Amarasekera’s latest work – A reflection on the present predicament
Posted on October 30th, 2023

Reviewer – S. Amaratunga

Review of the novel Mahagedera” 

Author – Gunadasa Amarasekera

Publisher – Visiduna Prakashakayo

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera’s allegorical little story Mahagedera” has within it the story of our present pathetic state, struggling in the grip of neo-liberalism, lacking in genuine patriotic leadership, intellectual guidance, civilisational consciousness, a national economy, unable to extricate from the imperialist web, plagued by self seeking pseudo intellectuals, we have been reduced to a vassal state and forced to sell our national assets for existence. Amarasekera has the nack of seeking the story within the story and making use of it to craft his tale in lyrical language that holds the reader’s interest. Amarasekera in his late nineties deserves plaudits for his creativity, ability to see through issues and most importantly his philosophical vission which this country need in its hour of great peril. 

The protagonist of the story, Dasa, while doing postgraduate studies in the USA, hears that his ancestral home Mahagedera” has been sold to a foreigner. This news brings back memories of his village home, his own creative contributions  to the construction of the house and its value and historical significance for it was built by his ancesters who had fled the Wellassa from the marauding British army. Dasa could remember that his father had been deeply conscious of his heritage and the nationalism that Anagarika Dharmapala propagated, he had a portrait of Dharmapala hung over the entrance to the sitting room of the Mahagedera”. These memories of his home and its loss to a foreigner makes Dasa delve deep into his own understanding of his country’s civilisation, the concept of Sinhala Buddhism, and its capacity to build a national civilisation.

Dasa’s professor in Sri Lanka had convinced him that Buddhism could not build a civilisation in Sri Lanka because Theravada is an idealist religion, a religion that caters to those who have given up natural lay life. Such a religion cannot build a civilisation. The so called Sinhala Buddhism has made the Sri Lankan nation a slave of its past. This professor had visited Mahagedera” and after seeing some of Dasa’s creations, which had been inspired by the rich heritage of ancient Anuradhapura, he had said it proves his theory that Sri Lankans dwell in the past. And this professor had placed Dasa under a supervisor in the US who has similar views on Buddhism and Sri Lankan civilisation. Dasa blindly had accepted his professor’s views and had gone along with those of his supervisor in the US also and was in the process of constructing the necessary philosophical basis for their treacherous theory.

A strong factor that makes Dasa think deeply about these matters is his memory of his elder brother, a product of the university, who obviously had not imbibed the ethos of his civilisation, whose ambition is to climb up in the social ladder, and for that purpose had married from a rich upcountry family. Dasa realises that their family had lost the possession of their Mahagedera” due to the folly of his brother who had used the premises for his political activity without a care for its historical and sentimental value. His wife, who did not care much for him, had sold the house soon after his death.. His professor is colluding with his US supervisor who has an agenda that supports American imperialism. And his brother a victim of his own misguided ambitions has inadvertantly paved the way for foreign encroachment. Isn’t it such  people, who would sell their soul for personal benefit and glory, the bane of this country, the cause of all its ills, seems to be the question Amarasekera poses through his latest work.

Dasa’s cousin brother Senaka is another important character that Amarasekera has created. Senaka, though educated, has remained in the village and  has not lost his roots, he in his letters to Dasa appears to be more affected by the loss of Mahagedera” than the death of the elder brother. His selfless attitude is revealed in the care he shows towards Dasa’s mother, and his loyalty to his civilisation and history is shown by the effort he makes to find out about the history of Mahagedera” and his attempt to make Dasa buy back Mahagedera”.

Dasa after a long contemplation had realised his mistake in endorsing the views of his professor and his US supervisor. He writes a thesis, to counter his professor’s views, which attempts to prove that Buddhism is applicable to lay life and is not a religion that is detached from the life of ordinary people. His professor reads his paper and says that Dasa has not accepted Max Weber’s views on this matter. Dasa says those views are acceptable but the Buddhism that was brought to Sri Lanka under the auspices of King Dharmasoka could be moulded by the Sinhalese so that it becomes the guiding light of their life and such a religion could form the basis for a civilisation. His supervisor says it may not be possible for Dasa to continue to work with him and Dasa says he has already decided to leave as soon as possible.

In the background the separatist war rages, and the treacherous role of the local opportunist politicians is revealed which influences Dasa’s thinking. He realises the US role and its motives for helping to perpetuate the war and how his supervisor and also his professor back at home are aiding and abetting in the despicable act. At a meeting held to propogate the Tamil separatist agenda and their war effort, which was addressed by his supervisor and several Tamil Diaspora people, Dasa’s wife Nalini, unable to bear the fabrication and false propaganda that was being dished out, gets up and retaliates with thunder in her voice. Dasa had to drag her out fearing physical harm to them. Next morning they see the notice pasted on their door which read Racist Go Home”. The character of Nalini, who is from a poor family but had entered the university, has been constructed with the characteristic skill of Amarasekera.

Dasa and Nalini come back to Sri Lanka and visit their Mahagedera” to find out whether they could buy it back as suggested by Senaka who had met the German owner who had been looking after the house carefully preserving all its features of historical importance and who apparently had promised to give back the house when he decides to leave Sri Lanka. They see that the German who had been running a centre for disabled, had given the house to a religious organisation. The new owners have completely changed the character of the house and defaced the sculpture that Dasa had got Buddha Rupa Bass” to make on a rock and a bench. The house is being used by a Christian cult for their proselatyzation work. They wait for the Pastor to return, to talk to him about their idea of buying the house. Dasa seated on the bench falls asleep and in a dream sees people carrying swords and poles running out of the house towards him. He tells others about the dream and concludes that the people who ran out of the house were the heirs of Mahagedera”. The Pastor doesn’t return and they come back realising that what has happened to their Mahagedera” has happened to their country.

Imperialist powers know from their past experience that it is the civilisational consciousness of a nation that holds it together and it is the power behind the struggle the people wage against imperialism. The Sri Lankan nation is held together by the Sinhala Buddhist consciousness and the civilisation it built on its foundation. It is this force that stood and fought against the marauding armies of South India and Europe from early times to the present, the same force that fought against Tamil separatism. This is the reason why the imperialists want to destroy Sinhala Buddhist consciousness. They support the LTTE separatists in their war which serves their agenda and in the academic sphere they get the self seeking pseudo-intellectuals to undermine the philosophical basis of Sinhala Buddhism. The two pronged attack is aimed at destabilising Sri Lanka in order to keep it in its hegemonic grip. Amarasekera has portrayed the ancestral home Mahagedera” with its significant history and culture as the symbol of Sinhala Buddhist civilisation. Losing Mahagedera” is symbolic of the fate that had befallen  our country      

The transformation of Dasa supplies the vitality of the story that Amarasekera weaves around the memories of the ancestral home Mahagedera”. Such transformations have been a feature of Amarasekera’s earlier works too which form the basis for captivating tales. The social relevance is always at the centre of this novel too and it is a good response to those writers who subscribe to the view that art is for art’s sake and literature need not have social relevance as its purpose. 

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