Sexism in Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s Sinhalese Operatic Play, Maname
Posted on November 3rd, 2014

Prof. Suwanda H J Sugunasiri (writing from Canada) 

(This  article first appeared in the J.  of South Asian Literature (1996,  xxix.2)).

  1. Introduction

At the climax of the epoch-making Sinhalese play, Maname (1956),1 the Hunter King, in combat with Prince Maname, snatches the sword from the hand of Princess Maname to make short breath of the prince. Yet, in the ensuing duets, Princess Maname confesses to wanting to give the sword to the Hunter King, rather than to her husband, being … fickle of mind … through the strength of my love.”2 When playwright Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra developed the story line in this manner, he may not have been conscious that he was allowing himself to be gripped in the crutches of Sinhalese patriarchy.

Initially swept away by Manamania,”3 but later with a personal involvement,4 Maname is an operatic-play I want to love. But, listening to it on tape, and re-reading it today, in a North American context and after nearly four decades, it troubles me very much. If the primary basis of my unease is my egalitarian, humanist, moral, Buddhist, or as some would call it, feminist sensibilities, it is based on esthetic and literary grounds as well.

From this literary perspective, then, I shall in this paper first outline the treatment of the female character, Princess Maname, and then examine it critically, particularly in light of the treatment of the character of the Hunter King. In section IV, we briefly take up the issue of whether the personal is the political. Finally, we deal with some possible suggestions for overcoming the play’s sexism as it also perhaps makes a contribution to literary theory and a practical one to society.

In order to place our discussion in context, however, let me first give a synopsis of the play:

A royal prince from Benares, India, spends his youth in Taxila (a Buddhist learning centre), mastering the (sixteen) arts, including archery and swordsmanship, under the tutelage of a Master Guru. Upon completion of his studies, and being the best student, the Guru’s daughter is given in marriage as was the custom. The couple’s way to Benares is through the forest where they encounter the Hunter King who not only demands that the prince bow before him but also orders him to leave your woman here” (pp. 57–8).5 Insulted and enraged, the prince challenges the hunter to come with your tribesmen” (58), but the Hunter King chooses to battle him alone. In the ensuing combat, Prince Maname is killed. The play ends with the Hunter King wooing the Princess, but later abandoning her. We come to know her eventual fate from the narrator:6

Grief and remorse too bitter to be borne,

Broke her frail heart and there she died forlorn. (63)

  1. The Depiction: Woman as Fickle and Deserving of Punishment

In our analysis of the character of the Princess, we begin with the combat scene when the Hunter King is subdued by Prince Maname who addresses his Princess consort

Prince. (Recitative)7

Sweet, give me my sword to strike off this savage’s head.

Princess. (Chant)

Courageously with you he fought

Nor succour from his warriors sought

Alone he faced you unafraid

Must his neck bow beneath the blade?

Prince. (Recitative)

Lady, I do not understand this speech. In fair fight I vanquished this villain. Swiftly give me my sword to end his life.

Princess. (Recitative)

Could he not have destroyed us at once with his army at hand? Yet he chose to face you alone. A savage he may be; yet he is brave and noble. It is not fitting, Lord, that he should be slain. Pardon and spare him, I pray.

(Disturbed as he hears her words, he stands staring at her; his grasp slackens; the Hunter King takes advantage of it, frees himself, leaps and takes the sword from the princess and stabs the prince. The prince falls down dead.) (59)

As scripted, and played on stage, there is no indication at this point certainly (see later, however, for a switch) that the Princess consciously, willingly or intentionally gives the sword to the Hunter King. Nor is there any evidence, verbal, behavioural or postural, of even an intention. Nor does she, for that matter, give the sword to the Prince. All we see here is a Princess, caught between two conflicting instincts—helping (or obeying) her husband or saving a life—holding the sword in hand when it is grabbed by the Hunter King. She says as much later: … you snatched it from my hand” (62).

But then the playwright introduces a twist, making her say to the Hunter King who woos her:

When he to slay you sought the fatal blade

The weapon in your hand I would have laid! (61)

A literal translation of the last line, My compelling thought was to give the sword to your hand” (situne kaóuwa oba añata ma dentà) (emphasis added), with the emphatic particle, ma, perhaps helps us better understand the playwright’s intent—of getting her to make her case as strongly as possible, thereby also rendering her undeniably culpable by intent. Later, in response to the Hunter King’s words, … I saw you prepare to give the sword which he demanded to slay me,” she confirms the earlier intent, not once but twice: I took it to give it to you, not to Prince Maname” (61) and … I would sooner have given the sword to you!” (62).

And, as if to prepare the audience/reader for the twist, we have the playwright put the following words in her mouth a few lines earlier:

Darling I saw you, valorous in fight

Love instant filled my heart there at the sight

Then all the terrors of the forest fled

My trembling heart grew tranquil, comforted

I love you only, though I lose the right

To thrones; enough with you, this mountain height. (61)

These and earlier lines leave no doubt that Princess Maname has indeed been of fickle mind! But the final ignominy is yet to come. Just prior to the Hunter King abandoning her (we shall examine this in detail later), she pleads with him:

Forgive me, Chief. Oh pardon this great wrong …

Do not chastise my feebleness of soul.8 (62)

And still later, she is reduced to a helpless wretch” (in the words of the Hunter King as we shall see later) as she pleads, as if to the winds (the Hunter King having left):

Have you no pity left for me?

Loved Lord, in mercy,9 oh, be kind!

Why will you leave me here alone … ? (62)

Then, in the same breath, she turns to self pity:

Has any woman in this world

of mortal fully even known

Anguish and torment such as mine?

If that is not enough, the Princess is now made, in a complete surrender, to turn to the gods:

Oh, you on high, whose power is shown

Over the three worlds where you rule

Above us all your mercy lies10

Protection give to me Oh gods,

Look down on me with pitying eyes. (62)

This is the final spiritual insult! Buddhist spirituality is based on self-reliance, the Buddha’s last words being, Be a lamp unto yourself.” Yet, it is the practice of the average Sinhalese Buddhist, influenced as they are by centuries of Hinduism, to turn to (Buddhist) gods (who are supposed to, ironically, depend on us) for their everyday needs,11 particularly in times of distress. To this extent, it is in keeping with tradition for the Princess to turn to the gods.12 But it is nevertheless a spiritual battering, since she has been forced into it by the conditions created.

If that is her self-depiction, we also find it confirmed by the Hunter King, as we see in the following lines. She is here called a wretch” for her behaviour:

Hunter King (Song):

With women such as you I have no part

Out of my forest kingdom—wretch, away! (62)

If that is not enough, to give line two of the above song, she is characterized as being inhuman, mindless, void in head and heart.” The words could not have been more scathing, and insulting!

As the story unfolds, then, the Princess is not simply shown to have erred” in judgement (clearly from an androcentric point of view) under stress. Fickle of mind, and thus a wretch,” she is simply despicable, and thus deserving of the punishment she receives at the hand of the Hunter King, and indeed society, namely abandonment to her own destiny. But this is not the end. The Narrator, who enters here to give us emotional relief, ironically gives the final blow:

Heedless of lamentations tears and moans

The chieftain went; the queen was left alone

Grief and remorse too bitter to be borne

Broke her frail heart and there she died forlorn. (62–63)

In true macho fashion of the type we see in the battle of the two men (the Prince’s intention to kill the Hunter King, and the eventual killing of the Prince by the Hunter King), the Princess is denied her very existence!

III. Discussion

One can hardly fail to note the androcentric and patriarchal bias in this treatment of the character of Princess Maname, but let us examine it in detail. To begin with, is the Princess inhuman, mindless, void in head and heart,” as is portrayed by the Hunter King? In fairness to the playwright, we must first not fail to note that the translator is taking a license in rendering the single phrase in the original, amana gati, literally, and more commonly, foolish ways” but possibly superficial,”13 with the several words, inhuman, mindless and void in head.” But we must assume that each of them individually, or in some combination, is intended, since the translation has the approval of the playwright, this being understandable particularly in view of the difficulty of translating the phrase. That, then, means that according to the text, or its intent, the Princess is a complete moron and/or is guided by superficiality!

Is she indeed, or is what we have here an androcentric mindset projected onto the Princess? To explore the point, we need to go to studies on moral behaviour. As well demonstrated by Carol Gilligan (1982) in relation to the Kohlbergian stages of moral development (Kohlberg 1971) when faced with a moral dilemma, female subjects would time and again go for a relational resolution while male subjects invariably go for an oppositional one. To take the famous Heinz dilemma, a woman is dying, and the only druggist in the village has the life-saving drug. But the family is poor and can’t afford it. The dilemma the husband faces, then, is whether he should let the wife die, or kill the pharmacist to get the drug. In typical fashion, the cross-culturally validated male, lets one or the other die while the female looks for ways of keeping both wife and pharmacist alive (Gilligan 1982).

The moral dilemma faced by Princess Maname is not unlike the one in the Heinz dilemma: whether or not to hand over the sword to her husband in the knowledge of the only outcome—certain death, to the Hunter King—never envisaging, of course, that any harm would befall her husband. And her intent, as we hear in her words, Must his neck bow beneath the blade?” (59) is clear. So what we find in the words of the Princess is, in typical fashion, what I would prefer to call the feminine approach14 to conflict resolution, and indeed a humane one. To that extent, the Princess is certainly not void in … heart.” And of particular relevance to a Buddhist society, the relational stance taken by the Princess is Buddhistic, too, in that a fundamental teaching of Buddhism is that of dependant co-arising (paticca samuppàda) that posits a relationality of all phenomena (see Macy 1991). So she who saves life can hardly be called heartless!15

As for the use of the head, what better evidence is needed than not giving the sword to the husband when asked? She knows the consequence of obeying him only too well, as we hear when she tells the Hunter King, If I had given the sword at my husband’s command, he would have slain you” (62). And unsaid in the play, but well known in the culture, Buddhist in its staging and Hindu in its context,16 is that depriving of life, for whatever reason, would only bring bad karma, including possibly in this very life. This is hardly something that a young wife would wish for her newly found husband with whom she would, in traditional fashion, live for the rest of her life. So the use of her head in the sense of being both spiritually and rationally wise is amply evident from her behaviour.

Now from a street-smart sense, too, the Princess can hardly be said to be void of head.” Even in pure utilitarian terms, she surely knows that by sparing the life of the Hunter King, she would lose nothing—certainly not her husband (after all, he, skilled in the arts, defeated the Hunter King). And even if she were to lose him, then there would be the equally powerful protector, the Hunter King, with a full retinue at his beck and call, to look after her! After all, he had rejected the Prince’s challenge to Come forth with your tribesmen to battle” (58) and fought this jackal” single-handed! But at a more spiritually utilitarian” level, if I were allowed to pull together two apparently conflicting concepts, she would be accruing more merit as well by the mere thought of kindness towards the Hunter King.17 The Princess is street smart in another sense, too, when later she seeks to entice the Hunter King with her love!

So in many a sense—wisdom, compassion or utilitarianism—then, the Princess is indeed no bonehead!

She is not mindless” either, in either of the two senses that the term brings to mind. In the sense of being, again, sensible, we have seen how she is not mindless. In the other Buddhist sense, mindlessness” is the opposite of mindfulness”—the discipline required for liberation. She is hardly mindless in this sense either, since she does have the presence of mind, even in a time of crisis, to play it cool, be rational (i.e., be with the mind) and moral! Our analysis then shows that Princess Maname was hardly any of those characteristics assigned to her by the phrase amana gati!

The depiction of the Princess as contained in the first two lines we have analyzed is clearly to make way for the next two: With women such as you I have no part / out of my forest kingdom—wretch away!” What a fate to befall, one cannot help feeling, to one whose only fault was to plead for another human being’s life! It may generate pathos, or karuõà, in Indian esthetic theory (for a lengthy treatment, see Warder 1972), in the reader/viewer, but the outcome is certainly contrary to the Buddhist teaching of natural cause and effect, in this case, the good following one as your shadow.”18 It also may give every indication of contradicting the Buddhist teaching relating to karma, namely, that while (as in Hinduism, too) one would, no doubt, be inheriting one’s karma from past lives, one could also act upon it (as in Buddhism but not in Hinduism) to change its direction, course and/or intensity, with possible results within this very lifetime.

But the last two lines merit further comment. If the patriarchal treatment is thus far evident only from the negative portrayal of the female character, the lines begin to show the positive light put on the male character—of the Hunter King.

To explore this character, we initially posit that he was equally if not primarily responsible for the Princess’s alleged infidelity and fickleness of mind. And his contribution to it all begins way before the climactic point of the combat. When the royal couple, passing through the woods on their way to the Prince’s kingdom, is sighted by tribesmen, this is how the pack leader describes the Princess to the Hunter King:

Hunter Chief. (Song)

Here stands the lovely woman that I saw

Oh King, look on her well—does your heart with joy not swell?

Since I saw her in the wild—I have thought am I beguiled

By enchantment? Can there be a maid so fair?

Give me unstinted store—largesse and gifts galore

If you take her in this wise—she is an ambrosial prize. (56)

In response,

Hunter King. (Song):

This cannot be an earthly maid.

She seems a goddess rare—or a forest nymph so fair

It is decreed by fate that she must be my mate

Why should I then delay to carry her away? …

His immediate thoughts are on carrying the Princess away! Later on, he offers the Prince a bribe—protection to the edge of the forest. But, this is for a prize: Leave your woman here!” (57–58).

What we have, then, is, in the words of the Prince, a barbarous creature” who speak[s] vileness unfit for hearing” (58). It is, then, such a one of lustful, immoral and questionable character (see next line) that abandons the Princess for the claimed heinous crime of being fickle.19 The hypocrisy becomes even more transparent when we consider the literal translation of the Sinhalese term, wanacara. Though rendered here as barbarous creature,” it literally means forest dweller” (or forest-walker”), but in contemporary Sinhalese usage, it has the additional connotation of sexually immoral.”

So is it indeed her fickle mind that eventually turns this king of the wild20 against her? We let the text speak for itself. After the Prince is killed, this is how the Hunter King seeks to win the Princess:

All for love’s sake I faced the fray

Because my love for you was strong. (60)

She then asks, Can I believe in your deceit?” and immediately sees death as her only alternative:

… I have no other sanctuary

No other hope remains for me

Save in the forest to die!

A literal translation of the original text gives the sense even better—that assuredly [venu nam niyatà] death right here [metana ma maraõà].”

Calling her now, for the first time, Loved lady,” he says, do not speak such words—You will I ever guard from [sic]” (60). Giving a hint of what her life might be with him, he now says, Here in the forests you shall reign,” and then implores, [B]ecome my queen, become my queen” (60). And still later, You I adore while life shall last” (60). It is at this point that she says, I have no refuge now but you.” That she is falling back on common sense, and is streetwise as we have seen before as well is evident, from the very next line that tells us that she is fully cognizant of her reality: Among these forests must I dwell.” The original text adds, forever” (s¹ma dà).

What else could a helpless Princess have done?” we ask. What would you and I do, if placed in such a situation? Could she have realistically rejected him? Indeed her concern was survival, in a hostile forest. And so we hear her say, From forest fears, from lynx and wolf  / Guard me from harm, guard me from harm.” While the repetition here may have a rhyming and metrical function, it also indicates intensity, showing her deep fear. Fast to latch on to the niche perceived, the Hunter King immediately offers protection: My forest folk shall guard you well …” Then, we hear the meeting of another basic need: On nature’s bounty we shall live in joy”; the original is more specific: eating fruits” (budimina palawela).

Protection and food offered, now the Hunter King beseeches, Your love for Prince Maname can you remove / from your thoughts, and desire a forest king’s love?” (61). It is finally at this point, then, that the Princess reciprocates, I love you only.”

A careful analysis of the text then makes it abundantly clear that it was not indeed a fickleness of mind that pushed the Princess towards the Hunter King, but simply desperation. She is, at worst, acceding to the advances made by a lustful man! To put it in a more positive light, the Princess can simply be said to be exercising her independence of judgement and freedom of thought and behaviour allowed for, or if that sounds too patronizing, available, in the Sinhalese Buddhist culture.21 This is hardly being fickle of mind” in the ordinary sense of the word, or in the literal sense of being unable to decide. There is certainly no indecision here, but to repeat, a definitive pragmatic decision. And no infatuation either.

We now know, then, that the Princess was neither off-base, nor being self-defensive when she points the finger, You are to blame, you are to blame” (59). But if the Hunter King is to be blamed for inveigling her to her decision, why does he now turn around and abandon her? Is it because she, rightly as we know from the story, but perhaps innocently, or even foolishly for the first time, forces him to face his own conscience?

Here is the full verse bearing the ominous words:


My loved lord lies low in death.

Why have you done that dreadful crime?

He that was strong and young you killed.

You are to blame, you are to blame. (59)

The Hunter King seems still not offended, simply contending, certainly tongue in cheek it has to be, that it was He [who] tempted me into this strife” (59), throwing the ball back to the dead Prince. Through wilfulness to his own death he went.”

What then? Here are the next revealing words:

Princess. (Recitative)

I saved your life, Oh Chieftain … (61)

Hunter King. (Recitative)

I do not understand your words, beloved. I defeated him by my own prowess, not by your aid … (61)

Clearly the Princess’s claim, factual as it was, seemed to have touched a raw nerve and bruised a male ego! This then clearly seems to be what turns him against her, not some moral position against a claimed fickle mind! It was that the sense of manhood, specially of a forest dweller associated with the rough and tumble of life, was cut from beneath his very feet!!

It is at this point, in response to his next line (I saw you prepare to give the sword which he demanded to slay me”) that she definitively says, I took it to give it to you not to Prince Maname” (61). So it is that we claim that the Hunter King was equally if not primarily responsible for the Princess’s change of mind. Yet the princess is called a wretch,” and we find him bray, from on high, [W]ith women such as you I have no part!”

If the bias in favour of the Hunter King is clear, there is more evidence. Despite his blatant and abrasive expressions of desire for her in the very presence of her husband, he is portrayed as upholding the virtues of (formal) marriage. The princess is deemed to be inhuman” because she sought to slay her wedded lord” (62; emphasis added), a point repeated in the following lines:

Dazed and amazed I stand.

To work such evil on the lord you wed! (62)

This is despite the fact that he earlier sings to the Princess, All for love’s sake I faced the fray / Because my love of you was strong!” (60). It is possible, of course, to be faithful to Sarachchandra’s text, that the Princess’s partiality towards the Hunter King in not giving the sword to her husband right away might have been conditioned by her awe and respect for the Hunter King. For example, at the first sight of the Hunter King, she not only thinks that He is not fearsome to look upon” (56; reflecting the folk view of the country’s forest dwellers (see endnote 24)), but By the majesty of his beauty he seems a king.” When we note that the words, of his beauty” are the result of another license by the translator, with the Sinhalese text merely referring to the majestic look” (tejas penuma) we cannot even allow any sexual connotations to the words of the Princess.

But even if we were to allow for the distant possibility of the Princess being contributory, in a very extended and circuitous sense,22 to her own eventual fate, the Hunter King must be held at least more responsible for encouraging the indecision by his very overpowering stature!23 We also know from the Hunter King’s very first lines that he indeed dreams of carrying her away. Such a one could hardly be praising the virtues of marriage! Yet in these lines, he has the hypocritical and chauvinistic nerve to castigate the Princess for seeking to have the wedded husband slain!

What we find in the play, then, is that despite everything the Hunter King does, he ends up being the upholder of virtue—fidelity and wisdom—and even the arbiter of justice on behalf of society. He is indeed the anti-hero hero, not a bit without the help of physical prowess and bravado, typically macho characteristics.

As our analysis shows, then, we have a woman rendered helpless by two egocentric, impatient and life-denying men; yet it is the woman that faces death. And worse, from a moral point of view, the man with the lesser morality ends up not only merely living but also earning the respect of society too! Do we need any more evidence of the androcentric bias of traditional society?

But what it also shows is the patriarchal nature of society. A man fares well in society even if immoral. Worse, a woman is lower than even an uncultivated” man—the view that folk Sinhalese culture, as noted, holds of Veddhas (forest dwellers).

In feminist terms, this would be called the victimization of the victim. The victimization is that the words are first put into her mouth with no justification, and are then made to eat it—a typical behaviour of one acting in power. In another sense, this is like an animal, toying with its captured prey before finally gobbling it up! For all such reasons, then, the treatment of Princess Maname is disparaging of womankind, and hence, patriarchal—in its literal sense of power over.” So what we see is a clear victory of androcentric thinking and behaviour over feminocentric” ones, to coin a term.

  1. Is the Personal the Political?

We have seen that the story of Maname, in its traditional version as put on stage by Sarachchandra, is essentially androcentric, and patriarchal. But can playwright Sarachchandra also be called androcentric and patriarchal?

This is not easy to answer primarily because the story line is a traditional one, played before folk audiences probably for centuries. So it can be cogently argued that Sarachchandra was merely being faithful to the tradition. This argument is rendered the more compelling when we consider the background against which Maname came to be produced for the contemporary theatre.

Sarachchandra’s goal, as he says in his introduction to the Sinhalese text of the play, was to generate an interest in the average public in the theatre” (1956, 16). As a professor, he had studied the evolution of the modern Sinhalese theatre: the nurti theatre of the turn of the century, influenced by a decadent Indian theatre in which conventions of classical Sanskrit drama (as outlined in the Nàtya÷àstra, and later theorists; see Warder 1972) had been juxtaposed with elements of the western theatre, through the Jayamanna dramas” in the forties and fifties in which contemporary themes were presented within the same admixture. But it was Kapuwa Kapºti (a Sinhalese adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro; mid forties), Professor E. F. C. Ludowyke’s adaptations of Gogol’s Marriage, which introduced the real techniques of a play” (Sarachchandra 1956, 15). Unlike earlier and later plays produced at the University, including adaptations of Moliere, Oscar Wilde and Chekov, Kapuwa Kapºti had a run of over fifty shows in Colombo and the rest of the country.


But, whatever high quality was reached by these plays, theatre-lovers of recent times began to wonder whether the Sinhalese theatre could become a part of our cultural life by following the western naturalistic tradition” (Sarachchandra 1956, 16). Thanks to his studies of the traditional Sinhalese theatre in his The Sinhalese Folk Play and the Modern Stage (1953), and the Chinese, Japanese and Indian classical traditions along with their contemporary manifestations, he had finally put his finger on the missing element: the stylized technique, common to all four traditions. The Nàtya÷àstra had defined theatre as telling a story through abhinaya” (Sarachchandra 1956, 7), i.e., dramatic action,” of four types: gesticular (àngika), verbal (vàcika), facial (sàtvika) and costume (àhàrya). He had also distinguished the theatre of two types: of the nature of the world” (lºka dharmã) and of the nature of the theatre” (nàtya dharmã). What had captivated the Sinhalese folk audience for a century or more was indeed the latter: sokari in which actors (all males), some with masks, showed movement and action through dance; kolam in which there was more characterization than story element; and Nàóagama which alone, he was convinced, had a fully-developed [anga sampårna] theatrical style” (Sarachchandra 1956, 12). Having also spent a year in Japan on a sabbatical studying Kabuki (personal knowledge), he saw a unique opportunity of not just attracting audiences and critics, but equally importantly, to raise the level of the Sinhalese theatre. In this endeavour, his focus, judging by both Maname and his next (Nadagam-inspired) play, Sinhabàhu the lion-armed,”24 was on style, technique and theatrical convention rather than on theme and content. That he had the right mix was evident from the roaring success of Maname, operatic from beginning to end. The ever-critical Sinhalese critic couldn’t find enough words to heap praise, and Manamania was born!


The story content of Maname (and next Sinhabàhu), then, being a mere vehicle for the delivery of theatrical style, the inherent androcentrism and patriarchy might never have crossed the playwright’s mind. It was not a time of feminism, and nobody had even begun to raise the issue. It certainly had not been a concern of the folk audiences who had returned night after night (for up to seven nights sometimes) to see their favourite stories enacted on stage. So the natural inclination for Sarachchandra would have been to leave the story line untouched. In a sense, to change the story would have been to tamper with tradition. His concern for retaining (and re-introducing to urban audiences) authenticity was such that he went to the extent of seeking out a traditional master,25 for words, melodies and dance steps, and another (the master’s son) to play the maddale drum, not part of the instrumental repertoire of the urban Sinhalese. There was also, secondly, the danger of the audiences rejecting the play for the wrong reasons, namely, change of story line, rather than for esthetic proclivities.


If, on this evidence, we exonerate Sarachchandra of overt androcentrism, there is some evidence that he held no particular respect for males over and above females either. An example is a later play, elova gihin melova àvà Just Returned from the Other World,” in which we find a husband fuming at his wife for being outsmarted by a beggar. When the beggar says that he just returned from the other world (elova), he was simply indicating the lot of the hungry who are always on the verge of death. Taking it literally, the woman enquires whether he had by any chance met their daughter who had just died. Seeing his opportunity, the beggar feigns familiarity, upon which the woman gives him the jewelry that belonged to the daughter to be taken to her. It is this that makes the husband fume.


If at this point we see a foolish woman of weak mind, as if to confirm an androcentrism, we come to be convinced otherwise when in the end we find the husband also fooled when the beggar first lures him away and then rides away on his horse! Now we laugh at the follies of life, not of women but of men, too. An apparent androcentrism turns out to be an androgyny.


Returning to Maname, we also note with interest that the woman (namely, the Princess) who lusts after the man is characterized simply as fickle” (62; capala), with an etymological connotation of a quivering bow,” but the man as barbarous” (57; wanacara), with the contemporary meaning, as noted, of sexually immoral,” but with a literal meaning of forest-dweller” or forest-walker,” and with the further connotative meaning of lowly,” and the further extrapolative meaning of close to being animal-like.” So, if the use of the linguistic terms in a traditionally and contemporarily acceptable way shows the playwright’s interest in sticking to tradition, it also shows that, as part of the same tradition, he is harsher, if there is any intent at all, on the male character than on the female!


If we are correct in our analysis, we then have an example of a situation where the personal is not political, as often claimed by feminist critique. Since Sarachchandra did not intend bias, there is, from a Buddhist perspective, no culpability. The words of the Buddha were, Intent, I declare, is action.”

  1. Overcoming Androcentrism and Strengthening the Claim of Calming” as a Taste” in Esthetic Theory


If as we have seen Maname is androcentric, it needn’t have been. The playwright could have portrayed the Princess more realistically—and here I am clearly going beyond my competence, and so with apologies to Professor Sarachchandra—by simply introducing an additional scene at the point where the Hunter King entreats her with the words, Become my queen, become my queen” (60). To prepare the audience/reader, the narrator could have been brought in to share with the audience the difficult choices the Princess faces, followed by a walk around the stage by the Princess (in keeping with drama technique), to show passage of time, with a soliloquy in song perhaps (as in the case of the Prince pining for the teacher’s daughter at the beginning of the play (50)), to the accompaniment of an instrument like the flute, by itself or in some combination with the maddala drum (both used in the play), to symbolize the internal conflict. Then, as the Hunter King re-emerges, the Princess could with all honesty, and realistically, say the very next words in the text, I have no refuge now but you.” The Sinhalese term saraõa (as in the text) now takes on new meaning, and begins to give religious and spiritual overtones. The Buddha, dhamma (his teachings) and the sangha (the community of ordained monks and nuns) are a Buddhist’s ti saraõa three refuges.” So here, too, when the Princess says, I have no refuge [saraõa] but you,” she is expressing not lust or love, but simply seeking help.


The androcentrism in Maname could also have been mitigated with a different ending. If, as we have claimed, the most likely reason why Sarachchandra left the androcentrism in the story of Maname untouched was a concern about violating tradition, he could have been equally true to tradition by making the ending androgynic, capturing the essential respect, as noted, for women in the culture.


In her recent work, Buddhism After Patriarchy, an exhaustive study of the three schools (yàna) of Buddhism, Rita Gross points out not merely that The Dharma [the Buddha’s teachings] is neither male nor female,” (1993, 125ff.) but that it is … both female and male” (209ff.; emphasis mine). She concludes that the Buddhist world view and ethic are more consistent with gender equality than gender inequity” (209) and that Buddhism is remarkably free of gender bias” (210). Indeed she, an ardent feminist by her own claim, writes that Buddhism is feminism” (italics in original).26 Despite the Buddha’s initial reluctance to allow women to be ordained, he did establish a bhikkhunã sangha Women’s Order” in his very life time, and the Therã Gàthà Psalms of Women Elders” constitutes (along with Thera Gàthà Psalms of Men Elders”) a book of the T(r)ipitaka Tricompendium” that is the Buddhist scripture.


This, of course, is not to say that in its practice, women in Buddhist societies have always enjoyed equality, Gross pointing to the intolerable contradiction between view and practice.” (1993, 209) Women’s ordination, e.g., is today not available in Sri Lanka,27 even though it was from Sri Lanka that it went to China where it exists today as the only tradition which allows it.

But ordination is merely one index of equality. There are other indices, both historical and contemporary, to show that the position of women, meaning laywomen here, in Sinhalese society, the group relevant to our discussion, was not as intolerable” as some would like to think. In historical times, a queen, Leelavai by name, reigned for several years, and in contemporary times, it was perhaps no accident that it was a Sinhalese, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who became the first woman Prime Minister in the world (1958), paving the way for Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and the rest.


The report by the British revenue officer footnoted earlier (note 21) speaks to the position of women two centuries ago. Here is the fuller text:


… the Cingalese women are … in many respects the companions and friends of their husbands … polygamy being unknown and divorce permitted among the Cingalese,28 the men have none of that constitutional jealousy, which has given birth to the voluptuous and unmanly despotism that is practiced over the weaker sex in the most enlightened nations, and sanctioned by the various religions of Asia. The Cingalese neither keep their women in confinement nor impose on them any humiliating restraints.


In contemporary Sinhalese society, women students have outnumbered men at the university since its inception in the forties, and there are no child-brides or girl-baby killings. Regarded as the lamp” (pahana) in the family, the birth of a girl is rejoiced, and puberty is, for the family and the community, a Celebration of the Treasure House” (Koñahalu Mangula; see Swarna Sugunasiri 1983 for a discussion). Children pay homage to mother first, and then to father.


This, then, is the tradition that would have allowed Sarachchandra to render Maname androgynic without offending Sinhalese, and Buddhist, cultural sensitivity. If any, what such a gender egalitarianism would have brought about is more acceptance and accolades rather than less!


Basing himself upon this respectable status of the woman, then, what change in the ending would have helped make Maname androgynic?


A dramatic possibility would have been for the Hunter King to be abandoned by his retinue in a revolt in protest of the injustice wrought upon the Princess, and his hypocrisy (see above)! That would also have helped elevate the level of respect Sinhalese society has for the aboriginal people of the land. The Princess could, then, become their queen, betrothed to the Hunter Chief (i.e. the Hunter King’s Chief of Staff) who shows no less amorous interest in the Princess upon seeing her, to repeat the lines (quoted above) sung by him, upon returning with the Hunter King to where the couple was first sighted:


Hunter Chief. (Song)

Here stands the lovely woman that I saw

O Chief, look on her well—does your heart with joy not swell?

Since I saw her in the wild—I have thought am I beguiled

By enchantment? Can there be a maid so fair?

Give me unstinted store—largesse and gifts galore

If you take her in this wise—she is an ambrosial prize. (56)


Even though the panegyrical language could be seen as an attempt on the part of the Chief to extract a larger benefit for himself, there is little doubt about the amorous desires engendered in him by the sight of the Princess.


Another possible ending would have been not to allow the fate of death to befall Princess Maname when the Hunter King abandons her. She could go on to Benares, and ask to ascend the throne as the rightful wife of the Prince, reminding the audience of the historical Queen Leelavatã (see above).


A third alternative ending could have been, following either of the above or instead of them, for Princess Maname to take to a life of renunciation in search of liberation. Already homeless, this being a way of life for one wishing liberation, the next step would have been a natural.

In Indian esthetics, a connoisseur of the theatre (sahçd, literally one with heart”) is moved by a play in one or more of eight rasas,29 literally taste” but meaning esthetic experience,” rasa being simply the basic emotion much increased or intensified” (Warder 1972, 35). It was the accepted rule/norm that, in a play, while several other esthetic experiences could be brought in as auxiliaries, only one should predominate (Warder 1972, 26).


The major rasa by ending Maname in either of the first two ways would have been the heroic” (vãra). But ending the play in the manner lastly proposed, it would have been the calmed” (sànta). What is particularly relevant here is that this rasa does not appear in the original list (of eight), but was specifically introduced, as Warder points out, by Buddhist writers of esthetics.30 Had the play ended in such a manner, not only would the play have been even more Buddhistic, but also would have lent credibility to the particular rasa through a living example. Calmed” fared badly in Indian esthetics over the years not only because it was not one of the original eight, but perhaps also because renunciation” didn’t receive serious literary respect from Vedic/Hindu theoreticians. For example, despite the fact that the hero, Yudhistira, of the Indian Great Epic Mahàbhàrata, does renounce the world in the end, the character is held in high esteem, even today, for its depiction of dharma virtue” or justice” (see Warder 1972, 37–8), but not renunciation. It would, then, have been a great contribution to literary theory, particularly in the year when Sri Lanka was celebrating the 2500th year of the Buddha (1956 CE), and the year when Maname was first staged, to re­affirm the calmed” taste.


At the personal level, such an ending would have established Sarachchandra as a socially responsive” artist, taking the Buddha’s teaching of attha samhità  social good” seriously, making a theatrical dent in the latent androcentrism (despite the respectful place of women as above) in Sinhalese society. This would have set a precedent as well for later, and younger playwrights, who came to flourish following the Sinhalese theatrical resurgence that followed Maname.

Finally, Professor Sarachchandra could have added one more to his multiple accolades, as perhaps the world’s first feminist male artist, even preceding the world’s first woman Prime Minister!31




  1. See Sarachchandra 1984 for the author-approved English translation by Lakshmi de Silva.
  2. This is my own translation in which I try to keep as close to the original as possible. The authorized version runs, Fickle my faith, because my love was strong” (Sarachchandra 1984, 62), presumably meaning faith in my husband.”
  3. The reference here is to its instant success and its continuing popularity even today, after nearly four decades.
  4. My personal involvement came in the form of acting in two minor roles and dance-performing a traditional pre-play character, and being part of a two-year tour (1961–63) of the play throughout the island for 50 shows.
  5. Unless otherwise indicated, the page references throughout are to Sugunasiri and Suraweera 1984.
  6. In the tradition of Nadagama (see Sarachchandra 1953 for a comprehensive study), a narrator who appears on stage with curtain closed, serves to carry the thread of the play.
  7. In true operatic form, all characters in the Nadagam plays either sing or recite, just as all movements are stylized and the stage set is symbolic. See Sarachchandra (1953) for details.
  8. Although the term soul” helps retain the English idiom well, it is a poor rendering, indeed a mistranslation of jãva, a Buddhist term which literally means life.” It is misleading as well since the Buddha denies that there is a soul, the concept captured in the teaching of anatta asoulity,” or soullessness.” See Warder (1970, passim) for a scholarly, and Sugunasiri (2001) for a popular, characterization.
  9. Mercy,” again, is un-Buddhistic, indeed Christian sounding, and is a mistranslation of karuõà in the text. A better rendering would be compassion.”
  10. This line is not in the original but perhaps included to rhyme with the last line.
  11. See Gombrich and Obeyesekere (1988) for an extensive treatment of the topic in contemporary times.
  12. It is perhaps an interesting aside that playwright Sarachchandra did make some changes to the opening invocatory lines which had a Hindu-like theistic fervour in favour of the present version. Is it then that the theism implied here did not come to the attention of neither himself nor anyone else?
  13. This is the interpretation given by the late Martin Wickramasinghe, the doyen of literary criticism during his lifetime: that amanatvaya, i.e., amana-ness” (the nominal form associated with amana gati habits”) is perhaps best exemplified in Chekov’s characters, and can be understood as the characteristic of those in Sinhalese society whose values are guided by an urban middle class superficiality. It is in this same sense that I have titled one of my own stories amanayo (1963). But it is difficult to say, without having compared the original, folk kolam version of Maname with Sarachchandra’s, whether the term amana, in the mouth of the Hunter King, has the same connotation or not. It is indicative of such a sense, however, in that the Princess is geographically if also culturally urban as compared to the Hunter.
  14. Although what I want to indicate here is the biological gender of being female, I use the term feminine” to indicate the gentleness as well, because it also confirms the next concept I am using in the sentence, humane.”
  15. One is reminded here of the well known story of Prince Siddhartha (later Buddha) who seeks to take possession of a bird shot by cousin Devadatta on the argument that the bird belonged to the one who saves life and not to the one who seeks to destroy it.
  16. Like many a Sinhalese traditional story turned play, Maname, too, is set in India, in the city of Benares, where interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally, the Buddha gives his first sermon upon experiencing Enlightenment.
  17. Intent, monks, I declare is action” (cetanàhaü bhikkhave kammaü vadàmi) were the words of the Buddha.
  18. The full lines in the Dhammapada (Byrom 1976) runs as follows:

We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

Speak and act with a pure mind

And happiness with follow you

As your shadow, unshakable (p. 3).

  1. An interesting parallel from contemporary North American society comes to mind here: when a wife is battered, the woman comes to be removed from the scene while the batterer continues to enjoy the comfort of the home! Today in Canada, this is luckily reversed.
  2. The prototype of the Hunter King along with his retinue in Maname is undoubtedly the aboriginal people of the land, the Veddhas who live in the bush. Contrary to the popular image of these forest dwelling people, as probably also captured by the play, there is no evidence that the Veddhas are uncivilized. The Veddha chief, Tisahamy, for example, is known to be punctual, as linguist Sugatapala de Silva (1964) found in his dealings with him.
  3. The reference here is to the freedom of thought and behaviour allowed for by the Buddha, Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by … the idea, This is our teacher.” But when you know for yourselves …” (Kàlàma Sutta, translated in Rahula 1959, 2–3). Its social reality is captured by a British writer reporting in 1872: The Cingalese women are in many respects the companion and friends of their husband … Cingalese neither keep their women in confinement nor impose on them any humiliating restrains” (Dewaraja 1981). It is also perhaps not irrelevant to note here that marriage in Sinhalese Buddhist culture is a civil affair. In our play Maname, e.g., reflecting contemporary social practice, the Guru-father simply gives the daughter in marriage to the Prince with the words, I will marry you” with the blessing, May you flourish long in happiness, my children” (53).
  4. Buddhist causality (see Macy 1991) posits several layers of conditions for an event to occur. While some of them are immediate, others are supportive,” We refer here to the supportive condition of her very presence, but without laying blame, being a factor in the Hunter King’s desire for her. This is what is called the object condition,” as e.g., the need for the presence of an object for there to be eye-consciousness.
  5. Here, too, we fall back on both multicausality, but particularly the object condition” (see note 22). The Princess would not have been impressed by the Hunter King’s majestic look had he not projected one and he was not present there physically.
  6. This play is based on the mythical origins of the Sinhala people out of a union of a lion (sinha) with a woman. As the story unfolds, the couple’s son, Sinhabahu, eventually challenges, and kills, the lion father who had begun to terrorize the villages in search of mother, daughter and son who had abandoned him.
  7. Master Charles Silva Gunasingha of Ambalangoda, a traditional cultural centre of south Sri Lanka, and his son, Norman Gunasingha on the drum.
  8. Among the features shared by both Buddhism and feminism that allow her to make the claim are the following: they both begin with experience,” have the will and the courage to go against the grain,” explore how mental constructs operate to block or enhance liberation” and speak of liberation as the point of human existence” (Gross 1993, 130–2). If I may add my own, Buddhism allows intuition as a valid source of knowledge, intuition being a particular strength of women but left out of western epistemology.
  9. Since this writing, the bhikkhuni order has been re-established in Sri Lanka (see Yasodhara 1998, 3–7).
  10. As noted, Sinhalese marriage is a civil affair with the temple having no formal or informal role.
  11. The eight rasas are: sensitive (ùçngàra), comic (hàsya), compassionate (karuõa), furious (raudra), heroic (vãra), apprehensive (bhayànaka), horrific (bibhatsa) and marvelous (adbhuta) (Warder 1972, 23).
  12. While Ràhula, whose work is known only from references, may have been the first to formulate the sànta (calmed) rasa, and Abhinavagupta accepted it, [t]he earliest critic, whose work is extant, to accept the calmed rasa is Udbhata” (Warder 1972, 40) in the eighth century CE.
  13. I thank my wife, Swarna, for her many insights during our conversations on the topic, listening to Maname on tape, she herself having been at the university during the era, and having studied under Prof. Sarachchandra.






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Suwanda H J Sugunasiri  is Founder / President, Nalanda College of Buddhist Studies (Canada), and & Adjunct Professor, Trinity College, University Of Toronto.  This chapter is excerpted from  Step Down Shakespeare,The Stone Angel Is Here: Essays On Literature: Canadian And Sri Lankan, Colombo: Godage Bros.


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