Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

He leads a simple life
Once a very active personality in the performing arts, Premakumara Epitawela has not been in the limelight in recent years. Though on a low key, he continues to serve the arts as well as other forms of social service through the Tambapanni Institute in Peradeniya, which he set up in 1950. His effort is to uplift the not so well to do section of society.

During the past 50 years he has been able to train talented youth in numerous forms of art and craft, creating employment opportunities for at least 150,000 youngsters. Among the crafts taught at the Institute are batik, paper-making, handloom, cane work, leather work, wood work, sewing, pottery, dairy farming, vegetable and fruit growing, beekeeping and compost manure. They are also given language training.

"I have tried to instill our treasured values amongst the youngsters. They are encouraged to dress in the clothes made at the Institute. They are made conscious of the need to protect the environment. They are taught methods of saving their earnings," Premakumara explains in his life story, 'Divipavatha', the simple but attractive Stamford Lake publication.

Premakumara calls his effort 'Siya Saviya' - a programme based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance. He leads by example. "My philosophy is to lead a simple life using what is available locally. My rural and Buddhist background (he was born and bred in the distant village of Epitawela in Sabaragamuwa) and my experiences with the outside world, made me realise that ours is a great land. We can develop it through a Buddhistic economic and social framework. Although it can be built up using different cultures, the base should essentially be our own culture," he insists.

Many were the obstacles he faced in trying to promote his concept of a truly indigenous form of living. "Looking back on my life, I hold no grudge against anyone although I have faced many odds whenever I made a suggestion or tried to do some useful work. I never felt discouraged. I never felt unhappy," he says.

He is quite content as he reflects on the service he has rendered over five decades. "I have never accepted the tax payer's money by way of a salary. I have never enjoyed any rights and privileges nor accepted any post through political or other means. I have taught numerous crafts and trained the youth without accepting a cent. This was done solely though my effort, my wealth, my knowledge and my experience".

The 'ballet master’

'Premakumara Epitawela is best known as the producer of at least half a dozen ballets in the fifties. He came into the limelight with 'Selalihini Sandesa' in 1950 followed by 'Thiththa Batha' three years later. He virtually presented one ballet per year till the mid sixties and a few more thereafter. 'Diyasena' (1955/56), 'Sarabhumi' (1958), 'Sakuntala' (1959), 'Navayugaya' (1961), 'Hansa Vannama' (1962), 'Pareviya' (1963/64) and 'Aswenna' (1967) were among those.

In recent years, he has taken a keen interest in the environment. In fact, his last ballet, 'Randiya' (1994) was described as the first environmental national ballet.

Premakumara has also been a prolific writer. He has over 15 publications to his credit. He had presented an exhaustive plan to set up an aesthetic university and another for the Sabaragamuwa University. An environmental plan to develop the Mahamevuna gardens in Anuradhapura was submitted a few years back.

A man who depends on his own paddy field for his rice, eats home grown vegetables, drinks the milk from the cow he rears, wears the cloth turned out in his own Institute's handloom machines, and writes on paper he turns out from waste material is indeed a rare character. Premakumara Epitawela is one of a kind.

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