18 January 2023

The amazing quality of ‘equal-kindness’


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous article]

The 47th death anniversary of Mahagama Sekara fell on the 14th of January, 2023. More than twenty years ago, on a day like today, again reflecting on Sekara, I wrote the following in an article published in the Sunday Island under the title, ‘Mahagama Sekara: a vision open to residency.’

‘Mahagama Sekera’s literary import is second to none among the Sinhala literary greats of the modern era. Sekera’s creative energy was like a body of water swollen with the monsoon rains. He was a poet, a lyricist, a dramatist, an artist, a musician and a filmmaker. Convention could not entrap him and in form as well as subject his waters spilled over and ran in all directions. He was life-giving and life-affirming. As a people, we drank deep from the many wells that Sekera dug in his relentless search for humanity and its appropriate location in human matters. Sad to note, our digestive systems have been too poisoned to absorb him and we neglected taking corrective action.’

As often happens, when the day arrived without an inkling of its significance. Swarna Mallawarachchi didn’t forget. She posted on Facebook one of Amaradeva’s songs written by Sekara, ‘Sandakath pinidiya,’ and was kind enough to WhatsApp the link to me. I didn’t get the significance even then, although what appeared in the message contained the words ‘this is a tribute to Mahagama…’

I told her that it was one of my favourite songs. She sent me another, ‘mulu lovama sihinayai’ which she claimed was one of Dharmasena Pathiraja’s favourites. I had never heard of it. So I clicked the link. The ‘cover’ had a photo of Amara Ranatunga who was the female vocalist of the duet flanked by photos of Amaradeva and Sekara. Then I remembered, was duly ashamed, went looking for him in pieces I’ve written over the years and that’s how I came across the article referred to above.

There was a reference to a much-vilified song by Nanda Malini, ‘Me Sinhala apage ratai,’ where, I believe, Sekara drew from the less talked of roots of the name, i.e. Siv-Hela or the coming together of the Yakshas, Nagas, Rakshas and Devas as a single collective, even as it can be read as a statement of fact with respect to the Sinhala people as defined by the language they speak. This we can infer from what to Sekara was the essence of our heritage, ‘සම කරුණා  ගුණ මහිමේ (translatable as 'the amazing quality of showing kindness to one and all, equally’).’

If we pick a moment in history we could easily rubbish that line and claim. And yet, over the long span of history, there’s been much accommodation and not only on account of being at times conquered or occupied. There are some 40,000 Tamil words that have over the years been accepted into the Sinhala language. This is a small fraction of the entire vocabulary and that’s because the Sinhalese have happily drawn from multiple languages, even spinning multiple words from a single word from another tongue.

Buddhist temples have ‘taken in’ Hindu gods who are solemnly venerated and appealed to for succour in trying circumstances in the day-to-day of human engagement without abandonment of what these devotees consider is the more abiding framework of the dhamma. Perhaps Jesus Christ should have also been included but then again, the encounters with invaders who brought with them the gun and bible, plundered the island, perpetrated genocide and enslaved a people are still too recent for that kind of accommodation.  

In all this, there is the ‘sama karunaa guna mahime,’ one can argue. A good thing and yet it’s something we have forgotten and pushed aside for the most part in our post-independence history.

Sekara was different. Those words are resident in everything he wrote. They were, for him, something we have had in the past, existed in some form in the present, and an ought-to-be in the future he envisioned.  
‘Sekera did not deny any community a place in this land. His vision, as evident in what I consider to be his great poetical work, "Prabuddha", was for collective enlightenment. He recognised the bodhisatva gunaya inherent in all of us.’

This too was observed in the said article. And we can stop there. For now.

Other articles in this series:

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road