- (Dr Lionel Bopage was the founder leader of the Society for Socialist Culture, better known as “Samajavadee Kala Sangamaya” in Sri Lanka, the cultural front that is affiliated with the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna). Lionel became the General Secretary of the JVP later, but in 1984 he officially resigned from the JVP due to the ideological and other differences developed with the leadership. In a collective effort with comrades like Nandana Marasinghe and Ms Sunila Abesekara, he brought “Vimukthi Gee” songs recital into life. Currently he is an activist in diverse social and political activities both in Sri Lanka and Australia.) -
Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important occasion. People are driven by a strong desire to know or learn why things happen in a certain way in a particular culture. Gradually this curiosity expands to looking at how those things happen in other cultures. That curiosity is filled at least partially by the content provided in translated works. With the advent and advancement of capitalism, translated works started filling the gaps in our knowledge base and improving our critical thinking abilities. I believe, the history of translated literature runs back to the times of arrival of Ven Mahinda Thero in Sri Lanka. At later stages, the teaching traditions in Buddhist temples would have been influenced by many inputs from Asian countries and the wisdom travellers and traders brought to the island.
The Buddhist revivalist movement came into being in reacting to the Christian missionary activities in the south. With that came the thoughts of civilizational supremacy of Sinhala people, which were later interpreted in a chauvinistic way. Anagarika Dharmapala declared that the Sinhala language was the best language of the world and the Sinhala civilisation was the noblest. We inclined to consider other languages and nations as inferior. Similarly, Arumuka Navalar, a Shaivite scholar and a polemicist led the Hindu revivalist movement.
Unfortunately, revivalist leaders like them lacked a wider vision for the future. They advocated safeguarding outdated practices such as accommodating the caste system. Most of the Indian leaders, such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy of the Hindu Revivalist Movement and Syed Ahamed Khan of the Muslim Revivalist Movement were quite different. They did not advocate the supremacy of their languages or faiths, but promoted social harmony and goodwill, and reconciliation and solidarity with the other. They advocated discarding outdated practices and rituals of their own faiths in adjusting to the environments of the modern-day.
We could note the lack of effort at the time to translate into Sinhala any renowned foreign literature related to arts, philosophy, science or technology. I will not comment on the Tamil side as I am not so familiar with it. So, no wonder we have such a long period of recent history filled with hatred towards the other, in terms of caste, language, race and religion.
The existence of different languages, religions and cultures in a mutually exclusive and disrespected environment can lead to conflict. Particularly, when political class and the social elite utilise the differences in diverse societies to securing their narrow interests and intricate privileges, no room is left for promoting social harmony and goodwill, reconciliation and solidarity with the other. The current situation in Sri Lanka shows this best. This is not limited to us in Sri Lanka. I hope things will not be in the reverse gear with what is being currently promoted in India.
Literary works including translated work is supposed to move people and societies away from ecstasy to wisdom. Accumulation of various linguistic and cultural translations to one’s own literature supports this process. Such accumulation makes reference to philosophical conceptualisations of other societies. Thus, the literature of a society becomes more nourished, and inevitably, people get accustomed to universal thinking.