Thursday, June 11, 2009

ELOQUENCE IN STONE - A Review in The Nation, 21 September 2008

Out soon – An epic book of on the historical saga of Sri Lanka

Eloquence in Stone

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 the saga about a people who are heirs to one of the oldest living cultures in the world. Egypt and Mesopotamia may also be old 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.

Spread out over nine chapters with over 400 pages with 460 black and white and colour photographs, words and images come together in Eloquence in Stone to weave the story of Lanka. The book begins with the prehistoric era (125,000 BC to 1000 BC) during which the first traces of early man are found, and it ends with the downfall of the Kandyan kings.

Ancient man appears to have lived almost everywhere, on the coast, on the plains and in the hills. The richest evidence survives in Fa Hsien-lena, Batadomba-lena and Beli-lena, caves which date from 35,000 BC to 1,500 BC. Chapter 2 of the book deals with the arrival of Prince Vijaya from North India – a story of myth, fact and fantasy. Known as the early Iron Age, during this era man lived in villages. Although he still hunted, he also tamed and harnessed animals, cultivated rice, built small tanks and buried his dead in great stone cemeteries. This society evolved into a sophisticated and literate urban civilisation.

Chapters 3 and 4 deals arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC and with Anuradhapura period, a Golden Age, during which the ancient civilization of Lanka reached its peak between 500 BC and 600 AC. Amidst the plains of the Raja Rata, the ancients built a vast network of canals, and giant tanks. Rising from the forests and the mountains of this land, water was the source of the wealth of this culture. The book highlights how much the kings of old valued water and the importance they placed on working in harmony with their environment. This Golden Age comes to an end in Chapter 5. The looming shadow of South Indian power sounded the death knell for Anuradhapura. In the 9th century, Sri Lanka was overrun by a great Pandyan army, and after them, the Cholas. The jungle which had been cleared by Viyaja’s followers, crept back in to reclaim the ancient city.

Chapter 6 moves onto the Polonnaruwa period where, after a long drawn out struggle, Vijaya Bahu finally drove the Cholas out in 1070, establishing his capital amidst the Hindu temples of the Cholas.
Despite its inheritance, the character of this civilization was very different with the mingling of Hinduism with Buddhism. The form of the Siva devales is echoed by image houses of brick with vaulted roofs. From the outside they resemble the temples of South India but they were devoted to the worship of the Buddha. In the fashion of Hindu shrines they are elaborately and profusely decorated.

Home of lost causes, revolts and uprisings, the Ruhuna Rata is the focus of Chapter 7. A wild, rebellious country, it was difficult to conquer and even more difficult to hold. From time to time it would come under the kings of Anuradhapura, but for the most part Ruhuna’s rulers were independent. The kingdom of Ruhuna begins with King Mahanaga, who founded the city of Mahagama, at Tissamaharama. From the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AC Mahagama was the capital of Ruhuna. Sites about which little is known and even rarely visited, lying deep in the jungles are revealed to us in this chapter.

In Chapters 8 and 9 the story moves into the western regions, when the Rajarata was abandoned forever in the face of repeated invasions from South India. The kings of Lanka, ruled from Dambadeniya, Yapahuva, Kurunagala and Gampola during the 13th – 14th centuries and finally Kotte in the 15th century. Kotte was eclipsed in the 16th century by the rising power of the Kingdom of Sitavaka. Under its dynamic rulers Mayadunne and Raja Sinha I, Sitavaka assumed the mantle of resistance to the foreigner, meeting him on the field of battle and fighting him to a standstill. It was perhaps the first time that an European colonial power had been defeated by an Asian nation in open battle. With the death of the great Raja Sinha, Sitavaka collapsed. The Portuguese occupied the lowlands and the coastal shore. Only Kandy, in the central hills, remained free and independent. Kandy was the last stronghold of the Sinhalese kings. Encircled by rugged peaks, guarded by trackless paths and steamy tropical jungles, for over two hundred years this almost impenetrable natural fortress held off a succession of foreign invaders until the British succeeded in penetrating the Kandyan Kingdom.

The book is the vision of Nihal Fernando who initiated its production over fifteen years ago. Having spent nearly eight decades traveling the length and breadth of this country, talking to people and studying the many written and unwritten stories of this land, he is a man with a supreme understanding of this country and its people, the history and the many aspects that come together to make Sri Lanka what it is. It is this understanding of the country based as it is in the historical context as inspiringly written by SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, that Fernando and his team of photographers at Studio Times Anu Weerasuriya, Luxshmanan Nadaraja, Christopher Silva, Devaka Seneviratne and Roshan Perret, so eloquently conveys in words and photographs in this book.

It is also a world which is changing fast. Almost every remote site has been desecrated, blasted and broken into. The forests are being decimated and the streams are drying up. To Studio Times team it seems like a race against time, just to record and to reveal what is left before it is lost forever. And that is the purpose of the book. Nihal Fernando says, “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.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home