Dan Brown finds himself in unholy row
The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail are accusing the author of The Da Vinci Code, of stealing their ideas for the central theme of his best-selling conspiracy thriller.

By James Button
I've never heard of it," says Sophie, a character in The Da Vinci Code, as the evil Sir Leigh Teabing pulls a book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, from his shelf.
"This caused quite a stir back in the 1980s," Teabing replies. "To my taste, the authors made some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit, they finally brought the idea of Christ's bloodline into the mainstream."

And there they are, two paragraphs that acknowledge the debt of Dan Brown, American author of The Da Vinci Code, to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a pseudo-history that claims Jesus married Mary Magdalene and has descendants, and that secretive elements in the Catholic Church will stop at nothing to hush this up. Did the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail seethe with rage as they read these paragraphs?

Two of them were at Britain's High Court on February 27, claiming that Brown had stolen their idea for the central theme of The Da Vinci Code, the conspiracy thriller that is one of the best-selling books in history. So began a bizarre and explosive copyright infringement trial, one with such potential consequences that it forced the reclusive Brown to leave his New Hampshire hideaway and face his accusers in court.

Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh — whose names, they claim, form the anagram Leigh Teabing — are suing their own publishers, Random House, which also published The Da Vinci Code. If successful, they could delay the release of the film of The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen. The case will turn on the meaning of plagiarism in an age of instant, ubiquitous information. Brown, who sat silently in the front row of the packed court, has said that while he consulted HBHG, as it was called in court, he only did so at the end of writing his book, that he acknowledged its influence in The Da Vinci Code, and that it was "incidental" to his work.

"This is an extraordinary claim that would surprise anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code after reading HBHG," the plaintiffs' QC, Jonathan Rayner James, said in his opening arguments. Mr. James listed 15 points at which he claims the "central theme" of the earlier book is copied in Brown's novel.

He also pointed out a number of pieces of text he claims are directly taken from one book to another. He claims that Brown worked from notes researched by his wife, Blythe, to give "plausibility" to his work. "It is not as though Brown has simply lifted a discrete set of raw facts from HBHG. He has lifted the connections that join the points up."

Sitting loyally near Brown during the hearing, Random House chief executive Gail Rebuck said in a statement that she was "genuinely saddened" that Baigent and Leigh "have chosen to bring this litigation against us. Random House takes no pleasure in defending a legal action that it believes is without merit”.

The publishers' lawyers will argue that Brown consulted many sources while writing his book and that the plaintiffs are trying to copyright history, if history is the right word for a work that claims the lineage of Christ married into the Merovingian line of French kings and is protected by a secret sect based in France.

Published in 1982, HBHG was also a bestseller, but its sales of 2 million were dwarfed by the 40 million copies sold of The Da Vinci Code, a book that author Salman Rushdie described as so bad "it makes bad books look good".
Baigent is a New Zealander who moved to Britain 30 years ago. Leigh is an American who lives in Britain. The third author, Henry Lincoln, has no part in the action.

- Courtesy The Age)

A peep into history moved by the tsunami
The tsunami moved Damayanthi Jayakody to delve into history and write two books aimed mainly at children. One is based on the Samuddavanija Jataka and the other draws a comparison between the recent tsunami and the one that occurred during the reign of King Kelanitissa in the kingdom of Kelaniya. Both are Dayawansa Jayakody publications.

The Jataka tale is titled 'Deviyo Ehi Vediyaha ' and relates how a deity appeared and saved a large number of people living on an island when there was a threat of a tsunami. The preamble to the story deals with how Devadatta Thera tried to create a rift among the Maha Sangha leading to the Buddha preaching the Jataka tale. The 27-page book is written in a lucid style and is illustrated with simple single colour illustrations.

The more elaborate 'Budu Dahamai Maha Muhudai Kelanitissa Rajjuruvoi' (The Dhamma, the Sea and King Kelanitissa) is profusely illustrated in full colour and runs into 68 pages. It is a commendable effort to relate how the sea was angered by the doings of an unjust king and link it up with the 2004 December tsunami. The sea was 28 miles away from Kelaniya, yet it caused tremendous damage when the whole area got flooded. Damayanthi Jayakody gives figures and quotes Rajavaliya to illustrate the grave situation. More than 900 villages where fisher-folk lived and another 470 villages where pearl fishery divers lived were devastated. Eleven islands belonging to Sri Lanka just disappeared. In total, around 1450 villages went under water. The only areas spared were Mannar and Katupiti Madampe.

The offer by the king's daughter Devi to sacrifice herself in a bid to save the country was accepted by the king who, when touring the flooded area close to the capital on the back of the royal elephant is said to have fallen into a deep pit at a place close to present Wattala. She then discusses how the princess was picked up by King Kavantissa in the deep-south and their marriage. The unification of the country by Dutugemunu and his efforts to revive Buddhism are then described.

Touching on the recent tsunami, Damayanthi poses the question whether it was intended as an eye-opener to what is going on in society today. "Animals are being slaughtered in their thousands. The musical shows held throughout the country are a disgrace. Every day there is a lottery. Can a country prosper through gambling? Liquor is being sold in every village, in every town. Those who take liquor commit the five sins. Some get deceived by money and change their religion. The fundamentalists are busy with their campaign. People are disgusted. Nature too may be disgusted,” she writes.
She winds up with a plea to follow the Dhamma and lead just lives.
The book is illustrated mostly with the Soliyas Mendis murals in the Kelaniya temple. Suitable illustrations have been used to exemplify the rest of her story.


A deep insight into Hindu art
The Creative Touches of the Chisel by Sivanandini Duraiswamy. A Vijitha Yapa publication. Reviewed by Vijita Fernando

This scholarly monograph is the outcome of several years of travelling, study, contemplation and a deep and abiding interest in all aspects of Hinduism by the author.

As she explains, “ ….a great piece of Hindu art will reveal its secret and grandeur only when admired in the solitude of one self and studied in moments of deep meditation”.

The study is an eye opener to the uninitiated and the student on the close links between Hinduism and Art, Sculpture and Architecture. The book covers a period of about five thousand years and is the result of total immersion by the author for nearly five years. The presentation certainly does credit to the vast amount of material she has collected and no less to her easy, facile presentation which is capable of evoking an artistic appreciation even in the most prosaic of readers. The over hundred and fifty black and white illustrations scattered throughout the book certainly help to add to the reader’s capacity to comprehend and understand the contents.

A word about the author. A graduate of the University of London, diploma holder in carnatic music and Veena from the Trinity College of Music, London, exponent of Bharatha Natyam and student of Chinese brush work, Sivanandini Duraiswamy’s interest in Hinduism is deep rooted and stems from her childhood. But, she hastens to add, it is her years of extensive travelling in Asia, the Middle East and Europe with her diplomat husband that honed her skills in appreciation of Hindu art and her researching and comparing Hindu thought and culture with those of other cultures. A combination of all this is really the forerunner to her current work. Even a cursory glance at the vast amount of material in the book is pointer to the fact that Hindu art, both sculpture and architecture were famous beyond the frontiers of India and spread to South and South East Asia as seen in temples in Borobudur in Java, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Cambodia and Pagan in Burma. The designs in architecture of these temples were all inspired by Hindu thought and bear witness to the efforts of men who inspired Hinduism as they understood it, says the author.

“The ancient sculptures and temples studied in this book and those existing elsewhere in India, as well as the modern temples, will continue to serve the people spiritually with less and less stress on myths and rituals and more stress on spiritual growth and development – atma viksas – of all human being, which is the goal of evolution at the human stage, according to Vedanta,” says Swami Ragnanthananda, head of the Ramakrishna Mission, in a foreword to the book.

The book is a veritable history of the several aspects of Hindu art which the writer traces through the beginnings of iconography from the Indus Valley and Vedic cultures, symbols of Hindu art, growth of temples, Dravidian and early medieval North Indian architecture. The significance of symbols and motifs, with accompanying profuse illustrations takes the reader through a series of how these operated in every aspect of religion.

Of particular interest to the local readers is the section on the Sri Lankan contribution to Hindu art with special reference to the Polonnaruwa period where the South Indian influence is apparent. The author quotes extensively from several writers to give credence to historical evidence of this influence.
The author takes pains to explain through illustrations and references to the Hindu religion the uniqueness of its art, its conventions and techniques which cannot be understood through cursory study. All aspects of Hindu art, mantras, poetry, hymns, bronze or stone sculpture, architecture, music, dance, painting create spiritual inspiration. It should also be noted, she says, that there are instances of traditional sculpture inspired by local ideas exclusive to each region.

However, the craftsmanship of the sculptor and the architect are interwoven and this perfect symphony makes Hindu temples some of the finest structures in the world.

Coins of many shapes and symbols of the Sangam Age
A Catalogue of The Sangam Age Pandaya and Chola Coins In the National Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Ramasubbu Krishnamurthy & Senarath Wickramasinghe. Rs 200. Available at the Colombo Museum Bookshop
The Sangam Age has been associated with the period from 150 to 750 B.E. (i.e. 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) in South India and northern Lanka. Of the 73 Sangam Age Tamil Coins in the Colombo Museum Collection, 70 belong to the Hettiarachchi collection and 41 Pandya coins and 3 Chola coins in fairly good condition have been illustrated in this new catalogue.

Senarath Wickramasinghe writes about trade connections during the Sangam Age, including two maps, and Krishnamurthy about the Sangam Age coins in the National Museum, Colombo, both with references and notes. Ramasubbu Krishnamurthy's 1997 book Sangam Age Tamil Coins is a classic South Asian numismatic book of the era.

Codrington calls these coins "Buddhist Cakram", and I found it interesting that the Sangam Age derives its name from the earliest strata of Tamil literature to the last (Kandai) Sangam "probably modelled on the Buddhist Sanga for the promotion of Tamil literature" at Madurai in Tamilnadu. The region known as "Tamilaham" was ruled by three major dynasties known as Chera, Chola and Pandya.

These almost square copper coins vary in size from 13 mm to 28 mm and weigh from under 1 gram to over 11 grams, a large range of weights and sizes as in modern coinage. Krishnamurthy states that these coins kept in paper pouches were never taken out and examined. The Pandaya coins have a stylised fish symbol on the obverse, while the Chola coins have a tiger which looks almost like the lion in the modern Sri Lankan Flag. Chera coins which would have had a bow and he comments that it is unexplained why there were none in this collection.

The reverse of most of the coins have multiple symbols. An elephant standing to left or right or a horse or a bull in a few. Other symbols such as the Bo-tree in railing and the three arched hill are also seen on Lankan coins of the same era. None of the coins have the railed-swastika which was the symbol of the Lankan monarchy.

Of particular interest are coins numbered 4 and 5 which have been over struck with a circular counter-stamp with the tree-in-railing symbol. Raja Wickremasingha, president of the Sri Lanka Numismatic society recently presented a paper on a coin like this, he thought was unique. The coin numbered 17 is also interesting since it shows the king with a crown seated on an elephant. A triangular symbol very similar to the Ankh the Egyptian symbol of life is drawn above.

The format of the new catalogue is attractive. The colour image, line drawing and detailed descriptions of every coin are on the same page for easy reference. Many numismatic books put the images in plates at the end or separate the colour images from the line drawing, or the descriptions sometimes break into two pages.

I am glad the publishers have carefully ensured that reference is not cumbersome. However they have omitted the scale. In an attempt to display in a fixed size frame, some coins are displayed at actual size, while some are significantly enlarged and some reduced in size. The scale can be roughly computed from the dimensions given, but that is not convenient.

In the foreword to this book Dr. Nanda Wickramasinghe, Director of the Department of National Museums in Sri Lanka, states, ‘Dissemination of material information on museum collections and its publication is one of the major responsibilities of a museum’. She also states that since their last numismatic publication in English, the classic Ceylon Coins and Currency in H. W. Codrington, the collection has increased three fold to 85,000 coins.

I hope that this book is just the first of a new series of books on coins in the Colombo Museum. I understand one is now being prepared on Lakshmi plaques. I recommend that these books are also put on-line since one can overcome the printing limitation and display the coins in high resolution needed for detailed study of the fascinating iconography. This review by Dr Kavan Ratnatunga is hosted by : a website for Coins of Lanka.

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