Piyadasa Sirisena – First DeathAnniversary

A tribute to amass communicator and national revivalist



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In this tribute we intend to trace in detail how Mr. Piyadasa Sirisena became one of the leaders in mass communication in the early part of the twentieth century.Using communication as a tool he launched a long drawn out resistanceagainst imperial rule. He was in a crux a countervailing force against the British rule in Sri Lanka.


In retrospect, when communication technology was not available to Ceylonese easily, how did Sirisena, just a single individual reach out to the indigenous mass of Sinhala Buddhists?


As opposed to this situation, the British under whose control this island was utilized considerable means of communication at their disposal to disseminate information. By this time theBritish had access to the printing press- The Telegraph,and newspapers. Though printing presses had been established in Ceylon since the mid- nineteenth century the resources available to the Ceylonese to disseminate printed material was highly limited.


Britain controlled its colonies through dissemination of information. Though technology in communication was then somewhat backward they used it with telling effect to influence the mindset of vulnerable people of the countries they had colonized.


The British colonized these countries using their military might. The idea of the conquest of the weaker countries especially in Asia was to exploit their resources and transfer the material gains to Britain.This was a part of empire building.


It goes without saying that some of the information transmitted to their colonies could rightly be called fake news.


In a forthright article in a leading newspaper recently Farish A, Noor Associate Professor Nyang Technological University, Singapore, states that empires were built on misinformation, twisted information or distorted news which enabled empires to influence and control mass thought.


When you consider the case of Ceylon, a pervasive control was effected in respect of information by one of the principal agents of colonial rule-the Christian missionaries.


Religion is a powerful tool in the mindset of the peopleespecially the unsuspecting masses. It is a known fact that Christian missionaries during the nineteenth century engaged in religious conversions of the people basically in the Maritime Provinces to achieve their ends .The missionaries built churches all over the country. Along withinducements to change their religion there were also a host of benefits offered for example employment opportunities, school admissions and other such benefits.


But what caused discontent among the masses were not so much the privileges offered to their brethren whoconverted to Christianity but the false information or fake news the missionaries spread about Buddhism particularly in the coastal areas.


Buddhism had been for ages the central component of life and culture of the Sinhalese community. The faith the people had in the temple, the priests, the sermons and alms offered by them could not be taken away easily though some Sinhalese did give in to material gains. There was, as a result a simmering discontent against the subtle anti- Buddhist campaigns launched by the Christian missions.


The discontent erupted in the formof a debate through the brilliant communicator -a courageous Buddhist priest in Panadura. The ‘Panadura Wadaya‘ held in 1873 in which the Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera played a significant role is considered a major step in the Buddhist revival.


During the subsequent years, it was Anagarika Dharmapala who continued the revivalist campaign with great fervor. He himself was a great communicator who launched a series of verbal attacks island wide against British imperialism.


The Mahabodhi Society which he founded transformed the revivalist endeavor to a high degree, in a truly institutionalized form. On the other hand our country by the turn of the century was increasingly on the path of economic, social and cultural regeneration. According to a leading critic, Professor Nadasena Ratnapala, the resurgent, religio-nationalism which Anagarika Dharmapala had begun, became an important part of the anti- imperial struggle.


It is correct to say that the lively centre of this struggle was a part of the capital city, Maradana.


Emergence of Piyadasa Sirisena


How did the main subject of discussion enter the picture of national and Buddhist revival.


Born in 1875, in a verdant and laid back village named Induruwa ,just three kilometers south of Bentota, he moved to Colombo on being offered employment in a furniture establishment. Piyadasa Sirisena was no doubt inspired by Anagarika Dharmapala. He admired Dharmapala’s courageous crusade against the British.


Sirisena began his career in a quiet manner by contributing to publications begun by Mr. Irvin Gunawardena-a businessman. The publication-‘Situmina’ was first published in 1895 and a little later Sirisena contributed articles to ‘Sarasavi Sandaresa‘ edited by a leading newspaper man named Hemendra Sepala Perera. It is widely believed that it was Perera who opened the door enabled Piyadasa Sirisena to launch his illustrious career which in due course impacted on our society.


The central theme of his work was revivalism. Ceylon at this time had a growing literate populous. They were increasingly conscious of their political rights and their ancient Buddhist heritage.


It was through Sarasavi Sandaresa that Piyadasa Sirisea was able to serialise his first novel Roslin and Jayatissa. In 1903 Sirisena began to publish his newspaper ‘Sinhala Jatiya’. In the meantime, Anagarika Dharmapala who held the view that the Sinhala Buddhists in this country did not have a Buddhist newspaper, launched the’ Bauddhaya’. Having observed Sirisena’s growing dedication to the Buddhist revival and his deep interest in connected work Dharmapala entrusted the task of editing ‘The Bauddhaya’ to him.


By this time, he was deeply involved in literary activities. As a result of his editing both ‘Sinhala Jatiya’ and Bauddhaya there appeared a conflict of interest .This made Sirisena resign from the editorship of the Bauddhaya. In 1909 he began publishing Sinhala Jatiya asa bi-weekly paper.


As the twentieth century advanced Sirisena grew in stature and recognition. His communication skills brought him into close contact with the formal leadership of the country. Among such leaders were D.S and F.R. Senanayaka, Dr. C.A. Heavitharana, and W.A de Silva.


The Temperance Movement


The British liquor policy at his period of time began to impact adversely on civil society. It not only caused addiction but also harm to the general life pattern on the Ceylonese society.


The liquor issue and the quest for freedom in combination gave rise to considerable opposition and became a gathering force against British rule.


Piyadasa Sirisena became a flag bearer of the temperance movement. The leaders of the country enlisted Sirisena’s support and his communication skills in the battle against British administration.


The Green bookpublished by the ‘Times of Ceylon’ states that the ‘Sinhala Jatiya’ press was established as far back as 1907. It proved to be of the greatest significance to the Sinhala reading public since it not only published a newspaper butalso numerous novels which had a wide circulation among the literate Sinhalese.


Sinhala Muslim Riots of 1915


In 1915 an event of historical importance which turned the tide against British administration- the Sinhala Muslim riots, were to cause a serious setbackto British rule in Sri Lanka. The details of this episode are too well known to be repeated. Piyadasa Sirisena along with other Buddhist leaders was arrested on the charge of inciting the Sinhalese against Muslims. He was released from jail after two months.It is an unfortunate blot on British history of this countrythat young Captain Henry Pedris lost his life in the course of the riots. He also became a national hero following the sacrifice of his life.


We began this exercise by stating that Sirisena was one of the foremost communicators of this nation during that turbulent final phase of British rule.


In all Sirisena’s novels and the newspaper the central theme was the Buddhist and national revival and the ancient heritage of the country.


a) Sirisena published twenty novels, beginning with Roslin and Jayatissa which according to Sinhala criticsbecame a landmark in the history of Sinhala novels. He is also widely considered the father of the Sinhala novel.


b) He published several books on poetry.Amongst the eleven published were Dampal Siritha, Jayawardena Sathakaya, and Swarnamali Maha Kavya,


c) Sirisena’s publications sold over a 100,000copies in all during his life time which perhaps is unmatched in the history of this country except in the case of school texts prescribed by the Department of Educationfrom time to time.


Piyadasa Sirisena as many critics state brought about a silent revolution in the thinking of Sinhala people of this country.


Finally we need to emphasise that Sirisena despite his virulent criticism did admire certain aspects of British administration of this country .In particular he liked their drive towards a modern state, the legal and education system in addition to economic advancement brought about in the country.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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