WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Book reviews

Unimaginable wealth of knowledge

by Dr. Senarath Paranavithana
Published by Visidunu Publications,Boralesgamuwa
Fifth Edition Rs. 300

Reviewed by Padma Edirisinghe

It may not be off the mark to sate that blazing fame of Dr. S. Paranavithana as the foremost archaeologist of our island perhaps has dimmed his radiance in the world of writing. But it can be easily maintained that his prowess in writing stood almost on par with his brilliance in other professional fields.

He had an inimitable style of writing, both rich and eloquent yet economical. From the pen of this gifted son of Lanka poured forth a multitude of books in English. The magnus opus of course was Sigiri graffiti published in two monumental volumes by the Oxford University Press. Besides his numerous contributions to foreign and local journals in the fields of epigraphy, history, art, architecture, religion, languages and literature are the following publications.

The shrine of Upulvan at Devundara (1953), The God of Adam's peak (1958), Ceylon and Malaysia (1961), Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol.l (1970), The Greeks and the Mauryas (1971), Arts of Ancient Sinhalese (1971) Inscriptions of Ceylon vol 11, Story of Sigiriya (both published posthumously) and Sinhalayo.

Sinhalayo written in 1967 is a book of modest proportions and the author puts its objective very simply as "This book attempts to give in brief an outline of the history of the Sinhalese people and the salient characteristics of their culture".

Of course the objective is put very modestly.

One is more inclined to agree with reviewer Akuretiya writing a few lines on the book to the Daily News in 1968 in the following strain.

"Dr. Paranavithana is our fabulous voyager. He is the Ulysses of the Orient discovering for the world the rich past of old civilizations. There are quite a number of books written by specialists but none in a single volume in which we could red and contemplate the many splendoured thing that was our past".

What are these many spledoured facets that the renowned author touches on? The Sinhalayo's devotion to Buddhism runs through out the canvas of the text like a golden tapestry providing sustenance not only to kingship but to our culture and the arts, to our literature, to our mores and values and even our modes of livelihood.

With masterly skill and the pilling wealth of knowledge the author owned he recounts these splendours generously traversing the vast field 'Of the political, social, economic and cultural life of the Sinhalayo". Attention is generously focused on art and architecture, the development of the language and literature and modes of warfare of this racial entity of the Sinhalayo who has trotted the earth under this same name for an amazing length of time, nearly two and half millennia.

"Sinhalayo" is the singular saga of an island race going on and on under one of the longest monarchies of the world. The race's recorded beginnings are from the advent of Vijaya but the author goes back to the neolithic culture of pre - Vijayan times and begins his story there.

The culture that later develops according to him is the fusion of this culture with the immigrant Indo - Aryan Civilization from North India. With remarkable skill the author takes the reader on the uphill climb of the Sinhala race - that is from the crude dolmen of Rambukkana to the refined sculptures of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods. But the writer true to his facts does not rest on the high plane. So he descends with the reader to the sad plummeting of this civilization and to the flight of the Sinhalayos to the central hills.

It is in the second edition of this book put out in 1972 that the account of the decline of Sinhala civilization has been added along with 22 illustrations on places of vintage.

Altogether there are 122 such rare illustrations aptly reflecting the varied facets of "the many splendoured thing that was our past".

The economic style of writing has enabled the author to encapsule an unimaginable wealth of knowledge into less than 100 pages. As for the veracity of these facts no one can dispute for he was and is Lanka's pride in the field of archaeology, the self taught prodigy replete with historical knowledge, indigenous vision and intuition, "the fabulous voyager, the Ulysses of the Orient".

It is almost superfluous to review his books but Visidunu's laudable project at re-republishing works this nature that are of inestimable value needs equal publicity. And the book comes out minus a single printer's devil which in itself is an amazing feat in these irresponsible days.

In some of the current English publications the errors come in such multitude that one gets tempted to cease the reading process, get back into childhood days and launch into a game of counting the mistakes.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka