Mother – A perennial folk theme

Mother’s day falls today
By Carlton Samarajiwa

Badagini vela mama giya kala puthuge geta
Maenalaa vee pathak dunnayi mallakata
Gandoo nogandoo kiyalaa hithuni mata
Maenalada puthey kiri dunne mama numbata

I was hungry and visited the home of my son;
He gave me a measure of paddy in a bag;
To take or not to take it, that was my question;
Did I measure out the milk from my breast to feed you, my son?

One of the best-known Sinhala folk poems, this is one that is unsurpassed for the sense of grief and poignancy it evokes. Time has not dulled its effect or withered its appeal. A bitter lament over filial impiety, its heart-rending pathos have echoed and re-echoed through our minds over the years.

This poem is not a sermon, and the folk poet does not moralize. Using a most striking dramatic situation, he conveys a deeply felt human emotion: in this case, a mother’s sense of grief and despair at a son’s ingratitude – maternal care forgot, mother’s milk remembered not.

In sharp contrast in content to the above is our next poem, which expresses the gratitude of a son. He lists her mother’s good deeds and expresses the supremest wish for her – nirvanic bliss, may she attain Nibbana.

Duk vinda dasa masa usulaa
vaedu daeyi ape ammaa
Andun thelin nithi sarasaa
aethikala daeyi amma
Rasa pala vaela nelaa dikee
rakshaa kala amma
Sathara apaavala noipadee
nivan dakin amma

The Sinhala folk poem bestows on Mother a venerated place. In the folk idiom she is “Gedera Budun” – the Buddha of the Home, and this is why the folk poet has sung so much in praise of AMMA in warm, glowing, evocative terms.

“Let my mother be my mother in all my future births” is the prayer of the child who sings:

Udin yanna ran thaetiyak laebeeyan
Bimin yanna muthu kudayak laebeeyan
Thaniyama yana kalata pirivara laebeeyan
Magey amma matuvath mata laebeeyan
May she have a golden chariot to rise into the skies
May she have a parasol of pearls to walk upon the earth
May she have a retinue to protect her when alone
And may she become my mother each time I am re- born.
“May it be my good fortune to have my mother in all my future births in Samsara” is the wish uttered and expressed in this poem.

Vaelley pipena bim mal vaasanaavan
Golley pipena pin mal vaasanaavan
Poya daata pun sanda vaasanaavan
Jaatheeth apey amma vaasanaavan

“Amma” is the two-syllabic utterance of all of us in times of grief, in times of suffering – in fact, almost always. Our next poem makes an invocation, an appeal, to Mother, either for assistance or for inspiration. There is no substitute for Mother: nor is there a substitute for a mother’s food. No other food satisfies a child’s hunger like the food cooked by Mother – “Anun deepu bath bada nopireyi amme.”

Kiri madhu vael kiri madhu vael kiri amme
Apith kirata andanaa lamayin amme
Anun deepu bath bada nopireyi amme
Aeaetha indan mata anda gahapan amme
There are few situations in a child’s life when it can do without Mother’s help, says this poem.

Amme amme mata kirambata yanta baehae
Kirin veley thada avvee into baehae
Koota galey pol ambaraa kanta baehae
Gadol linde diya aedalaa bonta baehae

Our final poem in celebration of “Mothers’ Day”sees the death of a mother as the beginning of all sorrow. Line by line it builds up a mood of hapless melancholy and pathos.

Nethata vila thamayi kandulaeli vaegireema
Kayata bala thamayi rasa aethi kiri beema
Maruta bala thamayi leda duk aethiveema
Dukata mula thamayi vaedu mava miya yaama

The tears that flow form a well in the eyes,
Mother’s milk is the fount of bodily strength,
Sickness and suffering are a summons to death,
And a mother’s death is the beginning of all sorrow

This is good, loving, honest Sinhala folk poetry, resonant with the best that the human spirit can bring to life. This is poetry of simple admiration, warm affection and honest appraisal. For how much longer will they be sung and remembered, we might ask. Is it doomed to become a forgotten thing of the past?

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