The linguist sage of modern times

Professor Daya Rohana Atukorala
University of Colombo

[This article which appeared originally in the Ceylon Daily News on 02nd March 2016 was retrieved from:]

Any country is blessed with only a handful of academics, philosophers, thinkers and farsighted mentors. In a world where millions live and depart therefrom, only a limited number of persons are commemorated and honoured. Some are administrators, some are religious leaders and still others are writers or preachers. If not for these personalities, the history of a particular country, a nation or sometimes the entire world would have been different from what it is today.

It is duty and responsibility of all grateful people to endow from generation to generation the unparalled power, quality and mission of these great personalities. Grateful people take steps to recreate the life history of philosophers and literary personalities. William Shakespeare of Great Britain, Goethe of Germany, Rabindranath Tagore of India and Confusius of China have been revered for centuries. The British always make it a point to take any tourist to the place where Shakespeare lived.

We in Sri Lanka have still failed in our mission to commemorate our own distinguished academic, philosopher, patriot and renowned scholar who inspired and motivated the nation.

Colonial rule

If not for Cumaratunga Munidasa, our language, nation and territory would have been reduced to smithereens. Munidasa was a learned, experienced and matured educationist. He quite logically explained how the changing process of education should be subjected to relieve the nation from colonial rule and transform it to a strong and dignified position.

He quite rightly elaborated that the education system at the time as harmful and detrimental to the nation. He was quite critical in his comments about the education.

“On numerous occasions we have revealed that the system of education in our country created idlers. It appears that this system is a contrivance perpetrated to break the backbone of the Sinhalese nation and weaken it and intensify its servility causing it to be swept away from the earth’s surface.”

“These are allegations from several quarters to the effect that the mechanism of education is in the process of creating numerous strategies seeking to destroy patriotism, nationalism and dignity among our children.”

“It appears that self esteem does not occur easily in our people. The concept that ‘I am capable and my country is one to be reckoned with’ seems to evade our people.” Cumaratunga Munidasa transformed his pen into a tool to rid the people of their alien mentality and build up a great nation and language.

Great teachers have the capacity to create a generation endowed with qualities of bravery and dignity. Cumaratunga Munidasa vehemently attacked the menial characteristics of teachers. He emphasized the need to straighten their own backbones before venturing out to straighten the backbones of the nation.

“Just as we cannot expect a pleasant fragrance from the carcass of a dead animal we cannot expect a brave character from a menial individual. It is the duty of all of us to make every effort to make our children strong personalities.”

Modern day educationists

“It is very appropriate to inculcate in children the customs and manners of the ancient heroes. If the young mind is motivated to do something surpassing what the old heroes did, much benefit will accrue thereby to the society.”

The concepts and proposals which are being put forward by the modern day educationists were more elaborately and meaningfully emphasized by Cumaratunga Munidasa in his editorials and newspaper articles. We have to accomplish this task somehow. Let us join hands and shoulder this exercise successfully.

The aims and objectives of education contained in the reports ‘Learning to be’ and ‘Learning the Treasure within’ published in 1972 and 1990 respectively by the UNESCO offered guidance for the 21st century. These ideals were explained in the editorials and articles published by Cumaratunga Munidasa in the ‘Lakmini Pahana’ as far back as 1934 and 1935.

They bear witness to the insight, foresight and deep understanding he had in the sphere of education.

Like all other philosophers, Cumaratunga Munidasa emphasized the need to use vernacular language as the medium of education in the country.

“At any stage the most suitable is the vernacular language,” he said.

“Sri Lanka consists of three closely knit aspects namely the territory, the people and the language. Destruction of one of them leads to the destruction of the other two. Also the protection of one aspect provides protection to the others. This demonstrates the extent to which those who claim to elevate the nation and the country with no regard to the language are hypocrites”.

“Irrespective of what one may say, we will have no freedom if we pay no regard at all to our own language. Start from the native language.”

He stressed the importance of education in the mother tongue.

Valuable books

Cumaratunga Munidasa did not confine his efforts to criticism. He also compiled books to analyse how eduction system should proceed. He compiled readers such as ‘Shiksha Marga’ ‘Kiyawana Nuwana’ and ‘Shikshaka Vruthiya’.

“The greatness of a nation depends on the extent of freedom exercised by its people. The freedom of someone is measured by the level of freedom of his thoughts. As such, the value of a free thought is immeasurable.”

Many patriots and forthright thinkers gathered around Cumaratunga Munidasa whose efforts were directed to realign the education of the country to a new meaningful direction. His ‘Hela Havula’ cleared the path to many linguists such as Amarasiri Gunawadu, Raphiel Tennakoon, Alau isi Sebihela, Arisen Ahubudu, Kithsiri Kumarasinghe and Winnie Vitharana.

Literary work

The main task we should undertake in order to perpetuate the name of Cumaratunga Munidasa is to make reprints of his discourses and writings and make them available to the general public. Our thanks should go to Visidunu publishers and Gevindu Cumaratunga who have undertaken this onerous task.

The mission left for us is to establish a museum in memory of this great linguist. Thereby the present generation will have a proper understanding of his life and times. Those who admire him have now made it a habit to visit his house in Gorakapola. But the place has hardly anything to exhibit. This vacuum should not continue. The Government and Cultural Affairs Ministry must initiate this project. At the same time, the members of ‘Hela Havula’ are in a position to undertake this task too. A life size statue of Munidasa Cumaratunga must be erected. His home should be converted into a museum.