Gunadasa Amarasekara, a dentist by profession, is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern Sinhalese literature. He was a novelist and essayist, but also a poet, who introduced a new poetic form evolved from Sri Lanka's folk poetry. Amarasekara was born 1929 in a village called Yatalamatta in the Galle District. His father was an admirer of the Buddhist reformist Anagarika Dharmapala.
The beginning of Gunadasa Amarasekara’s literary career is marked by the short story “Soma”, which was selected to represent Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, in a short story competition organized by the New York Herald Tribune. It was published in 1952. His first novel was Karumakkarayo.
Amarasekara became one of the founding fathers and leaders of the new Peradeniya School of Poets. But soon he started to rejecting foreign literary influences and criticized the Peradeniya School for taking man out of his cultural context. Amarasekara wrote “Gandabba Apadanaya” just before he left it. This marked the beginning of a culturalistic and Sinhalese nationalistic phase. A series of historical novels started with “Gamanaka Mula”. It’s a seven-volume narrative examining the evolution of a Sinhalese middle class.
Sadly enough, the essayist Gunadasa Amarasekara became one of the founding fathers of the chauvinistic “Jathika Chinthanaya“, the Sinhalese Buddhist equivalent of “Hindutva” movements in India. There seems to be no place in the world where propagation of “authentic” national values or “identity” works without sterotypes such as identifying “western” with “individualism” or “selfishness” and without degrading those not belonging to the propagated culture as second-class citizens.
In this kind of intellectual debates, defining one’s own national consciousness remains remarkably dependent on contrasting oneself to “the west”. Ironically, this delimiting nationalistic or culturalistic concept is a way of thinking that in itself is of western origin, fading out all genuine Asian traditions of crossing cultural borders and unwaveringly ignoring crucial Buddhist teachings of “non-identity”.
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