Saturday Magazine

Cumaratunga's Revival Movement as a key to national development
by Helabas Mini - Kalabhushana Sandadas Coperahewa
(64th death anniversary of Cumaratunga Munidasa fell on March 2)

The Hela Havula Movement which has exerted a lasting influence on the development of the Sinhala language, literature, and music, on the one hand, and the thriving patterns of Sinhala culture on the other, commemorates the 64th death anniversary of Munidasa Cumaratunga.

The 'Revival Movement' was inaugurated by the two stalwarts, Munidasa Cumaratunga and Jayantha Weerasekara, at a time not favourable for pursuits of that nature, partly due to colonial rule prevailing at that time on the one hand and the lethargy, indifference, misconceptions, and traditional beliefs of the people who had set their minds in blinkers, on the other.

One of the earlier pioneers, the erudite scholar W. F. Gunawardana has expressed this pathetic position thus:-

"Those people have no sympathy with originality, and they have a constitutional hatred of modern ideas opposed to the teachings of our great masters of old. They cannot conceive how any man of the present can know anything better than those masters, and if any man does pretend to know, well then he must face the consequences."

Cumaratunga being aware of the setbacks in the social set up at the time, devoted his time and energy to take the necessary corrective measures to eradicate the corroding conditions in society.

He laid the proper foundation for the study of language while he was engaged in the teaching profession.

He put his heart and soul in his work, in revision and elucidation of classical texts, both prose and verse. These are revised with full explanatory notes pertaining to grammar and various allusions which attract the scholar and the student as well.

Cumaratunga, in his critical research and survey of the classical texts of the Augustan age of Sinhala literature, found that most of the great scholars maintained an elegant grammatical order in keeping with the innate indigenous structure of the language, and which in turn was an order which prevailed in society at large.

He was quite aware of the education based on classical literature which in many ways could preserve, extend and advance the most significant aspects of Sri Lankan culture.

He was under the impression that every other thing was subordinate to linguistic stability. In this respect he was most modern and prophetic.

With unflinching courage and determination and marvellous patience, he set about the 'Herculean task' of the ‘Revival Movement'. As time passed by many scholars, teachers, and students, began to comprehend and appreciate his great mission.

As there was no proper medium to give vent to his feelings and ideas and to guide the students, and Sinhala enthusiasts, he started the well known paper 'LakMiniPahana' dated (13.11.1934) where he made the following comment with regard to the aim of the paper:

'Once again we have to emphasise one point. The function of our paper is not to express our opinion with regard to language or religion. Its main business is to provide room for anyone to express his opinion in refined elegant language that will be beneficial to society at large. Even though the opinion that is being expressed may be solely against us, there will be room for its publication.

"It should be quite clear to our readers that our principle will be to give room to an opinion is against us, rather than favourable to us."

Thus, 'LakMiniPahana’ gave much encouragement to students to write elegant language and to make use of it as a vibrant vehicle to convey their ideas and feelings and to gain experience in the form of creative writing, whether it is prose or verse.

Many priests, scholars, and students, contributed articles to ‘LakMiniPahana.’ With much sympathy and expectation Cumaratunga gave the necessary help to most of them, specially to the students by doing the necessary corrections in the articles sent to him by them and making it a point to post them back. Many promising poets and writers made good use of the opportunity afforded to them.

Jayamaha Wellala, who was able to impress Cumaratunga with his talent for poetry, and Amarasiri Gunawardana, who attracted his attention with his verbal neatness, cleverness, and poetic art, produced interesting work. Rev. Warakagoda Seelaratana Thera, a poet with extraordinary talent, contributed many articles and poems.

Cumaratunga gave very interesting and constructive criticisms to most of these poems, which were appreciated by most of the readers. Some of these later on appeared in his 'Kavi Shikahava' (Restraint in Poetry).

Thus, ‘LakMiniPahana’ really became the irradiating light of Sri Lanka. Poets from that time onwards began to shine with the gem - Like creative flame. However it lasted only a couple of years.

Cumaratunga's ardent love for the maintenance and preservation of language and his best efficiency and perseverance in the achievement of his lofty objectives never failed. With renewed enthusiasm and determination he started work, in an entirely new field. He devoted his full time to carry out his work, as a Features Editor in the 'Swadesa - Mitraya'. For the first time he made an attempt to experiment with the possibility to explain knotty points in grammar, in some sort of simplified style, in versified form. He also supplied a series of articles elucidating rules of syntax, and supplied clues to various grammatical problems.

The Sinhala version of 'Kadambari' not only attracted the attention of Sanskrit students, but this in turn, amply manifested his consummate mastery in the language and his remarkable talent as a translator. However, his tenure of office as a Features Editor at the 'Swadesha-Mitraya' paper came to an end on December 20, 1936.

Cumaratunga strongly felt that the time was drawing near for Sri Lankans to choose their legitimate rights as citizens of this country and stand arrayed in their own colours to safeguard their interests and objectives with regard to language, race, and country.

With this end in view he started his well known journal 'Subhasa' (‘Elegant language') to safeguard, propagate and achieve the above objectives in the best way possible.

As time passed by, a large number of followers from diverse walks of life rallied round him, to develop, enrich and safeguard the elegant forms of the Sinhala language. 'Subhasa' firmly anchored to the principles of order in society was started on July 10 1939, and continued till February 16, 1942, having fulfiled in diverse ways, its objective in an extraordinary manner, in spite of the alarming setbacks of the social set up at that time.

'Subhasa' exerted a tremendous influence on the 'Revival Movement.' Many budding poets, and writers took an active part, in diverse forms. At this stage, it is necessary to direct our attention to some of the poets, essayists, novelists, who had made very valuable contributions to develop literature.

R. Tennakoone, exhibited his flashes of genius by the contribution of many poems, going ahead of others. He was the most prolific writer, whose most characteristic features were his rare wit, sarcasm, and humour.

Jayamaha Wellala, who attracted Cumaratunga's attention (during ‘LakMiniPahana’ period) with his inborn poetic talent, his simple, lucid style, and pleasing themes, satiated the aesthetic taste of most of the readers. Cumaratunga's right hand-man, Jayantha Weerasekara, as the leading dynamic force in his movement, dominated the whole show.

Hurbert Dissanayke who contributed many articles to 'Subhasa' became very popular among the readers. Through the medium of poetry he was able to convey the mood and emotion of characters by this peculiar poetic and prose presentation and style.

As time passed by hundreds of such talented young men rallied round Cumaratunga. Cumaratunga's great expectation that there should be an organized body to carry out the varied activities of the 'Revival Movement', failed to bear fruit after the setting up of a society called 'Sinhala Samajaya' and 'Sinhala Araya.' Later he was able to organize an assembly presided by A. P. Jayamanna, lecturer, Training College, Maggona. Cumaratunga stressed the necessity for an association and requested the members to suggest a suitable name for the Association. Jayantha Weerasekara's suggestion that the association should be named as 'Hela Havula' was unanimously adopted by the society. Cumaratunga then gave a very impressive speech.

He said, "a country with an undeveloped language will not develop. In fact this is not an Eastern concoction. This is the conception of Western scholars. It is a pity that these ideas have not got into the heads of our people. It is more or less the task of a person to develop a country single handed. Even for such a one if there is the slightest support, it is indeed an encouragement.'

"During King Dutugamunu's era, the bhikkhus took the initiative to direct the attention of the people towards worldly affairs. It appears that there is some such inclination among the monks to compete with the laity. Certainly, it is a symbolic presentation of the country's position'.

'If we are to bring about the pristine glory of the past, the foremost meritorious act that we should do is to go ahead with the pursuit of developing the wisdom and knowledge of the Sinhalese.

"This is a small country. The Sinhalese are a small nation. It is a defeatist mentality to go by the fact that in a small country there is hardly any room for development."

"Therefore, take heart. Let us get together and form a society, and set up branch-societies throughout the island and create an awareness among the people to know the work that we propose to do."

For this purpose Abiram Gamhewa and Eddie Fernando were appointed joint secretaries. Along with them an Executive Committee was also formed inclusive of monks and seven laymen.

Before long branch - societies were set up in Panadura, Kalutara, Colombo, Galle, Matara, Ambalangoda, Kandy, Bandarawela, Kegalle, Dambadeniya and other places.

Meetings were held to propagate the mission. Cumaratunga and Jayantha Weerasekara (who had won the admiration of the people as eloquent speakers) were able to create a lasting impression among the audience.

R. Tennekoone, in his usual humorous, sarcastic style provided much entertainment. Charles de Silva, the erudite scholar, Amarasiri Gunawardena, Jayamaha Wellala, Abiram Gamhewa, and W. M. Perera gave their ardent support.

Cumaratunga encouraged his followers to channel the forces of the mind in the pursuit of aesthetic and linguistic adventure for the betterment and the upliftment of society.

The 'Ruwan Vala' series started by Cumaratunga with the help of Jayantha Weerasekara, made great headway in the production of innovation in aesthetic and literary pursuits, in the most admirable manner. Jayamaha Wellala's ‘Ali Sathuruva’ Tennekoone's ‘Vevuluva' 'Mavilla', 'Davinaya', Warakagoda Seelaratana Thera's 'Lama Viruva', Amarasiri Gunawardena's 'Piliyama' attracted the attention of the readers in a remarkable manner.

At the height of fame and influence, he realized that before long he would be able to reap the fruits of his magnificent mission, to safeguard, sustain, and ensure the order of language and thereby pave the way for order and harmony in society.

Driven by a collective consciousness devoid of caste, creed, national, and religious bias, in solemn words he expressed his view for the sole unification of the country as an integrated whole:-

'Basa-desa-rase yaa - Nokarana pana yaa’

‘The life that fails to cherish, language, race and country, will perish'.


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