MYTHS AND SCHOLARS - PART VI
(1999 June 23)
Ms. Coomaraswamy and the others have made a big fuss over the so-called Vijaya myth. Not only the origin of the Sinhala race (nation) is questioned but the Mahavansaya itself is branded as "nothing but a tangled web of cleverly contrived fiction". Ms. Coomaraswamy is worried that the Tamil expatriates, by creating a mythical history based on the Mahavansaya in response to the Sinhala mythmakers, would make all the attempts by the "scholars" such as Satchi Ponnambalam to put the Tamil problem in the "correct historical perspective" without appealing to the Sinhala chronicles invalid. She has admiration also for Sinhala "scholars" like Dr. Kumari Jayawardena, the first lady at the High Commission in London representing the "Sinhala government" under the Lion Flag symbolising this great myth, Profs. Ranaweera A. L. H. Gunawardena and Gananatha Obeysekera who have "exploded the Aryan myth" generally associated with Anagarika Dharmapala the most hated personality of the NGO and seminar circuit "intellectuals".
Ms. Coomaraswamy in her celebrated "research paper" has the following to say on this all-important myth of the Sinhala people, which the Mahavansaya has upheld." The evolution of these (Tamil) nationalist myths can only be understood in the context of Sinhala nationalist ideology to which it is a political response. Sinhalese social scientists such as Kumari Jayawardena, R. A. L. H. Gunawardena, Gananath Obeysekera have outlined these myths in detail. Drawn from Sinhalese chronicles, Sinhala nationalism sees Sri Lanka as the home of the Sinhala Aryan race and the Buddhist religion. This identity has with time become a pan-class identity. Though it has been pointed out that social analysis which attempts to understand nationalism only in terms of myths and symbols is inadequate, the experience of Sinhala nationalism points to the fact that a nationalist ideology which appeals to certain types of myths and symbols has a powerful internal dynamic which cannot be understood by analysing material forces of production alone."
In Part IV, I said that I would discuss this so-called myth of origin in detail and I am afraid I may have to take more space than what I anticipated at the beginning of this series of articles. Let us start at the very beginning. The very beginning is more familiar to me having done a little bit of "research" that gave me a formal certificate from an English Christian university to testify that I had finished my apprenticeship in that particular field. I refer to the Big Bang in Cosmology. In this series of articles on one hand we are concerned with myths. On the other hand we are interested in scholars who happen to be a mythical tribe in the common sense of the word myth. The myths are very often opposed to what are known as facts and theories. Now, I have a different opinion altogether. I consider all theories to be arising out of Avidya (ignorance) according to the Buddhist tradition or Maya according to the Vedic tradition, and hence the so-called myths are not different from the theories in my epistemology. Myths as well as so-called theories are created by men and women and moreover they are not created in a vacuum. They are all constructed due to avidya (maya) in a cultural context. Myths, facts, theories, concepts and what not all constitute knowledge and knowledge is created relative to the culture, the mind and the sense organs of the people who construct (sanskara) such knowledge. Here the concept of culture is used in a very broad sense and as a result of creation of knowledge culture in turn could be changed. It has to be emphasised that culture is a function of time and space or history and geography meaning that the cultures of different people at different times in history and at different places could be different.
Why do people make myths? Levi-Strauss has shown that "myths" of a given society are not myths in that particular society, in the sense that they have a meaning within that society. The "myths" happen to be myths with respect to a society that look at them from outside. However, they are not myths when viewed from inside. I would call this a partial relativistic theory on myths. The myths, similar to the so-called theories, are very often created by people, whether "intellectuals" or not, in order to explain certain phenomena, in a particular culture. Without going into a detailed theory of myths or a myth on theories I would simply state that the credibility of a myth or a theory grows as its co-consistency within the system increases. I use the word co-consistency rather than consistency in order to emphasise that a theory or a myth is not tested with facts, as such, as facts are also theory laden. It is pointless to ask whether a theory is consistent with facts when the facts themselves are interpreted with respect to theories. It is more appropriate to consider the co-consistency of the entire system consisting of facts, theories (myths) concepts etc.
Is the big bang a theory or a myth? Many would say that it is a theory that agrees with observations. However, it is not so. Various auxiliary theories, like the theory of inflation that was created in the eighties, which have been constructed within the big bang in order to explain certain phenomena, have not increased the credibility of the theory of big bang. Moreover the theory of big bang starts with the assumption that the entire universe was created out of nothing and that the universe was once upon a time condensed into a tiny volume making its density infinitely large. These assumptions are not co-consistent within a Physics with a law of conservation of energy. The big bang on the other hand was constructed within the western Judaic-Christian culture with a tradition of a world created, out of nothing, by the God. Both the theory of big bang and the creation by the God are answers given by a certain civilisation as it evolved, to the question as to how did the universe come into existence. The answers are very nearly the same except for the role played by the God in one of them. The answer given to this question in the Buddhist tradition is entirely different. To a Buddhist the big bang theory is not only a myth but a useless myth.
How did the Sinhala nation come into existence? Some people who think that the nations were the creations of the capitalist system and the modern nations appeared only with the formation of the nation-states would not agree with the term nation used here. These are people who look at the world through the European eyes and according to some of them a nation can come into existence only after the capitalist system has developed to a certain extent. However the Stalin's definition of a nation is not contradicted by the Sinhala nation at the time of Pandukhabhaya and all that we would say in this connection is that there is no co-consistency within the European system of knowledge on nations. What is most interesting here is that the Sinhala nation had asked this question of origin some two thousand years ago, at least during the time of the Deepavansaya. This implies that a community whether one call it a nation race or tribe and identifying themselves as Sinhala had existed prior to the time of Deepavansaya. The existence of a people called Sinhala is pre-requisite for anybody other than a "scholar" to inquire into the origin of the Sinhala people. The Deepavansaya refers to other sources and it is well established that, contrary to the theory (myth) propagated by the "scholar" vice chancellor Prof. Ranaweera A. L. H. Gunawardena, the community and not only the kith and kin of the king had been interested in the origin of the Sinhala people. According to the logic of these "scholars" it is possible for one to ask questions on the origin of a people even before the people had come into existence. This can be compared with the formation of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (Lanka Tamil State Party) by Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam in 1949 in order to fight for certain things that were supposed to have happened after 1956.
Tamils have not asked the parallel question and therefore obviously have not answered it. If the present set of "scholars" were living then perhaps they would have answered the question even without asking it first. We should not undermine their capabilities. Now why is that no one had asked the question as to the origin of the Tamils. It is difficult to answer that question but one plausible answer may be that the Tamils until recently did not possess the consciousness of a Tamil people as such. It is true that there have been the Pandya, Chola and other empires but at no time in the history there has been a Tamil kingdom as such. Even the Vassal State in Jaffna was referred to as the Arya Chakravarthi kingdom and not a Tamil kingdom. It appears that in the history, whether in India or outside, until recently, a Tamil consciousness has failed to emerge and if that is the case then it cannot be the fault of the Sinhala people or the Mahavansaya.
The Sinhala people had not only asked the question as to their origin but also had answered it. The answer that has been given, like the big bang, can be interpreted as a theory or myth. Now there are certain common characteristics of the answers given to the question of origin by various tribes, races and nations. The answer has to show that the relevant community is unique. Very often it must also show that the particular community does not descend from other communities. Then the "purity" of the community has to be established. The "intellectuals" who created theories or myths along these lines in the past were not bothered with biological constraints. Just as much the scientists who created the big bang theory were not bothered with the conservation of energy those who created theories of origin were not concerned with the co- consistencies within a system that included biological facts. Now one way to satisfy the above criteria is to say that the key people of the community descended from non-humans. This would have satisfied the criterion that the relevant community had no connection with the other communities. It is interesting to note that the communities that attempted to answer the question of origin have very often have come up with non-human fathers whether they be lions eagles or sometimes even plants. Then very often incest was also added. The offsprings of the non-human father married each other and made sure that at least up to the second generation the "purity" of the community was preserved. The Sinhabahu story, which I have called the Sinhabahu theory or the Sinhabahu pravadaya in an article written to the "Divaina" about six years ago, satisfies all the above criteria. In that sense it is a successful theory. What are more important here is the question and the criteria that the answer had to satisfy, and not whether it is possible for a lion to breed a man or vice versa. Those who try to give a different interpretations to the Sinhabahu pravadaya stating that the lion was not a "real lion" but a sinha purusha (brave man) in the light of (or afraid of ) biological facts are doing a disservice to a beautiful theory created by the ancients.
Now the Christians world over believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. It may be possible to defend the virgin birth resorting to probabilities and saying that according to medical evidence that one in hundred million or so births could be a virgin birth. But that misses the point altogether. What is required here is to give an answer to the question of the birth of Jesus Christ that will make sure that the Christ is more than human. The answer given in the Christian tradition further states that Jesus Christ is the son of the God and that the father and the son are the same, confirming the divinity of Jesus. Does one should attempt to explain this phenomenon? It is possible for a Buddhist to come out with a theory on the father and the son being the same using the "gandhabba concept". In fact recently somebody had asked this question whether it is possible for a father himself to be his son, in a different context, and an answer had been given. Theoretically it may be possible within the Buddhist tradition. All that one has to do is to impregnate the would be mother, die and then as the "gandhabba" enter into the womb of the mother. It is assumed that the presence of the "gandhabba" may not be necessary at the instant of fertilisation of the ovum though it is necessary within a certain period. In this age of test tube babies and freezing of semen it is not a bad theory provided his kamma and/or some other "gandhabba" does not upset the "project". But what has all this got to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christians do not need all these theories to understand Jesus Christ. For them the virgin birth explains the divinity of Jesus and that is all that is required. Those who consider the virgin birth to be a myth will never understand Jesus.
The Sinhala people had been conscious of their Sinhalaness before the time of Deepavansaya and had asked the question as to the origin and evolution of their Jati or nation. The Sinhabahu pravadaya (theory) constitutes part of the answer. The other parts including the Vijaya story are also given in the chronicles. We shall discuss the Vijaya story in part VII of this series of articles
BALA GOES TO LONDON TOWN
FROM THE PREVIOUS TWO ISSUES