discusses the early days of Sinhala literature
writings seen in caves
As we have seen already, in the early times the Buddhist temple
occupied a prominent place in the life of the people. The Loku Hamuduruwo
- the chief monk in the temple - was highly respected and was treated
as the leader in the village.
Since he was
well educated, and knowledgeable, everyone took his advice and acted
accordingly. He gained his knowledge by studying in the Pirivena,
which was the educational institution of the day. Both laymen and
the monks learnt in the Pirivena, which was housed in a leading
temple in the area.
a number of standard text books which were taught in the Pirivena.
The first was the ‘Sinhala Hodiya’ - the primary reader,
which was used to teach the alphabet. Sinhala, the language of the
Sinhalese comes from the same source as other modern North Indian
languages like Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi. (The
Dravidian people who settled in this Island several centuries after
the Indo-Aryan people, speak Tamil).
of Sinhala writing is seen in caves where the letters have been
inscribed on stone. Looking back in history, after Buddhism was
introduced by Arahant Mahinda people in their thousands accepted
Buddhism and became Buddhists. Many became monks and started living
in jungle caves meditating.
early lettering refers to these caves being gifted to monks. As
it happens today, laymen with sufficient wealth or groups of people
build temples and gift them to the Maha Sangha or the fraternity
of monks. We see the names of such donors being mentioned on a plaque
and embedded into the wall in a prominent place for everyone to
see and know who had made that offering to the Sangha and for what
purpose, say in memory of a departed person. In the caves this information
was generally mentioned below the drip-ledge.
the Maha Sangha is referred to as ‘Sanghika’ thus indicating
that the offering is for the entire community of monks and not to
a particular individual monk. Even in the case of caves, it has
been mentioned that they are for the use of monks coming from the
four sides. The script found in these cave inscriptions is known
as ‘Brahmi’ , which is different to the Sinhala script
in use today. Among the more famous inscriptions are those in Vessagiriya
in Anuradhapura, Mihintale and Ritigala.
sees a change by the time the famous Sigiriya graffiti were written.
This was after the 5th century. More than 700 verses written by
visitors to Sigiriya giving their impressions of the world-renowned
frescoes have been identified.
when Anuradhapura was the capital of ancient Sri Lanka, which extends
for over a thousand years is known as the Anuradhapura period. The
literary works done during this period is not available except for
just two or three. One of them -’Siyabaslakara’ - written
in the 9th century is considered the earliest Sinhala literary work,
which has been preserved to this day. It is the Sinhala version
of a Sanskrit rhetoric written by a king styled Salamevan who has
been identified as Sena IV.
works done during the Polonnaruwa period (after the capital was
shifted to Polonnaruwa from Anuradhapura) between the 11th and 13th
century are rated very high.
were three acclaimed works of poetry. All three were based on Jataka
tales. The oldest is ‘Muvadevdawa’ relating the Makhadeva
Jataka. Next comes ‘Sasadava’ based on the Sasa Jataka
and the third - ‘Kavsilumina’ ranks as the greatest
It is based
on the Kusa Jataka. The great literary figure, Gurulugomi is credited
with two prose works - ‘Dharmapradipika’ and ‘Amavatura’,
which are dissimilar in style and subject. While the first shows
strong Sanskrit influence, the other is in simple language written
in Pali style. In fact, to many, ‘Amavatura’ is the
greatest Sinhala prose work. It portrays the life of the Buddha
through a series of stories describing the Buddha’s ability
to tame the indisciplined. Another work of great merit is ‘Butsarana’
written in the 12th century.