LIFE ABROAD – Part 41: ‘Lanukasa’ is not about rope tricks
Posted on August 23rd, 2013

Dr. Tilak Fernando

Kavi (Poetry) has been part and parcel of Sinhala language from its inception. In Sanskrit it means thinker, a wise man, sage, seer, prophet etc. The primeval poets were rishis in India who composed mantras (Vedas) to various gods. In contemporary usage in India and Sri Lanka it is regarded as literature used to denote a person of greatness who could pen or sing a poetry impromptu (Hituwana kavi/Situvan kavi).

From time immemorial a unique character of the Sinhala folk has been their Sinhala language which dates back to over 2300 years and acting as a catalyst in communication providing the Sinhala community camaraderie and vigour.

Medieval period

Delving into the medieval period, Kavisilumina composed by King Parakramabahu II (1234 -1269) comes to the zenith as one of greatest cenotaphs in the 12th Century whereas “ƒ”¹…”Mayura Sandeshaya'(communication through Peacock) has been regarded as the oldest despatch of poetic communiquƒÆ’†’© in the 13th century.

Anura Hegoda and Daya Ananda Ranasinghe listentening to Dr. Nonis

Advancing towards the 15-16th centuries, during the Kotte epoch, Sinhala poetry managed to gain much ground in the area of combat related poems and memoranda (Sandesayas) such as “ƒ”¹…”Thisara Sandeshaya'(Swans), “ƒ”¹…”GiraSandeshaya’ (Parrot), Hansa Sandeshaya’ (Goose), “ƒ”¹…”Parevi Sandeshaya’ (Dove), ‘Kokila Sandeshaya’ (Cuckoo) and “ƒ”¹…”Selalihini Sandeshaya’ (Starling).

Born on March 10, 1746 in Kollupitiya (Colombo), Gajaman Nona (Dona Isabella Koraneliya) became an admired female poet who lived in the end of Dutch and early British rule in the Southern Province. She was well-liked for her writing as well as reciting impromptu (‘Situvankavi’ or ‘Situvankavi’) Sinhala Kavi.

The longing for this aspect of Sinhala literature dwindled throughout foreign rule but those talented whose urge was to purge in Sinhala Kavi managed to put their ideas in black and white and participated in open Kavi Maudwas (public audiences) entertaining the crowds with impromptu Kavi.

The gloomy aspect was that even newspapers have not given the maximum exposure to such a rich aspect of the Sinhala literature but given only step motherly treatment by allocating a few narrow columns for this rich facet of Sinhala literature.


In such a backdrop is there any need to emphasise on the feelings of expatriate Sinhala communities in the West today among whom are with inborn talents in composing rich Sinhala poetry and very much inclined to carry forward the national riches in a continual basis but in a limbo situation with no opportunities due to all their efforts being subjected to a “ƒ”¹…”refracted’ situation?

Ideas and feelings cannot be supressed or steamrolled by any force on earth and that may be the very reason why a few Sinhala proponents of Kavi in London decided to review this “ƒ”¹…”Sinhala literal treasure’ by forming an association called “ƒ”¹…”Lanukasa’ London-Nuwara Kavi Sammajaya (Sinhala Poetry Circle) to uplift and proliferate the discipline with enthusiasm.

Two literary enthusiasts in London, who are steadfast, committed and devoted to Sinhala poetry, Anura Hegoda and Daya Ananda Ranasinghe had a vision last year to organise an evening of poetry reading in London with “ƒ”¹…”fervent hopes of finding at least a handfull of poetry lovers in London out of the expatriate community who could comprehend and appreciate those four-liners that added flavour to the Sri Lankan folklore and really valued those worthy “ƒ”¹…”Sandesha Kavya’ that glorified the heritage and history of the Sri Lankan nation’ .

Kick off

The program kicked off with an opening speech by Prof. T. S. Abewickrema touching on the role of poetry in Buddhism with illustrations from ‘Loweda Sangarawa’, ‘Subhashithaya’ and quoting the contributions made to Sinhala Kavi by Ven Veedagama Maithriya Thera and Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera.

Ven Konwewe Ariyaratana Thera from London Buddhist Vihara emphasised on the beneficial role played by Buddhist monks within the Sri Lankan culture through poetry.


The Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London Dr Chris Nonis, the Chief Guest for the occasion, was so exultant and engrossed with the program that he decided to cancel a previously made appointment and stayed till the end of the session. Much to his credit Dr Nonis generously supported the initiative from the inception. Organisers had only weeks to put the act get-together leaving no time virtually to advertise, except for a few phone calls.

At the end of a motivating speech Dr Nonis by narrated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life poem expressing his unforgettable and inspired experiences through verse and rhyme. He also took the opportunity to recap on the variety of different social and cultural possibilities and opportunities that are open to the Sri Lankan expatriate community at the London High Commission.

One of the kingpins of “ƒ”¹…”Lanukasa’, Anura Hegoda needs no special introduction to Sri Lankans, both in the UK and in Sri Lanka. Hailing from a family of poets his father, Wilson Hegoda, was one of the five founder members of the Colombo Young Poet’s Society; mother Nanda Hegoda was the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Kavi Kantha Kala Sangamaya, and brother Lal Hegoda, renowned poet, who won the Presidential State Award for his first publication. In such a backdrop Anura was automatically dragged into Sinhala Kavi like a massive ocean wave sweeping across and engulfing the entire beach!

Some time ago Anura published a poesy from London, named London Kavi, for several years where I also had the privilege of contributing some of the poetry I had published as a young man which included five verses called “ƒ”¹…”Ekaswarabandana’ (single syllables “”…” without aispilla, alapilla, papilla, and kombuwa).

Anura chose on this occasion to speak on female poets. Referring to Rathnavalli from the South of Sri Lanka, he explained how Ratnavalli’s excellent, and at times very provocative poems, had blossomed to become a part of the folklore of the time.

Although she had some Royal connections, she had been exiled by the King for “ƒ”¹…”stepping out of royal etiquette’ which made the society to treat her as an outcaste. She later assumed a gypsy (Rodiya) name as Rathnavalli herself.

Going further on, he described Ranchagoda Lamaya, another female poet of much later era who wrote quite emotional verses by often breaking off from the traditional poetic guidelines of the time. Anura did a recitation of some of her verses maintaining the original rhythms, tunes and tempo which were full of humour and really exhilarating to listen to making the audience relish.

He touched on Gajaman Nona (Dona Isabella Koraneliya) too as a much admired female poet who was respected and admired for her talents.

The final speaker of the occasion was Daya Ananda Ranasinghe who needs no introduction as a veteran journalist with bags of experience and the one who pioneered the first Sinhala publication Lanka Viththi from London for sixteen years where he allocated a full page on poetry in every issue in a limited tabloid. He had also published a Sinhala and English mixed anthology of poetry many years ago in London, titled “”…””ƒ”¹…”Visi Ataveni Udesana’ (28th morning) which was acclaimed by literary critics at the time.

Daya Ranasinghe who has been acclaimed as a song lyricist who won the international accolade for his work touched on “ƒ”¹…”Daskon’s (an unknown poet of the time) rare original verses which were deeply poignant. Daya’s effortless presentation of the poems with his usual rhythmic musical recitation was very moving to end an evening filled with sublime aesthetic experiences.

Whenever he came across a nicely penned poem he always attempted to unravel its hidden meaning and literal manifestation irrespective of the fact whether it belonged to any particular era. The more complex it appeared, the keener he became in turning it on all directions to find diverse meanings, then he draw up a plan and, if he decided on it, he was quite capable of writing that verse by himself, interpreting its theme.

The audience after the show surrounded the organisers paying tribute and expressing their feelings to show how much they truly enjoyed a beautiful evening which they had never experienced in London before.

Several Sri Lankan associations of academics in distant places in the UK had contacted the organisers, after the launching of the Sinhala Poetry Circle in London, making enquiries whether similar poetry sessions could be organised in other parts of England. Invitations have been reaching from Italy, France and Cyprus on the same lines where the organisers are working on it. All these go to prove that the architects of Sinhala Poetry Circle in London are on the right track in their precise observance vis-ƒÆ’†’ -vis the Sinhala language and literature, even if they happen to live thousands of miles away from their beloved motherland.

“In the world’s broad field of battle,

Be the bivouac of life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife”! – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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