Hemantha Situge’s Reviews of Two Sinhala Books on Gandhi and Mihindhu

Hemantha Situge One, a review of  Mahatma Gandhi: Lanka Gamanaya saha Sri Lankave Dheshapalanya publd by Sarasavi Prakasakayo recently.

The splendid book entitled: Mahatma Gandhi – Lanka Gamanaya Saha Deshapalanaya [Mahatma Gandhi’s visit of Ceylon and Sri Lankan Politics] written by the well-known writer Sampath Bandara and published by the Sarasavi Prakashakayo to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahathma Gandhi was released recently.

The introduction of this opus states that last November marked the completion of 90 years on Mahathma Gandhi’s visit to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Also the 30th January last year completed the 70th  Death Anniversary of this icon of the yester year.

The reviewer had the opportunity to read and re-read this book and finds two momentous incidents to mark the sixteen days of Gandhiji’s visit which spans from 12-11-1927 to 29-11-1927 requires to be revived our interest and placed of record.

Firstly the fate of the Na (Messua ferrea) tree planted by Mahathma Gandhi hitherto that remains as a protected tree under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance ( Chap 567) N. 2 of 1937 as amended .S.D. Saparamadu in his first Volume entitled: SRILANKA a WILDLIFE INTERLUDE Tisara Publications  2006 found at page 205 has stated that:

” Na Tree at Kotte (Messua ferrea) ….. This tree was declared a protected tree under Section 43 schedule 6 of the Fauna Flora Ordinance in 1990.The notification the description : ” Tree plant at Kotte by Mahatma Gandhi visited Sri Lanka in 1929 and the tree evidently planted during this visit. The department was  not able to give any information as to the location of this tree and whether it is still standing”

‘Mahatma  Gandhi visited Sri Lanka in 1929 ‘ is evidently a lapsus calamai or a lapsus pennae. The house that he lived in  C Arumugam’s mansion named ” The Arc” in Cotta Road Rajagiriya. The tree and the house is no more  which is evidently was demolished and cut-off  and has taken a part of it by the building and the garden of the ” Voet Inn ” Sri Lanka Law College Hostel , 1163B Cotta Road Rajagiriya.

This reviewer could neither trace any references in Mahadev Desai’s With Gandhiji in Ceylon Published by S. Ganeshan 1920  and nor in Gopalakrishna Gandhi(editor) ‘s Gandhi and Sri Lanka 1905-1947 Vishvalekha 2002  . on  the  exact day Gandhi planted this tree at Rajagiriya ” The Arc”.

A political biography entitled :” J R Jayewardane of Sri Lanka 1906-1956 Volume 1, written by K M de Silva and Howard Wriggins at page 63 records an incident that occurred in December 1930  which ‘provides evidence of the rapid progress of Dicky’s [JRJ’s ] politicization.’ Thus:

“In the first of the incident , unveiling of a portrait of Gandhi in the premises of the Law College , Dick was at the centre of the controversy that erupted. Considering that the governing body of the Law College consisted of Supreme Court judges , and most of them British, the decision  to unveil a portrait of the arch-rebel of the raj was provocative; it became doubly so, and a calculated act of defiance, at a time when Gandhi was in jail. The first problem was to raise funds to pay the artist, David Paynter- a highly regarded Eurasian artist resident in the island who had been commissioned to do the portrait of Gandhi in the Law College, this financial support dried up if it did not evaporate altogether. One result of this reneging on promises of support was an acrimonious exchange of letters between the head of a prestigious firm of lawyers – a friend of E.W. and the Jayewardane family and Dick. Eventually it was Dick himself, who made good the financial loss sustained by the refusal of established lawyers to keep their promises of money to pay for the portrait. He had saved a tidy sum of money from his salary as his father’s private secretary and part of this was diverted to this purpose………”

E. W. Perera was a member of the governing body of the Law College and was instrumental in preventing it from banning the unveiling ceremony. Arguing that ” The rebel of today is the martyr of tomorrow,” he pointed out that the law students had not asked for permission to hang the portrait on the wall of the College, but merely had invited them to be present at the ceremony.” The portrait was unveiled by the Chairman of the Ceylon National Congress  Francis de Zoysa K C  The main speaker was C E Corea  and the vote of thanks were delivered by J R Jayewardene himself who had relinquished office as his father’s private secretary.

The opus also states that ‘the portrait itself is an undistinguished piece of work. Gandhi appears there at prayer an ascetic and the overwhelming impression is on of penitence and submission. There is nothing there of other facets of the man’s personality especially his irresistible vitality’.

These incidents bear ample testimony to the fact that the charisma of Mahatma Gandhi has made a remarkable impact on Sri Lankan political arena. Sampath Bandara’s book is a befitting true tribute to this unique Indian leader sui generis.

**************

Hemantha Situge Two: review of PG Punchihewa, Anubudhu Mihindu Mahimi. The Second Buddha, 

The magnum opus of Dr P. G. Punchihewa entitled: Anubudu Mihinu Mahimi –Mihindhu the high priest the second Buddha – in Sinhalese  published by the Sarasavi Publishers was released recently.

Anubudhu Mihidhu Mahahimi  is a much awaited biography on the Arahath Mahinda who were instrumental in introducing Buddhism to our island. The earliest biography written on him  was titled : Mahinda Stavirayange Jeewitha Kathawa -the  life story of the Mahinda  Sthaweera – was written by Mudliyar Arthur Jayawardana of Wellaboda pattu Hikkaduwa printed by S A Z Siriwardane on 20th July 1886 which was a fifty page book where one thousand copies were printed and was prized at 25 cents. ( vide  : at page 30-1 , item no 213 Register of Books Printed in Ceylon March 1885 to March 1892 ) Dr Punchihewa’s biography has emerged after thirteen decades. This reviewer has had the occasion to read and re-read both these biographies ; the  extremely  rare  the first  opus  at  the ” Sumangala Library ” of the Sudarshana Paramanada Bogahagodella  Purana Raja Maha Viharaya  in Galle .Archaeological evidence on the Arahath Mahinda was very scarce almost unknown to the first writer Mudliyar Arthur Jayawardana in 1886. Dr Punchihewa has studied and immersed on the highly venerable personality researching into all historical and archaeological evidence available at his disposal . He has filled the void hitherto existed or carried out a biographical resurrection . Centuries after the demise of the Arahath Mahinda to marshal biographical details about him is clearly  skeletal of nature and undoubtedly a formidable task. We owe Dr Punchihewa  a deep debt of gratitude for undertaking this onerous  task.

Geographically , the mountain range  consists  of  four main hills . They are viz: Ambastala ( Sela Cetiya or the Ambastala dagaba ) – Mihidhu maha Seya – Plateau of the Mango , Rajagiri the Mountain  of the Kings , Atvehera kandha – the mountain of elephant vehera – and Anakutti the Mountain of the Elephant .The Brahmi inscriptions of Mihintale  near Ambastala of fourth century A D ,depicts  in Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol.1 part 1 pages 1-5 Colombo 1970   not only the earliest form of Sinhalese writing but also the earliest record itself. Ven Dr  Walpola Rahula has stated in his ‘Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon’  Gunasena 1953 that ” Buddhagosha  says that Mahinda brought to the island of the Sinhalese for the benefit of the people of the island .  Thus  he made Sinhalese a literary language and inaugurated its literature.” Mihintale was called as Cetiyagiri it is very likely that King Devanampiya tissa named after the place of birth Arahath Mahinda’s   Vidisa as a mark of respect for the maha thero’s mother .

Dr Punchihewa’s book deserves some comments of this reviewer.

At page 24 Dr Puncihewa’s book he  compares with the account of Mahawamsa together with the excavations of Prof Cunningham cited by Prof . Rhys Davis on the missionaries set forth by Moggaliputta tissa Maha thero to propagate Buddhism.

At page 44-45 of the opus Dr Punchihewa refers to the spot which the king stood answering the riddle posed by the sage which  is today enclosed by a railing covered with a slab of stone popularly known as chandrakanthi pashana where  in mythology this type of  stone is formed from moon beams shining on dew drops.

At page 46 Dr Punchihewa quotes Justice Weeramantry which  was accepted by Amerasighe J in his judgement pronounced in Bulankulama Vs Secretary to the Ministry of Industrial Development ( Eppawala Case )  reported in 2000 Sri lanka Law Reports 243 to 321 is now accepted  as our law.

At page 56 of his book Dr Punchihewa states that the Jambukola harbour is where Sanghamitta set foot in the Northern peninsular .Dr De Silva  infra  at page 32 : 2005 , infra at page  25 : 2013 identifies this spot  ‘now known as Tiruvadinilayam [ site of the sacred foot print ]’

Dr Punchihewa also states  that the ship that brought the  first Boa sapling by Sanghamitta bikkhuni  . The mast was kept as a museum object and  exhibited according to our recorded history. ( Geiger : Mahavamsa [1912] -p134)

At page 68 of the book Dr Punchihewa draws our attention on the Rajagala inscription deciphered by Prof.  Paranavitane in 1962 University of Ceylon Review Vol XX at page 160  . Dr Raja de Silva in his ‘ Digging into the Past’ vishvalekha publications  2005 [ translated into Sinhalese by Kingsley Kurukulasooriya  titled : Atheethaya Sevima Sadaha Keneem -Purawidyathmaka Rachana  An author publication 2013 at page 23  ] at page 26  states that : ” Whereas neither Paranavitana nor his successor Godakumbura has mentioned the existence of the dagoba itself ( probably because they do not appear to have inspected the site personally ) , I discovered ,beyond the single line inscription on the right-hand side , the remains of a small dagoba built of rough stones. ”

King Mahadathika Mahanaga of  the 7-19  century Mihintale inscription  found in Inscriptions of Ceylon Volume 2 part 1 at page 26 in  line 13  says that   images or statues of Mahinda ,Bhadrasala , Ithtika and Uthtiya were erected. This palaeographic evidence corroborates the  Arahath Mahinda and the arrival of  his retinue.

The oldest book written on Mihintale in Sinhalese “Sithuyam sahitha Mihintala MahVihara Warnanawa” – the peon of praise on the Mihintale temple – by  Ven .Pudukkulame Dhammalankara published by Tennakoon Muduyanselage Appuhamy upasaka in 1910 at the Maha Bodhi press throws more light on the folklore of the Arahath Mahinda thus Mihindhu lena the cave of Mihindhu , Mihindhu maha seya -the stupa of Mahinda as Ambhastala , mindhu pokuna – the pond of Mihidhu – the Aradhana Gala the rock of invitation  the place  where the first sermon was preached by Arahath Mahinda . According to this book the Mihintala Maha Viharaya  vide pages 33 to 36  of the book was handed over to the sangha or the priests only on 16th July 1909 by the Government Agent Hoseburgh where Walisinghe Harischandra has had  played a key role.Then there were 68 caves , 360 stupas, 100 statue abodes , 1600 places of sangha wasa- where monks could reside  . Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. 5  pages 210-225 Colombo 1963 bears ample testimony to the fact that  these ruins depicts that the Mihintale was a busiest place at the dawn of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

 

The bodhi tree at Mihintale is one of the first eight shoots that sprang from the tree in Auradhapura.  The oldest stupa built at Mihintale were, it is said , no doubt identical in the form of their counter parts such as in Sanchi and Bharut.The discovery at Mihintale of a small golden reliquary typically resembling the earliest Indian stupas , surmounted by chatras, ( the umbrellas) corroborates this surmise.

 

Prof . Senerath  Paranavitane has opined in his ‘Glimpses of Ceylon’s  past’  in 1972    that the  sedate Buddha statue -Dyana Buddha –  excavated from Mihindhu seya  in 1934 , is accounted as’ the most artistic Buddha images in metal so far brought to light in Ceylon’. The relic casket of black earthen ware found from the same locality  is a one hitherto unknown from India or Ceylon and known as the oldest discovered so far in the island.

Reading and re-reading Dr Punchihewa’s fascinating biographical study  entitled ; Anu Budhu Mihidhu Maha himi thus a by-gone  towering intellectual re-past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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