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2nd July 2000
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Kala Corner - by Dee Cee

What's culture: all that man has created the good and bad

What is Culture? Professor J. B. Disanayaka offers a simple explanation. Culture is what has been created by man. 

Somebody asks him," What have you to say about the present gun culture and the bomb culture" ?

"As I said, culture covers all that man has created, good and bad", he answers. 

He was speaking at the launch of the book 'Rituals, Folk Beliefs & Magical Arts of Sri Lanka', a comprehensive study by Susantha Fernando, and as usual, he was pretty interesting and revealing.

He talked of "crossings of life", those which we notice even before birth: the child in the mother's womb. He (or she) is there and not there. The child is not born. But the moment the child is born, the situation changes. So is it when a girl attains age. There is a period when she is neither a girl nor a woman. 

It's the same with marriage. The bride and bridegroom are on the 'poruwa'. They are not married neither are they man and wife. 

We observe 'nonagathe' during Sinhala Avurudu. We refrain from doing what we normally do. The old year is over and the new year has not yet begun. There is a period of transition.

While speaking of rituals, (which have a long history with our people) J.B related an interesting story about what happened after the British took over the 'Kanda Uda Rata' in 1815. The British decided to do away with the Perahera. The people were not happy. They feared they would not have rains, because the Perahera was meant to bring them rain. Soon they experienced a long spell of drought. The Kandyan chieftains appealed to Governor Edward Barnes that the Perahera should be held, but he would not hear of it. After continuous appeals, he decided to have the Perahera. And he did, in 1829. Did it rain? Yes, it did. It was not just a shower. There were floods on an unprecedented scale. They still talk of the 'Dalada Watura' referring to the great flood of 1829.

J.B. reminded that even today, after the 'diya kepeema' at Getambe, at the end of the Esala Perahera, there is always a shower of rain. People have got used to rituals but they cannot explain how or why these are done.

He went on to talk about magic. It's a phenomenon which cannot be explained in a logical manner. There are things we accept as auspicious or lucky and there are certain others which we say are inauspicious or unlucky. Water is considered auspicious. When a married couple steps out of the house, someone, usually a female who is considered lucky, walks towards them with a glass of water. Milk is also considered auspicious. Though it is not so with fire - which is considered unlucky. 

"Certain things may look utter nonsense. But there is a lot of sense in the nonsense", he said. It's up to the anthropologists to find out. And Susantha Fernando's book helps in that effort.

Man with ideas
My association with Susantha Fernando, author of the 500-page thesis on Sri Lankan rituals and folk beliefs, goes back to the seventies, when he wanted to launch a Sinhala journal on new ideas. It was a thoughtful idea at the time, a time when the youth had to be moulded towards looking at something innovative, something different. They needed ideas. We named the journal 'Nava Adahas'. Susantha got the backing of Ceylon Tobacco Company to carry it through. He put out 35 issues.

Susantha, who now insists on calling himself 'Mihindu-kulasuriya Susantha Fernando' seems to be fond of doing research. Three years ago, he published 'Alien Mysteries in Sri Lanka and Egypt', a rather unusual subject. And now after much research, he has come out with 'the international edition' of 'Rituals, Folk Beliefs & Magical Arts of Sri Lanka'. Publisher Godage has done an excellent presentation of the publication. 

The book has been described as "a mammoth compendium of almost all the rituals, folk practises, habits, symbols, gods, deities, saints, demons, spirits, 'pretas', sorcery and demonic crafts of the different ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka, who have contributed in no small measure to the diversity, profusion, magnificence and mysticism of the folk cultural heritage of our Island". 

Godage Literary Festival
Godage is a name synonymous with book publishing. Every year Godage Publishers win the award for the largest number of books published within a year and have done so for the last dozen years or more.

This year they take a giant leap. Godage Literary Awards are being launched. The first awards will be presented at the Godage Literary Festival to be held at the National Library Centre on Thursday, July 6. Awards will be made for the best novels and collections of short stories selected by readers, writers and critics, from the Godage publications in 1998. "The selections have been done in the most democratic and participative manner", says proprietor Sirisumana Godage. Two Readers' Awards are also being offered.

It's Dalada Maligawa next
Dalada Maligawa is the next subject of Professor J. B. Disanayaka's series of 'Rataka Mahima' booklets. He is preparing for its launch next weekend. It will be the eighth in the series adding to his previous works on Ridi Vihara, Degaldoruwa, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Atamasthana, Mulkirigala, Ruwanveli Sey and Kelani Vihara.

A Taste of Sinhala (24)

One man's mouth is another's tongue

By Prof. J. B. Disanayaka
The Englishman uses the word 'tongue' not only to refer to the movable fleshy organ in the mouth but also in a metaphorical sense to refer to 'language'. One hears of 'the mother tongue' denoting the language that a child learns, first, and of people whose 'native tongue' is not English.

An Englishman is occasionally warned to 'guard his tongue', in other words, to mind his 'language'. When a Sinhala speaker wants some- one to mind his language, he does not say, "Guard your tongue" but "Guard your mouth". It goes in Sinhala as "Kata paressan kara ganda", where 'kata' means 'mouth'.

When someone is about to say something that he should, not , then a Sinhalese shouts "kata kata"! (mouth, mouth), meaning that he should guard his tongue. When a Sinhalese wants to say something but will not do so for reasons of etiquette, he says "ane mage kata", literally 'oh! my mouth'.

You are also warned not to tempt a Sinhalese to say something nasty about what you've said. For if you do, then he will shout "mage kata avussa ganda epa!". It means, literally, 'do not stir up my mouth', for then it can come out with all sorts of things that might embarrass you as when you stir up something that gives a foul smell.

Occasionally a Sinhalese expresses his desire to eat the mouth, "kata kanda hitenava", in response to something that has been said by another either to impress you or irritate you.

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