Sri Lanka’s proposed New Constitution must reconnect itself to the country’s pre – colonial rich heritage
Posted on December 31st, 2020

by Senaka Weeraratna

The making of Sri Lanka’s Constitution from the time of the Soulbury Commission (1944) has been an exercise that had completely ignored the Dharmic religious background and civilizational history of Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka is a nation state but is also an unique civilizational state with a set of Dharmic values the nature of which was completely overlooked by the framers of all the National Constitutions from the time of the first (Soulbury) Constitution. 

The same thing happened in India, more or less. 

In Sri Lanka, the making of the original Constitution was rushed without paying due consideration to the country’s legal heritage from ancient times as the main purpose of the drafters of the Soulbury Constitution dominated by D.S. Senanayake under the influence of Sir Ivor Jennings was in attaining self – government and maximum freedom.

In both countries ‘brown sahibs’ were the framers of the Constitutions with a colonial mindset having been educated and trained in colonial educational institutions. They were products of the times and acted as required under the compulsions of the times. They used concepts that had originated in western settings e.g. the term ‘law’ is a christian church concept. However, in no way can they be blamed for doing exactly that.

But succeeding generations now entrusted with amending, revising and/or creating new Constitutions have a mandate from the post – independence State and a historical duty to re -set the clock by drawing inspiration from the wisdom of our founding fathers.

To give due credit to our glorious historical achievements in a document that is twined to the Constitution.  

The Experts Committee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers to draft a new Constitution must explore all avenues to decolonise the Constitution paving the way for the decolonization of the entire legal system of Sri Lanka, which is long overdue. 

They have a mandate to peep into the past beyond the time of the commencement of the colonial era. 

A country with a 2500 year proud history has failed to hold out to the rest of the world that the great civilization that we are justly proud of was possible because we had a remarkable legal system that extended protection to all living beings and fostered harmony with each other on a footing of peace and non – violence. 

Another great lapse of the reformers of the Sri Lanka’s Constitutions and even the municipal laws of today, is that we  are so brainwashed and conditioned  to look exclusively to western precedents that have origins in UK, USA, France and Vatican, while side tracking the reforms and revolutionary ideas emanating from our nearby neighbours, India and the block of Theravada Buddhist countries. In Myanmar, the Mahavamsa written in verse by the Buddhist monk Mahanama is known and still respected.  

India

A remarkable feature of the Indian Constitution is that it is totally handwritten. One of the longest written Constitutions for any sovereign state in the world, each of the 22 parts of the Indian Constitution begins with an illustration.  

Chronologically, the passage of history of India is illustrated with highlights of the main events from Mohenjo Daro to the national freedom struggle.  

Influenced by the Epics

The Vedic period of India is represented in the Indian Constitution by a gurukul scene that features in the section on citizenship, the part on directive principles of state policy begins with a scene from the Mahabharata, with the discussion between Arjun and Krishna before the onset of the war. For fundamental rights, the artists had turned to the Ramayana, drawing a sketch of Rama, Lakshman and Sita returning home after the battle in Lanka. Interestingly, it is reportedly on the basis of this that in 1993 in the Vishwa Hindu Adhivakta Sangh v/s Union of India case, the Allahabad High Court had pronounced that Rama is a Constitutional entity, and, admittedly, a reality of our national culture and fabric and not a myth”. In Part XIII of the Indian Constitution , the sculptures from Mahabalipuram, including legendary king Bhagirath’s penance, and the descent of Ganga to Earth are shown.

Emperor Ashoka is shown propagating Buddhism in a scene in Part VII of the Constitution, the National Emblem, the Lion Capital of Ashoka is also illustrated, the part IX depicts a scene drawn from King Vikramaditya’s court to signify that Arts were promoted by the Kingdom. Lakshmibai, the queen of Jhansi, the only  female figure illustrated prominently in the Constitution is sketched in her armour. She is shown in one page together with Tipu Sultan, the King of Mysore in Part XVI of the Constitution. Part XIV has Emperor Akbar in his court, representing the Mughal rule; the background depicts the period’s striking Mughal architecture. Maratha ruler Shivaji and 10th Sikh  guru, Guru Gobind Singh, are shown in the subsequent section posing a challenge to the Mughals.

Struggle for Independence

Mahatma Gandhi is shown walking with a stick – created in 1930 to mark the Dandi March in the section on official language. Gandhi reappears in the section on emergency provisions, where he is seen visiting riot-hit Noakhali in south-east Bangladesh. He is being welcomed by women with an aarti thali in their hands, even as Muslim peasants seem to be looking at him from behind a bamboo fence. The contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose and his Azad Hind Fauj have also been acknowledged. In Part XIX, Bose is seen against a mountainous backdrop, saluting the flag ,with Tipu Sultan’s mechanical tiger mauling a man at the centre of the Tricolour. The borders recall his message to Mahatma Gandhi on the Azad Hind Radio in 1944: Father of our Nation, in this holy war for India’s liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes.”

Geographical Diversity

The illustrations also display the immense diversity of the geography of India, beginning with camels marching in the desert in the temporary and transitional provisions section, to the great Himalayas in light shades in the amendment section. The torrential ocean waves are set out in Part XXII, which is the last section of the Indian Constitution that stipulates the commencement and repeals.

Exhibited in the Indian Parliament Library

The handcrafted Indian Constitution bound in black leather, embossed with patterns in gold can be seen placed in a special helium-filled case in the Indian Parliament Library. It defines not just the laws of the country, but the space for these laws is shared with Indian history and heritage. Each word was carefully calligraphed by Prem Behari Narain Raizada, and the task of illustrating the book was executed by artist Nandalal Bose and his team from Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan.  

Illustrations of Sri Lanka’s History in Sri Lanka’s New Constitution

We can adopt the model of a handcrafted Constitution of India using calligraphy and drawings to do likewise i.e. sharing the space allotted to the constitutional provisions with beautiful illustrations of events drawn from the great landmarks of Sri Lanka’s history and heritage.
To name a few: 

1) The arrival of Prince Vijaya 

2)  King Pandukabaya developing Anuradhapura

3) King Devanampiyatissa receiving Arahat Mahinda

4) King Dutugemunu declaring open the Ruwanweli Mahasaya 

5) Tripitaka committed into writing on Ola leaves at Aluviharaya Temple, Matale in the 1st Century of B.C. during the king Walagamba reign.

 6)Princess Hemamali bringing the Dante Datu from India

7) King Mahasena’s irrigation work and temple building eg. Jetawana Ramaya

8) Sigiriya Rock and Frescoes

These are examples of illustrations that will raise the stature of the new Constitution that deserves to be handwritten with sketches.

 and kept inside the Library of the Sri Lanka Parliament

Senaka Weeraratna

One Response to “Sri Lanka’s proposed New Constitution must reconnect itself to the country’s pre – colonial rich heritage”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Before the last colonials we never had a public toilet and I rest my case.

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