Novelist is Born
The birth of Sri Lanka's most outstanding literary
figure of the 20th century, Martin Wickramasingha occurred on May
29, 1890. He was born in the village of Koggala in the Southern
Province close to Galle. On one side of the village was the sea
and on the other a large lake, Koggala Oya. The beautiful flora
and fauna, the lake, the sea and the simple life of the people were
captured by him in the novels and short stories he wrote.
When he was five years old he started learning
his first letters from Andiris Gurunnanase and two years later,
from the monks in the village temple. By 1903 when he was just 13
years, while under the tutelage of a relative monk, Koggala Dheerananda
Thera studying Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit, he wrote 'Balopadeshaya.’
Two years at Buonavista in Galle and another two years at the Sinhala
school in Ahangama was all the formal education he had before going
off to Batticaloa to be a shop clerk. After one year he joined John
& Company, a commission agency.
|The folk museum at Koggala covers eight acres
Wickramasingha's first novel, 'Leela' was published
in 1914 and having come to Colombo the following year to work at
Cornelis Silva's shop, he started writing a column to the 'Dinamina'
under the pen name 'Hetuvadi.’ In 1920 he joined the editorial
staff of the 'Dinamina' and served for seven years before joining
another Sinhalese newspaper, 'Lakmina.’ He began writing as
'Mayurapada' around 1930 and in 1931 he was back at Lake House as
editor of 'Silumina;the Sinhalese weekly and a year later he was
appointed editor of the 'Dinamina.’ He moved out in 1946 and
devoted full time to writing. By this time he had written seven
novels including 'Gamperaliya' (1944), the first of the trilogy
- the other two being 'Yuganthaya' (1948) and 'Kali Yugaya' (1957)
and all three were made into films by Sri Lanka's leading filmmaker
Lester James Peries. 'Gamperaliya' was later made into a teledrama.
|Some of the things he used
When his novel 'Viragaya' (1956) won the Don Pedrick
Award in the following year, the cash was donated to a student from
Karandeniya studying for the university entrance examination. 'Viragaya;
regarded by many as the finest work of fiction in Sinhala, was turned
into a memorable film by Tissa Abeysekera. The popular novel, 'Madol
Doova' (1947) was the other novel to be made into a film and a teledrama.
Several of his short stories were adapted as teledramas.
Wickramasingha travelled widely on invitation
by various countries and was honoured with awards and titles on
numerous occasions. He received the title M B E (Member of the British
Empire) in 1953 when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was in the annual honours
list of the British monarch. The Vidyodaya University recognised
him with a D Litt in 1960. The President's Award he received in
1974 was immediately given over to be used as a university scholarship.
He died on July 23, 1976.
|Martin Wickramasingha's home - his birth-place
Wickramasingha published 14 novels and 104 short
stories in eight collections, in Sinhalese and 40 books of non-fiction
prose writing, some in English. These covered a wide range including
Buddhism, art, literary criticism, philosophy, cultural anthropology
and history. Some led to intense debate. Some of his novels have
been translated into many languages - Tamil, English, Chinese, Russian,
Bulgarian, Rumanian, Dutch, French and Japanese.
His keen interest and love for folk culture made
his family (three sons and three daughters) set up a Folk Museum
at his birth-place in Koggala which has become a very popular place
for visitors, particularly school children. The Martin Wickramasingha
Trust maintains the museum and holds seminars in schools on a regular
basis offering prizes for competitions among school children. A
publishing firm, 'Sarasa" has been established to publish his
books which are priced moderately as an incentive to promote the