Art into Nudity

Art unclothed

daya dissanayake

For me, the naked and the nude

(By lexicographers construed

As synonyms that should express

The same deficiency of dress

Or shelter) stand as wide apart

As love from lies, or truth from art. (Robert Graves, 'The Naked And the Nude)

Nude means unclothed, nakedness refers to the 'innocent' state of simply being uncovered. "The nude is condemned to never being naked.... Nudity is a form of dress", said John Berger.

Nakedness represents the raw, nudity is the idea which happens in art. Art Critic John Berger writes "to be naked is to be oneself, to be nude is to be seen by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become nude."

It is the nudity that interests the artist and the poet. But it is only among human beings that we have this distinction. Because perhaps man is ashamed of his nudity, unlike all other animals. It is only the human being who tries to cover his nudity, and thus become naked inside all his fashionable and glittering dress.

"The word 'nude' was forced into our vocabulary by critics of the early eighteenth century to persuade the artless islanders [of the UK] that, in countries where painting and sculpture were practiced and valued as they should be, the naked human body was the central subject of art." says Kenneth Clark, in 'The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form'. The nude, he adds, "is not the subject of art, but a form of art"

It was Michelangelo who asked "What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?"

Nude art also contradicts the human social norms of trying to cover their bodies. The only reason why most people cover their bodies, and are also ashamed to see others without clothes, is probably because they are ashamed of their bodies, of their bare skin. Yet the artist loves to paint the bare skin, the bare bodies, and people love to see such paintings and photographs. One reason that artists prefer undraped bodies is that he can show the person in his or her natural look, without diverting the attention to the clothes and ornaments. The clothes also would date the painting, by the style and the material.

No one considers our Sihigiri frescos as obscene and we are not ashamed to look at them and even to publish these images everywhere and try to attract visitors from all over the world to look at them. Yet the women who visit Sihigiriya are expected to cover their upper bodies. The poets who scribbled their thoughts and feelings on seeing the Sihigiri beauties, described their breasts, in the same manner as their lips and eyes and hands. During the Kandiyan period the Rodiya women were prohibited from covering their upper body.

Naked art is a term used by art exhibitors for paintings which 'need to be clothed', to be framed, polished and 'finished', in a display-ready form.

When Michel Comte's photo of unclothed Carla Bruni, which had been taken in 1993 entered the Christie's auction, it was estimated at $ 3,000 and 4,000. However in April 2008, it was sold for $ 91,000. Three months before that Bruni had married Nicholas Sarkozy, who was then the president of France. Art critic, Lennie Bennet cites this incident to raise the naked/nude question leading to 'what is Art?'. Bennet points out that the value of the photograph appears to be based on who the model has become, a personage rather than a person, and not on the merits of the photograph or who she was. Bennet says "If we believe she is naked, we agree with her that she has been victimized and exploited; if she is nude, we view her as the fortunate subject of a work of art whose physical form is celebrated and glorified."

Western art critics claim that the nude figure is mainly a tradition in western art, basing it on the nude Greek figures and paintings of males. Yet female nudity goes back to pre-history, because man worshipped women then, as Mother Earth and Mother Goddess, and anyway early human beings did not cover their bodies, or their nudity or nakedness. They were not even ashamed of their genitalia, because some of the pre-historic images had them displayed very prominently. Sometimes the genitalia only, as in a few of the artefacts discovered at Hunugalgala by Prof. Raj Somadeva.

It was also in the west that nude art began to be covered up, beginning with the draping of a fig leaf skirt around Michelangelo's David. When Goya's painting 'La Maja Desnuda' was used on a postage stamp in Spain in 1930, the US postal service refused to deliver letters with this stamp affixed. Rick Steves described "European nudes and American Prudes'. When Mahatma Gandhi wanted to coverup or demolish Kajuraho with all the carvings of men and women in different postures of love, Rabindranath Tagore had been able to save Kajuraho by persuading Gandhi to give up the campaign. And then Mahatma Gandhi himself was called a 'half-naked fakir' by the overdressed Winston Churchill. We also have Hans Christian Anderson's story about the emperor's new clothes. Henry Parker in 'The Village Folk Tales of Ceylon' has the story of the 'Invisible Silk Robe', which runs on the same lines.

Such tales only show us that even when we believe we are fully clothed, we could still be really naked before the rest of the world.

Jan. 2, 2014, 2:18 a.m. » Tagged: Art , nudity


literature is not sahitya

daya dissanayake

We have corrupted the concept of Sahitya to mean just the novel, and on occasion the short story and the poem. Because we want to ape the west in everything, we grabbed at their word literature, and translated it as Sahitya, degrading the entire concept.

Sujata Sudhakar Mody traces the use of the term Sahitya for Literature to 1894 when Bengal Academy of Literature was changed to 'Bangiya Sahitya Parishad'. Mody quotes from Sheldon Pollock, that the term "Sahiya's history begins with Bhamaha's Sanskrit text Kavyalankara, from the seventh century, but then Sahitya did not refer to literature. The Sanskrit term, in its most basic sense, signifies an 'association,' 'connection,' 'society,' 'combination,' or 'union'."

In Hindi, the term Sahitya came to include "prose, verse, poetry, plays, novels, champu, history, biographies, satire, comedy, humor, human interest, ancient history, science, handicrafts, the arts, and as many other topics", wrote Shrinarayan Chaturvedi in Sarasvati journal (1961). However Shamsunar Das, even in 1901, used the term 'bhandar' instead of 'Sahitya' to mean 'gadya' and 'padya'. Das did not include poetry, novels and plays under Sahitya. But for writings in English he began to use the term Sahitya.

P. Sachidanandan in 'What is Sahit in Sahitya' gives us Sahit as the root word of Sahitya. Sahitya means "to be together; joining together various dharmas in one deed; participation of a large number of people on equal basis in one act; a kind of kavya." 'Kavya' has been proposed as a better term for literature

Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, when he was editor of Sarasvati carried a cartoon 'Sahitya samachar' (literary news). One cartoon (January 1904), shows three men, one of them, Marathi Sahitya is in search of his turban, English Sahitya is in search of his coat, and Bengali Sahitya for his scarf, watch and handkerchief. All three are complaining that the items are missing or stolen. In the next page the cartoon continues, with a fourth man, Hindi Sahitya, wearing the stolen turban, coat, scarf, handkerchief and watch. He says " quickly I have brought about my own progress! This is the science that I have learned at the great university in Paris!!!...The guardian of 'The Times' and 'The Globe' will pardon me and serve as my fortress."

This cartoon perhaps illustrates the fate of all 'Sahitya' in our countries, producing 'Shaitya Chori', or plagiarists.

In our country, the The Sahitya Mandala Act (No. 31 of 1958), also deals only with 'literature' and 'literary works' "including bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias and other works of reference". We too have adapted the more recent idea of Sahitya as it is found in India. The Sahitya Akademi of India had been formed in 1954, "for the development of Indian letters...for literary dialogue, publication and promotion of literary activities in all Indian languages and English".

Literature in the west has come to mean only imaginative or fictional writing, which is just one river flowing into the ocean of Sahitya. Sachidanandan mentions a response by Mahasveta Devi, when someone asked about bringing Adivasis into the mainstream, "Are you asking me to bring the ocean into a canal?". That is what we are doing when we try to restrict Sahitya to a stream, serving only a limited group.

In the same manner that the flow of a river could be controlled, guided or restricted, diverted and even polluted, the Sahitya restricted to literature could be treated in the same manner. No one would ever be able to do it to the mighty ocean. Literature itself is on the decline, even in the west where it originated. Books have been coming out with titles like, 'The Death of Literature' (Melon Foundation, 1990), 'Literature Lost' (John Ellis 1997), to name only a few such books. In America the Century of the Book is considered as from 1850 to 1950. In 2004 a survey revealed that 43 percent of Americans polled had not read a book all year. In Sri Lanka we did not have a century of the book, but only a little over a half a century, because our reading would have started around early 20th century with the decline starting around the late sixties.

It is the critics and the academics who began to kill literature and now Sahitya, by imposing rules and regulations of how to write fiction, what a reader or a student of literature should look for in a novel or a poem. Today in the west, students are almost totally dependent on 'Cliff Notes' and 'Spark Notes' to appreciate a literary work, because they have been brainwashed to believe they need to be taught how to appreciate and enjoy a book.

That is why all the abuse of the modern Sahitya river, with guidelines, rules and regulations, sometimes even censorship has been happening over the past two centuries. The 'poetic license' that was really enjoyed by the ancient Sahityakara has been revoked by the businessmen.

Today we do not get real masterpieces, in any Shaitya form, as novels, epics, drama, paintings, music or sculpture, we only have bestsellers and record breaking films. We can only admire what has been created in the past. A few examples are the Samadhi Statue, Sihigiri paintings, and the Jataka stories.

The real decline in our ancient Sahitya, to new Sahitya with the interpretation of it as 'literature' probably would have begun with the commercialization and commodification of all art forms. Today we have forgotten or ignored what Sahitya really means. That is probably why we have to even introduce terms like 'Subhashitha Sahitya' or Sahitya for the well being of mankind, as against 'Durbhashitha Sahitya' commercialized art forms which are detrimental to our society. Even the crudest forms of pornography, and books dealing with all forms of unimaginable violence and hate speech which rouse hatred towards fellow human beings, are all classed under Sahitya.

Could we ever get back to real Sahitya?

Dec. 24, 2013, 9:26 a.m. » Tagged: literature , Sahitya

vicious circle

vicious circle

daya dissanayake

It is not easy to decide where the story of the judgement first evolved, when two women fight over a child. When the women were fighting over a child, King Solomon had ordered that the child be split in two and to give the two halves to the two women, like they would split such disputed property. The true mother had cried out pleading with the king, not to kill the child, but to give him to the other woman, while the false claimant had agreed to the split. The king decided to give the custody of the child to the true mother.

This story is found in the Ummagga Jataka, where Mahaoushada draws a line on the ground and asks the two women to pull the child. Most of the Jataka stories are based on ancient Indian folk lore, and thus could predate the story of Solomon. It could also have spread to China, from India.

The same story in a slightly different version is found in the Chinese classical verse play, by Li Quianfu during the 13th century. The childless first wife of a rich man poisons him and frames the second wife for the murder, to lay claim to the child of the second wife and her husband's estate. The second wife is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but Bao Zheng, the wise and upright 'Cultural Symbol of Justice in China' draws a chalk circle around the child and asks the two women to pull the child. The second wife refuses to hurt her child and is judged to be the child's true mother.

Bertolt Brecht had first written this as a short story, 'Der Augsburger Kredekris' (Augsberg Chalk Circle) in 1940. Brecht had written the play in 1944 when he was in the United States. It had been translated by Eric Bentley and first performed at Carlton College, Minnesota in 1948. Henry Jayasena brought the 'Hunu Wataye Kathawa' to the Sinhala stage in 1967, and it is still as popular as it had been 56 years ago.

We do not know if Brecht was influenced by the Jataka story or the Chinese play or other similar stories. However Brecht has given a political twist to the story, where it is not the biological mother, but the woman who took care of him who really loves the child, and deserved to be his mother. He attempts to show that selfishness and human greed could surpass even motherly love.

All these stories are supposed to show the wisdom and intelligence of the judge, and the fair decision given. Yet it also shows the way justice was meted out in a male dominated society. It is a man who is the judge, of the two women one is a selfish, unfeeling cruel creature, while the other is a good, kind, loving creature who is also submissive and ever ready to accept the decision of the dominant male.

In the story of King Solomon, did the mother really believe that the king meant the child to be split in half? Did she believe that the order was to be carried out? If the women and the others present believed that the child was to be killed, it would only show the sadistic reputation of the king. If the people believed he was a just and benevolent king, no one would have believed the child was in any danger. Then the mother would also have been playing a role which was expected of her, which the king too would have known.

In the Jataka and the Chinese story, the mother would have known that if she pulled the child by his hands, she would be hurting her child. If she really loved her child she would have refused to pull her child to her, when the order was given. Unless she too was playing her part in the public performance.

The other issue is the need to use or threaten violence to resolve issues or conflicts, in most of our history and literature. It is only in a society where extreme violence was very common, that even the thought of cutting a small child in two could even be conceived. We could say the same about ordering two women, both claiming to be the mother of the child, to pull the child from his limbs which could tear him apart.

Brecht was creating a play, where he had to make it as dramatic as possible. That could be the only reason why he had to make Grusha pull on the child's hands. But it also explains what the audience would have wanted to see. Could he not have found a more non-violent, simpler way to let Asadak give his judgement, the way he gave all his other decisions?

Ever since man became a violent, cruel creature, all our literature also took on a violent form. The readers and the audience too seemed to enjoy violence more than peaceful situations, and it would have created a vicious circle, with every new artistic creation bringing in more violence and the readers expecting still more violence.

"And you who have heard the story of the chalk circle

Bear in mind the wisdom of our fathers:

Things should belong to those who do well by themselves

Children to motherly women that they may thrive

Wagons to good drivers that they may be well driven

And the valley to those who water it, that it may bear fruit."

That is the Golden Age Brecht would have wished for, and which we should all strive to attain.

Dec. 13, 2013, 9:09 a.m. » Tagged: chalk circle



daya dissanayake

Writers have begun Neuronovelizing, according to the blogger 'Hanba', creating fiction around the wiring of the brain or dousing it with chemicals. The Neuronovel has taken over, leaving Freudian and Jungian novel far behind. It is the human brain and its neurochemistry that is becoming the trend. Michael Crichton, Ian McEwan, Mark Haddon, Richard Powers are among the authors who are into the neuronovel today. Amnesia and schizophrenia we came across earlier, and in crime fiction lawyers tried to bring in pleas of insanity to save their clients. Most of these new books are still following the basic theme of creating Frankensteins, and battling them afterwards.

Mind Control by hypnosis was the technique used in earlier novelists, Len Deighton in his first novel The IPCRESS File' (1962), Richard Condon in The Manchurian Candidate (1959), and Anthony Burgess in the 'Clockwork Orange' (1962). George Orwell used it in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1949). It was during the Korean War that the term Brainwashing came into use, for psychological manipulation for political and criminal use. Aldous Huxley used Hypnopedia or sleep-learning in 'Brave New World' (1932), but before that Hugo Gernback introduced a Hypnobioscope as a sleep learning device, in 'Ralph 124V 41+', a 1911 science Fiction novel.

Ramez Naam published his Sci-fi novel 'Nexus', about a group of graduate students developing a drug which creates a temporary computer network in the brain, allowing the brain to be programmed. Mind boggling thoughts.

Marco Roth wrote in 'n+1', "What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel - the novel, at any rate, about the working of the mind - has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain."

It has not been classed as a new genre yet, but it will soon be labelled, because like scientists the literary scholars too want to place every creative work in a particular pigeon hole, and have a name for it, so this could be a new genre for them, even if the writers and the readers often do not bother about classifications, as long as the book is readable and interesting.

The demand for the neuronovel is increasing, with their characters suffering from bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, neurological interpretations of people's actions. We also have sci-fi novels, experimenting with neurochemistry and electronic interference of the brain. Then there is also crime fiction where terrorists, organized crime and government institutions are using electronics and chemicals to control people's minds.

As we read these neuronovels, a question pops into our minds, if some of these writers have been motivated by the drug industry, directly or indirectly, to create a demand for their new drugs. Forbes reported some years back "The brain is a gold mine for drug companies." The global neurological drug market is around US$ 40 billion and the neurological device market is around US$ 7 billion, and it will continue to increase.

Drugs and devices and electronics, could be used to heal the mind or the brain, but it can also be used to kill or to destroy the mind. United States is also offering incentives to develop neurodegenerative drugs, which could enjoy a ten year monopoly. This leads to the development and use of neuroweapons. US Department of Defense is planning an office of Neurotechnology to direct and centralize neuroscience R&D. All this provides more ideas and plots for more neuronovels. The novelist and the terrorist would both be using all this knowhow to plan more outrageous, more devastating plots.

Far more dangerous than all the devices and chemicals would be Optogenetics, using genetics and optics to control man and beast. By introducing light sensitive proteins into the brain cells or the central nervous system, the behaviour of an animal or a human could be controlled by delivering light targeting a specific location deep inside the body. Writers could use all this technology into developing new plots for crime, espionage, sabotage and terrorist acts. Terrorists and governments could use the same knowledge and the same imagination to create more destructive weapons to control or destroy life.

Ever since man began to use his forelimbs, he has been a destroyer. Every object he could hold in his hands, he had used as a weapon, every new discovery and invention he had turned into a weapon of destruction, from the discovery of fire to the discovery of nuclear fission, everything had become means of destruction. The digging stick made by a woman to dig up a yam, became a spear point in the hands of the man as a deadly weapon against man and animals.

Our creative writers, and before them our ancient storytellers have glorified the use of such weapons and the destruction caused by them, ignoring very often the benefits such discoveries and inventions had given mankind and Mother Earth. That unfortunately is the concept which is continued in the neuronovel, which should not come as a surprise to us.

Perhaps from the neuronovel, writers could move on to endocrinenovels and even gastronovels, vascularnovels, and tell us about people who are influenced by their endocrine system, of their guts or their heart and blood. Because chemicals could control all these systems, and drug manufacturers could develop more and more chemicals that affect these systems. A man's actions could be interpreted by a writer, based on what the man had for his lunch, or a bio-similar drug he was taking. Writing about a body organ controlling a man is not a new idea. Alberto Moravia did it with his novel 'Two Of Us' (1971). Had he lived to see the popularity of the erectile dysfunction drugs, he would have written 'The Three of Us' (including Viagra). 'Two of Us' was labelled a phallic novel. But long before Moravia, 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' (1928) was called a phallic novel.

Nov. 25, 2013, 3:06 a.m.

Art into Environment

Art into Environment

daya dissanayake

"Not everything to do with pollution is ugly", says Laurence Pope of the New Scientist, describing the abstract paintings of John Sabraw. An environmental engineer Guy Riefler makes oil paints out of iron sludge he collects from the water run-offs from abandoned coal mines, and artist John Sabraw, plays with the pigments and the paints to create abstract art. And they plan to sell the paint and use the money generated to restore the polluted rivers.

'Ecovention' is the term introduced by S. Spaid, in his 2002 book 'Ecovention; current art to transform ecologies', and he describes it as "an artist initiated project that employs an inventive strategy to physically transform a local ecology". Ecovention is where environmental artists orientate their work around the reclaiming of degraded threatened environments, landscaping post industrial sites, cleaning up rivers or replanting forests.

The UN had named 2011 as the International Year of the Forests. "Yet everyday man destroys 17 million trees, or in other words, 57 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute", according to Andrea Rusin, in 'Art for the Environment', trying to raise environmental awareness among the public around the globe through the arts. To counter the murder of trees, even in a small way, from 1982 to 1987, Joseph Beuys, planted 7,000 oak trees, each with a basalt stone next to it, all around the city of Kassel, Germany. He called this urban landscaping as 'City Forestation instead of City Administration'.

'A song of our warming planet' is a musical composition by Daniel Crawford, a University of Minnesota undergrad. It is a unique cello piece, using surface temperature data from NASA from 1880. "Climate scientists have a standard tool box to communicate their data," Crawford had explained in the video available on Vimeo. "What we're trying to do is add another tool to that tool box, another way to communicate these ideas to the people who might get more out of this than out of maps, graphs and numbers." Awareness of the threat of global warming is an urgent need, so that all of us can try to cut down on the size of our Carbon footprints.

What has been created visually by climatologists, Crawford has created in what he calls 'data sonification'. "The temperature data were mapped over a range of three octaves, with the coldest year on record (–0.47 °C in 1909) set to the lowest note on the cello (open C). Each ascending halftone is equal to roughly 0.03°C of planetary warming." He also predicts "the planet will warm by another 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. This additional warming would produce a series of notes beyond the range of human hearing." And anyway by that time man could be deaf with all the noise pollution, or become extinct, the way he is going about destroying his own habitat.

Desperate situations need desperate methods. Unless man can control himself, and minimize the wanton destruction of all natural resources which is turning Mother Earth into a hostile, uninhabitable place, there will be no future for mankind. All artists would have to rally round the scientists and environmentalists to create the awareness of the impending disaster, using whatever medium they can use.

Soundscape art has come alive, with "the aural portraits and sonic essays can remind us of ways that our vices may blend in more graciously, more respectfully, more receptively...we might once again begin to hear - and know ourselves as a part of - the eternal story, told in its original language", according to Jim Cummings, founder of He is trying to "turn the aesthetic experience of turning open ears to the world around us." It is on the World Soundscape Project, at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, founded by R. Murray Schafer, where Acoustic Ecology developed to study acoustic environments in natural and human settings.

Crawford and the soundscape artists are using Music. Patrick Marold is using visual images from the wind blowing on the slopes of the Rocky mountains. He has installed hundreds of small windmills and lights. The intensity of the lights change with the intensity of the wind. Marold compares it to a "flock of birds collectively swarming in the sky. The impressive living body of light provokes a deeper perspective of the wind as it passes by."

Tate Papers, Issue 17, Spring 2012, was all about Art & Environment. The articles look at "how the environment has been experienced and imagined from the eighteenth century to the present."

Using natural material around us to create works of art is also spreading around the world. Richard Shilling uses leaves and natural light to create works of art. Mitsuru Koga uses leaves and stones. The Spanish artists Lorenzo Manuel Silva creates leaf designs, by observing how caterpillars eat their way through a leaf. Michael Fleming use driftwood to create unique sculptures. John Dahlsen, was collecting driftwood and turning them into furniture, and this led him to collect other debris, from the beaches, most of it plastic. From these multicoloured debris he is creating works of art, through his "deep sense, care and concern for the environment".

The Centre for Research into Art and the Environment, of the University of Gloucestershire, uses photography, video, drawing, sculpture, painting, printmaking and performance to create an awareness of environmental issues. Several universities around the world have introduced post graduate degrees in Art and Environment.

We have our own Jagath Gunawardana, who has dedicated his entire life to protect our environment. He uses his pencil and paper to bring us closer to nature, that is true Art into Environment.

Nov. 20, 2013, 1:46 a.m. » Tagged: Art , environment

book covers

painted faces

daya dissanayale

"Aulus Gellius, following Cicero and Quintilian, says of the various styles in poetry and prose that each of them can be made more distinguished by chaste and modest adornment, but becomes mere mummery when 'made up and bedaubed'. And Lucian, following Plato and Isocrates, compares the use of poetic ornament in history to dressing an athlete up like a harlot and painting his face." Thus wrote Timothy Peter Wiseman, in 'Clio's Cosmetics: Three Studies in Greco-Roman Literature'.

Wiseman was referring to stylistic adornment in poetry and historiography in ancient Greece and Rome.

Today we have a situation where sometimes we find book covers dressed up to look like harlots. We cannot blame the authors or the publishers, in this intensely competitive world of make-believe, where there are no rules in the battle of marketing. Today marketing is selling by any means, selling what the consumer does not want, and making a profit out of it. It is no longer a buyer's market for any product or service.

The food we eat is what the agri-business industry wants us to eat, the clothes we wear are what the garment and fashion industry wants us to wear, and in the same manner the books we have to read are what the publishers want us to read.

That is what we realize as we walk around the International Book Fair at the BMICH. Since the publishing industry does not go for heavy advertising on audio-visual media and even in the print media, they have to depend on outer appearance of their books, for sale at a book fair, where they have to tempt the visitors for impulse buying, .

We are all victims of impulse buying, if we pause for a moment to think about all the unwanted things in our houses, which we have never used, just purchased on impulse. And when we look at our bookshelves we find so many books that we have never read, or read to the end. yet we keep on buying, and the book publishers keep on selling. And we are enticed and entrapped by the book cover.

Our ancient ola leaf books had wooden book covers for protection of the fragile ola leaves, and since these books were not mass produced, even the covers were handcrafted. It was the same in Europe, hand written books had handcrafted covers, often of leather. With the arrival of the printing press, when books began to be printed on a large scale, still they were sold as loose leaves which the buyer could get bound from a bookbinder. William Pickering in the 1820s began marketing books in a uniform binding in leather or cloth. To protect these covers, specially when it was made of silk, dust jackets were introduced. The oldest surviving dust jacket from an 1830 'Friendship's Offering' is now in the Oxford's Bodleian Library. The dust jacket was meant to be thrown away. By 1920s the dust jacket was having its own important place on the book, as it changed from just providing protection to become an important marketing tool.

There are many obstacles on the way in selecting books. One is the cosmetic appearance of the book cover, and the blurbs on the back, and the name of the author. In the world of book publishing, there are many internationally best selling authors who are selling their name. There are authors who get others to do contract writing for them, just like the Pharmaceutical industry big names get small companies to do contract manufacturing for them.

The cover design has become a major skill today. However much some readers and even writers would say that the cover does not make a difference, we see how it makes that difference, as we walk around the book fair. There are cover designers, who still remain faithful to the story inside the covers, and who will design their cover to support the title of the book and to guide us in our selection.

Book covers are still very important, and there is even an annual State Award for the best book cover. It is never announced if the book cover is selected based on its artistic and creative merit only, or if the judges also read the book from cover to cover and consider the relevance of the cover to its contents.

We remember the times when the book covers were very plain, just the title of the book and the author. And then there were the 'Lihini' books which had the same standard cover on all books, and still the books had a great demand.

Since there is nothing new that any of us could create, in literature, art, music or any art form, it is now near impossible to produce something that had never appeared before. It applies to book covers too. One example given by 'The Caustic Cover Critic' is the almost identical image of a woman in a long dress holding a bird cage in her left hand found on 12 different novels by different authors.

Tim Kreider, professional designer, writing to the New Yorker about book covers says, "Two irreversible trends are at fault here, neither of which can be altered by even a really persuasive essay. One is that the illustrated book cover, like painted movie posters or newspaper comics, is pretty much dead. Fonts, stock photos, and Photoshop are cheaper than commissioning illustrations. With the imminence of Kindles and e-readers, this is all moot anyway; soon enough, book covers, like album covers before them—like albums themselves, or sheet music for popular songs, or dance cards—will be a quaint, old-timey thing you have to explain to the uninterested young, and there’ll be one fewer excuse to strike up conversations with pretty strangers on the subway."

Oct. 25, 2013, 11:30 p.m.

Sufi Dhamma

Sufi Dhamma and Rifq

daya dissanayake

My presentation at the International Sufi Festival at the Diggi palace hotel in Jaipur, organized by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) on Oct 20 th 22nd.


In the beginning there was no violence. man did not show any violence towards man or animal, and probably no word for violence. Today we do not have a word for the absence of violence. All religions taught man to love all mankind and all life on earth. At first, an did not kill other living creatures and did not consume the flesh of other animals. Sufism today has emerged to remind mankind of this, and is trying to show us the path of loving kindness by developing Akhalq through our inner self. Thus we should not consider the Sufi way as another religion in the modern sense of the word. We should consider it as Sufi Dhamma, just as we should consider Buddha Dhamma instead of Buddhism.


In the beginning there was no violence.

I put the question to my friends, academics, linguists, priests, writers and on social media. Many proposed, Peace, Compassion, Shanthi, Ahimsa, Sauhard, Sakoon, Aman, Ubuntu. In Islam we have the word Rifq, which bears at once the meanings of kindness, sweetness, tolerance, goodness, giving, forgiveness and gentleness.

Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term for human kindness, humaneness, virtue. It gave rise to Ubuntuism. In Malawi the term is uMunthu.

And I put it to you today, what is the best term, in any language, to express the positive idea for the absence of violence?

My next point is the use of the term Sufism. The moment we add the suffix -ism to anything it become debatable, a vada. Perhaps Tasawwuf could be a better term, or we could use the term Sufi Dhamma, like the better term for Buddha's teaching is Buddha Dhamma, and not Buddhism, a word pushed down upon us by the Europeans like Max Muller and Max Weber.

Idris Shah had written, "We view Sufism not as an ideology that moulds people to the right way of belief or action, but as an art or science that can exert a beneficial influence on individuals and societies, in accordance with the needs of those individuals and societies ... Sufi study and development gives one capacities one did not have before."

A. A. Godlas had translated an anonymous Persian poem 'What is Tasawwful?' The first line says "It is good character and awareness of God". He explains the term Akhlaq, and Good Behaviour is an inexact translation denoting virtuous behaviour that is an outgrowth of spiritual refinement. Akhlaq as used by Sufis consists of virtuous behaviour that derives from the fact that the inner being of the Sufi has become purified. How such a Sufi behaves is not so much the product of effort.

Violence is considered as an extreme form of aggression, such as assault, rape or murder. Violence has many causes, including frustration, exposure to violent media, violence in the home or neighborhood and a tendency to see other people's actions as hostile even when they're not. Certain situations also increase the risk of aggression, such as drinking, insults and other provocations and environmental factors like heat and overcrowding.1

It was the Mahatma who told us that “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” And Martin Luther King reminded us that “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

As difficult as it may be to admit, we have grown up with and grown accustomed to violence as our model of “conflict resolution.” We may hold an unbearable grief inside ourselves at this state of our world – but we are no longer surprised by it.

Buried in the “issues” and the complications of social dynamics, it goes virtually unnoticed that it is the implied threat of violence (and its strategic use) that has kept a population of 7 billion human beings controlled by the agenda of a few thousand intimate power brokers. Violence is the vehicle by which “power over” is maintained.

Nonviolence is the way this reality is revealed and transformed.

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve – for all human conflict – a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”2

We have to blame all historians and epic poets for the violence around us today. They have almost all justified violence and brain-washed us to believe that violence is the only way to resolve conflicts. The only literature without violence we found initially in the Jain and Buddhist writings, till we came to the Sufi literature. Most of us here are familiar with the Buddhist Jataka Stories and the Thera Theri Gatha, the stories of Bhikkhus and Bikkhunis. The best example from Jain literature is Pauma Cariya, the Jain Ramayana written around the 1st century by Vimala Suri.

The first ever act of violence by a human being, according to Judeochristian belief is murder of Abel by his own brother Cain. Even if we take this as symbolic, it was the murder of the peaceful farmer by the more aggressive nomad. The first recorded violence in India is found in Valmiki's Ramayana, which changed the more ancient Ramakatha, as we find in the nonviolent Dasharatha Jataka.

It is beyond any doubt that man was a peaceful, harmless animal, like all other animals on Mother earth. Like other animals, he would have shown aggression only in the face of danger, but never violence against their own brothers or other living things, including plants.

This early life has been very clearly explained by the Buddha in the Agganna Sutta in the Digha Nikaya of the Buddhist Tripitaka. People when they felt hungry would have picked up a ripe fruit, or a few tender leaves from a tree, or dug up a tuber using a stick. Just enough to sate his hunger at the moment. He would not have eaten regular three meals a day, and a few snacks in-between. But one day one man would have felt too lazy to go out every time he was hungry, so he would have collected enough food for a day or two. When another man saw this he would have wanted to collect more food to last several days. Man began hoarding his food. Next, one man would have become jealous when another wanted to pluck the fruit from a tree which grew nearby. He would lay claim to the tree, which led to the claim of the land on which the tree grew. This became the most valued possession when women discovered that they could plant and they began to nurture trees and vegetables.

Those who were more greedy and more cunning would have claimed most of the land, depriving many others from owning anything. Then such deprived people had to become the slaves under these masters. Man's greed evolves into more greed and to acquire more and more wealth. When he cannot achieve it by stealth or fraud he becomes violent. He uses his slaves to invade the property of others. To create motivation in his slaves against the slaves in the neighbouring land, man created, caste, race and creed, and language, and roused fear and hatred between men.

In the meantime a few men would have tasted the rotting flesh of dead animals, killed by predatory animals, and he would have got a taste of it. This is what would have caused the Fall of Man, not the apple. Greed for the flesh of animals would have then made him kill the innocent animals. Seeing the blood, the pain and the suffering of the wounded and dying animals would have caused the sadistic violent streak in man, which too had been exploited to the maximum effect by those who ruled over them.

I would like to mention here that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of man is a myth created by the early anthropologists from the west, who could not believe that human beings could survive without eating the decaying flesh of other animals.

It is not easy for man to go back to what he had been when he was a peaceful, harmless vegetarian showing loving kindness to all life. We have too many reasons to hate our brother, our neighbour, and too many barriers between us. It is not easy to breakdown most of these barriers. The easiest barrier to be brought down is the one the ruling class and the priests have built around us in the name of religion, in the name of God.

Two months ago India and Pakistan celebrated independence, but separately. It is a religious barrier that a few short-sighted, narrow-minded people erected, and their progeny are continuing to aggravate the conflict.

No religion on earth would have advised or extolled violence in the beginning. Buddha and Mahavir had always preached peace and non-violence. "May we not hate anyone." Atharva Veda 12/1/24. "He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings, hates none". Isopanishad 6. The Prophet said, "God grants to rifq what he does not grant to unf." (Sunah Abu Dawud 4/255). A close translation of Rifq is gentleness, and Unf is violence.

Even Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27 - 28.

Vivekananda had said, "That universal religion about which philosophers and others have dreamed in every country, already exists. It is here. ... the priests and other people that have taken upon themselves the task of preaching, .....are disturbing it all the time, because it is not in their interest.3

Religious conflicts are the result of the intolerance bred by man's psychological insecurity and his fanatical attachment to the symbols of his religion. This fanaticism he mistakes for the religion itself, and which, because they are exclusive to his own religious culture, he looks upon as superior.

"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to love one another." Jonathan Swift had written in Thoughts of Various Subjects.4

"I believe in acceptance. not tolerance. Toleration means that I think you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all.5

"He who reforms himself has done more towards reforming the public, than a crowd of noisy impotent patriots". Johan Kaspar Lavater, Theologian, mystic and poet. (1741 - 1801).6

The Sindhi poet Agha Khalid Saleem, had said, “The philosophy in Sindh used to be nonviolence, and the philosophers of Sindh were Sufi poets. Sami, Sacchal and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai spread the message of peace and were proponents of nonviolence.”

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi has already identified where we should all meet. So let this venue for the International Sufi Conference be the field,

"When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense."

"O my Lord," she prayed, "if I worship Thee from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell, and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me thence, but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, then withhold not from me Thine Eternal Beauty." (224) Said Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, the 8th cent. Sufi Saint.

Ibn al-Arabi (1165 - 1201/240?) "Beware of confining yourself to a particular belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you—indeed, the knowledge of reality would elude you. Be in yourself a matter for all forms of belief, for God is too vast and tremendous to be restricted to one belief rather than another."

Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, writes in the introduction to Rosenberg's book, "Nonviolence is about inculcating positive attitudes to replace the negative attitudes that dominate us......Nonviolence means allowing the positive within you to emerge. Be Dominated by love, respect, understanding, appreciation, compassion, and concern for others rather than the self-centered and selfish, greedy, hateful, prejudiced, suspicious, and aggressive attitudes that dominate our thinking."7 To develop this positive outlook, we do not yet have a positive term.

"In 75 percent of the television programs sown during hours when American children are most likely to be watching, the hero either kills people or beats them up. This violence typically constitutes the 'climax' of the show. Viewers, having been taught that bad guys deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this violence." This applies to our countries too, when we see the amount of violence shown on television and films, and the way people are getting addicted to this enjoyment of violence.

It was Garrier ter Harr who said, Religion has become a source of conflict rather than a resource for peace. It should be a private affair, "something between individual believers and their, a relation that should not be carried over into the public domain.....political violence becomes legitimized through religion, if necessary with due reference to the founding characters of the respective religious traditions."8

"Part of a tolerant world is the acceptance that different paths may lead to the same goal, in this case a humane and peaceful society."9 and further that "The roots of religious fundamentalism, lie also in a lack of human security, including such psychological factors as an absence of an appropriate sense of belonging. The absence of human security, in the broadest sense of the word, is an important source of conflict and violence."10

"Religion is a social fact, that rather than being lamented, dismissed or ignored may be turned to the advantage of humankind by considering how it can be used for constructive purposes....Religion becomes a negative power, as suggested above, when it is used for the oppression and exploitation of others. But it is positive, for example, when it is used for healing purposes, or as an inspiration to resolve conflicts and bring about peace. Religion is a powerful instrument in the hands of those who use it. These are not necessarily believers alone. They may also include others, such as politicians, who manipulate religion effectively. Many politicians in the world, at least in those parts of the world where people are overwhelmingly religious (in the defined sense of the word), have already discovered this potential and use it for their own, often factional, purposes, in ways that prevent the establishment of peace. They are acutely aware that both the realm of politics and the realm of religion are connected with power, whether religiously defined (in terms of spiritual power, located in the transcendental sphere)."11

In the same book, Chandra Muzzafar explained that Religious doctrines and practices, however different they may be, have seldom given rise to actual conflict..... Difference in doctrine and ritual may at times create a certain social distance between religious communities. They may, on occasion, impede social interaction. But they do not themselves - and this must be emphasized over and over again - cause conflict..... for most of Asian history the different religious doctrines, practices and symbols have co-existed without too much antagonism or enmity....not all who participate in religious riots are religious, in the conventional sense of the term. ...many rioters who shout religious slogans are often totally ignorant of their religious teachings."12

"...diverting the attention of the masses from their economic and social woes by igniting the religious emotions of the people is a favourite tactic of ruling elites in a number of countries. Riots in India and Sri Lanka in the last two decades show that it is always easy to arouse the religious passions of angry, frustrated youth who have no hope of gainful employment."13

We are reading Ramayana today with a mindset forced down upon us by the Europeans, our colonial masters. That is why Chandra Muzzafar said that, "A community, or at least its elites, may choose to evoke the memory of some real or imagined act of oppression or injustice committed by 'the other' community. .... we should not ignore the continuing impact of the colonial policy of devide-and-rule upon relations between different communities in present-day Asia. Quote from Sushil Shrivastava in 'The Ayodhya Controversy: Where lies the Truth?' The disputed place of worship is a mosque which Babar built after destroying a temple consecrating Rama's birthplace originated in the first half of the 16th century. Its origin lies in the British strategy of creating a law-and-order problem by instigating a communal conflict in the area in order to justify the annexation of Avadh. To divide the local population, the British popularised the idea that the Mughals had desecrated Hindu places of worship in Ayodhya. By propagating this view, they simultaneously sought to project themselves as 'sympathisers' of the Hindu majority, while the Mughals - the immediate predecessors of the British - were made out to be oppressors of the Hindus and enemies of Hindu culture and tradition."14

"The problem lies with the way religion is understood and practiced. It is not the philosophy or the doctrine, it is not the practice or the rituals, which are the is our interpretation of religion which constitutes the problem. It is the meaning we attach to certain doctrines and rituals which creates difficulties....God is seen as the God of their particular group. Truth and justice, love and compassion, are perceived as values which are exclusive to their religion....In order to project their exclusive greatness of their religion, they emphasize the forms of practices, the rituals and symbols, which distinguish their particular religious traditions form other traditions. They regard these rituals and symbols as ends in themselves. The devotion to ritual becomes the ultimate measure of the piety and goodness of an individual."15

"quoting Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, 'All outer names are man-made distinctions whereas the reality is faith in God and love of man. ...We must admit faith in the one God of all mankind who is worshipped in many ways'(Recovery of faith 1967)' ....It is only when we acquire knowledge about 'the other's faith' that we will become less attached to the 'us' versus 'them' dichotomy which prevades society....By trying to understand other religions we will be establishing the basis for genuine inter-faith dialogue."16

But Gandhi also said "Rama, Allah and God are to me convertible terms", and his concept of a Ramarajya, did not mean a Hindu Raj, but a divine Raj. In which case, he should have really referred to the Bodhisattva Rama in the Dasaratha Jataka, and not the Rama of Valmiki or Tulsidas. Though Gandhi meant a Divine Raj', by his time the concept of Rama Rajya had become a den of power hungry thieves in the minds of the people.

Oct. 24, 2013, 5:24 a.m. » Tagged: Buddha Dhamma , Dhamma , non , nonviolence , Sufi

domestication of man

Who domesticated who?

daya dissanayake

'Who dominates who?' is the title of a 1989 song by the band Accuser, where the last line says, "Creator of the servants you are the Slave".

'Domestication of Media and Technology' was published by McGraw Hill, (ed. Thomas Berker et al.) saying that Domestication is a concept within media and communication studies.

Should we not consider the possibility that media and technology, and even creative works have domesticated man? Then we have to go back into deep history to take a new look at domestication. 'Domestic' has been defined as 'living near or about human habitations'. If the word has come from the Roman times, then the term 'domesticus' would have conveyed the same meaning as the 'Domestics' today in the elite households in Colombo, and we could call such a house today as a 'Domus'. Then a better term for what happened in deep history would be 'Naturalization', instead of 'Domestication'. When we take the 'Domus' out of our mind, we can see the process much more clearly.

Man would have lived just like all the other animals, looking for something to eat when he feels hungry, sleeping when his body needed sleep, living a free and easy life, without any worries, cravings, stress and life-style diseases, and most importantly, without any acts of violence.

They would have lived close to where their favourite food was found and it would have been the female of the species who often decided where to stay, because she would have foraged and gathered the food for themselves and their families. Thus it was nature that would have naturalized the first women. Once she adapted herself to the natural surroundings, she would have got the men to build shelters for them, and if the men wanted to be with the women, they would have to get adapted to living in such a 'household' or 'domus' and thus become 'domesticated'.

It was the woman, who had domesticated man, in the same manner she had domesticated the other animals, which were useful for the survival of the women and children. But once the woman let her man dominate her, to take over the family and claim ownership of the woman and children, and the property, she took on a subordinate role.

Man, in his laziness, began to invent new tools and equipment, to develop new technology, to make things easier for himself. This technology required specialized knowledge and skills, which were acquired by a few men, and they were able to barter them for their food and other needs. In the meantime the woman would have discovered how plants reproduced, when she noticed a fruit or a seed thrown away sprouted into a new plant and bore fruit in its turn. She would have made use of this knowledge to grow the plants she wanted, selectively, but in a very small scale, just enough to feed her children and herself, and the man around the house.

Then man would have taken over the planting and care of the plants, developing into agriculture first and then into agribusiness.

In the same manner that our domesticated animals live an unnatural life totally alien to the life of their ancestors, today man has been forced to adapt himself to the life in a monstrosity called a 'modern house' with all the latest 'facilities' to make life more 'comfortable'. It is far different from having to adapt himself to live in a cave or a mud hut occupied by a woman. Then he has to further adapt himself, to earn a living which requires adapting himself to the dictates of all the latest technology and equipment, which is not 'naturalization' but the total opposite.

In the ancient days when the woman was the man-of-the-house, man was a free bird. Probably he had no obligations and no responsibilities. But when he began to dominate the woman, to take over the household and the family, he lost all his freedom, and became a slave to his own dominance. Man had to provide the living accommodation to his woman and children, to feed and protect them. He was obliged to take on these responsibilities. He has kept slaving away in this manner till now, and till someday when the woman takes over the world again, as she progresses higher in the ladder of evolution.

Even if man could free himself from the woman, he would still be enslaved by technology. He has become totally dependent on the mobile phone and the tablet, not just for communication and searching for data, but for almost all routine activities, like paying utility bills, or making a purchase, or even earning a university degree.

Man is a slave to modern transport facilities. he cannot walk a mile or two, but needs to travel in a mechanically or electrically driven vehicle. In the 'developed' countries, and among the 'haves' everywhere, inside the vehicle, or home or office, he cannot survive unless it has a controlled humidity and temperature. He cannot drink any water from a natural source, without treating it. he cannot eat any food, unless it is a ripe fruit, without boiling it or processing it to make it 'edible' and digestible.

Man cannot walk on his bare feet. Some men today cannot even write legibly, without the dependence of a keyboard. He cannot see anything at a distance without a telescope, or anything minute without a microscope. He cannot see anything in the dark, without the aid of artificial light. Till recently he could not travel anywhere without a compass, and today without satellite navigation.

And yet man believes that he has domesticated the woman, the animals, the plants, and now all the arts and technological inventions to suit his needs.

Sept. 6, 2013, 1:22 a.m. » Tagged: domestication , woman