Tuesday, June 09, 2009

ELOQUENCE IN STONE. - Review in Business Standard, 11 April 2008 - 17 April 2008

Eloquence in Stone: the Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka


“Eloquence in Stone is the story of Sri Lanka. Using the lens of the camera it tells the tale of Sri Lanka’s stone heritage through the ages. It is a strange, sometimes amazing saga about a small people on a small island in a corner of Asia. These people are heirs to one of the oldest living cultures in the world. Egypt and Mesopotamia may be far older but they are all dead cultures, their link with the ancient past a long forgotten and hidden memory. The people of Sri Lanka still speak the same language, practice the same religion and follow the same customs as their ancestors did more than 2,000 years ago. Eloquence in Stone is the story of their art and their craft; their architecture, their sculpture and their painting.

It is a tale which begins before the dawn of history, with mysterious drawings on stone and caves in the rock. This shadowy, mythic world was transformed in the 3rd century B.C by the arrival of Buddhism. A faith which burned like fire in the minds of men, it seeped into the very pores of the country, becoming the bedrock of a unique and brilliant civilization.

This civilization reached its peak between 500 BC and 600 AC. Amidst the plains of the Raja Rata and Ruhuna, the ancient Sinhalese built up a vast network of canals, dams and giant reservoirs which irrigated the parched landscape. Water was the secret of this culture and its lifeblood. Rising from the trees, the forests and the mountains of this land, it was the source of all its wealth. The kings of old valued its importance and they guarded it with an iron law, preserving and nourishing its vital flow. Working in harmony with their environment, they fostered, preserved and harnessed every drop of water.

Eloquence in Stone journeys through the two and half millennia of Sri Lanka’s history. It tells a tale of destruction and downfall, flowering and regeneration, decline and inexorable decay. As it unfolds we move from the age of stone to the age of wood and finally to the era of wattle and daub. Much more than the story of monuments in stone, it is an account of the culture which grew up around them, the world which produced them and the people who built them." So writes SinhaRaja Tamitta-Delgoda, the author of this monumental work where his eloquence and the most marvelous images by Nihal Fernando come together to give the reader/viewer a visual treat which also enlightens and inspires. With this book Nihal Fernando takes his Personal Odyssey to another realm. The book closes with his words: “This is the dream I have had for the last fifteen years. I want to tell the story of this island and its people. I want to make people think about our country and what we are doing to it before it is too late.”

Initiated by Nihal Fernando photographer, traveler, conservationist, lover of beautiful things and campaigner for lost causes, this work has been in the making for over fifteen years. He is a dreamer and a romantic who is driven by a tremendous feeling and a love for his country. This is something which is mirrored in his work and in the work of those who he has gathered around him. Historian, art historian, academic and writer, the author SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, has succeeded in capturing this tremendous feeling and understanding of this country. The text is educative and extensively researched, yet simply and evocatively written. Contributing to the images in the book are Fernando’s team of photographers at Studio Times - Anu Weerasuriya, Luxshmanan Nadaraja, Christopher Silva, Devaka Seneviratne and Roshan Perret, whose imagery enlivens the spirit of the book.

Beautifully designed by Eranga Tennekoon, the 475 page book is packed with over 460 photographs. Yet there is a sense of space. The photographs do not crowd together. The text and the images flow as one, neither one detracting from the other, each page so cleverly laid out that it works as a composite whole. Many are the long images of stone bridges and ancient tanks, buddha statues and vatadages which sprawl across two pages in impressive array. You will discover the temples of Danture and Beligala which lie off the Kandy road, the fortress of Dambadeniya on the Kurunegala road – places which you pass often but never bother to see, and the even more rare sites of Budupatuna and Mailla caves in the East. There are also photographs of sites in Padaviya and Kinniyai, Tiriyaya and Rajagala – places to which one would hesitate to travel today. Of some of the archeological artifacts the only records left are the photographs.

It is a book that one looks at slowly, quietly, almost reverentially. As you look at the photographs, read and imbibe the essence of the words, you are no longer an outsider looking in. Instead you are almost a participant in the story - the story of the trees and tanks, kings and monks, sculptors and painters, caves and palaces, chaityas and devales, dancers and devotees … The text and the photographs work as one to create a world that takes you over as the saga unfolds. It is a book that makes you realize, with even greater clarity, what a great land this is and what a great people we are. It is also a book that subtlely prompts you learn from our history and the mistakes of kings and of our people and look towards making this country a better land.



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