23 April, 2024


A Lookback On 2015: May You Live In Interesting Times

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

They say the Chinese have a curse: may you live in interesting times.

We Sri Lankans have definitely been cursed by the Chinese. This isn’t just a pun on the Port City: In the space of one year we, as a nation, have toppled a dictatorship, installed another one, cried out against Saudi Arabia and argued passionately the subject of bras being thrown at concerts. We’ve watched from afar as the specter of war spread throughout the world. We’ve battled inflation, corruption, and idiots crossing the street. Interesting times, indeed.

I can’t deny that much of it’s been disappointing, especially the political situation. While still nowhere near as bad as the Rajapakse regime, the current government seems to be well on its way to proving that the leopard is truly incapable of changing its spots. But all that aside, as the year draws to a close, I’d like to make a few notes:

  • Sri Lanka is (still) not a truly multicultural society, but we’re getting better

Consider the current situation: certain parts and social circles of Colombo are multicultural, but the rest of the country is a mess. Pockets of “Sinha Ley” Buddhists over there, pockets of visually segregated Muslims over here, the Hindus hanging out doing their own thing over there, Catholics in their own communities over here, and so on. People only really associate within their bubbles, and assimilate only with reluctance.Colombo is a good example: Colombo 03, 04 and 07 are multi-cultural, and the rest of the city is largely racially segregated into communities. In the same way that Kandy is largely Sinhala Buddhist turf, Dehiwala, Wellawatte and Attidiya are Hindu / Muslim. While culturally diverse, we haven’t really melded together that well.That’s largely a problem of mentality. Right now, we seem to be in a curious limbo where we’re celebrating our differences more than our similarities. Case in point, the current crop of “Sinha Ley” stickers.

Sinha LeNevertheless, we’ve come a long way since the BBS’s rise to fame. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but social media seems to be playing a large part in this. It’s difficult to maintain a narrow mind when there’s an outpouring of thoughts around the ceremonies, cultures and philosophies of other beliefs. Not impossible, but difficult. I hope our generation – the first real digital generation of this country – will break down the rest of these barriers completely.

  • This country is massively sexist and frustrated, and the media is ignoring this issue

Sexism – and sexual frustration, in the guise of culture, pervades every level of society, right down from the “ah nangi” from the tuk-tuk driver to the President of the country ranting on about bras. Often, it’s not even hostile racism; it’s so ingrained that it’s entirely unconscious. A waiter will bring the bill to the man at the table, regardless of whether the woman paid. A newspaper article will introduce a businesswoman by first mentioning her father or her husband. This is, after all, a country where a newspaper ran an article saying that two female Parliamentarians wore pants during a protest.The fault is not just in the men, but in the society that produced them and reinforces their beliefs; a society of fathers and mothers that raised children to believe someone making themselves look good was a whore. A society that somehow went from microskirts in the 60’s and 70’s to a religiously puritanical outlook on life in the 80’s and 90’s. And, even more surprisingly, a society that speaks of “preserving culture” while ignoring the fact that one of its most famous religious monuments (Sigiriya) is basically a castle-sized porn display.

SigiriyaThese basic issues, rather frustratingly, are being ignored by the media, and are left largely to satirists and activists on social media. A common trend is to blame everything on Colombo’s adoption of “western morals” and the degradation of all that is good and holy. Nevertheless, as Pasan Weerasinghe pointed out recently, in the calendar year of 2014, out of a reported 2008 cases of rape/incest in Sri Lanka, Colombo has contributed to the tally a grand total of 26. At the same time, [the] Police division for the sacred city of Anuradhapura has reported 133 cases.

This does indeed beg the question: why indeed are we protecting such a culture – a culture of such hypocrisy that porn sites are blocked while Sigiriya’s bare-breasted women are shown in glorious technicolour to every young schoolchild?

  • The lack of proper media platforms is startling

Where does one get their news from these days? Colombo Telegraph is a free-for-all frenzy. DailyFT is unreadable ever since they changed their website. Ada Derana just called Maithripala “Maithripaka”. Daily News does sentences like “hot on the heels of the hullabaloo over the budget which went through a series of unprecedented amendments that was embarrassing for the government and for Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in particular, last week saw an incident involving high profile United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra.” The Daily Mirror just ran a story about the National Broadband Policy with no backing, no sources and apparently no credibility. I’m no Shakespeare, but goddamit, it should be a crime to publish something so blatantly unreadable. Standards have slipped so far that they’re practically skating to hell now.

Screenshot_22Part of this problem is that journalism in Sri Lanka does not pay. Inevitably, the talented writers migrate, most of them flirting with the adveritising industry.

Interestingly, new media may be stepping in. Roar.lk’s roundups are increasingly more readable, and Yamu.lk seems to have things covered as far as events in Colombo go. However, these platforms have nowhere near the maturity and machinery that established platforms have. Lake House, Wijeya, start paying your employees better. Rs 15,000 salaries are not going to cut it – that’s bus money.

  • We have railed against Saudi Arabia and won, and disturbing things have been said

How often is it that public outcry actually has a short-term, tangible impact overseas? Not often. Nevertheless, our outcry for that woman sentenced to be stoned in Saudi Arabia resulted in her life being spared. That’s a win, Sri Lanka. That’s a win.Out of this incident, though, a darker result emerged – people who advocate and believe in this kind of brutal violence in the name of holy law. At the risk of sounding racist, let me say this: religion should be tolerated and welcomes, but violence in the name of religion should be stamped out wherever possible. We haven’t done a great job of it – the BBS come to mind – but the last thing we need are Sharia apologists in this country. Anyone with a fetish for cutting off heads and beating up women with stones should be sent packing.

I can’t seem to find anyone who tells me 2015 was uneventful. A bad year, yes. Boring, no. People I know have found jobs, fallen in love, fallen out of love, started companies, gotten married, et cetera, et cetera. Some of them have stayed in our lives. Others have left. And some friendships, like infections, have festered. I’ve traveled, gotten tattooed, changed jobs, swung lightsabers and had my beliefs questioned. Time, that lunatic doctor, heals the old wounds and opens up new ones. This summary seems paltry in comparison.

What we can and should do is to take all of that what we’ve experienced and point it, in our own ways, towards fixing these problems with Sri Lanka. They need not be grand, sweeping changes with policy documents attached. It needs to be one step at a time. In 2016, go experience a festival from each religion. Talk an extremist out of his views. Put up a status abouts sexism. Make sure all your male friends see it. Share news worth talking about instead of yet another bathroom selfie. Little changes, like little drops of water, have the potential for great change.

Interesting times, indeed. Here’s to an interesting 2016.

*Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is a contributor to Colombo Telegraph, his articles can be found on his blog, icaruswept.com

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Dude the wall painting in Sigiriya is not a religious monument. What have you been smoking during the holidays. Sigiriya wall paintings is part of ruins left over of a King’s palace. The relevance of Sigiriya topless babes is more archaeological and unless historians or archaeologists reveal the context of those bare breasted lassies on the Sigiriya walls it is not prudent make silly observations like religious monument. Please don’t write stuff you don’t know and make us look fools reading your bunkum.

    • 2

      Patriot, read “Sigiriya and its Significance” by Dr. Raja de Silva

      Raja de Silva has been one of our most distinguished Archaeological Commissioners who has, over and above the call of duty, devoted a lifetime of study to that most magnificent monument of Sinhala civilization – Sigiriya. His greatest contribution to Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage and posterity was his meticulous restoration of the wonderful frescoes which had been brutally vandalised over forty years ago. This volume, his magnum opus, is the distillation of his painstaking research. He argues, with convincing cogency, that the traditional acceptance of this architectural wonder as the palace of Kassapa I, oft- damned as the “parricide king”, is based on the shifting sands of biassed chronicles, unsupportable theories and romantic imagination.

      Tara is a goddess who was worshipped by Mahayana Buddhists in Sri Lanka. The divine females at Sigiriya are splendidly adorned with jewellary, bracelets, necklaces, tiaras, diadems, chaplets of flowers and are of three complexions red, yellow and green. The goddess Tara too has numerous manifestations in regal splendor and may be of red, yellow, green, blue or white complexion.

      Mahayana and Tara Devi

      De Silva has opened a much needed window into the wide spread, vitality and monumental contribution of Mahayana to Sri Lanka’s cultural history. This ‘secret history’, which has left its magnificent sculptures ranging from Weligama to Buduruwegala and even Aukana, needs both deep study and popular discourse to achieve acceptance as an integral component of our history. The greatest Mahayana monument in Sri Lanka, according to the writer’s almost watertight interpretation, is Sigiriya. The entire complex has been conceived as one integrated whole – a Mahayana ‘mandala’ a symbolic diagram of the meditative process to attain Bodhisattva-hood. The way to the summit leads through gardens, ambulatory paths, ponds and fountains – all objects of contemplation — which are surrounded by scattered monastic cells and caves. The Lion Stairway, according to Buddhist iconography, was “to remind the devotee whose of the Buddha whose voice was like that of a roaring lion [Mahasihanada] enunciating the Truth”.

      The lion also symbolises Tara the female Bodhisattva of Mahayana Buddhism to whose adoration the incomparable frescoes are dedicated. Every single figure exemplifies a different aspect of Tara. This repetition of the object of ‘worship’ is characteristic of a Mahayana technique of meditation and is most famously seen in the Tun Huang ‘Cave of a Thousand Buddhas’. Sadly, a thousand cruel monsoons have lost us a place in the sun for Sigiriya as the “Mountain of a Thousand Taras”. But thanks to Raja de Silva we now see the wondrous Tara, once again, in her true aspect as Bodhisattva. I dare say no more about the frescoes, or Sigiriya, – the author has said it all with great erudition and fine sensitivity.

      Read more;


      • 1


        Mr. Gunasekere’s reply to Patriots insistence that “don’t write stuff you don’t know” is oh so sweet. Wish CT has a way to show the face of Patriot when the tables have turned.

        It may seem perverse but there is joy in seeing the morons who think that they are the only people knowledgeable enough to write about “things”.

        After all, if people only wrote about stuff they know CT would be as dry as the Mohave desert. And Patriot would probably be disallowed at CT altogether.

    • 2

      Sigiriya paintings and graffiti: What KNO Dharmadasa should know

      By Raja De Silva

      Tissa Devendra, in concluding a review of my recent book Sigiriya Paintings (2009), stated in conclusion, “I hope that, at last, we may find a scholar with guts to refute Dr. Raja de Silva on Sigiriya” (The Island 9.9.09).

      My attention has been drawn to an amazing article by KNO Dharmadasa, a Professor of Sinhala, who has behaved like a stranger in paradise (in this case the rarefied atmosphere of art criticism) and written on a subject titled “The Untenability of the Tara Theory”, sub-titled “Being Blind to the Graffiti of Sigiriya” (The Island 17 & 21 April 2010, as well as on the web). In both these titles he has played fast and loose with the truth, as will be shown below.


      Firstly, I have ploughed through the verbiage of the long article, but, I have failed to find a word of deconstruction of my thesis that the paintings depict Tara, the Buddhist goddess, A student possessed of the merest acquaintance with the principles of art criticism, including the interpretation of the meaning of a work of art, would know that a previous theory should first be deconstructed before introducing one’s own interpretation.

      KNO’s headline is emblazoned with the word untenability, but nowhere does he show on what grounds my thesis is untenable: there is no criticism of the iconographic and other reasons I have given for the identification of the subject of the paintings with Tara,

      Another simple principle of art interpretation is that the subject of a painting is to be elucidated from the painting itself, not from what any person other than the painter had written concerning them. All this is lost on KNO, who has misused the word untenability. He does not read the paintings, he reads Paranavitana (1956) on the graffiti. The fundamental departure from previous scholarly interpretations is that KNO’s effort (true to his linguistic leanings) is a rigmarole that considers late literary remains in a foredoomed effort to extract therefrom the meaning of the paintings done several centuries earlier.

      “Blind to the graffiti”

      Secondly, let us look at the sub-title, which is calculated to induce a credulous reader to believe at the outset that I have not considered the gravity of Sigiriya graffiti. This is far from the truth. I have discussed the relevance of the graffiti, and shown that they reflect only what visitors of a much later period thought while at Sigiriya (Sigiriya and its Significance 2002, pp. 38, 39, 40; Sigiriya Paintings 2009, pp. 65, 66, 67). I stated that “The subject of the paintings could well have been forgotten many centuries after they were done, when the general public wrote their comments on the gallery wall”.

      It is on the subject of the graffiti (irrelevant to the elucidation of meaning of the paintings) that KNO has displayed either (a) shaky knowledge of the English language or (b) evidence of neglect of his homework, or both; and this deficiency has led him to use harsh words in attributing a base motive to me, thereby assailing my intellectual integrity.


      Let me explain. KNO is “sad to note that an attempt is made to hoodwink the unsuspecting readers” by my stating (The Island (3.3.2010) that the “graffiti have been largely dated to a period 300 – 700 years later than the paintings (emphasis added)”. He goes on to indulge in the non sequitur nit-picking exercise of a statistical analysis of the distribution of the graffiti in different centuries, and states “in fact the time range is something like 250 – 350 years after the time of Kassapa (emphasis added)”. Kassapa is generally dated to the period AC 479 – 497, i.e., the fifth century.


      I have, for good reason, dated the paintings to “sometime after the beginning of the sixth century AC” (Sigiriya Paintings 2009, p.146). Therefore, the period 300 – 700 years later than the paintings would mean the 9th – 13th centuries AC. Since the word largely means chiefly, generally, it follows that I intended to convey that there are some graffiti datable to a period before as well as after the 9th and 13th centuries. This is a fact that is lost on KNO, for he appears to have misunderstood the plain English used in my statement referred to. His reading on the graffiti has been restricted to Paranavitana’s magnum opus, which was confined to those belonging to the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, as given in its sub-title.

      KNO should know that there are published graffiti earlier than the 9th century and later than the 13th century, to which I have given the reference in my book Sigiriya and its Significance (2002, p.38). He should read that publication and be edified.

      It is seen that (in denigrating me) KNO has committed a papa-karma derived from his avidya; he has also ventured into the strange subject of art interpretation using tools appropriate only to his own discipline, with disastrous results: this is how KNO has utilized the graffiti in his endeavour to show the “untenability of the Tara theory”

      Numerous graffiti (no matter their late date) mention the paintings.
      No graffiti mention Tara.
      Therefore the paintings are not of Tara.

      Verily, a simplistic deconstruction by which KNO betrays an almost majestic incomprehension of logical thinking, particularly about the character of art criticism.

      In the interests of furthering knowledge, I hope someone better equipped than KNO will appear on the scholarly scene to deconstruct my Tara theory, as hoped for by Tissa Devendra.

      Vidyajyothi Raja de Silva, B.Sc. (Cey), B.Sc. (Lond.), D.Phil (Oxf), has been a member of the statutory Archaeological Advisory Committee since his retirement as Archaeological Commissioner in 1979. A specialist graduate in Chemistry from the Universities of Ceylon and London, he was appointed to the Archaeological Department in 1949, and became the first scientist in its cadre. After training for two years in the Archaeological Survey of India, he was in charge of the new service for the conservation of cultural property and research in material culture. In 1962, he obtained his post-graduate qualification in the University of Oxford after research­ing in the technical aspects of art-history. After eighteen years as Assistant Commissioner of Archaeology, he was appointed Archaeological Commissioner in 1967. From 1979 to 1986, he was Advisor to the Archaeological Department in the Conservation of cultural property. He is the author of many academic publications, and the official guide books to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa.


    • 1

      This kind of idiots are everywhere. We just need to ignore them.

      Those who are tatooed as SINGHLE should NOT be given a publicity. These fundementalists will always stand on the way of any kind of move for the betterment of all of this country. History has shown that.. and we have to learn it from the history.

  • 1

    “..and argued passionately the subject of bras being thrown at concerts.”

    Here’s one view of that:


  • 1

    Waving a red flag at a bull has the same effect as waving a bra at our President Both gets excited into a wild rage.

  • 0

    Much as I am impressed and humbled by the eminent historians drawn into comments, I trust my own red-blooded instincts on these matters.

    Whenever I see the fantastic frescos of Sigiriya, I always get aroused, and seriously jealous of old king Kass, convinced that I am that he enjoyed a lot of serious pussy in his short and turbulent reign.

    I get much the same arousal whenever I see the stunning statue of the Goddess Tara (whenever I get to visit WC2, and even happier to know that that the BM affords it a much deserved 24-hour guard).

    Tara and the Sigiriya beauties are both evident if one would but take a leisurely drive through any of our many villages and watch the local beauties in their clinging diyaredda’s at the local pokuna. NOT a BRA and sight! Surely, this is heaven on earth.

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