The fact that Primary Level students require material that is interesting, appealing and simple, led the writer to take on this task. Her foremost aim is not only to create interest in the material but also to inculcate the reading habit, to improve word power and strengthen the students’ language skills. The images, comparisons and similes used no doubt lead to incidental learning of the language, and the inclusion of dialogue, ideal for role-play, promotes practice in speech.
The reading matter itself is very simple; simple and repetitive for fixation. But it grows gradually, and naturally, to compound and complex sentence structures as it begins to touch upon the lofty. The ‘reading help’ given at the end of each passage to assist the weaker child, is also an aid to spelling, while comprehension questions monitor and assess the pupil’s understanding of the reading. The author writes of kings the pupil might already be acquainted with from common knowledge, and gives them in story form to arouse the child’s interest, giving glimpses into the loves, fears, joys and wraths of royal personages like the kings Pandukabaya, Devanampiyatissa, and Buddhadasa.
The book not only enlightens readers about the history and culture of the Sri Lankans but also imparts high ideals that have a positive impact on life. For example, the caring habits stressed in King Buddhadasa’s story, his deep compassion for the sick and suffering, where the king himself attends on the afflicted, would make the young readers reflect on such values.
The popular story of King Pandukabaya occupies a good portion of the book. Above and beyond his uncles’ relentless pursuit to have him killed and his miraculous escapes and life in the forest, the reader is presented with a different kind of conquest in the narration of how the fugitive prince while training and practising fencing in the forest meets Pali, and smitten by her unsurpassing beauty, resolves to make her his own. He asks her to come away with him to which she readily agrees, and he rides off with his prize thus provoking an onslaught on him by all but one of his uncles. The ensuing battle leads to their deaths and consequently to the prince’s accession to the throne.
The prince, now King Pandukabaya, faithful to his word, or rather, his own playful prediction made at their first meeting, makes Swarnapali (Pali) his queen, and the story ends there to be picked up again in a second informative section titled ‘More About the Kings’ that describes, in some detail, his reign. The entire narration of this period is delivered in an exciting and adventurous form. Remembering that she is addressing young minds, the writer dwells less on the king’s motives and prowess in the battlefield and more on his love, friendships, and people’s loyalty and dedication. The omission of battles takes nothing away from the story; the historical subjects are enlivened and almost walk off the page.
The narrative of King Devanampiyatissa takes a different strain. There is no war or romance. The hunting expedition is just touched upon to describe the king’s meeting with Arahant Mahinda, preceded by an introduction to Emperor Asoka, and how Arahant Mahinda happened to visit Lanka. The meeting of the two is related in a stirring episode, and there follows a narrative of faith, devotion and liberation. Buddhism sinks into the hearts of Lankans.
The vague pictures both child and adult have of Arahant Mahinda and the royal personages like the princes Aritta, and Anula Devi who soon enter the order become defined and shaped as they spring to life.
More details of how Buddhism, Buddhist culture and architecture grew and spread in Lanka under the devoted and able services of King Devanampiyatissa, are in the section titled ‘More About the Kings’. Further narratives on King Dutugamunu, King Kavantissa, Vihara Maha Devi, and also the ‘Dasa Maha Yodas’ or the ten great soldiers, not to mention the noble beast of war – Kadol, the war elephant, are dealt with fondly and respectfully.
Information important to school-children is woven into interesting episodes and events with engaging conversations so that the historical figures emerge as familiar people they have grown to love and admire.
Shunning publicity, the writer has adopted the pseudonym Kumari Udayakanthi. In producing supplementary material to young readers, she stresses that the motive should be to disseminate fruitful ideas in addition to improving the reading habits of the young. I appreciate her effort and hope she will continue the work she has started.
(The book is available at the Buddhist Cultural Centre and other leading bookshops)