Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who is Chandre Dharmawardana?

A response to ‘What to do with Dharshanie Ratnawalli?

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I view with extreme concern Dr. Dharmawardana’s efforts to extricate himself from a past indiscretion. This was committed when he confided to Dr. Michael Roberts in an email note that the inscriptions of Lanka in the second century B.C. are really not Sinhala or Tamil and that the utmost that can be claimed was that a betting man would be justified in placing the odds on Sinhala because the Prakrit is close to Pali. This was the gist of the part of his email note, which by reason of its extraordinary asininity impressed me. It goes;
“I personally think there were no Damila or Sinhala in the 2nd century BC. The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali, but I personally think the ethnic distinctions came up probably after wars of Dutugamunu…”

The lexical definition of asinine is ‘failing to exercise intelligence or judgment; ridiculously below average rationality’. A more asinine statement than the above cannot be imagined, unless it’s the following written by Chandre to excuse the above.
“This is not a statement of linguistic history, but a judgment about the onset of ethnic consciousness.”
It is indeed a statement on linguistic history. ‘The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali…’ brings it firmly into the ambit of linguistic history. The primary purpose of the statement is to declare a personal belief that in the second century B.C. there were no ethnic distinctions, no ethnic labels. While this personal belief represents a new height of asininity, it was not (and is not, even now) my intention to deal with it (It demands its own separate space). My intention was to pass lightly over it and batten down on the real treasure; which is the appalling gap in Chandre’s knowledge about the language of the 2nd century B.C. inscriptions. ‘The Inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil. The Sinhala has an advantage because the Prakrit is close to Pali....’ represents the attempts of a man to fill this knowledge gap with speculation arising from the said personal belief.

Would a man who had heard at least through hearsay, of a Geiger identifying the language of the stone Brahmi inscriptions of Lanka as the oldest form of the Sinhalese language, of a Senarat Paranavithana describing the same inscriptions as being in old Sinhala, of a James W. Gair talking about inscriptions in old Sinhala dating from the early second or late third centuries B.C. of an Iravatham Mahadevan declaring that among the inscribed potsherds found in Tamil Nadu, a small but significant group is in the Sinhala-Prakrit language written in the Early Sinhala-Brahmi script, have written that the inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil? More critically, having said that and upon being exposed, what kind of a man continues to insist that what he said is consistent with what Geiger said? An asinine man. Chandre’s 'The inscriptions are really not Sinhala or Tamil’ is light years from being consistent with Geiger’s ‘The inscriptions are in the oldest form of Sinhalese called Sinhalese Prakrit’. They clash horribly.

I had just remarked in my 9th December 2012 column ‘Language Problem of Speaking Stones’;
“The number of academics in history and related disciplines together with those in unrelated disciplines but dabbling in history out of keen interest, who do not know what language the cave inscriptions of Lanka are written in, would fill a good sized tourist bus. This is a bold surmise based on three clues uncovered during my personal investigations.”
The third clue was none other than this email note from Chandre to Michael. To get permission to use it, I wrote to Michael Roberts first;
“Dear Dr. Roberts following is a note from Chandre D that you sent to me some time ago. In my last article, I talked of 3 clues that led me to believe that people are clueless about the Brahmi inscriptions. This is the third clue. Could you possibly write to Chandre D and get his permission for me to quote the red text as coming from him to illustrate the state of knowledge that exists in the public realm on the language of the Brahmi scripts?”
Here I appended the entire e mail note with the relevant portion marked in red. The whole was then forwarded by Roberts to Dharmawardana with this explanatory note (Cc to me);
“Chandre, I received this note from Darshanie Ratnawalli. Do please respond to her request. I believe both of you will benefit from exchanges of views and research findings. Michael”
The crux of this note, which was the request for the permission was somehow missed by Chandre so I tried again (Cc Roberts);
“Dear Dr. Dharmawardena. I understand that you are busy right now. At this stage, the only assistance I want from you is permission to use the first part of your email note to Dr. Roberts (which he sent to me some time ago) attributing it to you by name, in my next article as an illustrative example of the current state of public awareness on the language of the Brahmi scripts of Lanka. The part of your note I am interested in goes;…I want to clinically dissect the forces that may have resulted in the state of knowledge revealed in the above excerpt from you. May I assume I have your permission to refer to this as a communiqué from you?”

This time I seemed to get through and the rest is history. But after all these explanations, what sort of a man writes; “I was not aware of what Ratnawalli wanted, she gave no clues to it and did not ask for any clarifications… So I was surprised to see a newspaper article!”? An asinine man. .

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gordon Weiss and the dynamics of redemption.

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Not for personal gain is this exercise of mine but in pursuit of redemption. Redemption is a curious thing. To counter every wrong pattern that gets drawn on the canvas of existence, it draws some other pattern, next to which the wrong pattern looks so godawful and out of place that it soon gets erased by the collective forces of existence.

Gordon Weiss too has sat in front of his computer and drawn the following pattern;
“The hitherto relatively contiguous area that has formed the basis for a Tamil claim to a historic homeland will be broken up and interspersed with hundreds of army camps, staffed by Sinhalese soldiers…There is nothing new about the creeping erasure of Tamil territorial claims in the name of development…Archeologists and historians, sanctioned by the government, unleashed on to conquered territory and possibly funded by UNESCO, will supply the academic legitimacy for the ‘re-territorialisation’ of Sri Lanka. Eventually, postcards will be printed of newly minted Buddhist sites in formerly Tamil areas, and tour guides will regale sightseers with stories of their discovery and antiquity. Just two weeks after Prabhakaran’s death, the president’s wife unveiled a statue of Sanghamiththa…the woman who – two and a half thousand years before- is said to have brought a seedling of the holy Bo tree to Sri Lanka. The statue now sits in the middle of one of the HSZs, in the heart of Tamil Jaffna…”
-(‘The Cage’, pp.255-256)

Even the sheer godawfulness of this passage generated by the ignorance of its 21st century Australian author is redeemable. A 17th century Dutch mapmaker redeems it by his cartographical representation of Jaffna (held at the Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, but viewable online at He wouldn’t have known that he was being an agent of redemption when he drew up this map of a Jaffna where Sinhalese and Tamil place names exist side by side. He was just exercising his craft in the service of imperial Holland. To him a Jaffna that could be interspersed with a Cottiewatte, Noenavil game, Watane, a Walandale, Lilagamo, Tangode, a Tambale, Batecotte, Anecotte, Naloer, Oergavature, Nagamoene, Tambegamo, Mepale, Pollopalle, Alipalle, Malwattoe, a Walewitakepoelo, etc. would have been business as usual, with no special significance. The fact that four centuries later, demographic changes both colonial state sponsored and natural, would render a major territorial division of his map Welligamo into Valikamam and leave a Vimankamam in place of his Vimangamo and affect almost total erasure of its Sinhalese names, would have, if known, filled the cartographer with indifference. If told that four centuries of political upheaval would make his map an embarrassing skeleton in the cupboard to a political ideology aspiring to own the SL reconciliation space in the global mind map, the cartographer would have tuned out in sheer incomprehension.

Yet four centuries later, the Redemptive Dynamic turns this Dutch cartographer into an agent and his map into a beacon that exposes the human frailty or the psychical darkness behind the Weiss tenets contained in the above excerpt, such as ‘Tamil Jaffna’, ‘Tamil territorial claims’, ‘Tamil claims to a historic homeland on the basis of a contiguous area’. It reveals the plight of men, who accept international postings under global organizations to complex countries swearing to uphold liberal principles, only to get bent by reason of their garden variety intellects into buying ethnic cleansing agendas for multicultural spaces. This agent of the Redemptive Dynamic and his beacon also show the sheer superfluity of ‘unleashing historians and archeologists on conquered territory’ with or without UNESCO funding to give ‘academic legitimacy to the re-territorialisation of Sri Lanka’. All one has to do is to give out framed copies of this map to the sections of the populace entertaining doubts about the legitimacy of the said re-territorialisation. In fact, I am not sure if the Redemptive Dynamic didn’t overdo it a bit with this map. There’s such a thing as having it too easy.

Re Sangamittha, the woman is indeed said by the Pali chronicle of Lanka to have landed in Jambukolapattana with the Bo sapling. But as this same chronicle was instrumental in establishing the identity of even this woman’s father in the inscriptions of India, it seems reasonable to assume that the chronicle was on the ball re the Asokan connection and she did indeed land in Jambukolapattana, which port is widely accepted by historians as belonging to the peninsula.
“……..a brief reference to the regional and not merely Sri Lankan importance of the translation of the Mahavamsa. In time it became the source for determining the identity of Devanampiya Piyadassi mentioned in a series of inscriptions on pillars and rocks in many parts of India, an identification eventually confirmed in the early 20th century, as the great Emperor Asoka. …”
-(‘K M De Silva: Emerson Tennent Memorial Lecture: JRASSL, NS, VOL. XLI, Special Number, 1996’)

Did we really have as a UN official a man who was capable of regarding the celebration of this cultural association in Jaffna, as a violation and an abomination? The shock is fully comparable to seeing running sores on the body of a beauty contestant during the swimsuit round.