The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity A Cultural Genealogy of Sinhala Nationalism

The post “The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity A Cultural Genealogy of Sinhala Nationalism”

Harshana Rambukwella

In this important and lucid book, Harshana Rambukwella offers us
what he calls a ‘cultural genealogy of Sinhala nationalism’. The term
‘genealogy’ gestures towards Foucault and, before him, Nietzsche. At
its broadest it suggests that attention to the flow of argument over time
will destabilise our assumptions about what is given and what is deemed
inevitable. Nationalisms struggle to tame the unruliness of history with
the story of a stable subject – the nation – and its more or less inevitable
emergence and triumph. The story of the nation, any nation, performs a
kind of double trick with history: it details the emergence of a collectivity
over time, while making that collectivity itself appear timeless, natural
and unquestionable. Any critical engagement with nationalism therefore
needs to question the apparently unquestionable, to de- naturalise the
assumptions that might otherwise appear so self- evident.
This process is at once much easier but also much harder than it may
first appear. What makes it easy is the discovery that any given nationalism
is a zone of argument and internal contradiction; what makes it
hard is that all those who would argue – about who is in and who is out
of the nation, about how to protect, save or restore the nation – agree
on one thing, that there is a nation that requires protecting, saving and
restoring. The self- evidence of the nation as a frame of understanding
and analysis is deeply embedded in academic as well as popular interpretations
of history and politics. A genealogical approach to the history
of this phenomenon offers one possible way out of what has come
to be called the common- sense ‘methodological nationalism’ that treats
nations and nation states as an obvious unit of analysis. To get any critical
purchase on a topic like this the analyst has to find a way to break
with that common- sense perspective, while nevertheless acknowledging
the very powerful, often destructive, real- world effects of the idea of the
nation. Understanding how a particular perspective on history is made
to seem natural and unquestionable is not the same as arguing that it is
somehow trivial or epiphenomenal.
vi Foreword
The nation is a prime example of what the philosopher Ian Hacking
calls an ‘interactive kind’. Most of our classifications of the world are
what Hacking terms ‘indifferent kinds’: identifying a particular tree as
a member of a particular genus matters not to the tree itself. The tree
carries on in its tree- like way. In contrast, identifying a person as a
member of a particular collectivity, whether on grounds of language,
physical appearance or occupation, not only matters to the person but
may also cause the person to act differently, to argue for or against the
relevance of the classification in question, to query who else may be
included or excluded. It may also generate attempts to identify some particular
group of people, or some particular set of practices, as being more
important than others in the identification and reproduction of the classification.
Interactive kinds carry their own instabilities within them; one
manifestation of this is a tendency to argue about the content and boundaries
of the kind itself. Such arguments are often couched in a language
of ‘authenticity’. Authenticity makes some biographies exemplars of the
nation, makes some practices – how a particular song is sung in public, for
– especially significant in claims of stability and self- evidence.
Rambukwella’s book focuses on authenticity as a way to open up
these arguments for the study of Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka. He
starts from an apparently trivial example: a celebrated singer sang the
right song, a song deeply identified with Sinhala nationalist values, in
the wrong way at the annual Independence Day celebration in 2016. The
singer’s mistake was to sing in the idiom in which she was trained, which
is the Western classical tradition, rather than in a properly authentic
Sinhala idiom. The result was a brief but fierce public scandal. The irony,
from which Rambukwella’s argument takes off, is that both the song itself
and the appropriately ‘authentic’ idiom in which it is expected to be sung
have quite shallow and easily traceable histories. Authenticity, which is
meant to be a sign of the givenness of nationalist practice, can be seen to
be constructed under quite recent and quite specific circumstances.
From this point of departure Rambukwella takes us through the
lives of three complex figures in the history of modern Sinhala nationalism.
Two of them, Anagarika Dharmapala and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,
are familiar from previous analyses of Sinhala nationalism, one the enigmatic
Buddhist reformer most often identified with cultural resistance to
the British in the era of high colonialism, the other the equally enigmatic
elite politician who ushered in a new era of populist nationalism in the
decade after independence. The third, Gunadasa Amarasekera, is probably
less well known to readers outside Sri Lanka. Although he is a major
figure in Sri Lankan cultural life, very few of his books are available in
Foreword vii
English, and the polemics and controversies that Rambukwella traces so
illuminatingly were almost entirely conducted in Sinhala and confined
within the bounds of what we might call the Sinhala reading public. This
brings me to another irony – that the history of Sinhala nationalism has
been almost entirely written without reference to material written and
published in Sinhala. This is equivalent to writing a history of the French
republic based only on English- language accounts. That it has been possible
at all is of course an irony of the postcolonial condition, in which
English remains the dominant language of academic analysis while
Sinhala and Tamil are the languages in which the important political and
cultural work goes on.
Rambukwella’s familiarity with important debates about Sinhala
culture conducted in Sinhala provides one of many original threads in
this book. His critique of some well- known postcolonial theory for its
lingering attachment to ideals of authenticity is another. The identification
of something authentic, and potentially oppositional, ‘outside’
the logic of colonisation is a classic nationalist trope, reintroduced in
recent decades by authors otherwise eager to assert their own oppositional
position to both colonialism and to postcolonial forms of nationalism.
In contrast, Rambukwella’s book is not posited on some kind of
analytic outside: when all’s said and done, he is an active participant in
arguments about culture, language and authenticity within Sri Lanka.
Like all three of his central characters, he is attempting to navigate a
course between the triumphalist claims of first- world liberalism and the
tragically destructive pursuit of sectional nationalisms. His intervention
effectively expands the conversation in two symmetrical ways: academic
analysts need to attend more carefully to the arguments of nationalists,
and nationalists might possibly learn something from the kind of comparative
and critical perspective that Rambukwella brings to his book.
This may suggest that the importance of what Rambukwella
has to say is limited to those with a pre- existing interest in the specific
story of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and the tragic history of
the Sri Lankan nation state. That is an important and interesting story
in itself, but I think there are strong reasons for reading this book
regardless of local interest. In the early 1990s, when the first wave of
revisionist scholarship about Sinhala nationalism broke, it was possible
for a distinguished Sri Lankan scholar to query the politics of
the term ‘nationalism’. Similar phenomena in Britain or the US may
be glossed more positively as ‘patriotic’, whereas the ‘nationalism’ of
the postcolonial world is frequently bundled together with pejoratives
like ‘chauvinism’ and ‘fundamentalism’. No more. Now both the US
viii Foreword
and Britain are dealing with an upsurge of explicitly nationalist (not to
mention fundamentalist and chauvinist) politicians. Russia and India
are ruled by authoritarians who coolly combine gangster capitalism
and hard- line nationalism to mobilise their support. This may all seem
new and disturbing to a generation of liberal commentators unaware
of the drift of actually existing democracy beyond Westminster or
the Beltway. To writers like the author of this book, who have lived
most of their lives under the shadow of unstable and often dangerous
nationalisms, these phenomena are more familiar. There is much to be
learned from Harshana Rambukwella’s deeply thoughtful and always
insightful book, wherever you are located and whatever you imagine
your politics – and culture – to look like.
Jonathan Spencer
Regius Professor of South Asian Language,
Culture and Society, University of Edinburgh
This book has been a long time in the making. It started its life as a PhD
thesis at the School of English, University of Hong Kong, from 2004 to

  1. But much has changed since then – in terms of both the content of
    the book and my own orientation to the subject matter. This long gestation has been informed by many interlocutors who have contributed in numerous ways to the book’s making. From my time as a postgraduate student John D. Rogers, US Director of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, has been a constant intellectual presence. I have benefited immensely from his insightful commentary and remarkable intellectual generosity. Charles Hallisey of the Harvard Divinity School provided early inspiration for me to be adventurous and extend my horizons beyond the anglophone postcolonial literature in which I received my
    primary training. Liyanage Amarakeerthi, in the Department of Sinhala at the University of Peradeniya, pushed me to challenge myself and has asked difficult but compelling questions – all thanks to a fortuitous meeting more than a decade ago at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University. Amare’s seminal work in creative modern Sinhala literature and literary criticism has been a constant inspiration. A generous fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Social Sciences and Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh facilitated by Jonathan Spencer of the School of Social and Political Sciences provided the intellectual space to lay the groundwork for this book. Jonathan’s generosity and critical input were crucial to developing an effective proposal. Elaine Ho my supervisor at the School of English at the University of Hong Kong has supported my career in many ways. I thank all my colleagues at the Postgraduate Institute of English, Open University of Sri Lanka –
    Sreemali, Mihiri and Andi – for understanding the value of academic
    scholarship and lessening the burdens of my administrative duties so
    I could write this book. They have been unstintingly supportive of my
    work. Conversations with Jayadeva Uyangoda, Neloufer de Mel, Harini
    Amarasuriya and Dileepa Witharana have been invaluable in shaping my x
  2. Acknowledgements
    understanding of contemporary Sri Lankan society, culture and politics.
    Walter Perera, my former teacher at the University of Peradeniya, has supported and encouraged me in numerous ways. Their presence in an increasingly commodified and utilitarian education system has also been important help me find a sense of purpose and location in Sri Lankan academia. A special note of thanks to Surani Neangoda for compiling the index and for a careful reading of the manuscript. I dedicate this work to my wife Prashani, without whose love and encouragement I would not be where I am today and this book would simply not have happened. All translations of quotations into English are mine.
  3. Authentic problems 1
  4. The protean life of authenticity: history, nation, Buddhism
    and identity 24
  5. Anagarika Dharmapala: the nation and its place in the world 48
  6. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike: the paradox of authenticity 73
  7. Gunadasa Amarasekara: the life and death of authentic things 102
  8. Conclusion: the postcolonial afterlife of authenticity 137
    References 153
    Index 161

Authentic problems
On 4 February 2016, internationally acclaimed Sri Lankan soprano
Kishani Jayasinghe sang Danno Budunge, a song perceived as celebrating
Buddhist values and culture, at a state- sponsored event held at the
Galle Face grounds in Colombo to mark the 68th Independence Day
celebrations. Her operatic rendition of the song, considered by some an
‘unofficial national anthem’, was thought masterful by some observers
(Wickramasinghe 2016). But the next day there was a swift and crude
cultural- nationalist reaction against Kishani’s singing. The strongest
criticism was made on a popular Sinhala- language television channel,
where the host compared Kishani’s singing to that of feline yowling and
remarked that Sinhala villagers upon hearing this singing would throw
stones at it. When Kishani’s international reputation as a soprano subsequently
came to light, social media led an equally swift backlash against
the television host’s comments. The channel offered an apology, and the
host was fired. This was just the beginning of an intense, if short- lived,
debate on Sinhala culture and the relative value of cultural cosmopolitanism
versus insularity. Prominent Sri Lankan intellectuals, musicians
and even the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, participated in the
The Danno Budunge incident cannot be understood in isolation.
It reflected an always contested cultural and political discourse
concerning Sinhala authenticity, which has shaped much of Sri Lanka’s
post-independence history. At the heart of this discourse lies the notion
of apekama – loosely translating as ‘ourness’, or the idea that there
are things that are authentically Sinhala and Buddhist. Much of postindependence
Sinhala nationalist discourse has been informed by this
notion of cultural exceptionality. The cultural coordinates of apekama
2 The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity e debated hotly. They have rarely remained static, but one constant is
the belief that something called apekama exists and that it is a national
virtue with overarching unity. It is not simply idiosyncratic personal
belief but a systematic discourse that has become institutionalised and
is reproduced and transmitted from generation to generation. Disputing
and debating apekama adds to its stock and shores up its cultural and political
value. The ability to claim apekama is to be able to claim authentic
Sinhala and Buddhist status. Apekama may be primarily a cultural discourse
but its political effects have been significant and far-reaching in
post-independence Sri Lanka.
The history of Danno Budunge and the multiple influences that
shaped the production and reception of this song over the course of the
twentieth century pithily illustrate the protean life of authenticity. The
song was first performed in the early twentieth century. It was made
popular by John de Silva, an early twentieth-century Sinhala playwright
who played a significant role in establishing the nurti dramatic tradition
in Sri Lanka (de Mel 2001, 57). De Silva was known for the Sinhala and
Buddhist content of his plays, which tapped into cultural- nationalist
sentiments in Sinhala society in the early twentieth century. Many of the
heroines of his plays idealised chaste values – signifying the ideal of a
new middle-class Sinhala woman in the making (de Mel 2001, 58– 60).
Regulating women’s bodies, attire and behaviour was another important
manifestation of authenticity in twentieth-century Sinhala cultural
nationalism. De Silva’s plays were a site where these ideas about women
gained visibility and popular circulation.
Although the content of de Silva’s plays was didactic and moralistic
(Dharmadasa 1992, 128), his theatre was hybrid and drew upon
multiple theatrical idioms. The ‘authenticity of de Silva’s plays was
more in the ‘message’ than in the medium. The form of his theatre
marked a time when a Sinhala cultural modernity was in its formative
stages. It was inspired by and drew upon many influences, such as the
nadagama folk tradition, the pan- South- Asian Parsi theatre deriving
from India, and European realist theatre (de Mel 2001, 60– 8; Field
2017, 22). Danno Budunge first featured in the play Siri Sangabo, about
a pious Buddhist king in Sinhala historical lore. It was first produced
in 1903, with a musical score by Vishwanath Lawjee, an Indian musician
who collaborated on most of de Silva’s productions. Lawjee did
not know Sinhala, and de Silva had to explain each scene to him in
English so that he could compose an appropriate melody (Field 2017,
24). The origins of Danno Budunge thus underscore the irony of its later
twentieth- century adoption as an authentic piece of Sinhala musical
Authentic problems 3
expression. Kishani Jayasinghe’s rendition was also not the first operatic
rendering of the song. From the 1920s to the 1940s Hubert Rajapakse,
a Sri Lankan tenor, sang the song in operatic style to appreciative
audiences (Devendra 2016). This was a time when different discourses
of authenticity jostled for influence. In de Silva’s early twentieth- century
theatre North Indian classical music was the major inspiration because
of perceived affinities between North Indian culture and Sinhala culture,
but in the 1930s the hela (indigenous) movement led by Munidasa
Cumaratunga advocated a form of extreme linguistic and cultural purity,
which denied any Indian influence on Sinhala culture. Cumaratunga
extended these ideas to music (Field 2017, 39– 42).
What was more or less a ‘soft’ cultural nationalism in the early
twentieth century gained a more institutionalised dynamic in postindependence
Sri Lanka. Particularly from the late 1940s onwards, with
the political institutionalisation of Sinhala nationalism, many avenues
of cultural expression became aligned to different degrees with exclusivist
Sinhala sentiments. In music the 1950s saw the emergence of the
subhawitha sangeethaya (the ‘well made art song’ or semi- classical song)
tradition associated with the Sinhala service of Radio Ceylon (Field
2017, 5). At its outset it simply imitated Indian melodies and was more
concerned with song as text than with its musical expression. But the ‘art
song’ in later decades evolved to become a hegemonic genre in Sinhala
music, which was associated with authenticity and apekama. Many of the
musicians within this tradition were trained in India at the Visva- Bharati
University in Shanthiniketan, which was founded by Tagore, identified
with the North Indian Hindustani ‘great’ tradition and promoted as
the most suitable foundation on which to build modern Sinhala music.
The promoters of this genre rejected Western musical influences as well
as the South Indian Karnataka tradition. The ‘art song’ tradition was
institutionalised both through state electronic media, which elevated it
to a classical national musical style, and through the educational system,
where music curricula were based on the Hindustani- inspired tradition.
The most iconic example of this tradition was the late Pandit W. D.
Amaradeva, whose rendition of Danno Budunge became the definitive
version of the song in post- independence Sri Lanka. For generations of
Sinhala musicians and Sinhala musical connoisseurs, the Amaradeva
aesthetic – its tonality, musical arrangements, melodic structures,
choice of instrumentation and performative style – signified Sinhala
identity and authenticity. Experimentation was not foreclosed entirely,
but for music to be truly recognised as Sinhala it needed to conform
to the cultural coordinates of apekama, which in turn were implicitly
4 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
authorised and upheld by ‘guru’ figures like Amaradeva and many
others who followed in his footsteps, such as Victor Ratnayake, Nanda
Malini and Sunil Edirisinghe. Amaradeva’s funeral in 2016 was held
with state honours, and a musical academy is to be established in his
name. ‘Distortions’ of ‘Amaradeva songs’ usually come in for harsh criticism.
Kishani Jayasinghe’s singing at the Independence Day celebrations
in 2016 essentially fell victim to this judgmental discourse of cultural
The Danno Budunge controversy arose because of a perceived
affront to conventional Sinhala musical sensibilities. Its course revealed
much about how culture, authenticity and politics are intertwined in contemporary
Sri Lanka. Commentators like Victor Ratnayake, Nanda Malini
and Amaradeva’s wife did not view the operatic rendition positively,
though they recognised this type of singing as a highly developed form
of musical expression in the Western tradition. They felt such a rendition
was harmful to the ‘essential’ quality of the song (Daily Mirror 2016).
But more intriguing was the response of those who viewed the operatic
rendition positively and chose to defend it. After the incident, Jayasinghe
gave a number of interviews. She went to extraordinary lengths to
establish her Sinhala and Buddhist credentials while at the same time
defending her right to musical innovation. She highlighted the fact that
she came from a Sinhala Buddhist family, was a descendant of John de
Silva and was educated at Vishaka College, a prestigious Buddhist girls’
school in Colombo (Vithana 2016; Jayasinghe 2016). Similarly, those
who defended her, like the fusion musician Harsha Makalande, also a
descendant of John de Silva, highlighted that Jayasinghe’s rendition did
not damage the ‘patriotism’ of the original song (Daily Mirror 2016). The
Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, appearing on a state- affiliated
television network, spoke at length about the Danno Budunge incident.
He emphasised the historical cosmopolitanism of Sinhala culture and
argued that such cultural openness was vital to the country’s future. Like
Makalande, he insisted that Jayasinghe’s rendition had done no harm to
the Sinhala or Buddhist identity of the song.
The Danno Budunge incident underscores how Sinhala and
Buddhist identities remain significant sites of cultural and ideological
production in contemporary Sri Lanka. The position of those who
defended the right to cultural innovation, but nevertheless insisted
that the essence of Sinhala identity was unaffected, spoke to the complex
and contradictory terrain occupied by authenticity, or apekama,
in Sinhala nationalist discourse. There are many routes, some seemingly
contradictory, to authenticity. For some, like those who placed
Authentic problems 5
Danno Budunge in the ‘art song’ tradition, the discourse of apekama
has well- defined cultural boundaries. Others favour a more open position.
For them the cultural coordinates of apekama are fuzzier and
open to negotiation. However, both sides agree that something that
can be termed or identified as ‘authenticity’ exists. This book attempts
to historicise the discourse of authenticity in Sinhala nationalism,
and in doing so raises a series of interrelated questions that apply not
only to Sinhala nationalism and Sri Lanka but also to nationalism and
authenticity more generally: Why is authenticity so central to nationalism?
What kinds of conditions demand, sustain and reproduce it?
Can we think of multiple and contending authenticities instead of one
homogeneous discourse? What can a critical yet empathetic account
of the life worlds of nationalists tell us about nationalism itself? What
is the existential security they seek through authenticity and is this
related to its remarkable staying power?
Theorising authenticity and nationalism
The Oxford English Dictionary (2017) provides a range of definitions of
‘authenticity’, which include veracity, correctness, verisimilitude and
the quality of being authoritative and real. As we shall see, in nationalist
discourse all of these senses of authenticity overlap. The Oxford English
Dictionary, however, also notes that authenticity has a philosophical resonance,
particularly in existentialist philosophy. This second philosophical
iteration of authenticity has received significant scholarly attention.
For instance, moral philosophers hold authenticity to be a key ingredient
of the autonomous modern self – expressed as an ‘ethic of authenticity’
(Ferrara 1993), where the modern individual is seen as one who is capable
of making decisions free of external cultural and social pressures.
Colloquially, this would approximate the notion of being true to one’s
self. However, this view of authenticity has been critiqued in philosophy
as enabling a self- indulgent sense of identity – an identity that has no
compulsion towards the collective ‘good’ and is therefore amoral and
selfish. In recent philosophical debates authenticity has made a return,
particularly in the writing of Charles Taylor (1991), where authenticity
is seen as something that transcends the self. To be truly authentic in this
understanding is to recognise the existence of others and to critically recognise
the values of these others in constituting one’s own subjectivity.
Taylor’s reflections arise from the particular context of Canadian multiculturalism.
He engages with the critical multicultural concern with how
6 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
democratic societies should accommodate diversity. In this sense the
philosophical approach to authenticity is also deeply political.
The philosophical engagement of authenticity, though not devoid
of social and political concerns, is primarily an individual existential
question. The notion of authenticity as it is used in this book has a very
different genealogy. If Taylor sees authenticity as something that can give
the individual a sense of uniqueness, but at the same time place the individual
self in relation to moral obligations to others in society, authenticity
in nationalist discourse, which forms my primary area of concern, is
about existence as a national collective, where authenticity demarcates
the boundaries of what is allowed in and what is left out. In its nationalist
articulation, authenticity becomes a punitive discourse. It banishes
and marginalises those who are ‘inauthentic’. This notion of authenticity
is closely tied to the formation of the modern nation state and its selfprojection
as a ‘hoary’ institution with an intricate body of rituals and
practices that legitimise its existence (Gellner 1983). It is also a notion
of authenticity that has the ability to command from its national community
a kind of ‘filial’ duty and blind allegiance (Said 1983). The question
of authenticity has been a key underlying concern in the theorisation of
nationalism. In the literature on nationalism authenticity can be seen as
a fault- line along which one of the major theoretical debates on nationalism
in the twentieth century – the primordial versus modernist debate –
has played out.
Nation and nationalism – primordial versus modernist
Most theories of nationalism can be placed under the two major categories
of primordial and modernist, though such a neat division can
obscure significant areas of overlap between the two approaches and
obscure significant internal differences within each approach. The primordial
thesis holds that national identity has a discernible and demonstrable
connection to pre- modern forms of identity. The significant
question posed here is whether ethno- nationalist identities associated
with the modern nation state, a phenomenon that first developed fully
in the nineteenth century, are related to forms of identity that predate it.
This is not simply an academic question; it has real political and material
consequences in places such as Sri Lanka, where there are many sharp
disagreements over national identity. The claims on behalf of both the
majority Sinhala community and the minority Tamil community are
Authentic problems 7
grounded on historical claims to territory and cultural lineage on the
island. Such primordial claims are also a defining feature of many other
nationalisms the world over. History is a battleground on which contemporary
scores are settled.
The primordial position does not necessarily imply that modern
forms of rationality, institutional structures and socio-economic changes
are irrelevant to understanding the formation of nation-states. But in
the work of theorists like Anthony Smith (1986; 1991) there is greater
emphasis on examining the importance of ethnic or pre-modern ethnic
identity in shaping modern nationalism. For Smith, a sense of collective
community associated with the idea of ethnic identity is important
in explaining the enduring quality of national identity. Smith seeks to
explain the depth and persistence of nationalist thinking by linking it to
a sense of community that is not easily explained by a more modernist
or constructivist position. As I will discuss later, a primordial emphasis
is also visible in many postcolonial theories of nationalism. The postcolonial
version of primordialism arises from the politics of decolonisation
and the search for authenticity.
In contrast to this approach stands the work of Elie Kedourie
(1966), who foreshadowed the notion of ‘invention of tradition’ found
in Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983). Kedourie, influenced by his own
experiences as an Iraqi Jew, and writing in the aftermath of German
National Socialism and its destructive legacy, sees nationalism as a thoroughly
modern phenomenon that is associated with statist institutional
practices, though it appears with a romantic gloss. The romantic tradition
of nationalist thought is often traced to the eighteenth- century
German scholar Johann Herder and his view that there is an organic
unity between people, their language and their ethnic identity, and that
the legitimacy of the state derives from this organic unity. Many scholars
critical of National Socialism saw Herder’s views as precursors to the
biological racism that inspired Nazism (Williams 1973). However, for
Kedourie, nationalism, despite its modern origins, was also atavistic
and tribal because of the secular religiosity and the divisiveness it could
inspire. In the subsequent ‘modernist’ or ‘constructivist’ theorisations of
nationalism the direct political concerns that informed Kedourie’s work
are less apparent. Similar concerns are, however, also visible in constructivist
scholarship’s treatment of nationalist claims to authenticity and tradition
as fictions emerging from an atavistic mindset that has no place in
a modern state, where citizenship should be the key index of belonging.
This division between an atavistic and a rational or ‘civic’ nationalism
is more apparent than real. As Wimmer and Schiller (2003) point out,
8 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
there is a deep- seated methodological nationalism that pervades the
social sciences and humanities, where nationalism is a normative and
invisible ‘container model’ through which the world is understood. The
nation and nationalism have become naturalised ways of looking at the
world and are taken as ready- made frameworks through which social,
political, economic and cultural organisation in the world can be understood.
Because of the invisibility of methodological nationalism, Western
state- building is seen as normative, non- nationalist and liberal whereas
non- Western state- building is seen as ‘nationalist’ in a negative sense,
‘forgetting’ that things like ‘ethnic cleansing’ and expulsion of minorities
have very much been a part of European nation- building (Wimmer and
Schiller 2003, 582).
This slide from the violence of nation- building to a language of
modernist transformation is clearly visible in the work of Ernest Gellner
(1983), who rejected Kedourie’s premise that nationalism was fuelled
by atavistic and irrational human passions. Gellner instead locates the
emergence of nationalism within a set of structural shifts in the social
transition from agrarian- based production to industrialism. Gellner
suggests that mass education, literacy and the bureaucratic rationality
that accompanies industrialisation are preconditions for the emergence
of nationalism. The overt constructivism of this position is well
encapsulated in Gellner’s often quoted observation that ‘it is nationalism
which engenders nations, and not the other way round’ (Gellner
1983, 55).
Benedict Anderson’s (1991 [1983]) popular and widely influential
‘imagined communities’ thesis also emerges from the modernist
paradigm. Print capitalism, which is central to Anderson’s argument,
can arise only within a structural economic transformation from precapitalist
to capitalist, which can be glossed as a transition from premodern
to modern. He argues that the opportunity for a community to
imagine itself as a nation depends on the availability of mass- printed
genres of writing such as the newspaper and the novel. These genres
allow different groups to begin imagining themselves as belonging to a
larger national collective. Print culture is also crucial for the spread of
notions of authenticity, creating the conditions for the mass dissemination
and uptake of ideas and styles of thought. It is primarily through
writing that notions of authenticity begin circulating in society at large.
Anderson also argues that with industrialisation in Europe the very
conception of time changes from a religious to a secular frame, where time
is defined by the calendar and the clock, or what Anderson calls ‘empty
homogeneous time’. According to Anderson this modern conception of
Authentic problems 9
time is critical for a nation to imagine itself as a community of connected
individuals occupying a simultaneous time frame facilitated by modern
mass- market literary genres like the newspaper and the novel. A significant
difference between Anderson and Gellner is that whereas Gellner
emphasises the institutional nature of nationalism, Anderson sees it
as both institutional and popular. Gellner’s theorisation allows culture
only a limited role in nationalism whereas Anderson sees it as central.
Anderson’s work, arguably, laid much of the groundwork for subsequent
‘cultural’ readings of nationalism and also opens out a conceptual space
in which to critically explore the role of authenticity in the nationalist
The postcolonial critique of nationalism
Partha Chatterjee (1986; 1993) was one of the pioneers in providing a
specifically postcolonial theorisation of nationalism. Chatterjee’s work is
based largely on Bengal, but he extrapolates the Bengali experience to
India, the South Asian region and the entire Asian and African ex- colonial
world. He objects to what he sees as the primacy granted to Europe as the
originary site of nationalist thinking in the work of scholars like Gellner
and Anderson. Instead he proposes a model where Indian nationalist
discourse is seen as an innovative adaptation of a European discourse,
which forged a revolutionary nationalist movement even when the
structural socio- economic conditions for nationalism were unavailable.
Chatterjee argues that Indian anti- colonial nationalism achieved success
in the cultural sphere even though it did not possess the material or institutional
resources to successfully challenge colonialism in the material or
public realm. It was in culture, Chatterjee argues, that Indian nationalism
imagined a radically different alternative to the technocratic modernity
presupposed by European nationalism. In essence Chatterjee’s argument
makes the notion of authenticity central to decolonising nationalism. It is
by imagining an authentic cultural domain, which is not ‘contaminated’
by colonialism, that nationalism mobilises itself. As we shall see, this is a
deep- seated conceptual orientation from which not only nationalists, but
critical scholarship like Chatterjee’s, cannot fully escape.
Chatterjee builds his argument by proposing a dual model of Indian
nationalism. He argues that in its public institutionalised form Indian
nationalism is derivative of European nationalism, but that in the private
sphere it sees itself as fundamentally different. Chatterjee (1986)
calls this the ‘thematic’ and ‘problematic’ of anti- colonial nationalism.
10 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
At the thematic level Chatterjee argues that anti- colonial nationalism
reproduced the Manichaean division of the world into East and West – as
in the Danno Budunge controversy, which was fuelled by the notion that
the ‘Western’ operatic tradition was alien to ‘Eastern’ Sinhala culture.
However, at the level of the problematic, Chatterjee argues that anticolonial
nationalism contested the colonial view that colonised people
were incapable of self- governance and lacked agency. The cultural exceptionality
claimed for the East was the ground on which a structure of
feeling was constructed that the East was morally and spiritually superior
to the West, and this sense of cultural superiority in turn legitimised independent
nationhood for the colonised. Chatterjee, however, recognises
that this poses a dilemma for post- independence India because it leaves
a poisonous essentialist legacy that drives far- right movements like hindutva
in India. Chatterjee sets up the problem of nationalist thought on
an East– West binary, but it is important to bear in mind that the West was
not the only source against which nationalism defined itself. As already
mentioned, the hela movement in Sri Lanka in the 1930s imagined the
Sinhala nation in opposition to India.
Chatterjee’s work does not escape the dilemma of nationalist
authenticity it identifies – that of seeing the world in Manichaean East–
West terms. This difficulty may be illustrated by examining his notion
of the inner and outer domains of nationalism. The outer or the public
domain is where anti- colonial nationalism follows the template set by
colonial modernity, but the inner private domain is where it claims to be
authentic and free from colonial corruption. It is not clear in Chatterjee’s
work whether he sees this idea of an inner domain as a strategic essentialist
move made by Indian nationalism or whether he believes in the
existence of such a domain (Batabyal 2005, 37– 42). There is an insistent
move in Chatterjee’s work to prove, as it were, the existence of a sphere
of Indian cultural life that was unaffected by contact with the West. At
times Chatterjee seems to be only suggesting that this was in effect how
nationalist thinkers like Gandhi and Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay
conceptualised the nation – thereby maintaining a critical distance
between Gandhian thought and his own critical genealogy of Indian
nationalist thought. However, at the same time Chatterjee’s own theoretical
model seems to be based on a notion of an authentic inner life that
evaded the colonial gaze (Chatterjee 1986, 54– 125).
This problem in Chatterjee can be related productively to the issue
of methodological nationalism – in how it responds to the notion that
‘European nationalism’ is the norm. It also relates to the discussion
that follows on how an East– West imaginary casts a long shadow over
Authentic problems 11
postcolonial studies. Chatterjee’s model of Indian nationalism is built on
a refutation of the work of scholars like Anderson and Gellner, whom he
sees as upholding the perception that European nationalism is the normative
the liberal model of nationalism and that non- Western nationalisms
are deviant aberrations (Chatterjee 1986, 4– 6). Chatterjee theorises
that the so-called ‘aberration’ in non- Western nationalism is an inherent
structural feature – that the turn to culture is not atavism but is prompted
by the conditions of colonialism. In making this move, Chatterjee implicitly
buys into normative methodological nationalism – the unacknowledged
fact that European or Western nation-states are also built on an
‘atavistic’ nationalist past, which involved violence and turmoil (Wimmer
and Schiller 2003, 581– 2).
The dilemma arising from how the West is seen as a normative
model and the resultant urge to contest this view by building an argument
for Eastern exceptionality is not unique to Chatterjee. A more
explicit expression of an East–West binary is visible in the work of scholars
such as Talal Asad and Ashis Nandy, where authenticity expresses itself
as a critique of secularism. This has significant implications for critical
engagements with nationalism because many majoritarian nationalist
projects position themselves in opposition to ‘secular Western’ traditions.
We shall see later that this procedural similarity between postcolonial
theorisations of nationalism and exclusivist cultural- nationalist thinking
is also replicated in some scholarship on Sri Lanka.
Talal Asad, one of the foremost critics of secularism, argues that
the secularisation thesis does not sufficiently recognise how the secular
and the religious co- determine each other. In Asad’s view, informed significantly
by Islam’s claim to political legitimacy, religion can rarely be
confined to the space accorded to it by the nation state. Asad argues
that, given the coercive reach of the nation state, no discourse that
has ambitions beyond ‘mere belief or inconsequential talk in public
can remain indifferent to state power in a secular world’ (Asad 1999,
191). The arguments here also stem from a view that certain religious
formations, like strands of Protestant Christianity, are perceived as
‘rational’ and ‘normative’, and are given a public role, whereas Islam is
not: ‘Only religions that have accepted the assumptions of liberal moral
and political discourse are being commended’ (Asad 1999, 180).
Asad’s position is shaped by a binary worldview of a secularised West
and a religious non- West. As Vincent Pecora points out, Asad in his earlier
work Genealogies of Religion posits an idea of ‘discrepant experience’
by contrasting static Islamic societies with their secular and changing
Western counterparts (Pecora 2006, 25– 42). Pecora argues that Asad’s
12 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
position is very close to the absolute East– West difference that haunts
the work of scholars like Samuel Huntington (Pecora 2006, 43). Sindre
Bangstad (2009) has also explored the implications of the East– West
binary in Asad’s work and argues that it generates a static, historically
transcendental view of Islam which stands as an authentic embodiment
of alterity against an equally monolithic West. The difference between
East and West in this perspective often appears unbridgeable. Broad similarities
are also visible between Asad’s work and the work of Ashis Nandy
in India. Nandy (1990), who has long held the view that secularism is
an inhuman Western imposition on Indian society, has proposed a traditional
notion of religious faith, which he sees as inherently tolerant,
as an alternative. But, as both Aamir Mufti (2000) and Pecora (2006)
argue, even if one were to accept Nandy’s romantic view of pre- modern
faith, his solution fails to consider how religio- cultural identity in modernity
is institutionalised and organised within the nation state.
The cultural- nationalist and postcolonial critiques of secularism
run in parallel here. For many cultural nationalists, secular ideals are
flawed because of their Western origins. The cultural-nationalist call for
a return to an indigenous and authentic way of life is often informed by
a majoritarian nationalist script, unlike the postcolonial position, which
desires some form of multicultural coexistence. But both positions are
shaped by the thematic of nationalist thought. They hold a Manichaean
worldview that posits an essential difference between East and West.
Theorising nationalism in Sri Lanka
The primordial versus modernist debate has also played out in scholarly
debates about nationalism and ethnic identity in Sri Lanka. Generally,
in scholarship predating the 1980s, modern identity categories such as
Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim were taken as givens – often implicitly seen as
extending from the precolonial to the postcolonial period, though careful
historical and sociological scholarship always drew distinctions between
modern Sri Lankan society and pre-colonial forms of society and community.
The 1980s, however, marked a period when questions of nation,
nationalism, ethnic identity and how these related to the history of the island became overt political concerns in scholarship. In a very broad
sense scholarship became ‘politicised’, and when scholars working in a
range of humanities and social sciences disciplines wrote about Sri Lanka
they were keenly conscious of how their work was in conversation with
nationalist politics, whether they desired such ‘conversation’ or not.
Authentic problems 13
This sensitivity to the political context in which academic production
took place became an especially marked feature of Sri Lankan scholarship
following the 1983 anti- Tamil pogrom. It also meant that liberal
and leftist scholarship felt an ethical compulsion to engage with and
critique the excesses of nationalism. For instance, Newton Gunasinghe,
a prominent leftist scholar, wrote a short essay entitled ‘May Day after
the July Holocaust’. He observed that the ‘Left and democratic forces are
in a situation of theoretical disarray’ (Gunasinghe 1996 [1984], 197).
What he meant was that the analytical categories deployed by leftists,
especially class, did not explain the unprecedented ethno- nationalist
violence of 1983, which left hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead and
almost 100,000 Tamils living in temporary shelters across the country.
Gunasinghe’s provocative contention was that class as a unit of analysis
would be superseded by ethnicity because a class- based analysis of Sri
Lankan society could not account for the violence of 1983, where ethnicity
‘overdetermined’ other social categories. Gunasinghe argued that
in future scholars committed to social justice in Sri Lanka would need to
engage with the issue of ethnicity in order to understand and respond to
the problems of the Sri Lankan polity.
Gunasinghe’s theoretical conundrum was not unique. The events
of 1983 prompted scholars from a range of ideological persuasions, not
only leftists, to revisit their understandings of the Sri Lankan polity – a
reassessment reflected in the report Sri Lanka, the Ethnic Conflict: Myths,
Realities and Perspectives (Committee for Rational Development 1984),
published a few months before Gunasinghe’s essay. As the title indicates,
this volume – which emerged from the efforts of a broad spectrum of
scholars in the aftermath of 1983 – attempted to provide a ‘rational’ basis
for understanding Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. Some important insights
into Sri Lankan society emerged through the collective efforts of these
scholars in the decades following 1983. One general feature of this
scholarship was revisiting the Sri Lankan past and attempting to present
revisionist accounts of Sri Lankan history – particularly with a view to critiquing
essentialist and hoary notions of ethno- nationalist identity that
fed the ethno- nationalist conflict. In the 1980s much of this scholarship
focused on Sinhala society and culture, because Sinhala nationalism was
seen as a threat to the democratic future and the existential security of
minority communities in the country. In the 1990s, as Tamil militancy
against the largely Sinhala- dominated state assumed a more authoritarian
nature and stifled dissent within the Tamil community, scholars
began to look at Tamil society and culture with a similar degree of critical
14 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
A debate that took place between the revisionist historian R. A.
L. H. Gunawardana and the Sinhala language and literature scholar
K. N. O. Dharmadasa in the early 1990s underscored the political stakes
of academic scholarship. Gunawardana published an essay entitled
‘People of the Lion: The Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and
Historiography’, in which he questioned commonly held notions about
Sinhala identity and its 2,500- year antiquity (Gunawardana 1990
[1979]). Gunawardana argued, through detailed engagement with
historical sources, that when the term ‘Sinhala’ first appeared, around
the first century ad, it only referred to a number of ruling families; it
gradually grew to describe the kingdom, higher- status families and
finally, by the twelfth century, all Sinhala speakers (Rogers 1994, 12).
Gunawardana was also careful to distinguish this use of ‘Sinhala’ from
its modern use, which he ascribed to the influence of racial ideologies
introduced by colonial governance and scholarship and their subsequent
internalisation by Sinhala intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries (Gunawardana 1990 [1979], 72– 9).
Though Gunawardana’s essay was first published in 1979,
Dharmadasa’s rebuttal only appeared in 1989, almost ten years later. The
timing of the rebuttal was significant. As Serena Tennekoon (1990) has
argued, in the mid 1980s the historical provenance of Sinhala identity
became a matter of public intellectual debate, and Sinhala intellectuals
were keenly conscious of academic critiques of Sinhala identity.
Following the 1983 anti- Tamil pogrom, Sinhala nationalists attempted
to rationalise the violence as a product of a historical enmity between
the two groups. The post- 1983 period also witnessed a sense of existential
about Sinhala identity and culture as Tamil nationalist
demands intensified and international sympathy for the Tamil cause
gathered force (Tennekoon 1990, 205). These debates on Sinhala identity
often spilled over into public spaces such as newspapers where
amateur ‘historians’ jostled with those with academic authority. The
debates, though ostensibly scholarly deliberations on Sinhala cultural
identity, were in reality battlegrounds on which nationalist scores were
to be settled. They also provided space for Sinhala nationalists to paint
as ‘unpatriotic’ any voices critical of standard wisdom about Sinhala
and linguistic antiquity, such as intellectuals connected to NGOs
funded by countries perceived as sympathetic to the Tamil cause.
Dharmadasa’s rebuttal refuted the twelfth- century date proposed
by Gunawardana. He argued that Sinhala identity can be traced back to
at least the fifth century ad. He also refuted the idea that modern Sinhala
identity emerged in the nineteenth century and argued that Sinhala
Authentic problems 15
intellectuals of that time were simply articulating old ideologies in new
ways (Rogers 1994, 12).
The original refutation was published in the Sri Lanka Journal of
the Humanities, a scholarly journal published in Sri Lanka. The controversy
became more public because Dharmadasa also wrote a series of
articles to the Sinhala- language Irida Divayina (Sunday Island) newspaper.
Given public sentiment about Sinhala identity and culture at
the time, Dharmadasa was seen as a Sinhala intellectual defending the
integrity of Sinhala culture. As one commentator expressed it, ‘I believe
that the whole nation should salute Prof. Dharmadasa for dispelling the
misconceptions that arose about our national identity and nationalism’
(quoted in Galahitiyawa 2001). The public nature of the controversy also
prompted Gunawardana to write a short pamphlet entitled Historiography
in a Time of Conflict (1995), in which he explored the politics of how the
past is constructed in contemporary Sri Lanka, and criticised Sinhala
intellectuals, including Dharmadasa, for complicity in providing scholarly
legitimacy for nationalist myth- making (Gunawardana 1995, 22– 7).
The question of whether ethno- nationalist identities are primordial
or modern, therefore, has had direct political resonance in post- 1983
Sri Lanka. The line between academic scholarship and political intervention
has been difficult to sustain, though many scholars would like
to see their work as primarily scholarly. Two important collections of
essays published in 1990 and 1995 also reflected the trend for scholars
to intervene in debates about nationalist authenticity. The first, History
and the Roots of Conflict (1990), was framed explicitly as an academic
intervention that sought to ‘shed light on the sources of the political
tragedy that has engulfed Sri Lanka in the past decade’ (Spencer 1990,
3). The volume republished R. A. L. H. Gunawardana’s essay ‘People of
the Lion’ in order to make it more accessible to an international audience.
This volume gathered a range of scholars from different disciplines
such as history, anthropology and sociology. It probed different aspects
of nationalist myth- making in both Sinhala and Tamil nationalism and
at the same time attempted to document multicultural alternatives to
polarising nationalist visions of history and community. Similar in intent,
though methodologically much more postmodernist, was the volume
Unmaking the Nation (1995). This collection was framed as a critical
intervention that sought to portray the nation and nationalism as inherently
oppressive and exclusionary. The editors observed that ‘we are not
enamoured by the possibilities of the nation and nationalism, rather we
are deeply suspicious of its claims and consequences. Not simply because
the nation has failed – a viable claim in the Sri Lankan context … it [is]
16 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
untenable as an idea and as a form of social organization’ (Jeganathan
and Ismail 1995, 2).
Curiously, Unmaking the Nation makes no reference to History and
the Roots of Conflict, which preceded it. But one of the contributors to the
volume, David Scott, picks up the debate between Gunawardana and
Dharmadasa to make a wide-ranging epistemological critique of liberal
scholarship and its ability to intervene in nationalist debates (Scott 1995,
10– 24). Scott restages the Gunawardana– Dharmadasa debate to argue that
Dharmadasa’s refutation of Gunawardana on the basis of historical sources
undermines the liberal political critique of nationalism that Gunawardana
intended. The question as Scott frames it is: If Gunawardana got his history
wrong, as Dharmadasa claims, what does that do to the political project
of undermining Sinhala nationalism and its claims to historical authenticity?
Scott’s solution, which he extends in a later book in which this essay
is incorporated, is to abandon history altogether, or to ‘dehistoricize history’
and to move away from the very notion of identity politics to an undefined
an alternative vision of community (Scott 1999).
This ‘radical’ suggestion is made as part of a grander critique of
secular modernity, which he argues has failed in Sri Lanka. History and
democracy are seen as integral parts of this failed modernity. Instead Scott
calls for ‘ways and means of inventing, cultivating and institutionalising
cultural- political spaces in which groups … can formulate and articulate
their moral– political concerns and their self- governing claims in the (natural
and conceptual) languages of their respective historical traditions’
(Scott 1999, 185). Scott’s views have also influenced at least two other
scholars – Ananda Abeysekara (2008), a religious studies scholar, and
Qadri Ismail (2005), a literary studies scholar – who have extended and
expanded Scott’s ideas to question much of the revisionist Sri Lankan
scholarship that went before. A particular target of both Abyesekara and
Ismail has been history and anthropology as colonially tainted systems
of knowledge that are condemned to produce objectifying and essentialist
accounts of Sri Lankan society and culture. Procedurally, Scott’s,
Abeysekara’s and Ismail’s work also reproduces the East– West binary
discussed in relation to Chatterjee: there is an underlying assumption in
their work that ‘Western’ scholarship and epistemologies are unable to
contend with non- Western realities.
One of the ironies of this critical trend in scholarship on Sri Lanka
is its structural similarity to many positions taken by Sinhala cultural
nationalists. A number of Sinhala cultural nationalists have argued
that Western scholarship is unable to understand Sinhala society and
that concepts such as democracy or secularism have little meaning for
Authentic problems 17
Sinhala society and by extension for Sri Lanka (de Silva 2008). The political
implications of such claims are deeply problematic because they
foreclose any discussion of how the state can be reformulated to accommodate
the linguistic, cultural and ethnic plurality of the island. This
reformulation of the state has been a key demand of Tamil politicians
since independence in 1948. While Scott, Abeysekara and Ismail are critical
of such essentialist nationalist assumptions about Sri Lankan culture
and society, at the conceptual level their own positions are similar to
many cultural- nationalist approaches. Their sweeping critique of secular
modernity and the cultural- nationalist assertion of ‘indigenous’ knowledge
and epistemology have much in common.
One may perhaps agree with Scott that, as a political strategy,
attempting to debate the veracity of different versions of history can be
self- defeating. However, the conceptual move made from this critique to
the wider critique of colonial modernity poses a number of questions.
Scott’s position, if taken at face value, spells the end of critical historical
or sociological scholarship as it is conventionally understood. But,
as Nira Wickramasinghe, a Sri Lankan historian, points out, in Scott’s
understanding colonial governmentality becomes a kind of faceless,
omnipotent force that radically altered the social and institutional
structures people inhabited (Wickramasinghe 2015). Wickramasinghe
further argues that such a homogenising understanding of colonial
power overstates the efficacy and influence of colonial policy – that it
was never as systematic or influential as it looked on paper. At the same
time, Wickramasinghe (2015) points out that Scott’s approach says
very little about how colonial modernity was experienced by people
on the ground – how they negotiated it, experienced it and resisted it.
Scott’s approach may therefore replicate the homogenising tendency of
early historical and sociological scholarship that stopped at the colonial
archive and did little to tease out the perspectives of subaltern peoples
and their lives, something Wickramasinghe attempts in her methodologically
innovative Metallic Modern (2014), where the lives of ordinary
Sri Lankans experiencing colonial modernity are visualised through their
interactions with everyday machines.
I have taken significant space to engage with the ideas emerging
from David Scott’s work because of its implications for the question of
the theorisation of authenticity. However, sociological and historical
scholarship in Sri Lanka in general was not significantly influenced by
this critique. Although some scholars like Wickramasinghe have engaged
critically with Scott’s ideas, most have simply ignored them. The last
decade or so has seen a significant shift, unrelated to Scott’s critique, in
18 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
Sri Lankan scholarship. Since the late 1990s, and particularly with the
bloody conclusion of Sri Lanka’s military conflict in 2009, scholarship
in general has tried to move away from trying to contest or deconstruct
nationalist ideologies. This does not mean that it is any less ethically or
politically committed. Instead scholars have tried to break out of the
nationalist frames to seek out new ways of positioning Sri Lankan studies
within global and regional historical and sociological frameworks.
Rather than thinking of Sri Lanka as an island nation (Sivasundaram
2013), new scholarship has sought to incorporate it into regional and
global networks – a move that in its own way undermines nationalist
assumptions about the past.
Authenticity inside and outside the nation
A number of recent studies have sought to re- read Sri Lankan history and
society from perspectives that are not constrained by the nation. In some
ways this is similar to the position taken by the historian Prasenjit Duara
(1995), who argued for ‘rescuing history from the nation’. Duara pointed
out how the writing of history has been closely tied to the formation and
career of the nation state. He argued that this has led to a kind of linear
history writing, which reproduces a national or nationalist teleology.
The post- 1980s scholarship I charted above, in addition to responding to
the nationalist political context of the time, was also trying to find new
ways of writing about Sri Lanka’s society, culture and past which broke
with the nation- centred scholarship that preceded it. Most historians of
Sri Lanka from the 1950s to the 1980s saw themselves as historians of a
newly independent nation, as is reflected in the form and content of history
from this period. This was not unique to Sri Lanka. It was a model of
historical scholarship popular globally (Biedermann and Strathen 2017,
12– 14). In the 1980s, with the Sri Lankan nation state in crisis, scholarship
became more overtly anti- nationalist in a political sense, but not
necessarily anti- or post- nationalist in a conceptual sense; scholarship
remained methodologically nationalist (Wimmer and Schiller 2003).
Recent scholarship, in contrast, has consciously shifted its gaze
away from the nation. Anne Blackburn’s Locations of Buddhism (2010),
Nira Wickramasinghe’s Metallic Modern (2014) and Steven Kemper’s
Rescued from the Nation (2015) are three efforts in this line. Through a
detailed and nuanced account of the life of Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala,
a nineteenth- century scholar monk, Blackburn explores how Buddhism
was not a singular discourse; it was defined in relation to new economic,
Authentic problems 19
political and social changes wrought by modernity, contact with
Christianity, collaboration and connection with other Asian Buddhist
societies and negotiations between modern education and precolonial
intellectual heritage. Although the primary focus of the study is on
Buddhism, it also has many implications for how nineteenth- century
Sri Lankan society and Sinhala society in particular are imagined.
Blackburn’s study opens up the nineteenth century as a space of multiple
discourses coexisting, pushing and rubbing against each other. In doing
so Blackburn in effect lifts Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala out of the Sinhala
and Buddhist revivalist framework within which he was securely placed
in earlier scholarship.
Steven Kemper’s Rescued from the Nation (2015) attempts a similar
re- reading of Anagarika Dharmapala, the nineteenth- and twentiethcentury
Buddhist missionary, who I treat extensively in this book. Kemper
demonstrates Dharmapala’s many entanglements locally, regionally
and internationally and points to the ways in which Dharamapala’s life
goes beyond the national and nationalist frames imposed upon it. Nira
Wickramasinghe’s Metallic Modern (2014) is similar in spirit. It looks at
how colonial subjects inhabited a world that was not entirely delimited
by colonialism. She demonstrates this through the methodologically
innovative move of looking at people as consumers of modernity
through their interactions with everyday machines. The life- worlds
Wickramasinghe recreates suggest that empire and nation were often
remote from the everyday lives of people who often may have been more
concerned with positioning themselves as part of a transnational technological
This broadening out of Sri Lankan studies also has important
implications for authenticity. So far, the narrative of authenticity I have
been tracing is one constituted for and within the nation. When you
step outside the nation, it becomes obvious that people can have other
sources of authenticity. For instance, in the Danno Budunge controversy,
while the soprano Kishani Jayasinghe attempted to claim Sinhala and
Buddhist credentials for herself, she was equally keen to establish her
credentials as an internationally renowned singer in the operatic genre of
singing. For those who defended her, Kishani’s transnational musical lineage
was an important source of legitimacy. Qualitatively, we can argue
that the two types of authenticity are different – one socially embedded,
institutionally sanctioned and nationalist, and the other more personal
and affective. As we shall see over the course of this book, authenticity
is a mobile concept and hard to pin down. Nationalist discourses, and
at times liberal scholarship deconstructing nationalism, attempt to fix
20 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
authenticity and give it definite shape and form, but authenticity in practice
can rarely be accommodated within such neat frames.
Structure and organisation of the book
This book is largely about a notion of Sinhala cultural and political
authenticity that began to develop under colonialism and then became
hegemonic in post- independence Sri Lanka. My intervention is ‘political’
in the sense that it engages critically with the self- understanding and selfprojection
of Sinhala nationalism as a discourse that has ancient origins.
It is framed by the nation because it looks at the writing and imaginaries
of three nationalist figures, or ‘father figures’, of the nation, and places
them in a teleological line from the late nineteenth century to the present.
If this study may be seen as a return to the nation, it is a return that
is made in awareness of the political and conceptual critiques that have
preceded it. Although the structure of the book reproduces a teleology
inherent in Sinhala nationalism, the intent is to interrupt this teleology
and cut against its logic, and to read the authenticity of nationalism as
a dispersed rather than unified narrative. As scholars have observed,
resisting methodological nationalism is remarkably difficult: the nation
as a conceptual frame has seeped deep into the conceptual vocabulary
of the social sciences and humanities (Wimmer and Schiller 2003;
Brubaker 1996). One thing I consciously attempt in this book is to separate
nationalism as a category of action from nationalism as a category
of analysis. I do not ask, ‘What is a nation?’ Instead I ask questions about
how nationalist thinkers inhabit the nation and how they reproduce it
(Brubaker 1996, 13– 22). One dimension of the book inevitably engages
with a questioning and deconstruction of nationalist authenticity, but
equally the book is interested in probing the why and how of authenticity.
What are nationalists’ sources of authenticity? Why do they turn
to authenticity? How does authenticity shift over their lives and careers,
and how and why are nationalist figures reconstituted as icons of authenticity
in post- independence Sinhala nationalism?
The three main protagonists of this book are Anagarika Dharmapala
(1864– 1933), S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (1899– 1959) and Gunadasa
Amarasekara (born 1929). Their lives and careers cover a period during
which Sri Lanka experienced colonialism, became politically independent
of the British Empire and witnessed the emergence and rapid
escalation of ethno- nationalist violence, which concluded in 2009 with a
bloody end to armed secessionism. Though the war is over, Sri Lanka is
Authentic problems 21
by no means a post- conflict society. Key political questions remain about
the nature of the Sri Lankan nation state and its (in)ability to accommodate
cultural, linguistic and political diversity. Neither Sinhala nor
Tamil nationalism was laid to rest in 2009. Sinhala nationalism in particular
is ascendant and remains steadfast in its belief that Sri Lanka is
primarily a Sinhala and Buddhist nation. Cultural authenticity and its
political effects continue to inform this Sinhala- centric view of the island.
Authenticity may not mean what it did at the time of independence and
during the subsequent emergence of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism as a
decisive force. Authenticity’s locations are different today, but it remains
an influential feature of the cultural and political imaginary of Sinhala
I begin with some historical scene setting, which provides a contextual
frame in which to locate the three father figures of Sinhala
nationalism. In this chapter I explore the historical discourses that have
informed identity- making in nineteenth- and twentieth- century Sri
Lanka, and I delineate the processes that have informed and shaped
Sinhala and Buddhist identity as it is understood today. The chapter
looks at the impact of historiography, the colonial census, archaeology
and Buddhism as factors that played a role in the formation of modern
Sinhala nationalist discourse. In doing this I am keen not to read Sri
Lanka’s nineteenth century as the story of ‘colonial modernity’. The
chapter instead shows how colonial influences were selectively adopted
and adapted by Sri Lankans, who also drew upon other local and regional
influences in fashioning their selves.
The first of the chapters on the nationalist father figures looks at
Anagarika Dharmapala, a late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century
religious reformer and polemicist who is often invoked in popular discourse
as well as academic scholarship as a key figure in the origins of
Sinhala nationalism. It begins with a brief account of Dharmapala’s
life and career and then turns to his vision of the Sinhala past, how he
saw Buddhism and how he viewed non- Sinhala and non- Buddhist communities
of the time. I argue that academic scholarship and popular
discourse reproduce Dharmapala’s legacy for different ends. In scholarship
he is often taken as the representative of a particularly chauvinist
Sinhala ideology and in the popular imagination he is an icon of
nationalist authenticity. However, in much of his writing, Dharmapala’s
concerns lie elsewhere. He spent a significant portion of his life outside
Sri Lanka and travelled extensively. Most of this travel was associated
with Buddhist missionary work and points to a strong transnational
dimension to his career. This transnational aspect also raises questions
22 The Pol itics and Poetics of Authenticity
about his identification and location as a nationalist figure. Authenticity
for Dharmapala is both national and transnational. The gap between how
Dharmapala is appropriated and understood today and how he saw himself
demonstrates the shifting nature of authenticity, and the extent to
which it is a product of the here and now.
The following chapter looks at S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who
became Sri Lanka’s fourth prime minister in 1956. He was a controversial
figure who played a key role in institutionalising Sinhala nationalism. In
Sinhala nationalist narratives Bandaranaike is a key father figure, but also
something of a paradox because of his elite and anglicised upbringing.
Exploring three locations from early in his career – memoirs of his time in
Oxford, his turn to a Gandhian idea of village revival and his conversion
to Buddhism – I argue that Bandaranaike’s ideas were part of an elite political
discourse that was a world apart from the Sinhala society it sought
to represent. This social gap caused Bandaranaike and other members of
the elite to seek out various ways to legitimate their leadership. Although
the irony of the ‘inauthenticity’ of Bandaranaike’s attempts to indigenise
his private and political self challenges the popular view of Bandaranaike
as a progressive decolonising leader, it also foreshadows and anticipates
the irony of Bandaranaike’s appropriation and reconstruction as
an ‘authentic’ figure of Sinhala nationalism in many strains of later
Sinhala nationalist thinking, including that represented by Gunadasa
Amarasekara, whose work is explored in the following chapter.
The primary focus of the chapter on Amarasekara is the culture of
mourning that came to characterise postcolonial cultural nationalism.
It shows Amarasekara’s transformation from cosmopolitan nationalist
to nativist. His thinking has wielded significant influence on the Sinhala
youth of several post- independence generations, including mine. His
novels and short stories have been enormously popular among the
Sinhala reading public, and the Jathika Chintanaya (National Thought)
movement he initiated in the 1980s has exercised an important influence
on Sinhala nationalist ideology. Engaging with Amarasekara’s thinking,
and working through its complexities, throws into relief how the notion
of authenticity circulates in the popular imagination and how it remains
a key concern 70 years after independence. Amarasekara’s early writing
demonstrates a leftist orientation and is concerned with social justice.
He shows a keen desire for a modern Sri Lankan consciousness built on
Buddhist principles but also drawing on Marxist thinking.
Amarasekara’s later writing, however, rejects cosmopolitanism
and turns increasingly nativist. The function of authenticity in his
thinking moves from being a source of strategic contact between
Authentic problems 23
a sense of self and the world, to one that sees authenticity as a protective
barrier that isolates the self from the modern world. This
nativist turn is read against a series of historical transformations in Sri
Lankan society, including the rise of militant Tamil nationalism, international
criticism of Sinhala nationalism, the international isolation
of Sri Lanka following the 1983 ethnic violence against Tamils, and
the neo- liberal transformation of the Sri Lankan economy since the
early 1980s. This chapter pushes the argument about authenticity in
two directions. It shows how cultural nationalism in the postcolonial
period can create a culture of mourning – a sense that authenticity is
something lost and that the present is inauthentic. This results in a
constantly past- oriented consciousness, which also looks to recreate
this lost past in the present. The chapter also shows how a particularly
impoverished version of history circulates within this type of nationalist
In concluding, I briefly explore authenticity in contemporary
public discourse in Sri Lanka. Many of the reference points through
which authenticity was articulated by Dharmapala, Bandaranaike
and Amarasekara have become ‘tired’ signifiers. They no longer have
the same hold over the public imagination. For instance, Sri Lanka’s
long twentieth- century experiment whereby rural development was
equated with paddy cultivation based on visions of Sinhala civilisation
in antiquity, which inspired figures like Bandaranaike, has become
something of an embarrassment in contemporary development and
political discourse, despite its continued presence in popular culture.
Accompanying this change has been the increasing commodification of
traditional cultural signifiers such as the village and paddy cultivation,
leading to them being seen as kitschy and ironic. This does not mean
that the idea of authenticity is absent. It expresses itself in different
forms and in different locations. The concluding chapter briefly traces
some of these changing dynamics of authenticity against a narrative
of socio- political change. Reflecting on the postcolonial afterlife of
authenticity, the conclusion also pushes the discussion back in the
direction of theorising and conceptualising authenticity. It raises as
a provocation the question of the political and epistemological stakes
of authenticity. It is easy to deconstruct authenticity, but its cultural
and political affects cannot be wished away. Teasing out its historical
genealogies therefore remains a necessary and important scholarly
activity, given that nationalism appears to be gathering force in the
twenty- first century, despite numerous premature pronouncements
about our entry into a post- national age.
The protean life of authenticity:
history, nation, Buddhism
and identity
The Sinhala race has a clearly documented unbroken history of over
2500 years. Ancient rock inscriptions, inscriptions in gold, huge
viharas and dagobas [Buddhist pagodas] … all bear unshakable
witness to the heritage of the Sinhala nation.
(English translation of an extract from a 1980s
Sinhala- language pamphlet entitled Kauda Kotiya?
[Who Is the Tiger?], cited in Jayawardena [2003, 2])
[T] he Tamil- speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct
from that of the Singalese [sic] in every fundamental test of nationhood,
firstly that of a separate historical past at least as ancient and
glorious as that of the Singalese, secondly by the fact of their being
a linguistic entity entirely different from that of the Singalese, with
an unsurpassed classical heritage.
(Statement made at the first national convention
of the Tamil nationalist Federal Party in 1951,
cited in Kearney [1985, 904])
These two statements are typical of nationalist understandings of Sri
Lanka’s past. Though they are separated by more than three decades,
they underscore a particular orientation to the past – a belief that history
can settle today’s political scores. Both statements also project the notion
of nationhood on to pre- modern times. Such ideas are not confined to
populist nationalist sentiment, but have long permeated academic, policy
the protean life of authenticity 25
and political discourse. The formation of this historical imaginary, the
role authenticity plays in it, and the many social, political and cultural
strands that shape it are the main focus of this chapter. I adopt an orientation
to nationalism that sees it as a ‘category of practice’ rather than a
‘category of analysis’ (Brubaker 1996). Therefore, rather than looking at
nationalism as something that exists as an entity ‘out there’, which can
be studied, I focus on significant discourses that have shaped notions of
authenticity and nationalist imaginations.
The numerous controversies that have dogged the recent attempt to
develop a new constitution for Sri Lanka – a process that began in 2016 –
provide an example of how perceptions of the past influence the political
present. A Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform
was appointed in 2016 and carried out a nationwide consultation process.
The entire parliament was then declared a Constituent Assembly and parliamentary
sub- committees were appointed to deliberate different thematic
areas of the constitution. This process, which has been mired in controversy,
reached its last stages towards the end of 2017. At the time of writing, draft
constitutional proposals were close to completion. A flash- point in this exercise
has been the ‘unitary’ status of the country. Sinhala nationalist forces
are rallying around this issue, prophesying the dissolution of Sinhala identity
if any form of ‘federalist’ reform is implemented. In turn, politicians from
the ruling alliance have declared that no change to the ‘unitary’ status of the
country will be permitted.
There is a sense of déjà vu to this debate. Sri Lanka has been here
many times before. Federalism was first proposed in post- independence
Sri Lanka in 1957, as a means of accommodating the political aspirations
of an influential segment of the Ceylon Tamil political leadership, but
was staunchly opposed by Sinhala nationalists (de Silva 2005, 629).
The Sinhala nationalist opposition arose from a historical vision that the
entire territory of Sri Lanka was indivisible, but the Tamil demand was
also problematic because it claimed to speak for the entire Tamil population
in the island, subsuming significant internal differences such as
the Indian Tamil community, composed mostly of plantation workers,
whose interests the Ceylon Tamil political leadership did not represent.
Federalism, however, remained a heated political topic throughout the
twentieth century. When a model for devolving power based on provincial
councils was half- heartedly implemented in 1987, under controversial
circumstances involving Indian intervention, there was again a
public outcry and stiff resistance from Sinhala nationalist groups. In the
1990s efforts to institute a new constitution with greater decentralisation
of power failed. These contemporary political deliberations have been
26 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
heavily informed by history (Welikala 2015). In the Sinhala community,
there is the belief that Sri Lanka was a unified nation from time immemorial
and that the Sinhala ethnic identity and the Buddhist religion were the
mainstays of this historical ‘nation’.
Sri Lanka – colonial and postcolonial identity-making
The story of authenticity I chart in this book is primarily a nineteenth and
twentieth-century phenomenon. However, it is important to keep
in mind that Sri Lanka was previously nestled within a larger South
Asian and Southeast Asian world. Sri Lanka, meaning ‘resplendent
land’ in Sanskrit, was renamed with the 1972 Republican Constitution.
Before that, under British rule (1796– 1948), it was known as Ceylon.
In pre-colonial times, the island, sometimes referred to as ‘Lanka’ to distinguish
it from its colonial and postcolonial history, was divided among
various kingdoms, many of which had complex relationships with South
and Southeast Asian polities. At times some local kings wielded significant
power, with the ability to even raid overseas territories, but at the
same time Sri Lankan kingdoms were subject to the influence of various
South Asian powers – a system described as a galactic polity with a
powerful central kingdom commanding the allegiance of weaker satellite
kingdoms (Tambiah 1973). The island is situated in the Indian Ocean,
its identity was also shaped by multiple waves of migration from South
India and beyond. Moreover, the island was part of what has been called
the Sanskrit ‘cosmopolis’ and the Buddhist world, which encompassed
most of what is modern South and Southeast Asia (Bierdermann and
Strathern 2017, 5).
In nationalist histories, precolonial kings and kingdoms are seen
as either Sinhala or Tamil. Though both these terms may usefully be
extended to describe certain aspects of the precolonial Sri Lankan
polity, the identities and imaginaries they denoted in antiquity significantly
differed from what exists today. As discussed in the introductory
chapter, an emerging body of historical and sociological scholarship
is now locating Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan identities within this larger
Indian Ocean world, or what Nira Wickramasinghe (2014) has called,
in the nineteenth- century context, ‘multiple loops of belonging’. I do
not wish to draw a sharp line between the nineteenth century and what
went before, because such a demarcation may overstate the impact of
colonial ‘governmentality’ and its transformative impact on Sri Lankan
society (Wickramasinghe 2015; 2017). However, one can argue that the
the protean life of authenticity 27
nineteenth century does mark a period when the Sri Lankan imagination
became gradually ‘islanded’ (Sivasundaram 2013) – generating a sense
of exceptionality as an island nation with a distinct history that set it
apart from the rest of South Asia, which evolved into a distinct nationalist
imaginary by the mid twentieth century.
The late nineteenth century also marks a period when Sri Lankans
began to imagine themselves as part of a modern world in which science
and technology increasingly penetrated everyday life. This was not a
world simply delimited by British colonialism, but one in which colonialism
itself facilitated other imaginative possibilities and solidarities.
These changes in the quality and texture of life along with the emergence
of new global superpowers such as the United States and regional giants
such as Japan allowed people to imagine diverse ways of being in the
world (Wickramasinghe 2014). The nationalist father figures who feature
in the story of authenticity I fashion in this book moved in this complex
and contradictory historical terrain.
Identity formation: Portuguese and Dutch genealogies
Registers of authenticity that gain social and political visibility in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century have their beginnings in earlier
times. By tracing these discourses it is possible to see how modern Sinhala
identity was shaped by multiple influences and at the same time to avoid
looking at the period of British colonisation from the early nineteenth
century onwards as a period that ‘invented’ identities. Two areas in which
Portuguese rule had an impact on Sinhala identity and authenticity were
in the sociological division between Kandyan Sinhalese and Low Country
Sinhalese, and the introduction of Christianity. For the Portuguese, Sri
Lanka was at first important mainly as a trading post through which to
control the lucrative Indian Ocean spice trade, especially in cinnamon,
which grew on the island. These mercantile interests soon became political
as the Portuguese sought territorial control and preferential trade
agreements to cement their economic foothold. By 1597 the Portuguese
had gained control over the southern lowlands, and in 1619 they
annexed the north of the island as well (Wickramasinghe 2006, 10).
But successive military and political campaigns to penetrate the interior
failed, and Kandy remained independent (de Silva 1987, 19– 123).
A consequence of this was that the maritime regions of the country were
exposed to Western influence for a much longer period, accentuating
socio- cultural differences between those living in the coastal regions and
28 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
in the interior. In British colonial discourse this manifests as two sociological
categories – Kandyan Sinhalese and Low Country Sinhalese – categories
that were later appropriated by Sinhala elites (Rogers 1994, 19;
Wickramasinghe 1995, 10).
From the late nineteenth century onwards Kandyan Sinhala identity
and culture are seen as more authentic because of their perceived isolation
from European contact. In the early twentieth century the osariya
style of sari associated with the Kandyan Kingdom – a sartorial influence
ironically deriving from South Indian influences – became the preferred
style of dress for Sinhala middle- class women (Wickramasinghe
2006, 93). Anagarika Dharmapala was a staunch advocate of the osariya
for Sinhala women. Kandyan exceptionalism was also visible in 1927
when the Donoughmore Commission began deliberating changes to
Sri Lanka’s constitution. Kandyan elites, fearing the dominance of Low
Country Sinhalese, submitted a proposal for a federal system with a large
Kandyan province in the centre of the island. Some influential British
colonial administrators supported this effort because of their paternalistic
attitude towards the Kandyan elite as bearers of authentic Sinhala
tradition (Singh and Kukreja 2014, 193).
Early twentieth- century Sri Lankan Orientalist scholars like
Ananda Coomaraswamy saw Kandyan culture as pristine and believed
that Kandyan art and village life represented authentic Sinhalaness
(Brow 1999). These associations between Kandyan Sinhala identity
and authenticity have continued into the post- independence period.
Kandyan dance is the preferred dance form at state events and is often
chosen to represent ‘Sri Lankan/ Sinhala’ dance internationally. Many
urban Sinhala couples getting married in upmarket hotels in Colombo
and other urban areas of the country adopt ‘Kandyan customs’ and
‘Kandyan dress’. Similarly, Kandyan ‘objects’ are often imbued with an
aura of authenticity. For instance, the return of the cranium of a Kandyan
aristocrat who was executed by the British marked a process by which it
was incorporated into the symbolic order of the postcolonial nation state
(Wickramasinghe 1997). In the years before independence the British
supported the development of ‘national’ identity and actively cooperated
in the repatriation of objects such as the cranium. A similar process was
also visible in the recovery and ‘authentication’ of what was believed to
be the throne of the last king of Kandy (Wickramasinghe 2006, 107– 9).
The introduction of Christianity in the form of Catholicism to the
local mix of religions, which already included Buddhism, Hinduism and
Islam, was another significant social impact of Portuguese rule. Religion
was deployed by the Portuguese as a political tool to further economic
the protean life of authenticity 29
and political goals. The Portuguese were successful in establishing
churches and in spreading Catholicism in coastal parts of the country
extending north from Colombo. A century of Portuguese proselytisation
resulted in Christian populations in both the Tamil and Sinhala communities
(de Silva 1987, 127– 8). Catholicism remains the dominant form of
Christianity in the country. With the rise of Buddhist revivalist sentiments
in the mid nineteenth century and the politicisation of Buddhism in the
twentieth century, the position of Sinhala Christians in the imagined
community of the Sinhala nation has become ambiguous. At times they
are included within the Sinhala nationalist imagination, but at other
times they are seen as a ‘fallen’ group who are ‘less’ Sinhala for not
being Buddhist (Bartholomuesz 1999, 140– 55). In post- independence
Sri Lanka this has led Sinhala Anglican and Catholic communities to
increasingly claim authenticity by ‘indigenising’ their liturgical practices.
Moreover, Sinhala Catholics in the western coastal belt have actively
taken part in anti- Tamil violence, perhaps to ‘prove’ their Sinhalaness by
visiting violence upon a minority Other (Stirrat 2006).
Dutch rule: rudimentary social classification
and administration
The Dutch succeeded the Portuguese. They were also unsuccessful
in conquering the Kandyan Kingdom, but in 1766 they compelled the
Kandyan king to sign a treaty that gave them sovereignty over the entire
coastline of the island (Wickramasinghe 2006, 12). The Dutch period
saw the beginnings of a discourse of enumeration, which drew upon
the knowledge generated by earlier Portuguese record- keeping. This
Dutch work in turn had an impact on that carried out by the British in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The attribution of legal and political ts to communities contributed to the institutionalisation of
these identities later. I will discuss the political impact of enumeration
in greater detail in the next section when considering British rule and
‘colonial modernity’.
The Dutch practice of tombo registration (Wickramasinghe 2006,
25) anticipated the much more organised British enumeration in the
nineteenth century; the baselines established by the Dutch were both
inherited and modified by the British. Although the Dutch imposed some
of their perceptions of racial identity on the local population, they did
not follow a systematic social categorisation scheme. Dutch perceptions
of the world were what Rogers (2004, 630) describes as those of ‘early
30 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
modern Europe’ and their approach to colonialism was to a large extent
not driven by the modernising and reformist zeal evident in the British
period. But Dutch attempts at intervening in the island’s politics do reveal
racial perceptions that were inherited and normalised during the British
period. For instance, Dutch attempts in the eighteenth century to unseat
a South Indian Nayakkar Buddhist king who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom
failed because they misunderstood the complexities of Sinhala identity
and Buddhist kingship (Rogers 2004).
The British debt to this body of Dutch knowledge is reflected in
British Governor Hugh Cleghorn’s 1799 minute on the island (Rogers
2004, 633). The Cleghorn minute is an early British impression of the
island’s inhabitants before systematic enumeration and classification had
been carried out. Cleghorn wrote that ‘Two different nations [Sinhala
and Tamil], from a very ancient period, have divided between them
the possession of the island’ (cited in Rogers 2004, 633). The Cleghorn
minute is also a striking instance of the extent to which identity politics
in the post- independence period selectively adapts colonial legacies.
The 1951 Federal Party document cited at the beginning of this chapter
draws its historical authority directly from the Cleghorn minute and
cites it as independent evidence of the antiquity of the Tamil nation on
the island. This two- nation theory was not sustained for long, as British
knowledge of the island and its inhabitants grew and a more complex set
of categories replaced it.
British rule and ‘colonial modernity’
In 1802, under the Treaty of Amiens, the Dutch ceded their territories
to the British and Sri Lanka became a British crown colony. It was not
until 1815, and the defeat of the Kandyan Kingdom and the signing of
the Kandyan Convention, that British colonial control extended over
the entire island (Wickramasinghe 2006, 27). The early years of British
rule were more or less an extension of the kind of mercantile- focused
the Dutch had maintained. It was only later that the
British moved towards systematic administration of the entire island.
The watershed year in the emergence of this form of governance is 1833,
with the implementation of some of the recommendations of the Royal
Commission led by W. M. C. Colebrooke and C. H. Cameron, which
proposed wide- ranging economic and legal reforms inspired by the
reformist political ideology articulated by utilitarian philosophers like
Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (Wickramasinghe 2006, 28).
the protean life of authenticity 31
The commission’s modernising zeal was evident in its rationalisation
of the administrative system. Up to this point the state collected
revenue or required services on the basis of an individual’s status. There
were also many regional administrative differences, mostly notably those
between the former Kandyan Kingdom and the maritime provinces.
The commission argued that these distinctions inhibited both economic
growth and social progress. Instead, it proposed a uniform administration
based on an arbitrary territorial division of the entire island
into five provinces. By reorganising the administrative structure the
commission’s intent was to create the single space of a modern state and
to erase past differences that reflected the island’s old political divisions
(Wickramasinghe 2006, 28– 32).
Most histories of Sri Lanka mark the Colebrooke– Cameron reforms
as a moment of radical change from feudalism to bureaucratic rationality,
or from tradition to modernity – ‘the reformist zeal generated by the
Colebrooke– Cameron reforms and a passion for change affected every
sphere of activity – political, economic and social (de Silva 1981, 265).
Another historian, G. C. Mendis, notes that the reforms ‘recommended
by Colebrooke and Cameron contributed greatly to the advancement of
Ceylon. They have turned the course of the history of Ceylon in a modern direction
(Mendis 1944, cited in Scott 1999, 42). It is important to remember
that many of these changes may have had limited resonance in the wider
population whose lives were impacted upon by colonial modernity in widely
varying ways (Wickramasinghe 2015). At the same time, the modernising
efforts of the British did have a significant impact on a limited stratum of Sri
Lankan society, particularly those educated in English.
In addition to making English the language of administration,
English- medium education was a central component of the Colebrooke–
Cameron reforms. The educational reforms recommended by Colebrooke
and Cameron and the position they ascribe to the English language as a
medium of modernity and progress anticipate by a few years the much
better- documented and well- known Macaulay minute in India in 1835
(Coperahewa 2009). In both cases English was seen as the language of
modernity, while local languages were relegated to the status of historical
artifacts, worthy of preservation and study, but of little utility value.
Although English was associated with modernity and progress, the education
model promoted was not a democratic one envisioning English
education for society at large. English- medium instruction was limited
to a few schools through which a class of English-educated Sri Lankans
loyal to British interests was to be nurtured. Meanwhile local languages
such as Sinhala and Tamil had little or no economic value or symbolic
32 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
capital (Dharmadasa 1992; Peebles 2006; Wickremasuriya 1976). Both
Dharmapala and Bandaranaike were products of this English education
If English education was conceived as a form of ideological indoctrination,
it also produced unanticipated effects. At one level it led
English- educated Sri Lankans to engage more deeply with their culture,
language and history. For instance, in the mid nineteenth century
James de Alwis (1823– 78) studied Sinhala language and culture and
expressed feelings of language and cultural loyalty. He was also critical
of the anglicism produced by English- medium education (Dharmadasa
1992, 40– 1). De Alwis was a pioneer in this respect; in subsequent
years other members of the English- educated elite adopted similar
interests. The English- stream educational system also produced figures
like Dharmapala, who used English to selectively criticise aspects of
British rule and to connect with pan- Asian and international Buddhist
networks. A similar process was also unfolding in the high- caste Tamil
community in Jaffna, where figures like the Hindu revivalist Arumuga
Navalar, who too received an English education, advocated a return to
tradition (Schalk 2010, 106– 30). Later in the twentieth century we see
in Bandaranaike an explicit, if unsuccessful, attempt to break from this
anglophone heritage.
The early twentieth century also saw flourishing Sinhala literary
activity in a ‘print culture’ that was initially enabled by Christian missionaries
translating and publishing religious material. Buddhist presses also
appeared in the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century secular
vernacular publishing, particularly in the Sinhala language, became a
burgeoning industry (Frost 2002, 954– 5; Dharmadasa 1992, 155– 88;
Wickramasinghe 2006, 78– 81). Although official education policy did
not support Sinhala or Tamil languages or culture, people exploited the
colonial economy to ‘modernise’ and articulate their cultural practices
in new and innovative ways. The impact of colonial modernity through
constitutional, administrative and educational changes therefore had a
distinctly uneven impact on nineteenth- and early twentieth- century Sri
Lanka. ‘Colonial modernity’ was not a homogeneous or overmastering
discourse that circumscribed all aspects of life on the island.
The census and political institutionalisation of identities
As part of the larger discourse of colonial modernity, the formation of
colonial knowledge systems and their impact on local identity politics
the protean life of authenticity 33
have been a major focus in Sri Lankan scholarship (Jeganathan 1995;
Rajasingham- Senanayake 1999; Wickramasinghe 1995). This follows in
the tradition of Bernard Cohn’s (1997) work on India. Recent scholarship
has questioned the degree to which colonial knowledge penetrated Sri
Lankan society (Blackburn 2010; Wickramasinghe 2014). Nonetheless,
colonial knowledge construction and its assimilation by the nationalist
elite remain important to the question of authenticity and nationalism.
The colonial census, in particular, played a significant role in how the
British understood and therefore intervened in local society.
The British both reorganised and also drew on existing patterns of
identity. In the first two censuses in 1818 and 1824 the main principles
of categorisation were caste and religion – both categories familiar to the
British through their encounter with India. But caste was used in a very
vague and indistinct sense in these early enumeration exercises. The 1824
census listed regional groups like Europeans, Portuguese and Malays;
occupational groups like washers or potters; and large amorphous groups
like Moors and Malabars as ‘castes’ (Wickramasinghe 1995, 5). Even
when the British used traditional caste labels like goyigama the usage
tended to bind the caste group, identifying goyigama strictly with occupation
as cultivators whereas not all goyigama people were cultivators
(Wickramasinghe 1995, 5– 6).
Although caste and religion structured the initial British view of
Ceylon, the British also considered the Ceylonese situation to be a counterpoint
to India. Whereas in India religious divisions appeared sharp,
the coexistence of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and spirit- belief alongside
a dominant Theravada Buddhist tradition in Ceylon suggested a more
accommodative society (Wickramasinghe 1995, 5–10). Unlike the
rivalry between the Hindu and Muslim religions in India, there seemed
in Ceylon to be more commonality between the Hindus and Buddhists,
who shared a common pantheon of ‘minor’ gods. In terms of caste too
the British could not perceive the kind of pollution and hierarchy consciousness
they found in India. But in reality caste did play a major role in
Sinhala society in the nineteenth century (Rogers 2004).
‘Race’ and ‘nation’ enter the classification vocabulary with the 1871
census. In 1871 the census lists 78 nations and 24 races. Here too there is
incoherence in the classification regime because Sinhalese and Tamil are
classed as nationalities as well as races. ‘Nation’ also seems to have been
used loosely to describe numerically small groups like ‘West- Indians’ and
‘Abyssinians’ who were considered too insignificant to be classed as races
(Wickramasinghe 1995, 7). In the 1881 census the early experimentation
with categories gives way to race as the dominant category. By 1881 the
34 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
races are down to seven and the census categories have become somewhat
similar to those of today, though ‘nation’ continues to be used till

  1. The ‘races’ in the 1881 census are: Europeans, Sinhalese, Tamils,
    Moors, Malays, Veddahs and Others (Rajasingham- Senanayake 1999,
    112). From 1881 onwards these racial categories begin to form the basis
    of the island’s official identity discourse and they continue to do so in the
    postcolonial period, with only minor variations and the replacement of
    the label ‘race’ with ‘ethnicity’.
    Classifying colonial populations was largely an academic exercise
    in the early nineteenth century. Later, with liberal imperialist efforts to
    include ‘natives’ in governance, these identities took on a more political
    and institutional role. This led some groups in the local population to
    claim to be representatives of their communities (Wickramasinghe 2006,
    50). In colonial Ceylon this is visible in the British practice of nominating
    elite members from various ethnic groups as communal or racial
    representatives (Nissan and Stirrat 1990, 28). This system of representation
    was a gesture towards participatory governance and also a means of
    enlisting the support of important elite groups for colonial governance.
    Under the communal representation system the number of local
    representatives in the Legislative Council did not reflect the numerical
    strength of the communities they represented. From the 1830s to
    1889 there were three Europeans, one Sinhalese, one Tamil and one
    Burgher/Eurasian (Rajasingham- Senanayake 1999, 114). Reforms
    introduced in 1889 created Kandyan and Low Country Sinhalese seats,
    doubling Sinhala representation. At the same time, a Moor seat was
    added. After 1912 a seat was introduced for an ‘educated Ceylonese
    representative’. Thus the initial practice of granting parity to Sinhalese
    and Tamil representatives was altered, resulting in dissatisfaction
    among the Tamil elite. When the Donoughmore Commissioners
    reasoned in 1931 that communal representation was a regressive
    and anachronistic feature of politics in Sri Lanka, the Tamil elite stridently
    objected, expressing fears of a ‘tyranny of the majority’. The
    longstanding practice of communal representation, which had begun
    to become eroded owing to changes since 1912, was overturned in
    1931 and the Tamil elite, used to a large share of power not determined
    by their community’s numerical strength, suddenly found themselves
    facing an uncertain future.
    The idea that the elite were representatives of their respective
    communities flattened internal differences and allowed the elite to
    represent their interests as the interests of the larger group. The Kandyan
    elite, for instance, used this British perception to position themselves
    the protean life of authenticity 35
    as representatives of the Kandyan peasantry, even though there was a
    significant divergence between their interests and the peasantry’s. The
    elite wanted education and wealth but the peasantry’s more immediate
    concerns were land, labour and food (Wickramasinghe 2006,
    56). The Kandyan elite’s claim to speak on behalf of the peasantry
    also foreshadowed a structural feature of Sri Lankan politics in the last
    decades of British imperialism. When the Donoughmore Commission was
    deliberating granting universal franchise in 1927, there was stiff opposition
    from the Ceylon National Congress (CNC), a loosely structured political
    association of elite figures. A young S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was
    a member of the CNC delegation to the Donoughmore Commission in
    1927, which opposed universal suffrage and argued that the vote should
    be restricted based on literacy, property, income and gender (de Silva
    1981, 418– 21). However, once universal franchise was granted in 1931,
    CNC politicians increasingly positioned themselves as ‘representatives’ of
    their ethnic communities.
    Although universal franchise did not result in a sudden radical transformation
    of Sri Lankan politics, it did compel the local elite including the
    Low Country Sinhala elite to engage more directly with the communities
    they claimed to represent. This is reflected in the way the Sinhala elite
    increasingly presented themselves as benevolent custodians of peasant
    interests – guided by romantic misconceptions about the rural economy
    and the social structure of the peasantry (Moore 1992; Samaraweera
    1981). These changes in the political system are also reflected in the
    theme of rural reconstruction – ranging from paddy cultivation to ambitious irrigation projects – which became a major a major feature of Sri
    Lankan politics from the 1940s to the 1980s. The story of how the rural
    and the peasant became invested with a notion of national authenticity is
    explored in detail in my chapters on Bandaranaike and Amarasekara and
    in the conclusion to this book, but I discuss below how reconstructions of
    Sri Lanka’s past also fed discourses of authenticity and shaped the emergence
    of a historically grounded Sinhala self- consciousness.
    History, the past and authenticity
    In colonial Ceylon serious historical research began in the early nineteenth
    century. The earliest British ‘histories’ of the island are merely
    impressionistic accounts like Robert Percival’s An Account of the Island
    (1805). One of the most significant events in the colonial historiography
    of Ceylon was the ‘discovery’ of the Pali language vamsas or chronicles,
    36 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    chief among them the Mahavamsa (loosely translated as the ‘Greater
    Chronicle’). In an intellectual milieu that privileged written sources
    over oral narratives, the existence of these chronicles generated much
    excitement and intellectual curiosity. The discovery, translation and the
    transformation of these chronicles into historiography reveal a process
    whereby textual sources were reified and oral histories became gradually
    displaced. In Donald Lopez’s (1995) evocative term colonial scholars
    became ‘curators’ of local tradition and culture.
    The earliest British translation of the Mahavamsa was by a nonspecialist,
    amateur philologist named Edward Upham in 1833. It was
    harshly critiqued by George Turnour, a civil servant, who later earned
    a reputation as a pioneering Pali scholar through his own translation
    and publication of the Mahavamsa in 1837 – a translation that achieved
    definitive status in the field of Pali studies (Walters and Colley 2006,
    135– 7). Turnour’s critique of Upham’s work centred mainly on the significant
    lapses and distortions created by the latter’s lack of knowledge
    of both Sinhala and Pali and his reliance on native interpreters instead
    of accessing the texts in their original form. Walters and Colley (2006)
    argue that Turnour’s triumph over Upham, while producing a more
    ‘accurate’ translation by nineteenth- century philological standards, was
    also a reification of a purely text- based approach to history. It served
    to marginalise the role of native informants and priest- scholars, whose
    views had been taken into consideration in Upham’s translation.
    The two most influential histories produced in the nineteenth
    century, William Knighton’s History of Ceylon from the Earliest Period to
    Present Time (1845) and Sir Emerson Tennent’s two- volume Ceylon (1977
    [1860]), relied on Turnour’s translation for information on the precolonial
    period. These works became standard reference works throughout the
    nineteenth century and helped propagate the Mahavamsa as an authoritative
    historical text in the minds of the English- educated local intelligentsia.
    As Rogers (1990) suggests, the historical narrative produced by
    the British scholars posited a three- stage model that closely paralleled
    the general pattern of European history. It depicted an advanced classical
    civilisation that went into decline owing to South Indian invasions
    and natural causes like disease and drought and was succeeded by a
    kind of a dark middle age that ended with the intervention of European
    colonisation. Further progress, in this model, depended on the changes
    introduced by colonisation, thus rationalising conquest. Most local
    scholars uncritically adopted this model (Rogers 1990). Though they
    debated specific issues, like which ethnic group had contributed more
    to the country’s precolonial development, the basic model was accepted.
    the protean life of authenticity 37
    Both British and local historians also projected modern notions of nationality
    and ethnicity on to the precolonial past of the country.
    The Mahavamsa imaginary speaks out strongly in the writing of
    Dharmapala, Bandaranaike and Amarasekara and has been a source of
    historical legitimacy for Sinhala nationalism throughout Sri Lanka’s postindependence
    history (Kemper 1991). The reification of the Mahavamsa
    as a historical source, and the Buddhist ideological emphasis it encodes,
    has had a significant impact on Sinhala nationalism. The Mahavamsa is
    believed to have been authored some time in the fifth or sixth century
    by the Buddhist monk Mahanama and is a mytho- historical text that
    chronicles Buddhist kingship in Sri Lanka. In modern nationalist interpretations
    the text is understood to establish an intimate link between
    the land, Buddhism and the Sinhala people. The Mahavamsa narrative is
    often seen as portraying the Sinhalese as a chosen race that will safeguard
    the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka long after the Buddha’s passing away.
    Modern historians like K. M. de Silva tend to promote this view. De Silva
    in his reading of the Mahavamsa is suspicious of the chronicle’s chronology
    but reinforces the nationalist view of the land– religion– people
    relationship. He argues that the author of the Mahavamsa contrives to
    synchronise the passing away of the Buddha and a missive he is supposed
    to have issued to the supreme god Sakra to protect Prince Vijaya – the
    mytho- historical founding figure of the Sinhala race – and his retinue on
    their journey to Sri Lanka, though the two events are separated by at least
    half a century (de Silva 1981, 3– 4). This idea of a chosen race, which
    functions as a kind of Malinowskian charter myth (Gunawardana 1990,
    55), has been highly influential in post- independence Sinhala politics.
    In addition to the notion of a charter myth, episodes from the
    chronicle have been reinterpreted to provide historical ‘evidence’ of
    a longstanding enmity between the Sinhala and Tamil communities.
    The depiction of King Dutugemunu, a second- century Sinhala king, as
    defeating the South Indian king Elara, believed to be from the Chola dynasty,
    is understood in populist nationalist discourse as symbolic deliverance
    of the nation from alien bondage. It has had particular resonance in
    times of conflict. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the
    Dutugemunu myth was largely about Sinhala historical pride stretching
    back 2,500 years. But with the escalation of Sinhala– Tamil conflict in
    post- independence Sri Lanka – and particularly in the aftermath of the
    1983 anti- Tamil pogrom and the rise of militant Tamil nationalism –
    the Dutugemunu– Elara incident began to signify a historical enmity
    between the Sinhala and Tamil communities and was also mobilised to
    serve a ‘just war’ ideology whereby Sinhala violence against the Tamil
    38 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    community was rationalised on the basis of a just war waged to protect
    the Buddhist religion and the Sinhala nation (Obeyesekere 1995; 2005;
    Bartholomuesz 1999).
    The influence of historical consciousness in the late nineteenth
    and early twentieth century was not simply confined to English- speaking
    intelligentsia or bookish scholarly activity focused on chronicles. Other
    discourses of authenticity which drew on a similar historical imaginary
    were spreading in different domains of cultural and social activity.
    The vibrant Sinhala drama associated with the Tower Hall theatre
    in the early 1900s was one highly popular arena in which authentic
    notions of modern Sinhala identity were fashioned (Field 2017; de Mel
    2001; Wickramasinghe 2006). The Tower Hall theatre was opened by
    Anagarika Dharmapala on 6 December 1911 (de Mel 2001, 64). John
    de Silva and Charles Dias were the two major names associated with the
    ‘Tower Hall plays’. De Silva, a former schoolteacher, combined the Parsi
    nurti theatre tradition, popular throughout South Asia at the time, with
    the nadagam folk tradition of Sri Lanka. He also incorporated elements
    of Western theatre, such as a proscenium stage and elaborate set designs
    (de Mel 2001, 64– 5). De Silva’s first play, Sri Vickrama Rajasinghe, in
    1906, celebrated the life of the last king of Kandy and was published as a
    booklet, which had sold over 16,000 copies by 1925 (de Mel 2001, 65).
    Most of de Silva’s plays were based on the Buddhist jataka story tradition
    and were didactic, featuring chaste women and themes about temperance,
    a major middle- class cause at the time. Despite its Buddhist themes
    de Silva’s theatre was patronised and funded by many Sinhala Christians
    (de Mel 2001, 65) – a fact suggestive of the relative flexibility in the early
    twentieth century between Sinhala and Buddhist as distinct categories,
    with these becoming more rigid in the mid twentieth century.
    Many of de Silva’s plays also celebrated the popular notion that
    the Sinhalese were of North Indian origin – or the idea of the arya
    Sinhala race. Concomitant to the Mahavamsa and its mytho- historical
    account of Sinhala origins was philological work being carried out
    by European scholars like Wilhelm Geiger, who classified Sinhala
    as an Indo- European language and Tamil as a Dravidian language,
    a conclusion that drew on Max Müller’s views on Indo- Aryan migration
    (Field 2017, 38– 40). Many Sinhala scholars of the time believed
    that the Sinhala people were of Aryan, North Indian origin because
    both European philological scholarship and the Mahavamsa narrative
    supported this view. The desire to claim Aryan status, one could also
    speculate, had something to do with colonial racial discourse and the
    affinity Sinhala people could claim with a racial stock common to
    the protean life of authenticity 39
    Europeans and Asians. The arya Sinhala discourse regularly features
    in Dharmapala’s writing, especially when he appeals to the colonial
    government to protect Sinhala society and culture.
    Alongside the Sinhala theatre was a thriving popular Sinhala literary
    culture. In the early 1900s periodicals such as Sinhala Jathiya
    (Sinhala Race) (1903), founded by the prolific writer Piyadasa Sirisena
    (Dharmadasa 1992, 127), and Sinhala Bauddhaya (Sinhala Buddhist)
    (1906), founded by Dharmapala, were highly popular (Wickramasinghe
    2006, 78). These print publications had a wide circulation and
    popularised ideas about Sinhala history, culture and identity. Like theatre,
    print publications were a site where ideas about modernity and tradition
    converged. For instance, Dharmapala published a small pamphlet entitled
    Gihi Vinaya (Code for the Laity) which infused standards of Victorian
    morality and etiquette with Buddhist values of selfhood (Obeyesekere
    1976). Serialised novels were also a popular form of entertainment and
    instruction. Piyadasa Sirisena wrote over twenty very popular Sinhala
    novels which had didactic themes about protecting Sinhala identity by
    resisting westernisation, vice and amoral behaviour. Despite their didacticism
    many of these novels can be seen as stories about modern Sinhala
    subjects trying to navigate a complex and changing world.
    The flurry of activity in the early twentieth century centring on
    Sinhala language and culture also produced oppositional discourses of
    authenticity. From the 1930s to the 1940s an influential language reform
    movement emerged. It also had nationalist implications. Led by the
    charismatic Munidasa Cumaratunga, whose popular Sinhala- grammar
    instruction books are standard reading in schools even today, the hela
    (indigenous) movement gathered force in the 1930s. Cumaratunga, who
    left his job as an Anglo- Vernacular schools inspector, was an ardent language
    loyalist. Through a close and intense study of classical Sinhala
    writing, Cumaratunga identified what he considered ‘corruptions’, particularly
    owing to Sanskrit borrowings. He advocated the purification of
    the Sinhala language (Coperahewa 2011; Field 2017, 36). What began
    as a linguistic movement grew into a cultural- nationalist movement
    when Cumaratunga, along with Rapiyel Tennekoon, formed the Hela
    Havula (Hela Fraternity) in 1941. This organisation directly challenged
    the arya– Sinhala thesis and argued for autochthonous origins of the
    Sihala as a people and their language and culture.
    Cumaratunga also publicly challenged Wilhelm Geiger, who was
    involved in compiling a Sinhala etymological dictionary. He argued
    that there were many words of pure Sinhala origin and that Geiger was
    misguided in trying to trace the origins of all Sinhala words to Pali and
    40 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Sanskrit (Coperahewa 2011, 17). Cumaratunga’s public engagements
    with Sinhala language and culture attracted a popular following, but
    after his death in 1944 the movement floundered. Though the hela
    ideology survived among a small group of Sinhala intellectuals, it did
    not evolve into a major cultural- nationalist project in post- independence
    Sri Lanka. Cumaratunga’s pioneering work, however, did influence the
    demand for linguistic rights in the 1940s and the eventual controversial
    elevation of Sinhala as the sole official language in 1956 (Coperahewa
    2011, 34). Cumaratunga, as a member of the Sinhala Maha Sabha
    (Great Association of the Sinhalese) formed by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
    in 1936, used his influence to lobby for the cause of the Sinhala language
    and culture. He defeated a motion by Bandaranaike to change the
    name of the organisation to Swadesiya Maha Sabha (Great Association
    of the Indigenes), to gain the support of non- Sinhala communities, and
    ensured that the elevation of the Sinhala language remained a policy priority
    (Coperahewa 2011, 31). However, the Mahavamsa- based narrative
    of Sinhala identity, which had a longer history and more institutional
    and scholarly support, gained hegemonic status in post- independence
    Sri Lanka.
    Monumentalising the past: colonial archaeology
    While Pali chronicles like the Mahavamsa furnished textual details of a
    glorious classical Sinhala civilisation, colonial archaeology helped give
    it plausibility (Rogers 1990, 102). As Pradeep Jeganathan (1995, 106–
    36) suggests, colonial archaeological investigation and historiography
    were mutually constitutive discourses in nineteenth- century Sri Lanka.
    Around the same time that the Mahavamsa and other chronicles were
    discovered and translated by European scholars, the area known today
    as the North Central Province (NCP) was being opened up to facilitate
    the migration of South Indian labour for work in the plantation economy.
    Up to this point the sparsely inhabited NCP had attracted little interest
    but, as road construction began in the area, ruins of the ancient city of
    Anuradhapura were discovered (Jeganathan 1995). Anuradhapura
    receives much narrative space in the Mahavamsa as the site through
    which Buddhism was consecrated in the island and the tradition of political
    patronage for the religion was instituted. The discovery of the ruins
    gave physical corroboration to the Mahavamsa and helped further establish
    the plausibility of the chronicle’s narrative in the minds of colonial
    historiographers and their later local counterparts.
    the protean life of authenticity 41
    The size and scale of the various ruins and their aesthetic qualities
    were a source of wonderment to the colonial gaze. The archaeological
    discourse about Sri Lanka’s past continues to wield significant influence
    in the present and has also entered popular consciousness as part of the
    grand narrative of the Sinhala people. The importance of Anuradhapura
    in the spatial imagination of Sinhala– Buddhist nationalism is evident in
    the number of religio- political events that centre on the city. Anagarika
    Dharmapala and his protégé Walisinha Harischandra were instrumental
    in lobbying to secure Anuradhapura as an exclusively Buddhist religious
    site in the early twentieth century. The utilisation of the symbolic
    capital of Anuradhapura has continued with Sinhala political parties
    choosing the site for inaugurating political campaigns. Successive postindependence
    governments have also invested heavily in developing the
    infrastructure of the historic sites in and around Anuradhapura through
    highly publicised projects that attempt to draw upon the practice of
    Sinhala kings who patronised such religious sites.
    Buddhism and Sinhala identity
    Coinciding with the production of this body of historical knowledge and
    socio- economic changes wrought by British colonial rule was the emergence
    of what is known as the nineteenth- century ‘Buddhist revival’.
    This movement gathered force through Buddhist resistance to evangelical
    Christianity in the early to mid nineteenth century (Malalgoda 1976,
    173). Many scholars have viewed this movement as being largely shaped
    by the very discourse it was seeking to oppose. This view is most visible
    in the ‘Protestant Buddhism’ thesis, which argues that Buddhism in Sri
    Lanka, in the process of modernising itself, took on Protestant Christian
    elements such as a text- based doctrinal emphasis, a distinct role for lay
    Buddhist activism as opposed to the traditional role of the sangha, and a
    kind of missionary zeal (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988). Moreover,
    many lay Buddhist activists adopted Western ‘rationalist’ interpretations
    of Buddhism (Hallisey 1995). The influence of Theosophy on Sri Lankan
    Buddhism and Buddhist activism was also employed to support this
    thesis (Prothero 1995).
    This view has been reassessed in much contemporary scholarship
    (Abeysekara 2002; Blackburn 2010). Although there were significant
    changes to Buddhist practice in the nineteenth century, there were also
    significant continuities. Sri Lankan Buddhists were not simply in confrontation
    and conversation with the West; they were also in dialogue with
    42 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    many other local and pan- Asian Buddhist networks – a dynamic feature
    of Buddhism that predated colonial contact (Blackburn 2001; 2010). As
    we shall see in the chapter on Dharmapala, the Buddhist world in which
    Dharmapala moved was a multifaceted one (Kemper 2015). He was
    able to forge solidarities with Buddhists in Japan and India, but at the
    same time his attempts to establish Buddhist control over Buddhagaya,
    believed to be the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment, resulted in confrontation
    with Hindus and also disenchantment with the Theosophists
    who wanted to form a grand ecumenical alliance of Asian religions
    (Prothero 1995).
    For later twentieth- century developments in Sinhala nationalism
    the Buddhist revival has a number of implications. At one level was the
    stronger emphasis placed on Buddhism and Sinhala as unified and indivisible.
    With the rise of historical consciousness the island’s past was seen
    as primarily a Sinhala Buddhist one. This did not have direct political
    consequences in the nineteenth century, but became a political issue in
    the twentieth. The twinning of Sinhala and Buddhist identities is visible
    in Dharmapala’s rhetoric and had political implications in the twentieth
    century when a number of politicians, including S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike,
    converted to Buddhism with the granting of universal franchise in 1931,
    in order to ‘authenticate’ their public image. They were disparagingly
    called ‘Donoughmore Buddhists’ (Ames 1963, 45– 53).
    Buddhist activism in the nineteenth century also anticipates the
    much more overtly political Buddhism that emerges in the mid-twentieth
    century. As a number of scholars have argued, the line between
    lay Buddhist activism and the sangha was increasingly blurred over the
    course of the twentieth century (Seneviratne 1999; Tambiah 1992).
    Though some of this scholarship draws problematic distinctions between
    ‘true’ Buddhism and Buddhism corrupted by its contact with politics
    (Abeysekara 2002), it nevertheless documents an important shift in
    the public role of Buddhism. Activist Buddhist monks like Yakkaduwe
    Pannarama and Walpola Rahula from the Vidyalankara Pirivena emerged
    as dominant voices in the public sphere in the 1940s (Seneviratne 1999,
    128– 30). Walpola Rahula in particular argued that politics was a sphere
    of legitimate engagement for Buddhist monks (Rahula 2003, 123).
    Although Buddhism has had increasing visibility in public life in postindependence
    Sri Lanka, a consistent theme of Buddhist beleaguerment –
    nestled within the larger narrative of Sinhala beleaguerment – has also
    been visible.
    This theme featured sharply in the Buddhist Commission Report
    published in 1956 (All Ceylon Buddhist Congress 2006 [1956]). The
    the protean life of authenticity 43
    report lamented the lack of state support for Buddhism under colonial
    rule and saw the rebuilding of Buddhist institutions as an urgent postcolonial
    task. Although a specific clause was incorporated into the 1972
    Republican Constitution giving Buddhism the ‘foremost place’, there has
    been a constant tussle between politically active members of the sangha
    and the state over the sangha’s public role. In recent decades the sangha
    has also directly entered politics, a number of monks having entered parliament.
    Moreover, a particularly militant brand of Buddhist activism
    emerged in post- war Sri Lanka. However, Buddhist activism in the twentieth
    century has not been defined only by political engagement. There
    has been a consistent strand of Buddhist activism relating to social service
    (Seneviratne 1999, 128– 30). Activist Buddhist monks have also
    championed non- Sinhala nationalist causes. For instance, Maduluwawe
    Sobihta, who in the 1980s was considered the face of nationalist Buddhist
    activism, in the last decade of his life increasingly stood for principles of
    good governance and democracy (Seneviratne 2015).
    Post- independence: the rise of Sinhala nationalism
    By 1948, when Sri Lanka gained formal independence from the British
    Empire, a clear sense of majority and minority had begun to emerge
    in the country. The story from here onwards, as Sinhala nationalism
    would have it, is the reconquest of the nation by its rightful heirs,
    the Sinhala Buddhists who were victims of colonial oppression for
    over four centuries. The narrative of representative democracy has
    provided strong rationalisation for this majoritarian argument. The
    normalisation of this narrative is so pervasive that democracy is often
    equated with majority domination. For instance, H. L. D. Mahindapala,
    a Sinhalese journalist based in Australia, writes, ‘the population of the
    Sinhalese, according to the provisional data of the last census held in
    2001, is 81.89% … It is a fact of democratic norms that the majority
    community dominates the government in any country’ (Mahindapala
    2007). Unfortunately, this tendency is visible in both scholarship sympathetic
    to the nationalist cause and scholarship critical of Sinhala
    nationalism (Oberst 2006).
    As Ranajit Guha (1997, 4– 5) has suggested, what characterises
    the transition from colonial state to independent state is not so much a
    decisive rupture as continuity. The nationalist bourgeoisie who inherited
    power from the colonial state share a similar worldview to their former
    masters and tend to replicate the ideology of inclusion– exclusion that
    44 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    characterised colonialism. Legislation enacted in 1948 and 1949 demarcating
    citizenship in the newly independent state symbolised the new
    order of inclusion and exclusion. If the colonial state operated on the
    basis of marking out boundaries making certain identities more legitimate
    than others, the independent state was no different. With the
    Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, Indian Tamils, mostly brought in colonial
    times to work in plantations, were denied citizenship, even though
    they formed about 12 per cent of the population. But the cynical bourgeois
    character of the post- independence state was made apparent in the
    Pakistani and Indian Resident Act of the same year, which allowed those
    with property and education in these communities to claim citizenship
    (Wickramasinghe 2006, 161– 2).
    The making of a bipolar Tamil– Sinhala
    nationalist discourse
    The election of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike on a populist Sinhala– Buddhist
    nationalist platform in 1956 marked a significant turning point in the rise
    of Sinhala nationalism. As we shall see in the chapter on Bandaranaike,
    his relationship to this discourse was strained. However, in the nationalpopulist
    platform that gathered momentum around Bandaranaike’s victory,
    one sees a coming together of the different strands of authenticity
    in Sinhala language and culture and the Buddhist revival of the early
    twentieth century. Though Bandaranaike was no different from the elite
    Sinhala politicians who preceded him, the populist forces that backed his
    victory point to a broadening and deepening of Sinhala nationalism as a
    wider socio- political movement in mid twentieth- century Sri Lanka. This
    is a major reason why Sinhala nationalist intellectuals like Gunadasa
    Amarasekara continue to revisit 1956 as a key moment in the hagiography
    of Sinhala nationalism.
    From 1956 onwards Sinhala nationalist dominance was exerted
    over many spheres of life on the island. Following Bandaranaike’s assassination
    in 1959, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became prime
    minister in 1960. Marking the growing institutionalisation of majoritarianism,
    she declared that ‘The Tamil people must accept the fact that
    the Sinhala majority will no longer permit themselves to be cheated
    of their rights’ (Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Tribune, 7 May 1967, cited in
    Wickramasinghe 2006, 161). The idea that the Sinhalese were historically
    denied their rightful position in the nation was systematically exploited
    by successive Sinhala- dominated governments to cement Sinhala and
    the protean life of authenticity 45
    Buddhist domination in many institutional and social aspects of life in
    independent Sri Lanka.
    Mechanisms usually used by liberal states to guarantee equal
    opportunities for minorities were adopted in favour of the majority. This
    move was justified by the idea that the Sinhalese were a threatened group
    (Wickramasinghe 2006, 182). This sense of endangerment, as suggested
    earlier, is driven by a narrative of beleaguerment which perceives various
    internal and external threats to Sinhala identity. Chief among them is the
    idea of a pan- Dravidian threat posed by the geographical proximity of
    the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has a large Tamil population
    with certain linguistic and cultural affinities to Sri Lankan Tamils.
    In 1972 the constitution was amended to make Sri Lanka a fully
    independent republic and Buddhism was accorded the ‘foremost position’
    among religions. The constitutional enshrinement of Buddhism
    only legalised what was already evident in public life – the growing
    influence of a politicised Buddhism in the public sphere. The year 1972
    also saw a change in education policy, significantly reducing the Tamil
    student intake into science and technology courses in universities – a
    path of social mobility for Tamil students from the north and
    east of the country (de Silva 1984). This institutional marginalisation of
    the Tamil community was paralleled by social insecurity owing to periodic
    ethnic riots that culminated in the 1983 riots that saw thousands
    of Tamil civilians killed or displaced and their homes and livelihoods
    The dominant strand of Tamil nationalism that rose against Sinhala
    oppression also became increasingly majoritarian in conception and
    practice (Ismail 2000). It sought to project Tamils as the only minority
    community with a rightful national claim, ignoring the rights of smaller
    communities like the Muslims. After 1983 the conflict turned into a secessionist
    war, which was bloodily concluded in 2009. Post- war Sri Lanka
    remains a troubled place where Sinhala nationalism expresses itself in
    different forms – particularly through Islamophobia. Though the immediate
    threat of Tamil militancy is over, Sinhala nationalism continues to
    see itself as beleaguered and vulnerable. As a result, state reform and the
    devolution of power have remained highly contentious issues.
    The story I have charted so far traces in broad brushstrokes the main
    lineaments of a complex set of socio- historical shifts that have shaped
    46 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Sinhala nationalism and authenticity over the course of the nineteenth
    and twentieth centuries. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
    different arenas of action informed the construction of a modern
    politicised Sinhala identity. Sinhala identity and Buddhism were
    not as closely allied in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
    as they are today. The twinning of these two categories is reflective
    of a process
    through which an ethno- nationalist imaginary became
    established and a notion of Sinhala Buddhist authenticity gained hegemonic
    influence. It is tempting to read this as an evolutionary story – of
    a relatively open and tolerant past giving way to a parochial nationalist
    present. In some strains of anti- nationalist criticism this is visible
    in how the idea of ‘Ceylonese nationalism’ is invoked as an inclusive
    counterpoint to today’s ethno- nationalist politics (Cheran 2009, xxii).
    But such a reading can obscure how the past was also divided and divisive
    – on caste, class and religious lines, if not necessarily on the basis
    of ethnicity or race.
    The normative understanding of the nation as an ‘imagined community’
    of citizens and the idea that nations are like organisms that
    evolve and take shape over time (Brubaker 1996; Wimmer and Schiller
    2003) underlie the vision of a tolerant past versus an intolerant nationalist
    present. Nationalism as a category of analysis, as I discussed in the
    introduction, affords limited analytical purchase, but nationalism as
    a category of practice – as in what nationalists ‘think’ and ‘do’ or how
    institutionalised practices reify the nation – does provide critical insight
    (Brubaker 1996, 15). Whether one thinks of a ‘Ceylonese nation’ or a
    ‘Sinhala Buddhist nation’, these categories do not exist outside the nationalist
    imagination or outside the way they are reproduced in institutional
    practice. Therefore, accounting for the existence of nationalist thinking
    needs to be separated from assuming the existence of nationalism or
    nation as ontological fact. What I have traced in this chapter is how the
    notion of a Sinhala nation began to circulate and the institutional and
    cultural dynamics that sustain its circulation. Authenticity is an integral
    part of the circulation of this nationalist imaginary. Examining how the
    discourse of authenticity shifts and morphs across the lives of the nationalist
    intellectuals I document in this book is one way in which nationalism
    can be seen as a category of practice rather than a category of analysis.
    In doing this it is important to keep in mind the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of
    The cultural imaginary of authenticity and the sense of mourning
    it generates have animated and moulded the postcolonial career of
    Sinhala nationalism (Spencer 1990, 290). It is not a singular discourse
    the protean life of authenticity 47
    and it morphed and transformed across the nineteenth and twentieth
    centuries. But underlying it is a structure of feeling that the present is
    inauthentic – compelling nationalist thinkers to look longingly back at
    a pristine precolonial past. As Ranajit Guha expresses it in the Indian
    context, ‘Whenever I hear the phrase colonial India, it hurts me. It
    hurts like an injury that has healed and yet has retained somehow a
    trace of the original pain’ (Guha 1998, 85, emphasis original). But it
    is also a pain that nationalism, as Guha with wry cynicism points out,
    appropriates to create ‘a cult of mourning’ (Guha 1998, 98). Though
    Guha does not elaborate what he means precisely by ‘mourning’,
    I understand it to be a pervasive idiom and culture of loss – the kind
    of pathos that Spencer (1990) refers to – that nationalism creates.
    Nationalism keeps this memory of colonial pain alive and recycles
    it – always seeking to go beyond the moment of colonial encounter to
    recover a lost past. Aamir Mufti calls it an ‘aura’ of ‘authenticity’ (Mufti
    2000, 87– 8). What this ‘aura’ of authenticity meant in different historical
    contexts and the protean forms it took we shall see in the following
    chapters as I track the notion of authenticity across the three figures
    of Anagarika Dharmapala, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Gunadasa
    Anagarika Dharmapala: the nation
    and its place in the world
    By age 38 Anagarika Dharmapala – born Don David Hewavitharana in
    1864 to a family of wealthy Sinhala entrepreneurs – had travelled three
    times to the United States of America and made a significant impression
    as a Buddhist representative at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in
    Chicago alongside the charismatic Hindu preacher Swami Vivekananda.
    He had also visited Japan thrice, a country that he admired for its ability
    to straddle tradition and modernity, acquired a lifelong benefactor named
    Mrs Mary Foster in Hawaii and initiated legal proceedings to establish
    Buddhist control over the holy site of Buddhagaya (Guruge 1991 [1965],
    xxxvii–xliii). He went on to live for a further 31 years, during which time
    he continued to travel extensively, sought to establish industrial education
    in Sri Lanka and attempted to modernise the Buddhist clergy and
    lay Buddhist practices in the country. He was also suspected of sedition
    in 1915 and not allowed to return to Sri Lanka for five years. He died in
    Saranath, Benares in 1933, soon after becoming an ordained Buddhist
    monk. Dharmapala’s life was remarkable and varied and characterised
    by a restless transnational imaginary that continuously shuttled between
    home and the world. But in independent Sri Lanka Dharmapala is known
    largely as a Buddhist reformer and ardent Sinhala nationalist patriot
    (Amunugama 1985; 1991; 2016; Guruge 1991 [1965]; Karunaratne
    1964; Obeyesekere 1976) or a fundamentalist zealot who hated all things
    non- Buddhist and non- Sinhala (Jayawardena 2003; Roberts 2000). What
    is attempted here is an untangling of the ‘historical’ Dharmapala from the
    ‘ideological’ Dharmapala. In Sinhala nationalist discourse the ideological
    Dharmapala is a heroic anti- colonial figure and a man who signifies an
    organic link to an authentic Sinhala past. In much liberal scholarship the
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 49
    ideological Dharmapala is an equally originary figure representative of
    racist and exclusivist Sinhala majoritarianism.
    The two positions, though politically opposed, ironically mirror
    each other. One affirms authenticity by romanticising Dharmapala;
    the other implicitly upholds Dharmapala’s nationalist authenticity by
    failing to account for his historical complexity. Was Dharmapala himself
    interested and invested in a sense of authenticity? If so, what shape and
    form did it take? Why and how does post- independence Sinhala nationalism
    see Dharmapala as a nationalist father figure? And why does liberal
    scholarship take Dharmapala as a master signifier of Sinhala nationalist
    thinking? These are the key questions explored here. First I position
    Dharmapala in his historical context; then I trace his own relationship to
    Sinhala identity, Buddhism and other ethnic and religious communities
    of his time; and finally I look at Dharmapala’s contemporary afterlife as a
    nationalist father figure. By doing so I demonstrate that the authenticity
    ascribed to Dharmapala is a shifting and malleable idea that arises from
    present- day concerns about nationalism. As we shall see in the chapter
    on Gunadasa Amarasekara, Dharmapala’s nationalist reconstruction
    flattens the multidimensionality of his life – ascribing to him a nationalist
    authenticity that is rarely visible in the life he lived or the world in which
    he moved. In Sinhala nationalist teleology Dharmapala is the originary
    – the person who intuitively tapped into a millennia- old consciousness
    of Sinhalaness and ‘revived’ it for a project of postcolonial nationbuilding.
    Yet, as we shall see, for Dharmapala authenticity meant many
    things shaped by his immediate historical context. Authenticity, like
    nationalism, therefore appears ‘real’ and ‘tangible’ when viewed from
    within, but, viewed from outside, its ontological existence collapses.
    The critical task is to explore the protean manifestations of authenticity
    and what informs it – without succumbing to its allure or dismissing it as
    mere fantasy.
    Contextualising Dharmapala’s life and career
    The historical period in which Dharmapala emerged as a leading
    Buddhist activist and public figure was one in which a modern Sinhala
    identity was in the making. In scholarship – as discussed in the introduction
    and the Chapter 2 – there are some standard frames through
    which this period is understood. What I do below is to look at the significant
    contexts of Dharamapala’s life, such as his class background,
    the Buddhist ‘revival’ and his overseas Buddhist activism, to counter
    50 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    received wisdom and to provide a sense of the complex and contradictory
    forces that shaped his life. In doing so, my general approach
    follows Steven Kemper’s (2015) argument about the need to ‘rescue’
    Dharmapala from the ‘nation’. However, my overall approach in the
    chapter differs from Kemper’s by critically exploring the reasons why
    Dharmapala is positioned as an authentic representative of Sinhala
    and Buddhist identity in subsequent nationalist reconstructions: it is
    not enough to ‘rescue’ Dharmapala from the nation; it is also important
    to see how Dharmapala as an ideology becomes part of Sinhala nationalist
    Dharmapala’s father, the Mudaliyar Don Carolis, was a successful
    furniture manufacturer and retailer (Jayawardena 2003, 153). He was
    a man from a middle- class rural background who married into a family
    of landowners and entrepreneurs and managed to establish himself
    financially by taking advantage of opportunities for trade created by
    the colonial economy. Despite the relative privilege of his background,
    Dharmapala appears to have had a difficult childhood. Roberts (1997,
    1012) notes that he was born with a deformed leg, which may have
    exposed him to bullying and discrimination as a boy. His schooling
    was mostly in Christian missionary boarding schools – an experience
    Dharmapala appears to have disliked. The dominant image of Christian
    missionaries in Dharmapala’s writing is of an excessive and undisciplined
    lifestyle characterised by the consumption of alcohol and meat: ‘The
    padres were great pork- eaters. I thought: “The dirt pigs eat is disgusting.
    These fellows must be very dirty” ’ (Guruge 1991 [1965]: 683).
    Obeyesekere (1976) interprets Dharmapala’s negative view
    of Christian education as reflecting the problems Buddhist students
    encountered in the nineteenth- century Christian- dominated education
    system. As Malalgoda (1976) and Gombrich and Obeyesekere (1988)
    point out, establishing a network of Buddhist schools was one of the
    major elements of Buddhist activism in late nineteenth- century Sri
    Lanka. Obeyesekere (1976) also suggests that Buddhist entrepreneurs
    like Don Carolis represented an emergent upwardly mobile class that was
    attempting to displace the socio- political influence of more established
    Sinhala Protestant families who wielded greater influence in colonial
    society. Other scholars, such as Amunugama (1985; 1991; 2016), go a
    step further and see Dharmapala as a figure representing an ‘organic’
    rural Sinhala Buddhist ethos and its nationalist cultural emergence in the
    late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century colonial context.
    These interpretations of Dharmapala are consistent with the
    view that the nineteenth- century ‘Buddhist revival’ in Sri Lanka served
    as a nascent nationalist movement in Sinhala society (de Silva 1981;
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 51
    Dharmadasa 1992; Peebles 2006). However, recent scholarship has
    complicated this interpretation. Anne Blackburn’s (2010) nuanced
    of Hikkaduve Sri Sumangala – an influential scholar monk
    who played a key role in the Buddhist revival and was Dharmapala’s
    teacher and mentor – suggests that many other entanglements besides
    opposition to colonial domination and Christian missionary activity
    shaped the meaning and form of Buddhism in this period, including
    debates over monastic control of holy sites, caste controversies
    and the influence of translocal Buddhist networks that extended to
    Southeast Asia.
    Dharmapala’s formal education was limited but he seems to
    have read widely and eclectically, if not systematically. His schooling
    ended at age 18 when he joined the Education Department as a clerk.
    In 1886 he left that job to join the Theosophists. He was attracted
    to the movement by the charismatic Henry Steele Olcott, the son of
    a Presbyterian minister, who publicly converted to Buddhism after
    visiting Sri Lanka in 1880 (Prothero 1996). Dharmapala’s emergence
    as a public religious figure was facilitated by his decision to join the
    Theosophical Society – a decision that his family initially opposed, but
    that was swayed by the influence of Helena Blavatsky (Guruge 1991
    [1965]), who along with Olcott was a leading figure in the global
    Theosophical movement.
    As Malalgoda (1976) notes, the Theosophical intervention
    provided a crucial impetus to the Buddhist revival movement that
    had been initiated by Buddhist monks in the mid nineteenth century.
    The secular organisational skills needed to broaden the movement
    were provided by Olcott, who mentored Dharmapala until the pair
    fell out over personal and ideological disagreements. Dharmapala’s
    break- up with Olcott and Theosophy in general was also related to
    Dharmapala’s focus on promoting Buddhism. He had little interest in
    Theosophy’s emphasis on forging a general alliance of Eastern religions,
    which Olcott saw as an authentic spiritual counterpoint to Christianity.
    For Dharmapala, Buddhism alone was authentic. As Prothero (1995,
    298) notes, Dharmapala’s increasingly anti- Hindu stance became awkward
    for Olcott. Dharmapala’s establishment in 1891 of the Mahabodhi
    Society, which aimed to secure control of Buddhagaya, the place where
    the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, foreshadowed
    the later divergence of Theosophical and Buddhist interests. The site
    was occupied by Hindu priests, and the legal proceedings initiated by
    Dharmapala to establish Buddhist control threatened to alienate Hindus.
    Olcott’s support for this project was decidedly reluctant (Prothero 1996).
    However, although Dharmapala fell out with Olcott and the Theosophical
    52 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    project proper, he maintained a lifelong relationship with Blavatsky and
    by extension a universalist vision of Buddhism (Kemper 2015, 59).
    The universalism of Dharmapala’s Buddhist vision and mission was
    most evident in his 1893 visit to the World Parliament of Religions in
    Chicago – a defining moment in his career. At the Parliament, Dharmapala
    portrayed Buddhism in universal terms, as a religion that had the capacity
    to transcend cultural and geographical divisions. This contrasted
    with his activism in Sri Lanka, where he portrayed Buddhism as much
    more particularistic and Sinhala- centric (Uyangoda 2016). This duality
    is not unique to Dharmapala; it is a structural feature of Sinhala nationalism,
    which often sees Buddhism both as a highly particularistic legacy
    of the Sinhala community and also as something that gives identity and
    location to the nation in the global order. However, Dharmapala’s universalism
    abroad and particularism at home undermine the authenticity
    attributed to him in later nationalist recuperations. Rather than a diehard
    nationalist, we may see a man who strategically shifts position to
    operate in a translocal world. It was also on this 1893 trip to Chicago
    that Dharmapala first made contact with Mary Foster, one of his major
    benefactors. By this time Dharmapala had also established contact with
    Edwin Arnold and Annie Besant – which places him squarely within the
    discourse of the ‘Western’ appropriation of Buddhism (Lopez 1995). In
    much of Dharmapala’s writing, the influence of Western intellectuals and
    scholars is clearly evident. He was attracted to the ‘scientific’ status their
    interpretations gave Buddhism, and by the implicit and explicit anti-
    Christian sentiment in their work.
    Parallel to Dharmapala’s westward- looking imaginary was a
    substantial and lifelong connection to India. He first visited Sarnath,
    Benares and Buddhagaya in 1891 and formed the Buddhagaya Maha
    Bodhi Society – which became the Maha Bodhi Society – with the
    express aim of asserting Buddhist control over this holy site (Guruge
    1991 [1965], xxxvi). At the same time, Dharmapala established a
    long- term relationship with the city of Calcutta, at the time the Indian
    colonial capital, and with the influential community of intellectuals
    called the Bhadralok, whose support was significant in the eventual
    success of the Maha Bodhi Society (Amunugama 2016, 23). In 1892
    Dharmapala established the Maha Bodhi Journal, which was published
    from Calcutta. Although Dharmapala spent a major part of his adult life
    in India and maintained significant relationships with Indian religious
    and intellectual leaders such as Swami Vivekananda and Iyothee Thass,
    the South Indian anti- caste activist, he was never part of the socially
    reformist anti- Dalit Buddhist movement led by B. R. Ambedkar – one of
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 53
    the most significant modern interpretations of Buddhism in the Indian
    context. Uyangoda (2016) speculates that this was because of the politically
    conservative nature of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and its long historical
    links to the state and institutional structures of governance.
    However, such a view is shaped by the assumption that Dharmapala
    was a ‘political’ figure and a Sinhala nationalist. His lack of interest
    in the more politically conscious forms of Buddhist activism in India
    could be attributed to the fact that he was primarily a religious figure.
    Dharmapala also maintained strong links with Japan. His first
    visit to the country was in 1889, when he accompanied Olcott on a trip
    seeking to unify ‘southern’ or what was later called Theravada Buddhism
    with ‘northern’ (Mahayana) Buddhism (Kemper 2015, 117); another
    dimension of the universalist aspect of Dharmapala’s Buddhism. On this
    trip Dharmapala seems to have been overshadowed by Olcott, who had
    more international visibility at the time. Dharmapala’s second visit was
    on his return from Chicago, when he was received with much greater recognition
    thanks to his reputation as a charismatic Buddhist missionary.
    This visit saw him touring Japan, giving lectures and talks and meeting
    with a number of influential Japanese Buddhists (Kemper 2015, 117–
    21). Dharmapala admired Japan as an Asian country that had achieved
    modernity and technological progress while preserving its ‘spirituality’.
    He also looked to rich Japanese Buddhists to fund his Buddhist
    missionary activities in India – particularly in securing control of the
    Buddhagaya site. Though initially impressed by the Japanese negotiation
    of modernity within a traditional frame, on later visits he appears to have
    become disillusioned with what he saw as the impure practices of the
    Japanese priesthood, such as the consumption of liquor (Kemper 2015,
    117). Dharmapala was also not very successful in securing funding for his
    Indian activities from Japanese donors. One of the reasons for this was
    that the Japanese saw India as a mythical rather than real place and were
    unable to reconcile their romantic notions of India with the mundane
    politics of monastic control for which Dharmapala was seeking funds
    (Kemper 2015). One significant feature of Dharmapala’s connection with
    the Japanese was that he presented himself to them as a representative
    of Indian Buddhism rather than as a Sri Lankan Buddhist (Kemper 2015,
    119). These transnational and shifting positions adopted by Dharmapala
    provide an ironic counter- commentary to his later Sinhala nationalist
    appropriation in post- independence and contemporary Sri Lanka.
    Though based in India for much of his adult life, Dharmapala
    maintained many links with Sri Lanka. He made a number of extensive
    tours of the island. In 1886 he did a tour with Olcott which, as
    54 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    the editor of his writings (Guruge 1991 [1965], xxxv) observes, was
    an eye opener for the young Dharmapala about the conditions of rural
    Buddhists – a fact that problematises the romantic notion prevalent in
    popular discourse and scholarship on Dharmapala that he represented
    a rural Buddhist culture. In 1906, having broken with Olcott and the
    Theosophical movement, he established the Sinhala Bauddhaya newspaper
    and the Maha Bodhi Press – marking the duality in his career of
    being universalist abroad and ‘nationalist’ at home. He donated private
    property and money inherited from his family to establishing Buddhist
    schools in Sri Lanka and successfully lobbied his benefactress Mrs Forster
    to donate to educational causes. He wrote and published extensively in
    English and Sinhala for Sri Lankan audiences. Much of this writing was
    condescending towards the Sinhala peasantry and reformist and didactic
    in tone when it came to the Sinhala middle classes. Dharmapala was also
    keen to see Buddhist monks receive a modern English- language education
    because he saw this type of education as vital for the global spread
    of the religion.
    Dharmapala was never overtly politically active in Sri Lanka. He
    appears to have been largely marginalised by the local political elite of the
    time (Roberts 1997), though hagiographic post- independence accounts
    attribute to him a subversive political gloss (Karunaratne 1964). One
    of the reasons this political role is ascribed to Dharmapala owes to the
    1915 anti- Muslim riots, which the colonial authorities misconceived as
    an anti- colonial protest (Roberts 1990). The British authorities jailed a
    number of prominent Sinhala and Buddhist activists, and also suspected
    Dharmapala of sedition. He was confined to Calcutta’s city limits for the
    five years from 1915 to 1920. However, despite the rhetoric of his writing
    and speeches, Dharmapala saw himself as a loyal subject of the British
    Empire (Kemper 2015, 19– 21). He even donated to British efforts in the
    First World War by purchasing war bonds, and his tone was deferential in
    his correspondence with British officials. His critique of colonialism was
    mostly on moral rather than political grounds. As discussed in Chapter 3
    in relation to Bandaranaike, the Ceylonese political elite of the late nineteenth
    and early twentieth centuries was politically conservative and
    benefited economically and socially from colonialism. In Dharmapala’s
    lifetime, elites did not agitate for full independence (Samaraweera
    1981). Dharmapala, though not part of the political elite, cannot be
    abstracted from this larger social and political milieu. As Roberts puts it,
    ‘Anagarika Dharmapala was occupying the wings of a “cathedral” where
    the nave that fronted up to the “British” altar was occupied in the period
    1880– 1930 by personnel committed – no doubt in varying measures
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 55
    to – Ceylonese nationalism’ (Roberts 1997, 1012). In the latter part of
    his life Dharmapala distanced himself from Sri Lanka. The last words of
    this man, who is today reimagined as a Sinhala nationalist, are recorded
    as a wish ‘to be born again in India in some noble Brahman family …
    and to become a Bhikkhu to preach Dhamma to India’s millions’ (cited
    in Kemper 2015, 421). Ananda Guruge’s hagiographic nationalist introduction
    to Dharmapala’s writings includes these words but with the reference
    to India struck out (Guruge 1991 [1965], xliii).
    Dharmapala’s vision of the Sinhala past
    Dharmapala, like many other educated Sri Lankans of his time, was
    fascinated by the Sinhala past. He invokes it in much of his writing.
    These references to the past are often taken as evidence of his exclusivist
    Sinhala nationalist mindset. But, as I explore below, Dharmapala’s historical
    orientation cannot be understood in terms of how history functions
    in contemporary Sinhala nationalist discourse. In Dharmapala’s time the
    turn to history was not nationalist in the political sense it is today. One
    of the dominant themes in Dharmapala’s writing is the contrast between
    the past glory and the present apathy of the Sinhala people. A rather
    simple logic informs this turn to the past: if the Sinhalese were once a
    great nation, what is to prevent them from achieving such greatness in
    the present? The following passages from an article entitled ‘History of an
    Ancient Civilisation’ are representative of Dharmapala’s historical vision:
    There exists no race on this earth today that has a more glorious,
    triumphant record of victory than the Sinhalese. Sons of Aryan
    ancestors, they built their first city and called it Anuradhapura,
    after the prince Anuradha and the constellation Anura. Fifty- four
    years before the Battle of Marathon, the Sinhalese had conquered
    Ceylon; nine years after the conquest of the Kingdom of Candahar
    by Alexander the Great; and one hundred and eleven years before
    the destruction of the Carthegian Power; and forty- three years
    before the consolidation of the Roman Empire, the Religion [sic] of
    the Buddha was established …
    This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the
    Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric
    vandals. Its people did not know irreligion. The pagan beliefs of
    monotheism and diabolic polytheism were unknown to the people.
    Christianity and polytheism are responsible for the vulgar practices of
    56 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness.
    Read the ‘History of Ceylon,’ by Sir Emerson Tennent, and the
    ‘Records of the Western World,’ by Fa Hian and Hwen Thsang, for they
    have written what they observed. This ancient, historic, refined people,
    under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British
    are now declining and dying away. The bureaucratic administrators,
    ignorant of the first principles of the natural laws of evolution, have
    cut down primeval forests to plant tea; have introduced opium, ganja,
    whisky, arrack and other alcoholic poisons; have opened saloons and
    drinking taverns in every village; have killed all industries and made
    the people indolent.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 481– 2)
    A comparative perspective is immediately apparent in this extract from a
    booklet published in 1902 for an American audience. Sri Lankan history
    is narrated in terms of significant events in European history. A desire to
    claim what Johannes Fabian (1983) has called ‘coevalness’ to Europe is
    evident in the list of local historical events that either predate or closely
    coincide with ones in European antiquity. One reason for this need for
    comparison is the general tendency of the time to regard Europe as the
    universal referent of history. The very antiquity of Sinhala culture and
    especially its demonstrable antiquity in relation to European culture
    are interpreted as giving it a classical genealogy. Another more immediate
    reason is the way that colonial historiography represented the
    Sri Lankan past. As John Rogers (1990) suggests, the work of British
    historiographers, mostly scholar- administrators, helped to establish an
    authoritative narrative of the island’s past by the mid nineteenth century.
    This historical narrative based on Pali- language vamsas like the
    Mahavamsa posited a three- stage model of history. It traced in Sri Lanka,
    as in Europe, an ancient classical civilisation that went into a kind of dark
    middle age because of invasion and disease. The European intervention
    was the logical next step in this model. Sinhala society was seen as stagnant
    and decadent; further progress and entry into modernity had to be
    facilitated by the coloniser. The two most influential historiographies of
    the period, William Knighton’s History of Ceylon from the Earliest Period to
    Present Time (1845) and Emerson Tennent’s Ceylon (1977 [1860]), cited
    above by Dharmapala, conformed to this pattern. The local intelligentsia
    of the period also largely accepted this narrative (Rogers (1990, 102– 3).
    But Dharmapala interrupts the teleology of this model. He
    glosses over the decline of Sinhala civilisation in precolonial times and
    attempts to place the blame squarely on the British administration. In
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 57
    Dharmapala’s scheme it is Christianity and the British who are responsible
    for a host of social evils that have resulted in the decline of Sinhala
    civilisation. The image of the Sinhala past is of a proud and conquering
    race – an image of virile masculinity. As Nandy (1983) has argued, one
    result of colonial rule was a sense of emasculation among the dominated
    population. The despondent images of alcoholic Sinhala people in the
    passage above imply a similar lack of vitality. But by turning to history
    Dharmapala can retrieve a positive image of the people which can be
    used as inspiration for the present. The supposed Aryan origins of the
    Sinhalese – a linguistic cleavage in the categorisation of Dravidian and
    Aryan languages which gained a racial dynamic in the nineteenth century
    (Gunawardana 1990) – provides further genealogical support.
    The passage also suggests that Dharmapala is questioning the moral
    authority of British rule; as rulers who have failed to govern responsibly.
    But this does not amount to a direct challenge to colonial rule. It
    is more of an appeal to the colonial government to ensure the welfare of
    the Sinhalese. The Aryan genealogy is used to appeal to a paternalistic
    dimension of colonial rule, which might see certain races as being worthy
    of preservation purely because of their antiquity and demonstrable links
    to a classical heritage. The protection of primeval forests, an ecological
    concern that appears incongruous with the general thrust of the passage,
    may also possibly relate to this logic. This discourse of preservation is
    more explicitly articulated later in the same pamphlet:
    The history of evolution can point to no other race today that has
    withstood the ravages of time and kept its individuality for so long
    a time as the Sinhalese people. More marvellous it is that there is
    in the same island the most primitive savage tribe on earth, known
    under the name of the Veddahs.
    For the student of ethnology the Sinhalese stand as the
    representatives of Aryan civilisation and the Veddah as the product
    of primitive savagery, and to witness the spectacle of an ancient
    race slowly dying out under the despotic administration of Anglo-
    Indian bureaucracy is indeed sad. In the name of Humanity and
    Progress, we ask the British people to save the Sinhalese race from
    the jaws of the demon of alcohol and opium let loose by Christian
    England for the sake of filthy lucre.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 483)
    The Veddahs are considered the island’s indigenous inhabitants. Their
    representation as primitive or savage people, Obeyesekere (n.d.) suggests,
    58 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    has a colonial genealogy in the way that European writers like Robert
    Knox categorised them as wild men. Dharmapala appears to be drawing
    upon this colonial sociology and presents Sri Lanka almost in terms of an
    ethnographic menagerie. The implication in the passage seems to be that
    both the Sinhalese and Veddahs are worthy of preservation; the former
    for their culture and civilisation and the latter for their primitiveness.
    The coexistence of these two groups also serves to highlight the civilised
    nature of the Sinhalese and adds further justification to the call for their
    But the discourse of preservation in Dharmapala also coexists
    with one that desires to see ‘progress’. This is a seemingly contradictory
    impulse but it is premised on an understanding that progress will not
    endanger the essential and unchanging characteristics of Sinhala identity
    – in effect a belief that the ‘authenticity’ of the Sinhala people will
    not suffer. This is partly because Dharmapala believed that industrial/
    material aspects of life were not something alien to Sinhala culture. For
    instance, he speaks of how ‘[i] n the eleventh century after Christ the
    Sinhalese had a regular navy, a fleet of sailing vessels which was used
    for fighting purposes, and all the country round about the coast seemed
    “like one great workshop constantly busied with the constant building of
    ships” ’ (Dharmapala 1907, 287). Dharmapala also associated Buddhism,
    something seen as uniquely Eastern or Sri Lankan, with a discourse of
    science and progress (McMahan 2004).
    Dharmapala could express admiration for industrial Europe but
    at the same time separate it from European culture, which he equated
    with Christianity – a religion he saw as non- modern and regressive.
    Dharmapala is able to make this critique because there were a number of
    discourses that supported it at the time. A strong fin- de- siècle rationalist–
    scientific discourse was challenging the place of Christianity in the public
    sphere, but at the same time Buddhism was being constructed as rational
    and scientific thanks to the work of Orientalist scholars within the larger
    discourse of the Oriental Renaissance (Lopez 1995, 6– 10; McMahan
    2004). The work of Theosophists also gave Buddhism and other Eastern
    religions an avant- garde position in relation to Christianity, though
    Theosophy’s emphasis was more mystical than scientific (Owen 2004,
    6– 8). The following passage is representative of Dharmapala’s positive
    view of industry and science:
    Europe is progressive. Her religion is kept in the background for
    one day in the week, and for six days her peoples are following the
    dictates of modern science …
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 59
    The Sinhalese, Bengalese, Madrasees, Bombayites, Panjabees,
    Burmese, Chinese and Koreans that go to Europe and America to
    study in the colleges [sic] law and medicine return after several
    years thoroughly Europeanised. The Japanese are the only practical
    people who have sent their sons to learn the technical sciences.
    They are reaping the fruits of practical wisdom.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 717– 18)
    There is admiration for Europe because of its material/ scientific advancement.
    The separation of religion from the public sphere is seen as positive
    in Europe. This is only because Dharmapala views Europe as Christian
    and Christianity as a non- modern: ‘The mythical stories of the Jewish
    Bible, have no scientific foundations. They are unfit for the advanced
    thinkers of the 20th century’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], 717). But if the religion
    is Buddhism it need not be hidden away. The Japanese are held up
    as a positive model because they have been able to achieve this fusion
    of Buddhism and indigenous culture with material progress. Although
    Dharmapala became disillusioned with Japanese society and religiosity
    later in life, the ideal of a modern, technologically advanced society
    that remains true to its Buddhist spiritual values seems to be something
    Dharmapala held on to as an aspiration. Overall, Dharmapala’s vision
    of Sinhalaness appears to have been a reformist one – divided between
    pride in a glorious Sinhala past and embarrassment with present impoverishment.
    Authenticity signals a return to lost grandeur.
    Buddhism and Sinhala identity
    Dharmapala’s identification of Buddhism as an inextricable part of
    Sinhala identity is another important aspect of his imaginary. Buddhism
    in Dharmapala is an index of authenticity – in short, to be truly Sinhala
    one also needs to be Buddhist. Historically, this represents a narrowing
    of the definition of Sinhala identity, which emerged with the Buddhist
    revivalist movement in the mid nineteenth century. It anticipates the
    politicised Sinhala Buddhist discourse of authenticity that emerged
    in the mid twentieth century but is also distinct. Although Sinhala
    Buddhism denotes a certain kind of cultural and moral authenticity
    for Dharmapala, it does not translate into the kind of Sinhala Buddhist
    majoritarianism that became visible in the twentieth century. Also, as
    Roberts (2000, 114) observes, many of Dharmapala’s contemporaries
    were Sinhala Christians who promoted Sinhala identity without the
    60 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Buddhist dimension. Even within Dharmapala’s writing, as I will discuss
    later, there is ambiguity. Broadly inclusive terms like ‘Ceylonese’
    exist alongside more exclusive understandings of the nation as Sinhala
    or Sinhala Buddhist. Given this context, the sharpest vision of a Sinhala
    Buddhist nation is visible when Dharmapala writes about the past rather
    than about his present.
    The conflation of Sinhala identity with Buddhism emerges through
    the Sinhala historical grand narrative that began to take shape in the nineteenth
    century. The Mahavamsa, the main Pali- language chronicle used
    by European scholars and later adopted by local scholars and historians
    as a primary precolonial historical source, was written by monks and
    has a distinct Buddhist bias. As Kemper (1990, 188– 90) suggests, it is
    a didactic work that narrates a mytho- historical account of the island’s
    past ordered by a vision of an ideal moral and political order between the
    king, the sangha and the people. A good king in this vision is one who
    governs according to Buddhist principles and is able to unify the island. It
    also conflates the relationship between king and people. Any nationalism
    based on the Mahavamsa, therefore, Jonathan Spencer (1990, 6) argues,
    will have an inherent Buddhist bias.
    As a number of scholars have suggested, the reification of the
    Mahavamsa as a historiographic text and the use of modern conceptual
    categories like nation and ethnicity in reading it have suppressed the heterogeneity
    of precolonial identity discourse on the island (Gunawardana
    1990; Rogers 1990). Dharmapala was heavily influenced by the
    Mahavamsa narrative. In an article entitled ‘Buddhism, Past and Present’,
    which he contributed to a coffee- table book called Twentieth Century
    Impressions of Ceylon (1907), the relationship between Buddhism, the
    nation and Sinhala identity is clearly articulated:
    In the year 237 B.C. the Tamil invader Elala [Elara], usurped the
    Sinhalese throne … The Tamils fiercely antagonistic to Buddhism,
    committed acts of vandalism in the sacred city of Anuradhapura,
    and – for a time – there was none to deter them. At this crisis
    there arose a wonderful prince, whose father was then reigning
    in Southern Ceylon … Particulars of [his] birth are given in the
    Mahavansa [sic], chap. 22. This young prince Gamini Abhaya
    [Dutugemunu], when he had reached maturity made war upon the
    usurper, Elala. After a series of pitched battles, the Sinhalese prince
    defeated Elala in single combat and slew him on the battlefield.
    Then began the building of magnificent temples (monuments), by
    the conqueror, who, reducing [sic] Lanka (Ceylon) under one rule,
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 61
    became king. From the world- renowned ruins of these dagobas at
    Anuradhapura an idea of their original splendour may be obtained.
    The war that Gamini Abhaya waged with Elala was of a religious
    character, and he made it known by solemn proclamation that ‘this
    enterprise of mine is not for the purpose of acquiring the pomp
    and advantages of royalty’ … Impelled by the supreme force of the
    truth of the Dhamma … the youthful race of Ceylon, in the vigour
    of renewed vitality. Engaged under the new king, in making themselves
    serviceable to their country and religion … Free from foreign
    influences, untainted by alien customs, with the word of the
    Buddha as their guiding light, the Sinhalese people lived a joyously
    cheerful life in those bygone times.
    (Dharmapala 1907, 285– 6)
    The story of Dutugemunu that Dharmapala narrates here has become
    part of popular Sinhala lore and is reproduced frequently in nationalist
    discourse (de Silva 1987, 26– 7). It is understood as the story of an exemplary
    figure who saved the religion and nation from foreign domination.
    Gananath Obeyesekere (1991) asserts that it was Dharmapala who ‘resurrected
    the myth of Dutugemunu’ (Obeyesekere 1991, 238). It is, however,
    very likely the story was already popular in nineteenth- century
    Sri Lanka – among both the anglophone community and the wider population.
    Even Emerson Tennent’s Ceylon (1977 [1860]) highlights the
    Dutugemunu– Elara confrontation as a chivalric incident in Sinhala history.
    Obeyesekere’s claim reflects the general scholarly trend of ascribing
    originary status to Dharmapala in Sinhala nationalist thinking.
    What is important in Dharmapala’s account are the ways it is
    structured by modern notions of race and nation. Dharmapala identifies
    Dutugemunu as Sinhala and Elara, the invading South Indian king, as
    Tamil. But, as Gunawardana (1990 [1979]), suggests the picture is not
    so clear cut. Gunawardana argues that Dutugemunu waged war on multiple
    fronts rather than against a singular enemy represented by Elara. He
    also suggests that Elara’s forces were not homogeneously Tamil and that
    Sinhala mercenaries may have fought on his side. Precolonial identities,
    as a number of scholars have suggested (Gunawardana 1990; Rogers
    1990; 1994; Obeyesekere 1995), had relatively fluid boundaries. It is
    also important to note that Dharmapala’s use of the term ‘Tamil’ cannot
    be equated with the use of the term today. Sri Lankan Tamils were not
    perceived as a threat in the early twentieth century. Therefore, the use of
    ‘Tamil’ here in a generic sense refers to people of South Indian origin who
    historically threatened Sinhala kingdoms, such as the Cholas. The ending
    62 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    of the passage also reflects a general romantic orientation Dharmapala
    had towards the Sinhala past as one of prosperity and contentment – a
    narrative shared by many educated Sri Lankans of the early twentieth
    century, including Bandaranaike.
    A footnote to this discussion of Dharmapala’s view of the relationship
    between Buddhism and Sinhala identity would be to suggest that
    Buddhism also served to give Sinhala culture global importance. In promoting
    Buddhism abroad Dharmapala often presented the religion as
    something that had contemporary relevance and global significance.
    The belief that Buddhism is non- theistic and scientific and therefore
    modern in relation to religions like Christianity and Islam is a perennial
    theme in his writing. From one of his earliest international speeches at
    the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, ‘The World’s
    Debt to Buddha’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], 3– 22), to articles he wrote in the
    late 1920s, the idea that Buddhism has a vital role to play in the modern
    world is a continuous theme.
    Although this ‘modernist’ view of Buddhism was part of Dharmapala’s
    vision of Buddhism as a universalist discourse, at times it also
    folded into a more culturally specific narrative. For instance, Dharmapala
    weaves the absence of Buddhism in nineteenth- and twentieth- century
    India into an argument about Sinhala exceptionalism. He argues that
    ‘India, the birthplace of Buddhism, has no living witness of its forgotten
    greatness’, but in contrast ‘the glorious inheritance of Aryan ancestors,
    uncontaminated by Semitic and savage ideas, though lost to India, has
    been preserved by the Aryan Sinhalese in the luxuriant isle of Ceylon’
    (Dharmapala 1907, 284). He further suggests that ‘In its primitive
    purity … it is generally acknowledged that this religion is only to be
    found in the Southern Church of Buddhism, which is identified with
    Ceylon’ (Dharmapala 1907, 287). The term ‘Southern Church’ with
    its direct Christian connotation suggests that Dharmapala’s identification
    of Sri Lankan Buddhism as a pure form derives from Orientalist
    scholarship. However, the view of Sri Lanka Buddhism as ‘pure’ also
    had precolonial antecedents (Blackburn 2010). Scholars like T. W.
    Rhys- Davids, following the pioneering work of Eugene Burnouf, drew
    distinctions between a more austere ‘Southern’ Buddhism and a ritualistic
    Mahayana Buddhism, based on the Protestant– Catholic divide
    in Christianity (Snodgrass 2007). But, as Charles Hallisey (1995) has
    suggested, nineteenth- century Western scholarly interpretations of
    Buddhism were not entirely arbitrary. The idea that Buddhism would
    decline in India and that Sri Lanka would be the repository of Buddhism
    is deeply encoded in the Mahavamsa narrative (de Silva 1981, 4). Thus,
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 63
    local traditions and Orientalist discourses combine in Dharmapala to
    produce a narrative where an untainted form of Buddhism is associated
    with the Sinhala nation. This in turn places the nation on the global
    map given the emergent international recognition of Buddhism in the
    early twentieth century. In essence, what one sees in Dharmapala is a
    comparative urge that sought to reinterpret his home culture in worldly
    terms – a dynamic visible in Bandaranaike as well, where the imagination
    looks simultaneously inwards and outwards, shuttling between
    home and the world.
    Dharmapala and others
    Dharmapala did not have a singular Other, which distinguishes him
    from contemporary Sinhala nationalist thinking, where Tamils and
    more recently Muslims are seen as distinct political enemies. Although
    Sinhala racial identity and Buddhism were constants in his thinking,
    other ethnic and religious communities figure in different guises – at
    times condescendingly seen as hapless victims of colonialism, at others
    more insidiously as corrupting and threatening influences. Some insight
    into Dharmapala’s view of contemporaneous society may be gained from
    a piece from 1922, entitled ‘A Message to the Young Men of Ceylon’.
    The term ‘Ceylon’ in the early twentieth century had resonances of a
    ‘Ceylonese’ identity – a broadly inclusive term that conflated different
    ethno- religious communities but was circumscribed by class, wealth
    and anglophone privilege (Roberts 2000). Dharmapala’s use of the term
    appears to oscillate between this more inclusive sense and a more particularistic
    Sinhala- centric ideology. He begins the piece by invoking the
    legend of Dutugemunu:
    I have been asked to deliver a message to you, and now that a crisis
    in the history of our nation has arrived, it is proper that we the heirs
    of our beloved Lanka, should gird our loins, and put our shoulders
    to the wheel, and arrest the decay that is visible on all sides …
    We have to ransack the literature of the science of patriotism to
    learn to act as patriots should for the glorious religion, at whose
    source our fore- fathers drank deep … to fight against foes since the
    time of our heroic and patriot king, the righteous Dutthagamini
    [Dutugemunu], who with the help of his mother and his Sangha
    [the priests], reinvigorated and revitalised the nation, 161 years
    before the birth of Jesus Christ whose followers, from the West
    64 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    came to our blessed land, 1505 years after the Nativity, and laid
    waste our fertile lands.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 501)
    The call for national revival, heavy in biblical rhetoric, is informed by
    a particularistic Sinhala and Buddhist historical vision. Given the historical
    material available to Dharmapala, this is not surprising. Even
    Sinhala Christian scholars like James de Alwis, in the early nineteenth
    century, expressed quasi- nationalist sentiments that were inspired by
    the same Sinhala and Buddhist historical grand narrative (Dharmadasa
    1992). The grand narrative of the Sinhala past was simply a means of
    claiming cultural pride. There is no evidence to suggest that de Alwis
    viewed other non- Sinhala communities with antipathy (Dharmadasa
    1992, 77). In Dharmapala, however, historical consciousness shapes
    the view of the present more significantly. Though the article begins
    by invoking a Sinhala and Buddhist imaginary, Dharmapala also
    writes, ‘Christians and Buddhists should unite and work for the elevation
    of the Sinhalese people. Religion should in no way hinder our
    patriotic activities, and it had not prevented Sun Yat Sen, the son of
    a Chinese Christian, from working for the elevation of the Chinese
    people’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], 510).
    But Dharmapala cannot acknowledge Sinhala Christians unconditionally.
    Contrasted with the historical narrative of a homogeneous
    Sinhala and Buddhist identity, they are a reminder of a history of colonial
    miscegenation. He goes on to state, ‘A small portion of the Sinhalese
    nation, under the compulsion of the invading freebooters and pirates in
    the 16th century of the Christian era adopted the religion of the Roman
    Pope’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], 502). Sinhala Christians are therefore
    positioned as a kind of fallen minority within the larger Sinhala Buddhist
    ethos. Other ethno- religious groups do not figure at all here but his use
    of the term ‘nation’ is not coterminous with ‘nation state’ in the contemporary
    imagination. The sense that Sinhala identity is beleaguered
    is clearly visible, though the sources of this beleaguerment are indistinct.
    For instance, Dharmapala repeatedly warns that Sinhala identity
    is threatened with dissolution: ‘Think that you are now surrounded by a
    host of enemies who encompaseth [sic] your destruction, who is trying
    to make you a slave in your own land by giving you to drink the poison of
    alcohol’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], 510)
    The most immediate threat here is identified as the ‘alien white
    [man] who for the sake of filthy lucre gives us alcohol’ (Guruge 1991
    [1965], 511), but the perception of threat also spills over into a narrative
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 65
    of economic exploitation in which other communities are seen as having
    an unfair share of national resources and employment opportunities. For
    instance, looking at revenue from the Railways Department, Dharmapala
    suggests that locally generated wealth is being expatriated and that
    ‘Tamils, Cochins [traders of Indian origin], Hambankarayas [a disparaging
    term for Moors] are employed in large numbers to the prejudice of
    the people of the Island – sons of the soil, who contribute the largest share’
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 515, emphasis original). It is important to historically
    contextualise Dharmapala’s use of the term ‘Tamil’. The reference
    here is to Indian Tamil labour – migrant workers brought to the country
    by the colonial administration. In 1921, fearing a labour shortage in the
    plantations, the colonial government passed legislation favouring immigrant
    labour and facilitating the movement of labour between different
    sectors of the economy (Peebles 2001, 175). Dharmapala’s attitude here
    follows that of the Sinhala political elite, who tended to lump together all
    people of Indian origin as ‘Non- Ceylonese’ (Peebles 2001, 175). This also
    anticipates the anti- Indian sentiment in the labour movement in the late
    1920s with the impact of the Great Depression. As Kumari Jayawardena
    (2003, 27) notes, the labour movement was multi- ethnic from the early
    to mid 1920s and during this phase pioneering Sinhala labour leaders
    like A. E. Goonesignhe closely collaborated with figures like Natesa
    Iyer, a South Indian journalist who became a labour activist. However,
    by the end of the 1920s even people like Goonesinghe were complicit
    in promoting anti- Indian- Tamil sentiments – particularly in the pages
    of Weeraya (Hero), a newspaper published by the labour movement
    (Anandalingam and Abraham 1986). What Dharmapala’s comments
    reveal is that the terms of inclusion and exclusion varied over time and
    were often informed by immediate economic circumstances.
    One could suggest that the greatest Other for Sinhala discourse in
    the 1920s was the ‘Hambankarayas’ or the Moor community – particularly
    those identified as Coast Moors as opposed to Ceylon Moors and
    Malays, communities that had a longer history in Sri Lanka (Roberts
    1990). A popular negative stereotype of the Moor community in the early
    twentieth century was the cunning Moor trader who exploited innocent
    Sinhala villagers (Moore 1992; Jayawardena 2003). The specific target
    here were Coast Moors (Jayawardena 2003, 13). Some segments of this
    community had significant control of the island’s internal and external
    trade and were in direct competition with an emergent Sinhala merchant
    class. Dharmapala’s family had a strong trading- merchant basis
    and his views of Moors were potentially shaped by family concerns.
    On 31 May 1915 rioting broke out when Sinhala mobs, particularly
    66 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Sinhala railway workers, targeted Moor traders in Colombo, hundreds
    died and martial law was declared by the colonial government (de Silva
    1981, 382). The 1915 riots led to several prominent Sinhala public figures
    being incarcerated; two of Dharmapala’s brothers, Edmund and Dr C. A.
    Hewavitharana, were among them (de Silva 1981, 383). Dharmapala’s
    response to the riots, which drew on anti- Semitic rhetoric, is indicative of
    the antipathy towards Moors:
    The Muhammedans [Moors], an alien people, who in the early
    part of the 19th century were common traders, by Shylockian
    methods became prosperous like the Jews. The Sinhalese, sons of
    the soil, whose ancestors for 2538 years had shed rivers of blood
    to keep the country free from alien invaders, who had constructed
    gigantic tanks to irrigate millions of acres … to- day [sic] they are
    in the eyes of the British only vagabonds … The alien South Indian
    Muhammedan comes to Ceylon, sees the neglected illiterate villager,
    without any experience in trade, without any knowledge of
    any kind of technical industry and isolated from the whole of Asia
    on account of his language, religion and race, and the result is that
    the Muhammedan thrives and the son of the soil goes to the wall.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], 540)
    This passage is an extract from a letter Dharmapala wrote to the Secretary
    of State for Colonies in the immediate aftermath of the riots. The anti-
    Semitism could potentially be a strategy of gaining British sympathy by
    invoking a longstanding European stereotype of the ‘scheming Jewish
    merchant’ (Erens 1984, 30, 70). Dharmapala opens the letter with a reference
    to his family background which provides insight into the economic
    basis of the Sinhala– Moor conflict: ‘The writer of this letter is a Buddhist
    Missionary … He is a native of Ceylon belonging to the [sic] leading
    Buddhist family. His father was honoured by the Ceylon Government for
    the many philanthropic acts done for the Buddhists of Ceylon, and he was
    one of the leading Native merchants of Ceylon’ (Guruge 1991 [1965],
    538). By claiming to speak on behalf of the interests of the ‘neglected
    illiterate villager’ he makes a greater claim to speak on behalf of the
    Sinhala nation. There is also no principled objection against capitalism,
    which might have been expected from a spiritual figure like Dharmapala.
    There seem to be echoes of a kind of Protestant ethic in Dharmapala’s
    thinking – where productive economic activity and Buddhist religiosity
    are reconciled. This is borne out in the restless energy that characterised
    Dharmapala’s life and his many initiatives to modernise Sri Lankan life
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 67
    in different spheres. The emphasis is on critiquing foreign or ‘alien’ economic
    interests while promoting an emergent Sinhala capitalist class.
    The economic imperatives informing Dharmapala’s view of the
    Moor community are suggestive of how identity politics in early
    twentieth-century Sri Lanka were informed by immediate economic
    and social conditions. Rather than hoary notions of Sinhala– Tamil conflict,
    what is visible is a shifting and contingent discourse premised not
    against a singular Other but multiple Others whose visibility as potential
    threats was heightened by competition for resources within the colonial
    economy (Rogers 1997).
    Framing Dharmapala: Dharmapala as national hero
    There are a number of hagiographic accounts of Dharmapala’s life in
    English and Sinhala. Two texts stand out among these. One is Return
    to Righteousness, published in 1965 and edited by Ananda Guruge,
    a civil servant and diplomat who also researched and published on
    Buddhism. The other is the Sinhala text Anangarika Dharmapala written
    by David Karunaratne (1964). These two texts were central to introducing
    Dharmapala to English and Sinhala audiences in independent Sri
    Lanka (Jayadeva Uyangoda, personal communication, 15 August 2017).
    They both take a similar hagiographic approach to Dharmapala’s life
    and career. Return to Righteousness is the more comprehensive of the
    two and gathers a large corpus of Dharmapala’s writing from scattered
    sources. It was a text that had institutional backing and was published
    by the Government of Sri Lanka to mark Dharmapala’s birth centenary.
    Its accessibility to foreign scholars as an English- language publication
    contributed to the scholarly equations of Dharmapala with the revival of
    Buddhism and Sinhala nationalism.
    The historical context of this text’s production and the institutional
    support given to its publication are important indicators of the conditions
    under which Dharmapala’s legacy became institutionalised and visibly
    appropriated by nationalist discourse. The decade beginning in 1956
    saw significant shifts in the political culture of the country. The year
    1956 marked the institutionalisation of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism
    when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was elected as prime minister on a wave
    of popular Sinhala and Buddhist support (Manor 1989). The sense of
    beleaguerment that features prominently in post- independence Sinhala
    nationalist discourse was especially visible in this period. Though formal
    independence had been gained in 1948, influential Sinhala and Buddhist
    68 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    pressure groups felt that, culturally and institutionally, little had changed
    from colonial times.
    The Official Language Act of 1956, one of the first legislative acts
    by Bandaranaike’s government, made Sinhala the sole official language
    of the country. This move was considered an important step in decolonisation
    by groups sometimes referred to as the ‘intermediary elite’ (de
    Silva 1981, 517; Roberts 2000) owing to their social status of coming
    from rural middle- class backgrounds positioned between the peasantry
    and the anglophone elite. The disastrous consequences of this legislation
    are well known and still felt in the country (DeVotta 2004). Guruge’s
    compilation of Dharmapala’s writing emerged in this charged nationalist
    context and is resonant of the institutionalisation of Sinhala Buddhist
    nationalism in these years. The text was published by the Ministry of
    Cultural Affairs and Information and the then Prime Minister, Dudley
    Senanayake, provided a preface.
    A related discourse marking this period concerned a sense of
    Buddhist millennialism coinciding with the year 2500 in the Buddhist
    calendar, which fell in 1956. In anticipation of this event a commission,
    consisting of influential Buddhist monks and lay public figures, was
    appointed to enquire into the status of Buddhism in the country.
    The report of this commission was published in 1956. Expressing a
    beleaguered worldview, the report traced a narrative of Buddhist decline
    since Portuguese colonisation in the sixteenth century (Bond 1988, 81;
    Tambiah 1992, 33). The English version of the report was published with
    the provocative title The Betrayal of Buddhism. The report argued for the
    reinstatement of Buddhism to its precolonial position of pre- eminence
    and recommended legislative, financial and institutional reforms. This
    heightened sense of cultural nationalism is reflected in the preface and
    introduction to Return to Righteousness and in Karunaratne’s book.
    They are in effect textual and ideological frames that seek to position
    Dharmapala as nationalist hero and father figure.
    The preface by Senanayake is indicative of how Sinhala identity
    and the Buddhist religion are often conflated in Sinhala nationalist discourse,
    effectively suppressing or marginalising the multicultural and
    multi- religious nature of independent Ceylon – despite the fact that in
    the 1947 Constitution, which was still in effect in 1965, the state was
    identified as secular. Senanayake begins the short preface by briefly
    sketching Dharmapala’s contribution to the nation: ‘The Anagarika’s
    services to his country were many. But the two outstanding services he
    rendered were to resuscitate Buddhism and Sinhala culture in Ceylon at
    a time when over 300 years of foreign rule had sapped their vitality. His
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 69
    other outstanding contribution was an unswerving loyalty to the nationalist
    movement and the nationalist cause’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], v). If
    in these comments Sinhala identity and Buddhism are held separate,
    at least at the level of rhetoric, from ‘the nationalist movement and the
    nationalist cause’, they become clearly conflated in the next few lines.
    Senanayake sketches how Buddhism suffered during colonial occupation
    and says this had ‘debilitating effects on the national life and national
    culture because of the close and inextricable link between Buddhism and
    Sinhalese culture’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], v). Senanayake’s position was
    not unique among English- educated Sinhala politicians of the time: at
    every opportunity they sought to position themselves as protectors of
    Buddhism and Sinhala culture, intensely self- conscious of how they were
    criticised as anglophile by Sinhala nationalist pressure groups. As words
    from the highest political authority in the country, Senanayake’s preface
    to Dharmapala’s writing carried significant institutional and political
    Ananda Guruge’s introduction seeks to articulate Dharmapala’s
    heroic stature more explicitly. The title Return to Righteousness, which
    was presumably Guruge’s choice, is resonant of the discursive framework
    informing the compilation of this text. ‘Return to righteousness’ suggests
    a moral and ethical imperative associated with a way of life from which
    the nation is seen to have deviated. It echoes Dharmapala’s reformist
    impulse but can also be seen as referring to the historical context of the
    text’s production – a time when a return to things considered indigenous
    was being increasingly articulated in public and political discourse. The
    introduction opens with a sub- section entitled ‘The Commemoration of
    a National Hero’, where Dharmapala is placed in a pantheon of heroic
    historic figures:
    Ceylon, with her twenty- five centuries of recorded history, is
    endowed with a generous quota of national heroes who are
    gratefully remembered by the people for the wars they fought
    for national independence, the movements they sponsored for
    the welfare of the masses, the books they wrote, the monuments
    they erected and the contributions they made to the individuality
    and richness of the national culture. The heroes of ancient times
    whose fame lives in legends and songs, folk- tales and chronicles,
    have acquired for themselves in the minds of the people an
    image which has remained unaltered for centuries. So indelible
    is the impression thus created in their minds that even a critical
    student of history – not to speak of a cynic or sceptic – runs
    70 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    the risk of courting popular disapproval if anything which
    deviates, though very slightly, from the popular image were to
    be said or written. This is not an attitude of mere apotheosis. To
    a Sinhala [person], Dutugemunu, Parakaramabahu, Madduma
    Banda, Keppetipola & c. are not deities or super- men, to be
    venerated or appeased on account of any super- natural power or
    ability they are believed to possess. These men are honoured and
    remembered for the greatness they displayed through piety, patriotism
    or bravery and for the sacrifices they made for their honour
    or their motherland.
    (Guruge 1991 [1965], xvii)
    The warning about courting popular displeasure anticipates the ideological
    work Guruge’s introduction does. It draws Dharmapala into a
    mytho- historical genealogy of national heroes and interprets his life
    and work in terms of a laudatory narrative of service to the nation. The
    self- imposed task of the introduction is to place Dharmapala within
    a perceived popular tradition of celebrating national heroes. There is
    a conscious distancing from any critical evaluation or historicisation
    of Dharmapala. Guruge too reproduces the predictable narrative of
    Sinhala Buddhist decline under colonialism against which Dharmapala’s
    achievements are positioned. He makes references to Dharmapala’s
    international missionary work and especially to his role as a Buddhist
    representative at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 – to highlight
    Dharmapala’s global fame.
    The introduction also highlights Dharmapala’s anti- colonialism,
    projecting him as a heroic anti- colonial figure. In doing so, Guruge
    concedes that Dharmapala’s views on colonial governance were
    ambiguous. Thus Guruge writes, ‘It was the Anagarika’s aim that
    Ceylon should be independent’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], lxxii) but at
    the same time observes, ‘The Anagarika’s attitude to the British had
    changed from time to time’ (lxxii). Such statements indicate the difficulty
    of placing Dharmapala within a neat anti- colonial nationalist
    framework given the complexities of his socio- historical context.
    Though the thematic thrust of the introduction requires the depiction
    of Dharmapala as an outright anti- colonial figure, Guruge struggles
    to do so because Dharmapala’s own writing is not conducive to such a
    one- dimensional reading.
    The introduction also focuses on what is termed Dharmapala’s
    ‘policy on aliens’ (Guruge 1991 [1965], lxxix). Guruge suggests that
    Dharmapala anticipated the ‘Indo- Ceylon problem’, referring to the
    Anagarika Dharmapa la 71
    agreement between the Ceylonese and Indian governments to ‘repatriate’
    about half a million of the Indian Tamil community in 1964.
    However, the interest in constitutional issues regarding minorities which
    Guruge attributes to Dharmapala is not visible in his writing or thinking.
    Dharmapala seems to have been oblivious of constitutional affairs as
    a whole.
    The citizen– alien dichotomy is strongly articulated in Guruge’s
    introduction and can be seen as emerging from the cultural- nationalist
    fervour of the times. Guruge even reproduces a cartoon published by
    Dharmapala in the Sinhala Bauddhaya which shows a hapless Sinhala
    man being blindfolded and robbed by a host of ‘aliens’ (Guruge 1991
    [1965], lxxx). However, despite the fact that the first instance of postindependence
    ethnic rioting between the Sinhala community and the
    Ceylon Tamil community had occurred in 1958 following the implementation
    of the 1956 Language Act, Guruge’s introduction does not conflate
    Ceylon Tamil and Indian Tamil identities – an important point demonstrating
    that nationalist discourse rarely remains stable. It is only much
    later in the 1980s that Sinhala nationalist discourse begins to regard
    Tamils as a single homogeneous block, but even today Sinhala nationalists
    make distinctions between Jaffna Tamils, Colombo Tamils and Indian
    Tamils when such distinctions are strategically useful. Similarly, Tamil
    politicians incorporate Indian Tamils when it is useful but exclude them
    at other times. As a category of practice, nationalism generates a seemingly
    homogeneous imagined community but, as a category of analysis,
    we can see this imagined community as something that is never what it
    claims to be.
    The preface and introduction of Return to Righteousness reflect a process
    whereby an institutional discourse appropriates the legacy of a public
    figure. The title of national hero was not associated with Dharmapala
    in his own time; it was conferred retrospectively. Though both these
    framing narratives highlight themes that Dharmapala himself promoted
    and do not radically reconstitute or reinterpret him, the institutional
    context of the publication of Return to Righteousness and the specific
    socio- historical moment of its production point towards the way that
    Dharmapala’s legacy became reified in post- independence nationalist
    discourse. The complex and contradictory set of discourses that informed
    Dharmapala’s nationalist imaginary are simplified as he is re- presented
    72 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    as a national hero. Dharmapala in his own writing reductively interprets
    the precolonial history of the island and projects concerns of his own
    time into the past. Ironically, a similarly reductive move is visible in the
    ways his biographers, and Sinhala nationalist discourse in general, have
    appropriated his legacy.
    The themes that emerge in Dharmapala’s writing appear in differing
    but analogous forms in Chapters 4 and 5. The most dominant of these
    is the sense of beleaguerment that coordinates much of Dharmapala’s
    proto- nationalist thought. The desire to locate markers of indigenity
    which authenticate the self and nation also remains an abiding concern.
    The repetitive articulation of this discourse of authenticity points
    towards a crisis in defining the authentic Sinhala self. Paradoxically, the
    very attempt to locate this essence becomes the moment when its existence
    appears tenuous, fleeting and only partially realised. The framing
    of Dharmapala’s writing by Guruge provides an apt transition to the next
    chapter. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike rose to power with the support of the
    groups that produced Return to Righteousness. In his writing we can see
    how Sinhala nationalism’s cultural imaginary became an institutionalised
    political discourse. It is a moment when a politician aspiring to be a
    popular leader fashions his identity to fit a perceived notion of authenticity
    but in that very move raises questions about what constitutes the
    authentic Sinhala self.
    S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike:
    the paradox of authenticity
    The first thing I must do is to apologise to you for speaking to you in
    English. Owing to my long absence from my country, I am not sufficiently
    fluent in Sinhalese to be able to address you in Sinhalese
    at length. That is a fault that can be easily remedied. What is more
    important is that my heart should be sound. And I can assure you
    that my heart is Sinhalese to the core.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 83)
    These words were uttered in 1925 by Solomon West Ridgeway Dias
    Bandaranaike, who in 1956 became independent Ceylon’s fourth prime
    minister, riding a popular wave of Sinhala nationalist support to power.
    The extract above is from a speech he made just after his return to Sri
    Lanka, having completed undergraduate studies at Oxford. Young
    Bandaranaike was groomed for a career in the colonial administration
    by his father, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, who was the maha
    mudaliyar, head of the colony’s ‘native administration’ (Manor 1989,
    14). Bandaranaike was addressing a crowd gathered near his ancestral
    home at Horogalla, in the Gampaha district, about 40 kilometres from
    Colombo. Having been schooled by a British tutor and later at the exclusive
    St Thomas’ College, Bandaranaike knew little or no Sinhala at the
    time of his return from Oxford. What he says here therefore can be seen
    in part as political posturing by a callow and politically immature youth
    eager to appear progressive and nationalist. However, the desire to project
    an authentic image speaks to an abiding concern in Bandaranaike’s
    political life – the claim to indigeneity as a decolonising leader.
    74 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    This moment also serves as a metaphor for a larger dynamic in
    Bandaranaike’s life, and indeed for a structural feature of twentiethcentury
    politics in Sri Lanka. As I will explore here, Banadaranaike’s
    turn to indigeneity and the processes through which he sought to construct
    a sense of the authentic are indicative of the desire to close a gap
    between the nationalist elite and upper classes of Sinhala society and the
    Sinhala majority. A romanticised notion of authenticity deriving from
    nineteenth- century colonial sociology, which drew upon grandiose historical
    visions of the country and a rural paddy- cultivation- based ethos
    as the basis of Sinhala society, was used by the nationalist elite to claim
    custodianship over culture and identity and to both ‘teach’ people true
    values and simultaneously gain legitimacy as the true representatives of
    the people (Rogers 1990, 87– 106). Bandaranaike was, perhaps, the most
    keenly conscious among his political compatriots of the need to project
    an aura of authenticity; it is therefore in his writings, especially those
    from his politically formative years from the mid 1920s to the mid 1930s,
    that this dynamic of authenticating one’s political and private self is most
    apparent. Bandaranaike’s populist approach can be seen as an example
    of elite politicians adjusting to growing political awareness and participation
    among a wider cross- section of society.
    Although the imprint of need for a locally grounded authenticity
    is writ large in Bandaranaike’s writing, there is also a sense in which
    the nation’s authenticity is always in conversation with transnational
    discourses such as liberalism and socialism. It is never simply a case of
    seeking to be ‘ancient’ or authentic; rather, one has to be authentic and
    modern at the same time. The result is not ‘cosmopolitan’ in the sense
    that Cheah and Robbins (1998) define it as an imaginary that can transcend
    particularisms. Bandaranaike’s political imagination rarely rises
    above the frames of reference nationalism imposes on it. More problematically,
    it is rarely able to even transcend divisions within the nation.
    The inward- and outward- looking dynamic in Bandaranaike is
    similar to Dharmapala’s. Although Bandaranaike was concerned primarily
    with political power, and Dharmapala with moral reform, there
    are structural and procedural commonalities in how they saw the Sinhala
    past and Buddhism – commonalities that point to the larger historical
    discourses within which they operated. Their careers overlapped briefly
    but there is no evidence they had any direct contact. Like Dharmapala,
    Bandaranaike is remembered in Sinhala nationalist discourse as a hero of
    decolonisation and as a patriot. As we shall see, his relationship to a sense
    of authenticity was fraught with tensions and contradictions – more
    visibly than in Dharmapala because of his public position as a politician.
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 75
    I explore the dynamic of being at once modern and ancient, or
    looking outwards and inwards, in four ‘locations’ in which Bandaranaike
    sought to fashion a sense of political and self- identity: memoirs of his
    Oxford days, his brief flirtation with Gandhian thought, his conversion
    to Buddhism and his controversial decision to back Sinhala as the sole
    official language of the country. In all four locations the idea of authenticity
    is not static or one- dimensional. Instead, it is inflected by a number
    of personal, cultural and political concerns. In his Oxford memoirs he is
    a heroic figure conquering a metropolitan bastion of learning in preparation
    for his role as nationalist leader. In his Gandhian writings he is a
    politician envisioning a return to an organic way of life. In his writings on
    Buddhism he is a rational sceptic who finds a spiritual home that allows
    him to straddle a middle ground between tradition and modernity. In promoting
    Sinhala as the official language he is a canny politician mobilising
    a popular slogan with little affective attachment to the underlying issue.
    These four locations of authenticity, though not atypical, are by no means
    exhaustive of the multiple ways in which Sinhala discourses of authenticity
    functioned at large. The Sinhala language – which Bandaranaike
    mobilised politically but did not critically reflect on, because he took it for
    granted as a mark of identity – was an arena of fierce contestation. There
    were also notions of authenticity outside the purview of elite discourse,
    such as in Sinhala theatre and print culture, and in the development of
    notions of authentic dress (Wickramasinghe 2006, 74– 94). These multiple
    refractions of the discourse of authenticity point to its contingent
    and constructed nature but at the same time highlight the extent to
    which the notion was embedded in nationalist thought.
    Bandaranaike’s life and political career
    Bandaranaike was born to wealth and privilege in colonial Ceylon on
    8 January 1899. His name carries traces of his colonial lineage, two of
    his names deriving from his godfather and the then Governor of Ceylon
    Sir Joseph West Ridgeway (Manor 1989, 14). Bandaranaike’s father Sir
    Solomon was also fond of emulating British customs and styled himself
    after the image of a British country squire (Manor 1989). An Anglican
    family with a long history of colonial service, the Dias Bandaranaikes
    enjoyed a lifestyle far removed from the poverty of the vast majority of
    Sri Lankans at the time. As Yasmine Gooneratne notes in Relative Merits
    (1986), a memoir of the Bandaranaike family, most wealthy members
    of the ‘clan’ travelled extensively in Europe and emulated the lifestyles
    76 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    of minor British aristocracy and gentry. There is a contrast here with the
    Nehru family in India, which maintained a public– private dichotomy
    between an anglicised exterior and a more ‘traditional’ domestic life
    (Holden 2008, 88).
    Following this tradition, young Bandaranaike was educated by a
    British tutor before going to St Thomas’ College in Colombo, a premier
    Anglican school, which emulated the British public school tradition.
    Following his secondary education, Bandaranaike entered Christ Church,
    Oxford to read classics and obtained a high second, which was a significant
    achievement for an Asian student at the time (Manor 1989, 36– 55).
    Bandaranaike also became the junior treasurer of the Oxford Union and
    made a name for himself as a commanding orator. His success at Oxford
    allowed him to distance himself from the privileges of his birth and claim
    a sense of achievement based on merit. When he returned to Ceylon,
    Bandaranaike did not enter the colonial civil service, as envisioned by
    his father, but entered politics. From a very early stage in his political
    career, Bandaranaike sought to project himself as an anti- colonial political
    figure heralding a transition from a collaborationist colonial- elite
    political system to an independent, representative system of governance.
    He was one of the first political figures in Sri Lanka to adopt native dress
    and he later learnt Sinhala and began using the language to address
    public gatherings. He converted to Buddhism in the 1930s. All three of
    these marks of authenticity, however, remained somewhat abstract and
    academic. They may have made Bandaranaike appear more radical and
    authentic than many other national politicians, but he remained very
    much part of the political class, which had little connection with the
    people it claimed to represent.
    In the only extended political biography of Bandaranaike, James
    Manor (1989) reads this turn to authenticity as significantly influenced
    by an oedipal conflict with Bandaranaike’s anglophile father. Manor’s
    account of Bandaranaike, though providing comprehensive coverage of
    his life and the political context he operated in, needs to be supplemented.
    Written in the tradition of political biography, which positions prominent,
    powerful and often elite individuals as focal points in the political
    dynamics of a society, Manor’s study reveals less of the discursive
    forces that shaped Bandaranaike. The problem of elite leaders, especially
    in decolonising contexts, being portrayed as dominant agents of change
    is amplified because of their visibility and accessibility in the available
    archival material. By shifting the focus from the individual per se
    to larger discourses within and against which Bandaranaike fashioned
    his self- identity it is possible to see him as someone who functioned
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 77
    within a framework of nationalist authenticity over which he had little
    control. The locations within and through which he sought to authenticate
    himself delineate what he identified as authenticity. But his notions
    of authenticity did not always resonate with other elite and non- elite
    groups on the island.
    Bandaranaike entered active politics through the Colombo Municipal
    Council elections in 1926. The decision to enter electoral politics
    alienated his father but was nevertheless facilitated by his family’s
    connections and wealth (Manor 1989, 65). It was as a member of the
    Ceylon National Congress (CNC) that Bandaranaike later obtained his
    first ministerial portfolio and moved up the political hierarchy of the
    State Council. Styled after the Indian National Congress, the CNC was
    an elite body of politicians which was politically far more conservative
    and loosely organised than its Indian counterpart. Throughout his time
    in the State Council, Bandaranaike was unable to secure the level of
    power and responsibility he desired. He clashed constantly with the two
    leading Sinhala politicians of the CNC, D. S. Senanayake, who became
    the first prime minister of independent Ceylon, and D. B. Jayatilaka (de
    Silva 1981; Manor 1989, 94). In 1936 Bandaranaike formed his own
    movement, the Sinhala Maha Sabha (SMS), which was based ostensibly
    on Fabian ideals of gradual socialist reform, but it received little
    grassroots backing. The formation of the SMS was in part a response to
    the granting of universal franchise in 1931, which created a need for elite
    politicians to engage in popular politics. The fact that Bandaranaike chose
    to form a movement based on Sinhala- majority identity suggests he had
    some awareness of the growing Sinhala identity consciousness outside
    his elite political circle; but, as we shall see, this was a vague grasp of the
    many shades and nuances of this rising Sinhala consciousness.
    In 1946, like most CNC politicians, Bandaranaike joined the
    newly formed United National Party, led by D. S. Senanayake. In 1948
    he became a member of independent Sri Lanka’s first cabinet under
    the premiership of Senanayake. Three years later Bandaranaike broke
    decisively with Senanayake and the United National Party following a
    series of bitter disputes over socio- economic reform in the country. This
    rift led to Bandaranaike forming the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP),
    which merged with the Sinhala Maha Sabha (de Silva 1981, 517). Before
    this, in 1943, when Bandaranaike had felt no compulsion towards politically
    mobilising the ‘people’, he supported parity status for Tamil and
    Sinhala languages. In this clannish political culture the quasi- feudal elite
    could easily form inter- ethnic alliances (DeVotta 2009, 39). Bandaranaike
    began adopting a more visibly pro- Sinhala nationalist stance with the
    78 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    formation of the SLFP in 1951, but only supported the ‘Sinhala Only’
    policy, whereby Sinhala would become the sole official language of
    the country, as the 1956 election approached (DeVotta 2009: 62). This
    policy was justified by the view that the Sinhalese were the majority and
    were the ‘authentic’ inhabitants of the island, given their history, and
    that under colonialism they had suffered economic, cultural and social
    deprivation more than any other community.
    Bandaranaike reached the pinnacle of his political life with the
    SLFP- led coalition’s victory in the 1956 general election, after which
    he became the fourth prime minister of independent Sri Lanka. Before
    the 1956 election Bandaranaike’s political position had begun to shift
    increasingly towards representing exclusive Sinhala and Buddhist
    interests. Soon after the election victory he enacted the disastrous
    ‘Sinhala- only’ bill to make Sinhala the official language of the country.
    Tamil political and public opposition to this bill and counter- opposition
    by Sinhala groups led to independent Sri Lanka’s first instance of ethnic
    rioting in June 1956. Amidst these inter- ethnic tensions, Bandaranaike
    moved ahead with his decolonisation programme by closing British air
    and naval bases in Sri Lanka and moving towards a non- aligned foreign
    policy. Internally, various subsidies and social welfare programmes
    were introduced but the pace and magnitude of these reforms were
    felt to be insufficient by certain groups, especially the Sinhala cultural
    revivalists who expected a radical transformation in language and
    culture (Manor 1989, 263– 4).
    In 1957 Bandaranaike sought to address the language dispute,
    and the intimately related issue of Tamil demand for greater autonomy,
    through a pact with the leader of the main Tamil political party, S. J.
    V. Chelvanayagam. But the idea of devolving power to Tamil- dominated
    areas was strongly opposed by various Sinhala groups. In 1958 –
    following a campaign in which public buses carrying the Sinhala letter
    ‘sri’ were defaced in Tamil- dominated areas – there were widespread
    protests and pressure, especially from a group of Buddhist monks, for
    Bandaranaike to abrogate the pact with Chelvanayagam. Capitulating
    to these demands, he publicly abrogated the pact and also proscribed
    Chelvanayagam’s Federal Party (Manor 1989, 286– 9). The inter- ethnic
    tensions arising from this conflict led to the worst ethnic violence of
    Bandaranaike’s tenure, when organised Sinhala gangs attacked Tamil
    businesses and homes (Vittachi 1958). Emergency rule had to be
    declared throughout the country to bring the situation under control.
    By this time, Bandaranaike’s political image had lost credibility and he
    was viewed with suspicion by many Sinhala and Tamil groups. In 1959
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 79
    Bandaranaike was shot in his home by a Buddhist monk and later died in
    hospital. Popular lore holds that the assassination was a plot by Sinhala
    Buddhist elements dissatisfied with Bandaranaike’s commitment to their
    interests. However, it is more likely that the killing was motivated by
    petty personal and business rivalries (Manor 1989, 315– 16).
    After his death Bandaranaike became something of a legend and
    a martyr. Sinhala nationalists see 1956 as a pivotal moment when a
    comprador elite was displaced and the true sons of the soil managed
    to gain at least a tenuous political foothold in a system of governance
    that had long excluded them. Much policymaking by Sinhala- dominated
    governments in Sri Lanka since 1956 has been implicitly or explicitly
    targeted at ‘correcting’ these perceived historical injustices (Barrow
    2014). For Tamil nationalists, 1956 and Bandaranaike represent a watershed
    moment of political and cultural marginalisation in the newly
    formed nation state. Bandaranaike’s legacy, even in Sinhala nationalist
    discourse, has remained ambiguous. His clear anglicised identity has
    prevented him being appropriated as a folk nationalist hero. At the same
    time, Bandaranaike is too important a figure to be left out of the Sinhala
    nationalist narrative. As I will explore in Chapter 5, Sinhala nationalist
    discourse sometimes adopts Bandaranaike as someone who instinctively
    tapped into an organic and transcendental Sinhala authenticity.
    However, this appropriation is suffused with irony, since Bandaranaike’s
    writing shows he was someone who laboured hard to fashion an idea of
    authenticity, thus exposing the constructed nature of the discourse of
    nationalist authenticity in general.
    Oxford memoirs of Bandaranaike – conquering
    the metropolis and nationalist awakenings
    Before I am their equal I must first be their superior.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 14)
    Bandaranaike’s ‘Memories of Oxford’ was serialised in the Ceylon
    Causerie magazine between 1933 and 1935. Taken together these
    Oxford memoirs form a comprehensive narrative of his time at the
    university in the early 1920s. They were written at a time when
    Bandaranaike was struggling to establish himself as a significant
    presence in Ceylonese politics as a member of the CNC. When suffrage
    was being deliberated in 1927 by the Donoughmore Commission
    appointed to make recommendations for constitutional reform, a
    80 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    CNC delegation, of which Bandaranaike was a member, argued that
    voting should be limited on the basis of income, a literacy test or property,
    depending on gender. Only the charismatic labour leader A. E.
    Goonesinghe clamoured for suffrage for the working classes (de Silva
    1981, 418– 21).
    The memoirs were published following a brief overtly Gandhian
    phase in Bandaranaike’s political life. He adopted native dress,
    advocated civil disobedience and promoted the adoption of a pastoral
    non- modern lifestyle. These moves gained little traction among his
    conservative peers, however, and Bandaranaike abandoned this project,
    retaining only the native dress (Manor 1989, 98– 10). The desire to
    project an authentic image through dress suggests that Bandaranaike
    was conscious of and felt the need to participate in what Nira
    Wickramasinghe (2006, 92– 111) calls ‘dressing and caring for the
    authentic body’, which was part of a larger late nineteenth- century
    and early twentieth- century effort to create an authentic public image
    for Sinhala men and women. But Bandaranaike’s adoption of native
    dress remained at the level of a change in an outward marker rather
    than a substantive change in political culture – a limitation reflected
    in the larger political milieu he operated in and the values refracted in
    his Oxford memoirs. Placed in this context, Bandaranaike’s memoirs
    can be seen as a guarded document that serves multiple purposes.
    At one level they establish his credentials within the conservative
    political culture of the time as a man steeped in British gentlemanly
    values and someone who had gained the prestigious position of secretary
    of the Oxford Union. At the same time, the memoirs try to place
    Bandaranaike in the currents of decolonising discourse of the time –
    an attempt that a critical reading of the memoirs demonstrates was
    undermined by its appeal to British values and its unwillingness to go
    beyond a superficial critique of elite British culture.
    Deliberately invoking the schoolboy/ varsity adventure genre
    through references to Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown at Oxford (1861),
    Bandaranaike scripts his narrative as an ironic contrast between the
    naïveté of his childhood reading and the reality of a colonial subject’s
    experience in a bastion of British learning. But the narrative is triumphal
    and portrays Bandaranaike’s victory in proving his worth as all the more
    significant for the racial prejudices he had to overcome. Three themes
    dominate the memoirs: how Bandaranaike overcame the racially biased
    insularity of Oxbridge society; his ambiguous position vis- à- vis other
    colonised people, particularly Indians; and the emergence of his own
    nationalist consciousness.
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 81
    The Oxford memoirs, addressed primarily to a Sri Lankan
    English- speaking audience, can be seen as providing legitimacy for
    Bandaranaike’s political aspirations. Since Britain, its culture, system
    of education and governance were held in high esteem by elite social
    circles in Sri Lanka at that time, Bandaranaike’s credentials as a man
    thoroughly familiar with these aspects of British life are stressed. The
    figure of an ideal British gentleman aristocrat and a set of positive values
    associated with this image dominate the Oxford memoirs. The implicit
    anti- colonialism of the memoirs coexists with this ‘liberal’ image of
    British identity. Bandaranaike sees his triumph at Oxford as enabled by
    this code of gentlemanly liberality – a discourse that, Lauren Goodland
    observes, was a mid- Victorian resurrection of a quasi- feudal appeal to
    social hierarchy which in late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century
    Britain became ‘a powerful descriptive basis for a myth of disinterested
    governance by an Oxbridge elite’ (Goodland 2003, 26). Bandaranaike
    presents gentlemanly values as a universal discourse that can transcend
    the unnamed or unnamable racial bar – because naming racism seems
    too threatening to his self- identity.
    Though the Oxford memoirs begin with a sense of cultural and classbased
    dislocation, references to Bandaranaike’s privileged background
    interrupt this narrative of marginalisation. For instance, we are told at
    the beginning that it was ‘not just an accident … [that] my name was
    entered [by my father] … in the books of Christ Church, about ten years
    before I actually went up’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 3). Equally revealing is
    the tone of disdain with which he describes his lower middle- class British
    landlord Bates’s house, effectively identifying himself as the equivalent
    of the British upper middle class:
    Oh! The horror of that sitting- room. Drab, dreary, smug – two smug
    porcelain figures on the mantelpiece with a square box in the centre,
    smugly pretending to be a clock, although it had long since ceased
    to function as such, the smug upright chairs with their dreary
    reddish upholstery, the dingy curtain – it nearly drove me mad.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 7)
    In Oxford itself, among his peers, neither Bandaranaike’s wealth nor his
    privileged background can provide him the acceptance he desires. His marginality
    is brought home when he finds himself a mere spectator standing
    outside the inner circle of the Junior Common Room. Observing the jubilant
    entrance of Edward Marjoribanks – a young aristocrat and a later friend
    and role model of Bandaranaike’s – into the Common Room, Bandaranaike
    82 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    comments, ‘How I envied him … How sadly I wondered … whether I would
    ever be greeted like that myself!’ (1963, 8). Such acceptance, as the narrative
    chronicles, does not come easily, especially given the insidious nature of the
    racial discrimination in polite Oxbridge society:
    With positive rudeness or brutal frankness one might be able to deal
    more or less effectively … The trouble was far more subtle and deep
    seated: in a variety of ways one was always being shown, politely
    but unmistakeably, that one was simply not wanted.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 9)
    In the triumphalist trajectory of the memoirs this produces not despair,
    but firm resolve. The solution Bandaranaike sees to this marginalisation
    is to achieve fame and recognition at Oxford: ‘Before I am
    their equal I must first be their superior’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 14). It
    is in this narrative of resolve, struggle and ultimate triumph that one
    sees the idea of British gentlemanly values crystallised in practice. If an
    insidious racism permeates early twentieth- century Oxbridge society,
    Bandaranaike conceives gentlemanly values as a universal discourse that
    can transcend such divisions:
    An Englishman is generous in recognising merit in others; it is more
    difficult to overcome the various barriers to his friendship. Once,
    however, his respect is obtained, it is easy to become his friend, if
    one reasonably conforms to his standards. And what a true and
    loyal friend he can be!
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 17)
    This is unlike a typical anti- colonial critique that would attempt to construct
    the nationalist thinker’s culture as a superior foil to British culture.
    It yet again reflects the conservative Sri Lankan socio- cultural milieu.
    However, in attempting to appeal to a gentlemanly code, traces of a
    masculinist reaction to the feminisation of colonised people in colonial
    discourse can be discerned (Nandy 1983). The rhetoric of Dharmapala
    also carried overtones of such a masculine discourse – projecting the
    Sinhalese as a historically virile and technologically advanced people
    descending from Aryan racial stock (Guruge 1991 [1965], 481– 2). John
    Kotelawala, the father of Sir John Kotelawala, the third prime minister
    of Sri Lanka, and the man whom Bandaranaike succeeded in 1956, was
    a more aggressive example of this hyper- masculinity. Kotelawala was
    known for his physical altercations with locals as well as the British and
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 83
    is sometimes portrayed as an anti- colonial folk hero in popular culture.
    Dharmapala used to uphold Kotelawala as a role model and spoke admiringly
    of his antics (Gulawatta 2010).
    If the internalisation of gentlemanly values brings Bandaranaike
    closer to Oxbridge society, it also places him in an ambiguous relationship
    with Indians and with other colonial subjects of the British Empire.
    In the debates at the Oxford Union, Bandaranaike regularly represented
    an Indian position – a role that he seems to have welcomed because it
    allowed him to claim a transnational anti- colonial stance. Bandaranaike’s
    greatest oratorical triumph at the Union was in a debate on India where
    he defended the proposition ‘that indefinite continuance of British rule
    in India is a violation of British political ideals’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 43).
    This is not dissimilar to the way Dharmapala presented himself in Japan
    as a representative of Indian Buddhism rather than as a Sri Lankan; we
    see again the strategically shifting nature of the ‘authenticity’ claimed by
    these individuals.
    Bandaranaike (1963, 46) notes that ‘I … interpreted the problems
    of that country [India] in terms of those of my own’. Privately, though,
    Bandaranaike seems to have abhorred Indian social life at Oxford. This
    distaste seems to have been a product of his elitism and insecurity about
    being marginalised on the basis of race or colour. In the memoirs Indians
    are presented as culturally deracinated victims, and Bandaranaike notes
    he kept away from their social functions (Bandaranaike 1963, 47). The
    memoirs portray a man who has privately remained anglophile while
    publicly cultivating a persona of anti- colonialism – a contradiction also
    visible in his longstanding political relationship with the CNC and its conservative
    brand of politics.
    Bandaranaike’s sense of elitism and exceptionalism extended to the
    ways he viewed and interacted with Sri Lankans:
    Indian traditions and culture had wilted in the inhospitable soil
    of foreign rule, while on the other hand, British culture had failed
    to take any deep root. Many Indians, therefore – indeed, like ourselves
    – possessed neither the one nor the other.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 47)
    This passage refers as much to the anglicised Sri Lankan social circles
    that Bandaranaike was intimately familiar with as it does to Indians at
    Oxford. Bandaranaike had a dismissive attitude towards the anglicised
    elite of Sri Lanka and also the idea of the Brown Sahib – a comical figure
    of colonial derision that his father, with his penchant for British manners
    84 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    and lifestyle, in some ways represented (Manor 1989, 10– 11, 26, 60– 1).
    This lack of culture – culture here, as in most of Bandaranaike’s writing,
    signifies an edifying discourse close to an Arnoldian conception of high
    culture – is seen as producing a number of weaknesses in the majority
    of Indians at Oxford: dishonesty, servility and lack of character. Though
    he reads this with some sympathy as a general malaise resulting from
    the condition of being dominated – ‘nothing rots the soul of a man like
    slavery, whether it be that of an individual or a nation’ (Bandaranaike
    1963, 48) – he sees himself as rising above the effects of such cultural
    deracination. Bandaranaike claims that ‘[the] iron that had entered into
    my soul in the earlier period of my ’Varsity career … saved me from being
    more submissive to, and receptive of, the influence of the University;
    from acquiring, for instance, an Oxford manner and an Oxford accent’
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 42). However, he is known to have used the ‘Oxford
    accent’ to strategic advantage (Gooneratne 1986, 84), and Manor (1989,
    11) notes, ‘he never forgot, nor let others forget, that he excelled at the
    Oxford of Anthony Eden and Evelyn Waugh’ (Manor 1989, 11).
    Although moments such as this show how Bandaranaike’s
    familial origins haunted his Oxford experiences, Sri Lanka as a
    country and culture is largely absent from ‘Memories of Oxford’ until
    it makes a sudden and cheesy appearance at the end. As Bandaranaike
    scripts his departure from the university, the narrative nostalgically
    reflects upon his time at Oxford. Standing upon Magdalen Bridge, on
    the very route that the narrative earlier records as the site where his
    decision to prevail over the insularity of Oxbridge society was made,
    Bandaranaike (1963, 59) reflects that his ‘life’s mission’ lies in his
    homeland. The idyllic English scene from the bridge is juxtaposed
    with a harsher reality of home:
    The typically English scene, subdued and mellow in the evening
    light, faded away from my eyes, and the glare and dust of my own
    country took its place: blue skies and dancing sunlight, with a white
    road winding amidst coconut groves and green paddy fields; dark
    cool nights, with star bejewelled skies … the pathetic, huddled
    village huts, the dirt, the poverty, the disease. My country, my
    people. Aye, it was there my work lay, and Oxford had revealed to
    me my life’s mission.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 59)
    Coming at the end of the memoirs, this passage gathers up the narrative
    of Bandaranaike’s triumph at Oxford – a narrative that demonstrates his
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 85
    strength of character and an implicit anti- colonial victory in his conquest
    of the university – and projects him as someone capable of guiding his
    homeland in the future.
    A footnote to the Oxford memoirs is a very short story Bandaranaike
    published in the Island Review in 1926, a year after he returned from
    Oxford. The tension between a private anglophile self and a public anticolonial
    persona, evident in the memoirs, is foreshadowed in this story.
    In the story, simply entitled ‘Kandy Perahera’, a young protagonist, John
    Ratnaike, is watching the annual pageant (perahera) of the Temple of the
    Tooth in Kandy – the repository of one of the most important Buddhist
    relics in Sri Lanka. John, an anglicised youth, watches the pageant from
    the balcony of the Queen’s Hotel, an exclusive vantage point, while he
    and his friends play cards. While gazing at the pageant John experiences
    a moment similar to Bandaranaike on Magdalen Bridge: the pageant
    disappears from view and he is drawn into the glorious Sinhala culture
    he believes the pageant signifies. He also begins to identify himself with
    the ‘common’ people at street level. He is dragged back from this reverie
    when his friends at the card table call him and he finds himself tugging
    at his shirt – an outward marker of his westernisation. The story ends
    here. The anonymous editors of Bandaranaike’s Speeches and Writings
    (1963) note, ‘It is believed that Mr. Bandaranaike was writing about
    himself in this story’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 466). The narrative illustrates
    how Bandaranaike approaches authenticity. Unable to project or claim
    authenticity as something inherent to his self- identity, but at the same
    time operating in a discourse that saw authenticity as something natural
    and transcendental, he looks for authenticity in various outward
    markers in culture and history. A similar theme is echoed in less autobiographical
    terms in his short story ‘The Mystery of the Missing Candidate’
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 467– 90), where an aristocratic man who enters
    politics suddenly disappears close to an election, unable to contend with
    the populist demands placed on him. He is later found seeking refuge in
    a Buddhist hermitage and wanting to renounce his wealth and anglicised
    privilege. In some ways the ambivalence of the two protagonists in these
    short stories is a metaphor for elite Sri Lankan politics: the lack of an
    intimate understanding of the people is substituted by a romanticised
    and essentialist notion of culture and how people ought to be.
    The turn to the indigenous in Bandaranaike suggests that he was
    aware of growing Sinhala and Buddhist identity consciousness among
    intermediate elite groups. As Dharmadasa (1992, 117– 25) notes, much
    of this activity was tied to the innovative use of the print medium, and
    there was an exponential growth of Sinhala periodicals from the 1860s
    86 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    to the 1890s. There were parallel movements in constructing local
    authenticity in dress, vernacular education, images of the past, and
    theatre (Wickramasinghe 2006, 73– 111). Many like Dharmapala were
    also bilingual and a significant portion of their ideas appeared in English
    print. It is possible that Bandaranaike read their work. There is anecdotal
    evidence that Bandaranaike may have listened to Dharmapala speaking
    in public (Herath 2011). Although Bandaranaike, and other elite figures
    may have been aware of these trends and at times have come into contact
    with them, they do not appear to have had any substantive or affective
    engagement with them. Whether or not they encountered Dharmapala or
    his ideas directly, there is a degree of discursive congruence between the
    elite imagination of a glorious Sinhala past and the ways that others such
    as Dharmapala, from a different social stratum, saw the country’s past
    and authenticity. One can see this as a contested field where the anglicised
    elite and educated Sinhala intelligentsia fought to claim custodianship over
    discourses considered authentic and thereby to stake a moral and political
    claim to be ‘representative’ in a broad sense. Bandaranaike staging the Kandy
    Perahera as a site of authenticity, in this context, is no accident. Orientalist
    scholars such as Ananda Coomaraswamy idealised Kandyan Sinhala identity
    as authentic compared with the so- called Low Country Sinhalese, who
    owing to colonisation of the maritime areas of the island were seen as more
    culturally ‘corrupted’ (Brow 1999). As Wickramasinghe (2006, 94) argues
    multiple discourses of authenticity with different temporal and spatial
    coordinates coexisted in early twentieth- century Sri Lanka, as is indeed the
    case today as well. This too points to the inconsistency and mobility of the
    discourse of authenticity in Bandaranaike’s thought – shifting between the
    distant past and more recent times.
    Gandhi, the village and authenticity
    In 1933 Bandaranaike authored a short booklet on indigenous economic
    and social revitalisation called the The Spinning Wheel and the Paddy Field
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 550– 609). The village of antiquity is imagined in
    this project as an idealised vision of precolonial harmony: a site of economic
    self- sufficiency and moral order. The overtly Gandhian inspiration
    for this project is evident in the iconic image of the spinning wheel. This
    is consistent with the revivalist momentum that permeated much nationalist
    thought not only in South Asia but also in Africa and found its way
    into, for example, Chinua Achebe’s fiction published around the time of
    Nigeria’s independence.
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 87
    The idea of village revitalisation in Sri Lanka is not unique to
    Bandaranaike. D. S. Senanayake – independent Sri Lanka’s first prime minister
    – carried out the restoration and expansion of ancient irrigation works
    alongside farmer resettlement schemes. From the time he was minister of
    lands and agriculture in the State Council in the 1930s, Senanayake drew
    upon historical images of an ancient hydraulic civilisation (Manor 1989;
    Gunawardena 1971). Furthermore, there was remarkable consistency in
    how the twentieth- century Sri Lankan elites regarded the peasantry and
    village life from a custodial or tutelary perspective (Moore 1985; 1992;
    Samaraweera 1981). The idealised historical imaginary that informed such
    an attitude, argues Moore (1985, 3, 117– 71, 119– 20), had a negative impact
    on policymaking because it propagated misconceptions about the economic
    and social structure of the peasantry.
    Bandaranaike’s visions of spinning and paddy cultivation reflect
    different aspects of an idealised image of the past. The idea of spinning
    comes from a Gandhian vision and paddy cultivation from a more locally
    grounded imaginary, but both serve as marks of the notion of timeless
    authenticity that came to permeate public culture.
    In expressing his vision for Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike integrates an
    idealistic critique of what he sees as Western models of development. His
    narrative sees capitalism, industrialism and colonialism as intimately
    connected forces that produce social disintegration. Capitalism with its
    need for surplus is seen as driving demand for production, which in turn
    necessitates, and is enabled by, industrial production. Industrialism is
    seen as a malign force that alienates workers from their products and
    creates reliance on what Bandaranaike (1963, 558) calls the ‘Machine-
    God’. Colonialism, he suggests, is the third party in this destructive project,
    because as capitalism exhausts domestic markets and resources
    it has to expand outwards. A stark vision of industrial Europe facing
    mass technological unemployment pervades this narrative and invokes
    the horrors of the workhouse. Using a reference to Charles Dickens
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 559), he compares industrial society to a form of
    modern slavery. He also quotes Gandhi to illustrate the threat posed by
    industrialism: ‘Machinery has begun to desolate Europe. Ruination is now
    knocking at the English gates. Machinery is the chief symbol of modern
    civilization; it represents a great sin’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 555). While
    acknowledging benefits created by industrial society, such as low- cost
    goods and increased employment opportunities, Bandaranaike sees this
    idea of progress as unsustainable partly on the basis of leftist critiques of
    capitalism but at the same time because he sees industrialisation as alien
    to the authenticity of ‘Eastern’ life.
    88 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    The alternative offered to this bleak future is a return to tradition.
    Bandaranaike is conscious that such thinking can be seen as naïve and
    idealistic and says, ‘We are only too well aware of the tendency to praise
    unduly … the conditions of life in the distant past … [W] e are apt to
    cast longing eyes to a state of things which, dimmed and obscured by
    time and hallowed by sentiment cannot be appraised with any degree
    of accuracy’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 553). But he ignores his own call for
    critical awareness. Providing rather thin historical evidence to establish
    spinning as an ancient industry in Sri Lanka, Bandaranaike associates
    spinning with precolonial village ethics:
    … the sturdy peasantry, who are admittedly the backbone of this
    country, lived in simplicity and contentment under our ancient
    system of village government. And what a fine system it was! The
    village Pansala [temple] supplying the religious needs of the village
    community, the village school, often under the guidance of the
    Bhikkus, providing the necessary education …
    But the stupidity and short- sightedness of foreign rule have
    progressively frittered away and shaken to pieces the excellent
    fabric of government. It is said by an historian that if you were to
    take a Sinhalese peasant from his plough and wash the mud off him
    he would be fit to rule the State.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 572)
    The essence of Sinhala identity in this thinking lies in the village – in its
    rustic simplicity, in the pastoral moral order of its people tempered by a
    Buddhist worldview but at the same time moulded by a grander historical
    vision of an advanced hydraulic civilisation that has long disappeared but
    has left its traces upon this idealised village. The imagination at work
    here has some procedural similarities to Dharmapala. While Dharmapala
    openly castigated villagers, Bandaranaike looks at them with benevolent
    condescension. As we shall see in Chapter 5, the village functions as a site
    of national authenticity in Gunadasa Amarasekara’s imagination as well,
    though the function, emphasis and place of the village there differ from
    what we find in Dharmapala and Bandaranaike.
    Paddy cultivation, the other key element in Bandaranaike’s project,
    is something that takes inspiration from both empirical reality and historical
    consciousness. Though paddy cultivation was a long- established agricultural
    practice in Sri Lanka, it was not as critical to the rural economy
    as Bandaranaike and other members of the political elite thought (Moore
    1985, 87). Mick Moore (1985, 117) also suggests that the elite promoted
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 89
    paddy cultivation not primarily because it would benefit the peasantry
    financially, but because it was associated with an idea of precolonial rural
    harmony. It also allowed the peasantry to be imagined and managed in
    a politically conservative manner that would not threaten the elite. In an
    anecdote about his early political career Bandaranaike recounts an old
    farmer and his son coming to meet him. The father fits Bandaranaike’s
    vision of the authentic peasant farmer, but the son in ‘European dress’ is
    the target of ridicule (Bandaranaike 1963, 571).
    Though paddy cultivation is not as directly associated with an ethical
    discourse as spinning, the historical imaginary that informs it derives
    from a similar idealised vision of the past. One of the major factors influencing
    this historical imaginary is the possibility of claiming coevalness,
    or even anteriority, to European civilisation. As in Dharmapala, colonial
    sociology and history strongly shape Bandaranaike’s view of the past. He
    quotes Ramsay MacDonald – the British Labour prime minister of the
    1920s – addressing a Sri Lankan audience:
    I, who represent a race which was then small, insignificant, and
    almost unknown to the world, [stood] there representing the power
    of my people, reflecting and brooding upon the fall of others. What
    does it mean? What is its warning? What is its moral? I saw your
    beautiful temples, your beautiful palaces … they [past rulers of Sri
    Lanka] subdued their enemies and then they threw challenges to
    the world … yet the jungle has grown where they ruled.
    (Ramsay MacDonald quoted in Bandaranaike 1963, 592)
    MacDonald’s narrative is a cautionary reflection on the decline of civilisation.
    Sri Lankan people had achieved greatness in the past, long before
    the English race had gained significance; but the Sri Lankans are now a
    subject people and the places they once ruled are now in ruins or covered
    by jungle.
    But for Bandaranaike, as for Dharmapala, the antiquity of the
    Sinhala civilisation provides the inspiration for contemporary national
    revival. An iconic figure in Sinhala historical consciousness in relation
    to paddy cultivation is the twelfth- century King Parakramabahu.
    Parakramabahu’s reign is believed to have been one of agricultural excellence.
    Bandaranaike calls it the ‘Golden Age of Lanka, [when] rice was
    exported to foreign lands as well’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 592) The idea
    of this ancient hydraulic civilisation had already gained both academic
    and popular currency by the end of the nineteenth century as the twin
    disciplines of historiography and archaeology combined to produce an
    90 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    authoritative discourse of Sri Lanka’s past. What was read about in texts
    like the Mahavamsa was made physically manifest by archaeology – an
    imaginative process that, as we shall see in Chapters 5 and 6, persisted
    well into the 1980s.
    As we shall see in Chapters 5 and 6, both post- independence development
    discourse and the aesthetic imagination were heavily influenced
    by the idea of ancient Sinhala civilisation and its achievements in irrigation
    and paddy cultivation. Emerson Tennent’s historical writing in the
    mid nineteenth century notes that the irrigation works and monuments
    of precolonial Sinhala civilisations ‘arrest the traveler in astonishment at
    their stupendous dimensions’ (Tennent 1977 [1860], 270). The power
    and continuity of this historical narrative is also visible in the work of
    many post- independence historians, such as K. M. de Silva (1981, 68) and
    R. A. L. H. Gunawardana (1971), who eulogise the achievements of the
    hydraulic civilisation and even index the weight of individual stones used
    in construction.
    Buddhism, rationalism and national identity
    A somewhat different relationship to authenticity emerges in Bandaranaike’s
    writings on Buddhism. On the one hand, there is a cosmopolitan
    rationalist understanding of Buddhism which has little to do with
    local authenticity. On the other hand, there is Buddhism as Sinhala cultural
    heritage. The negotiation between these two understandings of
    Buddhism again reflects the tension in Bandaranaike’s life between his
    anglicised background and his need for a public decolonised persona.
    Bandaranaike’s conversion to Buddhism was controversial because of the
    suspicion that it took place only for instrumental political reasons.
    The Mahavamsa narrative that links the arrival of Prince Vijaya
    in Sri Lanka with the Buddha’s death, and the idea that the Buddha
    bequeathed a legacy to the Sinhala people as protectors of Buddhism,
    played an important role in the late nineteenth- century Sinhala imagination
    (Dharmapala 1907, 285– 6). However, the strong political correlation
    between Sinhala nationalism and Buddhism is a twentieth- century
    phenomenon. Given the more politically charged nature of Buddhism
    in the 1930s, Bandaranaike’s conversion to Buddhism was seen at the
    time (Bond 1988, 91– 3), and is still assessed, as a politically opportunistic
    move (DeVotta 2004, 60). This is partly because Bandaranaike’s conversion
    was part of a pattern of elite conversions to Buddhism spurred
    by the granting of universal franchise based on the recommendations of
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 91
    the Donoughmore Commission in 1931. Such converts were derisively
    called ‘Donoughmore Buddhists’ (Ames 1963, 45– 53). The history of
    Bandaranaike’s extended family, which had changed religious persuasion
    with successive colonial rulers (Portuguese, Dutch and British),
    probably added to this public perception (Gooneratne 1986, 3– 6).
    If the popular appeal of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is to a mythohistory
    combining land, religion and race (Bartholomeusz and de Silva
    1998; Spencer 1990), in Bandaranaike’s writing this remains a peripheral
    theme. The dominant conception of Buddhism in Bandaranaike is
    of a rationalist and ethical discourse that operates as a spiritual complement
    to modern life. In Bandaranaike’s writing, Buddhism is largely seen
    as a universalist discourse with no particular ethno- cultural grounding.
    Nonetheless, this understanding of Buddhism is at times interrupted
    by a more exclusive and ethno- culturally grounded idea of Sinhala
    Buddhism. When Bandaranaike reflects upon his own beliefs the former
    dominates, but when he attempts to relate Buddhism to the nation the
    latter becomes more prominent. These two aspects of Buddhism exist in
    an uneasy dialectic in Bandaranaike’s writing. This tension is apparent
    even though his actions in the public arena shaped the institutionalisation
    of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism more than those of any other political
    figure before him.
    In an article from the early 1930s, entitled ‘Why I Became a Buddhist’,
    Bandaranaike seeks to explain his choice of religion even though
    ‘a man’s religious convictions are surely … matters he shrinks from
    exposing and parading before the public gaze’ (Bandaranaike 1963,
    287). Yet in his public role as a national leader this public– private distinction
    collapses and private choices are invested with larger public
    importance. Bandaranaike observes that he wrote the article in response
    to numerous requests to address the issue of why he converted to
    Buddhism. Though he does not reveal who made such requests or why
    they were made, one could surmise that suspicion about the motives
    of his conversion played some role. Bandaranaike seems self- conscious
    about public perceptions and stresses the personal nature of his choice:
    ‘I proceed to a dissection and analysis of the innermost workings of my
    mind and heart on this theme. I hope to conduct that operation in as dispassionate
    a manner as possible’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 287).
    Bandaranaike begins by talking about how Christianity was an
    ascribed inheritance. He suggests the religion was never appealing to him
    because of the restrictions placed on individual freedom by an authoritative
    and distant God figure. ‘While acquiring for Christ a sort of personal
    affection as towards a kind elder brother … I never was able to attain
    92 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    a conception of God’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 287). The narrative suggests
    that the intuitive ambiguity about Christianity in childhood hardened
    into scepticism at Oxford, where he encountered various rational
    critiques of the existence of God. Bandaranaike largely agrees with the
    rationalist understanding of theism – as something originating in the
    human imagination from the fear of the unknown – but argues that this
    critique is limited because it does not take into account the historical continuity
    of religion in human society. He refers to George Bernard Shaw’s
    The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (2007 [1932]) – a
    story about Christian conversion and disillusionment – and agrees with
    the text’s interpretation that the idea of God is man- made and historically
    contingent. However, he argues that religion continues to exist because it
    serves a functional purpose in human society. Quoting one of his favourite
    Roman proverbs – ‘homo homini lupus’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 288) (man
    is a wolf to man) – Bandaranaike makes the familiar argument that religion
    provides a necessary moral counterbalance to the power of human
    intellect, which, if left unchecked, can bring about its own destruction.
    The narrative posits this as a dilemma: the idea of a supernatural God
    figure is problematic because it can be seen as a human construct, but the
    denial of God does not obviate the need for religion. The resolution for
    Bandaranaike lies in a rationalist conception of Buddhism: ‘[In Buddhist]
    doctrine … there is no need for man to be dependent on the will of God …
    It is left to me to say that the Buddha Dhamma [doctrine] has emerged
    triumphant from the test of my reasoning’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 290– 1).
    The article as a whole stresses that Bandaranaike’s conversion
    to Buddhism was a deeply personal choice informed by his rational
    approach to life. Significantly, it makes no attempt to suggest that
    he adopted Buddhism as part of his cultural heritage. Two dominant
    themes, Buddhism’s rationalism and its ability to act as an ethical discourse
    in modern society, permeate Bandaranaike’s views on Buddhism.
    In a public address in 1951, entitled ‘Religion and Human Progress’,
    Bandaranaike analyses the role of Buddhism in what he sees as a largely
    secular, science- dominated and capitalist world order. He refers to James
    Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1995 [1890]) – another indication of the
    rationalist framework in which Bandaranaike approaches the idea of
    religion – and argues that Frazer’s evolutionary perspective of religion
    is largely accurate. But he disagrees with Frazer’s belief that as human
    civilisation progresses the need for religion will altogether disappear and
    be replaced by science.
    In this speech Bandaranaike argues that religion will serve the
    functional purpose of being a ‘protective coloring for the human mind’
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 93
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 311). He does not invoke Buddhism as a particular
    cultural legacy of the Sinhalese. He is also careful to note that religion as
    a whole, not just Buddhism, has an important role in the modern world.
    Turning again to one of his favourite themes, that the materialism of capitalism
    has precipitated a moral crisis in modern society, he contends
    that ‘Asia had for some hundreds of years been subject to western capitalist
    imperialism, and her great religions languished during this period
    of servitude’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 312). When he calls for a Buddhist
    revival in Sri Lanka he also notes that ‘You will remember that I stressed
    earlier the importance of the religious idea as such. So that Buddhists, in
    performing this task [of revival] for Buddhism, should not do injury to
    any other religion’ (Bandaranaike 1963, 313).
    A more ambiguous position regarding Buddhism and its relationship
    to Sri Lanka emerges in a national address Bandaranaike made on
    Vesak in 1953, three years before his ascension to power on a Sinhala
    Buddhist political platform. Vesak is a crucial day in the Buddhist
    calendar. The Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death are thought to
    have occurred on this date. For Sinhala Buddhists it has a further ethnocultural
    significance because in nationalist readings of the Mahavamsa
    mytho- history the founding father of the community, Prince Vijaya,
    is said to have arrived in Sri Lanka on the day of the Buddha’s death.
    Historian K. M. de Silva (1981, 4), though sceptical of the chronicle’s
    chronology, upholds the ideological link between land, religion and race
    by arguing that the Mahavamsa foretells that Sri Lanka and the Sinhala
    race will be the future protectors of his doctrine.
    Bandaranaike’s opening words in the radio broadcast move from
    what is arguably universal to the particular:
    This day on which the Buddha was born, attained Enlightenment,
    and passed away, is not only sacred to all Buddhists generally, but
    has a special significance for the Sinhalese race, because of the
    Vesak Full- Moon Poya day landing of Vijaya in Sri Lanka. We are
    told by the Mahawamsa that the Buddha Himself entrusted the care
    of this land and the nascent race to God Sakra.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 318)
    This passage is resonant of what Gananath Obeyesekere (1995) calls
    the tension between Buddhist doctrine and Buddhist history. Writing
    for Fundamentalisms Comprehended edited by Martin R. Marty and
    R. Scott Appleby (1995), Obeyesekere makes a comparative argument
    that, unlike the monotheistic religions of West Asia, Buddhism does not
    94 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    have a doctrinal basis that can support a modern fundamentalist project.
    Obeyesekere contends that Buddhist doctrine carries no particular validation
    of the idea of forming a ‘just’ community – something he argues
    is central to a fundamentalist project – and also no doctrinal basis for
    making such communities in the world through ‘ “just” wars or “holy”
    wars’ (Obeyesekere 1995, 233). However, Obeyesekere argues that
    Buddhist history often sanctions violence, as in the Mahavamsa where
    the iconic Sinhala King Dutugemunu’s killing of his enemies is justified
    because it is done to protect Buddhist institutions. Obeyesekere’s attempt
    to draw a neat distinction between Buddhist doctrine and Buddhist history
    is problematic. It replicates the demarcation between a pure doctrinal
    Buddhism and an impure popular version, which is evident in the
    Orientalist– rationalist appropriation of Buddhism in the nineteenth century.
    The impossibility of this distinction is visible in Sri Lankan history,
    where Buddhism has played a central role in the state. Bandaranaike’s
    speech reproduces the tension of attempting to separate doctrine from
    Although the extract above moves from a universal Buddhism to
    a more particularistic one, the entire speech oscillates between these
    polarities. Having invoked the narrative of the Sinhala Buddhist past,
    Bandaranaike does not dwell upon the historical or particularistic relevance
    of the religion to the Sinhala community. Instead he embarks on
    an explication based on the kind of rationalist understanding of the religion
    expressed in his other writing. At the end of the speech, there is a
    movement from this universal– rationalist aspect to the more particularistic,
    and once again back to the universal. Adopting a reformist tone,
    Bandaranaike urges a return to the doctrinal basis of the religion and
    argues that such a return
    shall not only more adequately do homage to our Great Teacher,
    not only benefitting ourselves individually, but also fostering the
    true interests of our sore- stricken race, which the Buddha Himself
    honoured with His compassionate concern.
    Lastly, we shall be able to rise above the bounds of nationality,
    to embrace all life itself and sincerely to say, and say most fittingly
    on this day of all days, those simple and oft- repeated, but magnificent
    words: ‘May all living beings be well and happy’.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 321)
    The religion is once again identified in terms of its relevance to a particular
    group – the Sinhala race. However, the race will benefit not
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 95
    simply because the Buddha blessed it but because the fundamentals of
    the doctrine are adhered to – values such as compassion which are in
    fact universal. Paradoxically, therefore, embracing the Buddhist ideal
    will lead to the transcendence of the very idea of ‘race’, which is posited
    as synonymous with ‘nationality’. As the words at the end of the passage
    suggest, the Buddhist ‘prayer’ for happiness and health is for all human
    beings and not limited to a particular community. Such a limitation could
    be read as a violation of the religion’s ethical principles.
    This interplay between the universal and the particular is not a
    tension unique to Buddhism. Arguably all religions have such a universal–
    particular dichotomy. As movements arising from particular sociohistorical
    contexts they are marked by the traces of their historicity, yet
    at the same time they desire to overcome such socio- historical specificity
    to become transcendental discourses. Bandaranaike’s speech, though
    embedded in the particular historical context of Sri Lanka, demonstrates
    this more general feature of religious discourse. But read within Sri
    Lanka’s specific ethno- religious history, and articulated by a political
    leader who is clearly aware of its political significance, this example of
    the universal– particularist dynamic suggests a man who is trying to present
    himself as both transnational and nationalist. Though this is a position
    Banadaranaike can sustain rhetorically, it is something he failed to
    do politically. The damaging consequences of Bandaranaike’s implementation
    of the Sinhala Only policy and his courting of the Sinhala Buddhist
    movement are still felt in Sri Lanka today.
    The Sinhala- only debate: Bandaranaike
    as the advocate of Sinhala interests
    The most defining legacy of Bandaranaike’s political career was the
    establishment of Sinhala as the sole official language of the country, a
    policy that led to the institutionalisation of Sinhala nationalism. Before
    Bandaranaike came to power in 1956, Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake’s
    regime had initiated programmes that exclusively benefited the Sinhala
    majority, such as the irrigation schemes and resettlement of Sinhala
    farmers mentioned earlier in this chapter. But the enactment of the
    Sinhala language policy was a symbolic and institutional act around
    which Sinhala and Tamil nationalism decisively crystallised separate
    visions of nationhood. In the Sinhala nationalist narrative it signifies
    a long- awaited realisation of the promise of decolonisation. For Tamil
    nationalism it signifies both the independent nation’s symbolic and
    96 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    institutional refusal to recognise Tamil interests, and the accompanying
    threat of cultural and institutional marginalisation. The policy also
    marks the beginning of a process that increasingly folded the notion of
    ‘nation’ into a mono- ethnic and mono- religious Sinhala Buddhist discourse.
    In Bandaranaike’s Vesak speech we saw a rhetorical slide from
    the Sinhala race to the idea of nation. This became an institutional reality
    in the decades after 1950. As Jayadeva Uyangoda notes, the Sinhala term
    for ‘nation’, jathiya, connotes both race and nation, and the Sinhala term
    jathiya godanageema (developing the nation), which gained currency in
    the 1970s, came to mean developing the Sinhala as opposed to the Sri
    Lankan nation (Uyangoda 1994, 13).
    Here I look at the speeches Bandaranaike made in the legislature
    while the Official Languages Act was being debated. Though
    Bandaranaike invokes a number of elements that relate to Sinhala nationalist
    consciousness, his rhetorical strategies at times position him at a
    distance from the very exclusionary ideological interests he represents.
    The consciousness of a majoritarian Sinhala right to the nation informs
    these speeches. But the immediate reasons for making Sinhala the single
    official language, the fear that Sinhala language and culture are under
    threat, is something Bandaranaike seems hesitant to endorse.
    The need to vernacularise a number of aspects of public and institutional
    life had been proposed as early as 1932 with the adoption of
    the Donoughmore constitutional reforms (Dharmadasa 1992, 239).
    Universal franchise in 1931, and hence the need for mass political
    appeal, was one of the main reasons the local political elite adopted the
    promotion of vernaculars as a political cause; for most of them English
    remained affectively and practically their primary language. As a result
    of the structural political changes of the Donoughmore reforms, the need
    to use vernacular languages in law courts and administration and to displace
    English from its pre- eminent position was expressed in motions
    presented to the State Council in 1932 and 1936 (Dharmadasa 1992,
    240– 8). However, in the earlier phases of this indigenising movement,
    called the swabasha (local languages) movement, the emphasis was on
    both Tamil and Sinhala. It was only in 1943 that J. R. Jayawardene, who
    in 1978 became the first executive president of Sri Lanka, made the first
    State Council proposal to make Sinhalae the single official language of
    the country, though this proposal was later amended to include Tamil
    (Coperahewa 2009, 104). Most historians and linguists tend to read
    this shift towards an exclusively Sinhala position as a natural outcome
    of universal suffrage (de Silva 1981; Dharmadasa 1992; Coperahewa
    2009), but such a reading fails to take into account the early history of
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 97
    the language movement, in which both Sinhala and Tamil politicians
    supported both languages. The shift to Sinhala, as Bandaranaike’s career
    illustrates, was a politically expedient move. He supported granting equal
    status to both languages in 1943, when the original Official Languages
    Act was proposed, and maintained this position till 1953 (Wilson 1994,
    58). It was only with the prospect of the 1956 general election that
    Bandaranaike began openly campaigning on a Sinhala Only platform.
    In speeches made in parliament in 1955, before his election victory,
    and in 1956 following it, Bandaranaike unequivocally advocated
    that Sinhala be made the single official language. In making his case
    Bandaranaike drew heavily upon some cardinal elements of the dominant
    Sinhala nationalist narrative, projecting the Sinhalese as a threatened
    community attempting to assert its rightful position in the nation:
    … the fears of the Sinhalese, I do not think can be brushed aside
    as completely frivolous. I believe there are a not inconsiderable
    number of Tamils in this country out of a population of eight million.
    Then there are forty or fifty million [Tamil] people in the adjoining
    country. What about all this Tamil literature, Tamil teachers, even
    films, papers, and magazines? … I do not think [there is] an unjustified
    fear of the inexorable shrinking of the Sinhalese language. It
    is a fear that cannot be brushed aside.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 394– 5)
    This passage is a clear expression of the insecurities invoked by Sinhala
    nationalists to rationalise their desire for hegemony. Scholars like Neil
    DeVotta have called this aspect of Sinhala nationalist consciousness
    a ‘majority with a minority complex’ (DeVotta 2004, 62). One of the
    fears invoked here is the threat of pan- Dravidianism. The perceived
    ethno- cultural affinities between Sri Lankan Tamils and Tamils in the
    Indian state of Tamil Nadu are seen as a potential threat that could
    swamp the cultural and political identity of the numerically smaller
    Sinhala group. Thus, though a clear numerical majority in Sri Lanka, the
    Sinhalese see themselves as a minority in the regional context. But as the
    first line of the quotation above suggests – ‘these fears of the Sinhalese,
    I do not think can be brushed aside as completely frivolous’ – there is
    an element of exaggeration to these claims which Bandaranaike implicitly
    acknowledges. He presents the Sinhala perspective but at the same
    time maintains some distance from it. A comparison of Bandaranaike’s
    comments with those of Sri Lankan historian K. M. de Silva, writing
    just over two decades later on the same subject, reveals the continuity
    98 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    of such Sinhala nationalist thinking. This comparison also reveals commonalities
    in how the ‘liberal’ Sinhala intelligentsia invoke such popular
    nationalist polemic but at the same time maintain a distance that allows
    them to appear more liberal or enlightened. De Silva writes in A History
    of Sri Lanka,
    The fact is that the Sinhalese, although an overwhelming majority of
    the population of the island, nevertheless have a minority complex
    vis- à- vis the Tamils. They feel encircled by the more than 50 million
    Tamil- speaking people who inhabit the present- day Tamilnadu and
    Sri Lanka. Within Sri Lanka the Sinhalese outnumber the Tamils by
    more than three to one; but they in turn are outnumbered by nearly
    six to one by the Tamil- speaking people of South Asia.
    Historical tradition and geography separate Tamils of Sri
    Lanka and Tamilnadu from each other, and in the early years of Sri
    Lanka’s independence the Tamils of the North and East of the island
    had showed little inclination to identify themselves with the Tamils
    of Tamilnadu. The only link between the two groups was language.
    Nevertheless, the Sinhalese feared this possibility, and the campaign
    for federalism aggravated these fears.
    (De Silva 1981, 513– 14)
    De Silva writes these words as contextual background to explain the
    Sinhala Only Act of 1956 and the resulting ethnic violence. Though
    they acknowledge that such claims may have no realistic basis – since
    historically and politically the Tamils of Sri Lanka do not identify themselves
    with the Tamils of India – they nevertheless subtly legitimise the
    Sinhalese fear of Tamil domination. To paraphrase this, if rather crudely,
    it is as if the historian is saying, ‘I do not completely agree with these fears
    but I can appreciate the perspective of the Sinhalese.’
    A similar dynamic is evident in Bandaranaike’s legislative speech
    made in favour of Sinhala- only in 1956. The arguments are similar to the
    those in his 1955 speech:
    They [the Sinhala people] felt that as the Tamil language was
    spoken by so many millions in other countries, and possessed a
    much wider literature, and as the Tamil- speaking people had every
    means of propagating their literature and culture, it would have an
    advantage over Sinhalese which was spoken only by a few million
    people in this country …
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 99
    These were all factors that created the feeling that whereas
    the Tamil language did not run any real risk of disappearance,
    although given a position of parity, the Sinhalese language in fact
    did. People may or may not agree with that point of view, but at
    least take this as fact, that the vast majority of the Sinhalese felt
    that way very strongly. That at least is a fact. Whether you consider
    them to have been absolutely justified is another question.
    (Bandaranaike 1963, 418– 19)
    Though one may be cautious about reading too much into it, the use
    of the third- person pronoun, ‘they’, is significant. Rhetorically, it places
    Bandaranaike at a distance from the Sinhala people on whose behalf he
    is speaking. This rhetorical distance also relates to the ideological distance
    at the end of the passage. Bandaranaike acknowledges that there
    is a Sinhala perception of a Tamil threat and that this perception is an
    important factor in giving credence to the Sinhalese refusal to grant the
    Tamil language equal status. Whether this threat has some factual basis is
    something that Bandaranaike leaves for the listener to decide. This kind
    of distance between Bandaranaike and the popular demand for Sinhala
    Only was also visible historically.
    This distancing strategy renders the credibility of Bandaranaike’s
    argument problematic. He is advocating the implementation of a policy
    that would alienate a large portion of the population simply on the basis
    of a perception. Conversely, had Bandaranaike closely identified with
    the Sinhala position, his policy justification could have been potentially
    stronger. But such identification would have positioned him as accepting
    ‘parochial’ and ‘irrational’ fears, which would have been inconsistent
    with the kind of liberal and rational public image he sought to cultivate.
    James Manor’s (1989) political biography presents Bandaranaike as
    a liberal with a utopian life vision who for reasons of political expediency
    capitulated to majoritarian demands. As Sankaran Krishna (1999)
    argues, this disjuncture between a liberal, cosmopolitan self- identity
    and a public– political role that promotes exclusive majoritarian ideals
    is common to many Sri Lankan as well as South Asian political leaders.
    Krishna suggests this could be understood in terms of the ways the postcolonial
    nation views the state apparatus as an instrument to be used
    to redress injustices of colonialism. Within the historical imaginary
    that runs through Bandaranaike’s thinking, and Sinhala nationalism in
    general, the precolonial nation is understood to be a Sinhala one. Thus
    the injustices of colonialism were visited upon a Sinhala nation and
    100 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    decolonisation needs to address Sinhala grievances. The interests of
    other communities remain peripheral.
    Bandaranaike’s liberal elitist nationalism also underscores the
    protean nature of nationalist discourse. While Bandaranaike’s adoption
    of national dress, Buddhism and using the Sinhala language
    in public oratory point to his attempts to authenticate himself, his
    engagement with the discourse of authenticity appears to have been
    superficial. For instance, to the extent to which Bandaranaike was
    affectively connected to mid twentieth- century social and cultural
    trends relating to the Sinhala language is unclear in his writing.
    There is no reference to the thought of Munidasa Cumaratunga, who
    led the hela (indigenous) movement advocating an extreme form of
    language loyalty which sought to purify the Sinhala language of all
    foreign influences, including those of Sanskrit (Coperahewa 2011).
    In its early phase in the 1930s the movement’s emphasis was largely
    linguistic, but from the late 1930s until Cumaratunga’s death in 1944
    hela became an ethno- linguistic discourse that advocated an autochthonous
    theory of Sinhala origin, which contrasted with the popular
    allochthonous theory that traces the Sinhala race to North India and
    the arrival of Vijaya (Coperahewa 2011, 7). Cumaratunga played a
    key role in making language a central concern in Sinhala nationalist
    thinking. The absence of Cumaratunga from Bandarnaike’s thinking
    is curious. When Bandaranaike formed the Sinhala Maha Sabha in
    1936 he wanted to change the name to Swadesiya Maha Sabha (Great
    Association of the Indigenes) to gain the support of non- Sinhala
    communities but Cumaratunga defeated this motion (Coperahewa
    2012: 31). Bandaranaike was therefore clearly aware of Cumaratunga
    and his linguistic politics but does not seem to have seriously engaged
    with them. This is suggestive of the incongruity in the ways that
    members of the elite like Bandaranaike exploited discourses they felt
    had popular currency and political legitimacy but did not relate to
    these discourses affectively or engage with them substantively.
    Banadaranaike’s unresolved turn to authenticity reflects a larger dilemma
    in elite political culture in modern Sri Lanka. Early in his political career
    he sought authenticity by claiming racial coevality with the British upper
    classes. Subsequently the focus shifted to a kind of Gandhian organicity
    and critique of modernity. In Buddhism, Bandaranaike seems to combine
    S. W. R . D. Ba ndaranaike 101
    the two – in a discourse that provides anchorage in a sense of hoary
    authenticity but at the same time accesses a rationalist, modern outlook.
    In backing the discriminatory Sinhala language policy, he appears
    unconvinced by the Sinhala narrative of beleaguerment but nevertheless
    supports it for political gain. Faced with the necessity to engage in
    mass- based politics in a decolonising context, elite Sinhala politicians
    turned to what they saw as a common cultural heritage they shared with
    the people. In essence this was an idealised vision of culture fashioned
    in the nexus between colonial knowledge production and its appropriation
    by nationalist thinkers. The movement towards authenticity also
    remains, as in the perahera short story and its protagonist’s removal of
    his shirt, at the level of a change in external markers. One could, if somewhat
    unkindly, argue that Bandaranaike adopted native dress but cognitively
    and affectively remained anglophile – albeit inflected by a sense of
    cosmopolitan decolonisation.
    It is, ironically, as part of the idea of a transcendental Sinhala
    collective consciousness that Bandaranaike the postcolonial martyr
    becomes important to later developments in Sinhala nationalist discourse.
    As we shall see in the next chapter, Gunadasa Amarasekara – one
    of the intellectual architects of possibly the most effective and intellectually
    rigorous expression of Sinhala nationalist thinking, the Jathika
    Chintanaya movement (loosely translating as ‘National Consciousness/
    Philosophy’) – argues that Bandaranaike instinctively tapped into a
    millennia- old Sinhala Buddhist consciousness (Amarasekara 1980).
    Amarasekara makes this claim as part of a grand teleology of postcolonial
    Sinhala nationalist revival in which Anagarika Dharmapala is
    the founding father figure and Bandaranaike his successor.
    There is irony in Amarasekara’s attempt to show Bandaranaike,
    who struggled to fashion a notion of authenticity, tapping into an
    organic sense of the authentic. This irony is intrinsic to the reality of
    the postcolonial afterlife of authenticity. Sinhala nationalism, like other
    nationalisms based on a precolonial cultural imaginary, such as Hindutva
    in India, is a prisoner to this imagination. This story of the constant
    shaping and reshaping of authenticity points to an intimate relationship
    between nationalism and the notion of authenticity. Although it is
    easy to argue that Bandaranaike ‘used’ or ‘exploited’ authenticity, what
    is clear is that he was shaped and dominated by this discourse as well.
    The persistence and influence of this discourse as a structural feature of
    Sinhala cultural and political discourse become more clearly apparent
    in Amarasekara’s writing, where authenticity is an overarching concern
    that shapes his aesthetic and political imagination.
    Gunadasa Amarasekara: the life
    and death of authentic things
    The layout of an ancient Sinhala kingdom came to Piyadasa’s mind
    as he walked along the lake bund in the dusk. Wasn’t that layout
    still well preserved here? On one side the lake bordered by the
    distant hills. On the other side the large paddy fields fed by the
    waters of the lake. The blue green of these paddies stretched as far
    as the eye could see. Houses were located in little islands amidst
    the paddies. All of this dominated by the massive stupa that rose
    embracing the sky.
    (Amarasekara 1992, 19)
    These thoughts occur to Piyadasa, an educated rural Sinhala youth,
    who is the main character of one of Gunadasa Amarasekara’s novels,
    Inimage Ihalata (Up the Ladder) (1992). It invokes both an aesthetic
    and political imagination that took shape in the late 1950s and
    informed many aspects of Sinhala social and political life well into
    the 1980s. It draws upon but also reconfigures an immanent structure
    of feeling that has characterised the Sinhala nationalist imagination
    for well over a century and has shaped significant aspects of Sinhala
    social and political life, including state policies on economics, development
    and culture. The essence of Sinhala identity in this thinking
    lies in the village – in its organicity and in the morality represented
    by its people; at the same time, the imprint of a grander civilizational
    legacy from the past can be traced in the village. This is also a discourse
    deeply intertwined with the notion of apekama, the idea of
    an essential Sinhalaness, or authenticity, which can be traced as an
    unbroken narrative over a 2,500- year history.
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 103
    In Gunadasa Amarasekara’s writing the idea of Sinhala authenticity
    plays a foundational role. For Amarasekara authenticity is both an aesthetic
    and political category, and the aesthetics of authenticity are inseparable
    from its politics. What we saw in Dharmapala and Bandaranaike
    as a scattered discourse of authenticity, constantly shifting between the
    universal and the particular, the personal and the political, and the historical
    and the contemporary, becomes a more clearly articulated and
    defined postcolonial politics of authenticity. As we shall see, the historical
    moment Amarasekara occupies is also central to the emergence of authenticity
    as a foundational category. In the decades following the 1950s the
    institutionalisation of Sinhala nationalism gained rapid momentum and
    Amarasekara’s writing is a cultural barometer of Sinhala nationalism’s
    postcolonial vicissitudes. But his writing is not just a reflection of Sinhala
    nationalism. It also seeks to directly intervene in and shape the historical
    destiny of a nation. It begins with postcolonial euphoria and a vision
    for building an ‘authentic’ Sinhala nation. In the 1980s disillusionment
    sets in, signalling what I identify as a crisis of authenticity. Amarasekara’s
    career marks the crystallisation and high point of authenticity as a cultural
    and political discourse, but it then witnesses authenticity’s decline
    and death.
    Amarasekara’s early career and the politics
    of Sinhala cultural nationalism
    Gunadasa Amarasekara was born in 1929 in Yatalamatta in the southern
    district of Galle about 72 miles south of Colombo, an area often referred
    to as the ‘deep south’ in political discourse, and one that served as a locus
    of post- independence Sinhala nationalism (Orjuela 2009, 151). He was
    educated at Mahinda College in Galle and later at Nalanda College in
    Colombo – both schools associated with Buddhist middle- class education
    and the legacies of the Buddhist revival. He later entered the University
    of Peradeniya to study dentistry. He became a dental surgeon and spent
    some time in England doing postgraduate work. During his time at
    Peradeniya, Amarasekara emerged as a leading voice in Sinhala poetry
    and prose and was closely associated with Ediriweera Sarachchandra
    (1914– 96), a pioneering post- independence Sinhala intellectual, literary
    critic, writer and dramatist. Later Amarasekara was also influenced
    by Martin Wickramasinghe (1890– 1976), one of the most prolific and
    significant mid twentieth- century Sinhala writers, who is credited with
    establishing the novel as a major prose genre in Sinhala.
    104 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    While continuing to practise as a dental surgeon, Amarasekara became
    the most prominent and prolific Sinhala writer since Martin Wickramasinghe,
    and he continues to write today. In the early 1970s Amarasekara also
    increasingly began to produce socio- political criticism. Along with Nalin de
    Silva, a physicist and university academic with a leftist history, he began the
    Jathika Chintanaya movement, which can be considered one of the most
    intellectually rigorous expressions of Sinhala nationalism (Dewasiri 2010).
    Currently Amarasekara is the President of the National Patriotic Movement,
    a loosely structured body of professionals, intellectuals and artists who are
    against constitutional reform and the devolution of power and are deeply
    suspicious of discourses that advocate minority and human rights (Fernando
    2008, 116).
    In his early career as a writer at Peradeniya, Amarasekara was
    identified with the ‘Peradeniya School’ – a literary movement that took
    as its inspiration the aesthetic ideology of Ediriweera Sarachchandra,
    who advocated a modernist approach to literature and encouraged
    Sinhala writers to experiment with form and content (Dissanayake
    2005; Sarachchandra 2008 [1959]). In his own aesthetic practice
    adapted and borrowed widely from a range of sources
    such as classical Greek drama, the conventions of European proscenium
    theatre, the noh and kabuki traditions and Sinhala folk dramatic
    traditions. Maname, produced in 1956, inaugurated a new postcolonial
    dramatic form and is considered a landmark in modern Sinhala theatre
    (Gunawardana 2000). Amarasekara’s formative years at Peradeniya
    therefore mark a period of intense Sinhala cultural activity, where in a
    number of domains, such as prose, poetry, art, film and song, Sinhala
    artists were experimenting with content and form in order to produce
    a modern Sinhala aesthetic. The focus of most of this activity was the
    revival and modernisation of desheeya (indigenous) art and culture
    (Dharmasiri 2014) and was not overtly Sinhala nationalist in a political
    sense. However, these aesthetic and cultural activities had important
    implications for the institutionalisation of Sinhala nationalism and the
    spread of Sinhala nationalist thinking as a structure of feeling.
    Amarasekara’s early writing reflected the general trends of the
    Peradeniya School. One of his earliest novels, Karumakkarayo (The
    Fateful Ones) (1955), is a dystopian narrative of a Sinhala village family
    that disintegrates amidst incest, social stigma and the self- centred exploitation
    of a dysfunctional father figure. The novel’s themes include rural
    Sinhala subjectivity buffeted by poverty, a rural economy impoverished
    by the plantation economy, and conservative attitudes to sexuality that
    conflict with youthful desire and the influence of urban modernity.
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 105
    There is little redemptive in the way Karumakkarayo imagines the village
    or the individuals who people its social landscape. A similar dystopian
    vision can be found in Yali Upannemi (I Am Reborn) (1960), a story about
    a man who marries a prostitute to sublimate his oedipal desire for the
    mother. Both texts demonstrate a strong modernist influence in their
    exploration of sexuality and the inner subjectivities of their characters.
    The nationalist turn in Amarasekara, Martin Wickramasinghe
    and the village
    In the early 1960s Amarasekara broke away from the Peradeniya
    School – a break that marks an explicit ‘nationalist turn’ in his writing.
    The conditions under which this turn occurred speak to the politics
    of authenticity in independent Sri Lanka. One of the key influences in
    Amarasekara’s turn was Martin Wickramasinghe, who was central to the
    cultural articulation of an authentic imaginary in Sinhala literature from
    the 1940s to the early 1970s. Wickramasinghe is often considered Sri
    Lanka’s first truly ‘modern’ novelist (Amarakeerthi 2012). A literary polymath
    who was largely self- taught and educated, Wickramasinghe was a
    prolific writer and also a canny businessman who accumulated substantial
    wealth through his writing and publishing.
    Wickramasinghe’s Gamperaliya (Uprooted) (1981 [1941]) is
    considered a masterpiece in the modern Sinhala literary tradition. It
    contains thematic concerns that pan out in different forms throughout
    the author’s literary career and cast a long and influential shadow upon
    Amarasekara and several generations of Sinhala writers. Gamperaliya
    is a novel about social change and the challenges faced by Sinhala subjectivity
    within the social and cultural changes wrought by colonial
    modernity, urbanisation and merchant capitalism. The protagonist of
    the novel, Piyal, a man from a rural lower middle- class background,
    migrates to the city, reinvents himself as a successful businessman and
    then returns to his village to challenge the declining rural feudal aristocracy.
    Although the novel depicts social change as inevitable, there is a
    sense of romantic nostalgia for the rural feudal order and the organicity
    that it represents.
    Gamperaliya sets up a structural relationship between the country
    and city (Williams 1973), the rural being invested with a sense of
    organic authenticity. There was overlap between this imaginary and the
    political mobilisation of authenticity for developmental work in independent
    Sri Lanka – with the village in particular seen as a repository
    of Sinhala authenticity. The notion of village- based authenticity was
    106 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    something Wickramasinghe kept returning to throughout his career.
    After Gamperaliya, he wrote Kaliyugaya (Age of Kali) (2001 [1957]) and
    Yuganthaya (End of an Era) (1965 [1949]). These novels form a threepart
    saga in which Sinhala society is depicted as becoming increasingly
    unmoored from traditional village life.
    Anthropologists such as Jonathan Spencer (1990) and Stanley
    Tambiah (1992) have also argued that Wickramasinghe’s writing was
    instrumental in the popular dissemination of the symbolic triad of the
    Sinhala cultural imagination of the weva (tank or lake), dagoba (Buddhist
    stupa) and yaya (paddy field) – three symbols that hark back to glorious
    Sinhala kingdoms of the past. However, Wickramasinghe’s articulation
    of the village is not a simplistic romanticisation. It was an attempt to
    negotiate a sense of postcolonial identity which can reconcile modernity
    and tradition, much like in the work of R. K. Narayan in India, whose
    fictional Malgudi appears on the surface to be a simplistic and timeless
    pastoral village but in fact exhibits a complex negotiation between modernity,
    tradition and postcolonial identity.
    One of Wickramasinghe’s early semi- autobiographical works, Kalu
    Nika Seveema (In Search of the Kalu Nika) (1989 [1951]), begins with
    an account of the author’s village, Koggala, in the south of the country.
    The narrative trope is that of an adult Wickramasinghe returning to the
    village of his childhood and rediscovering a pastoral ideal of village life,
    which he sees as sexually and morally liberating because the villagers
    seem unencumbered by bourgeois values; this contrasts with his current
    fallen educated middle- class self. The kalu nika of the title refers to
    an extremely rare plant that is virtually impossible to find and thus
    signals an introspective journey into something indefinable and intangible.
    This intangibility is found throughout the text in the form of
    pathos about a way of life that is no longer readily available. The village
    Wickramasinghe returns to is one heavily reshaped by British occupation
    during the Second World War, since the British maintained a large airbase
    in Koggala. At the beginning of the story Wickramasinghe literally
    peels away these external layers to enter the heart of Koggala, which he
    knew in childhood and in which he locates a sense of rustic simplicity
    unencumbered by the burdens of civilisation. These themes recur in his
    writing, as in Sinhala Lakuna (Sinhala Identity) (1995 [1947]) and Upan
    Da Sita (From the Day I Was Born) (1961).
    Amarasekara’s turn from his avant- garde beginnings to a more
    conventional trajectory was in part prompted by public criticism of
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 107
    his work by Wickramasinghe (Dissanayake 2005). In the early 1960s
    Wickramasinghe accused Amarasekara of distorting Sinhala culture, particularly
    its village- based rural ethos. Amarasekara then abandoned his
    ‘radical’ trajectory. It is, however, a stretch to argue that Wickramasinghe’s
    influence alone turned Amarasekara. It is more useful to characterise this
    turn as one in which Amarasekara submits to a larger nationalist cultural
    project. Such an understanding is supported by the aesthetics of decolonisation
    elsewhere – for instance, the ways that African writers saw a
    distinct political role for the writer.
    An indication of how Amarasekara came to conceive his role as
    writer is evident in a seven- part series of novels he wrote beginning with
    Gamanaka Mula (The Beginning of a Journey) (1984). These works form
    an epic story of the Sinhala middle class, which is similar in some ways
    to Wickramasinghe’s trilogy of the 1960s but with a trajectory that shows
    the Sinhala middle class losing contact with its rural ethos and then gradually
    rediscovering it. In essence this epic narrative is an indication that
    Amarasekara sees himself in the role of a didactic national allegorist or,
    as Achebe put it, ‘The Novelist as Teacher’ (1990 [1965]).
    Along with his nationalist turn Amarasekara also began to write
    cultural criticism, where his socio- political vision and the role of the
    writer are articulated explicitly. In two texts – Abuddassa Yugayak (A
    Topsy- Turvy Time) (1976) and Anagarika Dharmapala Maaksvaadeeda?
    (Is Anagarika Dharmapala Marxist?) (1980) – Amarasekara attempts
    to construct a grand socio- political narrative of Sinhala identity and its
    historical evolution. Both texts argue that, despite numerous invasions
    and centuries of colonial occupation, an essential idea of Sinhalaness
    survives. The task of postcolonial politicians and the intelligentsia is to
    discover this essence and rearticulate it in the contemporary context. As
    we shall see, it is in these two texts that Dharmapala and Bandaranaike
    emerge as key figures in Amarasekara’s postcolonial narrative of Sinhala
    revival and resurgence. But this turn to authenticity is never complete.
    In all of Amarasekara’s texts the very insistence on authenticity belies
    an insecurity that demonstrates that Sinhala authenticity cannot be
    taken for granted. There is an ongoing tension between authenticity as
    ontological fact and its reality as a constructed narrative. Some critics
    have argued that this obsessive concern with Sinhala authenticity has
    made Amarasekara’s writing predictable and didactic, Amarasekara
    the ‘ideologue’ often overshadowing Amarasekara the ‘novelist’
    (Amarakeerthi 2009).
    108 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Tradition, Buddhism and Marxism: Anagarika
    Dharmapala Maaksvaadeeda?
    Part polemic, part socio- cultural criticism, Anagarika Dharmapala
    Maaksvaadeeda? (1980) maps out the ideological terrain on which
    Amarasekara constructs his teleological narrative of postcolonial Sinhala
    nationalist resurgence. This text, like its predecessor Abuddasa Yugayak
    (1976), came in the aftermath of a number of important socio- political
    changes. Though Bandaranaike’s victory in 1956 was popularly seen
    as a victory of ordinary Sinhala people led by the ‘intermediary elite’ –
    sometimes referred to as the pancha maha balawegaya (five great forces)
    (Hennayake 2006, 84), or sangha, govi, weda, guru, kamkaru (the
    Buddhist sangha, farmers, indigenous doctors, teachers and workers) –
    there was discontent among many Sinhala and Buddhist groups that
    the pace and depth of change were insufficient (Manor 1989, 263– 4).
    Following Bandaranaike’s assassination in 1959, power in the country
    mainly remained with the party Bandaranaike had founded, the SLFP.
    His widow Sirimavo Bandaranaike emerged as a powerful successor
    and the world’s first woman prime minister from 1960 to 1965. After an
    election defeat in 1965, she again regained power in 1970 and was prime
    minister till 1977 (de Silva 1981, 526– 7). Mrs Bandaranaike was seen
    as more unapologetically Sinhala nationalist than her late husband (de
    Silva Wijeyratne 2014, 137– 8) and it was under her premiership that the
    1972 Republican Constitution was drafted and enacted, giving Buddhism
    pride of place. This move appalled many progressive forces in the country
    because it was seen as a betrayal of the secular principles of the left and
    also because the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Lanka Equal Society Party),
    one of Sri Lanka’s oldest leftist parties, was a major coalition partner of
    Mrs Bandaranaike’s government, and one of the major figures of the ‘old
    left’, Colvin R. de Silva, was directly involved in drafting the new constitution
    (Wickramasinghe 2006, 183).
    Although the post- Bandaranaike era can be seen as one of political
    institutionalisation of Sinhala nationalism, economically the promise of
    decolonisation had hardly materialised and there was frustration particularly
    among educated rural youth (de Silva 1981, 504– 5). Parallel
    to the economic stagnation of the country was an emergent schism
    within the left movement: the old left and the established political elite
    were seen as a comprador class by vernacular educated rural youth who
    entered the political process in the decades after 1956 – sometimes
    referred to as the ‘children of ’56’ (de Silva 2005; Wickramasinghe 2006,
    230– 7). In this context the radical ‘new left’ emerged in the form of the
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 109
    Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) (People’s Liberation Front), led by
    the charismatic Rohana Wijeweera, a rural Sinhala youth from southern
    Sri Lanka who had attended the Patrice Lumumba University in Soviet
    Russia. The JVP built a highly effective village- level network, used a
    system called the panthi paha (five classes) for ideological indoctrination
    (Dewasiri 2010) and positioned itself explicitly as a radical alternative to
    the old left. In 1971 the JVP launched a failed military coup to capture
    state power and was bloodily suppressed in a brutal crackdown by Mrs
    Bandaranaike’s government (Wickramasinghe 2006, 237).
    Both Abuddassa Yugayak (1976) and Anagarika Dharmapala
    Maaksvaadeeda? (1980) were significantly shaped by this political
    context. Anagarika Dharmapala Maaksvaadeeda?, the text I shall
    consider in detail, can be seen as implicitly addressing the JVP.
    Amarasekara appears to be recognising the JVP as a radical progressive
    force in Sinhala society and inviting them to join history – history as a
    teleological narrative whose end point is the realisation of a Sinhala
    Buddhist state. The text explores the possibilities of bringing into dialogue
    a Buddhist vision of a righteous society and a Marxist vision of
    an egalitarian social order. Both Dharmapala and Bandaranaike are
    forerunners to this project because Amarasekara constructs them as
    figures who intuitively grasped the Sinhala Buddhist heritage of the
    nation and attempted to actualise it as a socio- political reality. For
    Amarasekara they were unable to define and articulate clearly the
    historical and intellectual framework in which tradition and modern
    reality can enter into negotiation, and so their versions of this national
    project are seen as only partially realised. In presenting this hypothesis,
    Amarasekara reinterprets the Sri Lankan past, ‘rescuing’ it, as it
    were, from perceived distortions in academic scholarship.
    The ‘historical’ argument of Anagarika Dharmapala Maaksvaadeeda?
    may be summarised in the following way. A majority of Sri Lankan
    historians have failed to realise the importance of Dharmapala’s significance
    in the country’s history. Dharmapala is the single figure who
    recognised the potential of drawing upon a precolonial Buddhist concept
    of governance and sought to actualise it as an anti- colonial strategy.
    However, Dharmapala’s legacy was soon appropriated by a comprador
    class who negated its radical potential and used it for their own ends.
    Nonetheless, this Sinhala Buddhist imaginary remained a subversive
    force among the rural middle- class intelligentsia consisting of indigenous
    doctors, vernacular schoolteachers and Buddhist priests – in essence the
    panch maha balawegaya. They emerged as a political movement in 1956
    through Bandaranaike’s victory. However, as in Dharmapala’s time, the
    110 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    1956 victory also failed to realise its radical potential because it was
    appropriated by comprador interests.
    Amarasekara further argues that historians, sociologists and anthropologists
    have failed to realise the importance of this grassroots
    Sinhala Buddhist movement because of their limited understanding of
    both the contemporary and precolonial history of the country. In contemporary
    history they tend to equate nationalism to the politics of an
    elite comprador class. In precolonial history they fail to see the continued
    existence of a Buddhist form of governance inherited from ancient India.
    This failure arises because Buddhism is interpreted by many contemporary
    sociologists and anthropologists as an individualistic religion
    without a socio- political function. Such a perception is an ahistorical
    understanding of the religion. Amarasekara argues that Buddhism has
    had a socio- political function in both India and Sri Lanka and that this
    legacy has remained with the Sinhala people despite colonial influence.
    The text ends by positing the idea that the crucial intellectual and social
    challenge that confronts contemporary Sinhala society is to create an
    egalitarian society by combining Marxism’s revolutionary potential and
    Buddhism’s ethical social vision.
    The idea of a Sinhala Buddhist subaltern movement
    Amarasekara’s historical narrative can be readily critiqued for its lack
    of historicity. It homogenises precolonial Sri Lankan society and erases
    the diverse socio- political forces that shaped the colonial and postcolonial
    periods of the country – most importantly the multiplicity of
    ethno- cultural identities. One of the strategies used in Amarasekara’s
    text to make this hypothesis appear credible is to argue that most postindependence
    historians are unable to account for the emergence of
    Sinhala nationalism as a political force in 1956 and that this is in turn
    owes to their inability to understand the historical continuity of Sinhala
    nationalist thinking.
    The main reason why those referred to above [pro- colonial
    historians and Marxist academics] are unable to understand the
    revolution that happened in 1956 is the ahistorical conclusion that
    it was a random and sudden occurrence …
    What happened in 1956 is not the sudden emergence of
    a minor political movement that engulfed a major one. It was
    the entry, into the political arena, of a current that gradually
    grew amidst the masses of the country and swept away all minor
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 111
    currents that existed up to that time. This major current is none
    other than the struggle for anti- colonial national resurgence that
    emerged from the time that this country came under British colonial
    rule. This current – which entered the political arena in ’56
    and bewildered the colonialists of this country, worshippers of
    English and the Marxists – was brought to its highest pitch at the
    beginning of this century by Anagarika Dharmapala. This struggle,
    which was faltering at the beginning of the century, was completely
    revitalised by Dharmapala. He saw that such a national revitalisation
    programme allied to an anti- colonial struggle could be successfully
    mobilised in this country. He saw that, though a defeated race
    for centuries, the cultural basis for such a struggle was alive in this
    country. Dharmapala saw that the farmers, labourers, [indigenous]
    doctors, [vernacular] teachers and priests were all linked through
    a common cultural framework. Thus when Dharmapala toured the
    villages of this country and raised the anti- colonial cry – Sinhalese
    wake up, save Buddhism – the farmers, priests, doctors, teachers
    and other groups who lived in the villages of this country listened
    to it as one … The idea of a ‘major current’ expressed by Dr. Mendis
    [a Sri Lankan academic historian of the mid twentieth century] is
    promoted by the comprador class of this country to negate this mass
    anti- colonial movement. Though the comprador class considered
    it a ‘major current’ the masses of this country did not consider it
    their legacy. In a very short period of time the masses saw the false
    nature of this ‘major current’ and turned towards the original anticolonial
    movement. Bandaranaike grasped this reality intuitively.
    He realised that all he needed to do was to allow this movement to
    enter into the political arena …
    It is the existence, to some degree, of comprador thinking that
    has prevented our historians, intellectuals and Marxists from seeing
    this reality underlying ’56. The same thinking operates subtly
    and unconsciously even in the Marxist who overtly challenges
    (Amarasekara 1980, 9– 11)
    The overall impression this passage gives is of a polemical argument that
    uses sweeping generalisations to promote its vision of Sri Lankan history
    and politics. However, the idea that a subaltern Sinhala Buddhist
    movement existed throughout the British colonial period and emerged
    as a political force in 1956 is made within a frame that it is ahistorical to
    view 1956 as a sudden and random occurrence. Amarasekara’s argument
    112 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    implies that the historiography of G. C. Mendis is symptomatic of a larger
    problem in Sri Lankan historiography – the lack of a subaltern focus. The
    specific lacuna identified by Amarasekara is Mendis’s inability to move
    beyond an elite- biased outlook and grant agency to the subaltern masses
    of the country.
    There is no great difference between a historian and a person in
    Colombo whose awareness of this country is limited to English
    newspapers which promote the idea that Bandaranaike attired
    in native dress and promising Sinhala Only in twenty four hours
    deluded the priests, indigenous doctors and vernacular teachers
    of this country and came to power. Both these individuals subconsciously
    believe that the Sinhalese villager of this country is an
    uncivilised dupe.
    (Amarasekara 1980, 9)
    Though the account claims to be historically specific to Sri Lanka,
    Marxism speaks through it at many points. In specifically targeting an
    urban and Western (English)- educated elite, the class struggle dimension
    of Amarasekara’s text is reproduced in classic terms as country
    versus city, the individual (a historian and a person in Colombo) versus
    the collective. The urban elite is an aggregate of individuals, unlike rural
    society, which is made up of all classes, from religious figures to indigenous
    and organic intellectuals to the ordinary ‘Sinhalese villager’.
    Though somewhat simplistically expressed, Amarasekara’s critique
    does carry some validity in relation to Mendis’s historiography. The
    Mendis text referred to here is Ceylon Today and Yesterday: Main Currents
    of Ceylon History (1963 [1957]). Writing in the immediate aftermath of
    the events of 1956, Mendis sees the rise of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism
    as a dead end, a regressive throwback to communalism. He holds to the
    progressivism inherent in colonial narratives about the modernisation
    of Sri Lanka and sees the future as one that should be firmly embedded
    within the secular modernising zeal expressed in various institutional
    reforms carried out by the colonial administration, most prominently the
    Colebrooke– Cameron reforms of 1833.
    Colebrooke, after a study of two years, made a thorough analysis
    of the political, social and economic conditions of the Island
    and came to the conclusion that the river of life in Ceylon was
    practically stagnant … He searched for the causes that obstructed
    this flow, and came to the conclusion that it was not British rule
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 113
    but the continuity of the ancient system. Therefore, he made
    recommendations to liberate Ceylon from the burden of its past
    (Mendis 1963 [1957], 139)
    Amarasekara’s critique was written almost two decades after Mendis’s
    work, and Sri Lankan historiography by this time had looked at the
    events of 1956 differently. This is something that Amarasekara acknowledges
    by referencing the work of R. A. L. H. Gunawardana, who
    represents a later generation of historians. Amarasekara suggests that
    Gunawardana’s work has been able to overcome the common view that
    1956 represents the ‘victory of a nationalist capitalist class’ (Amarasekara
    1980, 8) and shows how Bandaranaike’s coalition won because it was
    able to secure the support of important rural Sinhala Buddhist groups.
    Nonetheless, Amarasekara perceives an essential commonality between
    Gunawardana and the historiography represented by Mendis because of
    its inability to trace a genealogy for what happened in 1956. This limitation,
    Amarasekara suggests, emerges from Gunawardana’s failure, as
    with Mendis, to identify the historical emergence of a common Sinhala
    Buddhist cultural framework that animated a subaltern anti- colonial
    Amarasekara’s argument can be placed in the wider context of
    the general lack of historical scholarship on subaltern movements in Sri
    Lanka. As Jonathan Spencer (1990, 217) observes, scholarship has had
    difficulty accounting for what Spencer calls the ‘temporal lag in the development
    of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism’ – or why the well- documented
    Sinhala and Buddhist cultural and nascent- nationalist resurgence in the
    late nineteenth century (Malalgoda 1976; Obeyesekere 1976; Gombrich
    and Obeyesekere 1988) took almost a decade after formal independence
    in 1948 to achieve political expression. Spencer suggests this is
    possibly because scholarly historical sources have tended to be urban,
    English, Colombo- centric ones. Thus, the implicit void both Spencer and
    Amarasekara point towards is the lack of a subaltern focus in the historiography
    of Sri Lanka. Twentieth- century Sri Lankan historiography –
    especially in chronicling nationalism – has tended to focus on the largely
    visible and well- documented political movements represented by the
    national elite.
    Amarasekara’s critique of Sri Lankan historiography should be seen
    as a political rather than scholarly exercise. The narrative of an organic
    cultural consciousness that bonded different Sinhala social groups
    together, one could suggest, is not very different from the familiar idea
    114 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    of a national cultural consciousness that was used by elite nationalism in
    general – and by figures like Dharmapala and Bandaranaike (Moore 1985;
    Rogers 1997). The vision I have explored in the previous chapters shaped
    Dharmapala’s and Bandaranaike’s characteristically tutelary or custodial
    attitudes towards subaltern groups. This is evident in Amarasekara’s text
    when he attempts to rationalise Dharmapala’s use of vitriolic language
    when he addressed peasantry:
    If one reads Dharmapala’s writing uncritically it is not surprising
    that someone would form the impression that he was a religious
    zealot. Yet we must remember that this zealotry was something
    Dharmapala deliberately invokes. These articles called ‘facts people
    should know’ were written for an uneducated rural Buddhists. In a
    manner they would understand.
    (Amarasekara 1980, 17)
    Though Amarasekara criticises academic historiography for not granting
    agency to the Sinhala villager, this passage reveals a remarkably similar
    attitude. The passage suggests that both Dharmapala and Amarasekara
    consider the rural populace to be unable to deal with complexity. They
    need to be addressed in a simplified polemical language because of their
    lack of education. Despite positioning itself as a critical intervention in
    nationalist discourse, Amarasekara’s text replicates some of the very
    perceptions and attitudes it seeks to resist.
    The story that Amarasekara builds fits a familiar pattern of
    authenticity. For both Dharmapala and Bandaranaike authenticity
    was not something readily available. They had to find it outside themselves.
    Similarly, for Amarasekara authenticity is something located in
    Buddhism, the village or the peasantry. This is a pattern visible in Sinhala
    intellectuals with rural origins who have migrated to the city but look
    back at the rural as a site of authenticity; the same vision is visible in
    Martin Wickramasinghe. Just as elite politicians like Bandaranaike
    sought to claim moral legitimacy by projecting an idea of authenticity,
    Amarasekara as a Sinhala-educated intellectual is attempting to
    claim greater knowledge of authenticity by virtue of his understanding
    Buddhism, the village and the peasantry. Wickramasinghe made similar
    claims immediately after the 1956 electoral victory when he wrote
    an essay called Bamunu Kulaye Bindaweteema (The Downfall of the
    Brahaministic Class) (1956), which argued that 1956 marked the political
    displacement of a comprador class. One may usefully invoke here
    the metaphor of a series of historical escalators that Raymond Williams
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 115
    uses in The Country and the City (1973): how successive generations of
    English writers have looked back to other times and places that were
    more authentic than their own.
    The idea of a Buddhist state and Sri Lanka’s
    precolonial history
    Amarasekara makes procedurally similar arguments to those above: that
    scholarship has failed to recognise the role Buddhism played in the sociopolitical
    life of the nation in precolonial Sri Lanka. Although he challenges
    how Buddhism has been defined and interpreted by scholars, the alternative
    he proposes is a homogenising ahistorical vision that rationalises
    the idea of contemporary Sinhala Buddhist hegemony. Central to
    Amarasekara’s seamless narrative is the idea of a Buddhist socio- political
    system that always existed in Sri Lanka in antiquity. Establishing this idea
    as historical fact is important for Amarasekara’s argument. It allows him
    to defend Dharmapala against criticism of romanticising the past. It also
    allows him to argue that such a socio- political structure is practical in
    the present because it is based on a ‘realistic’ understanding of what has
    happened in history.
    A system of governance accepted and protected by people over
    thousands of years cannot be just erased. It is an eternal legacy of
    ours. If this legacy in some way shapes our understanding of the
    present it is equally relevant to how we construct our future. In
    short, there is no present or future that can be constructed by forgetting
    the past. Thus, Dharmapala’s exhortation that a Buddhist
    kingdom should be created in this country needs to be regarded as
    rational and realistic, and made with a proper historical consciousness.
    It was a project based on a correct perception of our history
    and of Buddhism.
    (Amarasekara 1980, 38)
    The argument made here is that consciousness of an indigenous form
    of governance remains in the collective memory of the Sinhala people
    and that they recognise it as part of their heritage. In order to make this
    argument, Amarasekara first challenges the idea, which became widespread
    in nineteenth- century global intellectual circles, that Buddhism is
    an individualistic religion. Amarasekara engages critically with this idea
    because it can be used to negate the socio- political function of Buddhism
    116 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    and to suggest that ‘political Buddhism’ is a contradiction of the religion’s
    ethical principles.
    Charles Hallisey (1995) has explored how nineteenth- century
    positivist European Buddhist scholars tended to abstract a text- based
    understanding of doctrine from popular practice, constructing the former
    as more original and authoritative than the latter. Ananda Abeysekara
    (2002) has suggested that this nineteenth- century framework of knowledge
    has influenced prominent contemporary scholars of Buddhism
    like Stanley Tambiah, Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere.
    Abeysekara (2002, 30– 40) argues that the work of these scholars also
    reproduces a dichotomy between the idea of doctrinally accurate original
    Buddhism and impure versions of the religion that are practised
    by various societies. This dichotomy can be utilised as an ethical critique
    against what is seen as the political exploitation and manipulation of the
    religion. However, as Abeysekara (2002, 37) points out, the idea of an
    authentic Buddhism can create a conceptual reification. He suggests that
    Buddhism needs to be viewed as a discursive construct that has historically
    and contextually contingent multiple meanings. Amarasekara’s critique
    of the ‘individualistic’ hypothesis of Buddhism can be placed within
    this larger conceptual debate:
    It is important to consider how the view held by many sociologists in
    this country that Buddhism is an ‘individual path for spiritual salvation’
    or an ‘individualistic religion’ was formed. I believe the origin
    of this view is the social scientist Max Weber. There is no doubt that
    Max Weber was an important social scientist who lived during the
    first half of this century. We have to accept without reservation that
    insights expressed by him regarding Indian religious thinking are
    very important. But his views on Buddhism were expressed without
    knowledge of the origins of Buddhism or its core teachings. This
    is because he lumped Buddhism with other Indian religions like
    Hinduism. He viewed all these religions as concerned with individual
    spiritual salvation. Buddhism was considered similarly.
    There is no doubt that the thinking of our social scientists
    is heavily influenced by Max Weber’s misconceptions. But what
    is surprising is how they uncritically reproduce these ideas when
    they have knowledge gained through the practical experience of
    Buddhism …
    It is not through the study of ancient Pali texts from within the
    perspectives of another culture that the real doctrine the Buddha
    preached could be comprehended. It is from a different approach.
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 117
    That is, by considering the social milieu in which Buddhism
    emerged and grew and by contextualising the religion within this
    social milieu … Western scholars have taken this approach only
    recently … Trevor Ling’s text The Buddha is one such attempt.
    (Amarasekara 1980, 29– 33)
    Amarasekara critiques one homogenising scholarly approach, the idea
    that Buddhism is individualistic, only to supplant it with another. Though
    he seemingly opens up the space for a historicised and contextually sensitive
    understanding of Buddhism, this space is immediately filled with
    the scholarship of Trevor Ling, a scholar active in the 1960s and 1970s,
    which validates Amarasekara’s view of a largely static precolonial Sri
    Lankan history (Ling 1973). Although Weber’s position extracts the religion
    from its socio- historical context, Amarasekara re- embeds it within
    an idealised form of righteous Buddhist governance based on the Asokan
    Empire of ancient India.
    The kingdom created by Emperor Asoka in India two and a half
    centuries after Buddha’s parinirvana [passing away], we know, is
    the kind of governance system taught by the Buddha. But I believe
    that we have only a limited understanding that the foundation for
    a similar Buddhist kingdom was laid during the same time with the
    coming of Buddhism to this country.
    (Amarasekara 1980, 36)
    This is in essence a reinscription of the Mahavamsa narrative, which, as
    de Silva Wijeyratne (2007, 164) and other scholars like Bruce Kapferer
    (1988) and Steven Kemper (1991) have suggested, is used to legitimise
    the idea of an organic link between Buddhism, the Sinhala people and
    the land. This historical imaginary is apparent in Anagarika Dharmapala
    Maaksvaadeeda? But, seeking to establish the idea of a Buddhist form
    of governance as historical fact, Amarasekara – while referring to the
    mytho- history of the Mahavamsa – also attempts to anchor his views
    within the academic authority of Trevor Ling’s scholarship. If the
    Mahavamsa narrative may be critiqued as myth, Ling’s scholarship is
    positioned as an authoritative alternative: ‘According to Trevor Ling we
    lost this Buddhist kingdom only after British colonisation’ (Amarasekara
    1980, 38). Amarasekara’s selective appropriation of Western scholarship
    is also typical of Sinhala nationalism: scholarship and scholars seen as
    sympathetic to the Sinhala cause are invoked routinely, whereas others
    are dismissed as both ideologically and epistemologically faulty.
    118 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Reconciling Buddhism with Marxism
    Anagarika Dharmapala Maaksvaadeeda? concludes with an exploration
    of how Marxist thinking can be brought into dialogue with
    Buddhism to create social change and establish a new social order.
    Marxism is posited as an important discourse in this social vision
    because of its revolutionary potential. Amarasekara’s text sees such a
    revolutionary discourse as a vital component of modern social change
    because the socio- economic structure of Sri Lankan society has been
    radically altered by colonial influence. According to Amarasekara,
    Dharmapala’s failure to understand this resulted in the appropriation
    of his nationalist project by comprador interests. This argument
    appears to contradict the argument Amarasekara has been building
    so far: that colonialism has caused no radical break in Sinhala society.
    Amarasekara qualifies his view of social change by suggesting that,
    though the economic and social structure was altered, the cultural
    consciousness retained an essential continuity. It is within this
    Marxist vision of a class- stratified society that Amarasekara suggests
    there is a need to reappropriate the legacy of Dharmapala by freeing it
    from comprador interests: ‘there is only one way in which the appropriation
    of teachings meant for the benefit of the masses by a smaller
    class can be prevented. It is by exposing it as the ideology of a specific
    class’ (Amarasekara 1980, 51).
    Amarasekara’s text therefore presents itself as a critical intervention
    that fuses the radical, revolutionary potential of Marxism with a
    specifically indigenous cultural imaginary. In doing so, it is attempting
    to address the question of how a European discourse of modernity,
    Marxism, can be integrated with the need for cultural self- definition and
    continuity which characterises decolonisation.
    The main issue to resolve, as I have shown, is how to infuse
    Marxist thinking into our collective sensibility, which is formed
    by Buddhism. How can we achieve the coexistence of Buddhism
    and Marxism? How are we to move closer to this coexistence upon
    which our liberty depends? How are we to achieve this coexistence
    which will realise Dharmapala’s wishes? The main question that
    confronts us today is this.
    Searching for answers to this is not an easy task. This could
    become a new interpretation of Marxism … This new interpretation
    need not be limited to us; it can become an interpretation
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 119
    common to countries like India and Burma which are rich in philosophical
    (Amarasekara 1980, 64)
    One may suggest that this is perhaps the most ‘progressive’ element
    in Amarasekara’s critique. Unlike most of the other claims he makes
    regarding authenticity, which are based on an essentialist and reductive
    anti- Western orientation, he sees Marxism as a progressive force
    for social justice. However, he did not retain this position for very long.
    From the mid 1980s, with the escalation of the violence between the
    Sri Lankan state and Tamil militants, Amarasekara became more explicitly
    nativist. As we shall see later, in the late 1980s Amarasekara’s work
    turns inwards and exhibits a belief that all knowledge and all answers lie
    within an indigenous frame.
    Inimage Ihalata: a fictional exploration of modern Sinhala
    Buddhist identity
    Inimage Ihalata (Up the Ladder) (1992) occupies the mid- point in
    Amarasekara’s seven- part saga on the emergence of the Sinhala middle
    class, beginning with Gamanaka Mula (1984). The text is significant
    because it illustrates the poetics of authenticity in Amarasekara and
    invokes many of the themes from his socio- political criticism. It also
    stages a fictionalised account of his nationalist turn and is an implicit
    recantation of views expressed in his earlier work. The title refers to the
    aspirations of the socially mobile rural Sinhala Buddhist middle class and
    the challenges it faces in a modernising society. The story loosely follows
    a Bildungsroman structure: the protagonist, Piyadasa – an educated
    and intellectually sensitive Sinhala Buddhist youth from a village in the
    south of the country – experiences cultural or moral dislocation as he
    negotiates university education and urban life. The narrative is located in
    three primary spaces – the village, the University of Peradeniya and the
    city of Colombo – the village figuring as a site of authenticity from which
    Piyadasa is initially unmoored and to which he eventually returns.
    The village as the site of a traditional Sinhala Buddhist ethos
    Inimage Ihalata begins with Piyadasa studying philosophy at the
    University of Peradeniya. Having failed to enter medical school, he
    sees his humanities degree as a means of social mobility because it will
    120 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    enable him to sit the Civil Service examination. The story is set in the
    immediate aftermath of 1956 and Piyadasa’s family is presented almost
    like a schematic representation of the ‘intermediate elite’ that enabled
    Bandaranaike’s electoral victory. Piyadasa’s mother is a Sinhala- language
    schoolteacher and his dead father was an ayurvedic (indigenous medicine)
    doctor. He has an educated but lazy elder brother and a sister who
    lacks ambition. The aspirations for upward social mobility in the family
    are therefore carried by Piyadasa, and his entire family depends on him
    for guidance. In the opening sequence the family has moved into a new
    house, and Piyadasa, on holiday from university, decides to visit the
    Kataragama Hindu shrine – a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists, Hindus,
    Muslims and Christians – with Balamahattaya, his elderly and relatively
    uneducated cousin. This journey becomes a symbolically charged experience;
    its moments of departure and return signify Piyadasa’s radical
    questioning of his rural cultural ethos and his subsequent and implicit
    reaffirmation of the rural as a site of authenticity.
    The road trip to the Kataragama becomes a metaphorical journey
    into Sinhala civilisational history. Piyadasa’s village is close to the
    southern coastal town of Galle and is therefore exposed to some urban
    influence. However, as he and Balamahattaya travel deeper into the south
    the scenery begins to change and a rural aesthetic appears in Piyadasa’s
    perception of the landscape:
    Just as the bus passed Unawatuna, Piyadasa was reminded of the
    description in Martin Wickramasinghe’s Gamperaliya. How true
    was the description that the Galle– Matara highway is like a black
    ribbon strung across beautiful home gardens and coconut groves?
    What one gets here is not the gloomy depressing atmosphere
    between Colombo and Galle. The sights from both sides of the road
    thrill the mind and the body.
    (Amarasekara 1992, 16)
    The intertextual reference to Wickramasinghe indicates how
    Wickramasinghe’s aesthetic and political imagination overshadows
    Inimage Ihalata. The urban– rural aesthetic maps on to an ideological
    urban– rural contrast in the novel, which becomes more sharply drawn
    later in the narrative. As Piyadasa and Balamahattaya approach
    Kataragama, their final destination, the historical imaginary of an ancient
    Buddhist civilisation that underwrites the rural as the repository of
    authentic Sinhala culture becomes explicit in the landscape: ‘The layout
    of an ancient Sinhala kingdom came to Piyadasa’s mind as he walked
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 121
    along the lake bund in the dusk. Wasn’t that layout still well preserved
    here?’ (Amarasekara 1992, 19).
    Piyadasa has these reflections while he walks along the lake bund
    at Tissamaharamaya with Balamahattaya. Tissamaharamaya is the final
    stop on their journey before they reach the pilgrimage site at Kataragama.
    The layout of the stupa, paddy fields and lake refers to the spatial organisation
    of the idealised form of governance that Amarasekara discusses in
    his socio- political criticism. The stupa represents Buddhism, the paddies
    the rural economy and the lake is symbolic of the role of kings in providing
    patronage, or infrastructure, to sustain this religio- economic
    system. In effect Wickramasinghe’s imaginary of the weva, dagoba,
    yaya – lake, stupa and paddy field – is the spatial representation of a
    ‘structure of rural feeling’ (Spencer 1990, 285). As I will explore in the
    concluding chapter, this imaginary also heavily influenced and shaped
    several decades of post- independence development work, extending
    from the 1940s well into the 1980s. Though expressed as an aesthetic
    concern in Inimage Ihalata, it was a discourse that had many political,
    social and economic implications in independent Sri Lanka. As we shall
    also see, Amarasekara struggles to extricate this imaginary from its political
    and developmental articulation in the late 1980s when he, along
    with a number of other Sinhala intellectuals, saw the political and developmental
    ‘marketing’ of this imaginary as a threat to its status as an index
    of Sinhala authenticity.
    The extract above can be understood as Piyadasa’s internalised
    response to this pastoral imaginary. When Piyadasa and Balamahattaya
    reach Kataragama and participate in the ceremonies at the Kataragama
    Hindu shrine, there is a divergence in their responses to the erotically
    charged ceremony. The text attributes Piyadasa’s response to his education
    and exposure to Western culture and the distance it has created
    in him from his rural Buddhist ethos. Both Balamahattaya and Piyadasa
    enter the thronging mass of the ceremony and, in the midst of the music
    and dancing, Piyadasa feels a strong sensuous response within him.
    A little while later the two move to the relative quiet of the adjacent
    Buddhist temple complex because Balamahattaya wants to escape the
    noise, confusion and heat. Piyadasa then reflects on his experience:
    Sitting on the low wall that surrounded the Bo- tree and listening
    to the cool wind rustle through the leaves Piyadasa attempted to
    sort out the thoughts in his mind. Was that strange and scintillating
    world he experienced a reality? Or was it an illusion created by his
    very eager reading of Lawrence’s books in the recent past? It must
    122 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    be because Lawrence’s books were bringing to the surface a ghostly
    world hidden in the recesses of his mind. It cannot be denied that
    this place awakens the dark, rapacious side of an indecisive mind.
    It must be because Balamahattaya is different to him in mind and
    body that this place seemed sweaty and distasteful to him. Having
    grown up not within the gloomy confines of a school but in the light
    and airy atmosphere of the countryside, he would not possess such
    an uncertain consciousness.
    (Amarasekara 1992, 23)
    Piyadasa’s and Balamahattaya’s physical movement through the
    Kataragama temple – first the Hindu shrine and then the Buddhist
    temple – mimics what Gombrich and Obeyesekere (1988, 166– 8) identify
    as a symbolic trajectory implicit in the spatial layout of the temple
    complex. Gombrich and Obeyesekere observe that, because of its physical
    layout, those who enter the temple complex have to first visit the Hindu
    complex with its celebration of the senses, then pass along a path lined by
    beggars, and finally enter the Buddhist part of the complex. This follows
    what they describe as ‘the Buddha’s own renunciation of the world: his
    enjoyment of a life of hedonism; his confrontation with the four signs –
    sickness, old age, death, and the model of their transcendence in the
    yellow- robed mendicant; his final achievement of salvation – a calm, a
    blowing out, nirvana’ (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, 167). Though
    Piyadasa and Balamahattaya do not go through this entire process, one
    can see how the contrast between the sensuality of the Hindu shrine and
    the serenity of the Buddhist temple is replicated in their experience.
    The idea of sensuality and eroticism is central to Kataragama
    worship because the main ceremony at the shrine celebrates the
    mythical illicit sexual union of the god Skanda with his mistress Valli
    (Pfaffenberger 1979; Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988). As both the spatial
    layout discussed by Gombrich and Obeyesekere and Balamahattaya’s
    and Piyadasa’s movement through the temple complex suggest, the sexuality
    of the ceremony needs to be subsumed and negated for it to become
    a Buddhist experience. But in the case of Piyadasa this movement is
    interrupted by what is posited as a Western discourse of modernity –
    the influence of D. H. Lawrence’s work on his consciousness. Piyadasa
    is therefore presented as a man unmoored from his rural ethos but at
    the same time struggling to maintain a tenuous relationship with it. This
    tension in Piyadasa becomes more accentuated as the narrative moves to
    the University of Peradeniya and to Colombo, where he has to come to
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 123
    terms with an authoritative academic discourse that radically critiques
    his rural value system.
    The university and Colombo: academic discourse,
    urban life and Sinhala identity
    Piyadasa finds the university to be an intellectually arid place and
    the philosophy course he follows to be largely irrelevant to the world
    around him. The singular exception to this dreary university life is
    the literary scholar Ediriweera Sarachchandra, whom scholars often
    position as a more cosmopolitan foil to Wickramasinghe (Dissanayake
    2005; Mohan 2012). Inimage Ihalata reproduces this distinction.
    However, the distinction itself is problematic because, though
    Sarachchandra did not endorse or promote Wickramasinghe’s views
    about the rural, he did employ other sources of Sinhala authenticity.
    A critical element in Sarachchandra’s theatre was Sinhala folk
    theatre, which was positioned as the localising or ‘indigenising’
    element in his theatrical practice, indicating that notions of authenticity
    played a role in Sarachchandra’s thinking as well. Another practice
    of Sarachchandra’s – the renaming of a generation of Sinhala
    artistes with classical Sinhala– Sanskritic names, in place of their
    Western- sounding names – also indicated the desire for authenticity
    (Abeysinghe 2016). Amarasekara’s reductive interpretation of
    Sarachchandra as a character opposed to Sinhala authenticity serves
    the specific cultural politics and poetics informing Inimage Ihalata.
    In one incident in the novel Sarachchandra is shown to be a derivative
    thinker who supports Eurocentric interpretations of Sinhala society.
    During a literary debate a sociologist refers to the work of the scholar
    Gananath Obeyesekere and argues that contemporary Sinhala Buddhist
    middle- class values are largely influenced by Victorian morality and that
    the culture of the rural peasantry is similar to that of the Veddah or aboriginal
    community of the country. This exchange is a reference to the notion
    of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ proposed by Obeyesekere, which holds that
    Buddhism in Sri Lanka was fundamentally altered in its encounter with
    colonial modernity and particularly through its adversarial encounters
    with missionary Christianity (Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988).
    Sarachchandra’s character in Amarsekara’s novel endorses this view:
    ‘I do not know whether we can agree with all the opinions expressed
    by Senaratne [the sociologist]. But I would like to say that we
    124 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    should submit them to intense scrutiny. I know for a fact that the
    views expressed by Professor Gananath Obeyesekere have been
    much admired by American sociologists. He has expressed these
    ideas following a long period of study. Obeyesekere has shown that
    the contemporary Buddhism in this country is a western construct.’
    (Amarasekara 1992, 72)
    This might be considered a rather cheesy, almost propagandist, piece of
    writing. However, the novel turns even more bizarrely self- referential
    when the reader discovers Amarasekara himself as a shadowy unnamed
    figure in the novel. Later in the story Sarachchandra presents Piyadasa
    with a novel that he believes definitively establishes the derivative
    nature of contemporary Sinhala culture. This novel is none other than
    Yali Upannemi (I Was Reborn), Amarasekara’s own work published
    in 1962. Though the author of the novel remains unnamed in Inimage
    Ihalata, most Sinhala readers would recognise it as one of Amarasekara’s
    early books. By staging this incident Amarasekara recreates himself as a
    fiction so that he can condemn his earlier self – a self that doubted
    the existence of an essential Sinhala Buddhist identity. In Inimage Ihalata
    Piyadasa encounters this novel at a time when his general lack of selfconfidence
    is at a particularly low ebb, following a failed romance at
    the university. Piyadasa immediately begins to identify with the central
    in the novel and believes that the book reflects a general predicament
    in Sinhala middle- class society.
    Piyadasa finished reading the novel Yali Upannemi given to him by
    Saratchandra in one night. Finishing the novel Piyadasa felt, like
    the main protagonist in it, that he had ended the life he had led so
    far and was reborn. He felt as if the novel had been written especially
    for him, looking at his inner consciousness, identifying the
    sickness that ailed it … Ranatunga’s character [the main protagonist
    of the novel] was none other than his own.
    A few days later Piyadasa went in search of Saratchandra with
    great joy.
    ‘This is an incredible work. This has revealed the consciousness
    of our entire middle class. This compares with the work of
    Lawrence and Dostoevsky …’ said Piyadasa hardly pausing for
    ‘Then my judgment was correct. My judgment is rarely
    wrong …’
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 125
    ‘What do you think of the view that Ranatunga’s mind is
    formed by Theravada Buddhist and Victorian attitudes? I discussed
    this today with Dr Senaratne. He of course agrees completely. What
    are your thoughts?’ [said Sarachchandra.]
    ‘This novel proves that theory with valid evidence. I did not
    give it much thought when Dr Senaratne spoke about it that day.
    But after this novel I don’t think anybody can refuse to accept it …’
    [replied Piyadasa.]
    (Amarasekara 1992, 89)
    This incident deliberately invokes the historical controversy sparked
    off by the publication of Amarasekara’s novel Yali Upannemi (1962). As
    Wimal Dissanayake (2005, 68) discusses, the historical Sarachchandra,
    anticipating the public outcry that accompanied the publication of this
    book, publicly defended it. After its release Martin Wickramasinghe
    observed, ‘Gunadasa Amarasekara wrote Yali Upannemi without adequately
    understanding Buddhist culture and to demean it. I suppose he
    repents now for having written Yali Upannemi in that manner’ (quoted
    in Dissanayake 2005, 68). Inimage Ihalata comes the closest to a public
    recantation of his earlier work that Amarasekara has ever made.
    Having failed to achieve an upper- second- class degree at university
    and the memories of his failed romance still fresh, Piyadasa joins
    the Daily News, a major English newspaper based in Colombo, as a journalist
    cum literary critic. The editor of the newspaper tells him they need
    a person to educate the English readership about Sinhala literature and
    culture, and Piyadasa soon produces a series of articles that express the
    kind of critique of Sinhala Buddhist identity found in Yali Upannemi.
    The editor is happy with Piyadasa’s work and commends him for initiating
    an important debate on Sinhala culture. This period in Colombo
    becomes one when the village and his family recede from Piyadasa’s life.
    He becomes increasingly involved in his work and a senior journalist also
    drags him into a life of regular drinking and visits to prostitutes. Thus,
    the aesthetic rural– urban binary invoked in the road trip at the beginning
    of the story becomes a more clearly enunciated ideological binary, the
    urban being posited as a site of questionable morality.
    The novel ends with Piyadasa rediscovering his rural Sinhala self.
    As he is building his journalistic career he receives a letter from Martin
    Wickramasinghe arguing that his conception of Sinhala culture is wrong
    and that literary texts like Yali Upannemi misrepresent the rural Sinhala
    psyche. Piyadasa’s return to the rural comes about when Balamahattaya,
    126 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    his rural uneducated cousin, re- enters his life. Piyadasa experiences a
    deep sense of guilt, about his neglect of the village and his family, when
    he realises that Balamahattaya is in Colombo to mortgage his house, his
    sole material possession, so that he can find the dowry for his younger
    sister’s marriage – a sacrifice that reminds Piyadasa of his own familial
    obligations towards his sister. This incident prompts a lengthy critical
    introspection in Piyadasa, who eventually concludes that texts like Yali
    Upannemi do not reflect reality and that Balamahattaya represents the
    true humanism and value system of authentic rural Sinhala life.
    The resolution of the novel demonstrates the narrative structure
    of a classic nineteenth- century Bildungsroman – a novel that charts the
    moral and psychological growth of its protagonist. Piyadasa initially
    becomes estranged from his rural ethos, only to return to it as a more
    enlightened and mature man. However, when looked at from outside the
    novel’s own circular logic, Piyadasa’s trajectory represents a dilemma – a
    dilemma central to Amarasekara’s position as a Sinhala cultural nationalist.
    As we have seen in Amarasekara’s socio- political criticism and in his
    fiction, there is a consistent need to establish a sense of historical continuity
    for Sinhala identity. The central argument running through much
    of his work is that a Sinhala cultural essence has survived the colonial
    encounter and that the urgent task of national revival is to rediscover
    this essence for the postcolonial present. At the same time, there is a
    constant sense of anxiety that the Sinhala middle classes are unmoored
    from this authenticity and need to be ‘re- educated’ – a re- education that
    Piyadasa undergoes in the novel and by extension a re- education that
    Amaresakara has undergone in his own life. Amarasekara sees this process
    of re- education as central to his literary craft – a position he explicitly
    articulates in Abudassa Yugayak (1976).
    We see this didactic approach to literature expressed even more
    strongly in two important short stories: Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya
    (The Stone Statue and the Hollow Statue) and Pilima Lowai Piyevi
    Lowai (The World of Statues and the World of Reality) (Amaresakara
    2001 [1987]). These two darkly ironic texts shift the focus from the
    ‘fallen’ middle class to the village and the peasantry. Although the two
    texts try to establish authenticity as an organic reality among the peasantry,
    they are intensely conscious of how authenticity had by the late
    1980s become a politically appropriated discourse. One can see these two
    texts as Amarasekara’s attempt to ‘rescue’ authenticity from its political
    articulation, but, read against the grain, this attempt also suggests that
    the post- independence discourse of Sinhala authenticity faced a moment
    of significant crisis in the late 1980s. If authenticity became politically
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 127
    ‘alive’ in independent Sri Lanka, Amarasekara’s texts suggest authenticity
    also experienced a kind of ‘death’ in the late 1980s.
    Stone statues, hollow statues and the life and death
    of authentic things
    Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya (1987) and Pilima Lowayi Piyawi Lowayi
    (2001) were published 14 years apart but they form a single narrative,
    the sequel picking up where the previous story ends. The year 1987
    marks the culmination of approximately a decade during which Sinhala
    cultural discourse faced a significant crisis. With the liberalisation of
    the economy in 1978 and the spread of electronic mass media including
    private TV and FM radio and cheap and accessible media formats such
    as audio and video cassettes, popular culture was in the ascendant and
    represented an urban aesthetic rather than one invested in an idealised
    village- based sense of Sinhala and Buddhist civilisational continuity. The
    1980s also saw the government led by Sri Lanka’s first executive president,
    J. R. Jayawardene, mobilising culture in a big way to promote an
    aggressive neo- liberal development programme (Tennekoon 1988). The
    centrepiece of the Jayawardene government’s development agenda was
    the ambitious Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme launched
    in 1977. The programme – which involved hydroelectric generation,
    mass- scale irrigation and inland fisheries development – displaced
    thousands of Sinhala villages and altered the physical geography of Sri
    Lanka’s longest river, the Mahaweli.
    Though thoroughly progressivist and modern in ambition, the
    Mahaweli project was packaged and marketed with a distinctly ‘traditional’
    aesthetic, which drew upon the discourse of ancient Sinhala
    civilisational and hydro- engineering achievements (Tennekoon 1988).
    At one level this canny marketing pre- empted criticism about the
    government’s aggressive neo- liberal economic programme and the
    socio- cultural displacement caused by the Mahaweli project. At another
    level, though, the mobilisation of cultural symbols drew criticism from
    Sinhala intellectuals (Tennekoon 1990), as a distortion and commercialisation
    of culture. Alongside the Mahaweli development work the
    Jayawardene government also deployed another major discourse – the
    idea of a dharmishta samajaya or righteous society.
    In this discourse the Jayawardene government sought to project
    the state as custodian of Sinhala Buddhist culture and values. It was
    also a strategic move to wrest moral authority from the sangha (Kemper
    128 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    1991; Abeysekara 2002). The dharmishta samajaya discourse sought
    to silence a vocal segment of the sangha and Sinhala intelligentsia
    who were critical of the liberal economic policies of the Jayawardene
    government, which they saw as promoting the debasement of Sinhala
    culture. Ediriweera Sarachchandra was a prominent critical voice.
    He wrote a pamphlet entitled Dharmishta Samajaya (1982) in which
    he lampooned the government’s discourse and was particularly critical
    of the rise of popular culture – referred to derisively at the time as
    ‘cassette’ culture. The 1980s also witnessed two other events that had
    a significant impact on Sri Lanka as a whole and Sinhala society in particular.
    The 1983 anti- Tamil pogrom and the international backlash
    against it led to intense academic scrutiny of Sinhala society, culture
    and tradition and heightened the narrative of Sinhala beleaguerment
    (Tennekoon 1990). The second Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
    insurrection from 1987 to 1989 – which effectively emasculated the
    state with a bloody war of attrition and was followed by the state’s
    brutal response of forming extra- judicial death squads that abducted
    and killed thousands of Sinhala youth – added to the disillusionment
    and despair in Sinhala society (Perera 1995).
    Written in this context, Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya is a story
    about perception and reality and the difficulty of distinguishing the
    authentic from the inauthentic. The ideological burden of the text, carried
    by its main protagonist, an educated and critically conscious village boy
    called Wimalasena, is to tease out the authentic from the inauthentic.
    Wimalasena’s uneducated and illiterate father Upalis maintains an
    intrinsic link to authenticity, but it becomes Wimalasena’s task to turn
    this organic imaginary into a critical political consciousness.
    The story takes place in a village near the Gal Viharaya in
    Polonnaruwa, a famous site that contains ancient granite statues of
    the Buddha. Amarasekara has said in an interview that the story was
    inspired by a real event he witnessed on a visit to the Gal Viharaya in
    1986 (Mendis 2005). A replica of one of the statues, which had been
    used in a Buddhist expo in London, was later placed in close proximity
    to the original reclining Buddha. In the story Upalis is the caretaker of
    the Gal Viharaya. He is a simple uneducated man with strong convictions
    about right and wrong and an intrinsic relationship to Buddhist cultural
    heritage. He is devoted to the stone statue of the reclining Buddha and
    believes it holds miraculous powers and is blessed by the gods – a belief
    shared by many villagers. But Upalis’s stable world is thrown into disarray
    when the hollow replica of the original statue is placed alongside
    the original. Upalis is troubled by the imposition of this replica, because
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 129
    the original for him signifies a mytho- historical narrative through which
    he makes sense of his world.
    ‘Why should you worry father … if not nearby they can keep one
    on top of the other. If you get your pay at the end of the month
    that’s all that should matter to you. Let them keep it anywhere
    they like.’
    ‘How can I let that happen, I don’t look after this place just
    for the money. I look after it because god Gale Bandara told me to
    do so. It was while your mother was pregnant with you that god
    Gale Bandara came to me in a dream and told me to light a lamp
    here. This is no ordinary place. No one fully realises the miraculous
    powers of this place.
    ‘What this statue depicts is the Buddha’s parinirvana [passing
    away] … It is at this moment that the Buddha called upon the
    supreme god Sakra and told him that Buddhism would survive for
    five thousand years in this country, and that this country should be
    protected. God Sakra called upon god Vishnu and gave the responsibility
    of protecting this country to god Vishnu. It is god Vishnu
    who has given this place to god Gale Bandara. This is no ordinary
    place … Though they try to bring fake statues lying on rubbish
    heaps and dump them here.’
    (Amarasekara 2001 [1987], 12)
    The narrative the old man invokes against his son’s cynicism positions him
    as someone to whom this mytho- historical world is a reality. The stone
    statue embodies for Upalis an entire cultural ethos and his own place in
    this mytho- historical scheme. The statue also signifies the solidity and
    substance of tradition – a physical manifestation of tradition to which the
    old man can relate and pay homage. Upalis’s relationship to the statue
    reflects how the text perceives peasant consciousness. The statue as
    physical symbol plays an important role in mediating Upalis’s relationship
    to tradition. Upalis does not see the statue as a mere representation
    of tradition, as presumably an educated consciousness would, but as a
    living embodiment of tradition. The peasant psyche is thus seen as significant
    but limited – significant because of its relationship to tradition,
    but limited because this relationship is not critically reflective but iconographic
    in a way that borders on superstition. This relationship, as Upalis
    seems instinctively to realise, is also potentially self- negating, for what
    is there to prevent people from switching allegiance and worshipping
    another statue? It is on this point that he enters into an argument with
    130 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    a young archaeological official and his aides, who have come to inspect
    the statues.
    ‘That is the thing. This is what I have been trying to explain to you
    gentlemen. Foolish people who can’t tell the real statue from the
    fake one will come and begin to worship this as well.’
    ‘What is this you are talking about old man, is there any sense
    in this county today about what the real statue is, and what the fake
    one is … ? All you get today are fake statues. So what is wrong with
    putting this fake statue here? Why are you getting so worked up
    about it old man … ? All you have to do is to accept the way the
    country is headed.’
    ‘Don’t think like that sir. Don’t think that while I am looking
    after this place I will allow this rubbish heap to be worshipped. It’s
    been twenty years since this Upalis began looking after the statue.
    During all that time I have not allowed any disrespect towards it …
    You gentlemen probably don’t know its miraculous powers … this
    is not any old statue … god Gale Bandara resides here day and
    night …’
    ‘That is how it is old man. These miracles happen the more
    you worship. When you begin to worship it this replica will also
    become miraculous. god Gale Bandara can look after this one too
    while he looks after the other … no extra effort.’
    ‘It seems to me that this is a joke for you gentlemen … anyway
    who told you gentlemen to do this?’ asked Upalis, attempting to
    control his anger.
    ‘These are not things happening according to what you and
    I want. Very big people want this. Otherwise, old man, do you think
    I like this … ?’ the young man said because he sensed the anger
    in Upalis … ‘These orders come from the highest places in this
    ‘Is that really true sir … you mean by the highest places … the
    President? The Prime Minister?’
    ‘I don’t know that. All I know is that the orders come from very
    high places,’ said the young man.
    ‘I don’t think so sir … Will those great people allow things like
    this? I don’t believe it sir.’
    (Amarasekara 2001 [1987], 19– 20)
    This dialogue foregrounds what are seen as challenges posed to stable
    cultural signifiers in contemporary society. Upalis’s and the young
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 131
    official’s diametrically opposed views of tradition represent a generational
    gap: the cultural imaginary so central to Upalis’s life has not been
    internalised by the younger man. The younger man’s scepticism can also
    be attributed to his education; he finds Upalis’s superstitions amusing.
    The ‘aura of authenticity’ of the original statue has little hold over the
    young archaeological officer’s imagination (Benjamin 1970).
    The young man’s scepticism also relates directly to the cultural politics
    of the 1980s. In an ironic turn of events, a politician decides to have
    the replica painted in gold and organises a major event with ministers
    and prominent Buddhist priests presiding over it. The event is presented
    as a surreal farce, the various government dignitaries and Buddhist
    priests contributing to what is essentially a charade. One priest even
    draws comparisons between the painting of the statue by the current government
    and acts of benevolence by ancient kings towards Buddhism – a
    reference to how the Jayawardene government sought to project itself as
    continuing the ‘work of kings’ (Seneviratne 1999). During Jayawardene’s
    tenure, the Mahavamsa was ‘updated’ to cover his presidency. In his
    autobiography Golden Threads he even placed himself in a genealogy of
    Sinhala kings (Krishna 1999, 31– 58).
    From father to son: retrieving and reanimating
    the authentic
    Parallel to the father’s crisis of authenticity, the son, Wimalasena,
    encounters a similar critique of contemporary society in the political
    indoctrination classes conducted by the JVP. At one of the classes,
    Wimalasena listens to a JVP speaker explain how the idea of righteous
    governance is exploited by the present regime. He is convinced by this
    argument but does not accept the Marxist critique of religion that accompanies
    it. Wimalasena’s reservations about Marxism at this point in the
    narrative turn into a complete rejection at the end. What we see here is
    a shift in Amarasekara’s own position from the early 1980s, where he
    held out the possibility of a Buddhist– Marxist synthesis, to one that is
    more explicitly nativist. At one level it reflects an ideological and conceptual
    shift, but it can be seen as underwritten by the specific historical
    context described above. Given the insidious nature of the 1987– 9
    JVP uprising – which effectively brought civilian life to a standstill and
    crippled the state through a sustained campaign of anti- state violence
    that was qualitatively different from the 1971 insurrection – sympathy
    for the JVP among the Sinhala intelligentsia was much less. One could
    132 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    speculate that, given the international condemnation of Sinhala society
    after 1983 and perceived leftist sympathy for the Tamil cause, Marxism
    had become less attractive to Sinhala cultural nationalists.
    The text, while invoking the dharmishta samajaya discourse, does
    not foreground the cultural and historical insecurities informing its turn
    to authenticity. Instead the narrative denouement shows Wimalasena
    making a judicious choice between alternative indigenous political
    futures. At first, he begins to perceive a connection between what he
    learnt in the JVP classes and the binary between the stone statue and the
    replica – that the replica is a symbolic representation of how the idea of
    a righteous society is being manipulated to deceive people. But diverging
    from the JVP’s position, which extends this critique to suggest that all
    religious belief is politically disabling, Wimalasena returns to tradition
    and authenticity.
    Wimalasena witnesses how the gold- painted statue begins to
    attract more and more villagers despite Upalis’s best efforts to discourage
    them. At the same time, Upalis loses his buffaloes. Unable to find them
    for several days, he turns to the stone statue for help. His prayers produce
    no results, but, unknown to him, his wife has offered prayers to the goldpainted
    replica. Much to Upalis’s annoyance, the buffaloes turn up the
    following day and the wife reveals to him that she has prayed at the replica.
    Struggling to comprehend these events, Upalis becomes increasingly
    dispirited. Wimalasena, observing his father’s dilemma, discusses it with
    his friend Wijeysundara and hatches a plan to blow up the replica. This
    scheme goes awry and the friend dies in the ensuing explosion. The story
    ends here, without offering a resolution to the moral and political crisis
    of authenticity.
    Pilima Lowayi Piyawi Lowayi picks up the story 14 years later and
    provides a more resolute and clear- cut return to authenticity. After his
    friend’s death, Wimalasena suffers depression. Upalis desperately seeks
    help for his son from various sources and in the end goes in search of
    another newly anointed replica that is said to have miraculous powers.
    At the site of this new statue Wimalasena in a dream- like sequence
    encounters the ghost of Wijeysundara. The next morning he wakes up
    cured of his illness. Wimalasena’s dialogue with Wijeysundara’s ‘ghost’
    becomes a didactic lecture on authenticity and national political and cultural
    ‘All this time what I did was think about these things, I thought
    about what we did from beginning to end … During that time
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 133
    I was often reminded of the things you said. In short, Marxism
    is also another hollow statue … a statue without a core. Another
    hollow statue imported to deceive us and to create a fairytale world
    around us …’
    ‘What you are trying to say is that we need to explain the difference
    between the hollow statue and the stone statue, isn’t it?’
    ‘Exactly right … We never realised that. We thought all
    statues are the same … That we should destroy all of them … That
    we can’t have a revolution otherwise. It was only during these past
    few days I realised how much of a lie that was. Without the body
    of dharma [doctrine/ guiding principles] represented by the stone
    statue, what revolution can we achieve? It is up to you to sort out
    the various strands of this body of dharma and explain it …’
    ‘But how do we know such a body of dharma still exists?
    I don’t have the same belief I had earlier. Sometimes I feel that all
    these statues are the same.’
    ‘Don’t talk rubbish. This is not a time to be talking rubbish! If
    we don’t explain this dharma and don’t explain the significance of
    the world of stone statues we are finished … you are finished … the
    country is finished … the people are finished … remember that.’
    Wimalasena felt Wijeysundara attempting to embrace him as
    he said this.
    Just at that moment Wimalasena felt very cold as if his feet
    had encountered a puddle of cold water.
    (Amarasekara 2001, 98– 104)
    The text does not end here. It takes the discourse of authenticity one
    step further and projects Wimalasena as representative of an emergent
    generation of rural educated Sinhala youth who will realise politically
    the unfulfilled promise of 1956. Once Wimalasena returns to the village
    he reflects that Dharmapala’s and Martin Wickramasinghe’s writing
    contains the authenticity he is searching for (Amarasekara 2001, 111).
    This conviction is further strengthened through conversations he has
    with a teacher, who presents a historical narrative of nationalism that
    positions Wimalasena’s generation as the moment of arrival.
    ‘The generation that was there when this country received independence
    did not even know there was such a cultural current. The
    subsequent generation – the generation of ’56 – realised dimly that
    there was something. My generation, which came after that saw it
    134 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    better than them. I have a strong belief that your generation will see
    this completely.’
    ‘I think you are right sir. At least my generation knows what
    the stone statue is and what the hollow statue is.’
    (Amarasekara 2001, 113)
    The text thus ends in a confident teleology that sees Wimalasena’s
    generation as the fruition of a process of nationalist arrival. Placed
    in their historical context, we can see Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya
    and Pilima Lowayi Piyawi Lowayi as expressions of cultural- nationalist
    anxiety about the decline of authenticity. Something of this anxiety
    is also revealed in the short introduction to the stories, where
    Amrasekara argues that contemporary Sinhala cultural production
    is characterised by either intellectually arid populist work or
    what he sees as the frenzied articulations of postmodernist writers
    (Amarasekara 2001, unnumbered preface). The narrative of tradition
    and continuity Wimalasena articulates becomes important in
    this context. But Wimalasena himself – as much as Dharmapala and
    Bandaranaike, whom Amarasekara constructs as father figures of
    Sinhala authenticity – represents the paradox of authenticity. Though
    presented as a subaltern village boy, Wimalasena does not have the
    same intrinsic connection to tradition that his father has. It is only
    through the events of the story, and specifically through the agency
    of the schoolteacher, that he gains this knowledge. Therefore, despite
    the text’s insistence that a traditional cultural imaginary remains, its
    nature and definition remain elusive. It is only through the mediation
    of a consciousness that grasps culture as an abstract concept – an
    educated consciousness like that of the teacher and Wimalasena –
    that tradition can be given a fixed form. This is a double bind that has
    characterised most of the nationalist thought explored so far.
    There is insistence that a cultural essence remains unaltered. But often
    the nationalist thinkers themselves are educated and socially mobile and
    thus disconnected from this cultural essence. It is in this context that the
    idealised image of Buddhism, the peasant or the village becomes important.
    At the same time, these idealisations rarely correspond with reality. This
    results in an attempt to reform the locations in which authenticity is thought
    to reside. Dharmapala attempted to achieve this authenticity through moral
    reform and Banadaranaike and other post- independence Sinhala politicians
    sought to do so through government policy. Amarasekara attempts to change
    attitudes through his fiction.
    Gunadasa Amarasekara 135
    Amarasekara’s socio- political and fictional writing constitutes a site on
    which the poetics and politics of authenticity converge. By drawing upon
    Dharmapala and Bandaranaike as figures of historical Sinhala authenticity,
    Amarasekara gives intellectual form and expression to a narrative
    of Sinhala postcolonial revival. His writing both reveals the reductive
    processes through which historical figures are reconstituted as authentic
    beings in nationalist discourse and at the same time reveals the complex
    and contradictory terrain on which this contemporary articulation of
    authenticity unfolds. Deconstructing Amarasekara’s narrative of authenticity
    is relatively easy, but the more critically productive task is to raise
    questions as to why authenticity matters to him and by extension why it
    matters in Sinhala cultural and political discourse in general.
    We see in Amarasekara’s writing the conditions under which
    authenticity became a culturally as well as politically influential discourse
    in the early 1960s. For Sinhala intellectuals such as Wickramasinghe and
    Amarasekara, defining authenticity is connected to the cultural politics
    of decolonisation. This turn to tradition and the need to assert a sense
    of cultural continuity is not unique to Sri Lanka or to Sinhala writers. It
    is visible in Indian writing – for instance in the work of R. K. Narayan,
    where the fictional village of Malgudi becomes a place where colonial
    influences and the forces of modernity are absorbed by a resilient sense of
    Indianness that survives all that is thrown at it. In Africa an entire generation
    of writers such as Chinua Achebe in Nigeria and Ngugi wa Thiongo
    in Kenya spurned what they saw as colonial forms of writing and expression
    and embraced local languages and culture. However, particularly in
    Africa, with the failure of newly independent African nation states to live
    up to their promise of decolonisation, this postcolonial euphoria quickly
    soured. Many African writers, including Achebe and Ngugi, began to
    question the nation state. In India this trend has a longer history, writers
    like Rabindranath Tagore having questioned the nation state and nationalism
    long before decolonisation.
    In Sri Lanka, particularly in Sinhala writing, what we see is a
    kind of tacit cultural compact with the postcolonial state. From the
    1950s up to the 1980s the work of writers such as Wickramasinghe,
    Sarachchandra and Amarasekara was implicitly aligned with statist
    discourses of culture, particularly in the way the village is imagined
    as a site of authenticity that is in turn foreshadowed by a grander
    classical Sinhala civilisational heritage. It is only in the 1980s that
    136 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    this cultural compact began to fracture, with neo- liberal economic
    reforms, the international condemnation of Sinhala society because
    of discrimination and violence against Tamils, and the explicit commodification
    of culture and its mobilisation for economic and political
    ends. As I will explore in the concluding chapter, the narrative of
    authenticity that is so well illustrated in Amarasekara’s writing was
    also informed and shaped by a parallel developmental and political
    narrative of authenticity. The 1980s was a period when this developmental
    and political narrative also went into crisis – mirroring its
    crisis in the cultural domain. However, the work of authenticity in
    postcolonial Sri Lanka is not done. The particular discourse of Sinhala
    authenticity Amarasekara represents may have limited traction today,
    but other discourses of authenticity are emerging to occupy this space.
    Authenticity’s postcolonial afterlife is the focus of the conclusion of
    this book.
    Conclusion: the postcolonial afterlife
    of authenticity
    Liyanage Amarakeerthi’s award- winning 2013 novel Kurulu Hadawatha
    (A Bird’s Heart) features as its protagonist Dinasiri Kurulugangoda, a
    budding radio producer struggling for fresh ideas to promote his channel.
    Earlier in the novel, Dinasiri changes his name from Walangangoda, which
    means ‘Village of Potters’ (indicative of his low caste), to Kurulugangoda,
    which means ‘Village of Birds’, which has more aesthetic appeal and no
    caste overtones. Idly doodling a rough sketch of his village in the studio,
    he has a moment of epiphany. He realises that his village is shaped like a
    bird’s head and that his house, at the centre of the village, is like the eye
    of the bird. All of a sudden, ‘looking back’ as it were to his village from his
    current metropolitan vantage, Dinasiri discovers a rural aesthetic. From
    this point onwards, Kurulugangoda’s career as purveyor of rustic village
    authenticity carries him to dizzying heights in the media industry. His
    success ranges from invitations to cultural talk shows on national television
    to multi- million- rupee product endorsements for multinationals.
    Amarakeerthi’s novel responds to the immanent structure of
    authenticity that has characterised the Sinhala nationalist imagination
    for well over a century and has shaped significant aspects of Sri Lankan
    social and political life, including state policies on economics, development
    and culture. The essence of Sinhala identity in this thinking lies
    in the village – in its rustic simplicity, and a moral order informed by
    Buddhism but also haunted by classical Sinhala civilization and its monumental
    achievements, even though the contemporary Sinhala village has
    little to show of this legacy. If the ‘empirical’ village fails to live up to
    this idealised village the task of nationalism becomes to reshape ‘reality’
    138 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    to fit the ideal. This discourse is deeply intertwined with the notion of
    As we have seen, this authenticity has had many guises and
    manifestations since it was first constructed in the nineteenth century.
    From the 1950s Sinhala intellectuals saw themselves as arbiters of a
    national imagination. Their attempts to formulate Sinhala authenticity
    could not escape its statist articulation – an articulation that in the end
    engulfs authenticity and eviscerates it from within. By the late 1980s,
    when Amarasekara wrote Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya (1987), the
    standard signifiers of Sinhala authenticity were already starting to
    look tired and time- worn. In this conclusion I explore how the ‘death’
    of a certain kind of cultural authenticity charted in the previous chapter
    was underwritten by its political and developmentalist exploitation and
    overuse. Although it would be too hasty to pronounce the certain demise
    of this form of authenticity, it now lacks the gloss and appeal it had in the
    first decades following independence.
    This chapter has two parts. It begins with the story of authenticity’s
    political and developmental ‘death’ and extends this story to the rise of
    popular culture in the 1980s through an important cultural debate that
    took place in the late 1980s. In order to provide a counter- narrative to
    the mainstream cultural articulation of authenticity, I also provide a brief
    overview of avant- garde artistic trends from the 1960s to the 1980s. In
    the second part of the chapter I reflect on authenticity’s continuing resonance
    in contemporary Sinhala public life and then conclude with some
    thoughts on authenticity’s structural relationship with both postcolonial
    nationalism and postcolonial scholarship.
    Authenticity’s developmentalist and political death
    A narrative of village- based authenticity became central to postindependence
    development discourse in the 1940s and 1950s, mirroring
    the primacy of the village in the cultural articulation of Sinhala nationalism
    since the early twentieth century. This narrative went into crisis in
    the 1980s. A rapidly changing social, political and economic landscape had
    begun to render it irrelevant. Three key moments in the developmental
    history of Sri Lanka illustrate the transformations that the village as an
    idea has experienced in independent Sri Lanka: the Gal Oya Irrigation
    Scheme of the late 1940s, the Accelerated Mahaweli Development
    Programme (AMDP) of the late 1970s and early 1980s and the
    Gam Udawa (Village Reawakening) scheme of the 1980s. Gam Udawa,
    Conclusion 139
    I argue, marks the beginning of the end for the village as a site of authenticity
    and cultural and political Sinhala ideological reproduction.
    Three moments in the developmental articulation of the village
    The village, as we’ve seen, intermittently appears in Sinhala cultural
    and nationalist discourse from the nineteenth century onwards. In
    Anagarika Dharmapala’s imagination the peasantry was largely seen as
    a community that needed reform and education in order to be socialised
    into modernity.
    Dharmapala’s ‘Daily Code for the Laity’ was clearly
    influenced by Victorian notions of morality and conduct (Obeyesekere
    1976, 247– 8). It did not draw from village practice. A more idealised, if
    naïve and historically misinformed, articulation of the village was visible
    in the early twentieth- century writing of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. The
    young Bandaranaike’s 1933 pamphlet entitled The Spinning Wheel and
    the Paddy Field sought to graft a Gandhian notion of village- based development
    on to Sri Lanka, despite the fact that spinning was not a historically
    established industry in the country. Paddy cultivation, the other
    symbol of his village- based imaginary, was a historically established
    practice and one that colonial historiography and sociology had made
    central to Sri Lanka’s grand historical narrative. Bandaranaike was not
    alone among educated Sri Lankans in regarding the village as a site of
    authenticity (Samaraweera 1981; Rogers 1990). The difference between
    Dharmapala and Bandaranaike is that whereas the former sees few
    redeeming qualities in villagers, the latter, though wanting to reform
    villagers, also idealises them. What is also visible in the transition from
    Dharmapala to Bandaranaike and on to Amarasekara is how the village
    occupies an ambiguous position in cultural and political discourse. It is
    at once a site of decay and decline and also a site that holds the potential
    for the rejuvenation of the nation.
    D. S. Senanayake and the Gal Oya Irrigation Scheme
    One of the first substantive moments of the developmental articulation of
    the village was the Gal Oya Irrigation Scheme, which began in 1949, one
    year after Sri Lanka received independence. This project was promoted
    by Sri Lanka’s first prime minister, D. S. Senanayake. As minister of lands
    and agriculture in the State Council from 1931 onwards, Senanayake
    had settled Sinhala peasant families in the arid North Central and
    Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. In doing so, he was guided by a grand
    vision of resurrecting Sri Lanka’s ancient hydraulic civilisation. This was
    140 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    a ministerial portfolio over which Bandaranaike and Senanayake, both
    members of the CNC, had fought fiercely because of the political capital it
    provided among the peasant constituency (Manor 1989). The ideological
    vision that shaped the Gal Oya Irrigation Scheme is succinctly expressed
    by R. L. Brohier, a member of the Gal Oya Governing Board:
    Ceylon has always mainly been an agricultural country. Hence, the
    parent earth was, and ever will be, the heart of Ceylon life. Truly
    the original decree that sent man forth a ‘tiller of the ground’, is
    perhaps even truer in its natural than its metaphysical sense, when
    reviewed in the comprehensive landscape of agriculture in Ceylon
    from the early years of Aryan settlement 2500 years ago, through
    23 centuries of Sinhalese kingship.
    (Brohier 1955– 6, 68)
    Brohier shows that economic considerations were subsidiary when it
    came to the restoration of the Minneriya tank, a large irrigation reservoir
    that was rehabilitated in 1934– 5.
    The primary purpose of the Senanayake enterprise to colonize
    Minneriya was social rather than economic. The returns he realized
    were not be measured so much in solid rupees, but in the splendid
    satisfaction of having developed … rich and fertile lands for Ceylon
    and her people out of a vast area which had been lying forgotten
    and neglected for centuries.
    (Brohier 1955– 6, 72)
    This is an astonishing statement from a mid twentieth- century policymaker
    in a developing country with large- scale poverty and limited
    J. R. Jayawardene and the Accelerated Mahaweli
    Development Programme
    The second moment in this developmental narrative is the AMDP, initiated
    by the government led by J. R. Jayawardene which came into power
    in 1977. Jayawardene moved away from the welfare- state model adopted
    by successive Sri Lankan post- independence governments. Instead,
    he pursued an aggressive neo- liberal economic strategy (Wickramasinghe
    2006, 135). This was also a time when a new Sinhala word
    entered the political
    and policy lexicon in Sri Lanka – samwardhanaya
    Conclusion 141
    (development). As it was defined and deployed by the Jayawardene
    regime, samwardhanaya sought to negotiate the contradictions between
    rapid modernisation and neo- liberal economic reforms and a sense of
    tradition and cultural continuity (Tennekoon 1990). To smooth out the
    contradictions, the development discourse was heavily ritualised and
    presented as a modern discourse based on science and technology which
    also preserved the culture and tradition of the Sinhala people. This dual
    articulation of development was distinctly visible in the AMDP.
    The AMDP was funded mainly by the Conservative British government
    of Margaret Thatcher. The project sought to tap Sri Lanka’s longest
    river, the Mahaweli, at key upstream locations. It diverted water from
    the wet zone to the dry zone to irrigate 320,000 acres of new land and
    80,000 acres of existing agricultural land while simultaneously generating
    hydroelectricity (Mahaweli Authority 2013). The river was
    dammed at four locations in the country’s highlands, involving significant
    resettlement of communities living along the river valley. Nearly
    140,000 peasant families from other parts of the country were resettled
    in the newly irrigated areas. Ironically, a significant number of Kandyan
    villages were displaced – villages that were once an image of the rural
    Sinhala authenticity promoted by early twentieth- century Orientalists
    like Ananda Coomarawsamy (Brow 1999).
    The AMDP was an ambitious project, which envisioned propelling
    Sri Lanka into economic prosperity and development through cheap
    hydroelectricity and efficient agricultural production. It was packaged
    through a distinctly traditional aesthetic (Tennekoon 1988). This packaging
    sought to pre- empt criticism about the displacement and sociocultural
    disruption the AMDP caused. It was a marketing strategy,
    but at another level this was a narrative that powerful agents within
    the government, like Gamini Dissanayake, the Minister of Mahaweli
    Development, believed in. A number of monuments, including a massive
    stupa overlooking the Kotmale reservoir, which was named the Mahaweli
    Maha Seya (Great Mahaweli Stupa), were commissioned, to give a distinctly
    Buddhist and Sinhala ethos to the project. One can see a clear continuity
    in the cultural imaginary informing the Jayawardene government
    in the 1980s and what D. S. Senanayake attempted in the 1950s. Both
    Jayawardene and Senanayake saw themselves as continuing the ‘work of
    kings’ (Seneviratne 1999).
    The AMDP can also be seen as nestled within the larger political
    discourse deployed by the Jayawardene government to claim political
    and moral legitimacy. This was the discourse of a nidahas dharmishta
    rajyak (Kemper 1990), which may be translated as ‘free and righteous
    142 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    state or kingdom’ – the discourse to which Amarasekara’s Gal Pilimaya
    Saha Bol Pilimaya was responding. This discourse attempted to arrogate
    to the government the function of moral arbiter and thereby neutralise
    any criticism of its economic reform agenda, which included the commercialisation
    and commodification of many aspects of society as part
    of its aggressive modernisation strategy. The ‘free’ in this slogan referred
    more to the ‘free economic policy’, meaning relaxation of state regulation
    of the economy, than to any substantive sense of individual or societal
    It is from the AMDP and the Jayawardene government’s deployment
    of dharmishta samajaya that an explicit connection to the cultural
    and aesthetic discourse about the village and authenticity can be
    drawn. The dharmishta discourse, as we saw in the previous chapter, was
    challenged and critiqued by the Sinhala cultural intelligentsia and was
    satirised in newspapers (Tennekoon 1990). Many Sinhala intellectuals
    saw the Jayawardene government as commodifying and debasing culture
    by opening the flood gates to popular and populist trends. This explicit
    commodification of culture and the insecurity it created are apparent in
    Amarasekara’s writing. The Jayawardene government’s period in power
    and the AMDP can therefore be seen as an occasion when the implicit
    cultural compact between the statist political articulation of authenticity
    and its expression in mainstream Sinhala cultural production began
    to break down. If the Jayawardene period marks the ‘beginning of the
    end’, the crisis of authenticity came to a head soon after Jayawardene
    left office.
    Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gam Udawa
    The third moment in this narrative of developmental discourse and cultural
    articulation is the Gam Udawa (Village Reawakening) programme –
    which saw a major rural housing programme led by Jayawardene’s
    successor as executive president, Ranasinghe Premadasa (Hennayake
    2006). The Gam Udawa programme was coterminous with the AMDP
    and began shortly after the Jayawardene government swept into power
    in 1977. Premadasa was prime minister in this government. He came
    from an urban working- class background and was seen as a brash
    ‘upwardly mobile commoner’, who was grudgingly accommodated by
    the elite political establishment (Jayatilleka 2001). In Premadasa’s economic
    vision the village was a site of negotiation between modernisation,
    industrialisation and popular culture. Rather than a paddy- based village
    culture, Premadasa promoted the building of model villages, whose
    Conclusion 143
    physical layout resembled the centrally concentrated urban housing he
    was familiar with, having grown up amidst urban poverty (Peiris 2013,
    174). The ubiquitous garment factory, which became a symbol of social
    mobility for many rural women, was another key feature of Premadasa’s
    tenure as president: Jayawardene also promoted factories, but in industrial
    zones, whereas Premadasa took them into villages. There was a shift
    in the vision of the rural economy from one based on agriculture to one
    that included manufacturing and wage labour (Lynch 2007).
    Like the AMDP, Gam Udawa coded its neo- liberal economic
    in ‘traditional’ imagery and symbolism (Hennayake 2006,
    148– 50). This was most visible in the Gam Udawa exposition, which was
    held each year from 1979 to mark Premadasa’s birthday. The event grew
    in size and importance along with Premadasa’s political career and was
    a major cultural and political spectacle by the time he became executive
    president in 1989. A week- long festive celebration, it was designed to
    promote Premadasa’s socio- economic vision, his political currency as the
    benefactor of the masses, and his image as a man of the people. Every
    Gam Udawa featured various replicas of historic sites and monuments
    from other parts of the country – for instance, miniature versions of the
    sacred Adam’s Peak or replicas of famous Buddhist statues (Hennayake
    2006; Peiris 2013). In some cases there were replicas of replicas, one
    Gam Udawa imitating a previous one (Rajasingham 2013, 54). The
    intent, as in the AMDP, was to create a sense of continuity and tradition,
    but, given Premadasa’s proclivity for popular culture and the presence
    of these replicas in what was essentially a giant carnival – replete with
    musical shows, thrill rides and clowns – the overall effect was of a kitschy
    pastiche. The village, and the larger cultural imaginary it represented,
    became a commodity. If the AMDP began this process of marketing the
    village, Gam Udawa took it to a new surreal level.
    These three moments of developmental discourse are representative
    of the political economy of post- independence authenticity in Sinhala
    nationalist discourse. Post- independence mainstream cultural discourse,
    which also had features of a ‘high’ cultural discourse, had wittingly or
    unwittingly tied its fortunes to a statist understanding of authenticity.
    Because of this widespread and ubiquitous presence of authenticity in
    Sinhala society, when it faced a crisis in the developmental and political
    sphere this crisis was also keenly felt in the cultural sphere.
    Challenges to authenticity did not simply arise from politics and
    development discourse. The rise of popular culture was another factor
    in the demise of authenticity in the late 1980s. Ranasinghe Premadasa
    was a patron of popular culture and Gam Udawa was a site where popular
    144 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    culture was given free reign. A cultural debate that occurred in 1987, the
    same year that Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya was published, provides
    an entry point to explore the role of popular culture and how it impacted
    on the discourse of authenticity.
    Popular culture and Sinhala authenticity
    In 1987 a cultural debate was sparked by the death of H. R. Jothipala,
    an immensely popular Sinhala singer. This debate speaks to many of
    the issues underlying the insecurity of Amaresekera’s Gal Pilimaya
    Saha Bol Pilimaya. Jothipala sang thousands of songs set to popular
    Hindi melodies and was a regular performer at Gam Udawa expositions.
    He was promoted vigorously by Premadasa but was shunned by the
    cultural establishment. When Jothipala died, shortly after singing at a
    Gam Udawa exposition, thousands attended his funeral at the Borella
    cemetery in Colombo. Another popular star, the actress Ramani
    Bartholomuesz, died within a few months of Jothipala. A similar outpouring
    of public support and grief was evident at her funeral. This
    prompted prominent cultural critic Sarath Amunugama to write an article
    entitled Binda Wetunu Sanskruthika Balakanuwa (Fall of a Cultural
    Pillar). Amunugama (1987a) argued provocatively that the thousands
    of young people who attended Jothipala’s and Bartholomuesz’s funerals
    were indicative of a paradigm shift in cultural discourse in the country.
    He asserted that the shunning of Jothipala by the Sinhala cultural establishment
    came at a price, because he was a potential bridge between
    popular culture and the ‘high tradition’ of Sinhala culture. Amunugama’s
    critique was wide- ranging. He was not simply talking about music or
    movie stars. He was making direct reference to the weva, dagoba discourse
    – the rural Sinhala aesthetic that had dominated Sri Lanka’s
    post- independence cultural discourse. He was arguing that for a new
    generation attracted to a different rhythm of life the weva and dagoba
    held little appeal.
    Amunugama’s piece produced a furious exchange of views in
    the Divayina (The Island) newspaper over several months. Ediriweera
    Sarachchandra responded to Amunagama’s thesis dismissively, asserting
    the continued relevance of high culture. Three others who joined the
    debate were A. J. Gunawardana and Regi Siriwardena – literary critics and
    academics – and Ajith Samaranayake, a senior journalist (Samaranayake
    2004). Gunawardena and Siriwardena recognised the importance of
    the cultural shift Amunugama was signalling, but argued for a kind of
    ‘middle path’ that maintained high culture but also accommodated
    popular culture. It is telling that even Siriwardena, one of the most
    Conclusion 145
    progressive and versatile cultural critics of his time (see Siriwadena
    2006), was not completely willing to take popular culture seriously.
    However, A. J. Gunawardana, who was a mass- media scholar, critiqued
    the ‘protectionist’ attitude towards culture among the Sinhala intelligentsia
    and argued that, with the growth of electronic mass media,
    divisions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural forms were unsustainable
    (Gunawardana 1990, 3).
    As Amunugama’s concluding salvo to this debate suggests, no one
    in the Sinhala cultural establishment was really willing to take popular
    culture seriously (Amunugama 1987b). Amunugama’s main target was
    Ajith Samaranayake, who adopted a leftist position by claiming that
    popular culture is a form of escapism. To this, Amunugama’s impatient
    response was to characterise Samaranayake’s views as representing
    an imitative and unimaginative Marxist position. He pointed out how
    various forms of popular culture such as jazz, country and western or the
    music of the Beatles had been recognised as important forms of cultural
    expression (Amunugama 1987b).
    This debate brings us full circle. The shunning of Jothipala by
    the musical and cultural establishment of the late 1980s and the cultural
    nativism that informed the Danno Budunge controversy of 2016 –
    when an operatic rendition of a song associated with Sinhala high
    culture was heavily criticised for its perceived deviance from tradition
    and authenticity – have an uncanny resemblance. Qualitatively one
    can make a distinction between the two incidents. Some who objected
    to Jothipala may not have objected to Kishani Jayasinghe’s operatic
    rendition, since the 1987 debate was defined by the contrast between
    high and low culture whereas Kishani’s singing, though ‘Western’,
    belonged to a high cultural tradition. However, Amunugama’s argument
    was not just about high culture versus low culture, but about how
    a cultural discourse that was carefully nurtured in independent Sri
    Lanka and closely associated with national authenticity had become
    irrelevant. The responses to Amunugama were also shaped by the
    question of what qualified as legitimate national cultural expression.
    This cultural debate was not laid to rest in the 1980s. To judge by the
    reactions to Jayasinghe in 2016, it is one that still lives on. But in terms
    of national signifiers of authenticity the 1987 debate, along with the
    Gam Udawa pastiche of culture and Amarasekara’s Gal Pilimaya Saha
    Bol Pilimaya, marks a distinct moment when the death of a certain
    kind of authenticity became visible and publicly articulated. If the
    1950s marked the high point in the emergence of a nationalist cultural
    aesthetic closely tied to a discourse of authenticity which spanned art,
    culture, politics and development, the late 1980s saw the demise of
    146 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    this discourse. Authenticity, as in Amarakeerthi’s Kurulu Hadawatha,
    was rendered surreal and entered an ironic age.
    Authenticity in an ironic age: roads taken and not taken
    in Sinhala culture
    Though a sense of authenticity grounded in a pastoral ideal has pervaded
    a significant spectrum of Sinhala culture- making in independent
    Sri Lanka, it is important to note that there were other initiatives that
    imagined culture differently. These alternative imaginaries expressed
    themselves in different artistic genres. In prose and poetry the work of
    Siri Gunasinghe from the 1960s – he emigrated to Canada in the 1970s –
    was modernist in both content and form and sought to break away
    from the dominant realist mode of storytelling established by Martin
    Wickramasinghe. It was also thematically radical, as in Amarasekara’s
    early work, pushing Sinhala subjectivity out of its traditional Buddhist
    and rural frameworks of reference (Amarakeerthi 2017).
    In theatre there was a reactionary realist backlash against the
    myth- inspired classical dramatic tradition of Ediriweera Sarachchandra.
    The playwright Sugathapala de Silva, who formed the theatre group
    Apey Kattiya (Our People) in the 1960s, produced work that was a direct
    reaction to what he saw as the classical elitism and social irrelevance of
    the work of Sarachchandra. The titles of some of the early plays, such as
    Boarding Karayo (Boarding- House Guys) or Thattu Geval (Tenements),
    indicate an earthy urban realism that was influenced by the work of
    American dramatists such as Tennessee Williams. These plays implicitly
    question the postcolonial cultural euphoria and stylistic elitism in
    the works of Sarachchandra. De Silva and the members of Apey Kattiya
    considered themselves outsiders to the social and cultural milieu
    represented by Sarachchandra and the postcolonial Sinhala high culture
    of the 1950s (Ranaweera 2012).
    Gamini Haththotuwegama’s Wayside and Open Theatre group
    was a significant alternative theatrical presence from the 1970s
    and has continued to function despite the founder’s death in 2009.
    Haththotuwegama’s theatrical practice throughout his career was oppositional
    – refusing the proscenium theatre and other institutional performance
    spaces in favour of street corners, bus stands and pavements
    (Dharmasiri 2012, 17). The group experimented with many forms,
    including absurdism, physical theatre and surrealism. The performers
    were drawn largely from working- class backgrounds. However,
    Haththotuwegama’s work received limited recognition from the cultural
    Conclusion 147
    establishment and remained very much on the margins of mainstream
    Sinhala cultural discourse. It was only in 2012, three years after his
    death, that a volume about his work published by one of his former
    students (Dharmasiri 2012).
    Another significant presence in this alternative movement was
    the film director Dharmasena Pathiraja, who gained prominence in the
    1970s and has been described as a ‘rebel with a cause’ (Wee 2003) and
    as ‘the Left- oriented film maker’ (Wediwardena 2016). Pathiraja’s
    films – like Sugathapala de Silva’s and Hathtotuwegama’s plays – can
    be seen in part as a reaction to the bourgeois nationalist aesthetic of the
    1950s and as a response to rapid social and political changes. In film the
    equivalent of Sarachchandra and Wickramasinghe was Lester James
    Pieris, an internationally renowned and stylistically accomplished
    film- maker whose iconic cinematic work, Gamperaliya, was based on
    the novel of the same title by Wickramasinghe. Peiris’s cinema, like
    Wickramasinghe’s fiction, was marked by a bourgeois realist aesthetic
    and an intense fascination with themes of rural disintegration.
    Pathiraja has indicated that his cinema is an attempt to break free
    of this mould and explore new forms and thematic concerns in search of
    alternative modes of cinematic expression (Pathiraja 2009a, 5). He has
    compared his cinematic journey to that of Ritwik Ghatak in India and
    drawn comparisons between his situation in relation to Peiris and that of
    Ghatak in relation to Satyajit Rai (Wediwardena 2016). Peiris’s cinema
    is often seen as the founding of a modern Sri Lankan (read Sinhala)
    cinema and therefore a norm against which alternative expressions
    like Pathiraja’s are judged. The normative influence of Peiris’s cinema
    meant that funding and production opportunities for avant- garde artists
    such as Pathiraja were limited. Peiris’s international acclaim can also
    be attributed to some extent to his themes of rural life, feudal family
    structures and rural change, which may have had an Orientalist fascination
    for Western critics (Pathiraja 2009b).
    The 1987 cultural debate, which was later dubbed the ‘cemetery
    cultural debate’, was revived in 1990 in the pages of Arthika Vimasuma
    (Economic Inquiry), a magazine edited by Tisaranee Gunasekara,
    a prominent bilingual public intellectual (Gunasekara 1990). Two
    of the original contributors, A. J. Gunawardana (1990) and Ajith
    Samaranayake (1990), featured in an issue of this publication. Both
    Gunasekara and Gunawardana argued that a static view of culture was
    untenable. They argued that, just as the economy had been liberalised in
    the late 1970s, culture too was a domain where change was inevitable.
    Ajith Samaranayake, who had initially held a somewhat conservative
    148 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    position in 1987, proposed a ‘middle path’ where new trends would be
    accommodated alongside old ones. The overall tenor of this iteration of
    the 1987 debate was that the culture signified by the weva, dagoba discourse
    was no longer a reality and that Sinhala society had moved on.
    Perhaps the irony of this moment of cultural introspection in 1990 is that
    the alternative cultural discourses sketched above received little institutional
    support or recognition and were marginalised by the Sinhala cultural
    intelligentsia. But in the wake of the ‘death of authenticity’ it was
    not these socially invested alternative discourses that gained ground, but
    a populist and commodified cultural discourse aggressively promoted
    by privately owned electronic media. Sinhala cultural authenticity still
    survives in this context but in a ghostly and uncanny form.
    Authenticity in an ironic age
    Authenticity today
    Iconic representatives of Sinhala culture now openly lament the loss of
    authenticity. For instance, Rohana Beddage, who made a name for himself
    as a folk artist as well as a popular folklorist, gave an interview to
    a newspaper bemoaning how the idea of the village now exists only as
    media hype (Jayasinghe 2017). He criticised the practice every year
    when he was co-opted by TV and radio channels to promote avurudu
    or the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Beddage observes that
    villages where people engage in traditional games, singing and rituals
    for avurudu simply do not exist any more; they have become mere media
    simulations. The chief protagonist of Amarakeerthi’s Kurulu Hadawatha
    (2013) is probably based on a currently practising electronic- media journalist
    who actively cultivated the image of a village farmer and became a
    somewhat ironic purveyor of rusticity.
    Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was executive president from 2005 to
    2015, at first projected a sense of rustic simplicity. Later in his political
    career, as he became increasingly autocratic, he took on the aura of an
    ancient Sinhala king. He likened himself to Dutugemunu, the warriorking
    of the modern Sinhala imagination who is said to have unified
    the Sinhala nation. Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripala Sirisena, also
    draws on notions of Sinhala authenticity. He projects an image of a
    rajarata gemiya (a villager from the raja rata or North Central plains).
    However, in terms of government policy neither of them has tried to
    pursue the kind of irrigation and paddy cultivation work typical of their
    Conclusion 149
    predecessors, such as D. S. Senanayake and J. R. Jayawardene. Neither
    have they put forward a specifically village- based developmental model.
    In fact one of the centrepieces of the Sirisena government’s development
    strategy is the creation of a Western Province megalopolis – an
    unapologetically modern and urban vision of development, which is
    also incidentally headed by a major Sinhala nationalist ideologue, Patali
    Champika Ranawaka.
    Post- war Sri Lanka has also seen the re- emergence of a Sinhala
    nationalist discourse based on the autochthonous origins of the Sinhala
    people. It is in some ways similar to the hela movement of the 1930s,
    but its focus is not Sinhala linguistic exceptionalism but a 4,000- yearold
    mytho- history in which Sri Lanka is believed to have achieved
    great technological advances (Witharana n.d.). It sees Sinhala people
    as descendants of Ravana, the demon king of the Mahabaratha – a
    figure associated with many stories of ancient scientific and technological
    prowess. The post- war years witnessed a growing Ravana cult,
    newspapers and radio and TV channels providing much space for
    Ravana- related discussions. Witharana (n.d.) speculates that the postwar
    context has called for a ‘better’ story for the Sinhala community: a
    story in which Sinhala pride at having defeated the Liberation Tigers
    of Tamil Elam (LTTE) – a group many experts believed was militarily
    undefeatable – mixes with a need to dissociate Sri Lanka from India
    because of India’s perceived meddling in Sri Lankan affairs. The Ravana
    cult provides a mytho- historical basis to idealise a twenty- first- century
    Sinhala nation with advanced technological capabilities. It is still too
    early to predict the course of this emergent structure of feeling. It does,
    however, suggest that the death of one kind of authenticity does not
    imply the death of authenticity itself. Authenticity has always been
    contested and reshaped.
    The aura of authenticity
    The ‘life and death’ of authenticity in Sinhala culture and its deep structural
    relationship to nationalism offer a specific case from which to
    reflect more generally on authenticity and its relationship to postcolonial
    nationalism and postcolonial criticism. Authenticity is neither simply a
    strategic category mobilised by nationalists nor simply a form of selfdelusion.
    Specific contextual factors underlie its production and its political
    and cultural resilience. In concluding, I look at authenticity from a
    conceptual perspective and explore how it has shaped and continues to
    shape postcolonial thought.
    150 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
    Reproduction’ (1970 [1936]) is perhaps one of the earliest critiques
    drawing out connections between authenticity, art, culture and politics
    in the twentieth century. Benjamin foregrounds the poetics and politics
    of what happens to art when technology creates the conditions for
    seamless mass reproduction. He argues that with such technological
    reproducibility art loses its ‘aura’, or a kind of authenticity that artistic
    objects have when they are embedded in a particular history and locale.
    With reproducibility they are lifted out of this context and become freefloating
    signifiers. This argument is not only about art or artistic perception.
    It is also political. Reproducibility frees the artistic object from
    its tradition. This is not necessarily a bad thing for Benjamin, because
    it creates the possibilities for making art political rather than ritualistic.
    However, it also creates the conditions for the commodification of art
    whereby people are drawn to the fake authenticity of the reproduced
    object in a kind of mass spectacle.
    Benjamin illustrates this through film, where the audience’s experience
    is filtered through the medium of the camera – a technologically
    mediated access to ‘reality’ where the audience ‘forgets’ the artifice of
    their experience. The film can only be aesthetically appreciated if one is
    not aware of all the technological paraphernalia that surrounds its production.
    For Benjamin this represents the aestheticisation of politics – a
    kind of alienating effect whereby in the modern mass consumption of culture
    people are drawn to the ghostly aura of authenticity that surrounds
    the reproduced object of art. In reality the object has already lost its
    authentic aura at the very moment of its reproduction. As the epilogue
    to ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ indicates,
    Benjamin was making these observations as a reaction to the efforts of
    European fascists to build a reified tradition based on mass spectacle and
    Benjamin’s reflections on the political functions of authenticity
    have a number of implications for postcolonial nationalism. This is
    best illustrated in the thinking of the Martinique- born black intellectual
    Frantz Fanon – often seen as a foundational figure in postcolonial
    studies. In Wretched of the Earth (2004 [1961]) Fanon proposes a typology
    – very similar to a Marxist teleology – for anti- colonial nationalism.
    In its formative stages, Fanon suggests, local intellectuals follow an imitative
    path, trying to emulate colonial models. In the next stage, Fanon
    argues, these intellectuals become more conscious of their own culture
    and traditions, but in doing so begin to romanticise the past without a
    critical consciousness of the complexities of their present. In a third and
    Conclusion 151
    final stage these intellectuals will lift their heads out of the past and begin
    engaging directly
    with the people and their present. What we confront in
    much of postcolonial nationalism is Fanon’s second stage, where authenticity
    haunts the postcolonial imagination – both as a culture of mourning
    about a lost past and as a political imaginary built on the recovery and
    modern- day reconstruction of this authenticity.
    This style of thought extends well beyond nationalist thinking. The
    language of authenticity is something many postcolonial studies scholars
    will repudiate unhesitatingly. But the belief that there is a domain of life
    that lies outside colonial modernity is a conceptual orientation that has
    had a deep and formative role in postcolonial studies. As Aamir Mufti
    (2000) has argued, in this type of postcolonial criticism a ‘hermeneutics
    of suspicion’ about the West, where concepts perceived to be ‘Western’
    are critically deconstructed and their historical genealogies laid bare, is
    replaced with a ‘hermeneutics of reclamation’ in relation to things that
    are considered ‘Eastern’: criticism is supplanted by affirmation.
    Authenticity in critical scholarship can take different guises and
    forms. At one level, scholarship implicitly and explicitly invested in
    nationalism seeks affirmation. Such scholarship sees as its mission the
    restoration of a history, subjectivity and dignity lost to the depredations
    of colonialism. This can range from romantic reconstructions of the past
    to sophisticated post- structuralist deconstructions of ‘Western’ knowledge.
    If colonial scholarship ‘colonised’ the non- Western world, the goal
    of such postcolonial scholarship is its decolonisation. There is, however,
    a fine line between critically rethinking ‘Western’ assumptions about
    non- Western societies and adopting a nativist stance that builds a line of
    defence between a perceived inside and outside – a division between ‘our’
    scholarship and ‘their’ scholarship.
    Given the geopolitics of knowledge production and the heavily
    uneven playing field in which contemporary knowledge production
    takes place, it is perhaps understandable why scholarly production
    outside first- world metropolitan centres is keenly self- conscious of
    its positioning – what one scholar has called ‘history’s waiting room’
    (Chakrabarty 2000). It is equally imperative that the allure of nationalist
    authenticity be resisted. Much non- first- world scholarship is
    intensely aware of the need to resist the many tyrannies associated with
    the nation state in the postcolonial world. However, when such postcolonial
    scholars confront international criticism of their own societies
    there is an almost involuntary movement towards nationalism – they
    are radically anti- nationalist at home and softly cultural nationalist on
    a world scale. To disentangle the historical genealogies of the many
    152 the pol itics and poetics of authenticity
    forms of authenticity that continue to inform and shape nationalism
    in the present will require a critical position that can rise above such
    a filial relationship with the nation. To uncover authenticity’s many
    nationalist genealogies requires an empathetic reading, a reading
    this book has attempted to provide, but such empathy must also be
    tempered by a critical spirit that rises above the deep structural allure
    of authenticity and
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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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