Remembering an insightful grammarian : KUMARATUNGA MUNIDASA
By Sunalie Ratnayake –
In a moment following 33 months since the trounce of the hardnosed LTTE (on May 18, 2009), with the utmost sacrifices in armed-backing of the armed-forces, also coupled with the unassailable leadership-backing of Retired General Sarath Chandralal Fonseka, and the headship-backing of the current head of state President Percy Mahendra (Mahinda) Rajapaksa, when Sri Lanka is in apparent agony with regards to many a topic of grave citizen concern, especially topics that steadfastly hit human existence in general (mounting scarcity, skyrocketing cost of living, mind-boggling inflation, depreciation of the rupee, redundancy of graduates, crumpling of the justice system, mortified acts of the police force on the citizenry, subjugation in voter rights, suppression on the fourth estate as well as on communities of all ethnicities with an underscore on blameless displaced Tamils, and now on vulnerable Sinhalese too such as young trade unionists and fishermen, brawls amongst government-representing politicians, their bump-offs and the safeguarding of prime suspects, abductions of handcuffed detainees from the city’s court complexes, their bodies later ablaze in the city on broad daylight and so on and so forth), the month of March may also underscore the importance of the“Sinhala Language”, especially within institutions such as centres of edification. Many schools as well as other government, communal and perhaps a few public institutions too may have celebrated the day of importance to the Sinhala language, which fell on March 2nd.
Celebrating the Sinhala Day – March 2nd
However, along with all such celebrations, aide memoire, and reminiscences may have taken place in the island a couple of days ago, the reality may urge us to take an in-depth contemplation on the deterioration of the Sinhala language exploitation as of today.
In present day society, a noteworthy throng, especially representing the generation of the ’youth’ seem to have ample opportunity in exchanging their ideologies, as well as in absorbing ideologies of all nature from around the globe, mainly via the cyber world, which could pertain to matters of subject such as literature, poetry, art, multiple sciences, affairs of state, topography, environment, cinema, composition, entertainment and so on and so forth. Those interacting via multiple ‘social networks’ too, seem to have a revolutionized tradition of creating ‘groups’ and ‘pages’ to swap their thinking amongst each other.
Unlike in the early 90s, in addition, at present, there are multiple Sinhala language bloggers that appear mostly via pseudo names, profoundly engaged in scattering their individual contemplations on the web. Following same, as a practice, a series of ‘comments’ trail the posting, by those who may have or may not have even properly read the post, yet seems to be utterly swift in terms of posting comments relevant or irrelevant to the subject matter, and in most instances in bizarre language.
Moreover, we witness Sinhala medium websites of all nature, promoting all kinds of news, sometimes factual, at other times bogus, covering many an arena, ranging from political concern to national apprehension to ecological catastrophe to somebody’s bedroom affair. Such entities perceptibly do take place via the English and other medium as well, yet the reason to underscore the Sinhala medium is due to this article calling attention to the importance of proper utilization of same, especially as it reflects on the Sinhala Language Day. There are pros and perhaps, slightly more cons in all such maneuver aforementioned, yet the worst of all, which is quite observable, is the unreservedly disgraceful and shocking modes of the utilization of the ‘language’ on such podiums.
Furthermore, in the novel dome, we eternally hear and see the language been shattered on political podiums, press conferences, ceremonies of all nature, where the chief guest or guest speakers stoop down to an undesirable plane (at certain times, going as far as using obscene language in public), where they throw-out disreputable language at the audience, without any restraint. The TV and radio stations gaily capture and air those incongruous statements of so-called accountable characters in society, which later, school going children listen to, and watch amidst their parents, and other adults at home. Such common conducts, while being condemned, at the same time becomes comical. These characters do not stop from politicians alone, but also the intolerable verbal communication methods are utilized by Buddhist monks, other members of the clergy, university professors, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and so on, whom ultimately fall into a category of incorrigible examples in society. At times, their language abuse may shock the audience. At another, the audiences too may seem quite accustomed to this espoused culture.
Therefore, are we anticipating to set examples on our children, by exposing them to such unappealing atmospheres, in terms of language ? Are we to be hopeful of a fantasy, thinking that it is sufficient to draw attention to a ‘Sinhala Day’ just once a year, while we expose the future generations to a bleak language ambiance during the rest of the 364 days ? Have those politicians and professors and whatnot (who are obvious adults, yet, have forgotten to grow up) ever thought about same ? How their frequent verbal associations and their propagation on social podiums may affect the language, and ultimately the society, which should otherwise be nourished ? While language is a fundamental entity that should be nourished, it is also not that difficult to nourish a society for the betterment, via language.
Remembering an insightful grammarian : KUMARATUNGA MUNIDASA
As opposed to the so-called scholars and liable individuals seen by and large in present day society, way back in the day, Sri Lanka was truly fortunate to have produced truly considerate individuals, whose works still happen to nourish the language and the society that utilizes such works, up until today. While commemorating the Sinhala Day, a name that could never be overlooked, is that ofKumaratunga Munidasa, a pioneer Sinhala linguist, grammarian, poet, writer, journalist andcommentator of good old Ceylon.In an era, when the then Ceylon was under colonial rule, it was Munidasa who initially raised a voice, stating that ‘Sinhala’ should be the state language of Ceylon. Yet, in saying so, he did not squash the English language or any other language, for that matter. Instead, via his conducts alone, within his lifetime, he substantiated that it is of equal importance to accurately learn and utilize the English language, as well as other languages too, but it does not mean that one should become a slave to same. In later years Munidasa was a member of ‘Sinhala Maha Sabha’ of the Swabhasha Movement, which initiated, as means of a protest, scrupulously against the English educated cream of the crop.
Munidasa, who ultimately ended up at the pinnacle of the Sinhala language, in aspects of knowledge and creativity, was also able to read, write, speak and understand languages such as Pali, Sanskrit, Latin, English, Tamil, Greek and Malayalam. On March 2nd this year, an assortment of institutions in Sri Lanka celebrated the 68th commemoration on behalf of this remarkable individual, who, within the matter of 22 years, managed to present to the nation, over 130 volumes written by him, perhaps keeping an uninterrupted record, not only within the island, but in the globe as well.
Munidasa born as the 12th child in a family of 13 children, in the Indigassara village in Dikwella, Matara on July 25, 1887 was the son of Palavinnage Dona Gimara Muthukumarana, and Abious Kumaranatunga. His father Abious possessed invaluable Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts on Buddhism, Astrology and Ayurvedic Medicine, as he had been a physician who practiced Indigenous Medicine, and the young Munidasa had entirely benefited from such rare volumes in his household, which ultimately may have influenced him in further widening his skills in ‘language’.
Having received his preliminary edification at the Dikwella Buddhist School, he obtained his higher education at St. Thomas’ College in Matara, Sri Lanka. Additionally, he learnt Pali and Sanskrit from the Dikwella Watarukkana Pirivena, with the anticipation of ordaining as a Buddhist monk, which he desired more often than not. However, that expectancy could not be pursued due to obstructions imposed by his family that abominated the idea. Therefore, in respect of his family’s intent, he drifted in his path, entering Colombo’s Government Teacher’s College, where he obtained multiple years of training and graduated in 1907.
His initial teaching appointment as a Government Educator was at Bomiriya Bilingual School. Shortly he was promoted to the title of ’Principal’ at the Kadugannawa Bilingual School, and following 11 years of service, Munidasa became an Inspector of Schools, a title he held for four consecutive years, where he further offered a genuine and unmatched service to the island’s children. His initial book titled”Nikaya Sangraha Wivaranaya” an analysis for a Scripture on Buddhist Monastic Orders was written during his school epoch.
Language, a Religious Conviction
Munidasa was a dignified thinker, who considered ‘language’, ‘nation’ and ‘country’ as a religious conviction, or fairly, as an authentic Buddhist, he considered these ‘three entities’ rather as the ‘Triple Gem’. For that rationale alone, he founded the Language Restructuring Movement named “Hela Havula”, which engaged comparable individuals in literature and debate, and even exists up until today as a foremost starting point for many a scholar and artist of Lanka. This Sinhalese Literary Organization advocates the replacement of Sanskrit words with that of ‘Hela’ or ‘Native’ versions.
The organization which was incorporated in 1985 also included Sri Lanka’s prominent personalities that represented diverse fields. Sunil Shantha (Musician), Amarasiri Gunawadu (Poet), Raphael (Rapiyel) Tennekoon (Poet), Ven. Tirikunamale Ananda Anunayaka Thero, Fr. Marcelline Jayakody (Poet, Hymn writer), Arisen Ahubudu (Poet), Jayantha Weerasekera (Journalist), Hubert Dissanayake (Poet), Prof. Nandadasa Kodagoda (Doctor, Singer, Lyricist), Prof. Vinnie Vitharana (Author), W. J. M. Lokubandara (former Speaker of Parliament) remain a few to name.
Munidasa entered wedded life in 1921, and his wife Lillie bore him two daughters and four sons. As a father of six, and a man who was much devoted to children and their education, Munidasa dedicated a momentous portion of his life, in aspects of developing the reading habits of children via the novel methods of teaching that he introduced by means of his works.
He truly anticipated to augment the quality of school edification, which he undoubtedly did for generations following his demise, as I too am amongst the many other beneficiaries that thoroughly utilized his books immensely, especially during times of primary edification. The initial books of the late Kumaratunga Munidasa that had replenished my incessant yearning in my mother tongue as a child are ; Magul Kema, Hath Pana (which I also recall enjoying to the fullest, as a children’s tele-series telecast on Rupavhini), Heenseraya, Kriya Wivaranaya, Wyakarana Wivaranaya, Kumara Gee, Kumarodaya, Kiyawana Nuwana, Piya Samara, Nelawilla, Wirith Wekiya, as well as his multiple books dedicated to Sinhala Grammar.
As 68 years pass by since Kumaratunga Munidasa’s demise on March 2, 1944, even today, Sri Lanka’s providential young generation has the opportunity to utilize and benefit from works of this Sinhala language mastermind beyond compare. Language remains a vital tool that should be appropriately grasped from the inception, and should never be damaged later on.
I.M.R.A Iriyagaolla’s genuine love for his mother tongue
It is also worth to note the services rendered towards the apposite utilization of the Sinhala language by the late I.M.R.A Iriyagaolla, a brilliant soul who served as Cabinet Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs in the late Dudley Senanayake’s UNP regime. Though having gained admission to the Ceylon Medical College, Iriyagolla who had not completed his studies in medicine had later served as a Journalist and Editor of a Sinhala Newspaper, and had also served in the Police Department, prior to entering politics.
Being an erudite authour who had loved art and culture, he was equally proficient in Sinhala and English. His profound knowledge in multiple languages further allowed him to translate the ever renowned “Les Misérables” of Victor Hugo from French to Sinhala titled “Manuthapaya”.Iriyagolla also composed masterpieces in Sinhala music such as “Loken Uthum Rata Lankavai” and”Sema Danamana Dinu Sujathadarani”.
Iriyagolla’s perseverance in safeguarding the Sinhala language was denoted via his appointment of a committee that encompassed scholars of repute at the time, to learn the then prevailing status of the language, with an emphasis on it’s written phraseology. A result of same was the “Standard Sinhala Committee Report” of 1968. The motive behind the committee’s appointment per Iriyagolla was the feeble situation that the language had come to pass, and the perplexity that seemed to subsist amongst the learned, teachers as well as students at the time. All parties mentioned had concerns, in aspects of the effective modes, in which the Sinhala language was to be utilized.
In this context, there had been individual interpretation carried out with regards to matters of notable question, in terms of the correct exercise of the Sinhala language, even amongst elevated seats of learning, which included universities and pirivenas. Such interpretations had included in exploiting their own modes in rules of grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, word-morphology, word-separation and so on and so forth.
Yet, with all the noteworthy efforts taken by the late Iriyagolla on the subject matter, it is demoralizing to recall that the implementation of the proposals of the Standard Sinhala Committee Report prepared to be utilized in schools from primary (first reader) to the ordinary-level class (tenth reader) in a perceptible mode had been futile, hence short-lived. Following continuous attempts to upgrade and preserve his mother tongue, Iriyagolla took leave from the nation in 1973.
What language may denote
Scholar Benjamin Whorf, an American Linguist once noted, that “language shapes thoughts and emotions, determining one’s perception of reality”. Furthermore, American Anthropologist-Linguist Edward Sapir stated that “language is not only a vehicle for the expression of thoughts, perceptions, sentiments, and values characteristic of a community ; it also represents a fundamental expression of social identity”. Sapir further went on to say ; “the mere fact of a common speech serves as a peculiar potent symbol of the social solidarity of those who speak the language.” On a lighter note, language retention helps maintain feelings of cultural kinship. Moreover, the British Philosopher, Political Economist and Civil Servant John Stuart Mill once stated that “Language is the light of the mind.”
With all this said, the pathetic situation that the language have befallen in Sri Lanka as of today is pitiable further than we all may seem to contemplate. It is not an entity that further should be regarded lightly. Celebrating an annual Sinhala Day for the sake of tradition does not mean a thing, if the accountable adults / intellectuals baring chairs of high magnitude in society does not know how to conduct their tongue, at least in society.
For a dead man to become a bystander of a besmirched atmosphere, in terms of the ‘Sinhala Language’ in present day Sri Lanka, would literally cause Kumaratunga Munidasa to roll in his own grave, especially following a lifetime of astounding dedication granted to improve the language he dearly loved, the mother tongue of a significant segment of Sri Lanka. In that context, in the least, I hope and I pray, for the sake of the eminence of the language, as well as the generations yet unborn, that in the least, our politicians in parliament, and our intellectuals on podiums of social assemblage, and all others who may squander the language may bare in mind to control their jawbones, prior to opening same, hence bring to a halt, the toss of hollow and irksome language in public.
I shall bring to a close, this essay that falls in line with the ‘Sinhala Day’ of 2012, above all, further stressing the importance of the proper utilization and preservation of the Sinhala language, with a passage from Kumaratunga Munidasa’s “Kumara Pedi” ;
“Ugannah Siya Basa, Math Wannah Ehi Rasayen, Dakinnehi Mahangu Bawa, Kiyaa Dennah Anuntath – Gain knowledge of your mother tongue, Get enthralled by it’s taste, Behold its preciousness, Enlighten others with same as well”.
Sunalie Ratnayake is a Sri Lankan born journalist based in Los Angeles, who could be reached at : email@example.com