In a Goiya's Looking Glass--Part III

By Manik Sandrasagra

The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 18, 15 January 1992

Village ambalama or traditional assembly hall

Do we barter our environment for the greed of a few or do we plan for our real needs? This question must be settled first. Foreign aid agencies influencing our people in choosing what's best is interference in our internal affairs. This ‘NIC versus ‘ESD' question is of utmost importance to all those who live in Lanka. Before any decision is made by a centralised government on what we do with our motherland, it must be a subject of an open debate. This problem is more important than as to what system of government prevails.


The industrialised world must protect the South Asia from industrialization. It is in her interests to keep her ‘green'. If South Asia were to follow the West, by the time the West wakes up, South Asia would have turned half the planet into one giant slum. Let's keep industry in the developed nations. They are used to that way of life. Let South Asia retain its culture as an agrarian base. There is also money in this. We know that we are custodians not owners of the elements. How then can we pollute this region with politics, world trade and labour unions replacing a priesthood of farmers who venerated the land as a mother?


First the people must be told the truth. No one person should hold the reins with divide and rule as a principle. Individuals must disappear and consensus must rule. Only if the Sinhalese speak with one voice can we start a dialogue with the Tamils. If we are divided now can we insist that the Tamils be united? Already in every village tradition is getting stronger. People are going to temples and shrines and pleading with the gods for justice. In Jaffna, the people have got used to living without petrol, electricity or kerosene, but they are managing — why because of a cause they believe in. We don't have a cause that unites us, except perhaps capturing Jaffna. After that what? When we have destroyed most of Lanka what will we do with Jaffna? The youth are not stupid—after 44 years if the present is the result, there must be something wrong with the system not with individuals. J.R. tried, Premadasa tried, but they have all failed that is why we have the present problem. How can anyone else succeed unless they understand the problem—the system?

The Future

In 1971, I opposed Wijeyweera's fifth lesson—armed conflict. I said that this was not necessary since the system will destroy itself. This is now happening. The electorate is fast losing its confidence in its leadership. A politician cannot walk on the streets without thugs and policemen guarding him. They are so busy slandering each other so that the whole country knows who the real criminals are. Parliament, the Presidency and the Law are all becoming irrelevant. The media is also suspect since it is also playing the middleman's role and it is a business. Where do we go from here? Anarchy. . . . but anarchy is not all bad, out of it will arise a new mind and a new era, devoid of hypocrisy and lies. Wijeyweera and Prabakaran are only symptoms. Destroying them will not solve the problem.


Traditionally there was no Sinhala—Tamil divide. After the introduction of the ‘Potha'—one in Sinhala, one in Tamil, people started fighting over what was in the ‘Potha'. Even today the fight is over land. Land ownership starts with the Portuguese thombus, Dutch deeds and English law. Land grabbing is the cause of this conflict and lawyers have been the only regular beneficiaries. Instead of boundaries being watersheds and working towards common goals and ideals, we are now fighting over a land that is dying fast. Provincial boundaries were first 5, then 7, then 9. People were first asked to vote for colour, then a symbol and finally for a person. Division was bred and party politics was the method.


To us in the village, there is but one land mass. From Kailasa to Kataragama there was only Jambudweepa. This region was culturally related. For centuries pilgrims walked from North to South and although they spoke a thousand languages they were united by patterns of behaviour. This cultural pattern was destroyed by nations, boundaries and governments coming into being.

Consider the story of Dharmashoka. Dharmashoka killed every small king. He became Emperor of Jambudweepa. Then he became a ‘good man' and started preaching and sending missions abroad. Chanda Ashoka become Dharma Ashoka. This is what is in our history books — but the clever man sees through this story. The ‘Mahawamsa' is a secret text — a labyrinth or a wanka-giri. Fools will fight over it and wise men will laugh over it. It is a story of Kings, bloodlines and Guna Dharma, not just a modern history book.


These are also potha-s. We villagers do not have any potha. Our culture is based on living ‘sirit'. This has existed for centuries. This has been tried and tested hence its sustainability. The present constitution we are arguing about was decided in 17 days, experimented over 13 years and has 16 amendments. Why argue over this ‘potha'? Why don't we realise that this ‘Potha' is based on our ignorance and seek alternatives based on wisdom. What unites us is much greater than that which divides us. Let us first study what we have in common. If lawyers are to decide our future we can rest assured that we will only see division: that is their training.


Bats come to a tree with fruit. If you don't give, you don't get. A king must always be magnanimous. He cannot be bankrupt. He must understand people's love for novelty, for money, for change, for power, in fact for more of everything. These desires naturally lead to slander and competition. Everybody attacks each other. A false purity emerges.

Leaders are mostly merchants. A villager fears the ocean. The wewa is the only ocean we know. Crossing an ocean is not our heritage. Traders, evangelists and reformers belong to another mentality. As long as they kept traveling, we had nothing to fear from them. When they settle down, they don't know how to use and protect the land. They are only used to harvesting and trading, not sowing and protecting.

The King

Lanka Guardian

A King has to be a murderer or how can he rule? In our villages there is an unseen King. He rules from behind a ‘thira' (veil). All ritual functions associated with Kingship was carried out without the need for an individual King. With the rise of a city culture the unseen power was symbolised in the person of a King who played the role. His rule however could never be his personal whim and fancy. He was a servant of the Dharma. It was Dharma that ruled not the King. Every village had its own God-King. He resided by a wewa, in a tree, on a hill, a rock or in a cave. It was for this reason that the British encountered so many puppet kings in 1848. Who was in the palanquin did not matter. It was never the person only the idea.

Nowadays, men want to be like gods. They trust in their own purity and wisdom. Instead of being like a pilgrim the modern ruler tries to be a missionary. He tries to impose his notion of Dharma on everybody. If he is not enlightened naturally there will be war. If he is enlightened, he will have nothing to fear because the Dharma will protect him. That is why there is a story that our king slept with a sword hanging over his heart. If he was just, he slept in peace.


Lampooning was part of our entertainment. ‘Kolam' illustrated this best. Nobody and nothing was sacred. Today's media is a pale imitation. It is ‘pandang karaya's' media. It only leads to false pride and belief in one's self importance. This is dangerous to both the rulers and the ruled. Everything becomes serious. Fun is removed and laughter prohibited. Why can't we laugh at ourselves? We are a culture that ridiculed even the King. This is best seen through ritual where we even use abuse to teach the King humility. What has happened to our sense of fun?

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

© The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 18, 15 January 1992

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Edward Goldsmith interviews Farmer Tennekoon