‘Premanishansa’ Legacy of love
Premanishansa is the story that emphasises the gap that has to be filled in order for us to succeed as a country
‘Premanishansa’ – a Sarasavi publication by Chandrarathna Bandara- was awarded the best novel; both at ‘Vidoyodaya Literary Awards’ and ‘Swarnapusthaka Awards’ this year – 2022.
‘Vidyodaya Literary Awards’, organised by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, carries the zest and seal of academia. ‘Swarnapusthaka’ is awarded by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association. While both these awards are considered prestigious and unbiased, any evaluation, analysis and interpretation of literary works is subjected to the worldview, knowledge, experience, intellectuality, ideological and conceptual orientations of the evaluators. Thus, any interpretation of a literary work should be considered subjective and limited because the ways in which any work could be looked at is infinite as the post-modernists rightfully postulated. ‘Vidyodaya Literary Awards’ was introduced by the Emeritus Professor Sunil Ariyarathne in 1999 recognising the need for an alternative awards ceremony for literary works published in Sinhala which would be free of the pressures and biases of the state or any other power structures.
The following is a write-up of my thoughts on ‘Premanishansa’ as the chief evaluator for novels at the ‘Vidyodaya Literary Awards 2022’ and I must admit at the forefront that I am no authority on the subject, but an avid reader. Any work of art- especially literature- serves a purpose, and most often, it is a conscious, well thought-through decision of the author. The deliberation behind this decision matters, but even if it is not intentionally curated, art will always entail purpose – as it often transcends the mere existence of the work both literally and metaphorically. Among the numerous philosophical and intellectual discourses contemplating the ‘purpose’ of art, specifically fiction, a leading notion is that its ultimate purpose is to contribute to the ‘greater good’ of human existence. Hence, it is vital that the work is able to tap into the emotional dimensions of heterogeneous readers to secure interest from the get-go to achieve this purpose. ‘Premanishansa’ opens with this accomplishment – it is able to capture and then sustain the attention of the reader throughout, hence initiating an assured journey of success.
One would easily get submerged in its poetic yet simple language at the beginning and then deeply enmeshed in the love story of Sayuru and Niru– the protagonists of the novel. Superficially, at the most evident level, it is a story of deep love and affection – a love that transcends all social, religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries and finds its own course. Niru being a granddaughter of Ananda Coomaraswamy carries the legacy of her prestige, wealth, intellectuality, spirituality and liberal thinking and in contrast to her, Sayuru being a grandson of a wealthy businessman whose wealth had initially come from dealing alcohol carries the shame of that legacy with him while also enjoying the benefits of his financial situation. This shame, however, seems to have lurked into the inner psyche of Sayuru at a later stage in his life specifically after entering into a relationship with Niru. Coming from such contrasting backgrounds, then falling in love and consummating that union out of wedlock symbolizes how love defies all socio-cultural, superficially religious and ethnic boundaries.
On another level, this story is a representation of the tragic fall of values, humaneness, and cultured behaviour of a post independent Sri Lankan society which is heavily entangled in individual material success and social recognition that it loses sight of the common greater good that need to be extended towards the nation. From simplest personal decisions to the most important and significant choices such as who we should vote for or what our contributions can be to improve the country (such as the value structure we choose for our country), all have been made based on selfish, petty reasons. Thus, despite the sophisticated social, political and judicial structures we have in place – mostly established by the colonizers, we as a nation does not seem to have chosen the right kind of value structure to prosper from them. Hence, ‘Premanishansa’ is the story that emphasises the gap that has to be filled in order for us to succeed as a country.
However, for me personally, the most important and the deepest level of this story is its foundational value structure that holds it solidly on the basis of all religions – which is love itself. ‘Premanishansa’ is the ultimate story of love and love is the basis of all value structures that most religions have created. Even though the story traverses mostly on the Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, when it comes to the main premise on which ‘Premanishansa’ is developed and created, it is very clear that it is the Western Christian value structure that has solidified its grounding. The kind of deep love and compassion that we as a country need right now, is the kind of love that ‘Premanishansa’ proposes. The Christian concept of inherent value and dignity of human beings – the idea that all human beings are equal in terms of their intrinsic value is a constant presence in the book. ‘Premanishansa’ invites us to look at human beings with love, dignity and compassion and pushes us to face the truth of our own lives in terms of our emotions. Life begins when we face the truth of our lives and that is not always the most convenient choice to make. Being true to your emotions is to embark on a challenging endeavor and it is the adventure of life. When that does not happen, we merely live a lie – a life that is not yours – a life that is not your adventure but somebody else’s.
We as a country have come to a position in history where we need to make conscious, deliberate choices as to what values we need to uphold and embrace because at the bottom of all social, cultural, political, and economic systems lie values such as love, trust, compassion and dignity. As Sayuru and Niru go through a wide spectrum of deep human emotions both positive and negative, their journey pushes them to a wall – a stop where they are forced to contemplate and make decisions and judgements based on their values. Towards the end of the book the couple is compelled to face the truth of the consequences of their emotions and facing the truth through a philosophical viewpoint is to encounter the meaning of life. The physical, psychological, cultural, and spiritual agony and bliss they encounter is their adventure and their life. Thus, the decisions they make and values they embrace will design their destiny and we as Sri Lankans need to do so too before it is too late.
Daily Mirror on 14th November 22
By Dr. Sujeeva Sebastian Pereira