To commemorate Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe,
the erudiate Sinhala scholar, poet, philosopher and writer
amongst many other things a commemorative stamp will be issued
at 10.00 a.m. at the Samarakoon Studio of the S.L.B.C. by the
Minister of Posts, Mr. D. M. Jayaratne.
Manawasinghe was born on the 19th of June 1913
in the village of Puwakdandawa in Ruhunu Giruwapattuwa off
In the historic people’s revolution of 1956
whilst Lake House acted in vested self-interests, the ‘Lankadeepa’
spearheaded the Pancha Maha Balavegaya and
Manawasinghe was in the forefront of the campaign. He became a
close associate of S.W.R.D.
He grew up in the village, amongst the rural
folk and the unpolluted rural environment where the village
temple and its tank were the focal points of its culture - nay
its very existence!
Manawasinghe took to robes not once but twice.
Perhaps his call of duty by society and its people were more
demanding than those of the Sasana.
Even as a priest, he was a fiercely independent
person who openly clashed with the High Priest of the
Sarikkamulla Temple in Negombo.
However it was Manawasinghe’s literary
contributions in verse, prose and his numerous writing which
made him a genius and created a niche for himself in the
The "Waga Thuga" Column, he
contributed to the ‘Lankadeepa’ offered a critical
analysis of the issues of the day - be it on the economy,
politics or the utterances of the leaders both lay and clergy.
"Waga Thuga" made its first
appearance in the (then) ‘Lankadeepa’ published by
the Times Group and except for the 1st 2 or 3
columns written by his colleague Sagara Palansuriya (‘Kayas’
to the Sinhala Literate), also an ex-Buddhist priest like
Manawasinghe, Manawasinghe continued the column, which made the
paper soar in its circulation, almost until he died. He died on
the 4th of October 1964 and his last ‘Waga Thuga’
appeared on the 28th of September 1964. He died at the
relatively young age of 51.
Like the British poet William Wordsworth who
wrote "I wandered lonely at the cloud and all at once I saw a
thousand daffodils!, ‘The stars are mansions built by nature’s
hand, Manawasinghe exhorted the beauty and virtues of Nature.
He worked many poems for children which are,
even today more than half a century after they composed
appreciated not just by children but adults and literati alike.
Amongst his numerous publications are ‘Komala
Rekha’ and ‘Golu Deriya’ or the dumb girl
witch were collections of poems. Manawasinghe was the ‘father’
of the Sinhala radio operas (Radio Geetha Nataka) and his
radio operas such as ‘Manohari’ ‘Abhinishkramanaya’
(abdication) and ‘Edirille’ earned for him the plaudits
of the Sinhala literary buffs and critics.
‘Manawe’ to his friends and associates
was a many faceted individual. He was well versed not only in
Pali, Sinhala, Sanskrit and Bengali, but also in astrology . It
was often that he was called upon to perform a variety of
astrological functions such as determining an auspicious time to
commence building a house or even naming a newborn child. He
also excelled at compiling verses which with its harmonious
synchronization with sound waves would invoke blessings. These
were called ‘Seth Kavi’ or verses of blessings. He was
apt at compiling verses which brought exactly the opposite
effects - ‘Vas Kavi’ or verses of evil. But after his
marriage to Srimathi Wasantha he almost entirely gave up
composing ‘Vas Kavi’ and compiled Vas Kavi
thereafter only on one occasion and that was to curse the person
who was issuing death threats to his eldest daughter Daya
Lakshini by poison pen letters. This was when ‘Manawe’
left the ‘left’ movement and joined the UNP. (Appramana
Minisek’ - Ranjith Amarakeerthi Palihapitiya)
Manawasinghe was also an expert at exorcism and
would conduct elaborate bali yaga ceremonies to drive away the
evil spirits with astounding results that amazed the
non-believers. In 1958 he composed an experimental Exorcism
Ballet using phonetics and the various concepts of ‘white magic’
(as opposed to ‘Black Magic’) that he was so thoroughly
conversant with. This exorcism ballet consisted of some 600
verses and the dance items for this ‘Siddhantha Yaga’
were created by Kalasoori Kalinga Obeywansa.
When Manawasinghe first took to robes, he was
known as ‘Puwakdandawe Chandraratna Samanera’. He learnt both
‘Black Magic’, "White Magic" and witch craft at the feet of his
guru - the Ven. Puwakdandawe Sarananda Nayaka Thero - the Chief
Incumbent of the Varana Raja Maha Viharaya.
He also contributed a column on astrology both
to ‘Lankadeepa’ and ‘Rasavahini’ a magazine
published by the Times Group under the pseudonyms ‘Hiro’
and ‘Badharayana’ respectively. These too were very
popular as were his ‘Waga Thuga’ columns which
contributed in no small measure to an increase in their
During his Lankadeepa days, he would scoot off
from his office every now and then for a ‘quick one’ to his
favourite ‘watering joints’ down Hospital Street, a mere stones
throw away from office. Even when he was in office he was rarely
at his seat. All visitors coming to the Lankadeepa office to
meet him adopted an unique method of testing whether he was in
the building. They would peer under his desk to see whether his
sandles were there and if they were, then the visitors could
calmly await for the man to perform his ‘Animus Reventendai’.
In the 1950s, Buddhism was threatened due to
three calamities. ‘Tapasa Nikaya’ (hermit priests) a separate
clan of ‘Pseudo Bhikkus’ which sprung up almost overnight
threatened the very existence of the Buddha Sasana and the order
of the Maha Sangha. An organisation called the ‘Vinayawardenes’
sprung up and started challenging the traditional forms of
Buddhist worship. To cap it all, the Prime Minister S. W. R. D.
Bandaranaike was shot dead by Talduwe Somarama who according to
Bandaranaike was a ‘Man in yellow robes’.
During this period Manawasinghe lashed out
mercilessly at those anti-Buddhist elements by his numerous
writings. He also travelled extensively addressing meetings to
protect the honour respect and the standing of the Maha Sangha
representing the Theravada form of Buddhism. When he arrived to
speak at meetings against these pseudo Buddhist organisations,
he was at times heckled, jeered and booed. He was also
threatened with death on yet other occasions. A born fighter
against all forms of injustice he stood his ground and soon the
‘Thapasa Nikaya’ (Hermit Tribe) and the Vinayawardenas were
Manawasinghe always championed the cause of the
underdog. His advent into left politics was also the result of
his rebellion against those who wielded power and authority at
the expense of the common man.
During the early days of the Bolshevik and
Lenninist Party the forerunner to the L. S. S. P., Manawasinghe
was travelling by bus to Kandy. At Horagolla, the driver of the
bus observing a man on horse-back pulled the bus to a side and
stopped the bus. He then got down from the driving seat and
approached this brown sahib on horse-back with bent knees and
palms of the hands folded in deep veneration. The horseman of
course was the Laird of Horagolla - Sir Solomon Dias
Bandaranaike. S. W. R. D.’s father.
This incident marked a turning point in his life
and ‘Manawe’ thought that it was below the dignity of any man to
publicly display such subservience to another fellow layman. He
joined the Bolshevik and Leninist Party which professed parity
of status to all human beings rich or poor, young or old. After
the L.S.S.P. was formed he became a close associate of its
leaders Drs. N. M. Perera and Colvin R. de Silva. He spared no
pains to champion the Samasamajist cause against the colonial
powers and their local stooges of the day.
Though ‘Manawe’ was essentially a man of letters
inclined more towards the finer aspects of Sinhala literature
and culture rather than a slogan shouting Marxist. Dr. N. M.
Perera won soon realized the man’s talents and the vast depth of
his knowledge is said to have remarked that, Manawasinghe was
one of the best intellectuals, east of Suez. He was soon on the
L.S.S. P. bandwagon touring the length and breadth of the
country, conducting seminars, classes and delivering lectures to
the youth on the virtues of the L.S.S.P. doctrine as well as
wielding his mighty pen to champion its cause.
Naturally he was a bitter enemy of the ruling
UNP then. A hilarious incident is recorded by his biographer
Ranjith Amarakeerthi Palihapitiya in ‘Appramana Minisek’ (‘A
Human Colossus’) where on the Negombo beach whilst indulging in
one of his pet pastimes - drinking - he perceived the sight of
the UNP symbol, an elephant being taken to provide
elephant-rides to tourists. Such was his hatred towards the UNP,
he rushed towards the pachyderm with clenched fists in a drunken
stupor only to be held back by his ‘bottle friends’ who were
fortunate to be more sober than ‘Manawe’!
‘Manawe’s political insight was apathy
demonstrated by a book he wrote in 1961 ‘Prajathanthra
Pragathiya’ (Progress of Democracy) where he predicted the
disintegration of the Mighty Soviet Republic which theory of
course was pooh-poohed and treated with ridicule and contempt by
his Marxist colleagues. Long before the UNP promulgated its
theory on the Open Economy. Manawasinghe insisted that
‘controls’ should be done away with as it lead to shortages and
negative economic growth.
This columnist remembers the time that
Manawasinghe, Capt. C. P. J. Seneviratne (my friend ‘Gam’
Thomian MP ‘Bindu’ Seneviratne’s father - the then MP for
Mahiyangana) and he occupied the same bedroom at the Wemulla
Estate bungalow of Samaraweera at Welimada. Percy was contesting
‘Basha Boy’ K. M. P. Rajaratne at a by-election in the Welimada
Electorate in the early 60s when Konara Mudiyanselage Piyasena
Rajaratne was the undisputed ‘King’ of Keppitiwalana - the
famous battlefield of the Keppitipola Disawe.
One night I was awakened by Manawasinghe talking
in his sleep. What was strange in this incident was that he was
speaking in Sanskrit!
In the morning I told him that he spoke in
Sanskrit in his sleep. He then said ‘Oh I dreampt of that lady!’
Being a mere podian, although the urge was there, I did not dare
be disrespectful towards him by asking him who the woman was.
Years later I learnt from Prabhath,
Manawasinghe’s elder son (who unfortunately was lost to us due
to a case of medical misadventure in the prime of his manhood!)
that when Manawasinghe was in robes he had met a Bengali family
at Kataragama where they had come from India to perform a vow.
In this family was a comely young lass who was well versed not
only in Sanskrit as a language, but also was a great exponent of
Sanskrit epics such as the ‘Geetha Govindaya’. This lithe
Bengali beauty even demonstrated in dance form, various episodes
relating to great Sanskrit epics. No doubt Manawe would have
been not only a very willing pupil but also a clever one too for
he took to Sanskrit as a duck to water. He even read Das
Capital, the Bible of Maxism in Bengali.
Although his lyrics, be they children’s poetry
or film songs Pipee Pipee Renu Natana’ - Ran Muthu Duwa) were
mostly composed in simple and plain language, his Sanskrit
influence was reflected in yet other works of his such as the
all-time popular hit - Divakarayano,’ extolling the virtues of
During the time we stayed at the Samaraweera’s
Wemulla bungalow, every morning as he awoke, Manawasinghe would
hold the folds of his sarong in a can-can dance posture and sing
a song which was totally unfamiliar to me. He used to dance
round the room singing ‘Pipee pipee renu natana vane malaka
happila........’ ‘Ran Muthu Doowa’ the first ever Sinhala colour
film was not yet released then and that was why I had not heard
of those words before.
I asked him, ‘Mr. Manawasinghe, what is this
‘Pipee pipee renu natana’ you sing everyday?’
‘You wait and see will you Manawe’s song when
‘Ran muthu doowa’ is released he said without missing a step of
the strange form of dance he was performing as a ritual each
Yes! ‘Ran muthu doowa’ came and all I could say
is ‘veni! vedi!! vici!!!
Besides ‘Ran muthu doowa’ he also compiled,
lyrics to other Sinhala films such as ‘Daiva Yogaya’, ‘Sikuru
Tharuwa’, ‘Seethala Watura’, ‘Ladalu’, etc.
He enriched the Sinhala dance culture by adding
more descriptive dance forms or ‘wannama’s to the 18 forms of
descriptive dance or wannamas that existed upto then. The Maha
Bo and the Samanala Wannama.
The famous Maha Bo Wannama, dedicated to the
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of the Maha Mevuna Park in Anuradhapura and
rendered immortal by the melodious voice of Pandit Amaradeva to
which the maestro duo of Niththawela Gunaya and Heen Baba
Dharmasiri provided accompanying dance recital. Niththawela
Gunaya and Heen Baba Dharmasiri toured many a foreign country
with these two new additions to the descriptive dance dynasty
and were very well received where-ever they performed.
Even as this column is being penned, the writer
could hear the Maha Bo Wannama being telecast in one of the
popular TV channels.
I very well remember, somewhere in the early
sixties a sweet little girl performed the butterfly or Samanala
Wannama on stage at the UNP Youth Camp held at the Boossa Race
Course grounds. That sweet little girl was Manjula Basadita, a
daughter of Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe and she would have
been about 8 or 9 years old by then.
Manawasinghe was once wanted by the police on a
charge of murder. This was a time he was in robes and he was
accused with another of the murder of a man who was killed in
what came to be known as the Kataragama uprising. (This was long
before the more famous or notorious uprising at Kataragama in
1971, where a local Beauty Queen, Premawathi Manamperi was
brutally murdered). The root cause of this uprising was the
claim to ownership of a Devale by 2 rival factions-one
representing one up-country and Rev. Puwakdandawe Chandaratana (Manawasinghe)
representing the claimants from the low-country.
Rev. Chandaratana, then played a game of hide
and seek with the police. He hid himself in the jungles of
Debarawewa, Yala, Wellawaya and Kataragama, avoiding arrest. As
a fugitive from justice, it was no longer possible for him to be
on the run, attired in the garb of a Buddhist priest. So, at
Wellawaya, he waylaid a villager on a push bicycle at knife
point. In those days even villagers used to wear two sarongs -
one the usual way, the other thrown like a shawl across the
shoulders. Manawasinghe ordered the hapless man to climb a huge
tree whilst he made good his escape with one of the sarongs of
He travelled upto Dambulla on foot where he
secured employment as a ‘kolla’ (helper) in a village ‘kade’
(boutique) close to the famous Dambulla Raja Maha Viharaya.
Whenever he found the time he used to visit the Dambulla Temple
to admire the charm and the beauty of its famous paintings. Once
a tourist was taken around the temple precincts by a guide. The
tourist pointing to the halo behind the head of the Buddha
statue wanted to know what it was. The guide who did not know
the answer nevertheless did not want to display his ignorance
and spinned a yarn about the ‘halo’. Manawasinghe stepped
forward and much to the consternation of the guide explained the
significance of the ‘halo’ in a Buddha statue.
The tourist was as pleased as punch about the
knowledge of this young man who he thought was a person holding
a responsible position in the government.
He asked the young man as to what his job was
and when Manawe pointed out to the village boutique where he
worked as a ‘helper’ the tourist was astounded. ‘Young man, you
have a bright future ahead of you’, said the tourist to Manawe
and went away.
That tourist was none other than the famous
philosopher George Bernard Shaw!
It was when he was thus employed in the boutique
at Dambulla, that the long arm of the law finally caught up with
him. He was arrested and charged with murder along with his
best-friend who was a co-accused with him. Manawe was acquitted
of all the charges but his friend was found guilty and was
sentenced to death by hanging. It had been his death wish, that
although by this time Manawe had derobed, that his friend Manawe
should bless him by chanting pirith. This wish Manawe fulfilled
with deep sorrow and choked with emotion.
Manawasinghe was a friend of the famous criminal
Lawyer H. Sri Nissanka, Kings Counsel. Through the good offices
of Sri Nissanka Manawasinghe gained the acquaintance of the
famous Indian poet and erudite scholar, Rabindranath Tagore
whose works greatly influence Manawasinghe.
I was a student at Dharmasoka College,
Ambalangoda at the time and was at an age where we were prone to
imitate our heroes. I came to admire the literary contributions
of Manawasinghe to such an extent that I even got a saffron
coloured national banian stitched to emulate Manawasinghe who
wore his shervani with banions of different colours. I was the
only student in school to wear the national dress to school
(which earned for me the nickname ‘Reddha’ (S/C) which of course
was white in colour. Udaya, Manawe’s younger son who was but a
small fellow at the time, still remembers me in the saffron
coloured national ‘top’.
My respect and affection for Manawasinghe may
also rather unconsciously have been due to yet another personal
Both Manawasinghe and I were born on 19th of
June (as was Mr. Dudley Senanayake).
On the 19th of June this year, the Ambalangoda
Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya of which I am the President, made an
offering of a water Scheme at a cost of over Rs. 85,000 to a
remote jungle heritage - Alulen aranya situated in the elephant
infested jungles off the famous Maligawila Buddha statue in
Buttala, to convey merit to both Mr. Dudley Senanayake and Sri
Chandraratana Manawasinghe. The expenses were borne by a number
I used to attend the Magistrate’s Court of
Mahiyangane watching the political interests of my friend
‘Bindu’ (Seneviratne MP) and I was as usual doing my daily 4
mile walk one day past the Mahiyangana Parshadha Maha Vidyalaya
when I perceived a school building named after Sri Chandraratne
Manawasinghe. As I was want to do on occasions, I wanted to test
the general knowledge of a student and I asked this boy who was
in Grade 12 why a building in his school has been named after
‘one Chandraratne Manawasinghe’. This child insisted that there
was no such building and I asked him as to how long he had been
a student of the school. He said from ‘Grade One’. I then showed
him the building with the name of Manawasinghe painted in big
bold letters distincly visible and very well readable from the
Badulla-Mahiyangana Road where I was.
I was so distressed at the low standards
prevailing in our schools, I proposed to the then Minister of
Posts, the amiable Imitiaz Bakeer Markar that a commemorative
stamp be issued to honour this great erudite scholar,
philosopher, writer and orator, so that his name will be
preserved for posterity. Although Imitiaz welcomed the
suggestion made by me on behalf of the Ambalangoda Deshapremi
Sanvidhanaya, he was made a ‘persona-non-grata’ by the powers
that be, before he could implement the proposal.
It is a widely held belief among the
intellectuals of the country that Manawasinghe’s advent into the
dirty game of politics deprived him of his valuable time, which
he could otherwise have devoted to the upliftment of the Sinhala
As Marx said ‘Whatever the means that satisfy
the end’. And that end is now being satisfied by yet another
friend of mine Mr. D. M. Jayaratne, the Minister of Posts who
will issue a stamp in memory of our own William Wordsworth in
Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe.
The Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya joins a
grateful nation in applauding this noble gesture of the PA-JVP
Sandhanaya Government! Well Done.