Which is the greatest Sinhala poetic composition of the past?
Is Kavsilumina the masterpiece of the elite Sinhala literature? Does it surpass Guttila Kaavya acknowledged as the foremost poetic composition for its ornate styles of verse and its dramatic poetic compositions? Professor Sunil Ariyaratne called Kavsilumina the jewel or the Chudamanikya in the Sinhala literary crown when he delivered his Pre-State Literary Award Lecture during the last State Literary Award Festival at the SLFI.
Professor Ariyaratne of the Sri Jayawardenepura University, who is also an award-winning film director and composer, was invited by the Chairman, State Literary Advisory Board Professor Samantha Herath to deliver the Pre-State Literary Award lecture 2018 when he said to an engrossed audience that Kavsilumina literally and aesthetically is the pinnacle of Sinhala poems.
This is in spite of the claim made by Martin Wickramasinghe that Guttila Kavya is ahead of others in the Sinhala Padya literature and that only Guttila author, Venerable Wettewa can be compared with the famed
Then why is Kavsilumina hailed as the greatest?
Dr Ariyaratne first traced the history which led to the making of the outstanding poetic composition.
Parakramabahu the Second (1236-1270CE) who composed Kavsilumina around 200 years before Guttila Kavya, was desirous of making a Mahakavya following the Sanskrit literary model.
This was an era when Sanskrit literary styles with the influence of Mahayana Buddhism made a strong impact on Sinhala literature.
Mahakavya formed a part of the Sanskrit literary tradition which called for a story with a happy ending where the hero returned home in triumph and as a winner in matters of the heart.
Further, it had to evoke pleasures of the senses, incite sensual desires and promote aesthetic enjoyments of life. Reciting such as alankara poetry at the Royal court at the time was a common practice with the courtiers desiring to listen to stories which titillated
their senses. Parakramabahu the Second, on succeeding his father Vijayabahu the Third, shifted his Capital from Polonnaruwa to Dambadeniya - the first rock fortress for
In his eleventh year of reign, Parakramabahu drove out the Kalinga invader Chandrabanu, unified the three kingdoms and after a long spell brought peace and harmony to the country.
Coinciding with it was the hive of literary activity as seen from the broad spectrum of literary works produced during this period. Probably there had never been such a bountiful literary harvest as during Parakramabahu’s reign.
"He said to an engrossed audience that Kavsilumina literally and aesthetically is the pinnacle of Sinhala poems"
"Mahakavya formed a part of the Sanskrit literary tradition which called for a story with a happy ending"
Parakramabahu had written Visuddhi Marga Sannasa. Sidath Sangarawa was written by his Minister Devaprathiraja. Saddharmarathnavaliya, Pujavaliya, Dambadeni Kathikawatha and Dambadeni Asna were a few among many that were written at the time which led to the Dambadeniya period being identified as the Golden Era of Sri Lankan Literature.
In his 22nd year of reign, struck by an illness, the Monarch handed over the administration to his Minister Devaprathiraja. Probably on recovery as Professor A.E. Suraweera suggests, the Monarch may have been asked by his Minister to engage in literature. The King, considered a genius, may have realised the immense potential in Kusa Jatakaya to make a great Mahakaavya out of it.
And so, as Dr Ariyaratne stated, he set out to compose the Mahakavya by first eliminating chunks from the Jataka Story which clashed with the Mahakaavya concept.
He did away with the commencement as to what caused Buddha to relate the Kusa Jatakaya.
Then he left out the karma that caused Kusa to inherit a face which resembled a kavuma and the conclusion - Buddha’s declaration that Kusa was a bodhisattva – a previous birth of
"Although Martin Wickremasinghe gave Guttila Kaavya the foremost place, he nevertheless confirmed that the alankara descriptions of Kavsilumina was unparalleled and Kavsilumina was the best that emerged from the impact of the Sanskrit poetic expression in Sri Lanka."
If not for his calculated manoeuvring and clever editing, Parakramabahu would have been compelled to write another Jataka Tale in verse. The Speaker who showed this as a crafty strategy said that the poet thus sacrificed the religion for the alankara embellishments which also gave him the freedom to manipulate the characters in a way that enhanced his poetry.
Following the editing, what was left was no longer a Jataka Story but a romantic fairy tale that of a very ugly royal prince falling in love with a beautiful, sensuous royal princess.
Proceeding thereafter with the composition, he divided the story into 15 Sarga which served as scenarios as in a drama and unfolded the episodes intermingled with magnificent descriptions of cities, gardens, feasts, the sun sets and that of women especially that of Pabhavathi, the leading lady of the composition.
And he launched his erotic descriptions of women’s anatomy from as early as the sixth verse, most of the women’s breasts which he was quite liberal with throughout the composition. Most erotic, however, was of King Okavas’ forays with a woman of the harem in the kingdom of Pabhavathi’s father which in fact had come under criticism from critics, considering the fact that the poet had not even taken his age into consideration when composing such lustful poetry.
Departing from the conventional format, the poet, however, composed a lyrical composition considered as the greatest of the elite literary period which extended from 900-1000 CE and thereafter to 1600 CE.
"The literature of the Polonnaruwa era that has survived is neither substantial nor exceptionally distinguished. Indeed all of it share the flaws of the Anuradhapura literature without its compensating virtues. And historian de Silva writes that they do not compare in creativity or originality with the writing of the succeeding periods of Sri Lanka."
Although Martin Wickremasinghe gave Guttila Kaavya the foremost place, he nevertheless confirmed that the alankara descriptions of Kavsilumina was unparalleled and Kavsilumina was the best that emerged from the impact of the Sanskrit poetic expression in Sri Lanka.
Professor E.R. Sarachchandra went further. He stated that if Parakramabahu the Second had the literary freedom which poet Alagiyawanna exercised, his composition could have found a place among the best in the world of literature at the time.
Professor Sunil Ariyaratne was not alone in hailing “Kavsilumina” as the greatest. Similar sentiments had been expressed by the leading literati such as Professor Sucharitha Gamlath, Venerable Walivitiye Soratha, Professor Ananda Kulasuriya, Professor Hemapala Wijewardene and Professor A.V. Suraweera to
name a few.
K.M. de Silva in A History of Sri Lanka in the meantime states that poetic compositions were almost nil in the preceding Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods.
Even if there were, those had not survived. The earliest known Sinhala work was Siyabaslakara – a work on rhetoric, a Sinhala version of the well known Sanskrit text on poetics – the Kavyadarsa. Probably its author was Sena 1V (954-56)
While Sigiri graffiti was more or less folk poetry one notable poetic composition was Janakiharana composed in the 7th century on the Ramayana theme in the
"K.M. de Silva in A History of Sri Lanka ...states that poetic compositions were almost nil in the preceding Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods."
It was composed by a scion of the Sinhala royal family Kumaradasa. The two poems of the late 12th and the 13th centuries, Sasadavatha and Muvadevdavatha were probably the first poems composed based on Jataka tales and were greatly influenced by the Sanskrit works of Kalidasa
The literature of the Polonnaruwa era that has survived is neither substantial nor exceptionally distinguished. Indeed all of it shares the flaws of the Anuradhapura literature without its compensating virtues. And historian de Silva writes that they do not compare in creativity or originality with the writing of the succeeding periods of Sri Lanka.