understand caste. For centuries, people have lived certain lifestyles. This is genetic information or ‘Buddha Bhoga'. People are best doing what they like and understand. Every village had a distinct cultural pattern inside it. No two villages, are alike. In my mother's ‘paramparawa' there is a ‘Denapideni' custom, coming they say from Kuveni. In my father's ‘paramparawa', there is something else. But my father and mother have the same ‘ge' name, are from the same caste and come from adjoining villages As much as a tree is indigenous, to its environment, people are also indigenous to different environments. Village names arose from ‘Rasa' — taste and, ‘Guna' — quality My village is Thimbiri-yawewa, named after a Thimbiri Tree and a Wewa. This tree can live in and out of water. It is also a tasty wild fruit around which children gather. Similarly, every caste had its own secrets in maintaining the quality or ‘guna' of the tribe. It is this know ledge that made them distinct. This ‘guna dharma' ruled each group. Although this ‘dharma' is now considered old fashioned primordial urges don't change. They surface in other ways.


The sun was our God King — called ‘Sooryadivyarajah'; The Moon was our God King — called ‘Chandradivyarajah'; the Earth was our Virgin Mother called ‘Polo mahikanthava'. This was our religion. When the Sun and Moon united, we called it ‘Palaviya', the night when there is no moon. We learned that out of darkness life begins in order to die. Life contained infinite possibilities with the cycle repeating itself endlessly with no beginning and no end. This is ‘samsara'. The life cycle was understood by all with the Sun and the Moon as our teachers. Because there was nothing to worry, all were happy. It was into such a society that the city introduced Roads, Education, Churches, Business and Politics. Soon our simple ‘gama pola' (village fair) had to compete with a ‘mahapola' (great fair) and then with a ‘jathika pola' (national fair). Naturally, our ‘gama pola' lost out in this game.


Who defines poverty? Contentment can be found in a mud hut and misery in the palace. The family is the first unit. This is where our culture begins. For centuries we protected our children. Now those who came from broken homes, who had seen nothing but discontent, came to us as our saviours.... these agents of change were the real ‘terrorists in our midst'. Poverty follows roads and new settlements. In traditional villages we consider ourselves rich, in fact we call the city ‘Geri Wala' — the pit in which cattle are slaughtered. In the village we revere our cattle as our teachers. It was they who taught us about clay and mud. Every village lost its identity and individuality with its unique cultural pattern and became part of a nation when trade, commerce and money became the new Gods. Fertilizer, insecticide, tractors, miracle seeds; all this was a part of what the city called ‘Rural Development'. A speed oriented urban mentality fast replaced our tranquil way of life. The simplicity of needs was replaced by unending acquisition and desire... what then is poverty?


We only knew what Kingship was. The individual associated with Kingship was of no consequence. The stability and goodness of a regime was determined by the rain coming in season bringing prosperity and peace. When there is conflict, division and drought, the people believed that the King was at fault. A rebellion followed since the King was unacceptable, and anarchy was the result. In order to survive, the King looks towards a division in the public mind and he tries to benefit from it. These attempts are recorded in history by scribes who live off the system. If the scribe is partial to the King, he becomes a hero and if he opposes the King, he is sent to jail. It is the same story always. We come to know of Kings only when they are mass murderers. Ashoka is the best example of this syndrome.


Lanka Guardian

In 1988 a poster appeared in Kataragama. It said that every secret will be revealed. This is what's happening now. ‘Hora' (deceit), ‘Boru' (lies) and ‘Māyan' (illusion) will all be exposed. We are in the middle of ‘Dharma' War'. Everybody and everything is under scrutiny. Nobody is exempt. This is the best era for Sri Lanka — a golden era in fact, when people everywhere begin to understand how change comes by itself with the season. Till city people see the hand of nature in all what's happening around them, the) will attribute blame to various people. How can we blame individuals? It is conditions, the system and ‘irthu' (season) for all this to happen. Everything that happens happens right.


All written history is a story of conflict and war. Conflict appears in all cultures in between long periods of peace. Peace is hardly recorded in history.

It is always a story of wars, of kings and of the building of monuments. This is what is taught to our children—conflict. Even today what we read in the mass media is the story of conflict where slander is the main weapon. Sustainability of cultures is based on practice, not on words. Without practice, theory is useless. Culture is forgotten and conflict emphasized and this nurtured and cultivated in the city. Unable to understand the truth we are being further taken into further chaos and division by ‘poth karayas'.

Manik Sandrasagra is founder of The Cultural Survival Trust and The Living Heritage Trust.

© The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 17, 1 January 1992

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Edward Goldsmith interviews Farmer Tennekoon